Monday, January 13, 2014

Amish Friendship Math


Ever gotten a start for Amish friendship bread? It’s kind of like sourdough: you have a container of fermented “starter,” you use it to make the bread, then you replenish it so it keeps growing. After you’ve nursed the starter along for ten days, you make yourself a batch of yummy bread using part of the starter, then you divide up the starter into 4 bags, keep one for yourself, and give three away. That’s presumably why they call it “friendship bread.”

(Disclaimer: Wikipedia says "There is no reason to think that the bread has any connection to the Amish people." The Amish are much wiser than this. And I can’t imagine them using Jell-O pudding mix as an ingredient in anything.)

It sounds so innocent and…friendly. But friendship bread is really a terrifying exercise in exponential growth.

If I have a cup of starter, that’s
40=1 (Don’t ask me why. Anything to the zero power is one). So far so good. The original starter yields 4 new bags, including the one I keep, for
41=4
If each neighbor takes good care of the starter and gives three neighbors a bag, we have
42=16
A bag takes 10 days to mature, so another 10 days later we have
43=128 bags of starter after about a month. In another month or so, we’re up to
46=8,192 If you estimate that every home in my town has about 4 people in it, that’s one bag per house. In another month, we’re up to
49=524,200, or enough bags to cover about 2 million households of 4 people. Another month later, we have
412=33,544, 432 bags.
Only two more rounds after that, we’ve got a bag of starter for every household in the U.S.:
414=268,440,000.
After sixteen rounds, we don’t have quite enough Amish friendship bread starters for everyone in the world:
416=4,295,000,000, but everyone in the world can have about three bags after the next round (if we haven’t run out of Zip-loc bags by then):
417=17,180,000,000 after a little less than 6 months since my original bag of starter.

But wait! There’s more! These numbers are vastly underestimated, since the bag I kept goes on to spawn four more bags, as does each one of the other bags, leading much more quickly to the downfall of humankind as we know it. If everyone obeyed the instructions on the bag, we’d already have international ordinances and relief agencies dedicated to eradicating the friendship bread menace.

Fortunately, my neighbors are deeply aware of the Amish friendship bread threat, and they declined my Zip-loc bags. Friendship bread went no farther than my house, where I made 5 batches and threw away the instructions.

Oh, and if you didn’t read past “yummy bread,” here are some instructions for starting your own Amish friendship bread (this recipe yields only three starts). Just don’t give me a bag.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Just for Fun


Becky, my best friend of 20 years, loves long-term, visionary goals. She’s got hers all worked out: multiple advanced degrees, world travel, and ballroom dance championships. I love hearing about her goal-setting and -achieving prowess.

Thing is, she wants me to be happy too, so she keeps asking what my goals are. I have a couple of writing goals, well-defined and underway, which are way too boring to talk about in polite (non-writer) society. My husband and I will go back to Japan someday. And Becky and I have a major bit of world travel planned for the (non-specified) year we both turn 50.

But, she asks, what else? I draw a blank. I have an advanced degree, and absolutely no desire to get another (Fiction rejection letters are no fun, but they don’t hold a candle to academic rejection letters: ten pages long, with no breath of hope at the end for publication. People get tenure for writing these monsters, and they take them seriously.)

OK, there is something. Actually, two somethings.

     • Learn to ice-skate.

     • Learn to play the banjo.

Along with the aforementioned writing goals, that is seriously the sum-total of my bucket list. We’re not talking “compete in some hifalutin adult figure skating division” or “start a bluegrass band and open for Rascal Flatts.”  Just ice skating and banjo-playing.

Because my daughter wanted to take skating lessons, and because Becky kept bugging me, I signed up for grown-up skating lessons six weeks ago.

I am amazed at how much I love it.

I probably do not look like I’m having fun. I look like I’m terrified of falling down, mostly because I’m terrified of falling down. I haven’t achieved any noticeable level of proficiency. And it kind of hurts.

So why is it fun? No idea.

But I spend all week with a background tickly feeling of excitement because I’m learning to ice skate!

Next, we should go on to the paragraph about how my muscles are getting toned, and my grace and confidence have increased, and I’m making better food choices by thinking What Would Michelle Kwan Eat?

We will cover all that if any of it ever happens.

