Saturday, February 28, 2009

What can Lent do for you?

Finding Patrick Madrid's blog here on Blogger led my thoughts back to the days when I was making my way toward Rome, feverishly reading anything and everything I could get my hands on that proposed to teach me about the Catholic Church and what it believed....and why I should believe it, too. I read Catholic books and anti-Catholic books and stood them up against one another to see, in a logical, open-minded way, which side was right and which side was wrong, and, well, I guess you know what I found out.

In the midst of all this reading, I was experiencing Lent for the first time since my Episcopalian childhood. My family moved on to a charismatic evangelical denomination when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, and such liturgical notions were not observed by anyone, but I didn't know just how much they weren't observed until one particular Sunday.

By the time the pastor of the church preached this sermon, I was already well on my way. I'd even been to his office to talk to him several times about why I felt this uncanny pull toward something that was "so obviously not right" (oh, I was kidding myself....I knew it was right, all right; I was just wrestling with how to break it to others, namely my husband and my parents). The pastor, not unnaturally, was agreeing with me: "This can't be the Holy Spirit calling you, because why would He want you to go backwards in your faith?"

Which brings to mind something else I found out during that journey across the Tiber: There is no one with his mind more firmly shut -- welded and then sealed in a lead vault -- that the committed Protestant evangelical who won't read anything about the Catholic Church for fear of finding out that he's been wrong.

But I digress.

Anyway, during that particular sermon, I was electrified when the pastor said, in a scoffing, dismissive tone, "What about all those people out there who are going through Lent right now? Could there be anything more useless in proving to God that you are good enough by 'giving something up'? How could that possibly matter to God? He doesn't need your sacrifices. It doesn't help God if you decide not to eat candy for six weeks."

Yeah, I know. I was gobsmacked by this idiocy, too, particularly since so much was made in this church about how this pastor was a Bible scholar of insanely high merit. Spent hours in prayer every morning. Graduated from Bible college summa cum laude. Devoted huge amount of time to study of the Holy Word, blah blah blah.

How could you be so smart and miss something so fundamental to the Christian faith? I mean, even if you aren't a Catholic or one of the Protestant denominations that observe Lent, how could you miss this? I suppose if you were blindly determined to view the issue of whether or not God "needs" our sacrifices from the most superficial level, you could cobble together some sort of dubious argument to defend your toenails-deep position, but coming from a Bible scholar, this was an astounding pronouncement.

First of all, since God, as the Scripture tells us, famously owns the "cattle on a thousand hills," He strictly doesn't "need" much of anything from us of a material nature. And God is still going to be God whether or not I stop eating cookies for the forty days (excluding Sundays, which are always days of celebration) before Easter. One Do-Si-Do more or less is not going to shift Him off His throne.

But spiritually, that is another matter altogether. When Jesus made His ultimate sacrifice to save us from death, He did it voluntarily. He deliberately took on something that was going to extract a certain cost from Him, and that is exactly the example the faithful are meant to follow. We can offer sacrifices to God at any time of the year, of course, but the amazing thing about Lent is that we can all do it together, through Him, with Him and in Him.

There are probably some who would take great offense at my likening Jesus's death on the cross to giving up sweets, but I will tell you that the very act of voluntarily giving up any pleasure -- it doesn't have to be goodies; it could be just about any simple pleasure that a particular person deeply enjoys, and it doesn't have to be food-related -- is a small martyrdom, a giving of self in an effort of self-discipline that we don't often lend ourselves to.

And isn't self-discipline and self-denial one of the very hallmarks of our faith? Jesus says in Mark 8:34-37:

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes
to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For
whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my
sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain
the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his

This sums up the entire purpose of Lenten sacrifices: We take up our crosses. We learn to say YES to His will and NO to ours. We give our lives to Him in a series of gestures over the years that seem so small if you look at them with a cynical eye that tells you that God doesn't give a hoot if you decide not to watch basketball during March Madness.

Can we be saved without making these sacrifices? Well, sure. But without the sacrifices deliberately chosen to mortify our selfish flesh, our relationship with our Savior is going to be so much less than it could be. If all you ever recognize in Jesus is Easter Sunday, you're missing something elemental to who He is to you and for you. It's only in accepting the spiritual and physical realities of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday that you can hope to have any depth at all. I can't tell you how much more right it feels to celebrate Easter after forty days of sacrifice and the challenges of those three somber days.

The sacrifices of Lent, combined with the other two strictures of prayer and almsgiving, should help move us to a closer relationship with our Lord. We're meant to carry on that spirit of self-discipline and self-denial into the rest of the year with us, with the result being that every Lent we experience should be a more profound time of spiritual growth, a yearly evaluation of where we stand with Him. Because one of the great spiritual truths that I did learn at that charismatic evangelical church is this: If you're not moving forward on the upward, rocky path of Christian life, you're moving backward. There's no such thing as standing still.

So. What can Lent do for you? Give up something you really enjoy -- REALLY ENJOY, not just something you feel so-so about -- and learn about simple self-denial. I guarantee that if you do that, you'll find yourself being tested by your own selfish desires almost immediately: in our home, candy, Ho-Ho's, Zingers and maybe even those nasty fruit roll-up things have never looked so scrumptious. My husband gave up all sweets for the first time this year and miserably told me yesterday evening, "The world is FULL OF COOKIES and we've only been doing this for TWO DAYS."

Combine that self-denial with some extra prayer: If you already set aside a certain amount of time for daily devotions, set aside an extra fifteen minutes. If you already read one chapter of the Bible every day, read two chapters. If you gave up a certain television show, spend the time that that show airs in reading your Bible or praying or both. If you've never prayed a daily rosary, start now. Your efforts at self-denial will somehow meld together with your efforts to draw nearer to Him in prayer and you will be surprised at how your heart will be drawn into His.

Add to that some almsgiving: Put an extra amount of money in the offering plate. Combine almsgiving with sacrifice by giving to your church the money that you ordinarily spend on fancy coffees during the week. When you're doing the weekly grocery shopping, pick up a few extra items -- a box of this, a can of that, a jar of something else -- and store them in a box until Lent ends, and then donate them to a soup kitchen or a food pantry. You'll be surprised at how much food that turns out to be.

Do all these things realizing that God always meets us MORE than halfway. In the fourth chapter of James' letter, he tells us one of the greatest truths a person can ever experience: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

He will. No matter how silly the whole process may seem to others, it means a lot to Him.

Patrick Madrid has a blog here on Blogger!

Patrick Madrid is one of my favorite Catholic apologists, the editor of the Surprised by Truth series which was so inspirational in giving me a jumping-off point for further study as I read my way into the Catholic Church. Until I read those books (and got to know a few Catholics, incidentally), I didn't know that I was contemplating doing something that thousands -- millions -- of people are doing every year and that for every disgruntled, disaffected Catholic who is tired of being bossed, there is another individual who embraces the Church with joy unspeakable.

His blog can be found here on Blogger, with mine! Well, sort of. In proximity. Somewhat nearby-ish. My blog bows to his blog and stands up to give it a seat on a crowded crosstown bus.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

RECIPE: Pat & Angie's Queso con Carne

Pat and Angie often bring this queso dip to family gatherings: It is the most widely-requested food item that appears at such celebrations as birthday parties, Christmas Eve snack time and the occasional Mexican Feast. It is just sooooo gooood.

They generously shared the recipe with me recently, so I thought I'd share it with all of you. Serve it with warm, salty tortilla chips and a side of sliced jalapeño peppers.


2 # ground beef, browned, rinsed and drained*

2 packets Old El Paso Hot & Spicy Taco Seasoning Mix

1 box Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes

1 24-oz bottle Pace Medium Salsa

Mix browned, rinsed and drained ground beef in a skillet with the taco seasoning mix according to the directions on the packets. Allow to simmer on low heat for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, coat a slow-cooker's crock with non-stick spray; pour in salsa. Toss in the cubes of Velveeta on the salsa; add the simmered ground beef on top. Heat on LOW for approximately two hours, stir, and serve with warm tortilla chips.

*In my mind, it is absolutely imperative to rinse the ground beef very well with hot water and then drain off the water and grease together. Otherwise, you will end up with a queso dip that has a layer of unappetizing orange grease in it. Yuck.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fear and loathing at the public library

I went to the library last week to pick up another gargantuan stack of books to read and two very odd things happened while I was there.

1) Last summer, the library installed two confoundedly annoying U-Scan stations so that now, instead of being greeted at the check-out desk by a smiling library employee who passes the time of day with you while scanning and "de-sensitizing" your reading material, you now approach a computerized area that refuses to acknowledge your library card, stubbornly denies de-sensitization of your books so that the alarms will go off when you try to leave and generally makes your life just a little more difficult.

I almost always use the U-Scans when I go, even though I HATE THEM, because the people who borrow DVDs from the library have completely co-opted all human beings behind the desk for the purposes of checking out their eight million movies -- what do those people do with their time, other than watch movies? DVDs and videos can only be checked out for a week, and if you come up to the circulation desk with, say, fifteen movies, I have to wonder if you even have enough free time to sleep or eat a sandwich.

