Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grocery Math

Every time I go to the grocery store, I think I should bring my calculator. I used to bring the calculator so I could estimate my food bill as I shopped, so I knew when to stop according to my budget. Now I have to estimate the food bill in my mind because I need the calculator for grocery math.

Why do hot dogs come in packs of 10 but the rolls are packs of 8 or 12? How many packages of hot dogs would I need to be equivalent to the number of packages of hot dog rolls? Hey, who wants a hot dog without a roll anyway? Gotta pull out the calculator.

When soda is on sale, how do I quickly calculate if the two-liter sale is better or worse than the price for the individual cans? Gotta pull out the calculator.

Why is it that when I used to buy pre-packaged shredded cheese, I knew it contained two cups? It said so on the package. Now there are packages that contain two cups, but others that contain one and one-half cups. Is it worth buying a second package of cheese to get the other half cup? Then how many packages would I need to get an even two cups, which I need for most recipes, again? Gotta pull out the calculator.

Don’t even talk to me about the nutrition information on those food labels. What is a serving size, really? It used to mean a suggested portion for a reasonable serving of a given food item. Now it has changed so that it means how much of that packaged food equals about 100 calories. We’re all into this hundred-calorie thing now, admit it. And so my cereal has completely lost its mind. One type has as its serving size to be ½ cup, another is 1 ¼ cups and yet another is 1 cup. How much cereal should I be eating? Calculator time again.

The most critical use of the calculator: popcorn math. I have calculated and re-calculated a variety of popcorn labels to determine how many calories, fat and fiber are in two tablespoons of popcorn and in an entire bag of popcorn. Why do I need to know the number for two tablespoon if that’s not what I’d eat anyway? Does 94% fat-free popcorn mean it contains 6% fat? Okay, forget the calculator now. Just pop the popcorn.

No wonder I’m tired and hungry after I get groceries. Time for a snack. Start calculating.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Google Wonder

Googolplex and infinity. What is googolplex? Well, I googled it. It’s defined as a number; the number one with the exponent of googol; googol is defined as the digit one followed by one hundred zeros. All of this is not to be confused with “infinity”, which is more of a concept than a number; the number that never ends.

What ever happened to those beautiful concepts; the ideas like infinity and creation, which allow us to use our brain cells to wonder about things? We are born to wonder; it’s how we learn. As infants, the learning process seems more intuitive and evolves as a process of trial and error, but somewhere post-toddler years and before school age years, the sense of wonder takes hold and a child’s imagination is born. Imaginary friends; imaginary situations; imaginary colors—all the stuff of blending what we already know with what is unknown. The unknown factor is what makes it interesting.

And then came google. How many colors are really in a rainbow?, I might ask at the dinner table one night. Out comes the blackberry and it’s googled. Answer found. What makes a bubble round?, I wonder. Out comes the blackberry and it’s googled. Answer found. How fast could a skier really fly down those moguls?, I say, as I watch the Olympics with wonder. It’s googled.

The googling has got to go. I wish for the wonder to return. I tire of the possibility of quick answers without thought. I prefer to wonder; to exchange ideas; to rediscover things that may have already been discovered and researched. And so, I prefer the number infinity. You can keep googolplex. How long would it take to write the number googolplex on paper? I wonder.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Things aren’t always as they seem.

It’s a winter with snow. Lots of it. Almost two feet of it, brightening, calming, silencing the landscape. Its beauty is in its ability to outline all that we see already, or do we?

My daughter and I declared the time to be snowman-building time. We climbed through the piles in our backyard and picked the perfect spot for our snow creature to stand. Closer inspection revealed the snow to be the fluffy stuff; sifted confectioner’s sugar, to the highest level of slippery smoothness. We’d repeatedly gather a handful and squeeze it together for the starting snowball to begin building our snowman, only to result in another crumbled pile of white remnants at our feet. Brushing off the crumbs from my gloves one more time, we switched gears and changed our task. We must reinvent the crumbly snow and create the wet stuff we need for perfect snowballs and snowmen and snow forts.

