Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Yep, Friday it is! Friday is our last day of school for this year. Not Thursday, not Wednesday but FRIDAY FRIDAY FRIDAY, that's our last day. The last day of this school year, the very last one before we start our summer vacation. It's Friday. This coming Friday, not the week after or even the week after that. THIS Friday.
I wish we could work up some excitement about it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


This particular thought I'm going to write about is one that's been simmering inside my head for a few months, if not years. With a little basting from Father Larry Richards and some seasoning from reading here, there and everywhere, I now have a nice reduction that I hope is ready to be served up.

Meelyn, Aisling and I have been listening to a six-tape series by Father Larry called "How to Get More Out of..." The series progresses through "How to Get More Out of Prayer" and "How to Get More Out of Reading the Bible" and they're all very, very good. But my favorite, the one I've listened to several times, is "How to Get More Out of Mass."

In this cassette, Fr. Larry propounds an idea that struck me like a tenderizing mallet on a tough chicken breast (as you see, I am determined to carry this cooking metaphor through to the very end). Here's what he said, and this is a thought that completely contradicts the very essence of twenty-first century American Christianity. Savor it for a moment:

We do not go to church to be fed or ministered to or to get something. We go to church to give.

This struck me funny, seeing as how the message on that cassette is titled "How to Get More Out of Mass," but Fr. Larry is very good at 'splaining things, just as succinct and funny as Julia Child is in teaching people how to flip a potato pancake (and here I am with the cooking again.)

But it also struck me funny in the not-a-ha-ha-kind-of-way because this whole concept is one of the main reasons why I was so drawn to the Catholic Church: this constant and fervid need of American Christians to go to church and be entertained. It seems that we've lost our ability to just sit still and listen to Him. Now we have full-on rock bands up at the front of church to engage us in worship choruses, some of which are so self-congratulatory (the choruses, not the bands)that they just make me want to fall to the floor and chew the carpet. We have Power Point presentations to display the lyrics of those choruses set against a background of nature's glory or whatever. And special performing singers. Or maybe dancers who swirl ribbons around their heads for the glory of God.

And then we have churches -- I suppose they're churches, although they strongly test my credulity -- with coffee bars where you can sit on a high stool and drink a latte and have a pastry while watching the pastor on a big plasma screen mounted above the espresso machine. Or "living rooms," just like at home only right there at the church, where you can lounge on a sofa or in a recliner and let the kiddies play on the floor while Mom and Dad watch the pastor's televised sermon. You don't even have to get dressed -- come in your jammies.

See, all this, in my opinion, is what happens when people think that going to church on Sunday is all about the getting. And once we start getting some, all we want is more. If your church used to get by on piano music ten years ago, then that's old, dull stuff and it's now time to add some drums and electric guitars. If your church used to rely on old-fashioned hymnals so that people would know the words of the songs, well, that was okay for the olden times, but not for now when the balcony where the organ used to be is now devoted to techies seated behind computers and a huge sound board and video equipment.

And to get people to come to your church, you have to have all the newest stuff, stuff the other churches don't have. You have to fill up every single second with sound, because dead air is very boring. Church is an event, a happening, as lively and colorful as a three-ring circus and it just depresses me to no end. Because who is this all for, all this stuff? Us? Or Him?

Here's what Fr. Larry said, paraphrased: "It drives me crazy when people tell me they're leaving the Catholic church because they come to Mass and they don't 'get anything out of it.' 'I just don't feel fed, Father,' they tell me. And I always want to say, 'Look, you selfish little pagans [Yes, he really did say that - SM], you don't come to church to get. You come to church to give.

"You come to church to focus your attention on God, to give Him an hour or however long Mass is at your parish. God is focused on you every minute of every day. If it weren't for Him giving to you, you would die right now. You can give Him an hour."

In short, Father Larry says, we need to take charge of seeking spiritual food in the same way we seek food-food as adults: we go after it. We plan our menus and make our lists and go to the grocery. We don't expect it to just fall into our mouths; that's what happens with infants. We are not supposed to be infants, expecting a church or a pastor to provide us with every spiritual need. We need to be looking to God to do that -- and if we truly do have a personal relationship with Jesus, we'll find it.

In American Christianity, this is a revolutionary idea, as unusual as the chocolate covered bacon at the State Fair last year. First of all, we are supposed to come to church to give? To focus our attention on Him instead of on ourselves? And secondly, we have a duty as grown up Christians who live on meat instead of milk (ref. Hebrews 5:12) to feed ourselves?

Strangely enough, Fr. Larry says, in the mysterious ways of God, our very act of focusing on Him at Mass means that we will be fed through His Word and through His flesh -- kind of like Emmaus, you know? Where those two disciples were walking along with Jesus and failing to recognize Him? Then He taught them from the scriptures and the light began to dawn -- or maybe I should say that their sauce began to thicken -- but they didn't KNOW Him until the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist. They were focused totally on Him and they were fed.

They didn't say, "Excuse me, this is all very interesting, but wouldn't it be better if we sang a few songs that feature the word 'I' about eleven hundred times in the verses and the chorus?"

So we need to exercise ourselves spiritually and seek out ways to nourish our spirits. Because that's what adult Christians should do. That's why He sent His Spirit, right? To guide us and teach us? We shouldn't just lie around starving with hollow eyes and sucked-in cheeks when there's a banquet sitting right in front of us, yet we're withering away because we're too lazy to pull a chair up to the table. And for heaven's sake, we should be adult enough that we don't have to rely on a choreographed performance with a cast of thousands, complete with muffins.

In this present time, Catholics have been so enormously blessed with an abundance -- a smörgåsbord -- of ways to feed our spirits. Our problem should be that we don't have enough hours in the day to keep stuffing ourselves with books and tapes and prayer and Bible studies and television programs, not complaining that Mass just doesn't get the job done. And the thing is, the more attentive we are to feeding ourselves, the more Mass will mean and the more your personal relationship with Him will grow; the more you focus on Jesus, the more He'll be there to feed you. We cannot outgive Him.

I was thinking this over and I came up with a list of ways that we can feed ourselves so that our inner selves, our spirits, will be completely full, like the kitchen pantry right before Christmas. I'm sure there are a thousand more ways that I didn't think of, but here's what I've got:

1. First of all, is there an opportunity to go to weekday Mass? It lasts for all of twenty-five minutes. The parishes in my neck of the woods stagger their Mass times so that some parishes have Mass at seven in the morning, some have them at 11:30 a.m. and others have them at 12:15. Then for the after-work crowd, Masses happen at 4:30, 5:00, 5:30.... There may well be a church near you where you could slip in and give yourself to Him.

And while you're at it, go to Confession. The Church recommends once a month. If you are carrying around a mortal sin, get your rear end in there ASAP. But you can confess venial sins too, you know. The graces available to you in confession can help you overcome those smaller faults and follies that plague you, by giving you the spiritual strength you need.

2. Bible reading is a fabulous option. You could get the daily Mass readings on Twitter, or you could read them online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' website. You could also read them in a missalette such as Magnificat (and you'd get the prayers of the Divine Office with that). If you read the Bible using the daily readings as a program, you'll go through Cycles A, B, and C in three years. If you'd like to go a little faster and read through the Bible in one year, you could use this chart.

3. While we're on the subject of Bible reading, how about trying a Bible study? Jeff Cavins has a great one, or you could go to Agape Bible Study for the free in-depth lessons there, which use the Catechism of the Catholic Church (available online) and papal documents (also available online)to study Sacred Scripture. Or you could buy a single-chapter or theme Bible study (such as knowing the women of the Bible, or lessons on St. John's gospel) at a Catholic bookstore either near your home or online.

4. Prayer is an important consideration and we should all be doing that every day anyway. You could pray the rosary online at this site or you could download the Virtual Rosary onto your desktop. It's easy-peasy and wonderful to use. Or you could just do it like your Nana did and use your beads to pray, meditating on the Mysteries of Jesus' life.

You could also pray the Divine Office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours) at Universalis or you could buy an actual Christian Prayer book and pray that way -- each prayer book comes with the current year's guide and there's always a leaflet inside that tells you how to order a guide for the following year.

