Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to: Give me acid indigestion

The girls and I spend a lot of time watching television shows on HGTV and TLC with the result that we can tell you right off the top of our heads what price a three-bed, two-bath, semi-d house in Toronto can fetch in the current market, how to de-clutter a closet to maximize storage space and what kind of jeans to wear if you have cellulite saddlebags.

So the other night we were watching some show we'd never watched before called "My First Home" or something like that? And it turned out to be the most annoying show I'd ever seen in my life and I'm still not over it. I don't know what the other episodes are like -- surely they can't all be that bad -- but I'm cautious about finding out because I like myself without an aneurysm.

This particular episode featured a young couple, newly married, who wanted to buy their first house. He was a teacher and she was a bank teller or something like that, so you get the impression that they weren't rolling in money, right? They were in their mid-twenties. Their realtor was a childhood friend of hers, and like most couples setting out to buy their first house, they had a list of requirements as long as a wet Monday on what kind of house they'd be willing to move into.

Their first desire was to live in a house with several acres of land. Their second? An older home, someplace with three bedrooms and several bathrooms and big gracious rooms. Initially, that didn't seem to be too much to ask, and I expressed mild interest to Meelyn on what type of house their agent would come up with, especially since the mortgage loan amount the couple had been approved for was not exactly a stellar sum.

"Will it be some tumbledown old shack, infested with spiders, featuring linoleum from 1934 and sitting on four acres of unmown weeds?" I wondered.

Much to my surprise, the realtor took the couple to a "historic home" (house agent-speak for the above truthful description) that had been completely renovated inside. The outside retained the historic character, but the interior had been completely gutted and remodeled to reflect a more modern sensibility -- an open concept with modern cabinetry, soothingly neutral colors and new light fixtures, appliances and cable TV and internet hookups. Since the house was sitting on a nice, big lot complete with a barn, I felt a little sad for the two of them because this cute place was at the very top of their budget.

To my surprise, however, they were giving it some serious consideration, already intent on modifying the brand-spankin'-new features of the home.

"Well, we'd really like to have granite countertops in the kichen and baths," she said, disdainfully noting the attractive laminate topping the fresh, clean cabinets.

"And we'd want to have hardwood floors throughout," he said, scuffing a scornful toe on the pristine wall-to-wall carpet.

"And definitely tile floors in the entryway, kitchen and bathrooms instead of this vinyl," she added, wrinkling her nose distastefully.

Yeah? Wouldja like to have those things? Well, newsflash for you here, young'uns: WHO WOULDN'T? Who wouldn't like to have expensive granite countertops in kitchen and baths, who wouldn't like to have gorgeous American hardwood stretching from great room to staircase to hallway to bedrooms? Who wouldn't want to have some nice quarry tile in the foyer?

But you know, you have to start somewhere, and if the house you're looking at is already at the top of your budget and it has none of those things you so deeply would like to have, maybe you should realize that you have Moët & Chandon tastes on a Bud Light budget and set your sights a little lower. Understand that those granite countertops in your parents' kitchen? They worked a long time to get those things and you shouldn't just expect to have them yourselves when you're just starting out, you spoiled, ridiculous brats....whoops! Sorry! Aunt Shelley gets a little irritable between the hours of five and seven-thirty every afternoon, but it's nothing a glass of (on sale) wine from the grocery store can't take care of. Just to take the edge off.

Anyway, these two dipwads, after looking at two other houses that were so far beneath their expectations that they both practically flinched when they walked through the respective front doors, they decided to spring for the top-of-the-budget place, BUT...


They decided to take out a bank loan -- using what as collateral, I don't know -- so that their "upgrades" could be installed before they moved in because asking a couple of twenty-five year olds to move into a house without granite, hardwood and quarry tile? Well, that is JUST. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. Even if they're strapped for cash for the next twenty years. At least when they're pacing the floors, worried and wondering how they're going to pay the mortgage, they'll be pacing on that nice hardwood. Geez.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

We just got back from the grocery store, on a lean week because of the weekend we've had. On Friday, we had Aisling's Confirmation Mass, so we "stole" some of the grocery money and went out to a late dinner after Mass. We went to Golden Corral, which I know is one of the tackiest restaurants ever, but the food is really good. I had a piece of steak and a piece of tilapia that were both extremely delicious, plus their fried chicken just can't be beat. And their salad bar has bleu cheese crumbles and green olives and dried cranberries, plus these wicked good croutons, so it was well worth it.

On Saturday, the girls attended a Spring Swing dance and my husband and I volunteered to chaperone. Okay, that's a lie: I volunteered my husband and myself as chaperones. I told him, "We don't have to worry about eating anything beforehand because at the Christmas dance, there was so much food that people had to carry home leftovers."

So guess how much food there was at this dance?
We ended up scarfing down pizza in our living room at midnight, approximately twelve hours after we ate lunch.

My husband grilled pork chops yesterday and we ate them with big baked potatoes and garlic bread, but I was suffering from an awful sinus headache (thanks, Mother Nature, for all that RAIN) and didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

So here's the rest of the menu for the week, minus a sizeable chunk of money that went out for a celebratory dinner (planned) and a midnight pizza (unplanned.)

Menu Plan for Week of April 24, 2010

Monday - beef tacos and leftover corn casserole

Tuesday - spaghetti with meat sauce

Wednesday - Spanish Dogs (like coney dogs, except spicy) and oven-baked potato puffs

Thursday - crunchy fish filets and baked beans

Friday - nachos and refried beans

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Confirmation consternation

Aisling's Confirmation Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish went very well on Friday evening. It was all very beautiful and my husband and I -- Meelyn too -- were moved to tears as we watched our youngest go forward to receive God's promise for her life, but also to make her promise to Him. The joyful solemnity of the occasion cannot be overstated.

After Mass, Aisling was glowing with happiness, giddy and excited, so we all went out for a late dinner to calm her down.

The picture to the left is of Bishop William Higi of our diocese, which is named Lafayette-in-Indiana, giving his usual excellent homily. It was nearly the same one as last year's at Meelyn's confirmation, but that's okay because it's a message we all need to hear over and over again: We can profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, but if we don't live that way, if the message of salvation is only in our minds and not in our hearts, then we aren't really saved. And other than that, all I can add is that Kayte's son Matt is the altar server on the very end there, looking so much taller and broader than the last time I saw him, which was in the fall.

