Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Synchronized sick-ish-ness

I still laugh every time I think about seeing Ratatouille last weekend, when unbeknownst to me, Kayte was seeing it as well. We had originally planned to see it together in August and take Meelyn and Aisling with us (Kayte always needs some pink in her life, she says), but what with one thing and another, it just never happened.

And now come to find out that we were both so grossed out and that neither one of us liked it. Both of us spent our time in front of our separate DVD players, nervously clenching and unclenching the sofa cushions and fighting down that terrible feeling that one gets when one's tongue takes on the texture and consistency of an old army blanket in the mouth.

Imagine what it would have been like if we'd had to watch that nasty little Remy in Linguini's hair and scampering around the restaurant, walking on the countertops and drinking soup out of a ladle -- the same ladle that was being used to stir the soup -- on a huge cinema screen.

I am not prone to anxiety attacks, but I know that would have likely reduced me to a shivering mess, dampening the popcorn with my tears and rendering the Diet Coke undrinkably salty. Not to mention throwing up on everyone in, say, a ten-aisle radius.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

FOODIE REVIEW: Martha Stewart's Classic Stuffing

Well, the opinions have come in fast and furious from my experimenting with a new recipe for my traditional Thanksgiving dressing and the word is that is sucked and I should never, ever make it again because it was a major disappointment.

Meelyn said it was "slimy." I don't know if that's what I would have said, but I do agree that it was way too wet. By the time you get two pounds of onions, sixteen celery ribs and a quart or so of chicken stock, you have PLENTY of moisture, believe me. Celery, when cooked down, produces one heck of a lot of water. Considering that the instructions required me only to cook the diced onion until it was translucent (which didn't take very long) there wasn't much time available for the liquid to reduce.

So! I leave this Thanksgiving weekend with the happy knowledge that my own dressing recipe is better than Martha's. Mine is buttery, crispy on the top, and golden brown, a handful of golden raisins nicely balancing the savory with some sweetness; Martha's was wet, gluey and a strange greyish color from the three cups of fresh parsley. Even the toasted pecan pieces couldn't rescue it.

MOVIE REVIEW: Ratatewwwwwwwwille

Our family movie this weekend was Ratatouille, a movie I was totally prepared to love, being a major fan of Pixar. Unfortunately, I was so skeeved out by the sight of a rat crawling around on a kitchen counter and picking up some bread -- which it later put back down for a human to pick up and eat -- and a horde of rats falling through a ceiling into a person's living room, I couldn't enjoy the movie, what with the little bit of vomit that kept coming up in my mouth.

Yes, I know it was just computer animation. And I even know that the entire ironic theme of the movie was that this rat -- a dirty, flea-ridden, disease-carrying verminous creature -- wanted to be a chef in a five-star restaurant and had an actual talent for creating wonderful food. My impressionable head was filled full of Templeton at an early age and I'm sorry, but I just can't get over it. E.B. White trumps Pixar, which is as it should be.

The only thing that could possibly made things worse would have been for the rat to have had a cockroach as his sous chef.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I need a Joseph

In the Old Testament, there was this guy named Joseph who seemed like a fundamentally decent kid, but who had the unfortunate inability, as a young man, to quit tooting his own horn.

He was the youngest of a large family of brothers, and was unable to stop himself from sharing his dreams at the breakfast table, while everyone was sitting around with their faces buried in mugs of coffee and bowls of farina porridge.

"Hey, listen, I had this really interesting dream last night," he said, ignoring the well-known fact that people who want to tell other people their dreams are a blight on the face of this planet. "Last night I dreamed that I was the ruler and you all had to bow down to me." He made this announcement to all his older brothers and was surprised when they all looked up from their mugs with expressions ranging from the bleak to the murderous. "What? Why are you looking at me like that? I'm just sayin'."

So later on the older brothers sold him to slave traders. Which was not right. But perhaps....understandable. There's only so much of that boastful dream-saying that a person should have to listen to before Taking Steps to make it stop.

Anyway, Joseph continued with the dream interpreting, although he was careful afterward to deal solely with other people's dreams, having perceived that interpreting your own dreams with a strong personal bias and then telling them to other people will get you into trouble.

I need a Joseph right now myself. I have been thinking for days now what that nightmare I had that involved a vampire and a can of Campbell's Chunky Clam Chowder could possibly mean, but I just can't figure it out. I do know that the soup in question was definitely clam chowder, and not something more useful when being unpleasantly confronted with a hungry vampire, like chili made with beans, ground beef and Type O. Because the vampire was definitely hungry.

But not for clam chowder.

When or if I remember this dream, I will be sure not to tell you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thursday's List (Thanksgiving Day)

WHAT I'M THANKFUL FOR: For so many things. My family, obviously -- my husband, Meelyn and Aisling, but also for everyone else, including Carol and Uncle Graham and Lilly and John and Susie and Doug and my parents and brother and sister-in-law and nephews and niece... For good books to read and good food to eat. For my circle of friends, who let me cry on their shoulders during a recent disappointment and were all that is comforting and supportive.

