Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve check in -- 11:25 p.m.

It is absolutely pouring down rain and almost sixty degrees outside, too warm for either my bathrobe or my fleecy slippers. That is an unusual occurrence in this house, which keeps to the approximate temperature of a meat locker.

Potty runs for Dobby and Zuzu so far: 2, fortunately both times before the heavens opened and water came spilling forth as if we're preparing for an all-new flood.

Movies: 1, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as mentioned before. Just finished it and the verdict on it is that it was long on special effects and short on plot. I am still trying to figure out how Balthazar, who is typically known as one of the Magi who visited Baby Jesus and Veronica, who is believed to have offered Jesus a linen cloth upon which to wipe his face during his Passion, got messed up with Morgan Le Fay and Merlin. Because Arthurian legend, of which I am passably familiar -- or at least always thought I was -- featured no characters from the life of Christ. So I'm confused.

Tomorrow I'm cooking the final turkey dinner of this holiday season and we had an amusing contretemps earlier this evening when I was putting together the dough for the cloverleaf rolls I intend to serve with our meal. I had all my ingredients mapped out and ready to go for the recipe -- flour, yeast, butter, water, sugar, salt and eggs -- and everything was going really well until I got to the "eggs" part of my list. As it turned out, one of my darling daughters had used the last two eggs in the carton to make a protein-rich masque for her hair today, leaving me with nothing but a loud shriek: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

My husband, who is very fond of homemade dinner rolls, betook himself to the grocery store (Marsh is open all night and don't you feel sorry for their employees?) while Aisling, the culprit, and I ironed out a treaty which stated that she shall not use food items for her beauty treatments unless she ASKS ME FIRST.

I've been typing for eleven minutes, so it's now eleven-thirty-six and counting, so let me take this next few seconds of flying fingers to say how very, very pleased I am to be bidding 2010 goodbye. There have been some high points in this year, I know there have, although I'm hard pressed to remember them right at this particular moment. The trip to Stratford was successful, and I'm very thankful for that. We also got our new(er) van, Penny, which was a huge blessing. But you know? I am really, really sick of the recession and worrying about money all the time.

So here's for a more positive and prosperous 2011. I am ready for it.

In twenty more minutes.

New Year's Eve check in -- 9:35 p.m.

It's been a busy week since the last time I posted, which was on Christmas Eve, and you can probably guess what I've been doing: opening presents, coughing wetly, cooking festive food, coughing wetly, attempting to find someplace somewhere for all the extraneous boxes and scraps of colored paper and mashed bows that come along with Christmas time. And coughing. Wetly.

It turns out that recovery from walking pneumonia and Christmas don't make such a winsome pair. Yergh.

So anyway, our plan for tonight was to stay at home and watch movies, just something quiet and fun and family-oriented. The girls suffered a bit last New Year's Eve because of some scrambled plans and they requested that this year, we do what they wanted to do, which was fine with us. Besides, we have Dobby, who isn't old enough to be left for long periods of time: he is a frequent pee-pee'er.

I am being summoned to the living room, where The Sorcerer's Apprentice has just been started. It's a Nicholas Cage movie, and although Nick is starting to look a little old -- and aren't we all -- he is still handsome and entertaining and if he isn't, I guess I'll have to hope that the show has an absorbing plot.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nothing left to do but....

Christmas To Do List:

1. Buy gifts -- check

2. Wrap gifts and postion under tree in a manner that will discourage two dogs from desecrating -- check

3. Shop for Christmas dinner menu (ham, potatoes au gratin, green bean casserole, yeast rolls, cheesecake) -- check

4. Go back to grocery for items forgotten on first trip -- check

5. Do some lick-and-a-promise house cleaning -- check

6. Go to church for two Masses (Aisling playing children's Mass and youth Mass) -- headed out the door in twenty minutes

7. Put away Advent wreath -- will do later, promise

8. Remember any important detail that may have been momentarily forgotten -- uh....uhhh....

9. Get Baby Jesuses for big nativity and little nativity ready to go, along with shepherds -- 'tis done

10. And thinking several days ahead, have husband's birthday gifts assembled and ready for giving on morning of December 28 -- finito!!

Okay! That's all I can think of, so I guess there's nothing left to do but to say

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My new most-hated Christmas song

In years past here on InsomniMom, I've written posts about three of my most-hated Christmas songs, including"I Saw Mommy Committing Adultery with Santa Claus," "Mary, Did You Know," and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer": you'll be pleased to know that I've come up with a new song for this year's Loathe List and it is "Carol of the Bells."

Since it is December 23, we've all been listening to Christmas music played in all the stores, every store everywhere in every single city, even in dusty little used-book stores where the most recently published book is Jaws as a Penguin paperback, since Labor Day. So as it happens, "Carol of the Bells" has been played quite often, and in my hearing. I don't ever really remember registering this song before as a carol; it has become best known as the tune of the Garmin GPS jingle.

The Garmin songs are fairly witty -- at least, they were because come to think of it, I haven't seen a single Garmin commercial, old or new, this season -- but that song.....THAT SONG. It is so urgent. There is nothing that is either peaceful or silent about the Christmas night on which those bells were ringing. And they don't seem all that happy to be welcoming the Baby Savior, either. Honestly, they seem a little ticked, with those baritones in the background bellowing "DING....DONG....DING....DONG" on that descending scale while the sopranos are shrieking so far up the scale, so high and so fast that you can't even really make out the words, that the whole thing is enough to make an adult clap her hands over her ears and run away crying, let alone a tiny innocent baby. I think a Metallica concert could be less damaging.

All in all, my thought is that this song is too frenetic, too jarring, too manic, no matter who sings it. And anyone who has to sing it, because they're in the high school chorale or church choir or whatever? I think there ought to be a mandatory cup of wassail offered immediately after practices and performances so that everyone can just calm the heck down. There is no need to get in so het up; that's what the shopping malls are for.

I can't complain about the lyrics, because as I mentioned before, I can't understand most of them. I do understand that ominous and ferocious-sounding "merry merry merry merry merry Christmas" as if the singers are just DARING you to have a bad one so that they can have an excuse to come around to your house and punch you in the throat.

But I can complain about the music, oh yes. I can complain about the music loud and long, almost as long as "Carol of the Bells," which, like "The Twelve Days of Christmas," is practically eternal. I'm assuming that the lyrics are pretty innocuous since they're about the birth of Jesus, but the MUSIC. The MUSIC.

I can go on and on about the music because guess what piece of music Aisling's piano teacher gave her to work on and perfect with many hours of practice during this festive and joyful season?

Yes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

RECIPE: Chicken Chili (easy, easy, easy)

This is a chicken chili recipe my mom served to us last week on Christmas Cookie Baking Day. It was so delicious -- and she said it was so simple -- that I immediately asked for the recipe and made it last night for dinner. It was a big hit, with requests that it be served again sometime soon. Which, you know, is such a nice feeling, much better than the one I get when I serve the plates and my husband looks down at his food, glances warningly at the girls and then stares me straight in the eye with an insincere smile and a hearty, "I'm sure it's going to taste JUST GREAT."

This is the kind of recipe that some people absolutely loathe because it comes from the Cans-n-Boxes section of my cooking repertoire, but it was so quick and easy to prepare and so GOOD, I just don't care. Every cook has to have a few recipes that can be thrown together and ready to serve in a minimal amount of time and this one definitely fits those qualifications. Plus, it's a thick, hearty soup; really, more of a stew. Full of protein, too, with the chicken, the beans and the rice. And did I mention budget-friendly?

