Saturday, May 30, 2009

Now that is strange

Today I have done something that I don't think I've done since I was, oh, maybe four months old; I'll have to ask my parents: I slept, pretty much uninterruptedly, for eleven hours. ELEVEN.

That's usually about how much sleep it feels like I get in a week, so you can understand my sense of wonder and accomplishment. That cough medicine is some powerful stuff!

I don't like to take sleepy-making cough medicine very much because it makes me have the weirdest dreams, completely unlike taking sleepy-making allergy medicine, which just makes me, well, go to sleep. After slugging down three teaspoons of this cough medicine two nights ago, I dreamed that I left my husband to go off on a wild, romantic tangent with Heath Ledger, something that is completely unlike my usual staid and church-ladyish Catholic self. Not to mention the fact that Heath -- God rest his soul -- is no longer with us. This morning, I have a vague memory of dreaming that I went to the circus and got first one balloon, then two, then three and finally so many that my feet lifted off the ground and I went up, up, up and was dismayed when my sandals fell off.

It didn't take as many balloons as you might have thought, which is the very essence of dream-ness. Well, that and running off with a willing Heath Ledger.

I guess the strange dreams are better than the experience one of my friends had when taking this particular brand of cough syrup, though. She totally hallucinated and claims that Jesus was walking around her bedroom carrying a lantern.

"How do you know it was a hallucination?" I asked. "There are many saints who have seen Jesus, like St. Anthony of Padua and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque."

"Well, first of all, I am not a saint," she replied smartly. "And second of all, when I sat up in bed and said, 'Jesus, what are you doing here?' to him, he ignored me and just kept on pacing around with his lantern. But my husband growled, 'Lie down and go back to sleep, willya?' I don't think Jesus would have ignored me if he were really there. And he probably would have said something to my husband for being so grumpy to me when I was sick."

I had to concede the point. And I've also kept an eye on her over the years, and if she's a saint-becoming, she's got a heck of a long way to go. HAHAHAHAHAAA!!! (I can get away with saying that because I'm sick and under the influence of cough medicine. Snaa-a-ap!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thank heaven for teenagers

I am the not-all-that-pleased new recipient of that chest cold that Nanny and Poppy brought home from Colorado, although my mother firmly and sassily denies that they did any such thing. She also refuses to claim any responsibility for the Bologna Virus and we had a spirited debate over these issues this morning on the phone, in between my bouts of coughing. I told her I was going to tell Pat on her. He'll fix 'er.

Yesterday night, I crawled out of bed at about 1:30 a.m., aware that my coughing and my mouth-breathing due to slammed-shut nasal passages was causing my poor husband to not get the night's sleep he needs. I made my way downstairs, burdened with a blankie and some pillows, the ibuprofen and about a sixteenth of an inch of cough syrup, which is all that was left in the bottle after Meelyn and Aisling both had a go at it. I finally fell into a feverish sleep somewhere around 4:30.

By morning, I was burning up, coughing wretchedly and feeling very, very sorry for myself. VERY sorry. But not as sorry as all that, because I knew that once Meelyn was awake, she would be rocky pleased to be sent to the pharmacy with my debit card and a list that included such things as a 50 gallon drum of Robitussin, a pallet of Cold-Eeze lozenges, a thermometer, some muscle rub and a saline water nasal syringe. And some dark chocolate M&Ms, but I don't remember how that got on the list. I must have been delirious.

Shivering, with my blanket all clutched up under my chin, I handed Meelyn the list: "Here, honey," I croaked. "Take the van to CVS. Buy these things. And if you find a doctor loitering around on the premises, bring him or her too. Even if it's, like, a vet."

Meelyn's face lit up and she took the list and the debit card from my trembling fingers. "Okay!" she sang out, grabbing her purse. "I'll be back in twenty minutes or so! I'll call when I get to CVS!"

She danced out of the room but turned back suddenly, her lower lip pushed out. "I'm sorry you're sick, Mommy," she said. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I looked at her fondly. "Oh, you're doing it, believe me," I said. "THANK YOU."

If I'd known how wonderful it would be for a girl to get her driver's license, I would have installed a motor on her Exer-Saucer, I believe.

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Los Angeles and Seattle auditions

When I finished writing my review of the Miami/Memphis auditions yesterday, I found myself unable to remember what city (along with Los Angeles) was going to serve as an audition venue for last night's show. It turns out that I may be a little bit paranormally gifted, because I seemed to know in advance how much the Seattle auditions were going to stink: I completely blocked the city out of my consciousness. Will wonders never cease?

But before I go yapping on about Seattle, let me take you first to Los Angeles.

The big treat that L.A. offered right off the bat was the sight of Comfort, Katee and Joshua's much-loved faces from Season 4, joining Lauren-the-Choreographer from Season 3. It was so good to see them again. I don't know what it is about this show, but I end up loving the dancers in a way I never love the contestants on American Idol or Survivor. An added bonus was Adam Shankman in the third judge's chair -- glad to see him, too, although truthfully, I would have been okay with anybody but Tyce. Nigel and Mary were all smiles as things got started.

There were a number of comebacks in Los Angeles, the most outstanding among them being Philip Chbeeb. He was the extraordinary popper/locker who was given a ticket to Vegas in Season 4, but ended up not getting to go because he came down with pneumonia, of all things. Such a disappointment! Because he was good. Even I, who vastly prefers ballroom dancing to any other style, could appreciate his poppy/locky goodness. He can make himself look as if he has no bones, people! And he seems like a very nice guy as well.

Adam, Mary and Nigel were so glad to see him that Nigel was moved to a Christmas-morning sort of generosity: he handed the surprised Philip a ticket to Las Vegas without even seeing him perform. Which was great for Philip, but not so great for all of us in the audience who wanted to see him dance. Gee, thanks for the stocking full of coal, Nigel. Maybe in Season 6, you could get us all a fruitcake and an ugly tie.

But all was not lost because Philip came back to partner with an adorable contemporary dancer named Arielle Coker. Their routine was sweet and fun to watch; she's very talented as well. I hope they're a couple. I hope she appreciates him! And if she breaks his heart, there are going to be a bunch of fans of this show who are going to be really ticked off, including the three female people in our living room because we loved him first, ARIELLE.


Another partnering graced the stage with International Latin Ballroom dancers Asuka (pronounced OSS-ah-kuh) Kondoh and Ricky Sun. Asuka delightfully confided to the camera that you often see Russians or Latin Americans dancing in their style, which is good for them because she and Ricky are Asians. They stand out! Of course, they might just stand out because they are incredible dancers who do the most outrageously difficult moves with the greatest ease. And let's face it: Asuka is just about the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen, a perfect little porcelain doll of a girl. Ricky is a great partner, but he's just about eclipsed by the tiny powerhouse that is Asuka. He held his own, as the three wowed judges said, and I will give him that.

Here they are, dancing to Duffy's "Mercy."

But on the downside of Our eyes out on stalks, we watched brother/sister combo Brynelle and Xaviar Blanton doing a too-close-for-comfort contemporary dance that had me nervously shifting in my seat and my husband holding the remote in a trembling hand, ready for the quick maneuver over to Sports Center. Because, eeeewwww! That was some creepy, there, kids! Where are your parents? I can see a brother/sister act teaming up for hip-hop or Broadway or even square dancing, but please! Quit assaulting our sensibilities with your romantic contemporary piece! I thought there were laws against that kind of thing.

The Los Angeles auditions were also notable for introducing us to dancers Sammy Ramirez and Nathan Trasoras. Sammy was a nineteen year old popper/locker with a smile that "[lit] up the stage," as Mary put it. He was a very likeable kid and he pulled off a wickedly good routine with talent, humor and "hair choreography." Loved him. Total cutie. Same thing with Nathan, only without the popping and locking, and also without the eighteen-years-old minimum age requirement. Nathan was such a handsome guy and he did what the judges and I agreed was a very solid and pleasing contemporary routine, but GAAAAH!!! He's only seventeen, and therefore ineligible! Mary and I almost cried. The day was saved when, somewhere off camera where the television audience was not privy to the conversation, the judges found out that Nathan will be turning eighteen this summer; he was given a ticket to Las Vegas, straight through to Season 6! Yay!

The final dancer was some dude nicknamed "Shakiro," after the pop star Shakira, she of the famously swiveling hips. Shakira has her sexy Latina/Middle Eastern vibe and she makes it work, but she is a gorgeous, coffee-skinned, dark-eyed beauty and this guy was kind of freckly and chubby and the only thing I can imagine that could have possibly been worse would be if I'd gotten up there and swiveled my hips.

Here's Kevin Cormeir, a.k.a. Shakiro:

and here's Shakira herself. You be the judge.

The Seattle hour was just awful, netting only EIGHT dancers from the whole two days of auditions. Mia Michaels was in the third chair and it was nice to see her. I love Mia's choreography and I like her as a judge for the auditions, but I can't stand her as a judge during the actual show because she's so often pretentious and egotistical and mean.

Here's one of our favorite bits of Mia choreography, a contemporary tribute to her dad who died from lung cancer. The scene is heaven, where father and daughter have finally been reunited, danced by Neil Haskell and Lacey Schwimmer from Season 4.

That was just really moving, wasn't it?

Okay, I gave you that because Seattle just really blew chunks, directly after the judges took their seats. There was a montage of the judges, including the perpetually sunny-tempered Mary, lashing out at the talentless oafs that were staggering around the stage, apparently looking like people in the throes of childbirth, or perhaps suffering from multiple beestings. Thankfully, we didn't have to see most of that sorry lot.

