Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve - 10:04 check in

We ate all we could hold while watching Fred MacMurray and Annette Funicello (she's such a doll) in The Shaggy Dog. The actual dog was adorable and so funny when driving the little roadster in pursuit of the spies. I have to say, for 1959, those were some pretty good special effects.

The girls and I played a game of Pounce at the dining room table while my husband switched the television back and forth between football and -- get this -- country music videos. Yes, that's my husband, a sworn foe of country music, who is watching and enjoying these videos. He's laughing his head off at some song about a guy driving his International Harvester combine. Hoo-boy.

I opened up the bottle of bubbly a few minutes ago for a sneak preview. The little tag at the store identified it as a "light and fruity Asti, with overtones of peach and apple." That sounds pretty good, actually. However, the $3.99 price tag concerned me somewhat. But $3.99 is what the ol' budget allowed for, even though I looked longingly at the roadside sign of the local swanky wine emporium that was advertizing Dom Perignon for the holidays. Maybe next year.

I took the precaution of dropping about a quarter of a teaspoonful of sugar into my champagne flute before pouring. (I love that scene in Moonstruck where Cher is celebrating with her dad and drops a sugar cube into each glass of champagne.) The cork popped agreeably, making the girls shriek with pleasure; they were in the kitchen with me, opening their own bottle of sparkling apple cider.) I handed them each a flute and they poured their cider, with Meelyn looking wistfully at me as I poured my Asti.

"I wish I were old enough to drink champagne," she said.

"Well, think of Leisl in The Sound of Music," I said comfortingly. "She wanted champagne at the Captain's engagement party with the Baroness and he told her no and she was sixteen."

"It's a long time until I'm twenty-one," she said. "Can I smell it?"

"Sure," I said, holding out my flute.

She sniffed. "Ewwwwww!!! That smells like a dirty foot!"

I smelled my flute indignantly. It smelled apple-ish and peachy. "It does not! It smells very nice!"

"Yuck!" she said, rubbing her nose violently. Aisling giggled.

"Mommy's drinking foot juice," she taunted.

I took a sip. It was very tasty. "More for me," I said with dignity.

The girls trooped off upstairs to play video games for a while. My husband and I are getting ready to tune into FoxNews's Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly -- they are so adorable -- in Times Square.

It's raining really hard and the wind is howling. We are very cozy here, though.

New Year's Eve -- 6:51 check in

We just got home from church -- we went to the Vigil Mass for the holy day of obligation that falls on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God -- and it is 6:51 p.m.

The girls are upstairs putting on their pajamas.

I just came in from the kitchen, where I unwrapped the cheese ball, started pre-heating the oven for our special hors d'oeuvres I'm serving, and turned down the slow-cooker on the spicy nacho cheese dip (I plan to serve shooters of prune juice tomorrow to help us with beaucoup de fromage....) We also have some Monte Cristo sandwiches on deck, just in case anyone gets peckish later in the evening. And don't forget the (extremely cheap and probably tasting like vinegar, but oh well) "champagne" that's in the fridge!

My husband just got back from taking their dogs on their final walk of the evening. It is raining outside, getting ready to snow. He just went upstairs to change into comfy clothes.

We have about five old movies on the DVR and Sorry!, Clue and four decks of cards are sitting on the dining room table.

The four of us have been planning this night for a month and we're glad it's finally here. The girls get their next Christmas present at midnight!

Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

This just in from the Sunshine State

Poppy just called from his cell phone a few minutes ago. He and Nanny arrived in Florida this afternoon, where it is a balmy 83 degrees. They traveled through driving rainstorms and crazy interstate traffic: evidently this is the weekend when all the snowbirds looked at each other and said, "Well, Linda, the grandkids have all opened their Christmas gifts; the tree is down and all the decorations are back in the attic. Let's go!"

They're in Florida for only a week this year. Here's hoping for a restful and relaxing vacation with warm weather and beautiful sunsets. They do a lot of really hard work in caring for my elderly grandfather and step-gran: their time at home is definitely not their own. They don't begrudge any of the care they give so unselfishly, but I'm sure it's nice to get away and rest.

I thought of them yesterday, the Feast of the Holy Family, during the second reading at Mass. It was from Sirach 3:12-15:

My child, support your father in his
old age,
do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show
him sympathy,
do not despise him in your health
and strength;
for kindness to a father will not be
but will serve as reparation for
your sins.
On your own day of ordeal God will
remember you;
like frost in sunshine, your sins
will melt away.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reality cheque

At my friend Debbie's request, I am writing a post about one of the many realities of homeschooling. I've always written about real things that happen, but one of my modest talents is to be able to turn even the most un-funny episode into something humorous, but it isn't always possible to do that. Sometimes the bright side can be kind of dim.

Part 1: Debbie pleads her case

Debbie is the mother of six children, all under the age of 10. She and her husband and family attend Our Lady of Perpetual Motion parish and she, like many other homeschooling mothers, has been known to lock herself in the bathroom and claim to be suffering from a bad case of constipation. At a recent homeschool event, she said to me in her decisive way, "I think you should write a book."

"Oh, okay," I teased her. "I'll get started on that right away. Any suggestions on what this book should be about?"

"Oh, yeah," she said, leaning toward me across the table at which we were sitting. "You need to write a real homeschooling book. About how hard it is. And how you want to kill your kids sometimes. And what a crushing responsibility it is -- how you wonder if you're a total failure and if your kids are going to grow up to be panhandlers at a freeway exit."

"If I wrote a book like that, every single homeschooler would hate my guts," I protested.

"No, they wouldn't," she insisted. "They would totally get it. There are already enough of those books out there that tell those full-of-crap stories about how some mother has every aspect of homeschooling sewn up into some little package with pink peonies hand-embroidered on it. You know what I'm talking about: how Mommy has time to devote two hours to prayer each morning before getting up to take the kiddies to Mass and then come home to a nourishing family breakfast of coddled eggs gathered from their flock of chickens out back that the nine-year-old is raising for a 4-H project and whole-grain muffins their five-ear-old baked with one hand while she played a Beethoven sonata on the piano with another. And then the kids learn multiplication by sorting socks, and then early in the afternoon, she retires to her bedroom with the midwife and has her fourteenth child while she writes up the family school-and-chores schedule for the next six months."

"Oh, yeah," I said bleakly. "Those books. I hate those books."

"Tell me about it."

"They make me feel like a big, inadequate lump of dough."

"You think?"

"Sometimes, my one prayer of the day is, 'Holy Mother of Jesus Our Lord and Savior, please hold me back from hurting somebody.'"

"Uh-huh. That's what I mean. Like, the other day, there was only enough ice cream left in the house for one person, so I purposely sent the kids outside to play and I ate it myself. And I enjoyed every bite and I didn't feel guilty."

"You mean everybody doesn't do that?"

Debbie snorted. "Not from what you'd read in just about every homeschooling book out there. All those mothers would have made a project with the ice cream and some phyllo pastry and created little miniature Baked Alaskas to serve Daddy when he got home from work. And ev-ree-one would have had their fair share."

I sat with my chin in my hand, thinking. "Reality?" I asked her.

"Ab-so-freakin'-lutely," she said firmly.

Part 2: Reality according to us

We began homeschooling when Meeyln finished her second year in public school. She had wonderful teachers and the school was great. The problem lay in the fact that education being offered was what you could expect from teachers with a whole bunch of students working at differing levels and only one self.

Believe me, I am not one to naggity-nag-nag at public school teachers for the abysmal test scores and illiterate students that are endlessly cranked out of our public school system. I've been a public school teacher, and if there's any job that could suck the will to live right out of you, being a public school teacher is the one. Don't get me started on overcrowded classrooms. Or on how students show up on your roster that should have been held back years ago for non-mastery of basics, like, just for an example, knowing how to read.

I don't want to go to that dark place where most teachers spend a portion of their weak and spindly salaries on supplemental materials for their classes, or even on decor to cheer up their Cell Block B-style surroundings. And it would be too depressing to dwell on the endless discipline problems and the "necessity" of having the kids out of the class to go to this convocation and that pep rally and Story Time in the library...and people wonder why kids can't do math.

So. I am very pro-public school teacher. They have a sucky, demanding job and most of them are relentlessly optimistic at the beginning of each new school year.

But still, Meelyn was not doing well. She was reading at about the fifth-grade level and doing math at first-grade level. That, and the fact that the school system had just adopted a stupid and ridiculous whole-language program to replace the solid but "boring" Saxon phonics program they'd adopted five years earlier. Saxon phonics, I was told as a member of the textbook selection committee, was just too dull. Not enough colored pictures. Not enough flip charts, for heaven's sake! Not enough razzmatazz!!! We need full-page illustrations, people!

And no, I am not kidding about this.

I talked to my teacher friends in the building, teacher for whom I had served as a volunteer to listen to children read. "What is the deal with the flip charts-colored pictures-more razzmatazz sector out there?" I asked incredulously.

"I don't know," one said grimly. "But I'm already saving whatever Saxon materials I can so that my second-graders can learn how to read. I may get hauled away for copyright infringement, but at least I'll be doing my job."

The state of California used whole-language based "reading programs" for a number of years, resulting in the lowest reading scores nationwide during that time, an infamous experiment in throwing out the tried-and-true and replacing it with razzmatazz, with disasterous results. And now that same failed methodology was being brought to our local public schools where it could be inflicted on kindergarten-aged Aisling?

