Friday, October 30, 2009

Recession? Pffffft!!!!

Today was our day of fall vacation here at Our Lady of Good Counsel, and we celebrated by taking a trip to the Goodwill store. The store in the picture isn't the one we went to, but I think there's enough goodwill to spread around. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!! I am always entertained by my own sense of humor.

Anyway, we had a mission. I found out yesterday when we were on our way out the door to go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art? And I saw that Aisling was wearing a pair of artfully (and artificially) tattered jeans? So I told her to go change and put on some nice pants or a skirt or something? Well, she told me that those jeans were the only ones she had, and unless I wanted her to wear pajamas, her old volleyball uniform or her swimsuit, it was going to be those jeans.

Obviously, I needed to do something about that. And while I was doing something about that, it would only make sense to look in the men's section for some trousers for my husband to wear to work. He's required to dress nicely -- and it just makes sense for a commissioned salesman to look as prosperous as possible -- but he flat-out refuses to by clothing for work at the full retail price. He's also very cynical about sales, which he says are just a ploy to get the naïveand suggestible among the citizenry (which would be me) in the door so that the salesman can sell them something more expensive.

So we went. We stayed for, like, HOURS. By the time we hauled our huge cart-load up to the check-out stands, I had five pairs of trousers (very, very gently used and several with dry cleaning tags still safety-pinned to them) for my husband at $3.99 each and Aisling had a cute aubergine colored handbag, four tops and a fabulous Ann Taylor Loft grey flannel pencil skirt with mauve and pink felt flowers appliquéd around the bottom. It could not be cuter. All of those clothes came to $45 including tax and I felt like I'd just walked right straight up to the recession, tweaked it on the nose and breathed my bad breath right into its face in a great big HAH.

Meelyn and I got no love there today, but we went on to JC Penney to see if we could find a sale and Meelyn found a gorgeous pair of dress jeans (a term that always makes me roll my eyes just a little) marked down five dollars. That suited her budget and they looked very nice on her, too. She had to try on about sixty different pairs, seemed like, but you know how it is when you suddenly pull on a pair of pants and they make your stomach look flat and your hips look slim and your bottom to look like...well, what you always hoped your bottom would look like? Yeah. That's how those jeans fit her.

It was a very nice day off. Sweet mother of pearl, we surely needed it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RECIPE: (Naughty) Glazed Carrots

I don't think it's a big secret here in the midwestern or southern states that Cracker Barrel has the best ever glazed carrots. They are, like, delicious. Decadently delicious. Honestly, you never knew that a humble carrot could taste so good.

Here at our house, where we are constantly occupied with the circumference of our hips and the clearness of our complexions and the state of our blood sugar, we do not often indulge in glazed carrots. Frankly, carrots are pretty good all on their own with just a smidge of butter and some sea salt, and who needs all those extra calories?

But I offer you the Coke Float Corollary, which follows thusly: Coke is good all on its own. Fizzy. Icy cold. All thirst-quenchy, sweet and sparkly. So having a Coke? That's a good thing. But if you plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in that Coke -- and please do not bore me with your ice milk and your artificially sweetened "ice cream" because I will simply laugh in derision -- and you have something extra-special. Something that you should not drink all the time unless you want to be, well, the size of me. And trust me on this: you don't. Shut up.

So that brings us back to where we started, with the glazed carrots that have now not only have had butter, sugar and salt applied to them, but also the Coke Float Corollary, which has no discernable taste, unlike an an actual coke float, which is, like, mmmmmmmm.

Anyway, here's the recipe I found at Mama's Southern Cooking which we feel has the true Cracker Barrel flavor. For some reason, glazed carrots seem so right at this time of year and around the holidays, which is why we had them for dinner tonight.
2 pounds of fresh baby carrots
1/2 cup of butter
1/3 cup of sugar, or 1/2 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon of salt

In a small pot add the carrots and cover with water. Bring to a boil reduce heat, cover and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes (OR steam them in the microwave for approximately 10 minutes.)
In a saucepan, melt the butter and the sugar. Add the carrots and salt. Saute over medium-low heat until carrots are fork tender. This could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending upon the size of your baby carrots. Serve and enjoy for your harvest season or Yuletide cheer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All about Mom's Night Out

Last night, I went out for a Mom's Night Out gathering with home schooling mothers Katie, Michelle, Gloria, Stephanie and Mary Jo and had the best time. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Noblesville and our waitress was sweeter than sopaipillas with honey. When Gloria asked her for another glass of water, the waitress brought it back and said, "Here you are, amiga." And when I thanked her for the Diet Coke she brought me, she patted me on the shoulder and said, "De nada."

There's just something about being with a group of friends in a cozy little restaurant on a cool October evening with a hint of rain in the air to make you feel that life is very good indeed.

Katie and I had taco salads and Gloria had fajitas and Michelle had some kind of steak with onions all over the top of it, and guacamole.

"Onions," she groaned, one hand on her baby bump. "I've started carrying Tums with me in my purse. I have heartburn, like, all the time."

"I'm middle-aged," Katie said dryly. "I have heartburn all the time and I'm not pregnant."

"I'm middle-aged and I have some pills I have to swallow right here at the table," I said brightly.

