My Favorite Words…and more!

doug henning

    Prestidigitation – sleight of hand
    Fabulist – an author of fables
    Happenstance – a random event
    Indubitably – undoubtedly
    Penumbra – a partial shadow
    Zoroastrianism – religion and philosophy based on the teachings of Zoroaster
    Personification – attribution of human traits to non-living objects
    Bumbershoot – a humorous term for an umbrella
    Megalomaniacal – exhibiting traits of megalomania, a mental illness whose symptoms include delusions of greatness and wealth
    Caricature – exaggeration by means of ludicrous distortion of characteristics

    My new favorite annual plant: marigold

    My favorite punctuation mark: semi-colon

    My favorite traffic light color: green

    My favorite popsicle: chocolate éclair

    My favorite secret ingredient: lemon juice

    My favorite bagel: salt (yeah, baby)

    My favorite dual-use name for a color and a vegetable: aubergine (aka eggplant)

    My favorite version of Elvis: Vegas pantsuit Elvis (seriously!)

    My favorite news story of today: well, not much good news out there. Bizarrely coinciding celeb deaths (or just happenstance?), megalomaniacal government actions, the personification of greed—oh, if it could all be disappeared by the power of prestidigitation!

    A fallen world we’re living in? Indubitably.


Thankful to be of Service

Good Sam kids at Window

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Greg Mortenson’s work building schools in remote villages in Pakistan for girls who would otherwise receive no education at all. Mortenson’s story and work are inspiring, indeed. I’m thankful to report that this week I’ve had a chance to participate in some international school-fundraising of my own; as the Missions Coordinator for my church’s Vacation Bible School, I’ve been promoting the cause of an elementary school for children in Africa.

Every year at VBS, we choose a charitable work to be the recipient of the children’s daily offering. This year, the money we raise will go to sponsor the education of several children in Senegal, a former French colony in West Africa. In Senegal, where many families are poor and education can be costly, many children are unable to attend school because their families cannot afford the $20/month it costs to send them. It’s hard to believe that the cost of 100 tickets at Rehoboth Beach’s Funland Amusements or 2 pounds of boardwalk fudge could buy something as precious as education.

The generosity of the VBS children, their parents, and the staffers has overwhelmed me this week! With one day to go of our VBS program, we’ve exceeded our goal of raising $460 (enough to pay for 2 years of school in Senegal!); as of today, we’ve collected an astonishing $610!! I’m hoping that our offering tomorrow will put us at the $700 mark.

Ironic that American children on their much anticipated (and well deserved) summer vacations should be rallying so enthusiastically around the cause of children whose greatest desire is to attend school. And amazing that our meager contribution can go such a very long way.

More Summer Reading—but Not for the Faint of Heart


A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.  It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.                   -Edward P. Morgan

As I offer this quotation to you and read it again myself, I’m struck with the vicarious nature of the reading experience. People who know my reading habits will know that I’m not one to shy away from the controversial, the violent, the depressing, or the very ugly side of human experience—not in my reading at least. Books, especially non-fiction ones, take me to places I’ll never go and let me live lives that are nothing like my own. They let me touch the extremes of human existence. And they let me do it at a good, safe distance.

Reading Alice Sebold‘s Lucky, though, I found myself in one of the darkest places of my reading career. In Lucky, Sebold (author of 2002’s The Lovely Bones) tells her own story of being raped by a stranger at the end of her freshman year in college; she reports the incident, remains at school, and pursues prosecution of the man responsible. In this powerful memoir where she recounts the violence she experienced (a story that made me come this close to giving the gift of mace to all the 2009 graduates I know), Sebold also explores the surprising cross-section of reactions that come from family, friends, acquaintances, and herself: surprisingly, Mom and Dad don’t accompany her to the initial phases of the trial; her older sister maintains pangs of sibling rivalry; friends not able to stomach the experience are dismissed; her own clear-headed pursuit of justice careens off into the thicket of self-destruction.

This book made we wonder not, what would I have done if I had been attacked like Alice (that is a vision too frightening to entertain), but rather, what would I have done if I were Alice’s friend? Would the 19-year-old me have known the right words to say and the right things to do, the things that would have encouraged and empowered Alice? Would the 40 -year-old me know that “remember everything” is good advice to a young girl who can’t come to class because she’s off to i.d. her attacker? Would any incarnation of me have a voice, a presence, a mite to contribute to a person whose emotional terrain has been forever altered (though in ways it seems remarkably unaltered) by her experience?