So, harboring bitterness in my heart, I took my ten books to the U-Scan and started TRYING to run them through. First, the computer wouldn't read my card. Then, it wouldn't acknowledge the UPC codes on my books. Then, it wouldn't de-sensitize the magnetic area on the spine. I wanted to hurl every book I had at that monitor screen, swearing vigorously under my breath because? It's rude to talk loudly at the library.

Finally, a woman behind the counter said to me, "Do you need some help?" She was wearing a severe dark business suit, different from the other employees, who generally favor a business-casual sort of look.

I smiled at her. "Oh, yes. I just can't get the hang of these things. They're kind of a pain." [NOTE: I have said the same thing to other library employees since the U-Scans were installed and have been met with fervent agreement.)

"Only for you," Ms. Business Suit said.

I eyed her for a momen and then did something I usually don't do: I sassed her. I drew myself up to my full height, tossed my head and said with a chilly inflection, "Perhaps I shouldn't have pursued that Bachelor's degree in English literature. Maybe I would have been better off majoring in library book scanning." *

She had the grace to look discomfited, as if suddenly realizing that insulting library patrons was not in the best interest of its employees. "That came out wrong," she amended. She was trying to scan my card and the bar codes of my books and was having about as much luck as I'd had, which just GOES TO PROVE, doesn't it?

Between the two of us big dummies, me with the university degree in English literature and her with the university degree in library science, finally got all my books properly checked out. I bagged them and sailed out the door with the bulky grace of the Queen Mary headed out to sea, my nose in the air.

Unfortunately, my nose was at such a tilt, when I pressed the unlock button on my key fob, I heard the van's doors unlock, but I didn't actually see them. But I was right there in the front row, so it really didn't matter, or so I thought. I slid open the rear driver's side door, put in my heavy bag of books, slammed the door shut and then got in the driver's seat.

I was still feeling a little testy, so I was only irked further when my key wouldn't work in the ignition. "!" I fumed. I took my keys out of the ignition, suddenly realizing that I was probably using the Blazer's key, but when I jerked them out of the ignition, I dropped them on the floor, right on top of my Bon Jovi CD. "But I don't have a Bon Jovi CD," I said to myself, puzzled, picking up my keys.

Then I looked around the van, which was exactly the same as it always was, except for the fact that it had grown a very nice, highly-polished wood grain dashboard while I was gone. "Gosh, I've been driving this van for eight years and I never noticed that wood grain dash before," I marveled. It looked so nice. As I was sitting there admiring it, I also noticed that instead of a blue bead rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror, the rosary was white and silver. Hmmm...

You're probably wondering why I didn't figure this out sooner, aren't you? Somewhere back around the time of the Bon Jovi CD that magically appeared on my floor?

"OH! MY! GOSSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!!" I shrieked, grabbing my purse and launching myself outside That Other Person's van before he or she came back out and saw me loitering in the front seat, eyeballing their woody dash. You know how it is when you do something stupid in public, though: You feel that every eye in the tri-county area is firmly fixed on you and your flaming face, or at least that's how I feel, although certain people in my family have taken pains to assure me that no one really cares what I'm doing at any given time, seeing as how the axis on the earth doesn't run through the middle of my head. I hastily retrieved my books from the back seat and carried them two vehicle over to Anne, who was sitting there with a broad smile on her grill.

"I meant to do that," I assured her, sinking into my accustomed seat and noting the non-wooden dash and the Story of Mendelssohn CD on the floor. After that, I just couldn't get out of there, like, fast enough. That was PLENTY of humiliation for one day.

*A week later, I took this incident to confession and never mind all that happened, just let it be known that I often fight the sin of pridefulness and I did my penance accordingly. Arrrgh....

Poor little lintless things

I was out the door at 9:30 this morning to run a bunch of critical errands -- bank, post office, gas station, grocery, etc. -- and was confronted with what looked to be about a quarter inch of frost all over the van's windows. I turned it on to warm up, with the front and rear defrosters blazing away and got smartly down to business with the scraper and brush.

While I was scratching away at the glass, I stopped and listened to a familiar yet still unexpected sound. Bird song! It sounded so sweet, coming from everywhere around me, peeping, cheeping, chirping and tweeting. I know much of it must be coming from the robins I've been seeing about the place: on a bare branch rocking in a chilly breeze, flying with a wisp of something-or-other in a beak for purposes of nest construction, strutting in their cheeky fashion on the grass while hoping to find wormsicles in the yard. Spring IS coming, it really is!

But gosh, those poor little birds. Surely they couldn't have thought that spring was actually here yet, in this benighted place where it is not unknown for us to have a brief, dramatic snowfall in the first week of April. I've been thinking of laying out the dryer lint for them, in the hopes that they can make their new nests cozy and warm.

My husband thinks I've lost my mind and I suspect him of sneaking out to the dryer when I'm not looking and gathering up the lint before I have a chance to get to it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chinese pug butterball puppies

I found this video at and just COULD NOT RESIST the ineffable fatness of these two pug puppies. They are so adorable wandering around in the great, unexplored wilderness of their mom's living room. Oooh, look! A coffee table!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ouch [grumble, grumble...]

You know how every once in a while -- or more often than you ever dreamed, if you have two dogs -- you have to put that wand attachment on the sweeper hose, only the wand isn't magic, so you have to do all the work yourself? And you know how you have to use it along all the baseboards in the house to remove dust and bits of pet fluff so that your mother won't start crying that she doesn't know where she went wrong because she didn't raise you in a barn, whenever she comes to visit?

Well, today, I got my housecleaning freak on and went all over the downstairs with my non-magic wand, all hunched over and dragging the sweeper along, bumpity-bump behind me and now my back hurts as if I'd just carried Arnold Schwartzenegger around like a great big papoose all afternoon and all I have to say is that there is perfect sense in the slogan on a bumper sticker I read the other day:


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bad Catholics

One of the hardest things I have to explain about our Catholic faith to my children is not the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the infallibility of the Pope -- they understood those things with the childlike faith Jesus would like all of us to have, along with a healthy dose of realizing that in the case of the Real Presence, we have no business telling God what He can or cannot do and if He says "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink," (John 6:47-71) we need to just accept the fact that He knows what he's doing and move on; and in the second case, that the Pope is only infallible when teaching about matters of faith or morals, not in predicting the Powerball jackpot numbers or the local weather forecast in Vatican City.

The hardest thing I have to explain to Meelyn and Aisling is about Bad Catholics.

Bad Catholics seem to abound these days, with the most visible among them being the ones involved in politics. Oh, it would be lovely if every Catholic politician was a Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania. I've been very thankful that five of the nine United States Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and seem to be reliably conservative so that they don't shame the rest of us with their freakish pronouncements. Since the most prominent Bad Catholics today are nearly all Democrats (and that should tell you something, shouldn't it?), they're getting a lot of press.

As I write this article, Nancy Pelosi, one of the Baddest Catholics out there, has just met with the Pope -- apparently, she didn't burst into flame, so I'm assuming it took place somewehere removed from the Blessed Sacrament -- in a fifteen-minute meeting in which I hope he roundly excoriated her for her Bad Catholic hijinks, which include her ongoing support of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and her more recent idiocy in which she said that monies artificial birth control should be included in Barack Obama's stimulus plan because we all know that babies grow up to be children and children are a severe drain on the nation's health care and educational resources. Thank goodness that got shot down, with even Barack himself demurring.

How do you explain things like this to teenage kids? How do you explain that one of the most powerful people in the country, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is a Bad Catholic and that, in spite of her fame (notoriety?) and position, she should be completely dismissed as a role model and I don't care how far she's "advanced the interests of women" in our country because if you can't even get it right with your own religion that you claim to be so devoted to, how could you possibly be expected to get it right anywhere else?

When it comes to explaining things like this, there are some -- and they usually seem to be liberals -- who like to triumphantly fling around the only Bible verse they apparently know, which is Matthew 7:1-5:

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be
judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to
you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not
perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let
me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see
clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."

But really, as you read this, the only way you could ever conclude that Jesus doesn't want us to judge anyone or anything is if you purposely ignored the many other verses in the Bible that support the idea of judging people and situations. For instance, just a little bit farther on in that very same chapter, Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says this:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but
underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people
pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree
bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot
bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does
not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their
fruits you will know them."

Isn't He telling us there to judge? How else will we know false prophets if we don't weigh the evidence of their words and decide whether the fruit they're producing is good or bad?

How will we know the good politicians? The good pastors? Potential spouses? How will we know anything at all if we don't exercise some judgment? Are we meant to just blunder stupidly through life, accepting at face value everything that everyone tells us?

Keeping this in mind, I think it's only prudent to point out to impressionable teenagers that not every Catholic is worthy of the name; that some aren't religious people at all, but call themselves "Catholic" because Catholicism is part of the ethnic culture in which they were raised, and really has nothing to do with the dogma and doctrines of our faith, or even anything as simple as attending Mass on Sundays, which is not optional.

