Monday, November 30, 2009

Moms' Night Out

Tonight was Moms' Night Out, the last one until next year. We won't be getting together again until January, since the last Monday in December falls during the Christmas season and we will all be too busy putting batteries into things and too exhausted from all the late nights staying up eating sugar cookies and Chex Party Mix to come out to dinner. And maybe too full.

We had a big group: Mary Jo, Katie, Michelle, Cynthia, Stephanie, Debbie, Julie, Dawn and Gloria. And me. We had the same waitress we had last month, the one who called us all amiga and beamed from ear to ear when we told her the food was so good, which it was. I got the beef and cheese nachos and guacamole, more than even I could ever hope to eat in one sitting, for $7.99. Delicious!

We talked a lot, naturally. About home schooling and husbands and history books and buying really nice but gently used board games on e-Bay for so much cheaper than you can get them brand new. We talked about the Colts and cliques and candy -- how some kids would rather work for mini-Snickers than for money.

Three and a half hours flew by before we even realized, and we hurriedly began digging through our pocketbooks for our wallets, counting out our tips, shrugging into coats and heading off to the restroom for one last stop before the drive home.

It was a bittersweet night because this was Debbie's last night. Her husband got a job after being out of steady work for way over a year. His job is an answer to prayer and they are so happy and grateful, but it is hard to lose Debbie to a city ninety minutes away because she's funny and salty and truly devout and one of the easiest people in the world to love.

We filed out of the restaurant's front door, buttoning and zipping our coats, our breath frosty on the cold night air. "Well, I guess we probably won't be seeing each other much because of the holidays," Michelle said.

"Yes, this is a busy time of year," said Katie. "So much going on even beyond the regular stuff."

We all hugged goodbye then, wishing each other Merry Christmas and calling to one another to drive home safely. It was a good time. We laughed a lot. We teared up over Debbie. We enjoyed being truly ourselves for a few hours. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

It's Advent again already, the very beginning of the liturgical year, the time of waiting and preparing for the arrival of Jesus, both in His first and second comings.
The first one, we already know about, of course: Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to be counted in the census commanded by Caesar Augustus; no room in the inn for an expectant mother; the stable that had to make do. Shepherds in the fields keeping their watch by night and angels in the sky singing gloria in excelsis Deo! The baby in the manger, the humble King of kings, the journeying wise men bringing rich gifts.
The second coming? That's the great mystery. No one knows when it will happen: we just know that He told us to be prepared. That's part of what Advent is about, as we devote ourselves to greater prayer and introspection during these four weeks so that we can be ready to receive Him at the Christ Mass.
So that's our big challenge every year, of course. What are we going to focus on? The real meaning of the Christmas season, or the cooking and baking, the shopping and partying, the quest for sales and the perfect gift for every person on our lists? Spiritual or secular? How to manage both so that the spiritual side weighs heavier than the other side is the greatest difficulty of our age, especially since the secular is WEEKS ahead of the spiritual: there have been Christmas displays in the stores of harried retailers since right after Halloween.
Here's our chance, beginning today, to pace ourselves a little more wisely as we wait for the coming King.

Change I can believe in

The girls and I had a scheduled date to go pick up Kieren, Dayden and Kiersi and take them to Nanny and Poppy's house for a festive Christmas Tree Decorating Party, and on our way out of town, we decided to stop at the car wash and vaccuum out the van.

Vaccuuming out the van is a job that we should undertake at least once every two weeks. Plus, I keep plastic grocery bags in there to keep the litter at a minimum, but here I must be frank: Meelyn and Aisling are PIGS. I've never seen anything like the mess they can make. My area -- the two front seats and the little cargo net in between -- can stay relatively tidy for a month or more, but everything behind those seats? Chaos. Like a band of refugees camped there for a month with only basic santitation. This is something I don't understand, since both girls require at least an hour's prep time before they'll consent to step their dainty feet outside the doors of our home. What, then, could lead to such pristine creatures to wildly abandon water bottles, used-up spiral-bound notebooks, Arbonne catalogs, gum wrappers, cast-off sweaters/jackets/sweatshirts and empty lip gloss containers all over the van from their seats to the trunk?

So we went to the car wash. We had four quarters, which was enough to get started, but I could tell it was going to be an eight quarter job - there were little bits of gravel, scraps of dry leaves, a couple of soda straw wrappers and a general sprinkling of fuzz that needed to be swept out, so I walked over to the change machine while the girls shoveled out the area around their seats.

This was a different car wash than the one we usually use, and their change machine was different too. The machine I'm familiar with is a fancy-schmancy one that asks you how you want your change returned to you and gives you the choice of inserting $1, $5, $10 or $20. I noted that this machine also allowed you to use bills in the same denominations, but I didn't pay attention to the fact that it wasn't asking me how I wanted my change returned until I'd already inserted a twenty dollar bill.

It became immediately apparent that this machine? IT WAS DIFFERENT -- when twenty dollars in quarters came spilling out of the coin return slot, as if I'd just won a tidy little jackpot on some sort of car wash lotto.

Getting all those coins from the change machine back over to the car nearly tore the lining out of the pocket of my coat. Oi.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Week of Thanks - Day Five

I would like to express fervent gratitude for the people who came out on Black Friday and bought cars from my husband, especially the ones who came with $33,000 in cash. Yes, cash.

With so many years of experience in the car business, my husband -- like many other salesmen -- has learned to recognize the true buyers from the casual shoppers or wishers and dreamers. Men by themselves? Depends. Salesmen look for wedding rings on men's fingers. If the man is wearing a wedding ring but is at the dealership by himself, he's most likely a wisher and dreamer who's there to look at a new Camaro and tell anyone who will listen about the Z-28 he bought with the money he saved up by mowing lawns from birth to seventeen years old.

But a man who is there with his wife? He is a serious buyer. A couple of those couples came out yesterday and helped turn a really sucky and scary month into a slightly less stomach-churning period for us. One cute couple called their daughter, a freshman at Butler, to come look at the car before they made their decision: The girl arrived, said she loved it, and mom and dad got out the checkbook. I thought that was really sweet and funny.

What was particularly nice about the people my husband worked with yesterday is that both couples, he said, were lovely people. Easy to work with. Pleasant and kind. Friendly. There are so many of the other sort, he says, that you tend to remember the ones who were great.

Here's hoping for a few more magnanimous folks to be grateful for before the month ends on Monday. Baby needs a new pair of shoes. And Mommy needs to buy groceries for Christmas dinner. And for all the other days in December that aren't Christmas. We're in the clutch here, people. Go buy a Chevy from my husband, the Prince of Salesmen and make me even more thankful than I am right now.

Black Friday has not traditionally been a day when there are lots of car sales. For the past thirteen years that my husband has been selling cars, it's mostly been a day when the salesmen sit in the showroom next to the phones that are not ringing, eating the pralines that someone's wife sent in and working crossword puzzles as they scan the lot. Who ever would have guessed that there would be serious car buyers out on this particular day in this particular economy?

For that, all levity aside, I am truly grateful.

RECIPE: Thanksgiving dressings - Cornbread & Sausage, Cranberry-Walnut and Oyster (ew)

I literally cannot believe that I made dressing this good that was so simple. And cheaty. And a total secret, so shush before everyone finds out. We can't ALL have rock-star reputations for making good dressing at Thanksgiving, so keep this on the down low.

My delicious, steamy-in-the-middle, crispy-on-the-top-and-edges dressing yesterday had one basic secret ingredient.

Are you ready for it?

Stove-Top Stuffing. That's the secret ingredient. It comes in a box and is made by Kraft Foods and if I could get my arms around their corporate headquarters? I would so be hugging them all right now. Because after three years -- three long, purgatorial years of producing one vomit-inducing pan of dressing after another at the family Thanksgiving dinner -- I have finally found a winning recipe that won compliments from everyone.

And let me tell you: the leftovers? Even better than yesterday. No more tearing up loaves of bread and baking them dry and not having a bowl big enough to keep from slopping eggy, brothy bits of wet bread onto the kitchen floor; no, it was a simple enterprise from first to last. So without further ado, the dressing, with many thanks to my friend Amy, whose granny-in-law cracked the dressing code and paved the way for all busy holiday cooks to have a little more time and a little less stress.


1 pound sage sausage, browned and chopped into small pieces
4 boxes Stove-Top Stuffing Cornbread mix
2 sticks butter
2 medium stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 eggs, beaten
approximately 5 cups of chicken or turkey broth/stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9"x13" casserole dish. In a large mixing bowl, empty the four packets of Stove-Top Stuffing and set aside. In a small bowl, beat the eggs until well mixed. Melt the two sticks of butter in a small saucepan; simmer the celery and onion until both are translucent. Combine all ingredients with the contents of the STS packets in the large mixing bowl: about four cups of the broth, the eggs, the butter/celery/onion. Stir thoroughly to combine. Add more broth if mixture seems dry (it should be a bit wet; not VERY wet, but slightly wet.)

