Sunday, August 29, 2010

RECIPE: Oatmeal in the Slow-Cooker (and variations)

Yesterday after my husband and I got home from church (the girls went to Mass on Saturday evening), we opened the back door and were greeted by the delicious and wonderful smell of slow-cooked oatmeal wafting through the house. Jazzed up with apples and peaches and spiced with cinnamon and cloves, it was a fragrance that could make you want to get a warm bowl and curl up on the sofa all wrapped in your Snuggie, if it weren't ninety-four frikking degrees outside.

Oatmeal, I believe, is one of the most perfect foods ever. With what other food can you whip up a practically instant batch of those no-bake oatmeal-and-cocoa cookies? What other food allowed your great-grandma to stretch a humble pound and a half of ground beef into two during the Depression? What other food is so retro and heart-healthy, but can still be referred to as porridge? My dears, I give you oatmeal.

I posted the recipe for Pumpkin Brunch Oatmeal here at InsomniMom almost one year ago today, but today I'm going to post the recipe for just the plain, straight-up slow-cooked version with a couple of variations so that you can find your family's preference by playing around with it.

I also need to mention that this recipe is not my invention. This recipe originally belonged to my internet friend Colleen and I was so pleased with the results that I decided to see what I could do to tweak it here and there. For instance, Colleen's original recipe called for both white and brown sugars and all of us McKinneys are either trying to watch our weight or our blood sugar or both, so I substituted Splenda as a sweetner substitute for the white sugar. Little things like that make for a recipe that's either a once-in-a-while kind of thing because it's so naughty, or something that we all love and can have fairly frequently.


6 scant cups of old-fashioned oats
4 cups of milk
3 cups of hot water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Splenda
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Spray slow-cooker crock with non-stick spray. Put all ingredients in the crock and stir to combine. Set the slow-cooker's heat to Low and cook for three hours. Serve in bowls and allow the rest to cool; store in the refrigerator for up to four days and heat in the microwave by the bowl for a quick breakfast.

6 scant cups of oatmeal
1 small jar of cinnamon applesauce
2 apples, cored and cut into small chunks
2 peaches, pitted and cut into small chunks
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Splenda
2 eggs, beaten
1 can evaporated milk
1 can hot water
1 measuring cup of hot water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon ginger

And a few more ideas:
  • Use approximately three cups of apple cider instead of the applesauce
  • If it's winter time and fresh peaches are not to be found, use a large can of sliced peaches (I always use the no-sugar added type -- along with their juice
  • Use four apples instead of two apples and two peaches
  • Use four peaches instead of two apples and two peaches
  • Use any kind of fruit juice (I use the organic kind in the health food section that has no added sugar) instead of the applesauce
  • Add dates, raisins or currants
  • Add walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or sunflower seeds
  • Try a little shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetend)
  • Substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar or the Splenda
  • Use a flavored coffee creamer instead of the three cups of milk
  • Use eggnog instead of the milk
There should always be a certain ration of liquid-to-oatmeal in the crock. The original recipe will make a fairly dense oatmeal, which is the way we like it at our house; we'd rather add more milk ourselves because, naturally, all four of us prefer different consistencies in the finished product. I like mine very creamy, so I add a great deal of warm milk to my bowl, along with about three packets of Splenda. My husband recklessly throws milk and brown sugar into his bowl; Meelyn doesn't want anything with raisins in it, so I leave those out and set out a little dish of raisins for those who'd like to have some. Aisling is an oatmeal fanatic and eats it however she can get it.

The cooking time is the same no matter how you vary the recipe -- three hours is generally just fine. If you're using fresh fruit,just make sure to cut it into small pieces so that it will be soft when the oatmeal is served.

Friday, August 27, 2010

There are some things that make me angry

I firmly believe that every profession has this kind of person in it, but my field is teaching, so I know the kind of person I'm talking about, but I'm sure you'll be able to relate to this kind of person in your profession. If you're moved to make roll your eyes or mime sticking your finger down your throat, please feel free.

But before I explain the person, I want to explain myself: I'm a teacher. It's the only thing I ever wanted to do, other than be, like, a ballerina when I was five. I also wanted to be Ann Wilson for a while, but my singing voice makes the birds fall out of the trees, dead on the sidewalk. So anyway. I kind of feel compelled to teach people stuff and whether that's because I'm really bossy and bossy people enjoy being in classrooms or whether because I enjoy being in classrooms because it gives me a chance to boss people around, I don't know. It's a chicken/egg conundrum.

I love teaching.

But you know what I don't love? Educrats. Educrats are the kind of people who are so bent on EDUCATION that they forget all about teaching. They're about the process and the methods and the theories and all those classes in the university course catalog that start with ED. You can tell who they are because when they get up to talk to a classroom full of people, it's like each person being hit, on an individual basis, in the head with a baseball bat.

Stuffy. Boring. Droning. Dull.

They don't teach. They educate. They are educators or even educationists. Quite often, they're smug.

They are definitely not teachers.

I hate it when I have to spend time with those people. It makes me angry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mission unaccomplished

Yesterday when I took Aisling to her piano lessons, I went to the McDonald's drive-thru near the piano teacher's house to get myself a Diet Coke and an oatmeal cookie. But a snack was not my only mission: I was also on an errand of sorts.

Here's the thing: Last winter, when it was still really freaking cold outside, I went to this same McDonald's to get a cup of coffee and an oatmeal cookie. As I pulled up to the drive-thru, shivering in the freezing air that rushed through my window, the cashier looked out and said with a smile, "You're good to go. The lady in the car ahead of you paid for your order and told me to tell you to have a nice day."

I peered ahead at the car, thinking that maybe it was one of my friends, but I didn't recognize the vehicle. In fact, it was from a county east of my home county, one that I don't often go to because my life tends to operate west towards Indianapolis. No, I definitely didn't know the driver, but at that moment, we became friends.

Since there was no way to thank her -- she turned right out of the parking lot and headed for the interstate -- I decided that I'd do the same thing for someone someday. And would you believe, I've had the HARDEST TIME EVER accomplishing this seemingly simple task?

For one thing, if someone pulls up behind me in the drive-thru line, I have to make sure it's just one person and not an entire family ordering a meal. I think my husband would quite possibly frown on a debit transaction at McDonald's where I paid for my own soda and cookie and also $22 for two extra value meals, four Happy Meals and a chocolate shake.

Another consideration is that it can't be a busy time, because it would be too hard to explain what I want to do -- I have a tendency to babble like a lunatic when I'm nervous -- with a huge line of cars behind me and a cashier anxious to just take my money and move me along, with no interest whatsoever in hearing about my do-gooder-isms. Fortunately, piano lessons are from 1:00-2:00, which isn't usually a crowded time. Or so you'd think.

So far, every single time I've gone to this McDonald's for the past six months, there's been a caravan of cars lined up behind me, and every single one of them is full like one of those cars at the circus that holds fifteen clowns and a poodle. Why? WHY?

The debut of The Meal Matrix

My friend Julia, whose son, Sam, is one of my favorite religious ed students, like, ever, remarked in a tone of awe when I told her that I operate my kitchen on a meal matrix, "I didn't know you could do that."

"I have to do that," I admitted. "Otherwise, I end up making chili, meatloaf and tacos over and over again and after a few weeks, everyone in my family threatens drag me out to the park and make me eat grass and wet leaves until I agree to make something else for dinner."

She wanted to know what the Meal Matrix looked like and how it worked. I thought this would be a good time for me to go ahead and type it out, not only so that Julia can see it, but so that I can get it set down permanently for myself. Because one time last winter? I thought I lost the paper I wrote the matrix on and I fell into a terrible funk and kept sending anguished emails to The Keanu Reeves Fan Club and served everyone cold cereal every night for a week. Plus the president of the fan club may or may not have taken out a restraining order against me. I can't remember. It was a dark time.

Here's how it goes:

1) First of all, I sat down and thought about the different kinds of meals we like. We like the standard beef, chicken and pork meals -- you should just try my garlicky pork roast that's been simmered all day in the slow-cooker -- and we all like breakfast-for-dinner, homemade pizza and Mexican dishes. I also decided to reserve space every two weeks for meals that I designated as Easy/Cheap, for those nights when I just don't feel like cooking, or the weeks when I'm trying a more ambitious recipe that eats up more of my grocery budget than, say, eggs on toast.

2) Next, I got out a legal tablet and made columns, one column for each menu choice. For example, one column was labeled "Chicken," another labeled "Mexican" and so on. My columns for my family's preferences were as follows: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Mexican, Soup, Pizza, Spaghetti Night, Breakfast-for-Dinner, Easy/Cheap, Seafood/Meatless and New.

