Monday, April 30, 2007

Monday - don't trust that day

Don't trust Monday. John Phillips told you not to. And Cass and Michelle backed him right up, along with that other guy. Denny? Was that his name?

I knew we were off to a bad start when I came downstairs singing and both girls looked at me, not with a look that said O Mommy! O happy day! O how happy we are that we are here at our home with our math books and our pencils and our shining morning faces!

Meelyn and Aisling got out their math books, both of them as cross as two sticks. The dogs settled down for their early morning naps. I stopped singing and went to the kitchen, noting that it was already too hot on this last morning of April to even consider having a cup of coffee or even tea. I got a diet soda out of the fridge, slurped a serving of leftover Italian Wedding Soup into a bowl, and put it in the microwave to heat. It turns out that ninety seconds isn't nearly long enough.

After heating the soup for another two minutes, I sat down to eat, prayed and lifted the first bite to my mouth, pausing at the halfway point for what I knew was coming.

The swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room burst open. "I hate math, I just hate it," stormed Meelyn, near tears. "I don't understand these dumb problems."

Aisling was right behind her, carrying her favorite new Build-a-Bear Workshop acquisition, a white plush dog named Isabel. "Do you want to give Izzie a kiss?" she cooed, neatly stepping in front of her sister and putting the dog perilously close to my frowning face.

"Hey! I was here first!" said Meelyn indignantly, thumping Aisling on the head with her Saxon math book.

"Ow! Quit!" Aisling hissed like an angry goose, clutching her head with one hand and Izzie with the other. She switched back to the cooing voice. "Mommy, do you want to ki-...."

"Aisling, I will put that TOY in the dryer and tumble it if you don't get back in there and get on task. Meelyn, I will help you with your math when I am done with my soup."

I ate the rest of my soup in gulps and went back into the dining room where Meelyn was obediently bent over her math book and Aisling was balancing a sheet of paper on her head. I snatched the paper and, mindful of the open windows, clenched my teeth and said, "Do. Your. Work. NOW."

"Yes, ma'am," said Aisling meekly.

I sat down next to Meelyn and we worked through the five problems that were giving her fits. What I usually find when I help her with her math is that she already knows how to do the problem, but for some reason has convinced herself that she can't. Math is my most-hated subject and I'm afraid that I passed this on to Meelyn, perhaps by osmosis. Heaven knows I spent enough time when she was little dancing around the room like a fool with a protractor in one hand and an abacus in the other, chanting, "Math is fun! Math is so fun! Math is fun-fun-funnikins-fun!"

It didn't work. Kids can smell hypocrisy on adult like wild beasts can smell fear.

It usually takes us about an hour in the morning to do math and that is our longest time we spend on any one subject. We put forth the extra effort simply because it is not fun and there is a tendency with the girls to rush through it as quickly as possible, making many careless mistakes along the way.

After math, the girls can choose what they want to work on. The next subjects up today are U.S. geography (worksheet covering New Mexico), a Greek and Latin roots workbook (one page), their Seton reading comprehension workbooks (one lesson) or piano practice (half an hour).

Meelyn opted for working at the table on the academic subjects while Aisling went to the piano. It was very pleasant, sitting at the computer and catching up on my email while Meelyn sat in her chair just behind my left shoulder. We made occasional remarks about people or cars passing by outside, the unseasonably hot weather, a funny thing Wimzie had done that morning while Aisling played sweetly. At the end of her half-hour of practice, Meelyn was done with U.S. geography and part of her Greek and Latin roots pagel she decided to finish that up before going to the piano herself.

Meelyn is learning "The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" on the piano and she plays it very nicely. The problem is, it always makes me tearful. I love Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version and the girls and I have seen it a hundred times, probably, and the love theme is always so sweet and sad, with Romeo and Juliet standing palm to palm behind the curtain, his eager smile, her big, innocent eyes...waaaaaahhhh. It's always so nice to know that Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are both still very much alive and doing just fine.

"Are you crying again or is it your allergies?" asked Aisling, the little cynic, looking up from her reading comprehension workbook. She acts just like my brother.

"Allergies," I replied with dignity.

With the morning's work complete, the girls broke for lunch. They both had a little freezer meal, heated in the microwave (I can hear Kayte and my cousin Susan simultaneously gasping in horror and I know, I know. I usually don't feed them that garbage but the meals were on sale and I was in a weak -- cheap? -- moment at the grocery and I know.)

After lunch, we sat back down together at the dining room table and did two pages from their Saxon language arts text. Meelyin is a seventh grader and Aisling is a fifth grader, so I compromised and bought the sixth grade text for each of them. This is really the first year I have ever bothered much about grammar and usage, other than the basic nouns, verbs, capital letters and periods. My theory has always been that they both read so much, they'll know proper grammar without knowing that they know it, and so far, I've been proved right. We occasionally have a bit of a tussle over things like plural possessives, but it doesn't take long to sort it out.

We also have a sentence diagraming workbook, which is my favorite thing. I could diagram sentences, like, all day. The girls aren't quite as excited about it, but that's probably for the best. I'm at an age where I can afford to be a loser in a few select areas of my life, and my love of sentence diagraming is one of them.

After language arts and the diagraming, we have one brief hour to relax before heading off to Tipton for art lessons. I find myself thinking how lovely it will be to go for a drive in the air conditioned car. It is hot. Hotter than homemade hell, as my friend Beth's dad used to say.

Meelyn and Aisling have been taking art lessons from their teacher, Kendra, in Tipton for three years now. Kendra is a professional artist and the most awesome art teacher in the world. She has made my kids produce art that has frankly amazed me, considering that when I first apologetically took them to her studio, both girls were still drawing stick figures with no necks for people. Tipton is the dullest, most forgettable little city I have ever seen ( although they do have an unaccountably beautiful Catholic church, St. John the Baptist - the picture doesn't do justice to the gorgeous pale pumpkin stucco interior with accents of terra cotta and gold. It positively glows in there) but Kendra makes the forty-five minute drive through flat and uninteresting farmland worth it. I'm embarrassed to even tell how much she charges per child for these fantastic lessons. Let me just say that if she were based in Fishers or Carmel instead of Armpitsville, Indiana*, she could be quadrupling her fees and parents would be lining up at her door, holding out wads of cash.

Forty-five minutes is a pretty long drive, time that I am not willing to waste on just staring out the windows at the barns, sheep, cows and farm machinery we're passing. At least on the way there, I'm not. On the way home, we stop at the Tipton McDonald's for some iced tea and talk and laugh all the way back to Anderson, but on the way to art, I'm all about learning.

Right now, we are engaged on learning a set of facts about the United States. This is a curricula I kind of invented, which often turn out to be the best kind. I found these geography/history/general knowledge cards at a little shop for about $12 and we've had a lot of fun with them. We've learned facts about D-Day, Ulysses S. Grant, why the building that houses the U.S. State Department is called "Foggy Bottom," and what U.S. city is known as "America's Cereal Bowl."

While the girls are at art, I sit in the van and blissfully read. My cell phone battery hasn't been recharged in a couple of days, so I am completely without interruption. It is heaven. HEAVEN.