Before the Mass started, however, a couple of very strange things happened to us. They were those kinds of things that Carol, Susie and I have discussed before, i.e. the tendency in our family to attract oddballs of different sorts. Sometimes people come up to us and speak random remarks that are inapropos to anything that's happening. Or they do weird things that end up getting them in trouble - boy, does Carol have a story about that. It seems to be some kind of family heritage: my own father has what my mother has referred to as "a ministry to the naked," due to his stumbling upon the undressed in several awkward situtions and being forced to render aid to them while modestly averting his eyes.

Thankfully, I didn't have to experience any nakedness on Friday night, but I did encounter one of those folks who has an urgent need to tell you Too Much Information, whether you want to hear it or not.

I was in the nave of the church, having walked into the narthex with Aisling to find her group from our parish. I left her there with some friends and went back into the church, where I was arranging some hymnals on a bench to reserve seats for my husband, Meelyn and myself. While I was placing hymnals at a comfortable distance, I heard someone behind me say, "Excuse me? Ma'am?"

I turned around to find a lady about my own age standing on the other side of the aisle. "Yes?" I said pleasantly, smiling at her.

"Do you know where the confirmands and their sponsors are supposed to meet?" she asked.

"No, I'm afraid I don't," I replied. "I just took my daughter out to the narthex to meet with her group, but other than that, I don't know anything."

"Oh," she said, crestfallen. "See, I'm a sponsor this year and I wanted to make sure I got everything right this year? Because last year, I was so confused and I stood up at the wrong time and sat down at the wrong time and my friend, the one I was sponsoring, she was, like, 'What is wrong with you tonight?'"

"There is a lot to it," I said sympathetically. "These big, complicated Masses...."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Last year, I started my period on Confirmation day and I was bleeding like a stuck pig and I had the most horrible cramps...."

"Oh," I said faintly, trying not to shoot my eyes back and forth to find the nearest exit.

"So I told my friend, 'I am nearly DEAD from these cramps and I'm worried I'm going to leak blood through onto my dress so I just don't have much brain left over to think about when I'm supposed to stand and sit,'" she continued in an we're-all-girls-here-together manner that I found very disconcerting. I mean, I'm sorry about her cramps and all, but I just wanted to put the hymnals on the bench and go on back out to the van where Meelyn was waiting without having to explore the intricacies of someone else's menstrual cycles, y'know?

It didn't seem too much to ask.

But it seemed that she had the desire to continue talking to me, perhaps attempting to engage me in a discussion over which feminine hygience products I find the most efficacious, but I was not going down that road. With a hurried, "Excuse me," I went out the side door of the church as if I had wings on my heels, leaving her there to see if she could discern the onset the onset of this month's Untimely Visitor without me there to help her.

Once I got back to the van, Meelyn and I went to run a couple of errands, and by the time we got back to the church for Weirdness Phase 2, all the confirmands and their sponsors were seated in the nave and being given their marching orders by a man with a clipboard and a headset, which reminded me of Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner, so I immediately dubbed him The Confirmation Planner.

As Meelyn and I sat down, a blonde woman in front of us, a sponsor, turned around and said, "Are you bystanders?"

Bystanders? I thought. What a strange word to use. As if we have the habit of stopping by random churches to observe how their practices for Confirmation Mass are organized? "I'm a mother," I answered her. A bystanding mother? A mother who stands by? Who knows?

"Oh. Well, then, you're not supposed to be in here. They just made the announcement that all people who aren't part of the Confirmation Mass need to leave. You're all banned from the church until 6:30, and then you can be seated. So I'm afraid you'll have to go out to the narthex now," she said loftily. She tossed her sleek, pageboy haircut just a little and pursed her lips in a smile that reminded me uncannily of a tiger baring its teeth -- unfriendly and a little bit predatory.

I gave her a level look and said "Oh," in a cool voice, and glanced around at about twenty other people sitting in the pews around us who obviously were not part of the Mass. One was an elderly gentleman with bowed head and closed eyes, leaning forward on his cane; another was a girl of about ten who was reading The Thief Lord and chewing gum. I decided that Meelyn and I would stay put. So it would be better -- friendlier and more helpful -- for the lot of us to go and stand up in the narthex for nearly an hour with nowhere to sit and perhaps say our prayers? I don't think so, sister.

Talk about bossy! I wanted to give her a boop on the nose and say, "Who died and left you in charge?" but I didn't, of course. I was sure thinking it, though, and decided that if anyone came up and told me to move, I'd tell them that I was slightly handicapped and couldn't stand out there on the tile floor of the narthex for an hour, and then if they gave me any more grief about sitting in the house of God, I'd pull up my left pant leg and show them my gnarly six inch scar.

At least she didn't tell me to move because she'd just started her period.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Confirmed in Christ

We're all wittering around the house over here because we have to leave in less than an hour to head off to the church in Carmel to attend Aisling's Confirmation Mass.

It's an exciting time and I feel, somehow, a great sense of accomplishment. This feeling is probably about the mental check-list I carry around in my head for both girls: Still home schooling? Check. Made it through junior high? Check. Attending religious ed classes and paying strict attention to all the requirements for Confirmation? Check. Working our way through the high school years? Check. SATs, scholarship-seeking, college acceptance and high school diplomas are still down the road a piece, but today? I can cross off another item.

As much as I'd like to expound on this happy event and what it means not only to me and my husband, but obviously also to Allison, it has been brought to my attention that if I don't attempt to tame my hair and touch up my makeup, I may well scare the bishop and cause his big hat to fall off.

For anyone who lives around here who may be wondering if we forgot to invite you to Aisling's open house, we did not forget. It's just that we're not having it until May 16. Let not your hearts be troubled: You will have a chance to eat a really amazing chicken and almond casserole upon that day.