"My parents have to do that," said one of the YOUNGER MEMBERS OF THE GROUP in a sympathetic voice.

We did a little minor complaining about our husbands and their tendency to listen to us telling them about our day with one eye on Sports Center and the other eye on our irresistible selves.

"Not in my house," said Gloria, who is tiny and beautiful and from the Philippines. "In my house, Mike comes home and he wants to talk during The Amazing Race and I have to say, 'Sssh, honey, talk to me during the commercials.'"

This made us all laugh really hard. Also the fact that Gloria likes those hard-boiled crime shows. Michelle prefers reality television, I weep over Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stay glued to Survivor, Top Chef and the odd home improvement shows and Katie said she hasn't turned on her television in three years.

In respectful silence, we all turned our eyes on her.

"Three years?" said Michelle.

"Three years?!?" I squeaked.

"Wow. Three years," said Stephanie, wide-eyed.

I nearly had to lay my head down to absorb this information. Because, three years? Golly.

Since Michelle is pregnant and Mary Jo has a three month old baby, we talked about babies for a while. Childbirth. Food we craved during pregnancy (Michelle is finding solace in chocolate chip vanilla ice cream, which she insists she eats for medicinal reasons only). Which led, of course, to talking about all the things we eat now.

"In the Crock-Pot," said Michelle. "Pork chops. Two cans of chicken and rice soup poured over it, really easy and good. Everyone ate it, and hardly anyone in my house wants to eat anything I cook. It really ticks me off."

We had a discussion on how hard it is to make sloppy joes without using onions and concluded that it's impossible: what non-onion-loving members of the family don't know won't hurt them in terms of onion powder. Katie said that Gary has his own special recipe for sloppy joes and I told everyone that my sloppy joe recipe comes from a church cook book and its secret ingredient is half a can of Coke.

Mary Jo told us that the herb valerian is a good sleep aid and that her mother was trying four drops of essential oil in a capsule that very night; I'm still waiting on an email to find out if it worked, because if it did, I'm going to get some.

I didn't have any sort of sleep aid for last night, and I drove home at 10:00 p.m., my blood whizzing through my veins due to those five glasses of Diet Coke I'd injudiciously consumed after emptying half a bottle of habanera pepper sauce on my salad. I ended up being awake until 2:30.

But it was fun! I would do it again tonight if I could. Love the lovely friends.

Hello, my deer (Part II)

Last winter, my family had an encounter with a great big antlery buck standing in the middle of the road when driving home from Pat and Angie's house on a dark and snowy night. This must be the Year of the Deer for us because the girls and I made the acquaintance of a fleet-footed doe when we were driving to the optometrist's office the other day.

Fortunately, when I say "made the acquaintance of" I do NOT mean "ran into her so that her sharp hooves crashed through the windshield and severed my head." Living in Indiana, where the deer spend the summers gorging themselves on all the corn and greet the crisp fall days with a gleam in the eye and an excess of sexual energy, you hear ALL KINDS of gruesome stories about deer hooves cutting people's heads off and deer antlers goring people through the stomach so that their intestines fall out all over County Road 250 North, which was not a very nice thing for it to do because all the person was doing was checking to see if the deer was really dead after it callously maimed the front quarter panel of the person's car.

Good times. Gooooood times.

So anyway, we're driving to New Castle to pick up Aisling's new glasses. I was behind the wheel because it was a rainy afternoon for one thing, and for another thing, Meelyn was studying history. We were rolling along down the hill that leads into my home town when my peripheral vision picked up movement to my left. I cast a glance in that direction and noted that a fat doe was keeping pace with the van, bounding along in a manner that suggested that she was running late for an appointment of her own.

Uneasily, I mentally went through all the facts I know about deer:

1. I do not like it when I eat sloppy joes at someone's house and after I have polished off my sandwich, they say smugly to me, "Hey, that sloppy joe was made out of VENISON. Good, wasn't it?"

2. Before the deer become sloppy joes (or chili, or jerky, or summer sausage or whatever), if you see one deer running alongside your van, you can pretty much count on seeing about a hundred others. And you should do some split-second planning on how best to keep your head on your shoulders and your intestines neatly packaged where God put them.

3. Deer are an awful nuisance and yeah, they're pretty and all naturey and everything, but they will sneak into your yard at night and eat EVERY SINGLE BEDDING PLANT you set out after spending more money than you should have at the nursery.

It was too late in the year for annuals and this deer definitely was not sandwich material -- yet -- so I began looking quickly around for all the deer's girlfriends, who were probably getting ready to run across the road in front of the van. I started to slow down, and it was raining pretty hard and the one deer I could see decided not to wait for her friends after all; she suddenly cut to her right, which took her right in front of us.

"HOLY CRAP ON A CRACKER!!!" I yelled. Which, I think I should get a medal for that, you know? To not blurt out a vulgar word in a moment of such stress shows the sterling nature of my character in a way that you might not instantly perceive if you happened upon me two seconds after I stubbed my big toe on the leg of the bed.