We don't get home on Mondays until about 5:45 and by that time, we're all wiped out. I started dinner, a very nice hot-peppery stir fry with grilled teriyaki chicken and the girls staggered upstairs to play PlayStation. Hot. Hot in the kitchen, hot in the rest of the house. Wimzie and Hershey come to keep me company while I worked in the kitchen, their tongues lolling, their muzzles wet with water from the cool water they lapped up.

It's Monday, it's nearly over, and it hasn't been too bad, except for the heat. And the math.

My husband came home, stepping into the house via the back door. He's been at work all day in the air conditioning. "I know it's only April but I thoug-...."

"I'll start closing the windows," I interrupted. He turned on the central air and before I could say "popsicle," cool, calming air starts pouring out of the floor registers. I silently blessed the former owner who installed not only a new gas furncace in this barn of a house, but also that great, big sturdy condenser unit that is discreetly tucked in a back corner of the house, partially obscured by a burning bush to spare the delicate sensibilities of the neighborhood's historic preservation code.

Another Monday, done.

*I feel safe saying that Tipton is Armpitsville, Indiana because I come from the other armpit, New Castle.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

RECIPE: Italian Wedding Soup

I'm going to steal some of my friend Kayte's thunder and post a recipe, which isn't really fair of me. You see, when we were at the Indianapolis Museum of Art last week, I selfishly called dibs on posting a commentary on our tour. Kayte has never selfishly called dibs on posting recipes, something she'd be totally justified in doing. Not only because she is not selfish like me, but also a much better cook. I'm just saying.

Anyway, this is Italian Wedding Soup and it is so good. I hope it is really Italian, because you know how these things go. You spend all this time at the Olive Garden sampling the international cuisine and then you meet a friend who lived for years in Italy and France, who actually married an Italian guy, and you find out that all that stuff at the Olive Garden is just a big, cruel, albeit delicious joke, not Italian, but rather "Italian," and if you can picture me making little air quotes with my fingers and saying the word "Italian" in a tone of voice that means not Italian but really some American's "idea" of what "Italians" really "eat," you'll have the idea.

This Italian Wedding Soup is really, really fast the way I make it. Or you can do your own 10 cups of chicken stock and make your own little meatballs out of 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef and it will probably taste even better, but it will also take longer.

We really enjoy this soup at our house and have it fairly frequently. The first time we had it, my husband looked askance at the spinach leaves, but he ended up loving it. He takes the leftovers for lunch sometimes.

So here goes:


5 cans of chicken broth (or approximately 10 cups of chicken stock)

2 carrots, shredded

1 bag (1 pound) of frozen, pre-cooked Italian-style meatballs (or make your own, recipe follows)

1 cup small pasta (elbow macaroni-sized down to the smaller kinds like orzo or ditali)

1/2 bag of pre-washed baby spinach leaves, washed again

ground pepper and salt to taste

Pour the chicken broth and frozen meatballs into a soup pot and place over medium-high heat. While they heat, shred the carrots and add to the soup pot. Allow to cook for about ten minutes (the meatballs need only to thaw out and be heated through.) Add 1 cup pasta to the soup pot and allow to cook for eight more minutes. Add washed baby spinach leaves; cook for five more minutes. Serve hot with bread.

This serves four people, allowing some very nice leftovers for lunch the next day. Salt and pepper it if you feel it needs a boost.

I serve this with bread, either making a strange-looking French loaf in my bread machine, or zooming over to Panera Bread to buy a baguette. I assume I don't need to tell you that the bread needs to be eaten with butter. Any unbuttered bites of bread can be dipped in the soup.


Truthfully, I don't make these meatballs myself. I like the way the frozen ones taste well enough that I just don't want to fiddle around with rolling all these little things. But if you don't mind that kind of thing -- or if you have daughters or sons who are willing -- then pour yourself a glass of wine and get to it.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 T dried bread crumbs

2 T grated parmesan cheese (as Kayte says in her "Pas-Tability I" recipe, the fresh kind is best, but the green tube will suffice)

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

two good pinches of salt

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Shape into small meatballs. Cook in a skillet in 2 T olive oil, medium heat, turning frequently to brown. Remove from skillet and put into soup pot with broth; follow the rest of the soup directions.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Why Am I Catholic?"

This is a really nice little piece from YouTube, perfect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

"Why Am I Catholic?"

Morning Prayer, Antiphon 3: Give honor and praise to our God; all that He does is perfect and all his ways are true, alleluia.

My Opinion of Sheets

I don't think that bedsheets were meant to be crispy.

If I'm getting into bed, I don't think that I should feel as if I'm sleeping between two pieces of toast. Burnt toast.

I think that sheets should be soft; they should conform almost weightlessly to the shape of the body they're covering.

To achieve this state of delicious softness, they have to be washed in the hottest hot water the washing machine is willing to spew out. Sheets have to be washed over and over again before they're put on the bed for the first time, in hot water. With fabric softener, the kind that smells like a dessert made out of rainbows and sunbeams.

On no account should sheets be washed once, in warm water because they're a really nice deep cranberry color with little white flower sprigs, dried with a dryer sheet (abomination) and then put on the bed. And then the person who gets into bed first should never, ever feel the need to say, "Oh, finally! Some bed sheets that don't feel like the tissues that people's grannies stuff in the sleeves of their little sweaters."

Defeating the Purpose

This morning, I was utterly, soundly, blissfully asleep, cuddled under my blankets, with the soothing white noise of the fan drowning out any disturbing sounds.

Unfortunately, it couldn't drown out any disturbing pressure on my side. There was enough pressure to hamper my breathing, which I am thinking would wake just about anybody up.

I came back to wakefulness and saw Aisling's freckled nose two inches from my own. "Hi," she said, breathing the breath of unbrushed teeth into my face. "Are you awake?"

"I am now," I said in a tone that made her remove her breath from my face and the pressure of her body on my body and run for the door.

I'd tell you what I was thinking just then, only it would make my mother think she hadn't raised me properly.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Okay. Where did I go wrong?

The other day, the girls and I were at Castleton Square Mall visiting their Build-a-Bear Workshop on Aisling's behalf. She had been mopping floors and folding laundry and doing other little assorted money-generating chores around the house to save up enough money to pay a satisfying visit, so we did.

We always have to buy a coffee or a soft drink for the ride home, so we spotted a Hardee's and pulled into their drive-thru. From Hardee's, I could see the Borders Book Store where I happily spent so much time and money, back when I was a single girl (okay, I was an old-maid schoolteacher, just shut up.)

"Oh, look, girls," I said, looking fondly at it, sitting there in all its yuppie glory. "I used to love that store. I used to go there almost every weekend and buy books." I sighed happily.

There was a silence -- a significant sort of silence; a silence as of two girls trading glances behind their mother's back.

"Oh, poor Mommy," Meelyn said, her voice soft with pity.


"I'm so sorry for you," she said.

"Yes, me too, poor Mommy, poor little Mommy," Aisling chimed in.

I was honestly bewildered. "What are you two talking about, 'poor Mommy'?"