3) In each column, I listed the appropriate meals for the heading. For instance, in the Chicken column, I wrote: Chicken Pot Pie, Baked Chicken & Stuffing, Julia Chicken, Crispy Oven Chicken and Chicken, Broccoli & Rice Casserole and Chicken & Mushroom Casserole. Those are all recipes that I know how to make and that we all like. I tried to make sure I had at least 4-6 items per column so there'd be some variety. In some columns, there were eight or nine different entries, which I found interesting. Obviously, I like to cook some foods better than others.

Here are a couple of notes: I added one dinner a month to try out a new recipes, my choice. I also try to make sure I have a slow-cooker meal for Sunday, because that's Mom's day of rest too and I don't want to spend it in the kitchen.

4) When I got that all figured out, I got yet another piece of paper and, in four rows, I listed the days of the week, just as you see in the picture above. I looked at all my different column headings and divided them up so that we're always eating something different -- there aren't two fish meals placed back-to-back, for instance.

Here's what I ended up with for each month:

Monday - Chicken
Tuesday - Beef
Wednesday - Soup
Thursday - Pizza
Friday - Seafood/Meatless
Saturday - Mexican
Sunday - Pork

Monday - Beef
Tuesday - Chicken
Wednesday - Breakfast-for-Dinner
Thursday - Easy/Cheap
Friday - Seafood/Meatless
Saturday - Spaghetti Night
Sunday - Chicken

Monday - Chicken
Tuesday - Beef
Wednesday - Soup
Thursday - New Recipe
Friday - Seafood/Meatless
Saturday - Mexican
Sunday - Pork

Monday - Beef
Tuesday - Pork
Wednesday - Breakfast-for-Dinner
Thursday - Easy/Cheap
Friday - Seafood/Meatless
Saturday - Spaghetti Night
Sunday - New Recipe

I found that this is a nice way to keep everything fresh in the kitchen. I mean, with my menu-planning. If you ever find a way to keep everything fresh in the refrigerator, or learn how to avoid finding a tin of sage that's been pushed to the back of the pantry shelf and reads "Best if Used by 2-26-99," please let me know. I mean "fresh" as in, "not cooking the same things over and over" which is important when cooking for a family.

My personal opinion -- and boy, do I ever have a lot of them -- is that moms should be always trying new things once or twice a month, not only to strengthen our own skills in the kitchen, which is the heart of the home, but also to avoid falling into the kind of rut that sends children out into the world as the kind of adult eaters who are so finicky, you just want to bash them over the head with a skillet.

"I don't like rice. I don't eat eggs. No vegetables, not even potatoes. I don't like Italian food. I can't eat anything with onions in it. Why? Well, because I don't like them. Oh, and I can't eat bananas, pickles, any kind of salad dressing, food imported from Brazil, any kind of cheese because it gives me gas or soups made from a chicken broth base."

"Really? Well, would you mind telling me: WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU EAT?"

"Ummm....chicken nuggets and french fries. And maybe corn. If it's from a can, not frozen. And chocolate milk."

See, parents have a responsibility to make sure that this kind of thing is not turned loose in society. And since parents are the ones who cook, well, that means that some actual cooking is going to have to take place and we can't rely on frozen convenience foods and/or packaged items all the time. Some of the time, yes. We have to allow ourselves room to serve fish sticks and Stouffer's macaroni and cheese sometimes. But we need to PLAN and SHOP for those meals and try our best not to be flinging ourselves into the grocery store at 5:35 p.m. with a wild look in our eyes and start throwing microwave dinners into a cart. That's not going to cut it. We all wind up with headaches and everyone grumbles that dinner sucks AGAIN and it's no way to develop a child's palate into an adult's palate.

So! Maybe the Meal Matrix will help. It has helped me enormously. The original idea isn't mine; it actually came from my internet friend Johanna. But it's brilliant and it makes planning and shopping and cooking a variety of meals so much easier, you just won't believe it.

Email me if you decide to try the Meal Matrix and tell me if you think it's helped you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Menu Plan Monday, on Tuesday but who's counting?

I am not totally certain what kind of brain cramp afflicted me yesterday, but it caused me to forget to post my menus for the week. I am so sorry about that because I know that some of you probably tossed and turned all night last night wondering what I was serving. I hope you've managed to toil thus far through Tuesday without chewing your fingernails down to the quick. Fear not, I have come to rescue you. Go on and heave your sighs of relief.

Menu Plan for the Week of August 23, 2010 -

The Last Week of Summer Break

Monday - Oven-baked Chicken Patty Sandwiches (picture a McChicken) and oven-baked potato puffs. And peas. Because we really needed something healthy. It's just that I worked all day and was really busy and didn't have time to cook something real. My husband ate two sandwiches and everyone was very complimentary and said it was the best dinner we'd had in a while so after dinner I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and banged my head on the counter.

Tuesday - Whole wheat spaghetti with homemade Ragù Americana in the slow-cooker, served with toasted garlic bread. It's cooking right now (four hours on low, omit the water from the recipe) and the house smells like a homey trattoria.

Wednesday - Old-fashioned Hoosier bean soup with smoked sausage and corn bread baked in my iron skillet.

Thursday - I'm doing a mini-workshop on The Tempest, so there are a bunch of adults and students coming over for a pitch in. We're doing hamburger and hot dogs with all the buns and condiments and the like, plus potato chips and homemade dip. All the other families are bringing a dish and it should be a fun, fun time. Because, Shakespeare!

Friday - I wish to be taken out to eat on this night and I'm hoping for Ruby Tuesdays, but I'd settle for Bob Evans.

This past weekend, the girls and I made the last Taco Salad of the season for Saturday's dinner, and on Sunday, I made homemade noodles and plopped a gorgeous roast in the slow-cooker with some onions and carrots. The house smelled incredible all afternoon and dinner was delicious.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Because it is indeed Satan's Lair

I believe it was my friend Todd who referred to Wal-Mart as Satan's Lair. Could that be a better description of Wal-Mart, particularly those stores designated as Supercenters?

Another friend, Annette, once expressed disdain for enormous stores where one could stand in the center aisle and, looking down it, perceive the curvature of the earth. She said that to me about a thousand years ago, but I've always remembered it, especially after I've been trudging up and down that same center aisle for about ninety minutes, trying to cross items off my list with a ballpoint pen that ran out of ink five minutes after I entered the store. I think of it while murmuring, "Antacid tablets....toilet paper...a stapler....Windex.... bananas.... a bird feeder.... cheese.... a set of tires.... raspberry sorbet...." and criss-crossing the store, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in some kind of minuet of doom.

Today, the girls and I were in Wal-Mart long enough for all three of us to become totally frayed as to patience, plus hot. In someone like me -- pumpkin-shaped, middle-aged and inclined to be snappish and moody when forced to shop -- the combination of hot and Wal-Mart is never a happy mixture. But then there are normal people like Meelyn, and the people like Aisling and my friend Beth, who claim to be always, always "Freeeeeeeeeeezing": When those people say they're hot, it must be bad.

So by the time we slowly pushed our loaded cart with our last little bit of remaining strength to the check-out line in the Garden Center, we were dragging. But not so slow and draggy that we couldn't take pity on the woman behind us. She was standing there with two items and a little boy of about seven. I felt sorry for her, knowing that she must be looking at our cart and the three thousand items and wondering if she'd make it out of the store by midnight, so I said to her; "Would you like to go in line in front of us?"

The woman did not acknowledged my presence by either a glance in my direction or a thank you, but I noticed that she stepped up very smartly and banged her two items down on the conveyor belt so that the cashier could ring them up. She maintained a withering silence when the cashier wished her a pleasant afternoon and barked a stern "SHUT. UP," at her son when he pointed out a bird that had flown into the Garden Center and alighted on a rafter.

"If I'd known she was going to make such a fuss about it, I would have just kept quiet," I whispered dryly to the girls. "Honestly, she's just embarrassing me with all her sloppy gratitude."

"I myself found it a bit excessive when she wanted to kiss your hand," remarked Meelyn as the woman stalked out of the store, hauling her son along by the hand.

Aisling sighed and said, "I don't understand why you feel you have to be so nice to people all the time. Why do you do it? Are you trying to set a good example for us? Because if you are, this one kind of backfired."

Stung, I replied, "I don't ask people if they want to go in front of me in the Wal-Mart line so that I can hear them sing my praises for being so generous, if that's what you're implying."

"Then why were you being so sarcastic just a minute ago?"