5. You could listen to homilies and presentations of parish missions by people like the aforementioned Fr. Larry Richards or EWTN's wonderful Father John Corapi -- just click on that link to go to his website and there in that left hand column, you'll find a link titled "Browse by Topic" and that will take you to a page where you can find an item of interest and purchase either single talks on CD for around $10 or entire sets of DVD series teachings, such as his famous one on the Catechism, for about $250.

Many of my friends really enjoy Johnnette Benkovic, also from EWTN, who does a number of talks about the Catholic faith.

And here's a fun one that I'd like to try: Lighthouse Catholic Media has a CD of the Month Club with talks given by such luminaries as Father Larry Richards, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Scott Hahn, Matthew Arnold and other well-known speakers. Just click on the tab at the top of their Home page titled "Store" and it will show you all the excellent material they have available.

6. You can read books. Oh, the books! We are so blessed to have so many gifted Catholic writers today and the really nifty thing is that we still have the writings of so many who went before us. You can still read St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thérèse, St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Catherine of Siena....so many. While you're at it, don't forget the Early Church Fathers, the men who were taught by the Apostles. Read the Didache!

And then when you're done with all that and your spirit is so stuffed full. you don't think you can hold one more morsel of God's goodness without exploding, start on Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Jeff Cavins, Mark Shea, Jimmy Akin...there are so many.

(Maybe you could start a library at your parish. There's a thought.)

7. And then there are the websites. Try Catholic Exchange or Catholic Culture or Catholic Answers. Make one of them your home page. Read the articles. Find your interest. There are lots more: Just make sure you're at a website that is authentically Roman Catholic, know what I mean? If you're going to feed your spirit, you need to make sure you're feeding it with healthy food and not garbage.

8. If you're a cable or satellite subscriber, you'll probably be able to tune in to EWTN, which stands for Eternal Word Television Network. There is an abundance of programming there. Use your DVR or TiVo to watch programs at your convenience. I absolutely adore the International Rosary and we keep all four sets of Mysteries on our DVR all the time. Plus I really like Raymond Arroyo.

These are just the things I thought of off the top of my head. If you have more to add, please leave a comment for all of us.

What it all boils down to (which in the world of cooking is actually called a reduction) is this: If you are a Catholic today complaining about not being fed because your parish doesn't have a band and you feel your overworked priest is kind of grumpy about hearing people whine that Mass just isn't meeting their needs and you feel that you want to leave behind the reality of Jesus present in the Eucharist to go to some other church with their band and their Power Point and their mocha frappuccinos, well, you're just being a poophead.

Feed yourself. Allow Him to show you what tastes best. Savor the sacraments. Sample the saints. Taste some teaching tapes. Well, not literally, of course. You don't have to go out to dinner anywhere else; you couldn't hope to ever plumb the breadth and depth of the Catholic Church in three lifetimes, let alone the one you've been given.

And in all the savoring, the sampling and the tasting, you'll find that Jesus is giving more of Himself to you than you could have ever imagined, In Jesus' own words, recorded in St. Luke's gospel, "Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap." (Luke 6:38, NAB)

See that first word?

Just give.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chaos and madness atop my desk

I am posting this picture of the top of my horrible desk so that I can prove to the world that there is someone whose desk looks worse than mine does, so HAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!

At least on mine, there is some surface area -- actual wood! -- showing through. Whereas if you look at the desk in the photo in the post below, you'll perceive that I'm actually quite the tidy little hausfrau.

Someone said once that a cluttered desk is a sign of genius and nobody seems to know who actually said it or whether that person was in some kind of treatment program for Hoarders Anonymous and/or drinky-ness, but I hope they were right because if so, the person who owns the desk below and myself? WE ARE LEGEND.

Pat? I have a job for you....

I'm posting this photo because I was substitute teaching yesterday? And the teacher I was working for is the only person I've ever encountered whose desk was worse than mine.

So Pat, my brother, is all Mister-Clean-Sweep and wants to grab a huge trash bag and ruthlessly throw other people's messy junk important books and papers into it, silencing their protests with a sharp, "Have you used this in the past week? No? Okay, then: INTO THE TRASH!!!"

Every time my family comes over, I hasten to tidy things up on my desk so that my mother won't (inwardly) wring her hands and wonder where she went wrong, she who made me clean between the cracks in the hardwood floors with a straight pin and dust the chain link fence, and Pat won't give me that one-eyebrow look that says he's just biding his time until I leave the room to get a deck of cards and then he's going to pull out the lawn and leaf-sized bag he's probably carrying in his pocket for random acts of cleanliness and scrape everything off and cart it away to the dumpster he tows behind his car.

My thought with this post is that the very sight of this picture will drive him so insane, he'll try to track the school and the teacher down and harangue her into throwing half that crap away and organizing whatever is left and that endeavor will keep him off the backs of the rest of us, allowing us to enjoy a little harmless muddle. Kieren? Dayden? Kiersi? You with me on this?

Date night for the middle-aged set

My husband and I went on a date last night to our favorite Chinese restaurant, although it would probably be only fair to add that the only reason our children weren't with us is because this restaurant is kind of a scary dive and neither girl will step through the door. It's very cheap, however, and their buffet is plentiful and so we go there. It's our own little getaway.

We also rented a movie from Redbox and that one had to be one the girls would also want to watch, so we got a fun vampire movie called The Vampire's Assistant -- honestly, is everything about vampires nowadays? Good grief.... -- and it was actually pretty good. It was made from a series of novels known as "The Saga of Darren Shan," and considering most books are about a shazillion times better than the movies they're based on, I think I'll try to find those novels and come to my own conclusion.

The evening made me think about the times before children when my husband and I used to get home from work, spit-shine ourselves, and then head over to Indianapolis to go to a real dinner and a real movie and even though tonight was definitely on the cheap side and those times nearly twenty years ago were so much fun, I believe I like this better.

"Me, too," said my husband, and that was good to hear.

Knee high by the Fourth of July

You can only imagine the deep sighs of disapproval I heard yesterday when I asked Meelyn to pull over by the side of the road so that I could get out of the van and take a picture of a little corn plant growing in a field.

The sighs were almost as gusty as the wind, which was blowing yet another chilly rainstorm over us at the time. But I am an intrepid photographer (who seems to be taking pictures of an awful lot of plants lately, hmmm...) who can brave the weather both inside and outside the minivan, so here you have this dynamic shot of corn growing in the mud underneath a grumpy grey sky.

Corn is good to eat, I can tell you that. I have no way of knowing if this particular field is going to yield sweet corn for roasting and buttering and salting or field corn for feeding the pigs. Or, you know, maybe even popcorn! In which this field would be like a wondrous dream and I would have to frolic through the mud, kissing each little plant. Which. I don't really think I'd ever do, but it was fun to type it.

Anyway, the corn is supposed to be, according to pioneer folklore, "knee high by the Fourth of July." It acutally gets much taller than that now, probably because of, I don't know....better seed? Better fertilizers and herbicides? Anyway, it's more like thigh or even waist high by the time the fireworks are going off at Memorial Park in New Castle.

For those of you who don't know about corn, did you know that it gets really, really tall? In the musical Oklahoma, corn is reputed to grow "as high as an elephant's eye," and if that's about eight feet tall or so, I'd say that an elephant's eye is a good measure. And spiders grow in it, spinning their webs between the plants, so that if you're walking through a cornfield, you can end up with a sticky mess -- and maybe even an arachnid! -- in your hair, which is something that used to make me go, "AAAAAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEE!!!! AAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!!! GETTIT OFF!!! GETTIT OFF!!!! OFF ME!!! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!" back in my cornfield walking days, which ended precisely after I got that first spider web in my hair.

What's yours?

One of my favorite treats is a handful -- okay, shut up, three handfuls, are you happy now? -- of Skittles and some really cold ice water. The Skittles can be the original flavor or either of the other new kind or, snaaaaap!!! A combination of all three. But the water? It has to come out of my kitchen tap. It cannot be filtered water or bottled water, both of which taste like a mouthful of salt to me. We're very lucky to live in a city that has delicious drinking water.

