Sunday, December 31, 2017

First Lines: June 2017 edition

The three books I read in May 2017 were so troubling that I stopped posting about books altogether.  I will leave out May for now. Here are the first lines of the books I finished in June 2017.

Book 1
The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other.  Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.

Book 2
Elanor Bull’s Public House
Deptford, England
May 30, 1593
The smell of roasted meat and the noisy clank of kitchen pots filled the room.  A young potboy whistled as he gathered dishes from a table and shuffled them off to the back of the house.
            Christopher Marlowe gazed out the window at the rapidly fading sunlight.  He took a long draw from his tankard of ale, closed his eyes, and savored the brief moment of peace.  It had been, to say the least, a bad year.

Book 3
I have written these lessons on freedom and meditations on change for the generations who will take us into the future, for the dreamers young and ever young who should never get lost in a sea of despair, but are faithfully readying themselves for the next push for change.  It is for the parents who want to inspire their sons and daughters to build a more just society.  And, it’s for the sons and daughters who hear the call of a new age.

Book 4
Daniel Mercier went up the stairs at Gare Saint-Lazare as the crowd surged down. Men and women hurried distractedly past him, most clutching briefcases but some with suitcases. In the crush, they could easily have knocked into him but they didn’t. On the contrary, it seemed as though they parted to let him through.

Book 5
This is the story of Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s house. It is a story of how these three became one thing, so that in Tortilla Flat if you speak of Danny’s house you do not mean a structure of wood flaked with old whitewash, overgrown with an ancient untrimmed rose of Castile.  No, when you speak of Danny’s house you are understood to mean a unit of which the parts oare men, from which came sweetness and joy, philanthropy and, in the end, a mystic sorrow.  For Danny’s house was not unlike the Round Table, and Danny’s friends were not unlike the knights of it.

Titles and authors
Book 1
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah. 
A fascinating, haunting look at the 20th Century apartheid system in Noah’s boyhood South Africa.  An enjoyable read.

Book 2
Tower of the Five Orders, by Deron R. Hicks.  
YA mystery.  Second in a series about a young teen girl in a 21st century publishing family who solves mysteries that relate to Shakespeare’s time. 

Book 3
Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, by John Lewis, U.S. Congressman, with Brenda Jones. 
My mother gave me this book, because she admires John Lewis, and felt his perspective to be encouraging.  Lewis explores the characteristics underlying his life-long struggle for civil rights.  Faith, patience, truth, peace, love, and reconciliation are what carries him forward.

On patience:
“Change requires patient, persistent action.  To most of us, patience seems almost too simple.  In order to feel effective and in command, we require control that brings immediate results. …  Today, as a U.S. congressman, I can offer a few insights on how you may encourage the government to take action.    Persistent demonstrations prove there is a demand among the people for change. … But a one-day protest or a perfunctory march is not the kind of resounding proof that is needed to clearly define a mobilized constituency.  Persistent, dedicated, determined action does.  It provides unequivocal leverage for members of Congress who are inclined to vote with you, and it educates and informs members who are on the fence, offering room within the legislative process for persuasive negotiations that lead to more favorable votes on particular issues.” (p. 53)

Lewis writes about the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The effort first began in 1915.  The bill authorizing the museum was finally signed into law in 2003.  The National Museum of African American History and Culture is now complete, a full 100 years after the idea was first conceived.  Now that is patience and perseverance.

Book 4
The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (translated from the French  by Gallic Books). A charming book which seems a light read but also gives the reader much to think about.  The President of France, Francois Mitterand, forgets his Homburg hat in a Parisian restaurant, starting the hat on an odyssey that changes the lives of those who encounter the hat.  The story takes place in the 1980s.  I truly enjoyed this book.

Book 5
Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck. 

For book club.  Hilarious at points, poignant and even tragic at other points.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nutmeg Cookie Logs

Nutmeg cookie logs, 2010
My family thinks that these cookies are our own secret, but I recently discovered that there is one other family who knows how to bake these cookies.

It was my sister-in-law's idea to decorate them in a distinctly Christmasy style.  It takes the patience of Job and surgical precision to decorate them thusly.  Now that we're past Christmas, you can dispense with the tiny red and green things and just sprinkle the icing with nutmeg, as the recipe says.