I think the key here might be in knowing beyond a doubt that there are some people who would consider me and my husband bad Catholics: we drink beer; I wear pants; we might say naughty words when we stub our toes, depending upon the level of pain we're experiencing. We have to remember to be humble in our judgment and not feel that we have achieved perfection of any sort.

But back to the Bad Catholics, the ones who veer so far from Catholic teaching that they bring scandal to their fellow members of the Body of Christ. We have to teach our children to make sound judgments on their characters. And above all, we must make sure our children know that the reception of Holy Communion when in violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic faith is a grave sin.

There was a time when I would have confidently stated that you only had to pay attention to whether the person in question was a Republican or a Democrat, but then I grew up. It would be nice to tidy everyone away so neatly into their separate boxes, but then where in the world would you put Rudy Giuliani? When the campaigning for the nomination for the Republican presidential candidate was still underway, I shook my head every time someone asked me if I would vote for Giuliani if he got the nomination. There is no way I could do that, I told people. I would be a complete hypocrite. If I refused to vote for Democrat Catholic John Kerry, an supporter of a woman's right to choose to kill her unborn baby, how in the world could I vote for Republican Catholic Rudolph Giuliani, also a believer in that very same issue?

People pointed out that Rudy Giuliani was a strong and fabulous leader in the aftermath of 9-11, going to something like three hundred different funeral Masses for fallen firefighters and police officers. I commend him for that, I truly do. That must have been emotionally and physically exhausting, especially considering all the other things he was doing other than going to all those different parishes, each with its own set of grieving families to meet. But I can't get past his stance on abortion, and no good Catholic should.

Thankfully, we were all spared having to deal with that problem.

Vice President Joe Biden is another Catholic supporter of abortion rights, as are former senator Tom Daschle, Senator Edward Kennedy and a bevy of others, most of whom have attempted to defend the indefensible by spouting some kind of nonsense that proposes that while they, themselves, would not get an abortion or help someone procure one, they simply can't deny that right to other people and impose their religious values on someone else.

Why not?

To me, those politicans seem to be saying that they purposely raised money for a campaign, spent unbelieveable amounts of that money plus their own personal time on the trail in the hopes of getting elected, and then got elected for the sole purpose of....representing people with whom they are in violent disagreement on what, to them, is a basic human rights issue?

Does that make sense?

I could also argue that people who say that they can't impose their religion on others and that their faith is a personal matter that has nothing to do with their professional lives are the kind of people who tend to show up when the poinsettias are banked around the altar at Christmas and the lilies make their appearance at Easter. To folks who are truly religious -- in the sense of having a personal, daily relationship with Jesus Christ that goes beyond pew-warming -- that religion is a fundamental part of who they are, and they could no more separate that personal part of their lives from the professional side any more than they could decide to use their lungs only on Sunday mornings from 9:00 'til 10:15. It just couldn't be done.

Mentioning Sunday mornings brings me to another area where Bad Catholics can be observed, and that is vested and standing at the altar. It shouldn't be a shock to any thinking person that there could actually be bad priests or bishops, but hello? Consider the Last Supper. All those disciples who attended that Passover meal were all about lovin' the Lord, but where were they later on that evening?

One completely betrayed Him.

One denied Him, not just once, but three times.

Ten fled and hid in fear of their lives.

One stayed with Him until the end.

Those aren't real inspiring odds, my friends. And when you think that those were the men who knew Jesus in person, who lived and walked and worked with Him every day for three years, why would we ever expect perfection in our leaders, who are descended from those same twelve men in apostolic succession?

So how do you know a bad priest or bishop? You can look right back to the seventh chapter of Matthew's gospel to know that: You know them by their fruit.

There is a priest here in our area who has just taken over a second parish due to the retirement of that parish's priest. Ever since Priest #1 has taken over, attendance has fallen off and the offerings are down so far, the parish is having difficulty paying the staff's salaries and even in keeping up with the utility bills.

You might wonder if all this is just because Priest #2 was such a beloved shepherd of his flock (which he was) and that people have just moved on to other parishes -- I think there must be at least twelve within a half hour's drive -- to find a new parish, but that kinds of begs the question Why not just stay here and learn to love Priest #1?

The reason why is because they already know Priest #1. Our city is not that large, and when there are two big Catholic parishes to choose from, it seems to fall that more liberal people go to Priest #1's church and the more conservative, orthodox people go to Priest #2's. Now that Priest #1 is the one-and-only, people are fleeing as if from the plague, which it is.

My family attended the parish where Priest #1 recently took over (not our home parish, but one that is close to our house) around Epiphany and my husband and I nearly came unglued when this priest casually said during his homily, "We don't know if Jesus was really born in Bethlehem or not. Some people feel that Matthew just wrote that because he wanted to make sure that Jesus' story matched up with all the prophecies from the Old Testament."


I sat bolt upright and looked at my husband, who looked back at me with his jaw clenched. I whispered incredulously, "Is that PRIEST casting doubts on the inerrancy of Holy Scripture??!!" My husband nodded his head three times, his ears turning red. I looked over at Meelyn and Aisling and said firmly, sotto voce, "DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYTHING THIS MAN SAYS." They nodded solemnly and later on we talked it all over and agreed that there was a decided necessity to pray for Father, who is so busily teaching people to doubt the divine inspiration of the Bible. (For information on what the Catholic Church does believe about divine inspiration, you can go to the Vatican website and search for Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (dealing with the study of Sacred Scripture), Pope Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (dealing with the promotion of biblical studies); Dei Verbum, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 74-141. Don't worry, all this stuff is in English.)

A few weeks later, my husband was attending the Vigil Mass at that same parish and Priest #1's homily was so outrageous that my husband stood to his feet and walked out of the church, right down the center aisle. Priest #1 has been judged by his fruits and it is pretty obvious -- just as obvious as the Barack Obama bumper sticker on the back of his car -- that his fruit is bitter and withered and unworthy for consumption. No wonder people are leaving.

My husband and I were received into the Church during its biggest scandal of the century, that of the homosexual priests and their repellent and abusive relationships with teenage boys. In spite of some new and gloating story appearing in the press nearly every day, we went on our way undeterred. "How can you even think of joing THAT CHURCH?" several people asked us along our journey.

The answer was very simple: We weren't joining THAT CHURCH because of anything that people did. We didn't even know any Catholics at the beginning of our conversion; there was not one single person in the world we could point to and say, "We want to be Catholics because of him/her." In our conversion, which is a fairly dramatic story, our sole focus was on Jesus and what He wanted of us, where He wanted to take us and the renewal of hope He had in store for us.

Like many other American Christians, we learned a long time ago that putting your faith in any person other than the Savior is a big mistake. Consider Jim and Tammy Bakker duping their followers out of millions; Jimmy Swaggart and his frolicking with prostitutes; Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson and their mad pronouncements; even lesser media-blitzed scandals like Larry and Melva Lea's now-defunct ministry. A single glance at any of those people ought to be a good warning to never to put your faith in people, because sometimes, people really suck.

We became Catholics because of a strong conviction, both spiritual and historical, that the Catholic Church was the one founded by Jesus Christ Himself, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, watched over with loving care by the Heavenly Father. Not because we liked the Pope, although we did. Not because we supported the good priests who were so embattled in that scandal (the priest at our own parish church was refused service in a restaurant because he went in for dinner with his parents while dressed in his clericals), although we did. We didn't join because of strong youth programs or brand-new facilities.

We joined because of Jesus, in hope that He, with His daily guidance, could show us how to be the best Catholics we are capable of being as we climb the steep and narrow path of salvation.

So, Bad Catholics? They're out there. We have to watch out for them. We have to look at the fruit they're bearing and decide if they're worthy of our time and attention, or if they're going to draw us farther away from the faith that has set us free. We have to judge. We have to teach our kids, and above all, we have to teach it to ourselves and form our consciences according to the tenets of our faith, so that we'll know when the sacred is being violated by human pride, disdain and sophistry. Otherwise, we may well be promoting just one more generation of Bad Catholics.

All in good fun

Several of you readers anxiously emailed me to make sure that my brother, Pat, and I weren't developing some awful family rift that would result in cold glares over the Thanksgiving turkey and an inability for me to be able to see my nephews, Kieren and Dayden, and my niece, Kiersi, as much as I'd like.

I thought those emails were very sweet and I want to put your minds at rest: Everything I wrote about Pat, Angie and my husband calling me a stalker was all just teasing, all in good fun. Our family relationships, including Nanny and Poppy, involve a lot of good-natured bantering that has absolutely no malice involved, so set your minds at rest. I still don't see the kids as much as I'd like, because truth be told, I'd be glad to see them every day, but I wouldn't mind seeing Pat and Angie every day either, so it's all good.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I am NOT a stalker

Okay, here's the thing I did the other day that had my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law zinging all over me on Friday night, throwing around words like "stalker" and "possible molester" and "too frigging nice." They are a bunch of humorless bullies who obviously have no joy in their shriveled up, stone cold hearts while I am a glorious glowing goddess of gracious and generous goodwill to all and every time I burp, little pink hearts come out of my mouth and fly into the air like soap bubbles.