Empty the stuffing into the prepared casserole dish; cover with foil shiny side down and bake for thirty-five minutes. Remove foil and bake for twenty-five more minutes or until the top is slightly brown and crispy. Serve hot with slices of turkey and enough gravy to fill a bathtub.
4 boxes of chicken or turkey Stove Top Stuffing
2 sticks butter
2 medium stalks celery, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries
approximately five cups chicken or turkey broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9"x13" casserole dish. Empty the packets of Stove Top Stuffing into a large mixing bowl and add the cranberries and walnuts; set aside. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan; add the sage, celery and onion and cook until translucent. Combine all ingredients in the large mixing bowl: stuffing packets/cranberries/walnuts, eggs, butter mixture. Add broth, stirring thoroughly to combine. The dressing should be a bit wet.
Turn out into buttered casserole dish, cover with foil (shiny side down) and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for twenty-five more minutes, or until the top is browned and crispy at the edges. Serve with great fanfare, because this is a truly lovely, delicious and festive-looking holiday dish.
1 box of chicken or turkey Stove Top Stuffing
1 egg
1/2 stick butter
1 small rib of celery, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 pint fresh oysters, minced, liquid strained and reserved in a small bowl
approximately 1 or 2 cups chicken or turkey broth
Only if you have to, preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a small casserole plate (mine is about a six-inch diameter dish); set aside. If you're absolutely certain that you must, empty the STS packet into a medium mixing bowl. Reluctantly beat the egg and add to STS mixture. In firm denial of your nameless fear, melt the butter and add the pepper, celery and onion; cook until vegetables are translucent. With a sense of impending doom, add to STS mixture in bowl. Cringing in dread, add minced oysters and the strained liquid; stir. Add more chicken or turkey broth as needed until the stuffing is slightly wet.
Fighting back nausea, cover casserole dish with foil, shiny side down, and bake in the oven for twenty minutes; remove foil and bake for another twenty-five minutes, until stuffing is golden on top and slightly crispy around the edges. Serve hot with love for your relatives who actually eat that stuff. Sit slumped in a chair with a medicinal glass of brandy. Weep.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Week of Thanks - Day Four

Today I am giving thanks for books. Books on the shelves and books on the table tops; books on the staircase, books in the public library, books in book stores and at love affair with books has been going on since I was a toddler staggering up to various adult relatives with a pile of Dr. Seuss books clutched in my arms and one demand upon my baby lips: "Wead to me."

My mother taught me how to read when I was four, not because she was convinced I was some kind of genius (I wasn't), but because I kept pestering her to just explain to me, all these words. I don't know how long it took her, but I can remember the feeling of triumph I had when I opened some little book and realized that all those black squiggles had meaning: I could look at C-A-T and a picture of my grandma's cat, Fluff, leapt into my mind.

I have had a love affair with books ever since then. When I go to the library, it isn't just to get a book or two - it's more like twelve or twenty. It's been like that since I was a kid and discovered From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and A Wrinkle in Time. Also the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, which I still think are the funniest and smartest children's books I've ever read. And what girl hasn't sat and wept over Sara Crewe or Francie Dolan?

Although I do read some non-fiction, reading has always primarily been a way of escape for me. Fiction is my favorite, and I'll read just about anything, although I find romance novels hard to stomach. There's just something about the love affairs of fictional characters that just leaves me cold, especially the affair in a book that I picked up entirely by accident where the author began describing someone's "member," and it was pretty clear that the author wasn't referring to an associate in a country club or a PTA group or a fraternity. Ish.

If I get to the point where I'm near the end of my library book and I know that there are no others in my bag, I start feeling a little uneasy. Likewise, nothing makes me feel better than knowing that there is a big stack of fat books waiting for me up in my room.

Book. Books and books and books. I'm thankful for all the good ones I've come across in my life, and thankful for all the ones I haven't read yet. Books that other people have raved about (well, except for that one) and books that I've been able to share with others.

Books have been good friends to me.

Happy Thanksgiving! And....'s even happier because THE DRESSING TURNED OUT TO BE DELICIOUS! I am so relieved. Many compliments came my way for the sausage/cornbread and cranberry/walnut combinations, with additional kudos offered from my Uncle Mike and Poppy, both of whom enjoyed the oyster dressing, which, eewwwww. They were both very sweet, but I'm still of the mind that they should have offered me a medal, because I did have to cut those slimy, ugly things up.

We went to Pat and Angie's house along with Kieren, Dayden and Kiersi, my parents, my Uncle Mike and Aunt Jackie, Mary Elizabeth, my step-gran, her son Doug (who is my....step-uncle? Very confusing), Angie's aunt and uncle, Debbie and Steve (who are our age) and my young cousin Emily, who was introducing a serious new beau to the family, Manny.

I went over to meet him and took the girls with me. Manny looked at me shyly in the manner of a person who is not a natural extrovert being plopped down in the middle of a family that contains just two kinds of people: Extreme extroverts who will try to be your best friend within ten minutes of meeting you and extreme introverts who will sit and look out the the a picture hanging on the a speck of dust on a tabletop....ANYTHING other than talk to you so that the silences stretch out like rubber bands and threaten to go zinging off into space where they'll likely put somebody's eye out.

"Hi, Manny," I said, taking the hand he offered. "I'm Shelley, Emily's ancient cousin, and these are my daughters Meelyn and Aisling who are just a couple of years younger than Emily, so they're not ancient, they're just cousins."

Meelyn and Aisling looked mortified, Emily beamed and Manny managed a slightly strangled, "Hinicetomeetyou," before he sank gratefully back onto the couch. Emily squeezed his hand, her face alight, and I was reminded vividly of the first time my husband met my family, which was two months before we got married and about three weeks after we met. Good times. Gooooood times. There were LOTS of conversations going on then, you betcha.

Dinner was served and everything was delicious and fattening and full of butter. I sat at the same table as Pat, where he informed me that he had been reading here on InsomniMom and that he wished to inform me that he does not pour a can of Sprite into the turkey's body cavity; it is a can of COKE, thank you very much. I told him I would add a retraction, so here it is, Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky.

After lunch, we all idled around talking and eating pie, watching a little football, sneaking a piece of turkey here and there. The kids went down to the basement playroom to play Wii. Several people felt inclined to take naps and they were left to their peaceful dreams. I sat at the dining table with my father and my uncle and Pat and Poppy and Uncle Mike scandalized us with stories of their youth, many of which involved driving over the Ohio state line where the drinking age was nineteen, only they were sixteen.

"I don't think all the stories of our checkered youth are ready to be shared yet," I said to Pat, who gave me a brief, sidelong look that clearly said shutupshutupshutup. "I think they need to age for another twenty years or so before we share them."

Maybe at another Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week of Thanks - Day Three

My greatest gratitude today goes to my husband, a person for whom I am thankful every single day, even though he wears white socks with sandals against my fervently expressed wishes, even though he doesn't like popcorn.

This month has been an awful month for car sales, which figures, since next month is Christmas. Back in the good old days, we knew that November would be rocky, so we did this thing, this amazing thing that really helped us out a lot: We put a whole bunch of money in the bank back in June, July and August so that when November came along, we could just pay all our bills out of that savings account and use whatever amount he earned in commission to buy Christmas gifts and the like. But those days? They are gone with the wind, Miss Scarlett.

This morning, my husband came upstairs, smelling of fresh clothes and soap and toothpaste, and looked at me, where I was admittedly still yawning in the bed, having not yet summoned the energy to get up on a cool, rainy morning. "Scoot over," he said.

I obligingly scooted and he climbed in under the covers next to me. We stayed there face to face for a moment, our noses practically touching. "You know," he said, "when we met, I thought it was so great that you were a teacher, because I knew you'd always have steady work that paid well, with insurance and everything. I figured that with what I made -- and I planned to do well -- we'd have a pretty decent life, with a nice house, cars, money in the bank...."

"We do have a pretty decent life," I said stoutly.

"Not really what I thought it would be," he said ruefully. "But when the kids came along, I just couldn't see you working. You know, outside the home. I wanted to be able to shoulder the whole deal. I was proud that I could do that, you know? The men in my family, they've always been the kind who saw it as a point of honor that their wives didn't have to work unless they just wanted to."

"I know," I said. "And you do a great job, you really do. We always squeeze by, no matter what. And the recession won't last forever."

"I hope not. God, I pray not," he sighed. "I'd sure like to think that someday we'll look back on this whole one income life with our decision to home school the girls and say, 'Geeez, that was pretty frikken scary during that recession, but we made it. We always made it, no matter what."

"Well, you know that's how our great-great-grandparents got through the Great Depression. They made it and we will, too." I smoothed out a worried line between his eyes. "I wonder if I'll end up being one of those ladies who's saved a drawer full of string or thumbtacks or something?"

"If you're going to save something crazy, then I'd prefer it if you'd save something useful, like stamps or safety pins," he said, flinging back the bedcovers and getting out of the bed. He leaned over and smooched me on the forehead. "Love you. Call me. What's for dinner?"

"Velveeta Shells and Cheese."

"Are you TRYING to kill me?"

"Look, I've already had this same discussion with your kids. You are going to be FEASTING on Thursday, so I think you can manage with macaroni and cheese on Wednesday. Besides, I have a bunch of Thanksgiving cooking to do and I don't want to have to put together a big dinner on top of all that."

"Macaroni and cheese is just basic nourishment, kid food," he grumbled.

"I told the girls that if they didn't quit complaining, I wasn't going to cook the pasta before I served it," I warned.

