Thursday, August 23, 2007

Small Houses

This is a speech I have written for my next Toastmasters meeting. It's supposed to be funny... I don't know if it is or not. Humor me. (Hmm, maybe that's what they mean about a "Humorous Speech"...)

I live in a small house. Two bedrooms, two children, two cats, two adults, and one bathroom. And the boys are only getting bigger, both in terms of size and the amount of stuff that they must have. I’m itching to expand—not personally! I’m big enough already—I mean add onto the house, or move somewhere else with just a little more room. Somewhere I can store my knitting yarn, and go to the bathroom without stepping on toys and someone hopping on one foot outside the door.

It’s amazing that no one needs to go until I need to go. Then, when I go into the bathroom, I’m followed by one boy, one cat, and a shout from my husband to hurry up because he has to go, too. That’s when I tell my son to go outside and make use of the quarter acre that our house is on.

But I’m not here to tell you about peeing in the woods. I’m going to tell you a story that my father told me, when I was complaining about living in this tiny house. This is a rabbinical tale. Those of you who might have grown up with a Jewish background might recognize it.

Once upon a time, there was a man with many children, a wife, and a very small house. They were living on top of one another—the children’s books got mixed up with the mother’s weaving that got mixed up with the man’s tools that got mixed up with the dinner that got mixed up with the kids’ toys… well, you get the idea. The fighting between everyone was intense. The man was miserable.

The man went to the local rabbi, and said, “Rabbi, rabbi, I am going crazy. My house is too small, and our family is a mess. What should I do?”

The rabbi looked at him, thoughtfully, and said, “You have chickens, right? And perhaps a duck?”

The man looked puzzled and said, “Well, yes. In fact we have some newly hatched chicks, too… would you like some as payment?”

“No, no indeed. What you are to do is to invite the chickens—and the duck—into your house. Come back to me in a week.”

The man stammered, and said, “Oh…oh… okay… but it won’t be pretty…”

He went home, gathered up the fowl (foul?) and brought them into the house.

Well. Feathers floating everywhere. Droppings everywhere. The rooster took up residence on the headboard of the man’s bed, and didn’t seem to get the idea that he was only supposed to crow in the morning. The chickens roosted on the kitchen table. The chicks all but disappeared. The ducks took up residence in the kitchen and wouldn’t let the mother wash the dishes. You’ve heard about duck nibbles? This was literal. The family bickered and fought, well-peppered by squawking and quacking.

The week was through, and the man went to the rabbi again.

“Rabbi, things at home are terrible! I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a week! We are all more miserable than before!”

The rabbi looked at the man over his glasses and said, “You have a goat, right? And a couple sheep?”

The man was afraid. “…yes…

“Go home and invite your sheep and goat into your house. Come back to me in a week.”

As the man walked home, it began to rain.

Have you ever smelled wet goat? And while I love wool, have you ever played with a wet sheep? They don’t mind the rain, but you really don’t want to be too close to one when it’s soaked to the skin. With trepidation, the man opened the front door and invited the goat and two sheep into the house.

Oh… the smell. The greasy goats and waterlogged sheep. The … leavings. (Have you seen the Simpsons movie yet? You know the silo that Homer filled with pig “leavings”? There’s some truth to that.) The goat butted everything in sight, climbed on the furniture, and ate the man’s best hat. The chickens took unexpected trips into the air, thanks to the goat. The sheep… well, the sheep rubbed up against everything in the house, spreading their smell and fleas. Baaaa. Baaaa. It never ended. And then the goat and the duck fought. And it was raining. The house was covered with a layer of feathers, fur, and feces.

So the week worked itself out, and the man dragged himself back to the rabbi.

“Oh, rabbi. Things can’t get any worse. Really. How can this be helping things? My wife is ready to leave me!”

The rabbi said, “You have a cow, right?”

“No. Oh no. I mean yes I do, but no, oh no I can’t, please, no…”

“Bring the cow into the house.”

The man went home. Via the local bar.

He heard and smelled his house before he saw it. He tiptoed to the back door (not that it was necessary), opened the door, and shoved the cow into the kitchen where his wife had given up on making dinner.

Now. Imagine. Chickens, duck, goat, sheep, and now a cow. In a small house with children. The lowing of the cow at least drowned out the clucking of the chickens. At least they didn’t have to go outside to milk her. But the cow and the goat didn’t get along. The chickens had taken to leaving eggs in improper places. The duck befouled every dish in the house. One of the sheep had lain upon the man’s bed and did. Not. Look. Well. Flies were everywhere, alighting on anything that stayed still for more than three seconds. And the backside of the cow had become a danger zone. Not for the obvious reasons! They flick their tails, you know? Like the snapping of a wet towel—you don’t want to get in the way or you’ll get a stinging blow to your cheek.

The family got through the week, one day at a time. Mostly by hiding in the barn, themselves.

The man went back to the rabbi, exhausted. He said nothing, he just looked at him, with fear and trembling. What would the rabbi make him do this time…

“Ah, yes. How was your week?”

The man didn’t answer, just looked at him.

“Yes. Well. Today, I want you to go home and put the livestock back in their proper places. Come back to me in a week.”