CHICKEN CHILI

Ingredients:
1 large can/bottle tomato juice
2 medium-sized cooked chicken breasts, cubed or shredded (or one large will do fine)
2 cans chicken broth
1 can chili beans, undrained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
2 packets taco seasoning
1 cup instant rice or 1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Optional, for garnishing:
shredded cheese of whatever kind you prefer (sharp cheddar? Monterrey Jack?)
chopped green onions
corn chips

Directions:
Spray a soup kettle with non-stick spray. Spend several moments opening up a plenitude of cans. Drain the cans that need to be drained (and rinsed, natch); pour everything in the soup kettle. Add the chicken and the packets of taco seasoning. Bring to a boil and then turn heat to a low medium flame; allow to simmer for twenty minutes or so.

At the end of twenty minutes, add the instant rice. Turn off the flame and put a lid on the pot. Let stand for five minutes. Stir and serve with garnishes, if desired.

Looking very empty

This is my Christmas stocking, hanging by my parents' fireplace and I'm sorry to say that it is a total sham, a fake, a pretty bit of Christmas mummery. You know why? Because that stocking HAS NOT BEEN FILLED by Santa Claus or my mother any other interested person ever since I got married almost twenty years ago.

I've had that stocking since I was a baby. It was a gift on my first Christmas from my grandma's friend Gene Steussy. I don't know if Mrs. Steussy crafted this stocking herself -- she was, and probably still is, one of those women who can do anything, up to and including being an extremely talented photographer -- or whether she bought it, but wherever it came from, one showed up for Pat a few years later, only I didn't feel the need to take a picture of his. It's on the other side of the fireplace. The side without the Christmas tree, the nativity and all the prettily wrapped presents. I guess we all know who the favorite child is, don't we?

Or....maybe not.

Because, as I mentioned, that stocking hanging there is only for show. It has not been filled since the year I got married, which was 1991.

That Christmas long ago, my husband and I arrived at my parents' house on Christmas morning and I was gleefully anticipating a pile of gifts, as usual, plus my crammed-to-bursting stocking. Mom always filled it with lovely things like People magazine's Best and Worst issue (a publication which I am too snooty and highbrow to buy for myself, but which I read with secret avidity at the dentist's office), fingernail polishes, makeup, cute jewelry, candy and always-always-always a new toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. I don't know what Pat got in his stocking. Boys always have such dumb stuff, don't they?

Anyway, I was most disappointed to see my stocking hanging there by that very fireplace, looking exactly the way it does in my photo -- flat, decorative and not bursting with opportunity.

"Hey!" I said indignantly. "Why is my stocking hanging there looking so flat, decorative and devoid of opportunity?"

"Because you're married now," my mother replied calmly, obviously having rehearsed this conversation in her head.

"What's that got to do with anything?" I scowled.

My dad joined my mom. "Since you're married, that means you're a grown up and grown ups don't need Christmas stocking gifts."

Pat was at that moment tenderly lifting his stocking from the hearth. It was so heavy and laden with gifts, the felt loop that held it to the mantel hook wouldn't hold it and Santa had propped it up against the bricks. He looked over his shoulder and gave me a smirk. "On the other hand," he said, "I am still a child and, hey! My stocking seems a lot FULLER this year than it's ever been before!"

My voice immediately rose in a familiar tone. "Mo-o-o-om, did you hear him? He's taunting me about those stocking gifts!"

"Pat, don't taunt your sister," my dad said absently, his eyes fastened on some new electronic device he'd just opened.

"Gosh, it's so heavy, I can barely carry it back to the couch!" With an ooomph noise, he dropped it on a seat cushion and little gifts scattered everywhere. "Wow, it's going to take me a while to open all these. I'd better save them, kind of do them in shifts throughout the day."

"You could get carpal tunnel syndrome from all that repetitive opening," my husband grinned. He cut his eyes over at me, caught a glimpse of my expression, and immediately fell silent.

"Quit fussing, darlings," said my mother, who was passing out the gifts she'd pulled from under the tree. "Now, who wants to be first?"

"ME!" I yelled.

"ME!" Pat hollered.

"Have they always been this spoiled?" my husband asked my father.

"Yes," he said. "I blame their mother. It's all her fault."

That was the first sad, stocking-less year and each year following has been equally bereft. The only good thing I can say is that Pat and Angie were married by next Christmas and he didn't get a stocking anymore either and hahahahahahaha.

Christmas makes children of us all!

Please Come Home for Christmas - The Eagles Millennium Concert 1999

If you can honestly say that you don't love this Christmas classic, rendered in that slow, smoky style that makes you picture a holiday party with people lined up to do the Stroll, then you must be some kind of grinchy person who hates candy canes, pretty presents and the Baby Jesus. Because, c'mon. The Eagles? Don Henley's voice, still so sweet even in 1999 with the "play it, Don" and Don Felder's little solo that will remind you warmly of every Eagles song you ever knew and loved back when you were in high school? It's enough to make you want to throw your arms around Joe Walsh and weep sentimentally onto his shirt front. He seems like a nice guy; I think he'd let me do that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An oldie but a goodie - "The Twelve Thank-You Notes of Christmas"

Do you remember when this was going all around the internet at Christmas time? It's been a few years since I've read it, so I did a search, found it, and discovered that it has aged well. Kind of gives you a whole new perspective on what a dubious pleasure it would be to receive a gift of six geese a-laying. The thought that comes to my mind is "Oh, what fun it is to hide when the mailman comes my way."

December 25

My dearest darling Edward,

What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present!

Bless you, and thank you.

Your deeply loving

Emily

December 26

Beloved Edward,

The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing away in pear-tree as I write. I'm so touched and grateful!

With undying love, as always,

Emily

December 27

My darling Edward,

You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It's a pity we have no chicken coops, but I expect we'll find some.

Anyway, thank you so much; they are lovely.

Your devoted Emily

December 28

Dearest Edward,

What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly, they make telephoning almost impossible - but I expect they'll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I'm very grateful, of course I am.

Love from Emily

December 29

Dearest Edward,

The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A really lovely present! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants to use the rings to "wring" their necks. Mother has such a sense of humor. This time she's only joking, I think, but I do know what she means.

Still, I love the rings.

Bless you,

Emily

December 30

Dear Edward,

Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn't six enormous great geese laying eggs all over the steps. Frankly, I rather hoped that you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them, and they've already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but let's call a halt, shall we?

Love,

Emily

December 31

Edward,

I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what's happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please, please, stop!

Your Emily

January 1

Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.

Emily

January 2

Look here, Edward,

This has gone far enough. You say you're sending me nine ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they dance, they're certainly not ladies. The village just isn't accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the village green, and it's Mother and I who get the blame. If you value our friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this ridiculous behavior at once!

Emily

January 3

As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of them, I have just noticed, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbors are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

Emily

January 4

This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon by ambulance to a home for the bewildered. I hope you're satisfied.

January 5

Sir,

Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the London Symphony Orchestra and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,

G. Todd Markham

Solicitor

Take a moment

This is being posted all over Facebook, but I wanted to embed it here so that I won't lose it. It's worthy of watching over and over again.




I made it until 1:50 before the tears starting falling.

Why is Robert Downey Jr. even cuter when he's sad?

Many years ago, I was a faithful viewer of Ally McBeal, even though I really kind of hated her even though I loved her? I don't know. It was very strange. But anyway, I was so happy for her when Robert Downey Jr. came on the show as a character whose name I don't remember, but he was an amazing love interest for Ally. He really got her, and it didn't make him want to run screaming to the airport, which is what we all want, right? Only Ally wanted it even more than the rest of it because she was a frikking dipwad.

So this video is a cover of Joni Mitchell's song "River" from her beautiful album, Blue. I warn you that this is not a happy Christmas song, so don't watch it unless you've had two hot toddies and are feeling really mellow I mean, unless you're feeling extremely well-adjusted and have all your Christmas wrapping done and aren't standing anywhere near a sharp knife.