We did see a break dancer (emphasis on "break") named Nick Salzman, another one of the tattooed and be-pierced crowd. His dancing was so-so, especially since he had completely winded himself after about thirty seconds and abruptly got to his feet and came to the microphone.

"Why did you stop?" wondered Mia, puzzled.

I didn't catch what he said -- must have been something like, "I'm completely knackered" -- but Nigel was worried about Nick's physical fitness: dancing is a lot of hard work. Nick took umbrage at Nigel's concern and snapped some sassy remark at him, which caused Mary to go all oh-no-you-di'n't on him.

"You had my yes for choreography until you insulted Nigel," she said in a Don't-Mess-with-Mother voice. "But if you can be so disrespectful to the executive producer of the show, how will you be able to get along with the choreographers and your fellow dancers?"

Mia solemnly agreed, and Nick was forced to shamble off in a walk of shame, alll-l-l-l-l the way up the aisle past those many rows of staring eyes.

One of the nicest moments of the Seattle auditions came from a young man named Kuponohi’ipoi Aweau, a native of Hawaii, whose name means something like "Child of Truth and Beauty." I don't know about the truth part, but he had the bee-yooo-teee goin' on. Handsome guy! He did a contemporary piece and the judges and I disagreed on a point: Nigel and Mary thought that he did a few things that gave off a feminine vibe, but I honestly didn't see that at all.

There were a couple of other good dancers, but nobody who just stopped my breath, which was kind of disappointing. However, we did have to see that idiot David Soller, he with the Mommy issues who goes by the nickname "Sex." And I'm telling you, there just could not be a more ludicrous nickname. David has been around since Season 1, doting mother in tow, doing his best to blind us all.

The only other thing I can think of to say about David Soller is this: IS HE EVER GOING TO REACH THE AGE CUTOFF SO THAT HE CAN'T AUDITION ANYMORE?!?!

Here he is in a dance-off with another excruciatingly bad Seattle auditioner, Leonid Knyshov. Watch it at your peril, and please don't eat or drink anything without having a small wastebasket handy, because....oh, you'll figure it out.

Okay, I know you feel weak and shaky. Just go lie down on the sofa with a cool cloth on your forehead. I've built up some resistance to the Soller strain, so I'm fine. Let me just tell you that we now have one hundred seventy-eight dancers from across the country headed for Las Vegas with only twenty spaces to fill.

Next stop, Las Vegas!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Miami and Memphis Auditions

If you only knew how I've been biting my nails and crafting countdown paper chains and pacing the floors of my home in the middle of the night waiting for season five of So You Think You Can Dance? to begin. If you only knew! Because if you knew, you'd understand what a letdown last night's two hour audition show was. The morning after watching it, I'm cudgeling my brains to come up with more than a handful of awesome dancers -- and I'm talking in any style, not just my personal favorite! -- and really, it's hard to do.

Here are some the standouts:

There was one couple from Miami who did the most incredible flippy-dippy salsa dance (which Nigel irritatingly pronounced "saaaalser") and it was muy caliente - so fun to watch. I didn't catch their names, but they were so good and they both got tickets to Vegas.

And there was Joseph Smith from Memphis who was full of personality and, yes, talent, who made me smile with his "ShaaaaaWHAM!" and his general joie de vivre. He did a hip-hop routine which I remember vaguely that I liked, but he got so much more screentime with the "shaaa-WHAM" and the ultimate "shaaaa-WIZZLE" or something like that, I can't recall to mind what he actually did. Like, onstage.

And oh, yes, also Memphis police officer Marico Flake (unfortunate name) with a badge and a uniform and a squad car and everything, who disconcertingly looked to be about twelve years old. Disturbing! I think that maybe there should be looks requirements to go along with the age and weight and educational requirements to qualify one as a law enforcement officer. He was dancing in a style called "Memphis Jukin'," which of course I have never heard of, but judge L'il C (a krump dancer -- don't ask me what that is -- and choreographer) waxed poetic on it, so I'll believe him because he is such a good judge.

There was also a beautiful girl from Miami named Talia Rickards who lost her young husband to a motorcycle accident. They were married four years, high school sweethearts, when he decided to go out for a ride one night. "I felt like something was wrong," she said, gulping back tears. "And a few hours later, the cops came to my door." Tears all around in the living room. The girl mentioned how she goes to visit her husband down the street where he is.....she struggled to say the word "buried" and lost, instead substituting the word "sleeping" and how she knows he would be proud of her for auditioning.

Then she danced and it was very touching and she got a ticket to Las Vegas, I think.

There were two sisters, Megan and Caitlin Kinney, both of whom made it through to Las Vegas, both of whom were beautiful dancers. Megan auditioned in Miami and Caitlin auditioned in Memphis, and of course I can't remember what genre each girl chose, but I do remember that I liked them. I totally suck as a reviewer, don't I? I'm glad I'm not getting paid for this, because I have the feeling that I would shortly no longer be getting paid for this, if you can follow me.

Best of all, though, were the Memphis auditions of brothers Evan and Ryan Kasprzak. Evan went first and did this kind of Gene Kelly-ish, Fred Astaire-like jazz dance to "The Best is Yet to Come" and highlighted, underscored and bold-texted the fact that a man can twirl in the air and leap about and still look masculine. His routine was fun and entertaining and I loved it. Then Ryan, the older bro, came onstage for his a capella tap routine accompanied by a singular prop: a whoopie cushion. The routine was just too clever and Mary Murphy giggled throughout the whole thing. I couldn't find the Kasprzaks' auditions at YouTube, but here's a link to an entertainment blog called where you can watch them.

Here are a few people who should've stayed home:

There were two other sisters, identical twins, who costumed themselves very strangely and inappropriately in black thong leotards. And black leggings. And some very strange-looking tie-on boots. Just....never mind. I can't explain them, the boots or the sisters. All I can say is that they were just wrong on so many levels, including the one where they both pointed their large, be-thonged rear ends at the camera. Thank heaven for the leggings, is all I can say. Yikes.

And then there was a girl in a bikini top with a t-shirt over it, only....the t-shirt didn't cover her boobs? Why didn't it? And at one point, she threw her legs wide and showed us her crotch, which couldn't be more obnoxious, and not what this show is about. The judges all flinched, along with the four of us. Make her go away. Oh, for a vaudeville hook! And, I don't know....a blanket to cover her up? Hurry.

But the worst by far of the evening was Miami judge Tice Diorio, a choreographer whose Broadway routines on SYTYCD? nearly always leave me feeling that "The Great White Way" ought to be called "The Great Wrong Way" where he is concerned, anyway. He is in luuuurve with the sound of his own voice and mugs and preens and pans for the camera, the theater audience and the other judges until you just want to slap him on the back of the head and bark, "SHUT! UP!" We were all so glad when the second hour of the program started and Li'l C came in. Tyce, banished! If only we were shed of him for the rest of the season.

Here's a nine-minute snippet from last night, including Joseph "Shaaa-WHAM" Smith and his very enjoyable routine (which I now definitely like, now that I've re-seen it) and the Crotch-Showing Girl....eeeeuuwww. It also includes the very excited dancer who exited the theater screaming, "I'm going to Vegaaaaaaaas!" and then dropped her ticket, which proceeding to blow blithely down the street. The unforgiving camera caught her in an undignified, hunched-over scramble for the errant paper, which just had to hurt, knowing that it was going to be on national television, and all. We felt sorry for her, mostly because it seemed so exactly like something Meelyn, Aisling or I would do.

Tonight! Final auditions in Los Angeles and...Denver? Is that right? Anyhoo, we'll be in front of the television, ready for the entertainment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Here's an Elton John song I had totally forgotten about. It was used on the season finale soundtrack of the "Life on Mars" series that my husband and I just finished watching this evening. Funnily enough, I still knew all the words -- how does that happen?

At any rate, this song is a gift I received from an otherwise nondescript kind of day. It's notable for the sweetness of the often-repeated line, "I thank the Lord for the people I have found."

And I do!

Here's a touchingly young Elton from 1973.

When Monday comes on Tuesday

Oh, crazy, craaaaa-zeeee things happen. Such as? you ask. Well, lemme tell you:

1) Hershey barfed in the dining room at a time of the day when I am barely sentient and totally unprepared -- physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually -- for cleaning up dog vomit.

2) Aisling, in a determined effort to get her algebra text finished, did five lessons. And then discovered that she had just spent the past couple of hours re-doing the same lessons she did last Wednesday.

3) Meelyn drove all the way across town to Aldi to pick up a few grocery items, and realized when she got there that she'd forgotten my debit card.

4) Poppy, who is fighting yet another version of the Bologna Virus, got up in the middle of the night last night with an uneasy stomach, and ended up passing out cold on the bathroom floor (thankfully without throwing up in some kind of gruesome take on This is Spinal Tap) and breaking three bones in his foot on the way down. He gets to wear a boot-cast for the next seven weeks.

5) Aisling dropped one of the silver spoons behind the stove, of all places.

6) I ran out of Diet Coke.

7) I ran out of Diet Coke.


9) Yesterday, Memorial Day, was windy, cool and pouring with rain half the day. Today? Why, it is warm and delightfully summery, with buttery sunshine brightening up the leaves, flowers and green, green grass, with nary a cloud in the sky.