My husband said no way. "You already spend hours helping Meelyn with her math," he said. "Now you're supposed to teach Aisling how to read? Why are you doing the school's job after they've already been there all day long?"

I had no answer for this. Well, except for homeschooling. Which was actually my husband's suggestion initially. I had always been very interested in homeschooling and I had a big shelf full of books that I'd digested; my own plan was to have the girls go to public school for grades K-6 and bring them home for grades 7-12. It took a while for me to become convinced that we should start now. We devoted a lot of time to prayer, seeking God's opinion for what was a pretty big step. Neither of us could deny the peace we felt, which for Christians is the hallmark of God's will.

Once I was on board, there was one thing my husband and I both agreed on. We said: If we started homeschooling, it was going to be for always. There was going to be none of this school-for-a-year-then-home-for-a-year-then-back-to-school-for-a-year. My husband was bounced around like this in his childhood, only it was between public schools and Christian schools. He went to something like nine different schools in twelve years. Without going into a lot of personal stuff, he feels this damaged him and he didn't want to do the same to our kids.

So, there we were, living our own slightly counter-culture reality: Homeschoolers several years before we'd planned, charting our course through waters that were initially as smooth as glass.

Part 3: High winds and choppy seas

In our culture, it is hard to be a one-income family. Especially when the main breadwinner works on commission. We know other families where Dad or Mom is self-employed and they go through a lot of the same things we do.

As Christians, we're told to have faith. "Pray, hope and don't worry," as Padre Pio famously said. In spite of the fact that our finances have been freakishly nerve-wracking from time to time, we've always pulled through. Here's the reality: there have been disconnect notices. There have been increasingly irritated calls from collection agents. Due to a manufacturing economy that has gone belly up in the past few years (taking a lot of factory workers, and, incidentally, car salesmen) with it, we declared bankruptcy several years ago. There simply weren't customers buying cars. And then there was the small matter of September 11, 2001. And rising gas prices.

Through all of that, we continued on doggedly. It was strongly suggested by people we knew that we should just give. It. Up, already. The girls could go to public school; I could get a teaching job. Everything would be peachy.

Except for the fact that every time we considered that option, the feeling both of us had was one of jangling, screeching, jarring dissonance in our inner selves. No peace whatsoever. Trust me when I say that we weren't unaware of the seeming stupidity of continuing to be a one-income family when it was perfectly obvious to any sane person that two incomes would be the expedient way to go. My husband works with some people who have politely suggested that he tell me to get off my a** and get a job.

"I can't believe you don't make her get a job," one person said to him witheringly. "She's taking advantage of you, letting you slave away while she sits at home. There's no way I'd let my wife stay at home with the kids. She needs to do her share and bring in some money."

What can you say to a person like this? Other than, "I thank God every night that out of the eight hundred fifty-nine men anxious to marry me, you weren't one of them, my friend." It must be a lot of fun running your own little gulag. Sheesh.

But then there are fellow Christians -- and I have to tread very carefully, here -- who have told us that if what we're doing is God's will, then we would be blessed with prosperity. Things wouldn't be so hard, if we were in God's will. Sure, we would be dealing with the consequences of being a one income family in a two income society, but we sure as heck wouldn't be getting disconnect notices from the gas company, because God would be abundantly providing, "pressed down, shaken together and running over."

What is the answer to that? Other than a dumb look, I mean. Because this mindset is one that has ridden me like a rented mule through most of my life. And I have found that even though I am still working it out of my system with the help of God's grace, it is more difficult to explain the truth to the Christians who believe this than it is to explain quantum physics to a seven-year-old.

Part 4: Insomnimom: philosopher and theologian

Before I start on this section, I think it is important to mention that I am not stating my own personal beliefs. I am stating the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, the only congregation of Christians that has the historical, Biblical and authoritative claim of being the Church established by Jesus Christ, directly before and after the time of his death and resurrection.

First of all, it isn't true that God has promised Christians wealth and health during this lifetime. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. This life is one of lessons to be learned and crosses to be carried. That has been Christian belief for the past two thousand years; that life is often hard and the walk on the path of life is frequently weary, but that our hope of heaven brings us peace and joy.

I can personally attest to that.

The idea of God's favor granting Christians financial prosperity and good health began in the United States with a preacher named E.W. Kenyon (1867-1948), a New York native, who wrote numerous books on the subject of word-faith confession. In his book Hidden Man, Kenyon wrote a short phrase that serves as the catchphrase of his movement: "What I confess, I possess." Unfortunately for him and the people his teachings have deceived, this statement is false.

It may have been false, but it sure was beguiling. Kenyon's new teaching began to tickle ears all over the United States as people eagerly read his books. Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland were among the first purveyors of this false teaching. It was enthusiastically picked up by popular televangelists like Jim and Tammy Bakker and Kenneth Hagin. Kenyon's teaching is called by several different names: the "health and wealth gospel", the "prosperity gospel", "word-faith theology" and the "name-it-and-claim-it movement."

You could go to any Christian book store and glance at the rack of best-sellers and see a lineup of the current authors promoting the word-faith concept, smiling at you from the covers of their books. Some of them are the pastors of mega-churches and some of them have television programs; several of them have come under investigation in a United States Senate probe headed by Iowa Republican Charles Grassley for abuse of their tax-exempt status.

It's really important to know why this is a false teaching. Why is it wrong for Christians to preach a message of God's abundant blessings on the physical and financial health of His children? There are, after all, plenty of verses and passages throughout scripture that mention good health, long life and prosperity. And if God doesn't lie, how could those verses be wrong?

Like virtually all false teaching from the Gnostics on down, the problem is that a lie that has a little bit of truth in it is still a lie. This, I have been told from my Protestant childhood to my Catholic adulthood, is the classic ploy of Satan to confuse, disarm and deceive God's people. His specialty seems to be convincing people that they can pick and choose a verse here and a passage there and form them into a "belief" or a "scriptural promise" when they're really nothing of the kind. Anyone with a mind to do so can make the Bible say just about anything they want it to say.

This is how we know with certainty that Martin Luther's doctrine of sola scriptura ("through Scripture alone") is a false teaching. Complete misinterpretations of scripture are possible, which can lead to some devastating problems within the Christian brethren. Like, for instance, the matter of 30,000+ different Protestant denominations, all started by men (or even women) who had their own ideas of what the Bible was teaching. Whether or not that idea was backed up -- historically and spiritually -- with what Christianity has actually taught down through the generations from the time of Jesus and the disciples is another story.

Something I have learned from both Protestant and Catholic teaching is that divine revelation stopped when St. John the Apostle finished writing his revelation from the Holy Spirit. The Early Church Fathers explained the traditional beliefs of Christianity still further in their own writings, but their works have never been considered inspired by the Holy Spirit because there was nothing new in them - they were just a continuation of what had already been taught. Quite a few of the Early Church Fathers were disciples of the Apostles and learned directly from them.

There have also been Church councils and papal writings through the ages, all defining and solidifying what Jesus and the Apostles taught. Historically, spiritually and Biblically, we only can know the truth if we're seeking the beliefs of the early Church. They haven't changed over the years; as the scripture says: "Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be forever." (Heb. 13:8, NJB)

If He doesn't change His beliefs, then how can we? How can my husband and I use a teaching that was invented somewhere in the 20th century -- "If it is God's will that you homeschool, He will provide and if His provision is gone, you must not be in His will" -- as a litmus test of our decision to homeschool?

If you think of God's will for a person's life to be equal with His abundant provision, how can a Christian explain the lives of Job and Jesus? When Jesus was in Gethsemane praying before His Passion began, He pleaded with His Father to make some provision for Him -- Plan B -- so that He wouldn't have to undergo the torment. The provision didn't come; Jesus still suffered. The provision did come later in His victory over death, so Jesus was not ignored or forgotten. Likewise, the apostles suffered the death of martyrs, all except for St. John. God's plan for their lives didn't include health or wealth.

If it didn't happen for these early saints, champions and heroes of the Christian faith, how could we possibly convince ourselves that it will happen for us?

Part 5: So where are we now?

Right now, we're slap in the middle of one of the most alarming financial crises in our marriage. Wow, has it ever tested our faith.

In a discussion I had recently on the subject of the word-faith movement, Father, who is wise and good, said, "It's easy to be a Christian when things are good. When you and your family are in the pink of health and you have a big, fat wad of money in the bank and you have a great job and the market is bullish, your Christian experience is largely theoretical. It's when the hard times come that you get a chance to find out how deep your roots are."

"I hate it," I said sulkily, wiping tears off my cheeks with the tissue he proffered.

"Well, St. Paul says that you should be counting it as joy," he responded, smiling.

"I hardly feel like smiling. Not having money scares me," I elaborated, just in case he didn't understand the first time.

He sighed and patiently began again. "Do you remember Jesus's parable about the sower and the seed?"

"Well, yeah..."

"So you know that the sower in the story threw some of the seed onto stony ground, so that the plants sprang up quickly. But when the harsh sun shone on them, they withered and died because they hadn't developed a root system."

"You're saying, then, that this whole health-and-wealth thing is like the stony soil?"

I pictured the huge mega-churches that have sprung up everywhere nowadays, it seems, with their coffee bars and their "living rooms" designed for people who'd rather lounge on a sofa and watch the preacher on a plasma screen television than sit on a pew upstairs and see him live; these churches with their constant focus on entertaining feel good-ism that doesn't really press too hard on unpleasant issues like sin and our duty to God.

