Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dance like a zombie

For all of you who have expressed wonder at my low-brow lovage of So You Think You Can Dance, just click on this link to see why. This "zombie dance" was choreographed by Wade Robson for the July 20, 2006 results show to Roisin Murphy's "Ramalama Bang Bang" and it is so fun to watch. But if you're all about the Sugar Plum Fairy, you might want to give this one a miss.

We're lovin' the zombies dancing to Wade Robson's
imaginative choreography.

Thursday's List

READING: On loan from my mother, who is vetting this book for her church's library: Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them: Breaking the Cycle of Physical and Emotional Abuse by Paul Hegstrom, Ph.D. I just read the first few pages called "The Background" and it is really intense. Yikes.

POOLSIDE READING: Verbena by American author Nanci Kincaid. Not chick-lit, but not not chick-lit, if you know what I mean. It's a novel about a Southern woman, a sixth-grade teacher with five kids of her own, whose pleasant and affectionate good ol' boy husband is killed in a car crash. While with another woman. In spite of the subject matter, it isn't a heavy book. I am enjoying it so far, but it may well turn on me like that foul Pillars of the Earth. I may never recover from reading that mess.

LISTENING TO: Josef Hayden's Symphony No. 102 in B Flat

THINKING ABOUT: What to pack for CousinFest. I am feeling certain that I'll leave something important behind.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: Found a wonderful new flowerpot for the azalea Kayte bought me. It's been begging for a new pot for a good week or so now and this one, which looks like it was shipped straight from Tuscany "R" Us, should do the trick. The best part? It was only $10 and 25% off of that. For a big pot!


WISH I HAD: Enough money to enroll the girls in the summer day-camp of their choice at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The programs sound so amazing and when I looked through the leaflet I got in the mail, I saw two that I thought the girls would really, really like.

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: Eight, which is not too shabby, but we're all sick of the scrapbooking mess that has spread throughout the dining and living rooms.

HAPPY THAT I'M: Leaving for Cousinfest tomorrow.

PRAYING FOR: A safe journey for me, Lilly and Carol as we travel.

Cousinfest Eve

This is the night when a handsome man with a tan, toned abs and no shirt slips into the kitchens of all good little girls and leaves a bottle of margarita mixer, a container of salt and, like, a gallon of Cuervo. It is CousinFest Eve.

The emails are flying fast and furious this morning. The problem is that we don't create new emails; we just keep replying to all on the same email someone started yesterday and so when I open my inbox, I don't know if it's something new or something old that I missed or what. I have about twenty emails that all have the same title.

Carol is at work, Lilly is trying to get to bed (she's a newspaper copy editor and works late); Susie is going to the garden center and then to some mysterious activity called "core strengthening class" which I think must have something to do with exercise, unless it has something to do with apples. I am getting ready for an excursion to SuperTarget with Aisling while Meelyn goes to a swimming party hosted by Kayte's son Matt this afternoon.

I am very excited, but worried that I'll forget to bring the little fan without whose noise I cannot sleep. And my special pillow. And my makeup. Ohhhhh, I might as well face my true fear, which is that Lilly and I will stop for lunch on our way to Carol's and my luggage will escape from the van and go back home without me. That can't really happen, right? If I get this mental going from one state to another, imagine what I'm like when I travel with a passport.

Sleeping disorder

One of the things about my sleeping disorder that really makes me get on my own nerves is that if I wake up during the night, for any reason at all, I'm generally up for the duration. My mind starts whirling around, contemplating all the things I have to do in the coming day; calculating how overdue the library books are; hoping that I'll rememher to transfer those chicken breasts from the freezer to the refrigerator when I get downstairs later. It's so silly.

Right now, for instance, I am up. It isn't the middle of the night, but it's pretty darned close. It's 5:30 a.m. and I just happened to wake up ever so slightly about ten minutes ago. Even though I didn't go to bed last night until well after midnight. This irks me because now I'm going to be really, really tired this afternoon (and with me, "tired" is usually accompanied by her best friend, "mean") and I have a lot to do.

My husband always reasonably says, "Why don't you just stay in bed?" but then again, he's also the person who reasonably says, "Why do you have to spend money?" and he should know that there are some questions in life that just can't be answered, no matter how much you'd like to slap the person who asked them. The reason I don't stay in bed is because I've been doing this for so long and I know I won't go back to sleep, I just know it. And being trapped in bed, in the dark, with many thoughts racing around in my head, is just horrible.

I know I'm not the only person who does this. If all those commercials for sleep aids on television are any indication, there are a lot of people like me out there. That one guy who can't sleep because he has a lot of stress at work apparently travels extensively with a beaver, Abraham Lincoln and a deep-sea diver. I just have Meelyn, Aisling and the dogs with me, but they're definitely real and they get mad at me when I'm grouchy, unlike that imaginary Abraham Lincoln, who seems to have a very nurturing personality.

Another commercial depicts the people who have taunting bedside lamps that float around just out of reach. One lamp is named "can't get to sleep" and the other is called "can't stay asleep" and I wonder how those people in that commercial would feel if both of those lamps were pursuing them?

The reason why I snapped awake this morning is because I'm excited. I'm leaving tomorrow as soon as Lilly gets here to drive down to Carol's house in southern Indiana. Then we're all going to pile into Carol's super-hot new SUV and drive down to Susie's house in Kentucky to spend the weekend at our annual CousinFest. Susie lives in a big house with a pool next to a golf course and all three of her guest rooms have en suite bathrooms, so you can imagine how stoked Lilly, Carol and I are about that.

So even though I've made out packing lists that include such minutiae as "four cotton balls" and "brown strappy sandals with medium heel," I'm still quivering with the need to buy a travel-sized toothpaste and wondering if I should buy two small plastic bottles for decanting the shampoo and conditioner that's already in the shower, or whether I should just buy two new full-sized bottles, since the shampoo and conditioner we already have are more than halfway down.

It's fun to be up so early thinking about shampoo, just really spectacular. I keep telling myself that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stupid exercise...

We went to the gym. I tried to get out of it, I really did. But Meelyn called up her dad and ratted me out like a big rotten tattletaling tattletale.

"He wants to talk to you." She held out the phone with a little smirk.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: "Hello?" (emphasis on "hell")

My husband: "Bla bla bla....good role model....bla bla bla.....intellectual, spiritual, physical....bla bla bla...learn by your example...bla bla-bla bla bla...."

Me [interrupting]: "Ohhhhh, just put a sock in it. I'll go to the stupid gym."

We went to the YMCA and Meelyn leaped aboard one of those cross-trainer machines that look as if it had its beginnings in the slimy dungeon of some medieval castle, only now made of shiny chrome and black metal instead of wood. It can't fool me. Aisling climbed aboard the one beside her and they both started doing their thing.

I went to a treadmill and pouted through my "workout," wondering why I never get that feeling of endorphin bliss that other people seem to achieve so naturally. My husband, who occasionally goes out to run five miles or so just to unwind, has been telling me for the past four thousand years (or maybe it just feels that way) that exercise is my friend and that it feels so good. One one memorable occasion, he and my cousin Susan tag teamed each other, extolling the virtues of exercise until I thought they were going to levitate.