Tell me, if you can

What would make a dog go outside and do his morning business, spend about twenty minutes sniffing over every single blade of grass in the entire yard, bark vociferously at a person on the sidewalk across the street from the house, inspect the perimeter of our property for any cats, squirrels or taunting birds....

....and then come inside to throw up on the dining room rug?


And why did it have to happen when the girls were at the gym so that I had to be the one to clean it up?

Monday, May 25, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - New York & Denver Auditions

Last Thursday night marked the beginning of the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance?, which has to be the dumbest name for one of television's best reality shows ever. I love this show even beyond Top Chef, which is saying something since Top Chef involves the preparation and eating of food, two activities with which I am completely simpatico. Whereas SYTYCD? involves dancing and sweating, which....well, let's just say that it would be considered a criminal act for me to dance in public and sweating is just something that happens to you when you're pre-menopausal and suffering from hot flashes. Although I do prefer to think of them as POWER SURGES.

I never really knew how interested I was in all types of dance until we started watching this show. I knew about ballet and ballroom dancing, of course, and I was terribly envious of my friend, Traci, who took tap lessons when we were kids. And I do remember those Electric Boogaloo commercials on TV when I was a teenager. My word. Who could forget THAT? With those guys spinning around on their necks and shoulders; they are probably regretting that now. But now I know about popping and locking and crunking and hip-hop and West Coast Swing. And I also don't think any more that lyrical dance is silly and pretentious.....well, okay. I admit it. Sometimes I still think that lyrical dance is silly and pretentious, but not as often as I used to.

I have managed to recruit Carol and Susie as new viewers this season. I hope they will enjoy it as much as we do, but even more, I hope we like the same people so that I won't hurt their feelings when I say with passion, "So-and-so REEKS" and then have to backpedal in shame at my bad manners, saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I mean, so-and-so reeks with talent. Just oozing out of him! Gorgeous dancer!"

As always, there were many talented people who auditioned, and some who weren't. There was Crazy Kate ("I'm crazy about dancing") who was kind of plumply lethargic in the swing routine she and her partner, Ron, did. When Nigel, Mary, Tabitha and Napoleon let her down gently, she told the camera that it was okay that she didn't go to Las Vegas; now she could stay in New York and keep her job and go to a Lego tournament. Okaaaay....

Then there were the Same Sex Ballroom Dancer Guys at Denver who were just....I don't know. Weird and wrong? There was something so ungainly about seeing them grimly swinging one another about ("I'm straight, he's gay"), and then, of course, falling flat to the floor as they attempted a lift. Whoops! In one of the Latin styles noted for sensuality and grace, those two dudes were neither. And thank heaven for that.

And who could forget -- even if you spent a LOT of time trying -- the girl made up like a cat, doing a dance with two light sabers to the Star Wars theme? I'll spare you the details, but it was uncommonly bad. It's not unusual for people to show up for the auditions and do something really stupid just for a prank, but if that's what Catgirl was aiming for, it fell as flat as last night's

Here was one of our favorites in the pop-and-lock style. We thought these two brothers, Elias and Enoch, were good dancers, so cute and how do they move like that? They're all the way from Santa Fe and their audition was very funny and entertaining.

As the show progressed, there were a few hot messes, one of which had Nigel fuming, "That was just....stupid. Why would you want to do that at an audition? And on television?"

Exactly what we were saying, Nigel. Especially about the people doing the "Bolero" dance, who nearly scarred us for life with their all-around yuckiness. What was that? Did they need to get a room? Medical assistance? Sensitivity training? Yeeeeshhhh!

The guy with the umbrella slayed us all. When he appeared onstage with the unfurled umbrella, my husband said, "What does the umbrella represent?"

I watched him for a moment and replied, "I think the umbrella is a woman."

When he finished his routine, Mary Murphy asked the same question about the umbrella. And it turned out I was right. The umbrella was a physical metaphor for the young man's aunt, recently deceased, whom he perceived as a covering and protection in his life; someone who sheltered him. You think we weren't moved by this? Meelyn swiped her sleeve across her eyes; I got up to get a tissue, and my husband sniffed a bit. Aisling looked at us and said incredulously, "Are you all crying ALREADY?!"

There was a kid named Chimezie who had issues with the pronunciation of his name. When Nigel referred to him, understandably, as "Chi-MEE-zie," I thought the young man was going to turn on his heel and stride from the auditiorium in a huff. Napoleon corrected Nigel hurriedly, saying, "Chih-mih-ZAY." Well, okay then! Chimezie did a very entertaining dance, however, and went on to choreography.

It was lovely, by the way, seeing Lauren Gottlieb from Season 3 working with the auditioners as the choreographer. Hi, Lauren!

One other dance who really stood out was a girl named Kayla, who came with a set of the sweetest, cuddliest grandparents you've ever seen. She was a great dancer (did a lyrical piece to "Blackbird") and her grandpa got all choked up....aawwwww. Everybody loves their Pawpaw! Lots of hugging. Talented girl, adorable family.

Sonya the choreographer was in Denver for that set of auditions, and I know, I know: The Mohawk. The piercings. The tattoos. But I just love her. When she said to a dancer, "When I watch you, I want to throw daisies and sunflowers into the air," I just melted. I'd like to be her (older, overweight, untalented) friend.

But here was the highlight of the evening: Bryant and Natalie from Season 4. Oh, the tears!

It was wonderful to see them back this year, and I hope they make it through to the top twenty.

All in all, an excellent start to the season. The show is on this week on both Wednesday and Thursday. Yay!

Meelyn, freewheelin'

For those of you who have children younger than mine, let me just tell you about this WHOLE NEW AMAZING TIME OF LIFE you're coming onto within a few years.

No, I am not talking about the empty nest. I am talking about having a child who can drive. As far as I'm concerned, Meelyn may be the one with the driver's license, but I am the one with A LICENSE TO FREEDOM.


Okay. Okay. Deep breaths.

Here is why I am so excited: Meelyn has now done three or four errands for me, all by herself. She's been to the pharmacy, the grocery store twice, and the public library. That doesn't really sound like much, does it? But oh my goodness. Oh my heavenly, gracious, glorious goodness! It really is a lot. A LOT. Ooops, there I go again.

You see, all mothers know that at least 20% of every day involves doing a bunch of boresome errands that must be done because I defy you to serve broccoli and cheese stuffed baked potatoes without the potatoes. Know what I mean? Yes, we have all been to that bad place, haven't we? Some people do their errands on a daily basis; some wait and reserve a huge chunk of time for their errands -- post office, dry cleaners', the aforementioned library and pharmacy, the grocery where you buy your milk and eggs and bread and the like, the other grocery where the meat is cheaper, and the discount department store where the toiletries and cleaning supplies are so much cheaper, but you have to walk ninety-six miles to round them all up and any number of other places, including the gas station -- but whenever you do them, it's just terrible.

Well, let me tell you. When you have a kid with a driver's license, it turns out that they can do a lot of that stuff for you and here's the kicker: they enjoy it. They do! They get to be out in your car, alone at last and free from your choice of radio station, doing grown-uppy things like mailing a package and buying the potatoes you were hoping to serve for dinner tonight and picking up your winter coat from the cleaner's. Then they come home all wreathed in smiles with a handful of receipts and it is the most liberating thing I have ever known. And it's only been a couple of days!

My friend Julie B. told me it would be this way. There was a fanatic glow in her eyes when she explained to me the many delights of never having to make a crazy dash for the market on taco night because you forgot to buy the tortillas. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that she and Jeff live so far out in the country, Paul Bunyan and his great blue ox, Babe, are their nearest neighbors; a "quick trip into town" for her was much more of a committment of time and patience than it is for me. I do know that when her older son balked at getting his license, saying that he preferred, when all was said and done, to be chauffeured like a sultan to and from his various activities, Julie turned into a shrieking, flaming skull shooting around the living room and told the kid in no uncertain terms that she was going to drive him down to the BMV and he was going to take that test, or else.

Else what? he asked flippantly.

Julie got very, very close to him, so close the flames singed his eyebrows and chapped his lips. "Don't make me show you 'else what,'" she breathed in a quivering voice, kind of like that girl from The Exorcist. "You're not going to like 'else what,' belieeeeeeeeve me."

"Oh-KAY!" he said, irritably shrugging one shoulder. "Geeez! Maaaaaan!!!! Don't get so amped!" But when he got up and ambled out to the kitchen for a snack, he did so with a quick wide-eyed backward glance.

"Just GO GET IN THE CAR," Julie growled, teeth clenched. "Here's your driver's manual; you can study on the way there. And don't even CONSIDER not passing."

We didn't have anything like that here because Meelyn was terribly excited to drive. And frankly, all those errands I need her to run are right up a girl's alley, involving no long explanations of what a cotton ball is and where it can be found and how the cotton ball is different than the cosmetic square, so just because you see the word "cotton" on the package doesn't mean you can grab just any old thing.

It's really lovely. And now I think I understand the angst so many parents have about Empty Nest Syndrome: not only do they miss having their kids in and out of the house, they also have to do all their own boresome errands again after that blessed reprieve of the high school years.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Meelyn did it!

After a thirty minute wait standing in line at the BMV and another thirty minutes to take that written test, Meelyn is now the proud owner of a new driver's license in the state of Indiana. Yippee!!!!

Getting the license was like undertaking to find the holy grail -- if you want to lay your hands on something that important, you have to work for it. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is one of everybody's least favorite places to go, second only to traffic court or maybe a visit to an oral surgeon, and here's the reason: the line. THE LINE. When Meelyn and I walked in the door, there was a queue of about fifteen grumpy-looking people ahead of us, shuffling forward with glacial slowness. A BMV employee with a clipboard made occasional forays into our midst, doing triage.