In that brief moment when the deer was in front of the van, I met eyes with her and darned if she wasn't saying "HOLY CRAP ON A CRACKER!!!" herself. I could tell. Her eyes were wide and her ears were straight up and she didn't look like she was much interested in severing my head or spilling my intestines; she looked like she wanted nothing more than to get safely across the road and into the field of corn to my right, where she could slump down to the ground and demand that someone bring her a cup of coffee with a healing splash of Johnnie Walker in it, or maybe just some moonshine.

The van was kind of fish-tailing and the deer was kind of darting and leaping and I had a white-knuckled grip on the wheel and the rain was not making things any easier. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion.

"Look, Mom! A deer!" Aisling squealed from behind me.


"I SEE IT! I'M TRYING NOT TO!" I bellowed, swinging the steering wheel wildly from side to side like Captain Ahab on the deck of the Pequod. I felt like I'd been trying to miss that deer for at least three hours.

Suddenly, it was over. The deer lunged into the cover of the cornfield. The van juddered to a halt. I attempted to unclench my hands from the wheel, finger by finger, and congratulated myself on my mad skills in Extreme Defensive Driving. The girls chattered excitedly about seeing a deer -- a real! live! deer! -- up close and personal.

Suddenly Aisling said, "Mom, can I have your phone?"

I picked it up from the seat next to me, noting that my hand seemed fairly steady, and handed it back to her. "Why?" I asked as she took it from my hand and flipped it open.

"I want to call Daddy and tell him how close you came to wrecking the van!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Note to self and all, Re: BREAD DOUGH

It would be a good idea -- not to say a great, epic and possibly Nobel Prize-winning idea -- to remember to REMOVE YOUR WEDDING RING before messing around with wet bread dough.

Because, the last hour or so? I've been engaged -- haha, wedding ring humor pun, get it? -- in picking dough out of the setting with a toothpick, a toothbrush (not mine, silly, my husband's) and a hair barrette I found in the bathroom drawer. And there went the time I'd planned to spend in coaxing dust bunnies from underneath the china cabinet. Darn.

Faster than the speed of, er....The Scarlet Letter

Okay, so The Scarlet Letter hasn't exactly gone quickly. Meelyn says she likes it, although she uttered the word "like" in a doubtful tone that made me wonder if she was being completely straight with me. Aisling, when I asked just now what her opinion is, said, "Lukewarm. At best."

At any rate, the first grading period here at Our Lady of Good Counsel is coming to a screeching halt on Thursday. Both readers have been informed that they must finish with The Scarlet Letter on Wednesday. Grades will be figured and posted here on InsomniMom on Monday - or at least that's my intention.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the American Literature classic I plan to assign for the second grading period and both girls are expressing limited enthusiasm for this project, both claiming that I "ruined" and "tortured" them by having them read Tom Sawyer two years ago.

This Friday is -- hallelujah -- our holiday break for All Saints and All Souls. Our enthusiasm for this brief vacation hovers somewhere on the SAT word list between inordinate and profligate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My favorite commercial

Well, here we all were, thinking that the little Geico gecko was just the cutest thing in the world, especially in that commercial where he spends the Big Boss's first dollar on a bag of chips from a vending machine.

But then came along this spot for Geico's roadside assistance program and I don't know where this accent is from, but I wish I had it. When I was a student at Ball State back in the Mesozoic Era, there was a girl who lived on my floor in Rogers Hall who sounded like this and she was a hoot. We used to listen to her read the week's menu -- "And on Tyoooosday? Chikkin veahlvet syoooup? For luuuuhnch? And for diyunner is mateloaf with pahtaytahs?" -- and just fall about laughing. Those VOWELS. And the way she could take an ordinary two-syllable word and stretch it out to about six....hilarious. She could cuss you out, not that she ever would have, being raised Baptist and all, but it could only make you smile.

Her name was Sara, and if I remember right, she was from Louisiana. We lost touch, as so often happens after graduations, but I still remember her and her accent fondly.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And then we all took a Benadryl

I dearly love a seasonally decorated house. This always surprises me about myself, because year after year, I keep on being the SAME GRUMPY PERSON inside, and there is just nothing more sweetly sentimental than a house with Valentine hearts taped to the windows or, say, a front porch bedecked with a little scarecrow sitting on the bench, some gourds, pumpkins of various sizes and corn shocks tied to the porch uprights.

Corn shocks. Just like in that picture right there. See how small they look? Don't they look like you could just pluck one right off the side of that silo and toss it casually into your minivan with plenty of room left over for the Shakespeare crate, about four sacks of clothing waiting to be dropped off at Goodwill, a bag full of board games and a stack of outerwear to meet the needs of the current weather situation, which in the last week has gone from no-coat-necessary to full-on-winter-jacket-with-gloves?
Oh, and people. People have to fit in the van, too.

There's a little roadside market not far from our house that has corn shocks for sale and I decided I wanted a couple for the front porch. All a corn shock is, for you city-dwellers out there -- is a bundle of dried-up corn plants. The ones I bought cost $4 and they each contained ten stalks of corn plant, some with ears of field corn still clinging tenaciously. I felt that eight dollars was worth the pleasure the girls and I would have in seeing our house look so delightfully decorated, so we stopped on the way home from Shakespeare and went inside to see about the purchase of two shocks.