"River" is a breakup song -- particularly poignant at Christmas -- but what made this version so sad is that RDJ's character has come to the realization that he can either have Ally or he can move back to wherever he came from (New York? Been too long...) to be with his little boy, who lives with the ex-wife. But he can't do both, right now anyway. Somebody's gonna cry, right? And thankfully, RDJ's character does the right thing and moves away so that he can help raise his son and Ally's heart was broken and so was mine.


Monday, December 20, 2010

The O Antiphons - O Clavis David

The O Antiphon for today, December 20, is O Clavis David (Key of David)

Come, and bring forth the captive from his prison.

O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens; Come and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israƫl, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

The key is the emblem of authority and power. Christ is the Key of the House of David who opens to us the full meaning of the scriptural prophecies, and reopens for all mankind the gate of Heaven.

RECIPE: A Hot Toddy for your Aching Body

Tonight, I gave up. Just threw my hands up into the air and said, "Honey, drive me to a liquor store."

There comes a time when Ny-Quil will turn its back on you and love you no longer. There comes a time when your Tessalon cough pearls will crouch down inside their pharmacy bottle, quietly laughing at you, you who actually had the innocent hope that, having taken one of these expensive little things, you would STOP COUGHING.

You'll think you're out there on your own, alternately shivering with cold and baking with heat as your fever rages. You'll scare yourself when you see your reflection in the mirror, all hollow-eyed and grey and drawn. You'll cough. You'll cough until your family finds discreet reasons not to be around you as you hack and bark uncontrollably like, "I think I'm going to go wash my hair, Mommy. At Uncle Pat and Aunt Angie's house."

That is when you need to have a hot toddy.

Listen, I'm sick and you're probably sick, so here's the recipe. This is an easy one that I tinkered with because when you're sick? Do you really feel like dealing with an eighth of a teaspoon of cloves and a pinch of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, but only the kind of cinnamon imported from Ceylon? No, you do not. You just want something you can put together quickly that will taste good and cure what ails you by stopping your cough and helping you sleep. And I don't like cinnamon sticks in any beverage anyway because they always look so cute, but end up poking you in the nostril.

I've been coughing since last Tuesday and I haven't had a full night's sleep since then either and I plan to drink hot toddies four to six times a day until I'm better or my blood catches on fire when I sit too close to a candle, whichever comes first.

I have spoken. And coughed.


HOT TODDY

Ingredients
1 Bigelow's "Constant Comment" de-caf tea bag
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 shot of whiskey (1.5 ounces -- I used Johnnie Walker Red)
2 tablespoons honey
1 thick slice fresh lemon

DIRECTIONS
Pour the boiling water into a Pyrex measuring cup to the 1 1/2 cup line. Add tea bag, whiskey, honey and lemon. Steep for about five minutes. Remove lemon and tea bag from measuring cup; stir the toddy. Pour into a coffee mug. Collapse on couch. Drink, allowing the mug to warm your hands. Watch a movie from On Demand. Do not answer the telephone, unless Caller ID demonstrates that the person telephoning you is someone who will be willing to listen patiently to all your symptoms and a monologue on how crappy you feel. Take a lovely, cough-free nap.

Please note: When you're sick, your sense of taste and smell is impaired. Also, this toddy tastes a lot like tea with honey and lemon flavors overlaid anyway. It does not taste as strong as it actually is, so don't go drinking one of these and thinking, "Gee, I feel great! Time to go sledding!" The idea is to relax and rest and sleep, not to party down once your coughing has stopped and your bodily aches and pains have receded into the fuzzy distance.

Because I can put two and two together like nobody's business

But only if the two and the two aren't actual numbers.

I was wondering today why I couldn't find "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" by Marcel Marceau and I was very frustrated and I started humming "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and all of a sudden, the wheels started turning inside my snot-soaked brain and I was all like, "In your face, Nancy Drew, because I figured out this mystery all by myself and needed no help from Bess, George and Ned Nickerson."

That's how I talk to myself when I'm running a fever.

So! Sometimes, in searching around on the internet, if you can't find a song sung by Marcel Marceau, that's because the song in question would actually have been sung by Maurice Chevalier.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wish I could find it

I've had to sleep on the couch sitting upright like some kind of bizarre doll for the past four nights so that I can breathe and cough in relative comfort. It's been just so great and it's done WONDERFUL things for my Christmas spirit. As you can imagine. Meh.

Anyway, to keep me company through the long, lonely nights, I've turned on Comcast's Sounds of the Season and I've been flopped in front of the television like a zombie reading the little bits of Christmas trivia they put on the screen while each song is playing -- for instance, do you know that in the Norway, the children's gifts are delivered by Nisse, who is a gnome or elf with goat-like features, which is the only thing I can think of that could possibly be more disturbing than the idea of a gaudily dressed fat man climbing down the chimney into people's houses, but I digress -- and last night, I heard a Christmas song I've never heard before. I did a bunch of searching on the internet today to see if I could find it, but it is nowhere to be found.

The song was "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" sung by Marcel Marceau and it was a delight to the ear. It made me smile, even though I had coughed three thousand seven hundred sixty two times in a row and peed myself a little.

Zjholly uld Zaint Nee-ko-laas
lean your eayre zis way
Don'd you dell a zingle zoul
what I'm goeeng to zay

It was very sweet and I wanted to find a YouTube video to share, but I couldn't. So if you'd like to hear this very charming rendition of a classic Christmas song, you'll have to catch a mild case of pneumonia which will make you feel like crap so that you can try to sleep sitting up straight and watching Sounds of the Season, just like me.

Time's a-wastin' though, so please get your cable service provider changed to Comcast and then come over here and I'll cough vigorously on you. Merry Christmas!

The O Antiphons - O Radix Jesse

Today is the third day of the O Antiphons of Advent, O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse).

"Come to deliver us and tarry not." The world cries out for Christ its King, who shall cast out the prince of this world (John 12:31). The prince of this world established his power over men as a result of original sin. Even after we had been delivered from the servitude of Satan through the death of Christ on the cross, the prince of this world attempts to exercise his power over us. "The devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). In these trying times, when faith in Christ and in God has largely disappeared, when the propaganda of a pagan culture is broadcast everywhere, and the forces of evil and falsehood rise up to cast God from His throne, who does not feel the power of the devil? Does it not appear that we are approaching that time when Satan will be released from the depths of hell to work his wonders and mislead, if possible, even the elect? (Revelation 20:2; Matthew 24:24.)

"Come, tarry not." Observe how thoroughly the world of today has submitted to the reign of Satan. Mankind has abandoned the search for what is good and holy. Loyalty, justice, freedom, love, and mutual trust are no longer highly regarded. Establish, O God, Thy kingdom among us, a kingdom established upon truth, justice, and peace. "Come, tarry not." "Thy kingdom come."

~Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.



Source: Catholic Culture.org

We can hardly stand the wait

Alvin and the Chipmunks, from what my kids call the "olden times."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This new thing we're doing

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave a news correspondent a dressing down during a briefing last September when the correspondent sneezed inappropriately into his hand instead of into the crook of his elbow, which we are now all supposed to be doing.

It's called the "Phantom Sneeze," I've heard; so named because you kind of look like the Phantom of the Opera sweeping his inky black cloak up to hide his mask from the lovely Christine. Or maybe you don't. It's hard to say, when you're in the middle of a huge wet sneeze.

I can remember back when we all were supposed to sneeze into our hands, or even better, when people carried tissues or even handkerchiefs to catch their sneezes. Let me just say that I am not an advocate of blowing one's nose into a handkerchief, because how disgusting is it to put a snot-wet square of cotton back into your pocket? I also think that the only think about my great-grandma Houser that I just couldn't abide is that she kept tissues in the sleeve of her little cardigan sweaters and used and re-used them to dab at her nose from time to time. My mother used to whisper to just ignore it -- the tissues-in-the-sleeve thing was a fetish brought on by living through the Great Depression, kind of like that huge drawer full of string Grandma kept, or the way she washed out coffee cans, filled them with dirt and planted geraniums in them.