But most of all, and as always, that God in His wisdom and grace, brought me to the Catholic faith. I will never understand why. Surely, there must have been a Bible scholar somewhere out there who would have had a greater appreciation of the Old Testament foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist and Mary, and especially the covenant relationship that God has arranged with those who call Him Father. Surely there was someone holier and more deserving of receiving the sacraments, which are the birthright of all Christian people, but still so sadly unappreciated.

But He chose me. And my family. That is what I am the most grateful for, every single year.

READING: I'm reading another Maeve Binchy and have decided that I must be in the mood for engrossing stories about people and their lives. I've been on a Binchy binge lately. Although I've also been reading a lot of Dean Koontz -- I love that Catholic man -- and more Marian Keyes. These three authors, it seems that their books never grow tiresome to me. Last summer, I immersed myself in British chick lit, as you may or may not remember, and I grew weary of that in just over a month. But Koontz's suspense novels (where good always wins) and Binchy's and Keyes' tales of ordinary lives and the ups and downs along the way are always interesting.

Anyway, the Binchy novel I'm reading right now is titled Quentins and is about a Dublin restaurant of that name, the people who run it, the people who eat there, and all their worlds.

LISTENING TO: Blissful quiet.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: I think perhaps it may be Martha Stewart's Classic Stuffing recipe, with the optional pecans. I think I'd like it with the optional dried cherries, but I didn't add those for fear that the family would protest. I added two eggs and four extra tablespoons of butter to her ingredients and it turned out very well. It came out of the serving dish in satisfying dense slabs and tasted great with turkey and gravy.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: This is our second day of Thanksgiving break. Ordinarily, we'd be around the table, suffering through math and listening to Meelyn howl about the unfairness of her life and how wicked miserable she's been ever since Jody Baxter and Flag entered her life. I am to be spared this misery, just another thing to be thankful for.

SLEEP LOGGED LAST NIGHT: I went to bed at 11:30, which is surely a reasonable time, and then my eyes popped open some time later and I was wide awake and refreshed. I figured that it must be around 6:30, which is when I seem to wake up naturally. So I bounced out of bed, looking at the clock as I did so.

It was 1:10 a.m. It took me for-freakin'-ever to fall back to sleep.

THE CAUSE OF MY STRESS: I have to do some HISTO today, tomorrow and Sunday, even though I am technically on vacation. I wouldn't have had to do this if I weren't such a disgusting procrastinator, but waa-a-a-a-ah anyway.

THE CAUSE OF MY JOY: Christmas lights going up outside tomorrow! At least that's what I'm hoping. The girls and I are also going to Hobby Lobby today to get the paper we need to make our big Advent wreath on our picture window that looks out onto the street in front of our house. This window is about twelve feet long and ten feet tall, so as you can imagine, it is a b-i-g display and it looks very nice from outside. We use sheets of paper cut into "fir" shapes for the wreath along the bottom of the window and then place sheets of paper four high for the candles -- three purple candles and one pink. We make little slips of black paper as "wicks" and attach a paper flame when that particular week's candle is "lit." We keep this up all through Advent and then tear it off the window on Christmas Eve to reveal the full glory of our magnificent 10-foot Christmas tree to the wonder of the pedestrians, neighbors and motorists on our street.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: The season of Advent, a time of beautiful hoping and waiting. I honestly don't know how Christmas meant much of anything before we became Catholic. Wait a of the reasons why I started reading about the Catholic faith all those many years ago was because I was searching for a way to make Christmas more meaningful for my family.

Meelyn and Aisling were only four and two back then, and when I started researching "Advent" on the internet, I didn't know that:

1) I was reading about a tradition that people still celebrated; I honestly thought that Advent was something that had died out hundreds of years ago and had no meaning for people's lives today. As I was searching and reading through different websites, I started out by praying that God would lead me to something that could bring light to me so that I could share it with other people. How was I, a presumptuous Christian to be sure, to know then that other people would end up bringing that light to me?


2) that Advent had not only never died out, but that it was being celebrated in much the same way that it had been celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years, a chain unbroken through century after century, through pope after pope, from Jerusalem to Rome to Indiana. Learning that fact not only changed the way my family views Christmas, it also changed the rest of our lives that don't occur from the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day until January 6, Epiphany Day. Now, we truly celebrate the Christ Mass.

PRAYING FOR: My poor little grandpa, who is having a terrible struggle with an infection near his ankle bone that may end up taking his leg.

Blame it on Martha

This year, just because I can, I changed the recipe for turkey dressing I usually use and switched over to the Classic Stuffing recipe from Martha Stewart's recipe file.

It is significantly different from my usual recipe, not so much in the actual ingredients (butter, onions, celery, bread, sage, salt, pepper and chicken or turkey stock) but in the amounts. Traditionally, I use about four celery ribs, two loaves of bread, four onions, a tablespoon of sage, two sticks of butter and a couple of quarts of stock, plus two eggs to kind of hold everything together -- my family definitely prefers dressing instead of stuffing. And dressing has to remain integrated so that it can be served up in slabs, layered with slices of ham and turkey, slathered with gravy and eaten with gusto on the day after Thanksgiving.