The owner of the market took my money and said agreeably, "You can take any of the ones out front that are tied to the building - they're all for sale." The building, I should mention, was adorably decorated with the corn shocks, bales of straw, pumpkins and chrysanthemums. I have deeply admired that outdoor decor every time we passed this place and felt moved to buy corn shocks from someone who was so obviously a kindred spirit.

I forked over the money and the girls and I went out. I was excited and happy; they were dubious and inclined to look from the corn shocks to me with raised eyebrows.

"Mom," said Meelyn in that patient let's-reason-with-a-hopeless-eccentric voice she uses when I propose to do something adventurous that she feels may detract from her personal dignity, "exactly how are we supposed to get those things in the van?"

With aplomb, I said, "We will untether them from the wall of this establishment, grasp them in our arms, and insert them into our vehicle through the tailgate. Easy-peasy, honey-beezy."

"Mom, those things are HUGE," Aisling hissed. "They are not going to FIT. They are TOO BIG."

She was right, I have to admit. For those of you who don't live around corn, let me tell you: Corn is big. Very tall. Like, "towering over our heads" tall. MUCH bigger than it looks from the road as you drive by it, although my husband, who worked as a corn detasseler in his youth, insists that the spiders that live in cornfields are EVEN BIGGER.

"They're not too big," I insisted with a confidence that I totally did not feel. "We can make this work! Where's your sense of fun and adventure?"

The girls both looked at me as if I was Sacagawea and I'd just told them -- Lewis and Clark -- that that little jaunt they were planning out west? Well, turns out it was going to be a bit more of a hike than they'd planned for. Only Lewis and Clark were men. Outdoorsmen, at that. Not a couple of whiny teenagers who kept saying "But I'm going to get CHAFF in my HAIR."

Undaunted, I untied the first bundle of stalks from the wall of the building and it fell into my arms like a tubercular lover in the last scene of the silent movie. I got chaff in my hair. And also in my eyes, nose and mouth. "Open the trunk!" I called to Meelyn, who scurried off while Aisling drew back disdainfully, whether from me or the corn shock, I'm not sure.

It took an incredible amount of stuffing and prodding and pulling to get that first corn shock into the van, but Meelyn and I persevered. We opened up both side doors and I noted with unease that the whole interior was a crazy wilderness of sharp, crackly mildewy leaves, like what might happen if Tim Burton made a movie about being lost in a field. I had great misgivings about the advisability of trying to get the second shock into the van, but I wasn't left with any choice: the market owner was closing the place down for the evening and I couldn't just leave my four dollars' worth of dead leaves just lying there, could I?

Aisling was of the opinion that not only could I, but I should. Because this was embarrassing. And people passing by on the highway were LOOKING. AT US. And OUR DUMB CORN. And it was obvious that the tailgate on the van wasn't going to be able to close and did I expect her, Aisling, to drive the remaining mile to our house with the tailgate open and DRY CORN spilling out the back, maybe accompanied by the game pieces and board from Monopoly?

I gave Aisling my standard speech:

1. No one cares about us and our corn
2. Thinking that they do care is a sign of excessive self-interest
3. Besides, isn't this how people get Christmas trees home?
4. If it's okay for Christmas trees, it's okay for corn shocks.
5. Well, okay then, you can stay at home while the rest of us pick out a tree this year.

While I was scolding Aisling, Meelyn and I were wasting no time in getting that second corn shock stowed away. I refused to admit this to either girl at the time, but the inside of the van looked INSANE. Completely filled up with leaves. Leaves everywhere, including out the back, drooping almost down to the street. I tried to rummage around for a bungee cord with which to truss the tailgate to the rear bumper so that the back of the van wouldn't seem to be, gaping open, as it were, to disgorge the entire contents of the van -- corn, games, Goodwill offerings and Shakespeare paraphernalia -- into the street, where it could possibly cause a traffic mishap.

Of course, there was no bungee cord available, so we drove off for home, hazard lights blinking cheerfully, tying up afternoon traffic in a snarl behind us which wasn't a terrible problem when we were on the four lane highway, but which became acutely embarrassing once we got into the city and went down to two lanes.

By the time we got to the house, all three of us were congested, watery of eye and itching from a thousand little hives. Aisling, no stranger to drama, wailed, "I'm DYING. I have HIVES! I ITCH SO BAD! I NEED A DOCTOR!"

Meelyn, stoic and nonplussed, merely parked the van, helped me unload the bundles of corn, tied them to the porch while I held them securely, and then pulled the van around the block to our driveway while I went in to measure out a dose of Benadryl for the three of us. She might have heaved a sigh of resignation somewhere along the way, but it was drowned out by Aisling's histrionics.

When my husband got home, Meelyn and I were both half-whacked from the antihistimines, but Aisling was as perky as Katie Couric emceeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"Come look, Daddy!" she twittered. "We have a big surprise for you out front! You should have seen us bringing them home! It was SO MUCH FUN."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The incredible, inedible Abe

I sat down at the computer this afternoon to check my email and read the news, bringing with me a very small handful of candy corn, maybe five or six pieces, which I intended to relish: first you nibble off the white tip, then you carefully bite off the yellow top, then you consume the orange middle part, moving on to the next corn and proceeding in the same deliberate manner.

