Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HOW TO: Make Paper Snowflakes

I'm a bit sad at the thought of all the Christmas decorations coming down next Wednesday -- we leave them up until the absolute last gasp of Epiphany Day has died away -- so I thought it would be fun to decorate the big picture window with paper snowflakes, the kind you lovingly cut out by hand. But darned if I could remember how to do it.

So I searched around on the internet and read all kinds of written instructions that said things like "Fold the folded foldy foldedness down to the cross-corner of cross-foldedality and then snip at the cross-fold-center..." and I knew I was in way over my head.

Then I thought of YouTube, and sure enough, I found this instructional video made by a really adorable guy named Chris from He won my heart when -- after telling me to "fold at a 600 angle" -- he said, "and remember, there's no shame in busting out a protractor."

Although I couldn't really see how a large piece of farm equipment driven by a man who grows corn and soybeans for a big conglomerate like Cargill was going to be of much help.

Get it? Pro tractor? No? Oh, sorry.....

Anyway, I don't like to embed videos here on InsomniMom because it tends to make the page load too slow for people who use certain browsers, but here is the link to Chris's excellent video:

How To Make Picture-Perfect Paper Snowflakes

If you'd like to click over to,Chris offers several different snowflake patterns to make some "holiday magic," as he puts it. What a major cutie pie.

So! The Christmas season may be nearing its end, but there is still a whole lot of winter to get through. Might as well stagger through it bundled in good cheer, as well as our scarves, mittens, hats and coats.

Go along with you, now. Get your white paper and your scissors and get to snippin', with help from Chris.

InsomniMom! Now with 95% less gastrointestinal distress!

I should have added to Monday's post that Meelyn came down with a throbbing ear on Sunday morning, which led to us taking her to the Urgent Care Center after we left Nanny and Poppy's the other night. Two hours and our last $150 in the world later, she was at home with two different antibiotics and on the road to recovery, which happened to be a chilly one....

Because when we got home, we discovered the furnace wasn't working.

Ah, life! There it is, lurking just outside your door, waiting to give you a good, swift kick in the groin! Suuhhhhhh-weet!!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Christmas full of bologna

It all started, my father said, with a package of bologna and two hungry people. They were home from Colorado, had been on a plane and in a car, he said, and it was cold and rainy. He and my mother didn't want to go out to eat: they just wanted something quick.

So they ate some bologna. And while they were eating, my mother said, "This bologna tastes funny."

Two hours later, they were both in their respective bathrooms making various offerings to the porcelain god. These offerings were greedily accepted. And the god demanded more.

By the time Meelyn, Aisling and I saw them the Monday before Christmas, they were recovering, but still a bit fragile. They told us the story of their woes while the five of us were at Bob Evans in New Castle, the girls and I eating huge, farmhand-style lunches while my parents toyed with a single scrambled egg each.

"Hey, whyncha eatin' a ver big lunch?" I asked indistinctly through a mouthful of barbecued pork sandwich.

"It all started with a package of bad bologna," my father said with a faraway look in his eye, as if remembering something from a nightmare.

We commiserated with them on their sad bout of food poisoning and expressed our happiness that they were recovering and we thought that was the end of it.

Little did we know. That bologna was not finished with us and the topic of whether food poisoning can be transmitted from one person to another or whether this illness was actually due to some vicious virus they picked up on that airplane is a matter that is still being hotly, albeit lethargically, debated amongst the members of my family with the little bit of strength we have remaining to us.

On Christmas Eve, strangely enough, my stomach started making small restless wriggles that were in direct opposition to the spread the ladies of the family were carrying in to Grandad and Mary Liz's assisted living center that evening. I was to bring sloppy joes, buns, potato chips and dip and I made the sloppy joes with an aspect of doom hanging over me as Pat made Chex Party Mix, Nanny made deviled eggs and Angie made con queso dip in the same kitchen. The combination of different food smells threatened to fell me like a mighty oak under the woodsman's axe but I put my head down and plowed resolutely onwards, stirring and adding cumin and chopping onion and wishing I could go lie down on my parents' bed and howl.

Later on that evening, Angie privately confessed to my mother that she was feeling feverish and unwell, but she seemed to be holding her own, so I optimistically thought she would probably shake it off (she's not a big baby like I am) and I wondered with less certainty if I could shake off whatever was plaguing me.

As I've already written, the girls stayed home from midnight Mass because of their coughing -- I was thankful that they were on the tail end of those colds because Christmas? It is a miserable time to be sick, like having a bad case of poison ivy on top of a sunburn on your birthday.

The girls slept all through the night, which was something greatly different than the past eight or nine nights we'd been experiencing. We got up and opened our gifts and everything was very nice and, as I also wrote, they all went back to bed except for me. I went upstairs at eight thirty to take my shower and get ready to leave for Nan and Poppy's, and when I was putting on my makeup, I heard Meelyn wail, "Ohhhhh, DADDY!!!! I DON'T FEEL GOOD!"

My husband was standing in the upstairs hallway when she burst out of her bedroom, fleeing for the bathroom. He nearly got splattered unbecomingly with....well, you know. Afterwards, Meelyn, as white as salt, came into our room, followed by Aisling, whose round face was a picture of all that is opposite to Christmas cheer.

"My stomach feels very strange," she said. Meelyn fell on our bed wordlessly and my husband and I exchanged a worried glance. "I think I'd better call Mom and tell her we can't come," I said. This statement brought forth such a rousing chorus of feeble, tearful protests that I could hardly hear her when she answered.

"Mom, remember that bologna you and Pop were poisoned by?" I asked. "Somehow, I don't think it was the bologna."

"Oh, phooey," she said airily. "If they're going to be sick, they might as well be sick here."

I contemplated this, wondering what we'd be letting ourselves in for, traveling for forty-five minutes with two throwy-uppy teenagers, but she wore me down. In the end, I grabbed a little bucket and we set off, Meelyn holding herself rigid, her eyes squeezed shut; Aisling slumped in her seat like a sack of grain.

When we got to New Castle, we noticed that Pat and Angie's SUV was already in Nan and Pop's driveway. Nanny and Poppy themselves greeted us merrily at the door with the air of two people who have put hours of violent puking well behind them. "Merry Christmas!" caroled my mother, ushering us into the warm and breakfast-smelling air of the house. My husband came in with an armful of gifts; Meelyn followed him clutching her bucket.

The family room's Christmas tree was glowing gaily; a fire was crackling in the fireplace. The whole room was a scene of festive cheer straight out of Currier & Ives, except for the people, the number of whom was strangely diminished.

"Kieren and Angie are both sick," my mother said with a small moue of sadness.

"Kieren had to lie on the couch and let Dayden open his gifts," Pat said. "And Angie is in bed under a pile of blankets, praying for death."

"Oh," I said faintly.

"He threw up six times in the night and she has a high fever."

I eyed him, noting his devil-may-care attitude that said he was willing to go to the wall with a smile on his face, holding his bucket debonair grace, kind of like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. "You know, I think we may now have a new euphemism for the stomach flu in our family," I observed thoughtfully. "I think from now on, we might call it something like 'eating the bologna sandwich.'"

Pat caught the idea and said, "You mean, as in: 'Kieren and Angie are at home, eating their bologna sandwiches'?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed. "And Meelyn ate a bologna sandwich right before we left today!"

"And we were afraid she was going to eat one in the van, too," added my husband.

"Ha ha very funny," said Meelyn, glaring at us balefully through lackluster eyes.

"And it looks like Aisling might be eating a bologna sandwich before too much longer!" said Pat, jovially appraising Aisling's drawn face and furrowed brow. She withered him with a glance, but otherwise remained unmoving, a fleecy throw pulled up to her chin, a bucket at hand.

"I raised you both better than this," my mother said disapprovingly, appearing in the doorway with both hands clad in oven mitts.

"What is this? Is breakfast ready or are you trying to make a DIY Hazmat suit to protect yourself from reinfection?" asked Pat. "You know, after you contaminated your grandchildren and all?"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Breakfast is served, for all who are able to eat it," she said with dignity.

The dining room table was open to its full length and it looked very strange with just Nan and Pop, me, my husband and Pat sitting there, kind of like five ants sitting on a picnic blanket. Dayden and Kiersi made a brief appearance to eat the few mouthfuls that sustain them and then went back in to hover over the tremendous pile of presents, poking at the wrapping paper and speculating on if the biggest gifts were theirs.