But really, I can't say this new way is better. I mean, I used to cough or sneeze into my hand and then either go wash my hands or use some hand sanitizer. It's not like I was going up to people after expelling mucus from my nose and wiping my hands dry on the shoulders of their coats or anything.

In the new way, we're supposed to be transferring our germs from our nasal passages/mouths onto our clothing. With this walking pneumonia, I am coughing constantly into my elbow; if I'm walking on a slippery sidewalk and my husband reaches out to take my arm, should I pull away and shriek, "NOOOOOOOOOOO"? Because there must be a LOT of germs living on the sleeves of my coat by now. The red fleece sweatshirt I'm wearing is probably crawling with droplet infection.

I'm wondering if this whole Phantom Sneeze idea is one that's been spread about by some group with a vested interest in keeping our clothing from being swarming hotbeds of H1N1, the pneumonia bacteria and heaven knows what else. The dry cleaning industry, perhaps? Hmmmm...

The O Antiphons -- O Adonai

Today is the second of the O Antiphons, O Adonai (O Almighty God). As Moses approached the burning bush, so we approach the divine Savior in the form of a child in the crib, or in the form of the consecrated host, and falling down we adore Him. "Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground . . . I am who am." "Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us." This is the cry of the Church for the second coming of Christ on the last day. The return of the Savior brings us plentiful redemption.

Come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

Source: Catholic Culture.org

"The O Antiphons of Advent" Copyright (c) 2010 Catholic Culture.org

REPRISE: A Christmas full of Bologna (December 29, 2008)

It all started, my father said, with a package of bologna and two hungry people. They were home from Colorado, had been on a plane and in a car, he said, and it was cold and rainy. He and my mother didn't want to go out to eat: they just wanted something quick.

So they ate some bologna. And while they were eating, my mother said, "This bologna tastes funny."

Two hours later, they were both in their respective bathrooms making various offerings to the porcelain god. These offerings were greedily accepted. And the god demanded more.

By the time Meelyn, Aisling and I saw them the Monday before Christmas, they were recovering, but still a bit fragile. They told us the story of their woes while the five of us were at Bob Evans in New Castle, the girls and I eating huge, farmhand-style lunches while my parents toyed with a single scrambled egg each.

"Hey, whyncha eatin' a ver big lunch?" I asked indistinctly through a mouthful of barbecued pork sandwich.

"It all started with a package of bad bologna," my father said with a faraway look in his eye, as if remembering something from a nightmare.

We commiserated with them on their sad bout of food poisoning and expressed our happiness that they were recovering and we thought that was the end of it.

Little did we know. That bologna was not finished with us and the topic of whether food poisoning can be transmitted from one person to another or whether this illness was actually due to some vicious virus they picked up on that airplane is a matter that is still being hotly, albeit lethargically, debated amongst the members of my family with the little bit of strength we have remaining to us.

On Christmas Eve, strangely enough, my stomach started making small restless wriggles that were in direct opposition to the spread the ladies of the family were carrying in to Grandad and Mary Liz's assisted living center that evening. I was to bring sloppy joes, buns, potato chips and dip and I made the sloppy joes with an aspect of doom hanging over me as Pat made Chex Party Mix, Nanny made deviled eggs and Angie made con queso dip in the same kitchen. The combination of different food smells threatened to fell me like a mighty oak under the woodsman's axe but I put my head down and plowed resolutely onwards, stirring and adding cumin and chopping onion and wishing I could go lie down on my parents' bed and howl.

Later on that evening, Angie privately confessed to my mother that she was feeling feverish and unwell, but she seemed to be holding her own, so I optimistically thought she would probably shake it off (she's not a big baby like I am) and I wondered with less certainty if I could shake off whatever was plaguing me.

As I've already written, the girls stayed home from midnight Mass because of their coughing -- I was thankful that they were on the tail end of those colds because Christmas? It is a miserable time to be sick, like having a bad case of poison ivy on top of a sunburn on your birthday.

The girls slept all through the night, which was something greatly different than the past eight or nine nights we'd been experiencing. We got up and opened our gifts and everything was very nice and, as I also wrote, they all went back to bed except for me. I went upstairs at eight thirty to take my shower and get ready to leave for Nan and Poppy's, and when I was putting on my makeup, I heard Meelyn wail, "Ohhhhh, DADDY!!!! I DON'T FEEL GOOD!"

My husband was standing in the upstairs hallway when she burst out of her bedroom, fleeing for the bathroom. He nearly got splattered unbecomingly with....well, you know. Afterwards, Meelyn, as white as salt, came into our room, followed by Aisling, whose round face was a picture of all that is opposite to Christmas cheer.

"My stomach feels very strange," she said. Meelyn fell on our bed wordlessly and my husband and I exchanged a worried glance. "I think I'd better call Mom and tell her we can't come," I said. This statement brought forth such a rousing chorus of feeble, tearful protests that I could hardly hear her when she answered.

"Mom, remember that bologna you and Pop were poisoned by?" I asked. "Somehow, I don't think it was the bologna."

"Oh, phooey," she said airily. "If they're going to be sick, they might as well be sick here."

I contemplated this, wondering what we'd be letting ourselves in for, traveling for forty-five minutes with two throwy-uppy teenagers, but she wore me down. In the end, I grabbed a little bucket and we set off, Meelyn holding herself rigid, her eyes squeezed shut; Aisling slumped in her seat like a sack of grain.

When we got to New Castle, we noticed that Pat and Angie's SUV was already in Nan and Pop's driveway. Nanny and Poppy themselves greeted us merrily at the door with the air of two people who have put hours of violent puking well behind them. "Merry Christmas!" caroled my mother, ushering us into the warm and breakfast-smelling air of the house. My husband came in with an armful of gifts; Meelyn followed him clutching her bucket.

The family room's Christmas tree was glowing gaily; a fire was crackling in the fireplace. The whole room was a scene of festive cheer straight out of Currier & Ives, except for the people, the number of whom was strangely diminished.

"Kieren and Angie are both sick," my mother said with a small moue of sadness.

"Kieren had to lie on the couch and let Dayden open his gifts," Pat said. "And Angie is in bed under a pile of blankets, praying for death."

"Oh," I said faintly.

"He threw up six times in the night and she has a high fever."

I eyed him, noting his devil-may-care attitude that said he was willing to go to the wall with a smile on his face, holding his bucket debonair grace, kind of like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. "You know, I think we may now have a new euphemism for the stomach flu in our family," I observed thoughtfully. "I think from now on, we might call it something like 'eating the bologna sandwich.'"

Pat caught the idea and said, "You mean, as in: 'Kieren and Angie are at home, eating their bologna sandwiches'?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed. "And Meelyn ate a bologna sandwich right before we left today!"

"And we were afraid she was going to eat one in the van, too," added my husband.

"Ha ha very funny," said Meelyn, glaring at us balefully through lackluster eyes.

"And it looks like Aisling might be eating a bologna sandwich before too much longer!" said Pat, jovially appraising Aisling's drawn face and furrowed brow. She withered him with a glance, but otherwise remained unmoving, a fleecy throw pulled up to her chin, a bucket at hand.

"I raised you both better than this," my mother said disapprovingly, appearing in the doorway with both hands clad in oven mitts.

"What is this? Is breakfast ready or are you trying to make a DIY Hazmat suit to protect yourself from reinfection?" asked Pat. "You know, after you contaminated your grandchildren and all?"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Breakfast is served, for all who are able to eat it," she said with dignity.

The dining room table was open to its full length and it looked very strange with just Nan and Pop, me, my husband and Pat sitting there, kind of like five ants sitting on a picnic blanket. Dayden and Kiersi made a brief appearance to eat the few mouthfuls that sustain them and then went back in to hover over the tremendous pile of presents, poking at the wrapping paper and speculating on if the biggest gifts were theirs.