You'd think that anyone as meticulous a candy-corn-eater as I am would have thought to bring a little plate or even a paper napkin to put them on, wouldn't you? But I didn't. And the walk back into the kitchen to get either object just seemed sooo faaar. So I inelegantly dumped them on top of my desk like a barbarian, reflecting that my mother would have not only gotten a plate, but she also would have put a doily on it.

This rebellion against the proper order of things is why, about two minutes later, I accidentally picked up a stray penny that was also on top of my desk, its color blending in with the wood of the desk so well, I hadn't even noticed it.

Trust me on this: there are better ways to get a little copper in your diet than by trying to eat a penny. First of all, hard to chew. Second of all, MONEY IS DIRTY. And third, I may never stop gagging. Thank heaven I managed to spit it back out nearly as soon as it went in. What if I'd swallowed it?


RECIPE: Homemade baking mix

This recipe is a handy little money saver for those of you who use it often to make biscuits, pancakes, waffles or little shortcakes to heap with sugared strawberries. Baking mix can be found just about everywhere - there are two well-known national brands and a bunch of knock-offs. This recipe is a very close approximation and it's been around for years: you can find it in every single church cookbook that's ever been published, I imagine. "Time honored" would be a good way to describe it.

I really love the biscuits this baking mix makes. They're light and fluffy and EASY, especially if you make the "drop" variety. If you add a teaspoon of garlic and a handful of shredded cheddar to the dough and then BATHE THEM IN VERY GARLICKY BUTTER as soon as you slide them out of the oven, you have a pretty good cover of Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay biscuits. Which, you know, I could eat my weight in, which is not an inconsiderable amount.


8 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 cup shortening

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Store sealed in pantry or refrigerator.

BISCUITS - add 2/3 cup of milk to 2 1/4 cups of baking mix in a medium mixing bowl. Stir until combined.

For rolled biscuits, turn dough onto a floured surface and knead or fold about four times (do not overwork dough). Roll out to half-inch thickness and transfer to lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

For drop biscuits, stir milk and baking mix until combined. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold the dough inside the bowl three or four times. Drop onto lightly greased baking sheet by well-rounded spoonfuls. Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

PANCAKES - 3/4 cup milk to 1 cup of mix; stir in one egg. Drop onto hot, greased griddle with a 1/4 cup measuring cup.

For pancake mix - Add a one quart envelope of powdered milk, or 3/4 cup powdered milk to the whole batch when making the mix. Add 3/4 cup water to the mix when making pancakes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hey, cupcake!

Our church's youth group meets from 6:00-8:00 on Sunday evenings, which makes me want to lie down on the floor and cry. Obviously, the time was chosen with no thought whatsoever about the needs of middle-aged people to put on fuzzy slippers and pajamas and robes at around 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday and sit reading their books with a bowl of stove-popped popcorn on their laps. No thought AT ALL.

I wish Meelyn and Aisling could take themselves to youth group, but the trip to our church involves fifteen minutes of interstate driving and I'm just not sure how I feel about allowing Meelyn -- who is a very cautious and responsible driver -- on the freeway by herself. She's been driving us everywhere for more than a year now (in fact, she drives on the interstate with me in the vehicle with her all the time) and she drives to work by herself - in fact, she and Aisling are out right now returning a pair of shoes at Shoe Carnival and getting Aisling's bangs cut.

But the interstate. Without me. With Aisling...

Sooo, I am driving them to youth group on Sunday evenings. My husband has agreed that he will come with me too since our Friday-night-dates-to-Bob Evans have been canceled out by the economy.

Last week's meeting was a showing of the movie Bella and I couldn't help but notice that the only snack available was microwave popcorn. I have some opinions about microwave popcorn, the least emphatic of which is that it is a soulless food meant only to be eaten by busy teachers who need some thing for lunch that is easy to pack, easy to prepare, and can be consumed while grading papers.

So I asked the adult leaders of the youth group, Dave, Tammy and Tim, what the arrangements were for snacks. Tammy said doubtfully, "Well, we just kind of grab something to bring in...."

Well. Well. My opinion of that is that if you are the kind of person who is willing to give up your Sunday evening (slippers, pajamas, bathrobe, popcorn) to go entertain and evangelize teenagers, it should not be incumbent upon you to also provide a snack. It just shouldn't. Things should be made easy for you so that you'll have the will to keep on doing what you're doing, feeling appreciated and affirmed by the other adults - the ones who would rather be smartly slapped in the head with a dead fish than give up their Sunday evenings, re: see above.

So I offered to bring cupcakes this week because Dave, Tammy and Tim shouldn't have to and also because food is a very important part of any gathering. If you have good food, people will come. They may come if your food is sub-standard or even non-existent, but there won't be that pleasant sense of anticipation of a good time spent with friends AND FOOD.

I'm not entirely certain why this is, but I have it on good authority that even skinny people feel this way.

This evening is my snack-preparing debut. I am sending thirty cupcakes, half iced with milk chocolate frosting and topped with those cute little pumpkin candies, the other half topped with Halloween Funfetti icing and a piece of candy corn. Plus orange sugar sprinkles.


Okay. We're home from youth group now and I had a brain wave and decorated a dozen cupcakes with half-Halloween Funfetti and half-milk chocolate frosting and then topped them with autumn sprinkles in brown, red, orange and yellow. They all looked too cute in the white bakery box I bought at the Party House.