"Is anyone here for a title transfer?" she yelled out. "License renewal? Plate renewal? Bill of sale? Form A7-194 for renewing an existing license after suspension?"

We in the crowd all eyed one another shiftily. It was obvious that no one was going to admit to needing Form A7-194.

The tedium was lightened when what looked to be an entire twenty-something biker gang came in to cheer on their newest member, who was to take his test for obtaining a motorcycle license. They were tattooed and be-pierced within an inch of their leather-clad lives, and for people who looked so weird and mean, they were a surprisingly affectionate and matey group.

'We'll all go out to ridin' once you get yer license, Chas," one of them said comfortably from behind a wad of chewing tobacco. "It's gonna be a great night for a ride. Purty day out there, and all that."

"That's only if he passes," another man joked. His girlfriend, sporting kohl eyeliner and bleached hair, had her arms looped around his neck like a python. His hand was painfully squeezed into one of the back pockets on her painted-on ultra low-rise jeans. This comment led to some good natured pushing and some "sum'b*tch" calling, which earned the crowd a pursed-lip glare from the clipboard lady.

I noticed later that when their guy went to the testing area to take his exam, the lot of them sat upright in their chairs, their eyes fastened on his moving pencil, muttering nervously among themselves.

Motorcycle gang aside, I also found that the BMV is a great place to go if you want to see men wearing inappropriate t-shirts. I'm not much on grown men in message shirts anyway, but it's even worse if they're boldly explicit.

A kid in his early twenties ahead of us in the line was sporting a Jägermeister shirt with an empty shot glass on the front and two large-font words on the back: "Holy Sh*t!" Nice. Very nice.

The other two men in offensive shirts, however, were guys in their forties. Like, my age. Dad-type people. A little paunchy, a little balding. Could they be married? If so, how? I, like many other wives, run my husband through the Lady Vision Outfit Checker before we leave the house: Shirt properly tucked in? Should he be wearing a tie? White socks with sandals -- verboten. Message shirt when he should be wearing a golf shirt? Naturally, he deeply resents this and sets up a storm of bitter protest, but I simply hold up a palm and turn my head away. No can hear you, Mr. Gym Shorts. Go put on some khakis.

I know other women do this, too. I know this because we've talked about it frequently at different gatherings of my friends. So what is the deal with those men at the BMV? How are they getting out of their houses? Because I checked them out surreptitiously and they were both wearing wedding bands.

One was wearing a shirt from a local men's softball league. "Always Protect Your Nuts" the front of his shirt proclaimed, with a picture of a squirrel clutching an armful of acorns to his furry chest. On the back it said, "Use Your Cup." The squirrel was depicted off-loading his acorns into a coffee mug. Oh, aaaaahaha ha ha haha haaa! Woooo!

The other forty-something dude was evidently a fisherman, but I didn't know that until I saw the back of his shirt. The front of his shirt, which caused me to raise my eyebrows in delicate disdain, read in huge letters that wavered over his manboobs and big belly: "SIZE DOES MATTER." On the back was an advertisement for some brand of fishing paraphernalia. I sniffed and turned my head. Eeeewww. I sincerely hope he was referring to his stomach.

I had a chance to observe all of this at length, because did I mention that it took Meelyn half an hour to do that test? Naturally, I had a book with me, but there was so much activity going on, it was hard to concentrate. Plus, it seems that the BMV always has that special kind of molded plastic chair that presses cruelly on my left sciatic nerve, that same nerve that Aisling cheerfully jammed her pumpkin head onto for the last three months of my pregnancy with her. The torment that little beggar put me through for those last twelve weeks with all that jouncing, twanging that fragile nerve like a banjo string, was excruciating. It's never gotten completely better. Especially in molded plastic chairs.

Meelyn sat in the testing area, going over that exam. And sat. And sat. And wrote. Then erased. And sat some more. Twirled a lock of hair around her pencil, brow furrowed. Erased. Wrote. Wrote some more. Flipped a few pages. I thought I'd go mad.

Finally, I dialed my phone. "I think I'm going to go mad," I hissed to my husband, who answered his phone in a sleepy voice with no enthusiasm at all. "She's taking forever on this test."

"She's very thorough," he yawned. Thursday is his day off, and he tends to get up way too early to go running and then mow his different yards. This leads to afternoons of peaceful somnolence, punctuated by me appearing at the foot of his recliner like an unwelcome chore genii saying Remember you were going to shovel that mulch? and Have you changed the furnace filter yet?

"Yes, I know, but if she doesn't get a move on, cars are going to be rendered obsolete by low-flying spacecrafts that run on fuel made from carrots and hairspray," I complained.

"Did you know that I was taking a nap when you called?" my husband asked. I love non sequiturs.

"I did not know that." Feverishly, I looked over at Meelyn: Sitting. Writing. Erasing. Twirling. GAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

"I'm going to hang up now," he said persistently.

"Don't-forget-you-were-going-to-hose-out-the-trash-bin," I gabbled hastily.

I returned my cell phone to my purse and looked around the BMV, noting that it is a place where you can see a definite cross-section of your city's citizenry. The old, the young, the casual drop-ins and those who were on a late lunch hour and needing to get back to work; the professionals and the blue-collar workers; those who knew what they needed to do and those who weren't quite sure if they had the right paperwork -- all of us plodding through the line squirming on our uncomfortable chairs and being called one by one to talk to the clerks -- and one poor guy who had lost the title of his car, realizing this only after the car was stolen. He's probably still there.

Just when I thought I was going to throw back my head and howl, Meelyn stood up and smiled at me brightly. "I'M DONE!" she mouthed across the room, her eyes sparkling. I smiled back and pantomimed wiping the sweat off my forehead. She grinned and rolled her eyes and went back to the line to hand in her exam to the clerk at the front counter. For a moment, every nerve in my body was clanging like the bells of Notre Dame because that line? It was exponentially longer than it had been half an hour ago; it looked like Ellis Island after a boat docking. Thankfully, the clerk waved Meelyn over and took her test off to be graded. Meelyn came to sit down by me.

"So how'd it go?" I asked her, concerned.

She flicked a lock of blonde hair over her shoulder, all nonchalant. "Oh, it was super easy!"

I looked at her, agog. "Super easy? My land. What took you so long, then? I thought maybe you had to translate it from Portuguese or something."

Meelyn giggled. "Oh, no. I just wanted to check over all my answers. You know, just like you taught me."

I made a mental note to pinch myself later.

"Meelyn!" a clerk called. Meelyn looked up and the clerk beckoned her over to the camera to get her picture taken. The photo I.D. laws have changed in Indiana, as it turns out: Now you cannot show teeth, but you do have to show your ears and your eyebrows. I'm sure this leads to some odd looking photos for ladies, especially ladies like me, who purposely design their hairdos to hide their eyebrows. Or their ears. (But presumably not their teeth.) At any rate, Meelyn's photo looks like a first cousin to a mug shot. The only thing missing is a number held under her chin. Yikes.

The clerk ushered us back to her desk at the long counter, where we both had to sign some paperwork. In a matter of minutes, the clerk was coming back from the driver's license machine thingie. "Congratulations, hon" she said to Meelyn warmly.

"Thanks!" said Meelyn, reaching out to take the license. She reverently slid it into the little windowed slot in her wallet and turned to me. "Do you want to drive home or shall I?"

"Oh, you," I said, feeling a little teary. "Definitely you."

At home, Aisling, my husband and I had a cute card for her ("You got your driver's license!"") that I got at the Factory Card Outlet for forty-nine cents. Seriously, if you aren't familiar with that place, look them up. That has to be one of the most awesome chain stores, like, ever.

We also had a small gold box lined with cotton batting: She lifted the lid, removing the top layer of cotton carefully. Underneath was her own set of keys to both of our cars, plus a key fob for the van with the door lock/unlock, automatic side door and alarm features. "My OWN KEYS?!?!" she squealed in delight. "THANK YOU SO MUCH!"

"Yup," I replied. "I like having my own keys in my own purse, instead of in your purse all the time."

There were hugs all around and then Meelyn pranced off to put her new keys on her keyring with her house keys. I'm sure there have been sunbeams that were less bright than her smile.

Meelyn's rites of passage this spring have been coming one right after the other: Sixteenth birthday, Confirmation, driver's license....It's things like this that tell you, bittersweetly, that your little girl is growing up.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sad, sad Meelyn

No good news today from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles: Meelyn didn't get her license. It wasn't because she didn't pass the written test; it was because she didn't take the written test. Because we didn't know she had to. Because someone at the driving school she went to last summer told us....

Oh, never mind what we were told. The crux of the matter is whether the person of whom I asked the pertinent question -- "So if she gets an A or a B in the class, she does not have to take the written test? Is that right?" -- misunderstood me, or whether I misunderstood the answer: no one knows, since it happened last summer.

All I know now is that the BMV and the owner of the driving school have two wildly varying stories of what a student needs to do regarding the written and driving tests in order to get an Indiana driver's license. Frankly, neither of them makes much sense, and I suspect the driving school owner may be trying to cover an oopsie-daisy moment by one of his employees, and I never expect a whole lot from any government agency, so there you have it.

Meelyn still has all of her carefully filed notes and papers from last summer, so she's sitting down now to study the BMV booklet, and I am getting ready to download some one hundred question practice tests from this helpful website and hopefully, she will have her license within the next few days, once she feels confidently refreshed in all the stuff she learned last July.

