Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The essence of herbality

Have you ever noticed that it is expensive to buy herbs at the store? The dried ones are bad enough, but the fresh ones, which tend to look very limp and dispirited in their little plastic clamshell cases, ought to have a gimlet-eyed banker sitting at a desk beside their display, waiting with a stack of personal loan applications at his elbow. I never could find fresh tarragon in my city last year, but when I was asked to pay $5.99 for two depressed slivers of sage, I rebelled.

My rebellion took the shape of a little herb garden, which I started indoors about four weeks ago. I bought six different packets of seeds -- basil, mint, tarragon, parsley, sage and rosemary -- which cost me two dollars less than that "fresh" sage would have, and a little kit for $6.00 that included eight biodegradable pots and these clever little compressed discs of soil from Lowe's.

Fine! I thought, tossing my head. The grocer wants to charge me an arm and a leg for that crummy ol' sage and he doesn't even have any tarragon for my Julia chicken so I'll just grow it myself!

I planted all the little seeds with no help from Meelyn and Aisling, whom I predict will be the first in line when I start dishing up food made from our own fresh, organic herbs. They were very bored by the whole thing and listened with expression of amused tolerance as I declaimed about God's green growing earth and the essential goodness of humankind tilling the nurturing soil.

"Mom, aren't you just going to add water to those little dirt Frisbees?" asked Meelyn. "I mean, there's strictly not going to be any tilling, is there?"

"I plan to dig little holes in the dirt Fris-...I mean, the expanded potting soil disks with my finger in order to plant the seeds," I said smartly. "I don't know if that counts, in your book, as equal to getting a hoe and chopping clods of earth out on the back forty, or even acquiring a Roto-Tiller from Mitchell's Machine and Sunbed Rental, but my heart is just as involved."

"Oh, my book, your heart," she said airily. "Hey, don't you usually kill the plants that are part of God's green, growing earth?"

"It's like your maiden name was Rappaccini or something," giggled Aisling, who had been sitting on the couch and looking over my little seed packets and then glancing at me with an expression that combined incredulity and barely restrained mirth.

"Oh, ha ha," I said and snatched the seed packets out of her hands, took my planting kit, and went out to the kitchen with my head held high.

So! I am terribly pleased to tell you that so far, all of my little precious babylamb seedlings have sprouted and they are growing with vigor in their pots, despite the grocer and my daughters and my several friends and family members who came to Meelyn's party on Sunday, saw the seedlings basking in the warm sunshine, and made a variety of smarty-pants remarks about the eventual fate of the herbs. None of their predictions had anything to do with iced tea with mint, or basil-tomato-and mozzarella salad later on this summer, or Julia chicken roasted with sage, or pork roast in the slow-cooker with rosemary sprigs, I'm afraid.

I must remain resolute and keep my inner Beatrice firmly in check.

Feast Day! St. Louis de Montfort

Today is the memorial day of St. Louis de Montfort, a Brittany-born seventeenth century French priest whom we know around here as "St. Louey" because we are Hoosiers and funny things happen to furrin* words when you intone each and every syllable through your nose.

Anyway, St. Louis (Lou-WEE, please) is one of my favorite new saints because of this most amazing book I've been reading. I've had it forever, knowing that it was an important book, but had never yet managed to crack it open because, well, Survivor was on. Now you know the truth, but let me just point out that you can't say anything to me that I haven't already said to myself. Twice.

The book is The Secret of the Rosary and I think it is probably one of the best books of Christian philosophy and prayer I have ever read. Not that I'm any kind of scholar or anything, but I did read my way into the Catholic Church, so I do have some experience in this area. I read books that talked about the rosary in glowing terms of how it can lead to a greater depth of relationship with Jesus and advancement in the spiritual life and I read books that dismissed it as nothing short of the blasphemous, scandalous, idolatrous vain repetitions of godless heathens.

As I contemplated these two opinions, I couldn't help but notice that the authors who disparaged the rosary sounded like they wouldn't recognize one if you pressed it into their sweaty paws and murmured, "Prayer beads." And they certainly didn't seem willing at all to recognize that the rosary is a means of meditating on the great events of the life of Jesus as experienced by the Holy Mother.

If there's anything I can't stand, it's the injust spouting of misinformation and half-truths by the ignorant, so the rosary won another devoted follower.

My family's sixth anniversary of becoming Catholic happened at Easter Vigil, so in all these years, I don't know what has taken me so long to get around to St. Louis de Montfort's famous book, but now that I've started reading it, I gobble it up section by section, ponder what I've read, and then go back to read it again. The Secret of the Rosary is a very slim little book, but it is so rich, so full of life, that you can't just sit down with some popcorn and treat it as you would something by John Grisham.

The thing I like best about it is that it's both practical and mystical, just like the Catholic Church. St. Louis writes in the flowery style common to his era, and while that seemed a bit quaint and sweetly funny at first, it didn't take me long to perceive the fervent personality of this great saint and scholar shining through -- you almost feel that St. Louis could be sitting across the table from you at Starbucks, personally encouraging you to dig deeper in your prayer life. It is an informative, inspiring and completely lovely little book written by a beautiful priest, teacher and theologian.

St. Louis de Montfort died two hundred ninety-three years ago today of natural causes in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sovre, France. One of the huge parishes in Fishers is dedicated to him. Here's a really nice article about him from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Happy feast day, St. Louis de Montfort. Please pray for us all.

*Hoosier pronunciation of the word "foreign."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Confirmation party

Meelyn's Confirmation party was today and it was really just lovely. Not because of us, but because of all the sweet friends and family who came to celebrate this really special occasion.

Here's who came to the party:

Uncle Graham and Carol drove up all the way from Madison. Carol brought Cokes and a veggie pizza (one of my favorite party treats) and a helpful attitude, although she did give me some grief for nearly pouring an entire dipper of punch on her hand and then tried to give me back her used Joyful Confirmation napkin to use next year at Aisling's party (see post below, final paragraph.) We bonded over melting a stubborn lump of orange juice concentrate in the microwave and later got sugar water in our hair when I accidentally splashed us by dropping the sherbet mold into the punch bowl with an excess of enthusiasm.

Pat, Angie and the kids came and all my friends finally got a chance to actually see the people I write about so frequently on this blog. Kieren was deeply admired by the several teen girls who were here, and for a quiet guy, I have to say he outdid himself in being both charming and entertaining, if the giggles I kept hearing were any indication. Dayden allowed Michelle and Al's boys to play with his bag full o' lizards that he keeps here. Kiersi peered between the balusters from her place on the stairs, looking like a little tiny convict and earnestly telling everyone who came through the front door that she was three.

Bob and Bridget came with Emily, clear from the west side of Indianapolis, which was so good of them. Emily is a good friend of the girls' and Bob and Bridget are the people Meelyn and Aisling would like to go live with, whether or not anything bad -- God forbid -- happens to me and my husband. "They have better food there," the girls tell us earnestly. "And they're very nice and never yell. And we get to play with the video camera and take lots of movies of us singing and no one tells us to turn it down." Bob and Bridget, if you're feeling lonely over there now that one little chickie has flown the nest and another one's in college and you've only got THREE LEFT AT HOME, please give us a call and we'll make arrangements for two teenagers to come for an extended stay chez vous.

Mark and Kayte came over from Carmel way on a Sunday jaunt. This was the first time that Kayte's ever been to my house, although we've been friends for a number of years. Isn't that odd? The explanation is, of course, that she is consumed by Matt's swimming schedule, which is no joke, considering that he is nationally ranked and swims year 'round. Mark, of course, is a busy lawyer who does some traveling in the course of his work, so it was a great pleasure to see their smiling faces. It meant so much that they took the time away from their busy schedules to drive so far.

Al, Michelle and the gang came too. As I said above, their boys were amazed by Dayden's generosity in the sharing of the bag full o' lizards (he is a very nice boy.) Kayte and I teased Michelle about her high-pitched refusal to eat another cold sandwich on our way home from Canada last fall. As Mee's sponsor, Michelle gave Meelyn a very beautiful and generous gift that makes me get kind of teary every time I think of it. Sweet, sweet friend!