Meelyn was foggy with tears. "You didn't have a husband. All you had was a bunch of books."

"Now, wait just a....I had more than..." I spluttered, wanting to tell them about my life as a working woman and the things I bought and the trips I took with friends and the ineffable cuteness of my different apartments. But I stopped. It would only have sounded pathetic, my doing all those things without Daddy.

I drove on, knowing that in Borders Book Store, they likely have several different dictionaries for sale to no-life-losers like me, all of them defining the word disgruntled, which is exactly how I felt right then.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Arty Afternoon

For the past three or four years, our homeschool group has been paying a monthly visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where docents lead us on guided tours and teach us all kinds of different things about the many wonderful pieces of art that this little museum proudly houses.

My friend Kayte, the birthday girl, is the person who started this event for our group and it has been a wild success. Meelyn and Aisling have only been going for the past two years (they weren't old enough before that) and it has led to a pleasantly expanded view of the world that I have really enjoyed. So have they.

When Meelyn was old enough (twelve) to join this activity, I needed something to do with Aisling and I knew good and well that I was not equipped to do the self-guided thing around the museum while Meelyn went off with the older kids. So the reasonable thing to do seemed to be to start a group for kids in grades 4-6, allowing younger brothers and sisters to tour concurrently with their older siblings. It has made for a lot of interesting conversations in the van on the way home as the girls tell about the different pieces of art they've seen and what the docent has had to say. Or sometimes, they see the same piece of art and it is fascinating to hear what different docents say about the same painting.

Kayte has told me that she has appreciated these tours because she loves the idea that the kids in the group will never feel particularly intimidated by art museums for the rest of their lives. They'll know what to expect whether they're viewing a simple gallery in a university's art museum or whether they're at the Guggenheim or the Louvre. They'll know they belong.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art by night. Of course, we're always there during the day, but
I couldn't resist posting this gorgeous picture.

"Our kids will be able to say, 'Oh, I practically grew up at the Indianapolis Museum of Art,'" Kayte says, her big green eyes glowing. She has a passion for art and learning and she has done a really good thing for our group in keeping this activity going.

This was our last tour for the school year - we'll start up again in September 2007. Here's the year in review:

September - the American Collection - click the link for a slide show of IMA's American art

October - Special Exhibit: Quilts from Gee's Bend

November - Portrait Tour (younger students) and Painting & Poetry (older students)

January - Contemporary Collection

February - Asian Collection, which opened in the fall of 2006

March - The European Collection of painting and sculpture before 1800

April - The Classical Collection (only about nine pieces of ancient Greek and Roman art) and the European Collect of painting and sculpture after 1800

It was a magnificent year of art.

Next year, we're going to start a separate tour just for the moms. We'll all be going on the same tour as our kids and I think that the conversations on the way home will be even better.

I always ask the girls to tell me what they've learned and sometimes the things they say (like, "I learned that our docent is the most boring person in the world") make me want to give them a poke, but sometimes they come up with things that surprise me.

Today, the three of us were all on different tours. Meelyn was off with the teenagers, Aisling was with a group of her little friends, and I served as a chaperone for some other children in the middle school/upper elementary group.

In my group, we learned that Classical art is defined largely by the Greek and Roman love of the perfect human form. Their statuary was also characterized by the way the folds in the figures' robes were carved with such "flow" and also by the exacting detail of the hair. Interesting! We also learned that the Baroque period borrowed some elements of the Classical period by depicting the human figure with defined musculature, "hero"-type men of stunning proportions. Baroque art also is known by the action taking place in the painting. That's not a Classical element, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Meelyn learned that Impressionist artists had to paint very quickly when they were doing an outdoor subject because the cloud formations and the way the light was falling could change very rapidly. (This was from the second part of the tour, where we were looking at European art dated after 1800.)

Aisling told us that she learned that it is very hard not to talk to her friend Rachel, even when the docent is talking. I looked over my shoulder and gave her the Mother Eye, the look that can turn children to stone if used in full force. Fortunately for her, she was able to receive only a half-dose. "I learned that Classical art has a lot of naked people in it," she said.

"Yeah, that too," said Meelyn musingly. "It was so not fun looking at all those naked-boob statues with boys around."

"And there were other statues with....boy parts," Aisling said grimly, lowering her voice to a whisper on the last two words, as if she were afraid that the volleyball rolling around in the back would be shocked and offended. My husband and I have often opined that there is a part of Aisling's personality that was born at about seventy-four years old, a grumpy, disapproving sort of seventy-four.

"Well, yes," I responded, hoping to draw them away from nakedness and back toward art. "What about the Classical period makes you think that there was a reason for this?"

Both girls thought hard for a moment until Meelyn said, "Hey!"

"Yes?" I asked, encouraged by what insight she was going to share.

"There's a Hummer! Wouldn't it be too cool if we had a black Hummer with tinted windows?"

Art. We hardly knew ye.

While Riding in the Car

Passing a pet store, the girls and I see a sign.


We already have one dog, Hershey, who is part beagle/part Sheltie, and although he is dumber than a bag of hammers, we are very fond of him. We all love his bark that goes "Baroooooo! Baaaarroooooo!" whenever he sees a squirrel.

We also have another dog, a Jack Russell terrier, who manages to tolerate the vagaries of our beagle boy, although if a dog could ever make that tsk-ing sound with her tongue and heave a sigh of exasperation, she would, watching him cower in fear as a leaf falls from a tree and slowly spirals through the air. Her name is Wimzie. "Tell me again why you stuck me with this freak," she communicates to me as we walk along through the neighborhood, smellin' all the smells and chattin' up the rabbits.

So we all love dogs in this house, and if we had a yard that was bigger than a postage stamp, and if that bigger yard had a fence around it and came equipped with a person who would automatically pick up each pile of poop with a pooper-scooper the minute it touched the grass, I would get another dog. Maybe three more.

But try telling this to Aisling, who whined in that penetrating nasal tone that makes my spine go rigid. "Why can't we get another dooooog? We have roooooom. Our house is biiiiiig. I would take caaaare of it and you wouldn't ever have to. It would be a small one! And it wouldn't be that expensive."

"Because we have enough dogs....No, we don't...No, it isn't that big....No, you wouldn't and yes, I most certainly would...Not small enough for me and yes, it would be expensive. It would need shots and food and heartworm medicine and flea and tick medicine and it would probably need prednisilone for skin allergies and it would probably have dental problems and ear mites and no."

"But whyyyyyyyy?" she continued as my shoulders hunched up around my ears. "It would be fuuuun! You'd love it! We could take it with us, places. It could wear a bandana."

I was suddenly struck with inspiration. "Aisling," I said. "Aisling, I want an Hermès handbag."

"A whatsit whosit?"

"An Hermès handbag. Not a very big one. I'd like an Hermès handbag because although I have some other handbags, I don't have an Hermès handbag. I have a big closet, so it would fit right in. I'll carry it on my arm and never make you hold it while I unlock the front door."

"Huh?" she said.

Warming to my subject, I continued, "And it wouldn't be expensive! Just something over $10,000, but that's a one-time cost and I'm sure that the dogs, all told, have cost us at least that much. Especially the time Hershey ate part of that dead bird and had to be on three different sorts of antibiotics."