"Whatever," he sighed. "Well, anyway, talk to you later."

He went out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him, mindful of the sleeping girls, and went off to slay some dragons.

He can take a licking

You see this dog, Hershey? You see how ashamed and guilty he looks? You want to know why he looks that way?

It's because every evening as the four of us sit down at the dining room table to eat dinner, he develops an urge to sprawl on the floor with one leg pointed gracefully at the ceiling like the world's hairiest ballerina and lovingly slurp away at his, er-....male appendage, devoting as much care and avid attention to this activity as mothers do when giving their little babies a bath.

Last night, I had a particularly succulent meal, I thought: Roast beef, potatoes, carrots and homemade biscuits. It was a lovely warm meal for a cold and rainy evening and as we sat down with the candles in the autumn centerpiece gleaming, I gave everyone my customary dirty look until they all unfolded their napkins and placed them in their laps and we crossed ourselves and said the blessing. Hershey came shambling into the room, yawning and obviously hoping that the entire roast would somehow fall off the platter and into his mouth.

He picked my husband as the Person Most Likely to Drop Food and settled himself down comfortably, waiting for whatever tidbit came his way. To pass the time, he lifted his leg and began going SLUUUUUUURRRP sluuuuuuuuurrrp SLUUUUUURRRRRRP, punctuating the slurps with little snuffles and snorts of pleasure.

My husband cast Hershey a quick, irritated glance and then decided to ignore the lapping sounds going on right next to him. "So! How was everyone's day? And Meelyn, will you pass the salt and pepper?"


"I baked four dozen molasses cookies, cleaned the kitchen, went to the grocery, folded a basket of laundry and did some vacumming," I offered virtuously, buttering a biscuit.

"Don't forget the six hours you spent on the computer," said Aisling, cutting a chunk of carrot into three thousand little pieces and spearing one bit on a fork tine. She guided the infinitesimal piece of carrot to the tip of her tongue and chewed daintily. I glared at her.

"I finished up the Spanish program and I'm ready for the next software," Meelyn offered.

My husband looked over at me with a pained expression on his face. "How much does the next software cost?" he asked. "Please tell me it's under fifty dollars."

"It's under fifty dollars," I said kindly.

"Are you lying?"

"Oh, heavens, yes."


"That is sooo gross," said Meelyn, putting down her fork and looking under the table. Hershey broke off from his absorption with his Man Part long enough to look back, ascertain that he was not being offered so much as a carrot, and returned his licking, snuffling, slurping and snorting.

"Daddy, make him stop!" Aisling pleaded. "I can't eat with him doing that. It sounds disgusting."

"Repulsive," Meelyn rejoined.



"OKAY!" my husband yelled. "Enough with the adjectives, already! HERSHEY! Knock it off."

Hershey peered up at my husband with his beady eyes and went in for another lick. Slllluuuuurrrrrppp. The juiciness of that sound cannot be stressed strongly enough. It was the wettest, slimiest, lickiest sound, ever. Hershey uttered a happy little sigh of contentment. My husband turned the color of key lime pie.

"Okay. Hershey needs to go to his bed before I hurl," he declared. I frowned at him; that kind of talk is not allowed at the table. He caught my look and said, exasperated, "Look, it's not exactly refined and elegant, trying to eat dinner like civilized people while the dog sits over there and licks his...."

"STOP RIGHT THERE," I interrupted. "Do not say another word, especially that one. Aisling, go put Hershey in his crate. Meelyn, would you please pass the potatoes? Hershey, you are a bad dog."

Aisling hauled a protesting Hershey off by his collar and we ate the rest of our dinner in peace.

After the girls did the dishes, we were ready to sit down and watch So You Think You Can Dance and I told Meelyn to let Hershey out of his crate. He came prancing into the living room, eyes bright, tail high. My husband pressed the play button on the DVR remote and Aisling invited Hershey up to sit on the couch with us.

"Come on, boy," she cooed invitingly, patting the cushion beside her.

But Hershey ignored her. Instead, he went front and center before the television, plunked himself down and pointed a bold foot ceiling-ward.

"Oh, no," groaned my husband.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Week of Thanks - Day Two

Today, I am really thankful for the opportunity that my family has to just sit down after dinner in the evenings and watch television together, laughing, talking, arguing and enjoying one another's company. We're getting ready to watch So You Think You Can Dance as I type this post; it's a chilly night with the rain splashing down on the street outside the living room windows, the perfect cozy night for us three girls to pile onto the couch with the fleece throw blankets, the squooshy pillows and the dogs while Dad reigns supreme in his big recliner with a beer in one hand and the remote in the other.

It's so much fun, our favorite way to bond as a family, and whoops! Meelyn and Aisling just finished with the dishes and my husband has the show all cued up on the DVR, so I'd better grab my tea and go get settled.

Love the lovely family.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Wright's Silver Cream

I haven't done a product review for quite a while, but last night I used something that completely took the torture out of a job I really hate: Polishing the silver.

My grandpa and step-gran gave my husband and me eight place settings plus serving pieces of silver flatware as a wedding gift. For years, the big wooden chest lived under our bed and we hauled it out over the holidays until we moved into this house. Once here, I decided that life needed more beauty, plus I'd ground up about six spoons from my set of Oneida stainless in the garbage disposal. And some salad forks.

So now we use the silver frequently and since it's out in the open instead of huddled up inside that chest, it has to be polished. Which is better than cleaning the toilets, you know? But less fun than watching Top Chef or playing in Webkinz World. And time-consuming, leaving less hours in the day to watch Top Chef or play-....well, you get my drift.

I had a bottle of somebody's silver polish that accidentally got thrown out when I paid Aisling $5 to tidy up that scary area under the kitchen sink, and you know why I can't remember the brand name? Because it didn't work very well, that's why. You had to kind of paint it onto the piece of silver you wished to de-tarnish, wait for it to dry and then rub and rub and rub and rub and rub and you'd think with ALL THAT RUBBING, there'd be a genie appearing to grant you your three most heartfelt wishes, wouldn't you? But no. A fairly clean dessert spoon and cramping fingers was the meager reward for all that effort.

So I didn't really miss that bottle of polish, you dig? But I needed more, so I picked up an eight ounce tub of Wright's Silver Polish at the grocery, sighed, and brought it home to get started on the silver.

The directions for use invited me to:

1. Dampen the enclosed sponge
2. Polish the silver piece with Wright's cream smeared on the sponge, adding water as needed
3. Rinse silver and dry with a clean, soft cloth

"That's all?" I said in scornful disbelief. "Where's the part about the carpal tunnel syndrome? And the bushel basket of clean, soft cloths to run through the washer because of having to repeat the instructions fifty times to get the tarnish off the butter knife? Where? Tell me where!"

Lip curled, I opened the little tub, dampened the sponge and spread the soft lavender goo on a fork. I still had ideas in my head about setting it aside to let it dry, but to my surprise, the thick layer of tarnish started coming off right then. I found that I liked using an old tea towel to apply the polish more than I liked the sponge, so the tea towel and I, with a minimum of effort between the two of us, polished that fork up like nobody's business. Easy-peasy!

You'd want to see my silver right now, you really would. It is gorgeous, I had only two cloths to run through the washer with the small load of kitchen towels I did today, and I am not wearing a sling. If you have silver flatware or serving pieces you're going to be using over the holidays, I highly recommend this polish.

I give up

Every Monday since September, I've been calling our doctor, one of four in a small family practice, and hearing the same apologetic answer to my question: "I'm sorry, but we're out - we get so little of it in." Sometimes that reply is changed to, "I'm sorry, we didn't get any at all this week."

I'm talking, of course, about the H1N1 vaccine. There's just none to be had. I went back and forth, back and forth in August, trying to decide whether or not I wanted to have myself and the girls innoculated with this new vaccine. The three of us have risk factors: I have Type 2 diabetes and they, of course, are teenagers. We do have two young cousins, twenty-six year old Nicole and eighteen year old Heidi, who have both had H1N1 and recovered just fine, although Heidi was hospitalized because of her high fever, but still....

At the end of August, the triage nurse at the office told me that I should call on Mondays to "check for availability." That didn't sound a warning knell in my mind, but evidently the office staff already suspected that there were going to be shortages.

Every Monday through September, October and early November, I called the office on Monday to check for availability, happy that it didn't require an appointment to get a shot; we could just pop in at our convenience. That's not the way it worked out, however. There were simply no vials of the vaccine anywhere on the premises. What little was shipped to the office was immediately snapped up by people who were a little more quick on the draw than I was.

After a particularly horrible bout of the regular seasonal flu Aisling and I shared three years ago, I have made DARNED SURE to get a vaccine and it has been lovely to not be sick. I was particularly torqued about getting so dog-sick three years back because Aisling and I had to miss the performance of Twelfth Night at the Indiana Repertory Theater, a performance which my entire Shakespeare class had to attend without me, one which we had tickets for something like three months in advance. Never again, I thought grimly. I am getting a shot always from now on.

But H1N1 is scary to me, probably because of all the media hype surrounding it. I know lots of people who've had it; several kids in my religious ed class, the children of internet friends and home school group students. I don't personally know anyone who's died; that's more like a friend's sister's brother-in-law sort of thing, and just this morning the news came out that Indianapolis radio talk show host Greg Garrison (93.1 WIBC) lost his son-in-law to complications from H1N1. Greg's daughter is expecting the couple's third child in January.