Apparently, you have to start out with a good attitude, which is something I've never had about exercise. You know what makes me have a good attitude? Sitting down with a really cold Diet Coke with lime and a bowl of popcorn and a good book. Or maybe watching The Wedding Planner or Maid in Manhattan, because I have an unfathomable weakness for Jennifer Lopez movies. That's what gives me a good attitude.

I was in a nasty mood by the time we got back home, in no frame of mind to cook dinner. We were having homemade spaghetti sauce and whole wheat pasta and I was going to make a spinach salad with hard boiled eggs and red onion, but I was just too irritable. That's the kind of person I am. I will cheat my family out of fresh vegetables just because I don't like walking on a treadmill at the Y.

Do you think the publishers of one of those homeschooling magazines I was talking about earlier will let me pose for a cover photo? Heh.

Back to the gym

Meelyn is going to make me go back to the gym today. She wants to run and she says that I need to walk and Aisling needs to bike.

When I became a parent, I didn't sign up for one of those kids who likes to exercise. How has this happened? The next thing you know, she'll be telling me that she's also a teetotaler and doesn't like popcorn.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go try to sprain my ankle so that I can remain comfortably seated on the couch this afternoon, being brought ice packs and magazines and let to choose what channel we'll watch on the telly.

Homeschooling, our way

Back six years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I used to go to the public library to read the two homeschooling magazines they subscribed to in hopes of grasping that indefinable how, the exact potent compilation of lessons, duties and activities that would make me the perfect mother and my kids brilliant and capable of speaking classical Latin by the end of our first week.

Those two magazines, the grandaddies of all homeschooling publications, were both famous for the photographs on their covers. One of them might depict an adorably gap-toothed first grader cuddling a puppy; the other usually featured a family of nine children arrayed in matching outfits, kind of like the von Trapp kids when Maria got hold of those curtains. They both projected an image of perfection that I instinctively knew it was going to be impossible to attain.

It's not that I have low standards. No, as a typical first-born child, I have a streak of perfectionism that borders on a moderate case of OCD. I've been known to polish my stainless steel sink to a formidable brightness that allows it to double as a makeup mirror. In college, I was always in the front row with my arm in the air, feverishly taking notes and agonizing over test scores. An A would please me for a span of ten minutes before I started worrying about the next test; an A minus could bring tears to my eyes. Where did I go wrong?

So there's nothing wrong with my standards. Nothing at all. Well, okay, maybe something. That kind of drive can eat holes in the lining of your stomach and make you struggle with insomnia. And heaven be thanked that I'm not that whack...oh, never mind.

Anyway, I had this strong feeling that holding myself to impossibly grueling standards was one thing, but what about Meelyn and Aisling? Sure, I could crack a whip and make them wear matching outfits and force facts into their heads, but I was confronted by the knowledge that heavy-handed pressure makes Meelyn dissolve into puddles of quiet tears. Not to mention the fact that pressuring Aisling into anything is like trying to thread a needle when the thread is made out of Jell-O. Which is not such a great quality if you're trying to teach the child how to divide fractions, but will presumably work in her favor if anyone ever tries to peer-pressure her into taking Ecstasy.

We kind of just muddled along by forging our own path ahead of us. Occasionally, I would have these moments of bleak self-doubt where I'd have nightmares that the girls were applying for colleges and I realized that I'd forgotten to teach them about the Punic Wars and then I'd realize I was still awake. Math has always been an issue, but we've plugged along and I've reminded myself that I am a complete idiot in math and yet I've managed to have a very successful adulthood, completely free from strangers buttonholing me on the street and asking me to name the square root of 794.

I keep waiting for someone to buttonhole me on the street and ask me what a gerund is or how to say umbrella in French or to name all nine Supreme Court justices, but that hasn't happened either.

Mostly, I'd say that what we are is average. We're always going to work hard on math, but the girls are not likely going to be engineers or doctors or research scientists anyway. They do well with their French and language arts and history. They like doing science experiments. They're really, really good at memory work and their study skills are coming along nicely. They both have a tendency to expect answers to simply leap off the page at them, getting frustrated and sullen if they actually have to think. My husband says they inherited this from him.

It's been such a good year - a good, happy year, our best yet. I am tired, but it's a good tired. We've worked really hard and we're looking forward to our summer break and I've been at this long enough to know that I will feel enthusiastic and well-rested in September, but by November, I will be saying "Why? Why am I doing this?" I'll be berating myself for not sticking to the impossibly demanding schedule I will have set up in July, when getting up at 6:30 a.m. doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to do. I'll be unwisely comparing us to some über-achieving homeschool family and wondering hysterically if we shouldn't try to grow our own wheat in a city yard that's the size of a pocket handkerchief.

Come January, I'll be ready to start drinking hard by 10:00 a.m., possibly relating this activity to a lesson about time zones and how it's always five o'clock somewhere. We'll all be regretting the end of the Christmas season and itchily anticipating the rapid approach of Lent. I'll be worried when calculating the amount we spend on piano lessons and art lessons and the French tutor and gas and tickets to the theater and think that we could be making vast inroads on our 401(k) if all that money were freed up.

By April, everything will have lightened up, literally and figuratively. The end of textbooks will be in sight. As we move into the last week of May, I'll invariably be saying, "This has been our best year yet" as we get out the pool floats and the coolers and the towels and the toys to take to the swim club.

And it will have been. Average, just the way we are. With our un-matching outfits and our occasional yelling and the days when we stay in our pajamas and don't brush our hair, next year will be the best year, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Aisling, beatboxer

We are avid watchers of American Idol and anyone else who watches this deeply intellectual and thought-provoking program will know that we were graced this season by a contestant named Blake Lewis. Blake is a twenty-something guy from Washington, and instead of absorbing the grunge culture that was evolving in the first ten years after his birth in the soft humidity of the Pacific Northwest, he figuratively went cross-country to the streets of New York and found his niche as a beatboxer, which is more of a hip-hop innovation, but whatever.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with beatboxing, I'll tell you that it consists of sounds made by the human mouth that would have been previously made by electronic instruments or by the needle being "scratched" over an old record. If you'd like to hear Blake in person, click on this link, which will take you to a YouTube video of Blake singing "This Love" by Maroon 5. He begins singing about one minute into the video and the actual beatboxing happens close to 1:40.

I'm telling you all this so that you'll know how surprised I was today when Aisling came in and proudly said, "I've been practicing my beatboxing. Would you like to hear it?"

I stifled the temptation to say, "How about you practice on that list of fifty prepositions I gave you to memorize, or maybe your Greek and Latin roots?" Part of being a good mother includes not being such a Betty Bluestocking all the time, because I'm sure Aisling has a chance to have a great career in hip-hop music, somewhere beyond my dead body.

"Sure," I said.