Martha's recipe called for slightly less butter, which I immediately overruled. She might be the CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, but she needs to get a clue about dressing, which is that it needs to be as buttery as possible. But her recipe called for slightly less sage, the same amount of bread, onions, salt, pepper, but instead of my usual four ribs of celery, Martha's calls for sixteen ribs, which is a whole stalk.

I cooked a little bit in a small dish so that I could taste it and it tasted great, but we'll have to see whether this comes across like turkey dressing when combined with all the other Thanksgiving dinner elements, or whether it tastes like a screwball celery casserole.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Volleyball banquet 2007

Our volleyball banquet was last Thursday night and it was a very moving occasion.

The thing that was the most moving involved eight huge tables and 60+ folding chairs. Meelyn, Aisling, my friend Susan (the other member of the banquet committee) and Jeff, the volleyball-dad-and-associate-pastor combo at whose church we were banqueting, manhandled those tables and chairs all over this huge church hall. When we were done, I was ready to go home and take to the bed with some Kahlua and decaf, but the work was only just beginning.

Meelyn and Aisling arranged memorabilia that our senior girls had contributed so that banqueters could look it over and observe the girls' progress through five or six years of volleyball. I only met these big girls last year when they were juniors, so looking at all their momentos was very touching, seeing them as 12- and 14-year-olds like my girls, all pigtails and braces, instead of the nearly-grown young adults they are now.

Susan and I put tablecloths on the tables, then laid out the centerpieces and got the buffet table ready for the caterers. Our banquet bugdet is so small as to nearly be non-existent, and I highly suspect that Susan supplemented the amount of money she had to buy decorations out of her own pocketbook. She had made really nice candle centerpieces in clear glass containers, hand-painting the glass with the girls' names and team numbers. The candles were a very nice size for a centerpiece and I have to say, in spite of the fact that this was a low-cost event with paper tablecloths and napkins and no change-plates and salt and pepper that came in plastic shakers, it all looked very nice. And that was totally due to Susan, who is one of those people who could make a silk purse out of a pig's ear with ease.

The caterers arrived exactly when they were supposed to, which led me at first to believe that they weren't actually caterers, but extremely well-organized space aliens from Planet Dinnerparty. The food was very good, the beverages cold, the talk around the tables merry and bright.

Meelyn and Aisling's coach has been with our organization for five years now as the junior varsity coach, and consequently, he got choked up a couple of times. He gave Meelyn the Service award because of her habit of always being there for her teammates with a serve, set or save. Her sweet face glowed with pride and I had to blot away my tears with half of a Parker House roll.

Aisling was the last member of the junior varsity team to be called up to the platform. She was given the Personal Growth because, as the coach said, she had progressed from being a player who simply could not come to practice without getting hammered in the face with the ball, to being one of the team's most reliable servers. I was very proud of her, too, and offered up a thankful prayer that she made it through the season with her glasses intact.

Because my husband came to the banquet straight from work, we had two vehicles there that night. Meelyn elected to come home with me and Aisling said she wanted to ride with Daddy. So Meelyn and I piled into the van (with considerably less cargo than we arrived with -- we were rivaling the Joads for the Amount of Stuff You Can Cram Into or Onto One Motor Vehicle on the way there) and set off for home.

Three seconds after exiting the church parking lot, Meelyn said distractedly, "I can't find my letter from Coach! He said he wrote us all letters and put them in our folders with our team pictures and our certificates, but it's not here! I must have dropped it! Oh, Mommy, let's turn around and go back."

I obediently wheeled the van back around and took her to the door behind the church, which was actually an emergency exit we'd propped open when unloading the van earlier. She got out and banged vigorously on the door until someone inside heard her and let her in; she disappeared and came back about five minutes with an envelope, smiling.

"Daddy had it," she explained, tearing it open and reading.

I pulled out of the church parking lot and back onto the state highway, anxious to make the half hour drive home as quick as possible. We drove along while Meelyn finished her letter, perused her certificate and nearly drove me mad by insisting that I look at every single person in the team picture, even though I was driving through the deep darkness of a Thursday evening in November during rutting season, when the deer population seems intent on making sweet Bambi love and crashing through the windshields of unwary drivers.

Suddenly, Meelyn let out a high-pitched squeal and I hit the brakes, wincing and expecting to see either the sharp hooves or the eight-point rack of a startled 250 pound buck coming in at us. "Mommy!" she shrieked. "I CAN'T FIND MY AWARD!"

"You scared me half to death," I said accusingly.

"I can't find it!" she wailed. "It was really nice, too, a volleyball medal with my name on the back!"

"You know," I said, "when I picked up your purse, I heard something jangle and clang, but I just thought it was those charms on the zipper pull of your bag knocking against the metal folding chair. I wonder if what I heard was actually your award falling out."

"I bet it was," she said. "I put it in the front pocket of my purse."

Sighing, I wheeled the car back around again and drove a couple of miles back to the church. We repeated the previous performance and she pranced back out a couple of minutes later with the medal swinging around her forefinger. She hopped in the van and buckled up.

"Now," I said, leaving the van in Park. "Have you got everything? Your volleyball stuff? Your coat? Purse? HEAD?"

"Yep," she said. "C'mon, let's hurry up and get home. I'm really tired."

"You and me both," I said.