Meanwhile, I am feverishly hoping I don't run out of milk or eggs or toilet paper or Diet Coke within the next few days.


Unfortunately, Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band requested that the imbed feature on YouTube be disabled for this video, but this is still my all-time favorite, like, ever, and probably my favorite song. I forgive you, Dave, first of all because of the awesomely sweet and happy song, and also because of the video, which was a work of genius.

I urge you to click on this link to see how a little bit of love can change the world, especially if you're having One of Those Days. It'll make you smile and maybe even laugh (the part with the horse and also that big, skeery-looking guy from The Sopranos) and kind of warm and fuzzy inside. Then go hug somebody.

Pick me up, oh, from the bottom
Up to the top, love, everyday
Pay no mind to taunts or advances,
I'll take my chances on everyday

Jump in the mud, oh,
Get your hands dirty with
love, love it up everyday

All you need is -
All you want is -
All you need is love

All you need is -
What you want is -
All you need is love


Big, BIG day

Not that we're all EXCITED or anything, but in about half an hour, we are leaving the house to go spend the day with Nanny and Poppy, who came home from Colorado four days early, for good this time, but....


Never again shall I groan, "Oh, no....I forgot to buy the [fill in the blank] for this recipe and ohhhh I don't want to go to the stoooooorrrrrrrrre..."

Monday, May 18, 2009

The summer I was ten years old....

This was the big song being played over the loudspeakers at White Estates pool in New Castle, Indiana. It was the summer I went to double digits, and any time I wasn't splashing in the water with my friends Lisa and Dana, I was on my beach towel during the rest period singing this song.

This is Carly Simon recorded live at Martha's Vineyard in 2006 on a perfect summer late afternoon.

Follow me on Twitter

I'm not even sure why I'm asking you to do this, but you can now follow me on Twitter, if you find that you're passionately interested in the minutiae of my daily life. Because, honestly: I don't do anything very exciting. But on the other hand, I have this sort of idea that few of us live lives that could read like the script of an action movie, with car chases and hostage situations and majorly handsome Hugh Jackman-types swooping into rescue us on a rope with knuckles full of pointy knives, so maybe you could follow me and I could follow you and we could all be a little bit dull together?

My list of tweets is on the left hand side of the page, natch, right below Family Cooking. Scroll down to experience endless delights. *ahem*

BBA CHALLENGE: Anadama Bread redux and complaints about science

Okay. I am trying the Anadama bread again in the machine, having reduced the yeast by half and teaspoon and the water by two tablespoons. I should know if my hit-or-miss methods of recipe troubleshooting actually worked in about two and a half hours.

See, this is what gets me: science was hard enough in school. And school was, well, one frikkin' long time ago. Which is why I'd like to register a protest that it is not fair that bread baking is scientific. I've been told that the first part of Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, is all about the science of baking bread. I think this sounds interesting, but I'm not altogether certain I'm going to understand it. Because my bread machine and I have been such boon companions these last ten years, there are a few little things I know, but I don't know why I know them or how I learned them. And most of my bread-baking knowledge involves things that are of no help whatsoever, like how I know to add more water to the dough when the bread machine makes a certain little groaning sound.

Oh, dear. I'm beginning to think that if this new loaf turns out well, or, heck, if it turns out to be bread, it will be a miracle.

I checked out a few blogs of people who are doing the BBA Challenge, and I was so intimidated by some of them, I just timidly crept away without even leaving a comment. One person was all, "I knew I would have to adjust the amount of water due to the high relative humidity here today" and I was all, "So now I'm finding out that I have to consult the local weather report before I can bake a loaf of bread? AAAAAAAAGGGHHHHHH!!!!"

How have I done it all these years, just casually throwing ingredients into the machine's bread pan, sometimes measuring them in the palm of my hand?

I am worried that I was once an unsullied idiot-savant in the breadmaking world, and now that part of the idiot has been removed, my savant will be shown to be disappointingly insufficient. You might laugh, but has happened to me so often before, like with knowing how to put on eyeliner and make good sun tea.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BBA CHALLENGE: Anadama Bread (Week 1)

Here we are in our first week of bread baking as part of the BBA Challenge, started by Nicole from Pinch My Salt. Nicole originally thought that oh, maybe about four or five people would want to join her in baking through Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. As it ended up, more than two hundred people joined, Kayte and I along with them. If you'd like to read about how the BBA Challenge started with Nicole on Twitter and grew exponentially, click here.

Meelyn, Aisling and I are still waiting for our copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice to come in the mail, so we relied on our colleague Heather Lalley for the recipe for this week's Anadama Bread: click here if you'd like to read it at her blog, Flour Girl.

So, without further ado, I give you Anadama Bread!


Anadama Bread was apparently first baked for family consumption in the New England region of the United States in 1850. The apocryphal story goes that somes grouchy old Massachusetts man, who is in some versions of the tale a fisherman and in others just regular, was dumped by his wife, Anna. In lieu of a Dear John letter propped up on the sugar bowl, she left him with nothing in the house but flour, molasses and some cornmeal mush. When the man came home for his dinner, he had no choice but to throw those items together for a meal, shouting "Anna! Damn 'er!" while he let them bake.

So sweet!

Although I have the greatest respect for bakers who enjoy the whole kneading-and-rising-and kneading-some-more aspect of bread making, I am not one of those people. Ma Ingalls and I have very little in common except for an admiration of her daughter, Mrs. Almanzo Wilder. To a point, I am much too lazy. So I decided to adapt Anadama Bread to my bread machine and let it do all the work while I basked in the results of home made bread.

Most bread recipes make two loaves of bread, so I needed to cut the recipe roughly in half. My bread machine will make a 1 1/2 pound loaf and therefore, math needed to be done.

I do not like math.

But I do like bread.

So I sat down at the table with a piece of paper and a pencil and a calculator and a worried mind. My great fear was that I would figure for too much bread and wind up with dough running all over the inside of my beloved bread machine, which I would sleep with under my pillow if my neck were a little longer. I made some chicken-scratchy marks on my paper and came up with this:

For the "soaker" (obviously Anna's cornmeal mush) I used:

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cornmeal

The soaker sat out on the countertop overnight, covered with plastic wrap. Upon arising, I stirred it together with :

1 cup bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup lukewarm water

That mixture sat on the counter for an hour, where it fermented just as promised.

At the end of that hour, I added these ingredients together with the fermented mixture, all in the order that my bread machine's manufacturer recommends:

3 tablespoons molasses
[fermented mixture]
1 1/4 cup bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cold butter

I punched the buttons to get things started on the machine and then sat back and waited on my bread, which I planned to present to my family, to the accompaniment of their admiring oohs and aahs, at dinner.

Three hours and ten minutes later, the timer went off and I scampered out to the kitchen to turn out a beautiful, tender loaf onto my bread board, so imagine my disappointment when I looked in the interior of my machine and found a "crater loaf." That's what it's called when you have walls of crisped dough that rise up the sides of the pan, with the actual bread sunk down in the middle.

"Anna! Damn 'er!" I said.

I did a little online research and found out that this condition is caused by either/or too much water /too much yeast. In comparing the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice with the recipes in the leaflet cookbooks that came with my machine, I believe that I would have a successful loaf if I subtracted two tablespoons of water and used only one teaspoon of yeast.

The actual bread was not a disappointment at all, though. After those ugly crater walls were broken off the truncated loaf, we sliced it up and found it very delicious. I ate some for breakfast yesterday with some crunchy peanut butter and a glass of milk and it tasted like heaven.

Kayte told me that someone told her that this bread is served in sandwich roll formation at some restaurant somewhere with sliced deli turkey, lettuce and cranberry chutney, which sounds fabulous.

So! In spite of a little trouble, the four of us here found that Anadama Bread is really very good and worth another go in the bread machine, which I shall do tomorrow. If that still doesn't work, I think I'll do it the old fashioned way -- oh, my aching shoulders! -- and knead it on the counter.

[Head bowed in shame]

I have a confession to make, and I know people are going to think I have completely snapped my twigs, but....

I love puppy videos on YouTube.

I can't help it. I know it is silly and a time-waster and I should be doing something else like dusting the furniture, or at least yelling at the girls to dust the furniture. But puppies are sooo cuuuute!!! Dems is widdle sweetums angelpoos! I's just gotta watch thems baby lambsies hour after hour after hour! Oh, yes I do! I do! I's just got to!

Good lord. What is happening to me?

Anyway, here is a two-plus minute Maltese puppy extravaganza. I especially enjoyed the part where the white puppies are stalking a black cat. The cat is clearly saying, "My life is hell. A living, breathing hell." Strangely enough, the expression on its face matches the one my husband sometimes wears when he comes home from work and the girls, the dogs and I all swarm him, each person (or dog) competing to be heard over all the others.

The Great Cage Escape is also very adorable. Oh yes it is! It is! It's is very, very cute and sweet and precious! It's....*ahem*

I need to go find help. Be back later.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Good news from the dealership

The Chevrolet dealership my husband works for did not get the dreaded letter from Fed Ex today, thank God. Thank God.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tough day in the car biz

I went to bed at around 5:30 a.m. and slept until 10:00, waking with a fierce case of Benadryl head that has made me feel kind of floaty and airy-fairy, but not in a good way.

Especially since this is the day that General Motors is making the first of a series of announcements about which dealerships will be closing.