Aisling cupped her hands around her mouth and went: "Erka erka *scritcha* *scritcha* heeka leeka *scritch*" and looked up at me expectantly. "Well," she asked me, "how did that sound?"

"Like you were choking on cracker crumbs," I said shortly.

"Oh," she said, crestfallen, digging at the carpet with the toe of her sandal. Then she looked up and her eyes brightened again. "Ritz or saltine?"

Thai Peanut Sauce

Tonight I am making Thai stir-fry for my family, having pushed them to their limit on grilled teriyaki chicken stir fry.

They've never had spicy Thai stir fry before, and considering the cast iron nature of our stomachs in this family, I thought it might be something they'd like to try.

I thought wrong.

When I made the peanut sauce, they all came into the kitchen (including the dogs, who love peanuts) and stood there, looking suspiciously over my shoulders.

"What is that?" asked my husband, whose idea of a really swell dinner is Porcupine Meatballs, made from the recipe in the 1952 Better Homes & Gardens cook book.

"Thai Peanut Sauce," I said, beaming. "It's spicy, but sweet. And full of peanutty goodness."

"Yum," he said darkly.

"Yum," echoed the girls, wrinkling their adorable noses and looking at me with blank eyes.

"It will be good," I said firmly, refusing to acknowledge the giggling that had broken out behind me. Sometimes it's just enough to know that your family is making vomit-faces behind your back and why provide them with positive reinforcement?

They all left the kitchen, scuffling and murmuring under their breaths. And I put the egg rolls in the oven and came in here to type.

[I edited this recipe, because although it looked like a keeper, it just wasn't the right....spice. Something has been left out of it somewhere. I can't figure it out, although I'm thinking it has something to do with cayenne instead of hot pepper sauce. I was very disappointed and my family begged me to never make this again.]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Remembering my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law, Verna, passed away on December 23, 2006. She had a massive stroke that took away her ability to talk, which was kind of a big thing for her. Everything else -- the breathing, the swallowing, the steady heart rate -- was fine; the communicating, not so much.

We were called to the hospital in the middle of the night on December 21 and it was one of those phone calls you pray God never to get. "Mom is bad. You have to come," my sister-in-law said in a voice heavy with tears. And so we came, feeling optimistically that this was one of those things that the doctors and nurses would be able to sort out. She was only fifty-nine, after all.

When we got to the hospital, which was an hour away, it was obvious that this was something that was going to brazenly deny being sorted out. We stood around the gurney in the curtained cubical in emergency, shocked beyond words. Could she...die?

It was awful seeing her like that and in the five months since she passed away, the memory has not faded. The best way to exorcise those sad thoughts, I believe, would be to think about a happier time, in this case about five years ago.

Once upon a time, back when our homeschooling duties took much less time, the girls and I used to drive over to the city where my in-laws lived and Verna, a hair stylist, would do our hair at her beautiful shop and then we'd take her out to lunch.

Verna always chose the place, and most often wanted to go to one of those buffet restaurants that offer a bewildering choice of things to eat. For such a glutton as I, you'd think that this would be a transcendent experience. But it wasn't, mostly because everything at this particular restaurant tasted like ham. The ham tasted like ham. The corn tasted like ham. The green beans tasted like ham. The mashed potatoes tasted like ham. The only thing that didn't taste like ham were the iced tea and the salad greens, but I always thought that was due to the laziness of the cooks who just couldn't be bothered to do their jobs thoroughly.

We used to joke about this, Verna and I, and get big plates of salad. Plus hot rolls. The only thing we disagreed about at that restaurant was the done-ness of the homemade rolls. She liked them so that they were as white as salt; if they had the faintest golden flush on their yeasty, rounded tops she'd declare they were "burned" and send them back, the nonplussed waitress shooting us strange glances over her shoulder. I, who have an aversion to eating raw dough, would occasionally become aggravated with this and sulk over the whipped honey butter.

Meelyn and Aisling have always loved salad since the days when my husband and I used to sit at the table eating large bowls of mixed greens and saying, "Mmm! This salad is so good! Ooh, carrots! And radishes! Wow, do I ever love these tomatoes!" under their limpid gazes as they sat in their high chairs with a handful of dry Cheerios and some little chunks of chicken breast in front of them. So this restaurant, with its salad bar stretching a quarter of a mile into the distance, was like heaven to them. They'd sit, placidly eating things most children would never touch, such as hard boiled eggs and green pepper strips, adorable in their new haircuts, listening to Verna and I good-naturedly quibbling about the rolls.

One thing I haven't mentioned about Verna is that she had a strong personality. You might have guessed that from the fact that she would send back a basket of perfectly gorgeous dinner rolls, contemptuously declaring them burned, with the appearance of Kingsford charcoal briquettes. But just in case you didn't, I'll tell you that Verna didn't take much crap from people. If you tried to push her around, she'd be all up in your personal space with a "You might think that you're going to...." or a "Don't think I don't know what you're trying to..." and it could be fairly intimidating. This will figure largely in the rest of this story.

I should also describe Verna's appearance. Verna was a big woman, but not huge. More kind of....gently rounded. She had pure white hair, always styled into a spun-sugar pouf. Her eyes were blue and her complexion was of peaches and cream. At that time, she wore glasses of the Dorothy Hamill-type, fashionable in the 1980s. Verna favored pastel colors and she wore "outfits," not something just thrown together, interchangeable with other pants or tops in her wardrobe, but pieces that were specifically chosen to go together. She was, I think, about 5'4. She actually looked quite a bit like Mrs. Santa Claus would look if she were vacationing at Boca.

One day at the restaurant, we finished eating and went to the restroom before embarking on the long drive home, sloshing with all the un-ham-flavored tea in our stomachs. (And if you're wondering why so many of my posts have to do with bathroom activity, so am I.) We each chose a stall and went in and got down to business.

As it happened, I chose the stall that had a toilet paper dispenser that was about to come off the wall. And when I say "toilet paper dispenser," I mean one of those huge things about the size of a Volkswagen that holds the two jumbo rolls of tissue. It was a sneaky thing that gave me no advance warning of its readiness to fall, like swinging back and forth from one rusty bolt.

So there I was, sitting down, and pretty much a captive audience (victim?) for whatever the toilet paper dispenser decided to dish out. My business nearly complete, I pulled on the little end of tissue that was demurely peeking out from the bottom of the dispenser and that's when catastrophe struck.

You know in cartoons, how someone who gets hit on the head sometimes sees stars and sometimes sees little birdies? Well, did you know that actually happens? Because when the toilet paper dispenser fell off the wall onto my head, I saw both.

It also seemed to happen in slow motion. One moment, I was sitting there idly weeing and reading that Debbie loves Eugene and then next minute, I was hearing the grinding sound as the dispenser ripped itself from the wall and launched itself at me; I turned my head - slowly, slowly - and I might have said, "No-o-o-o-o-o-o" in a deep 20 r.p.m. voice. I may or may not have had the time to stand up, but since that would have involved weeing on my own shoes, I chose to remain seated, assaulted but untainted with urine. You don't really have as much time to think about these things as action movies would lead you to believe.

