Saturday, June 27, 2015

Road Trip!

Map of Canada, drawn my nephew, probably
when he was about 10 years old

Eight days ago I got on a plane and flew to Boston, Mass.  There I joined my younger brother and his daughter (my niece), my older brother and his wife (my sister-in-law) and we got in a smallish car and headed northeast.  To New Brunswick or bust!

Before I left home, I had this conversation with my son:
Son: So, you’re going to Canada today!

Me: Yes, I am going to Canada.  You know what this means….

Son:  Free health care!

Me:  No, it means whatever dishes you put in that sink in the morning will still be there when you get back in the evening.

Son:  As a parting gift to us, can you do the dishes one more time?

(The only parting gift I gave for that comment was a motherly glare.  But I am pleased to say that when I got home, there was not a single dish in the sink.  Well done!)

I was nervous before the trip.  This was my first trip outside the country in ten years, an embarrassment for the world traveler I once was.  As my husband drove me to the airport, I bemoaned the fact that I had not looked up the driving directions.  It just bothers me to not know what roads we are going to take.

I did not need to worry.  Once I got to Boston, my brother went to his Chart Room.  
This box full of maps is what my brother refers to as his Chart Room.

Paper maps - how quaint!
If you were looking for Waldo, try looking in Maine.

He consulted map after map (all on paper, none interwebby), throwing aside the “bike routes of Northern Maine” map and the “hikes in New Hampshire” map until he found road maps for Maine and New Brunswick. 

Bright and early the next morning, we set out for Maine. Our first stop – a town near Portland, for a wonderful but all-too-brief breakfast visit to my cousin and his family.  Then on to Saint John, New Brunswick, to visit my uncle, aunt, and another cousin.  
A more modern map.  Click to embiggen.
Here are a few of the signs we saw during our trip.

That top sign denotes that you will likely see
bicyclists riding on top of a tunnel harboring
 pregnant university graduates. That's the
best I could make of it.

We thought this might be a sign showing the way East
for those without a compass app.  But someone
told us it was the town’s evacuation route.

All road signs in New Brunswick are in French and English.

Political sign in someone's front yard.

Be sure to notice dogs doing their business.
By the way, that's the US on the other side of
the water.

Vroom Lane, in St Stephen, NB

Back in New Hampshire, the Interstate highway
 rest stop consists of a giant liquor store.
No mixed messages there, eh?

Restaurant wisdom.  My brother said this just about
summed up the history of thought in Western Civilization.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Power of the Printed Word

From Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo
Book V Chapter 2 This Will Kill That
Our readers must excuse us if we stop a moment to investigate the enigmatic words of the archdeacon: “This will kill that.  The book will kill the edifice.”  (p 174)
... How precarious is the immortality of the manuscript!  How far more solid, lasting, and resistant is the edifice, the book in stone!  To destroy the written word, you need only a torch and a Turk.  To demolish the constructed word, you need a social revolution or an earthquake. Barbarism swept over the Colosseum; a deluge, perhaps, over the pyramids.

In the fifteenth century everything changed.

Human intelligence discovered a way of perpetuating itself, one not only more durable and more resistant than architecture, but also simpler and easier.  Architecture was dethroned.  The stone letters of Orpheus gave way to the lead letters of Gutenberg.

The book will kill the edifice.

The invention of printing was the greatest event in history.  It was the parent revolution; it was the fundamental change in mankind’s mode of expression, it was human thought doffing one garment to clothe itself in another; it was the complete and definitive sloughing off of the skin of a serpent, which, since the time of Adam, has symbolized intelligence.

When put into print, thought is more imperishable than ever; it is volatile, intangible, indestructible; it mingles with the air.  (p 182)

Translated by Walter Cobb

                                                        Will the internet kill the book?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Update from the Reluctant Gardener

While we are rushing around doing birthday celebrations and such, God is blessing the Common Household vegetable garden, which consists of six plants in pots on the deck.  What a pleasant surprise to see flowers on the tomato plants! 
Promise of future cherry tomatoes
For several years we have planted peppers plants but not once have I seen a pepper grow.  This year I’m trying jalapenos.  So far, no evidence of pepper progeny.

Alas, the marigolds met an untimely death, due to neglect.