We all helped ourselves to enormous platefuls of food, reasoning that later on, all we'd likely be having was a bologna sandwich. "Eat drink and be merry, because tomorrow, we may sandwich," said my husband, raising a glass of orange juice in a toast.

"Just don't eat anything that's going to cause problems if it goes into reverse mode," Pat offered wisely. "Like Chex Mix. Not good."

"That'd be like a combination of gravel and broken glass," I winced.

"I brought both of you up better than that," my mother admonished. "No bad talk at the table. And you," she said, pointing at my grinning husband. "You watch yourself, mister."

"So long as I don't have to watch myself gakking up my breakfast, I'm good to go on everything else," he said dolefully.


Three days later, we all met back at Poppy and Nanny's for my husband's birthday party. By then, several more family members had been slain by the bologna virus, which had somehow mated with a heavy cold with flu-like symptoms, and horrible exceeding was the offspring thereof. We all sat draped across the furniture, covered with fleecy throws (or perhaps throwing the throws to the ground, depending on which stage of feverishness we were currently experiencing.) Some were holding onto boxes of tissues, others were clutching the ubiquitous buckets. From oldest child (me) to youngest child (Kiersi) we were ashen-faced and trembling, and this was on the upswing of the illness when we were all feeling well enough to go out.

"I don't even have it...yet," complained Pat, who was sporting two days' growth of beard and a bitter demeanor that was completely different from his former let's-all-go-down-together hilarity. "But I've wiped so many butts and faces and cleaned up so many puddles of vomit and poop that I feel like I--..."

"Stoppit,' said my mother, looking slightly green.

"Stop it. Stop it?" he said with feigned indignation. "Are not you and your bologna," -- this word uttered with extreme scorn -- "the cause of all this, woman?"

"I still say it's food poisoning," said my father obdurately. In situations like this, I'm always glad that he was convinced early on that the world is round.

"That's his story and he's sticking to it," my husband said, trying to shield his watery, red-rimmed eyes from the powerful glow of the forty-watt light bulb in the lamp next to him. He began to cough, a phlegmy hack that started an obedient chorus of wet coughs from around the room, like a troupe of trained seals at the zoo.

"It's been like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan at our house," I said hollowly. "Only with Cold-Eeze lozenges instead of bullets." I wondered for a moment if wrapping bath towels around my shoes and then putting both legs in the fireplace would help me ward off the chill I could feel approaching.

"I'm tired of bologna," whined Dayden.

"I go poo poo this many times," said Kiersi eagerly, holding up both hands with all ten fingers splayed.

"More than that," said Pat. "Oh, waaay more than that."

"Anyone want to play a board game?" trilled my mother.

"Show off," I mumbled.

"Only if it's Pass the Bucket," said Pat.

Not to be deterred, she marched us into the dining room. Angie was the only one who had the nerve to defy her -- she was lying back in her reclining couch seat with her eyes mutinously closed, daring my mother to ask her again by her very posture.

The game was one Kieren got for Christmas, called something like "Would You Rather...." It wasn't a bad game, but it would have been better if I hadn't been having little eggy burps the whole time we were playing. Meelyn excused herself after a few questions and went back to the family room to collapse in solidarity with her auntie. My husband, on the grounds that it was his birthday and if he was going to die anyway, he'd prefer to do it while watching the Colts, followed soon thereafter. The rest of us played doggedly on, despite the fact that we had to lay our heads on the table between turns.

Kieren won, being third on the list of the original sickies and therefore in better form than the rest of us, except for Nanny and Poppy, of course, who were still blaming the whole sordid mess on that frikking bologna.

As we left that day. we kissed Nan and Pop goodbye. They are going back to Colorado and they won't be home again until March.

"See here," I said belligerently, hugging my mother. "Kindly make sure you're....fumigated... or whatever you need to do so that you don't decimate the troops over spring break in the same way you've knocked us over this Christmas."

"It was the bologna," my father insisted, kissing my cheek. "Bologna."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The strange thing about having older children is that they are very excited to get up and open their gifts, but they are also equally excited to go right back to bed afterwards. My husband, yawning, followed Meelyn and Aisling back upstairs, saying something about having an urgent appointment to broker some kind of deal between a pillow and a blanket, so right now, I am downstairs by myself (even the dogs are still asleep) in the quiet house with Christmas music playing on the Holiday Classics cable channel and no lights at all except from the television, computer and Christmas tree. It is lovely and cozy and very delightful, made even more so by the fact that Nanny is right at this very moment making a huge breakfast at her house for us all to tuck into in a couple of hours.

Midnight Mass was all that is beautiful last night. My husband and I had to go alone because the girls are both coughing, coughing and coughing. We made the executive decision to send them to bed not only so that they could get the extra rest they obviously need after coming off the terrible cold they're both recuperating from, but also to spare the congregation their volleys of finely-misted, germ-tainted saliva.

"You know how it is when somebody sits behind you and they keep on coughing," my husband said, rubbing the back of his neck and cringing a little bit. "You just feel like there's this....onslaught...of contagion that's being blasted right at you."

I winced, remembering a particular Sunday when the person behind me hacked, sneezed, snorted and cleared his phlegmy throat until I thought I was going to have to go home and bathe in a tub full of Lysol to remove the layer of pathogens he'd blasted me with. "I don't want to put anyone through that," I said, remembering how bursting-at-the-seams the church usually is on Christmas.

So the girls stayed home and went to bed, Meelyn (who has coughed all night long for the past three nights) weary and thankful, Aisling (who has coughed all day and all night for the past three days and nights) tearful and sad.

The altar was decorated with the church's gorgeous nativity scene and banked with poinsettias in a scarlet so rich and bright, it practically seemed to produce its own light. They were potted in crinkled gold paper and tied with big red bows. There were candles with greenery on all of the windowsills, plus big wreaths with red bows placed on the walls about the church. It was dim and lovely and hushed inside, the choir singing quiet carols in the loft above the crowd.

At midnight, the cantor, dressed in a velvet-trimmed plaid blazer and a black velvet skirt (very festive) came out and said with a smile what have to be my favorite words of the whole year: "Good morning and welcome to St. John the Apostle....and merry Christmas!" The bells in the tower outside were pealing madly; had to wonder about all the neighbors, whether they love it or hate it. I think I'd love it. We have church bells in our neighborhood which we can unfortunately only hear when the windows are open and they are my one of my favorite sounds of summer. But to hear the bells on midnight at Christmas....well, what a treat that would be.

The huge pipe organ was in good form, and when I say that all the stops were pulled out on that final verse of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," I'm telling you that the walls were practically quaking. The choir sounded absolutely fantastic -- I don't know how long those people have been practicing, but they were really great. They had an extremely solid section of male voices, which sometimes isn't the case with seasonal choirs. There seem to be a lot of men who would rather watch football than go to choir practice. I'm not sure why that is.

The readings were perfectly beautiful, the first being from Isaiah, the verses about how for us a son is born who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, et cetera. Never fails to bring tears to my eyes. After the responsorial psalm and the second reading, Father read the Gospel selection, which was, of course, the Christmas story from Luke and those shepherds, who were just having an ordinary sort of night until the sky was filled with a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing and they were scared spitless. And really, who could blame them?

But then they went to see the Baby....

My husband and I went out into the frosty air after Mass, holding hands. "I'm always really glad to be Catholic," he said as we got into the car, "but on Christmas and Easter, I am particularly glad."

"Me, too," I said, looking back at the church, its windows glowing with warmth and light.

We got home to two sleepy dogs, who greeted us at the door, desirous of being put into their beds for a long winter's nap, as if that's not exactly what they'd been doing all day. Upstairs, the girls were snug in their beds, fast asleep and presumably dreaming of sugarplums, although there's a possibility that visions of clothing, bath and body products and gift cards were dancing through their heads.

My husband and I fell into bed, pulling the blankets up to our chins, warming our feet on each other. "Merry Christbzzzzzzzzzzzzz," my husband breathed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Adam craziness

Yesterday on Christmas Adam (the day before Christmas Eve), Meelyn, Aisling, Kieren and I drove down to Nan and Pop's house so that Nanny and I could spend the afternoon wrapping gifts -- only at the time, I didn't know I was going to spend the afternoon wrapping gifts. I thought I was going to be playing cards, but my parents, crafty connivers that they are, lured me to New Castle with the offer of lunch. One breaded tenderloin and piece of coconut cream pie later, and I was putty in their capable hands.

