Sunday, December 18, 2011

Keep it to yourself, sonny boy

My office-away-from-home is the Paradise Bakery and Cafe at Hamilton Town Center on the Noblesville/Fishers border. I can be found there several days a week, hopefully at that one four-top table with the handy plug in for my laptop, surrounded by various sorts of Shakespeare stuff -- currently Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear, but also a with a copy of Beowulf and another of The Canterbury Tales and sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier, when all was said and done, to have become a fortune-teller or a traveling hobo, both of which are occupations that strike me as being less likely to drown one in a sudden avalanche of books -- and lapping up a cup of coffee. So I'm sort of a regular and I see the same people there all the time, which isn't that surprising when it comes to the counter staff, but maybe a bit more so when it comes to the clientele, who are obviously people using the restaurant with its cozy and cheerful atmosphere as their own offices.

The two people who man the bakery counter where I order my sesame bagel are a couple of guys in their twenties who are always very polite and friendly and say, "Hi, nice to see you! How are you today?" Only the other day, one of them, the one with the glasses, made a misstep that embarrassed all three of us and reminded me of the many times when I have had to get the tire iron out of the trunk of my van to pry my foot out of my mouth.

Through the doors the other day, laden down with my giant purse, the laptop bag and a satchel full of books, happy to see that I was the only person in line, since I felt very certain that my shoulder was about to be dislocated. I staggered to the glass counter and set down the satchel at my feet with an "Ooof!" and looked up to find both men smiling at me in their how-can-I-help-you sort of way.

"Well, hello, young lady," the one with the glasses said jovially. "Sesame bagel? Cup of coffee?"

For some reason, his greeting took me aback and made me goggle at him slightly. Which I'm sure led to an attractive facial expression. It's just that I decided right then that there are times when someone my age can be addressed as "young lady," and those times, specifically, are times when I'm being spoken to by an elderly person. Because to them, I am a young lady.

But being addressed as "young lady" by a guy who obviously just graduated from high school - or more to the point, graduated from a bottle to a sippy cup -- within the past couple of years, well. It seemed cheeky and condescending, as if he was actually saying, "I am acknowledging the fact that you are two weeks older than dirt, but trying to assure you, through the medium of humor, that you look every day of your advanced years, plus a decade." And for me to reply, "I'd like a sesame bagel and a medium coffee, old gaffer," didn't have quite the same zing to it. Since, you know, Cary Grant.

It was awkward. I didn't really want it to be awkward because I don't think the young man was intentionally trying to be boorish in his behavior. But, you know, awkward nonetheless. The other guy sprang into action at the register, rang in my order and gave me my total; I handed over my debit card. The bold one with the glasses cleared his throat nervously and grabbed my bagel from the display case, turning his back to slice it and send it through the toaster. His very back seemed to be saying WhydidIsaythatWhydidIsaythatWHYDIDISAYTHAT?

"Would it help," the other young man whispered, returning my debit card to me, "if I told you that he's on a work release program from an institution for the socially inept?"

I laughed good-naturedly. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Because I am very, very old."

But Young Glasses wasn't done yet. "Can I carry your bags to a table for you?" he gabbled, turning around with a tray holding my toasted bagel and a mug.

I fixed him with a look, only slightly truculent. "Are you asking because you make a habit of helping ladies to their tables, or is this more a matter of you assisting the feeble octogenarians who come through the door?"

Then we all had a good chuckle and he manfully shouldered my laptop bag and satchel - I carried my purse and the tray with my bagel and coffee cup - and when he set everything down at the table I indicated, I resisted the urge to pinch his cheek and say, "Aren't you just the sweetest boy? I bet your mommy is very proud of you!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

RED ALERT! (How to make your house presentable for unexpected guests)

My high-school friend Cathy had a very clever mother. Mrs. Watt designed a system for doing an inst-tidy on the house in the event of unexpected guests that she called the "red alert." If Mrs. Watt hung up the telephone right after saying, "Oh, it will just be so lovely to see all of you!" depending on the state of the household at that moment, her next words, addressed to the family were "RED ALERT!"

This was the signal for everyone to hastily drop whatever they were doing and go to whatever station in the house had been assigned to them and start cleaning like they'd just heard that Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Pope were coming over to discuss the defeat on communism. (Yes, this was the 1980s.) I don't remember specifically what Mrs. Watt had everyone do, but I was reminded of the red alert when I was reading a magazine article titled "How to Get Your House Ready for Guests." I won't name the magazine because I generally like it very much, but this particular article was just all kinds of bogus.

First of all, the piece laid out plans for what to do if you had two hours to prepare, one half-hour to prepare and fifteen minutes to prepare and one of the suggestion for the half-hour scenario was "Wipe down the kitchen cabinets."

Huh? So I should wipe down the kitchen cabinets to impress my guests, but ignore the skillet with cooked-on scrambled eggs soaking in the sink? If unexpected guests are coming over to my place and I've got a bare thirty minutes to prepare for their arrival, wiping down the fronts of my cabinets is about the last thing on my list, coming right before "Wax the mailbox" and "Paint the house."

There were a few other boneheaded instructions, one of them being "Change the sheets on the guest room bed." Now, listen to me. I've been keeping house since I was twenty-two years old, for five years as a single lady and twenty as a wife, and never once in all that time have I had an unanticipated overnight guest. I don't know: maybe word has gotten around about the comfort level of the mattress on that bed. But anyway, of all the overnight guests we've had, I knew about them enough in advance to change the sheets well before the two-hours-til-arrival stage. I might not wipe down the fronts of my kitchen cabinets more than a couple times a year, but I know what's what when it comes to having a freshly-sheeted bed ready for guests, and I bet you do too.

So I made my own list. Here it is:


If your house has that lived-in look ours invariably gets -- magazines and newspapers and books flung higgledy-piggledy on every available horizontal surface, a few dishes in the sink, crumbs on the counter, offensive globs of toothpaste clinging to the interior surface of the bathroom sinks, a light layer of dust, an empty toilet paper spindle on the holder -- here's my advice in one simple step:

1. Go to the shed out back and retrieve the can of gasoline you have stashed there - you can tell the fire chief later that it was meant for the lawn mower -- and after all family members and pets are safely out of your home, douse the downstairs in gas and set the place ablaze. When your inconsiderate guests arrive, they'll find you weeping and wringing your hands on the sidewalk in front of your residence, and be forced to take you to the Olive Garden for a sympathy meal. Because we all know that, unless your family consists of fourteen Navy Seals, there's no way the place is going to be presentable to guests who have the temerity to give you only fifteen minutes' notice of their arrival.

You can sort everything out with your insurance agent later, at a time when you're expecting no company.


1. Grab a laundry basket and tear through the house, picking up clutter and tossing it in. Don't forget your desk. Put the laundry basket in the laundry room and SHUT THE DOOR FIRMLY. Put a gun in the waistband of your pants at the small of your back so that you can sweetly threaten to shoot any non-immediate family member who tries to go in there. Dead guests tell no tales.

Dirty dishes in the sink? My advice is to obtain RIGHT NOW one of those Rubbermaid plastic dishpans. Use it to stack dirty dishes in. Carry it to the laundry room, put it on the washer or wherever. If you want to, cover it up with a dish towel. Shut the laundry room door.

2. Grab the duster - I have ones made of that lamb fluff because I think they work the best - and give it a spritz with Endust, which is a miracle product equaled only by the Swiffer line of housekeeping products. At a brisk pace, go through the downstairs and run that duster over all tables, the fireplace mantel, the piano, the bookshelves.

3. Light some scented candles. Because that's what they're for, after all: to remove your funky family smell. Did you think they were designed to create a homey ambiance in your home? Well, that too, but trust me: Yankee can cover up a multitude of stinkiness.

4. Fluff up the sofa cushions and throw pillows. Either neatly re-fold any sloppy-looking throw blankets or take them back to the laundry room and dump them in the basket.

5. Go to the classical music channel on your cable and turn on something erudite yet soothing. It will make you seem cultured and unflappable. Who would ever dream that the same woman who has Mozart or Debussy playing ebulliently through the speakers is the same woman who, mere moments before, was galloping around her house shrieking, "PICK UP THOSE SHOES RIGHT NOW OR YOU ARE DEAD!"

6. Go to the guest bathroom. Put out a fresh hand towel. Empty the wastebasket. Get that container of disinfectant wipes out and wipe down the toilet and the sink. Get out a Windex wipe and go over the mirror, any under-glass artwork on the walls and the faucets. The back of the toilet tank is a dust-magnet: wipe it down too. Note that when you have to do something fast, those containers of wipes are a fabulous thing to have on hand. Got a nice candle for the bathroom? Light it.

