Friday, November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Survey 2020: Animals

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

Thanksgiving survey

2020 Topic: Animals

1. The bird that we in the United States call “turkey” is not from Turkey - it is native to the North American continent.   If you could rename the creature we call ‘turkey’, what more appropriate name would you give to this bird?

2.  Name an animal that you are thankful for, and the reason for your gratitude.

Bonus:  What is the turkey thankful for on Thanksgiving?

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

The topic of animals seems appropriate, because 2020 has been mostly a beastly year.

The first question arises from a dinner discussion we had recently.  The North American turkey is native to our continent, so why is it named after a country on another continent?    The name of this creature is all over the place, literally.  In French it is dinde, which means “from India”.  But in Hindi (a language of India) it is called… tarki.   In Portuguese, it is peru.  It seems like no language has gotten the name of this bird right.

The famed Common Household turkey pillow.

One form of a vegetarian turkey.

Not a turkey, but resembles one in certain ways. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Keeping the Tally


A certain subset of Americans has been working for 10+ days, sitting indoors during an airborne-spread virus pandemic, to tally votes.   This post is dedicated to them.  Thank you, election-vote-talliers.  I am grateful to you.

Some of these workers tallying votes are tired, tired, tired.  They have been harassed, crowded upon, falsely accused.  Yet they have stayed on task.  Here’s a description of the process from one election officer in Pennsylvania.

I was an election officer on election day for the past four years.  In 2017, I won an election (!) to become the “Majority Inspector” in my precinct.  This gave me the honor of working for a smidge above PA’s hourly minimum wage rate for 14-15 hours straight, twice a year, to process voters.  Together, my neighbors and I made democracy happen.  Although the conditions of the job are not excellent, it was worth it to me to participate in the election process in this way.  

This year I did not work the primary election, as the spread of covid seemed dangerous.  Silly me.  It was worse by the time the general election rolled around, but I was committed to making sure people in my precinct could vote in person on Nov 3.   

I have spent a portion of my life counting things. It is an activity I like. This is ironic, because I am horrible at mental math – can’t add or subtract in my head to save my life.  But with the aid of spreadsheets, most of my jobs have involved counting things such as corn, soybean, wheat production and trade, grain shipment vessels, members of church, dollars in elderly relatives’ bank accounts, numbers of voters, and, occasionally, the number of small children in the group I have been put in charge of.  This last one has been the most sacred of counting duties.  

Every year at Halloween the Common Household enters into the eternal argument of how much candy to buy.  The Husband buys too much, and I complain that he has bought too much.  It’s a tradition now. I have tried to keep a tally of the number of trick-or-treaters that come to our door, to use to predict next year’s Halloween candy demand.  This attempt failed to reduce the excess candy that enters the house each year.

This year, I only half-heartedly put up Halloween decorations.  But I was delighted to find, inside our Halloween box, three historical documents which I present herewith.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 1998

In 1998, the Common Household children’s ages were 5, 3, and -0.6 (in utero).   The tally sheet shows that I myself was firmly in charge of the tallying task.  I was aided by a 5-year-old who wrote all her numbers backward but had learned that 10 + 10 = 20.  

Number of trick-or-treaters: 33.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2000

The tally for 2000 starts out well, but an interloper hijacks the tally with false data.  The 2020 election tally was secure, but we all know that 2000 had problems, and here is proof.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  who knows?  There is no paper ballot trail.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2002

By 2002, our children were 9, 7, and 3 years old.  Our tally team had progressed to graphs and multiplication.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  28.

This year we had 7 trick-or-treaters.  And a lot of leftover candy, which is not a bad thing, considering that my favorite candidate did not win her race.  We must find solace somewhere.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

First lines: Aug-Sep-Oct 2020 edition


Late summer into fall, my life was filled with political activity, caring for elderly relatives, managing in the covid era, and doom scrolling.  I set my worried eyes on loads of news articles.  That left not much time for reading books.  Over those three months, I managed to read six books.  One of these books earned my rare ranking of “Excellent.” Below are the first lines of the six books, followed by the revelation of the titles and authors.

I’d love to hear what books you are reading these days.  

Book 1
Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Jimmy Rosolli did this to my
Grandma Mazur.

Book 2
She left us at night.  It had felt like night for a long time, the days at once short and ceaselessly long.

Book 3  (this is an entire poem, because it is necessary.)

The Tradition
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

Book 4
In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head. 
My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi.

Book 5
Chickasaw county, Mississippi, Late October 1937
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney
The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River.  The cotton was at last cleared from the field.

Book 6
Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, lowered her copy of the Scotsman newspaper and smiled.  

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Twisted Twenty-Six (Stephanie Plum Book 26), by Janet Evanovich.  © 2019.
A light read for Book Club.  Quite amusing.  Watch out for Grandma!

Book 2
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith.  ©  2015
This is an introspective coming of age memoir and also a book about the death of the author’s mother, when the author was a young woman. Tracy K. Smith was the Poet Laureate of the United States.  The writing is not overly delicate nor flighty, as I have experienced some prose written by poets.  Smith takes us from her very early childhood, growing up as an intellectually gifted African American girl in Northern California, on through her days in college.  I've put an excerpt at the end of this post.

Book 3
The Tradition, by Jericho Brown.  Poetry  © 2019.

Book 4
An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard.  ©  1987
Read for book club.   This book is set in Pittsburgh, so I was familiar with many of the places described.

Book 5
The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  © 2010
An astonishing, enlightening, horrifying tale, well told.  At 622 pages, it is not a quick read.  But the tales are so well written, the reading of this book flows easily.  It reveals much that I did not know about the history of our country.  For the parts that I was already aware of, the way the author tells the stories makes them come alive, in ways that we can feel deeply.  These are stories that we need to feel.  

I rank this book as excellent.  I highly recommend it.  We read it for book club, and we had a fruitful discussion.  

Book 6
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries Book 8), by Alexander McCall Smith.  © 2011
A much-needed diversion for the final days of the election period.

I leave you with this excerpt from Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light, about the power of telling your story, and the power of fiction.

Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive.  What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, This is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me.  Suddenly, I understood, though no one had taught me.  I understood, because what I wanted, what I needed more than anything, was someone to listen to my story, someone to help me starve even this pain - this small, private pain - so that I could stand up and figure out how to go on.
I had read novel after novel without realizing how often the narrator was doing just that: claiming the power to name and state and face the events, even the most awful events, making up a life.  This has happened to me, and because I can see it, can call it up and face it again for you, can stand my ground while I sift through it for nuance and meaning, I am stronger.  Telling my story, standing here and telling it to you now, is both a prayer for power and the answer to that prayer.