"Ten thousand dollars for a purse??!!"

"I could take it to all kinds of different places."

"Ten thousand...??!!"

"Just a small one!"

"What do you need with a ten thousand dollar purse? You've already got some purses."

"What do you need with another dog? You've already got some dogs."

"Mommy, you are so not fair. Just not fair at all."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

PRODUCT REVIEW: Flexitol Heel Balm

Okay, so this really isn't an elegant cosmetic product, like that really delicious, smooth-as-silk translucent loose powder by Elizabeth Arden (which, due to finances beyond my control, I have only been able to use for a brief, shining period in my life, before I was married and had to start worrying about things like electric bills and whose toes were pressing against the ends of her sneakers), but it is a really useful one.

On the one hand, I really like wearing sandals. On the other hand, I feel a little bit delicate about exposing the innocent citizenry to my feet, which have been living all winter inside thick socks and mucky slippers, innocent of pumice stone or polished toenails. That's where the Flexitol Heel Balm comes it. It can take the most callused, cracked and dry-skinned feet and restore them to sandal-worthiness in just a matter of days. No matter how bad your feet are -- and my feet have been b-a-d -- Flexitol Heel Balm will help.

So far, this blog is only being read by about four people who are reading just to humor me, but seriously, I wish this could be a public service announcement. There are some people out there -- women, even! -- going around exposing their ugly-looking dogs, in dire need of Flexitol Heel Balm and not even knowing it. It's really sad, folks. I can't blame the men, because they were cursed by nature with jacked-up feet, but women (and I believe this strongly) have a duty to tend to their feet if they're going to go around wearing sandals. No one wants to see great big yellow toenails that look like pieces of swiss cheese stuck to the ends of your toes, and nobody wants to see a lady's heels with fissures that look as deep as the one Gandalf fell into in The Fellowship of the Ring. Get some Flexitol on those things and stop torturing the rest of us! And polish! Sheesh!

For anyone who hasn't used this before, let me just frankly tell you that it looks like snot - the kind of snot you have when you have a really bad sinus infection. And it doesn't smell very good either. I think the Flexitol people know they have a wicked good product and thus know that they don't have to dress it up to suit our finer sensibilities, nurtured so graciously at the Elizabeth Arden counter. Rough feet or smooth feet. Take 'em or leave 'em.

I'll take them, with a little coral-pink nail polish as well. I have some really cute new sandals and want to do them justice.

Flexitol Heel Balm costs somewhere around $7.99-$11.99, depending on where you buy it and on what size the tube is. You can purchase it at the usual suspects: Meijer, Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreen's & CVS. It can be found where foot products are sold. Please don't ask for it at the Elizabeth Arden counter. The salesgirls will only mock you with their perfectly groomed eyebrows.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Open Windows

It's hot today.

Despite a good breeze and overcast skies, it's hot. I keep looking longingly at the thermostat, knowing that if I turn on the central air in April -- April! -- my husband will be very disapproving. But I don't like being hot. It changes my personality from one that is generally cheerful to one that is morose and grumpy. Sweat is unseemly. I find harmony with the statement of Orson Welles, who, when told by a reporter that his bride, Rita Hayworth, was sweating, replied with all the biting hauteur one would expect from a cinematic genius, "Horses sweat. Ladies perspire. Miss Hayworth glows."

Orson, I understand completely. Only I don't want to do any of the three. I want to feel cool and pampered, sitting in the lovely, peaceful afternoon shade of the foyer, reading my book and drinking iced green tea. I don't mind sweating if I'm at the swimming pool because if I get too hot, I simply grab my trusty float that the girls named the Blue Burrito and go in for a cooling dip.

So we have the windows open. When it isn't hot, I love the open windows. We have lived here for two years, but I am still in awe of our windows, which are not only wide, but also tall; eight feet tall in our ten foot ceiling rooms. The noise of the downtown traffic whisking by is very soothing. Children ride by on bicycles; mothers walk by pushing strollers. The lawyers whose law firms reside in grand mansions walk back and forth from city court, swinging their brief cases, their suit jackets thrown over a shoulder. Of course, we can see all this when the windows are closed, but it feels so much more participatory in the life of the neighborhood when the windows are open.

We can also hear the church bells down the street chiming out the hours. All the windows in our house are original except for the one in the kitchen and even after all these years, they are still so well-fitted that the bells are completely drowned out, as are the sweet songs of the birds that live in the trees that line the streets. Matins, Prime, Laud,'s all lost to us with the windows closed.

We used to have a neighbor, Nancy, who lived in the first floor flat of the Craftsman apartment building across our narrow driveway (leaded glass windows and heart-of-pine floors that have been restored and buffed to a glossy sheen), who favored the music of Carly Simon, which I could hear as I stood before my open kitchen window, loading the dishwasher.

"You're so vain," I'd sing along. "You prob'ly think this song is about you."

Unfortunately, when the windows are open so that we can hear things outside, people can also hear us. I often wonder uneasily what the neighbors think when Aisling, as tempestuous as Beethoven but without the crazy hair, sits down and pounds out Für Elise with much dramatic interpretation, her hands leaping up from the keys like frogs from lily pads, her small nose practically touching middle C. Whatever Elise this piece was für, she must be somewhere covering her ears with her hands and flinching a little bit.

I also wonder what people think when they stroll by to go to the little theater that is two doors down from our house, headed toward an evening of culture and refined entertainment, and hear the girls squabbling in their room, right next to the window.

"I didn't put it there. You put it there."

"I didn't either put it there. You put it there and I saw you put it there and you put it there yesterday and you told me you'd pick it up but you never did!"

"I never did any such thing. I always pick things up when I say I'm going to pick them up, unlike some people I could name who are so lazy and spoiled!"

"I'm not spoiled. You're spoiled!"

"You're spoiled so bad, you don't even know you're spoiled, like a big old potato!"

At this point, the passerby may well be entertained by me as I stick my head around the newel post of the stairway and attempt to make myself heard in a genteel fashion, calling, "Girls! Girls, please stop that bickering!"

There is no response, but a further vehement tirade surges down the stairs like a flow of lava.

"GI-I-I-I-IRRRRLLLLLSSSSSSS," I shriek like a banshee, "shuuuuuuuuuuutttttt uuuuuppppppppppp!!!!!"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Historic Fire

I've been a bit edgy ever since the arsonist-set blaze that burned down St. Anne Church in my hometown in the early morning hours of Holy Saturday. It was the church where my Aunt Mimi and Uncle Graham were married; the church where Meelyn and Aisling were baptized; the church were they received their First Holy Communion; the church where my husband and I made old things new again. It was a sorrowful, aching wrench to see it looming against the Easter sky, as blackened and hollow as a burned out stump.

So as I say, I'm a bit nervous.