For an explanation of what Confirmation is and what the sacrament confers upon a person, click here. There are also some interesting bits about the history of Confirmation, both in the Bible and from the writings of the Early Church Fathers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kids today

Aisling, Meelyn and I did our last stint of caregiving for the local mothers' group today. The program closes for the summer and resumes again in September and I am VERY HAPPY to say that our class was moved today into a room with no ball pit.

We were, however, in a room with four year olds. I don't know about you, but four years old is an age that I find particularly adorable. Kiersi is four years old right now and she makes me laugh. So cute, so serious, so funny - it's a hoot to eavesdrop on the little conversations they have among themselves.

There were three little girls in our classroom and they were all playing with the very nice wooden kitchen set in the church nursery. The three of them were cookin' up a storm with the assistance of two plastic fried chicken legs, a serving of plastic peas, some plastic corn and -- improbably -- a Boston cream pie, also plastic.

I was watching them covertly, smiling, until one of them made a remark that made me burst out laughing.

"Hello, hon," the be-pigtailed pixie said to another child who'd just traipsed over. "Can I get you something to drink? I have chocolate soy milk!"

Isn't that the cutest thing ever? Hee hee!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Okay, so it was a really busy weekend following a really busy week (Shakespeare class started and threweth me for ye olde loop) and so I didn't ever get my meals planned. In a hasty, slap-dash and completely unorganized manner, then, here is my menu plan. Such as it is. Pity my family.

Menu Plan for the Week of April 19, 2010

Monday - What did we eat last night? I remember that everyone liked it, but whatever it was has completely gone out of my head. But we did eat. Because they let me sleep in the house last night.

Tuesday - Beef and bean quesadillas and corn casserole. I had to send Meelyn to the grocery to pick up everything except the tortillas.

Wednesday - Chicken pot pie? With....mashed potatoes? I don't know.

Thursday - I have no clue. Just....no clue.

Friday - Aisling's Confirmation Mass is on Friday, so I assume we'll be eating somewhere cheap afterwards, which....gulp. We'll probably be eating at about 10:00, although I do remember from Meelyn's confirmation last year that they had cake and all kinds of hors d'oeuvres in the parish hall afterwards.

Monday, April 19, 2010


On Friday evening, I took the girls to Indy's south side to the parish hall at Our Lady of the Greenwood where they met up with a bunch of their friends to eat snacks, hang out, and do a little swing-dance practice for a party coming up next weekend.

A bunch of the teenagers in our homeschool group frequent the Fountain Square Theater every other Friday night to go swing dancing. This is a pleasure my husband and I have denied to our children because the cover charge is $10 a person. Also because the last thing I personally feel like doing after a long week is driving to downtown Indianapolis, although I think it could be argued that on a late Friday afternoon? It's better to be driving to downtown Indianapolis than from downtown Indianapolis.

Anyway, this little get-together was a shocker because it's perhaps the first time in history that THE BOYS were coming up to me and the mom who organized the evening (Terri) and complaining that all the girls wanted to do was hang around talking instead of dancing. Hello? Terri and I chivvied the girls out of their chairs and they finally took the floor, everyone becoming a little giddy from dancing to songs like "Jailhouse Rock," "The Twist" and "Cotton-Eyed Joe."

It was a bunch of fun watching them and hearing the old music. Everybody was smiling. It was a really fun way to spend a Friday evening, so thank you very much, Terri, for setting it all up. We had a great time.

In the photo above, Aisling is dancing with her cute friend Andy, who was trying to teach her one of those complicated spinny-turny-arms-in-airy maneuvers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Seventeen on the seventeenth

Today was Meelyn's Golden Birthday, seventeen years old on the seventeenth day of the month.

She is a much better daughter than I could ever have hoped for, especially when you consider the twenty-two hours of pain med-free labor I endured. I was going through some kind of Earth Mother phase back then, and you can be assured that two years later? When I staggered into that same hospital's front lobby to deliver Aisling? I was asking everybody I clapped eyes on for drugs.

But Meelyn, in spite of her birth during which my husband, watching television avidly, kept me apprised to the goings-on at the Waco invasion while my contractions continued PEAKING ("Damn, honey! They're driving a tank through that wall!" to which I replied, "Yeah, well? It feels like someone is driving a tank through my [edited because this is a family blog]"), has been nothing but a delight from the very beginning. She is one of the ones who gives the world hope for teenagers. Happy birthday, lovely girl!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wrong side

I don't know which side of the bed is the wrong side, but whichever side it it, I seem to have woken up on it this morning.

There's an online definition which says that getting up on the "wrong side of the bed" is an Americanism which leaves one grumpy and unsociable, which in my case is a vast understatement because calling me "grumpy" this morning is kind of like describing Bonnie Parker as "a sassy young lady with a keen sense of adventure."

I need coffee. Lots of coffee.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Evening up the score

Today I went to (virtually) visit my friend Amy over at her blog, 4th Frog, where I was unhappy to learn that some hooligan kids at her son Charlie's elementary school are bullying him. Amy's talked to the school counselor and both of them have talked to Charlie, so right now things are in a holding pattern to see if the behavior of the hooligans changes.

I myself am in favor of exploring the option of talking to the kids' parents and other civilized ways of dealing with urgent social problems like this one, but having been the target of bullying in both elementary and middle school, I think there's a lot to be said for tae kwon do or some other martial art that can make a person look really coordinated while kicking another person's teeth down his throat. *ahem*

My first instance of bullying happened my fifth grade year. I was one of those kids who walked home from school, which was a pleasant little journey as long as you weren't being terrorized. I was ganged-up-on by two boys, whose names were Mike and Todd. Those are their real names. I still know their last names too, you dig? Because it was a scarring experience and all.

Anyway, for some reason, Mike took a dislike to me. Todd, who was evidently a weakling of low character, followed along after Mike. Strangely enough, they were both fourth graders. But I was not a super-big kid as an elementary school student and they were two of the bigger boys in their fourth grade class and they were both bigger than I was. They harassed me for weeks on end as we all walked home to the same sunny neighborhood, pushing me down, pulling my hair, grabbing my books and throwing them. When they finally got tired of messing with me, they'd go on their merry way, and I, completely upset, would either cry the rest of the way home or find a convenient roadside shrub where I could vomit in privacy.