I'm also kind of picky about my ice, preferring the clear kind that comes in the plastic bags to the kind produced by our freezer. The bagged ice is so pretty and pure looking. And would probably taste like a mouthful of salt to me if it was melted down in a cup. I never claimed to be either reasonable or consistent.

What's your favorite treat?

Around and around and around they go

My husband and the girls have joined a local running club, the kind of organization where some people are in there training for marathons and others are just out for some pleasant socialization as they trot along. The elite people in the group have names like Boston and New York tucked under the waistbands of their, er....very brief shorts and there's also a large crop of kids from the local high schools who run with the club in the off-season from track and field.

The group meets at a very beautiful park that is about six blocks from our house. This park is tree-filled and be-flowered, but its best feature is the running/walking path around the pretty little lake. Once around is three miles and from what I hear, this takes you past a great deal of central Indiana flora and fauna. Some of the fauna are very tame and like to come, in squirrel form, and sit on the paths waiting for a little tribute in the form of popcorn, bread or peanuts. If the treats aren't forthcoming, the runners are treated to a fervent cussing in Squirrelian.

This particular view of the little bridge and the rain-wet path and the green, green grass looked especially sumptuous to me today, the kind of view that might beckon a person into a secret garden or the land of the faerie - it looks so mysterious, doesn't it, making you wonder What could be around that bend?

As it happens, I can tell you. If you go around the bend and take the path a little farther on, maybe a quarter of a mile, you'll get to the marina, where you can rent a pontoon or a two-person paddle boat or a canoe. The comfy seat cushions double as flotation devices; life jackets are required for all boaters under the age of eighteen. You can rent a grill for an extra sum for the pontoon, but those aren't recommended for the paddle boats or the canoes. You'll just have to bring your own snacks. Unless, of course, you want to eat some meal worms from the bait shop next door. Don't go there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Because everyone else in my family really needed it

Today was the family's monthly foray over to St. Ambrose for confession. Actually, it's supposed to be the first Thursday of every month, but I'm the one who's supposed to make the call to set up the appointment with Father and, well, I kept forgetting.

But! I finally remembered! So we headed off to the church this afternoon where I took a picture of the rectory's front entrance. I know it looks a bit cold with all that grey Indiana limestone -- it can make things seem a little bleak -- but whoever is in charge of the lawn and landscaping at the church always does a very nice job, with variegated greens and lots of mixed pinks, reds and purples which always brighten things up and look very lovely against the rough grey stone. The ajuga just down below those steps is just delicious.

We went in to meet Father separately, of course. He has retired from active duty because of the severity of his arthritis, but he is always the most cheerful of men and despite the fact that he wears black clericals like the rest of the priests I know, he has a strong resemblance to Friar Tuck, minus the brown Franciscan robe. Plus, he loves Shakespeare and traveled to the Stratford Festival for twenty some years in a row with a group of fellow bard-loving priests. He's seen so many plays and I'd love to spend my time with him talking about which productions he enjoyed and which ones he didn't, but I'm there for another reason, so I don't.

Today is a cold and chilly day -- welcome back, March! You didn't give us a chance to miss you! -- and I opened the door to his sitting room to find a lovely fire glowing in the fireplace and Father sitting cozily in his armchair, beaming. The room is full of comfy-looking furniture and books and books and books. His breviary sits on the end table right by his elbow, along with a Bible and The Confessions of St. Augustine and a few other books by and about the holy saints. The television is small and old-fashioned and I have a feeling I know where his priorities lie.

Confession is always the best feeling. Not the being accountable for my actions, no. It's no fun to tattle on yourself, especially face-to-face with someone you like and admire, who, by the way, is standing in persona Christi. It makes you think. A lot.

And then there's the sensing of that mystical Presence, the near-by-ness of the Holy Spirit, comforting and consoling, teaching and guiding, both me and Father.


On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."


Oddly enough, that verse from chapter twenty of John is the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, which is Pentecost Sunday. Strange that I was thinking about it, that power given to the first priests, as I went in today to see Father, gentle, kindly and good.

Sometimes it's hard to be like Julia

Yesterday we came home from Shakespeare class long enough for the girls to take Hershey and Zuzu for a quick walk around the block, then the three of us humans piled back into the van, leaving the dogs disgruntled and wondering when anybody was ever going to be home to pet them and serve tidbits from the dinner table.

Mee, Aisling and I were gone until 9:00; we've been invited to help provide child care for a local church's Wednesday night small group meetings. We do get paid, and since we're saving up for the trip to the Stratford Festival in early September, we're taking every opportunity we have to rake in some extra cash.

Last night's dinner, then, suffered a bit. I'd already been planning on breakfast for dinner, and don't let me imply that I was going to make my own sausage or anything, but as it turned out, both parts of that little supper I served up at 9:30 yesterday evening featured synonyms for "rapid" in their titles: Fast Shake pancake mix and Bob Evans Express pre-cooked sausage patties.

Both tasted okay. It's hard for Bob Evans to goof up a sausage patty, and these were nicely spicy and easy-peasy to warm up in a skillet. The pancake mix needed about 3/4 of a cup of water MORE than the instructions said it did, but once I got that figured out, all was good. It made about fourteen pancakes. We slathered them with butter (injudicious) and syrup (sugar-free for me and the girls, high octane for my husband) and it wasn't bad at all.

HOWEVER. If I had to make a choice between that food and the Julia chicken I slaved over and basted and cuddled and coddled a week or so ago? Even though it didn't turn out quite right?

I'd go with the chicken every time. But I'm glad of having the option of using FAST and EXPRESS food when I absolutely need to.


I was leaving the library after Shakespeare yesterday, going by their shelves of books-for-sale on my way to return my room key, when my eye caught a glimpse of two Maeve Binchy novels. They were both trade paperbacks, albeit brand new, and priced at one dollar each.

Strangely enough, I just happened to have two dollars in my pocket! So I am now the owner of two new paperback Binchy novels, one of which (Scarlet Feather) is my favorite one of all. Hurrah!

Rounding third, as you like it

I had to throw in a baseball metaphor there because our house, which is frequently All About Shakespeare is now also All About the Cincinnati Reds, my husband's favorite baseball team, along with whoever else beats the Yankees.

Anyhoo, we're almost finished with this semester's Shakespeare Workshop and I'm a little sad. I have really loved this play, in spite of the two DVD versions we've had to watch. There to the right, you can see the text copy of the play we're using from SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare collection, along with the Cliff notes, which I am teaching the students to use in the proper manner, which means using them as a supplement to clarify what you're reading, not declining to read the actual assigned work, but rather doing the quick skim with the help of your good buddy, Cliff, the night before the quiz and then cringing in embarrassment when the professor hands back your paper with a scowl.

You can also see my little sprawl of DVDs and the huge pile of handouts I prepared for the class. My students just LOVE those. LOVE them.

We watched the BBC version (released in the United States by Ambrose Video) first and I'm sorry say that the whole class has finally reached the point where we all sit and openly mock this production. Poor Helen Mirren. She was just wasted in this piece of poo, and by "wasted" I do not mean that the poor girl was out of her senses with drink, although WHO COULD HAVE BLAMED HER? I myself thought I was going to have to fill an innocent water bottle with gin to drag my protesting senses through that last forty minutes, and all I had to do was watch the thing, not participate in it. It was rough, my friends.

The lowest point came when the actor playing Hymen came out to bless the happy couples, leading Celia and Rosalind by the hands, all three of them dressed in white. The two girls, of course, were arrayed in their wedding finery, complete with wreaths of flowers and gauzy trailing hippie peasant outfits and the only three things kept it from looking like that summer rock-n-roll party out on Mr. Yasgur's farm in 1969: 1) the lack of mud; 2) the lack of Jimi Hendrix; and 3) the lack of hallucinogens.