A friend in college dubbed these "Egg Nog Cookies," which makes sense, since the ingredients are partly the same as for egg nog.  But I can't stand egg nog, and I love these cookies.

Nutmeg Cookie Logs

For the cookie part
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons rum flavor
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix together butter, vanilla, rum and sugar.  Blend in the egg.  Add sifted flour and nutmeg.  Mix.  Shape into logs (take a lump of dough, roll into a "snake" about 1 inch thick and cut into 1 1/2 inch-length logs).

Bake at 350 F for about 8 to12 minutes (I like to bake them until they are just golden on the bottom).  Makes about 5 dozen.

When cookies have cooled, spread a dab of icing on each one, and then immediately sprinkle with nutmeg.

The following is half of the original recipe, but seems to make enough icing.

1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp rum flavor
1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp milk

Blend together until smooth.

2014 version.  I suspect these were decorated by
one of my kids.

2017 version

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Helpful Holiday Hints

Some of the things I learned this year in preparation for Hanukkah, Christmas, and other stuff that went on this month.

1.  Do not drop this.
"Cupcake Gems" = edible pearls.
If you drop the Cupcake Gems, the lid will break and the gems will spill all over the place.  It will be like that scene in The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob when the bad guys are chasing the not-so-bad guy through the bubble gum factory.  You can see from this post-disaster photo that only about one inch worth of these edible pearls actually escaped the bottle, and yet I am still finding gems about the kitchen.  Why do we even have these in the house?

Also, The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob is one of the funniest movies of all time.  According to my parents and brothers and me.

2.  If you want to send a mixed holiday message to your neighbors, put a sparkly sign saying "Believe" in your yard and then plant your vicious yipping dog in front of it.
Neighbor's cheery "Believe" sign with
small but vicious dog.
What are we supposed to believe?

3.  If someone gives you a gift of a dead person's chanukiah (menorah for Hanukkah), just say thank you, use it and don't ask questions.
A gift from a relative, who thought it would be nice for us
to have the chanukiah that belonged to recently deceased
resident of her retirement community.  It's a fine chanukiah.
Made in Israel and everything.

4.  Make cookies.  This is therapeutic.

Nutmeg Cookie Logs. 
Just this month, I discovered that
there is one other person in the universe who
makes these cookies.

5. If you have to go out of state to a funeral, leave notes.  Admonish your (adult) children to eat the leftovers that you spent two hours cooking. 

I didn't think I needed to admonish the children to bring in the mail and the newspaper.  Apparently they are not adult enough (yet) to know that these are things that you do when you are tending to your homestead.

6.  Appreciate and care for your pets.
The kids may not have brought in the mail,
but they did feed the fish.
7.  If you hear sirens, don't assume the worst.  It might just be Santa making a friendly tour of your neighborhood.

That stuff about Santa driving a sleigh?  Total  myth.

8.  Go to the funeral if you can. 
West Palm Beach, Florida
You don't get to pick where the funeral is going to be, but see if you can find beauty and life in the midst of your grief.  Two years ago, the funeral I attended in mid-December was in Canada.  This time it was in Florida.  If the funeral takes you near the ocean, make time to go down to the beach.  Nature can provide some solace.

9.  Take spiritual and/or actual light with you when you travel. 

 It turns out it is okay to take Hanukkah candles in your carry-on luggage.  It might even be okay to take matches, but we didn't take any chances on that, and found matches when we were there.  It was the last night of Hanukkah while we were away.  I believe that the tradition of lighting the chanukiah was comforting to us and our relatives.

10.  Keep calm when talking to the mechanic.
I should have given them a time limit on finding
things wrong with the car.

When it's four days before Christmas, and the mechanic tells you that there are eight different things wrong with your minivan, and two of them are vital enough that they need to be fixed before your next long trip, and those two alone cost more than $1,000, and the eight fixes don't even address the thing where the sliding door opens randomly, and while you were hoping to keep driving the car longer, but it has 124,000 miles on it, remain calm.  Tell your husband that it's time for a smaller car.

Dear Reader, what are your helpful hints for this busy holiday season? 

Friday, December 15, 2017

About to explode

The government is trying to tell the CDC scientists they can't use words like fetus, diversity, and science-based.

It's time to read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny.  Again.

Do not obey in advance.

"Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. Anticipatory obedience is a political tragedy."

"When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges.  Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor."

First, they eliminate the intellectuals.

This decision to forbid scientists from using certain words is coming from the same people who claim they haven't been able to say "Merry Christmas" while the black man was in the Oval Office.

Call your congressman, call your senators, call the Secretary of Health and Human Services, call the Pope, call your neighbor and tell them that if they allow this, it is just the next step in the downfall of U.S. democracy.  Resist.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Prayers on Thanksgiving Day

Prayers uttered on Thanksgiving Day by the Common Household Mom

O God of Mercy,

Please grant me your merciful permission to cook the turkey with the neck inside. 

Alas, my sinful ways have caused me to start defrosting the turkey only 6 days ahead of time.  In my human hubris, I had imagined this to be enough time to fully defrost the 14-pound turkey, but I did not take into account that the temperature in the back of the fridge is less than at the front.  My human pride in this caused there to be a coating of ice in the regions in which an underpaid and overworked assembly line worker stuffed in the bag of giblets and the other end in which a same such worker stuffed the neck. 

Grant me the wisdom and fortitude to spend extra huge amounts of money on a fresh turkey next year.  But this is only assuming that I can request the giblets and the neck on the side, instead of in. 


* * * * *

O Lord,

Forgive me for secretly reacting with disdain when my husband appeared at 10 AM (only after my struggle with the giblets), looked in the refrigerator, and said, “There’s nothing to eat in here.”


* * * * *

God of Providence,

Thank you for providing us with the bounty of a working clothes washer and dryer.  We praise you for your continued upholding of the plumbing.  We are reminded of this scripturish passage:

And they shall descend upon your household as grasshoppers for multitude,  heavy laden with all manner of soiled clothing;
they shall approach with laundry bags overflowing.
And day by day for the entire Thanksgiving weekend shall the washer be in use.
Woe be unto you mothers and fathers who did not have the wisdom and foresight to finish your own laundry before your offspring arrived.
                                    The Book of Admonitions 10: 2-5


* * * * *

 As always, Lord, thank you for pie.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mr. Golden Sun: Thanksgiving survey results

Nobody said that the beach was their favorite place.
Too much sand.

Thanksgiving survey: Places

1. Name a place where you have never been, but for which you are grateful, and explain why.

Answers received from the Common Household extended family:

a. Only 2 questions?

b. Switzerland – They seem civilized, not prone to violence, and they make good chocolate and good timepieces.

c. Antarctica, because it’s where the emperor penguins live.  The mother penguin lays the egg and the father carries the egg on his feet.  The mother goes tobogganing off to find fish to feed the whole family.  And the father produces milk!

d. The vet, because it means I don't have to take care of gross dogs.

e. That place in the sun where the reaction takes place that creates sunlight, because that provides light and heat for the earth.

f.  The core of the earth.

g. the refrigerator

h. The Forbidden Island

i. kelp beds

j. the sun – gives us light and keeps us warm.

(Please click to enlarge)
Pictionary Telephone game, in which
"Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer" becomes
"Oh, Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr Golden Sun"

2. Name your favorite place on earth (other than your home).

Answers received from the Common Household extended family:

a. Only 2 questions?

b. Vermont – Little River State Park, B & Bs, fishing, Ben & Jerry's

c. (still thinking about it)

d. Maryland, because that is where my family is.

e. the local park, because it is a nearby place where I can enjoy nature.

g. The top of a mountain with a lovely view on a sunny day.

j.  Solon, OH.

(Please click to enlarge)
Pictionary Telephone game, in which
the survey question was used as a
starter sentence.
3. A bonus question was not posed; however, a bonus answer was received.

Answers received:
i.  bonus answer

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving survey: places

A time-honored tradition in the Common Household: the turkey pillow

It's time for the Common Household time-honored tradition of the

Thanksgiving survey:

1. Name a place where you have never been, but for which you are grateful, and explain why.

2. Name your favorite place on earth, other than your home (although I’m not trying to say that your home is necessarily your very favorite place on earth).  Bonus if you say why it's your favorite.

Please participate by giving your answers in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving Preparation Week!

Chautauqua Holy Land Map

How to make sure your letter gets to the place you intend it to get to

Best Poem Ever with the word "Place" in the title