They told me not to tell, or they'd really "get me." I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded ominous.

Somehow, I ended up having the courage to tell my mother. She was a teacher in the same school system I attended, although in a different building, and she knew the principal of my school, having worked with him before.

Because I was just a kid, I don't know the ins and outs of the whole deal, but she went to the school and told the principal what was going on. The bullying stopped for a few days and Mike and Todd took a different route home. But just as I was beginning to breathe easier and not feel that clutch of pure terror when I'd glance over my shoulder and see them running to catch me, they caught me.

The two of them pushed me off the street and into the Patterson's yard - I remember hoping so much that Laura was home: Laura was a high school girl who sometimes babysat for me and Pat and I knew that she'd show them a thing or two about picking on a girl. But the Patterson's garage door was down and there were no cars in the driveway and their front door, which usually stood hospitably open behind the big screen door, was closed tight.

Mike and Todd spent a good bit of time that day pushing me down to the ground, yaking me back up by my arms, pushing me down again. I was crying so hard, but I remember REFUSING to beg them to stop. When I tried to defend myself, they pushed and hit harder. When they felt like they'd made their point, they left me sitting disheveled in the Patterson's yard, my school books scattered around me on the neatly trimmed grass. I clearly remember thinking how weird it was, sitting there in our nice neighborhood with the pretty houses and the big lawns and the flowers and all and being beat up by two boys in broad daylight.

There was no problem with telling my parents about that episode. See, there was a creek that flowed at the bottom of the Patterson's property, and Mike strongly hinted that they'd push me in and hold me under if I ever said anything about them to a grown up again. I was, at age ten (I was one of the youngest in my class) literally afraid they'd kill me. One of me, two of them, both of them bigger and stronger than I was -- my odds didn't seem good.

When I told my mother that night, crying, the only thing I can remember about the conversation is the look on her face. I can't remember if she said anything to me or not, but that look -- the narrowed, burning blue eyes, the white dents around her nostrils, the lips pressed together in a tight, thin line -- said IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE TO MESS WITH THIS WOMAN.

So anyway, she went in to talk to the principal again. And I think she may have talked to Mike's and Todd's parents. And I have the impression that she raised holy hell at the school because Mike and Todd and I were called into the principal's office the next day and they were forced to apologize and then they got spanked with the paddle by the principal while I watched.

It was glorious.

And they never so much as looked at me again, until I met up with Todd years later. He'd gone into his family's business and married an acquaintance of mine from our mutual high school. We saw one another at the wrap party of a play my acquaintance/his wife and I had been in and she said, "Shelley, do you remember Todd from school?"

And I gave him a level look and a small smile and said, "Why, yes. I remember you very well, Todd."

Very well indeed.

The second instance of bullying I had to deal with was in the seventh grade, when I had to ride on a bus from my old elementary school to the junior high. There was some creepy, hoody girl, the kind who already reeked of cigarette smoke at the tender age of thirteen, who rode the same bus, and in the first weeks of school, she decided to make merry sport with me as the bus trundled back home in the afternoons.

It was the same kind of deal: she'd grab my books and scatter them across the floor of the bus, and then when I'd lean over to pick them up, she'd pull my hair, step on my fingers, put her foot on my back so that I couldn't stand up. It was awful. Some of the kids shot me looks of mute sympathy out of the corners of their eyes, but it was obvious that I was on my own. No one was going to stand up to Miss Smoky Breath 1976 and by the third time she decided to attack, I realized that the only one who could save me was.....me. My mom wasn't on the bus and the bus driver looked like he was about a million years old and descended from a line of sea turtles. Neither of them could help me.

It was almighty hot on the school bus that day and I was sitting quietly in my seat, perspiring, hoping she wouldn't notice me. My seventh grade picture shows me looking shy and slightly hesitant, all eyes and teeth. It was an awkward stage in sooo many ways. I was kind of a timid and quiet girl -- yes! I know! SO MUCH HAS CHANGED! -- and I was willing to just live and let live, but she definitely wasn't.

So she knocked my books out of my arms, as usual. And I leaned down to pick them up, also as usual. But the first one I picked up was the thick and heavy math book from Mrs. McBride's fourth period class. I grabbed it in my sweaty, shaking hands and caught the hood off-guard as she was standing there braying like a donkey and smashed her in the face with it full-on, hard enough to send her flying awkwardly backwards, half on a seat and half on the floor, blood spraying out of her nose and mouth like a faucet.

I wish I could remember what happened next. I don't think it was anything dramatic, but I was running on so much adrenaline that a veil has been drawn over the rest of that ride back to Riley Elementary School, where I gathered my books and demurely exited the bus and walked home. Feeling different.

The nasty girl evidently totally understood my message delivered via textbook because she never touched me or so much as looked at me again. I think she ended up dropping out of school when we were tenth graders, which is kind of a shame because she missed my vote for "Most Likely to Spend Her Entire Adult Life in the Indiana Women's Prison" in the senior issue of the school newspaper.

So while I firmly believe that parents need to intervene in cases of school bullying -- and they need to keep on intervening until something changes for the better -- I also think there's a lot to be said for making sure your kid knows how to kick the living crap out of anybody who messes with him or her.

And you know? I am SO not talking about how to get your kid to sit down with a bully and say, "Now, Bruiser, I'm sure you don't really mean to articulate your dislike of me by punching my head out on the playground whenever Mrs. Beezus isn't looking, so let's discuss this using our words instead of our actions, okay, buddy?"

No, I mean literal pain-infliction, the kind that ends with the bully shedding tears and yelling "uncle!" or whatever relative he or she would like to call upon. You know, like in A Christmas Story, when Ralphie had finally HAD IT with Scott Farkus. The kind where other people stand around and watch in wide-eyed, silent respectfulness and a path clears when the bullied-one gets up, dusts of his/her hands and walks on home with head held high.

There's a message in that and most bullies hear it LOUD AND CLEAR.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Because sleeping is for sissies

My second-semester Shakespeare Workshop class on As You Like It begins tomorrow -- oh, wait, make that TODAY -- thankfully not until 1:00 p.m. Because? I am still sitting here at the computer, obviously, too wound up to sleep.