I’ll continue to wonder, I think, glad that Alice had friends who offered her just the right words at just the right time. I’ll wonder, knowing that in a world colored by profound wrong, sometimes even the right words are the wrong words. I’ll wonder whether my words would ever be the right words, and I’ll hope that whatever they are, those words will never have to be spoken.

Captain’s Blog

Captain Kirk

Since Friday’s family visit to the Star Trek Exhibition (currently on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia) I’ve had this most disturbing realization:

I am a trekkie.

I believe it was when the words, “The Grand Negus’s suit—awesome!” came out of my mouth that I knew I had crossed over. It was either that or when a nearly photographic mental cataloging of Deanna Troi’s rising and falling hairdos, necklines, and hems started running through my head. Or maybe it was when I spotted the words ‘Utopia Planitia’ on the reproduction engineering island and actually knew what they meant.

Even now, I’m sitting here thinking, “Of course Data’s brother is Lore, but everyone knows that!” If everyone does know that, then I’m still like everybody else. If not, then I’ve got a one-way ticket to the Delta quadrant.

Beam me up, Mr. Scott.

I think my trekkie-dom was solidly confirmed when I looked back on my college career and realized that I’d spent 7-8 pm every Saturday night watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my boyfriend (guess who?). Then it was confirmed again, last week, when I found myself giving the children a Star Trek movie crash course the day before the exhibition (the pop-culture illiteracy…tragic!). Then at the exhibit, it was confirmed yet again, when I started explaining to another family that the odd Star Trek movies are bad and the even ones are good…you get the idea.

While I may be a superfan, I do not speak Klingon. I don’t know the year of Captain Kirk’s graduating class. I do not know Leonard Nimoy’s hat size. I have not and never will dress in a Star Trek uniform, although I did have a very good approximation of one (courtesy of Talbot’s—not bought by me) back in the ’90’s .

I’m not redecorating my house a la the Starship Enterprise, and I’m not taking spins around town in my homemade version of Christopher Pike’s motorized wheelchair. I’m not showing up for jury duty in a Star Trek uniform, and I’m not going to a Trek-themed dentist.*

However, considering my self-realizations, I will no longer laugh at the people who do.

Well, maybe just a little.

*all from the documentaries Trekkies and Trekkies 2, by the way. Watch ’em, but keep your inhaler ready!

So Thankful…

kids fighting…that Thursday’s almost over.

Good start…nice middle…neighborhood kids over…rough end…with fighting…kind of messy…now clean…grocery store…yummy nectarines…movie night…Vacation Bible School tomorrow…hopefully less fighting…and a smaller mess.


The School of Reruns

Mission Impossible

My children and I are in rerun marathon mode.

First came the Mythbusters marathon on the first night of summer vacation (“Can he grasp the roof of the speeding car and hang on? Will a life raft inflated in midair float our hero to a safe landing? What are the chances that my hair cream will explode?”). Luckily the kids fell asleep during the Mythbusters superhero episode where Jamie had to cut himself down from a 30-foot ceiling when his motorized grappling hook/zip line didn’t go into reverse, causing him to flip over, clock himself in the head, and, from my vantage, come this close to slitting his own throat.

That’s some good family viewing, right?

Then came the weekend Mission: Impossible marathon—and here we’re talking Season One, no Peter Graves, no Tom Cruise, lotsa Peter Lupus (who?) and measured doses of Steven Hill (isn’t that the grouchy DA from Law & Order?). We’re enjoying it so much that I’m starting to wonder, can you fan Martin Landau on Facebook?

What’s great about Mission: Impossible (besides the iconic theme song, iconic imposter masks, and iconic self-destructing tape recordings) is that it’s so darn optimistic. Sure, the Cold War is chilling its way through the ’60’s, but with a little chilling of their own on Dan Briggs’ black leather couch, nobody on the IMF team is getting marched off to Siberia in disavowed disgrace. What Cinnamon Carter (top fashion model), Rollin Hand (man of 1,000 faces), Barney Collier (mechanical and electronics genius), and Willy Armitage (record-holding weight lifter) know is that with advanced planning, team spirit, calm focus, cheerful cooperation, good costumes, and profuse brow perspiration, there’s no aspiring tyrant that’s going to get away with it.

