Friday, June 29, 2012

Common Teenager Household

For the next ten months, I will be the parent of three teenagers.  This is the truth, even though Oldest Daughter claims she is a young adult, not a teenager.  Sorry, but if your age has the suffix “teen” in it, e.g. 19, then you are a teenager.   The Common Household Son is now 17, and Youngest Daughter just turned 13.

This new status might mean that eye-rolling and requests to use the car will be at an all-time high in the Common Household.  Bring it on, baby.

Having teenagers around is great.  Here are some things I could not do until I had teenagers:

- ask the teenager to drive his/her sibling to Hebrew school, band rehearsal, summer day-camp, piano lesson, and library.  This requires explaining that this is to their advantage since I will be busy earning their college funds instead of driving people around.  I don’t tell them that I actually spent my time eating bon-bons and reading blogs.

- ask them to fetch something from the grocery store.   This can be slightly disconcerting, since they are as likely to return with the wrong brand/size/item as the Husband would be.

- borrow money from my own kids.  Frequently, my children have more cash on hand than I do.  For explanation, I have an Actual Example:

I needed cash, but had none, so I borrowed $20 from my son.  The next morning, as I was driving him to the SAT test, I said, “I owe you $20.”  I said this mostly to remind myself to go to the bank. 

Son said, “Yes.  And I charge 1% interest per day.”  I said, “Just stop that.  If you are going to charge me interest, then I’m going to start charging you for the cost of the gas it takes to drive you everywhere.”  He said, “Oh.  I see.  If you control the oil, you control the economy.”

As you can see, at least one of my teenagers is beginning to understand the way the world really works.   

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Five Reasons

Five Reasons to go to the beach on a rainy day with my brother:
1.  “No one will be there!  It will be great!”  So said my brother, and he was right.

2.  Less chance of sunburn.  This is important for us Very White People.  Our only other skin color is red+peeling.

3.  You can see dolphins.  Lots of them!

4.  The waves will be awesomely huge and impressive (this means fun for some people).

5.  You have an excuse not to play the board game Settlers of America.

Five Reasons not to go to the beach on a rainy day with my brother:
1. Vertigo, resulting from having head smashed repeatedly by crashing waves.

2. Nausea, resulting from vertigo.

3. Spending the next morning at the Urgent Care Center as a result of nausea.

4. Spending rest of the day drugged up on meclizine, prescribed by the Urgent Care doctor.

5. The vertigo gives you an excuse not to play the board game Settlers of America.

This is the same brother who encouraged my son to set fire to a pumpkin.   He likes a good adventure, and is moderately interested in safety.  He also likes playing Settlers of America.

It was really cool seeing the dolphins.  There were a lot of them, and they seemed to be swimming back and forth, just about 40 feet off shore.  Sometimes they swam in pairs.  It was almost worth several days of vertigo.  Strangely, seeing those dolphins gave me hope for the world.

The day before the rainstorm

My brother, respecting the wave on the day after the rainstorm.

The Settlers of America game

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just Curious

On the way to Baltimore last month we stopped for lunch at a Bob Evans Restaurant. We found on the table a little round box with a picture of a pie on the top.  It was a cute box.  I opened it, and found conversation-starter questions.  Here is the first question and our answers.

Using one word, how would you describe your family?

How would you answer, describing your own family?

We said...
- scientific (Son)
- eclectic (Husband)
- globulous; surreptitious (Oldest Daughter)
- weird (Youngest Daughter)
- imaginative (Common Household Mom)

Or if you don’t like that question, how about this one: When have you found something unexpected inside a box?

Friday, June 15, 2012

School Year Recap, College Edition

What we learned this school year, College Edition

What did our dear Oldest Daughter learn in her first year of college?

“I learned how to swing dance.  And I learned how to play Fantaisie-Impromptu [by Chopin].  I can play all the notes, maybe not fast enough, but I have learned all the notes.   Those were the main important things I learned.”

The Common Household Parents cried a little inside.  Oldest Daughter is not a music or dance major.  Did she not learn anything in any of her classes?

“I learned how to use statistics, and how to calculate statistics by hand, because the school said SPSS was too expensive to give to us.  I learned that the Hebrew teacher was annoying, and I am not going to take Hebrew again.  In psychology class I learned that people have an affinity towards careers that contain sounds from the beginning of their name.” 

But perhaps Oldest Daughter knows something we do not know (she is always telling us this, anyway.)  Perhaps learning how to swing dance is the most important, because it provides joy in movement.  Certainly we need to learn things outside of classes.  For instance, my husband said that this is what he learned this school year:

“Always take a jacket with you to Cleveland.  And I learned that in every single seminar, someone will drop their pen.”

As for this Common Household Mom, the main thing I learned this school year: no matter how fancy the concert hall, there will always be someone who talks during the music.

Happy end of the school year!  What did you learn this year, inside or outside of class?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

School Year Recap, 11th Grade Edition

What we learned this school year, 11th grade edition

About a week before the end of school, my son remarked, “Today in physics class we finished watching The Mummy.”  That was the signal that learning was OVER for the year. 