Through the generosity of Carol, WHO IS MY NICEST RELATIVE, Meelyn, Aisling, my husband and I were able to go out to dinner the other night. We elected to go to Golden Corral, which is one of my guiltiest pleasures: guilty, because it really just couldn't be much tackier, with its plastic plants and plastic plates and enormous buffet which is a monument to American gluttony, but a pleasure because 1) it is not ruinously expensive for a family of four to eat there; and 2) the food is amazingly good. Seriously. I mean, it's good if you like down home comfort food. You are not going to find coq au vin or any of that stuff the girls and I made last summer for Whisk Wednesdays out of the Le Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook. But if you like a salad with lots of different toppings to choose from, and fried shrimp and pork loin and mashed potatoes and cabbage au gratin and buttery corn and warm dinner rolls and bread pudding and Boston cream pie and...and....and....

Well, if you like all those things, you can find them at Golden Corral. I shut my eyes to the tawdry decor and wield a bottle of Heinz 57 (which I would eat on birthday cake) like a pro.

A couple of tables away, there were a husband and wife and their two young kids, who were absolutely adorable. The kids looked to be about seven (boy) and five years old (girl), and they were well behaved and cheerful and the whole family just warmed my loving heart. The little girl was particularly cute and had a husky belly laugh that rang out several times, making all of us at my table smile. The four of us at our table were having a very nice meal and I was feeling so very fond of Carol for surprising us with the money for a nice treat, so there was just a spirit of magnanimity in the air.

When we got up to leave, that family was leaving too. I put on my coat and picked up my purse and, as I walked past that little group on my way to the door, I said to the parents, "Your children are absolutely adorable."

They both smiled and said thank you and I walked on and THAT WAS IT. I did not engage them in conversation. I did not interrupt their meal. I did not grab their daughter, tuck her under my arm like a football, and sprint for the exit. I did not lean in and whisper "I see dead people" or "I know what you did last summer" or anything like that.

I complimented their children and WALKED ON.

So why my husband felt it was necessary to throw me under the bus and tell Pat and Angie that I had practically grabbed that woman's face in my two hands and squished it until she looked like a salmon and breathed my blue cheese dressing breath into her nostrils and demanded that she empty her wallet of all pictures of her offspring so that I could take them home and pin them up on the wall behind the shrine to my friend, Satan, I don't know. But I do know that I indignantly called him a twerp and maybe a few other things that I can't repeat on a family blog.

Pat and Angie were all, like, "Eeewww, you're so weird. Why do you talk to strangers? Why do you talk at all? Why can't you be more like us and be all reserved and quiet and just mind your own beeswax when you're out in public?"

I swear they acted like I'd just shown my boobs to some guy with a camera phone in a wild Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.

Hurt, I said, "I am a friendly person and I like to take the chance to spread a little LOVE in this bitter world."

Pat snorted. "No, it's more like you want to get involved in other people's lives because you're all, like, bossy."

I raised my eyebrows. "And you aren't?"

"I am bossy at work because I am the boss," he said with dignity.

"Eye em bossee at wurrrk becuz eye em the boss," I mocked him in a high-pitched voice.

"Oh, that is very mature." The kids all snickered.

"Ohh, that eez very maaaachurrrrr!"

"Okay, you two," Angie said, breaking up what was looking to be a very good slanging match. Pat and I retreated to our corners, disappointed, but my husband just hadn't yet had enough. He's kind of like Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings, that spooky dude who tried to cause trouble between King Theoden and his niece and nephew, Heowyn and Eomer. I have watched those movies many times, so just shut up.

"She does that everywhere we go," he said. Angie and Pat both looked at me again and I sensed that I was losing Angie to the dark side.

"Everywhere?" she asked.

"Everywhere," my husband affirmed.

"You are kind of a stalker," she told me with a little giggle.

"People are probably snapping pictures with the cell phone cameras and posting them all over the internet and in post offices throughout the tri-county area: 'Beware this excessively cheery woman who compliments your kids!'" Pat said, pantomiming the actions of someone furtively snapping my photograph and then pinning up a poster.

"I am a NICE PERSON," I said heatedly.

"Yeah, sure," said Pat. "All I'm sayin' is just don't be coming around my table and telling me my kids are cute."

"Gee, thanks, Dad," said Kieren.

I sighed. "I know he's your dad, but just try to ignore him."

"He doesn't make it easy."

I turned a baleful glare on my brother. "And yet he claims that I am the stalker."

"You are so a stalker," Pat said, putting on his coat. "And maybe a white slaver or something. Hey, by the way, thanks for taking care of the kids. 'Preciate it."

"Go with God," I said grumpily, walking them to the door, where I resisted the urgent desire to give him a kick in the butt as he left. And if that's not an example of how pure-hearted a Christian I am, then I'd like to know what is, after the grief they all put me through.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

We had a lovely time last night with the kids. Kiersi did fall asleep in the van as we drove the twenty minutes to pick up the boys from school - one moment, she was singing some song she learned at nursery school at the top of her lungs, the next minute she was completely silent as if she'd been unplugged.

"She seems a bit tired," I remarked, looking in the rear-view mirror at Kiersi's little head tipped backwards, her mouth open and her eyes squeezed shut so tightly, it gave the impression of giving great energy even to sleep.

We pulled up under the Meeting Tree at Kieren's school and he came loping out like a cool guy in a brown corduroy jacket. "Hey!" he said, getting into the van.

"How was your day?" I asked, backing out of the parking space.

"Oh, you know...." he said vaguely. "Just...."


"Yes, schoolish. Long week. Glad it's over."

Dayden's school is right next door, so we zoomed over there and Kieren went in to get him. Dayden came running out ahead, grasping a backpack in one hand and a bag of candy that looked like it weighed about two pounds. His hair was considerably shorter than when I'd seen him about two weeks ago; Pat warned me ahead of time that Dayden had decided the evening before to cut his own hair, starting with his bangs. Apparently, he cut them off right next to the hairline, which necessitated a panic-drive to a hair salon, where Dayden was moved to tears of regret over his illicit styling maneuvers and slumped into the shop with a hood pulled far over his head.

He didn't look as bad as I'd prepared myself for and he cheerfully hopped into the van and proceeded to torment Aisling, with whom he was sharing the rear seat of the van. Kieren, Meelyn and I chatted about the week as we drove.

Kiersi slept on.

The evening absolutely flew by. I'd prepared the marinara sauce and the Alfredo earlier in the day; I'd also cooked the two different kinds of chicken. All I had to do for dinner, therefore, was bake the bread and the brownies and cook the pasta (I chose farfalle because it is so cute.) The teens and I spent a lot of time playing cards and Daydie got on the computer and visited Webkinz World, plus went to his second grade class's website and played educational math and language games, which made me very proud of him.

Kieren got a valentine from a girl who rides his bus -- just a friend, he says, although as handsome as he is, I'm inclined to believe that the young lady in question might see things a bit differently. The girls and I asked him what he did when she gave him the card and he said he opened it, read it, said, "That's a really nice card" and then threw it in the trash as soon as she was out of sight. Meelyn and Aisling ragged him about that until he said with dignity that Valentine's card are wasted on the male of the species, which I, from experience, agree with.

When I was in the eighth grade, I got a necklace as a Valentine's gift from my boyfriend Scott. It was an oval of polished onyx with a teeny-tiny diamond chip in it, on a gold chain. It was very pretty and I wore it under my blouse so that my parents wouldn't see it and kill me. It was a very romantic gift and a very innocent little relationship and possibly my one claim to fame during my school years because Scott was handsome and popular and on the junior varsity football team. We walked around the concourse of the high school field house during basketball games, holding hands. I was devastated when he moved to Beech Grove to live with his mom the next year.

The necklace's chain broke long ago and I gave the pendant to my husband to take to the pawn shop last year at this time when he worked at that other place, which we affectionately refer to as "Hell On Earth" and had no money at all.

Pat and Angie showed up shortly after ten, smiling, so their dinner was a success, I'm thinking. We all gathered Kiersi's stuff from every corner of the house. They stayed and talked for awhile, most of it riffing on me for something NICE I'd done the day before, which I may devote to another post as soon as I dry my sad tears at being so MISUNDERSTOOD.

Here's last year's Valentine's Day post, Love over lo mein, involving Chinese mustard and the family at the next table, who were both tall and germophobic. In separate incidents, just in case you were wondering.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Update from Kiersi's World

The four of us -- Meelyn, Aisling, Kiersi and I -- went out to the grocery to buy the stuff for tonight's dinner (plus a little Valentine's gift for my husband, sshhhh!), which is going to be a favorite of Kieren's and Daydie's: marinated chicken cooked in strips on the stove top, served with Alfredo sauce on farfalle pasta, plus chicken parmesan for my husband, fresh-baked bread and frosted brownies. This is my Valentine's Day present to my family and I'm so glad I'm not superstitious so that the fact that I'm cooking all of this on Friday the 13th won't make me worry that I'm going to scorch the Alfredo and serve the chicken and the bread raw and gummy.