We live in the historic district of our city, one block off the really snazzy street where mansions stand with their five, six, seven bedrooms and as many fireplaces; houses with kitchens as big as tennis courts and garret rooms for the Irish maids on the third, or even fourth floor. These houses were the showplaces of lumber barons and the men who made millions from the pool of natural gas that lies beneath this area of east central Indiana: stately Queen Annes stand imposingly next to graceful Italianate manors next to solid Colonial Revivals with a few later additions from the Arts & Crafts Movement thrown in for good measure. The extravagant landscaping, the old-fashioned "gaslights" (modern innovations with orange halogen lamps - absolutely hideous...) and wide sidewalks make it all a real pleasure to be near.

Our house is not grand. It is a big old Victorian farmhouse, one of the older homes in the neighborhood, being a creaky but gracious old lady of approximately 150 years. She wears new butter-colored siding and brown shutters to match her roof, much in the same manner that a woman whom the French would politely refer to as une dame d'un certain âge might wear a mini skirt and false eyelashes. I imagine in another time that she humbly wore a coat of white paint, leaving the shutters to her more fashionable neighbors one block north.

The former owner told us that our house started off as a log cabin with a root cellar, with our living room serving as the cabin's living space and our cellar playing the part of the cellar. We can see how that would be true, considering that the wall between the living and dining rooms in over twelve inches thick. It is an interesting place, our cellar, with walls built from jutting limestone rock and numerous shadowy rooms. I have never yet seen or heard of a tornado that could willingly get me down there and the dogs agree with me.

"We'd prefer to stay up here," they say, resisting all attempts to be pulled down the steps by their leashes, planting their paws on the landing. "Up here, away from the Christmas ornaments and the lawn implements and any possible coffins or members of the living dead."

Our neighborhood is close to a fire station, which is a good thing. Most of these houses are not made of brick, seeing as how lumber was such a plentiful and inexpensive thing to come by and it's nice knowing that the fire fighters are only a couple of blocks away.

Especially this afternoon.

Ever since the fire at St. Anne's, I have been smelling smoke. The other night we had some scented candles burning when company came over, and when Meelyn blew them out, I had a moment of utter panic when I smelled that smoky smell coming from the jars. So I keep trying not to second guess myself, and, as my husband so winsomely puts it, "get a grip."

But when I smelled smoke this afternoon, I knew I wasn't imagining things. And when the sirens kicked on a few moments later, I knew something bad was happening. The huge pumper truck rushed by my dining room window, screaming up the street, but then stopped almost immediately.

My husband came in from the back where he was pulling weeds. "Fire," he said sharply. "Do you smell that?" He went out the front door and up the street to see what was happening.

I nodded, praying, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..." the prayer that the girls and I always say whenever we hear the sirens, praying for the people who are in trouble, praying for their safety and comfort and for the safety of the firefighters. I looked out my front window as I made the sign of the cross, noting that I could actually see the truck and billowing smoke. It looked as if the truck was parked right next to a gracious four story brick apartment building, lovely and symmetrical in its Georgian design, mostly inhabited by young professional people whom we often see coming out to their shiny cars in the mornings we go to Mass, juggling briefcases and shiny non-spill coffee thermos cups and iPods. How awful if so many were driven from their homes, their belongings destroyed by fire, smoke, or water.

I stood, wringing my hands, and Meelyn and Aisling came downstairs saying anxiously, "We smell smoke. We prayed, Mom. Is there a fire here?"

"Yes, right up there. Do you see the truck?" I pointed across the street down our neighbor's driveway where a brief glimpse of the red truck could be seen. I kept thinking about the apartment building and all the lovely wooden homes around it; of a firm of accountants whose "office" is a Victorian gem, everything authentic and perfect, decorated like a fairyland at Christmas time; of a gorgeous Greek Revival that is brick on the outside, but so was St. Anne's. And then there all the houses that might not necessarily be historic jewels in the crown of our neighborhood's historic preservation, but are nevertheless homes of people we know and people we don't.

Whose was it? I continued wringing my hands and praying, thinking about watching the angry red blaze leaping hungrily through of the roof of a beloved church. If fires could be extinguished with tears, surely there were enough at St. Anne's that day to douse all the flames in the world.

My husband came jogging back down the street and up the steps of the front porch. We all spilled out the door -- our beautiful, nine-foot wooden front door with the original doorknob and lock and the original ripply glass that distorts the mailman and the trick-or-treaters in their costumes.

"It's just a van pulled over to the side of the road," he said comfortingly, patting all of us. "Not a house. Just a van."

Oh, God....just as I typed that line, the pumper truck went by again, followed closely by the ladder truck. It's only been three hours since the last time they went by today, the time I've been sitting here writing about, off and on this afternoon. I automatically wonder, now, if the ladder is needed so that the enormous hose can be lifted to pour water on the roof of a church.

Hail Mary, full of grace....

Saturday, April 21, 2007


We had a party at our house today. It's been a long time coming, about two years, if Aisling is to be believed. Which, in this case, she is.

Two years ago, I bought her a cute little lip balm-and-lotion kit from Hobby Lobby for her birthday. At the time, I had my own little handmade soap business - one of my side lines was making lip balm for grown up ladies out of all kinds of luxe butters and oils -- and she was interested in what Mommy was doing. I figured the little kit would be a nice way for her to experiment and have fun with beee-yooo-teee products without using my (really, really expensive) lip balm ingredients.

I thoughtlessly told her that hey! It sure would be fun to invite some friends over to make lip balm with you! I regretted the words the moment they left my mouth.

She remembered.

And remembered.


For two years, she remembered, and every now and again, she'd get the kit out from whatever closet or underbed storage container or utility shed I'd stuffed it, trying to delay the party. Mostly because Aisling do you say it? High strung. Wound a little bit tight. Zippy dippy take-a-trippy. The very thought of trying to corral Aisling and a group of her little friends into the kitchen to make lip balm made me want to take to the bed with a bottle of bourbon.

Even right now, she is driving me batty. She is sitting at the dining room table behind me, writing a thank-you note to the two sisters who thought this was a birthday party (my bad) and brought her a present. Aisling has asked me how to spell every single word that she intends to write, including ones that I know she knows. Words like "and," "can," and "I". Then she started on the punctuation, insisting on reading me the thank-you at least forty-seven times and asking if she put the commas in the right place. We then started on the different uses of there, their and they're. I gave her the answers she was seeking, my voice getting a little tighter each time she said, "Hey, Mom, how's this sound?"

"Aisling," I said to her, turning and looking at her over the tops of my glasses, "you are driving me nuts. And I don't mean peanuts or hazelnuts. I'm talking almonds. Cashews. Brazil nuts, even."

She subsided and then finally handed it to me, running off before I could say, "Wai--!!" As I suspected, she didn't listen to a thing I said about there, their and they're. I just stuffed it in the envelope. It's a thank-you note written to two little girls, not a Newbery Medal contender. So there.

But anyway, she is finally at an age where she has made some really nice friends - Aisling at eleven is a much more tractable child than she was at nine. So a couple of weeks ago, we sent out some little invitations via email and were very pleased when everyone could come.

