Saturday, November 25, 2006

And the blind will see

I spent a couple of weeks recently as a pedestrian after my Mini's clutch failed catastrophically. The weather was thankfully ideal for walking - that crisp, sunny, energizing fall weather, the sort that makes you want to jump into a pile of leaves. In the middle of just such an afternoon, I was walking down a street that winds through a neighborhood of large, elegant homes, on my way to pick up my car at long last. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, sat a pair of glasses. No one in sight, just the glasses laying there, as yet unscathed. I started to walk past, thinking there would be no way for me to find the owner, so what would I do with them if I picked them up? But I couldn't help but think that someone would need these, and perhaps I could do something to help their owner see clearly again! I bent down and scooped up the spectacles, and tucked them into my bag, still wondering just what I could do that would offer even the remotest hope of reunion. About two minutes later, a gardener driving a golf cart turned out from one of the driveways. As he paused to let me past, I asked him if the glasses were his. At his enthusiastic and surprised, "Yes!", I handed the glasses over and continued on my way.

We often despair of making a difference in the world. We long to change the world, to see miracles happen. Sometimes I wonder if we miss the miracles, and our chances to make them happen, by stepping over and around the little things left on the sidewalk. We want to do big things, to see big miracles - so we skip over the trifles. Or else we worry that any thing we can do is but a drop in the bucket, we have no faith that our efforts will change anything at all - and leave the insignificant bits behind. I'm not Christ, healing the blind man along the road, but in this one thing not overlooked on the sidewalk, I could abet a small miracle. What were the odds of my ever finding the owner of the glasses? Small to none. Yet someone sees more clearly because I was willing to take on - in faith - the negligible burden of picking up the glasses.

Friday, November 17, 2006

One Liners

Crash Kid is the master of the one liners.

"Did I say that out loud? I'm sorry, when I'm stressed, sometimes my sub-text becomes text."

"Who are you, and what have you done with my mother?"

And of course, "Neat." Which can be inflected to mean anything from "awesome" to "and tell me again why I should care?"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Kid'll Eat the Middle of an Oreo First

...and save the chocolate cookie outside for last!" So goes the jingle from MY childhood. I must admit, I never liked the chocolate cookie part of an Oreo much, and if left to my own devices would eat the white stuff in the middle and leave the chocolate cookie outside for someone else entirely. With four brothers, finding someone to consume my chocolate remains, licked clean or not, was rarely a problem.

The other day Barnacle Boy appeared with an impish grin and a plate of white discs -- guess what he saves for last! Those creamy white insides. This must say something about our respective psychologies, if only I could figure out what.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Barnacle Boy and Crash Kid had guests to dinner the other night. The Boy was using his napkin to flick his buddy. "Stop flicking Game Guy!" "I'm not flicking him, the napkin is!" "The napkin has no self-determination, you decide for the napkin." I shot back. Crash enters the fray, "Self-determination is a key human right." Now the conversation has moved to what it means to be human (and how this does not apply to napkins). From my perspective this is a win: Barnacle Boy is no longer flicking the napkin at Game Guy. We are however, making Grown Girl, our other guest, nervous. She put the brakes on with, "Whoa, long word alert. Too many long words are making me nervous!"

Barnacle Boy tells her solemnly that she must suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, a long word for the fear of long words. It rolls off his tongue, but none of the rest of us can manage it, particularly not when laughing so hard! We decided that while Grown Girl is certainly a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic, the Boy is on track to be a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophile I don't know if Grown Girl will ever come back to eat with us again, even if we are having tacos.

According to Wikipedia, Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is not a real phobia. The word doesn't appear in the Oxford English dictionary, nor in the DSM. Nonetheless, this site offers hope for sufferers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shimmering Chimeras

Barnacle Boy, true to form, wanted to hold onto me tonight. "I never said how long I wanted to hold you, I'll never let you go, Mom!" I pointed out to him that I was always holding onto him, that some of his cells were still in me. Fetal microchimerism, the decades long, post-partum persistence of fetal cells in the mother is a relatively recent discovery. My own little barnacle was quick to pick up on the principle. He wanted to know where I kept his cells - in the uterus? "No, all over my body, even in my blood." The lights went on. "Oh, I'm always in your heart! Literally! Your blood goes right through your heart, with me...." A short pause was followed with, "and so you were always in Grammy's heart, too. Even when she's dead, you're still in her heart." I suspect he meant it literally, he's a pretty pragmatic guy, but I read it more affectively, on this of all days, All Saints Day - to hear that I remain always in my mother's heart, unto to death and beyond.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Where my heart lies