We all helped ourselves to enormous platefuls of food, reasoning that later on, all we'd likely be having was a bologna sandwich. "Eat drink and be merry, because tomorrow, we may sandwich," said my husband, raising a glass of orange juice in a toast.

"Just don't eat anything that's going to cause problems if it goes into reverse mode," Pat offered wisely. "Like Chex Mix. Not good."

"That'd be like a combination of gravel and broken glass," I winced.

"I brought both of you up better than that," my mother admonished. "No bad talk at the table. And you," she said, pointing at my grinning husband. "You watch yourself, mister."

"So long as I don't have to watch myself gakking up my breakfast, I'm good to go on everything else," he said dolefully.

*************************************

Three days later, we all met back at Poppy and Nanny's for my husband's birthday party. By then, several more family members had been slain by the bologna virus, which had somehow mated with a heavy cold with flu-like symptoms, and horrible exceeding was the offspring thereof. We all sat draped across the furniture, covered with fleecy throws (or perhaps throwing the throws to the ground, depending on which stage of feverishness we were currently experiencing.) Some were holding onto boxes of tissues, others were clutching the ubiquitous buckets. From oldest child (me) to youngest child (Kiersi) we were ashen-faced and trembling, and this was on the upswing of the illness when we were all feeling well enough to go out.

"I don't even have it...yet," complained Pat, who was sporting two days' growth of beard and a bitter demeanor that was completely different from his former let's-all-go-down-together hilarity. "But I've wiped so many butts and faces and cleaned up so many puddles of vomit and poop that I feel like I--..."

"Stoppit,' said my mother, looking slightly green.

"Stop it. Stop it?" he said with feigned indignation. "Are not you and your bologna," -- this word uttered with extreme scorn -- "the cause of all this, woman?"

"I still say it's food poisoning," said my father obdurately. In situations like this, I'm always glad that he was convinced early on that the world is round.

"That's his story and he's sticking to it," my husband said, trying to shield his watery, red-rimmed eyes from the powerful glow of the forty-watt light bulb in the lamp next to him. He began to cough, a phlegmy hack that started an obedient chorus of wet coughs from around the room, like a troupe of trained seals at the zoo.

"It's been like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan at our house," I said hollowly. "Only with Cold-Eeze lozenges instead of bullets." I wondered for a moment if wrapping bath towels around my shoes and then putting both legs in the fireplace would help me ward off the chill I could feel approaching.

"I'm tired of bologna," whined Dayden.

"I go poo poo this many times," said Kiersi eagerly, holding up both hands with all ten fingers splayed.

"More than that," said Pat. "Oh, waaay more than that."

"Anyone want to play a board game?" trilled my mother.

"Show off," I mumbled.

"Only if it's Pass the Bucket," said Pat.

Not to be deterred, she marched us into the dining room. Angie was the only one who had the nerve to defy her -- she was lying back in her reclining couch seat with her eyes mutinously closed, daring my mother to ask her again by her very posture.

The game was one Kieren got for Christmas, called something like "Would You Rather...." It wasn't a bad game, but it would have been better if I hadn't been having little eggy burps the whole time we were playing. Meelyn excused herself after a few questions and went back to the family room to collapse in solidarity with her auntie. My husband, on the grounds that it was his birthday and if he was going to die anyway, he'd prefer to do it while watching the Colts, followed soon thereafter. The rest of us played doggedly on, despite the fact that we had to lay our heads on the table between turns.

Kieren won, being third on the list of the original sickies and therefore in better form than the rest of us, except for Nanny and Poppy, of course, who were still blaming the whole sordid mess on that frikking bologna.

As we left that day, we kissed Nan and Pop goodbye. They are going back to Colorado and they won't be home again until March.

"See here," I said belligerently, hugging my mother. "Kindly make sure you're....fumigated... or whatever you need to do so that you don't decimate the troops over spring break in the same way you've knocked us over this Christmas."

"It was the bologna," my father insisted, kissing my cheek. "Bologna."

*coff* *coff* COFFCOFFCOFFCOFFCOFF

That's what I've been doing for the past few days while heroically carrying on with my life, putting dishes in the dishwasher, putting dirty clothes in the dishwasher, putting a stack of library books into the dishwasher and then going to the public library to see if my laundry was ready to fold.

Meelyn finally said, "You have got to go to the doctor. I have never heard anyone cough as much as you're coughing. And you just put a jar of mayonnaise in the storage ottoman in the living room and said, 'Hey, who turned the refrigerator on its side?'"

"I'm fine," I rasped, holding onto the Christmas tree to keep from falling over. "Just a little cold, that's all. I'm great. Just dandy."

Aisling came into the room carrying a history textbook and a mug of hot chocolate. "Hey, I like those earrings!" I said brightly, nodding at the items in her hands. Aisling glanced at Meelyn.

"Do we have the number of the doctor's office on speed dial?" she asked her sister.

So today I went and came out with some prednisilone, some of those groovy little cough-curing pearls and a Z-pack. I discovered that I was narrowly balanced right on the edge of walking pneumonia AGAIN and that I had a fever, body aches and a really sore throat to go along with my juicy lungs. Plus body aches from coughing so much. And a strong, strong tendency to feel very sorry for myself.

Doesn't it always seem that sickness lurks in the shadows, waiting for the near approach of Christmas before it leaps on you or the kids with a painful bounce and a chortled "HA HA HAAAA"? If I thought back and counted up, I bet the Christmases when one or several of us were sick would outnumber the ones where everyone was well with a significant margin. Hopefully, I'll have this behind me a week from now and Christmas 2010 will be added to the All Are Well column.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy birthday to my grandma

Ma, a silly name for such an extraordinary grandmother, would have been ninety-three years old today. Grandad would have undoubtedly spent much of his day pleasurably twitting her about the fact that she was three years older than him and reminding her that when they went to get their marriage license? He had to get his mother's permission, hee hee.

You were loved when you were with us and you're loved still. I always enjoy this day because there are so many happy memories of the time we spent together to sift through and smile about. Today I've been thinking about the time you and I were learning how to mount a horse and we finally got your foot in the stirrup and up, up, up you went -- only to come over Chelsea's other side to land in the grass.

You made everything you touched beautiful. Including that grass. But not the horse. She was a stinker.

The O Antiphons -- O Sapienta

December 17 marks the beginning of the O Antiphons of Advent, so called because they all begin with the proclamaion "O." The O Antiphons continue on for the next seven days until Christmas Eve and they are exhortations as we continue to wait for Our Lord, celebrating His first coming and anticipating His second.

O Sapientia
-- O Wisdom (Ecclesiates 24: 5), you came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24: 30), and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wisdom 8: 1). Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isaiah 40: 14).


Source: Catholic Culture.org

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's that time of year again....

Today is my husband's day off, and he found out the hard way, as perhaps some of you hsve who had piles of snow heaped upon your house, yard, cars, driveway and sidewalks overnight, that it is once again that time of year when you can spend hours shoveling, only to have the city snowplows trundle past and with one quick scrape of the blade, completely wipe out the two hours of work you just completed in one thirty second maneuver.

The only thing that kept this ordinarily patient and long-suffering man from shaking his fist and shouting cuss words into the crisp, cold air in the snowplow's wake was the thought of what Santa might leave in his Christmas stocking. Or at least that's the way I heard it.

HOW TO: Throw a Dirty Santa party

Susan sent an email to me and Carol this morning saying that she was really mad because the weather forecasters in western Kentucky had stated unequivocally that there was going to be so much freezing rain yesterday afternoon, they weren't sure whether to tell people to build arks or buy zambonis. The freezing rain ended up not coming and Susan was annoyed because her Un-Intellectual Book Club (hey, that's what she calls it, not me) members were supposed to have their Dirty Santa party last night and three ladies didn't come because they were worried about treacherous roads on the drive back home.