7. If you can manage it, run the vacuum in the living room and entry way if you have carpet. If you have "hardwoods," as the House Hunters so often say, get out your Swiffer dust mop, attach one of those cling-sheet thingies to it and go over the floors fast.

8. Don't forget yourself. Take a look at your hair, your top, the state of your makeup. Do whatever you can do as quickly as you can do it.

9. Because it bears repeating: DO NOT LET ANYONE IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM.

Naturally, all this will go faster if you have family members to pitch in and help, but I have proved that these things can be accomplished by one woman in one half hour, and I even managed to look moderately sane when the doorbell rang.


1. Do everything on the above list, except at a slightly slower pace.

2. If you haven't made your bed, go make it. Unless your bedroom is upstairs, in which case, keep everyone on the first floor.

3. Here's a new thing I just learned: Keep some of these cute little hors d'oeuvres from Nancy's on hand in the freezer. They are delish and so easy: Just pop them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. I try to have a couple of bottles of white wine available ( always Barefoot, always chardonnay or Moscato ) for my drinking friends and some two-liter bottles of Sprite and Sprite Zero for the teetotalers. That always seems a little classier than plunking a can of Coke down on a coaster beside a visitor. You will look like some kind of Martha Stewart whiz-kid, and it won't be any trouble at all.

4. Still don't let anyone in that laundry room. Keep that gun ready.

Why I have a splitting headache

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and couldn't go back to sleep because that's just what I do, and a maddening thing it is. Getting up in the small hours does afford me the opportunity to see some really quality television programming -- who doesn't enjoy a gripping infomercial touting the many benefits of wearing that new permutation (emphasis on the mutation) of the Snuggie, the Forever Lazy. The primo advantage of wearing the Forever Lazy, a garment which appears to have been manufactured by Satan's minions in the lower realms of hell, is that it features a drop seat. To, you know, allow you to stay warm and cozy and un-pee-soaked. This attribute is spoken of in glowing terms in that commercial I linked to above. Lucky us!

That commercial itself is freakish and awkward and only funny if you can quickly put yourself in an ironic frame of mind. The most awful scene, in my jaded view, is the one where the three couples are having a tailgate party, drinking beers and passing around the snacks, every last one of them attired in the Forever Lazy. I just have to say right here that if my husband ever made a triumphant appearance from the front seat of our van dressed in one of first question wouldn't be "Who's lookin' awesome?" but "I wonder if the Forever Lazy is flame retardant?" But not to worry. My husband wouldn't wear one of those things, even if it came in the combined colors of Notre Dame, the Bengals and the Reds.

The second as-seen-on-TV item I saw wasn't clothing-related, thank the holy saints and angels, but instead a piece of jewelry. It is called the Titanic Coal Necklace, and the commercial made me goggle at the television screen in horror, all my irony leaking out of my toes and into my furry slippers.

"Commemorate the legacy of Titanic's tragic voyage with the 100th Anniversary Collector's Edition Necklace," the ad burbles. I sat there numbly thinking, Legacy? You mean the legacy of all those people drowning and/or freezing in the North Atlantic? The legacy where there weren't enough lifeboats, so the people in steerage were locked in to face their doom? Fun! I'd like four! Where's the phone number and my credit card!

So this necklace is apparently crafted out of actual coal retrieved from the murky ocean floor, encased in "ocean blue glass." "When you wear the 100th Anniversary Collection Necklace, you're preserving and commemorating the memory of Titanic." Scrumptious!

The fact that this necklace is made of that ocean-blue glass makes me very suspicious that the makers, the R.M.S. Titanic Inc. have been curled up in front of the television with some popcorn and a box of tissues, undoubtedly frocked out in their Forever Lazies, watching that execrable movie starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet as the passionate and soggy lovers, instead of reading the real history of the ship. That movie featured a huge, heart-shaped sapphire and diamond necklace that Kate's abusive fiance was going to give her as a wedding gift and Jack, Leonardo's character, drew an erotic sketch of a saucy Rose (Winslet), reclining on a chaise and wearing nothing but that piece of jewelry, her Forever Lazy lying crumpled on the floor at Jack's feet. It was fiction. FICTION.

All this brings me to my weary question, my thought processes addled by lack of sleep: Why would anyone buy a Forever Lazy and would that person actually use that back flap? And why would anyone want to wear a necklace commemorating an underwater mausoleum?

These are the existential things I ask myself in the middle of the night, bringing on an ennui that can only be cured by breakfast at Bob Evans.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How was that again?

I was driving Aisling to her piano lesson today and she spent most of the twenty minute ride telling me about a boy she likes and bewailing the fact that the males of the species are just so difficult to understand.

"Doesn't it make you feel so lucky that you're old and have been married for a million years so that you don't have to worry about this stuff anymore?" she asked me with great seriousness.

I turned my head to give her a long, appraising look. "You might want to re-phrase that, dear."

She sat and thought for a moment, her brow furrowed. "You mean 'married for a thousand years'?" she asked.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

12 things I always buy at Dollar Tree

Dollar Tree is, like, one of my favorite stores ever. Barnes & Noble is a strong contender; Ulta Beauty is definitely in the running. I deeply enjoy Hobby Lobby and Bed, Bath and Beyond. And I can always find time to go in Kohl's or Macy's. But Dollar Tree has a different vibe from any of those other places. It is homey, low-market (well, obviously, since everything costs a dollar), and the place where I will ONLY buy a number of commonly used household items, as follows:

1. Dish towels - If it's your thing, you can buy dish towels at Dollar Tree that are printed with wine bottles or latte cups or Santa: those things are at Dollar Tree in abundance. But they also have a large selection of neutral cotton dish towels in blues, greens and taupes that will go with anyone's kitchen and I just dare you to prove that you didn't spend $5 per towel on them at Williams-Sonoma. The towels do the job you bought them to do, and the moment they start looking ugly, you can either toss them in the wastebasket or delegate them to dusting duty.

2. Tea lights - We seem to have a number of ornamental candle-y arrangements around the place that require tea lights, which are those teeny candles that come in their own little aluminum holder. I find these little candles to be much more easy to deal with than votive candles, which, while bigger, have that annoying habit of leaking wax all over, say, the china cabinet in the dining room or the fireplace mantel. At Dollar Tree, you can get a plastic bag of sixteen tea lights for $1, each of which burns for about 2-3 hours. A total steal, especially when you compare that price to Hobby Lobby's, which is significantly more.

3. Tooth flossers - In this house, none of us like just plain old dental floss. We like those plastic doohickeys with the little piece of floss stretched on them. I don't want to get into a big (gross) thing about how all of us enjoy sparkling dental health due to the daily flossing our pearly teeth receive, but I will tell you that you can get a big bag of these handy flossers for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Compare that to the $2.89 you'd be spending on these very same things at Kroger, and even a math-impaired dork like me can figure out that you can get twice the flossing power at your friendly neighborhood DT.

4. Gift bags and tissue paper - Okay, some of the gift bags are ugly. But not all of them are. In fact, there are a good many cute ones available for any holiday you'd care to name. Well, except maybe ones like Arbor Day. And Columbus Day; I don't recall seeing any gift bags printed with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria last month. But, okay: Christmas, birthdays, weddings, graduations, Easter and Valentine's Day, the Dollar Tree has them. Plus, they have a wide assortment of tissue paper, a really generous amount, and you can even buy brights and pastels along with the typical white. You will never be able to spend $4.95 on a gift bag from Wal-Mart again.

5. Movie candy - Going to the cinema? Need Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Charleston Chews, Raisinets, Starbursts, M&Ms, Goobers, Mike & Ikes, Laffy Taffy, Gummi Bears or any of a dozen other candies you can find behind the glass at the Loew's concession stand? Go to the Dollar Tree before your show and stuff your purse and pockets with $1 candy to avoid spending $5 per box on the very same candy. That'll leave you enough money left over to buy some popcorn, which the Dollar Tree also sells, but only in un-popped form. The ushers will give you the stink eye if you try to find an outlet to plug in a microwave.

6. Basic OTC medicines - Pain killers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and plain ol' aspirin can be found at the Dollar Tree, along with their store brand of meds like cold tablets, decongestants, cough syrup, anti-diarrheal medication, allergy tablets, triple anti-biotic ointment, you name it. I keep a first aid kit in my car stocked with items from the Dollar Tree, as well as the medicine cabinets in the house. I also use Dollar Tree medications to stock a little kit for my husband to keep in his desk at work. You can also buy stick-on bandages, peroxide, isopropyl alcohol and other little items of that nature.