One preacher I read about, the pastor of the country's largest mega-church and the author of several super-dooper best selling healthy-wealthy books, confides that he never talks about sin or judgment in any of his sermons because people don't want to be brought down by a negative message. He wants to focus on the positive, which in his case means preaching about how God wants all of us to be prosperous and in blooming health; anything less is simply not the abundant Christianity that all followers should be working to achieve. He claims that talking about overcoming sin and working to achieve holiness and picking up one's cross -- all that stuff Jesus talked about -- is just not his "gifting."

"This prosperity thing," Father said, interrupting my thoughts, "is bound to create a generation of Christians with shallow roots. These folks will be required to carry some crosses in life and what's going to happen when their faith is tested with a cross? What's going to happen when they claim a healing that never happens? They don't think that crosses bear any relation to their walk with Jesus. Their roots are shallow; they'll burn out. What they're being taught to keep them coming to those churches is a lie and nothing good will come of it. The Church teaches that the end never justifies the means."

I left the church that day feeling somewhat better. My husband and I had a very long talk that went far into the night about money and homeschooling and God's will for our lives. This was our conclusion:

1) We began homeschooling after months of prayer. Our prayers led us to this conclusion: We would homeschool the girls all the way through high school. If it was right for them as elementary students, it would most assuredly be right for them as middle- and high-school students.

2) The Bible tells us -- backed up by Christian belief for the past 2,000 years -- that this life is one that has its great moments of happiness and a profound sense of joy as we hope for heaven, but it also offers a number of trials: health problems, financial messes, lonely times when it seems like prayers bounce right off the ceiling and fall with a thud onto the floor. These are things that should be expected by mature Christians; no one should feel exempt from trouble or feel that God is there to whisk problems away.

3) God tests our faith through trials. Without trials that we suffer though, our faith would be weak and our roots would be shallow. Our relationship with Jesus would be superficial.

4) Sometimes God removes our trials and changes our circumstances. Sometimes He doesn't.

5) Money may well be a trial that my husband and I suffer through for years. There are trade-offs, as there are with every circumstance in life.

On the downside, we may be as poor as churchmice and the girls may never get to have another piano lesson and the electric company may continue to send us letters that begin "We're sure through some oversight you have neglected..."

On the upside, we get to be with our kids. We get to guide and direct their education. We get to make them happy, because homeschooling is what they want to do. When they're grown, we'll never wistfully think that it all went so fast, what with careers and school and all, that we never really had time to truly know them before they were gone.

6) Money problems can be very scary and depressing. There's nothing like a good, solid bank account to make me feel a sunshiny blissfulness. Which possibly indicates one of the weaknesses in my faith that God is working on: I should be feeling a sunshiny blissfulness that God does provide, even if He doesn't provide in the abundance that we'd prefer.

But no. Me, I'd much rather have a whole great big bunch of stuff and then I'd like to get new stuff, more stuff than I had before. And I'd like a big house to put all my stuff in, too. And when I got bored with stuff, I'd like to go on vacations, either flying on planes or by driving in my black Hummer. With tinted windows.

Never mind that this attitude is pretty much the antithesis of Christian life. And I don't want to hear any of that silly business about how rich the Pope is, either. Everybody knows that the popes don't own any of that stuff in the Vatican: Benedict XVI cannot hold a rummage sale out there on the piazza. Not even his bed, his desk and his prie-dieu belong to him.

7) We have friends who have money. We have family that has money. But it isn't the responsibility of any of these people to look after us or tend to our wants. It is true that a certain friend who is mentioned frequently on this blog is very, very sweet about picking up the tab for occasional Mom's Night Outs or Book-It pizza lunches, but friendships and family relationships will never be exploited by our begging. If the Holy Spirit nudges someone and they offer a lunch or a check, that's one thing. But our sad, pleading spaniel faces will never beg from the people we love. It just isn't the right thing for mature Christians to do.

That's where we are as of this day, the day I am posting.

This is our homeschooling reality, filed under Bad News: our cell phones have been turned off because we can't pay the bill. Our gas is due to be shut off on January 7. We're behind on the rent. We almost lost the regular phones and the internet last week, but managed to squeak in with a Western Union payment before those services were canceled. We managed to spend about $25 on each girl for Christmas.

This is our homeschooling reality, filed under Glad Tidings: We remain debt free, in spite of the credit card offers that come to us daily. We shred those things up immediately. The temptation to give in has been enormous: it would be so nice to know that we have a little cushion. It's so much easier to trust on the immediacy of BankAmerica that it is on God, Whose ways are sometimes so slow and unknowable. This is, I think, one of the greatest achievements of our marriage. We are, if I may be so bold to say so, awesome. I am really proud of us. This test is one we've been passing with triumph.

This is our homeschooling reality, filed under Mysterious Ways: Just yesterday, my husband sold two trucks, completely out of the blue: Customers that had never been seen at the dealership before wandered onto the lot, pointed, and said, "I want to buy that truck and here's the money." My husband even has a couple more pending deals that just need to be closed. Next Friday, he'll have a superb paycheck that will catch us up almost completely. It won't be enough to bring back piano lessons and art classes just yet, but we're moving forward. This is how God comes through for us, showing us that He is always in control.

Part 6: And now, back to Debbie

So, there's some homeschooling reality for you, Debbie. The day we talked about what is r-e-a-l about homeschooling, I was so broke that the girls and I couldn't eat pizza with everyone else -- we ate sandwiches at home and asked for ice water when we got to Pizza Hut. It was a blue, blue day and I've been turning this non-fiction version of the book you said I should write over and over in my mind ever since we spoke that day.

Maybe I can get started on that partially-autobiographical novel next.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy birthday to my husband!

Happy birthday, honey. I know you forbid me to call in and tell the office girls that Today is Your Day, but you didn't say anything about putting it on my blog.

Thank you for choosing chocolate as your birthday cake flavor. It's just the right thing to do.

Much love and, as Pooh and Piglet said to Eeyore, many happy returns of the day.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Santa brought the baby

My niece, Kiersi, is not-quite-two and is the cutest baby in the whole world. She just is, and I do not respond to challenges on this subject. Just shut up if you think you know a cuter one.

Anyway, Kiersi got lots of clothes for Christmas, and unlike Dayden (see below), she loved all of them. Like a true woman, when she opened up a pair of shoes, she immediately plopped to the floor and wrenched her other shoes from her feet. When she opened up a striped cardigan sweater, she took it right over to Nanny and held her arms out to be inserted in the sleeves.

Meelyn and Aisling were always like this, too. It was always fun to buy them anything for Christmas or birthdays because they seemed to enjoy toys and clothes equally well.

Kiersi, who went through a stage when she would not allow anyone to touch her hair, is now in a stage when, every time I see her, her honey-colored hair is done up in fantastical arrangements of ponytails and barrettes. I loved those days with Mee and Aisli, when they'd let me fiddle with their hair, tying in little ribbons and the like. Now they still want me to fiddle with their hair, but I'm much less skilled at French braiding and the latest Vanessa Hudgens 'do that I was at curly sprig-tails.

I strongly suspect that my sister-in-law is deeply enjoying having a little girl after two boys, although I've never heard her say it. Angie can totally appreciate Kayte's love of PINK.

So not on his Christmas list

I wanted to get this particular memory set down before I forget because it is so funny -- priceless moments with a loved child.

My younger nephew, Dayden, just turned seven. He is what some people fondly describe as "all boy." And you know what I mean by that, right? Think: Huckleberry Finn. Think: the Artful Dodger. Or even Dennis the Menace. Just trust me that while he may be naughty, he's often very funny, usually unintentionally. It's interesting to watch him, just to see what he'll come up with next.

On Christmas morning, Dayden had plowed through an enormous number of gifts and was eager for more. When my mother handed him a flattish, rectangular package, his eyes lit up: you could practically see the little wheels turning in his mind: "I bet Nanny was able to squeeze four video games into this box!"

Me, I looked at the package and thought, "Oh, how nice. A new shirt!"

As it turned out, neither one of us was right. The package contained a pair of pants, a really cute all-boy pair made out of that parachute-y fabric with all kinds of zippers and pockets. They looked like they could carry to cargo from an aircraft carrier; you know the type. The pants were even cleverly designed to become shorts in more clement weather, due to the judicious placement of zippers that went around the knees. In a dark navy blue, I thought they were nice pants.

Dayden, not so much. He lifted the pants out of the box with the air of a person who has just been told that this is what he'll be wearing on the one-way trip he's getting ready to take to Tyburn. His face crinkled up and his lower lip came out; he hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms on his chest, fiercely glaring at the floor in front of him. The rejected pants sat next to him in their box, apologetically trying to hide themselves in their tissue paper.

My brother, Pat, took one look at his surly offspring -- here's what made me laugh -- and his face crinkled up, his shoulders hunched and he glared fiercely at my nephew, turning them into identical twins, separated by thirty-two years. I'd always been aware that Dayden looks like my handsome brother (my older nephew, Kieren, and niece, Kiersi, both resemble their beautiful mom), but it had never been quite as plain to me as it was right then.

"Tell Nanny and Poppy thank you for the pants," Pat hissed.

My nephew continued to sit, hunching his shoulders farther up around his ears, looking like he was seconds away from sticking his fingers in his ears and chanting I-can't-hear-you-I-can't-hear-you. And yes, he has done that before.

"Dayden --" my brother said threateningly.