Hymen was wearing a bare-chested ensemble and was just....oh, help me. He just looked so weird, weird enough that some of the younger members of the class burst into laughter, covering their mouths with their hands and looking at each other in horrified delight. I tried to tell myself that he probably looked just fine back in 1978, but then I gave it up and called myself a liar. Off to confession with me! It was weird.

Shortly after that, the entire cast joined hands and began to do a festive little country dance, around and around in a shady glen. I began to think differently about the hallucinogens. The dance was shot straight-on from one camera angle so that the audience was treated to the visual of everyone's back and bottoms dancing by, dancing, dancing. Several members of the class laid their heads down on the table and howled. It was ludicrous.

The high point, though, was the two little boys singing "It was a lover and his lass" to Touchstone in the wide open field. The melody was so sweet and their soprano voices were so pure, it brought tears to my eyes, and honestly, watching that whole hot mess was worth it, just hearing that song. I tried to find it on YouTube for you all to hear, but either it's not there or I'm not searching correctly, but here, at least, are the lyrics.

It was a lover and his lass
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring

Between the acres of the rye
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Sweet lovers love the spring

And therefore take the present time
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no
For love is crownéd with the prime
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Sweet lovers love the spring

The Twentieth Century Fox production with Elisabeth Bergner and Laurence Olivier had actually pulled ahead of the BBC version, but we all marked them down severely for truncating the script to such an extent, the movie was wrapped up and running credits a mere fifteen minutes after the climax scene of Rosalind receiving the bloody handkerchief from Oliver. Honestly, the pace galloped on at such a breakneck speed, we all felt slightly stunned. At one moment, Rosalind-as-Ganymede was fainting dead away on the floor of the Forest of Arden and the next moment, she was apparently giving herself a brisk brushing-off so that she could put on a white gown and come in with Celia, leading a diaper-dressed infant Hymen with fake wings attached to his chubby back. Huh? Whose kid was that? Some cast or crew member's, maybe?

That production ended with the entire cast waving maniacally along with a crowd of extras and it swept us along so quickly, I can't remember if anything was ever said about Duke Frederick's conversion and Jaques' decision to go join him or not. Elisabeth Bergner did her Epilogue in a coy, squeaky manner that made me want to pinch her, and since she kept shifting, courtesy of the Magic of the Cinema, back and forth between Ganymede and Rosalind, it seemed kind of schizophrenic. Or maybe it indicated that Orlando and Phoebe were both in for a treat, because Rosalind had decided to start batting for both teams, if you know what I mean. Whatever.

I'm glad to be done with both of them, and very shortly here, I'm going to retire to my living room and watch Kenneth Branagh's version from start to finish. Hopefully, I will be so wowed that I'll run right back in here and post a raving review. So keep your good eye on this if you're interested, my dears.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

They turned out not to be lunatics

Well, they're kind of lunatics, but only the very best kind, a type of haute lunatic that you can't just find anywhere. I found them on the internet.

Karen (on the left) and Amy (stage right) are a couple of people I've known for about six years. I met them in an internet message board for Catholic moms and we'd all known each other for several months before we realized that we live very close to one another: Karen lives in my husband's hometown and goes to church at the parish where he used to ride his bike to play basketball and hide in fear from the very scary nuns as they made their quiet way from the school back to their little abbey when he was a boy. She lives just over an hour away from me and Amy; the two of us actually live very close indeed, just a hoot and a holler away, as my great-grandma would have said.

We've been trying to meet once a month to eat dinner together, but we trade a lot of emails back and forth and also "talk" frequently on that message board, of which we are all still members.

We laugh, we cry, we pray, we eat. We talk. And talk and talk and talk. And we love each other. We started out as virtual acquaintances and have been lucky enough to be able to translate that friendship IRL, as we say in internet parlance.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the way to piano lessons

I was driving to pick Aisling up from her piano lesson today and saw this pretty little picture at the side of the road -- the delicate wildflowers, the graceful grasses, the rugged post-and-wire fencing -- and was moved to hop out of the van and take a photo. It just looked so very Indiana, and it reminded me of Ma and Grandad's place out by Springport when I was a kid, and the way the golden patches of sunlight and the cool pieces of shade had their own beguiling way with you, out walking on the side of Prairie Road, up to the barn or down to the graveyard.

Just to prove that it really is spring...

Here is a cute little tin planter with some impatiens in it, sitting on the little French bistro set we have on the front porch.

IF IT EVER GETS WARM, the impatiens will grow bigger and spill over the edges of that container, dark pink, pale pink, green, and it will truly be a delicious little amuse yeux.

My husband and I are of sharply divided opinion on that bistro set, which is painted the palest celadon green, enhanced with spots of orangey rust. While he doesn't mind the bistro set, the rust on the table makes him occasionally black out; he can't understand why anyone who isn't a slacker, a wastrel or a layabout would purposely allow outdoor furniture to acquire a patina of rust.

I, on the other hand, find it charmingly shabby, far more interesting than a perfect chairs-and-table that one might find under an awning outside a Carmel lunchery. I like it rusted. It was that way when I bought it, actually. I saw it on a sidewalk outside an antique shop in Pendleton as I was driving through the town one day on my way to somewhere else. The bistro set was temptingly displayed with a cheerfully decrepit old mirror propped up against one chair. I was at a stoplight, and in one speedy maneuver, I whipped the van into a parking space alongside the road and said, "Meelyn! Will you hop out and see how much that bistro set is?"

She obligingly climbed out, took a look at the price tag that was dangling from one of the chairs and returned to the van's open door to say, "The whole set is $40."

Cha-ching! went my brain: It was only a week until my birthday, and so far as I knew, my husband hadn't bought me a gift yet. I yanked my phone out of my purse, hit my husband's number on speed dial and said to the girls while my phone was ringing, "Mee, run in there and ask them if they'll take a check - I don't have any cash on me. Aisling, get out and sit in one of the chairs, I don't want anyone else trying to buy it while I'm talking to Daddy."

"Hello?" my husband said.

"Hi," I said, dispensing with all further salutation. "Have you bought me a birthday gift yet?"

"Uhhh.....uhhhh....." he said, obviously casting about for the right answer, maybe even trying to remember how many days he had to go before zero hour came along to tweak his nose.

"Okay, I can see you haven't. Anyway, you just bought me a bistro set, so thank you! I love it! You're the best husband ever! Bye bye!" I hung up, giggling, as he spluttered, "Wha-...?? But....HEY!!!!"

My phone rang as I was getting out of the van.

"How much?" he said tersely, dispensing with some pleasantries of his own.

"Forty dollars," I replied lightly.

He sighed in relief. "Oh, good. That's fine. And you're welcome! Happy birthday, honey."

The girls and I had it all lovingly set up on the front porch by the time he got home from work and we were sitting out there drinking peach iced tea and nodding amiably to the people walking by on their way to the little theater that is two doors down from us.

"This is the bistro set you paid forty dollars for?" he asked dubiously, sounding a little strangled.

"Yes," I said fondly, stroking one of the chairs. "Isn't it just so Frenchy and adorable?"

"Adorable? It's rusty!"

"I know. It looks like it came straight from la Belle Époque, doesn't it?"

He snorted. "More like la belle chicken pox."

"You just don't know what's cute, that's all," I replied with dignity.

My husband tested the table to make sure it was sturdy. "Evidently not. Will I be able to put a beer on this thing, or will it all just fall right to the ground, seeing as how its eaten up with rust?"

"I'd prefer you put a glass of wine or maybe an espresso or even a cup of tea on it, but yes, it's perfectly strong. I checked it out and that's just a little surface rust. Everything else is sound. It even all folds up for storage in the winter."

He heaved a heavy sigh. "Okay. If you're happy, I'm happy. But could I just...."

I stood straight up and looked him in the eye. "NO SANDPAPER."

"Are you sure...?" He picked slightly at a fleck of rust and looked pleased when it came right off.

"None. And no Rustoleum in some awful color, either."

He looked crestfallen, having the possibility of a Fun Project taken away from him. "Well, if you're sure...." he said in resignation.

"I'm perfectly sure," I assured him. "And I'm very happy. I love my birthday present. Nobody else has one like it."