On the last day, when I asked, “Son, what did you learn this school year?” he responded,  “Do I have to provide a comment for every class?”  Huge sigh. 

“In Organic Chemistry, I learned that aromatic compounds do not have to have a smell.  In Physics I learned about RC circuits and magnetic flux.”  We then had some discussion about how that sounds like the movie Back to the Future.

“In English I learned that if all the authors in the course were in a cage match, Macchiavelli would win.  In Latin class I learned that Latin poetry doesn’t make any sense.  In history class I learned how to spell the last name of the Speaker of the House.  It’s pronounced Bay-ner, but it’s spelled Bo-Weiner (Boehner).  And in Math I learned how to decompose partial fractions.”

When I asked, “What movies did you watch in school this year?” I got a much more enthusiastic response.  “Movies!  Let’s see...”
The Mummy (in AP physics class)
Men in Black II (in AP physics class)
Tron (in AP physics class)
John Adams (in history class, appropriately)
Hercules (Disney version, in Latin class, but wait, wasn’t Hercules Greek?)

I asked, “Did you watch any movies during Organic Chemistry class?”
He said, “No.  Mostly when we didn’t have any chem lessons, the teacher set stuff on fire.  Like gummy bears.  Also, he did the thermite reaction indoors. Anybody who knows what that is knows why it shouldn’t be done indoors.”  I admitted that I didn’t know, and my son told me that one of the products is molten iron.

No wonder he likes science classes so much.  Movies, fire, and molten iron!

Monday, June 11, 2012

School Year Recap, 7th Grade Edition

What we learned this school year, 7th grade edition

This past Thursday was the last day of school.  We shall celebrate on the blog this week in my traditional way, by asking and answering the question “What did you learn this school year?”

7th grade answers
Youngest Daughter: In Science, I learned that Charles Darwin had a lot of children.
Husband:  How did he have time to have children?  He was on a boat going to the Galapagos to study turtles.
YD ignores her Dad and continues: I learned about the feudal system.  And I learned that Mrs. B gets really mad that the Vikings are skipped over in history. 
Me:  I’ve heard of the Vikings. They are not skipped over.
YD:  Mrs. B. says they only get two pages.  In English I learned how to write a grant.
All:  What?!
YD:  Isn’t that what a persuasive essay is? 
(We are gape-mouthed.)

YD: In Reading I learned about the K.
All:  The letter K?
Oldest Daughter:  Do you mean The Cay?  It’s pronounced “key.”  (An argument ensues over pronunciation.)
Me:  Did you learn anything in gym?
Julia:  I learned about sexually transmitted diseases.
(This is a total conversation stopper at the dinner table.)

YD resumes:  In math I learned about polynomials.  But I missed the lesson on how to add and subtract them. 
Son:  It’s not that hard.
Oldest Daughter:  Yes, it is, if you haven’t learned how to.
Son:  So is walking.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Transit of Venus March

My mother at the intersection of Science and God

On June 5th I got a phone call from my Mom.

“Hi, this is Mom.  I hope you and your kids are watching the Transit of Venus.” 

Me:  “Um, no we’re not.”  At that moment, my husband and two kids were doing work of cosmic importance:  assembling the new grill.  But Mom did not allow me time to tell her this, or anything else.

Mom:  “It won’t happen again until the year 2117, so you really ought to watch it.  They are showing it on television.  Venus looks like a black dot moving across the sun.  But you shouldn’t look directly at the sun.  Okay, goodbye.”

It is nigh impossible to say no to my Mom, because of her Presence.  She has been able to survive and thrive teaching science to Baltimore inner-city middle school students.  There are some people who just have The Presence in the classroom, and she is one of them.  Not only did she teach those difficult-to-reach students, but she expected excellence from them at every turn.  She is a great Mom and a great teacher.

She turned 80 years old last month.  Although she “retired” long ago, she still teaches, at the college level, showing new teachers how to include the teaching of thinking skills in their lesson plans. Her main task in life now, though, is trying to apply her expectation of excellence to the care my Dad receives.  It turns out it is easier to teach urban pre-teens than it is to change the mindset of the medical workers or to shift the way nursing homes operate.  It seems to take longer to get someone to come and shift his body to a more comfortable position than it does for Venus to transit the sun.

So after my mother made her pronouncement and hung up on me, I immediately accessed NASA’s live-stream of the Transit of Venus.  Viewed from Earth, it seemed that Venus was not in any hurry.  I took a break from the live-stream chit-chat to discover that John Philip Sousa wrote marching band music in honor of the transit of Venus in 1882.  I tried to get the kids interested, but the promise of hamburgers on the new grill won out.  I mean, the transit of Venus is an important celestial event, but I found that the first commercial space flight last month filled me with more wonder and awe.

The next day, Mom reported that she told my Dad about the transit of Venus, and watched some TV video of it with him.  She wrote to us,

In our evening prayer, he thanked God for all the wonderful things in the universe that we could see and learn about.  “Things that are so interesting,” he said, “and some that are not interesting.”

Yes, our thoughts exactly.  I was glad to have witnessed the transit of Venus, but also glad that I didn't have to watch every minute of it.  And very glad that my Mom is still teaching me things.