"Thankyouforthepants," Dayden said sullenly to his shoes. Very insincerely, I might add. You could tell that he was not only not thankful for the pants, but also that he was about three seconds from performing some sort of Incredible Hulk move on them and ripping them to shreds. With his teeth. Because, pants? Everyone knows that pants are a sucky and wrong Christmas present. Toys, now. Toys are a good Christmas present. The only acceptable Christmas present, as it happens.

Why are things like this always so awful if it's your kid, but so funny and somehow endearing when the kid is somebody else's? Maybe because I can clearly remember feeling the same way about getting clothes for Christmas. Stupid, stupid clothes!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Midnight Mass

Minuit Chrétiens, c'est l'heure solenelle...

That's the first line of the famous French carol, O Holy Night, one of my favorites. Far from being a solemn hour, last night's midnight Mass was very festive and sweet, full of candlelight and frankincense and the sound of hundreds of voices singing the good old hymns.

We didn't go to our own parish, but rather went to one of the big churches in our city. We got there at 11:50 and felt lucky to get a seat. The church looked so beautiful, the altar banked with poinsettias, each deep windowsill decorated with greenery, wreaths, red ribbons and candles. But best of all -- other than the choir up in the loft -- was the enormous creche displayed on the top step of the sanctuary, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus all softly lit inside, the shepherds climbing up the steps to meet the little King.

Gosh, it was so nice. Nice, in spite of the fact that the four of us were really, really sleepy. A beautiful Mass. The perfect way to welcome Jesus into our hearts for this happy season.

Merry Christmas to all of you who read here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

RECIPE: Overnight French Toast

I am always looking for new and delicious recipes to try for Christmas Eve morning and Easter morning: I keep trying to find something that will equal my mom's Christmas Breakfast Casserole ("Served every Christmas morning since 1982!"), something that will become a tradition.

For the past few years, I've been trying things like frittatas and cinnamon rolls, but nothing has clicked, either because of difficulty of preparation, taste, or the number of noses turned skywards at the table. I personally love the taste of a good cinnamon roll, but making them is just awful. Even with the bread machine to make the dough for me, I still hate all that endless fiddling around with butter and cinnamon and rolling them up and then re-rolling them because they look funny and then being tempted to hurl wads of buttery, cinnamon'ed dough at the walls because the dumb things stick to my hands.

Then there was the gorgeous frittata I lovingly prepared, complete with potatoes and sausage and red and green peppers (very Christmas-y) and pulled out of the oven to serve, only to find that it was completely raw in the middle. I have Issues With Eggs and the sight of a runny chicken embryo on my plate can make all the blood in my head evacuate to my feet in a split second.

So anyway, I found this recipe for Overnight French Toast online -- if it's a keeper, I'm going to give it a better name. It is made with easy-to-own ingredients that are common to every pantry and fridge; none of this "take the skin of one Moroccan blood orange and half a cup of truffle, minced fine, from near Aix-in-Provence" stuff for me. It sounds like it will be good, plus it underscores my personal belief about breakfast, which is that it is the Most Important Meal of the Day, Especially When it Includes Fried Bread.

I'll update this post later with a note on how it tastes.

UPDATE: We had this recipe for breakfast this morning with little smoked sausages on the side and I'm happy to announce that it is a keeper! The only modification I want to make is to the bread -- I used our regular oat-bran sandwich bread, but it is too flimsy to stand up to an entire night's worth of soaking in the fridge. This recipe requires something more substantial, slice a little thicker. I'm thinking that French bread would work, but that Italian sweet bread from the Marsh and Kroger bakeries around here would be really, really good. I have changed the recipe below to reflect this modification.

Overnight French Toast

6 eggs
1 cup milk
4 T. sugar (I used brown sugar instead of white)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla
12 slices of bread, sliced thick -- French, sourdough, Italian sweet bread, whatever you prefer (do not use sliced sandwich bread; it is too flimsy and will tear when you lift it out of the baking pan)

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients except bread. Pour mixture over bread slices on a baking sheet; refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, melt a lump of butter on a griddle; slowly fry bread slices over a moderate heat until golden brown.

Serve on hot plates with syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel -- December 23

Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, andsalvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

Latin -- O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.


There are so many reasons that being a Catholic is a joy and a blessing, the greatest of which center around Easter and Christmas -- the Christ-Mass. The greatest blessing is the consolation of being a member of the Christian family Jesus established prior to and directly after His resurrection, guided by the Holy Spirit; "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:15). But no less wonderful are the ancient, beautiful hymns, so many of which we sing during Advent as we wait for His coming by celebrating the first and hearkening toward the second.

One of my favorites is the haunting and wistful "Creator of the Stars of Night," a mere fourteen-hundred years old. It is so beautiful, it makes my throat tight just to hear the music. But the words! Oh, the words! They fill my soul brim-ful with love for Jesus. We sang it yesterday evening at Mass as we went forward to receive communion and in my mind, I could picture generation after generation of believers -- from Jerusalem on the night of the Last Supper, to Rome in the catacombs, spreading through all of Europe and carried to Asia and this new world by missionaries and explorers -- coming forward to receive Him, so lowly and humble under the veil of bread and wine, yet still the One Who created the stars at night.

Creator of the Stars of Night
Con­di­tor al­me si­de­rum, 7th century
trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by John M. Neale, 1852
Listen to the music here from

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless Victim all divine.

At Whose dread Name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou Whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

More on the uninflated Christmas characters

We are experiencing cold winds that are wicked sharp and strong. They woke us up in the middle of the night, rattling the storm windows and keening around the outside nooks and crannies of the house like uneasy ghosts. Meelyn and I came downstairs at about 4:30 a.m., both of us wide awake from all the outdoor noises.

My husband and I decided that this would be a very, very good day to just stay inside, after our enormous waste receptacle was blown over into the driveway. We congratulated one another on our foresight in attending Saturday evening Mass.

Somewhere along about 12:30 p.m., we realized that we were out of dog food. Somehow, we missed it on our Saturday afternoon grocery trip. And as long as we were going to be out anyway, we decided that it would be a prudent thing to buy potato chips. So out we went into the wind, both of us scarved and gloved and coated and hatted.

On our way to the grocery, we passed the house that I wrote about the other day, the one with the uninflated Christmas characters in the yard. The poor, sad things were still lying there on the grass, only today, because of the wind, instead of looking like they were either dead or unconscious, they looked like they were writhing in pain.

NOT good.

I know those big things aren't cheap. You'd think if you were going to spend the money on a yard full of Garfields and Santas and snowmen and the like, you'd keep up the good work with that air compressor. But nooooo. No, we all have to be treated to the sight of Santa Claus on the ground, jerking and twitching through his final moments on this mortal coil. Ugh.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium --December 22

King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!

Latin -- O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraqueunum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

Another gift from Christmas past

When Meelyn was around three years old, my brother and sister-in-law got her a cute little doll with a head full of blonde curls and a cherubic, smiling face for Christmas. This doll operated on batteries, and she was able to tell you when she needed a diaper change, a bottle of milk, a sippy-cup of juice or some food from the little plastic dish she came with. Meelyn was absolutely delighted: it would be fun, she thought, to take care of sweet dolly the way that Mommy took care of Baby Aisli.

This doll had some sort of sensor implanted within her -- a microchip that would zing into action at certain intervals so that it could say, "Baby is firsty!" or "Baby so hung-wy!" As my husband put the batteries in the doll's back, he and I had a lot of fun joking about the kinds of things we'd say if we had microchips implanted in our heads. He thought that he might say, "Evwy one be quiet! Football is on!" and I would say, "Dis compooter is mine and I won't share wif you."

The doll was supposed to go into sleep mode in the dark and she had an on-off switch for the times when you just couldn't tolerate another squeaky little voice in the house demanding to be played with. So imagine our surprise when, late one night a few days after Christmas, we heard the doll's voice speaking cheerfully from Meelyn's bedroom, which was across the hallway from our own.

"Baby so hung-wy!"

My husband, who was reading a John Grisham novel in bed by lying flat on his back with his arms in the air, suspending the book above his face (a posture which I think is very strange and painful-looking), said, "Is Meelyn awake and playing with her doll?"

I was curled up on my side holding my own book. "I don't know," I murmured, not taking my eyes from the page. "I can't see her from here."

"Meelyn!" called my husband. "If you're awake, get back into bed right now, young lady."

There was no response, so we figured that Meelyn had shut off her light and climbed back in bed. I was awakened a few hours later in the pitch dark by a little mechanical voice: "Baby so hung-wy!"

Because the house was so quiet, it sounded like the voice was close. Like, right behind my exposed back. I poked my husband with an urgent forefinger.

"Honey," I hissed. "That's in there speaking."

"Whuh? Huh?" He flailed around with the blankets and refused to open his eyes.

"Wake up," I said, prodding him again. "Honey, it's that doll. It's...speaking."

"Doll?" my husband croaked groggily. "Whudoll?"

"Baby so hung-wy!" the doll said obligingly.

"Is Meelyn out of bed?"

"No," I whispered. "Everything is dark. That doll is not supposed to be able to talk in the dark."

"Baby so hung-wy!"

My husband and I both spent a lot of time watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone when we were young, and if you've ever seen the episode with Talkie Tina -- you know, the one where the adorable talking dolly chirpily says, "Hi! I'm Talkie Tina and I'm going to kill you" and then DOES -- you will know exactly the irrational fear that seized us both.