If it had been just about anyone but Susan, I would have asked what a Dirty Santa party was, but knowing her as I do, I was kind of scared. I noticed that Carol didn't ask either, so she either already knew, or was suffering from the same misgivings I had. You just can't tell with Susan.

So I looked it up on Google, keying "What is a dirty Santa party" into the search field. It turns out that I could have trusted Susan because Dirty Santa is something I've participated in several times. They're actually a lot of fun, and the last one I can remember doing was at someone's house -- my mom's? Beth's? Juju's? -- where we tusseled and fought over those gifts and laughed so hard, we were tearful and soundless with mirth.

If you'd like to throw a Dirty Santa party, check out this link from E-How.com. It's probably too late to plan one for this year unless you're just a little glutton for punishment, but they are a lot of fun, no matter what present you end up with. Although I feel I must add that hair-pulling and/or sticking out your foot to trip the person who stole the $20 Bath and Body Works gift card from you is not considered sporting.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Photoscents baby food jar candles

I found these Photoscents soy candles for sale at Bill's Diner in New Castle, Indiana, of all places. My dad took me and Mom and the girls there for lunch a few weeks ago and there were a number of these little candles in a display near the cash register. I took note of the price -- inexpensive -- and picked one up to smell it and was surprised by the deliciousness of the scent. I bought several to use as little Christmas presents and a couple for use in our house.

On their website, the folks over at Photoscents say that baby food jars make perfect little containers for their soy candles, giving those jars a chance to be re-purposed before recycling. I do agree, although I have to say that the baby food jars aren't really that pretty: I think they could make the overall effect a bit more aesthetically pleasing by doing a better label, but that's just me. HOWEVER, these aren't really statement jars that you place in the house because the graphic design of the label is just as nice as the scent of the actual candle; this is more of a tuck-it-away sort of thing. We found out that they were great for putting inside our jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. We also have a lot of decorative candle holders around here that held these little jars perfectly.

And the smell? Honestly, there were some scents better than others, but isn't that true of every brand of candle? We picked out some of the ones we thought we the best: patchouli, pumpkin pie spice, carrot cake and several others. They seem to burn a long time and one tiny little jar can easily scent an entire room. For instance, we have a big living room and the baby food jar sized candle -- which I bought at Bill's Diner for two dollars (cheaper than at the website because of not having to be packed and shipped, obviously) scented the room just as well as the enormous Village and Yankee Candle offerings I have sitting around.

So this product comes in with a glowing review, pardon the pun. There are bunches of scents to choose from on a six-candle minimum order. Other than these four ounce baby food jars, there are also two ounce candles in baby food jars (the size that baby food meat comes in), as well as eight- and sixteen-ounce jars. You can find them on Facebook with an easy click. Online candle parties and fund-raising are also available.

With visions of my slippers dancing through his head

Because you don't really think that this boy is day-dreaming about all the good things of Christmas, do you? No, I assure you that he isn't. What he's doing right here is wondering what new sort of mischief he can get into as soon as he jumps off the couch, aided and abetted by Zuzu, his partner in crime. It's like having two toddlers in the house again -- two really naughty (but unbelievably cute and funny) toddlers.

Is this what they meant when they sang "Deck the halls with old dead bodies"?

It was probably somewhere around 1972. I was nine years old that year, a student at James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School, and the first time I heard these spoof lyrics to the Christmas song "Deck the Halls," I almost fell off my little round orange seat at the cafeteria table.

Deck the halls with old dead bodies!
Fa la la la la, la la la la
'Tis the season to eat holly!
Fa la la la la, la la la la

And that's all I ever learned. But sometimes? When you're nine? That's enough humor to get the milk squirting out your nose and you'd better just stop there.

And whoever invented this really horrible Christmas ornament? They should have stopped BEFORE making this awful thing, LONG before. And believe me, not because this thing is humorous. Not just because the poetry is really terrible, but because Christmas is supposed to be a TIME OF JOY, people! Not a time to hang your head, sobbing over those who are no longer with us, but who are presumably enjoying a Christmas celebration ten thousand times more awesome up in heaven than the one we're having here, with the recession and all.

For those of you who didn't have the courage to click the link -- and who could blame you? -- I will tell you what the Christmas ornament it. It appears to be made out of pewter, in a Christmasy kind of design featuring two turtledoves, a fir tree, some holly and a couple of stars. There's a scroll at the top of the ornament that reads, and I am NOT KIDDING about this, just click on that link if you don't believe me, "Merry Christmas from Heaven."

Directly below that is a place to put a picture of your DEAD LOVED ONE.

Yes.

And then? Below that? There's a poem. Or, in this case, a pome. Written with a heavy lyrical hand and big on the rhyming, it reads, "I love you all dearly, Now don't shed a tear; I'm spending my Christmas with Jesus this year."

Great. Just great. As if the holidays aren't difficult enough for the bereaved, let's just make us a CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT to HANG ON THE TREE so that we'll be sure to WRING EVERY LAST BIT OF SORROW from this joyous holiday season every time we look across the living room and see it.

That'll put some jingle in your jolly, now won't it? Geez. What is this world coming to when the CHRISTIANS are assaulting the meaning of Christmas, which the last time I looked, was about the birth of hope as our Savior came into the world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

O Christmas Tree!

This is our Christmas tree this year, a gorgeous nine foot Fraser fir. We are really proud of it because we met our goal of saving up pocket change and little odds and ends of crumpled dollar bills and coins collected from the floor of the van when we go to sweep it out. The past several years, we've used a little six foot artificial tree, and while it was a cutie, it didn't have the Christmasy magic of this beautiful thing, which has also perfumed the air with that elusive balsam scent. With the recession still going strong, no matter what a bunch of pointy-headed economists might claim about how over it all is, the reality check my husband and I have had to use for the past few years with the girls is: "Do you want a real tree? Or presents? Because we can't afford both."

The girls, of course, chose presents and the little tree did its job well, but we all missed having a great big real tree.

So this is the result of six months of saving, which not only gave us a sense of accomplishment, but also taught the girls, I think, that if you want something really badly, you can set small amounts of money aside here and there and eventually, it will grow into a sizeable sum. We did that last year with The Olive Garden Project and enjoyed an awesome meal on New Year's Eve before we went to Beth and Jim's house. That was so successful, in fact, that we saved up to go to the Olive Garden again this year on New Year's Eve, stashing money away concurrently with the Christmas Tree Fund.

This is all a little bittersweet to me, honestly. I can remember a time not so long ago when we decided to put up the tree and just went to the lot and bought one. I can remember when the Olive Garden and other chain restaurants figured into every single weekend, not just as once-a-year-special events. It makes me sad. I wish it didn't. I wish I were more detached from material things, like St. Francis and St. Clare. But I'm not and I have to admit that seeing this lovely tree shining in the big living room window makes my childish heart feel very, very happy.

RECIPE: Pumpkin-Peanut Butter dog biscuits




















A few months ago when Zuzu had a digestive upset (and believe me, I made that sound MUCH more pleasant than it actually was), the vet recommended a few tablespoons of plain canned pumpkin added to her diet for a few days, telling me that it's a sort of wonder-cure for gastro-intenstinal complaints in canines.

I thought this was very interesting and Googled around to find out why, coming up with nothing more informative than "pumpkin is a natural source of fiber" and "pumpkin adds needed nutritents to a dog's diet." It can stop diarrhea and aid constipation, so I'd say that makes it a pretty much all-purpose sort of veggie. Plus, dogs seem to think that it tastes really good, so I invented a new dog treat combining that flavor plus peanut butter, another canine favorite.