Barnacle Boy enjoys cooking. Last year he saw Rachel Ray on Oprah (not at my house!) making fudge, came home, found the recipe on the web and the ingredients in the cupboard and produced quite wonderful fudge. It's become part of his regular rotation of cooking projects. Tonight it is deluging outside and his sib, the Crash Kid, has a coterie of friends over to play war games. The Boy decided it was a good night for fudge and perhaps an opportunity to experiment with the recipe (with the idea, I'm sure, that his sib and buddies would consume pretty much anything he produced). A luscious mint chunky fudge is now cooling in the 'fridge.

As he was stirring away, he asked for his "favorite pan": a 50-year-old heart-shaped aluminum cake pan. It was the first cake pan my mother ever purchased, to bake a cake for her first Valentine's Day after she married my dad - in 1958, when she was 7 months pregnant with me. When I left California to post-doc on the east coast, she gave me one of the two in the set. I felt as if she'd given me her heart to take with me then, and now that it is linked to the Boy's heart as well, makes it all the more precious.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Point Values

Barnacle Boy and his good friend, Bead Girl, found an on-line quiz that purports to tell you whether you'll go to heaven or not. They took it together, while I eavesdropped. The Boy turns out to be "Sitting with the Apostles", oddly reminiscent of this Sunday's Gospel (where James and John, prodded on by their mother, ask Christ to sit at His right hand in heaven). Giggling, they urged me to take the quiz. I'm, alas, in the "Maybe" zone. Points, I'm told, are assigned based on what the Bible says.

I fear my theology is too nuanced and I was far too honest! Barnacle Boy was quick to comfort me, pointing out that "All moms have to go to heaven, they work so hard." He just as quickly followed with, "And all the kids that have to listen to them, too!" I can guess what his idea of purgatory is!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

There oughta be a law

Barnacle Boy needs a flu shot, as he does every year. He's still smarting (figuratively, of course) from having been ambushed at his brother's check-up two years ago when I asked his pediatrician about whether Crash Kid needed a flu shot. Crash breathed easy when the answer came back "No.", Alas, the process that led to this conclusion reminded the pediatrican that Barnacle Boy did need one! Barnacle, all set to gloat while his sibling got stuck, was hoist on his own petard.

The issue is asthma, so he can't have the FluMist version. Tonight he's worrying about the yet-to-be scheduled shot and decided that if he needs to get stuck, everyone should get stuck. "There ought to be a law that says if one person in a family can't have FluMist, no one can!" I think if he could, he'd ban it for everyone!

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Mouse that Roared

Fluffy definitely contributes to the upkeep of the household. This is the time of year when the mice look for warmer quarters, which can include our house. Last weekend I came down early to find that Fluffy had left us a little "gift" in the center of the sunroom carpet. I disposed of the body quietly.

Yesterday morning I woke before 6 am to Fluffy's piteous cries. Was she hurt? Sick? Not. My favorite mathematician had found her enjoying a lovely game with a furry friend in his study. She was not pleased when he removed her toy.

Today Crash Kid greets me at the door with "Guess what happened in home room today?" It seems that one of Fluffy's mice took refuge in Mike's backpack and when he pulled out his binder in homeroom today, seized the moment and escaped. There hasn't been this much excitement in homeroom yet this year. To finish his tale, Crash pulls out his language arts paper, covered in (presumably) mouse blood. Middle school boy to the core, he didn't feel this merited a new copy from his teacher. I, however, was suitably appalled!

High Risk Blessings

Fluffy has joined the family. Barnacle Boy and his good friend joined me on a trip to the SPCA, determined to adopt a kitten. And kittens there were in abundance. But off to the side, in a bottom cage was an incredibly fuzzy cat. The friend was entranced, "She's purring at me!" The card on the cage read "Loves to be held and petted." Given that what Barnacle Boy reallly, really wanted was a pet he could hug and hold, this seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. So Fluffy, age 1, joined the family.