As always, we tried to work ahead of the game and did housework and grocery shopping yesterday, picking up two big pizzas from Papa Murphy's (you bake it yourself at home and it makes the house smell wonderful) and grapes (both white and red) and some vegetables and ranch dip. And cookies. I felt very proud of myself for doing the whole grapes-and-veggies thing, very proud indeed. Well, I mean, it's not as if I'm the sort of mother who sets out vials of crack and little pipes for every guest, but I am the kind of mother whose tendency to party fare verges more toward the potato chips, cheez doodles, taco chips and, the best snack food known to humankind, Funyuns. If there could be a more perfect snack combination than Funyuns, some wasabi peanuts and a margarita, I don't know what it could be.

I picked up our party guests at a pre-arranged location because we live so far out of Indianapolis, travelers practically need Daniel Boone to find our city. There were five young girls ranging in age from eight to twelve and one 14-year-old older sister, coming along to the party to keep Meelyn company.

Lunch went nicely, starting off with a prayer and ending with me looking around the kitchen, bewildered, wondering how a group of such fragile-looking children had managed to demolish most of two huge pizzas, 3/4 of a mixing bowl full of grapes, a lot of carrots and broccoli and nearly a whole container of ranch dip, and three dozen cookies. It significantly cut down on the amount of clearing up I'd expected to have to do. Brilliant!

I sent the girls upstairs to play while I tidied up and set out the stuff for the lip balm and lotion making adventure. In the kit was everything we needed, including a packet of beeswax and a bottle of sunflower oil for the balm, plus some mica colorant, some cosmetic-grade glitter (very important to young girls) and an array of lip balm tubes and pots.

We started out by having the girls pick out what they wanted: tube or pot. We had eight girls, four tubes and four pots. I was optimistically hoping that our number would be equally divided between those showing an enthusiastic preference for the pots and those who like tubes. Fortunately, my optimism was not misplaced.

One of the things I like about homeschooling is that you have stuff lying around the house that can be pressed into service for activities other than the primary use for which the object was intended. Which is how our 250 ml beaker came to be taken from our science experiment supplies and used for melting beeswax in the microwave.

Beeswax, the girls discovered, takes a really long time to melt. I had some raw beeswax in my laundry room refrigerator, which is the place where we keep the lip balm-and-soapmaking supplies and the beer. The raw beeswax is golden yellow, redolent of sun and warmth and honey, and as hard as a chunk of cement. I showed this to the girls to illustrate why the creators of our kit had thoughtfully provided us with beeswax pastilles, little tiny chips that melt much faster than huge chunks.

The 250 ml beaker is made of that tempered glass which stays cool to the touch even when the substance inside it is very, very hot. The beeswax and sunflower oil combination was finally completely melted at 200 degrees fahrenheit, which is, in my scientific estimation, "pretty darn hot."

Our kit contained a little ampoule of Berry Scent, which made me feel that, after assembling the beeswax packet and the bottle of sunflower oil and the tubes and the pots, the people who assembled the kit were losing interest. The Berry Scent was one of those fragrances that makes little girls squeal and clap, and adults rub their noses and say, "Ew." Imagine a bowl of shiny fake fruit, aggressively scented with the cheapest, most chemical-ly fragrance known to man, squashed and reduced into a bottle and you have our Berry Scent.

When the girls were done squealing and clapping and I was done rubbing my nose and saying, "Ew," I let each of the girls have a turn at squeezing some drops of scent into the melted oils. They enoyed this very much, as they enjoyed stirring the tiny amounts of mica colorant and body glitter into the mix. When we were done with this, the only thing left was to convey the mixture into the tubes and bottles by means of several plastic pipettes.

We had three pipettes and all those girls, so they took turns stepping forward to fill their little containers and were inordinately pleased at the way the oil and wax began to cool down, harden, and look lip-glossy. We set the tubes and pots around the kitchen, each girl with her own dedicated space so that no upsetting mix-ups would occur, and I gave them a packet of little labels and a container full of our scrapbooking markers and sent the to the dining room to do their artistic thang.

The lotion "making" progressed in much the same manner - all we had to do was add a slightly less offensive berry scent to a large bottle of lotion base and then decant the big bottle into four smaller ones. I felt it was a pretty bogus exercise in crafting, but lotion making is an exacting process that requires sterile conditions in a lab and since I don't have either, we made do. The girls were very pleased with the results.

Crafting finished, I sent them upstairs to play while I did my second round of clearing up and got the dishwasher started, coming into the living room to slump on the couch until it was time to leave to give our guests back to their parents. Why is it that even simple parties with a few cutie-pie girls are so....out-wearing? I think it must be my age, because everyone was perfectly good and sweetly polite and obviously entranced by the whole toiletries-making process. I'm just old. That's it.

"These parties can just wear you out," my husband observed, yawning from his reclining chair. So far, his sole contribution to the party had been coming into the kitchen and eating four pieces of pizza, so I looked at him over my glasses. He smiled sheepishly at me.

"I'm ready for a nap," I offered, picking up the newspaper.

"Oh, so am I," he agreed fervently. "So am I."

Happy Birthday, Kayte!

I want to wish a very happy birthday (I won't say which one) (although she doesn't really seem to mind about that sort of thing) to my friend Kayte from the homeschool group.

Kayte is the mother of two delightful almost-15-year-old sons, one who makes me swoon because he's so handsome and sweet and has perfect pitch and big brown eyes and the other who makes me laugh because he does the most outrageously funny things, like dipping hotdogs straight into the bottle of barbecue sauce before grilling.

She's the wife of a "fancy lawyer" (not the same thing as a "fancy woman," see post "Beyond B.S." for further clarification) and the person who got me started on the endlessly amusing hobby of scrapbooking, as well as being one of eleven children from a farm family in Iowa. She also bugged me almost daily for an entire week about starting a blog. I folded like a cheap shirt.

Kayte's one of those gourmet-type cooks who makes me wish to hide the fact that I sometimes serve Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to my family, although whenever I think of Kayte while doing this, I automatically make myself call it nouilles et fromage en casserole. I comfort myself with the fact that it's the fromage-iest.

She has a cute blog called Grandma's Kitchen Table over at Typepad with some recipes and funny stories about her boys. Click on the link and pay her a visit!

(But don't offer her any chocolate. She hates it.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Beyond B.S.

Or maybe that should be "Beyond B.S. at B.S.U."?

At any rate, I am moving beyond the Bachelor of Science degree I earned at Ball State in 1986. Yeah, I know that's what you were thinking when I mentioned "moving beyond B.S." You were thinking that, as an English major, there's no way I'd ever be able to lurch out of the vast swamp of B.S. I got myself into, let alone move beyond it. See how you are?

I am talking about grad school. GRAD SCHOOL. Moving beyond my Bachelor of Science degree and earning my M.A. or M.A.Ed. Getting my Indiana State teacher's license renewed (it expired in 1992). Getting a teaching job someday when Meelyn and Aisling are in college themselves, mostly to pay for college so that we all won't have to spend our time as roller-skating car hops or fancy women or fancy roller-skating car hop women.

Ball State was a choice I hadn't really considered making, seeing as how I'd have to commute and seeing as how the price of gas continues to skyrocket upward at a dismaying rate. My first choice was Anderson University, so close to my house I can almost throw a rock and hit their library. Not that I'd ever do anything like that.