It's a sunny day outside and every time the sun shone in Kiersi's eyes, she would growl "Stoppit! Go 'way!!" fiercely and put her hand up to shade her face. "There!" she said triumphantly as I swung the van into a parking place. "I runned away from it!"

She willingly allowed her small self to be placed in the seat of the shopping cart, and from that perch, she directed our shopping. She indicated a desire for me to purchase several dozen different cakes and cupcakes decorated garishly for Valentine's Day (denied), a packet of string cheese (approved), some cartons of yogurt (denied, because we already have some at home), a box of Barbie Princess Valentine cards (approved) and a stick of Secret deodorant (denied.)

Kiersi indicated her enthusiastic approval of:

1) candy, all kinds

2) fried chicken

3) Meelyn pushing the cart, and

4) chocolate milk

She let us know in a really loud voice her distaste for Lunchables: "I HAAAAAATE THAT!" and, to my surprise, macaroni and cheese.

Right now, she's sitting at the dining room table between me and Meelyn, coloring with markers. Although she has talked brightly and cheerfully all day, her sentences seem to be coming more slowly. I have a feeling she's going to visit our old friends Wynken, Blynken and Nod when we get in the van half an hour from now to go pick up the boys.

Cutest and funniest dolls, like, EVER

I happened to stumble across the website the other day, and I think I have to have one, although I would prefer to have one in keychain form instead of an actual big dolly. They are so fun and slightly subversive.

I like Babo, Red Ox and Big Toe the best. How 'bout you?

Kiersi all aglow

Today, Meelyn and Aisling and I are delighted to be taking care of Kiersi for the day. Pat dropped her off at 8:00 and we're going to enjoy the day with her and then go pick up Dayden and Kieren at school this afternoon. They're all going to stay this evening while Pat and Angie go out for a Valentine's dinner.

I'd forgotten how fun it is to have a just-turned-three around the house. Kiersi is very entertaining, with her big blue eyes shining as she smiles mischievously from under her bangs. It's only 9:00 and she's already made us laugh about a hundred times for doing things like:

1. Chasing Hershey around and around the dining room table after announcing determinedly, "I'm gonna hug him's head." (Hershey nicely allowed about seven thousand hugs and kisses, and then declined to be hugged anymore. Right now, hims....I mean, peering out from under the dining room table, panting in a jolly fashion and keeping a wary eye out for sneaky huggers who are small enough to get under the table with him.)

2. Demonstrating how far she can stick out her tongue. (A little spit dribbled on her shirt, which made her laugh really hard, which made more spit come out, which made me glad she has an extra shirt in her bag.)

3. Coming up to me and saying in a confiding manner, "Aunt Sheldy, I hafta go poopy" and then announcing, after a few minutes on the potty, "I done now! Wipe my bottom! Look at my big poop!" (I have to say, it was an admirable output for one so small.)

4. Removing her shoes and socks and smelling her socks, remarking off-handedly, "Ffffssshhhewww! My feets tink!" (I'm not one to gossip, but I think she must have gotten that from her dad.)


Thursday, February 12, 2009

READER ALERT: The Red Envelope Project

After receiving the following as an email from fellow homeschoolers and from people in my church, I thought I'd copy it here, taken from The Red Envelope

The Story...
Below is a letter that has been circulating with a great idea. The message began in silent prayer from a faithful follower

Dear Friends and Intercessors:

This afternoon I was praying about a number of things, and my mind began to wander. I was deeply distressed at the symbolic actions that President Obama took as he began his presidency. Namely, that he signed executive orders releasing funds to pay for abortions, permission to fund human stem cell research, and federal funding for contraception. I have been involved in the pro-life movement for nearly 20 years, and it pained my heart to see a man and a political party committed to the shedding of innocent blood. This man, and this party lead our country, but they do not represent me or the 54% of Americans who believe that abortion is wrong and should no longer be legal.

As I was praying, I believe that God gave me an interesting idea. Out in the garage I have a box of red envelopes. Like the powerful image of the red LIFE tape, an empty red envelope will send a message to Barack Obama that there is moral outrage in this country over this issue. It will be quiet, but clear.

Here is what I would like you to do:

Get a red envelope. You can buy them at Kinko's, or at party supply stores. On the front, address it to:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington , D.C. 20500

On the back, write the following message.

This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.

Put it in the mail, and send it. Then send this website to
every one of your friends who you think would send one too. I wish we could send 50 million red envelopes, one for every child who died before having a a chance to live. Maybe it will change the heart of the president.


Let's Send 50 Million red envelopes (and Counting)
to the President!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's that tax refund time of year again....

...and today, I made an appointment to have the piano tuned. I don't think it's been tuned for oh, maybe about seven years. And you know what? You can TELL. It's gotten to the point where I'm starting to cringe at some of the chords Aisling hits when she sits down to play and my husband remarked the other night that it sounded so whacked out, it made his teeth itch.

The piano tuner, who is Aisling's piano teacher's son (that sounds like another French 2 exercise, doesn't it?), only charges $80, but he told us he might have to come twice in order to bring it into its full sound. This makes me feel like throwing my hands helplessly into the air -- money seems to leak out of this house like a sieve -- but it is a very nice piano with a beautiful tone. It's the piano my grandparents bought for my parents when I started piano lessons at age six, so I am extremely emotionally attached to it and I don't want to see it go downhill. Sometimes there's nothing for it but to just write the checks.

The piano tuner is coming one week from today, so I am excited in spite of the money. I look forward to hearing Aisling play on an instrument that sounds full and rich, that fills the entire house with music. That, to me, is the good life.

Sweeper maaaaaagic!!!!!!

You might have read here last week that my Panasonic sweeper, my companion of these last eight years, went to that Great Big Clean Carpet in the Sky last week, leaving me with nothing to combat the mounting piles of dog hair, food crumbs and those little scraps of paper that come out of spiral-bound notebooks, which are distributed with a merry hand all around my house like confetti.

My husband and I looked over our stock portfolio and the statement of our dividends and assessed the current value of our real estate holdings -- HAHAHAHAHA!! I had you there for a minute, didn't I? Because even if we had any of these things, they'd be pretty much valueless anyway, the point being that we don't have them in the first place and whew! I need an agent to sign me up for some kind of comedy act -- anyway, my husband and I looked over our checkbook and, after wiping away a few tears, decided that we had approximately $150 to allocate to the purchase of a new sweeper.

My requirements in a sweeper aren't all that demanding: I want it to have some little tools that make it easier to sweep along the baseboards and one of those little brushy things that picks dog hair up off the sofa. And I want it to have bags that I can purchase at someplace like Kroger, not some special bag manufactured in Greenland or similar that can only be obtained by writing a letter on parchment and sending it to the factory via carrier pidgeon and you might think I'm joking, but I once owned a sweeper that used bags that were MUCH more hard to come by than that. I also want the sweeper to suck, in the sweepery sense of the word.

I thought about going to the several discount chain department stores in town, but I balked at this because those three discount chains don't give a rodent's posterior about me and my needs for a good sweeper that will do its job and not drive me crazy by exerting only enough suction to pick up one dust molecule at a time or by suddenly letting go of its on-board tools so that they fall on my feet and make me cuss.

This thought was what led me and the girls to go visit a local Mom-and-Pop sweeper shop that claimed to be opened since 1963, although the man inside looked fairly well rested for one who had been at work so long. There were all kinds of sweepers in there, plus carpet cleaners and shop vacs, so it was kind of an interesting place.

Aisling immediately honed in on the Oreck and Dyson vacs and said, "Oooh! Let's get one of these! They're pretty!" She gave every indication of wanting to dump a little demo dish of cracker crumbs onto the floor and sweep them up, but I overrode her by elbowing my way past the expensive models and heading right for a cheery red Dirt Devil.

"This is more our style, I think," I said, and then my eye was caught by a group of refurbished sweepers standing humbly off to the side. All of a sudden, an idea, flaming as brightly as the noonday sun, was born inside my head.

I went over to the refurbished sweepers and said, "Are there any of these you'd particularly recommend?" I asked the man at the counter.

"Well, I rebuild all of them, clean them up, replace missing tools by ordering new ones from the manufacturer if the model's still being made," he said. "I guarantee all my work and automatically give customers a ninety day warranty, so really, it just depends which one you like best."

Meelyn indicated a hunter green Eureka with an ergonomic handle and a full array of helpful gadgets. "I like that one," she said.

I looked at the price tag: $40. "I like it too," I said. "I'll take it!"

The man looked very pleased. "Okay! Great!"

"And I also want one of those red Dirt Devils over there," I said, gesturing expansively at the display.