I thought about that for a moment and said,"SHUT. UP." But then added, "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that. I think the atmosphere of Wal-Mart has a bad effect on me." I glanced around uneasily and looked up at that rafter for the bird, wondering if it had keeled over and fallen to the cement, as dead as a doornail.

"You know, we could always go to Meijer," Meelyn said helpfully. "Or Target. And don't forget K-Mart."

I thought that over. Why were we at Wal-Mart? Target and Meijer were both very close, less than five minutes away from where we were standing. K-Mart was less than ten. So why were we there?

This is what I've decided: Wal-Mart must have some addictive substance piped in through the air vents. The substance -- maybe something like crack? -- infects us and sets up a dependency that we know is bad and harmful, yet we just can't stay away. We have to come back for another fix, and incidentally rack up about $75 in impulse purchases because it is suddenly imperative to buy a new pillow for the bed in the guest room, even though the next overnight guests aren't expected until the week after Christmas. THE PILLOW, IT MUST BE BOUGHT. NOW.

That's my theory. I may be right, I may be wrong. Since I try to enter Wal-Mart four times a year, tops, it may take me a while to test this hypothesis. However, we may know that it's true sooner than I anticipate if I find myself suddenly being drawn there....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Being called a "hottie" now has a whole new meaning...

I am here to tell you that there is a big difference -- HUGE -- between just being hot and having a hot flash.

Being hot means you may be a bit uncomfortable. Maybe even a tiny bit, you know, sweaty. You may be okay to be outside as long as you're wearing shorts and can sit in the shade of a big old tree, sipping on something cold.

But a hot flash? Oh my gracious goodness. Hot flashes are very, very different. Because when you get a hot flash, your first desire is to get to the nearest body of water -- bathtub, swimming pool, fishing pond, or that really deep pothole on state road 238 that could take out the rear axle of your car -- and immerse as much of your body as will fit, gasping and splashing.

Your second priority with a hot flash is to just start removing clothing, wherever you are. Which could be alarming to other people if you are in, say, a crowded elevator. Or in church. Although come to think of it, with some of the things I've seen people wear to church, you might not be all that much out of place.

Hot flashes are unpleasant things to experience. It's not fun to feel as if you've been overtaken by an unrelenting wave of radiant heat, especially at night when you're jerked out of a sound sleep and are suddenly throwing off the blankets out of nowhere, flailing around in the sheets like a flounder on the deck of a deep-sea fishing vessel. Especially when your spouse crossly mumbles, "Quit uncovering my back! It's FREEZING in here."

Of course, I don't know any of this from personal experience, seeing as how I'm only in my early thirties and a long way from menopause or even peri-menopause. A LONG, LONG way.

Oh, just shut up.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A chance to do some free cussin'

When I was a child, we used to drive past this theater in Osgood, Indiana in Ripley County on our way to see Uncle Graham, Aunt Mimi and Carol. Please believe me when I tell you that I never, not even one single time, missed the opportunity to remark casually from the back seat, "Look. There's that DAMM THEATER again."

It never failed to send my mother into orbit, which was, of course, my purpose. She could hardly punish me for calling the place by it name, could she? In all fairness, she could not. Although I do remember that she once darkly mentioned the intent of my heart, but I argue to this day -- strenuously -- that my objective was not to curse, but rather to see how fast I could get her head to turn on her neck as she whipped around and glared at me over the seat.

As I drove through Osgood a few weeks ago, I giggled at the memory and pulled over to the side of the road to take this picture. I came home wondering how this little bitty theater in this little tiny town got its name. My Google search was rewarded by the discovery of The Damm Theater website, As it turns out, the Damm Theater was named for its owner, a German immigrant whose name was Louis Damm, who purchased it from two other townsmen in 1922. The original name of Osgood's theater was the Columbia, but I think that Damm is really catchy, allowing one a certain frisson of naughty pleasure that the staid and solid "Columbia" just doesn't offer, don't you?

Mr. Damm was both energetic and enterprising and saw to it that the theater -- moved across the street from its original location -- was open five nights a week for Osgood's moviegoers instead of just one. The theater seated four hundred people and also had a sizeable maple hardwood dance floor on the second story of the building.

I've never been inside the theater, but the website tells readers that many original elements are still there to be seen: cast-iron seats with red velvet upholstery, molded tin ceilings and wall sconces. It has been restored, and current owners Robert and Judy Damm are working to get the theater listed with the National Register of Historic Places, which would surely be a good thing. Because it has so much history -- I found the website extremely interesting -- but also because it has the greatest name, like, ever.

RECIPE: Crispy Oven Chicken

Crispy Oven Chicken has been a family favorite since Meelyn was a kindergartener - this was what she requested for dinner on her first day of school 'way back a long time ago when she was only five and I was STILL thirty-five. Oh, wait...I'm thirty-nine now. Kind of. Never mind.

Anyway, Crispy Oven Chicken is easy to make and very delicious and goes with just about any side dish you'd care to serve with it - it leaves enough room in the oven that you can bake a broccoli casserole or roast some potatoes right alongside it and everything can come out at the exact same time, ready for the table. It has all the crispy goodness of pan-fried chicken without the guilt. Deeelicious!

Crispy Oven Chicken


5 or 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (soaked in buttermilk to tenderize for two or three hours, if you prefer)
1 stick of butter, melted and poured into a shallow pan (I use an 8x8 baking dish)
5 cups crispy rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (use 1/4 teaspoon if you prefer a less spicy coating)


Pour rice, flour and seasonings into a 1-gallon sized plastic bag; crunch up cereal. Remove chicken breasts from buttermilk. Dredge meat in the butter and then place, piece by piece, into the bag of rice cereal; toss to coat. Place coated chicken breast in a 9x13 baking dish; repeat until all chicken breasts are coated. Press any remaining topping onto chicken breasts and drizzle the meat with any remaining butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about forty minutes or until juice run clear when thickest chicken breast is pierced in the middle with a fork.

Leftovers are very yummy when sliced up or cut into chunks and made into sandwiches for the next day's lunch.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Princes: Two for the Spin Doctors and one who's all mine

See, the problem with watching shows like VH-1's "Greatest Hits of the 80s" and "Greatest Hits of the 90s" is that my husband and I sit, utterly mesmerized, waiting for the next hit on the countdown to be announced....and the next one....and the next one....and we're saying the whole time, "Oh, do you remember the first time we heard this song?" and "I can't believe we still know all the words, NOW THAT WE'RE TOTALLY ANCIENT and all" and "This was the song on the radio when we took your Trans Am through the car wash on our honeymoon to get all the writing off it and the T-tops weren't in right because we were in such a hurry to get away and water came in and poured down my back and got my going-away dress all wet."

True story.

Anyway, this is one of those classics that makes me get all weepy every time I hear it. I think it's one of the sweetest marriage proposal songs ever, "Two Princes" by the Spin Doctors. Every time I hear it, I remember being engaged and how my then husband-to-be would leave my house every evening at a respectable time -- I was a very demure fifth grade teacher in a Christian school -- and drive home as fast as he could. He'd call me as soon as he walked in the door of his place and we'd talk on the phone all night long. It's a good thing we were only engaged for six weeks before we got married because I don't know how long we both could have kept up with that grueling pace. Only after we were married and I realized how much sleep my husband needs did I realize how heroic he'd been in staying up all night nearly all the time. Definitely a prince, he was. And is.

My family is either full of perseverance or lacks gumption: Which?

These images are positive proof that my family has gained a well-deserved reputation for being either very stick-to-it-tivey or a great bunch of dullards, I'm not sure which.

I took these pictures last weekend at two different family plots. The picture of that single tombstone? I can't remember the name on it because I didn't write it down and it's too hard to see in the picture (I think her name was Margaret), but the person buried there is one of my grandmothers, several greats down a long and dusty pioneer road, a forebear of my own great-grandmother, Hazel Williams Houser. The shot of the pretty little graveyard on the hillside nestles the sleeping ancestors of my great-grandfather, Hazel's husband, Robert Lee Houser. The two of them, my mother's grandparents, were married on December 25, 1912 and they were a truly beautiful couple. If they'd been born farther into the twentieth century, I'm sure they would have been movie stars, but as it was, they were too busy farming to go off to get head shots made and present themselves at auditions and the like.

My family toiled their way off the boats from England, Scotland and Ireland, made brief stops in Pennsylvania and then came to Indiana, which used to be considered the Wild West. They plunked down all their belongings amidst the virgin timber -- one family history records the overwhelming fact that the originator of graveyard number one, the husband buried next to that single tombstone? He bought a tract of land that was so covered with trees that it took him TWO YEARS to clear it by hand so that the ground could be cultivated for farming. I read that and had to immediately take to the bed; it took me TWO YEARS to return four vastly overdue books back to the public library's outdoor drop-off, the one where you don't even have to get out of your car -- and said, "Here we are. This is home."