7. Little Debbie snack cakes - My husband has a terrible weakness for Little Debbie cakes, a fondness that is not shared by anyone else in our home except for the dogs. Dollar Tree has a wide selection of snack cakes at $1 per box, all the regular kinds: Sonic Brownies, Swiss Rolls, Oatmeal Pies, Zebra Cakes, Fancy Cakes, Honey Buns, Fudge Rounds and Nutty Bars are yours for the purchasing. They even have seasonal cakes like Christmas trees and those cute (but inedible) little heart-shaped ones for Valentine's Day. After paying $1 a box, I can't bring myself to spend the $1.89-$2.09 per box elsewhere. And no, these aren't old, stale, nasty cakes. They're just as fresh as the ones you'd buy at the grocery, just like the candy.

8. Paper product staples - Paper napkins, paper plates, paper towels, tissues, coffee filters and, if you're in a pinch, toilet paper. Just your basic white stuff, but it works great and it's cheap.

9. Party balloons - Dollar Tree has a big selection of both Mylar and latex balloons for a number of celebrations. Some of their balloons are pre-filled with helium, but if you want something special, a clerk will fill them for you, free. That'll make you think twice before going to Balloons, Etc. and paying $1.50-$3.00 per balloon. Dollar Tree also has a bunch of those cute little balloon weights to hold down your bouquet and keep it from taking off for the moon.

10. Wine glasses - I have to admit, my false pride makes it a bit hard to say, "Yes, I buy all my wine glasses at the Dollar Tree," but that's only because I'm an awful snob and need to be brought down a peg or two. But. But, but, but. Dollar Tree's wine glasses are virtually indistinguishable from a wine glass bought anywhere else, and I have to say that the time I've spent serving wine to my guests, I've never once had one smash their glass to the floor and say, "That does it! I am never coming here again and drinking your cheap wine out of your cheap glasses." So I buy the glasses and they're pretty and they're big -- *hiccup!* -- and if you serve enough wine and some nice little crackers with some cheese and olives and a bowl of smoked almonds, who the heck is going to care where the wine glass came from? All that matters is that it stays filled, right?

11. Disposable cooking containers - You know how nice it is to take food to people, right? A lasagna, a pie or cake, some cookies on a platter, a loaf of banana bread - gifts like that are always welcome for hostesses or the ailing or whoever you know who needs some home cooking. But I don't have to tell you what a pain it is for the recipient to make sure you get your Pyrex baking dish back, right? Especially if the person you're taking food to is a new mother or a post-op patient: those folks don't have the time to wash your casserole dish or your platter and make sure it's returned to you. So go to the Dollar Tree and spend one hundred pennies on a disposable aluminum baking pan and don't even think of going to the grocery store and spending FIVE DOLLARS -- no, I am not kidding -- on the very same pan. The only difference is that some of the grocery store aluminum-ware come with those "lifter" contraptions that don't really work anyway, so why bother? The giftee will be so happy to not have to wash and return your container, and you won't have to spend months afterwards thinking to yourself, I know I have a nine-inch Anchor pie plate around here somewhere before remembering that you used it to take an apple pie to your child's piano teacher. True story.

12. Christmas cookie tins - Speaking of containers, if you are a Christmas-cookie-baker, you can find adorable little festive tins in about three or four different sizes at the Dollar Tree. Line them with some of that above-mentioned tissue paper and you've got the sweetest and cheapest little vehicle ever for gifting someone with your homemade goodies. We stock up every year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Signs that the Apocalypse is Upon Us

Today I was at the laundromat washing the duvet from our bed and an absolutely riveting episode of Matlock was playing at high volume on every single one of the flat-screen televisions hanging over the washing machines.

Matlock is one of those television shows that, to me, is so incredibly boring, I can feel myself dying a little each and every second it is being broadcast in my presence, but I suddenly snapped to attention when a commercial break shifted us out of whatever hell dimension Andy Griffith and his band of do-gooder cronies inhabit when I heard the unmistakeable opening guitar riff of AC/DC's "Back in Black." This is a song that never fails to make me smile, and I'm often overwhelmed with the urge to bust out some major air guitar. Which I didn't do. Because, dignity? I don't have much, but the little bit I have left to me, I cling to like frozen pizza remnants cling to an oven rack.

So I'm smiling, bobbing my head and mentally singing along with the lyrics, when all of a sudden I realize that I'm watching a FREAKING WAL-MART COMMERCIAL advertising their upcoming after-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales.

I seriously wanted to just fall to the floor and scream "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" Lead singer Brian Johnson has nothing on me when it comes to anguished howling.

AC/DC. And flipping WAL-MART! Can you believe it?

I know. Me either.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Because I'm weak

I don't think it speaks well for my character that I blow right past the dry cleaning establishment that's four blocks from my house, but where you have to park in their lot and haul your sweaters and your dressy wool coat and your husband's autumn sport coat, while on my way to a rival dry cleaning establishment that has a drive-thru window. Where, you know, everything can just be bundled through the hatch while sitting in the comfort of your car and listening to the radio.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Creature from the Madge Lagoon

You just knew it wasn't all over with Madge, didn't you?

I scared her off the other day with my Teacher Look, but she must have been feeling under the weather, not quite her usual hideous self. Maybe she had a sniffle, a headache, or a sudden smiting with fire and brimstone from above. Who knows? Anyway, we had another encounter in the pool today and the old bat was in rare form.

So I was in the pool, naturally, doing my usual routine. I'd been there for about twenty-five minutes and was deep into cardio and feeling good, which was, incidentally, a feeling that was going to be leaving me shortly.

Madge came in - she's recognizable because she always comes in wearing a yellow bathrobe with a duck on the back - and I didn't worry about her because there were three open lanes. I was in my usual "step lane," the lane I always use because the lap swimmers don't like to use it: the set of steps that the handicapped use to get into the pool descends into the lane and shortens it by about six feet. So imagine my surprise when Madge came down the steps into the pool and hollered at me, "I'm swimming in this lane now, so MOVE."

The aquatics director happened to be walking by on the pool deck just about then and her head whipped around, her mouth and eyes open in astonishment. Me, I wasn't really much surprised. So I was ready for her.

I looked her square in the eye. "Can you say 'please'?" I asked with a tight smile.

"No," she said shortly. "This is lap swim time and you're not swimming laps, so move."

"I'm not moving because you are so incredibly rude. You can't come in here and demand that people move," I said determinedly. Because, listen: I don't want to start things with people. I don't. I'm not that kind of person. However, I'm no stranger to the fact that some people don't respond to either niceness or reason, which leaves standing up for yourself in a dignified yet rock-solid manner. I'd never scream curse words at anyone, especially an ancient old lady who looks like a manatee. But I'll be squizzled if I'm going to let some pushy old harridan order me around like she's Catherine-the-Freakin-Great, either.

The aquatic director spoke up: "Madge, this is not just lap swim time. This is lap swim and water jog time and you can't tell people to move."

"THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN LAP SWIM TIME," Madge trumpeted, whirling about in the water like a hippopotamus preparing to charge.

"Well, it isn't anymore," said the director, frowning and putting her hands on her hips.


I drew a deep breath and looked her straight in the eye, feeling like I was getting ready to draw my revolver to fire the first shot at the OK corral. "No, you're not, you big bully."

Madge recoiled in shock. "You," she spluttered, "are MEAN." Which seemed a bit of the pot calling the kettle dirty bottom, but Madge is obviously one of those old folks who is more than willing to use her advanced age into manipulating people into doing her bidding.

"MADGE," bellowed the aquatics director, looking like she was fixin' to jump into the pool and drag Madge out by her hair, "either move to another lane or GET OUT OF THE POOL."

"You're not really swimming," Madge said bitterly, looking at me hatefully. "What you're doing doesn't count." (Like that floating-on-the-back and using her hands as paddles maneuver she does is equal to a 500 meter freestyle at the Olympic trials.)

"Maybe not," I said evenly. "But whatever it is or isn't, I'm doing it in this lane."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Because Wonder Woman is for realz, and she is me

Today I got home from Fishers at ten minutes 'til noon. I had exactly one hour before I had to be in yoga class at the YMCA, making my body bend and stretch in ways it doesn't necessarily want to. Unless, of course, I'm stretching to remove a bag of Hershey's Kisses from the top shelf of the cabinet where I hid them from myself last week, and then drop them on the floor, necessitating a bend-over to pick them up. Wait. Where was I?

Okay, anyway, I had an hour. And in that hour, I changed my clothes, ate some lunch, fussed at Aisling for leaving her crap lying around all over the house, made a meatloaf, stirred up some honey-oatmeal dough for the bread machine to bake, took a load of clean towels out of the washer and put them in the dryer, started a second load of towels in the washer, collected a stack of library books that are coming due, packed up my gym back and hopped into the van at 12:58 to make the six-block drive to the Y. Add to all that the fact that I'd put in a good, solid two hours of prep work for the Brit Lit final I am administering to a happy group of students on Thursday, and I'd say, "So who do you know who is a busy little Amazon and has two thumbs?"