"I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "I bet we could find one out at the city du-..."

"DO NOT GO THERE, either literally or figuratively."

That was four years ago and he asks me every spring if he can sand it down and spray paint it, but I keep on saying no. He tells me that I can't expect it to last forever if it continues to get even rustier, but sometimes you don't want something to last forever, right? My marriage, yes, I'd do it all over again. My love for my children and family, no question. My friendships, of course. But maybe the little bistro set is just supposed to be beautiful for a while, a little time, and then when it finally just crumbles away, I'll have lovely memories of how I found it and how it looked, a little bit battered, on my front porch with a tin pail of impatiens on it.

Maybe then I'll find something I like even better.

What the??!!

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened the other day to begin practice rounds for qualifications for the Indy 500, which will be run at the end of this month.

Unfortunately, it has done nothing but rain for the past four or five days, so practices have been suspended, and the Gasoline Alley is probably full of disgruntled racers and pit crews cursing the changeable Indiana spring weather.

And I? What am I doing on this cold and rainy day?


Monday, May 17, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

I do have a plan for Menu Plan Monday this week -- I totally forgot to post my menus for last week, I'm not sure what planet I was living on -- but I won't be able to post it until later today. I'm substitute teaching today for a second grade teacher in one of the city schools and plan to have a fun day with the little kids; second graders are so extremely cute and helpful. It's also nice that the school is only a mile from my house. So! Until very late this afternoon, I'm signing off.

Checking back in after a lo-o-o-ng day to finally post those menus. My dedication has stunned even me. And probably my parents.

Menu Plan for the Week of May 17, 2010

Monday - Crunchy tacos garnished with leaf lettuce and grape tomatoes; corn casserole

Tuesday - Spanish Dogs and baked beans

Wednesday - Breakfast for Dinner! Pancakes and sausage....mmmm!

Thursday - Mixed grill - smoked sausage, strips of steak, pork chop and chicken breast; baked potatoes

Friday - I'm thinking we might have chicken salad on croissants on Friday. Everyone has fallen in love with the chicken salad recipe I cobbled together out of several I found online, so we might have those sandwiches with some potato chips.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

RECIPE: Party Punch for the Whole Bunch

Now, isn't that a pretty bowl of punch? It is cold and frothy and yummy-sweet with all that sherbet melting in it and leaving delicious little bits of fruit at the bottom of your cup that have soaked up all the melty bits...it's like the nectar of the gods. And best of all, it is non-alcoholic, so the kids can dip into it right along with the grownups and the subsequent staggering around and giggling and then throwing up in the kitchen wastebasket they do will be totally because of their sugar overload and not because you have taken their sweaty little hands and led them down the road to drunkenness and ruin.

(If you're having a grown-up kind of festive party, though, and you want to spike it with as much vodka as you think is necessary, that's your own lookout: I don't know how much to tell you to add, however, so you might want to experiment and keep the alcohol content below the level where your party guests end up spending the night on your front lawn. That really bothers the neighbors.)

Once you've scooped your sherbert into the ring mold and got it frozen, this punch goes together in a matter of minutes. You can also experiment with different kinds of juices for a different taste (or if you want a different color of punch, say), but this is the one that I know is definitely good.



Items needed - ring mold, punch bowl of at least 2 gallons

1 gallon sherbet, either multicolored as pictured above (raspberry/orange/lime) or raspberry

1 chilled bottle Hawaiian Punch fruit punch or similar (found in the fruit juice aisle, not the soft drink aisle - this is the size roughly equivalent to a 2-liter bottle, although I'm not sure how many ounces that is)

1 chilled bottle lemon-lime soda, such as Sprite, 7-Up, Sierra Mist or even ginger ale - you can use diet soda, if you'd prefer

1 can orange juice concentrate, thawed

2 cups sugar

1 can of chunked pineapple, drained

1 small jar of stemless maraschino cherries, drained

about a cup of seedless red and green grapes, washed and de-stemmed, optional


The day before you plan to serve the punch, allow the sherbet to sit out on the kitchen counter until it has softened a bit. When it is soft enough to scoop easily, spoon it into a ring mold such as a Bundt cake pan and press it down, filling the entire mold. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to firm up until the next day.

When you're ready to serve the punch, run about two inches of warm water in the sink and place the ring mold in it for a minute or so to soften the sherbet a bit. Remove the ring mold from the sink and invert your punch bowl over it, doing a careful flip so that the ring of sherbet stays in the punch bowl and doesn't throw itself to the floor. Turn the punch bowl right side up and lift the ring mold off the sherbet.

Pour the thawed orange juice concentrate into the center hole of the sherbet ring; add the two cups of sugar following. Alternate pouring the fruit punch and the lemon-lime soda onto the orange juice-sugar combination until your punch bowl is full, but not so full that it overflows when you put the ladel in the punch bowl and fill the first few cups -- I made that mistake, ONCE. Give everything a gentle stir with a long spoon.

Once the punch has been stirred, alternate pouring the pineapple chunks and cherries into the hole in the sherbet ring, starting with the pineapple because it's bigger and will form a base. You can also add the grapes into this mix if you'd like.

Carry the punch bowl to your serving table and pour into little cups for your guests, including one for yourself because it is just soooo goooood.

Pppppbbbblllltttt to Avatar

Just in case you were wondering, "Ppppppbbbbllllttt" is the official typed rendition of that assortment of phonemes known as "the Bronx cheer," "the raspberry," or "the fart noise," to everyone except my mother, who just read That Word and fainted.

I managed to sneak off to my quiet, cozy bed last night with a copy of the first Percy Jackson novel while everyone else was still downstairs watching Avatar. To my surprise, I only had about ten minutes to myself because I heard a number of feet tromping up the stairs. Everyone came into the room and looked at me.

"That movie," my husband said definitively, "stinks."

"Like a load of crap," Aisling added.

"Talk like a lady," I murmured, briefly glancing up from Percy's struggles with Ares, the god of war.

"You don't," Aisling said pertly.

"Don't speak to me pertly," I said, giving her a look that would have turned Medusa to granite.

"I can't figure out why so many people thought that was a good movie." Meelyn is a pro at steering her sister out of dangerous waters. "What a waste of time. We should have gone to Redbox."

"It was a load of crap," my husband offered.

"Talk like a la-....oh, never mind," I said.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Not where I should be

This is a shot of the television in our living room where the rest of my family is watching Avatar and I am sitting here "watching the movie," which has completely BORED ME TO SOBS.

I have to admit: unless it's a Shakespeare film, or The Full Monte or A Christmas Story, I'm just not a movie person. I really hate going to the cinema because it is just awful having to sit there in the dark for hours and you can't pause the show and get up to pee. And at home, it's even worse. Because there, if you get up and sneak off pretending that you're going to just go grab a Diet Coke when really what you're going to do is go over to the computer and play Solitaire on Webkinz until the credits start rolling, people start yelling, "WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! YOU'D BETTER NOT BE GOING TO THE COMPUTER!!! SIT DOWN AND WATCH THIS WITH US, BAD MOMMY!"

Ugh, it's just awful.

I have to hand it to James Cameron, however. He certainly seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to movies. I still haven't forgiven him for the epic stupidity of Titanic, and now the man has convinced a gazillion people to pay gazillions of dollars to go see this movie about blueberry people and there's something really pro-environment and anti-military about the whole thing but I just don't CARE ENOUGH to sit there and piece it all together. If I did, I'd probably be really annoyed and then I'd care too much and be forced to write a strongly worded letter to....who? Maybe my husband, whose idea it was to do an insta-rental from Comcast On Demand. But why write him a stongly worded letter when I can just pinch him in his sleep?

I just don't get it. What was it that was supposed to be so good about this movie?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The gift that keeps on giving

Now this is my idea of flowers for Mother's Day - the kind that last not but a few days, but for an entire season. My husband bought me these two hanging baskets of vining petunias, one of the few types of plant I cannot kill, to grace the back of our house. They're looking very pretty by our statue of St. Francis standing in front of our adorably dilapidated little fence, the one that my husband keeps insisting we remove from our property, but which I keep chaining myself to and hollering, "Nooooo....!!!!"