So I sat and wrapped. And wrapped. And wrapped. And occasionally reminded my mother bitterly that Lincoln freed the slaves, all but ONE apparently.

By the time I was done wrapping and my mother was done cracking a whip fashioned of curling ribbon over my head and my dad was done taking his cozy little nap and the teenagers were done spending a lovely, leisurely afternoon of card-playing and holiday-treat-eating, it was pointed out to me that the weather had turned icy and ugly and that we shouldn't leave, but instead spend the night.

"Why?" I asked, reproachfully inspecting the many paper cuts on my stiffened hands. "Do you have another huge load of gifts for some poor sucker to wrap? Because if so, you're going to have to call a friend or summon a neighbor: I have fallen prey to carpal tunnel syndrome."

It turned out to be a very nice evening, complete with a little supper of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast prepared by the teenagers and a Christmas movie ("A Christmas Wedding" from Lifetime -- do yourself a favor and DO NOT WATCH this piece of crap) with popcorn and cookies later.

We all turned in around eleven o'clock p.m. and I was tucked in by my mother, who had repented of her bad ways, although still much inclined to look at me with bright eyes and say, "That was so much fun, doing that together! We should do it again next year! We should make it a tradition!" She said a prayer for me and kissed my forehead and the next thing I knew, it was nine o'clock in the morning and doughnuts had been brought in from Jack's!

A very welcome start to the Christmas festivities.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Gift Generator

In poking about the internet today, I was after finding' this wee darlin' Christmas Gift Generator, hosted by Stratgem Integrated Thinking from over Dublin way. Click on the link below and answer the questions, and if you've been a good girl, you will get a little virtual present.

Every time the game is played, one euro will be donated to a charity group called Focus Ireland.

My gift was a watermelon, so I'm thinking that Santa hasn't been all that impressed with my behavior this year.

Christmas Gift Generator

UAW -- haaaaaaate!!!!!!

I am really angry right now, so if you don't want your Christmas cheer blighted, skip this post. If you go ahead and read it, don't be surprised if your mistletoe wilts and the glass ornaments on your tree spontaneously shatter. I just need to get this off my chest.

Members of the United Auto Workers work for the Big Three auto manufacturers -- General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Of those three, two manufacturers, namely General Motors and Chrysler, have just been given a huge, enormous, unbelieveable amount of taxpayer money in order to keep the businesses, which have been stupidly, outlandishly mismanaged for years now, from tanking altogether. That mismanagement (gazillion dollar salaries and jet-setty lifestyles, stupid design and marketing decisions, oh, the list goes on and on...) has been one side of the tarnished coin that has led to this, but the other side of it has been the grasping greed of the auto workers' union.

So imagine my fury when I saw this article from an online ABC affiliate,, titled "Union Workers Want Loan, Not Bailout" and read:

"Union members said that they are not willing to give up anything for a bailout and said they shouldn't have to.

Union members said Tuesday that they feel that they're being treated unfairly. They argued that they're not to blame for the big three's problems and the auto industry should cut costs in other areas first before cutting pay and benefits."

When $2,000+ of every new car sold goes to pay pensions for retirees' penions and current workers' salaries and benefits, why shouldn't the UAW have to make some concessions? Why should they be able to continue on as usual with their inflated salaries and their stupendously generous benefits packages?

I'm not opposed to retirees keeping their pensions because they did their work and they paid into a system and our country was in a totally different place when those people were working.

But today's workers need to get a clue. And I can show them where to get one.

My husband works for a General Motors auto dealership. His pay right now is practically non-existent because cars aren't selling. When our health insurance kicked in last September, sales were beginning to dwindle as the country's financial news continued to worsen and it quickly became apparent that we couldn't afford to cover all four of us on the dealership's group plan. And I'd like to add that as far as group plans go, this one wasn't unreasonable -- it's just that health care is so mind-bogglingly expensive.

For the four of us, we were paying over $200 PER WEEK from my husband's paycheck. Obviously, there are few middle-class Americans who can take an $800-$1,000 per month hit to the wallet without feeling the pain. My husband and I wrestled with the decision to drop the health care altogether and realized quickly that that was not a reasonable solution. But we couldn't continue on the way we were going, so we chose to take the girls off the group plan and cancel all the dental and vision insurance. We now pay just over $100 PER WEEK for health insurance, and that covers only my husband and myself.

We've been talking to an agent with Health Plan One who is helping us sort out a private insurance plan for the girls that would run us about $72 per month, but the problem is, car sales are worse now than they were when we first started talking to this agent in October, and now we can't afford the $72 per month.

When I consider this, I feel that the current UAW members are selfish and disgusting. My husband sells the cars they manufacture, and without dealerships to move the product, all the factories could be emptied out and turned into bowling alleys or condos or paint-ball venues. The UAW needs to make some huge concessions with their current workers because I don't understand why the tax money that my husband pays to the government, which has just been used to bail out General Motors, should be used to pay for health insurance for GM workers WHEN MY OWN KIDS AREN'T EVEN COVERED.

I've just been listening to the FOX News program called "Ford on FOX" and I just heard that this gargantuan check the United States government has just written for the auto industry bailout doesn't even demand that the United Workers make any concessions at all. None. Zip.

Why don't they have to concede anything? Why? Why do they get to keep the $20+ per hour salaries and their golden full-coverage health insurance packages when OUR TAX MONEY is what's being used to fund those things? Why shouldn't they take a pay cut? Why shouldn't they be forced to understand that those days of the big salaries for hourly employees and the extravagant health insurance benefits are OVER?

Why do my children have to go without health insurance so that a bunch of selfish UAW members, who claim to not share any of the blame for the current mess (Idiots! Jerks!), can keep their children in braces and glasses and not have to worry about strep throat or whatever else comes along during these winter months of colds and flu because they know they can take their kids to the doctor and then to the pharmacy without racking up a bill that could conceivably be $150 or more?

It's hard to describe the disgust and loathing I feel for the United Auto Workers right now. Operating costs need to be cut and they are part of what's making operations so expensive. I don't claim to be an economist and I honestly don't know what's for the best -- federal bailout? bankruptcy and restructuring? -- for the US automobile industry, but I do know how my family lives every day and I do know what I've heard UAW members from Indianapolis and Kokomo saying on the local news and it sickens me to hear that they don't feel they should have to give up anything when the people who sell the cars they make are struggling to survive right now in our embattled economy.

I hope your kids enjoy the Christmas presents that federal bailout is helping to finance from taxpayer money, UAW members. My kids are having a really lean Christmas as a result of your years-long policy of no concessions, none of the time. Enjoy your month's vacation at 80% of your regular salaries while my husband continues working seventy hours a week, sitting at an empty dealership hoping for a customer to walk through the door. If we have trouble paying our electric or gas bills over the winter, I'm sure some of you will be willing to help us out in the same way we helped you, right?


No, I didn't really think so.

Here's another article on the subject: Automakers Forced to Pay 85- to 95-Percent of Wages to Union Members Who Are Not Working (CNS News)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Unseemly at the manger

Today the girls and I drove to New Castle to go to Nanny and Poppy's house to turn up their heat and their water heater and turn on the lights; Pat and Kieren went to the airport in Indianapolis to pick them up as they flew in from Denver (and boy, were their arms tired!)

We were passing through a neighborhood went Meelyn gave a hysterical little scream and burst into laughter. "Oh no!" she choked, wiping tears from her eyes. "Oh, that is just too awful!"

"What? Who? Where?" Aisling and I asked, calling out and swiveling our heads back and forth in the manner of owls. "Who? Who? Where?"

"That big plastic nativity scene back there, set up in that yard," gasped Meelyn, overcome with laughter. "It was just so wrong...."

Wrong? I thought. What could be so wrong about a plastic nativity scene in a yard? I mean, sure, they're not all that beautiful or anything, but the sentiment is there and those nativities are surely a lot better than that one house that has the driveway lined on either side with many gallon plastic milk jugs fitted out with colored lights. From the looks of that driveway, that family has singlehandedly been keeping the Indiana dairy farmers in business -- it sort of looks like a gaily lit landing strip for Santa's sleigh. But I couldn't see what could be wrong about a nativity scene.

