An Infinitesimal Speck

It took the soundtrack for a recent TV series to make me understand what a seemingly infinitesimal speck we are in the universe.

Should I blame my parents for sheltering me? After all, you’ll recall that my dad is the one who didn’t allow me to take high school biology (WHY I wasn’t allowed remains a pressing question, never to be answered) – and my mother forced me to take high school Home Economics so I could learn to iron a man’s shirt – and cook – and probably be a stay-at-home housewife.

My parents didn’t realize I was tougher than I looked.

Or maybe I should blame Colorado College, my alma mater. Didn’t they want their liberal arts students to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about the world…and beyond?

Whoever is to blame (obviously, I don’t want to blame myself), the fact is that I know nothing NOTHING about the universe – or even about the Milky Way Galaxy.

As seen from space: the earth is the bright speck (beside Andy’s arrow).

Carl Sagan wrote: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Sagan also was sure that the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11, launched in 1972 and 1973, had the following plaque – so that any alien finding it would know who we are and where we’re located.

The plaque aboard Pioneer 10 and 11.

Maybe that all helps explain why the “Galaxy Song” from 1983’s The Meaning of Life by Monty Python absolutely blows my mind. Maybe it blows my mind because I didn’t take biology so I didn’t know that’s how sex and birth happen – and I’ll add an “R” rating to this video, just in case. :). But mostly I’m just overwhelmed at those numbers. “Our galaxy is one of millions of billions” and “our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars” and “it’s a hundred thousand light years side by side” (I estimate that’s about 620,000,000,000,000,000 miles; correct me if I’m wrong). Coming right after Easter and Passover, it’s tricky to fit that into religion – as we know it and preach it – don’t you think? Coincidentally, religion is a topic in today’s Andy’s Corner – but on a more utilitarian and down-to-earth level.  Think “Manna from Heaven.”

You’ll love the Python video – just be sure to read all of the lyrics. They’re impressive…and funny.

Released in 1983

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,

And you feel that you’ve had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It’s a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it’s just three thousand light-years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go ’round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

Songwriters: Eric Idle / John Du Prez

What made me think of Eric Idle’s song after almost 40 years? Well, Andy and I have watched all of the episodes of the TV series Better Things, and the beginning of the final season uses the song as the backdrop to Sam Fox, the mother, as she begins a new day. Sam has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored.

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. I’ll bet she taught HER daughters about the universe; we’re sure she tried to teach them about sex.

On top of that, Sara, our daughter, who has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored, sent me this quote, flying around the internet (with no apparent author). And voila. This blog was born.

Python’s The Meaning of Life concludes with the Lady Presenter being given the envelope containing the answer to What Is the Meaning of Life. And what is the answer? “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

We’ve got you covered! If you want to be nice to people, have them over. We all need to get out. And then serve up a fat-free and delicious slice of homemade Angel Food Cake with some lightly-sugared, fat-free strawberries or chunks of mango. Talk about books you’ve read. Might I suggest Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (which is on my list to read)? And then take a walk (if in Glen Ellen, we recommend the Sonoma Regional Park or the Jack London State Historic Park).

We’re sure you’re already trying to live in peace and harmony. Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed it – inspired by “the better angels of our nature.”

Remember – every peaceful, harmonious fraction of a dot counts.

Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake

Note: this really requires a tube pan; a bundt pan won’t do.  The cake needs to stick to the sides, so don’t use a non-stick pan. Updated from my 1965 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • 1 c cake flour (spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level with a knife)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar (divided)
  • 1 1/2 c (about 12) egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla

In a food processor or blender, pulse 3/4 c of the sugar until fine and powdery.  Add the cake flour and salt to the food processor. Pulse 5-10 times until sugar/flour/salt mixture is aerated and light.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 3/4 c of sugar about 2 tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat until the mixture holds just barely stiff peaks (don’t overbeat).

Put the sugar/flour/salt mixture into a sieve and sprinkle about 1/4 of it over the beaten whites.  Fold it in using a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle another 1/4 over and fold in – and continue until all the sugar/flour/salt mixture is used up.

Scrape batter into an UNGREASED 10″ tube pan.  Level the top with the spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until done (the top should be golden).  Invert the pan and let the cake cool.  Remove from the pan by using a knife to run around the inside of the pan and around the tube to release the cake and unmold. Then use the knife to release cake from bottom of pan and remove.

Of course, strawberries are great with this – but for a change try mangos – 1 large mango diced, 1 T sugar, 1 T lime juice, and 1 T cointreau.  Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


  1. Charles Kingston says:

    Beautifully written Ann. And both self-revealing and relevant to all of us on this tiny speck of our pretty much unfathomable universe. I believe we share similar views on religion, both the good and bad influences of it in its multiple forms throughout history, but the one quote that kept repeating itself as I read your current piece is that of author Henry Miller’s:
    “Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.” I’d add she to ‘he’ of course, but other than that, believe it suits admirably the breadth of your combined thinking here.

    I also love Picasso’s perception: “Everything you can imagine is real.”

    Every fortnight, as I enter the twinned worlds of both your wonderfully varied and consistent columns in this blog I thank my own lucky stars (and planet) that, even if you were banned from biology at school, I’m so glad that at least Gladys and Alden T and their counterparts Lois and Gus, whom I knew even better, knew enough about it to produce you two. And that the serendipitous confluence of particles and events in our universe led to you two then getting aligned with your own stars. And continuing the lines. Never stop please, until you, like each of us, resumes that journey through the imagined everything beyond this current life.

    PS By the way, I haven’t had Angel Food cake since my lovely mom used to make it. And she’s been off exploring other parts of our universe for the past 40 earth years.


    • Bob Carleton says:

      Our church choir (they welcomed me back though I’m no longer a believer) is singing the Bobby McFarrin setting of ‘The 23rd Psalm’ tomorrow (Mother’s Day). All the references to God are feminine, i.e. “Her rod and staff comfort me”. Very interesting alternate.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Andy here. What beautiful and thoughtful comment. Friends like you help make this unfathomable universe somewhat more fathomable. I can’t help but think of the serendipitous confluence of college roommates (back in 1963?) that led to our lasting friendship. Cheers.


  2. Bob Carleton says:

    Excellent blog and references (I’m sending the MP along to others anxious about the present war). One quibble about the cake, lovely as it is, wonderful as it might be with berries and all, it would be even better slathered with 7-minute vanilla frosting (also called “boiled frosting”). That’s just the remaining child in me; my tastes have never truly matured.


    • theRaggedys says:

      7-Minute Frosting would be perfect for the No-Fat diet! Did you actually have that on Angel Food cake back when? We only ate that cake with a huge glob of whipping cream – which ruins the no-fat effort.


      • Bob Carleton says:

        7-minute is the almost the only frosting we used at home and the only one my mother taught me to make. 7-minute is the answer to most questions! Much better (according to me) than any of the butter-creme things that start out as pure lard and get whipped with flavorings and colors to make them look edible (yes, I know that Crisco is often substituted for lard and “it’s all-natural, it’s digestible”).


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