Youth group attendance was pretty low tonight because of all the kids sick with the flu, so out of thirty-five cupcakes, only twenty-four were eaten, so my husband has some to take in to work tomorrow. Fun!

Now I have to think of something cheap to make for next week's meeting. I may end up regretting this sudden burst of Christian generosity. Ack.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Between sneezing and coughing lies....obsession."

The title of this post is a slight modification of the old Calvin Klein advertisement for Obsession perfume. I looooooved that stuff, and back in the days when I was a single girl, a young urban professional, I doused myself in that woodsy-oriental combination so that people's eyes probably watered when I walked by.

Today I have a new obsession. I still love perfume and my favorite one (Coco Mademoiselle) packs an even bigger wallop than the Calvin Klein stuff did. But the scent I'm using the most often is a delightful blending of doctor's office and emergency room with a a subtle hint of ambulance: hand sanitzer.

I've written before that I am he world biggest hypochondriac, right? So with all this stuff that's being trumpeted on the news about the H1N1 virus, you can imagine how that's affected me. I do everything but bathe in hand sanitizer, and I bought a biggish bottle of Germ-X to put in one of the van's cup holders so that the girls and I can all have a squirt as soon as we return from the germy grocery store, library or hair salon. Even church. It's quiet in there, making it ALL THE EASIER to hear people sniffling, sneezing and coughing. I'd like to get one of those big plastic rain hats that elderly ladies wear to keep the people behind me from coughing germs into my hair.

The problem with hand sanitizer is that the alcohol content (a recommended 60% for primo germ-slaying action) dries your hands out. I have the feeling that I may end up at the end of this flu season un-diseased but with hands that look like the hands of something that came out of a tomb at Giza.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The man-cold

First of all, I have to say that my husband is the complete opposite of this portrayal. He's the kind who would walk around with a jagged piece of femur sticking out of his thigh, irritably saying, "I'm OH-KAY! Geez!....No, I don't want an aspirin....A splint? Why? I'll be fine in a day or two. And no, I do not want Neosporin. Neosporin is for sissies."

But that doesn't stop this video from being really, really funny. And we all need something to laugh about with flu season coming on, right?

Through the wringer

Here's a picture of me in my laundry room, running a load of dirty clothes through my washing machine with one of those new-fangled automatic wringer attachments. It is some kind of awesome, let me tell you, and I'm sure I'll learn how to get long in life minus the first two fingers of my right hand, although I admit typing is going to be a difficult hurdle: it took me seventeen hours to type this paragraph.

No, really, I'm just kidding. Whaddaya mean, you knew it was a fake picture because you know I'm not that thin? Shut up. Just....shut up.

My great-grandma really did have a washer like this, though. I used to be scared to death of that thing, and what was really sad is that the monstrous washer lived in the same back room as the enormous coffin-shaped deep freeze. And the deep freeze? That's where Grandma kept the popsicles. The washing machine had a vaguely menacing air about it, crouching there on the old-fashioned linoleum, although the deep freeze probably posed a greater threat since in order to get a popsicle out of it, I had to lift the heavy lid and balance on my stomach, propping the lid open with one hand while reaching down into the depths to grab a (red) popsicle with the other. The dangers of pitching head-first into the freezer or the lid falling on my head and rendering me unconscious and perhaps hypothermic never entered my mind.

Which is why I am not as thin as the woman in that picture: greed so often triumphs common sense with me.

Moving forward to today, Kayte gave me a most excellent laundry tip a couple of weeks ago that I thought I'd hand on to all of you: Buy some kind of cheap laundry detergent to wash your sheets and towels and the dogs' bedding and all that kind of thing in, and save the expensive Tide for your clothes.

There! Wasn't that a good tip? I had truly never thought of that and it has saved us some money. It is true that the towels and sheets have a....different texture. And they don't smell as good. But they're clean and the inexpensive brand of detergent I buy at ALDI for about $2.99 a bottle helps offset the cost of the Tide we use to wash clothing in this house with no water softener.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shed some light

See that picture over there? I like those things. Floor lamps. Well, really, any kind of lamp. We have a couple of floor lamps and a bunch of table lamps and as soon as it gets the least little bit dark outside, I like to turn them all on, every single one of them. I want every room in the house to have some kind of light on in it.

I can't resist a lamp. My mother occasionally gets fits of redecorating and buys new lamps and she offers the old ones to me, and even though every end table in my house already has a lamp sitting on it, I always say, "Sure! Thanks! I'd love to have it!"

If I can't have a floor lamp or a table lamp, I'll settle for something else, such as a light on the range hood (which stays on permanently with a fluorescent bulb because our kitchen is so dark) or the light in the china cabinet, which pleasantly illuminates the Pfalzgraff. I'm also very partial to a fake ficus tree with fairy lights twined in its branches.

My mom recently gave me a table lamp that I decided would look nice in our bedroom, on a table next to an armchair where I am theoretically supposed to sit and read on the nights I can't sleep. I found a tiny 7-watt night light bulb for it and I love that lamp beyond all reason. Not because of the reading, no. My eyesight isn't good enough to warrant reading by the powerful glare of seven watts, even though I haven't yet succumbed to bifocals. No, I love that lamp because we hooked it up to a timer and it comes on at 6:00 a.m. with a gentle glow of light that signifies that it's nearly time to wake up and I can't tell you how much better that has made my mornings.