I can't give you a yield on this recipe because it will all depend on whether you use a cookie cutter -- and what size that cookie cutter is -- or a pizza cutter. You would make fewer treats, obviously, if you used a if you used a 6" sized bone-shaped cutter rather than a 1 1/4" mini dog bone cutter. With the pizza cutter, you can just quickly roll out the treat dough and then just run the cutter over them, making square-shaped treats as large or a small as you want them. I used Good Dog Express.com's mini heart shaped cutter, which is also available in several different and inexpensive sizes.

Dog biscuits are very quick to make and easy to bake: it is a much better deal than you get buying them at the grocery, and all done with ingredients you probably already have on the pantry shelves.

PUMPKIN-PEANUT BUTTER DOG BISCUITS

Ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups old-fashioned or quick oatmeal
1 small can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey

--> approximately 3/4 cup of cornmeal, to prevent sticking when rolling out the dough (I like to use the finely-ground cornmeal of the type used for making tortillas, rather than the coarser kind used for corn muffins.)

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Divide the dough in half. Shape half the dough into a ball with your hands. Sprinkle a rolling mat or counter top with corn meal and roll the ball of dough around in it. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to desired thickness, depending on whether you have a large dog with a large mouth or a small dog with a small mouth. (Since our dogs are small, I roll my dough out to about 1/2 inch; this dough does not "raise" while baking.)

When the dough is rolled out, cut the dough with your preferred type of cutter, making as many treats as you can. Re-form leftover dough into a ball and re-roll to make more treats. Transfer treats carefully with a metal spatula to a lightly-greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees on the middle rack for 15 minutes. Remove from oven when finished and set aside.

While the first sheet is baking, repeat directions with second ball of dough. Bake second batch of treats. When finished baking turn off the oven; put all the dog biscuits plus the ones on the first tray back into the oven and allow them to dry out for two hours or so.

Girls' nativity

I got this little nativity when the girls were tiny -- maybe one and three -- so that they could have one to actually play with, unlike my gorgeous porcelain nativity that few people are allowed to touch. This one actually came from Avon, which seems odd to me. There were three little sets to complete to whole shebang: the Holy Family, the three animals (cow, donkey and sheep) and the Three Wise Men. The little stable, which is the perfect size, is one I bought at Dollar Tree years and years ago.

This nativity used to sit on an end table in the living room where the girls could easily reach it, but it now sits on my kitchen window sill. In keeping with our tradition, Mary and Joseph are there waiting the birth of their Babe on Christmas Eve -- Jesus will appear in his little manger-bed right after we get home from Mass -- and the sheep, representing the shepherds, will arrive soon afterward. The three little Magi will travel around the kitchen (unlike their fancy-schmancy porcelain counterparts, who travel all over the house) and arrive bearing their gifts on Epiphany Day, January 6.

I really love this sweet little nativity set and it holds lots of happy memories for me whenever I look at it, not only of the Child Jesus, but also of my own children, once so very small and now getting so grown up.

Monday, December 13, 2010

You're mad and I'm glad

I lost one of my blog followers today, which would be sad since I have so few. As it turns out, it was the %$#& who linked my blog to a porn site -- a person whom I blocked from access to my list of devoted readers -- and evidently he took his saucy pictures and went off mad. I hope Santa leaves him a stocking full of reindeer poop for Christmas.

[whispering aside] I don't think he ever really read here anyway, do you?

Well, hello! And good morning!

I just got back from a therapeutic trip to the public library, checking out a little festive fiction to put me in the Christmas spirit and just kind of take a happy little break around lunch time.

But when I got there, I realized that for some people, it isn't lunchtime, although they do seem to be taking a break in a slightly eyebrow-raising way.

I'm talking about this man I saw while I was there doing the book-checker-outer thing. He looked like he was in his early thirties. He needed a shave, but otherwise looked clean and normal and like a regular person. Except for the fact that he was wearing full-on nightwear, right down to the slippers. His slippers were that corduroy kind my grandpa used to wear and he was wearing a dapper Black Watch tartan bathrobe belted snugly around his middle. Beneath the bathrobe's lapels and hem peeked a rumpled pair of pajamas in navy blue with white piping. A rolled up copy of the morning newspaper was tucked underneath his arm and as I tracked him with my astonished gaze, mouth hanging open attractively, I'm sure, he put on a pair of sunglasses and headed for the exit.

I turned back to the automated book-checker to see a library clerk on the other side of the counter staring at his back along with me. Our eyes met in a brief, amazed glance and returned to the young man, who was walking to his car, clutching his bathrobe up to his neck against the cold wind.

"And he's not even one of the weird ones," she said knowledgeably, and nodded me a good day.

HOW TO: Use a Neti Pot

The Neti Pot is a handy little contraption that I stumbled upon by utter coincidence: I was at the doctor's office to get some antibiotics for a raging sinus infection late last winter and she said, "You know, I think a lot of your sinus problems could be solved easily if you'd start using a Neti Pot regularly."

I would have been clueless and wondered if the Neti Pot had something to do with the way my mother potty trained me and should she have stretched a small fishing net over the seat? IF I hadn't been on my Facebook account earlier in the day -- probably complaining about my headache -- and I'd seen a comment from a friend's status update: "LOVE my Neti Pot! Sinus headache, goodbye!"

So I got one. They cost about $14.99 at most pharmacies and discount department stores and even some grocery store health sections. The box with the pot in it is usually stocked with about thirty packets of the saline mix that you dissolve in the little pot.

Using a Neti Pot doesn't require an inordinate amount of skill or coordination, but for those of us who need to have a map drawn and a kindly hand pointing the way, here's a YouTube vid illustating how the easy process works. It is, since it has to do with using a miniature teapot to pour salt water into one's nose, unintentionally hilarious, especially the exercises afterwards. But it is a helpful video and since so many people have bad colds right now -- I sat behind a man at Mass this weekend who sneezed three times WITHOUT COVERING HIS MOUTH -- I thought it might be a useful public service contribution.

So! Without further ado, the Neti Pot demo!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Christmas of Love" by Little Isidore and the Inquisitors

Destined to become a Christmas classic! "Oh, Martha May! Oh, CHRISTMAS!"

Loooooove!!!!

HOW TO: Make a Gingerbread House with graham crackers and royal icing

Some people are crafty sorts, the kind of people who think nothing of spending the whole day baking homemade gingerbread and slicing it very thin and stacking it all up to make an adorable little Christmasy house. The rest of us? We'd like some help from the Keebler elves.

I'd like to be the first kind of person because in my head I envision a warm, fragrant kitchen that smells of cinnamon and other spice, with the girls sitting at the table with be-marshmallowed hot chocolate while I (wearing a festive apron, perhaps with appliqued poinsettias) take a pan of gingerbread out of the oven with one hand, while stirring up some royal icing with the other. In reality, I'd be so consumed with getting the icing right, the gingerbread would burn, the girls would grow tired of listening to me grouse about the STUPID ICING and they'd go off, firmly engrossed in their iPods.

But a gingerbread house with graham crackers? I can manage that. Although technically, they'd be graham houses, right? Anyway, I found this series of fifteen videos on YouTube from ExpertVillage on how to do just that. Don't be intimidated by the fact that there are fifteen videos - each one is four minutes long or less. They take you all the way from how to make the royal icing to how to assemble the graham cracker house to how to decorate an ice cream cone to look like a pine tree and more. They're really well done and so clever. I am now rip snortin' to get started on a gingerbread house of our very own. You really couldn't go wrong with this little project, considering that you could buy all the decorative candy at the Dollar Tree and Aldi. Inexpensive and so cute!

The only specialized items you'll need will be a pastry bag and several different sized of frosting tips, all of which are available -- sometimes for discounted prices -- at places like Hobby Lobby. Oh, and some green food coloring, available on the same aisle.

Here's the first video in the series, featuring a very pleasant woman with nicely manicured hands, just so you can get the feel for the whole thing.