"My daughter had been exposed. We knew her husband was in critical condition with the bug. She's eight months pregnant and we can't find a shot for her and we cast about until we finally found one and she got it," Greg was quoted in the article I linked to above. He says that it took the family a week to find vaccine, in time to help her, but too late for her husband, who was thirty-seven years old.

This is really upsetting. I mean, really. There are lots of folks out there comparing the Obama administration's ham-handed fumbling of the vaccine ball to the Bush administration's foot-dragging response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and I can see how they're drawing that parallel. And what this means about the competence of our government to handle the entire health care system for a big country with lots of people is something I find I don't want to even contemplate; the ramifications are too appalling.

With supplies so low and few vaccines to be had, I suppose millions of us out here are left with nothing more to do than pray for God's mercy and protection. Which is, of course, always a good thing to do, but something one would somehow feel better about if one could at least take the precautions that seem sensible.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Week of Thanks - Day One

I am kind of a naturally grumpy person, so I don't think that gratitude -- thankfulness -- is something that comes to me easily. Sometimes I have to make myself think, "You should be thankful for this; you have been blessed by [add specific situation/name of person]." Not a very charming thing to admit.

It particularly bothers me that right now, with our U.S. economy in such turmoil, I have an extra hard time feeling gratitude, mostly because it seems that everything is so difficult. I get tired of not having money, of constantly worrying about bills and making sure my husband has some new boots before snow falls because his old boots are about five years old and have holes in the soles, and are we going to have to have a pre-emptive strike on the money my parents and grandparents give us for Christmas so that we can pay the utilities and the gas's just wearing. I feel like all this has changed me into a different kind of person, one who is warier and less hopeful and much less convinced that the future will be bright. Ugh.

But there are blessings that I definitely recognize. I'm not a total curmudgeon, after all. And the thing I feel the most gratitude for on this week leading up to Thanksgiving is the privilege of being Catholic. Knowing Jesus in the depth and breadth of His Church -- spiritually and historically -- has changed my entire life. Despite my many flaws and failings, I have loved Jesus since I was a child and it has been my greatest joy to be able to become closer to Him in the sacraments, the birthright of Christians everywhere.

"Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere."

-Psalm 84:10

In with the new

Remember using these things, the old-fashioned card catalogs? They were nice, weren't they? For one thing, they didn't crash right before telling you the call number of the anthology of medieval drama or massive cooking tome you were looking up. Plus, they were homey looking, those big, polished cabinets that smelled like furniture polish, paper and ink. Of course, it was always a bit annoying if someone else was looking something up in the very drawer you needed to get into, but then again, there aren't always a lot of extra computer terminals at the public library either.

I kind of miss the card catalogs.

But I'll tell you one innovation that I am behind 1001% and that is the automatic renew feature, where you can just click to the public library's website, key in your library card number to access your account, and then renew your books from the comfort of your own desk.

I estimate that this has saved me probably a million dollars in fines, but has inhibited the library in its ability to buy multiple copies of The Gilmore Girls, seasons one through seven. Because every time I access the library's computerized catalog from my desk -- admittedly another great feature -- Lorelei and Rory are simply nowhere to be found.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Keeping my fingers crossed....

I have not acquitted myself well in my past two years of dressing-making at Thanksgiving dinner. Wait, no.... Make that three years.

1) Three years ago, my dressing tasted okay, but it came out of the baking dish crumbly instead of in the slab-like texture preferred by my family.

2) Two years ago, I used a Martha Stewart recipe, and let me just say that if there's a bullet that could bring down Martha Stewart Omnimedia like a fragile clay pigeon tracked by a high-powered rifle with a scope, that dressing recipe could do it. In a word, hoooouuuurrrrrppp. If that's a word. Maybe it's more of a sound. Only splashier. With chunks.

3) Last year, the recipe wasn't so bad, but the texture was terrible, still with the crumbly instead of the slabby. But worse, it was wet. Wet and smooshy, like something Gollum would serve at Thanksgiving dinner.

It's been a critical disappointment, because a plate of turkey and dressing is really all I want at Thanksgiving. We have mashed potatoes often because my husband is terrible partial to them and potatoes are cheap. We have green bean casserole for Sunday dinner several times a year; sweet potatoes are okay, and corn pudding I could never eat again. I am not a fan of dinner rolls, and I keep myself away from the pies because of my blood sugar. The only other Thanksgiving food I really pine for is the multi-layered Jell-O salad my aunt always brings. I adore Jell-O.

I'm not sure why it's been such a hard thing to get right. I mean, bread crumbs. Onion. Celery, sage, salt, broth, a couple of eggs... What's so hard about that? If you want to get really fancy, you throw in some dried cranberries and some walnuts. I've heard of people using sausage, too. So WHY CAN'T I GET IT RIGHT?!

Pat and Angie have been making fabulous turkeys for the past few years, and I think turkeys are much harder than dressing. Pat says it's easy, though. His fail-proof recipe is to roast it (in a bag? I think one of those bags is involved), using more butter than you ever thought possible, some salt and pepper and one can of Sprite poured into the cavity.

Maybe I should use a can of Sprite on my dressing instead of broth? Hmm.

Well. Anyway, I do have a recipe. In fact, I have two: One for cornbread dressing and the other for sage & onion dressing. I don't want to post either one for fear that they'll turn out awful and that I'll be exposed to the ridicule of the seventeen people who read this blog, most of whom are related to me.

I went to the store today and bought all my ingredients, which totaled something utterly ridiculous like $34.17. Until Thursday, then. Pray for me.

Dinner of disparity

Dinner is cooking, smelling very delicious. Tonight we're having Walking Tacos, which is a cutesy way of saying: Pour some Fritos in a bowl, dump some seasoned beef over the chips, add some cheese, lettuce, green onions, diced tomatoes and taco sauce and feed it to your family. Who will say, "Tacos again?!?"

So while the ground beef was simmering, I was cutting up the lettuce/spinach combo on my prep board. Without thinking, I made little bundles of leaves, rolling them up and then slicing them with my sharp knife, creating lovely little tendrils of greens, perfect for the sort of dish we were having.

That was when I realized that I was using a classic French cooking technique -- chiffonade -- a technique I learned when I was participating with the Whisk Wednesday group. I was using this technique to prep romaine and spinach for the totally bummy junk street food I was getting ready to serve my family.

I can't decide: Is it the best of both worlds or a shrieking, grating, cacophonous incongruity?

She knows it's not something in the water

I have a friend who has six kids. What a slacker. Because I also have friends who have eight or even nine kids, so her six kids? Dude, you have got to put more effort into this.

Well anyway, my friend was at a large store with her six children, buying enormous quantities of food, plus other stuff that houses full of kids need: crayons, socks, toilet paper, Kleenex, diapers, socks, Excedrin, diapers and Maalox. She went to a check out line and was standing there patiently waiting her turn for all her stuff to be scanned, when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

She turned around and saw a middle-aged woman standing there. "Yes?"

"Excuse me, but are all those children yours?"

"Yes, they're all mine. And my husband's. He's their father. The ONLY father," my friend emphasized, having been asked before by someone obviously looking to get her eyes doinked "how many of them are half-siblings?"

The woman folded her arms and said severely, "Well. Do you two know what's causing that?"

Oh, it's an oft-asked question when you have more than three kids, or even if you have three kids in five years. Or even if you're a piker like me who had two children in two and a half years. But somehow, mothers of many assure me, it's a question that does not endear itself to them, especially when asked by total strangers in the Wal-Mart.

So my friend, who is of an impish disposition, leaned toward the woman and said confidingly, "Oh, yes. We know what causes this. And we promise to stop when we get an ugly one."

The new (temporary) church, at long last!

Last night was the Consecration Mass at our new temporary church building, complete with a herd of altar servers, a bunch of priests and the very tall bishop in his very tall hat. I took this photo before Mass when there were only a few people gathered inside so there's a nice, clear shot all the way up the main aisle. About half an hour after this, though, there was standing room only.

I was very glad we got there early!

A moment of levity occurred when Bishop Higi and Father were moving around the church doing the Rite of Blessing. I was on the right side, sitting in a pew back near the piano, directly across from the doorway that leads to a conference room, which leads into Father's office, which leads into the main hallway. It was so crowded, there was just no room for the bishop to get through via the aisle -- many of those blue chairs you see in the picture had been lined up against the outer walls -- so when he stepped through that doorway with his neatly-tied bundle of ferns and dipped them into the aspergillum (fancy Latin word for "decorative bucket used to hold holy water"), he scored a MAJOR DIRECT HIT on me and all I can say is 1) I'm glad my parents insisted on swimming lessons when I was young; and 2) I am well and truly blessed.

This is just the first building on the church campus, with the "real" church, Gothic in style, to be completed in about five years. Someday, then, this will be the youth center/gymnasium, although it doesn't look much like a gym right now. "It almost looks too good," Father said last night at Mass. "We have to remember that this is just the beginning of all God has called us to do."