The miracle is this lettuce plant.  At the farmer’s market, I bought what I thought was a head of red-leaf lettuce.  But it turned out to be in a little pot, actually still growing in actual dirt.  This was the best thing ever – whenever I wanted to make a salad (which I do almost every day) I just pulled off a few leaves from my lettuce plant.   I used up one plant in one week, which meant it was time to go back to the farmer’s market to buy another one. 
New tasty lettuce leaves are growing!
Now the trick is to make sure the attack rabbits don't
come up onto the deck and steal them.

Here’s the miracle.  My friend (who is knowledgeable about many things, especially plants) said, “Just put last week’s lettuce plant outside.  If you left the root in the soil, it will probably grow more lettuce leaves.”  Now “just put it outside” is a gardening instruction that I can follow.  I practically threw that pot with the spent lettuce out on the deck.   And it is indeed growing new leaves! 

In the front yard, tragedy struck.  Someone, probably a lyme-disease-tick-carrying ungulate, ate all the buds off one of my balloon flower plants.  In retaliation, paying no heed to the fact our neighbor was having a huge party, I went out yesterday and stunk up the whole neighborhood by liberally spraying Liquid Fence, which smells like rotten eggs + wolf urine. 

Applying Liquid Fence has become trickier than it used to be.  The spray nozzle got a strategically placed hole in it, which means that some of the Liquid Fence comes out sideways, rather than straightforward.  I have to be very careful to stand to the left of the bottle when I spray, or no one will ever want to sit next to me in the movie theater ever again.   Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I couldn’t get anyone in the family to go see “Far From the Madding Crowd” with me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Newsworthy Achievement

I have been doing a lot of shopping lately, despite shopping not being in my nature. It’s birthday season in the Common Household, so there’s birthday present shopping.  My jeans got a hole in them so I had to buy another pair.  We’re going to the beach later on this summer, so I had to buy an SPF-50 shirt to protect my skin.  I had to buy, return, and buy bathroom rugs (but that's really another story).  We keep running out of spoons, so I bought more.   In short, I’ve been like Blondie in the comics, coming home with package after package.

Hence this recent conversation:

Me:  Today I went to Big Department Store again, and I saw this thing, which, by the way, I did not buy, and – 

Husband:  Whoa!

Son:  Is that a newsworthy achievement?

Husband: Yes, it is!  That is definitely newsworthy.  The staff meeting at Big Department Store tomorrow will focus entirely on the fact that Carolyn The Common Household Mom came into the store and saw something she did not buy.  There will be cries of alarming exclamation of disbelief.  A task force will be formed; markets will rise and fall…. You will learn in time, Son.

Me:  (Sigh.)

But the real newsworthy event this week is that tomorrow is the last day of school for Younger Daughter.  There have been some real challenges for her this year, and I am very proud of her for meeting those challenges with vigor.  On Friday morning, she finally gets to sleep in! (And then, get started on learning that driving manual.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Guest Post: A Word from a Teen

A Dvar Torah, literally “word of Torah,” is a sermon.  In Reform Judaism, anyone is qualified to give a Dvar Torah.  Here’s one from a teen perspective. 

The Ten Commandments, in the Torah scroll.
Sorry the words are upside down. I was standing
on the opposite side of the table.

Dvar Torah on The Ten Commandments

When looking at the ten commandments, as contained in this portion of the Torah, there are many ways to approach it. You can examine them as a whole, or you can look at each commandment at a time, or a combination of both. I chose this third option, and so we begin.

The first commandment, while the shortest, is also the most interesting, as it isn’t really phrased as a command. “I am Adonai your God,” period. No further instructions, and the logical following point, “Thou shalt have no gods other than me” is considered a commandment on its own. So why do we include this separately? Why in fact, was this included at all? It’s not a new statement – God says it many times – and it appears to serve little to no function. So why is it here?

Rabbinic and Christian scholars have puzzled and written about this one phrase for centuries, offering interpretations and theories that answer this question. However I have my own answer.
This phrase, first, is a reminder. I am Adonai. I am eternal. I am forever. I am omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and everything else that starts with omni. I am all-powerful, and all-knowing, and I am your God!

Your God. I am your God. I am the God of you.

This is the second half of this phrase – a promise. God is well-known for making covenants throughout the Torah, but this is his subtlest one yet. I am your God. I will serve you and protect you, care for you and guide you, show you the way to a good life and happiness. I will be yours forever, if you are mine. Every time, before or since, that God says he is our God, he is reminding us of this covenant. He will give us everything, as long as we serve him, and the following commandments tell us exactly how to do that.