The answer is "Me!"

And you were supposed to picture me pointing at myself with my thumbs.

Oh, never mind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reprise and Reprisals: Madge-at-the-swimming-pool

I'm kind of proud of that title. I flatter myself that it sounds like something Jane Austen might have come up with. Er, something with which Jane Austen might have come up. Up with something Jane Austen might have come?

Shut up.

Anyhoo, Madge, the elderly woman I encountered at the YMCA pool a few weeks ago, the one who told me, obnoxiously, that she was going to swim in my lane? I met her again today in the clear, chlorinated waters of the shallow end. All the lanes were in use by lap-swimmers; I myself was moving into my fortieth minute of high-cardio aqua aerobics and was feeling particularly sassy.

So when Madge came down the steps into the pool, she didn't look in my direction. But she did start moving toward me with a purposeful stride and it was pretty obvious that she was going to come up to me and attempt to commandeer my lane in her imperious way. I was all, like, grimly, "Hells to the no!" and was ready to square off with her, if I needed to. Because remember, I am both a mother and a teacher, which means that I am possibly one of the bossiest people alive, except for maybe Hugo Chavez. And one of the mores of a peaceful and prosperous planet is that people need to learn to wait their turns. Old or young, poor or wealthy, people need to stop being so freaking pushy and acting like the axis of the world runs through the middle of their ridiculous heads. For heaven's sake, just BE POLITE.

So I left her approach me, and when she got within six feet, I turned the ol' laser eye on her, that look which clearly says Do Not Frigging Mess With Me. It's not so much an entire facial expression as it is a dangerous glint in the eye, that same one Mel Gibson had in the Franco Zeffirelli-directed Hamlet, when he put some manners on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It's the same look I give to whisperers, note-passers, eye-rollers and sigh-heavers. And it works.

Madge stopped short and looked around, nonplussed, probably searching for someone else to persecute. Seeing that there was no option, she turned and went back to the steps, climbing out to sit on the bench, just like everyone else does when they're waiting for a lane to open. And while her head was turned away, the lifeguard caught my eye across the splashing of four swimmers and gave me a double thumbs-up.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lies your friends will tell you

I have a confession to make.

I have been known to speak in encouraging tones of bright confidence to my friends who have small chirren, telling them how someday, the little buggers will sleep past the crack of dawn; indeed, they'll sleep so long, you won't be required to feed them either breakfast or lunch. They'll just stagger, grumbling, down to the kitchen in flannel pajama bottoms and big, lumpy sweatshirts and raid the cupboards and the fridge, eating up several key ingredients you bought to use in making various recipes through the week.

I've also told my friends, the mothers of young kids and desperate for sleep and the desire to pee without an audience, that things are just so much easier when all the little ones are all out of diapers and able to pour themselves a drink without flooding the floor in a sticky sea of cran-apple juice.

Oh, these things are true, they really are. But I've been shamefully negligent in sharing the other side of the story, which is that somehow, you'll find you're busier with your teenagers than you ever were with your babies. Looking back on it, I fondly recall the days I spent at home with Meelyn-the-toddler and Aisling-the-infant. I was babysitting back then for my longtime friend Beth's toddler, Allison, and another little girl as well, the daughter of one of my brother's high school friends. The five of us were a jolly little fivesome: we finger-painted and sang songs along with the Raffi cassettes and read stories (especially Madeline stories) and swung on the swings; I cooked carefully balanced lunches and set up a little Montessori preschool in our playroom. It was utterly lovely, all four of them in diapers at one point, and everyone went down for a nap at precisely 12:30. They were all champion sleepers and I got a blessed two hours to myself every single day.

When I think about "bad days" back then, the only thing I can remember with eye-bugging clarity is the time when I found a crate of eighty-five library books in the trunk of my car, books I'd meant to return, every single one of them overdue by two weeks. The money I paid for that fine financed the complete renovation of the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, including furniture and computers.

But now we're at these days, the days when Meelyn and Aisling can pretty much fend for themselves in the closet, the bathroom and the kitchen - although Aisling frequently claims that she can't boil water and needs me to make her a grilled cheese sandwich immediately, if not sooner. But somehow, we're busier. Both girls have jobs; I have several part-time teaching jobs. My husband has a different job that is thankfully closer to home and demands less hours of him. But it's still retail and there is still a lot of time involved. We're busy, busier than we've been before, yet somehow clutching every moment to us as precious as we get ready to set our little chicks free from the comfortable and comforting nest.

All this is to say that there are reasons why I haven't updated my blog in almost three weeks.

It wouldn't be because I'm, like, lazy or anything. Or playing a really addictive online backgammon. No, no, nothing to do with anything like that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's that you're cooking?

When I find recipes I like on the internet, I generally scrawl them down on a piece of scrap paper, using whatever writing tool comes to hand: an ink pen, a stubby pencil, a highlighter marker. The other day, I was looking for a recipe for a potato crust (using instant potato flakes) for the tilapia filets we're having for dinner tonight, and I scribbled down this list on a Post-It, using a purple highlighter:

1/2 cup flour

1 egg, beaten

1 cup pot flakes


I was going over that recipe just now to get ready to do some cooking when I gave it a second glance and realized that, for anyone who doesn't know what a strait-laced little goody-two-shoes I am, that "1 cup pot flakes" might seem a bit, I don't know, naughty.

And expensive.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Respect thy elders, and I mean NOW

I swim five or six days a week at our local YMCA, appearing poolside in bathing suit and flip flops, toting a towel, a water bottle and some four pound Styrofoam water weights, searching for an open lane. I get there anywhere between six o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, depending on the day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the busiest days, the ones in which the hard-core lap swimmers come and shame me with their flip turns and their butterflies and, apparently, their fully functioning gills.

I combine my laps with water aerobics because there's just no way I can swim laps for an entire hour like some of them do. Because the pool schedule designates the hours I'm there as LAP SWIM, I made sure to check with the aquatics director before just blithely taking up an entire lane so that I can occupy one small part of it with my Aquacise; I don't want to annoy anyone who comes in to swim laps, being one of those people who is hopeful of getting along nicely with others, although sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Today, for instance. Today, I got to the pool at 7:30, which is usually a good time to find an open lane. Unfortunately, every lane was full -- and this pool is enormous -- and some of the lanes had two swimmers. On days like this, there's nothing to do but just take a seat on the bench outside the ladies' locker room door and wait. Which I did. Patiently. Although I have to admit, I wish the YMCA, which has wi-fi, would set up some desks so that people could get some work done while they're waiting. I found myself thinking longingly of my laptop and all I could be getting accomplished instead of staring alternately at the clock and the pool, back and forth, again and again.

It took about fifteen minutes for one of the lanes to open. The lifeguard, who'd come over to sit beside me and chat, said, "Looks like you can go ahead and jump on in. Have a good workout!" The man who was climbing out gave me a nod and said, "Good morning! Feels great in there!" and I swam my first couple of laps with a light heart and a feeling of goodwill for everyone, embarking on my aerobics program with vigor about fifteen minutes later.

Thirty minutes later, I was still flailing away like a little trooper, having moved over to what we all call the "step lane," which, quite simply, is the lane that is shorter than the others because of the set of steps with two handrails that descends into the water to a distance of about four feet from the wall. The lap swimmers don't like to swim in that lane, obviously because it's painful to glide headlong into a set of steps. That kind of thing can really mess with your stroke. I use that lane a lot and have grown to feel that it's my special place in the pool, not only right there by those steps (which I need to get in and out of the pool due to my handicap) but also in easy view of both clocks, the one that marks the hours, and the one that marks the seconds.

So I'm doing my thing, right? And I've been there doing it for about forty-five minutes, having a pretty good workout. Heart rate up, burning fat, taking in air IN through my nose and OUT through my mouth and moving that water, when....

...what? What?

Ladies were starting to gather in the water at the other side of the pool for the nine o'clock water aerobics class and both dedicated lap lanes still had swimmers in them, so there were people around. But out of nowhere, someone's finger tapped me on the shoulder, and not in that "Hey, hi! Remember me from the bank/grocery/post office?" kind of way. It was more of a stabby kind of thing. Startled, I turned my head as I was jogging and saw an elderly lady standing there, far enough away that I wasn't going to nail her with an elbow, but still pretty darned close, considering we had an entire giant pool at our disposal.

I gave her an inquiring look, bemused at the fact that she was scowling at me under her white swim cap like she'd just found out I was a secret pool-pee-er.

"I'M GOING TO SWIM HERE NOW," she shouted at me, indicating the lane I was exercising in.