The man sighed in relief. “Thank you, rabbi! Thank you, thank you!” and he hurried home to give his wife the good news.

Together, they took the sheep, goat, and cow back to the barn and to the pastures, the chickens back to the chicken run, and the duck back to the pond. The house was still a mess, but with the family working together, they cleaned the droppings. They washed the dishes; they boiled the linens and set them to dry in the fresh, clean sunshine. Together they scoured the house from top to bottom. Together, they recovered from the last three weeks’ trials.

A week passed, and the man went back to the rabbi.

“Oh, Rabbi,” he said, “Things are wonderful in our house! We sleep soundly… in the morning all we hear are the birds, in the evenings all we hear are crickets! The house is clean, and organized, and my goodness! The space! I never realized how much space we have! I can breathe again! And everyone is working together to keep the house in order! Thank you, thank you!”

Now, I know I live in a small house. I still want more space. But I will not invite a goat into my house, no matter how much good it might eventually do.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Time Flies

Time, elapsed time. It’s 1:47 in the afternoon, what time will it be in 35 minutes. It took you three-and-a-half hours to get home; what time was it when you left. If you do one task that takes 30 minutes and one task that takes 90 minutes, how much time do you need to complete both tasks. How long does it take to get from here to there. How much time do you need to get everything done.

Time. Flies.

I am in third grade. I think I’m about as brilliant as a third-grader could be. School never takes much effort, and I’m always reading. I know I don’t like math, but I’m okay. I’m sometimes nervous that other kids can do the timed math tests faster than I can, but I’m accurate, and don’t have to work. I know how to tell time, no problem. Miss Moody likes me. She wears pink and has short black, curly hair. A curvy figure in tight fuzzy cardigans and snug skirts. Sweet, milkwhite skin. She lives across the street from us, in the condos that were built last summer. I sold her Girl Scout cookies. She got two boxes of the caramel ones with the coconut.

I love writing vocabulary words in sentences, making them as long and descriptive as possible. She likes this.

But the standardized test for third grade doesn’t have essay questions.

When the results of the spring standardized tests come back, I fully expect to see high marks, as usual. They weren’t hard, they never are.

Instead, next to the 97 and 98% scores for each skill, there was a big 64% under “elapsed time”. And a 76% for “basic computation”.

64%? How can that be? 76%? Computation? What kind of moron am I? Who am I, if not the whiz in the class?

In the report, in Miss Moody’s perfect script, were the words, “Meera needs extra work on figuring elapsed time. Her speed at figuring multiplication tables could use some work, as well. Please take some time at home working on these skills.”

I read and re-read them. Who am I, if not the one my parents were proud of? Who am I, who never needs extra help in anything? My parents have enough to worry about, do they really need this on top of everything? Do I?

The cold pit spreads through my shoulders, the sweaty palms, the rising meniscus of tears. Can’t speak. Emotion. Blink. Blink. Blink. Look at the fluorescent lights.

The bell rings, and I don’t go home. Home is a quick walk through some woods along a path lined with honeysuckle vines. Instead, I go to the playground. I head for the swings.

Most recesses, I swing. Give myself over to gravity, and defy it.

I wrap my sweaty hands around the chain, and kick off. Pump. Back. Pump. Back. Time. Back. Pump. Back. 1. 2. Time. Back. Pump. Watch the shadows of me swinging. Pump. Back. Pump. Lean waaaay back so my feet are vertical. Back. Pump high. Feel the power in my kicks, the tummy lurch as I drop, the centrifuge catch, and swing back. The shadows are longer. Pump. Back. Time.

The sun is in my eyes now, so they can run freely, but I don’t let them. Pump. Back. Time. No one is in the playground now. I’m alone. Pump. Back.

My hands smell metallic. The shadows of the trees along the playground stretch to my feet. My mother appears at the path, looking worried.

What, oh what will I say.

Time. Flies.

Friday, August 3, 2007


I have been having the following conversation with another blogger, and while most of it has been taking place in the "comments" part of my Mother's Day entry, I would like to bring it to the front. Go back and read the original entry, and then read the comments. And here is my response to his final comment.

You. Did. NOT. Just. Suggest. Nuclear. Power. Ozarkyn, are you NUTS?? Really, how can you POSSIBLY think that this is a good idea? Oh yeah, it has no impact on the environment, except for the wastes and danger that it inherently brings to everyone, from the uranium mining to the waste at the end of the cycle. Not to MENTION the accidents that DO happen. Yeah, it's really safe, except for the parts that aren't. You can't explain these problems away. My sources aren't from some left-wing nutjobs. Look at the references at the end of these articles. They're well-respected journals.

I do agree that a change in infrastructure is in order. But as I said before, more research is needed. Research to prove to people who believe otherwise that there is a problem (like you!). Lots of them. Research to give viable options. Research to learn how to even approach the problem.

Nuclear power is not the answer. At least, not to the question we're asking. (If the question is, how does Springfield get its power? Then the answer is nuclear power.)

From I,Puzzled's photo on Flickr: The Conundrum of Nuclear Waste Disposal