Those toilet paper dispensers are heavier than you might imagine, probably because the two rolls of tissue they hold are roughly the size of the tires on an 18-wheeler. This one was full and the impact of it slamming onto my head nearly knocked me off the toilet, which probably would have involved my weeing on my own shirt instead of my shoes. I think I may have said something like "Ow!" at the point of impact, but then I was slightly concussed (in my opinion) so my memory is hazy on this.

Verna heard the noise and said uncertainly, "Shelley? Are you all right in there?" Meelyn and Aisling, who were already washing their hands, said, "Mommy?"

"The toilet paper dispenser just fell off the wall onto my head," I answered.

"It fell...?" she inquired.

"Off the wall," I said.


"My head," I replied.

It took her only about three more seconds to whip herself into a storm of righteous indignation. "What kind of place is this?" she demanded. "First of all, the food all tastes like ham. Second of all, every dinner roll that comes out of that kitchen is burned to a crisp. And now this! Toilet paper dispensers coming off the very walls! You could have a damaged vertebrae! We are not leaving this place until we see some justice!" Verna concluded as I exited the stall.

She couldn't have sounded more ominous if she had declared, "Thou shalt see me at Philippi."

"I think I'm okay," I said doubtfully, looking at myself in the mirror. "Is one of my pupils larger than the other?"

She peered into my face anxiously, "I don't think so. Well, maybe...No, no. I think you're all right. Come on."

She grabbed me by the arm and hustled me out of the ladies', Meelyn and Aisling following along like baby ducks. She frog-marched me across the entire dining room, muttering, until we got to the cashier's desk. The gum-chewing cashier looked like she was about twenty years old and she was no match for Verna.

"I'd like to speak to a manager immediately," Verna said crisply, keeping hold of my arm as if she expected me to make a run for the car before justice was served.

"He zonniz break," said the cashier, slouching against the wall.

"Then can I use your telephone?" Verna asked politely. "Because I want to call my lawyer."

"I'll get him," the cashier said hastily.

The manager came out front a couple of moments later, wiping his moustache with a crumpled paper napkin. ("Of course it would have to be a man," I thought.) "Ladies?" he asked us. "Is there a problem?" He had the air of a man who wanted to get back to his plate of ham-flavored food and burned rolls and not waste his time on the likes of us.

"Yes, there is a problem," said Verna loudly, indicating me. I contemplated allowing my eyes to roll back in my head to illustrate her story, but decided it would scare Meelyn and Aisling. "My daughter-in-law here was using the bathroom and when she tore off a piece of toilet paper, that entire heavy dispenser fell and hit her on the head. That is....negligence!" she bellowed. "A person should be able to come to this restaurant and go to the restroom without risking injury!"

("Or eat fifteen different foods that all taste like ham," I thought woozily.)

"Are you bleeding?" the manager asked, his concern ratcheted up a notch or two by Verna's use of the word "negligence."

I touched my head experimentally. "No."

"Do you have a bump?" he asked, looking at my recently colored and styled hair.

I touched my head again. "No," I confirmed. "And my pupils are the same size."

"Then how 'bout I give you....two free meals?" he said, a born negotiator.

"Four," Verna shot back. "The whole family should eat free because this was not a pleasant dining experience."

"Four, then," the manager agreed, sick of the sight of us. He got in the cash drawer and rummaged around, pulling out a stack of gift cards. He made one out and rang it up and handed it to me. "There you go," he said. "You enjoy a nice meal on me. And we'll....errrm...get that tissue dispener taken care of."

"Thank you," I said, accepting the card.

"Thank you," said Verna, haughtily.

"Can I have one of those mints?" Meelyn asked.

"Mommy, I have to potty," said Aisling.

My husband and the girls and I went back to the restaurant for our free meals a few weeks later and I checked on the toilet paper dispenser again when the girls and I went to the restroom to wash the whipped honey butter off their hands. It had been hung back up on the same bolt and it was grimly waiting for the chance to administer a bludgeoning to some other unwary soul.

I thought about going in there and jiggling it with my elbow to see if I could get us a few more free meals, but this time, even the cherry pie had tasted like ham, so we went ahead and left.

I tattled to Verna and she about blew a gasket. The girls and I continued going to her shop for the next two years to get our hair done, but we never went back to that restaurant, opting for a Chinese buffet down the road instead

"That'll show 'em," said Verna as we drove by on our way to the China Sun. "They can burn those rolls all they want to. We won't be going back there."

She seemed satisfied that it was a job well done. I coudn't agree more.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Field agent Meelyn

My husband is addicted to a strange little snack called Andy Capp's Hot Fries. I don't know where he gets this weird taste in snacks, but for quite some time, he would only eat a certain kind of potato chip that you could buy in Cincinnati. Once when my friend Cato came to spend the weekend with us, she brought a huge box of these chips with her and he hugged the box like my nephew hugged the two-foot tall King Kong action figure he got one year for Christmas. Same facial expression and everything.

So the Hot Fries are one of his passions and he eats them in the evenings while watching television and drinking a cold beer. He feels that Andy Capp's Hot Fries are just a little bit special and doesn't willingly share them with me and the girls. My feeling is that any snack in our kitchen that isn't in a safe in fair game. So occasionally, his Hot Fries get eaten and great is his sorrow when he finds that we have once again betrayed him.

He has taken to hiding them.

The hiding places my husband has found are very unique. Once he put them in the pocket of his winter coat. Or sometimes on top of the refrigerator in a pretty willow basket I have there. The other day, he put them in the cabinet that's over the stove because that's where we keep the cereal and pasta and he'd noticed that the only cereal left up there was Quaker Rice Chex and he knew that none of us would eat it, so his Hot Fries would be safe.

He reckoned without Meelyn.

I'm not sure what prompted Meelyn to open that cupboard, especially since she knew that I hadn't been to the store. Unless she thought that the Grocery Fairies had made a stop at our house to magically replace the Raisin Bran and the Honey Bunches of Oats and the granola. But anyway, she opened that cabinet door and found the Andy Capp's Hot Fries and decided to hide them from her father.

Meelyn didn't tell me she was going to do this. She just found an unlikely place and put the bag there and late on Thursday afternoon when the three of us got home from running errands, my husband met us at the back door, greeting us somewhat unconventionally by saying, "Who ate my Hot Fries?"

Aisling and I looked at each other and said, "Did you?...No." Meelyn was suspiciously quiet, with a little smile playing about her lips. We all filed into the kitchen where my husband was standing beside the wastebasket. "I dug through that trash," he said, pointing indignantly, "because I figured you all ate them with your lunch. But the bag hasn't been thrown away and that means there must be some left and someone has hidden my Hot Fries!"

He looked accusingly at me and then at Aisling. "I didn't do it," she said, affronted. "I bet she did," and gestured toward me with her head.

"You always say that," my husband commented bitterly.