"It was the figure of the Blessed Virgin," said Meelyn, weeping with mirth. "One of the three wise men figures had blown over and he was....he was.....nuzzling her neck."

"Oh, no...." I groaned. Aisling said, "I hope they notice when they get home from work, because that's just...ugh."

It was even worse when we drove back by later. The wind had picked up as we sat at Pop and Nan's talking and drinking tea, and the wise man -- creepy masher! -- had blown over a little further so that a appeared to be taking a lecherous look down the front of the Mary figure's modest white robe. It made my stomach clench up, although the silly awfulness of the tableau was not lost on me. I hope the homeowners noticed and got everyone sorted out. Yeeeesh.....!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Doggie treats (Wimzie and Hershey, tagged)

Kayte's two Tibetian spaniels, Vash and Pippin, tagged Wimzie and Hershey with the following meme. The views expressed are not necessarily the views of the writer of this blog.

1. What breed are you?

Wimzie: Breed? What kind of doggist question is that? Besides, I am a person. Yes, I weigh only fourteen pounds, am covered with hair and drink from a bowl on the kitchen floor, but there's no need to label me. Isn't that just a bit bigoted and narrow? Listen, if there's anything I can't stand, it's intolerance.

Ohhhh, have it your way. I'll play your ridiculous games if I must, but know that I am doing so with the FULL AWARENESS that this is an attempt to keep me down and put me in my place.

I am a Jack Russell terrier. There. Are you happy now? All boot-button eyes and little round nose and perky ears and stubby tail, but don't let my adorable looks fool you. I'd as soon eat your arms right off your body as look at you. I bit a plumber once and killed a bullfrog in cold blood and I am not. Afraid. Of. You.

Hershey: I am the love child of a Sheltie tart named Candy and the beagle next door. They were both very nice looking dogs, but somehow, I didn't come out right. My humom says I am the Forrest Gump of dogs. I have a boxy beagle body; long, skinny Sheltie legs; a narrow, triangular head with beady brown eyes and enormous ears, plus a very long tail with a white tip. I'm also not very smart. but my mom tells me that life is like a box of Milk-Bones and I can run fast and all, although I have never had my picture taken with a U.S. president.

2. How old are you?

Wimzie: Could these questions possibly be any more nosy? I was born on August 24, 1997.

Hershey: My birthday is July 30, 2002.

3. What is your full name?

Wimzie: It is Wimzie, although I prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Wimzie, if you'd be so kind as to keep a civil tongue in your head.

Hershey: My name is Hershey Francis, named after St. Francis of Assisi. My humom and my sisters took me to the Blessing of the Pets at St. Anne's in New Castle when I was a wee puppy and my mom asked Sr. Shirley if she could take me by the tail and dip me in a holy water font so that she could see if I'd sizzle. Apparently, I did a lot of bad things when I was little.

4. Do you have any nicknames?

Wimzie: I beg your pardon. Kindly don't be fresh with me.

Hershey: I am called Hershmanzadah because my human dad is a Bengals fan. My mom and my sisters call me Mr. Cuddlesby, the Prince of Prance, Mr. Prancyboots, H. Francis, Mommy's Sweet Angel Sugarboy, Little Baby Man, Sir Snufflekins and all kinds of names. I love it when they talk baby talk to me. It makes me fall over on my side and bat at them with my paws. My dad is very embarrassed by this and he calls me Girlyman, which makes me feel bad.

5. Where do you sleep?

Wimzie: Is this 'Where do you sleep?' or 'Where do you want to sleep?' Because if it's the first one, I sleep in my crate at night with a furry rug and my own blankets, but if it's during the day, I sleep in my round bed behind my dad's chair where no one can get me. At least, if they try, I can scoot out of the bed very fast and run behind the couch where no one can reach me. If I'm in a good mood, I sit beside Her on the couch where I can suck up Her body heat. If I'm in a good mood, I let Her pet me and call me Pretty Girl.

If you want to know where I want to sleep, I'd say: In a real bed. In my own room. With a lock on the door.

Hershey: In my crate at night, which makes me very sad because I would really like to sleep between my mom and dad every night on their big bed, but they say I take up too much room and make bad smells. When my dad calls me to go to my crate at night, I walk with my head hanging down to make him feel bad, but it doesn't work, no never.

In the daytime, I sleep on the couch. Like, ALL DAY.

6. What is your favorite thing to do?

Wimzie: I like to ride in the car. I like to bite strangers. I like to eat good food prepared to my specifications. I like to nap while wrapped up in blankets. I also like to have my picture taken. But my favorite thing to do is jump up on the beds when no one is home and wipe my nether regions on everybody's pillowslips.

Hershey: I like to eat, sleep, fart, and lick myself with loud, obscene slurping sounds, especially if nuns are visiting.

7. What is something unusual or interesting about you?

Wimzie: My hero is Eva Peron. I wish I were big enough to ride a Harley. If I had a choice of any person in the world to bite right now, it would be Cesar frikkin' Milan.

Hershey: I go to bed at 10:00 every night and sleep until 7:00 a.m. Then I go for a walk with my dad, come back in the house, dry myself off on the carpet, the couch and the beds if it's wet outside, have something to eat, and then sleep on the couch as much as possible, dragging myself off the furniture to bark, eat, pee, drink water, or beg for treats as needed. I try to limit actual physical activity to around 40 minutes per day. The rest is sleeping. And farting. There's nothing like a nap and a good, long, silent fart to relax a guy.

8. Who is your best friend?

Wimzie: Him. He is the reason I live. I love Him. He takes me on walks. He doesn't try to carry me around like some kind of doll or call me stupid names. He feeds me barbecue potato chips, even though She tries to stop Him. I know She thinks She's married to Him, but He is really mine. MINE. And I don't share.

I barely tolerate Them, with their shrieky voices and their barrettes that they try to pin in my bangs and the way they occasionally try to dress me in Build-A-Bear clothing.

And as for that frikking LOSER I've been saddled with these past six years, well, words just can't describe what I go through on a daily basis.

Hershey: I love my mom and my dad and my sisters and my Nanny and Poppy and the boys and the baby and my aunt and uncle and they are all my best friends except Wimzie.

9. Did you go to obedience school...if so were you "Top Dog" or would you flunk out?

Wimzie: I find this question impertinent.

Hershey: There is schools for dogs?

10. Can you do any tricks?

Wimzie: No. Can you? Hmm? Let's see: Oooh, I've got one! Play dead.

Deader than that.

Hershey: This question hurts my feelings.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This, as it so happens, was a very pleasant Monday. I'm not sure what we did to deserve it, but i do think that I can mark this as the most pleasant Monday in recent memory.

It's not that Monday is always a bad day. And it is possible, after all, to have a Friday that is pretty darned sucky. But Mondays have that bad habit of coming right after Saturdays and then Sundays, which are usually the two best days of the week, so by default, Mondays are a bit of a letdown.

Today, though, we had an excellent day of school. Meelyn and I started things off by collaborating on Module 3 of her biology book -- she is floundering over unfamiliar terrain in that class and is significantly behind, seeing's as how she's supposed to be on Module 6. we sat down today and went over important vocabulary, words like chrysosphyta and organelle and a bunch of other sciency terms that left me with the pressing memory of dull I found biology back in high school. Guess what? An absence of twenty-two years hasn't made my heart grow any fonder. What a big, fat yawn that subject is. When I read that Kingdom Protista is divided into two main groups, those groups being protozoa and algae, all I could think was big whoop.

But anyway, Meelyn needs my help and everyone knows that there are certain subjects in high school where you need no one to prod you, and there are other subjects where you need to be reminded to DO YOUR WORK and others where someone has to be willing to sit down with you as you drag yourself through the textbook.

After helping Meelyn with biology, I left the girls at home absorbed in their schoolwork while I went out to do some errands. It was nice to do that because as I put on my coat, scarf and gloves, I realized that this is the first day in just over a week that I have actually felt like myself; I did happen to notice when I looked in the bathroom mirror this morning that my eyes didn't look like two holes burned in a blanket, so having normal human eyes instead of two overbright and sunken orbs that looked like they belonged to Lucy in the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula right before Dr. Van Helsing let her have it with that wooden stake to the heart, plus actually having some energy that allowed me to get dressed and do my hair and makeup without having to lie down and take a nap afterwards, well, you can see why I was having a banner day.