"Oh?" I replied politely, bringing my jog down to a light bounce.


"This lane isn't open," I pointed out.

"WELL, I HAVE TO HAVE SOMEPLACE TO SWIM," she yelled and grimly began to paddle toward the deep end, doing some kind of weird back stroke that involved using her hands like flippers. She lifted her head out of the water and gave me one last glare before making a "Hmmmph!" sound and putting her head defiantly back in the water. She looked like a great big old grouchy manatee.

So what was I supposed to do? She was an elderly lady, and I was brought up to respect my elders, to treat them with courtesy and gentleness, not to shout, "BRING IT ON, MAMAW!" and hold them under water. I mean, I could do that because I was at least thirty years younger than her, plus I was armed with those Styrofoam weights and I could have clocked her right in the side of her old grey head. But I didn't.

I did, however, do the next best thing: I ratted her out to the lifeguard. So ha, ha, HA.

"Oh, that's Madge," sighed Tara, the guard. "She's nasty like that to everyone. Just ignore her."

So we'll see how that goes, won't we? I seriously do not want to start anything with anyone, particularly an elderly woman. On the other hand, I don't think that either the elderly or the very young should be encouraged in their bad behavior because no one is brave enough to confront them. Like the three-year-old whom I observed throwing a huge fit in a restaurant the other day while his hapless mother dithered around saying, "Brandon, stop that. Stop that, honey! Get up off that dirty floor, sweetie, and Mommy will give you a piece of gum," I don't think Madge should be allowed to bully her way into other people's swimming lanes because people, namely me, will allow themselves to be run off from the lane they had to wait fifteen minutes to claim.

It remains to be seen if Madge will allow herself to be ignored.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I usually write my menu plan for the week on a piece of paper, a hard copy, menu on one side, grocery list on the other. I don't have any kind of fancy plan for either side; if it's a good week, I'll write things down in the order they appear on the shelves at the supermarket as we follow our typical path through the aisles. On bad weeks, I lose the list, either before or after I've done the shopping. Losing it before the groceries have been bought is by far the worst, because then I have no clue what I'm supposed to be shopping for. I may have a vague memory of someone's telling me we need more dental floss. Unfortunately, dental floss is not an ingredient in any of the foods I make, although I suppose you could use it to truss up a chicken for roasting. But if I forget to buy the chicken, where are we then? I'll tell you where we are: We're going through the stack of take-out menus we keep on the side of the fridge, fastened there by a number of magnets. And we argue endlessly over what we want. Pizza? Chinese? Italian? Burgers? Nobody agrees with anyone else and my husband shoots me narrow-eyed looks and mumbles things about "grocery money" and "why bother."

So I try to enter the grocery list into the phone app called Catch, and that would probably work better if I didn't either have to keep expanding the text to make it big enough to read, or taking off and putting on my glasses. Annoying!

By the time I get around to posting my menu plan, I may or may not have a kitchen full of groceries, and if I do, I may or may not have any idea what dishes the various foods are supposed to be assembled into, if you see what I mean.

Happily, this was not one of those weeks, but for all I know, next week might be.
Menu Plan for the Week of October 10, 2011

Monday - Sloppy Joes and potato puffs, at my husband's request

Tuesday - Layered Mexican Casserole, courtesy of my friends Todd and Cecile. Cecile found this recipe on the Weight Watchers site and she and Todd made it and loved it. Todd, knowing that I like t0 try new recipes, sent it to me on Facebook. I made it tonight (because I am actually typing this on Tuesday, not Monday, because I'm a big cheater) and it was fabulous, one of those recipes that makes you say, "This is diet food?"

Wednesday - Italian Wedding Soup and homemade bread

Thursday - Jalapeno cheeseburgers and pan-roasted potatoes

Friday - Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, some kind of veg and cherry cobbler

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lazy Sundays

The best times of the year for Lazy Sundays are in the autumn and the winter. In the spring, you're so sick of the cold and snow - at least you are if you live where I live, and if you live somewhere that has summer-like weather all year 'round, just hush up because no one likes a bragger - that you're itching to get outdoors and just roll around on your back in the grass like a horse. In the summer, it seems like there's always something going on, even if it's something as simple as getting up off the couch to make the hamburger patties and set the pot of water on the stove to boil for the sweet corn.

But in the autumn...and the winter...things are delightfully different, aren't they? It feels like a duty, almost, to put something on the stove, or in the oven or the slow-cooker, that will have to simmer and fill the house full of savory smells. And then, naturally, once that business is seen to, you proceed directly to the couch with a book, preferably wearing, if not your actual bathrobe, clothing that is more suited to indoor warmth and comfy-ness, like fleece apparel. You never see anyone doing her Sunday lounging while wearing a J.C. Penney power suit, do you? If you ever do see such a thing, please tell her to get up and go change and stop being such an uptight dork.

Slippers are a requirement, an absolute must. There will be no arguing this point: Slippers. On your feet. All afternoon. Wear socks with them so they won't get stinky.

I put a pot of chili on the stove today, somewhere around noon. While it was doing its thing, I threw a package of shredded cheddar on the kitchen table, got out the jalapeno peppers and stuck a fork in the open jar (because honestly, you wouldn't believe some of the barbaric behavior I've seen around here, such as licking off a fork that has already been used to eat taco casserole and sticking it back into that jar to spear a few pepper slices), some mini-packages of goldfish crackers and a stack of saltines. I filled my great-grandmother's burl bowl with a couple of handfuls of snack-sized candy bars. Bowls, napkins, spoons. I went to the kitchen doorway and stood there overlooking the dining room and living room and said to the assembled family members and a friend of my husband's who was here helping us solve some IT issues with our Netflix video streaming queue, "Chili's ready on the stove, so go grab a bowl and help yourselves."

Everyone wandered in as the mood struck them, and it was very pleasant hearing the fridge open and close, spoons clinking against bowls, and an occasional howl of either rage or joy from the men, depending on which way the football game was going. I sank into my seat on the couch and looked at my be-slippered toes, contemplating the fact that it's really a bit too warm on this particular Sunday for socks and slippers, but knowing I'd regret it if I took off the socks.

One 45-minute nap later, I woke to find the whole rest of the long, slow happy day stretching in front of me; Sunday bliss.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How I know it's fall

I always know when fall arrives because, first of all, my husband insists that we no longer need the central air to cool the house. Generally, he's right about this, but there are those times when an Indian summer day sneaks in and I find myself gasping and sweating while engaging in a strenuous activity like typing a handout on the life of George Orwell. I have no qualms about turning the AC back on, because I've managed to convince him that a Cool Wife is a Happy Wife. Being too hot makes me mean.

The other way I know it's fall is because we sleep with the bedroom windows open at night, just a crack. This is my favorite way to sleep, in a slightly chilly room with the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the tree right outside our west window, and the milk truck going by early in the morning. Occasionally, I can hear the train whistle from ten blocks up the street, and that is my favorite middle-of-the-night sound ever.

As much as I like sleeping with the bedroom windows open, I have to be very wary of my husband, keeping a watchful eye on both him and the overnight weather forecast. Comes a day when he says, "I opened the windows and, hey - we don't really need this big blanket on the bed, do we?"

I sighed and carried on slathering moisturizer onto my face. We go through this same conversation at least three times a week during early-to-mid October, and it always happens in the evening when my defenses are down and my last available nerve has been worn down to a nubbin by the events of the day. "I think we need to close the windows a little bit because they're both wide open and it's supposed to get down in the low forties tonight. And yes, we will need that blanket."

"You may need it on you," he said, kicking vigorously at the blanket in a manner that always makes me want to clock him - I prefer to have the blanket neatly folded, accordion-style, at the foot of the bed, not thrashed down there in an untidy heap - "but I don't need it on me. I'm too warm."

"You won't be later," I remarked, putting the lid back onto my bottle of moisturizer. I went to the south window, which is nine feet tall, sash-style, and opens up to half that length, which exposes us to almost as much night air as a sleeping bag placed on the lawn under the stars would. I pulled it down to a height of about two inches and went to the other window, identical in height, and closed it altogether.

My husband immediately began gasping. "It is SO HOT in here," he complained. "No air at ALL." (This, in spite of the fact that a pedestal floor fan was on the medium setting and pointed straight at him.) "I feel like I'm going to suffocate." He slapped his paperback novel onto his bedside table and grumpily fell back onto his pillows, huffing.

"You won't think that later when it gets really cold in here, somewhere around four o'clock this morning."

"I don't think I'm going to last that long. It feels like a sauna in here."

I sighed again and switched out my lamp, settling myself back onto my own pillows and silently complimenting myself on my virtuous restraint from holding one over his face.