Later on this summer, when the petunias are spilling over their containers nearly down to the ground and the grass is a green carpet and St. Francis looks more than usually content with his position as guardian of our driveway, that scruffy little bit of fence will provide a very picturesque backdrop for the people driving down the busy street just beyond the top of the photograph.

Thank you, honey!! I love the lovely baskets!


Here's a picture of my husband starting off on his morning walk with the dogs and it was not a happy one, as evidenced by the fact that both dogs are in the process of having a cow. As it turned out, another dog-walker was just getting ready to walk by our house and that dog went insane with the barking and then our dogs went insane with the barking and when the three of them got back to the house, panting, disheveled and a little wild around the eye, my husband said:

"Please listen to me. When these dogs die? Let's not get any more. Okay?"

Not a good start to the day. Cesar Milan, we need youuuuu...

Reading aloud

A couple of weeks ago, my husband made an interesting suggestion. "Remember when you used to read aloud to us at night after dinner?" he said. "I wish you'd start doing that again.. We could just leave the TV off after the girls get the dishes done and sit together and listen."

That was an intriguing thought. I don't think I've read aloud to the family since the girls were much smaller and we did the first three volumes in the Harry Potter series, several books by Natalie Babbitt (I think we all cried during the last pages of Tuck Everlasting), Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess and a number of other engaging novels. It was always a great success, so I thought Why not do it again, with a book intended for a different audience?

So I began thinking. But it didn't take me long to think of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of my favorite books of all time, as you can tell by my extremely battered paperback copy. That beat-up little book means a lot to me, so I've never replaced it with a nicer hard cover version, although I think I may need to do that after this reading: the cover came apart last night when I was reading about Miss Caroline's issues with Scout and the Cunningham and Ewell families.

This is not a very long book and we'll be reading about three nights a week or so. Do you have any recommendations for what we could read when we finish this one?

My poor, poor Julia chicken

This is a before picture of Tuesday night's Julia chicken. I salted the....*gulp*....cavity and put some butter in there too and massaged it lovingly with even more butter and sprinkled on some pepper and paprika and poured a bit of good stock in the bottom of the pan, just a teense, just to keep all that butter from getting stuck and becoming glue-like in my favorite roaster. I even trussed it up to perfection, although I do NOT use a method with a mattress needle as depicted in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. I don't even know where to get a mattress needle.

In short, I did everything but cradle this chicken in my arms and sing it a touching lullabye before I tucked it into the oven. I checked on it every ten minutes, listening for the typical "cooking noises": roast chicken pops a lot. When I noticed early on that the skin wasn't browning up as much as it should have in that first fifteen minutes of roasting at high heat and then when I didn't hear the snapping and popping from the oven, I began to get suspicious, but after that, I got distracted by my life happening all around me in the form of daughters, dogs and spring cleaning duties, so I just hurriedly basted and left it at that.

So goes my tale of woe. Because when dinner time finally rolled around? That is the precise moment when I realized that the heating element is going kaflooey on my oven. The chicken's skin got kind of brown. Brown-ish. Okay, light brown-ish, and it wasn't even really done on the inside. When I cut the thigh and leg portions off for the girls, the meat was undercooked and I had to put their plates in the microwave to even things up.

That nearly broke my heart, it did.

The breast slices that my husband and I ate were nicely cooked, but the skin wasn't as crackly and delicious as it should have been. It was just kind of limp and greasy, which immediately meant that after about two bites, I pushed my plate away, an action not often seen at my place at the dinner table. I can have some funny ideas about chicken, and the first and foremost -- although there's nothing funny about it -- is that the skin can NOT be limp and greasy and I'm sure you all agree with me. Because YUCK. Even "bleeeaaaaarrrgh."

So I'm going to dice the rest of it up, re-cook whatever needs some cooking, and make a nice chicken salad.


Without the dumb hats, as you like it

Honestly, when my students and I first started watching and critiquing this production, I didn't think I'd be able to slog my way through it. I mean, LOOK AT THOSE HATS. Seriously. I'm not certain if those hats have ever existed for women's wear outside the confines of the princess dress-up box the girls used to have in their playroom. I find them horrifying, although I've kind of become accustomed to the fact that Laurence Olivier? Big fan of the tights, he was. BIG fan.

Anyway, it got off to a bit of a slow start. But now that all the major characters have been kicked out of their homes and banished to the Forest of Arden, things have picked up a lot. I actually found myself smiling yesterday over some fun sight gags, including Elizabeth Bergner (pointy hat on the right) as Rosalind as Ganymede -- phew! -- repeatedly poking and bonking Laurence-as-Orlando about the head and neck with one of his rolled up poems.

As the kids and I discussed later, sometimes you can get a pleasant surprise. A book, a movie, a play that is a slow-starter can all of a sudden develop a bit of a shine. I'm glad to say that this production, which was directed by Paul Czinner and released in 1937 by Twentieth Century Fox studios, has done just that. And that's saying something, since I'm a purist who generally disapproves of Shakespeare's scripts being hacked and chopped with a heavy hand: this should-be-about-150-minute play was reduced to something like ninety-five minutes. That's a lot of cutting!

Not so much for the BBC version. It was made for television, which should sound a dire warning knell in your head. It sure did in mine, "made-for-TV" being synonymous with "crummy production values and wooden acting on an extremely limited budget." This version of As You Like It, released several years ago by Ambrose Video as part of a VERY EXPENSIVE SET of Shakespearean comedies, is just....the pits. I don't know how else to describe it. It was directed by Basil Coleman and released in Great Britain in 1978 and it's just a sad, lackluster little production. Even lovely Helen Mirren can't do much to save it, although the actor playing Corin (David Lloyd Meredith) had a little oomph to him. And Angharad Rees as Celia is just a cutie pie, although I don't think that she and Helen Mirren were given nearly enough of a chance to express their girlish goofy fun.

For the first time yesterday, Orlando (Brian Stirner) finally cracked a smile and gave poor Helen something to actually work with. Up until that point, he's gone around either with an expressionless face or with a furrowed brow. I keep looking for some spark of life in the man, since he's playing such a dashing hero, but what I keep getting is that he really has to poop and is inwardly wondering how long it will be before the director calls out, "Cut!!! Everybody take five!"

All this makes me hungry for two things:

1) Watching the Kenneth Branagh version of As You Like It in two weeks with the class, and;

2) Going to Stratford and seeing the play performed live onstage at the Festival Theater...I can hardly wait. No matter how good a filmed production is, the energy of live theater is a whole different animal. Plus, we have, like, the MOST AWESOME seats for the performance. And, heaven be thanked, it is not a freaking student matinee, so that what's going on onstage is completely eclipsed by what's going on in the audience, with the cell phones and the constant talking and the wadding up pages from the playbill and lobbing them over the balcony every time the house lights go down. Never. Again. Ever.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I got a box full of goodies from Bath & Body Works from the girls as a Mothers Day gift, so from now on, I expect all of you who see me in person to comment on how fragrant and appealing I am. Because you know? I don't recall ever hearing that from any of you before, although several of you have been quick to tell me about spinach in my teeth and unmentionable things fluttering in my nostrils. Very quick.

And for those of you who don't see me in person, it wouldn't kill ya to write to me and say, "You certainly do look like the kind of person who smells good! Just naturally, without any help from the products of Bath & Body Works, although I'm sure they do a lot to enhance the loveliness of your inherent yumminess."

Seriously, though, if you have a good Mothers Day story to share, please do. I'd love to read it!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Completely traumatized

See that broken bottle of sherry? Guess where all the wine-fortified-with-brandy that used to be inside it now is?

In me, circulating happily through my veins? No.

Nestling cozily inside a Julia chicken with a little stock and a whole bunch of butter? No.

Adding a little smidge of delicious to a glaze for a pound cake? Nuh-uh.

How about SOAKING INTO THE CARPET ON MY KITCHEN FLOOR? Yep. Yessirree, that's where it is.