And home it has remained. Other people, like Laura Ingalls Wilder's father, Charles, enthusiastically scooped everyone out of their comfortable cabins (could there be a cozier book than Little House in the Big Woods?) and forced them to climb into prairie schooner wagons and trundle as far west as they could go without either being eaten by bears or falling into the Pacific. I could have had a great-great-grandmother who wrote books about her childhood travels across the country, catching malaria in the river flats and slapping at wolves with her sunbonnet, but instead, I just got born into the group that whittled rocking chairs out of the wood they cut from their land and then sat in them. Forever. It turns out that there's never been much of a call for books titled things like The Chairs We Loved and How We Sat in Them.

I could have been rich, living on the royalties from those books, and all my family with me, including my mom and my cousins Jane, Jay and Lana, who are all my Facebook friends. We could have set up the old home place as a pioneer museum and taken turns with other family members leading tour groups around while dressed in period clothing, spinning yarns about how great-great-great-great-grandpa Isaac could shoot the eye out of a squirrel at a hundred and fifty yards.
After my shift, I could have climbed into my Cadillac Escalade and driven to my very huge house with the acres of granite countertops covering the cherry cabinets in my kitchen, my kitchen with a fridge the size of my ancestor's original log cabin and a dishwasher and a trash masher and a plate warmer and a wine cooler and an ice machine and a six-burner gas range. And a fireplace, a big, wood-burning fireplace as a nod to the past, where someone else would cut the wood and bring it to my house on a truck and stack it neatly on a wood rack outside my back door.

I try not to be bitter about this, partly because I think that maybe this staying-in-one-place-forever thing doesn't really indicate a terrible lassitude on the part of my ancestors. Maybe what it really means is that my family is loyal: We found a place that treated us right, so we stayed there. We stayed to the point where my mother and father are actually distant cousins, and while that is mildly disturbing, it's not as disconcerting as the inadvertant cannibalism that was visited on my family by my step-gran, Mary Liz, a few months after she and Grandad were married in 1982.

We'd all been invited out to their house near Springport for dinner and Mary Liz had made an absolutely gorgeous red raspberry pie for dessert. Bless her, Mary Liz (who is now 89 and living in an assisted care facility with Grandad) has never been noted as one of the world's great cooks, but please believe me when I say that this pie was quite an achievement.

She served it proudly and we were all sitting there shoveling it in with the enthusiasm my family has always shown for good victuals. "Murry Lith," my mother said indistincly through the large bite of home-baked pie in her mouth. "Thith is delithious! Where'd you getthese beauthiful rathberries?" A slight spraying of lard-based crust crumbs delicately decorated her bosom as she spoke.

Mary Liz surveyed her own dessert plate with pride. "I walked down to that old graveyard yesterday and picked a whole bucket full," she announced brightly. "You just wouldn't believe how big those bushes are and how much fruit they have on them. I've never seen such growth!"

As one person, the entire family swallowed -- an uncomfortable action when what you have in your mouth has suddenly assumed the taste and texture of a circa 1836 burial shroud -- and pushed our plates away. Great gulps of coffee were consumed, possibly even swished and gargled. We sat for the remainder of the visit with lumps of ancestor-flavored raspberry pie lying in our outraged stomachs like chunks of marble tombstone.

So! When your family stays in one place for a long time, you can have private burying grounds with your kith and kin decently interred, a certain boon to those who enjoy filling in all the blanks on the family tree. You can tell yourself that your forebears were the very pioneers whose arrival and determined length of residence made it possible for such things as the Muncie Mall and Mt. Lawn Speedway to be built for the enjoyment of future generations.

But it is very, very hard to convince yourself that they taste good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Political correctness makes me crazy

This is a billboard that is displayed on a prominent roadway in my city and every time I look upon it I am forced to make vomit noises until it is several blocks behind me.

In this billboard, you can see someone -- a mom? a grandma? -- kneeling on the floor on what appears to be a grocery store. She's holding on to a little boy's upper arms and she appears to be bawling him out for some reason that's probably connected with the food items spilled on the floor beside the two of them.

The lettering on the sign reads: "Be Human. Be Humane. You can do something to prevent abuse of children and animals."

Now, there is a possibility that I am interpreting this billboard incorrectly. I am wrong sometimes. (I know! It surprises me, too!) But here's what I see: A little boy shopping with his mom in the grocery. Little boy is acting like a chimpanzee just brought in from the jungle because he knows his behavior is pressing mom's buttons, like, crazy-fast. PRESS! PRESS! PRESS! PRESS! He also knows that she may well offer a bribe, say, a toy from the toy aisle or some candy, perhaps, if he'll just stop it.

Mom continues along with her rotten little offspring, nerve endings twanging like the strings on a cheap banjo. Junior is stravaging along at a slow pace, running the tips of his fingers along a shelf full of pickles. Junior wonders just how hard he can run those fingers on the pickle jars without knocking one onto the floor and at a slight increased pressure from his hand, a jar goes plummeting onto the cement floor with a crash and a splash and then Mom just LOSES IT.

So you know what she does? She gets down on his level and grabs him by the arms to prevent him from taking flight and....SHE YELLS AT HIM. Because he's been acting like a brat and now there's going to have to be a clean-up in aisle four and she's put up with a LOT ever since they left the car but she's not putting up with any more, young man, and THERE WILL BE NO X-BOX TONIGHT OR FOR THE REST OF THIS WEEK.

Gosh, it's almost like I've done this before.

Yes, I have yelled at my kids. To be honest, I've never yelled at the in the grocery store, but that's only because my own mother taught me this really neat way of smiling a friendly little clenched-teeth grin while saying under the breath, "When we get home you are in so much trouble, oh, you just can't even believe the amount of trouble you're going to be in."

I've yelled at my kids at home, too. I mean, full-on banshee mode. I have sent them to their rooms, I have threatened them with impending doom, I have screamed that I am sick of their quarreling/loud music/forgetfulness when it comes to chore-doing and other things. I HAVE USED THEIR FULL NAMES. Countless times.

And get this: I've also yelled at my dogs. Just today, the UPS man came up to the porch and the dogs were acting like the Hillside Strangler accompanied by Marilyn Manson and Lawrence Taylor had just tried to tear down the front door. I told them to hush, then I snapped at them to be quiet and then I hollered at the top of my voice, "SHUT UP, YOU STUPID IDIOTS!"

So. Enroll me in a twelve step program or something. My name is Shelley and I am some kind of abuser who shouts at the naughty and the noisy who walk among us. At least I do at those who live under my roof.

What I don't understand is why yelling at someone is now considered abusive. I mean, I totally agree that we should all try to keep our tempers and be nicer and not call people morons, chuckleheads or horse stealers, but seriously. SERIOUSLY. Abusive? Really? Scolding someone in a raised voice is inhumane?

Because in my years as a teacher, I saw some abused children. And what they went through was so far beyond what's happening in the picture on that billboard, it really just offends me that the experiences are being given the same name. What's going on in that picture? That is NOT child abuse. True child abuse, whether emotional or physical, is so far beyond what's happening in the picture, it's like comparing above-the-knee leg amputation with clipping one's fingernails.

So! Once again, political correctness, which I perceive to be one of the scourges of post-modern America, has once again reared its ugly head to tell us that we are bad, bad people for YELLING. We should be open and inclusive and tolerant of any and all CRAP that society and/or young children care to dish out, or we're going to be branded as INHUMANE and ABUSIVE. And OH, HERE I AM YELLING IN WORD-FORM AND I SHOULD BE CARTED AWAY TO THE ZOO BECAUSE I AM NOT A HUMAN BEING ANY MORE.

I've got a billboard suggestion myself. I think there should be a billboard with this same picture, only the wording should be changed to read something like: Children. You can prevent grocery store meltdowns. Stop your whining. Quit fighting with your sister. And don't you dare even think about poking your finger through that plastic bag holding the dried lentils. Behave yourself like a civilized child and Mommy will not lose her temper with you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Oh, Menu Plan Monday! How sorely we've missed thee! I fell off the menu-planning bandwagon back in early June and never managed to climb back on and let me tell you -- we have spent a flippin' FORTUNE on food this summer, all due to the fact that my grocery shopping has been a hit-or-miss affair. Or maybe it could be better characterized as "miss-or-miss," since I haven't been writing anything down. And I find that when I don't write things down, like the fact that if I plan to make a broccoli casserole, I need to buy broccoli, I end up going to the grocery four thousand times, getting tetchier at each visit, and managing to throw a few extra impulse buys into the cart with the final result that my grocery budget exploded a couple of weeks ago and I'm still trying to get the stains off the ceiling.