June through November, volleyball is over for another year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Proud momma

Today was our ARCHES November event, which happened to be an art show. We loaded up the girls' art projects from the last year (which included the framed art they entered as Fine Arts projects in the Hamilton County 4-H Fair last July) and took it off to display.

Even nicer, though, was what happened before the art show: This was Aisling's first time to play the piano for Mass. This was also Meelyn's first time to serve as lead cantor, accompanied by the ever-darling Rachel and Gina. They all did such a magnificent job that my heart was all swelled up inside of me. For memory's sake, we sang "Gather Us In" as the processional hymn, "Taste and See" as the communion hymn and "The King of Glory" as the recessional. During the preparation of the gifts, Aisling played "Let There Be Peace on Earth" as a solo.

Meelyn stood up so proud and beautiful and announced the hymn page numbers and Aisling did such a good job in her intros and with keeping a steady tempo for the congregation to sing by. During "The King of Glory," the congregation somehow got ahead of Meelyn, Rachel and Gina which led to a very, very slight moment of confusion, but Aisling, thinking quickly, jumped into the song at the point at which the congregation was warbling away -- it was one of those things that happened so fast, I don't know if any of the congregants knew there was a problem. They handled themselves very well.

My World Literature class for the high school students at ARCHES and our book group that's reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer both went extremely well.

I was really pleased with everything. It's been such a happy, exciting, fulfilling day. I like days like this, especially when they happen on MONDAYS.

I think this may be unprecedented in the history of the world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Adventures of Teaching Middle Schoolers

I am going to be teaching an ARCHES class starting, let's see....TOMORROW. We're beginning a reading club ofr the sixth, seventh and eighth grade members of the group and the first book we're going to tackle is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The study guides are all prepared and every ARCHES middle schooler who wants to participate in the class has been instructed to obtain a copy of the novel and bring it along.

I chose this book as our first because it is so appealing. I read the first two chapters yesterday and hooted my way through them. Tom's character is so vivid from about the second page of the book that you feel like he's standing right next to you, offering you a paint brush. In all the classic novels that school kids are supposed to read, this is one of the best, in my opinion.

If I were to judge by the narrow-eyed wariness displayed by my own two middle-schoolers (one of whom is whining her merry way through The Yearling), I'd say that poor Tom may not have a chance. I hope these grumpy little boogerheads will appreciate his worth, but just like Aunt Polly, I'm feeling somewhat dubious.

Maybe I ought to threaten them with Chekov or Tolstoy for the second piece of fiction [writer emits Vincent Price-style chuckle] That'll learn 'em.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Are we THAT weird?

My husband and I were watching the television show 'Til Death the other night, which stars Brad Garrett (who formerly played Robert Barrone in Everybody Loves Raymond) and Joely Fisher as a 20+ years wed couple with a kid in college who have two bouncy, chirpy newlyweds move into the house next door. The two forty-somethings often find themselves bemused by the effervescent luuuuurve that their twenty-something neighbors are in and spend a lot of time instructing them in the Ways of Marriage.

Think: In the first bright year of marriage, it's kind of cute when your husband farts in his sleep. You think, "Oh, look how comfortable and relaxed he looks in his sleep. I'm so glad that that bad air bubble isn't bothering him anymore. Note to self: never serve broccoli and baked beans at the same meal, because it might give hims a stomach-ache."

After that year, not so much.

The subject of the program the other night was bedtime and what it means if a couple both turns in at the same time every night. The strong suggestion was that it is goofy and silly for two grownups, who may not be tired at the same time, to go to bed together. The 20-something character was made fun of in the staff lounge of the school where he and the older man both work because he and his wife went to bed at 10:30 every night.

"You have a bedtime," jeered one teacher. "You be a good boy and eat your cookie and drink your milk and then you scoot right in there and hit the hay, little mister."

My husband and I traded a couple of amused glances while this was going on. We've been married for nearly twenty years and we've always gone to bed at the same time. I thought that was just one of the things you DID when you were married: Someone yawns and says, "I'm feeling tired. Are you ready to go upstairs?"

The other person responds, "I just need to answer this one last email. Give me ten minutes."

At the end of ten minutes, we get up (him from his chair, me from the desk) and putter around, putting the dogs to bed, starting the dishwasher and then we go upstairs. Together. We both read in bed for half an hour or so and my husband turns off his light. Then I read for a while longer and either turn out my light or get up and sneak back downstairs.

But we do go to bed at the same time. Every night. I think it would be really strange to say, "Well, listen, I am just whupped from this day, so I'm going to head on up. See you in the morning."

So now I'm wondering: How many couples go to bed at the same time, and how many couples go whenever they feel like going?

If it were up to my husband, we would be going to bed at 9:00 every night. If it were up to me, we'd head upstairs at 12:30. We compromise. Which is definitely one of the Ways of Marriage.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday's List

READING: Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes. Marian Keyes is an Irish novelist that reminds me of a younger, hipper Maeve Binchy. If you love Maeve Binchy like I do, you may well enjoy the books of Marian Keyes. Her books make me laugh out loud and frequently make me sniffle and use the hem of my top to wipe my eyes. My favorite Marian Keyes book is Rachel's Holiday, but it is a happy-ending yet grueling read about the protagonist's struggles to overcome her drug addiction. I know that sounds wretched, but it really is a funny, moving book in spite of the subject matter.