The following people were invited but couldn't come and were missed:

Susie and Doug and Aunt Peg were invited, but Aunt Peg had a nasty fall and hurt herself rather badly a couple of weeks ago and is energetically undergoing convalescent rehabilitation, as is her wont. Doug had a business trip and Susie has been too involved with Aunt Peg to stray too far from home, so she sent a huge fruit bouquet from Edible Arrangements® which was sooo cute,
telling me that she wanted to send a fruit basket because she knew I'd think of her every time I looked at it, hahaha.

Katie, Gary and Beck were invited, but couldn't come because it would necessitate Beck's missing her final orchestra practice before the big spring concert -- it seems that conductors and fellow musicians get a bit tetchy when this happens. Since Katie is one of my dearest friends and Beck is one of the girls' dearest friends and we all like Gary (even though he wouldn't stop the van in Stratford to let me hug a swan), it seemed a little empty without them.

Nanny and Poppy were invited, but of course couldn't come because they just flew in last week for Meelyn's sixteenth birthday. But we wanted them to know that they were wanted. I can hardly wait until they come home. Less than a month now!

There were a few other invitees who couldn't come, and I seriously don't know where we'd have put them if they did. I might have had to set up a table and chairs in the attic. But I know I'll pretty much invite the same people next year for Aisling's party, and perhaps a few more, now that I know I can do it.

As I thought things over in the aftermath, contemplating the leftovers, I realized that we served some very weird food and I'm a tiny bit mortified. My whole concept was to have things that people wouldn't need utensils for (except the cake) because I wasn't totally sure that we'd have enough forks without having to do a sinkful of dishes somewhere along the line, which would have been inconvenient. We have eight silver dinner forks and eight silver salad forks, but only six stainless dinner forks and six stainless ditto. I could not see the sense in asking people to eat tiny meatballs with spoons, hence the finger food.

This is what we had to eat:

Little ham salad sandwich triangles -- These were very delicious, but I won't serve them at Aisling's reception next year because the ham salad was just too messy. We did take the precaution of "sealing" the bread with soft butter so that it didn't get nasty and wet, but the ham salad still oozed out the sides. Still, people liked them: out of that whole crowd, we were only left with sixteen triangles (we made forty), which we happily ate for dinner late that evening because? Is there anything more fun than eating leftover party food while curled up on the couch in your jammies after all the guests have gone home? Love!

Cheeseball and crackers -- This is Meelyn's favorite, the one with the cream cheese, garlic powder, finely chopped green onions and chipped beef. This was considered an elegant party food back in the early 1950s, but we are still workin' it here in the midwest. The crackers, of which I had a fabulous assortment, all came from the Dollar Tree. I know! I didn't think they'd be fresh either! But they were! From now on, Dollar Tree is my one-stop source for party plates, cups, gift bags, greeting cards, thank you notes and crackers for the cheeseball.

Veggie pizza -- Carol brought this, as I mentioned, and I was so glad, since the veggies did away with the need for a veggie tray, which always looks so lovely and healthy, but NO ONE EVER EATS ANY OF IT. We get left with baby carrots and celery sticks and cucumber slices and radish roses for DAYS, and since we don't want them either, they always seem to get thrown out, which makes me feel wretchedly, hideously guilty. Carol's veggie pizza had a crust made of Pillsbury croissant rolls, plus cream cheese with some kind of seasoning (a packet of ranch dressing mix?), plus the vegetables and it was so good. There were only about eight squares of that left over and the girls and I ate them for breakfast yesterday morning. They were still very fresh and the croissant crust wasn't soggy at all, so the cream cheese must provide the same kind of moisture barrier that the butter did in the ham salad sandwiches.

Fruit -- This came in the form of Susie's Edible Arrangement and it was so pretty, people didn't want to dig into it at first. It was constructed from canteloupe, honeydew, strawberries, grapes and pineapple, and once everyone decided that it was a food object and not a museum piece, it went very quickly. Delicious! I managed to grab a pineapple daisy before they were all gone.

Cheese, summer sausage and olive spears -- I could not resist the urge to cut up summer sausage and cheese into teeny chunks and spear them on those fancy toothpicks with ripe and green olives, mostly because I snort-laugh whenever I read about Una Alconbury's Turkey Curry Buffet in Helen Fielding's spectacularly hilarious take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones' Diary. I am always enthralled by the thought of bourgeois cheese dice and pineapple chunks on toothpicks, with Bridget haranguing Mark Darcy to choose a tidbit off the tray. I just love it too much. Here's a little snippet from Bridget:


The worst of it was that Una Alconbury and Mum wouldn't leave it at that. They kept making me walk around with trays of gherkins and glasses of cream sherry in a desperate bid to throw me into Mark Darcy's path yet again. In the end, they were so crazed with frustration that the second I got within four feet of him with the gherkins, Una threw herself the room like Will Carling and said, "Mark, you must take Bridget's telephone number before you go so that you can get in touch when you're in London."

"Can I tempt you with a gherkin?" I said, to show I had a genuine reason for coming over, which was quite definitely gherkin-based rather than phone-number-related.

"Thank you, no," he said, looking at me with some alarm.

"Sure? Stuffed olive?" I pressed on.

"No, really."

"Silverskin onion?" I encouraged. "Beetroot cube?"

"Thank you," he said desperately, taking an olive.

"Hope you enjoy it," I said triumphantly.*


There was one thing I didn't consider, though, and that was the uncanny and unfortunate resemblance that cubes of all-beef summer sausage have to horse meat. As the girls and I sat at the kitchen table threading little chunks of this and that on our frilly toothpicks that matched my serving dishes, I had some moments of misgiving, fighting hard to resist the urge to throw back my head and whinny. I also did not allow myself to gallop into the dining room to set the platter with our be-toothpick'ed treats on the table. We didn't have very many left over, though, so maybe not as many of our friends and family went to the cinema to see Seabiscuit as I thought. If I serve these again, I'll make sure to just cut each round of summer sausage into quarters and leave the edge (minus the rind, of course).

Keeping these things in mind -- the oozy sandwiches, the Secretariat-on-a-stick -- I think I may go in another direction for Aisling's reception next year.

Yesterday evening at Moms' Night Out, my friend Julie was telling us about this creamy chicken and rice casserole that she has made for every baptism and First Communion party she's ever held. She told us that it was easy to prepare and a real people-pleaser, at which time everyone started clamoring for the recipe. Julie emailed it to all of us this morning, and I have to say, it does sound good. I was thinking that maybe I could serve the casserole with little hot biscuits, or maybe even little homemade puff pastry croissants, some fruit salad and a relish tray -- perhaps with gherkins, silverskin onions and beetroot cubes -- plus cake.

I'll just need to buy some new forks.

*Bridget Jones' Diary, Copyright (c) 1996 Helen Fielding, All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Penguin Books, Penguin Putnam Incorporated, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Meelyn was confirmed last night with an enormous group of teenagers (and some adults as well) at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Carmel. It was a beautiful Mass. When the confirmands processed into the church and Mee passed by our pew, her beautiful face peaceful, her hands prayerfully folded, I couldn't help but think about the first time I held her, her baptism, that first confession ("I am sometimes mean to my sister, but she deserves it"), First Holy Communion. I sniffled loudly, trying to keep myself under control. I did not want to go forward to receive communion from the hands of the bishop looking like a panda.

"Are you crying?" Aisling whispered from the left. She's at this age when any sign of great emotion from me causes her to fall down to the floor, laughing.

"Not quite," I said with dignity.

"Is he?" she asked, pointing discreetly to her father, who was standing at my right.

I craned my neck around to get a look at his face. "Yep," I whispered back.

"You two are such adorable, funny old things," she giggled.

I'm happy to report that I resisted the urge to step on her foot, since we were in church and all.