For one thing, your eyes kind of get used to the light before you even open them, so you don't have to stumble around in the dark trying to find your socks OR stumble around in the light with your eyes squeezed shut, trying to avoid the pain of an entire 40 watts of power searing your eyeballs as you try to summon up the will to live on a dark, rainy autumn morning. Seven watts is more of a subtle nudge awake instead of an air horn sounded right next to your head.

Another thing is that seven watts makes the room look so cozy and inviting that I leave it on all day on days like this -- dark, rainy -- so that I can feel soothed and welcomed and loved when I walk into the room. Today we got home from Shakespeare class and all I wanted to do was go upstairs, put on some kind of garment made of fleece, put on my slippers and just sit for a moment in the quiet, listening to the raindrops pattering on the windows. Sure enough, my light was burning cheerfully, just barely brightening the room with a golden glow that made me feel less like Sara Crewe or the Little Match Girl and more like, say, Cinderella. Cinderella after the shoe fitting. I immediately felt rested and calmed with a sense of well-being that you just cannot get in the harsh glare of a ceiling fixture.

So I love lamps. And incidentally, I also love my husband. But when he goes behind me in the house and turns off everything that I just turned on, giving me a droning, everlasting lecture about the electric company and how anxious they are to part us from our money and then he wants me to sit in the gloom of a wet morning squinting at the pages in my book or trying to see if that's dried food or just the pattern on the plate as I unload the dishwasher, I get a sudden urge to do something else electric. Like maybe, I don't know, TASER HIM.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Felix Mendelssohn's celebration

Last Thursday, the four of us went with some other members of the home school group to Hilbert Circle Theater on Monument Circle to see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra perform Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 in D Major/D Minor, op. 107. We had wonderful seats, the theater is lovely, the audience appreciative and the orchestra finely tuned and fascinating to watch, but we had an unexpected surprise that made us giggle in the lobby afterwards.

It turns out that Symphony No. 5 in D Major/D Minor, op. 107 is more widely known as the Reformation Symphony. Mendelssohn wrote it in 1832 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Martin Luther's Augsberg Confession. This was explained to us before the concert began and I thought, "Oh, sheesh. Of ALL the concerts the group could attend this year, this one WOULD be the one I signed everyone up for."

Because, the Reformation? Not so much a cause for celebration. More like a monumental tragedy that fractured the Body of Christ and has resulted in division upon division upon division, four and a half centuries' worth by now. I wonder if he had it all to write over again -- and by "he" I'm referring both to Martin Luther and Mendelssohn, I suppose, Luther with his confession and Mendelssohn with his symphony -- if it would all seem worth it.

For the first time, symphonic music was kind of lost on me.

Reason #23,574,396,206,907,452 and counting on Why God is a Genius

It is very sad that apples get such a bad rap in the Bible, you know, what with that whole "Don't eat of the fruit of THIS ONE TREE" and Adam and Eve being all, "Hey. You hungry? Because the fruit on that tree over there with the serpent leaning up against it, picking his teeth with a casual claw -- yes, THAT ONE TREE -- is lookin' pretty good."

And yet the apple is clearly one of the best things God created. I mean, how do you have a Brown Betty without apples? "Apple Brown Betty" just rolls off the tongue, both linguistically and gastronomically. Same thing with "Apple Crisp." And "Apple Buckle." "Dutch Apple Pie." Do you see where I'm going with this?

It might have something to do with the pleasing sound of those two syllables: AP - PLE. It kind of rings sweetly in the ear. But better even than that is the taste in the mouth.

Which is why I am devoting this short snippet of a post to the Honeycrisp Apple, which is currently in the produce sections of grocery stores and also available at fruit stands and orchards right now in Indiana. If you have never tasted the sweet, crispy goodness of a Honeycrisp apple, then all I can do is say, goodness, what are you waiting for?

They don't last long - the Honeycrisp has but a brief shining moment of hereness -- so you should hurry. They look beautiful in a burl bowl on the kitchen counter, but they won't stay there for long.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have not fallen into a well

I am not in there, so don't go calling because if you lean over too far, something bad might happen and no one will ever want to drink water out of that thing again.

The girls and I are slightly overwhelmy-feeling with school this year. Having two high school students in the house is no joke, and please keep in mind that I'm not the one doing the school work. However, we seem to be getting into a grind....I mean, routine...that is working for us. Classes are definitely moving right along, and the best thing is that we are not behind on anything. Last year at this time, Meelyn and I were floundering around with Biology I as if we had, well, fallen into a well and were trying to reach the bucket. Just to extend the metaphor. I took precautions this year to grasp Aisling urgently by the upper arms, gaze into her eyes, and implore her in a quivering voice to STICK TO THE SYLLABUS.

"Because," I warned her in a strained whisper, "if you get behind by even ONE DAY, the microscope will explode and your favorite shoes will cause you to get a toe fungus."

I have also pushed my STICK TO THE SYLLABUS message in American Literature, American History and Meelyn's Traditional Logic, portentously warning them of dire events that will transpire if they don't.