We move on, then, to the second commandment, “Thou shalt worship no other gods before me.” This could be considered the actual first commandment, as it is the first one to actually give us something to do. Or, not do. It is clear and concise. However, it never could really be the first commandment, because it follows directly from the promise in “I am Adonai your God”. God will serve and protect us, as long as we do what for him? Well, how can you sum up this commandment? I believe it can be done in one word: loyalty.

God doesn’t want anything material from us, at least not at this basic level. He wants us to be loyal to him, as any friend should be loyal to a friend, and in return he will protect us and help us as no earthly friend every could.

The third commandment also ties into this, with not taking God’s name in vain. That is the other part of what God wants for himself: respect. As long as we show God our loyalty and respect for him, he will show loyalty and respect to us.

These three commandments are the only ones of the ten that really refer to God. Sure. The other ones may give God as a reason behind their commands, but these three are the only ones that really describe our relationship with him. And there’s a reason for that: this is all that God needs. As long as we show him his loyalty and respect that he wants, he’s happy, and can move on to commandments about us.
The next commandment, the fourth one, says that we should observe the Sabbath, working for six days and resting on the seventh. On the face of it, the way it’s described in the Torah seems like it’s another way of connecting back to God. He took a day off, so we should take a day off. It looks like it’s meant to keep God present in our thoughts every week, as we’re relaxing on the beach.

However, that is not what this commandment actually is. The mention of God is simply to give the more argumentative people a reason to do it. The reason behind this commandment is actually, simply, that God gave us a gift. We had promised that we’d be loyal and respect him, so he wanted to show us his respect as well, by allowing us a day off. He gave us a day to not work ourselves to death, to not have our hearts burst from exhaustion, but rather lay back in quiet contentment and thoughtful reverie. He gave us a day to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, or to just let our minds drift as we pleased. It is a gift to us, and it is one of many.

The next commandment is the first one that really relates how we should react to each other. This is, “Honor thy father and thy mother”. This continues the theme of respect and loyalty that the others have already shown, except that this time, it is toward each other, not toward God or God toward us. The next five commandments also show this, telling us that we must not kill, we must not commit adultery, we must not steal, we must not bear false witness, and we must not covet. While the fifth commandment tells us what we should do, these commandments tell us exactly what we should not do to each other. However, all six of these can answer one question: how does God expect us to act towards each other?

The answer? With the same respect and loyalty that we show him. God is saying, through these commandments, that each human being deserves the exact same treatment as we would give to God himself. And through this, they form the basis for our rights. The right to sit safely and not be in danger of death. The right to not have your heart broken by someone you love. The right to not have to constantly protect your stuff for fear of it being stolen. The right to have the truth come out, when one of those crimes is committed. And the right to self control, to be happy with oneself and what one has, and to not interminably chase others.

Though not all of these things can be found in the constitution, they can be found in any usual person’s moral code, and all deal with the basic respect and loyalty that we believe, and God believes as well, that each human being deserves. In fact, in countries where these basic things are not given, we are outraged, and sorrowful at the horror of what is happening.

All of the ten commandments link, in some way or another, back to the promise of the first and back to two words: loyalty and respect. The two things that any friend should show to another, that children should show to their parents in exchange for all the parents have done, and the things that we should show God and show each other.

Thus as our final question, we may ask: if these are so prevalent in our world, why do we need reminding of them in the ten commandments at all?

When you walk out of here tonight, turn on your radio, and listen to a debate about gay marriage. Or hear about the police shooting a young black, man, or how a terrorist blew up a passenger plane. Please, if you do hear these things, take a moment and give these people the respect that they are not receiving, or did not receive in life. This respect and loyalty to our fellow human beings, that sometimes, even God needs to remind us all to give.

Written and delivered by Youngest Daughter at her
Synagogue Confirmation Service, May 2015

I hope you are now singing Aretha Franklin for the rest of the day.  “R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me.”  (sock it to me, sock it to me…)
See, when I rotate the photo so the words are right-side up,
it looks like we have glued the Torah to the ceiling.
And that would just be WRONG.

Younger Daughter delivering her Dvar Torah