Later on that night, I woke up shivering, so cold that it was hard to bend my fingers. I was curled into shrimp-shape, huddled up with a light Arctic breeze ruffling the exposed right sleeve of my nightgown. I turned over in bed to find an edge of the sheet to pull over myself so that I could ward off hypothermia, and as I did so, the expected sight met my eyes through the darkness: that of my husband rolled snugly in ALL the sheet and ALL the thick, fleecy blanket, peacefully snoring his head off while I chipped ice particles off my eyelashes.

Three seconds later, he came back to consciousness with a yelp of surprise and surrendered my share of the bedding. See, one of the reasons why I like having long fingernails is because you can use one of them to make a swift, silent point and make it seem like an accident.

"Sorry, honey," I murmured, turning back over in the bed and pulling the warm covers up to my ears. "Sleep tight."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Menu Plan Monday (on Tuesday, but it's already been a long week)

You know those Thursday mornings when you wake up and open your eyes and then realize that it's really only Tuesday? You know how you DON'T just leap out of bed with your arms in the air shouting, "Yippee!!! I thought this week was almost over, but I've actually still got more than half of it yet to go!"


So times like these make me really happy to be participating with a whole bunch of other mommy bloggers in Laura's Menu Plan Monday feature at her blog, I'm An Organizing Because all that you see below was planned out last Thursday and purchased last Friday, back in the good old days when I still had my wits about me. Because if I were trying to plan menus, say, yesterday? We'd be out in the front yard eating the fallen leaves off the tree.


Monday - I looked in the refrigerators -- both refrigerators, the one in the kitchen and the one in the utility room that is generally known as the Beer Fridge -- on Sunday afternoon and realized that we had enough leftovers from last week to create a perfectly respectable sort of buffet dinner. We had a bowl of brown rice left from the stir-fry, some spaghetti sauce from Friday's jaunt to New Castle, meatloaf from last Monday and lentil soup from whatever day we ate that. I made a baked spaghetti casserole with the rice, the spaghetti sauce and some mozzarella and turkey pepperoni I found in the fridge, heated up the meatloaf, sliced thin, topped it with a slice of cheddar and plunked it on squares of homemade bread, added a little cubed ham to the lentil soup and told everybody to jump right in.

They told me it was the best meal they'd had in weeks.

I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Tuesday - Aisling's dinner request for tonight was homemade biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs, so I made that for her and my husband. Meelyn and I, however, have reached that point in life where we don't feel called upon to consume vast amounts of calories, fat and carbs that we really don't enjoy all that much, so we each had a Weight Watchers Smart Ones microwaveable meal, both of which were very good.

Wednesday - Roasted chicken breast with balsamic vinegar glaze, sweet potatoes and one of those yummy Green Giant Steamers veggies, although I can't quite remember which variety I chose.

Thursday - Meelyn and I are experimenting with a breakfast casserole, trying to see how much of the fat and cholesterol we can remove before all the taste goes along with it. I haven't decided if I'm going to go the route of my mother's Christmas Day Breakfast Casserole (although it really frosts her doughnuts when I make this out-of-season) or a crustless quiche. If the recipe I choose is successful, I'll post it. All I know right now is that it will include some nice lean ham instead of sausage, have some egg whites substituted for at least half the amount of whole egg called for, and also....


Fat-free cheese.

Heaven help me.

Friday - I think I'm going to have to go to a restaurant. I can just feel it. It may be Wendy's, for all I know, but I am deeply hoping for Chili's.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NUNDAY: Picky, picky, picky

I love this picture of Benedictine nuns picking apples. They all look so happy, and there was probably no complaining about who was going to climb the ladder and no speculation as to whether Sister Scholastica intends to let that branch go on purpose and Sister Mary is not groaning, "Mother Abbess says we have to fill another bushel." We hope.

Menu Plan Monday

This week, I'm debuting a new fall soup. It sounds delicious and I hope I'm not wrong! To see more Monday menu plans from around the country, visit Laura at her blog, I'm an Organizing

Menu Plan for the Week of September 26, 2011

Monday - Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables (baby carrots, zucchini, butternut squash)

Tuesday - Chicken quesadillas (made with whole-wheat tortillas, chicken, refried beans and reduced-calorie cheddar-jack cheese, plus spicy seasonings galore) and Green Giant Steamers Buttery Rice and Vegetables

Wednesday - Chunky Split Pea Soup, homemade honey-whole wheat bread

Thursday - Thai Broccoli-Chicken Stir fry with brown rice

Friday - My husband and I are going to Beth and Jim's house to meet them and Jeff and Julie for dinner. Helen (Beth's mother-in-law, Jeff's mother-in-law and Jim and Julie's mother) will also be there, and various friends and family members will undoubtedly be in and out. To that end, Beth, Julie and I are collaborating on a spaghetti dinner, to which I am contributing a big pot of Ragù Americana to go with Beth's homemade meatballs and Julie's garlic bread, which she always butters lovingly on both sides.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Creepy old perv or innocent grandpa?

I was at the grocery store with Meelyn on Friday and we'd filled our cart and finally made our way to the check-out. We had to wait just a little bit, but when it was our turn to start unloading all our food onto the conveyor belt, we did so with great dexterity, having practiced this maneuver many, many times before.

I was unloading the small part, the part where a child can sit, so my back was to the people in line behind me. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem at all -- I am not noted for my paranoia -- but there was a problem. With "but" being the operative word, only add another "t" to the end of it.

As I was removing items from the cart and placing them on the belt, I couldn't help but feel something? someone? touch my bottom. I sort of froze for a split second, evaluating the situation. I mean, I've been to Italy before and I don't know if things have changed over there in the past thirty years, but my bottom got touched, like, all the time. It was great. I'm kidding. Sort of. Anyway, I was only fifteen at the time and my bottom was, well....different than it is now. I glanced quickly back over my shoulder and noticed that the old gent who was behind us in the line was actually BEHIND us. It was his behind touching my bottom.

I murmured, "Excuse me," and pushed our cart a little bit forward so that I'd be out of his way and continued piling groceries on the belt. A few seconds later, there it was again: a gentle but insistent pressure on my backside. Another quick glance confirmed that it was that man again, standing back to back with me, pressing his rear against mine.

Flustered, I moved the cart a bit forward again, deciding not to say "excuse me" again because it was just kind of embarrassing, you know? I mean, the dude was old, right? And because he was so old, it just didn't right to imply that he was engaged in some kind of pervy shenanigans that might have gotten his face slapped if he'd done such a thing forty years previously.

Because old men don't think nasty thoughts, do they?

So, back to the groceries. Back to the unloading. We were almost finished, and Meelyn, oblivious to my plight, was standing in such a manner that I couldn't push the cart forward any further without mowing her down. Which is why, when the elderly man pushed his keister into my derriere for the THIRD TIME and just left it there, touching me, I had no good way to escape.

Let me just go off on a rabbit trail here. American women, for all our Virginia Slims and equality and freedom and such, are often just too freaking nice. We are so nice that we let people get away with doing stuff that they shouldn't ought to be doing because we don't want to make a fuss, don't want to cause a commotion, don't want to embarrass anyone or draw undue attention to ourselves or whatever. So we let people carry on doing something that is clearly wrong - or perhaps maybe....not so clear? When you're in a situation that's hard to define, what exactly can you do to define it?

For instance, should I have turned around and said to the old codger, "Sir, I can't help but notice that you've pressed your backside rather firmly against mine three different times now and I'd like to know just what you're doing? I mean, are you just in a hurry and needing to get your groceries unloaded quickly and are therefore being heedless of my personal space? Or do you have some other intent? I need to know so that I can decide whether I should hit you with my purse, or threaten to have my husband hunt you down or just give you the Miss Manners patented glacial stare-and-thin-lipped-smile combo."

Instead, I just turned all the way around so that I was facing him. He must have sensed my breath on the back of his neck, because all of a sudden, he pulled his bum in and, casting a furtive look over his shoulder, suddenly busied himself with re-arranging all the boxes and cans in his own cart.

He wouldn't look me in the face, wouldn't meet my eyes.

I didn't say anything. How could I? I mean, maybe he was mortified that he'd run into me three different times. Sadly, my bottom does stick out a good bit. On the other hand, if you were an elderly clandestine bottom-rubber, mine does make an easy and visible target. It's just all RIGHT THERE, hard to miss.

I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I didn't want to call him out in front of all those people. I was second-guessing myself like crazy by that point, anyway. Surely it was just my imagination that led me to think that my rear end was not only being touched, but pressed against?

No. It wasn't my imagination. I felt all weird and twitchy about that incident for the rest of the afternoon, wondering what I would have done and how I would have felt if it had been Meelyn's bottom he'd touched. Because I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to my hiney, but discovered that I was totally and completely unable to summon any feelings of "Aw, the poor old thing...he probably didn't even realize," when it came to Meelyn's hiney.