Dealers to the east of us had their announcements today, and I just listened to the top-of-the-hour news on the radio in which several owners gave some sound bites:

:: "I don't know why they singled us out. We're one of the biggest dealerships in the area, high volume of sales."

:: "I don't know what we're going to do. This was so unexpected. I didn't think this would happen to this dealership."

:: "My family owns two dealerships, one that's been in business since the 1940s and the other since the 1960s. General Motors is closing both of them down."

I can't even begin to describe to you the wrenching pity I felt listening to this. I'm sure you can imagine. If the dealership my husband works at survives, we will be so relieved and grateful, but that still doesn't take away the shock and sadness of knowing that other families just like ours are suffering.

When my husband first started selling cars, it was a great time to be a car salesman. He worked really hard to learn the trade, so to speak, and build a clientele base. He didn't want to be the stereotypical car salesman and all that title implies, and it paid off: He made a lot of money for a blue-collar guy with commissions in the upper seventies/low eighties. Despite making occasional bloopers with money (this was in our pre-Dave Ramsey days), we lived well, although not extravagantly. We had a savings account. We paid cash. We had a 401(k) and enough money that I could be at home with the girls.

Then the bottom kind of fell out, somewhere around 2002. But we've remained determined to stick it out, waiting and hoping for decent times to come back again.

And there are all kinds of people out there today who have lived just like we have lived who are getting some really bad news, making some really painful calls home. It's impossible not to hurt for them and to worry about ourselves: Will my husband be one of the ones making a phone call tomorrow?

Right now, the owners of the dealership -- a father and two sons -- don't anticipate closure. They are very canny businessmen and my husband has really admired their acumen: they don't have big bills with GM that are waiting to be paid. They own their entire stock of used cars, both of which circumstances are unusual in this business: Most dealers have bank notes to cover their used car stock and the new cars they order from GM. The dealership's buildings are all completely paid for and the owners also hold the deed to the land the dealership sits on.

Will this be enough to save it?

No matter how bad times have been, this dealership has always made money. Individual salesmen might have struggled, because that's the nature of commission sales, but as a whole, it has been a profitable business. That seems to bode well. And naturally, the owners being interviewed by ABCNews are hardly going to come out and say, "Well, I understand why we're being shut down because this dump has been mismanaged for years." But still, you have to wonder.

We should know something tomorrow by this time.

If you would, join me in praying for all the men and women employed by the closing General Motors dealerships who will now be joining so many other people in the unemployment lines.

Ten minutes of perfect rain

Okay, Mother Nature, this is HOW IT'S DONE, girl. Stop it already with the massive crashes of thunder and the retina-searing glares of lightning and the water pouring out of the sky in such volume that Katie may never get to relax with her book in her lower-level living room again, due to the water seeping in through the fireplace flashing. I could go out and stand in the front yard with a bottle of shampoo and completely wash and rinse my hair right now. ENOUGH!

Here, I offer you the sound of ten minutes of perfect pattering rain with gentle thunder, soothing and mild and summery.

Cross as two sticks

I am sitting here at my desk typing this post at 3:49 a.m. in spite of the fact that I didn't go to bed last night until 4:30 a.m., and then had to go teach my three-hour Shakespeare class today with eyes like two holes burned in a blanket and the tendency to start like a nervous horse every time my students made loud noises, like blinking.

I was very excited about going to bed tonight.

So imagine my dismay when I got upstairs and discovered two things:

1) my allergies were acting up, resulting in about fourteen sneezes in a row. The sneezes brought murmurs from members of my trying-to-get-to-sleep family

2) it was a very humid evening due to rainy weather -- humid and cool, my least favorite weather, like, EVER. Which meant that sticking my feet under the sheet and blanket felt like sticking my feet into a folded damp bath towel.

I thought these two things were adequate reasons as to why we should turn on the central air, but my husband demurred. Or maybe "demurred" is too soft a word. Actually, what he did was look at me with an expression of incredulity, as if my desire for a humidity-free home was so insanely diva-like and spoiled, I had suddenly metamorphosed into Barbra Streisand, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez, all at the same time. Try to imagine the hairdo, the outfit, the fingernails that would go along with such a transformation, I dare you. Then NONE of us will sleep.

The sneezy feeling continued and I slept very, very lightly for about an hour and a half. I know that many of you who read here have dealt with this same thing, so we all know how frustrating this is: one moment, you're so sleepy you'd have to use orange traffic pylons to prop your eyes open, and the next minute, you are completely wide awake, thinking, "But I have to get up in FOUR HOURS." It is a bitter experience.

I tried to go back to sleep, I really did. But it is a wild, windy thunderstormy night out there. The window right next to my head was rattling in its frame like a drawer full of silverware and lightning kept flashing in my eyes annoyingly. I think many of us can agree that achieving sleep is difficult at the best of times, but just about flippin' impossible if there's someone standing by your head, turning a high powered flashlight off and on at random intervals.

So I got my glasses and my lip balm and my book and trundled downstairs, muttering, because that's where the Benadryl is. I usually take just one, but considering that I couldn't sleep AND I started with the sneezing again as soon as my feet hit the floor, I TOOK TWO, PEOPLE. I'll regret that tomorrow when my eyelashes are picking up lint off the carpets due to residual drowsiness, but for right now, I am starting to feel those first faint vestigial stirrings of delicious sleepiness.

It's still rainy and windy, but the thunder and lightning have moved on to torment some other insomniac thirty miles east of me. I have a pleasantly creepy Dean Koontz book to read (I like his creepy books because goodness and love and loyal friendship always win out in the end, which is a requirement for me in any fiction I read) and I think I'll go back upstairs now and see if I can persuade my eyes to close.

Meanwhile, here's a great Walt Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon from 1938 featuring the great old-fashioned animation and the words to Eugene Fields' famous nighty-night poem, "Wynken, Blynken and Nod."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today with the home schoolers

We had an excellent afternoon's visit with our every-second-Tuesday Catholic home schoolers today. The mothers' table was, as usual, a-buzz with talk, some of it serious, most of it strange, which led to much side-splitting laughter and children at other tables frowning at us and going, "Ssshhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!"

We talked about YouTube videos, which it turns out we're all rather fond of.

Catherine told us about the following video titled "David After Dentist," which was first brought to her attention by her daughter, Catrina. In this video, little David looks to be about six years old and is with his dad in the car following some kind of dental surgery. In thinking of my nephews, I could only imagine that this took place as the equal reaction to the action of David trying to jump his bike over the picnic table and crashing his face onto the cement driveway: that seems highly possible, considering the things boys are capable of.

My favorite parts are when young David, who is having his first experience with anesthesia, says, with saucer-like eyes, "Is this real life?" and then says to his dad wonderingly, "You have FOUR EYES."

I told the ladies about this video titled "Angry Catholic Mother," and I warn you before you watch it that this lady's vocabulary could peel paint off a battleship. Her son, Michael, who was apparently recently confirmed, has decided that he's an atheist. She is really upset about this and one of the first things she says is, "That's just *bleep*ing great, Michael. Okay, that's it! We are going to start going to church EVERY WEEK."

Uh, Mom? There could be some good reasons why your teenaged son is not all that well grounded in his Christian beliefs. I hate to spoil a good rant, but sheeeeeesh. If you wanted him to be a good Catholic, one way you could have worked to help him along was by being a good Catholic. You can't just grace us with your presence at Mass whenever you happen to feel like it and then be totally ticked off because your kid's religious beliefs are as deep as a raindrop. Although I do give you credit for being concerned about his lying to the bishop. And God.

Michael's mom harangues him about lying to the bishop (and, let me think? Maybe, I don't know....God?) and then tells him that there are going to be NO CHRISTMAS PRESENTS, MICHAEL, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT -- JESUS CHRIST.

I know this is hard to believe, but Michael suddenly has an amazing conversion, a real road-to-Damascus kind of thing, where he weighs his deeply felt beliefs about spirituality and religion against the idea of getting zip-zero-nada Christmas presents and hey! All of a sudden, Christianity is looking pretty good!

"All RIGHT!" he huffs angrily.

Good choice, Mike. I'm sure you have made the Baby Jesus very happy!

Watch YouTube video of "Angry Catholic Mother"

Julie P. was there so I was able to tell her how much we enjoyed her chicken and rice casserole, and she also alerted me to a new name for breast milk: boob juice. That made everyone giggle.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sulky dog

Today I neglected to take Wimzie with me when I went to pick up the girls at the YMCA, so she climbed into the downstairs shower and sulked for over an hour until Aisling finally pried her out with the promise of a cookie.

Over her nearly twelve vivid years of life, Wimzie (a fifteen pound rough coat Jack Russell terrier, formed from equal parts of fur and grr) has developed some opinions that verge on the emphatic. One of those notions is that she must be taken out in the van for a ride at least once or twice a day; her favorite ride is four blocks away to the local Y, where we go to exercise. Or, to be completely truthful, my husband and the girls.

When the girls go upstairs to put on their work out clothes, Wimzie immediately goes into high alert. She jumps down from wherever she's been sleeping and begins to follow me around, getting underfoot and shooting me dirty looks if I accidentally step on her. When the girls come back downstairs laden with gym bags, Wimzie begins to prance around, fixing us with entreating looks.