The bishop, whose name is William Higi, preached a very fine homily about what the sacrament of confirmation is: It is the completion of the work that was begun in us at baptism, each step along the way since then (first reconciliation, first communion) bringing the confirmands to this specific point where they would stand before him, the assembled priests and the congregation and confirm before God that they intended to serve Him for the rest of their lives; that they believe the statement of faith that Christians have been professing for the past 2,000 years, the beautiful creed codified at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God,
Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.

For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary
and became man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures:
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.


The bishop told the confirmands that, although this sacrament was the last in the rites of initiation, this was by far not the end of their journey in Christ. In fact, it signaled a beginning: They are now considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be adults in their faith, with all the responsibilities that entails. "If you don't understand something about your Catholic faith," he said, "you are bound to learn about it. As a representative of Christ on earth, it is your responsibility to tell other people about the Catholic Church. It is your duty to help Catholics who have lost their way to find their way back home."

There was more along these lines and I found it very inspiring, especially when he said very seriously, "You have gone through a lot of preparation to get to this point, although we refer to it as 'formation.' In the process of your formation, you have learned why this sacrament is extremely important, and you also learned that you are making a profession and a promise before God. This is not a step to be undertaken lightly, because God holds us to our promises."


Michelle was Meelyn's sponsor and came in looking beautiful, as always, bearing a gorgeous sheaf of deep red flowers in her arms (she knows I know NOTHING about flora and fauna, so I know she'll forgive me for being clueless about what kind of flowers they actually were. I know pansies, roses, daffodils, tulips, petunias, geraniums and pretty. That's it. Oh, and daisies.) When they went forward together so that Meelyn could be anointed with the chrism oil, I thought I would just melt into a puddle.

Afterwards, there was a little reception in the (huge) narthex and church hall with all kind of punch and cookies and cheese cubes and little sandwiches. Meelyn and Michelle had their picture taken with both Fr. D and the bishop, who was being mobbed like a rock star. The bishop is a very tall man, and with his red miter and gold crozier, he towered over the two of them. I think the picture, which I had to take on the horizontal in order to get all of them into the frame, may well consist of Meelyn and Michelle's heads and the bishop from his pectoral cross on up. Oh, dear. This is the bishop's last round of presiding over confirmations in the diocese: He is 72 or 75 or whatever age means it's time to slow down and take it easy, and his letter requesting retirement has been accepted by Pope Benedict. That means that next year, Aisling will be confirmed by a new bishop!

Tomorrow, we're having a very small reception for Meelyn here at the house involving, well, punch and cookies and cheese cubes and little sandwiches. WE ALSO HAVE CAKE, so see how with it I am? We found a lovely die-cut banner that reads "Joyful Confirmation" on the cheap at the Party House, as well as some matching napkins. I am delighted that we'll be able to use the banner again next year, although the napkins, I'm afraid, will be unsalvageable.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring cleaning in my bedroom - oh, the horrors

Where, I ask you, do you put the tiny little cast that cradled Aisling's fractured arm the summer she was ten years old?

The answer is not "in the trash," just in case you wondered. I don't know why I can't throw it away. I only know that I still have the nickel Meelyn swallowed when she was three, stored in a specimen cup in the treasure box that dwells beneath my bed. And don't worry, you big sillies. That nickel didn't come out nature's way; it was removed from its precarious lodging place in her throat between her esophagus and her trachea by a crack team of ER doctors at Riley Hospital. Like I'd keep a poop-encrusted nickel...I ask you. Really.

I think I just need to squeeze that little cast in there too. Right now, it is sitting on my dresser, just where it has been sitting (hidden by a basket full of silk flowers) for about three years now.

Oh, my room is always so much fun to deal with! For some reason, instead of being the quiet, romantic retreat I always want it to be, it seems to be the depot for all the things people want to keep but have no place else to put, like a storm window with cracked glass; the impedimenta from three different 500 Festival Mini Marathons, all still stored in their plastic bags; scrapbooking stuff. A pile of clothing to donate to Goodwill. My grandmother's high school graduation photograph from 1937, which is still waiting to be hung on a wall even though we've lived here for four years. A baby blanket; a box of stuffed animals; some soccer cleats; a telephone book from 2004.

I fully expect a moving van to back up to our front door someday and for a man with a clipboard, chewing the end of a damp cigar, to say to me, "I've got some goods to unload here, a push mower and three kids' bicycles, a sitz bath and a butter cookie tin full of buttons. You want the guys to carry it on upstairs?"

"Wait just a moment!" I'll splutter. "That's not our push mower! Ours is orange and I'd know it anywhere because it has a Build-a-Bear Workshop sticker on it that Aisling was putting on all our outdoor furniture and stuff to identify it when we first moved here and she couldn't understand why people wouldn't just come up onto the front porch and steal the chairs. And I sold the girls' little pink bikes in a rummage sale years ago! And I don't want someone's old sitz bath -- eeeewwwww!!!! And I have no reason at all to clutter up my house with yet another butter cookie tin full of buttons! Take all that stuff away!" And then I'd make shooing motions at the men who were moving someone else's junk into my house as inexorably as the tide moves in.

"Look, lady," the cigar man would say with a note of impatience in his voice. "This here is McKinney Self-Storage, right? And there's a room upstairs where said items can be stored, right?"

At that point, I'll probably just give in, although I'll probably be called away to spend some time in a special place where I can while away the day's hazy hours by counting all my buttons from my cookie tins over and over and over and over again.

The good news is that I made great headway yesterday, actually unearthing the seat of Ma's beautiful Stickley style rocking chair. Now the only two things on the seat are a crucifix whose nail got knocked off the wall when I was vaccuuming and one lonely Child Craft book: we donated the rest of the set to Goodwill about a month ago and somehow missed that one volume.

Today, we move on to the next quadrant of the room. We may find the entrance to a new world, Jimmy Hoffa, or the holy grail. You never can tell.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why we would fail as guests at an outdoor Parisian café

We were coming home from Subway today -- home of the famous $5 foot long subs -- and we passed a local Mexican restaurant that had lunchers sitting outdoors on the enclosed patio, enjoying the absolutely beautiful day we're having here in central Indiana. That restaurant is a particularly attractive one in our downtown area, and their patio is very festive and lovely during the warm months, with gaily-colored umbrellas shading the many wrought-iron tables and flowers spilling out of containers. Occasionally, there are mariachi, which is my idea of some of the best music on earth. If you shut your eyes on a hot July evening, listening to the music and the murmur of conversation from a distance, you would swear you could hear the surf washing gently in from the bay on the nearby beach of Barra de Navidad.

However, it is now daytime. And the umbrellas aren't up. And the flowers, in quiet acknowledgement of Mother Nature's surly and vindictive side, are still huddled inside at the nursery. So the midday diners were sitting there, talking on their cell phones, tapping away on their laptops and conversing with their companions were in the full sun, accompanied by playful breeze that stole a napkin off someone's lap and tossed it into the grass.

"I don't like to eat outside," Meelyn said as we sat at the stoplight in front of the restaurant. "It's so hot."

"And the wind messes up your hair," said Aisling, who was scrutinizing her face in a purse-sized mirror, tucking a stray wisp back into place and pursing her lips to make sure her lip gloss was evenly applied.

"And makes your hair stick to your lip gloss," I added, watching her.

"Your napkin blows away...."

"Bugs fly into your food...."

"The sun beats down on your head...."

"Flying pollen makes you sneeze...."

"A bird might poop on you...."

"People at stop lights look over at you and wonder if you really should be eating those apple empanadas..."

We all glanced quickly at one another just as the light turned green.

"Inside," said Meelyn firmly. "That's where we like to eat."

"In the shade," Aisling affirmed.

"Away from prying eyes," I sighed, taking one last longing sniff of the empanada-scented breeze before we rolled away.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Father Vic and "SoulWow"

In a hilarious take on those "ShamWow" television commercials, here's a YouTube video from Fr. Vic, touting the yearly penance services in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island during Holy Week. He is not only a good priest, but a priceless mimic. "This offer is free, and all you need to bring is a contrite heart!"