"Holy crap," said my husband.

"Yeah," I said, fervently. "Boy, I wish I'd never read 'Salem's Lot or maybe it was The Tommyknockers, because there's this part in there where there are all these dolls this lady collected and they come alive, only they're not very nice to the lady who collected them and they all looked at her with their eyes and then they, well, they....."

"I know," my husband assured me. "I watched those Chuckie movies."

"Baby so hung-wy!"

"If this goes the way these things usually go, she's already eaten the kids' brains and she'll be in here in a minute to finish us off," I quavered. "Why don't you go get her and...take her batteries out?"

"No, that's okay, but thanks for asking," he said.

"I don't want to get up, because what if I see her run past the door out of the corner of my eye?" I said. "What if I stand up next to the bed and she grabs my ankles and bites me? What if...."

"Okay. Shut UP."

"Because Talkie Tina and Chuckie, you'd think they were gone, but they kept coming back and they usually had knives with them and...."


"Baby so hung-wy!"

"I cannot freakin' be-LIEVE this," my husband groaned and threw back the covers, hurling himself forward and landing on his feet in one leap; far, I noticed, from the edges of the bed where the bed ruffle tantalizingly concealed what was beneath.

"Baby so hung-wy," said the doll. And it might have been my imagination, but it seemed to me that she was starting to sound a little unpleasant. Like, she'd waited far too long for her next serving of warm human brains and was thinking of coming to get them herself.

My husband strode purposefully into Meelyn's room, made certain that she was unharmed, and came back to our room, carrying the doll by the hair. He rummaged in the drawer of his bedside table, found a Phillips head screwdriver and flipped the doll's dress up to expose the place on its back where the batteries were housed.

"Yippee-ky-yay, mo......" said my husband with grim pleasure.

"Baby so hung-wy," the doll interrupted. And thank heaven she was turned face downward, because if we'd had to meet her eyes when she said that, our bed would have been soaked and dripping with the contents of two adult bladders.

I dove under the blankets and my husband removed the two batteries with an energy he seldom displays in the middle of the night. And I kid you not, that insane doll mewled out "Bay-bee....sooo...hunnnn-gwy" one last time in the slurred, drunken voice of thwarted evil. She departed hastily from my husband's hands; he threw her unceremoniously into the corner of the room.

"She can't stay there all night!" I protested, coming out from under the blankets. "She'll be watching us sleep and...plotting our deaths or something."

"I'm not getting up again," my husband said flatly, lying back down and pulling the blankets up to his chin. "I'm safe. Your brain is bigger than mine is, so she'll go for you first and that will fill her up. I'll have time tomorrow to summon a priest or drive a stake through her heart or whatever. Good night."

I summoned up all the courage I could muster, climbed out of bed and grabbed the doll by the hair. On my way through the house, I took my car keys off the kitchen table, carried the doll out to the garage and imprisoned her in the trunk of the car.

The next morning, Meelyn woke up joyfully, ready to feed and change that hungry, thirsty baby. "Where is her?" she asked me in concern, finding the toy cradle empty.

"Her...I mean, she, went to go get donuts with Daddy this morning," I said and went out to the garage to retrieve the doll, barely able to cradle her lovingly in my arm without flinching, but I knew Meelyn would not be pleased if I came in carrying her by the hair.

Meelyn stretched her little arms out happily. "Her is the nicest baby," she said fondly. "Do you love her, Mommy?"

"Oh, uh...sure," I lied. "I just love, love, love her. Why don't you go feed her, honey? I think she may be hungry."

Gifts from Christmases past

My Uncle Mike and Aunt Jackie have a way with gifts, it seems. They always hit on gifts every year that Meelyn and Aisling love, mostly board games. Those always go over well with our family. But my aunt and uncle have been the progenitors of even greater gifts than Guess Who?, which we have played so often that it is in tatters.

The Christmas I was two years old, Uncle Mike and Aunt Jackie gave me a Mattel creation, a plush lion named Larry. Back then, toys with pull-strings that activated voices were very popular (I'm thinking Mrs. Beasley and Chatty Cathy dolls, and later, G.I. Joe.) Larry the Lion had a string that could be pulled and his mouth would even move. He said things like this:

"Rowr! I'm a very, very, very brave lion!"

"Rowr! Ooooh! I scared myself!"

"Hey! You wanna fight?"

and. by way of introduction,

"I'm Lar-reee Liiii-on!"

Larry the Lion said all of these things in the most, well....effiminate voice you could imagine. I think he may have been somewhat conflicted about his sexuality, although he certainly never mentioned such a thing when I pulled his string. He just kept introducing himself and scaring himself, alternately asking me if I wanted to fight and pluckily trying to convince me of his bravery.

I listened from across my grandparents' living room, sheltered in my dad's arms, screaming in terror at this terrible beast that had been unleashed on me.

It took me awhile to love Larry, but I finally learned. In fact, we're still together today --he is the only toy that survived my childhood. He somehow missed that stage when I was keen for scissors; the only part of him that isn't in great condition is his tail, which is partly unsewn; I used to carry him around by it. His pull string even still works and he twitters on about his bravery just as easily as he did forty-two Christmases ago this year.

Good grief. I am so freakin' OLD...

Anyway, Uncle Mike and Aunt Jackie bought Aisling the best present of her early childhood. The year that she was two, they bought her a little battery powered keyboard. It was shaped like a briefcase, complete with handle. She took it with her everywhere. Ev. Ree. Where. Asking her to go somewhere without that keyboard was like asking her to go somewhere without her head: it simply couldn't be done. Or, it could be if you didn't mind having your eyeballs melted right out of your head from the volume of her screams.

This keyboard had, in addition to about twenty keys, a selection of songs programmed into it. It also had a number of different "beats" to which these songs could be played. Aisling's favorite song was "Hey, Jude" played to a rhumba beat. She never tired of listening to it, but boyoboy, the rest of us did. At the end of each weary day, I'd be smooshing my head into my pillow, trying to drown out the strains of "Hey, Jude," a song for which I previously had not felt a hostile, impotent loathing.

On the other hand, "Hey, Jude" was somewhat useful, because Aisling was compelled to turn it on at least ten times an hour; the rest of the time, she just carried the keyboard around with her, allowing it to bash into the furniture and sweep my glass of iced tea off the coffee table. Any mother knows that there are sudden, electric times when you think, "Oh, saints in heaven and all the angels....the baby has been quiet for a really long time. What havoc is she wreaking?" Well, with the keyboard around, I never had to wonder what Aisling was up to.

I was always led to the scene of the crime by the sounds of "Hey, Jude" coming down the hall. Where Aisling was perhaps engaged in writing on her sandals with a lipstick she'd filched from my make-up drawer. Or maybe she would be behind the couch, bent over and red in the face as she made an illicit poo without benefit of potty chair. Or even, as I once found her, standing at the dinner table before we sat down to eat one evening, calmly finishing off an entire stick of butter. "Hey, Jude" and her compulsion for the rhumba beat betrayed her every time.

Those are two memorable presents from Uncle Mike and Aunt Jackie. Larry the Lion still sits on a shelf, but I'm sorry to say that the keyboard is no longer with us. It disappeared when Aisling was about four. There are rumors that it was tucked into a box of items that went to the local Goodwill, but I personally have never believed that.

It was good while it lasted. Kind of.

O Oriens

O Oriens --December 21

Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

Latin -- O Oriens, splendor lucis aeterae, et sol justitae: veni, et illuminasedentesin tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Please keep those things INFLATED

Today, I drove by a house that had several of those inflatable yard decorations out front. I'm sure that it was intended to be a festive scene of Christmas cheer, but unfortunately, the inflatables had lost all their air: Rudolf, Santa, a giant snowman and Garfield in a Santa hat were sprawled on the grass, looking like the victims of a drive-by shooting. Or maybe they were just lying there in a drunken holiday stupor. Whatever.

The point is, if you are going to decorate your yard with those things, you have a duty to the community to not give the rest of us the wiggins by seeing Santa Claus in such an undignified position. It's just wrong. Wrong! There is never a good time for anyone -- even those of us constructed of nylon and latex -- to be lying face-down in the grass.

Get busy with that air compressor.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O Clavis David

O Clavis David -- December 20

Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Latin -- O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem intenebris, et umbra mortis.

Mamaw and Granny, busted

Mamaw and Granny have been grounded from paying Sorry! together, as it brings out the worst in them. Never mind that the entire POINT of Sorry! is that you send people back to start while trying frantically to move your own pieces around to home without getting Sorry!-ed, no, just never you mind. The two of them must take it as a personal insult and whine and complain loudly at one another, heaving heavy sighs and squealing in rage if Sorry! cards are chosen from the deck.

When bouts of pinching and slapping began to break out across the game board (and that was just what I was doing), I told them that they were grounded from Sorry! for the rest of the day. And that they should go upstairs and play video games. Because, if they try to kill one another over Ape Escape 2? I won't be able to hear them at it.

So for all of you who think that Meelyn and Aisling are sweet darlings who flit about this house like little spun-sugar fairies, trailing clouds of pixie dust from their pink wands, let me lend them to you for an afternoon. They'll arrive with the Sorry! game tucked under their arms, and then you'll just see, won't you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse -- December 19

Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom thekings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliverus, do not tarry.