They have an interesting M.Ed. program arranged in cohort form, which brought to mind a group of students wearing the armor of Roman legionaries, carrying their textbooks in the famous "turtle" formation and marching through Dekker Hall, mercilessly plowing down everything in their path -- desks, wastebaskets, professors -- as undergrads made a vain attempt to stop them by throwing spiral-bound notebooks, empty styrofoam coffee cups and the cushions from the chairs in the student lounge.

Anderson University sounded very interesting until I contacted the Office of Graduate Admissions and obtained a copy of their schedule of fees. Yikes. Grad level classes are $275 per credit hour, with most classes being three credit hours. Plus books, which could verge on $200-$400 per class. Ouch. I have obviously been out of touch with reality. I know when my cousin Susan reads this, she's going to torture me with horror stories about the tear-and-sweat stained tuition checks sent off to St. John's and Pepperdine.

I gave a passing moment of thought to the University of Phoenix, but my husband vetoed this thought abruptly, believing that it, like Pinnochio at his beginnings, is not a real college. I thought it sounded kind of nice to be able to obtain my M.A.Ed. from the comfort of my own home, but when the agent I contacted apologetically informed me that the cost per credit hour was $612 plus books, I thought I was going to have to call for digitalis. Imagine the nerve of those people at their celluloid university, daring to charge such an unconscionable price! The kind people at the Teacher's College of Managua, who assured me that I will be able to earn my degree in six to eight weeks, mentioned rates that weren't that expensive by half! Plus I can get a diploma suitable for framing! And maybe even a kilo of coke as a graduation present!

That brought me back to Ball State University, which has been attended by so many members of my family, it has practically become our compound, like the Kennedys, only we don't have the keys to any of the buildings.

At latest count, here are the B.S.U. grads in my family. Some dates are approximate:

1. Grandma, B.A. '39, M.A. ?
2. Aunt Peg, B.A. ?
3. Aunt Cynthia, B.A. ?, M.A. ?
4. Grandad, B.A. '44
5. Mary Elizabeth (step-gran), B.A. '43
6. Mom, B.A. '65, M.A. '72
7. Me, B.S. '86
8. Patrick (brother), B.S. '91, M.B.A. '02
9. Angie (sister-in-law), B.S. '99

A few members of the family have seen fit to attend Indiana University, and that's just perfectly fine. Others have spent some time at Purdue University, but we prefer not to mention it. Or them.

The schedule of fees at Ball State didn't make me suck in my breath with enough horror-struck force to collapse my lungs, so it may be where I end up next summer. At $212 per credit hour, it is very reasonable. My husband is holding out for A.U., feeling that it would be nice to not have to commute. But the Ball State nostalgia waxes strong within me.

Shafer Tower, a Ball State University landmark.

And where would I like to teach after getting my license renewed and my own children sent off to college?

I'd like to get a job at this school or possibly this one. I hope my plans succeed.

Cinnamon Bread

I made it until 4:30 this morning, waking up to pee and then realizing that my nose was stuffy and my mouth was dry. I came back from the bathroom, already half knowing that I was not going to be able to breathe easily when my head hit the pillow -- heaven knows that I love the pretty spring flowers and blooming trees just as much as the next girl, but they kill me.

My climbing back into bed makes my husband stir. He turns over, heavy with sleep, and says in a groggily cheerful voice, "Hello! I'm pleased to meet you!"

"What?" I ask, surly. Sometimes when I stir in the middle of the night, it jolts him into speech. He's capable of coming up with some really funny stuff, once sitting bolt upright with his arms held out, palms up, in front of him. "Please," he urged me earnestly, his eyes still tightly closed, "will you hold this tray?"

This time, he simply repeats, "I'm pleased to meet you," a little more distinctly and lapses into gentle snores.

"I'm pleased to meet you, too," I sigh, and punch my pillow into a more comfortable shape, wondering if he was selling cars in his sleep. Or maybe he was dreaming about meeting me, all those years ago. I stretch out without really relaxing, breathing through my mouth, thinking that if he's dreaming about me in my mid-twenties -- thinner, bright of eye, with that bloom of youth -- he's going to be sorely disappointed if he wakes up now and sees me -- fat, congested, with mad hair in a pointy ponytail. Out of respect for my marriage, I sneak out of bed and head downstairs, pulling on a sweatshirt over my nightgown and pushing my feet into my yellow Crocs.

Downstairs, what is there to do? There are library books a-plenty. There is allergy medicine. There is EWTN and this new blog. But there is also a bread machine sitting on the kitchen counter and I am inspired.

My bread machine is about ten years old and makes 1 1/2 pound loaves of oddly-shaped bread. If I need to produce an aesthetically pleasing loaf, I put it on the dough setting and pull it out for the last rising, baking it in the oven in a regular loaf pan. But today, there is no one I need to impress, so I decide to let the machine do it all.

The recipe for cinnamon raisin bread is pretty simple: warm water, bread flour, two tablespoons of dry milk powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, butter, yeast. A very basic, easy bread that I can throw together in about fifteen minutes. There is enough time that this loaf will finish baking just as the alarm clocks go off upstairs.

We will have coffee for breakfast, rich with cream, and homemade cinnamon raisin bread toast. With butter. Everyone will be pleased when the scent of baking bread and brewing coffee drifts up the stairs. Meelyn will want her coffee in her huge Starbucks mug and Aisling will wait until my back is turned before using half a stick of butter on her toast. She will look at me in all innocence as I tell her to put some of it back: yes, I know there are crumbs, but she's not eating all that butter. Aisling will comply, wounded, feeling that her motives in not wishing to put back the butter are perfectly pure: the next family member to come along will be offended by the toast crumbs. I assure her that we'll cope. Meelyn will roll her eyes above the rim of her mug and get out her math book.

Aisling's favorite kitchen

I'll have my buttered cinnamon raisin bread, with coffee as black as I can bear it, hoping that it will have restorative powers after this, my fifth night in this cycle of wakefulness.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The weight of the word

We made a trip to the public library today, one of our favorite things to do. There is nothing like being in the peaceful hush, an atmosphere that seems pregnant with possibility. What kind of books do we want this time? Mystery stories? Fantasy? Chick lit? One or two or three or four of each?

An extremely uninspiring view of our city's public
library. A pox on the architect that designed this
bland, blank monstrosity.

My mom taught me to read when I was four, more an act of self-defense than of an altruistic desire to pass on knowledge of the written word. She would be in her favorite corner of the couch, feet tucked up under her, usually with a bowl of popcorn and some iced tea. She wanted to read her book, usually Agatha Christie. But then there I'd be, coming along with a stack of books clutched to my chest, asking that question again.

"Will you read to me?"

My mother was a good mother, and if she ever told me to hush up and go away, I don't remember it. Even though she did skip pages, as if she thought I wouldn't notice. I also don't remember her teaching me to read, but I know she did because that's when she bought me the first of many satchels so that we could go to the public library together, competing mildly with one another to see who could stuff in the most books. We would stagger out the heavy double doors, hoping the handles wouldn't rip off our bags, and down the steps, eager to get home and make the popcorn and sit down, each of us on our own couch end, and read.