Here's the original ShamWow commercial from YouTube.com with Vince, the ShamWow pitchman, so that you can compare the two. And I can't include Vince's ShamWow video without giving the Slap Chop a nod.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring cleaning goes upstairs

Okay, here it is:


1. Shower curtain and shower curtain liner washed and rehung.

2. All rugs and other miscellaneous textiles, such as curtains, washed and possibly even ironed and rehung.

3. Linen closet swept, shelves dusted, and purged of all beauty unguents and ointments that are no longer used and have just been glumly sitting there.

4. Walls dusted; everything else washed and wiped down and scrubbed and cleaned until we DARED IT NOT TO GLEAM.

5. Baseboards dusted, floor mopped, corners delved into with a sponge, the place where I spilled hair dye and stained the tile floor mourned over.

6. Drawers and under-sink cabinet likewise purged of all the things that manage to drift in there; I saw a purple velvet hair scrunchie in the second drawer the other day that I know neither girl has worn on her head since they were about six and eight. Why do we still have this? And why am I keeping a set of hot rollers when I threw away the hot roller heater doohickey thing about twelve years ago because it wouldn't get hot anymore? Did I think that some coiffure genie was going to suddenly surprise me with a gift from Clairol or something?

The girls' rooms have already been cleaned for the spring because -- and I don't know why, either, that I've not yet mentioned this -- they now have their own bedrooms. They've been sharing a room since Aisling was one and Meelyn was three and just recently, they decided that they could be on their own. So we unloaded about a million books from the shelves and hauled furniture back and forth across the hallway and while all that work was being done, the girls cleaned out drawers and I swept and dusted and wiped down woodwork and furniture and took blankets down to the laundry room. So thank heaven THAT'S done.

Because whenever I think of my own room and the work that's going to have to be done in there, I just want to give out. Our room is big. And it has a lot of furniture that has to have a sweeper run underneath it, or moved so that the sweeper can do its job more efficiently. And a really big and heavy mattress that makes it difficult to get the bed ruffle on and off without bodily injury. And tall windows that require one to stand on a step stool in order to wash them. And a closet that is full to bursting, since it is a nineteenth century closet serving two twenty-first century people.

And so many, many, many drawers, all of which need to be turned out. *groaann.....*

Grandad gave me two of my great-great-grandmother's chandeliers, both of which were converted from oil to electricity somewhere in the nineteen-teens. They are both beautiful and valuable and I was rocky pleased to get them because we have the perfect house to display them. HOWEVER. The one I wanted to put in our bedroom has a whole bunch of little dingle-dangles and when I think of having to fetch an even taller step stool -- or, as some might call it, a ladder, which are unchancy things even when leaned up against houses, never mind in the middle of the bedroom floor leaned up against the air -- to get all those ten feet up to where the chandelier would be all snuggled up against the ceiling so that I could Windex it and wash the dingle-dangles, well, I am very very happy that my husband (who has been asked approximately five thousand times to please please please put Grandmother's chandeliers up) has not yet summoned the energy to make that happen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When heaven is wedded to earth

Easter Vigil Mass last night was one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. As I sat listening to the readings that tell the history of salvation from the fall of mankind to the coming of the Savior, I marveled again how I came to be sitting in a Catholic Church, ready to melt into a puddle with love for Him.

We were received into the Church six years ago last night, so it was an anniversary celebration as well. I keep wondering why He chose me when there are so many people I know who are smarter and wiser and better.

The road to the Catholic Church was not without its rocky places, though. Strangely enough, even though we became Catholic during the worst scandal of the modern era -- it seemed like every day brought a different account of some priest diddling a teenage boy in the sacristy -- that didn't deter either me or my husband. We'd both been in church practically all our lives and we knew about the swept-under-the-rug problems involving church leaders, so I suppose it wasn't much of a shock to either of us: We both had parents who were fans of Jim and Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart back in the day.

No, it was the smaller things that made us wary, like the whole bonfire thing before Easter Vigil starts. When this was first explained to me -- "We meet outside the church? And there's, like, one of those brazier things? Like you might have on your patio? And someone has started a fire in it? Well, anyway, Father lights the Paschal candle from that fire and...Oh, wait, I forgot! First he blesses the fire. THEN he lights the big candle and sings 'Chri-ist be our li-ight' and it's great if the priest can sing, but maybe not so much if he doesn't have a good voice. And then everyone else lights their candles from the Paschal candle and then we go back into the church. And there you go!" -- I thought it sounded like a funny kind of thing to do, out there next to the road and all, but I was already firmly committed to belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (still am), so I figured I could deal with the fire thing.

It was a step, though. I was a member, from the year I was fourteen, of an evangelical charismatic Protestant church where the people thought nothing of waving their arms in the air in praising the Lord, and singing in loud voices or yelling out 'Hallelujah!' or even being slain in the Spirit, but if you'd ever have asked any of us to traipse out to the parking lot and light a fire in someone's Weber grill hauled out from home in the back of the truck and then stand around out there, singing and lighting candles and talking about Christ being our light and all, well. Well. I just don't think that would have gone over all that well, in spite of the fact that our church parking lot was back off the main drag in New Castle, and not right there on Broad Street where all the teenagers used to cruise in their cars and play loud music.

Once I was able to experience this whole bonfire-with-singing-and-candles thing, though, I got it. The fire is like the Holy Trinity, God in the world before time began. The big Paschal candle is Jesus, who came to the world as light in the darkness. And all of us standing around with our little candles - our candles are lit from the big candle -- Jesus within us -- or lit from someone else's candle -- the Word being spread through people and throughout nations. And then we all go into the dark church, which you would never think could be illuminated just from the light of all those little candles, but somehow it is, glowing and cozy and warm with love.

It is the night that heaven is wedded to earth, and beautiful exceeding is the marriage thereof.

Every year, I wait, trembling slightly, for that one specific line of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation, sung a capella: "Father, to ransom a slave, you gave away your Son."

It is the most moving, most shiveringly, hauntingly beautiful hymn of all. To hear it sung, one voice rising in the darkened church lit only by the glow of the candles, is a moment almost undefinable, it is so full, so rich, so full of God's great love and compassion for us. The Exsultet has been sung at the Easter Vigil for about 1,500 years now, first in Latin, of course. Here it is in English, no less beautiful.

The Exsultet

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, was slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night,when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav'ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night,when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night when Christians ev'rywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night,when Jesus broke the chains
of death and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;it casts out hatred,
brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed,when heaven is wedded to earth
and we are reconciled to God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


Happy Easter to you, and God bless you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

CousinFest '09 date confirmed

I am so terribly excited! CousinFest '09 will be taking place over the Fourth of July weekend, July 2-5. One of the reasons for my great excitement is that the fireworks we'll be watching are the ones displayed from the suhh-waaaanky clubhouse in Susie's neighborhood; my family is accustomed to going to the local Payless parking lot where fireworks are set off while our fellow citizens sit in battered lawn chairs in the backs of their pickup trucks, eating Doritos, talking NASCAR and yelling at their kids, who are trying to stab each other with sparklers: "Travis, I'm gonna haul off and belt you one if you don't stop that sh*t right now! You're fixin' to put out your sister's eye with that thang!"

I'm thinking in Susie's neighborhood, there is probably a separate fireworks display for the kids and the nannies, so that the adults can be free to sip their wine and murmur "Oooohhh! Aaaahhh!!!" in their cultured Southern accents. Susie will be the one standing up and hollering, "Oh, look, did y'all see that one? It was PINK!"

I wonder if Carol will refuse to raise her hand as a visitor at Holy Spirit for the third year in a row. Yes, I have been keeping track. And yes, I am holding a grudge. Two years in a row, she's left me hanging to stand up and say my name and where I'm from while she slumps there in the pew, snickering wickedly at me and refusing to make her presence known.

We don't know yet if Lilly can come: she is very busy with work and with working on yet another college degree; you'd have thought she'd be content with that MBA, but no....She has to go on proving that she's smarter than the other three of us put together, but we do not hold that against her. She, in the same manner, is gracious and forgiving of the fact that, compared to her, Susie, Carol and I don't have the brains God gave a goose.

Easter Basket blessings!

