Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doubt 101

It’s a beautiful late September evening, with the day’s warmth giving way to a fall evening’s chill, as I sit in front of the middle school, waiting for Open House to begin.  The sun touches the still-green trees, visible for miles around from where the school sits on top of this hill.  Crickets chirp.  An early parent walks by, talking Russian into his cell phone.  This slice of the world is calm and peaceful.

Now parents begin arriving in earnest.  The vice principal who saved my daughter from potential bullies two years ago arrives.  Happy, chatty moms arrive, gloating over their parking places.  I look like an oddball, sitting here jotting in my notebook.

I have so many thoughts, but no way to express them.  There are too many prayers I need to offer:  so much pain, loneliness, regret at the Old Folks’ Home; so much political bitterness, hopelessness, and fear; so much rage the world over.  And here I am in the face of a beautiful evening, doubting the power of God to intervene.  How can it be that God would be powerful enough to end my Mom and Dad’s suffering, but not compassionate enough to do it?  How can I pray to this God? 

Was God powerful enough to create tonight’s beauty, and to create the capacity in me to appreciate it?  Did God give me loyal friends who spend their compassion on me?  How can I not pray to this God?

It is time to go into the school.  I go to my daughter’s homeroom, which is the science teacher’s classroom.  On the wall he has posted a Mark Twain quote:  “When in doubt, tell the truth.”

And so I will tell the truth.  I doubt, I doubt, I doubt, but I cannot fully turn away from God.  There is too much beauty and love on this earth, and the earth does not belong to me.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
Psalm 24

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I recently noticed a new rattling sound coming from underneath the car. I suspect the heat shield is loose. If you have to have a car problem, Loose Heat Shield could be a good one to have, because, I’ve found, most repair places will fix it for free.

A few days ago I was in the car with my husband. I said, “Do you hear that noise?” 

“What noise,” he said, turning on the radio.  Yes, it was a statement, not a question indicating curiosity, alarm, or any reaction whatsoever.

“That rattle, when I accelerate. I think it’s the heat shield.”

“No,” he said, cranking up the volume on the radio, “there’s no rattling noise.”  He’s always telling me the things I hear are in my head.  But the last time I heard a weird car noise it turned out we needed the wheel bearings replaced, which I understand is fairly serious if left unfixed.

Yesterday I got home from aerobics, got out of the rattly car, and noticed the sound of a typewriter coming from the next-door neighbor’s yard.  I imagined telling my husband I heard our neighbor, whom I shall call The Widow Douglas, typing in her back yard, and I imagined how he would tell me it was all in my head.  The Widow Douglas is an older personage, but still unlikely to be using a typewriter, especially outside. 
Unlikely to be using a typewriter, inside or outside.

I looked more closely, and spotted this bird, pecking away at a thoroughly dead stalk.  
Do you see it?
Now can you see it?

These are the dead stalks that The Widow Douglas has to look at every time she pulls in her driveway. She is sad enough at the passing of her husband two years ago, and I am inflicting further grief on her with these plants.

The bird kept pecking away furiously.  I was immediately filled with gratitude for my food procurement method, which seems tedious, but is much preferable to repeatedly banging my nose against dead cellulose in search of a few bugs who managed to survive this summer’s heat.

Feeling triumphant that
a)  the typewriter noise was NOT all in my head;
b)  the noise was not coming from the chipmunk gated community;
c) the noise was not caused by a vile scary creature like the attack rabbit or gaboon viper I fear lurk in the yard;
I went inside to grab my camera.  I managed to get a few mediocre photos of this amazing example of how nutty evolution and/or God is (depending on your viewpoint) for making creatures that find food in this manner.  Then the bird flew off.
This Attack Rabbit lives in our yard.  The yard also harbors a snake (not pictured).

I decided not to tell my husband about the typewriter noise.  Even with photos, he might not believe me. 

The car’s rattling noise has gone away.  But I think I hear a drip inside the bedroom wall when it rains.
I'm glad I don't have to shop at THIS grocery store.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Big Reveal

My name is Carolyn and this is my 300th post.   I guess that means I’m addicted to yakking about my family.

It’s time to reveal the area of the country where the Common Household is located.  No exact address, or town, of course.  Just the general vicinity - our state and general section of our state.  So truly speaking, this is a medium reveal, not a big reveal.

Most of you either already know or could easily guess, but I’m trying to make it fun.  I’ll give some clues.  I’m hoping readers who already know will chime in with their own clues in the comments.

The first clue:
- The hills are alive… because there’s nowhere else to live.  Flat ground is a rare find around here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Doubt

I had written a confession of my Big Doubt about the nature of God in the face of Parkinson’s, but tonight is the birthday of the world, so I’ll leave that post for another time. Tonight I have No Doubt about the wonderfulness of beets from the farmer’s market, peanut chicken cooked in the slow cooker, songs from the 1950s, and my family.

Happy Birthday, world.

L’Shanah Tova.