I have a goodly number of new students in the class this time, so I am all armed with handouts and notes for a little (*ahem*) speech I'd like to make to welcome them and get things started. Don't worry, kids. I promise to be done talking by around 5:00. Heh.

Will, you have been such a good friend to me. Teaching these classes is one of my greatest joys. I mean, other than chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts, which are just WRONG, they're so bad and probably not even real chocolate, let alone fudge and WHY ARE THEY SO GOOD??!!

Listen - you keep quiet about my strange and consuming passion for the Pop-Tarts and I won't tell anyone that art historians believe that that cool gold hoop earring was actually painted on the canvas long after the portrait was completed. It makes you look so savvy and swashbuckling and I kind of hate to burst people's bubbles.

Simple -- and simply -- delicious

I have been patting myself on the back ever since I took this picture at the dinner table last night, feeling that it is the best bit of food photography I've done. And even though I'm still FAR from Kayte's and Shari's high standards, it's a definite improvement over the picture I took of my husband's plate of meatloaf in January. Umm...yuck?

This dinner was made from one bag of Hurst's 16-Bean soup, the ham bone I had leftover from Easter, two boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, and six diced green onions. Oh, and some salt. That's it. Couldn't be cheaper, couldn't be easier - I think the bag of dry beans was something like $2.35 and the Jiffy mixes were forty-seven cents each. And it tastes wonderful. If you were brought up in a place where bean soup was served often, the very aroma wafting from the kettle can bring back memories. For me, it's being in Grandma Houser's kitchen, playing Old Maid and Crazy 8's while Grandma cooked the lunch.

And see? In the picture? It's pretty, too.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Skidding in here a bit tardily on a very late Monday afternoon to post my Menu Plan Monday menus; so late, in fact, that tonight's dinner is simmering away on the stove as I type. And boy, does it smell good! I'll tell you what it is in just a minute.

The theme for this week's meals is Cheap and Even Cheaper. Last week was our spring break, and we elected to use some of our grocery money to have some treats, like the Redbox movie rentals I mentioned, plus lunch at Panera one day and some ice cream cones interspersed throughout our week. Planned beforehand, we can still eat very yummily, if not fancily.

Menu Plan for the Week of April 12, 2010

Monday - 16 Bean Soup and Skillet-Baked Cornbread

Tuesday - Refried Bean Quesadillas and tortilla chips with queso sauce

Wednesday - Beanie-Weenies and Velveeta Shells-n-Cheese

Thursday - Baked Spaghetti (leftover from Saturday and dressed up with mozzarella and pepperoni)

Friday - A trip to some restaurant that features a dollar menu. (The girls are going to a teen gathering from 6:00 - 9:00 and we'll be driving.)

On Saturday evening we had spaghetti and my homemade meat sauce with breadsticks and on Sunday we had patty melts (a very guilty pleasure), homemade potato salad and chips.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stupid freaking recession

The girls and I were running an errand yesterday and discovered that our favorite ice cream place in town has completely closed down: storefront entirely empty, drive-thru menu gone, signage ripped from the front of the building.

The sad thing is that I had just opened my mouth to say, "Hey, as soon as we're done with this errand, let's go get an ice cream to celebrate Easter and spring break!"

The words died unspoken on my lips and we all grimly looked at the former premises where many the happy waffle cone has been eaten. It looked very forlorn.

It's got to the point where I'm almost afraid to look around me these days, for fear of what I'm going to see next that's gone with the wind. Last month it was Blockbuster, now the ice cream store, Noble Roman's, with the best breadsticks in town, bit the dust last fall. Ugh.

The view from my window

When we were thinking about moving to this neighborhood five years ago, one of the first things I noticed as we toured the house was the view out of the west window in the master bedroom.

That copper-roofed tower is connected to the historic Presbyterian church that is not quite a block away from our house -- that ginormous yellow-sided house you see in the foreground and an equally huge blue house stand between us and the church, directly across the street. The church is so beautiful, not just the building, but also the landscaping, which at this time of year is an absolute colorful riot of spring flowers. And the added bonus? Now that we have the windows open, we can hear the bells in that tower chiming every hour and half hour.

In the past five years, then, I've stood at my bedroom window in times both happy and sad and looked out at the verdigris cross on the roof of that church. It's a very pleasant and comforting sight in whatever kind of weather we're having, but especially beautiful set against the ineffable blue of a warm April morning.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Because sometimes I want my mouth to stop talking

Okay, sometimes I say random things that probably make people doubt my sanity. I think it's because I have a combination of my dad's sense of humor (dry) and my mother's sense of humor (dippy) and you'd be surprised at how those two things -- the dry and the dippy -- do not fit together, no they don't fit in any way.


I was coming out of the church today and because my knee was hurting, I was leaning on my cane. Everyone was in line to shake Father's hand and too late, I realized that I was at the part of the line where I was up for the shakin' within the next two people, yet I still had a grip on my cane, which had rendered my hand unpleasantly moist.

I vigorously yet surreptitiously wiped my damp palm on my pants. Okay. It probably wasn't that surreptitious, but my family has gone to great lengths in my life -- you might say it has been their PROJECT -- to inform me that everyone in the world? They are not paying attention to whatever dumb thing I happen to be doing at any given moment. So I was drying off my hand, right? And then it was my turn to be greeted by Father.

I held out my hand and he gripped it and said, "God bless you! How are you?"

And instead of saying, as my mother taught me, "Fine, thank you, Father. How are you?" I said, like the BIGGEST FREAKING DORK IN THE WORLD, "Well, right now my hand is a little sweaty because I was holding onto my cane, but other than that, I'm great."

I was under the impression that I'd delivered this mot which turned out to be not so bon in an insouciant manner reminiscent of the adorably sassy Barbra Streisand in What's Up, Doc? but instead it must have come out in the weird and banjo-chorded manner of someone who'd married her cousin because Father, who could never be accused of having a poker face, visibly recoiled like I'd just bitten him and some man behind me in line gave a short bark of laughter.