"Two?" said Meelyn, wrinkling her brow.

"Dos?" said Aisling, practicing her Spanish.

"Yes, two," I said firmly. "No more carrying the sweeper up and down the stairs. One for upstairs, one for downstairs."

"That idea is really bueno, mamacita!" Aisling Spanglished to me.

"Are you sure about this?" Meelyn asked.

"Remember that time when you dropped the old sweeper down the stairs and it sounded like your body had just hurtled down to the landing and it scared me so much I couldn't breathe for about two minutes and thought I was going to have to drink a medicinal wine cooler at ten o'clock in the morning?"

"Oh yeah," she said with a reminiscent grin. "You're such a silly mommy."

"Besides," I said, "if I buy both of them, I'm still going to be thirty dollars under my sweeper budget, so I'm pretty stoked."

So was the sweeper guy, and he gave us a Dirt Devil that was already assembled and threw in some free bags as a bonus.

We took them home and put them to use and I have to say, it is lovely having both upstairs and downstairs vacs, a very pleasant little luxury that has made life around here a little easier. I feel like an awesomely smart shopper and my husband was happy that I was both happy and under budget, so that is the end of my sweepy tale.

P.S. Wimzie still barks, howls and squeals like she's being killed every time a sweeper is turned on. I don't know what will happen to her if they're both on at the same time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Oy vey...what a day

As Mondays go, this is one that I would like to crumple up into a ball and throw right into an incinerator, if by "incinerator" you understand that I mean "hell's front door." Ugh, what a day.

First of all, the problem with the Blazer that we hoped was the battery but might be the alternator turned out to be the alternator. That's over $600 in car repairs in the last month.

Second of all, Aisling has cried four times today: once over algebra, once over piano music, once over something Meelyn said and once over the slowness of the computer.

Third of all, Meelyn did a biology experiment about enzymes involving Jell-O and fresh pineapple and left sticky puddles of lime gelatine and fruit juice over every available surface of the kitchen, possibly including the ceiling, although I don't have a ladder to climb up there and find out. There was also a saucepan, an uncanny amount of measuring cups, measuring spoons and mixing bowls, using up all the counter space and the last bit of my day's supply of patience.

Fourth on the list is the fact that we are having bean soup and corn bread for dinner, which everyone else in my family finds simply delicious and which I would rather eat pine cones gathered from the park down the street.

The fifth item is that school stretched out like something invented by Rip Van Winkle today and the girls didn't finish until somewhere around five-thirty. They did do some extra work to make up for going to our monthly Book-It lunch tomorrow, but five-thirty? That seems a little excessive, especially when you consider that Meelyn had an algebra test and a vocabulary test.

And finally, when I woke up this morning, it was still February. I'd been dreaming it was high summer, and I was getting everyone ready to go to the pool: Meelyn was making sandwiches, Aisling was putting water bottles in the cooler, Kieren was collecting towels and Dayden was putting on his floaty vest. Then I woke up and ewwwwww.

I'm so glad Book-It is tomorrow so that we can go and visit with our friends and spend the early part of the afternoon talking, eating and having some fun. It's kind of strange to feel that I need a day to rest and relax when 1) we've just come off the weekend; and 2) we've had only one day of school so far this week.


Edited to add: I just went to open the glass jar of Randall navy beans I was intending to make into soup for dinner -- the corn bread already in the oven -- and when I twisted the lid, they came open very easily with no popping noise. No vaccuum seal. My feeling is that I spent enough time with bologna and its derivatives over Christmas to want to risk a family-wide botulism spree, so now my husband is stopping on the way home from work to bring me another jar of Randall's. I wish I could get him to bring me a bottle of something, and I'm not talking about shampoo.

Funny girls

Yesterday afternoon, we all watched the movie Father of the Bride (the one with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton and two young actors playing the bride and groom who I have no clue who they are, as Aisling would say) and as always, it made my husband and me get all choked up at the end due to its shameless sentimentality and it made Meelyn and Aisling get stars in their eyes over the many possibilities of Weddings Yet to Come.

"I don't mind having a nice reception and all," said my husband, wiping his eyes on his arm, "but I don't think your mom and I are quite fixed to hire wedding coordinators and huge white marquees and feed two hundred guests steak and lobster and all that."

"Oh, we know," said Meelyn reassuringly. "I want a simple kind of wedding, I think."

"You're so lucky to be Catholic," I sniffled, blotting my eyes on the hem of my sleeve. "That way, you get a gorgeous wedding Mass as part of the deal."

"Yeah," said Meelyn with a faraway look in her eyes, "I'd rather have a simple wedding and go on a really awesome honeymoon."

"Yes!" said Aisling eagerly. "A really awesome honeymoon!"

I smiled. "I remember when your dad and I left on our honeymoon, I couldn't believe that we were just allowed to go off on a vacation together. It seemed so strange."

"Didn't you go to..." Meelyn began hesitantly.

"Indianapolis," I finished. "Yes, we went to Indianapolis on our honeymoon, and it was actually very, very nice."

"I think I'd like to go somewhere on a plane."

Feeling that I'd somehow let down the team, I said stoutly, "An glamorous location can be wonderful, but when you're newlyweds and so in love, all you can see is each other." Meelyn patted my hand.

"Glamorous, " mused Aisling romantically, lost in her own thoughts and only half-listening to the conversation. "I'd like to go somewhere that was fun and glamorous. I think I'd like to go to either Italy or to Hawaii," she told us. "Either one of those places, or maybe Kentucky."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Too funny

I'm not sure why, but this Hardee's commercial makes me laugh every time I see it. It doesn't play on TV anymore, but thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can watch it any time we want to. Which for me is, like, a lot.

Hardee's "Cow Shake"

Friday, February 6, 2009

He's got rhythm

Yesterday evening, Meelyn and I were sitting in front of the computer watching Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video on YouTube when we were surprised by the sight of my husband sliding into the doorway between living and dining rooms, à la Tom Cruise in Risky Business. He entered the picture dancing with great fluidity, his head and shoulders going one way, his hips another, fingers snapping.

You think you would know someone well after nearly eighteen years of marriage, but who was this man dancing before me? I felt like I'd woken from a long, dull dream and found myself married to Michael Flatley or similar. I knew my husband could dance, of course -- Pat and Angie had the most fun wedding reception ever and we danced it up that night, even though I was pregnant with Meelyn and had to move very carefully, holding myself like a too-full glass of water in case I should suddenly need to vomit on the polished floor, which is never a crowd-pleaser -- but I guess that has been, well, nearly sixteen years and I suppose I figured that he'd got a bit rusty.

But no, there he was, swiveling. "Bille Jean is not my luh-vah!" He swayed and clicked in time to the music. "She's just a girl who claims that IIIIIIIIIIIII am the one, but the kiiiiid is nooot my son, woooo!!!!"

Meelyn and I were all crunched up with laughter, gasping and wheezing as he rocked it out, and I was reminded again how much fun it is to be married to someone who can make you laugh after nearly two decades. Besides, I am always mesmerized by people who can dance since my own sense of rhythm is so tragically attenuated.

Like when he asked me if composer Robert Schumann was from Jamaica after I told him about a music appreciation program I was pursuing with the girls.

"Jamaica?" I asked, puzzled. "No, not from Jamaica. He was German. Why did you think he was Jamaican?"

"Because of his name," my husband said blandly. "You know. Schu-mon. Like, 'Let's pley a little ro-mon-tic museek, mon.'"

I couldn't help but laugh at that, especially when considering the mental image of Robert Schumann, who affected a strange, over-the-ear hairstyle with little wings out to the sides, banging away on some steel drums.

I love it that he makes me laugh.

Michael Jackson's classic video, "Billie Jean"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh my gosh.

We have to buy a new sweeper (I'm not laughing quite as loudly now, am I?) and it looks like either the battery -- fingers crossed! -- or the alternator -- boo, hiss! -- is going out on the Blazer.

Considering that we had the furnace guy here four times in the month of January, I think that's just about enough for right now, don't you?

Ohhhhhhh myyyyyyyyy gosh....

I am currently praying a novena (nine days of prayers) to Our Lady of Lourdes with a large group of friends. We are communicating via email as we all pray daily for a laundry list of general intentions, plus our own personal intentions, of course.

(Now listen here. I just have to say that, before any of you email me and tell me that Our Lady of Lourdes -- who is, of course, the Virgin Mary -- is dead and cannot hear our prayers, let me just point this scripture out to you and let's be done with it: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (John 11:25,26)

Well? Do you? 'Cause that's kind of an important point for Christians and Who Jesus is to us and who we are in Him.)

So today, one friend on the list whose husband has been out of work for many months emailed all of us and related, "Our prayers are being heard!" She went on to say that a possible job offer was looking more solid all the time, and it meant that they'd be able to stay in Indianapolis and she asked us to remember her family specifically as we prayed today.