"Oh, Daddy!" Meelyn giggled, collapsing in laughter onto a kitchen chair. "I hid them from you!" She looked very pleased with herself, blushing faintly.

My husband and I looked at her in disbelief. Meelyn? Meelyn played a practical joke on her dad? That kind of thing is such an Aisling thing to do. Or, to be completely honest, a me thing.

"Gimme some dawg, girl," Aisling said admiringly to Meelyn, holding out her knuckles for Meelyn to bump.

"Where did you hide them?" he asked incredulously.

"Oh, just somewhere," she said airily. "Someplace very, very secret."

"Meelyn, I want my Hot Fries."

She opened her eyes up wide. "But you will spoil your appetite for dinner, Daddy. I'll get them for you later." And before he could catch her, she zoomed up the stairs to change into her volleyball clothes.

About ten minutes later, I was driving her to the church gym where she plays volleyball with some friends from her team one evening a week and she told me where she'd hidden them.

"What made you decide to do that?" I asked curiously.

"Just because I love him. I gave them back before we left," she said fondly. "Don't you think it's cute that he went through the wastebasket?"

"Well, yeah, I do. And Aisling would, definitely. But you've been so impervious to that kind of anti-social behavior. You're so much more mature than I am."

Her forehead wrinkles in worry. "There wasn't anything gross in there, was there?"

"Just some outdated magazines," I assured her.

"Oh, good. I don't like to think of him digging through wet coffee grounds."

We pulled up in front of the gym. She leaned over, smelling of bright, citrusy body splash and kissed me on the cheek. "Thank you for bringing me to volleyball, Mommy. I have my phone. See you at nine." And she got out of the van in a swish of ponytail and fluttered her hand at me, smiling over her shoulder.

I absolutely love having a teenager. What did I manage to do right in this life to get a 14-year-old daughter who is gentle and kind and warmhearted, plus can play a really smart little practical joke?

Pulling out of the church parking lot, I headed back home to Aisling, my husband and his Hot Fries, happily humming "Something Good" from The Sound of Music.

Friday, May 25, 2007

She's got a way about her

"She's Got a Way" - a tribute to the Blessed Mother set to the music of Billy Joel pn

Why exercise is bad (continued)

Meelyn, Aisling and I are starting a summer homeschooling project, the 30-Day Challenge -- exercising, eating better (without such a reliance on Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pies in our daily diet), praying more frequently, doing acts of kindness....Oh, at the end of this thirty days, you likely won't even know us. Or if you do, you will think that our bodies have been taken over by gentle, pious aliens who have lost a few pounds.

We started out today in fine form by going to the YMCA. Meelyn and Aisling go there frequently with my husband, but I haven't been since December because of my Achilles tendon, but also because the very thought of exercising makes me want to fall prostrate to the ground and pray for a merciful death to smite me.

I do not like to exercise. I do not like to sweat. I don't like wearing clumpy, ugly-looking shoes. And most of all, I don't like being in the smelly cardio room, waddling away on the treadmill like a giant hamster.

The things we do for our kids.

We got to the YMCA, which is only about four blocks from our house, and parked as close to the door as possible because, exercise? Why do more of it than you have to? I am the proud possessor of a handicapped parking placard, earned because of, well, my handicap. I was in a really terrible car accident when I was twenty-one (and no, I wasn't drunk, which is what everyone else in Henry County thought, so who can blame you for thinking the same?) and I have permanent reminders that wearing a seat belt is a really smart thing to do. In case of a front-impact car accident, it will keep you from putting your head through the windshield and also help prevent the engine block from breaking both of your legs.

So I showed my YMCA member identification to the person at the front desk who looked at it and then looked at the girls and said, "You're usually here with your dad!"

Yes, and I'm usually home, eating barbecue pork rinds straight from the bag and watching Jerry Springer.

I smiled at her and asked for a towel, trudging off after the girls to be greeted by a treadmill that was roughly the size of an aircraft carrier.

"Go ahead and step on," said Meelyn cheerfully, pushing buttons. The treadmill sprang into life, with numerous little lights and beeps. I was very grateful that there was no honking siren and an electronic voice saying, "Weight overload! Weight overload!"

We got me started at a very slow speed. I held my shoulders back and put one foot in front of the other, walking with dignity. Aisling went to an exercise bike and got on and began pedaling furiously, hopefully burning up about eighty million kilowatts of excess energy, energy that she would normally expend by torturing me at 5:00 p.m., which is the time of day when my will to live is at its lowest ebb. Meelyn hopped aboard the treadmill next to me, her towel slung around her shoulders. She flipped numerous switches and made adjustments and began walking briskly.

"Isn't this so much fun?" she asked, beaming at me. I smiled back at her and said yes, which was a big lie.

Two minutes later, I was still walking with pride on the outside. On the inside, I was bitterly rehearsing every naughty word I know. Meelyn kicked up the incline on her treadmill and walked for a little while longer, then started to jog. She jogged and jogged and jogged while I watched her, thinking, "This is my child. This child who runs and tires not!"

After fifteen minutes, my Achilles tendon was saying, "Hello? Remember me?" so I disembarked, leaving Meelyn running like a princess, her blonde ponytail bouncing, her sweet face glowing with pleasure at the sheer joy of moving. She took a big drink of water and waved at me as I left the treadmill area and went to the back of the room to sit and wait for the girls to finish their half hour.

I happened to have my Shakespeare book with me and happily opened it up, swigging from the one quart bottle of cold water I'd brought along. It was pretty hot in there, especially in the back of the room where there were no fans, so I drank in large gulps. The water tasted so good.

Aisling was still pedaling madly on her bike with a fierce look on her face. Meelyn was running. And I was starting to feel like...oh gosh. Like, throwing up? Really soon? I put down my book and picked up my towel, swallowing, trying to ignore the fact that my tongue suddenly felt like a great big piece of wet army blanket in my mouth.

I managed to hold off that feeling of impending doom until the girls left their equipment and came back to get me, both of them immediately noticing that something was wrong. "I feel really sick," I said conversationally, just in case they hadn't noticed.

Meelyn looked at my empty water bottle. "How fast did you drink that water?" she asked.

"Pretty fast," I said. "I was hot and thirsty and that water was so nice and cold."

"I think that's what's wrong with you," she said sympathetically, patting me. "It's happened to me before. You just kind of have to pace yourself."

"Okay," I said meekly, and drug myself and my stomach, uncomfortably sloshing with a quart of cold, crampy water in it, back out to the van.

"That," said Meelyn enthusiastically, "was the most fun we've had all week!"

"It was! It was great!" said Aisling, not sounding quite as subdued as I would have liked to have heard.

"Oh, yeah! Good times. Go-o-o-od times!" I lied, driving away rather quickly.

The saga continues....

Okay. As we were driving away, I looked at the clock and realized that we didn't have time to go back home and change; we were due to meet my husband at his workplace in just over half an hour and half an hour is not nearly enough time to make my middle-aged self look presentable, especially considering that it would take us twenty minutes of that half hour to drive there. I didn't want to keep my husband waiting, knowing that he wasn't going to go get his lunch until he'd given me the week's housekeeping money. I decided to put on my sunglasses and sit low in the seat.