"Do you want to go for a RIDE?" Aisling asks. Wimzie responds by leaping into the air in her figure-8 jump, not bad for someone who is nearly eighty-four years old. As we all move towards the back door, Wimzie darts between our legs like a BMW zooming in and out of traffic on the Autobahn and, as soon as the door is opened, down the back steps and out to the van, where heaven help us if we haven't opened the automatic sliding door. If the door isn't open, she runs around and around the van as if she's trying to pull the doors open by centrifugal force.

Once inside, she takes up her place on the front passenger seat, standing precariously with her paws on the window's edge, her head stuck out above the mirror. She attracts a lot of attention from pedestrians and others drivers, who look at her and smile and point and say, "Hey, poochie, are you havin' fun?" Wimzie does not deign to acknowledge their presence; she makes it clear that their friendly advances are about as welcome as a case of head lice.

When we get back home, she jumps from the floor of the van in a self-satisfied manner and goes back in to sleep or eat or torment Hershey, whichever activity is uppermost in her mind. Today, she was lolling on the windowsill of the open foyer window, so when I left the house to pick up the girls, I snuck out quietly, not feeling in the mood to deal with her jumping and running and prancing.

It was when we got back and I was going to give her a good brushing that I realized she was nowhere to be found.

"Does anybody know where Wimzie is?" I asked anxiously. "I hope she didn't get out when I went to pick the two of you up. Could she have slipped past me somehow?"

"Actually, I think she's in the shower," said Meelyn, indicating the partially-open door of the downstairs bath.

I peered in to look at her, pushing aside the shower curtain; sure enough, Wimzie was curled up in a moody ball, her back turned toward the curtain. She insolently refused to make eye contact when I called her name. It was quite clear that I -- the human being in this relationship -- was in the dog house.

"Little booger head," I muttered as I left the bathroom.

"You'd better not let her hear you calling her that," Aisling advised. "You know she won't come sit with you if you call names."

Well, okay then. But I can't help but wonder: inside her tiny mind, what is the dog calling me?

The BBA Challenge (Bread Baker's Apprentice)

Kayte has dunnit again.

She knows that I can't resist the allure of joining a new internet group and meeting new people, especially foodie people. Internet groups are lovely because you don't have to leave your house to have all kinds of fun, and before you all think I am some kind of beardy-weirdy hermit with shrubbery growing over the windows, let me just say that every mother knows what I'm talking about: it's hard to find the time to get away to go to this meeting or that meeting in the evenings, no matter how much you'd like to. I mean, an evening meeting could be bunco or a book discussion group or whatever. It's just hard.

This particular internet group is going to be baking its way through the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. I thought this would be a nice group to join as a summer project for Meelyn, Aisling and me. Last summer, if you remember, we joined Shari's Whisk Wednesdays group at Kayte's recommendation, which is (still) cooking its way through Le Cordon Bleu at Home; we had to drop out of that group when the school year started because of the pressing demands of high school work, but it was certainly a lot of fun and we all learned a lot. I wish we could re-join them this summer, but they've all moved so far ahead of our bumbling efforts in technique, I think we'd be left in a state of constant befuddlement.

So this summer, we're going to study bread. I like this group already because it is very loosely configured. Some groups are very strict about posting results and pictures on certain days and making sure that you do a certain number of recipes, allowing for the fact that you might fall ill and have to miss a week here or there, although they do require you to write letters of apology to every single other member of the group, as well as the publisher of whatever cookbook you're using. Or I may have just made that last part completely up. But anyway, some groups are stricter than others.

I have always really enjoyed baking bread, at least as soon as I got a bread machine. I carefully checked this out with Kayte beforehand: "Will they let me use my bread machine for all that kneading and rising and kneading and rising? Because I can't do all that with my own hands."

She said that it would be okay, so I heaved a sigh of relief. I have been to Connor Prairie before and I've seen those living history docents doing all that back-breaking work with the bread and heard them tell about how many loaves pioneer women had to make to get their families through the week and nuh-uh...not for me. There is only a very faint bit of the artisan in me; I am ALL ABOUT THE MACHINE.

Since I don't yet have the book, Kayte is going to bring me the recipe for the first bread of the challenge tomorrow when we see one another. Our first challenge, then, is for Anadama bread, a New England mainstay that historians seem to feel was made for family consumption in around 1850, although it wasn't sold commercially until 1871.1 Anadama bread's main ingredients that make it the well-known bread it is are molasses and cornmeal, combined with the usual flour, yeast, water, salt and butter.2 I may have to fiddle around with the recipe so that it won't overflow my bread machine's inner pan.

The girls and I will post our results for Anadama bread here as soon as we have 'em!

You can read about our Whisk Wednesdays adventures, my experiments with Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook and our new BBA Challenge trials and (hopefully few) errors in the side bar titled "Family Cooking" -- just scroll down on the left hand side of this page to find it.

1"Anadama Bread", Food Timeline: Breads, May 11, 2009
2Ibid, May 11, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taking the cure

If you've spent much time reading here -- and honestly, who hasn't?* -- you might remember that one thing I find very amusing is how drugs that are meant to cure medical problems often have side effects that are worse than the disease they were supposed to help you recover from.

Here are a few I've come across recently on television and magazines that are, in my opinion, particularly funny:

1) There's a common drug out there that proposes to treat, er-...erectile dysfunction. Yet two of the common side effects are diarrhea and headaches. Yes, you read that correctly. First of all, who wouldn't feel romantically inclined after experiencing a bout of diarrhea? I believe I may have seen on the National Geographic Channel or similar that in some cultures, explosive diarrhea is a mating signal that simply can't be ignored, even more powerful than using “Do you believe in love at first sight or should I walk past again?” as a pick up line. Or I may have just totally made that up.

Secondly, a headache? Taking a drug to cure erectile dysfunction and then winding up with a headache is a piece of delicious irony for sure.

Another side effect of this drug is temporary loss of vision, which would be alarming. Because, gentlemen, you might be all ready to woo your lady-love, but be unable to find her. And it would be really cruel, ladies, to slink quietly around the room calling out "Polo!" at intervals.

2) One well-known pain medication had this interesting sentence on an internet prescription drug information site under the side effects tab: "Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be awake and alert."

Do anything that requires you to be awake and alert?

I'm not sure about everyone else, but the only thing I do that doesn't require me to be awake and alert is, well, sleeping. When I am asleep, I am neither awake nor alert. For everything else, I pretty much have to have my eyes open and my brain functioning.

Some of the less serious side effects include nausea, vomiting and anxiety, which kind of begs the question: If you're taking this medication to keep pain at bay and the only things you're good for while taking it (other than sleeping) are throwing up and feeling anxious and upset, then aren't you just kind of messed up either way you go? Yikes.

3) A familiar over-the-counter medication for reversing hair loss can help guys fill in that worrisome bald spot, but considering that two of the side effects of this medication are weight gain and "unwanted growth of hair elsewhere on the body," I think a person would have to give this careful consideration.

First of all, many women find bald men attractive. If you're looking for a lady to share your life with, it might just be best to shave off whatever hair you have remaining and try to find one of those girls: think Chris Daughtry! Think Tom Colicchio! Because I hardly think that it's going to be helpful to have a full head of thick, sexy hair and a great big paunch drooping over your belt, if you see what I mean. And when you add the possibility of growing a thick pelt over the rest of your body to that weight gain factor, well.... It just doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

So there, for your discernment, are three medications and their truly vile side effects. It is true that not everyone experiences these bad things, but I'd like to just point out again that you never read about drugs that have things like "flawless skin" and "taut and well-defined musculature" as a side effect, do you? Which is kind of sucky. Because if you're unromanced or in pain or experiencing hair loss, the last thing you need is some side effect from your medication that adds to your woe.

*That would be "just about everyone."

Friday, May 8, 2009

And how does this happen to me?

What a greeting that must have been.

From the elderly woman to the young one: "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

I don't know how it happens, but it happened to me, too. Not in person, you understand, although there are a lot of people that that has happened to; but rather with a sense of love and devotion, more on her part than on mine. No wonder I love having devotional art such as statues and paintings around the house to remind me of her every time I see them. I be counted among those who have never ceased calling her blessed.

This YouTube video of the Blessed Virgin set to Billy Joel's song "She's Got a Way" has been posted here in link form several times, but in just the past few weeks, the fine folks over there have expanded their embed sizes so that I can actually fit the little box in my available space without having parts of it cut off (or merely posting the videos as direct links to YouTube.) I am so happy about this, especially since it's May, Mary's month, and therefore time to put this up for your enjoyment again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"The Book of Love" by Peter Gabriel

I was doing a little housework here on the site before midnight tonight (it is considerably after midnight right now and here I still am, which is why, well....InsomniMom) and I stumbled across the fact that this blog had something like one hundred twenty hits between ten o'clock and midnight, which is a personal best by about one hundred eighteen, give or take a few.

It was quite exciting, thinking that THAT MANY PEOPLE had been lurking around to read about how I made a girl in my Shakespeare class cry -- and you wonder why I can't sleep? Now you know. I stay up late plotting deeds that will make fifteen year olds burst into tears, and I think my heart may have broken a little bit -- or perhaps view my YouTube offering of Karen Carpenter singing "Close to You," but no. It was all due to the lyrics from a Peter Gabriel song I had copied onto the blog in a post titled "Beautiful Song" from January 2008.

Apparently, this song was featured on what may have been the season finale of Scrubs, which is a show I don't watch because medical shows always make me very nervous about disease. For all the people who have come here looking, here's a YouTube video featuring the lyrics, vocals and music. Yes, I most certainly did get all teared up when I listened to it again. It is, as I said before, a beautiful song.