Latin -- O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges ossuum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

RECIPE: Christmas favorites from our house

Now, before I get started, let me just tell you that we are not highbrow foodies at our house; much to Susie's glee, we still sprinkle paprika on deviled eggs around here, a practice which she assures us went out with Donna Reed as she falls laughing about the kitchen. If we're feeling really fancy, we garnish them with half of a stuffed green olive.

The recipes I'm getting ready to type all come from that magical era of 1930s-1940s United States culinary magnificence that nearly drove 1950s foodie humorists Peg Bracken (The I Hate To Cook Book, A Window Over the Sink) and Betty MacDonald (The Egg and I, Onions in the Stew, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series) to the brink of despair. But we love them. They are fattening, laden with cholesterol and unrepentantly bad for you. But if you die while eating these things, you will die with a small onion-scented burp on your smiling lips, happy and replete. If you don't like fattening, artery-clogging treats at Christmas, then go gnaw on a celery stick, Mr. Scrooge. I just don't want to hear it.

Smorgasbord Cheese Ball

2 8-oz packages cream cheese

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 4-oz tub crumbled bleu cheese

3-4 dashes bottled hot pepper sauce

3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 cup chopped pecans (toasted, if you prefer)

Soften the cream cheese and combine the next four ingredients. Shape into a ball; chill for 3-4 hours. Roll in chopped pecan pieces. Serve with crackers, celery sticks or toast soldiers. Garnish with breath mints on the side.

Sister-in-Law Angie's Cousin-by-Marriage Debbie's Beef and Onion Cheese Ball

2 8-oz packages cream cheese

3 2-ounce packages chipped beef, diced into very small pieces

6 scallions, chopped in small pieces (I usually just call them 'green onions,' but 'scallions' is just so fun to type. It has that Julia Child je ne sais quois that I simply can't resist.)

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Soften cream cheese; combine remaining ingredients in bowl. Shape into a ball and chill for 3-4 hours. Serve with crackers, veggies, etc. Keep those breath mints handy from the first cheeseball recipe.

Scotch Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened, and if you use margarine, I will personally come to your house and harm you. Don't think you can get away with it, either, because I. Will. Know.

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300F. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy; add almond extract and mix to combine. Add flour gradually, mixing to form a soft dough. Roll out on a pastry sheet to a nice thickness, thick enough to make a nice, chewy cookie and not so thin that you come out with a Scotch cracker. It's Christmas; be generous. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with colored sugar, or better still, touch each cookie with a little dab of homemade frosting; we like Vanilla Buttercream or Lemon Buttercream. This is what we like to leave out for Santa. Heh.

Nanny's Christmas Breakfast Casserole

2# spicy sausage, browned and drained

12 slices bread, broken

12 eggs

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

2 T. dried mustard

2 small onions, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and transfer to greased 9x13 casserole dish. Refrigerate overnight. On Christmas morning, carefully gauging the time when everyone will be done unwrapping presents and is beginning to feel hungry and maybe a little cross from being up too late and rising too early, slide into a preheated 350F oven; bake for 45-60 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve with coffee, icy cold orange juice and maybe some cinnamon rolls or sour cream coffee cake.

Nanny says that we have had this casserole every single Christmas Day since 1982. She gets really annoyed if anyone tries to make it on any other day of the year. Somehow, perhaps in the same way that I. Will. Know. If you're using margarine on that Scotch Shortbread instead of God's true butter, she can sense that I am making it for a Saturday night treat dinner from 35 miles away.

The phone will ring. I will answer with trepidation.

"Sunshine?" she'll say in a grim, portentous voice.

"Yes, Mommy?" I say meekly.

"You're making It, aren't you?"

"I do not know what you're talking about."

"Has the calendar completely escaped me? Is this Christmas Day? Are you at my house? Did you fill out a form in triplicate and submit it to the proper department before attempting to concoct this controlled substance?"

"No, I did not. But I halved the recipe and I'm baking it in an 8x8 casserole. It isn't the same."

"It is the same thing. And I raised you better than that. No more! Understand, rubber band? Eat it and sin no more."

Meelyn's first dance

It's all we talked about for weeks around here -- the Christmas party a local Catholic teen homeschoolers group was putting on, which would include games, festive feasting, and an actual dance! One of Meelyn's friends who is a member of this group told her about it, and after some dithering around, we bought her a ticket.

The dithering, of course, had to do with the fact that she is fourteen and a half years old. Was that old enough, my husband and I asked ourselves worriedly, to be going to a semi-formal dance, even though there was no question of going with a date? Even though, as we largely suspected, the girls would end up taking off their shoes and dancing with each other while the boys skulked furtively around the edges of the room, praying that some chaperone wouldn't come over and demand that they "Go over there right now and ask that sweet little Johnson girl to dance"?

So many of her friends were going that we decided that this would be a lovely opportunity. So the next phase of planning would be to buy her a nice outfit. Money is so tight around here this year that each dime squeals in pain as we release it into the clutches of the electric company, the cable company or the city utilities' hatchet-faced clerk at their drive-up window, so a budget was of the essence. Naturally, our first stop on the semi-formal trail was our favorite Goodwill shop, right over there in the ritzy little up-market burg of Carmel. Unfortunately, we found nothing. Evidently, everyone was planning on some kind of holiday semi-formal occasion and there were no dresses there. Back in June, there were more gorgeous cocktail dresses than you could shake a swizzle stick at -- some with pricey labels in them -- and we mourned our lack of foresight and went to Kohl's. Kohl's was holding a massive 50% off pre-Christmas sale on the day we had designated for shopping, so it seemed like a likely place.

Meelyn already possessed a very nice black A-line skirt with a tulip ruffle at the bottom. It is made of a jersey knit with a bit of a sheen to it; the fabric drapes so nicely and never wrinkles and it is really flattering. So what we were hoping to do was to find a blouse and some jewelry and some shoes that would play up the sophisticated skirt, being as how I nixed any spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress as being 1) too old; and 2) too ready to expose Meelyn's ample bosom. Because, at fourteen and a half years old? Yowza.

It didn't take us long to find just the kind of thing we both liked: a deep red jersey camisole (same fabric as the skirt) topped by a blouse in deep red gauze shot through with a satiny thread in the same color. The over-blouse was cut with an Empire waist, had a V-neck and long, floaty bell sleeves -- it was just really beautiful, that lovely cranberry color that is one of Meelyn's best. We found some dainty and delicate silver and faux pearl jewelry (necklace and earrings) that was reminiscent of snowflakes and icicles to top it off.

But, shoes. Shoes posed a problem. All the other things we found were all 50% off and priced so nicely that our budget didn't emit a single yelp, but shoes... The Kohl's shoe department caters mostly to the working woman and offers a vast variety of conservative pumps and loafers, but party shoes were hard to come by. I found a pair of boring black patent leather heels that looked more like my idea of a party shoe than a fourteen year old's, and I held them up uncertainly.

Meelyn nodded and shrugged one shoulder. "Those are okay."

"Yeah, but just barely," I said, discontented. I put the shoe back on the display and turned my head and saw THE shoes -- high heels in a deep, cranberry red patent leather. "Oooh, Meelyn! Look at these!" I said, grabbing one excitedly.

"Oh, now those are really nice," she said, her blue eyes aglow. Aisling, who was stalking a pair of leopard-print ballet flats, nodded her head in agreement.

Only then, like a wretched, stupid mother, did I check out the price. They were $40, even at 50% off; spendy enough that our budget screamed like it was being burned with a curling wand.

"I'm sorry sorry, Meelyn," I gulped. "I feel terrible. But they're just too expensive."

"It's okay, Mama," she said consolingly, patting me. What a good girl she is.

"Maybe we should try Shoe Carnival," I suggested, and we headed for the checkout, a little bit crestfallen.

Shoe Carnival was kind to us and, would you believe it? We found a pair of cranberry-red patent leather pumps there, complete with three inch heels, for $26!

Meelyn tried on her outfit for her dad when he got home from working, emerging from the downstairs bathroom looking very sophisticated and grown-uppy, causing him to have to blow his nose several times after she happily bounced upstairs to change into yoga pants and a fleece sweatshirt.

"She's certainly looking like a young lady these days," he said wistfully.

The day of the party arrived two weeks later, preceeded OF COURSE by a winter storm warning. We were on pins and needles last Friday evening, the night of the snow adventure in Wal-Mart. An email had been sent out saying that the party would not be canceled and that each family would have to decide on their own if they could make the trip - no re-scheduling would happen. This was not good news, since we live in a city that is half an hour removed from the city where the party was to be held. There was nothing to do but hope for the best.

It rained/sleeted/snowed all day on Saturday. My husband had to work and called home to tell us not to go anywhere unless we had to - the roads were terrible. Meelyn, Aisling and I bummed around the house all day, assuming that she wouldn't be able to go. It was a crushing disappointment. But at 4:30, Sandy, the mother of one of Meelyn's friends, called to say that she'd been out and the streets in that city were reasonably clear and that the interstate had been well maintained throughout the day. At the last minute, we decided to do it.

The three of us flew upstairs, Meelyn into the shower; me assembling hair dryer and makeup; Aisling rounding up the outfit, jewelry and nylons. I felt quite a bit like Jo, Beth and Amy helping Meg get ready for the Christmas ball, only thank heaven we didn't have to deal with stained gloves and a scorched organza dress.