Sorry, Jack Bauer, but when was the last time you blew up Ricardo Montalban with his own cache of heat sensitive cesium, which you’d swiped and put into a refrigerated silver mini-tank, a tank which you’d then set on “heat” and sent crawling at a snail’s pace through the tunnel under his bad guy compound? Yeah, I thought so.

On Mission: Impossible there’s no need for urgent scrambling to chase down our only lead. No table flipping to get the suspect to talk. No one sacrificing his personal safety to keep the virulent biologic agent from ripping through the unsuspecting population of the East Coast. With some good gimmicks, a couple of fake-o accents, and not a cell phone in sight, the IMF team managed to bust bad guys left and right—and they always drove away intact and smiling.

The IMF team was so successful (and so darn consistent!) that I’m going to adopt its approach as my own. Before any family endeavor, I’ll devise an elaborate plan which assigns each family member a job suited to his or her talent. My husband—the geek squad! My son—the comedian! My daughter—the physical adventurer! Me—the writer? (—the baker? —the candlestick maker?) We’ll brush up on our behaviorism principles so we can predict the responses of every ticket seller, every driver, every kid who’s come over to play. And we’ll stay up until all hours, assembling sweat-producing gadgets (out of cardboard and duct tape, of course) that’ll be the lynchpin of every operation.

Too bad, but we’re sort of lacking in the mask department. Wait—I’ve got some crazy Einstein hair, a pirate vest, and a purple magician’s cape in the basement! Unfortunately I’d need Barney’s know-how and Willy’s brawn just to tunnel through the mess of playing cards, stuffed animals, cardboard bricks, and assorted you-name-it that are all over the basement floor. Mission: Impossible? You betcha.

Fine, Kids…You Were Right.

overloaded_bikeOn the blackboard in my dining room there’s an index card which reads as follows: “Mom and Dad are NOT stupid. Signed, Hayley Scheir. 8/2/08.”

When my then 7-year-old daughter pronounced her recognition of her parents’ intellectual savvy, I urged her to write it down, knowing full well that in a couple of years her opinion might have a tendency to change. What I didn’t realize is that it would take less than a year for my children’s common sense to trump my own.

Just today, in fact, the kids and I took a bike ride to the local library (which, darn it, has almost none of the books on my personal summer reading list, but never mind about that). By some miracle, I remembered to bring my overdue book, my card catalog cheat list, all three of our library cards, and the key for the bike lock. What I didn’t remember was a bike trailer for the 30 books and 8 DVDs that, for the next three weeks, are now ours.

The way I look at it, books are like fruit, and if a kid wants a banana there’s no way I’m saying “no.” For our family, the library represents the home of the ultimate on-the-cheap shopping spree, where there’s no money spent and no buyers’ remorse.

Problem is, books can also be like that big screen TV that you bought that’ll only fit into your Honda Accord sedan by some miracle of modern particle physics.

Needless to say, on the flip side of our visit, we found ourselves seriously cramming our library booty into the one and only messenger bag I’d worn on my back. “Keep cramming,” I said, “The books will fit, I tell you!!” But the children said, “No, Mom, get a plastic back from the librarian!” And I said, “No, there’s space for at least 3 more books in this hidden flap pocket!! And we can put these 8 books in my handlebar pouch! And you can put these 5 movies in your handlebar pouch! We can do it!!” And finally the kids grabbed my shoulders, shook me, and said, “Mom…stop!! We’re getting a plastic bag!!!”

Luckily we didn’t have to stop too many times on the way home, because with that bag across my shoulder I nearly tipped over every time I put my weight on one of the pedals. Yup, halfway home Hayley said it, “See, Mom, someday you’ll say, ‘My children were right.'” And I said, “Kiddo, today’s the day.” And as I wove back and forth down the road, the load shifting wildly around my center of gravity and the messenger bag strap becoming more and more a permanent part of my upper body anatomy, all I could add was, “I was wrong! I was horribly wrong!!!”

Thankful Thursday – Hooray for Funky Food!

baking with beerI’m thankful today for successful food experiments! Last week the Kahlua chocolate cheesecake bars, this week (I’m not kidding) Crockpot Beer Cake.

This recipe was featured in my local paper in a story full of beer-themed recipes fit for our Dover Downs NASCAR weekend. I am not a fan of Dover Downs, NASCAR, or beer (not for or against, more like neutral), but how could a baker like me pass up the wierdness that is a cake made in a crockpot that’s got beer in it to boot?