Apples 'n' honey, candles, round raisin challah.
And let's not forget the wine, which can sometimes
 be helpful when dealing with doubts.

The bad boy of the Rosh Hashanah neighborhood: gefilte fish.  (shudder)

The humble beet:  it's what's right with the world.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Party Laboratory

What would you make with these ingredients?
                                                      -       Plastic test tubes
                                                      -       Mini-M&Ms and/or Skittles
                                                      -       Mailing labels
                                                      -       ribbon

Here’s what we made – party favors!

With a bat mitzvah party theme of microbiology in her mind, Youngest Daughter’s idea of party favors was that she would make booklets with microbiology facts.  Um, no – I had to make a booklet for the worship service, and did not want to become a printing business.  No more booklets.  Plus, who wants to go to a party and be handed a textbook? (Well, who besides my daughter?) So I began searching the web for ‘science party favors.’

After wording my search twenty different ways, I managed to find these chintzy microscope centerpieces.  Score!  

YD was thrilled with them; my husband was appalled. The only possible cell-related party favors I found were plush brain cells and microbes, at $5 apiece.  Too expensive.

But in the process of searching, I also found plastic test tubes for sale to the general public, at a reasonable price.  Brain cells sparking, I thought, ‘test tube filled with little candies’ equals science party favor.  Not precisely microbial or cellular, but in my view that was for the best.  
It was key to get test tubes made of plastic, not glass.
Do not give teenagers glass objects at a party.

Here is our recipe (see below) for these science party favors.  It’s a long description, but it was pretty darn easy.  Tying the ribbon was the most time-consuming part. 

Serving suggestions:
Order straight-sided plastic beakers and place 8 tubes in each beaker; one beaker per table. 
- or -
Order test-tube racks, but beware it is difficult to find racks that hold 8 tubes, and 8 people at a table is the standard for those round party tables.
- or -
Place test tubes in a bowl for people to take home at the end of the party.  This is what I wanted to do, but I was overruled.
- or -
Place on test tube at each person’s table setting, above the plate.  This was what my husband wanted.  By the end of the evening, there were empty plastic test tubes scattered everywhere, at least on the kids’ side of the party room.

Recipe for Test Tube Party Favors
(makes 80 favors)

80 test tubes with caps; size 16 x 150 mm  (order online, in packs of 10)
2 pounds of Skittles candy
2 pounds of mini-M&M candy (note: regular M&Ms were too big)
White mailing labels (optional, but fun). 1” x 2 5/8” (Avery #8160)
67 feet of ribbon of any color you choose (optional, but pretty)

I am not entirely sure about the amount of candy needed.  We had some left over, after filling 80 test tubes.

To print the (optional) labels you also need a computer and printer, but that’s kind of like a recipe saying that you need an oven.  We used two kinds of candy because some of our guests had gluten or nut allergies, and M&Ms are not certified to be free of those.

Wash hands.  Fill large bowl with all the Skittles.  Dip a test tube into the Skittles, pushing the candy into the tube.  Do not worry about making a color pattern with the candy, or you will be doing this task all night.  Once test tube is full, place cap firmly on tube.  Repeat for 40 test tubes.  Place in plastic bag labeled “Skittles.”  Set aside.

Notice that one of the test tubes has 4 of the same color in a row.  Wonder what the probability of that occurring again is.  Stop wondering because you don’t have time.

Wash hands again and get a new bowl.  Fill it with the mini-M&Ms.  Fill the remaining 40 test tubes, using the same technique as you did for the Skittles.  Place in plastic bag labeled “M&Ms”. Set aside.

Go to your computer and set up a document for printing the labels.  We found that Microsoft Word has a template for Avery labels, and that worked mostly fine.  Here’s what we put on our test tubes, to make them look all officially scientificky:

Laboratory of Youngest Daughter
Experiment Title: Mazel Tov!
Test date: 2012-08-25
Contents: Skittles
Purity: gluten-free

For the M&Ms the last two lines said:
Contents: mini-M&Ms
Purity: may contain gluten and/or nuts

Print the labels first on a plain sheet of paper to check that the print will line up with the labels.  Make adjustments if necessary.  Print 40 labels for Skittles, and 40 for mini-M&Ms. 

Get out your test tubes.  Start with the Skittles first. Peel off label, and line up carefully along test tube, then attach to test tube, rolling to make label adhere smoothly.  Use the same process for the mini-M&Ms.

Finally, cut ribbon into 10-inch segments.  Tie around test tube, making a bow.  Curse that your fingers are too fat to really tie a bow that small.  Decide that next time you would skip the bow, but admit that they make these look quite festive.

80 test tubes with caps ($2.15/pack of 10)                        17.00
Candy                                                                                 50.00? approx.
White mailing labels                                                            13.00
Ribbon                                                                                  8.00
Total                                                                                   83.00 or about $1.00 each favor
Large bowl filled with many mini M&Ms

Test tube with Skittles and ribbon, before the label.

With the Skittles label.

This is what the M&M tubes look like without the labels.

The finished product.