Today was the Blessing of the Easter Baskets at church, the third year in a row we've had this really lovely tradition. It is Slavic in origin, and since Father is of Polish descent, he brought this tradition to the congregation, which is largely composed of Catholics of Irish, German and Italian descent. I wrote about it last year, too; this year, we weren't surprised to see many of the same people we saw then, lugging their heavy baskets up the long walk to the church's front door, into the narthex, into the church itself, and down the long aisle.

Being that it is Holy Saturday, the Blessed Sacrament was not present in the tabernacle. It feels very strange in there without Him. The emptiness seems immeasurable, kind of like when you move from one house to another: The old house still has some of your belongings in it -- a couch, some chairs, the refrigerator and stove -- but it still seems as if the heart of the home has moved on somewhere else.

Considering how strange it feels to be without the Presence of Jesus in the church, imagine how it must have felt to the disciples all those many years ago as they were hiding, their faith at its lowest ebb, wondering if any minute they were going to be arrested.

Anyway, here's what our Easter basket contained this year:

Wine -- Red wine symbolizes the blood of Christ, spilled to cover our sins

Bread -- Last year we bought hot cross buns from Panera for our basket which were delicious but expensive, and the year before that, I made a traditional egg-and-dried fruit bread that no one would eat. So this year, I employed the trusty bread machine (on the dough setting) to make a nice, rich bread put together with eggs and milk to make it richer. I didn't braid it or shape it like a cross or anything; my talents don't go in that direction. I just put it in a regular bread pan and baked it that way. The bread reminds us that Christ is our True Bread.

Salt -- Salt is a condiment, much prized throughout the world when Christians first started assembling Easter baskets, and it reminds us of our duty to flavor the world and make it better by our presence.

Eggs -- The Eastern Europeans traditionally gave up dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent, so eggs were abundant at Easter when the long fast was over. The girls colored a dozen eggs this morning, and it was the first time that they sat swirling the eggs around in the Pass dyes while listening to rock music -- what a juxtaposition! The rocker was David Cook, that handsome sweetheart from American Idol last year, and I kind of secretly like him, too, so it was all good. Eggs have been used for centuries to help people understand the concept of the Holy Trinity because they are three -- shell, white, yolk -- contained in one.

Cheese -- We bought some cream cheese which I unmolded from the container and then pressed dried cranberries into in the shape of a cross. It looked very nice. The purpose of the cheese is to provide a food that is bland yet sweet, and is intended to remind Christians that we are to be moderate in all things, but that is hard when you haven't eaten candy for soooo looooong. We will be moderate on Monday, perhaps.

Butter -- Since the Slavic people gave up all dairy products for Lent, butter also figured largely in their Easter celebrations. It was included because of its richness, which makes sense. Why do you think those vendors at the Indiana State Fair dip their roasted ears of corn in to melted butter before they hand them over to you? Butter makes everything better, and I didn't need the Indiana Dairy Council or even the Roman Catholic Church to tell me that.

Candle - The candle symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the world. This year, we bought a short, white pillar candle and placed it on my pretty pressed glass candle plate beside the basket.

Bacon -- Traditionally, of course, the meat in an Easter basket is ham, but kielbasa and bacon can also be used. Frankly, we couldn't afford a ham this year. The pork symbolizes our freedom from the Law of Moses, which forbids the eating of pork. Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law; He came to fulfill it, and it that fulfillment, as St. Peter's dream teaches us in Acts 10:11-17, we are no longer bound by those strictures. We are free to eat. And since we are free, we are going to come home from the Easter Vigil Mass this year and have bacon sandwiches on that good bread!

We really love this tradition and look forward to it every year as one of the highlights of Lent. It might just seem like a lot of trouble, putting all these things in a basket and lugging them to the church, but when you're sitting there looking at your pretty basket while Father says a series of really beautiful prayers over it, you truly realize how meaningful it is. It's also fun afterwards seeing what everyone else brought in their baskets.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

Good Friday is finally here. As I type this a couple of hours before dawn, it is dark and rainy, which seems fitting, doesn't it?

Usually Good Friday is marked here by going to church: Stations of the Cross, the beginning of the Divine Mercy Novena, the reading of the Passion, communion service, the Veneration of the Cross...those are the things we usually do. But Aisling is down with a bad cold, and since she has to play the piano tomorrow at Easter Vigil, it seems prudent to keep her at home where she can rest and have zinc lozenges and orange juice.

Today, we can pray the Devotion to the Five Wounds of Christ and the Stations of the Cross right here at home, remembering Him in His sorrow on this day so paradoxically called "good."

In the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "We adore you, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring cleaning continues unabated

Yesterday, we spring cleaned the dining room and the downstairs bathroom, which doesn't sound all that bad until you consider that we had to unload and wash everything in the china cabinet, which isn't nearly as fun as it sounds, plus individually vaccuum a bunch of Longaberger baskets collected in that misty, far-off past life in which we had money, plus dust and straighten the books -- about eight million of them, feels like -- in three very large bookcases. Not to mention random baseboard cleaning, floor sweeping, furniture polishing, window washing and all that.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in the shiny, sparkly living room with a cup of strong, hot tea, wishing to soothe my dust-parched throat, but without the strength to lift the mug to my lips. Meelyn came dragging into the room and slumped on the sofa, her eyes sunken and her hands trembling.

"I'm sure all this cleaning has cut years off my young life," she moaned accusingly. "I've never even seen half that junk in bottom of the china cabinet before. Why do we have it?"

"It isn't junk to me," I said with only a pale shadow of my usual vigor, eyes closed, refusing to raise my head from its resting place on the sofa back. "But what else am I to do with a commemorative plate from the Mt. Summit Christian Church? It's fake willow ware and that church always smelled like mildew, but Nanny and Poppy were married there, so I think of it as an important historical artifact. Someday I'll pass it onto you and you can keep it in your china cabinet."

"Fat chance," scoffed Meelyn. "I'll break it over my knee, more like."

I turned my head sideways and opened one eye to look at her. "No you won't. You'll think, 'This is fake willow ware and Mama said that church always smelled like mildew, but Nanny and Poppy were married there, so I feel sentimentally attached to it as an important historical artifact.'"

Aisling crept into the room, her small face pale and haunted. "My teeth feel gritty," she whispered. "My hair. My hands. Even my eyeballs." That was when I realized that the grey of her complexion wasn't due to actual illness; it was just a skim-coat of the dust we'd been taking off the tops of the bookcases and china cabinet.

Today we moved on to the kitchen, where we completely dismantled the interior of the refrigerator and found a couple of, ahh....science experiments...on the shelves. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Taking out all those shelves and washing them made my will to live swirl down the sink drain with all the grunge I was scrubbing off with my sponge. Meelyn found some salad dressing with a sell-by date of 2007. I hung my head in shame.

Aisling was clearing out the cabinets where we store the canned and boxed food and the dishes. She tortured me by holding up a can of Eagle Brand condensed milk with an expiration date of 2001 on it. She also threw away a box of Thai noodles with peanut sauce and when I chided her for her wastefulness, complaining that we could have given it to the food pantry, she looked over the tops of her glasses and said coldly, "Mother. The date on that box was November 2006."

Heaven help us all.

On the up side, I found some butter I didn't know I had. Meelyn and Aisling and I had discussed moving our dishes to a different cabinet, and when Aisling got them transferred, we all agreed that they looked very nice indeed, very orderly.

There is still a terrible mess in the kitchen -- food that needs to be put back in the fridge, some clutter on the table, dirty dishes to be stowed in the dishwasher -- but we're on the downside of the kitchen duties. We have to wipe down the stove and dishwasher and go over the fridge with one of those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, which is possibly the very best cleaning item to ever be invented in the post-modern era, other than the complete line of Swiffer products, all of which I heartily endorse.

We also have to wash the window, stick the sweeper wand back behind the fridge, and finish up by re-organizing the appliance garage, which currently has to be held shut by a bin of dog food in order to prevent an avalanche of baking sheets, casserole dishes, cake pans, mixers, food choppers and the like.