For now, it’s simply and only fun.  And the fun, all by itself, feels like a health benefit.

Anyone know where I can pick up a used banjo?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

103 Years Cool



I called my grandma on her birthday. “A lot of people have been coming to see me today,” she said. “I guess they all want to look at someone who’s 103.”

Grandma’s partly right—making it to 103 is an accomplishment, no matter what shape you’re in when you get there. But my grandma got there with class and style. My kids regularly exclaim, “Great-grandma is cool!” I’ve even caught myself thinking, “Wow, I hope I live to be 103, so I can be as cool as Grandma.”

But Grandma’s cool did not begin at 103, or even at 95. In hopes of someday achieving a cool like Grandma’s, I shall attempt to unpack this compact expression.

In Grandma’s case, cool means having lived history:

Women weren’t allowed to vote in national elections until Grandma was nine. Prohibition started when she was ten, and ended when she was 23.

Her father bought their first car—a red Maxwell-Chalmers—when she was twelve. Her mom would get out and walk if he went “fast” (over 30). “I rode, but I was scared,” Grandma says.

The first time she voted was for FDR in 1932.

Her husband was a pediatrician, and he was sent to Europe as a doctor in WWII, leaving her home with three young children.

Grandma’s marriage was an early casualty of the sexual revolution. When her kids were teenagers, her husband decided he wanted one of the first no-fault divorces—and Grandma was the one who got to establish residency in Nevada by living there alone for six weeks.

She doesn’t have much use for our new-fangled computer gizmos. “Intel Celeron D processor,” she read at random from an ad in the paper. “Windows Vista. So what?”

Cool also means having the constitution and will to live independently:

Grandma lives in a retirement community in her own apartment. Someone comes in a couple of times a week to clean for her…but she cleans up before the cleaning lady gets there.

She cooks for herself.

She holds strong political opinions, completely opposite of the rest of her family’s, and firmly states them at every opportunity. Her family state theirs back, just as firmly. To visitors from out West, watching this process at family gatherings is hugely entertaining.

Noting the crossword puzzle book in the bathroom, I asked her if she’d like a new one for Christmas. “Oh, yes,” she said. “But it would have to be hard ones—only.”

But cool, I think, mostly means reveling in life, and in people:

Grandma doesn’t spend a lot of energy on what she doesn’t have, or can’t do anymore. We took the whole family back East to visit Grandma when she was 99 (after all, when someone is 99, you don’t know how much longer they have left…) “Let me show you my pride and joy,” Grandma said. She went into the next room, then emerged, smiling, with a shiny, candy-apple red walker. On the same trip, she and my daughter were tickled to discover that they were both halfway to their next birthday: my daughter was 12½. Grandma was 99½.

That six-week stay in Nevada? Grandma kept a journal. It wasn’t a joyful or fun time, but she made friends with the people who ran the boarding house, and she learned to love the West. “It’s a nice day again today,” she noted daily in surprise. Grandma’s from Western New York. I grew up in the Mojave Desert. “Grandma!” I exclaimed when I first read that journal. “It’s the desert! It’s never going to rain!”

“I used to have people I didn’t like,” Grandma says, “but I don’t anymore. Don’t have time for that, I guess. Now I just like everybody.”

Grandma remembers and maintains contact with people she knew eight or more decades ago: a kid my mom used to play with, presumably in his 70s now, sent Grandma flowers for her birthday. The lady who did my mom’s hair on her wedding day also sent birthday greetings.

The caregivers assigned to come in and help her out invariably become her good friends. The Mormon missionaries, who’ve long since accepted that Grandma’s not converting, drop by just to say hi and see how she’s doing.

She maintains extensive, handwritten correspondence. My kids have learned to read cursive and learned to enjoy hand-writing letters largely because their great-grandma writes to them.

Grandma fell and had to live in a care center for a few weeks. When she went home, patients and employees lined up to say goodbye. It seems like everyone wants a piece of Grandma’s cool.

Interested. Independent. Involved. Inquisitive. Inspiring.

Maybe if I live to be 103, I’ll have time to achieve that level of cool…

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas, 2012!