Snow and freezing rain has been forecast for tonight, and I wanted to get out and run my errands before that mess was visited upon us. I've been following the news of that massive ice storm out east and oh, my gosh, those poor people. As always when doing some storm-shopping. I kept my priorities straight and made sure I had the basic ingredients for several different types of cookie, plus a huge bag of popcorn, plenty of Diet Coke, some beer and an extra bottle of Ny-Quil for the girls, who are still coughing. I stuffed in milk, bread, eggs and peanut butter around the edges. And, I DID NOT FORGET THE TOILET PAPER.

After I got home, the girls and I sat together at the dining room table and diagrammed ten sentences together and I was very stoked that I only missed one, and that was only because I forgot to diagram an adverb.

Today was also the day that we embarked upon our SAT prep, which had me copying out the first phase of the diagnostic test, part of the language arts section. Aisling in particular fretted and frowned over the fact that she didn't know everything yet, and I pointed out that she is an eighth grader and high school juniors are the ones taking the SAT.

My whole purpose in starting SAT prep in the eighth grade, I reminded her, is so that by the time she does take the SAT, she'll be so familiar with the format and the kinds of questions that are asked and the way she should answer them that she'll take it with complete confidence and get a very high score, which will lead to a fantastic scholarship, which will lead to her having a roommate whose parents live in France who would simply love for petite Ahhhzzzzleen's maman and papa to come and visit for a week or a month.

So! It was an excellent day of school, followed by temperatures way too low to allow for any further errand-running. The girls and I piled on the sofa to bundle up with our blankies and watch Return to Me, which is one of our favorite movies ever. By the time it ended, I had just enough time to type this before wandering out to the kitchen to cook the Mexican chili for dinner, which I need to go do, like, now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Typing errors I have perpetrated upon the innocent

When I was in high school, my mother told me to take a typing class. I thought she was full of it, because my grandma had bought me a little typewriter when I was about ten and I'd invented my own two-forefingers-and-one-thumb method of typing that had stood me pretty well so far. Unfortunately, most of the typing I was doing at ten consisted of using sheet after sheet of paper to write "Mrs. Donny Osmond. Mr. & Mrs. Donny Osmond. Donny and Shelley Osmond" or, alternatively, "Mrs. Leif Garrett. Mr. & Mrs. Leif Garrett. Leif and Shelley Garrett."

She was right, of course, and when I got to college and had to type paper after paper after paper, as all English majors do, I thought my poor fingers would wither up and fall off. One night during finals, when I was typing up a huge term paper that I had to turn in at 8:00 the next morning, Pat (who was about fourteen at the time and could type none too well himself) took pity on me and sat down before the electric typewriter and hunted and pecked while I tried to coax some blood back into my tortured digits.

So I really don't type all that well. Oh, I can type fast. But my main problem is accuracy, particularly if the room is dark and I can't see my fingers.

I have two embarrassing stories about typing errors, one that happened just two weeks ago, which triggered the memory of the truly humiliating one that happened two years ago.

Two weeks ago, I was typing up an email to send out the the homeschool group about an upcoming performance of The Nutcracker that about fifteen of us had signed up to go see at Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus last Sunday afternoon at two o'clock. When I send out group notices, I always strive for a cheery, friendly manner because when you make some of the dumb typing errors I make, you'd best be known as a friendly sort of person so that some mom won't come up and strangle you with the strap on her handbag when you type that thus-and-so is to take place at four o'clock when it was really supposed to take place at three, if you see what I mean.

I finished up the email and CHECKED BACK THROUGH IT, which is what I've learned to do ever since Embarrassing Email Typo Error Number #1, which has scarred me for life. Yes, I had the date and time correct. Yes, I had the correct venue. Yes, I had even remembered to add a list of the families who signed up. But then I looked at the title I'd given to the performance and all the blood drained from my face.

Instead of typing The Nutcracker, I'd typed The Butcracker.

Did you know that the 'b' key and the 'n' key are very closely aligned on that bottom row, as in right next to each other? I do, intellectually at least. But my fingers have a hard time processing the message. And sure enough, when I'd been typing "Our long-awaited performance of The Nutcracker is coming up next Sunday, December 7" I'd instead typed something that looked like I was reminding everyone about the Holiday Festival O' Porn I'd signed us all up for.

If I'd sent it out, I wouldn't have worried that anyone would have been offended or anything, because my Catholic homeschooling homies aren't like that. No, it would be more an issue of a few of them never, ever, ever letting me forget what I'd typed so that our kids could have long sense flown the nest and possibly had children of their own and I'd still be hearing Butcracker jokes.

I didn't get so lucky with the first incident.

From the first incident, all I got was a tight, unamused silence that made me wake up in the night, cringing in shame against my pillows as I silently wailed, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh, geeeeeeezzzzz, I AM SUCH AN IDIOT."

Here's what happened:

I was trying to get a group together to go for a day of educational fun at the Indiana State Museum (the same place that Meelyn, Aisling and I went to last month with my friend Virginia and her kids) and I was corresponding back and forth with the museum's director of educational programming, whose name was Tina. I had originally addressed her, politely and formally, as Ms. So-and-so, but when she wrote back, she addressed me in a friendly, breezy way as 'Shelley,' so I felt comfortable in likewise referring to her as Tina in an email I sent back confirming the number of people who would be going on the field trip.

Only I didn't call her Tina.

I typed Tuna instead.

I caught my error just after I'd clicked the Send button and I gave a little scream of dismay. "Nooooooo!!!!!" I cried, but it was too late. Because, Send buttons? There is nothing more final than one of those, my friends. If reports from people who have had ghostly encounters are true, even DEATH isn't as frikkin' final as a sent email.

Woe to all those for whom the 'i' and 'e' keys are too nearly positioned.

I sat at my desk, wringing my hands, wondering what to do. Should I just pretend that I didn't notice? Should I send a follow up email in which I could apologetically explain that I caught my error with her name just as I hit the Send button? Should I wait until she replied back and then add a wry, self-deprecating explanation for my typing skills?

Because, names, you know...People can be funny about their names. It always irritates the woo out of me when people spell my name 'Shelly' instead of 'Shelley.' Yet leaving out that extra 'e' is nothing compared to calling someone a large, slimy fish.

I chose to go the self-deprecatory route, feeling that since she had established that breezy tone from the very beginning, perhaps I could get away with saying, Oh, look what a goose I am, how could I have made such a ridiculous error when typing your name. Which is what I did. And I truly expected to get back an email from her that said something like, Oh, I laughed so hard when I saw that. Don't worry about it. It happens all the time.

But I didn't get it. Instead, she replied in a short, cold, formal note that addressed me as "Mrs. McKinney."

"Please don't mention it. Your field trip date and time are confirmed for...."


I spent the rest of the four weeks until field trip day praying to all the saints and angels that I would not have to come face to face with this woman whom I had obviously offended. They came through in their intercessory prayers and there was ice and snow the night before the trip and I enthusiastically canceled it, saying that I hoped we'd be able to re-schedule at another time (like, preferably when Tina got a job offer from a state museum out east or west or anywhere but Indianapolis, Indiana) but I never did. Virginia cottoned on to an excellent program for elementary, middle and high schoolers and those field trips became her domain and I was never so thankful for anything in my life.

But NOT so thankful that, on the day we went with Virginia and her kids, I ate a tuna salad sandwich in the museum's café or anything. No, not that much....

Unexpected at the manger

On our bathroom counter upstairs sits a pretty little glazed porcelain statue of the Blessed Virgin, placed there to help jog my memory to say my Morning Offering. I've never worshipped it before, but it is a very pretty little piece of religious art, done in eggshell and pale blue with glazed gold leaf highlighting the edges of the virgin's robe, the cincture at her waist and the rosary she's holding in her hands. I bought it years ago on e-Bay for about three dollars and out of all the statues and pictures and this-n-thats we have around the house to remind us of Jesus and our favorite saints, this six inch statue is one of my most-loved.