Her first outing was to our parish's blessing of the animals. Lots of dogs (and a plethora of present and former college presidents - three!), two cats and a pair of birds. And all in a highly excited state (well, not the college presidents). One pet drew blood from the presiding priest - the laying on of hands in this context is risky - but not Fluffy. She did consider the possibility that the two birds sitting next to us might be a good snack, but was restrained by her leash from following through. The birds seemed blissfully ignorant of their peril.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Girls Just Want to Have Fun - In Science

John Tierney had an op-ed piece in the NY Times on Tuesday about the recent National Academy of Sciences report on bias toward women in science. He dismisses their findings of bias, and pins the reason for the underrepresentation of women in research universities on "they don't want to". Most girls, he opines, like the soft sciences, because they are concrete and people oriented, while boys prefer the abstract and "things". Perhaps, but you can be movivated by the concrete, be people oriented and still do "hard science". Check out the letters in response to his piece (full disclosure, one of the letters is mine). Martha Pollack's response regarding engineering was wonderful - people oriented hard science exists.

Cross-posted on Culture of Chemistry.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Going the distance

I've signed up to do a "sprint" triathlon in the fall. A 1/2 mile swim, a 10 mile bike ride and a 5K "run" (I'll have to walk it, my knee doesn't run anymore). My bike has an odometer, which I've always found motivating. (Think it's fun to watch the odometer in your car turn over? Try it when you've pedaled every one of those 1000 miles!) In the past, finding walking and biking routes of a certain distance (1 mile, 2 miles) was rather hit or miss. Now I use the Google Maps Pedometer to map out routes.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Litany of the Snacks

Their plaintive wails waft up the stairs, "Mom, I don't know what to have for breakfast!" "Oatmeal, toast, Cheerios, ..." I chant in reply. "No, no, none of those," responds my congregation. "Scrambled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waffles?" The refrain sounds again. "Yogurt, fruit, Cookie Crisps?" In two part harmony, the refrain resounds. Morning prayer in the household.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Modern Indulgences

What goes around, comes around? It might have been a stretch to see the iPod as a modern incarnation of a Book of Hours, but Absolution Online seems to have climbed right out of a 10th century penitential. Click on your sins, rate them (A for the most extreme down to E for the most venial) and it will calculate your penance, and offer you absolution. I got 28 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers for my sins of sloth and delectatio morosa!

More medieval echos can be found here, where you can use (OK, I didn't actually try it!) Visa or MasterCard to purchase indulgences at a site that is mocked up to look like the Vatican's. I hope it's a joke. In any case, it reminded me of the thriving medieval relic trade, of which John Calvin reflected, if all the known relics were collected in one place "it would be made manifest that every Apostle has more than four bodies, and every Saint two or three."

Calvin's concerns were not novel, his satiric essay on relics begins by citing Augustine's oblique comment on the trade in the relics of the martyrs: "If, indeed, they are relics of martyrs."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jesus Christ News

In a recent article, Jesus Christ was hyperlinked. Curious, I clicked on the link to find the following text:

News about Jesus Christ, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

with a list of articles all under the title: Jesus Christ News - The New York Times. Does Jesus Christ really need a hyperlink for the average reader to identify him? And shouldn't he really have his own RSS feed?

Not having quite the same name recognition, I can get my own set of factoids, as Scrivener did. There are moments when indeed the air is superheated, and given the weather today, at times 80% of me has been covered in water!

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Michelle!

  1. Four-fifths of the surface of Michelle is covered in water.
  2. According to the story, Pinocchio was made of Michelle.
  3. The air around Michelle is superheated to about five times the temperature of the sun.
  4. More than one million stray dogs and half a million stray cats live in Michelle.
  5. Duelling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are Michelle!
  6. US gold coins used to say 'In Michelle we trust'.
  7. Michelle is the smallest of Jupiter's many moons!
  8. There is actually no danger in swimming right after you eat Michelle, though it may feel uncomfortable!
  9. Michelle can run sixty-five kilometres an hour - that's really fast!
  10. It is impossible to fold Michelle more than seven times!
I am interested in - do tell me about

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Re-mother, Pre-mother

My Greek chorus is in full swing again. A friend's daughter saw the rules listed on our fridge (If you open it, close it. If you use it up, throw it away. Put it in the hamper. Flush. No Greek choruses.) "What's a Greek chorus?" she wondered. I told her she knew what it was and demonstrated with her sister. They both looked at me and said, "You mean 're-mothering'!" My guys took to the term with a vengance. Now they've added "pre-mothering" to the list. To pre-mother requires a fine sense of timing, as in popping out with "Be sure to put on your socks, Barnacle Boy!" just as I take breath to remind youngest son to do so.