LISTENING TO: A little talk radio.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: A couple of Shakespeare books that I don't have. Imagine! I am excitedly waiting for Christmas money to come along so that I can buy them.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: Today is the volleyball awards banquet. Wooooooot!!!

HOURS OF SLEEP LOGGED LAST NIGHT: I slept for four hours, and then happened to wake up because I had a bad dream about a vampire and a can of Chunky clam chowder. Then when I got up to get a drink, my mind whirled into action about the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival trip I'm in the midst of planning with a travel agent, and I immediately got so excited, I could NOY fall back to sleep. So I got up and stayed up until 7:00, then, because we have had the nicest day today of not having to go anywhere until this evening, I went back to bed until 10:30. It was lovely.

THE CAUSE OF MY STRESS: The Thanksgiving dinner given by the staff of my grandparents' assisted living center -- which, by the way, is FREE -- is tonight, of all nights. The night of our volleyball banquet. My brother and his family can't go because my older nephew has a basketball game; my cousin and her family can't go because my teenage cousin has a basketball game. I can't believe the rotten timing. We're all meeting next week at my brother's house, but my grandpa is having so much trouble with his foot and leg. I'm worried that he won't be able to come. Ugh.

THE CAUSE OF MY JOY: My husband, my soul mate, who is just a funny, loving, affectionate person. He also seems to have a slight case of OCD when it comes to bagging groceries, painting walls and putting up Christmas lights, but I can bear those things, considering that it means that I don't have to bag groceries, paint walls or put up Christmas lights.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: Thanksgiving, which I wish were two weeks away, but since it isn't...SHOW ME THE TURKEY!!!!!

PRAYING FOR: All of us, that we'll count our many blessings. This is especially important for me, because I am a big, grouchy pessimistic hypochondriac doomsayer. If you would, pray for me to get over myself. You may need the help of St. Jude for this one.

Balsamic vinegarator

I opened the fridge this morning to get out the items needed to make my husband a couple of turkey sandwiches, only to be greeted by a pleasant aroma -- sweet yet spiced -- and a dreadful sight. Somehow, a bottle of expensive balsamic vinegar got tipped over in the door storage area where we keep our many condiments and whiled away the time it spent languishing on its side by drip, drip dripping all over the bottles and jars on the shelves below it.

I don't even need to tell you that the balsamic vinegar was on the highest shelf, right?

Or that balsamic vinegar, when enjoyed on a salad as a dressing or on a grilled chicken breast, pork chop or sirloin as a marinade is a delightful treat for the taste buds, but is a sticky, nasty mess when it is sploshed all over the pickle jars?

Or that finding such a mess at 6:45 a.m., pre-caffeine, sucks the life right out of me and makes me do things that would shame my mother, such as gently closing the door on the mess and sneaking away, saying, with the passionate conviction of Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll worry about this later on. When the girls are awake. So that they can clean it up instead of me."

I plan to refer to this as "Home Ec." I'm counting on you to back me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

We shall overcome

My cousin Carol just got back two weeks ago from a fantastic pilgrimage/tour of Ireland. She has not given me any particular details yet -- I think I'm going to have to see her face to face for that to be accomplished, because she told me that she took over seven hundred pictures. Which, I don't think are going to lend themselves to being sent to me via email, including captions, without causing my aged computer to melt all over the top of my desk.

My husband and I want to go to Ireland someday, the land of our forebears. Our last name, McKinney, is pretty self-explanatory, but my own heritage includes staunch surnames from the land of Eire such as Hoy and Dunkin. And probably some others, but the idea of doing genealogical research makes me want to melt all over the top of my desk. And not in a good way. More in a Wicked Witch of the West kind of way.

Since we want to go to Ireland, we've discussed several times, with worried furrows in our brows, our intense dislike of Guinness. We are plebian beer lovers who enjoy a nice, cold Budweiser, but what happens if you go to an Irish pub and ask if they have draft Bud? The Irish people are famed for their gregarious welcomes of eager tourists, but this doesn't seem like a good way to endear ourselves to someone who may be, after all, our dear old long lost Uncle Paddy.

So we've decided to train our reluctant palates. not only to get in training for that Irish getaway that we feel certain is in our future, but also because Guinness is supposed to be really good for the digestion, as well as having the same healthful benefits as red wine. What's not to love about that? Well, other than the taste, of course.

Which could be best described, in my opinion, as "Erin go braaaaaaaaaagghhhkkkkk...."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Perfect Sunday

I love the month of November, all four dreary, leafless, chilly weeks of it. Today was possibly the most perfect Sunday we'll have, although I'm holding out hope for all the others.

I woke up briefly at 6:30 and, hearing a strange sound from outside, peeked out my window. I was nonplussed at what I saw. It seemed strangely familiar, like something seen in a sidelong glance on the fourth day of the new year when I was only a child. There was a name for it, but my tongue couldn't find the right sound. I waited patiently, my forehead against the cold glass, shivering a little in my nightgown, and at last the word came:


Lovely, splattering, dripping, pouring rain, coming out of a grey sky, low and scornful. I sighed with happiness and sank back underneath my blankets, burrowing my drowsy head ecstatically into the pillow. A cold and rainy Sunday!