And then alllllll we have to do is GO UPSTAIRS. *sob!*

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring cleaning

I'm sitting here, panting and sweating, enjoying a fifteen-minute break from spring cleaning duties. Holy Week seemed like a good time to undertake the twice-yearly horrors of finding out what is really lurking underneath the couch and in the back of the under-sink cabinet in the kitchen. (I'll spare you the details.)

First of all, we've been in the process of shoring up our souls during this long season of Lent through the self-disciplinary measures of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Secondly, if deep housecleaning isn't a penitential act of self-discipline, I don't know what is. Third, Easter Sunday will hopefully dawn sunny, warm and bright and we won't have to look through winter-grimed windows as we eat our candy and say, "Eeeuuuwwww...."

Fourth of all, I hate it when my hair gets damp with perspiration and little strands stick to my forehead. I wish Pat were here because, although you'd never know it from his snarky attitude and elevated left eyebrow, but he is a wicked good house cleaner and not only works faster than I do, but also with a great deal more determination, being less likely to sneak off upstairs or outdoors to "get some furniture polish" or "shake out a rug" leaving everyone else to toil on.

Here's our living room/foyer cleaning list:

1) Wash ornaments, glass shelves and inside/outside glass of curio cabinet

2) Dust baseboards and window frames with lambswool duster; use sweeper's wand attachment to go around the floor line of the baseboards

3) Wash all inside window glass (outside is inclement today, thank heaven, I mean, darn it) and polish all glass in framed artwork and photographs

4) Run all throw rugs, curtains, afghans and sofa pillows through washer/dryer

5) Dust walls allllllll ten feet up with Swiffer dust mop (God bless the person who invented all that Swiffer stuff)

6) Move all furniture and vaccuum beneath; any furniture too big to move, attach long wand to sweeper hose and suck all dust and cobwebs from behind

7) Polish all wooden furniture; use brushie sweeper attachment to dust lamp shades

8) Feel sad over the fact that budget won't allow rental of upholstery cleaning machine, ditto carpet cleaning ditto

9) Clean the stairs, banister and balusters

10) Sternly quash feelings of bitter envy for people who have cleaners to come in and do all this crap for them while they go out for lunch -- thinking such thoughts is not Lent-like behavior

We've been at it for nearly three hours, and laws-a-mercy, I am ready to take to the bed. But everything looks very, very lovely. You'd have to see it. All we need to do is move the furniture back, sweep the rest of the floors, polish the wooden furniture and put the pillows back on the sofa and we're done.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday: The beginning of Holy Week

O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!
Our sins have marred the glory
of thy most holy face,
yet angel hosts adore thee
and tremble as they gaze

I see thy strength and vigor
all fading in the strife,
and death with cruel rigor,
bereaving thee of life;
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying,
O turn thy face on me.

In this thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
with thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:
beneath thy cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
in thy dear love confiding,
and with thy presence blest.

I can usually make it through the first two verses, but the third, I just can't sing it. It's too much. And I never, ever have a tissue and my husband thinks that handkerchiefs are unsanitary and simply can't see his way into carrying a pressed and folded square just in case I feel like crying, so there I stand in Mass with tears raining down my face, hoping that I won't go up for Communion looking like Alice Cooper.

I love Holy Week. There are different things going on every single day at the church, but we usually just go to Mass on Holy Thursday, to the Good Friday services starting at noon and ending at midnight, if one should care to stay so long (most of that, by the way, is group prayer, as well as private prayer, not to mention the beginning of the Divine Mercy Novena.)

Then there's the Easter Basket Blessing on Saturday afternoon, a quick trip home to color Easter eggs, a quiet early evening, and then off to church for the Easter Vigil at 8:30 p.m., which is indisputably the most beautiful, most meaningful and most cherished Mass of the entire liturgical year. That Mass is about two or three hours long, so by the time we tumble back into the car, we're a bit giddy, but in the mood for Easter celebrating. Which we do, of course, with food.

But this is just the beginning. We've been carrying some extra crosses all through Lent and now we're on the long haul as we share this week with Him, remembering the sorrow and anticipating the joy. It is a beautiful week.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Moral dilemma

The girls and I were at the grocery today, standing in line with our several food items and our great big economy pack of double-roll toilet paper, because? When it comes to family harmony, not to mention gracious living, I think I'd rather be without milk, butter, bread, eggs and beer (life's staples) than without toilet paper.

So there's this young mother standing in front of us with her baby in her cart, and I was thinking how cute the baby was, when the mother took this long, loud slurping drink out of some nasty disposable cup, crushed it just enough to dent it in, and stuffed it down the magazine rack right in front of -- if you can believe it, and if you're easily shocked, you'd better sit down -- Martha Stewart Living.

And this was at the nice grocery store, not the one across town where all the crystal meth manufacturers in our fair city send their friends to queue up at the pharmacy to buy decongestants. The nice grocery!

It is true that I walk around in a permanent state of curmudgeonly disgruntlement over litter. I try not to, I really do. But it is SO HARD to love other people with the love of Christ when they do the most shiftless, lazy, selfish things. I can't stand it. I really can't. I watched that television commercial when I was a little kid, the one with the Indian standing there by a riverbank looking at all the garbage cluttering up what had previously been a proud and pristine waterway with that single tear sliding slowly down his carved-from-granite cheekbone, and I TOOK IT TO HEART, PEOPLE!

Cigarette butts on the sidewalk make me nuts. A McDonald's bag thrown casually out the window of a moving car makes me want to commit a small act of violence against the perpetrator. Nothing permanent, you understand; just a solid smacking about the head while delivering a lecture on the selfishness of throwing YOUR dumb trash on EVERYONE ELSE'S nature. People who walk out of restaurants picking their teeth are already on my bad side, because picking one's teeth is an activity that should be confined to the privacy of one's bathroom, in the first place, and in the second place, the people who do that tend to drop those toothpicks that have been in their germy mouths on the ground.

I've been such a prissy nagapotomus to this credo that when a holy card depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe blew off our dashboard and out into the wide world during a windy rainstorm the other day, I thought I was going to have to take Meelyn and Aisling in for therapy. Never mind that it blew into the parking lot of the public library, which looks like a thousand kindergarteners go there to eat a picnic lunch every day without ever picking up their trash, inviting an Army battalion and a circus to join them: WE HAD LITTERED, and that's all there was to it.

Maybe I've been a touch dogmatic.

I stood there, allowing my eyes to burn a hole into that young woman's shoulder blades, but if her flesh began to scorch, she gave no sign. Then I looked at that cup with its two inches of watered down Coke in the bottom and its straw stained with some sort of pinkish lip balm -- gross -- crumpled up in front of Martha's pretty April issue and I just wanted to take it and pour the rest of it right over her head and say through my gritted teeth in a tone of barely contained menace, "There are FOUR DIFFERENT TRASH RECEPTACLES at the FRONT OF THIS STORE. FIND ONE and USE IT, you-...you-...LITTERBUG!"

I had to change lines. I pushed my cart with dogged determination to the other end of the check-out lane section with Meelyn and Aisling following behind me, peeping like baby ducks: "Who? What? Why? Where?"

"Oh, nothing," I sighed. "I just thought this one....seemed cleaner."

My husband says it's a good thing I no longer have to work with the public, which is so true. I find the public much easier to love when I don't have to be around them and their cigarette butts, toothpicks, empty drink cups and McDonald's bags thrown around like rice at a wedding. Yecchhhhhhhh....

Here's the 1970s commercial featuring that weeping Indian, brought to you courtesy of YouTube: Indian reacting to pollution

You would cry too, if it happened to you

Did you all see the news story out of central Florida on April 1? About the woman in the Walgreen's parking lot who got back to her car after she picked up her prescriptions (maybe for OxyContin?) and found out after she was inside the vehicle that the battery was dead? And that she was trapped inside her own car because nothing electrical would work?

This was not an April Fool's Day prank.

She called 911 from her cell phone and plaintively told the dispatcher in a well-modulated and ladylike voice, "Nothing electrical works. And it's getting very hot in here. And I'm not feeling well."