Meelyn looked a treat in her party outfit. Her hair was moussed and drawn back in a clip; her makeup had the smoky-eye-pale-lips look that is so popular among teenage girls, although I achieved the smoky eye look with taupes and browns, being extremely unwilling to go with the more favored black kohl look. No that she asked me to, but still. A couple of spritzes with my cherished Dolce & Gabbana perfume, and she was ready.

The trip to the party was interesting. It sleeted the whole way there and made me very nervous. My husband was at the wheel and said that he didn't think the roads were bad NOW, but later might be another story. Yikes. The party was taking place at a private neighborhood clubhouse and we pulled up as close to the door as we could get, mindful of Meelyn's footwear. Three inch heels on an icy parking lot seemed more destined for ER than a dance floor, but my husband escorted her indoors, giving her an arm to lean on so that she wouldn't slip.

Meelyn immediately found her friends, as Aisling and I could see through the glass doors. "Do you look forward to going to parties like this?" I asked her as she sat with her chin on my shoulder.

"I dunno," she sighed. "All this fuss, for a dance. I can't decide. I'd like to have a fancy outfit, but I think I'd rather just skip the party."

"Where would you wear your fancy outfit then?" I asked, amused.

Aisling lifted her chin and looked at me, owl-like in the interior glow of the van's lights. "At home, of course."

"You mean the same home where you wipe oatmeal on the front of your sweaters?"

She returned her chin to my shoulder and resumed looking through the glass doors. "I like being twelve," she said firmly.

My husband returned, having stayed long enough to make sure there was adequate chaperonage (there was) and presumably to check and see if there was a stack of Bibles to measure the distance between dancing couple's bodies. "She's with her friends, already giggling up a storm and comparing outfits," he reported.

"How does her outfit look?" I asked anxiously. "Are the other girls dressed similarly?"

"What snacks do they have?" queried Aisling. "Are there pigs in a blanket?"

Several hours later, we made the trip back over roads that had grown noticeably worse. The temperature had dropped and all that sleet that had been coming down on our previous trip was started to freeze.

Back at the clubhouse, my husband went in to fetch Meelyn. They were in there for a long time, allowing MeeMee to finish the last dance, collect her party favor, pose for a couple of pictures and then get her coat.

She climbed into the van, thankfully accepting the warm boots we'd brought for her, putting them on as she spoke. "Oh, Mommy, I had the best time!"

"Please tell us, and don't skip a second," I said eagerly.

"Well, everyone looked really nice. All of the girls wore dresses - I was the only one in a skirt, but that was okay. We all looked fancy. Most of the boys wore suits and ties. The music was great and the food was good and we played some fun party games and there was karaoke and I danced with two boys!"

"I watched the last dance and there was no body contact with any of the the pairs of kids," my husband said reassuringly. "No heads on shoulders, no arms around the waist. All they needed was an Ingrid Bergman type of nun with her hands on her hips, and it would have been perfect."

"The boys started out the evening playing euchre," Meelyn told us, "and somehow, they got the idea that the girls were going to have to ask them if they wanted to dance."

"Oh. Really?" I said. This did not fit in at all with the Scarlett O'Hara-at-the-Wilkes'-barbecue world I inhabit.

"Yes," said Meelyn. "One of the moms came over and said, 'If you girls want to dance, you'd better go ask the boys,' but I decided I wasn't going to do that."

"I thought the boys were supposed to ask the girls." Aisling frowns upon social conventions being trifled with, since Granny is her alter ego.

My husband cast a look at her over his shoulder. "Well, Mee, I have to say, I am really impressed."

"Me, too," I said, enchanted. "Where did you learn to be so smart?"

"From you," said Meelyn graciously. "I told Mary that I didn't want to ask a boy to dance. I don't want to beg somebody to dance with me. I told her I'd rather just talk."

"Boys are very scared to ask girls to dance," mused my husband.

"Nanny always told me that if you want to be asked to dance, you should stand with a pleasant look on your face -- and not with your arms crossed on your chest so that you look defensive and unapproachable -- so that a boy will know that you're not likely to spit on his shoe," I said.

"And that's what I did. And then two boys came up and asked me to dance!" (The Rules live on, just like Mom and assorted grandmas said!)

"They were both nervous, so I made small talk about what kind of sports they liked and stuff," Meelyn confided wisely, and I just wanted to hug the stuffing out of her right then.

We made it home and found that the driveway looked more like a skating rink than a place where you'd want to park your car. I felt very envious of all our neighbors whose carriage houses are still intact and have been cleverly converted to garages. Our place just had a simple buggy house, the former owner told us. And it was in such a sad state of disrepair and took up so much room at the back of the house (our lot is sized somewhat bigger than a postage stamp) that he went ahead and tore it down.

But anyhoo, we parked, knowing that the van would be frozen shut by morning. We all went in and trooped up to bed, visions of Christmas dances past and Christmas dances yet to come dancing through our heads.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Adonai

O Adonai -- December 18

Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in theburning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with anoutstretched arm!

-- O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, etei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Knock, Knock!

Dearest, darlingest Carol went to Ireland in October with her church group, part pilgrimage, part tour. She took, she informs me, over seven hundred pictures with her new digital camera, and had many delightful experiences.

One of the nicest things about this trip is that she wants to learn to scrapbook. I already have her sorting through her photos to see which ones she wants to have printed, as well as jotting down things she wants to remember about the places the group visited. She's also organizing all the keepsakes she collected along the way: postcards, brochures and things like that. We have arranged that she will come and stay with us on some weekend in January, if the weather behaves, and then we'll take her to the Most Awesome Scrapbooking Store Ever, as well as to our own Anne, the Scrapbook Lady. After making numerous purchases, we'll spend the rest of the weekend scrapbooking and eating our heads off. I can hardly wait!

I was already excited about this, but I was mystified when a box arrived in the mail last week. It had Carol's return address on it and I had this fleeting thought that maybe she'd mailed a package of stuff to me, to store here for her until she comes in January. Carol and I travel together every summer, and we are no strangers to cars that are packed to the rafters, kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies. So I opened it thinking that I'd be finding a stack of photographs and memoribilia. Imagine my surprise when I found three little packages wrapped in Christmas paper.

Ordinarily, I would have put those under the tree -- this is going to be kind of a light Christmas around here, so far as gifts are concerned, and it's always nice to have a little something extra. But Carol enclosed a very nice card saying that she thought we'd want to start using these during Advent, and with that hint, she was sure we knew what the packages contained.

We did! Meelyn, Aisling and I eagerly tore open the little boxes and found that Carol had bought each of us a beautiful rosary at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in County Mayo. She'd even had Father John bless them for us, right there on the premises. Well, this kind of thing does one thing and one thing only to me -- this kind of thing makes me cry like a fish. I had exactly the same reaction when our neighbor, Patrick, the Bitter Ex-Catholic, went on vacation to Italy and bought me and Brian rosaries he bought in Vatican City. I bawled then, too.

Coming from Carol, though, these rosaries are even more special. We have used them every night to good purpose, using them to offer up our prayers for this most beloved cousin and our sweet Uncle Graham. They are the only Catholic members of our family, and so we share a special bond with them that has grown so close, even though we're separated by half a state. (Thank goodness for email.) One of the best experiences I've had was going to Sunday Mass with Carol this past summer and going forward to receive Communion with her. I had to restrain myself from drowning right there in the pew.

Carol, knowing how much we all love to read, also enclosed fancy, tasseled bookmarks with the story of Our Lady of Knock on them, which I've typed below:

At about eight o'clock on the Thursday evening of the 21st August, 1879, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of the church at Knock, County Mayo. Beside them and a little to the right was an altar with a cross and the figure of a lamb, around which angels hovered. There were fifteen official witnesses to the appartition -- young and old -- who watched it for two hours in pouring rain while reciting the rosary. Two Commissions of Enquiry accepted their testimony as trustworthy and satisfactory in 1879 and 1936.

Today, Knock ranks among the world's major Marian shrines, having enjoyed the full approval of the Church for many years. It has received privileges from four Popes and the most recent privilege was the visit of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, on the 30th September, 1979.

Here's a website with a fuller version of the story of Our Lady of Knock. (I think it's so funny that the first woman passing in the rain thought "Oh, look! Father got some new statues for the church! But why on earth did he have the leaving of them out in the rain? Isn't that just like a man, now?" It's just so exactly like what I think I would have done and thought.) This website does have a wav. file of the Celtic Alleluia, so if you're at work or you have a sleeping baby nearby, turn down your speakers before clicking the link.

Our Lady of Knock from Catholic

Thank you, Carol! We love you so much!

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Sapienta

O Sapienta -- December 17

Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!

Latin -- O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque adfinem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentae.


My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He hath regarded the humility of His handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath done great things to me,
and holy is His Name.
And His Mercy is from generation unto generations
upon them that fear Him.
He hath shown might in His arm,
He hath scattered the proud in the conceitof their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their throne,
and hathexalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel, His servant,
being mindful of His mercy.
As Hes poke to our Fathers,
to Abraham and his seed forever.

Veni, veni, Emmanuel

Today marks the beginning of the last week before Christmas, which means that we'll be praying the "O Antiphons" (so called because each one begins with the exclamation "O") before our rosary for the next week. Beautiful, ancient, holy. I love being Catholic, love thinking of all the hundreds upon hundreds of Christians who have prayed these antiphons before us, waiting gratefully to celebrate the day of Our Lord's birth; waiting for Him to come again in glory.