Yes, just the beginning. But what a beautiful beginning it is.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Freakin' freaked me out

My husband and I trudged up to bed early last night, both of us exhausted for different reasons: I was very tired because I had only four hours of sleep the night before and it is just really wearing being mean to everyone all day long, you'd just be surprised, and him because no matter how much sleep he gets, it is never enough.

We turned out the light at 10:30 (on a Friday oh my gosh we are so ol-l-l-l-ld....depressing) and I woke up a long time later, only when I looked at the clock it wasn't a long time later after all, it was only like two hours later. This is one of my most hated things: Waking up and feeling as if I've had an entire night's worth of sleep and expecting it to be twenty minutes 'til seven and then finding out that it's actually so early that the girls had probably just gone to bed themselves.

So I was lying there sulking, wondering if I should get up for a while or if I should lie there and try to force myself to go back to sleep, which just makes me CROSS and ITCHY, when all of a sudden, my husband's groggy, sleep-talky voice spoke out into the darkness from where he was lying on his back a couple of feet away: "It doesn't seem like it should be that difficult a decision."

Dude. That scared me, like, to DEATH. Was he reading my mind? Had I unknowingly spoken aloud from some kind of fugue state? I mean, crap. I know he's my husband and that we share that same bed every single night, but I totally had never pegged him for having psychic ability or clairvoyance or whatever.

Suspiciously, heart thumping, I whispered, "Are you awake?"

There was no reply, so I nudged him with my foot.

"The Colts over New England," he slurred irritably, still sleeping soundly. He pulled the covers firmly up to his chin and then turned on his side, a maneuver which usually leaves me shivering cold on my side of the bed. "Every single time."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Indianapolis Museum of Art - Sacred Spain exhibit

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is hosting a one-of-a-kind exhibition of Spanish art from the European Renaissance era titled "Sacred Spain" and it is so awesome, we have been twice.

This art is only being exhibited at the IMA, the brainchild of the head curator, who canvassed (ha ha, canvassed) other museums, personal friends, churches and private collections to put this exposition together and it is a wonderful success. The museum's director of educational programs, Wendy Wilkerson, told me that people have been flying in from all corners of the globe to see this art, so it is definitely a feather in the cap of our beloved IMA.

One of the pieces displayed is this moving painting titled "Agnus Dei" ("Lamb of God") by Francisco de Zurbarán, a contemporary of William Shakespeare's. When we saw this piece, the docent pointed out that the Lamb is not struggling, as one would expect a bound lamb to do. It is accepting its eventual fate with grace and resignation. There is also a very faint halo surrounding its head, and the brush work on its wool is so detailed, it is almost photographic.

The only problem with this show is that the docents have not really been educated on Christian symbolism and meaning. Anyone can recognize a halo, and the meaning of a crucifix is fairly evident, right? But the symbol of the triangle - representing the Holy Trinity -- was one that was lost on both of the guides who took our school group and our family group around. The moon is featured in many paintings of the Blessed Virgin, and the docent for our school group didn't know that one until some of the kids told her: Mary is associated with the moon because she only reflects the light of Christ, just as our planetary equivalent only reflects the light of the sun, having no light of its own.

There were also some points of Catholic dogma and doctrine that had to be cleared up, such as the fact that religious art has never, ever, ever been meant for purposes of worship and has always been intended to draw people's interest by its beauty and inspire them to devotion.

So, once again: Catholics do not worship statues, paintings or any other sort of image. Someday I feel confident we'll be able to convince people of this truth.

Even if they weren't the best informed on the religious meanings, the IMA docents were, as always, extremely nice and very knowledgeable about the art. It is really a lovely exhibit, but the best thing about it is that it is free. It ends in early January 2010, so if you live in the Indianapolis area, make plans to get there before it closes.

Click here for a virtual tour.

Miss Sweetie

Here is Aisling yesterday, as we were figuring out the flash thingie on the camera. I have a lot of fun making the girls pose in the same affected ways I was forced to pose in my own childhood photos. [insert sinister laugh here]

Aisling is the clown in our home, always ready to make us laugh. She is an excellent mimic, except when she's mimicking me, of course, which is when she gets sent to her room for being impertinent.

While being skilled in the comedy, Aisling is also very talented with the tragedy: She can produce Big Drama complete with torrents of tears, heartfelt cries of "You don't love me!", feet storming up the stairs and slamming doors without a single prompt. We sometimes refer to Aisling when channeling her theatrical persona as "Sarah Heartburn." Some say she acts just like her mother, but I don't know what they're talking about. They just -- *sniffle* -- don't love me. WAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!

But in spite of those moments of, er, expressive rhetoric, Aisling is proof yet again that all teenagers are not sullen, uncommunicative little poxes on society. I don't know how I managed to get two lovely young women like her and her sister.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving countdown - one week!

This is a picture of our dining room with my big wooden bowl loaded with different knobbly gourds, some mini-pumpkins and four white pillar candles - a really pretty autumn centerpiece for the middle of the table.

I feel like I have a lot to be thankful for because this has been a pretty good year. We had a little bit more money this year, which meant we had only one unpleasant encounter with the utilities company last winter, ha ha ha! Ha! Ha. Huh. It's amazing that it's still hard to find that funny, even eight months later. Ugh.

But I also have a lot to be worried about, for instance: WHAT DRESSING RECIPE AM I GOING TO USE?!?! I am freaking out. I bring the dressing to Thanksgiving and the dressing I brought last year was awful. Oh, the recipe was okay, but after I baked it in the oven, I put it in my pre-heated slow-cooker to take to Pat and Angie's house, where we have Thanksgiving dinner. They live about twenty-five minutes away, and by the time my dressing got done steaming, it was total mush. Slimy. Oh my gosh, it was terrible; the only time I have EVER thrown leftover dressing away. It was pure smoosh, and I don't think even the dogs would have eaten it.

So maybe I'll make the same recipe, but just bake it at home and heat it up in the oven at Pat and Angie's house. (If we'd all known when they built that house that we were going to be having Thanksgiving there every year, we would have campaigned for double ovens.)

Our family likes firm dressing that comes out of the 9x13 casserole dish in slabs, a bit moist underneath, brown on top and crispy around the edges. This is what I am determined to serve.

Hopefully, this time next week, I'll be giving thanks for a successful attempt. PRESSURE!!!!

Two big black skillets

My mom is going through one of her periodic frenzies of downsizing, which usually benefit Angie and me in some way first, then Mom's friends and then Goodwill. I have warned my mother sternly that if she keeps giving all her stuff away, her house is going to start looking like the world's biggest hotel suite, but she assured me that she is very, very tired of her many years of accumulated STUFF and wishes to open cabinet doors in her kitchen and see blessed tidiness and order, instead of a 9x13 inch Pyrex baking dish falling out on her foot.

Yesterday she and Poppy hauled a van load of stuff our way and these were a couple of the items I said I wanted: two big black skillets. This was how the conversation went, Mom being very businesslike in her chipper manner and me, a bit crazy around the eye at being trapped in a phone conversation that was looking to last more than thirty seconds:

Mom: I have a banana bread-scented candle in a rectangular glass container with kind of a rusty -- now, is that real rust or fake rust? Because I just don't know, all this rusty stuff you see lately. Whose idea was that? -- lid on it....

Me [slumped over the desk]: Sure. Candle. Banana bread. Rusty lid.

Mom: ....and I have two dozen cloth Christmas napkins with candy canes embroidered around the edges....

Me [praying for a merciful death to smite me]: Yes. Napkins. Rusty candy canes.

Mom: And I have two cast iron skillets, one that belonged to Grandma Houser and the other that belonged to Grandmother Marshall.

Me [springing back to life with a vengeance]: WHOAAAA!!! Those two cast iron skillets?

Mom: Definitely. They're huge and heavy and take up a lot of room.

Me: But they are HEIRLOOMS. You can't give them away!

Mom: Yes, they are heirlooms and I am going to give them to you, if you want them. That's what you do with pass them down to the next generation.


Mom [comfortably]: Oh, I bought an electric skillet for that. Much nicer. Takes up less room.

So from now on in our family, heirlooms are going to consist of small appliances bought at Wal-Mart for $24.99? Hmmm... It will seem very strange to sigh, "Oh, I have such fond memories of Granny and that toaster oven."

Anyway, the two big black skillets are mine, as pictured above. And yes, I figured out why my digitial pictures were so fuzzy: I was standing too close. Turns out there's a little zoom button you can use to, well, zoom in on things. Who knew! Now, if I can just figure out how to reduce the flash.

The biggest skillet belonged to my paternal (great) Grandmother Marshall, who was born Burnice Hoy in 1893 in South Bend. She graduated from the Indiana University as a registered nurse and was the mother of my grandma, Mary, Susie's mother, Margaret, and Carol's mother, Madeline, and our mutual uncle, Miles. (As I've said before, all those names, and I still had to become a Catholic.)

As far as we know, that skillet is at least seventy years old, possibly older. It makes the best sausage gravy, like, ever.

The smaller, deeper skillet is the celebrated fried chicken skillet. It belonged to my maternal great-grandma, Hazel Williams Houser, who was born somewhere around 1893 in Henry County, right here in Indiana. Grandma and Grandpa Houser lived on a farm when I was little and I enjoyed many, many happy hours there. There were animals, a big yard to play in, a garden to help weed, popsicles always in the deep freeze, and Grandma was never too busy to sit down at the kitchen table and play Old Maid.