My husband was watching for us and came outside to talk, very touched and pleased that I'd taken the girls to the gym and he loaded the three of us down with many extravagant comments that, in my case, were completely undeserved because not only was I still feeling slightly pukey from the over-consumption of water, I was also still brattily resentful of the whole exercise schtick.

I always feel very, very special with a big wad of cash in my hand, never mind that the bulk of this cash was going to be immediately pushed into the greedy minvan's gas tank.

"What shall we get for lunch?" I asked the girls.

"Salads," said Meelyn. "Either that or Subway."

"Subway stinks," said Aisling. "Let's go to that salad bar at the grocery."

The grocery store in the little city where my husband works is very posh. It has a decor that makes me feel that the designer watched Under the Tuscan Sun a few too many times, due to the expensive distressed floor tiles and the artfully arranged bottles of wine and fruit and imported cheeses that are placed so that people like me can accidentally run into them with a cart and cause a disaster.

But this was not the scene of my humiliation. That comes in just a few more minutes.

Anyway, this posh grocery store has a magnificent salad bar with all kinds of imaginative and traditional salad bar items on it. They justify their insane price per pound by having large black and white images from La Dolce Vita on the walls, presumably because this atmosphere makes you feel as if you should be paying in lire or euros instead of boring American dollars. Which makes it, like, a little vacation.

As I was getting my salad, I began to be uncomfortably aware that Nature was Calling, if you know what I mean. That quart of water was making itself known. If you've ever pushed babies out of your business, you know just how loudly nature can call. That call goes, pre-childbirth, from being a faerie's dainty little whisper to being a strident, whiskey-voiced Cockney yell, "Oy! Better find a loo, missus, or there's going to be a h'accident 'ere!"

I stood with my legs crossed as the girls finished getting their salads and then paid, hustling the girls back out to the van, hissing, "Let's hurry. I have to pee really bad."

They thought this was really funny and started being deliberately cruel by saying things like, "Oooh, Mommy! Look at the creek down there! Look at all that running water going under the bridge!"

By the time we were about halfway home, I knew I couldn't make it. I hastily pulled over in the parking lot of a nice little mini-mart, the place where we usually buy our gas and get an iced green tea to go. Today, the very thought of iced green tea was terrible to me, and I hoped I'd be able to get out of the van without disgracing myself by walking like a stiff-jointed action figure, eyes popping out of my head. Or...worse. Plus, there was the fact that I was wearing exercise clothes, no makeup and a weirdly pointed ponytail.

Thank heaven, the restrooms -- unisex -- are just inside and to the right of the mini-mart's door, so I walked as nonchalantly as I could back to the first blessed door, gave the door handle a jiggle to test for occupancy, and then walked in.

There was already someone in there. THERE WAS ALREADY SOMEONE IN THERE.

I walked in on someone in the stupid unisex restroom, which of course meant it was a man. I mean, I know we're all obsessed with Europe in this tri-county area and I know that unisex restrooms are the hallmark of European (Eur-a-pean.....ha ha ha, get it?) forward-thinking chic, but this is INDIANA, for heaven's sake.

The man in the restroom was, thankfully, washing his hands and not...not...weeing. But still. I mean, I already had to go pretty bad, and if I'd walked in while this man was urinating, I would have been standing in a warm puddle.

He looked very surprised, I must say. His head jerked sideways to look at me. My hands flew to my burning, cosmetics-free cheeks and I gasped, "Your door wasn't locked! I'm so sorry! I...just....walked in! On you!" I have never been required in my adult life to meet such a social crisis without lip gloss.

The man recovered his poise much more quickly than I did and gallantly held the door for me. "I must have forgotten," he said ruefully. He exited the restroom with a little wink and a smile at my discomfiture.

Now if there's something I will never forget, it is to lock the door of a public restroom. If restrooms had furniture in them (other than the kind attached to the walls and floors), I would lock the door and then push the china cabinet in front of the door, after booby-trapping it with empty soda cans and buttering the outer doorknob. So how he managed to forget is something I don't know, unless he was some kind of perv who gets off on the idea of ladies walking in on him while he's weeing. Eww.

But he didn't look like a weirdo. In fact, he was terribly handsome, with dark hair and some nicely-groomed stubble and a mango-colored Lacoste shirt over khaki shorts, accentuating his deep tan. He looked, in fact, like someone who was either getting ready to tee off on the nearby golf course, or perhaps someone who was going to lay flowers on his grandma's grave at the nearby cemetery.

I'm not sure why it mattered that he was good looking lawyer-type. Would it be any better to humiliate myself by walking in on a good looking, peeing construction worker-type from the nearby mall-in-progress? Probably not.

This story should serve to prove to my husband, Lilly and Susie that exercise is bad. It makes you hot and thirsty and then you drink too much water and get a stomach ache and then you have to wee really bad and then you walk in on handsome Lacoste-wearing strangers who are amused by your embarrassment.

The YMCA is a den of vice. I've known crack houses that are less dangerous to one's well being.

If it's been a long week....

Sorry for the poor picture quality, but this is William, the little laughing man
in the video. He's been seen all over the internet - he may be the world's most
famous video-baby.

Do you need something to make you laugh? Then watch this YouTube video of a baby with a chain-smoker laugh. Turn up the speakers!

You'll never hear the word "BOING!" again without smiling.

[I took off the YouTube embed because it was making for some slow-loading pages. Just click the link and it will take you right to Mr. Gigglepants.]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Achievement Tests - Day #3

Thanks be to the Blessed Trinity and all the angels and saints, we are done with achievement testing for this year.

Today was an interesting day, not really because of the tests (Mathematics Computation and Mathematics Concepts & Application), but because of what happened during them.

The classical music was playing sweetly, the dogs were sleeping, the girls had had a nutritious lunch and I was just as cheerful and upbeat as Joan Crawford with a closet full of metal hangers. No, scratch that. I only got to that stage a little later.

I read the instructions for Test 5 Mathematics Computation and the girls did the sample problem, which they declared to be ridiculously easy. And it was:

Sample Question #1

4 + 4 = ___

A) 16
B) 8
C) 6
D) not given

I am so happy to report that they both got the correct answer on this. If they hadn't, I'd be fellowshipping with my friend Jack Daniels right now and completely snubbing our buddy Diet Coke. Right out of the bottle, baby.

Anyway, they got started on the eighteen minute timed test and all was going well until Aisling quavered, "Mommmmmmmmmyyyyyyy..."

"What?" I asked, looking up from my book.

"I...c-can'" she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

There are some mothers out there who are nicer than I am. Those mothers would have said, "Oh, now, honey! You just put on that little thinking cap! You just thinky-think-think! You can do it! Yay, you!"


Don't worry. I didn't say this. Oh, I went there in my head. But I managed to come back from that place in my mind where I was swatting Aisling on the head with a ruler and instead took a deep breath and said, "Please don't say that to me."