I should have stuck with Laura over at I'm an Organizing because she is, as her blog title says, organized. And frankly, I'm just not sure what I have going on over here right now, but I beg you not to stop by if you're in the area because we'll all be sad. Mostly me.


Menu Plan for the Week of August 16, 2010

Monday - Spanish Dogs (really spicy chili dogs served on buns and topped with shredded cheese and minced onion) and oven-baked potato puffs seasoned with that Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, which I would eat on ice cream if allowed by my family.

Tuesday - Seafood Enchiladas à la Chi-Chi's served with frijoles refritos and Mexican corn cake

Wednesday - Crispy Chicken (recipe following on InsomniMom: Facebook Edition later on) with broccoli and rice casserole -- I actually remembered the broccoli -- and croissant rolls

Thursday -- Mexican Chili garnished with corn chips, shredded Colby-Jack and green onion

Friday -- Out for dinner somewhere, maybe somewhere extra-delicious like one of those fast-food places with dollar menus. Or a pizza. Woo.

Last Saturday, which is actually the beginning of my Menu Plan Monday week, my husband and I went to Bob Evans and the girls took themselves off to Fazoli's. On Sunday, we went to Nanny and Poppy's house to celebrate Pat's forty-first birthday and had grilled T-bone steaks, barbecued ribs, cheesy potato casserole, green beans, corn on the cob and the Ultimate Chocolate Cake, which nearly killed all of us with the sugar overload, but boy, was it ever good.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A whole new world

Do any of you remember the cartoon featuring the animated skunk, Pepe Le Pew?

For those of you who don't remember Pepe or are too young to have enjoyed Merrie Melodies cartoons while lying on the sofa under a blanket while your grandma made you Lipton chicken noodle soup on days when you stayed home from school sick, Pepe was a skunk. And it has recently become plain to me that he was a SKUNK. If you know what I mean.

Pepe was a skunk, a lovelorn French skunk, who had fallen madly and desperately in love with a black lady cat. The cartoons were all about his pursuit of the lady cat, the one whose "leeps said non, non, non, but whose eyeeeesssss said yess, yesss, yesss." Which is disturbing when I think about this an adult. Because the lady cat? She did not return his affections. In fact, she did everything she could to get away from him, but there he still was, a smelly rodent stalker.

So he stunk in more ways than one.

I don't think these cartoons are shown anymore, at least I fervently hope not. I stumbled across one on YouTube, just a short little clip, and it was perfectly apparent to me that Pepe is the most vile of sexual harrassers, quite possibly guilty of misdemeanor assault. He was meant to be sweet, silly and crafty in the ways of amour like all lusty Frenchmen (which is strange in itself, giving children the impression that men from France are all potential date rapists?), dead-set on wooing his lady, whom he had mistaken for a fellow member of the biological family Mephitidae.

But nowadays? Ewwww!!! Sexual predator, much! Pepe, I used to think you were so cute and funny, but now I think you're just a weirdo who needs counseling and a jail term. Check out this video of Pepe in action and see what you think.

My innocence is just, like, ALL GONE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A new kind of drinking game

In all this stifling weather we're experiencing, I'd like to propose a new kind of drinking game, different than the ones that SOME PEOPLE played as undergraduates, where they took a swig of some beverage every time Oprah says the word "feel" or "feelings" or every time a favorite sports team scores a touchdown or a three point shot or whatever. I have heard of those kinds of activities, but never participated in them myself because I was always way too busy praying or taking baskets of food to the poor.

Anyway, my proposal is that every time we hear someone say the words "heat," "humidity," or "hot," we all have to drink a bottle of water. That way, we'll all stay very hydrated and all the people my age won't dry up like mummies and have that crinkly, dessicated look that a piece of bologna gets if someone carelessly re-wraps the package and leaves a slice of the lunch meat exposed to air.

Plus, I am anxiously looking forward to colder weather, when we can all play a game where we all have to pull on our Snuggies and curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate every time we hear the words/phrases "snow," "wind chill," "cold front," "sleet," "slush," "icy rain," "winter storm watch," "school cancellations," "salt trucks".....if you can think of any other words to add to this list, please send them to me as I am interested in perfecting this game and look deeply forward to playing it this coming winter.

Monday, August 9, 2010

In which I see casinos as happy, benevolent places with my best interests at heart

I spent the past weekend with my cousin Carol and my Uncle Graham in beautiful Madison, Indiana. We had, as expected, a wonderful time together, mostly staying at home and talking, but also going out and about to see some sights and taste some food and best of all, drive up and down on the hill that I used to refer to as "THE MOUNTAIN" when I was a child. To be frank, it still seems pretty mountainy to me, but Carol assures me -- as she's whipping her SUV back and forth around the switchback curves -- it is nothing more than a gentle slope, practically just a bump.

We were driving down that very bump (me hanging onto my purse with a white-knuckled grasp) on our way to a very special treat the two of them had cooked up for me on Saturday afternoon: a trip to Belterra casino in Vevay (pronounced, Hoosier-like, "VeeVee" and all of you of Swiss heritage can burst into tears right about now...) to play the penny slots.

I, raised in a home that eschewed all forms of gambling, cussing, chewing and hanging around with unshaven men, had never been to a casino before, ever in my life. The most I've ever done, casino-wise, is drive past the one that looms large in my city while on my way to Wal-Mart. But Carol's been telling me stories about those penny slot machines for many years and she decided that this was the very weekend for me to find out for myself.

So, Belterra is pretty much a heeeyoooge castle-like structure with a beautifully manicured golf course and grounds, set down in the middle of some cornfields, right? It rears majestically above the flat prairie, all white façade and fountains and flowers and glittery lights. I admit to goggling at it like a straw-chewing tourist from the sticks and even though I've traveled abroad and seen the Roman Coliseum and the ruins of Pompeii and the view from the pinnacle of Capri, I don't recall seeing any big signs with flashing lights welcoming me to those places and offering me a free Diet Coke. And besides, Pompeii made me light-headed and ill, what with all those plaster casts of ancient folks writhing in their death agonies and all. Yuck.

Once we'd obtained our free soft drinks, Carol started showing me around all the different penny slots. This was quite an education for me, who had thought up to that point that there was one kind of slot machine: one that turned up triple cherries if you pulled its arm the right way. Imagine my surprise at finding shiny, happy computer graphics covering every subject matter you could imagine, but all operating on the exact same principle; it was kind of like food from Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee. You know, the exact same food, just shaped differently. There were cowboys and cops-and-robbers and mermaids and howling wolves and knights-and-ladies and Greek myths and more and everything was flashing and beeping and singing in this whole enormous room and it was just too fun for words.

"!!!!!" I said, looking at Carol, wide of eye and open of mouth.

"I know," she grinned back at me. "It's fun, isn't it?"

Carol encouraged me to find a game that looked interesting and then she and Uncle Graham sat down at machines near the one I chose. She pushed a twenty dollar bill into my hand, her treat, and showed me where to feed it into the electronic money slot.

"And by the way," she added, "these are just penny slots, so when the machine says you've won 'eight' that means eight cents, but my friends and I think it's more fun to holler out 'eighty dollars!' and if we win, say, twenty-five cents, we shout out 'twenty-five hundred dollars!' It makes it more fun."

"Oh, yes! That does sound like fun!" I exclaimed, drinking in her every word and all I can say is that I hope Carol never takes it into her head to offer me some crack because I will undoubtedly be scrambling for a lighter before she can say "instantly addictive."

"Except for this one time," she mused, "when this snotty woman next to my friend Tracy told her, 'You DO KNOW that you only won a QUARTER, don't you?' What a killjoy."

So Carol showed me which buttons to push, and because she is one of those people who understands mathematical concepts, she explained to me WHY I should push certain buttons, but to tell the honest truth, I didn't understand a word she said, except for the "press buttons" part. As it turns out, I can do that just as well as the next chimp, so I started pushing away.

"Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!" sang my slot machine, and lo and behold, Carol shouted, "You just won one hundred and thirty dollllllaaaaarrrrrrrs!!!!"

Elated, I said in an eager voice, "Does that really mean I won one hundred and thirty dollars? Or does it mean I won thirteen cents?"

"Thirteen cents," said Carol patiently. "Don't ruin the magic."