The most amazing thing about this school year is that we have not only managed to STICK TO THE SYLLABUS, we have also managed to STICK TO THE HOUSEKEEPING. Yes, that's right: the daily cleaning schedule we began early last July is still in force around here and the toilets are cleaned, the carpets are vacuumed, the furniture is dusted and the floors are mopped with comforting regularity. Not only that, but we never run out of clean underwear anymore.

So with those two things going on, can you see why it's been just over a week since I've posted? Especially when you consider the fact that I am also teaching the Shakespeare Workshop, Meelyn is still holding down her fast-food job and Ailsing and I are volunteering as babysitters at MOPS twice a month?

Sometimes I suspect that we might be partly bionic.

Friday, October 2, 2009

RECIPE: Baked Steak (total old-fashioned comfort food)

I think you used to be able to order baked steak (also known as "smothered steak," as in "smothered with gravy") as a Blue Plate Special in restaurants in my childhood. It was usually offered with the steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn or green beans and a brown-and-serve dinner roll. Maybe some pie and a cup of coffee. But anyway, however it was served, it was delicious.

This recipe comes from an church cookbook that was published in 1992. The name of the recipe in that book is "Poor Man's Steak" and the name of the contributer, whom I knew personally before she passed away, leads me to wonder if Baked Steak or Poor Man's Steak or whatever you want to call it, is actually a Depression-era recipe that was handed down from that time even when prosperity returned because it was just so good.

I made it last night with some creamy whipped potatoes and sweet corn and it was comfort food par excellance. Not in the least bit hip, haute, nouvelle or elegant, it has it's very own place in American diner cuisine.


2 pounds ground beef
1 "row" or package of saltine or round butter crackers, finely crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 packet brown gravy mix
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together and press into a 9x13 baking pan. Chill for three hours in fridge. At the end of three hours, cut the meat into eight squares and dredge in flour; brown in a skillet with just a tiny bit of oil. Return the squares to the baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the two cans of cream of mushroom soup, gravy mix, Worcestershire and garlic powder with one can of warm water. Whisk until smooth; pour over steak slices in the baking pan. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking pan in oven, uncovered, for one hour.

Serve with mashed potatoes, and be generous with the gravy. Also recommended are corn, green beans or cooked carrots.

And a brown and serve dinner roll.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Roman holiday

One of the biggest news stories that is getting a lot of play over the internet, television and radio this past week is the one about director Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland for the 1977 rape of 13 year old Samantha Jane Gailey. He is in a prison in Zurich right now, awaiting extradition, which will hopefully happen soon so that we can bring him back to the United States and maybe throw him a party for being brilliant and amazing.


Well, in several related news stories, there are famous cinema-land people out there defending Polanski as if is a perfectly normal thing to give a thirteen year old girl part of a quaalude and several glasses of champagne and then rape and sodomize her even though she was telling him to stop; that she wanted to go home; that she didn't want to do what he was making her do.

Most notably, here's a clip from The View where Whoopi Goldberg is defending a forty-three year old man having sex with a thirteen year old girl.

"He wasn't charged with rape!" she keeps protesting.

This, my friends, is the time to remember that Whoopi is not that compassionate psychic from Ghost, nor is she the zany fugitive-turned-nun in Sister Act, nor is she the vulnerable Celie from The Color Purple. What Whoopi is? I don't even know if I can describe her, other than to point out that anyone who can say that sex between a middle aged man and a young teenage girl "wasn't rape rape," even though the man in question admitted in court that he gave the girl drugs and alcohol, even though the girl told him no and asked him to take her home to her mother, is just about as sick a pervert as Polanski himself.

Here she is. Try not to throw up or damage your computer monitor with a stapler.

Polanski was, by the way, originally charged with rape. But his charge was reduced to unlawful sex with a minor child as part of a plea bargain. He fled the country and sought refuge in Europe to avoid a trial, and he's been there on the lam for these past thirty-odd years. And he has not been living there in rags and tatters, humbly seeking a crust and a roof. No, he's been swanning himself around as the darling of modern cinema, making films and accepting awards and living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Most of the people defending Polanski by saying that he should be freed to go about his busy life as a vile pervert are Europeans whose names I don't recognize. But among the names I do recognize are these folks: actress Penelope Cruz, directors Martin Scorcese and Jonathan Demme and, most amusingly if by "amusingly" you realize I mean "vomiting everything I've eaten since birth," which is a not inconsiderable amount, Woody Allen (yes, the man who divorced his wife, Mia Farrow, to marry his own adopted daughter. And since Mia Farrow was the star of Roman Polanski's celebrated horrorshow Rosemary's Baby, that's just gives one a little frisson of complete yuck, doesn't it?)

Here is the 1977 court transcript of Polanski's guilty plea.

And here is the court transcript of Samantha Gailey's testimony. This is really harrowing reading. If you are the father or mother of a daughter, it will make you want to weep with rage. If you are a parent, it will make you sick to your stomach.

It will make you want Roman Polanski, child molester and rapist, to see the inside of a prison for the rest of his unnatural life, but considering that he's seventy-seven years old now, that isn't yet enough time for justice to be served.