So I brought the Crockpot Beer Cake (which took four and a half hours on high and was still hot from the crockpot!) to a picnic last night, and it was the “looks bad, tastes great” hit of the evening. Guests were hesitant until one of them said, “Is this another experiment?” and then they ALL dug in. Conspicuous food consumption for the sake of science–gotta love that. Drew blamed his goofy behavior on the beer, which amounted to a cup and a half, but he can go ahead and think what he wants, right?

Funny that the Beer Cake worked out so well, as I’ve recently been wishing that there was some new food out there that would blow the lid off of my monotonous food-making routine. To think it was in a six pack in the basement all along! Plus, now if I ever find myself tail-gating with an extra beer and available electric, I’ll be all set!

The Inventor of Air—Who Knew?


Back in the latter part of the 18th century, amateur scientist, professional minister, and middle class Englishman Joseph Priestley made a discovery that should have given him his own rest stop on the road map of scientific progress. In his homegrown, grassroots-financed lab, Priestley discovered that plants produce oxygen.

This one was a biggie, I think. So I’m wondering, why haven’t we heard of this guy Priestley? Sadly, we live in an era where former 90210 heartthrob Jason Priestley garners greater name recognition, even considering his slide from the A-list (if 90210 was even on the A-list) in recent years.

Perhaps even sadder than Priestley’s relative obscurity is the fact that countless mice lost their lives in Priestley’s pursuit of this foundational chunk of scientific knowledge. You see, when Priestley wasn’t filling his experiment vats with mercury (so shiny and slippery!), he was filling them with water. Then he was putting poor little Mickeys and Minnies in upside-down jars and logging the speed at which they expired in those oxygen-deprived mini-environments. Oddly, Priestley observed, a sprig of mint survived much longer than the mice, as did a lit match in the presence of said sprig. Put the mint and the mouse together, and voila! You’ve got a mouse that survives twice as long before choking on his own carbon dioxide—which isn’t much considering that we’re talking a matter of minutes until death inside the upside-down, underwater jar.

Personally, I’m just glad that Priestley didn’t put the mouse in the jar with the lit match. Considering his affection for the phlogiston theory (which suggested that fire, in burning, infuses the air with the mysterious—and, it turns out, fictional—substance phlogiston), imagine the Mickey Mouse buttons that would have been melted off in the course of those experiments.

Oh, and did I mention that mouse-killing Priestley was a friend (or at least a close acquaintance) of American founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams? Imagine a politician today getting involved with someone having such petty disregard for the lives of ordinary rodents. Shameful.

Plus, get a load of these other Priestley factoids: Priestley was one of the founders of the Unitarian church. And he invented carbonated water.

Unholy moley, that guy got around, didn’t he? I’m about to turn 40, and I can’t remember the last time I discovered a significant natural process, developed a personal relationship with a founder of modern democracy, inspired a heretical branch of Christianity, or got in on the ground floor of a new soft drink craze. At least I’m hip to the phlogiston thing. But I must admit, I do leave the mouse extermination to my husband.

What I do have in common with Priestley is something that Steven Johnson (author of The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America, a Priestley biography) describes as essential to innovation in the 18th century. I speak of course, of leisure time. If Priestley was a working man, engulfed daily in the smoke and smog of the Industrial Revolution, rather than a minister available to gather with the members of the Honest Whigs and the Lunar Society to discuss political, religious, and scientific issues of the day, he, as we, might have died not knowing one of the core principles of second grade science. Yup, I’ve got the kind of leisure time necessary to read a bio of Mr. Priestley and to put together this very informative blog post. And you, dear reader, have the leisure time necessary to read it (though some of you probably ought to get back to work!).

Unfortunately, it is close to washed-up actor Jason Priestley who may have more leisure time on his hands than he would like. Well, Jason, I guess there’s always science.

Guest Post: The Unbeginning of Summer Vacation


Here’s a poem by graduated 5th grader Jake that I think is perfect for the start of summer vacation. And here’s to hoping that the summer is neverending–in a good way, that is!

The Unbeginning
May 12, 2009

This is the unbeginning
Or is this the beginning end?
We might never know
It’s hard starting at the un-beginning
because we’re starting at the beginning-end
Or is this just the end?
It is not the end
This is the un-beginning
But now, the beginning is the unbeginning of the end
Once you think about the unbeginning
It’s the real un-end
It’s the un-beginning and the un-end
Once you think about it we’re starting in the middle
But now the middle is the un-end


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