I was very excited. I like this friend, Debbie, so much. I would absolutely hate to lose her and her family to some other state, where they'd not be able to appreciate her wild sense of humor, her energy and faith and her beautiful gang of kids the way we do here, I just know it. SHE MUST STAY HERE!

So I replied to the entire group and feverishly typed that the girls and I would say an extra novena prayer specifically for her family and then, in a moment of exuberance, I typed:

Our Lady of Lourdes, you go, girl!!!

Thank heaven -- THANK HEAVEN -- I caught myself and changed it quickly to "Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!" because I don't know. I mean, "You go, girl" doesn't seem quite seemish, does it? Maybe it sounds a little disrespectful or a bit frivolous to address the Mother of Our Savior in such a way?

I don't think that any of my friends are so humorless or dog-in-the-manger-ish that they would cut me off for a comment deemed to be impertinent. And honestly, I don't think that even Jesus and the Blessed Mother wouldn't misunderstand the exuberance I was feeling at Debbie's good news. But kind of like those awful t-shirts that read "Jesus is my Homeboy," it just doesn't seem....right.

One way I perceive Mary that seems completely right is this: Sometimes when I'm feeling sad or very tired or frustrated or scared, I picture her in my mind, coming toward me with a motherly smile, her arms held out to welcome me into her warm embrace. I go to her and wrap my arms around her waist and lay my head on her shoulder and she shushes me and pets my head and kind of rocks me back and forth. And then Jesus comes up and says to her, "Everything okay here?" and she says, "Everything's going to be just fine" and then He wraps His arms around us both -- group hug! -- and gives us a squeeze. "I love you both," He says tenderly and kind of smooths my hair and gives me a loving look and an encouraging smile and then goes off to tend to some other lamb who needs help.

That seems just exactly perfect to me.

Oh. My. Gossssshhhhhhh.

I woke up early this morning while it was still very dark and came downstairs, yawning, to turn up the thermostat and put the kettle on. I turned on the television so that I could listen to the morning news while checking my email and noted that a whole bunch of schools in the area were on a two-hour delay.

"?" I said to myself. I peeked out the front door's window as I turned off the porch light, noting that there was no new snow; grinning at the snow fort the neighbor boys across the street have built out of the heaps of snow the plows have pushed up against the curbs. Those two boys, brothers, look to be about fifteen and thirteen and are as good as a comedy show to watch when they're outdoors doing their boy things, especially if they have the idea that Meelyn and Aisling might be watching. They are nice kids and when we sent them cupcakes as a Halloween gift, the older boy brought back the platter I sent and gravely said, "Thank you for the cupcakes. They were really good."

Anyhoo, no snow. No sleet. No ice. I went around the downstairs, closing cabinet doors and shutting off the water faucets we'd left trickling last night, since both the downstairs bathroom sink and the kitchen sink are on outside walls and poured boiling water over the teabag in my big Starbucks mug.

Suddenly, I noticed I was kinda chilly, even though the furnace had obediently kicked on down in the basement. How cold is it outside? I wondered, and went to the computer to check the weather.

Now I know why there are so many schools on a two-hour delay. It's because the temperature currently stands at zeeeeerrrrooooooooo. Z - E - R - O. A big fat goose egg. And that little breeze that's stirring the tree tops? That's driving the temps down to MINUS FIFTEEN DEGREES.

I know there are some weirdos out there who love the winter weather and what's wrong with them, is what I'd like to know? Wimzie and Hershey sure don't think it's fun. My husband just let them out for their morning promenade and I've never known them to do their business quite this quickly: they were out there for approximately one minute and then came bolting back to the doorwith frantic alacrity. They didn't even pause to bark obnoxiously at the well-bundled-up lawyer who was trudging past on his way to court (if I were a lawyer, I would be driving my car those three freezing blocks.)

My husband said that Hershey, who didn't want to keep his feet planted on the snow long enough to pee, actually whined when he finally had to make himself stand still in order to go. Poor baby. I wonder if the girls could knit him some little boots on the smallest Knifty Knitter? Surely if you can make golf club covers, you could make a set of doggie boots.

I think I'll bookmark this post for myself so that I can check back on it in, say, July, when I'm complaining about how frikkin' HOT I am.

Ohhhh, I want to make a paper chain to count down how many days it is until the swim club opens....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Powerful video

This video, which was put together by, sends a really powerful pro-life message. I mean, really powerful. NBC rejected it as a Super Bowl ad, unfortunately, but it speaks strongly about human potential and the importance of recognizing the dignity of each individual.


Shhh, don't tell...

The motor just burned out on my eight year old Panasonic sweeper (right before I had the chance to sweep under the kitchen fridge, darnit), and I have a naughty desire to lock myself in the bathroom and turn on the tub faucet to mask the sound of my gleeful cackling.

Stop and stare

I didn't mention this the other day when I wrote about our Countdown to Spring pastel paper chain, but when I was at Hobby Lobby buying the paper for the chain, I also spent a couple of dollars buying some red, white and pink paper to make some Valentine hearts.

Ma was the person who taught me to cut Valentine hearts out of construction paper, and I can whip out a whole bunch of them in a matter of seconds, big, small, medium-sized, take yer pick. So I sat on the sofa on Sunday afternoon and cut out about a bajillion Valentiney hearts and handed them off to the girls with some Scotch tape and told them to go for it and decorate the big front window (Aisling), the glass in the front door and the upstairs bathroom window (Meelyn) and create some festive cheer. We live on a busy corner in our city's historic district and we all thought it would be uplifting, giving pedestrians, passengers and drivers something more pleasant to look at than all the giant heaps of dirty snow piled up everywhere.

My husband covered quite a few of our windows this winter with those sheets of clear plastic that are supposed to keep the heat IN and the cold air OUT -- I know, I thought it was an aesthetically unappealing idea, too, but as it turns out, it's not nearly as bad (read: unacceptably tacky) as you might have first thought -- so we couldn't go heart-wild and decorate every single one of our many large windows, but we felt that the few un-plasticked windows we had to work with created a happy effect.

We were confirmed in this thought just yesterday, when a school bus stopped at the stop light right in front of our house. Meelyn happened to have just gone out to get the mail, and she came in and said, "There are some little girls on that school bus looking out at our Valentine windows. They're smiling and pointing."

"Really?" I said, smiling myself. "That's very cute."

She peered out the front door's big window again and said, charmed, "Oh, look! That's so sweet! Now a whole bunch of kids are smoodging off their foggy windows with their coat sleeves and looking out!"

And indeed they were. I snuck a quick little peek myself before the school bus trundled on, and it was a great pleasure on a snowy, yucky winter's day to see all those bright little faces framed in the bus's windows.

It inspired us so much, I think we're going to do a show for St. Patrick's Day as well. although I have firmly resolved that nary a leprechaun shall appear on my house.

I am already practicing my cutting of this slightly more elaborate holiday decoration and am already contemplating the several different shades of green that will add interest and artistic depth to the display, 'cause we are all about the Art.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Snow foolin'

Today we had one to two inches of snow forecasted for our little cozy nook of Indiana, but somehow, somewhere, things got a little confused. I'm thinking that some emails and voicemails and maybe some faxes between Mother Nature and the National Weather Service got lost in transit, because our total snow accumulation was SIX more inches on top of the eight million we already have.

Kieren and Dayden got out of school early today and the salt trucks here in town were rumbling by at a brisk pace, trying to keep the ratio of messy roads to city traffic fairly even. My husband, in going out to the Blazer this morning, hit an icy patch covered by fluffy, innocent-looking snow and slid halfway underneath the vehicle, injuring his bottom and his pride.

The girls and I stayed completely inside today, grimly ripping one more pastel link off that countdown-to-spring paper chain draped over the china cabinet. I stood at the front window like Jane Eyre, a blanket thrown around my shoulders like a shawl, and watched a snow plow push an enormous pile of freshly-fallen snow onto the sidewalks my husband worked so hard on Sunday afternoon to clear.

And yet Kayte has had some robins in her trees! Poor little things. It occurs to me that I have tracked down the source of the problem, though: It's all Mother Nature's fault. She is not communicating well either with our feathered friends OR with the NWS. She's a cranky, irresponsible old bat, she is.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chain (of fools?)

Susie gave me the best idea the other day. It's something the girls and I have done before, but not since they were little bitty things, and I believe that one was a countdown to Christmas.

Susie said she was thinking about making a paper chain to count down the days to spring. I think she was just joking, but I immediately felt enthusiastic about such a cheerful endeavor, so I went to Hobby Lobby, where I spent a couple of dollars on pink, lavender, green, blue and yellow construction paper, which I formed into a chain with forty-nine links.