The funny thing is, when that bottle of sherry was still in its grocery bag and went into a death-spiral off the kitchen counter, MY FOOT cushioned it from having sudden impact with the floor. I mean, thank heaven for my (bruised) instep, because if this is what happens to a sherry bottle when it glances off a be-shod foot before hitting the carpeted floor, there's no telling what would have happened if my foot hadn't been there. An explosion of glass and vino that would have drenched the kitchen all the way up to the ten foot ceiling, maybe? Good grief.

Well, it's been the very divil of a mess to clean up, to be sure. We did some major soaking with a big towel and then did some further soaking with damp towels and next I'm going to apply some Oxy-Clean and if that doesn't work, I'm going to re-soak the spot with my salty tears and apply prayer, holy water and Bath & Body Works' Summer Lemon Body Splash, in that order.

Because, you see, Aisling's Confirmation open house is this coming Sunday. Not Mother's Day, no. I mean the next Sunday. And I don't want to have a houseful of company coming in and sniffing delicately and thinking that we must spend our time -- me, my husband, the kids and the dogs -- senseless with drink and watching professional wrestling. Although I suppose sherry isn't the adult beverage of choice of the greater majority of WWF fans, I'm thinking. But I could be wrong! I'm a snob! Maybe those fans prefer a nice, dry Pouilly-Fuissé and I'm just as wet as my kitchen floor!

Okay, feel free to stop me and lure me back to my original point with some goldfish crackers or something....

And here is my point: While I don't want the house smelling like a brewery, distillery or a winery, I'm also slightly aware -- okay, make that VERY aware -- that the main aroma of our house is that of dog, which is neither a cozy or a charming smell. So maybe the sherry in the carpet might be an upgrade?

Must think on this while the girls clean up the mess....

Friday, May 7, 2010

My favorite things

This is the door that leads into our upstairs bathroom and if we ever leave this house, I'm hoping that our landlord, who is a doll, will be okay with my taking this entire door with me. I love it so much.

We only have two pressed glass doorknobs like this left in the house. The rest are either really old brass ones that could just break your heart with the polishing and all the rest are awful modern ones that have no soul at all.

But this doorknob is something special, as is the one that graces the door to the storage area off our laundry room. Every time my hand touches that doorknob, every time I see the patina on that Art Deco door plate -- every time I see the generations of paint that have been applied to that six-panel door, my heart just soars.

I just love that whole door, with an unreasoning, unrequited affection that my husband finds endearing and my children find amusing in a "Isn't she a funny old dear?" kind of way.

Is there something in your house that you love?

One step closer to a mug shot

I tried to explain a few posts down about how my mother, she looks so sweet and innocent? And the people who are her friends think she never does anything wrong?

Well. Well!!! The people who are related to her know differently, and I think you can tell everything you need to know about my mother by looking at this photograph I took of her in Applebee's, where she was misbehaving herself in a truly shocking manner. We would have blamed it on the drink, but she is a severe teetotaler.

She claimed to have forgotten that incident where she pelted my head with big handfuls of wadded-up toilet paper from her neighboring toilet stall in Fort Wayne's Red Lobster years ago, but her hooting laughter upon being reminded convinced me that it was a mistake to have recalled it to her memory.

As seen on the way to New Castle today

We went to New Castle today for three purposes: 1) to pick up Meelyn's contact lenses from the optometrist's office; 2) to eat lunch with Poppy and Nanny and then go to their house so that I could whip both of their behinds playing cards; and 3) to see Grandad, who is holding steady after his stroke two weeks ago and managed to smile at me today.

As we were driving towards my hometown, I saw a weathered old barn along the side of the road serving as a backdrop to some beautifully colorful spring flowers. I determined that on our way home, I'd have Meelyn pull over so that I could take a picture, and so I did. What I didn't know is that my nature, which seeks out beauty and truth and the higher, finer things of life the way a hummingbird seeks out sugar water, would be vilified by my rotten little daughters, both of whom screamed and gnashed their teeth at having to stop the van for THIRTY WHOLE SECONDS so that I could point and shoot.

And I didn't win at cards, either. But it is a really nice picture, isn't it?

The view from my window

A little while back, I posted a picture of the view outside my bedroom window,
which can be seen here and if you click on that link and take a peek at the first picture, you can see that much has changed over the spring.
The verdigris bell tower on the church is still the same, but there are lots more leaves on the trees.
And as for that ineffable blue sky? Well, obviously another thing that has changed is that today? We are getting ready to have a big ol' banger of a thunderstorm. Batten down the hatches!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

She raised me better than this

This is my mom, who as you can see is a major cutie. With Mother's Day approaching, I've been thinking back about some of the things we've done in the past: a couple of years ago, I wrote about how she steered me through two nearly consuming post partum depressions (she had experience with one of her own), but this year, I was thinking of something different.

Over twenty years ago, before my husband and I were married, I was teaching in the north-eastern part of Indiana. My parents occasionally drove up to visit me; we'd go out to dinner together in Fort Wayne and then head off on our separate ways. It was always a very nice time.

Except for this one time when we went to Red Lobster. For some reason, Mom got it into her head that this Red Lobster was "dirty." Maybe the ladies' room looked bad? I can't remember. But for whatever the reason, when we got into the restroom after we ate, there were some other women in there, washing their hands and powdering their noses and....other things. But that did not deter my mother from having a conversation with me, oh no it didn't.

I'd barely gained access to a stall when my mother called from the stall next door, "Shelley?"

"Yes?" I answered guardedly. I was thinking she had no toilet paper and I was going to twit her with the whole "can you spare a square" routine from Seinfeld.

"Where are you?" she asked.

"Right next to you," I replied. "See?" And I stuck my foot under the wall of the stall.

"Did you remember to lay toilet paper down on the seat before you sat down?" she inquired anxiously.

"Wha-??!!....Are you SERIOUS?"

"DID YOU PUT TISSUE ON THE SEAT?" she asked in a Mother-will-spank kind of voice.

"Yes," I mumbled.


"Yes! I put toilet paper on the seat! And I am TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD! You don't have to tell me to put tissue on a toilet seat in a public restroom anymore!" I heard some snickering from the other occupants of the ladies' room.

The next thing I knew, a ball of wadded-up toilet tissue (unused) was lobbed over the top of the stall, where it fell on my head. It was closely followed by more balls of tissue until I was sitting there in a veritable blizzard. I started chucking them back over as fast as I could catch them and I heard her laughing wickedly.

"Will you cut it out!!!" I hollered. There's no telling what all the other women in the restroom were thinking. Maybe they thought we were on some kind of recreational release program from a nearby facility for mentally fragile related people? Who knows.

"I did not raise you to speak to me like that," she said with dignity and threw one more extra-large wad of toilet paper onto my head, and then ran out of her stall like a monkey before I could return fire. Unfair.

And I'd like to point out that she has continued this practice up to this very day whenever we visit a ladies' room and have stalls next door to one another.

So if you think my mother looks so sweet and Nanny-like and innocent in that picture, think again. As with Zuzu, appearances aren't always what they seem.

Happy Mother's Day, Nan!!!

Topsy-turvy, as you like it

Right there on that media cart in front of the very snazzy flat screen television are the three video productions of As You Like It my class is viewing during this Shakespeare Workshop.

The first is the version from 1937 starring Laurence Olivier as Orlando in his very first screen role and the beloved actress of worldwide reknown, Elisabeth Bergner, who plays the fair Rosalind. The second is the 1978 BBC made-for-TV production which stars the beauteous Helen Mirren as Rosalind and Angharad Rees as Celia and nobody else worth mentioning; the third is the 2006 Kenneth Branagh version with Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind, dear Brian Blessed as both Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and that adorable Romola Garai, who played Emma in the Masterpiece Theater version of the same just this past winter, as Celia.

At the present moment, we're watching only the first two versions, with Branagh's version saved as a treat to watch straight through in week seven of the eight week workshop. And I have to say, those first two versions are some hard going. As it turns out, the majority of the class, include ME, the teacher who roped these kids into this thing, thinks that both are complete crap.