You know that feeling when you wish a deep hole with a welcome mat in front of it would just open up and invite you in? Yeah, that feeling. It's a bad one, isn't it? I shuffled off, silently wondering why I can't JUST. SHUT. UP. Do I have some form of Tourette's? Is there some sort of treatment available?

But then I thought indignantly, "Well, sheeesh!! I'm sure I'm not the only parishioner filing out of the church with a damp palm! And at least I told him why my palm was sweaty! It was because I was holding my cane. What if I'd just sneezed, huh? My hand could have been moist and crawling with germs. I was trying to SET HIS MIND AT REST, but he reacted like I said I had some POOP on my hand instead of a little honest perspiration!"

I was strongly tempted to turn back around and whack Father about the shins with my cane, and that guy who laughed at me too. But instead I held my head high and walked on out, dragging my dignity behind me like a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe.

And everyone else who greeted me or whom I greeted?

I made strictly conventional replies.

My mother will be so proud.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lovin' the Redbox

These cute little Redbox DVD rental kiosks are everywhere nowadays. In my city, they're outside every McDonald's location and inside every Kroger. They offer a plentiful array of new release movies for only a dollar, which is a pretty darn good deal.

This city has a number of chain movie rental stores, but we were dealt a truly crushing blow when the Blockbuster CLOSEST TO MY HOUSE closed down a few months ago, a fatality of the stinky economy. I say "crushing blow," not only because that Blockbuster was close to my house because this is not all about me, even though my brother rolls his eyes and claims I think it is; no, I'm assuming that that Blockbuster was also close to a lot of other people's houses and now if they want to rent at DVD from Blockbuster, they not only have to drive about three miles further, they also have to drive BACK TO RETURN IT, which we all know is the hard part.

It would be so helpful if movie rental stores would employ people to drive around to everyone's house and pick up the DVDs they watched over the weekend, and if the public library would also do that instead of having their usual attitude of "You checked it out and we expect you to bring it back," this would be a perfect world, would it not?

Anyway, this is our spring break and while the first half of the week was warmed with the golden sunshine that poured down on us like honey, the latter half of the week has been cold and rainy. Thus, Meelyn, Aisling and I have been interested in watching a few movies and those chipper red kiosks started looking interesting to me.

The Redbox movie kiosks seem to hold about forty-eight new release movies, most of which I seem to have never heard of. When Meelyn and I went to rent "The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" two days ago, it was one of the three movies in that whole giant (red) box we wanted to see, but that's okay, because apparently the Redbox fairies bring new DVDs fairly frequently: there was a list of new releases and when they'd be added to the (red) box posted on the machine.

The nice thing about this new movie rental system is that there are about four of them within a five minute drive of our house and you just can't beat that. The not nice thing is that they do offer only new releases, so if you have a hankering to watch, say, "Weekend at Bernie's" or "Viva Las Vegas," you're out of luck. And if you want to watch "Julie & Julia," you have to get there while it is still considered to be a new release, or it sucks to be you.

But these things are a lot of fun, they're not hard to figure out, they're cheap and they've made the past couple of days of our spring break very pleasant indeed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New glasses

I got my new glasses about a week ago and it was HIGH TIME.

I've been in need of new glasses for quite a long time, not just because my old prescription was four years old, but also because of Sarah Palin.

You see, when Sarah Palin came on the scene at last summer's Republican convention, people started looking at me with my rimless glasses and saying, "You know who you kind of look like?"

They'd take me in, frowning a little bit and moving their heads from one side to the other, attempting to sum up the superfical similarities: Last summer, my hair was still long and the style I'd adopted was much like the bangs-swept-to-the-side style Sarah Palin wore. And there were the rimless glasses. We were both brunettes and even our eye color -- hers hazel, mine green -- sort of struck some people.

"You look, kind of, you know. Around the top part of your head? Like Sarah Palin. With the glasses and all."

Okay, that was just embarrassing. Not that it's so tragic to be even slightly compared to Sarah Palin in the looks department, because no matter what the political persuasion, I don't think anyone objected to Sarah's looks. Some had honest admiration and others were grudging and gave off the aroma of sour grapes, but we all know she's very pretty.

However, the only part of me that was being compared to her was....the top part of my head? Like, from the eyes up? That stung a little, mostly because it was obvious to anyone who had eyes in their own heads that ANY resemblance we bore to one another ended with the bottom rims of our glasses.

So I started kind of worrying that people were going to think my hair and my glasses were like that ON PURPOSE. Like I was copying her or something, and how embarrassing would that be? Sarah Palin and I might share similar hairstyles, spectacles and coloring, but I'd make about three of the woman, I would. Which is not something I want to contemplate, especially thinking cringe-worthy thoughts like people in the grocery thinking, "That poor large dear must think she looks like the sexy Sarah. How tragic."

So I cut my hair off, and it was high time to have that done, too. And now I have new glasses. And I posted a picture of my made-over self on an internet chat board I belong to and one person said, Oh, Shelley! You know who you look like? You look just like the writer of the Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris!"

So now I'm thinking of peroxiding my hair and stepping up the use of eyeliner -- maybe going for some black frames with dark lenses? -- and getting a great big Billy Idol thing going. Just....well. Just because.

Just a thought

I took this picture two Saturdays ago after Mass with a specific thought in mind:

On Sunday mornings, this very long conference table is covered with doughnuts laid out on platters. COVERED. I consider myself a bit of an expert on the American pastry -- the tiger tail, the applesauce, the frosted roll, the simple glazed, the sugared -- so please trust me when I say that I know doughnuts when I see them, lots of them.

Over to the left, where you can see some light coming in from a big window? There's a table beneath that window holding a large coffee urn, a cream pitcher and several graciously displayed little dishes of sweeteners.

There are two Masses on Sunday mornings at our parish, so that's a lot of doughnuts. But I ask you: What about those of us who go to the Vigil Mass on Saturdays?

Do we not find ourselves in need of refreshment after Mass? Would we not benefit from standing about in the hallway, getting in each other's way and trying not to drop food on the new carpet and narrowly avoiding spilling a beverage on a friend?