We draped it over the top of the china cabinet, where it keeps annoyingly falling to the floor. Some of the links kept coming un-stuck, too, so I had to get Ailsing after it with a stapler. It lends such a happy aspect to the room, I'm thinking of making paper chains to cover events for the entire year: forty purple links to count down the days of Lent, fifty pink and yellow links to count down the days of the Easter season; gold links to count down the days until my birthday. I'd like to have a beach towel the size of a twin bed sheet and a stack of construction paper. So that I can make some new paper chains.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Feet of clay

Oh, wow. In a blisteringly embarrassing example of how people need to remember that all pop culture icons are just as human as the rest of us and that we all put on our Speedos one leg at a time, photographs of Michael Phelps with his face stuck down in a bong roughly the size of a factory smokestack have been published all over the internet and all over the television news, both local and national. The date of the illicit and illegal bong hittage, which Phelps has admitted to, was about three months after his unprecedented eight-gold-medal win at the Olympics last summer.

After being heralded as a role model from sea to shining sea and an example to Our Youth of what sterling character, perseverance, toughness and a solid work ethic can do, Michael has some 'splaining to do. I wonder about his mother right now, what she's thinking, what she's doing. I know what I'd be thinking. And I know roughly what I would be doing, other than hiding from the neighbors. I'd be making a speech, oh yes I would. And it would start with these six words: How could you be so stupid?

The irony of this is that the girls and I saw a really interesting Above the Influence television ad titled "Achievements" the other day, enumerating all the great things that can happen to you when you smoke pot. It featured a bunch of kids announcing some of their proudest moments as pot smokers. It was funny in parts, serious in others.

One girl stated with modest pride, "I made straight D's," gesturing to her report card, which was stuck up on the refrigerator with a magnet.

A boy said, "I left my ex-girlfriend twenty-seven messages last night."

One boy said, "I ditch my friends and let them find their own way home," while another admitted, "I let people draw on me." That showed a stoner lying on a couch while his fellow partiers decorated his face with Sharpies. Which are, you know, indelible.

"I stole from my little sister," a different boy declared with a proud smile, and then a final girl added, "I made my mother cry."

So what could Michael Phelps add to this commercial? "I won eight gold medals swimming for the United States"? No, no, it doesn't quite fit, does it?

But I bet "I made my mother cry" sure does.

According to AP National writer Paul Newberry, Michael has stated that his behavior was "regrettable" and that it showed "bad judgment," which I don't think anyone will argue with. It's a shame that those medals got tarnished so quickly, because now every memory of his victorious wins in the water is going to have that image of him sucking in a lungful of weed superimposed over it. Life is very hard sometimes, and I have a feeling that Michael is just now finding out how difficult it can be.

For instance, I'm thinking about all those product endorsements Michael scored when he was America's Golden Boy, back all those, ohhhh, five months ago. How many of those companies are going to want their products represented by a person whose picture was plastered all over the internet doing something illegal? It was great going when we all took note of Michael standing poolside with his swimsuit and his cap and all his medals strewn around his neck; it seems somewhat different to see him with his mouth all up in that bong's business, sucking up some smoke.

You know why? It's because of that old adage: A picture is worth a thousand words. And so far, how many words has Michael used? You can click here to read his entire apology, which I clocked as sixty-one words -- and I even gave him two extras as freebies for use of the contractions I've and I'm. That's a lot less than a thousand words, and let's face it: The picture of Michael and the marijuana is a lot more powerful than the one of Michael and the medals.

It's not like he's the sort of athlete who has a salary to rely on, like a professional baseball, football or basketball player. All his money comes from those product endorsements. And I can't imagine that many -- or any -- of those companies are going to be all that anxious to have their products represented by him now.

Here's the News of the World (UK) article that broke the story: What a Dope

And here's the Above the Influence commercial I saw with the girls: Achievements

Super Bowl stupor

Super Bowl Sunday is always kind of a strange day. There's a holiday air about it all, but no fun presents or turkey dinner. The kind of food we do have -- pizza, queso dip and tortilla chips, cheeseball and crackers, M&Ms -- is the kind of food you eat a lot of quickly and then feel bloated and slightly bililous. I hear that some people eat veggies and fat-free yogurt dip on Super Bowl Sunday. I want to know who they are so that I can feed them a box of corn starch and then sit on 'em.

The commercials have not been all that entertaining, especially the one about the men getting hit in the head with bowling balls, electrocuted, etc. That one was a Pepsi Max ad, I was just informed. I'm so glad I'm a Coke drinker. Although I did laugh at the Dorito commercial about the "crystal ball," although now that I think about it, that one featured a man getting tagged in the goodies with a snow globe, so what do I know? I know that there have been too many car commercials, that's what I know.

Jennifer Hudson sang an absolutely wonderful and moving jazzy version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was just beautiful.

As for the game itself, my husband cherishes a bitter hatred for the Steelers. I'm not sure why this is. I just know that the very mention of their name brings a curl to his lip and a string of uncomplimentary adjectives that would make us all blush if I typed them.

We used to go to Super Bowl parties, back before the girls were born. Then we stopped for a few years while they were babies, finding it easier just to stay home than to lug two tiny little kids home in the cold. When they were both preschool aged, we did Super Bowl parties again for a couple of years, but soon after that, Meelyn started school and we had to be home early to get her to bed.

These days, we generally just stay at home together, unless we go to Nan and Pop's house. They invited us two years ago when the Colts played (and won), but last year, they were in Florida for the Super Bowl, although as I recall, the weather was too awful for us to have gone to their house anyway.

Years ago, I would have been glued to the television, what with Bruce Springsteen playing the half time show. I have seen Bruce Springsteen in concert twice, once at the long-lost Market Square Arena with my boyfriend Jim, and once at the recently imploded Hoosier Dome (I never could bring myself to call it the RCA Dome) with my friend Julie. That was the concert where they handed everyone a little American flag to wave when the Boss sang "Born in the USA" and I said to Julie, "I don't think people have ever listened to the words of that song."

"Sssssshhhh," Julie said, looking around furtively to see if anyone had heard me. She, Beth and Hoot had already been treated to a lecture on the anti-American sentiments Bruce was expressing in that song, which made waving a tiny little flag in the air kind of a silly thing to do. I had, in return, been treated to their retorts, which varied on a theme of "Oh, shut up already. I can't hear the radio" and "Do you absolutely have to ruin every single song in the world for me?"

She convinced me by a series of severe looks and jabs in my rib cage to stop talking so that we wouldn't inur the wrath of the crowd around us, criticizing the Boss at his own concert. But we nearly got in trouble anyway when I almost set alight the coat of the man standing next to me with my Bic butane while standing on my chair and singing loudly during "Born to Run." He was not appreciative.

That was when I liked Bruce Springsteen, back before he felt the need to express his political views to the general public. Nothing can send me off a music, television or movie star more quickly than a generous airing of their opinions, most of which verge on the elitist and socialist, in my opinion. Although Tom Cruise alienated me forever when he ragged on Brooke Shields for not just "getting over" her post-partum depression.

"Yeah, get over it, Brooke," I said snidely to my husband. "And while Mr. Scientology is at it, why doesn't he tell all those people on dialysis to grow a new kidney? And why can't a diabetic just tell their pancreas to stop slacking off and make some insulin? And cancer patients should tell their destructive cells to stop multiplying. Then everything would be good in the world, wouldn't it? And L. Ron Hubbard would bless us, every one."

"I'm on your side, not Tom's," my husband said with great weariness.

"I'm never seeing another one of his movies," I said defiantly.

"The only Tom Cruise movie you've ever liked was Jerry Maguire."

I pondered that. "You're right. There's always one scene in just about all his movies that shows him running down a street like an idiot. Arms pumping, jaw set in steely determination.... it drives me mad."

"The Firm was bad for that."

"Yes, and he still owes me six dollars for Cocktail, plus the ninety minutes of my life I'll never get back again."

Anyway, back to Bruce Springsteen, there are two schools of thought about entertainers expressing their political opinions. The first is the one that says that they should use their celebrity power to influence their fans and the second is the school that spoke eloquently to the Dixie Chicks when they criticized President George W. Bush on foreign soil and said they were ashamed to be Texans, and it went like this: SHUT UP AND SING.

I think Bruce Springsteen should shut up and sing. I mean, I'm sure he's a perfectly nice person to talk to and I've heard that he's a generous and loyal friend, but I just wish he'd remember that while he may be the Boss, he is not God. He's an entertainer, not a commentator.

It is the third quarter and my husband is frustrated with the game and with the sportscasters' obvious favoritism toward the Steelers, so he has just asked me if I want to watch an episode of Fringe with him, which I think I'll do.

(One hour later....)

We came back to the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

What a total rip-off. The shouting in our living room reached high decible levels, maybe not as high as The Who at Leeds, but close. Veeeeery close. When Larry Fitzgerald was making that brilliant run, we all screamed so loudly that Wimzie ran upstairs to hide under Meelyn's bed. In the opinion of my four immediate family members, the Cardinals got shafted by the bias of the sportscasters and the criminal blindness of the referees. Because Kurt Warner's arm? It was so going forward and that was not a fumble.

So we are very upset, even me, who doesn't really have a clue what happened or how. I just know I'm mad about it. Susie, Carol and Kayte will be rolling their eyes at that, I'm sure.