I don't know how old that skillet is, although it is older than I am which makes it...*ahem*....a very young skillet indeed. Shut up. Okay. It's probably fifty years old.

Now they're mine and heaven only knows where I'm going to put them, but I am very glad to have both, heirlooms used now by four generations of women on both sides of my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Miss Cutie

I thought it might be nice to post pictures of the girls in which they weren't wearing exercise garments and having their hair all scraped back with barrettes and all that, so today, I asked Meelyn to sit down in the chair that figures so largely in many of our photos and give me a big, gleaming, sweet-sixteeny kind of smile. So she did, wearing the new sweater she just bought with some of her hard-earned money.

I wish someone had told me years ago that some teenagers act like Meelyn, because then I wouldn't have been nearly so worried. She makes it all smooth sailin'.

The Olive Garden Project - Finance Update

On November 10, I made a post about a great idea Meelyn had, a plan to collect everyone's spare change, put it in a little bank, and save up for a New Year's Eve dinner for four at the Olive Garden or somesuch. I know that some of you reading this think that the Olive Garden, the Outback and all chain restaurants are déclassé, but will you tell me where else we're supposed to go, living here in the Chain Restaurant Capital of the United States? Listen, they serve decent food and I don't have to prep it, cook it, serve it or clean it up, so it truly doesn't matter to me if their marinara sauce comes in big plastic bags that they heat up in kettles of water on a stove. Or however they do it. And someone brings me all the Diet Coke I care to drink.

The little bank started out with about $3.50 and now, just eight days later, we're already up to $16.00. We'd really like to save up an amount that would allow us an appetizer, entrées, a dessert to share and money for the tip, and it looks like we're well on our way, just with the spare change we collect during the course of a day.

This will be a very nice treat for us, because thinking back, I don't think we've all four been to a restaurant together in almost a year. Wow.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FEAST DAY: St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth of Hungary is one of my favorite saints. She was born in the Middle Ages, a princess betrothed to a prince by the time she was four years old. In spite of the fact that she had a sweet and cheerful disposition, she was very humble. Elizabeth always took off her crown and set it aside before she entered the chapel at her castle in Thuringia (part of modern-day Germany), saying that she could not wear a crown of gold in the Blessed Presence of the savior Who had worn a crown of thorns.

Her husband, Louis, was tragically killed while on Crusade, leaving Elizabeth a widow with three young children while she herself was barely more than a teenager. Louis' brother forced her to leave the royal palace after he caught her in the kitchens giving bread to the poor and hungry. Homeless, she wandered the streets with her children until the Bishop of Bamberg, her uncle, forced the cruel prince to allow her to return to her home in the castle.

She thanked him, but chose to instead go and live in a small house she purchased in the town of Marburgh. Eventually she received the inheritance she was due from her husband's estate and she generously dispensed that wealth among the poor, nursing them in illness both from her small home and from the hospital she opened. Elizabeth preferred to live an austere life and is known still today as a happy and joyful saint who loved the life she was given.

Elizabeth died in 1231 at the age of twenty-four. She was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in the year 1235.

RECIPE: Oodles of noodles

This is my VERY FIRST foodie post here on InsomniMom. Oh, how I love my digital camera, even though this picture looks weirdly blurry. Why is that? I'll have to ask Kayte. She has the same camera I do, only it is her play camera, not her real, serious camera. Anyway, maybe she can tell me why the eggs in this image look like giant cotton balls.

I also want to point out that all of the ingredients for this recipe came from ALDI except for the salt. The book is an old church cook book with the best noodle recipe in the world, which I am fixin' to share with you any second now.

I am really proud of my noodles, ever since the time I made chicken and noodles for dinner one Sunday last winter, having cheated and bought some Amish noodles at the grocery. Those Amish noodles are pretty darned good, coming straight from Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury, Indiana, a restaurant at which Carol and I once ate, if by the word "ate" you understand that I mean "stuffed ourselves with as much starchy Amish goodness as we could get our hands on."

My husband took one bite, chewed, swallowed, and then said with a decided lack of an instinct for self-preservation, "What did you do to your noodles?"

I bristled immediately, of course. "Let's see. I COOKED THEM."

"They don't taste the same," Meelyn spoke up. "Your noodles are usually really fabulous, but these are just....okay."

I brightened. "Oh! Well, I can tell you, then, that these noodles? They are not mine. They were made up in Middlebury by Amish hands."

"Well, no wonder, then," my husband said jovially. "These aren't your noodles! They're someone else's noodles! And no one -- let me repeat, NO ONE -- makes noodles with the kind of love you do, SWEETHEART."

I am a total sucker for blatant flattery.

So take that, Amish ladies! I make great noodles by hand, better than yours, my family says, and I watch television while I do it.


2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

Beat the eggs together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the evaporated milk and whisk until the mixture is creamy. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring with a large spoon until combined.

Divide the dough in half. Place half the dough on a well-floured piece of butcher's paper or parchment paper. Roll it out thin, thin, thin, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the paper or the rolling pin. Repeat with the second half of the dough on another piece of paper.

Allow the noodles to dry, preferably overnight. I usually transfer them, paper and all, from the counter to two baking sheets, covering them lightly with paper towel. If you can't let them dry overnight, give them at least six hours or so. Or turn a fan on them to help speed up the process.

To cook, drop in simmering stock (about five cups, chicken, beef, or even vegetable) over medium heat, stirring frequently until the noodles puff up a bit and start to float. This usually takes about twenty minutes for me. The noodles will absorb a great deal of the broth, so adjust the heat of the stove down if necessary.

Serve with whatever kind of meat you like to eat noodles with. And mashed potatoes. You have to have mashed potatoes with noodles because that's just the way it is and don't argue with me because I don't make these rules. I just pass them on.

Teen queens

For those of you who have wondered what Meelyn and Aisling look like, here they are, courtesy of my new-found techno-wizardy super-special digital camera mad skillz.

Aisling is on the left and Meelyn is on the right.

They both just yelled the house down at my choice of photos to put on the blog, saying that they "look awful" and "what if some BOY sees us?" but I assured them that 1) this picture is just fine, since they were both in their exercise gear, ready to walk out the door and go to the YMCA to run three miles, which is awesome. And then there's 2) which is there aren't that many people reading here anyway (and I'm sending out BIG LOVE to those of you who do), let alone any teenage boys.

At any rate, this is my most recent picture of them, having been taken just one hour ago. They are the dearest, sweetest treasures of my life, even when the entire house is PULSATING WITH MOODY, WEEPY HORMONES.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival Tour 2010 planning underway

Hard to believe that our home school group made its trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival a whole year ago. What's even harder for me to believe is that I have seven families signed up to go this year, up from five in 2008. So here's a great big raspberry to the economy -- ppplllbbbtttt!!!! You will not keep us from seeing our plays on our lovely trip!

This time we're going to see As You Like It and The Tempest, both at the Festival Theater pictured there at the left, so beautiful. And both of those plays? We're seeing them at evening performances: I am NEVER going to arrange a group outing to another student performance again. As I wrote in that article I linked to above, we drive too far and spend too much and wait too long to go to a performance where three-quarters of the audience acts like they were just released from the chimpanzee habitat at the zoo. Seriously.

We're also staying for two nights this time. In 2008, we found that a one-night flying trip to Stratford was do-able by the adults, but the kids couldn't handle it. By the time we got back to Indianapolis, they were sick of each other. The combination of the excitement of traveling, the lack of sleep, the many new experiences, the lack of wholesome food and -- above all -- the fifteen hours they spent all up in each other's business in the van contributed to a slightly hostile environment on the way home.

Which brings me to another point: This time, we're eating fast food lunches and we're eating dinner in real restaurants with real food off real plates. I think we were all slightly bilious by the time we got home, maybe because of the deliciousness of the doughnuts at Tim Horton's or maybe because of the six pounds of M&M's Virginia generously brought for the grownups to munch on the way home (we did not share with the kids because we were concerned about their health - that is our story and we've stuck to it for thirteen months now with no sign of relenting.) Or maybe it's because none of us had a true, hot meal in forty-eight hours? Could be.

Janet (our travel agent) and I spent an hour together last Friday and we are working to find a couple of restaurants in Stratford that would be willing to offer our group two choices of entrée that could be included in the package price the families will be paying. That was one of the wish-listed things the adults agreed upon last year - two dinners included in their totals would be so nice, what with not having to worry about the money and just being able to go in, sit down, eat and relax. Our Tim Horton's "dinner" last year was not very relaxing. I think that some of the kids who went to that student performance of Hamlet were actually employed there, if you know what I mean. If I could do icons on this blog, I'd be adding a frowny-faced one right about here --->

I'm hoping to stay in the same motel we stayed in last year, which was plain, comfortable and clean. It also offered a very nice complimentary breakfast of fruit, muffins, cereals, juice, coffee and milk. Impressive for such a small place! And again, it was great not having to whip out our wallets, but just drift, bleary-eyed, over to the little eating area when we felt like it.

All in all, last year's trip was lovely, but it was definitely the beta version. In 2010, I think the little tweaks Janet and I make will add up to making the trip even more pleasant for the group. I am practically hugging myself with excitement and reminding myself that the time will go so much faster than I ever think it will.