We had two approaches to the problem: 1) a thermos of water to wet the snow, and 2) the search for already-wet snow to use for our snow building task. Pouring water onto the small pile we made, we were pleased at the hardening ice to keep the pile from flattening. The snow-watering was tedious, though, and we were convinced plan 2 would be an easier solution. I went around to the front of the house and discovered a spot where dripping water from the roof caused a section of snow to be the perfect icy, wet stuff. My daughter took the assignment of snow-watering to keep our pile strong. Imagine the crazy scene: my daughter watering snow, and me carrying piles of wet, usable snow from the front of the house around to the back so that the snowman-building project could continue. No, we weren’t crazy. We were inventing.

Eventually, our pile became large enough to sculpt into the round shape needed for the classic snowman. Determined to gather just one more pile of wet stuff, I went to the front of the house and discovered a small boulder left over from the driveway being plowed. I picked it up, carried it back and gingerly placed it on top of the mound. It’s a snowdog, my daughter said. And so it was. What we thought would be a snowman became a snowdog. Sometimes we need to just leave things alone, even if they aren’t as they seem.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Man In The Window

Once upon a time, there was a school bus stop. The neighborhood near the school bus stop was a quiet one, although the rows of houses in the little development were quite cozy and close together. Every day, anywhere between five and ten children gathered at this school bus stop, ranging between five and ten years old, and they waited together each morning with their parents for the yellow bus to arrive.

One of those children was different from the rest; instead of acting like the other children, jumping and giggling and chasing the other children in tag, she watched. An audience of one, she observed every nuance; every word spoken loudly or softly, every bird flying above, every car driving by. The bus stop was at the intersection of a busy road, so she had to wait for the cars to pass so she could observe the interesting houses across the road which stood all by themselves on little mats of grass, like the special kindergarten mat she had in school a couple years ago. Each house occupied just enough space to exist but not enough space to be noticed--much.

One day, the little girl was at the bus stop again and saw that the small white house across the road had its curtains opened for the first time ever. There was an old man standing at the window, watching for the school bus, too. He looked across at the children and looked at his watch. When the bus finally arrived, the man looked at the children again, lifted his arm, and waved. He waved to each one of those children as they got on the bus, and then he closed the curtain.

The afternoon came and the school bus returned back to the neighborhood. The girl got off the bus and looked back across the busy road. The curtains were open again. The man waved again. She glanced over but didn’t respond.

The next day, the old man was at the window again when the morning bus arrived. He waved as each of the children got on the bus. And then the curtains were closed again. When the afternoon bus dropped the children back home, she noticed the curtains were open again and the man waved a greeting.

The third morning, the old man was at the window. He opened the curtains and stood at the window. Waiting. Again. The bus was a little late this morning. The girl looked across and saw him checking his watch and checking back at the road. And waiting. This time, the man waved from the window but the bus wasn’t there yet. Hesitantly, she waved back. When the bus came, he waved as each of the children got on the bus. The bus driver noticed the old man, too, and gave a friendly honk as he took off.

Several months went by. The old man was at the window almost every morning, and when the curtains were drawn, the children finally expected him to wave to them. They all waved back now. They actually noticed.

One day, the girl said to her mother at the bus stop: “We should visit him one day.” Her mother said, “Fine, honey; let’s do that some time.”

Two more weeks went by and the girl said it again. “We should visit the old man one day.” Her mother said “Okay. We’ll go over together after school today.”

That afternoon, the girl and her mother went across the road. They went to visit the old man. The butterflies in the girl’s stomach were jumping and giggling as she knocked on the door. And the old man answered the door.

The girl and her mother found out that the old man had a wife who died two years before; he was alone and said he remembered that someone waved to him at his school bus stop when he was a little kid. And so he passed the heritage on.

The next morning, the girl went to the school bus stop. The first thing she did was wave to the man in the window. Then she jumped and giggled and chased the other children in tag. And the man watched and smiled. And the girl noticed.