"But I c-can't!!!" she wailed, weeping energetically.

"Hoooo-boy," Meelyn muttered quietly, looking up briefly at the two of us.

"Aisling, think," I commanded her. "Think!"

She sat there, thinking, until an unwelcome beep-beep-beep signaled us that time was up.

"How many problems did you leave blank?" I asked.

She looked down at her test booklet and said, "Uhhhmmm...ten."

That's when I lost it. "Ten? TEN??!! Aisling, there are only twenty problems on that whole TEST. How could you not know the answers to TEN PROBLEMS?" This was, in case you didn't know, my biggest achievement testing nightmare. Because, as a homeschooling mother? The kids aren't the only ones being tested here, you know.

"Oh, I could do the problems," she responded, holding up her sheet of scratch paper. "I just didn't mark the answers on the answer sheet."

I dropped my head into my hands. "Aisling, in the name of all that is holy, WHY NOT?"

She thoughtfully considered the fingernails of her left hand. "Well, I couldn't remember how to reduce the fraction three-fifths, so I just didn't mark it, and I went ahead and did the rest of the problems after that one, but I didn't have time to mark the answer sheet."

I wanted to just lie on the floor and writhe like a foundering horse. Through my fingers, I said, "First of all, three-fifths cannot be reduced. Second of all, how long is it before Daddy gets home? Third of all....oh, forget the third thing. Just forget it."

God forgive me if I did wrong, but we went back and filled in the bubbles on the answer sheet from the problems she had worked on the scratch page. Things like this are why some people leave little candy dishes filled with Vicodin sitting around the house.

Finally, we moved on to Test 6 Mathematics Concepts & Application. We did the samples, I reminded Aisling that she had to fill in the bubbles, not just work the problems out on the scratch paper, and set the timer for another eighteen minutes.

About two minutes into the test, I heard a squeaky little sound and looked accusingly at Hershey, who was stretched out full-length beneath the dining room table. The girls giggled.

We all went back to what we were doing: Me, reading. Meelyn and Aisling, testing. Hershey, snoring and farting.

Three minutes later, I heard another sound, only this one wasn't little and squeaky. It sounded more like cannon fire. Fort Sumter would have been jealous.

The girls screamed with mirth, but in the middle of a huge guffaw, Aisling looked at me and said, "Mommy, I have to poop. I have to poop right now!"

"Okay. Close your test books and stop the timer," I instructed. "Aisling, go to the bathroom and hurry up."

Aisling kept Meelyn and I apprised of the situation by yelling through the closed bathroom door, "I'm almost done! Al-l-l-l-lmost!...Yep. Yep. There! All done!"

"I don't really like having a running commentary on someone else's...bowel movements," Meelyn said, primly pinching her nose. "Eww. Gross."

Aisling came out of the bathroom. "Shall I flush?"

"Yes. Unless you want death to smite you," I said. "Now, come on. Let's get this finished."

She did and we did and the achievement tests are even now all packaged up and ready to return to Seton Testing Services. They said it will be about two weeks until we get the results back.

Thursday's List

READING: Michael Wood, I love you. If I lived in England, I would be your groupie. Shakespeare is one of the best books I have ever read. I'm getting close to the end and I just dread finishing it.

POOLSIDE READING: The swim club doesn't open until this weekend (when it is supposed to be cloudy and gloomy and rainy - hate!) but I've got the poolside reading knocked out with a bit of completely mindless but entertaining chick-lit by British author Lisa Jewell. It's called Thirtynothing, one of those stories about the guy and the girl who are best mates and can't see that they are, like, totally right for each other. You may wonder why I like this kind of book and I'll tell you: they have happy endings. That's about the size of it. I finished The Pillars of the Earth last week and have been kicking myself ever since. Why did I devote hours of time reading those 1000+ pages when the end of the story wasn't particularly happy, in spite of the fact that the %$#& cathedral was finally built? I'll never read anything by that author again. I'll take another serving of chick-lit, extra sugar, please.

LISTENING TO: Dave Ramsey's radio show on personal finance.

THINKING ABOUT: Squeezing enough cash out of this week's housekeeping money to buy the flowers to fill the hanging baskets that go in the back: Two big pink geraniums, two red vining petunias, two vinca and maybe a little white alyssum. They're always so pretty and I've been aching to get them done, but money's been very tight.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: Breyer's Sugar Free Butter Pecan Ice Cream....really good, although they were unconscionably stingy with the pecan pieces.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: So You Think You Can Dance starts tonight on Fox. If I described to you how much I love this show, you would think that I'd been kicked in the head by a chorus line member.

WISH I HAD: A new lip gloss, in a better color than the one I have now, which is just about to run out. The one I have now is neutral; I want to go with something more pink.

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: TEN pages. TEN. I am the Goddess of Scrapbooking, bow before me. Lower than that.

HAPPY THAT I'M: Looking back on a really good year of homeschooling. We all agree -- this has been our best year so far. We've done some of the coolest things and really stretched ourselves and enjoyed it all.

PRAYING FOR: My internet friend Kathy, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly from cardiac arrest after leaving Adoration at her parish last week. She was only 41. Her funeral is tomorrow, Friday, May 25. She leaves behind her husband, Jeff, and two daughters, Kari, 18, and Gracie, 8. Please join me in praying for them.

Achievement Tests - Day #2

I have resisted all temptations to peek into the girls' test booklets, comparing the questions they've been asked with the bubbles they marked on their answer sheets. I wasn't specifically asked not to do this, but it seems a little skeevy, doesn't it?

Test 3 Language Mechanics was first out of the bullpen today and proposed to measure how well they use capital letters and punctuation marks. Meelyn will probably knock this one out of the park (she reads a lot), but I fear for Aisling. She's at this stage where she strews commas wildly throughout whatever she's writing, often throwing in a few semi-colons to keep them company. It gives her writing a breathless quality, making me, feel that I, have to gasp, for, air after each little, snippet...fuuuuuuuaaahhhhhhhhh.... *pant* It may be a strike out, but I'm tentatively hoping for at least a first base hit.

(Where did this baseball metaphor come from? I hate baseball. My husband, a Cincinnati Reds fan, is obviously a terrible influence on me. I wouldn't put it past him to be whispering, " love is not the most boring sport in the is is played on a great big diamond, and how could you not like that?" in my ear as I sleep.Yet another reason to Just Stay Up.)

The next exam was Test 4 Language Expression, in which they were to demonstrate their knowledge that "theirselves" is a word that will make your mother jab her fingers in her ears and scream if you say it.

Meelyn and Aisling both finished in good time, checked back over their work,and we were done.

The rest of the school day was spent in feverish math extra-credit work (so, so incredibly necessary), English (picking nouns out of sentences and deciding if they were expressed in the nominative, possessive or objective case; then deciding if each noun in the objective case was a direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition or an appositive, finished off by our new project, which is memorizing a list of fifty prepositions...phew). We also watched the final hour of a TiVo'ed program from the History Channel titled "The Dark Ages," fast-forwarding through all descriptions of gruesome tortures.