Her mother's daughter

We had chili for dinner last night, and one of Aisling's table-setting chores was to put some saltine crackers in a serving bowl; likewise, some shredded cheese. She brought the crackers and the cheese in their respective bowls out to the dining room from the kitchen and then stood next to me at my desk (in the far corner of the dining room), thoughtfully munching a cracker.

"Mom," she said, her lips twitching in a smile. "How does a cracker feel as it's being chewed up?"

"I don't know," I answered, looking up at her. "How does it feel?"

"Pretty crummy. Get it? Crummy? C-r-u-m-b-y? C-r-u-m-m-y? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!! Wooooo!!!! Haha! Crummy!!! A cracker!"

She went back to the kitchen to get the salt and pepper shakers, hooting with laughter, as I sat picking the cracker crumbs out of my hair, grinning to myself.

My husband came into the dining room from the living room, plopping down in his chair with a slight groan. "What's so funny?" he asked. "I could use a laugh."

I told him Aisling's joke. "C-r-u-m-b-y? C-r-u-m-m-y? Get it?"

He gave me a long look and then looked at the door that leads to the kitchen, behind which Ailsing was still cackling while telling her joke to Meelyn. "She is just like you and it's all your fault," he said accusingly.

I'm not totally sure what he meant by that, but it didn't sound like a compliment, to either Aisling or to me. Humph.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The play's the thing

The Shakespeare Workshop for the first semester is over, the class culminating in today's trip to Butler University's Lilly Theater for a student performance of The Merchant of Venice, directed by visiting artist in resident Tim Hardy of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

I thought the performance was just spectacular. I mean, I have been to a lot of student productions before and, well.....I've been to a lot of student productions. Let me just say that Tim Hardy is either a god among directors or the Butler Theater Department has been blessed with some remarkably talented young people, I don't know which. Probably both!

Lilly Hall Theater is just a little, itty-bitty place, a rectangular room with seats set up bleacher-style on either of the long sides. There were four sections comprised of twenty-two seats each, from the looks of it when the lights were on, so it was a very intimate setting.

At the far end was a two-story set piece that represented Shylock's house, complete with a balcony with a circular iron staircase, doors that REALLY WORKED (and if you've seen student productions before or more to the point if you've ever been in one, you know exactly what I mean) and a nice opaque window that featured realistic lamplight behind it. It was very effective. That was the only piece of the set that stayed in place throughout the play.

The rest of the "scenery" was presented in the form of stage props: two café tables and chairs to represent, well, an outdoor café; a desk with an old-fashioned radio and desk accoutrements to represent Portia's desk at Belmont; a table for Portia and Nerissa to sit at in the courtroom, and a very nice throne for the Duke of Venice to seat his royal personage upon.

The three casks - gold, silver and "base lead" - were also well done, which isn't often the case. Sometimes those things can look like Mom's old jewelry box touched up with a little spray paint, but these were quite nice. Believable.

I also really admired the lighting, which surpassed what I would have expected from such a small theater. It was put to very good effect, as was the audio: classical music "playing" on the old-fashioned radios, the sound of the surf on the beach and even a thunderstorm. Well done on both counts.

But it was the acting that was truly surprising. The young man who played Shylock (senior Jeff Irlbeck) was the undisputed star of the show. When he delivered the line "Let him see to his bond," his tone was so full of malice, a tingle went up my spine. He impressed me as a very gifted actor.

Junior Steph Gray, the actress who played the role of Portia, also did a very good job, as did junior Jill Harman, who played Nerissa. The two girls had a very happy chemistry between them, bringing out the BFF side of this mistress-and-maid relationship in a way that was very moving. I liked the way they looked out for one another, plotted with one another and giggled together. They were very cute.

One part of the production that didn't work for me as well was the chemistry between Bassanio (junior Peter Denz) and Portia. Denz took the role of the dashing Venezian lover, the impecunious young man who needed his older friend to float him a loan so that he could woo the fair lady of Belmont, and he was a bit of a disappointment. He was shorter than Portia, for one thing, although the girls in my class whom I spoke to after the play assured me that he was, like, ADORABLE. As an impulsive, swaggering young blade, I always expect Bassanio to be both sexy and way cool. It's hard to be sexy and way cool when you're looking at your lady-love's chin, know what I mean? But he wasn't a bad actor by any means. I thought he brought off his part very well.

The only part that fell flat for me was the ending. Some directors - sorry, Tim - just can't resist the unhappy ending, which...that's not what Shakespeare wrote.

At the end of The Merchant of Venice, the three couples (Jessica and Lorenzo, Nerissa and Gratiano, and Portia and Bassanio) all go off together with Antonio, teasing and laughing and bantering back and forth with each other. It's a very pleasant exeunt. But some directors - sorry again, Tim - have to let Lorenzo (senior Nate Burrsma) go off on his own, while Jessica (played by senior Audrey Bertaux-Skierik)sits and sobs over the letter informing her that she'll receive an inheritance from her father, Shylock, when he dies.

Why with the crying? Is she regretting that she eloped with Lorenzo and became a Christian? Is she sorry she stole her father's jewels and ducats and bought a monkey? Maybe the monkey bit her; I guess that could make you cry. Has Lorenzo taken to leaving open bags of potato chips in the living room and reeking socks on the bedroom floor after only three months of marriage? Although it seems more likely that she'd pinch him while he was sleeping than sit on a bench and sob.

I just don't get it. It really irritates to me and leads to a deflated feeling about the play, a sense of anticlimax. Here we all thought we were all going to be happy, joking around with each other about the men and their rings and those naughty girls, all dressed up like men and winning court cases and all, and maybe everyone piling into their cars and driving over to Denny's for a Grand Slam breakfast, but oh, wait....Who's that over there? Oh, it's Jessica. And she's holding that letter and, like, sobbing. Should we go ask her if she's okay? Where's Lorenzo? Does he know she's upset? Maybe we should all just stay here at Belmont and have cornflakes.

Bad ending. ANNOYING ending. But otherwise, a lovely afternoon in a cozy theater with friends.

His Supreme Dorkiness

The girls said it wasn't fair to post a picture of Wimzie on InsomniMom and then not post a picture of Hershey, even though I seriously do not know what will happen to me if Wimzie ever finds out that I invaded her privacy in such a brazen manner.

So here is Hershey, looking much cuter than he actually is, perking up his ears as he asks, "Uhhhh, does that little silver box something in it for a boy to eat? Because it's been half an hour since I stole a piece of toast off Aisling's plate and it's not quite time for my morning nap, so that must mean a snack is in order."

My husband calls Hershey a "Beltie." His mother was a Sheltie, a beautiful girl named Candy, and his father was the beagle next door, a mésalliance to be sure. Especially where Hershey is concerned. He has a smallish, pointed Sheltie head, topped by those large ears, a chunky beagle body, a long, whippy beagley tail with a white tip on the end, and four lo-o-o-ong, dainty Sheltie legs. It's an interesting mixture, one that sometimes causes strangers to flinch and children to hide their faces in their mothers' legs.

Hershey barks like a beagle, especially when he's nervous, which is a lot. This dog has been known to tuck his tail and run for Mommy when a falling leaf touched him gently on the back. He yelps "Bork!!! Booooo-r-r-k!!!! Booooo-o-o-ork!!!!" and we're probably lucky the neighbors all find him a congenial mutt, or they probably would have called the police on us.

Every night, when it's time to go to bed, Hershey runs eagerly back to his crate, even though he's spent the past sixteen hours lolling on the couch, stretched out on his special towel with his special pillow beneath his head. He goes into his bed, rearranges his blankets, and places his pink pillow (he has many pillows designated for his use scattered around the house) where he likes it best, up near the door of the crate where he can see anyone who walks into the laundry room without lifing his head. He's content there until around nine o'clock the next morning, which is when he begins a steady and irritating campaign to be set free, uttering squeaky noises and rattling the door with an insistent paw as if to say, "Hey. HEY. HEYYYYYY!!!!! I'm IN HERE. Like, STILL. And I'd like to PEE and have some of your breakfast. And people, THERE ARE MAIL CARRIERS TO BARK AT AND NAPS TO TAKE AND I CAN'T DO THOSE THINGS FROM IN HERE!"

Somehow, he always gets his way. It must be those ears.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Have I figured out this camera thing?

Okay. So I'm a little timid about technology. It has taken me years to get a digital camera, and then when I finally got one, it's been like, well, A YEAR before I learned how to use it.

But really, it's not enough just to learn how to use the digital camera: You have to learn how to get the pictures out of the camera and onto the internet where all your friends can see them and quit their everlasting griping admire the cuteness of your dog or your new haircut or your applesauce streusel muffins.

Let me give you a hint: The pictures don't come out by you either dismantling the camera and peering anxiously into its innards or by shouting "Open sesame! Pictures, come forth! Grrrr!!!! STUPID CAMERA!!!!" The pictures also don't post themselves on the internet by you rubbing your camera on the screen of the monitor. Huh! Found that one out the hard way!

So anyway, if I have this right, you should be looking at an image of Wimzie, looking very cute and hiding her true disposition, which is to violently eat the face off someone pointing a camera in her direction. If you're seeing a white box with a red x in it, either I did something wrong or you need to clean out your cache and guess which one I bet it is?