A Very Setzer Christmas, 2012

Merry Christmas! We sent T off to the bustling metropolis of Ephraim, Utah (pop. 6135) to study pre-engineering at Snow College. His comment: “College is way better than high school!” J is studying German and working on his Eagle Scout. Except, in German, igel means hedgehog, so J aspires to become the first Igel Scout, ever. He’s making dog beds for the Humane Society out of old awnings and PVC pipe. E is preparing to dance as an evil spider in Babes in Toyland, Steve is working for a company in Boston from his desk here at home, and I, Lee Ann, am writing this Christmas newsletter.

Humor writer Dave Barry occasionally interrupts his musings to note that certain ridiculous word combinations would be Good Names for Rock Bands. Here’s our running list from this year. We thought about starting a rock band, but there were just too many excellent names to choose from. As a service to you, if you start a rock band, you are welcome to use one of our names:

Moose Satellites
Norm the Minotaur
Heroic Spiders
Flaming Mustache
Intergalactic Wombat Lions
Doomed Goons
Runaway Electric Toothbrush (from a Garfield comic strip?)
Summation Pie
Evil Lunch
Trained Earwigs
Hedgehogs in Training
Perpetual Doink (when the cat presses his forehead against you, then takes a nap in that position)
Black Tapioca
Talented Cardboard
Left-handed Drunk Wrestlers
Outsourced Umbrage (Unfortunately accurate description from my writing group, about a story I wrote. It’s better now. I hope.)
Group Hallucination
Two-Degree Angle (the angle of a ruler             placed with one end on Steve’s head, and one on E’s. Still in Steve’s favor…but not for much longer.)
Mail-Order Fruitcakes
Sith Kittens
Delicious Ankles
Caffeinated Soap
Marshmallow Villain-Lizards (thank you, Kellogg’s Spiderman cereal!)
Darn Fine Tupperware (I suppose we’d need permission for this one…)

For your further enlightenment, we’ve also been collecting tongue twisters. We decided that the mark of a really good tongue twister is if you can’t even pronounce it right in your head.

Weird Ward                             Real Werewolf
Real Weird Werewolf Ward
Stale snail shell                        Irish wristwatch
Black Yak                                Respectable spectacles
Soap and snowflakes              Soldier’s shoulder surgery
Sith Kittens (the only entry that makes both lists)

And now, folks, let’s say it five times fast for the Sith Christmas Kittens!  (cue applause)

Merry Christmas, from Steve, Lee Ann, T, J, and E

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Random Research: Hair and Fur

All fur is hair, but all hair isn't fur.

Hair may be related to reptile scales and bird feathers, which all represent different expressions of the same protein.

Hair takes even longer to decay than bones do.

Theories abound as to why people are hairless when our ape ancestors aren't. Temperature regulation? Pest control? Sexual selection? Or some combination: perhaps having less hair kept us cooler by day and kept the lice down, and we had clothing and shelter to keep us warm at night...thus allowing us to choose less hairy mates without our children freezing to death. Or something.

If you google "hair evolution", you get a lot of funky hairstyles, and a lot of beauty products with the word "evolution" in their names.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Pronounce Eclat

In the absence of a little accent thingy for the "e", here is a pronunciation tutorial for the word eclat:

Wow. What happened to your arm?
My cat happened.
I'll say he did — with all 20 claws.
No. Just a claw.

The Eclat of a Proverb

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are dancing in nearly complete silence at the Netherfield ball. Elizabeth gives this explanation for their lack of conversation:

      "We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."

On about my dozenth time through the book, I finally looked up "eclat," which, it turns out, means "social distinction or conspicuous success."

Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth, "This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," and she demurs to "decide on [her] own performance,"  regarding her analysis of his character.

I, however, have determined that Elizabeth's description is quite apt as regards this blog. I'm not taciturn and unsocial in daily life, but most of the time when I think of a topic to discuss here, I instantly reject it as lacking eclat (which should have an accent thingy over the e).

This blog, like Mr. Darcy, needs to loosen up, and follow Elizabeth's example:  "I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, DO divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."

I have lots and lots of follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies and shall make a concerted effort to laugh at them more consistently here on the blog. Perhaps if I'm not so taciturn and unsocial, I'll even find some of what is wise and good to share.

Coming up: proper forsythia coiffures, the evolution of hair, and a shocking revelation about reading glasses.
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.