The girls and I got up an hour later and got ready to leave for Religious Ed class. To be honest, we weren't all that keen to leave our beds and venture out, but we consoled ourselves with a coffee on the way there. Religious education class passed pleasantly enough, and we embarked on our way home, getting ourselves breathlessly into the house between the raindrops, shrugging out of our damps coats, and climbing enthusiastically back into our pajamas and slippers.

Meelyn, Aisling and I were eager to try a new product we found in the little boutique around the corner that was having the buy-one-get-one-free Webkins event this weekend. When we were there, greedily grabbing up plush toys, we noticed that there was a little hospitality area set out. I'd like to think that we didn't descend on it like a pack of ravening wolves, but sometimes Aisling has a let's take one of everything and then take another of all the things we liked way about her that can be disconcerting to the hosts who set out their goodies with careful consideration of having enough to go around. I kept a firm hold on her and Meelyn daintly gave four delicate crackers a schmear of a cream cheese spread.

I took a tiny nibble of my cracker, chewed in a ladylike manner and said, "Oh, that's very good! What it is?"

One of the store's clerks said graciously, "That's one of our cream cheese mixes. They're available in the back of the shop with the kitchen decor."

Aisling stuffed an entire cracker whole into her mouth. "Tha' sreall ygood," she said indistinctly, her eyes shining with approval, spewing cracker crumbs over the front of my blazer. "Leth get thome of that!"

"Mommy, that is really good," said Meelyn, nibbling her own cracker. She picked up an attractive little package off the table and said, "Look, this is what it is. Garlic and herb spread. It says all you have to do is get eight ounces of cream cheese and four tablespoons of butter. and moosh it all together. Don't you think these would be nice Christmas presents?"

I did. We have so many teachers -- art, piano, scrapbooking, et cetera -- who make our lives so rich in so many ways. I thought it would be very nice to give these friends a packet of the cheese spread mix, some nice cream cheese, a stick of butter and some lovely crackers. It's always nice to have a little extra something for guests during the holiday season. Besides, as a former teacher who got eight thousand coffee mugs over the course of a seven year career bearing sayings such as "The Three Best Reasons for Teaching? June, July and August!" and "A Teacher Touches the Future" and my all time cringe-producing favorite, "A+ Teacher!" that I never want to be responsible for giving someone a gift that they are going to have to either re-gift to some other hapless soul or haul down to the Goodwill in a box of jumbled glassware.

(My theory is that there are probably really only a hundred actual teacher-themed mugs in existence and that those hundred mugs are in constant circulation, being given, re-gifted, re-purchased from Goodwill...the cycle of madness continues. So if you were thinking of giving some teacher you know a mug for Christmas, just don't, okay? Please. Even if you're going to tuck some swanky teabags or a packet of hot chocolate imported from Belgium or even one of those chocolate spoons, just don't. Think "consumable.")

The girls and I bought two packages of the cream cheese spread mix, a sweet and a savory. The savory was the garlic and herb stuff we tried in the shop and the other was called English Toffee and claimed to want to be served on graham crackers or shortbread. I had already purchased the required cream cheese, butter and crackers at the grocery on Saturday and the girls and I had stirred up the cheese spreads the night before, so they were all ready to be tasted.

The garlic and herb one went like wildfire - eight ounces of cream cheese doesn't make a very big cheese ball, especially since we were viewing this as our lunch. The English Toffee was very tasty, but way too rich, even though I used graham crackers. We each had a few bites of it and declared it cloying to the palate.

The rest of the day went very pleasantly with the rain and the snoring dogs and the cozy warm throws on the sofa and ottomans pushed at agreeable angles for the propping up of feet. My husband and I sat side by side for several hours with Wimzie squashed in between us, generating heat like a little furry furnace. The girls read their books (Meelyn happily digging back into the first novel in the Batson trilogy that she just finished last week) and enjoyed the computer and played some Skip-Bo here and there. The laundry all got done. Aisling got in trouble for being a pest and had to load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher all by herself.

It's been the loveliest, most relaxing day I've had in a long time.

Although it does feel very strange to be changing from pajamas into more pajamas at bedtime.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Thanks, but no thanks. No, really, I mean it."

My city elected a brand new Democrat mayor in the elections last Tuesday and there are a number of people who are very glad about that.

Which leads me to....

My city is very strange. There is one stretch of busy road that is home to a Chinese family's nice little restaurant (a fixture in the city for probably 25 years), a bridal/formal wear shop with elegant dresses and handsome tuxes in the windows, a spiffy little car wash and one of those places that are euphemistically called "gentlemen's clubs" by the prim and proper crowd and topless bars by everyone else. I favor the second term myself, because I don't think a gentleman should ever go into such a place.

At any rate, this place is naaaasty. It is painted a lurid pink (you can probably figure out why if you think hard enough, but if you don't want to know, just stop right there) and has this big, gaudy, aggressive sign that generally advertises $2 draft beer night and the occasional buy-some -gonorrhea-get-your-chlamydia-free specials and things like that. Once, disturbingly, it even breathlessly announced "Bigger and better, with ALL NEW GIRLS." You can practically feel the cooties crawling out of the place.