"Okay. Sorry."

It was very exciting to win money, but after a time, I began to notice a trend: I'd go up some, but then I'd go down more. Pretty soon, I was alarmed to see that I was down to thirteen dollars out of my original twenty.

I got up very close to Carol's ear and whispered, "I'm beginning to suspect that these machines are rigged to benefit the casino."

Her eyes got very big. "You can't be serious. You mean, you think they may have built this huge place with all the expensive overhead in order to get people to come here and spend a lot of money? Why, that's.....unthinkable!"

"You don't have to be such a smarty-pants about it," I said huffily, and we wandered off to find some other fun machines.

On my second machine, I was sitting there happily pushing my buttons when a lady came up and sat next to me, holding both a drink and a cigarette. Instead of plopping down in front of her own penny slot, she kept scrutinizing my screen, which I thought was very nosey of her.

"Lookere," she finally said, gesturing toward my buttons. "If you keep making those little tiny bets, you're never gonna win anything. You need to play more lines, like twenty-five at a time. And press that button there" -- she indicated a button that read "2X" -- "and that'll double your bet and give you a better chance of a playout."

"Oh," I said faintly. Despite what you might think, I can add small numbers and it was clear to me that this woman wanted me to bet FIFTY CENTS AT A TIME, and considering that I was down to about nine dollars, that concerned me a little. So I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but with a strong feeling that she was not the boss of me, I pushed the "25 lines" and the "2X" button and lost fifty cents and felt very indignant that she'd cheekily offered me unsought advice. I got up from my chair without looking at her and went to look for Carol and tattle.

"I was sitting next to a woman who made me bet fifty cents," I said crossly. "She kept talking about how I'd make more money with bigger bets."

"Oh, one of those," said Carol, staring deeply into her slot machine's screen and pushing buttons like a pro. I couldn't help but notice that she was up to about thirty-five dollars.

"What one of those?"

"The kind that are here to make money instead of here to have fun," Carol explained. "Don't let them distract you. Just play the way you want to and enjoy yourself."

A few minutes later, we all wandered over to a bank of machines called Block Party and sat down. I'd liked all the games I'd played, but the Block Party slot was really fun. It had flashy lights and noises and horns and bells and all kinds of clever graphics and it cleaned me out of money in no time flat.

Sadly, I watched Uncle Graham and Carol, who were both still playing. I felt kind of guilty for losing all of the twenty dollars Carol had given me, although she pointed out that the money still would have been just as gone if we'd gone to a movie and bought popcorn and sodas. They were having fun and I didn't want to look like the turd in the punch bowl, so when I remembered that I had a dollar bill in my pocket, I decided to play it.

The Block Party machine LOVED my wrinkled dollar bill. It sucked it into its innards and the lights began to flash and horns honked and the screen glowed. I pushed buttons and buttons and buttons and could do no wrong at all, because all of a sudden, the machine nearly exploded and Carol was shouting, "OH MY GOSH YOU JUST WON THIRTY DOLLARS!!!!"

"Thirty dollars?" I asked suspiciously, "or three dollars? Or three cents? Which is it?"

"Thirty REAL dollars," she said in excitement. "Thirty dollars and seven cents!" She and Uncle Graham smiled at me proudly and I clasped my hands to my ample bosom and squealed, "REALLY!!!'

"Yup," said Carol. "Now. Do you want to keep on playing, or cash out?"

"I definitely want to cash out," I said fervently. So I did. You can see my voucher in the photograph above. I put my voucher in one of the cash machines and obtained my $30.07 and today I went to Wal-Mart -- passing my city's huge casino on the way -- and bought a nice new Crock-Pot because my old one broke last week.

I shall think fondly of Belterra every time I use it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not actually seen in person

My city has totally rocked out the royal blue, the horseshoe decorations, the jerseys and the enthusiastic greetings on every single road sign in the place.


They are here for their training camp and most of the population is just beside themselves with elation, all except for Aisling, who simply cannot understand why the main road that runs through the university campus the Boys in Blue are using is closed down and guarded by a bunch of burly men in sunglasses.

"This is a STATE ROAD," she grumbled as we had to turn away and seek an alternate route on the way to her piano lessons on Tuesday. "Who CARES if they're practicing here? I need to get to my LESSON."

"From the looks of things, I'm guessing all the major networks, plus a lot of cable outlets," I answered, gesturing toward a bevy of vans that were bristling with satellite dishes. "Look, ESPN!"

"Ugh," she said disdainfully, as if I'd pointed to an anthill.

I explained to her that the Indianapolis Colts are famous, very famous; Super Bowl winners, nearly won a second time, Peyton Manning most famous quarterback ever, highest paid....I don't really care a jot about football, so I was surprised at how much I knew. I might have made some of it up to impress her, but it all sounded pretty legit.

So by the time we passed a pizza place with some kid out front dressed in full-pads Colts regalia and sporting both a number 18 jersey and a helmet in the ninety-four degree temps, holding a sign that read "By One Horseshoe Shaped Pizza, Get One Free!" Aisling was all pumped up and screamed, "LOOOOOOOK!!!! THERE'S PEYTON MAAAAAAANNING!!!!!!!"

I then had to explain some more things to her, including the fact that when Peyton Manning is not actually practicing with the team or playing a game? He's allowed to wear real clothes.

And secondly, the kid with the sign was about five-foot-six and looked to weigh about a hundred and thirty pounds. Peyton Manning, I informed Aisling, is considerably bigger than that. And has enough money that he doesn't have to moonlight at Gino's Pizza for a little extra spending money to splash around our city during his free time.

We were ten minutes late to piano, by the way.

Caution: Grumpy post straight ahead

I should probably preface this very grouchy post by saying that I am a Church Lady, so it can only be expected of me that I view the world through churchvision, which means that a number of people don't even begin to agree with me and think -- sometimes out loud where I can hear them -- that I need to remove the very large stick from my....well, you know.

Anyway, Meelyn and I were watching one of our HGTV favorites tonight, a show called Income Property, which is hosted by the handsome and appealing Scott McGillivray, who is white of tooth and muscley of arm, but that's not completely why we watch it. We watch it because it's interesting to see sump pumps being installed in people's manky basements -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tonight, Scott was doing a basement renovation for a couple who had bought a house that was beyond their means. The mortgage payment was so enormous, they'd had to cut out every single fun thing in life, like eating in restaurants and having cable television (which makes you wonder how they found out about Income Property, doesn't it?) and getting married.

Yes. They couldn't get married because their mortgage payment was too high. Because before any minister or even a justice of the peace will marry you, you have to prove that your intended is not your first cousin and that you own real estate. But wait, what am I saying? While it's true that you aren't allowed to marry your first cousin, you don't have to own property to get a marriage license. You can live in a refrigerator box at the town dump and someone with authority vested to him/her by the state you live in and God in heaven will marry the two of you.

Which tells me something about that couple. If you think that being married means you have to have a bunch of money for a great big fancy party, you are too young and/or stupid to get married. Because you can go to a minister or even the courthouse with a couple of friends and get married for about fifty dollars. Really. That's all it takes.

When Scott revealed the renovated basement apartment in all its glory and told them that renting the place would cut their mortgage payment in half, the female of the couple clapped her hands and sang out, "Yay! We'll have money! We can finally get married!"

So what does "getting married" mean to people with this kind of mindset? What does the fancy party really mean? Is it part of the package deal, a memory that will make things easier to deal with when one person is studying for the bar exam at the same time the other spouse is practicing for a trombone audition? When you both have the stomach flu at the same time and neither of you has the strength to press the buttons on the TV remote so you're forced to watch an entire afternoon of soap operas, can you look back on the fancy party and think, "Well, all the vomit and stupid plot lines are totally worth it because we had a fancy party"?

Is it just a way to show off to your friends? A means of torturing your eight closest friends by forcing them to wear unflattering bridesmaid dresses that won't even be accepted as donations to Goodwill? What is it? What?

Because let me tell you: I've been married for a long time now and sticking together through all the worse, the poorer, the sickness and the rest of the stuff life throws at the two of you takes a whole lot more than memories of a FANCY PARTY. A FANCY PARTY is not what a marriage or even a wedding day is all about, and if people put off getting married because they don't have enough money for a FANCY PARTY, then they're probably just doomed. DOOMED.

Thank you for letting me get that out of my system.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My, how you've grown!!!

This is a picture of the Fishers Police Department in Fishers, Indiana, a building which we frequently drive by on our way to the Fishers Public Library. I teach my Shakespeare classes at the library, so maybe I should have taken a picture of it, but I like this picture of the police department much better. Because in spite of the fact that the city I live in is more than twice the size of Fishers, the police department building is about ten times the size of my city's, plus nicer.