On the tape of the call, you can hear the dispatcher, who was understandably baffled, asking the prisoner if she was able to manually pull up on the door lock.

"Okay, I've got that going on," said the woman, amidst noises of fumbling around inside the vehicle, "and oh...okay. Uhhhmmmm, sorry..."

Can you imagine the moment when the woman's door opened, can you imagine what was going through her mind? Because the car battery's still dead, right? And she needs to call AAA, or maybe even AA or maybe just her friend Amy, to get down to that parking lot with some jumper cables before the 911 dispatcher, all seized up with mirth, starts telling officers in their squad cars to drive by the Walgreen's on John Young Parkway and look for the lady standing next to the SUV with the hood up.

I imagine that many of us are laughing, even as we cringe inside, knowing that we ourselves have perhaps been just inches -- centimeters!!! -- away from making such a spectacle of ourselves at some point. Or maybe we actually have done something like this and time has drawn a merciful veil over the incident.

Or maybe you can imagine doing something even more spectacularly bird-brained in this particular woman's situation, which is exactly where my imagination led me. I can so see myself, locked in the car, thinking, "It's getting hot in here! I don't feel well at all! I must think of a way to get out of here! Oh, crap! My cell phone battery is dead, too! Why do all the batteries in my life die and desert me in my time of need? Is this some kind of metaphor? Wait! I know what I can do! I remember that segment on the news that said you can KICK OUT THE WINDSHIELD in case of an emergency and you're trapped! Yes! That's what I'll do!"

Walgreen's shoppers going in or out of the store would have been greatly surprised and undoubtedly amused to see me emerging triumphant onto the hood of my minivan, rising from the chunks of broken windshield the way Venus emerged on that shell through the sea foam, only not as pretty, being plump and flushed and slightly hysterical. And sweaty. "I'M OKAY! DON'T WORRY! I GOT OUT!"

I can see it. I can so see it. And you know what? So can my husband, my father, my brother, possibly my sister-in-law and many of my friends. The only ones who would remain loyal, because we're all in the same dopey club together, are Meelyn, Aisling and my mother.

Ohhhh, it just doesn't bear thinking about. Poor lady.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

RECIPE: Asian Roast Beef (in the slow-cooker)

This recipe came to me through one of those happy accidents where you're thinking miserably, "What, oh what, am I going to cook for dinner?" and ideas like baked chicken breast served with a sauce made of peanut butter, strawberry jello, ripe olives and pistachios starts racing through your head and you think no-no-I-don't-want-to-do-that-I-served-chicken-breast-on-Tuesday, so you decide to go ahead and make the sauce but instead cleverly serve it with pieces of sliced ham and American cheese rolled up together and skewered with a toothpick....This recipe came to me on the back of a packet of Superior Touch's Better Than Gravy beef gravy mix. I had the beef gravy mix because I was thinking of using it to make a sauce of beef gravy, mini-marshmallows and pimientos to disguise the leftover meatload from earlier in the week.

Superior Touch's recipe was very useful because it called for ingredients I had on hand. I thawed out a beef roast I got on a deep discount and cooked it all in the slow-cooker. It was absolutely succulent and delicious. If you would consider stir-frying some sliced carrots, broccoli florets, water chestnuts and onion quarters in a skillet or wok and then serving them with some steamed rice alongside the beef, I guarantee that you will have a meal that is easy and eminently do-able without a lot of fuss and your family will love it.

You can, of course, substitute your own minced garlic and your own sliced or grated fresh ginger, but I'm giving the fast instructions here.


2 pounds beef pot roast
1 packet Superior Touch Better Than Gravy mix
1 cup hot water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or a couple of dried pepper pods from the produce section)


Spray the inside of a large slow-cooker with cooking spray; place the beef pot roast inside and turn the slow-cooker to the HIGH setting. In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir with a small whisk until blended. Pour over meat in slow-cooker; cook for 5-6 hours. Remove from slow-cooker to a platter and allow to stand for about ten minutes before serving.

Serve with fresh stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired for some extra calcium. Delicious!!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Can you think of anything better?

Five o'clock is the time in the afternoon when my energy and patience are at their lowest possible ebb, which is possibly why five o'clock in the afternoon is the time when I want to take the dogs and the girls and dump them gently down the coal chute.

Which is why five o'clock in the afternoon is the perfect time for a small piece of homemade whole wheat bread cut thick, generously buttered and topped with lemon curd, served alongside a cup of Earl Grey tea.

I can't think of anything better. Well, unless it would be a couple of shortbread cookies topped with a teeny dollop of the aforementioned lemon curd, but I gave cookies up for Lent.

I now think I can soldier through until bedtime without the coal chute figuring into the evening's activities.

A list of the popes

This excellent list of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church (with links for information for some of them) was taken from New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by Kevin Knight. Counting our current pope, Benedict XVI, there have been two hundred sixty-six pontiffs since Jesus established St. Peter (Simon bar Jonah; Cephas) as our first leader when He established the Church, two thousand years ago.

You might notice that Boniface I was the forty-second pope (A.D. 418-22) and that Boniface II was the fifty-fifth (A.D. 530-32). Or....you might not. It all depends on how cozy you are with both truth and historical fact. Not that anybody's keeping track of that kind of thing. Heh.