Today, however, there was a new announcement up there in the air that made me do that puzzled-Scooby-Doo-sound when my husband and I drove by it on our way to the grocery store today. "Urrrr?" I said, reading the words with my head on one side and my ears standing up questioningly.

"What? Did Freddie and Daphne wander off by themselves again?" asked my husband.

"No," I replied. "Look at that sign."

He read the words and started laughing. 'Way up there on the roadside sign of the topless bar was our new Democrat mayor's name.


Wouldn't that just make you feel special if you were Mr. Oberman? Here he just spent all that money telling us how he's going to crack down on the crime and vice in this city because he is such a Family Values kind of dude, and the local live porn establishment is cheering him on.

"That is so priceless, I don't even think I can laugh," I said with wonder, a gleeful smile lighting up my face. "That is too, too....oh, it is rich. RICH. As rich as red velvet Christmas cake. Do you think he knows? That would be so hugely embarrassing."

My husband looked at me, waggling his eyebrows with a Groucho Marx leer. "Maybe they know him well there. Maybe he's one of their best customers."

That was when I started to laugh.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thursday's List

READING: The Summons by John Grisham. I've read it before, but it's been a long time. I really like Grisham's writing. Legal thrillers are always a lot of fun, and very informative, actually. I learned a heck of a lot about offshore banking from reading The Firm all those years ago. I don't know if Kayte's husband, Mark (the fancy lawyer), has such an exciting time of it as John Grisham's characters do, but those books are fun to read. My favorite Grisham novel of all, though, is A Painted House and doesn't happen to be about lawyers at all.

LISTENING TO: I hear a train's whistle from far up the street, drifting down to us on the clear, chilly night air. The traffic that usually streams by is gone for the day; the only real traffic that passes right now are the trucks from the dairy, on their way to make deliveries at markets, groceries, schools, hospitals and restaurants and the hush outside is as soft as velvet.

Train whistles in the night are deeply embedded in my consciousness with a sense of peaceful well-being. My childhood home in Mt. Summit, Indiana was near a train track and I used to lie in my little bed under the eaves (the same bed my father slept in as a little boy, in the same house) and listen to the train whistles in the night, knowing that their sound meant that all was right with the world.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: The boutique a stone's throw from our house is having a special sale tomorrow on Webkins -- BUY ONE PET, GET ONE PET FREEEEEEEE!!! Could I be more excited? Heck no! Will I throw down any little kid who stands between me and a plushy new friend? Heck yes! Are Meelyn and Aisling coming with me? They'd better be on the front porch, ready to head down that sidewalk at zero-niner-five-eight hours tomorrow, is all I know.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: My warm, snuggly lavender fleecy sweatshirt. It could not be more comfortable and toasty warm. I wish it weren't so ugly. But my husband won't let me wear it out of the house.

HOURS OF SLEEP LOGGED LAST NIGHT: Lots! I cuddled up under several blankets and put my feet on my husband and dropped off like a rock. I think it might have something to do with circadian rhythms, but I honestly have no idea what that even means.

THE CAUSE OF MY STRESS: Round 2 of HISTO Ancient Greece is a month away and it will be upon me before I know it. I have some of the eighty questions written, but not all. Time to get it squared away this weekend.

THE CAUSE OF MY JOY: My spring semester Shakespeare Workshop is all filled up and I am really thrilled about that. Most of the members of the class are returning students, but I have quite a few newbies, which is always exciting.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: My second nephew's birthday party this weekend. He'll be seven. But I'm not looking forward to the menu he's chosen: hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and chili. It is to barf. I am totally rethinking this whole idea of allowing the birthday child to choose his own meal until he is old enough to choose prime rib and twice-baked potatoes.

PRAYING FOR: My Aunt Cynthia, who is very, very old and in the hospital, nearing the end of her life.

+Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Thine only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.+

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday doesn't have much to recommend it

Today is Monday, one of the days when I promised myself I would write on my blog. Because every single thought that roams through my brain is so interesting, it must be set down in words. I'm just that special.

Monday does not make me feel particularly special, however. Today has just been a day, a wearing-out kind of day; the kind of day when you get out of bed, put your feet on the floor and then re-think this whole concept of productivity, good citizenship and virtue and think, "Nah. I'm going back to sleep."

We did go to the library today. Meelyn got a series of books that she has been longing to re-read. And we stayed long enough that I got an hours' work done at a quiet table while the girls used the computers that our friends, Bill and Melinda, donated to the library. That made Aisling happy, although she didn't need to check out any new books: she checked out the entire Great Brain series by humorist John Fitzgerald the last time we were there and has been delightedly plowing through them, shrieking with laughter and reading me paragraphs and entire pages that remind me not only of Tom's insane exploits, but also of doing the same thing to my mother, thirty-five years ago. I adored those books and read them a thousand times. It was so much fun giving The Great Brain at the Academy to Aisling one day when she had nothing to do but hanging around me like kudzu, whining and looking for trouble.