We've been decorating for Christmas around the place, and I've let Meelyn and Aisling take over a lot of it. So I wasn't all that surprised, but was definitely amused, when I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth at the sink a few days ago and saw that the Blessed Virgin is now flanked by two plump, smiling snowmen, also done in highly-glazed eggshell-pale blue-and-gold leaf, standing happily beside her in the manner that precious, dimpled putti often decorate ecclesiastical art, acting as an honor guard as they escort Mary to heaven, or protect her as she cradles the Babe in her arms.

It made a very sweet little display, and it was so funny that they all matched. It was so Catholic, so divine and mystical on the one hand, while being entirely practical and down to earth on the other.


Today after driving home from religious education classes at the church, the girls and I decided we'd stop and pick up some breakfast from the brand-new Dunkin' Donuts that was just built a few blocks from our house.

I've never been to a Dunkin' Donuts before, mostly because doughnuts are a danger food for me, dangerous as in "why eat one when you could easily sit here with a few cups of tea and eat the whole bag?" So I usually just stay away. Plus, all the people in my hometown of New Castle, Indiana have been abominably spoiled over the years by the presence of Jack's Donuts on South 14th Street. Once you've had Jack, you never go back, as the saying goes.

So anyway, it was a cold, rainy, windy morning -- just the kind of day to have coffee and doughnuts and loll around the living room in robe and slippers for the rest of the day -- and doughnuts sounded festive, so we pulled into the drive-thru lane and up to the menu board.

That was when I found out that Dunkin' Donuts charges premium prices for their wares. I think I may have led a very sheltered life, because I have never heard of paying $1.50 for a doughnut before. The bakeries around here don't have the cachet of the double-dee name attached to them, but the doughnuts at Marsh and Kroger pretty much run a standard forty to fifty cents. There are those super-fancy ones called Napoleons or somesuch that have a nice custardy filling, plus icing on top and I think those may run you somewhere around seventy-five cents, but even that comes nowhere near the buck and a half mark.

Honestly, I'm kind of offended by this. No, mark that out. I am REALLY offended at the thought of a $1.50 doughnut, which is why I stay away from Starbucks because my mother didn't raise any stupid kids and there's no way Starbucks is ever going to be able to convince me that a brownie -- a brownie! -- is worth $3.00. I make brownies and I know these things.

Dunkin' Donuts has built two new places in my city, both of them presumably charging an arm and a leg and a firstborn child for their lumps of glazed and deep-fried dough. And I have to wonder about that, in this economy: Everywhere you look in this city, there's a new business going down. Some have big cheerful signs announcing their closings ("Must liquidate entire stock! Sales up to 60% off within!") and some just disappear. The one that affected me the most was a furniture store with an electronic outdoor sign that the former owners kept on for ninety days after the building was entirely emptied out. "Thank you for seventy-five wonderful years," it read.

In an economy like this one, I wonder how Dunkin' Donuts will manage. I do know that they'll be managing without the four of us as faithful customers. One dollar and fifty cents, inDEED.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

As it turns out....

It's really hard to think of anything to write -- or then to type it out, once thought of -- when you're taking pain medication. Or, when I am taking pain medication, I guess would be a more accurate way of putting it. But I shouldn't be trusted anyway, because for all I know, I could be typing this with my nose.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deck the halls (with used-up Kleenex)

If you were wondering where all the snot in the world has gone, it's here. In Aisling's poor head.

She recovered from her stomach complaint last week without ever actually throwing up, which was a bonus, because everybody else who had it apparently threw up everything they'd eaten since birth. So her resistance was strong enough to kick that right in the teeth, but it wasn't subsequently strong enough to fight off the head cold that was waiting to pounce on her.

I, too, am not at my peak, having had to undergo a minor in-office surgical procedure yesterday that luckily came with a bottle of Vicodin. So I am wafting around the house in an airy-fairy haze, singing little snatches of songs and picking up all the knick-knacks that decorate the house, giving them little kisses and telling them I love them. Some of them may have even answered back, but that might just be the Vicodin talking.

Meelyn, harassed, is serving as our nurse, bringing Aisling Cold-Eez, glasses of orange juice and boxes of tissue and occasionally stopping by to pull me down from the chandelier in the foyer, where she's found me cooing to the flame-shaped light bulbs and singing songs from the Mulan soundtrack.

This is a marked difference from the person she saw yesterday in our van at the Kroger pharmacy's drive-up window. The pharmacist's assistant tried to tell me that our insurance wasn't valid and told me that the three prescriptions the doctor's office had called in for me would come to $143.75. I knew she was wrong, because I'd just shown that very same insurance card to the clerk in the financial office at the doctor's, but I was so freaked out at the thought of being denied my precious bottle of Vicodin that I got a little yelpy and leaned across Meelyn (who was driving) and said to the assistant, my eyes like dinner plates, "PLEASE RUN IT THROUGH AGAIN. I DON'T HAVE $143.75!!!"

She went back to run it again, and came back, sullenly dragging her feet to say that it was once again denied. This threw me into an utter panic, and it wasn't even one of those panics induced by the thought that maybe we forgot to pay the bill, because this is my husband's group policy from work and they wring EVERY PENNY from his paycheck every week before he even sees it, all $125 of it...and that's just insurance for the two of us. And it doesn't include dental and optical.
This time, I leaned so far across Meelyn that her eyes began to bulge. I probably looked a little bit crazed; I WAS a little bit crazed. I wanted. That. Pain medicine. Feverishly, I explained to the pharm assist that I had just used that card, blablabla and she took it back and ran it through again and came back with a much more respectful attitude.

"You insurance carrier is the same, but your group number is different," she explained apologetically.

I don't think I'll be able to forgive her for giving me such a fright. The insurance brought the cost of my prescriptions down to a much more do-able $39.00 and Meelyn handed over my debit card while saying to me, in the tone of a jockey soothing a nervous thoroughbred, "Now see? Ehhhhhhhhhhhverything's going to be juuuuuuuust fiiiiiiine."

Then she drove us home and Aisling collapsed on the sofa in a coughing fit, and I (with local anesthesia rapidly leaving my body), gulped down a Vicodin and tried not to look too much like a crack addict getting her next fix.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's time we hung some tinsel

Tonight we're going to do something unexpected -- something that some people who know us might even call rash. But it isn't a snap decision; we've given ourselves plenty of advance notice so that we won't be taken by surprise. So here it is: Tonight, we're going to bring out the eggnog and the Christmas movies and put up the Christmas tree, several weeks earlier than we usually do.

We're doing this to promote a feeling of cheery gladness in the house, because frankly, it could be a bit tense around here if we were willing to let our guard down. Things were absolutely horrible last Christmas and I honestly thought we'd never see times like that again -- and maybe we won't. But the media is doing such a great job of scaring everyone to death by telling them that there's no way they can get a car loan (my husband is a car salesman who works at a Chevrolet dealership), plus following the stock market's ups and downs second by second and breathlessly announcing that the unemployment rate hasn't been this high in 35 years, etc., etc. Well, it's put me right off of being a FoxNews junkie, I'll tell you. Too much of their dire predictions about bread lines and apple selling could find you with your own head in the oven instead of sugar cookies cut out in the shape of Santa.

So thank heaven for my parents, who gave us a big artificial tree last year when we couldn't afford to buy our usual real tree, because they said we could just keep it and now we can't afford a real tree this year either, as things turn out. The tree is sitting in its box on my dining room floor right now, ready to be assembled so that it can light up the house. All the boxes are piled around it - the boxes holding the Nativity sets and the snowman collection and the garland for the staircase, plus the wreaths for the front and back doors. We are ready for a little Christmas.

Here you have it, straight from the cast of Mame:

Haul out the holly;
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn't snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry;
So climb down the chimney;
Put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake;
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For I've grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,

And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder,
Need a little Christmas now.

Haul out the holly;
Well, once I taught you all to live each living day.

Fill up the stocking,

Young Patrick:
But Auntie Mame, it's one week from Thanksgiving Day now.

But we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.

It hasn't snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry;

So climb down the chimney;
Put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen.

Slice up the fruitcake;
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy"Happy ever after,"
Need a little Christmas now.
Need a little Christmas now

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fox network's "Secret Millionaire" found to be highly offensive

First of all, just let me say that I love television. I am a news junkie who could watch FoxNews, like, all day long, every day, although I don't. Because as it turns out, I am also an HGTV junkie, a Bravo junkie, and EWTN junkie, a Food Network junkie and a TLC junkie. I love Martha Stewart and simply cannot bear Oprah. I'm terribly fond of Top Chef, Everyday Italian, House Hunters, Property Ladder and Samantha Brown's junkets around the world.