A List of the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church


St. Peter (32-67)
St. Linus (67-76)
St. Anacletus (Cletus) (76-88)
St. Clement I (88-97)
St. Evaristus (97-105)
St. Alexander I (105-115)
St. Sixtus I (115-125) Also called Xystus I
St. Telesphorus (125-136)
St. Hyginus (136-140)
St. Pius I (140-155)
St. Anicetus (155-166)
St. Soter (166-175)
St. Eleutherius (175-189)
St. Victor I (189-199)
St. Zephyrinus (199-217)
St. Callistus I (217-22) Callistus and the following three popes were opposed by St. Hippolytus, antipope (217-236)
St. Urban I (222-30)
St. Pontain (230-35)
St. Anterus (235-36)
St. Fabian (236-50)
St. Cornelius (251-53) Opposed by Novatian, antipope (251)
St. Lucius I (253-54)
St. Stephen I (254-257)
St. Sixtus II (257-258)
St. Dionysius (260-268)
St. Felix I (269-274)
St. Eutychian (275-283)
St. Caius (283-296) Also called Gaius
St. Marcellinus (296-304)
St. Marcellus I (308-309)
St. Eusebius (309 or 310)
St. Miltiades (311-14)
St. Sylvester I (314-35)
St. Marcus (336)
St. Julius I (337-52)
Liberius (352-66) Opposed by Felix II, antipope (355-365)
St. Damasus I (366-83) Opposed by Ursicinus, antipope (366-367)
St. Siricius (384-99)
St. Anastasius I (399-401)
St. Innocent I (401-17)
St. Zosimus (417-18)
St. Boniface I (418-22) Opposed by Eulalius, antipope (418-419)
St. Celestine I (422-32)
St. Sixtus III (432-40)
St. Leo I (the Great) (440-61)
St. Hilarius (461-68)
St. Simplicius (468-83)
St. Felix III (II) (483-92)
St. Gelasius I (492-96)
Anastasius II (496-98)
St. Symmachus (498-514) Opposed by Laurentius, antipope (498-501)
St. Hormisdas (514-23)
St. John I (523-26)
St. Felix IV (III) (526-30)
Boniface II (530-32) Opposed by Dioscorus, antipope (530)
John II (533-35)
St. Agapetus I (535-36) Also called Agapitus I
St. Silverius (536-37)
Vigilius (537-55)
Pelagius I (556-61)
John III (561-74)
Benedict I (575-79)
Pelagius II (579-90)
St. Gregory I (the Great) (590-604)
Sabinian (604-606)
Boniface III (607)
St. Boniface IV (608-15)
St. Deusdedit (Adeodatus I) (615-18)
Boniface V (619-25)
Honorius I (625-38)
Severinus (640)
John IV (640-42)
Theodore I (642-49)
St. Martin I (649-55)
St. Eugene I (655-57)
St. Vitalian (657-72)
Adeodatus (II) (672-76)
Donus (676-78)
St. Agatho (678-81)
St. Leo II (682-83)
St. Benedict II (684-85)
John V (685-86)
Conon (686-87)
St. Sergius I (687-701) Opposed by Theodore and Paschal, antipopes (687)
John VI (701-05)
John VII (705-07)
Sisinnius (708)
Constantine (708-15)
St. Gregory II (715-31)
St. Gregory III (731-41)
St. Zachary (741-52)
Stephen II (752) Because he died before being consecrated, many authoritative lists omit him
Stephen III (752-57)
St. Paul I (757-67)
Stephen IV (767-72) Opposed by Constantine II (767) and Philip (768), antipopes (767)
Adrian I (772-95)
St. Leo III (795-816)
Stephen V (816-17)
St. Paschal I (817-24)
Eugene II (824-27)
Valentine (827)
Gregory IV (827-44)
Sergius II (844-47) Opposed by John, antipope (855)
St. Leo IV (847-55)
Benedict III (855-58) Opposed by Anastasius, antipope (855)
St. Nicholas I (the Great) (858-67)
Adrian II (867-72)
John VIII (872-82)
Marinus I (882-84)
St. Adrian III (884-85)
Stephen VI (885-91)
Formosus (891-96)
Boniface VI (896)
Stephen VII (896-97)
Romanus (897)
Theodore II (897)
John IX (898-900)
Benedict IV (900-03)
Leo V (903) Opposed by Christopher, antipope (903-904)
Sergius III (904-11)
Anastasius III (911-13)
Lando (913-14)
John X (914-28)
Leo VI (928)
Stephen VIII (929-31)
John XI (931-35)
Leo VII (936-39)
Stephen IX (939-42)
Marinus II (942-46)
Agapetus II (946-55)
John XII (955-63)
Leo VIII (963-64)
Benedict V (964)
John XIII (965-72)
Benedict VI (973-74)
Benedict VII (974-83) Benedict and John XIV were opposed by Boniface VII, antipope (974; 984-985)
John XIV (983-84)
John XV (985-96)
Gregory V (996-99) Opposed by John XVI, antipope (997-998)
Sylvester II (999-1003)
John XVII (1003)
John XVIII (1003-09)
Sergius IV (1009-12)
Benedict VIII (1012-24) Opposed by Gregory, antipope (1012)
John XIX (1024-32)
Benedict IX (1032-45) He appears on this list three separate times, because he was twice deposed and restored
Sylvester III (1045) Considered by some to be an antipope
Benedict IX (1045)
Gregory VI (1045-46)
Clement II (1046-47)
Benedict IX (1047-48)
Damasus II (1048)
St. Leo IX (1049-54)
Victor II (1055-57)
Stephen X (1057-58)
Nicholas II (1058-61) Opposed by Benedict X, antipope (1058)
Alexander II (1061-73) Opposed by Honorius II, antipope (1061-1072)
St. Gregory VII (1073-85) Gregory and the following three popes were opposed by Guibert ("Clement III"), antipope (1080-1100)
Blessed Victor III (1086-87)
Blessed Urban II (1088-99)
Paschal II (1099-1118) Opposed by Theodoric (1100), Aleric (1102) and Maginulf ("Sylvester IV", 1105-1111), antipopes (1100)
Gelasius II (1118-19) Opposed by Burdin ("Gregory VIII"), antipope (1118)
Callistus II (1119-24)
Honorius II (1124-30) Opposed by Celestine II, antipope (1124)
Innocent II (1130-43) Opposed by Anacletus II (1130-1138) and Gregory Conti ("Victor IV") (1138), antipopes (1138)
Celestine II (1143-44)
Lucius II (1144-45)
Blessed Eugene III (1145-53)
Anastasius IV (1153-54)
Adrian IV (1154-59)
Alexander III (1159-81) Opposed by Octavius ("Victor IV") (1159-1164), Pascal III (1165-1168), Callistus III (1168-1177) and Innocent III (1178-1180), antipopes
Lucius III (1181-85)
Urban III (1185-87)
Gregory VIII (1187)
Clement III (1187-91)
Celestine III (1191-98)
Innocent III (1198-1216)
Honorius III (1216-27)
Gregory IX (1227-41)
Celestine IV (1241)
Innocent IV (1243-54)
Alexander IV (1254-61)
Urban IV (1261-64)
Clement IV (1265-68)
Blessed Gregory X (1271-76)
Blessed Innocent V (1276)
Adrian V (1276)
John XXI (1276-77)
Nicholas III (1277-80)
Martin IV (1281-85)
Honorius IV (1285-87)
Nicholas IV (1288-92)
St. Celestine V (1294)
Boniface VIII (1294-1303)
Blessed Benedict XI (1303-04)
Clement V (1305-14)
John XXII (1316-34) Opposed by Nicholas V, antipope (1328-1330)
Benedict XII (1334-42)
Clement VI (1342-52)
Innocent VI (1352-62)
Blessed Urban V (1362-70)
Gregory XI (1370-78)
Urban VI (1378-89) Opposed by Robert of Geneva ("Clement VII"), antipope (1378-1394)
Boniface IX (1389-1404) Opposed by Robert of Geneva ("Clement VII") (1378-1394), Pedro de Luna ("Benedict XIII") (1394-1417) and Baldassare Cossa ("John XXIII") (1400-1415), antipopes
Innocent VII (1404-06) Opposed by Pedro de Luna ("Benedict XIII") (1394-1417) and Baldassare Cossa ("John XXIII") (1400-1415), antipopes
Gregory XII (1406-15) Opposed by Pedro de Luna ("Benedict XIII") (1394-1417), Baldassare Cossa ("John XXIII") (1400-1415), and Pietro Philarghi ("Alexander V") (1409-1410), antipopes
Martin V (1417-31)
Eugene IV (1431-47) Opposed by Amadeus of Savoy ("Felix V"), antipope (1439-1449)
Nicholas V (1447-55)
Callistus III (1455-58)
Pius II (1458-64)
Paul II (1464-71)
Sixtus IV (1471-84)
Innocent VIII (1484-92)
Alexander VI (1492-1503)
Pius III (1503)
Julius II (1503-13)
Leo X (1513-21)
Adrian VI (1522-23)
Clement VII (1523-34)
Paul III (1534-49)
Julius III (1550-55)
Marcellus II (1555)
Paul IV (1555-59)
Pius IV (1559-65)
St. Pius V (1566-72)
Gregory XIII (1572-85)
Sixtus V (1585-90)
Urban VII (1590)
Gregory XIV (1590-91)
Innocent IX (1591)
Clement VIII (1592-1605)
Leo XI (1605)
Paul V (1605-21)
Gregory XV (1621-23)
Urban VIII (1623-44)
Innocent X (1644-55)
Alexander VII (1655-67)
Clement IX (1667-69)
Clement X (1670-76)
Blessed Innocent XI (1676-89)
Alexander VIII (1689-91)
Innocent XII (1691-1700)
Clement XI (1700-21)
Innocent XIII (1721-24)
Benedict XIII (1724-30)
Clement XII (1730-40)
Benedict XIV (1740-58)
Clement XIII (1758-69)
Clement XIV (1769-74)
Pius VI (1775-99)
Pius VII (1800-23)
Leo XII (1823-29)
Pius VIII (1829-30)
Gregory XVI (1831-46)
Blessed Pius IX (1846-78)
Leo XIII (1878-1903)
St. Pius X (1903-14)
Benedict XV (1914-22)
Biographies of Benedict XV and his successors will be added at a later date
Pius XI (1922-39)
Pius XII (1939-58)
Blessed John XXIII (1958-63)
Paul VI (1963-78)
John Paul I (1978)
John Paul II (1978-2005)
Benedict XVI (2005—)

About this page

APA citation. The List of Popes. (1911). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Retrieved April 1, 2009 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12272b.htm
MLA citation. "The List of Popes." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
1 Apr. 2009 .
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.