Our police are housed in a cramped little building that is supposed to be "historical," which is the nice way of saying the structure is a total dump that probably ought to be condemned but can't be because of the historic preservation that runs my city's downtown area with an iron grip and I ought to know because I live there and would like to paint my back steps but can't without twenty pages of paperwork detailing why I need to paint the back steps when it ought to be perfectly apparent that they're just fine the way they are. (They're not.)


Fishers, Indiana has been around for a long time, since 1872. It was connected to other parts of Indiana by a series of Indian trails and then by a railroad, but in spite of those two means of ingress, hardly anyone wanted to go there. According to the census of 1960, Fishers was home to three hundred eighty-eight people and I believe the population of the town had increased only by a couple hundred when I first became aware of Fishers in the late 1970s.

On the way to Indianapolis, my dad would occasionally say, "Let's try the scenic route" and there we'd be, driving through Fishers, which at that time consisted of a decrepit service station, a bait shop and a corner grocery so old that looked as if it would still accept ration coupons from World War II in exchange for meat. There were some houses scattered around, all in various degrees of dereliction; Fishers was not the kind of place back then to make you clap your hands and say, "I know where we should go eat lunch today!"

Today, however, my childhood friend, Todd, lives there with his family, as do a bunch of other families we know. Plus our church is in Fishers. Todd referred to Fishers recently as "the suburban jungle," which I found very funny, not only because it's true -- Fishers is not just a suburb, but a Suburb, pugnaciously shoving against Carmel to the west and Noblesville to its north -- but because of what it used to be: bait shop, corner grocery, service station. As it turns out, there were also schools there (elementary, middle and high) but the town was so small, there were hardly any students in them.

Because of the construction of Interstate 69 and the development of Geist Reservoir, Fishers has grown tremendously in the past few decades. It has every sort of shop, any chain store you'd care to mention, a really good snow-cone emporium on 116th Street, plus that fancy police headquarters. I like Fishers a lot because I feel like we kind of came of age together.

(Oh, for heaven's sake. You know I'm old, but I was NOT born in 1872, so just shut up.)

Fishers, you are a fun and friendly city.

Monday, August 2, 2010

PSA: Don't forget the seat belt (An anecdote from the Personal Experience file)

Twenty-six years ago tonight, I was in a car accident that changed my life. It was the summer before my senior year of college and it was a hot, starry evening and my friend Jim and I were listening to Steely Dan on the radio of my car and the next thing I knew, I was in the emergency room of Henry County Memorial Hospital, sobbing in fear and frustration because I couldn't remember my name.

That's one of the things that happens when your head goes through a windshield.

When my dad came through the curtains of the ER cubicle and took my bloody hands and said, "You're going to be okay. Your name is Shelley and I'm your dad," it was the greatest moment of relief in my life.

I had a lot of broken bones. A severe concussion. Glass embedded in my face and forehead. A line of stitches that ran down the right side of my jawline. My right ankle was just about snapped in two; my left knee was destroyed; the engine block was shoved back into the car on impact with the huge tree we collided with and it did a number on our legs. I had to learn how to walk again during hour after painful hour of physical therapy and spent the next year struggling along with a walker, then with a cane.

I walk with a cane now. In moments of dark humor, I say to my family, "Gee, we are so lucky that I was in that car wreck that smashed my legs because we can get all these primo parking spots" as I hang my handicapped placard from the rearview mirror.

Neither of us died, but both Jim and I both bear the scars. We hadn't been drinking or anything. We were just two college kids out enjoying the beautiful, soft summer night and I was driving too fast on Spiceland Pike and it all happened so fast, it's hard to believe that every day of my life for the past quarter of a century has been different because I made the decision to forego the seatbelt and keep my foot down.

I have quite a few Facebook friends who are eighteen and under, both from church and from our homeschool group. Wear your seatbelts, kids, so that all of us who know and love you can watch you continue to make the climb toward adulthood and get married and have kids of your own. Because sometimes people in car accidents aren't lucky enough to be handicapped for the rest of their lives.

Thanks, but I think I'll eat my toast dry

The girls and I were out last Friday, tooling around out in the country looking for roadside vegetable stands, when we came upon this bright yellow sign nailed to a utility pole.

"Oooh, looky!" I said enthusiastically, because if there's a country byway that looks like it needs exploring, I'm your girl. You never know what you might find: a creek winding its way through the fields with a graceful willow leaning over the bank to see her reflection in the water; some particularly attractive cows contentedly chewing their cuds and looking over their fences at passersby; some pygmy goats standing in a row on top of a picnic table.

The girls, raised without great-grandparents who farmed, find none of this even remotely interesting. When I suggest driving down unfamiliar country roads, they heave heavy sighs and roll their eyes, trading glances that seem to imply that their mother? She is one eccentric and unpredictable old bat, and not in a good way.

So they weren't very thrilled about the Local Honey. "Can't you just buy that at the store?" Aisling asked. "That kind that comes in a bear? Isn't that good enough for you?"

"Well, the bear-shaped bottle is very cute, but it isn't LOCALLY cute," I replied. "Besides, if this honey is local, then maybe we'll even get to see some local bees! Won't that be fun? All working so hard, busy with their little tasks?"

A silence so deep it practically throbbed filled the minivan.

"Honey is good on biscuits," I offered. The girls looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes.

"It's got a lot of calories," Meelyn said flatly. "I like that Smucker's sugar-free jam, myself."

While this conversation was going on, we were driving down the road, following the arrow. At the point where Meelyn uttered the words "Smucker's sugar-free jam," we all spotted the house where the local honey was being sold.

"Ummm....I like that jam, too," I said. "In fact, I like that jam so much, let's just turn around here in the road and go back."

"It would be easier on this narrow lane if I pulled into their driveway and backed out," said Meelyn hesitantly, allowing the van to come to a halt.

"NO!" I shouted. "I mean, no. Just....back up. Back down to their neighbors' driveway and pull in there."

"Why do those local honey people have a toilet on their front porch?" Aisling asked curiously. "And a sofa? And that pile of tires? Look, it covers up the front window! That seems kind of weird. And what is that thing?"

"That would be a rusted-out water heater," I said, trying to avert my eyes from the mess, from the roof-sagging, junk-piled, typhus-contracting house of the honey sellers. Crumpled soft drink cans littered the yard. A waist-high mound of garbage bags belched forth their slimy, smelly contents onto the grass. A big, filthy dog came out to the edge of the property and showed us his teeth; I was willing to bet that he had a few more than the owners of the house.

As Meelyn backed carefully down the road, she said, "What's the name of that backwoods movie? The one that you and Daddy said we should never, ever, ever watch, even-if-it's-the-last-DVD-left-on-earth?"

"That would be Deliverance," I said between clenched teeth.

"Yeah. That movie. This place kind of reminds me of how you described that movie. Or maybe like there ought to be another sign under the local honey one that read 'Meth Mart' or something like that."

"I can hear the banjos playing now." I cast one quick, furtive glance back at the house. "Punch it, Meelyn. I want to go back to civilization. No more country roads for right now, anyway."

Pleased, Meelyn looked at her sister. "This was just so worth it, then. I love local honey!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And when I finally fell asleep....

Last night, I was asleep. I mean, ASLEEP. Flat-out, cheek-stuck-to-the-pillowcase-with-drool, total REM dream state, probably-snoring-but -certainly-hoping-not sleep. Precious, beautiful, elusive sleep. Can I get a witness from all you insomniacs out there? When Mr. Sandman finally comes to visit, you welcome him with open arms and the offer to put your 600 thread count sheets on the guest bed to tempt him to stay awhile.

In the midst of my slumber, I felt an urgent elbow digging me somewhere in the vicinity of my kidneys.

"Honey," whispered a voice that I groggily identified as my husband's. "HONEY?"

"Whad?" I slurred, woozy with sleep. (Precious, precious sleep...) "Whad's the madder?"

"I'm cold," said my husband, and then more loudly, "I'M COLD."

"Whadderyer mean, cold?" I said, coming back to consciousness and none too pleased about it.

"I'm cold. My feet and all. Everything is cold in here," he elaborated, and only because I was so lovely warm and comfortable was I able to resist pinching him, which would have required turning over and I am PHOBIC about being tangled up in a nightgown: if I want to turn over in the night, I get out of the bed, rearrange my pillows and climb back in again without being trapped, mermaid-fashion, by my nightie. It's a problem I have.



"Are you kidding me? You woke me up to tell me you're cold?"