So today, Aisling and Meelyn and I went to the library. I taught both of them to read, and I also have helped them develop the upper body strength necessary to get our vast loads of books out of the doors of our city's public library (which are automatic sliders) and into the car. We were there for just over an hour and brought home 50+ books, a pretty puny haul when compared to what we can do in the summer, when all we have to do is go to the pool and lounge.

I checked out a bunch of books on Ancient Greece, since I am doing some research on that culture for next school year's history bingo, plus an unwieldy load of sugary sweet chick lit. I find writers like Marian Keyes, Jane Green and Emily Giffin very, very soothing -- nice stories with decent character development and plots with a few twists and turns and happy endings. I can't bear unhappy endings, feeling that life is hard enough as it is, what with having to buy a new washing machine and some dumb hose going out on the van directly afterwards, not to mention other horrors such as an arsonist burning down our old parish church and college kids being massacred by a madman on the Virginia Tech campus. I can breeze through several chick lit novels in a week, both the American and British varities, filling in the chinks with some more solid non-fiction. My non-fiction choices right now are What Catholics Really Believe by Karl Keating and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.

The girls each chose books according to her own tastes, something that I always find fascinating, a little window into their private worlds. Who are these children, really, the ones with faces more familiar to me than my own? I love seeing what they pick out, what their choices in literature say about them.

At fourteen, Meelyn likes an occasional romance book, but not very often. I only let her read Christian romance novels by Grace Livingston Hill, whose books were published from early-to-mid twentieth century. GLH's style is a bit florid and quickly becomes cloying. But at Meelyn's age, she needs books where the girl always ends up with the wonderful young man who treats her well. She needs to know what to look out for, my lovely, dreamy-looking girl with the wide blue eyes and the killer volleyball serve. Mostly, though, Meelyn likes science fiction and fantasy and is busying herself with the books of Madeleine L'Engle. One of her favorite more contemporary writers is Cornelia Funke, author of the delicious ''Ink'' novels, Inkheart and Inkspell. Meelyn is anxiously awaiting the publication of the third book in the series, Inkdeath, so that she can find out what happens to Meggie, a kindred spirit.

Aisling has no truck with "stuff that isn't real" and picks up two novels about girls around her age, which is eleven. She went through a period of time when she refused to read any book that wasn't by Beverly Cleary, which concerned me somewhat. I had to explain to her that all good things must come to an end, including Mrs. Cleary's novels, and, not to put too fine a point on it, Mrs. Cleary herself. Aisling also got an armload of books from the American Girl Library's non-fiction selections, bright and cheerful books about how girls can manage their money and keep their skin clear and negotiate the treacherous paths of adolescence while making little ham sandwiches in the shape of daisies, with a hard-cooked egg laid on for a face.

We filled up four of the library's blue tote baskets and made our way to the elevators, groaning and accidentally barking one another's shins with the corners of our baskets. It took the woman at the library desk about ten minutes to check everything out, even with us obligingly bagging up our books. Then to the van, our arms stretching out like the arms of gorillas, our fingers pleading for mercy as the plastic bag handles dug into our skin.

And then home, where we piled our spoils on the dining room table with several resounding thumps, each of us poring over our bags, trying to decide what we wanted to read first, a succulent decision, like deciding between roast beef or roast pork, between mashed potatoes or sweet potato pie.

Meelyn chose her book and then disappeared through the swinging door into the kitchen, re-emerging to say, "I thought I'd pop a little bit of popcorn. Do you guys want any?"

"Yes!" we said, and within minutes, we were sitting with our glasses of tea and our little bowls of popcorn, all in our familiar line on the couch, munching, the only other sound being the tiny, intimate whisper of pages turning as we each started a new book.

I have taught them well.

I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night

There's never a bad time for a Frank Sinatra song. At least, that's what my grandma always thought. Unless, of course, it is descriptive of one's state of being. Which is, for me, awake.

Frank couldn't sleep a wink last night and neither could I. We both
look a little bit tired.

Frank was singing about a fight with his beloved that had rendered him wakeful, waiting through the night until it was a decent hour for making a phone call. That wasn't my problem; my beloved was sound asleep in bed beside me and as I turned over and grumpily put my feet outside the covers, he woke up for a split second and said, "Are you getting up again?" Then he took both of my pillows and snuggled happily down, claiming my space as well as his.

I've been up for the past four nights, reading, cleaning, looking out the windows at the dark city streets and puttering around on the computer. Sometimes it's really irritating not to be able to sleep, but most of the time, I don't mind too much. It's about the only way I can claim a few moments of peace.

Last night, I was in the mood for a little company, so I turned the television in the living room on to EWTN and half-watched a program about the Divine Mercy while I answered emails. I can't watch 24-hour news stations in the middle of the night, for fear that bad news from around the globe will keep me awake forever. I also don't watch HGTV or TLC during times of the day when Lowe's isn't open. That's just frustrating, and when I'm awake, my goal is to soothe myself enough so that I can go back to sleep, not work myself up about not being able to go right out and buy that recommended UV protectant marine varnish for my antique front door.

So I sat and dealt with my email, which might not seem like a very restful thing to do, but it was the email that was keeping me awake in the first place. It's been a busy week for me and my two daughters, Meelyn, 14, and Aisling (pronounced "Ashleen"), 11. As homeschoolers we are in a state of perpetual motion, but this week has been busier than ever. I serve our Indianapolis area homeschool group as the activities coordinator and it seems like I always have fourteen or fifteen emails, none of which can be answered with a simple yes or no, waiting in my inbox. I plowed through all of them, setting aside one particularly thorny one to answer later. I felt happy and peaceful, glowing with a sense of accomplishment.

I heard my husband's feet hit the floor overhead and a moment later he came down the stairs to walk the dogs, addressing me with our standard morning greeting.

"How long have you been up?" he asked through a yawn.

"Oh, since around 4:30. It hasn't been too bad. I was just getting ready to come back upstairs."

"Do you want me to send the dogs up when we get back?"

"Only if their feet aren't wet," I replied. "It's been raining."

My husband went to leash the dogs and I went upstairs to my room, climbing into the bed and burrowing into a warm hollow, drowsy and content. As I lay there dozing, my husband said, "Go find Mommy!" from the foot of the stairs and I heard the dogs thundering up to my room, thumping onto the bed, their paws wet on the pale yellow matelassé coverlet, their noses wet on my cheeks. "Hi. Yes. Good morning. I love you, too," I murmur. "Now settle."

The dogs both flop down, sighing heavily, slipping into sleep as easily as a carnival-won goldfish slips from a plastic bag into a bowl of water. As if they haven't been doing that very thing for the past nine or ten hours. Lucky, I think, and then I drift away too, unaware of my husband coming in from his shower, dressing for work, leaving. Although I do retain some slight memory of his kiss on my cheek.

I wake up two hours later in a pool of feeble sunlight, both dogs stretched out to full length. I feel revived, glad that I was able to go back to bed this morning. Some days I can't.

I wonder how many emails I'll get today, and head off for the shower.