So last night, the four of us were watching television, which we do with a great deal of editorial commentary, sometimes uncomplimentary. Last night's commentary tended toward the insulted and outraged, all due to a new program on Fox titled Secret Millionaire.

Secret Millionaire is a reality show that has a premise that initially seems very kind and philanthrophic: a millionaire, disguised as a "regular person" (and look! My first red flag went up RIGHT THERE!) goes among the poor and downtrodden, pretending to be one of them by donning unlovely clothing sans designer labels, thoughtfully laying aside their big honkin' diamond rings, Rolex watches and Italian suits for one week of slumming.

The initial episode featured a multi-millionaire (he earnestly assured us of this fact several times. Several hundred times) Todd Graves and his wife, Mrs. Richie McRicherson, whose actual name I didn't catch. The missus told the viewing audience that she is also wealthy in her own right, having been the owner of a very lucrative McDonald's franchise which she sold in order to be able to spend more time with her two children.

The Graveses left their gorgeous and lavishly landscaped Baton Rouge mansion to go farther south in Louisiana to a small town in Plaquemines Parish where they would be undercover for a week, posing as helpful volunteers taking part in a documentary on poverty in America. That seems kind of convoluted, doesn't it? But they had to have some reason for going everywhere with a camera crew, so there you have it.

Finding their living quarters for the week was the first order of the day, however, and Todd and his wife pulled up in their giant black Chevy Tahoe in front of a small RV, the same type of RV that many people around here use for weekend adventuring. It was actually not a bad looking RV, although it was made purposely tacky by having some ugly resin lawn chairs kind of haphazardly thrown about, plus one of those big wooden spools used to hold cable of the kinds used by Comcast, electric companies and the telephone company, as a table. There was a trash can out front, if I remember correctly, and also a half-hearted string of twinkle lights strung drunkenly across the RV's outdoor awning.

When you visit campgrounds around here in the summertime, this sort of thing is a common sight, although the twinkle lights are usually attached to the RV with some sense of order. You can often see strings of little electric Chinese lanterns strung outside, which I think are very cute. But put the ugly trash can out back, and get rid of the wooden table and the battered chairs and replace them with some clean, inexpensive resin furniture and you can see the way many American people pleasurably pass a weekend at the lakes.

The Graveses, however, were totally freaked out. They looked completely appalled as they stared out the windows of their SUV at their new digs. It was as if they couldn't believe the squalor and depravity of having to live! For a week! In an RV beneath a shade tree!

"There's....dirt....on it," the missus quavered, and then I felt certain that she and her husband must employ a team of groundskeepers who bathe their house weekly and perhaps massage its bricks with La Prairie skin caviar. Because, dirt? Who would ever expect to find that outdoors?

I feel that the producers of this new series made a major misstep here, because it makes me think about all the weekend vacationers who were slightly taken aback -- or maybe even completely offended -- that these special people were disgusted at the thought of spending a week in a cute little RV.

Then we found out that Todd and his wife have been given $120 to spend on groceries and gas for the week, so the two of them trundle off to the local market, passing by scenes of catastrophic devastation that Katrina left behind three years ago. My heart was in the process of breaking wide open at the continuing tragedy that the people of Louisiana and gulf states have suffered when I realized that the Graveses were at the grocery, and there we learned about the real tragedy.

"How are we going to budget this?" Mrs. Graves said helplessly.

In a voice over, Todd Graves said that he didn't know how in the world they were going to budget for their groceries, because they are SO FREAKING RICH that they actually have people who do all their shopping for them. Because, you see, when you are Todd and Whosis Graves and you have made your money through the auspices of a chain of restaurants called Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers and a big ol' greasy McDonald's, you do not sully your precious and important self with the rest of the commoners in the local Winn-Dixie.

Todd and Whosis racked up $98 worth of groceries for the two of them and then were in the embarrassing position of having to put some of the food back, which made Whosis look like she was going to burst into noisy sobs as her husband said things like, "Take off the baked beans." I could have told Whosis that these things get easier with time -- after your tenth or eleventh time of telling the cashier that you can't afford the pork chops and the tomato soup after all, you have the choice of either growing a thicker hide or making sure you have a piece of paper and a pencil with you every week so that you can keep a running total as you grab things off the shelves.

Giving back some of their purchases brought the grocery tab back down to around $84, I believe, and considering that that's about four dollars more than I spend for an entire family of four plus two dogs every week, I think they did a really super job, don't you?

The Graveses spent the week going around to different places in the town of Buras, Louisiana, talking to different people who are trying to help the community get put back together. They were also supposed to be helping, but that must've taken place off camera, because what the viewing audience saw was mostly them standing around and talking.

They decided on four different people to help: The first was a couple who was trying to set up a coffee shop/church. (We got to see inside their FEMA trailer and as the camera panned around the bleak interior, I got tears in my eyes. There have been people living in those things for two or three YEARS now.) The second person was a pastor who helped people with their groceries (he was rebuilding his church) and the last was a high school football coach.

On the morning Todd and Whosis were to go around handing out their money, Todd sat at the dining table in their RV and wrote out three checks for $150,000 each, which was pretty darn generous, even though I was already hating the show. But then he did a weird thing: He dated the checks for April 31, 2008. Huh??!! Last night, I thought it was my imagination, but this morning when I did a little online research in order to write this post, it turns out that a bunch of other people noticed it, too. I'm sincerely hoping that this was rectified later, since April 31 doesn't exist, but I guess when you're in the chicken finger business, little things like April's having only thirty days don't really matter.

After writing the checks, Todd and Whosis got dressed up in their richhhhhhhhhh clothes, complete with huge diamond ear studs and some flashy rings for her and a tailored suit for him. "It's gonna be weird, showing up in this $2000 suit to tell these people we've been lying to them all week," said Todd, sighing worriedly as he put on his very expensive watch. You know, Todd, it turns out that money spends the same way, even if you're dressed in khaki shorts and a faded University of Louisiana sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off. But if you really want to go for the class division impact and wear your two thousand dollar suit while handing out your money to the serfs, by all means, go for it. I was surprised that he didn't wear a gold-plated sign around his neck that read "ARMANI."

Watching Todd and Whosis (whose name turns out to be Gwen...I just found that out) hand out the money was extremely painful. Mostly because the people were genuinely overwhelmed and excited, but the Graveses had such an air of noblesse oblige about them, I couldn't help but hope that they'd step in cow poop or that a great big truck would drive by and spray them with muddy water or something.

"I'm sorry to tell you this, but this whole week we've been here? We've been lying to you," said Todd, furrowing his brow as he looked at the coffee shop/church people.

"We haven't been honest with you about who we are," elaborated Gwen, scrutinizing them carefully with her eyes wide open, just in case being poor means you're stupid and they didn't understand the first time. "We're from Baton Rouge, and our lives there are very, very different."

I kid you not. Yes, she said that, or at least a near approximation. That was when my whole family started hurling throw pillows at the television. Why would you say something like that to a couple of good people who are trying to rebuild after a devastating natural disaster that has completely changed their lives? Why would you sort of rub it in that everything in your life is clean and tidy and mega-prosperous when their lives, from the financial standpoint, are clearly sucky? Aarrrgghhh.....

To the football coach, once Todd had got past the place of telling the guy he and Gwen had been lying all week, Todd said, "My life in Baton Rouge has been very blessed." And let me tell you, if there's one thing that makes me want to HURT SOMEONE, is when they tell you (without your having solicited the information) that their lives have been so blessed and that they're about to give you something because your life, well, it's obvious that your life has not been blessed, up until now, anyway. Because this check with the false date on it? Well, mister, that's YOUR ticket out of the gutter.

The football coach was overcome and had to try to keep from crying, either because he appreciated the money or because he'd noticed the date on the check and was trying to figure out if he was being punked, and thus should instruct his players to use Todd as a tackling dummy, or maybe hug him. In the end, the coach went for the hug and Todd, to his credit, did not hold him at arm's length and say, "Hey. I'm glad to give you the money, man, but you're kinda sweaty and I am wearing a $2000 suit."