I would have jumped over the cart full of groceries and gone all Matrix on him.

Later that evening, when my husband and I were at dinner, I recounted my touchy tale to him. When I explained the first incident, he just nodded his head to acknowledge his agreement that it was probably nothing, but raised his eyebrows when I got to the second episode. By the time I was getting to the third moment of the old man pressing against me, my husband laid down his fork.

"Did you say something to him?" my husband asked.

I shrugged and swallowed a bite of salad. "What could I say that wouldn't make me look like some freakishly high-strung individual?"

My husband gave me a long look and then replied, "A lot of the time, that's probably what people like him count on. That no woman is going to want to accuse some nice old fart in a Mister Rogers cardigan of touching her for fear that she's going to seem hysterical and bizarre. Because what could be more harmless-looking than a guy who looks like he could be your granddad? That just gives men like that a green light to go ahead and touch a few more ladies. Never in a way that seems on purpose, like just reaching out and grabbing. But in a more subtle way, pressing against a butt in a grocery check-out line, 'accidentally' getting some side-boob action with his elbow when he reaches across you as we pass the collection plate at church...."

I gulped and glanced around nervously, doing a quick Spot-the-Pervert check amongst my fellow diners. "You're freaking me out. Like there's this whole world of dirty old men out there, prowling around trying to cop a feel."

It was his turn to shrug. "Well, that stereotype got started somehow. We can't blame it all on Benny Hill." He picked his fork back up and speared some lettuce on it.

"So, if this sort of thing should happen again? I should?...."

My husband smiled his lop-sided smile, the same one that melted my heart when we first met. "You look at him and say, in a very quiet voice, 'If you don't stop touching me, I am going to break you in half, motherfu.....'"

"Okay. Gotcha," I interrupted hastily.

Next time....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Observations (admittedly mundane)

I think it's a real shame, here in my city, that none of the plumbing companies -- and I just Googled eight of them -- saw fit to locate their businesses on John Street. That seems like a regrettable oversight.

If you're at the doctor's office and you're sitting there in an exam room waiting, bored, and decide to sneak your book out of your handbag to read a bit and then the doctor comes in right afterwards and says, "Oh! What are you reading?" why is it always some book like a Sookie Stackhouse novel instead of, say, A History of Western Philosophy?

Life would be so much easier if butter tasted like castor oil.

A dog who just came in from the rain is exponentially more likely to want to sit on your lap than a dog who just got home from a good, long spell at the groomer's.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Ah, a rainy Monday. Although I've always been very fond of Karen Carpenter (a secret I guarded close to me during my teenage years, when my friends had no idea that I was singing "Superstar" and "Close to You" into my hairbrush in front of my vanity mirror in my bedroom), I've always liked rainy days, although I am as meh about Mondays as she was. Since rainy days are okay but Mondays are less so, it's always nice to have the week's menu planned out ahead of time.

I have Laura over at her blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie, to thank for this weekly kick in the hiney. It makes everything so much easier when Wednesday rolls around and my wits are totally scattered because of a million things going on and the last thing I want to be thinking is, "Oh, noooo, I forgot about dinnerrrrrrrrrrrr!" Because believe me, I used to try that on my husband in a bid to get a mid-week Applebee's outing, but now that we're in this recession, it would be more like a mid-week fast food drive-thru run, and frankly, I'd just rather cook.

Menu Plan for the Week of September 18, 2011

Monday - This meal has come up more than several time in the past couple of months because we all love it: Jalapeno Cheeseburgers made with Morningstar Farms Grillers, grilled onions, sliced jalapeno peppers, pepper-jack cheese and that Onion Blossom Sauce you can find right here on InsomniMom. I like to pair it with skillet-roasted potatoes and a simple veg like seasoned green beans.

Tuesday - Broccoli-Chicken Thai Stir-Fry, which is actually a "diet" recipe, but so help me, if anyone eating this concoction can tell that it is low-calorie and low-fat, they've got more evolved taste buds than I do. I should put that recipe up on the site. It's so good and fresh and easy.

Thursday - a good, old-fashioned taste of fall: Chicken Pot Pie, that delicious recipe from, I believe, the 1950s? With the Bisquick crust that just melts in your mouth? It is fabulous and easy, made these days with reduced-fat Bisquick and (don't look, Kayte) the same old cream of chicken soup it's always been made with. Comfort food supreme, crammed with vegetables and delicious chunks of chicken breast.

If you're interested, we had that Game Day Taco Dip (recipe here at the site under Recipes for Appetizers) on Sunday, which was a fun dinner, and on Saturday, my husband, who is a big poophead, ordered himself a pizza from a local pizza place, while I made a delicious homemade deep dish pizza with a yeasty whole wheat crust for me and the girls. It was absolutely loaded with turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and green pepper and it was fabulous. His greasy pizza later gave him indigestion. Not that I thought it served him right or anything.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A serving of thoughts on the side

Around here, because we generally go to church on Saturday evening, Sundays aren't the organized days they were when I was a child and we had to be sitting in Sunday School, turned out in our best and in a Jesus state of mind by nine-flipping-thirty a.m., despite the fact that my dad was grumpy because he hadn't had a second cup of coffee and the chance to read the sports section of the Sunday Indianapolis Star as thoroughly as he wished, and my brother was grumpy because he had to stop running little cars down that orange Hotwheels track laid across the living room furniture so that the cars could crash into the fireplace hearth and I was grumpy because that's just who I've always been.

My mother was grumpy because it was her job to make sure we were all ready to head out the door by nine-twenty, plus put a roast covered with Lipton onion soup mix into the Crock-Pot, and we all fought her every inch of the way, including the meat and the little foil packet the soup mix came in.

So these days, things are much calmer and there's plenty of coffee and no one cares about the Sunday newspaper and dinner is a much more laid-back affair notable for its lack of silver flatware, good dishes and nice glasses, which all sensibly stay where they're supposed to, which is in the china cabinet. They make grudging cameo appearances on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter because they can't be put in the dishwasher.

Here are some of the thoughts swirling around in the calm of the day:

1. The annual argument that pits my husband against me and the girls began today, with opposing sides voicing strident opinions on on whether or not the furnace should be turned on. My husband contends that it is mid-September and mid-September is too early to have the heat on. The girls and I offer rebuttal by pointing out that it is rainy and chilly outside, a weather pattern more common to mid-October, which is a perfectly reasonable time to employ the use of central heating.

2. Today is the first Sunday for making a snack to accompany the afternoon's football, so we are having Game Day Taco Dip with tortilla chips. I really like this dip because it's easy to throw together, can be served warm or cold, and it a relatively sensible snack if you make it with neufchatel cream cheese, nonfat refried beans and reduced-calorie shredded cheese - and these little fixes happily are unnoticeable and the dip tastes the same as it does when all the fattening stuff is used. SCORE!

3. I bought a new top yesterday because the hanger on the store's rack had one of those little plastic bead-type things with my size printed on it, but when I got the blouse home, it turned out that it was a size smaller than the size noted on the hanger. Thankfully, I still have the receipt, but wouldn't you know that the store is one out-of-town?

4. Aisling found a piece of piano sheet music in the piano bench today, a copy of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and said, "Where did you get this?" I sat for a moment, looking at the music, bemused. That sheet music brought back one of my worst memories, a memory of the night when my friend Lori was being installed as the leader of the Rainbow Girls in New Castle's Masonic lodge. She'd asked me to play this music, which had great personal meaning to her, to accompany another friend of ours, Dave, who had a gorgeous tenor voice.

It was a very dressy affair and I was wearing an outfit of my mother's, one in the late-seventies peasant style, but made with a gorgeous satiny blouse in watercolored lavender, turquoise and lapis, slightly off-the-shoulder and paired with a long, gauzy tiered cream skirt, the tiers banded with the same satiny fabric as the blouse. It was very, very Stevie Nicks. I felt like a fairy princess in that outfit and my mom even let me wear her little diamond stud earrings.

I had practiced on that music for weeks and weeks, both with my piano teacher and with Dave and everything went really well until that night, when even the confidence I'd gained from wearing that beautiful outfit leaked out through my toes once I saw the lodge's ballroom, with chandeliers and lots of chairs set up and a grand piano, all surrounding a highly polished dance floor.