Please let me know if you can see Wimzie and make me the happiest digital camera owning girl in the whole wide world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear So-and-So

Dear So and So...

"Dear So-and-So" was created by the fabulously funny Kat over at 3 Bedroom Bungalow as a way to express her thoughts to random strangers she encountered in her days over there in England. My friend Amy at Fourth Frog Blog picked up the idea and hilariously so-and-so'd some lady she saw getting arrested for shoplifting at Target and also how she fed her kids tofu crumbles on their rigatoni and told them it was meat sauce, which I am not so much a fan of, but to know Amy is to love her, so I let it pass.

(Seriously. Tofu crumbles?!?

Okay. I have to move on from this, only I'm not sure how anything could be worse than solid tofu, but crumbled? Oh my suffering gag reflex...)


Dear So-and-So Who Said You Liked My Necklace at the Post Office Yesterday:

Thank you. I mean, I know I said thank you yesterday when you complimented my accessory, a very attractive tri-strand piece with coral and turquoise beads, but I just wanted to say it again. That made me feel all warm and glowy. And I liked your hair.

With warmth in my heart that I don't often feel for strangers,

Your new friend Shelley


Dear So-and-So on I-69 Yesterday:

You sped up and wouldn't let me pass you, even though you were dawdling along going 65 m.p.h. in a 70 m.p.h. speed zone. I was in the left lane. Which, passing lane? Hello? I sped up to 75 and so did you. I sped up to 80 and so did you.

My feeling about men who drive like you is that you have to drive like an aggressive jerk in your great big truck because you're compensating for something. A VERY SMALL SOMETHING. Something so small that you probably have to sit down like a little girl.

Smirking at your tiny treasure, all safe up in that big truck,



Dear So-and-So at the Grocery,

I saw you let that elderly lady go in front of you in line, even though she had more groceries than you. Even though you looked really tired.

Humbled by your charity,


If I were in charge of a church youth group.....

I have some ideas for setting up a youth group for a Catholic parish, based not only on my own memories as a former youth group member in a Protestant church -- very fond indeed -- and my experiences with working with teenagers, which have been quite positive, for the most part, with enough negative in there to make me aware that teenagers require a lot of looking after, particularly the ones who appear to be a sweet as cordial cherries.

Here's what I'd do:

1) I'd begin by having them pray the rosary -- THE WHOLE TWENTY MINUTE ROSARY, CAN YOU IMAGINE SPENDING TWENTY MINUTES IN THE CONTEMPLATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, OMG?!?! -- before the Blessed Sacrament in the church, but here's the thing: I wouldn't just plunk everybody down and hand them some beads and just say, "Okay. Let's get to it."


I would teach them how to pray the rosary. As in, what is the deal with these "Mysteries"? Does that sound weird, or is it just me? And is any of this stuff in the Bible? And what about the vain repetition that my friend from the Church of Christ warned me about?

And then I'd teach them how to PRAY the rosary, not just SAY the rosary. I'd teach them that, with any sort of prayer, whether it is the rote form or extemporaneous, it is possible for one's mouth to be rambling on and on while one's mind is engaged on having a little snack later, or how long the lines will be on the opening night of New Moon. How to you recall your thoughts to the contemplation of the life of Jesus, which is what the rosary is all about? How do you pray so that it really registers as something other than a faint buzzing in the ear of God?

Adults -- chaperones -- need to be present in the church with the kids, about one adult for every four students, in my opinion. Not drinking coffee out in the narthex. Not running copies back in the office. Not arranging chairs in the youth room. If adults don't make it a priority to come into the church and pray with the group, how will the students ever be convinced that prayer is important and necessary to their lives as Christians?

2) After twenty minutes of prayer, the kids will be ready for something livelier, so I'd gather them all in the youth room and answer some kind of Faith Question of the Week. Ideally, these questions would be ones that kids had written down on a piece of paper and put in some kind of box, with one question drawn out and read to the group the previous week, to be answered the next week. Teenagers have lots of questions about their religious faith and they are ready and willing to believe anyone who can explain things clearly and with fervor. If the Catholic faith, in all of its depth, breadth and beauty means something to the adults, it will mean something to the students.

High school students need to know that it is okay to ask questions about their faith. That's part of their growth in their personal relationship with Jesus. They also need to be taught what sources they can go to find reliable answers. What is not okay -- what is NEVER, EVER okay -- is wallowing in ignorance about one's faith, which either results in becoming a crappy, tepid Catholic or, worse yet, a person who leaves the sacraments behind and goes to some other church "because they have a worship band and there's just so much energy there."

3) After this, a weekly contest would be a nice thing to have. The winner or winners of the previous week's contest would get their prizes (generally some sacramental items like rosaries, rosary books, bottles of holy water, etc., along with some candy to sweeten the deal) and the new contest would be announced.

Contests would consist of things like:

1. Praying a rosary personally during the previous week

2. Reading a book about a saint's life (the Vision series, intended for middle school students, is really nice for this. The books are short but really excellent)

3. Making a holy hour at the church

4. Going to Adoration

5. Praying a family rosary

6. Twenty minutes of Bible reading, beginning with the gospels

7. Going to Confession once a month for six months (long term contest)

4) Next, it would be a good thing to address some kind of pro-life issue, watch an informative DVD, listen to a speaker, etc. There are tons of resources available from Indianapolis Right to Life.

5) Next would be a short talk on some aspect of the faith -- a saint's life, the liturgical season, someone's conversion story...there's just so much to talk about. Catholicism is so deep. It is practical and mystical, earthy and sublime, spiritual and historical. There is no lack of topics to choose from. The problem is actually narrowing it down to one topic per meeting.

6) Last on the list would be social time with an array of snacks, about half an hour or so. The snacks need to be delicious and the adults need to be PRESENT RIGHT THERE AMONG THE KIDS. Again, chaperones are of no use whatsoever if they're somewhere else in the church. Kids will be kids and there are things that can happen, such as ugly things that can be said, unless there are adults standing by. Plus, the students have to see that the adults are invested in what's going on. If the grown-ups can't be bothered, I can guarantee that the students won't be bothered either.

7) Before leaving the church, everyone needs to go back in for another brief prayer.


After youth group, which in my opinion should last two hours (hard to do all the things that are important to do in less time than that, while more time just leads to restiveness and restiveness ALWAYS leads to trouble), there are other things that can be planned for. Like service projects. Plans made to travel to the March for Life in January of each year. Retreats in the area -- and please, no overnight boy/girl retreats. Can we be serious about this? I am horrified by the proliferation of overnight retreats these days. Why do we need overnight retreats if they're taking place in this area, no more than half an hour from anybody's home?

Overnight retreats are no new thing. I used to go on overnight retreats with my Protestant church's youth group. And adults -- idiots, every single one of them -- used to innocently think that since we kiddos were all GOOD LITTLE CHRISTIANS, you know, kids who had been taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong and bad and would make Jesus cry, so there was no need to worry about any shenanigans going on, with boys and girls sneaking off together when they were supposed to be at lunch or listening to a two-hour sermon and then later creeping out of their rooms after the chaperones went to sleep. No need to worry about that kind of thing at all!

Stupid. So ridiculously, obliviously, look-at-my-head-down-here-in-the-sand stupid.

Adults? Overnight retreats are practically an invitation for many kids to see just how much they can get away with. And if you are really strict and manage to keep them from making out in a stairwell or even brazenly on a sofa in the dark lounge, they'll stop up the sinks with paper towels and flood the bathrooms. Or quietly tear pages out of hymnals. Or find some other sort of mischief to release their sexual tension at knowing that there are girls. Girls! Girls in pajamas! Girls who are naked under their pajamas! Girls who might be up for a trip to first base, maybe even second! RIGHT THERE DOWN THAT HALLWAY!!!!

And the girls can be just as bad, my friends. Only the girls paint their boyfriends' names on the furniture with nail polish.

Oooh, that vent felt good!!!!


I also have opinions about teenagers doing craft projects, which is, like, never. As in EVER. Teenagers have had an entire childhood in which to color with markers and paint with paints and t-shirt and banner painting is, in my opinion, an insult to their intelligence and a not-so-subtle statement of the adults' low expectations of what teenagers are capable of. Banner and t-shirt painting is ridiculous, a time-wasting kind of busywork that takes the place of an activity with substance and real meaning. If craft time is needed, the kids need to be taught how to make rosaries. Rosaries are always needed -- for the elderly in assisted living centers, for hospital chaplains, for our troops overseas, for the millions of people who are given aid by Catholic charities around the world.

The supplies for rosaries made with plastic beads are cheap, rosaries are easy to make, and it is a "craft" project that actually means something.

No frikking t-shirts. No banners. Kids have enough ratty t-shirts (do you really think, adults, that they kids are actually going to wear those shirts? They're not only a waste of time, they're a waste of money.) If a classroom needs to be decorated, the adults in charge need to do it. This isn't the third grade, where everyone wants to make a handprint in a primary color and scrawl their name under it with a magic marker. Give me a break.


Okay. Those are my many thoughts. I've been typing so long, I have totally overshot my time for a shower by half an hour. I've had no breakfast, haven't done my chores and this is the last day of Shakespeare class. Eeek!!!