I was standing at the back of the class watching the Olivier/Bergner version yesterday and thinking that I could be better entertained by closely observing a stick of butter. And just don't get me started on that made-for-TV version. The BBC filmed a whole slew of Shakespeare's plays for the edumacation of British schoolchildren -- those movies were meant to be the definitive work of Shakespeare for an entire generation of young minds, and they star quite a few heavyweights from British stage and screen. There are four complete sets of these movies that have been released upon -- excuse me, for -- the general public and they're titled "The Works of William Shakespeare," but I think their subtitle should be "An Earnest Attempt to Make Students Hate Him and His Dumb Plays."

That would include this As You Like It, in which the actor playing Orlando looks like a girl and the costumes hail from the medieval period of history instead of the Renaissance era, a glaring error even a piker like me can recognize and feature these ridiculous horned headdresses for the women -- THANK HEAVEN they get to escape to the Forest of Arden and ditch those things -- and whoops!!! There you did it! You went and let me get started.

I haven't seen the Branagh version yet because I was saving it as a treat for myself for slogging through these other two versions -- I can only hope that it is better than his Henry V and as good as or better than his Hamlet -- but if it turns out to be as bad as the other two, I may have a riot on my hands.

I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how the director of As You Like It at the Stratford Festival will handle things this September. It couldn't be any worse than what we have going on right now.

And in a related issue....

Behold, the cause of my ouuwwwwchhhhh....

The classroom I use for my Shakespeare class is large and well-equipped, one of a local public library's much-appreciated offerings. You can -- and I did -- request a TV/DVD, a huge whiteboard, a podium, just about anything you want to help your class to run more smoothly. What I didn't think to request, however, was a floor made out of foam padding and marshmallows.

Every week, the library's maintenance staff sets up the tables in the formation I requested -- kind of a long, conference-style setting shaped like a capital "I". There are two tables at each end of the long body, one for me to spread all my books and papers out on, and the other for mothers who are auditing the class to sit at. Which I know isn't very grammatical, but shut up and let me get on with it.

If I'm sitting at the head of the table to talk with the students as I often do, they can't see my feet, you dig? I like to sit with them when we're discussing the DVD productions we're watching because they seem to open up more when I'm in the role of fellow amateur drama critic instead of Lecturing Educator Behind a Podium. It didn't seem like a big deal, then, to kick off my sandals beside my seat. And then when I got up to walk back to where the mothers, Katie and Dwan, were sitting, the kids still couldn't see my feet, so I kept my sandals off and walked barefoot. And stood barefoot while I was talking to them from the table at the back of the class, my nekkid tootsies well-hidden.

I did this because yesterday was my first sandal day, and I'd kind of forgotten that I'd promised myself I'd get some new sandals this summer since those old ones -- a beloved pair of Bass leather sandals which may date back to the time when the Hebrew children were wandering in the desert -- are just done. They're old. I think I got them when Aisling was two. But I never throw shoes out, sometimes because of sentimental attachment (I know....I know...) but mostly because of money. But after a while, you just have to give up.

It became apparent before I even left the house that it was harder walking while wearing the sandals than just going barefoot, but I thought the library staff might be slightly disapproving if I entered the library domain with my teachery tote bag and my professional mien and bare feet, so I persisted, mostly because I'd just painted my toenails and it seemed like a shame to cover them up.

Thus, I frolicked barefoot in the classroom and my students were none the wiser.

But you know what was wiser? My feet. My back. MY NECK. Yes, all those things were very upset at the lack of a cushion between my soles and the tastefully carpeted cement floor and three hours of walking around on it took their toll and last night I had the WORST night of sleep I've had for a long time, totally unable to shake the aching, even with about nine ibuprofen. Which is why this post seems kind of foggy and rambling.

And which I hope is completely unlike anything else I write. *gulp*

Oh, the many joys of middle age!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another Hamlet!!!

Suffering from great walloping amounts of big spitty excitement today because today at Shakespeare, my friend Dwan (no, not DAWN, it's DWAN) told me that the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet with David Tennant as the tormented prince and Patrick Stewart as Claudius CAME OUT YESTERDAY ON DVD!!!

I am too excited and very, very glad that tomorrow is payday because I AM GOING TO OWN THIS VERSION, oh yes I am. Especially since this fall's Shakespeare Workshop has already been announced as -- you guessed it -- Hamlet.

I don't think I could ever have enough versions of this play: they're all really good, even the Hollywood version starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. A lot of people pan that version because so much script-cutting was done to pare the three-hour script down to a screenplay length suitable for the cinema instead of the stage, but Glenn Close is excellent as the guilty-as-sin Gertrude and Mel Gibson brings his Lethal Weapon twitchiness to his portrayal of Hamlet -- you keep expecting him to re-locate his dislocated shoulder on the dank wall of Elsinore Castle -- and I think the people who don't like it are just a bunch of ol' snobs.

But enough about Mel. David Tennant! David! Tennant! And PATRICK STEWART! I can hardly wait to get my hot little hands on that DVD.

"Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking...."

Ahh, look what I found - a picture of my grandparents, circa 1977, I'm thinking. Grandad's holding his pipe and obviously trying to explain what he was thinking when he bought that jacket -- he's always been a flashy dresser, famous for his go-to-hell golf pants and up until recently, a rainbow-colored wardrobe of neon-bright Lacoste shirts -- with Ma trying to get the better of him but always failing because she was the kindest person in the world and would never come right out and say, "I win because your jacket looks like the upholstery on the interior of a Mercury Grand Marquis."

They were always Coupe de Ville people anyway. Except for Ma's pink and white '57 Chevy that I accidentally back down her hilly driveway when I was three, and her olive green Barracuda. We used to go hill-jumping in that thing out on state road 109 where it wound across the ridges of the Blue River and down into the shallow little valley.

I called her Ma because when I first began addressing her, I was too small to form the word "Grandma" -- I was a child prodigy who walked at nine months and spoke complete, if garbled, sentences at fourteen months (all that smarty-pants-ness came screeching to a halt when I started trying to count.) I'm kind of sorry that name stuck because it didn't do her justice: she would have been better fit with the title "Best Grandmother the World Has Seen or Ever Will See, World Without End, Amen."

Anyway, she was my Julia Child-loving grandma, the one who sat and giggled with helpless delight when Julia said on one of her shows, "First, you take a leek....." It's her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that I used last night to make the beef bourguignon. She died when I was eighteen -- over half my life has been lived without her -- and I have never gotten over it. Probably never will.

Grandad is approaching his ninetieth birthday, so very old and frail. He can't feed himself anymore, having had a stroke the weekend before last -- we thought it would be the end of him, but he's a tough old nut -- and I was feeding him some chocolate pudding and a cold can of strawberry Ensure when I went to visit last Friday. I thought he might like a drink of water, so I held the straw to his lips and he took a slurp, his heavy eyelids widening in surprise.

"Heyyyy," he slurred indignantly, "thasss not Essssurrrre."

"I thought you might like a drink of water," I explained.

"Donnn like waaaaterrrrr," he advised me, giving me a crooked smile. "Esssssurrrrrre or nothinnn'."

Ensure it was!

As it turned out....

See that smiling man? The same man I wrote about with such appreciation yesterday, gushing over how he started out in our marriage of nearly nineteen years by liking steaks cooked until they were really and truly dead beyond any hope of resuscitation (he now likes them so that they're still emitting faint moos when served) and CANNED BISCUITS, but now likes the good food from my beloved Julia cookbooks?

Well. Yesterday evening, the table was set -- with a centerpiece, even! -- and the girls carried in the soup plates piled high with lusciously steaming beef bourguignon served on a bed of fluffy rice. Other than the fact that I had no fresh parsley to garnish each serving with as Julia asked me to do, it looked really nice. So hearty! So home-cooked! So French!

We said the grace before meals and lifted our forks, rapturously chewing the first few tender bites and my husband cheerfully remarked, "This reminds me of the stuff I used to eat for dinner when I was in the army."

The faint cha-chinging sound I heard in the distance may have been the oven timer going off. Or it may have been the sound of my Mother's Day gift being automatically upgraded.