I had a moment of choking stage-fright, worsened by the fact that, in a moment of pee pee-nerves, I somehow managed to flush the entire back of that gauzy skirt down the toilet. I hauled it, hand-over-hand, out of the potty, frantically picking pieces of wet toilet paper out of the hem. There was no time to take a breath and regain my composure because I was due to be sitting on that piano bench in about half a minute. So I wrung out the skirt, which then showed a distressing tendency to cling to the backs of my legs, and tearfully exited the bathroom, only to find that in my absence, all the seats had filled up. I had to walk across that entire huge room under the inquisitive gaze of a big herd of people, all by myself, the heels of my taupe suede Candie's mules click-clacking on the dance floor and my skirt billowing gracefully in the front, but stuck to me in the back from my bottom down to my ankles.

Do I even need to tell you how "Bridge Over Troubled Water" went?

Let's just say that Dave intrepidly sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," but I was playing something totally different, like maybe a tuneless rendition of "Cecilia" or even "Scarborough Fair." It should have been more along the lines of "The Sound of Silence." Huh.

I was utterly mortified, Dave was nonplussed, and poor Lori. Poor Lori. Here was her shining moment of becoming the rainbowiest Rainbow Girl of them all and there I was, a piano student of TEN YEARS, whacking and thumping desperately around on the keyboard like a possum trying to get out of a cage.

That was in 1978 and here today, thirty-three years later, I still felt a miserable sense of "Dear God, if you love me, please kill me right now," only this time, my undies weren't wet.

What a terrible memory. I wish I'd never brought it up.

5. If you are a lady who goes to a gym to work out, and if you shower there after you work out, but haven't yet taken that small moment of time required to stop at the front desk and rent a locker, be aware that there is going to come a reckoning, a time not specified, when either your shampoo, conditioner or body wash will come open in your gym bag and make a hellish mess that will convince you that it might just be better to pitch the whole mess into the garbage bin and start over, with new sneakers and everything.

6. I love Sundays when you can do things just because you want to, rather than because you have to. Which is why I just put together a loaf of oatmeal bread with sunflower seeds and diced apricots (excellent for ham sandwiches) and am sitting here typing a blog post....instead of working on lesson plans for my Shakespeare and Brit Lit classes. Which I have to do. Right now. So goodbye, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'm blaming it on the recession

I have long since stopped apologizing for being the kind of person who takes great pleasure in girly things; like jewelry (real is good, but fake will work) makeup (fake, but hopefully not as fake as, say, Disco Party 1979) and manicured fingernails (the faker, the better.) The job I have is one where people see my hands a lot - or at least my perception is that my hands can be seen a lot - and I have the world's worst fingernails, despite the fact that the only mammal that drinks more dairy than I do is a baby calf. I'm practically out there in the fields and meadows, skulking around and wresting calves away from their mothers, but do I have good fingernails? No, I do not. And I also eat yogurt every day, so if you really needed any more proof that life is not fair, there you have it.

Before the recession, I completely enjoyed being able to go to the salon to get my nails done. I've always favored a discreet french manicure and it was such a satisfying feeling to look down at my hands and see fresh, pretty nails instead of the dull, scraggly and prone-to-splitting things that God favored me with.

Then the recession happened and life changed.

[Pausing for a moment of piteous sobbing]

So now I do my own nails, mostly successfully because of my friend Juju. Juju does her own nails too and you would never know, they look so beautiful and professional. She claims that she finds life dismal and grey without manicured finger- and toenails, hardly worth getting out of bed for. So she gave me some tips (haha...a little nail-related humor there for those of us in the biz) and I got started and I've been ever so pleased with the results.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I broke a nail. So aggravating, but luckily I was headed back home anyway, so I stopped off at the Sally's in town to replenish my nail stash (I even craftily bought a packet of nails and a teeny glue bottle to keep in my purse just in case; I don't know why I've never thought of that before) and then drove home hurriedly. My husband was due home from work at about 5:15 and we were going out to dinner. Observing myself in the bathroom mirror, it was perfectly apparent that I needed to do a major overhaul before I was going to consider myself presentable at Applebee's or Ruby Tuesday's or Bob Evans or wherever we were going to end up. I needed to change my clothes, trowel on some makeup over the old makeup I'd put on at eight o'clock that morning, do something to control the mad frizz that had become my hair....and
fix that nail.

The nail, I determined, was the easiest part. Just open the packet, choose the nail that fits, apply a dab of glue to your actual fingernail, press on the fake one and hold for ten seconds, et voila! A perfect fingernail, all shiny and pretty.

At least that's what you'd think. But remember, you're not reading Gwyneth Paltrow's blog about how your life can be just as perfect as hers if you had her fame and her money, you poor thing. Nor are you reading something by Michelle Phan, who is to the YouTube world of cosmetics what Martha Stewart is to doing crafts and putting sheets on your bed with properly mitered corners.

No, you're reading my blog, and you know something bad is getting ready to happen, right?

Well, you know me: always thinking of others, that's me. I wouldn't want to disappoint you, so I'll tell you -- and oh, is it ever true -- that I squeezed the glue bottle a little too hard because I was in a hurry, right? And the squeezing led that glue, which is a very liquidy liquid, to gush out all over my fingers. A LOT of my fingers.

In spite of (or perhaps because of?) its lack of viscosity, that glue dries fast. So in spite of the fact that my fingers were liberally bathed in wash of extremely liquid and fast-drying glue, I managed to grab that fingernail, press it on and hold it down.

If I'd just been able to continue holding that nail down for, say, another week or so, I think everything would have been okay. But there came a time, about thirty seconds later, when I needed to use my hands for the aforementioned clothes-changing, makeup-reapplying and hair-fixing. That was when I discovered that I'd glued about four of my fingers together.

I gasped and did the natural, yet so very stupid thing, which was try to pull my fingers apart. It hurt quite a bit, so I did the next thing I could think of: I went out the the upstairs hallway and yelled down the stairs, "GIRRRRRRRRRRLLLLLS!!! I NEED YOUR HELP!!!"

They were occupied with their own interests, the first and second of which were making their own dinner in the kitchen and listening to really loud music. I waited impatiently for the song they were listening to to end and then bawled out again, "GIRRRRRRRRRLSSSSSS! C'MERE!!! HURRY!"

"WHY?!?" they both yelled.

"BECAUSE I'M THE MOM AND I SAID TO COME HERE!" I hollered, agitated. If my fingers were all permanently glued together, how was I going to live life as I once knew it? My immediate worry, that of changing clothes, repairing my makeup and fixing my hair, wasn't a problem anymore because I knew quite well that there was no way I could go to a restaurant: I couldn't hold a fork.

Grumbling, the girls came up the stairs and met me in the hallway.

"Why are you wringing your hands?" Meelyn asked after looking me over.

"You'd better hurry up and get ready," Aisling advised helpfully. "I think I just heard Daddy's car pull in the driveway."

"Listen," I said. "I do not have time to explain. Just listen, because I need your help."

"If this is about rubbing that cream on your heels again, I am so out of here," Meelyn said, turning to go back downstairs.

"It's not my heels! It's my hands!" I said tightly.

"Can I see your phone?" asked Aisling. "I want to look up movie times."


Meelyn said blankly, "How on earth did you manage to do that?"

Aisling said angrily, "You said I could go to the movies!"

I shot her the Ice Cold Glare of Maternal Displeasure and then turned to Meelyn and summarized the situation: "I was fixing a broken fingernail. I squeezed the glue bottle a little too hard. Glue came out everywhere. My fingers are stuck together."

Meelyn, as the take-charge and competent first-born, said, "Oh, that's bad. What do we need to do to unstick you?"

Aisling, the baby, for whom life is just one big party waiting to happen, doubled over laughing until a sudden thought struck her: "Hey, since you can't, like, use your hands anymore, can I have your phone?"

The next ten minutes weren't a lot of fun. They involved me putting my gluey hands into the sink and the girls pouring acetone-based fingernail polish remover, which dissolves this type of glue, over my hands again and again until I could finally work my fingers loose, unfortunately leaving a bit of skin behind in the process. It hurt. It still hurts, both on my hands and in my soul. Because you know what? I blame the recession.

If it weren't for the recession, I'd be at a nail salon, where any reasonable person would be, getting my nails done by an actual professional. If I broke a nail, I'd be able to swing by the salon, hold out the affected finger, and sit in a comfy chair sipping a Diet Coke while the technician tut-tutted over the damage, fixing it in a jiffy and maybe even giving me a coat of polish to match my outfit. I wouldn't have to be juggling packets of fake fingernails and tiny little obstreperous glue bottles in my bathroom, trying to give myself that ladylike and well-groomed appearance I enjoy.


Later on at the restaurant, I was holding a menu and my husband, who is such a gentleman for noticing little niceties like this, said gruffly, "Your fingernails look so pretty, honey."

I glanced down at my nails, which looked pristine, and thoughtfully considered the other side of my fingers, which were gouged and scraped and a little bloody. "Thanks, sweetie."