"No, I am not kidding. Here, feel my feet." And he put his icy hooves over on my side of the bed and TOUCHED ME WITH THEM, which I understand to be a defense for spousicide in at least seven states, maybe ten.


"Oh. Okay," he replied, and used his toes, which are at least six inches long each and function like a second set of hands, to pull the blanket from the foot of the bed up to his chin. "Oh, that's much better," he said, and fell asleep instantly.

I laid there for another forty-five minutes or so with my wide-open eyes staring into the darkness and thought about the menu at Bob Evans and what I would order -- scrambled eggs with bacon and toast? An omelette? -- the next morning when I made him take me out for breakfast.

Introducing a new character

This, dear readers, is Daniel. Daniel, who is six months old, is the son of our very good friends Al and Michelle. He was baptized at our church yesterday evening and my husband has the honor of being his godfather. Daniel's oldest sister is his godmother, and Michelle assured me that Jesus would certainly understand and approve if I labeled myself "Auxiliary Godmother," a title which is not officially recognized by the Church, but which I feel has a certain jazzy ring to it, plus a promise of Presents Yet to Come.

Daniel is all that is cuddly and snuggly and adorable and obligingly molds his small self to the form of whoever is holding him. When not being cuddled, snuggled and cooed over, he is a manly sort who enjoys propping himself up on his elbows to see the toys on his little gym, plus sitting in this bouncy seat and kicking the toys so hard and so fast, his legs are blurred in the photo above. That picture makes me smile every single time I look at it.

In the four years since I started writing InsomniMom, all eighteen of you reading here have met my husband; Meelyn and Aisling; my two nephews, Kieren and Dayden, and my niece, Kiersi. You've met my parents, otherwise known as Poppy and Nanny and my brother, Pat, as well as my sister-in-law, Angie. My Grandad has figured in a number of posts, fussing about the food served at his assisted living center and annoying my step-grandmother. So it's been a while since I've had a chance to bring in a new character, and I'm very pleased that it's Daniel. Especially since we love his parents and siblings, especially since we have such an extra-special connection to him through godparenthood and, well, auxiliary godparenthood.

So my husband is going around telling people that he can make them an offer they can't refuse (and I'm happy to add that he resisted having anyone murdered while he was standing up in the front of the church as Daniel was being baptized; ref: The Godfather.) And I'm happily planning outings to the zoo and to Conner Prairie and the Indianapolis Children's Museum and buying him books galore because my husband and I are all about the reading. And we're doing some reading ourselves, about children with Down syndrome and how they learn and grow and love....

I feel that we're on a most exciting adventure. We've never been godparents before and I'm looking forward to discovering how to be a good one.

Another dream shattered

I was at the grocery the other day, buying, among other things, a bottle of wine. I unloaded the contents of my cart onto the conveyor belt, and when my bottle of Moscato reached the cashier, she said in a bored voice, "I'm going to need to see your ID."

For a brief, shining moment I stood there, bathed in a golden glow of triumph. I may be shaped like a pumpkin. I may have borne two children, had my gall bladder removed, been coloring my hair since I was forty-two and striven to avoid peeing when I sneeze since way before then, but dang! I have still GOT IT. The bloom of youth!!!

I scrabbled through my wallet to pull out my driver's license and as I handed it over with a self-satisfied smile smeared all over my face like jam, the cashier gave it a disinterested glance, handed it back and said, as if she could read my mind, "We have to ask everyone now. Indiana state law...." Her unuttered final words were clearly, "even for our elderly patrons like you."

"Oh," I said, deflated, and pushed my cart out to the parking lot with my head hung down like Tom Dooley's. And then drank an extra half-glass of wine that evening for medicinal purposes.

Happy 8th Birthday, Beltie!

Hershey is a Beltie - part Sheltie, part beagle. His head is tiny and triangular, featuring beady little eyes that are usually brimming over with love for us, and a nose that can be most kindly described as "bulbous." His beagle body is square and stocky, perched perilously on long, skinny Sheltie legs. Hershey is an assortment of shapes, most of which do not fit together into a pleasing blend. He does have, however, a very attractive tail.

We got Hershey from my friend Julie, the owner of his mother, when Hershey was five weeks old. I didn't actually want him, but Julie looked at me with her big, brown eyes and said, "I don't want to give Candy's precious babies away to strangers. I can't do it! Please take a puppy. Please please please please please please...."

Julie gave every indictation of being willing to repeat that word until I fell prostrate to the floor, foaming at the mouth, or until kingdom come, whichever happened first. So to shut her up, I said we'd take a puppy. Five weeks was really too young to take him, but Candy, who didn't give a hoot in heck about her puppies' welfare, had shaken them all off her one morning and gone off to hunt for turtles in the river with the dog next door. If it had been up to her, they would have been set in a box on the side of the road where any old crackhead crazy-person meth cooker could have picked them up and taken them home to be a cherished family pet. Or lunch. Whatever.

"These things bore me to sobs," she indicated, and off to the river she went.

Did I mention that the dog next door was Hershey's father?

Anyway, Hershey was an awful puppy, the worst dog I have ever had. He drove Wimzie to distraction, drinking out of her water dish, even though he had his own, and flatly refusing to eat his own puppy chow softened in milk in favor of crunching up her food in his tiny little needle-sharp teeth. And speaking of teeth, he chewed everything he could lay them on. He once chewed up half of a vinyl floor we had installed in front of our sliding glass patio door and then when I yelled at him, he ran like a jackrabbit down the hallway to the girls' playroom and chewed the leg off a Barbie.

We called him the "little

Wait. I can't tell you what we called him because my mom reads here and if I type what we called him, she'll telephone me and say, "I didn't raise you to use language like that."

The day I told my husband I wanted to get rid of him -- in a piercing shriek you might have heard at your house, if you think back to somewhere in October 2002 -- was the day he jumped on me and tore a hole in my gorgeous new plum colored sweater that looked so nice with my white camisole top.

"I HATE THAT DOG!!!" I yelled. True to his nature, Hershey didn't look cowed or frightened or even mildly worried. He just peered up at me with his squinty little eyes, chewing vigorously on my favorite pen. "GIVE ME THAT!!!!"

He ran, of course. My husband chased him down the hallway and retrieved my pen; Hershey came back a few moments later carrying one of my Clarks of England sandals. He was still so little, the sandal was practically as big as he was, but he was undeterred: he intended to eat that sandal right in front of my livid face.


"Julie has two boys, Shelley. They don't have any Barbies at their house," my husband said. He did not want to get rid of Hershey, having formed a deep attachment to the little ba-....whoops!!! None of his shoes had been chewed or clothing ruined, however.

"That is totally beside the point," I said bitterly. "I hate this dog. He's ugly. He's stupid; he doesn't even know his name and he's three months old!"

"Oh, he does too know his name," my husband demurred.

"Does not," I contradicted. "Listen. Hershey! C'mere, boy!"

Hershey sat before us, sandal dangling from his tiny jaws, and looked around curiously to see where Hershey was.

"Hershey!" my husband called, squatting down and calling out with a musical lilt to his voice. "Come here, buddy!! Come on, little man!" And then finally, growing impatient, "COME HERE, YOU LITTLE...."

Hershey sat, gnawing cheerfully on my sandal strap. He perked his big ears up as if to say, "You are sure nice folks, but I don't know who the heck you're talking to."

My husband stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "I see what you mean."

"Yes," I said, "but that's not even the worst of it. He's destructive. He chews, and anything he can't chew, he pees or poops on. No matter how many times a day I take him out. No matter how many chew toys I buy him. Puddles and piles and little heaps of spitty leather are all I get from this hell beast."

"But look how cute and funny he is," my husband said fondly as Hershey tired of my sandal and went over to lift one tiny leg in order to better pee on the piano.

"He's about as cute as a sucking chest wound," I said through gritted teeth as I went to find the Murphy's Oil Soap and the Resolve pet stain remover.

As you've probably figured, we still have Hershey. I'm happy to say that his worst traits did mellow with time and I can't remember the last time he used my furniture r carpet as a toilet. He also doesn't chew my shoes or tear holes in my clothes with his claws. In fact, I've been known to address him, in a gooey voice, as "Mommy's little sugar-angel." When I talk baby talk to him, it makes him fall down on his side for love of me and his appreciation for snuggling has earned him the alternate nickname of "Mr. Cuddlesby."

Yesterday, though, we just called him "Birthday Boy" and got him a package of Beggin' Strips (bacon and cheddar flavored, his favorite) for a present. I'm so glad we kept the little ba-....whooops!!!!