So here's my proposal: Doughnuts and coffee are somehow inapropos for the Vigil Mass, so I think we should go with a snack concept. Perhaps platters filled with chips, bowls of dip sitting temptingly off to the side. No cheesy snacks, however, because kids will be sure to touch the paint and the furniture and have the place looking frowsy in no time. But we could have some of those Keebler fudge-striped cookies, couldn't we? Everyone likes an elfen-made fudge-striped cookie! And instead of urns of coffee, we could have those camping thermos things with the handy pour spouts filled with lemonade or iced tea.

I think this would be a very nice thing to do and give all the vigilers a chance to bond over goodies instead of giving us all the bum's rush out the door as if everyone has plans for Saturday night or something.

Mr. Boots on the go

Honestly, just look at that sweet face. And those boots - please observe their cuteness! And now squint your eyes and peer at the screen a little more closely. See that left paw? No, not your left; his left. See how his toes are kind of spread out, as if he's gripping the upholstery of that rear seat in our minivan as if someone's just about to hit an eject button and catapult him up into the rainclouds hovering over our city on this April afternoon?

Hershey does not enjoy a car ride. Wimzie, now - there was a dog who even learned how to spell C-A-R and R-I-D-E. At the end of her life, we had to take to saying things like, "You know that rolling box that achieves forward propulsion through the intricacies of an internal combustion engine? Well, we need to get in that thing and go buy a gallon of milk."

And then there's Zuzu, who has already learned the deep pleasures of barking at bicyclists, motorcyclists and people pushing baby strollers as we zoom by. Her long, houndy ears flap around her head like dish cloths on a clothesline and every hair of her elegant mustache goes all a-bristle with excitement: Car ride? A CAR RIDE??!! You betcha! When? Whenarewegoing? Rightnow? Rightnowarewegoing? All expressed in a high-pitched yapping that could deafen your ears and quite possibly stop a clock.

But Hershey's different. Car rides, he clearly indicates, make him feel ishy in the tummy. He tolerates them. He has no desire to hang his head out the window, tongue lolling. He will look out the window -- firmly closed -- but that's only to peer anxiously at the passing landscape to see if it looks anything at all like home. When we finally have the car parked safely in the driveway, he scrambles out as soon as the door opens and high-tails it for the back door. He does everything but kiss the ground.

So that's why I was so pleased to capture this picture of him nervously gripping the edge of the seat, it is true. But also smiling and holding his head up. His smile does look a bit fixed, like a middle-aged woman accidentally running into her husband's much younger second wife in the liquor store when she is buying a bottle of chardonnay to spend the weekend with and the new bride is buying some champagne to celebrate the happy couple's six month anniversary, but it is a smile nonetheless. Which is, you know, better than barfing on the carpet.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pulling out the stops

Here's a picture of our very lovely fourteen-year-old Aisling playing the recessional hymn at the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday. The hymn was "Christ Our Lord is Risen Today," a very nice and rousing traditional old hymn that is sure to pick you up out of the pew where you've been sitting for the past three hours, especially if it's played on the electronic piano's pipe organ setting.

With the volume turned up to a setting that could be labeled "Triumphant," if not just plain "Loud."

If the reaction of the people sitting in front of us was any indication, the sudden burst of sound was a bit of a shock, bursting forth as it did into the quiet church: I practically saw light between them and their seats. After their initial fright, they all obediently picked up their hymnals with trembling hands and sang along, once they found their voices.

If I could be allowed a moment of shameless bragging -- and where would that be, if not on my own blog? -- Aisling did a wonderful job. There is a LOT of music at the Easter Vigil Mass and some of it is pretty difficult, but she went to rehearsals and she practiced like mad at home and she succumbed to the vapors a few times, but when all was said and done, she carried it off like a pro. It was beautiful and we are so very, very proud of our girl.

Tisket a tasket

For the first time, here's a picture of our very own Easter basket, sitting in the church on the sanctuary steps in front of the altar -- that's a very attractive yet serviceable carpeting, isn't it? -- at the Easter Basket Blessing on Saturday afternoon.

This is our fourth year of doing this traditional blessing at our parish, but only the first year I've known how to work a digital camera. Duh.
Anyway, our basket held the following items: the ham, pictured in its inelegant plastic wrapping at the far left, our painted Easter eggs, the Honey/Oatmeal bread I baked, a blue container of salt, a candle and a bottle of chardonnay from Cupcake Vineyards, all because I couldn't resist the simple yet luscious elegance of their label. I hope the wine is as delectable as their packaging. I'll keep you posted. And don't forget to take note of my lovely embroidered Easter basket cover, which I bought on e-Bay for eight dollars. You don't often get a family heirloom for such a low price.

The blessing of the baskets was a great success this year, with about twenty families taking part -- last year, I think it was maybe about six. One fellow I'd never seen before came puffing in with an Easter basket the size of a baby dolphin just as Father was getting ready to do the blessing; the man paused in embarrassment as Father, who had just raised his arm with that holy-water-sprinkler-thingy, lowered it down again and said, "C'mon, bring it up. I was just getting started."

The man, chagrined, came forward and plunked his basket down on the floor as the rest of us looked interestedly on, wondering what on earth he had in the thing. It was heeeyooooge. Maybe an entire roasted hog? A fifty pound bag of salt? Whatever it was, it nearly had him knackered, and he stood up, back creaking a little, and wiped a sheen of sweat off his brow and apologetically scuttled into a pew.

The whole blessing takes about fifteen minutes, which is kind of a short time for the half-hour-there-half-hour-back we have in travel time, especially since I was in the throes of misery and had to sit in a seat that allowed me a direct line to the bathroom. Sorry to keep mentioning that in all these posts, but it's important to remember just how lousy I felt or the fact that I had an honest-to-goodness healing about five hours later won't be the momentous occurrence it truly is. Just tell yourself that I was in the bathroom all day powdering my nose. Maybe that will help.

Menu Plan Monday

Ahh, Easter Monday it is, and a fine one as well. This is our week for spring vacation and the weather is absolutely gorgeous. The girls spent last night with Nanny and Poppy being spoiled and are spending tonight there as well, so our schedule for the next few days is slightly different.

Many thanks to Laura, whose sensible Menu Plan Monday idea, posted at her blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie, have made a difference to hundreds of familes on the internet, with more added weekly.