"Here," I said, taking the battered little paperback, a relic of my childhood, from the shelf. "Read this. It's one of the funniest books I ever read."

"It looks very dumb," said Aisling dubiously, offering unabashed disrespect to the sweet drawings of Maurice Sendak. She took it, looked at it again, and sighed. "I'd rather go get ice cream, if it's all the same to you."

"The ice cream place is closed for the season," I said, going back to my computer monitor, stubbornly refusing to look at her again. It just encourages her to keep pestering.

"Ohh," she said, crestfallen. Then, brightening, "How 'bout the Olive Garden, then?"

I also checked out a whole new pile of books on ancient Greece; they are sitting there on the table in the utility room we devote to library books, car keys, junk mail and the occasional potato, beckoning to me, begging to be read. I love history.

We went to return a movie at Blockbuster, and on our way passed the gym where the girls have had so many practices and matches this season, which ended on Friday with tears and cheers and hugs and promises to keep in touch until next June brings volleyball camp back around. It was very melancholy, passing the gym. Not melancholy enough to get the girls involved in one of those year-round leagues, you understand, but sad enough.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a haze of schoolwork, enlivened by the fact that Meelyn, who is always, always, tearfully and melodramatically convinced that she has done every single math problem completely wrong, discovered that she hadn't missed nearly as many as she thought. She went from a bowed-down girl speaking in a voice foggy with tears to a smiling, pert little rossie, cheerfully chirping like a spring robin.

"I didn't do so badly after all," she said with satisfaction, slamming the book. I studied her with a narrowed, sidelong glance, thinking of all the grief she's been putting me through, every Monday morning with every math lesson and debated making a cross remark, but held my tongue. At least she's doing better than she thought and not worse!

We did have a clash later on about the snail-like pace with which she is reading The Yearling, while capably breezing through thick and entertaining novels about princesses and knights and quests for glory with a rapidity that makes a cool breeze come off the pages. I won that go-round by firmly assigning chapters to be read; chapters that must be read before she can immerse herself in her Wayne Thomas Batson series.

We're getting ready to tuck into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with our group of middle-schoolers from ARCHES, so at least I won't be on my own anymore.

She just stopped by my desk on the way to the kitchen and told me that she loved me. What a sweetheart. She also reminded me that I have to write about the conclusion of the volleyball season for the primary reason that she played brilliantly -- brilliantly!! -- in the last several matches and feels the need for public recognition of her skills. Hee! Who better than a mom to toot a girl's horn?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thursday's List

READING: Another Dean Koontz book, titled The Good Guy. The story is a suspense tale about a man who is, well, a good guy, who is trying to prevent a stranger from being murdered by a hit man. It is very good and, as with all Dean Koontz characters, it is impossible not to like his characters. Well, except for the psycho sadistic hit man, of course. Him I could do without. This book is a little edgier that what I usually read, which means that I've been staying up late, shivering like a giant chihuahua as I turn the pages, my eyes out on stalks.

LISTENING TO: One of my favorite DVDs, Michael Woods' wonderful treat for the eyes and ears, In Search of Shakespeare. I just watched the third episode, "The Duty of Poets", and it was so good, I watched it all over again when it was done. (My husband and the girls are all at the last volleyball practice of the season.)

FAVORITE NEW FIND: A new handbag, a gorgeous, big black leather hobo-style bag at my favorite accessories boutique, Goodwill. I think, from the looks and the feel of it, from the suppleness of the leather and the tight, flat seaming, it must have been a $60-$80 bag, and I got it for a whole $2.99.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: Today is All Saints Day, one of the best holy days of the year. Followed closely by tomorrow's holy day, All Souls.

HOURS OF SLEEP LOGGED LAST NIGHT: Not nearly enough. Because I've been up reading, as I said. In fact, I logged so little sleep last night, Hershey, Wimzie and I took a two hour nap on the sofa this afternoon, all of us blissfully covered up with blankets, snoring in a happy heap. This means that I'll be fresh and alert at 11:30 p.m., ready to finish my novel and spend all day tomorrow staggering around in a stupor. I hope no one at tomorrow's volleyball game thinks I've taken to strong drink.

THE CAUSE OF MY STRESS: This Dean Koontz book is skeeeeeeery! And then there's the fact that it has been weeks since I have written anything here. I am a very bad blogger as it turns out. Which disappoints. I really want this to serve as a record of our school year and how is it going to do that if I never sit down here and type? My only feeble excuse is that we are busy. And we are, really and truly. Things are different when homeschooling two middler schoolers. We also go lots of places. Maybe it will help now that volleyball season is ending.

THE CAUSE OF MY JOY: I am planning the next Shakespeare Workshop for 2008 - we're going to be studying The Taming of the Shrew. And. And!!!! We're also going to be seeing this play is STRATFORD, ONTARIO. Woooooooooooot!!!! This is a long-time dream of mine, to lead a group tour on a fantastic expedition like this. I am very excited. I'm going to be waiting by the phone tomorrow to hear from the travel agent, who will be giving me the package prices for students and adults.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: [in an Oprah Winfrey full-belly shout] THANKSGIVIIIING!!!!!

PRAYING FOR: Dearest Anne.