At the point when I wanted to eat my own head, the show ended. Todd and Gwen drove back to their home (which one of them pointed out was, like, SO MUCH BIGGER AND NICER than that RV) and they pulled up in the driveway with gusty sighs of relief. Life is so much nicer when you don't have to pretend to be an icky poor person. What would it be like to really be one? Ewwww! Thank goodness they won't have to worry about that!

I can't decide where Fox is going with this one. I thought maybe my husband and I (and the girls, of course) were maybe the only ones who thought it was crazy offensive, but in poking about the internet this morning, it turns out that there are lots of other people who thought Todd and Gwen were idiots. But even more than the Duke and Duchess of Graves, something about this entire concept makes me want to throw up.

Like this, for instance: Isn't it much nicer when a wealthy person donates money to a cause and you never know it at the time because they are so humble? Then you find out later that the person is a kind-hearted philanthropist and your heart is moved at their goodness?

Maybe other people get a thrill out of seeing the rich swooping down from Mt. Olympus to deliver their largesse, but not me. I'm one of those people who scowls at donor boards at theaters and churches and museums and the like; also those lists of "Diamond Contributors," et cetera, that you can see in playbills. "There. You have your reward, Mr. and Mrs. Braggy," I always think. "There it is, rendered in 4 point type amidst about three hundred other names."

Here's the last word on the story, straight from Matthew 6:1-4

(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The similarities between Mr. Darcy and Hershey

By "Mr. Darcy," I mean "Colin Firth," of course. There are a couple of other actors who have played Mr. Darcy -- upstarts, all of them -- but WE ALL KNOW that there's only really the one. If you feel that you don't know that, then you must immediately leave this blog. And go watch the BBC Pride & Prejudice until you've changed your mind.

Today, I was looking at Hershey and thinking about all the ways in which he is similar to Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy.

1. They both have melting brown eyes.

2. They both wear white shirts over their broad, manly chests.

3. They both have gruff barks, but are really gooey marshmallows underneath.

4. They both wear tall boots: Mr. Darcy's appear to be of a sturdy, well-polished Italian leather, while Hershey's are made of white fur with brown "buttons."

5. They can both dance, although I admit that Hershey only dances if you offer him a treat. And I don't believe he can actually dance quadrilles or minuets. It's more a freestylin' kind of thing.


6. They both annoy my husband.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

British literature DVD gotta-see


If you have never had the chance to see the BBC production of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, you simply must go to your public library right now, not even stopping to put on your mittens or your snow boots, and borrow it right now.

This version is stuffed as full of star-power as a Thanksgiving turkey is stuffed with, well....stuffing. Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame plays the young David (the handsome Ciaran McMenamin plays David as a teenager and adult), along with Maggie Smith (who plays Professor MacGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, not to mention the rest of her distinguished career on stage and screen) and Ian MacKellan, who played Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings movies and who also plays Professor Dumbledore in the HP movies, as well as a darned good Macbeth back in 1973 or whenever.

I've seen a number of different BBC productions and they've all been pretty good, but this David Copperfield is great. Really great. As in, sit-on-the-sofa-for-all-three-hours, laughing and crying and using up about half a box of tissues kind of great. Although David does go through some very difficult times in the manner of all Victorian-era heroes, the happiness of his story is much more evident. It's exuberant and a complete treat to watch. And I want to add this next part in a whisper:

It's almost better than reading the novel because you'll get to enjoy the wonderful actors, the scenery and the gorgeous costuming. But don't tell Katie I said that, okay?

Don't try to kid me

Aisling has some sort of ailment that is rendering her pale and listless and slightly sick of stomach, and nothing less like the true Aisling has yet been seen on the planet. She is quiet, docile and takes medicine without complaint and it would be wrong to appreciate this vacation from loudness, moodiness and the tendency to come alive right smack in the middle of the afternoon when I have lost the will to live and am looking longingly toward the Bailey's. Wouldn't it?

Anyway, I was making her some chicken soup for lunch, which for Kayte means cooking a chicken, making the stock, rolling out homemade noodles....the only thing I don't think she does is go out to her yard and pick the carrots. My way of making chicken noodle soup is to go to the store and buy a box of the reconstituted kind -- today, I chose Mrs. Grass over Lipton's because it was on sale.

So I was standing at the stove waiting for the four cups of water to boil so that I could pour in the teeny little noodles (so delish, much better than long, stringy noodles), when I noticed that I was supposed to add the contents of the "seasoning packet" as well as the "flavor nugget."

Flavor nugget?

I looked at the front of the box and saw the words "Golden Flavor Nugget - Filled with rich chicken flavor!" and sighed in exasperation. I hate it when companies think that we, the consumers, are so stupid that they'll try to con us into buying their product with its Golden Flavor Nugget as if we're getting something brand new and very, very special, when it ought to be perfectly clear to anyone who's ever opened up a packet of reconstituted chicken noodle soup that what Mrs. Grass and her cohorts are calling a Golden Flavor Nugget is actually a BOUILLON CUBE reshaped into nugget form.

Golden Flavor Nugget, my foot.

Monday, December 1, 2008

High School Brit Lit in the DVD era

I really love teaching the British Literature class I teach every Wednesday morning at a nearby library. The class is very small, consisting of only four girls, two of whom you may be already familiar with if you read this blog frequently. I enjoy hearing the girls' opinions of the things we read, and in my usual textbook-finishing style, we are plowing through with just a little over a month to go until the class ends along with the first semester.

Literature surveys are my favorite type of lit class to teach because there's so much variety; I got kind of tired of dealing with The Scarlet Letter all those years ago when I was still teaching in a public high school, and just last year, when I was facilitating a middle-school reading group, I started getting pretty weary of David Balfour's adventures in Kidnapped, particularly when he was stuck on that island and couldn't get off for fear of drowning, and then it turned out that the island was connected to the mainland by a shallowly-covered isthmus and the silly dork could've just walked across instead of lurking around on the rocks being all dramatic and eating mollusks that disagreed with his digestion.

The one bad thing about survey classes is that they go so quickly, though. And, contrarily, I find myself thinking wistfully, "If only we had time to read this book...." Yeah, I know. If we actually DID have time to read all the different books, I would probably go crazy. It sure wouldn't be a one semester class, that's for sure.

Which is why I am so pleased that we live in the Age of DVDs, when it is possible to find all kinds of great literature on film. No, it isn't the same as reading the books. Not nearly the same. And just for the record, I think that watching the DVD when you're supposed to be reading the novel is just, well....unethical.

But if you're in a literature survey class and you're slamming through the centuries like a printing press just caught on fire, DVDs can be very helpful in giving a student a good overview.

Today was cold, windy and snowy, so the girls and I stayed inside and watched the black and white Criterion version of Great Expectations, which stuck reasonably close to the novel -- it was about two and a half hours long and the actual novel is as thick as an Indianapolis telephone book, so you know a lot was cut out. I confess that it's been so long since I read Great Expectations that I can't honestly remember what was cut. However, I did print out a plot synopsis and character analysis for the girls to look over before we started watching, and the movie went right along with the plot synopsis, so I think that was a good choice.

We also watched Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist, and it was very good in spite of the fact that the entire Maylie/Monks/Fleming story line was cut out, as was the Charlotte/Noah Claypole bit, obviously in interests of time: The DVD lasted for two solid hours in spite of the trimming. The ending was less satisfying than it could have been if the story ends had been neatly tied up with Oliver finding his family and knowing who his parents were and discovering Edward Leeford's machinations in Oliver's life. In fact, the ending was odd and weird and very un-Dickens-like with no "God bless us, every one!" or the right two people ending up married after being torn apart by circumstances, none of that. But otherwise, it was entertaining and the costumes and sets/scenery were great.

We watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice last week, all six hours of it, and the only thing I have to say about that is Mr. Darcy. Mmmmmmisssssssssterrrr Daaaarrrrrrrrcy. Colin Firth is so yummy striding around in those tall boots, I just can't stand it. Yes, Elizabeth may think, my younger sister's reputation has just gone to heck in a handbasket and my entire family's along with it, but if he'll just walk into the room with those boots on one more time, I;ll accept his obnoxious proposal and go live in his big house. With the boots. Ohh, the BOOTS.

Next up: Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre. And, I'm afraid, Kidnapped.