* * * * *

Audio of Sousa’s Transit of Venus March:  Click here

Info on Sousa's march:  Click here

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jury Duty Reading

On Monday I fulfilled my civic duty.  I did this by sitting on my butt, because that’s what justice requires in These United States. 

Here is my Jury Duty Reading List, based on my experience. 
U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
The Holy Bible: Judges
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I was limited to what is on my Kindle, which is the only reading material I carried with me.  You should know that I am too cheap to actually pay money for Kindle books, so I mostly have classics, which are free.  I did splurge on buying The Holy Bible (NRSV) with notes.

The most obvious place to start would be with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  But I didn’t have that on my Kindle.  The Bill of Rights was posted at the front of the courtroom, but I was too afraid of the stern lady in the fuschia blouse who was running the show.  I stayed in my seat.

It might have been proper to read, in the Bible, the book of Judges.  This is one of the books where it says “And they did evil in the sight of the Lord” every third line.  Fittingly tedious.  Or maybe the Psalms – all the references on righteousness?

But just then, Fuschia Blouse called us all into the jury selection room, where we picked up our written instructions.  This paper shouted, all in caps, that, among other things, we had to stay in the room the entire day (except for lunchtime). We were not to discuss the case, our involvement with the justice system, or even our opinion of jury duty.  (That is why I am giving you a reading list instead of my opinion.)

It was at this point that I thought it appropriate to read Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849).   It doesn’t take long for Hank to get around to expressing his anarchist tendencies:  “That government is best which governs not at all...”  Well, that would never work in this courtroom.  If it were not for the iron rule of Fuschia Blouse, jury duty would be chaos and the judicial system would break down.  Hank’s essay turned out to be an objection to slavery and paying taxes.  Old Hank was quite a curmudgeon, but he had a point – he objects to paying taxes to a government which enslaved a large portion of its populace. 

Fuschia Blouse started calling our names so that we could pick up a form.  One guy went up to get his form, and she said to him, “You’re wearing shorts.  How could this have escaped my attention?”  This guy must not have listened to the phone message when he called in about jury duty, because it specifically said, “Show up on time.  Don’t wear shorts.”  He was excused but will have to come back another day to fulfill his civic duty, while wearing pants.

After lunch, we gathered back in the jury selection room.  The charges were read. It was then that I thought I should read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, because of Holmes’ behavior “alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition...”

Fourteen citizens were picked from among us (I was not picked), and voilà, the jury was chosen!  And then, at 2:30 PM, Fuschia Blouse announced that at 3 PM the rest of us would be excused.  Time to read Candide - It was the best of all possible worlds!  I would get home in time for my afternoon work meeting.

In actuality, I had quite a lot of time to do work.  I also prayed quite a lot: prayed that the jurors who were selected would take it seriously, prayed for the defendant, prayed thanks that we have a better judicial system than many countries do (although ours is certainly far from perfect).  And now I am praying that I will not have to fulfill my civic duty for a while.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Questions Asked But Not Answered

Youngest Daughter is quite past the “why” stage.  Or so I thought.  Lately she has been asking questions.  She usually asks them while I am driving.  Questions such as:

Why is economics so depressing?

Why is The Hunchback of Notre Dame an examination of evil? 
This question came several weeks after I dissuaded her from reading this book, by telling her that she was not ready for such an examination of evil.  I think she’s really asking what sort of evil is in this book.  She loved reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  The first time she read it, she taught herself how to skip the non-plot parts of the book.  She’s plowed through it several more times, reading more of the contents each time.  So she wants to read more Hugo. But isn’t 12 years old too young to read Notre Dame de Paris?

What makes people end up at the level they are on? 
She meant socio-economic level. 

Why are politicians so mean?

Then there are the “if” questions, which are in the format “If [impossible situation], what would you choose from [difficult choices]?” 

If you had to live entirely in your head, what kind of house would you live in?

If you were unable to speak for your whole life, and then you were able to say one word, what would you say?
I responded that I would say “Water!” but she rejected my choice as too pedestrian.  In her view, if a person can only say one word during their entire life, it had better be a really interesting one, such as “discombobulated” or “antidisestablishmentarianism.”  So I amended my response to “pamplemousse” or “crépuscule.”

If you were able to do a back flip, would you do one?

She asked her brother this:  If I hugged you and then you were suddenly on the [Star Trek Starship] Enterprise, what would you think? I couldn’t hear his reply, but I suspect he said, “You’d better not hug me.”

If Genghis Khan wasn’t a gang leader, then who was he?

There are the questions which are impossible to categorize, such as:

When is it best to run, and when is it best to hide?

And rarely, the questions for which I know the answer:

Mommy, do you think that chocolate makes the world go ’round?
I said, “Yes, most definitely.  What do you think makes the world go ’round?  Doughnuts?”  She replied, “I think it’s the earth’s core.”

I hope she keeps asking questions.  Right now she says she plans to be a microbiologist, and being a scientist requires knowing how to ask the right questions.  If you’re a microbiologist, perhaps the most important question is, “Did you wash your hands?”

Any questions? You can ask now, because I'm not driving.