"Sleigh Ride" -- now with more SledCam

I really love Johnny Mathis' version of the song "Sleigh Ride" anyway, so this hilarious home video set to the jaunty tune makes a good thing even better. According to the old Saturday Night Live skit, "more cowbell" is what some tunes need to make them more appealing, but I believe I can say, definitively, that what many songs need is a little bit of SledCam in the video version.

So! If you are a person who enjoys sledding down hills on those big saucers (my favorite kind as a child, on the hill behind Grandad and Ma's house), and especially if you enjoy holding a video recorder while spinning merrily around and around as the little mogels on the hill take you, and obviously if you're the kind of person who never gets motion sickness, no matter what, I think you'll like this cute and festive video.

Although it occurs to me that the old Surfari's tune "Wipeout" might possibly have been a better pick.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What you need to buy before getting snowed in

The weather people are telling us that this rain we're having right now? It's going to turn into snow overnight. A lot of snow. Big, piled up bunches of it throwing itself heedlessly down from the sky, unmindful of the fact that I have to teach Sunday school tomorrow morning and tomorrow night is the youth group's Christmas party....Mother Nature is such a bad hat.

Having heard of this incoming weather system well in advance, I and three million of my fellow townsfolk all went to the grocery yesterday. I totally enjoy peering into other people's shopping carts as we all stand impatiently in line, shifting from foot to foot, anxious to get home and hunker down.

When I go to the grocery before a big snowstorm is forecast, here are the things I expect to see in people's carts: milk, bread, eggs, soda pop, beer, snacks and toilet paper. Since I was at Aldi and they don't have a great selection of beer, I didn't see so much of that, but the snack and cookie aisle was taking a severe beating, the milk supply was decimated and the eggs and bread were noticeably lighter on their respective shelves. But the one thing that was just about gone? Toilet paper. Aldi usually has pallets of toilet paper stacked up about waist-high, but yesterday the display was only about two packages high at best.

It occurred to me that a bunch of other people must have had an experience like my husband and I did when there was a really heavy snow in the first couple of years were were married and I went to the store and bought everything in the world to make us comfortable while the roads were being plowed, shoveled and salted, except for toilet paper. We ran out of that first, then we ran out of tissues and then we ran out of paper napkins and then we ran out of paper towel and it was just so badbadbadbadbadbadbad....

Like, first there was a whole lot of emo and then I zoned out

We have a love-hate relationship with the Twilight series at our house: I gagged my way though all four books because I had to since the girls were so curious and all their friends were reading them; Meelyn got halfway through the final book before she threw in the (bloodstained) towel; my husband went doggedly forward until the first third of the third book like a good dad would and finally said plaintively, "These are the stupidest books I've ever read and I hate Bella so much...please don't tell me I have to keep reading them." Aisling read the first book and liked it, but only got halfway through the third book before announcing that she hates all vampires, all werewolves and all stupid, stupid girls who can't even fasten their own seatbelts, except for Spike and Buffy and Willow and Angel, of course.

That's my girl.

Anyway, it is a really cozy night tonight with the rain pouring down and preparing to turn itself into snow; I made Mexican chili after church tonight and my husband, searching for something for us all to watch, found Eclipse, the third movie in the Twilight-on-film saga, on Comcast's pay per view. He said we didn't have much of anything worth watching on the DVR and we're trying to save our Christmas movies, sooo.....

Let me tell you, that movie? It is two hours and ten minutes of pure hell. There's a whole lot of Bella having angst, and a whole lot of Edward having angst and a whole lot of Jacob having angst, but since he tends to experience his own inner turmoil while shirtless, I am kind of okay with it all. There are twenty more minutes left as I'm sitting here typing; I managed to get up from my seat, pretending that I was going to get a diet Coke and instead did a nimble side-step here to my desk.

"HEY!" they all screamed at me. "Get back in here! No fair on the computer! Big cheater!"

I remained firmly planted in my chair and called out to them with dignity: "Hey. I read ALL FOUR of those pestilential books. I dealt with Bella through several thousand pages of her goofiness and Edward's potential abuser traits and Jacob's sadness that this foolish girl wanted to go off with the vamp instead of moving out to the rez and having a litter of wolfbabies with him. I SHOULD GET A FACEBOOK BREAK."

Boy howdy. It's the last few minutes. Bella is giving Edward a big speech about how his world is her world and he's all she ever wants and she oughta know because by gosh, she's just the smartest little eighteen year old who was ever raised by a feckless mother and a clueless father. Oh my preciousness, he just put the engagement ring on her finger and the credits are rolling.

Will someone please remind me of this suffering just in case I try to watch the fourth movie?

Unfortunate



















A friend -- not a close one, but more like a friend-becoming -- gifted me with this gorgeous poinsettia last week. I'm almost sorry in a way, because if there is one person who should NEVER be gifted with a living plant? It's me. Unless it's Rappaccini's Daughter from the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, of course. She and I can both kill plants with a single touch, if not a look.

I am praying to be able to keep it alive until January 6.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Just thought I'd ask

Today on our way home from the Christmas shopping-birthday party, we decided to get a cheering cup of hot chocolate from Paradise Cafe. The attendant behind the counter asked me what size I wanted -- "large" is the word I was thinking -- and then said, "Would you like some whipped cream on that?"

There are some questions that are just so obvious, they shouldn't even have to be asked, and when it comes to cocoa, the size? It should always be large. And the yea or nay to whipped cream? Please. YES!

Not at all sorry

Dobby and Zuzu make quite a team. Yesterday they were playing together in the living room, tugging a toy back and forth and chasing each other around while I was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher and in the laundry room matching socks. I was listening to some Christmas music and kind of humming along to myself when I noticed that all the noise of the dogs playing had ceased. That set the Mommy Alarm a-whirling and I went to the living room to see what they were up to, with a strong and clear remembrance of Meelyn falling suddenly quiet at age two and going in to my bedroom to find that she'd drawn quite a large picture on our newly painted bedroom walls with my tube of mascara.

The two dogs had somehow managed to snitch a peppermint candy cane off the tree and were so absorbed in eating it, they didn't even noticed when I came into the room and took their picture.

I plan on telling Santa to bring them each one piece of coal and a big, big bottle of violet-scented dog shampoo for Christmas.

The mall at Christmas time will do that to you.

The girls met some friends at Castleton Square Mall in Indianapolis today to celebrate the fourteenth birthday of their friend Chelsea and I designated myself as the mom who was going to follow them from store to store, lurking around outside (there aren't nearly enough places to sit in Castleton Square) and waiting for the herd of seven girls to exit, say, Bath & Body Works, so that I could follow them to the next store, say Aeropostale, and wait outside there. As it turns out, I am not one of those moms who is ever going to just drop my kids off at the mall and let them roam around unsupervised and Aisling told me that my methods of Teen Tracking and Security were about as subtle as a punch in the face.

"Don't you trust us?" wailed my friend Bridget's daughter Emily when I told her that she couldn't walk down to Borders with Meelyn. I squinched up my eyes to gaze down the long, long corridor with Borders at the end of it, looking small and far away.

"Oh, I trust you just fine," I replied, looking back at Emily. "But the other people, the ones who might try to snatch your purse or brush up next to you and pick your pocket or whatever? It's them I don't trust. And I prefer to have you in my sights so that if I see someone grab your purse -- or you -- I can run up behind them and make them deeply sorry they were ever born."

We walked around the mall for about an hour, me tagging along behind them, and by the time they went in the final store of their choice, I was completely tired of walking around and wanted to go straight home and put on my slippers. As I was shifting from foot to foot and more or less patiently waiting for my little herdlings to come back out of the shop they were in, I happened to see this large plushy white bear in the window of the candy store next door.

He looked, I decided, exactly like I felt, like he'd plopped down with an "oof!" and a dim hope that someone would ask him if he'd like a foot rub.