Main Entry: an·ti·phon
Pronunciation: \ˈan-tə-fən, -ˌfän\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English antiphone, from Middle French, from Late Latin antiphona
Date: 15th century

1 : a psalm, anthem, or verse sung responsively 2 : a verse usually from Scripture said or sung before and after a canticle, psalm, or psalm verse as part of the liturgy

(From The Twelve Days of Christmas, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN,1955)

The theme of the Advent season has been one of joyous expectancy as the Church, in vigilant preparation, waited and watched for the first signs ofthe coming of the Lord. The very name Advent, and the Masses of the four Sundays with their urgent plea to Christ to "hasten and delay not" have reminded us that we are awaiting His coming in grace at Christmas, and in glory at the end of time.

On the evening of December 17, the last and most intensive phase of Advent preparation begins. On this evening is inaugurated the first of the Great"O's" of Advent. The "O Antiphons" are seven jewels of liturgical song, one for each day until Christmas Eve. They seem to sum up all our Advent longing as they paint in vivid terms the wretched condition of mankind and his needof a Savior.

Addressing Christ with seven magnificent titles, they beg Him with mounting impatience to come to save His people. The "O Antiphons" are intoned with special solemnity in monasteries at the Vesper Hour, before and after the Blessed Mother's great song of thanksgiving, theMagnificat, which is sung every evening as the climax of this Hour of the Divine Office.


I got this email from my mother this morning:

Dear Sweetheart,

That white fudge with dried cherries was good.
So shut UP!

Love, Mom
(who still loves you anyway)

Mom, dried cherries kind of look like scabs. So maybe they'd be good as a Halloween candy. You could tint the vanilla fudge with a hint of red food coloring and just a touch of cocoa powder to make it look like a chunk of human flesh. Then add the little bits of cherries disguising themselves as coagulated blood and you have a yucky little dessert that your seven-year-old grandson (the one who likes to eat candy eyeballs) will really love.

Why we simply can't be trusted

As I wrote a couple of days ago, Meelyn, Aisling and I made Christmas cookies with my mother on Friday, spending all afternoon up to our elbows in butter and pecans and some very nasty little pieces of dried fruit that Nanny insisted would be delicious in vanilla fudge.

(They weren't.)

Anyway, when we got home, I wrote that the girls, with Santa hats on their heads, went around to the neighbors and delivered the little cookie tins. But what I didn't add was that we also had a cookie tin for Aisling's piano teacher, who lives 'way out in the country.

Well, there was no time to go out there right then and deliver her cookies, because my husband was going to be home from work shortly. And there wasn't time later, because we watched Christmas movies and went to Wal-Mart. And there wasn't time on Saturday because we ate all the cookies out of her tin somewhere between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

It's the thought that counts, remember. And I seriously thought that we'd take her those cookies. So have a merry Christmas anyhow, Mrs. Wheeler.

Wow, do I ever feel guilty. Now what am I going to give her?


Today we missed Mass as a family for the first time in five years, all due to the weather. Both vehicles were completely covered in snow when we got up, not to mention the fact that they were both wearing thick, icy camisoles underneath their fluffy white garments that rendered them impossible to get into. My husband finally managed to get into his car, mostly because he was very nervous, since it isn't actually his car, but one that belongs to the company he works for. My van is still completely inaccessible. As the day drew on, we were not all that surprised to see that all our county's schools are on a two-hour delay tomorrow, even though no new ice or snow is expected. I was considerably relieved to see that my nephews' school is also delayed in the morning.

The roads weren't much better, and the wind howled like something out of a Brontë novel. This has been the strangest day -- I think I could count on one hand the number of vehicles that have driven past our normally bustling intersection, here by our corner lot. I have seen one pedestrian today, and he was tottering down the slippery sidewalk, grasping a gallon of milk in one gloved hand, while holding his parka hood and scarf on with the other, trying to protect them from the mean teasing of that wild wind.

I got up to cook breakfast, and I have to say that it was very pleasant and cozy there in the kitchen. The family came downstairs, lured by the smells of eggs, sausage, toast and coffee. I warmed the plates and buttered the eggs and we all sat in the living room, eating while watching more Christmas movies. Aisling, by the way, preferred oatmeal and toast with jam, although that didn't stop her from asking for several bites of my egg on toast.

Meelyn's first Christmas dance was last night, so we were all still basking in the happy glow of a lovely party. I'll have to write more about that later, because that is a memory I definitely want to keep fresh.

Each bush, each tree branch outdoors is graciously bearing its own little burden of snow. The wind is whisking sparkling snow into the air, flinging it like scarves across the lawn. The Christmas tree is glowing and the first Advent candle in the wreath on the coffee table is growing very, very short. It is a cold night, a beautiful night, with a sky overhead like polished pewter. All is calm, all is bright.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

There's snow adventure like a Snow Adventure

Bad winter weather was forecasted for this weekend, blizzard-like conditions and ice on the roads and piles of snow like unto which we, the residents of a Midwestern state where even elderly grandparents drive Hummers so that they can safely get to bridge club, had never seen before.

I have always scorned the people who hear a storm report and madly rush to the grocery to buy milk, eggs and bread. Because if I have to spend a few days completely snowed in with the kids, I'm going to go to the store and buy, like, a gallon of Bailey's and any time-consuming DVD that is displayed near the check-out stand. Never mind if it's rated R and titled Dawn of the Brain Eating Zombies - if it has a running time of over 90 minutes, it is ours. Get your priorities straight, people. You can eat a turkey sandwich any day you want to, but how many times a year can you traumatize your children while cocooned in a pleasant Irish buzz?

So. The four of us watched our local news at 11:00 on Friday and as the meterologist gave us the somber news, a little niggling thought kept tormenting me, right at the back of my brain, in that special place reserved for your brother's telephone number and the combination of your locker at the YMCA. Something urgently wanted to be remembered, but what was it?

Then I remembered.

We had precisely four rolls of toilet tissue in the house.

"We need to go to the store, like, now," I said to my husband, standing up and stuffing my feet into my sneakers without untying them.

"It's eleven-thirty!" he protested. "It's cold outside. I'm very tired. We have plenty of food..."

I interrupted him in the middle of his litany of complaints. "Yes, and when that food nears the end of the digestive process, are you going to be okay with using a cleansing handful of snow to finish things off?"

"Oh," he said. And got up to put on his coat.

The girls preferred to stay home, since they wished to shower, put on their pajamas and loll in front of the television watching Christmas movies instead of coming to help their aged parents wrestle a twelve-pack of double-roll toilet paper to the ground and drag it home. So my husband and I set off for the twenty-four hour Super Wal-Mart, congratulating ourselves that since it was fifteen minutes until midnight, we'd have the whole store to ourselves.

Boy, were we ever wrong.

Wal-Mart was total pandemonium. The parking lot was full of trucks and SUVs restlessly cruising to find an empty place, any empty place. Like maybe on top of a dumpster out back, or maybe across the four-lane highway at Blockbuster. We travel armed with a placard that allows us to park in the parking spaces assigned to the handicapped, so we felt we had a sporting chance, and sure enough, we were rewarded.

"I am so glad I was in that car accident all those years ago and broke everything," I said fervently. "Because look how handy all those injuries have made things! We got a really close parking space in an entirely full parking lot and all I had to do was break nearly every bone in my body, slam my head through a windshield and spend two month in the hospital learning to walk again! Whew!"

My husband never appreciates this gallows humor and gave me the stink eye as we got out and proceeded into the store to get a cart, pressing forward through the crowds to get pick up the toilet paper and several bags of potato chips. Because, our priorities? They are in order.

While we were there, we grudgingly gathered up a couple gallons of milk, some eggs and the last two loaves of bread, assuring one another that we were buying these items not because we were mindless lemmings running for the cliff, but rather because we intended to make a hearty meal out of bread slices soaked in egg, served in a bowl of milk. We trundled the cart off to the check-out lines, realizing that the people we were passing in the long lines that stretched so far back into the store, we could practically see the curvature of the earth, were the check-out lines.

"These are the check-out lines?" my husband said bleakly, straining his eyes to see the employee scanning the purchases of the first customer in line, approximately three-hundred eighty six carts ahead of ours. "Do you have any binoculars in your purse?"

"No, but I have a deck of cards," I said. "Let's make a table top out of this package of toilet paper and play two-hand euchre."

We called the girls to let them know we were going to be a while and settled down for what turned out to be an hour's wait in that line. When we realized that we were going to be home after 1:00 a.m., we called the girls to tell them to pray their rosary and settle down on the couch to snooze, that we'd be home as soon as possible. They were very pleased at this and reported that they were already snuggled up with the dogs and some pillows and blankets, still watching Christmas movies.

"If I'd known it was going to be like this, I would have just had you stand in line with an empty cart while I went around picking stuff up and bringing it back," my husband said. We eventually got too warm in our coats and took them off, chatting lazily about this and that as we stood, moving forward in line, tile by tile.

"I think we should pray our rosary," my husband, reaching into his pocket. "We're going to be way too sleepy when we get home. You start, and we can pray back and forth."

You have to love a husband who is completely un-self conscious about praying a rosary in Wal-Mart. It was really noisy in there, what with all the people bustling around and the Christmas music playing over the store's speakers to keep everyone cheerful. That was probably one of the nicest, most meaningful rosaries I have ever prayed, meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries and praying for all the people around us, for our families, for the bad weather approaching, that everyone would be safe and warm and fed.

And that they'd have all the toilet paper they needed. Amen.