Menu Plan for Easter Week, April 5, 2010

Monday - I have Moms' Night Out with some friends tonight and my husband is going to watch the Final Four game (go Bulldogs!) with his favorite cheapo nasty pizza that the rest of us won't eat, so I'm covered. A break from the kitchen, woooo-hooooo!!!

Tuesday - Taco salad, the first one of the season

Wednesday - Easter ham, green bean casserole, carrots and homemade biscuits

Thursday - Breakfast for Dinner! Amish Breakfast Casserole

Friday - Meatless! Refried bean quesadillas with tortilla chips and spicy queso sauce

On Saturday, we had Ragù Americana for dinner -- it was a leftover I took from the freezer and defrosted. Fortunately, the girls are very competent in heating up red sauce and cooking pasta, because I was far too sick to eat anything and couldn't even bring myself to sit at the table with them. I somehow managed to put a Cherry-Glazed Ham in the slow-cooker before we left for the church; it is our family custom to have a little spree when we get home from the Easter Vigil Mass, eating sandwiches made from the ham and the bread I baked for the Easter basket. And as much candy as we can throw down our throats, of course. On Sunday, we went to Mom and Dad's house for Easter dinner and it was delicious.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

(Small but significant) Easter miracle

I logged on here yesterday evening before we left the house to take Aisling to music rehearsal before the Easter Vigil, and I was in a bit of a pickle.

I had woken up yesterday morning feeling sick. Just, you know, nauseous and intestiney and with that feeling that it would be a really good idea not to stray too far from the bathroom. It totally felt like a twenty-four hour stomach bug, but the problem was, I wanted to be at the Easter Vigil in, like, ONE hour.

So I logged on here and asked for prayers, and I thank you, those who e-mailed me to say that you did. And I sent up a few of my own, along the lines of "Jeeeesus, please make me feel better because I....I....oh, wait a minute until I get back from the bathroom because it just seems WRONG ON MANY LEVELS to pray while leaning over the toilet, Lord..."

'Cause you know what? I stopped feeling sick right before we got to the church. I mean, I STOPPED FEELING SICK. The nausea and....other stuff? (*ahem*) It stopped. Dead halt. On a dime. Complete arrestment of forward motion. Over. Arrivederci, adios and au revoir. I'd been feeling like crap on a cracker ALL DAY LONG and as soon as we pulled into a parking space, it ended and has not come back.

Healed! I was healed of a stomach virus! Seriously. Make fun of me if you want to, but let me just say that I took NO Immodium-AD, NO Pepto, no medicine of any kind. And I got better and it was lovely.

What a very nice and extremely practical Easter gift that was, huh?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ooooohhhhhh nooooooooo.....

We have to leave for Easter Vigil in half an hour -- Aisling has to be there for music rehearsal, so we'll be getting there early -- and ALL DAY LONG I have been slightly sick to my stomach, a symptom which has been steadily increasing all afternoon. And....there are other unpleasantries: I'll spare you the details.

But if you happen to check in here? And you're of a mind to send up a prayer for me between the hours of well, NOW and about 11:00 p.m. EST with the daylight-savings-dealio that I really don't understand? PLEASE SAY A PRAYER FOR ME.

I really want to be at this Mass. It's my favorite one of the whole year. And Aisling is playing. My husband is reading the eighth reading. And my mom and dad are going to be there. *sob!*

Friday, April 2, 2010

The painting of the eggs

Up until this year, the girls and I have dyed hard-cooked Easter eggs in the traditional manner, you know, with the Paas dye you buy at the grocery store that either does or does not require white vinegar: I never can remember which until we get home and discover that we've no white vinegar, necessitating a return trip to the grocery.

This year, we turned to a more traditional craft, which is that of blowing all the eggy stuff out of the shell (and if you feel about eggs the way I do, you'll understand what a HERO I am for doing this craft with my children) and then painting the shell. The girls were all gung-ho for the painting, but no so much on the egg-blowing. They insisted that I should be the lucky one who should have the treat of emptying all those shells, but I flat-out refused, tartly saying a few words about the many hours of labor I went through and the possibility of an untimely aneurysm and they eventually gave in, but not without a lot of eeeeeewww-ing and eeeyuuuuuuck-ing.

I chose simple pastel craft paints with a nice metallic gold for the painting of religious symbols and we had a lot of fun sitting at the dining room table yesterday afternoon and crafting away. Now that the eggs are completely dry, they need to be treated this afternoon with the glossy fixative spray I bought so that they can be carefully placed in our Easter basket and taken to the church tomorrow.

If you want to see some really nice painted eggs, check out these pretties, done in the fine old Polish tradition, and these cuties, done in a more American primitive style. Both are just lovely and, er....better than ours.

Good Friday - The Stations of the Cross

It's been a busy Holy Week for us here as we make our preparations -- both solemn and joyful -- for Easter. Schoolwork was frenzied on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as we wrapped things up to be ready for spring break, which started yesterday.

The Triduum -- Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday --is one of the best times of the year to be a Catholic, and that's high praise coming from someone who thinks that every single day of the year is the best day to be a Catholic. Anyway, the churches all seem to be open and there's always something going on: evening prayer, rosaries, holy hours, the beginning of the Divine Mercy novena today, and my personal favorite, the Stations of the Cross.

The girls and I are all spiffed up ready to head out in an hour or so to go to our parish's Good Friday services, which include the Stations, a communion service (since Good Friday is the only day of the year when there's no Mass in any Catholic church), the Veneration of the Cross and the beginning of the aforesaid Divine Mercy novena. It's a blessed day. Solemn and sorrowing, yet somehow a-quiver with anticipation of what we know is coming: the grand and beautiful celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord at the Easter Vigil.

After the services are over at the church, we're off to the grocery to finish buying things for our Easter basket, which will be present at the church for blessing promptly at 1:30 tomorrow. That completed, we'll go home and count the hours until it's time to return to the church at 7:30 for music rehearsal, with the Easter Vigil Mass starting at 8:30.

Great, happy, lovely excitement and joyfulness await us. Jesus is the cause of our joy.