I am a hell-beast

Last week in Shakespeare class, I was dismayed to discover that I had a couple of girls passing notes. I mean, I know that kids do these things, but I'd already had to bring a couple of them up short for drawing on themselves with felt-tipped pens while I was boring the living snot-....I mean, teaching them about William Shakespeare's life. I am really jaded about my years in public and private schools: I felt that I spent more time making people mind so that I could do my job than I spent doing my job. Depressing.

So I was pretty steamed about the note passing. Not only because it meant that neither girl was paying a lick of attention to the play, but also because their note passing involved about four other people, which meant that those people were being distracted from what their parents paid me to teach them.

This week, as we got class started, I said, "I'm sorry to have to bring up a painful subject, but last week there was some note passing in class and I was really offended by that."

A hush fell over the class, although I noted several boys looking at me with gleams of interest in their beady eyes: they are usually the ones getting called on the carpet, and it was a rare treat for them to watch some girls getting the law laid down on them.

"I spent enough of my time," I went on, "telling students to pick up their heads or open their books or go to the principal's office or 'I hope you're ready for Saturday detention' and I'm frankly just done with it. I would appreciate it if you'd humor me and not give me a reason to take you to your mother, where I guarantee we will have an extremely embarrassing conversation. You do not know enough about William Shakespeare or this play to have the time to write and pass notes."

That was all I said. The girls told me later that the look in my eye indicated that I would eat the face off the next person who moved a muscle. My policy is to have a really sharp bark and put the frighteners on people so that I hopefully won't have to come back and bite them later, but I truly did not mean to make one girl cry later on.

After my little speech, I segued right on into the lesson and didn't refer to the note passing problem again. So imagine my surprise when I let the monkeys out of the cage at 3:30 and was putting my books and notes back in my tote bag and heard a small voice say, "Mrs. McKinney?"

I turned and saw Note Passer #2, aged fifteen, standing there, quivering. She looked like she totally expected me to whip a machine gun out of my bag and riddle her with bullets without even a "Say hello to my little friend" as a warning.

"Mrs. McKinney," she quavered, "I'm sorry about the notes. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway-..." -- at this point, tears began flowing in a torrent -- "....and if you want to, you can tell my mom, I understand and I'll never do it again."

I just wanted to sink through the floor. I considered telling her about my Bark Theory, but decided that that might be a tactical error that could be used against me later. I considered telling her that she could my Louis Vuitton handbag if she'd just not cry. I wanted to wring my hands and burst into noisy tears of my very own.

I cannot believe I have made one of my students CRY. My brother, who, if you can believe him, regularly makes misbehaving employees cry and even keeps a special box of tissues on his desk to soak up their floods of tears, will be so proud of me.

"Close to You"

When I was about seven or so, I remember three singing groups that I really liked: the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and the Carpenters. Since I was a child in the golden age of rock music -- I later moved on to Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard -- it surprises me about the Carpenters, but they remained one of my guilty secrets all the way through Rocks, Slippery When Wet and Pyromania. There was just something about handsome Richard at the piano and little doe-eyed Karen with that big contralto voice (especially when she drummed as she sang) that just moved me.

When Meelyn and Aisling were born, one of the songs I sang as I rocked them was "Close to You."

On the day that you were born
the angels got together
and decided to create a dream come true;
So they sprinkled moondust in your hair
and golden starlight in your eyes of blue

That is why all the boys in town
follow you all around

Just like me, they long to be
close to you.

I was quietly devastated by her death in 1983, the result of the complications of anorexia nervosa. I played this YouTube video for the girls today, and couldn't help but get tears in my eyes. Such a sweet song, and such a lovely and talented girl.

If you want the whole version of the song with it's "Waaaaaaa, ah ah ah ah" ending, click on this link.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Project Mary Statue

It only seems fitting that in May, Mary's month, that I should start to propagate this idea that I had a few months back. Honestly, I don't know if anything will come of it: Maybe a few of my friends will humor me and if that's all that happens, that's okay.

I want all conservative Catholics to rally 'round and get a Mary statue for their front yards. The most common is Our Lady of Grace, of course, but there are others to choose from. You can get them in colors from sand to limestone, as well as the full-color ones, either in resin, cement, or vinyl. If you're into kitschy folk art and the directors of your homeowner's association won't pitch a fit, you could even make a "bathtub Madonna" shrine.

I think we need some solidarity, when the likes of Nancy Pelosi and University of Notre Dame president Reverend John Jenkins and other liberal Catholics are causing such scandal and embarrassment.
I think we need to rally so that we can identify each other and say a prayer every time we see a Mary statue in front of someone's house: We can say a prayer for the person or family who lives there and we can pray for all Catholics. The girls and I already do this. Every time we pass a house with a Mary statue, we say a Hail Mary for that family.

I think we all need Mary statues as a quiet way of evangelizing and showing our pride in and love for the faith that has stood strong through the twenty centuries since Jesus asked Peter to "feed His sheep" in Jerusalem.

Here are more of my thoughts on the subject, if you care to read them:

I think I had leanings toward the Catholic Church from my earliest childhood. I can remember being around five or six and watching television very early on Saturday mornings; back at that time, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was sponsoring one minute spots that featured some lovely woodland scenes, plus a shot of a Bible and a rosary posed on some kind of table, with a voice over praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary to begin the day's broadcasting, right after the pledge of allegiance, which was sponsored either by the American Legion or by the station itself, I don't know. It's been, well, a bit of a long time ago. *ahem*

I remember loving that. And I also remember seeing Mary statues in front of a few houses in my neighborhood and feeling that those people were very lucky to be able to make a pretty religious display in front of their homes year round, while all of us Protestants just got to make a good show of it at Christmas time.

Naturally, when I knew for a fact that I was going to be a Catholic someday -- I considered myself a Catholic for at least a year before I was able to receive the sacraments and started wearing a crucifix necklace about two years before that -- I wanted a Mary statue too. And I didn't just want a statue -- I wanted a special garden to put it in. My husband was not all that enthused at the idea of having a Catholic statue in his backyard (I didn't have the courage to suggest the front yard just then), but I bought all the plants, shrubs and the statue itself with my birthday money and I dug up the soil at the farthest southern end of our big yard, so he just set his jaw and shrugged noncomittally.

Later on, he received a conversion that made mine into a very dull tale indeed, and we ended up with the Our Lady of Grace statue coming up to the front yard, where my husband placed it in front of a flowering shrub. We got a St. Francis statue for the back.

The placement of the Mary statue in the front yard caused the neighbor lady, who was a devoted attendee at the local Assembly of God church, to approach my husband and say with a slitty-eyed look, "I heard you all are Catholics now."

"Yes, we are," he replied, leaning on his weed eater.

"Well, I know Shelley's parents and she wasn't raised that way."

"No...." my husband said, but I ask you, what else is there to say?

"I'm surprised they let her do that," the neighbor lady continued, lingering, perhaps, to see if I was going to bring the girls out for our evening worship service in front of our graven image.

"She's, um, thirty-eight years old. I don't think they feel they have much say in the matter."
After that, the neighbor lady was noticeably cold towards the four of us and later accused us of trying to steal an old ladder her husband (who always remained friendly and kind) had let us borrow on a long-term basis.

When we moved to this house, I had my original Mary statue out front for a while -- it was the heavy cement kind and there was just the place for it before the front window. However, it wasn't a very big statue for such a large space, and I began to feel that I'd like something a little more substantial there, like, say, a huge chunk of cement in the form of a shrine with Mary on the inside, weighing around three hundred pounds.

I got that as a combined Mother's Day and birthday present four years ago and I gave my other statue to my friend Celia. Celia seemed like a good person to get that statue, although I didn't know this story when I first hefted it into my car and drove it out to her house: One day, when her kids were much smaller than the teenagers they are now, Celia was driving in Noblesville or someplace in the area and saw a little Mom-n-Pop lawn and garden place that was going out of business.

This business had bunches of lawn statuary, everything from Grecian woman balancing urns on their shoulders to recumbent deer to those little kissing Dutch children. There was some sort of sign that indicated everything was being let go for pennies on the dollar, and Celia happened to spy an entire gathering of Mary statues, so she pulled into the parking lot and asked how much.

"How much per statue?" the owner queried.

"No, how much for all of them?" Celia asked, probably in her cheerful, sparkly-eyed way that is so exuberant and irresistable.

The owner named a remarkably low price and Celia had that much money, so she whipped out her wallet and paid him, telling him to guard those statues carefully so that she could go home and get her husband's truck. She zoomed back home and uttered a confusing story to her husband, Luigi, who was understandably mystified at being told that he was now the proud owner of about twenty cement Mary statues.

Celia, nothing daunted, piled the kiddoes into the truck and went back to the garden store, where the owner helped her load up all the statues. Sometimes I think about that and what a sight it must have been as she sedately pulled the truck out of the parking lot and proceeded along the road with all those Mary statues' heads peeping up over the bed of the truck.

Here's the best part, though: Celia and the kids drove to the house of every Catholic friend they could think of and gave them all a free statue.

Isn't that just the funniest and sweetest story?

So! It's the time of year for getting your yard all spiffy and planting flowers and edging the walkways. I urge you to get a Mary statue and place it in front of your house, or maybe in its own little garden, or maybe just on your front porch or steps.

Put it where it is visible and where it can testify to the faith in Christ Jesus that you hold dear. You want to get right on it, because the girls and I may be driving by soon, and how will we know to pray for you if we don't see Mary?