After that, we went to the library and brought home another ton of books and then drove to the church so that Aisling could practice for a little while and so that we could go to confession.

I went, but Father ran out of time in the confessional (I am very sinful) and Aisling couldn't go. Meelyn went with her dad a couple of weeks ago. But Aisling sat at the keyboard and softly played hymns, which I hope was very nice for all the people who were there to pray. I thought it sounded lovely and Father was very pleased to have her there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A few laps around the beads

In 1947, Father Patrick Peyton embarked on a massive international effort to promote family prayer through the radio show The Family Rosary Hour. It later expanded to television in a program called Family Theater and he was assisted in this great work by lots of Hollywood stars and celebrities of that post-WWII era, including stars such as Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Rosalind Russell, Gregory Peck, Shirley Temple, Jimmy Durante, Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly and Charlton Heston.

Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, was a devout Catholic whose
last three films were all done in the 1980s by Family Theater Productions.

"The family that prays together, stays together," is the memorable saying he coined.

Father Peyton's main objective with his radio and television programs was, naturally, to promote the rosary. (The name of the radio program might have given that away.) He had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother, whose prayers were instrumental in his miraculous cure from tuberculosis when he was a young priest. For the rest of his life, he was determined to promote her prayer, which takes the pray-ers through the life of Jesus, journeying around the beads and meditating on His life from His conception to His death to His assumption of Holy Mary into heaven and His giving her a crown. "Well done, good and faithful mother," I can picture Him saying to her, tenderly folding her into his embrace, happy to see her again after so long a separation.

The four of us -- my husband, Meelyn, Aisling and myself -- have recently taken to praying the rosary together every evening. We sit down comfortably, Meelyn and Aisling pajama'd, with damp hair and rosy cheeks, and sit for a few moments naming our prayer intentions that we intend to lift up before our heavenly Father.

"For business to pick up," says my husband, running the beads of his rosary through his fingers. He says it is his most treasured possession; a gift I gave him when we were received into the Church four years ago.

"For our achievement tests to go well," says Meelyn the Conscientious, tucking her bangs behind her ear.

"We should pray for more priests," says Aisling. "More priests and more nuns and monks and for an end to abortion and for our family to become Catholic and for gas prices to go down."

"For peace in the world and in our home," I add, thinking of all the times when I...don't feel all that peaceful. And then let the family know all about it.

And then we pray together, just the four of us snuggled in tight, our voices rising and falling in the sweet ancient cadences as we contemplate Jesus, Bread of Life, Living Water. The sleeping dogs sigh happily as they dream, Hershey with his chin on my husband's foot; Wimzie squished between me and Meelyn on the couch.

It is the best part of the day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Achievement Tests - Day #1

We just went through all the preliminary filling in of tiny "bubbles" on the answer sheets with #2 pencils all sharp and pointy, making sure to fill in each bubble completely with a nice, black mark. Massenet's lovely overture called "Cherubin" is playing softly in the background and we are ready to begin.

The girls are doing the CAT E Survey and, although I am presenting a calm and reassuring facade to them, I am a complete and fidgety bundle of interior nerves, as if I inadvertantly swallowed an extra teaspoon of Robitussin DM, which once caused my friend Maria to see Jesus carrying a lighted candle through her bedroom.

We're taking it pretty easy on the tests. There are six tests covering Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension, Language Mechanics, Language Expression, Mathematics Computation and Mathematics Concepts and Applications so we're going to do two per day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The tests are all short, with the longest one timed for something like twenty minutes, so it's no great pressure. On them, anyway.

The girls are both engaged on Test 1 Vocabulary, in which they have ten minutes to answer twenty vocabulary questions. They are, if I do say so myself, absolutely rocking the vocabulary - it's one of the best school subjects for both of them. Math, which comes on Thursday, not so much.

[time lapse]

Okay, they finished the first test, both of them completing it within the ten minute time period. We did the samples for Test 2 Comprehension; this is an eighteen minute timed test and Aisling totally freaked me out by nonchalantly saying, "I need to blow my nose," and getting up from her chair.


I shooed her back into her chair and brought her some tissues. She blew her nose, laid the used tissue on the dining room table beside her (eww) and went back to work.

Meelyn's sweet, serious head is bent over her test booklet - this is a big deal for her. She said to me this morning that she hopes she gets a good score because she doesn't "want you and Daddy to be disappointed." Love the lovely teenager. She is such a delightful person that I'd like to kick myself for wasting all that time dreading her teen years by wondering if she'd be a hideous beast like I was. Ugh.

The time is about to go off. Gotta go.

Monday, May 21, 2007

PRODUCT REVIEW: Physician's Formula Mineral Wear® Talc-Free Mineral Loose Powder

Mineral make-up has been the latest shout in the world of cosmetics for the past few years. This seems kind of strange, considering that mineral make-up has been around for thousands of years, employed with greater or lesser success by women wishing to enhance their physical beauty. The "lesser success" was measured by those who used lead mixed into a paste with water in order to whiten their complexions during the European Renaissance. This lead paste was also used by the geishas of Japan. The men and women of ancient Egypt used kohl, a lead-based substance, as an eyeliner to make their eyes beautiful. II Kings 9:30 refers to wicked Jezebel painting her eyes with kohl, not that it did her any good.

Lead-based kohl eyeliner on the ancient Egyptians
caused irritability, respiratory failure, memory
loss, hypertension and...*gulp*...death.

Thinking about this, I can only wince. The list of symptoms of lead poisoning is about as long as my arm and includes such things as "irritability," which I am thinking is not a good thing in a queen such as Elizabeth I of England who occasionally relieved her shattered nerves by cutting off a few heads.

Nowadays, we worry about old houses or baby cribs with paint containing lead that might chip or flake around children, but imagine rubbing lead paste directly onto your skin, day after day after day.

But anyway, Physician's Formula Mineral Wear® Talc-Free Mineral Loose Powder contains absolutely no lead, none at all. The primary mineral employed by the technicians at Physician's Formula is mica, which will not leach into your skin and cause you to cut off the head of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex. Other minerals included in this powder are bismuth oxychloride, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and silica, which is another name for quartz.

My quarrel with this make up, which is supposed to give my face a polished and air-brushed appearance, is that perhaps they didn't mill that quartz quite finely enough. The result is...okay. But the texture of the powder is extremely gritty and unpleasant feeling on my face. Remember, I was spoiled in the days of my youth by that remarkable translucent powdered elixir from Elizabeth Arden, a face powder so finely milled, it was softer and lighter than a gosling's feather.

Of course, the translucent face powder from Elizabeth Arden is made from talc and the Physician's Formula face powder is made from minerals, so maybe I'm being unfair. Also, it might be a touch unreasonable to buy makeup from the usual suspects (Meijer, Target, Walgreen's, CVS) and expect it to perform like a high-end preparation available at cosmetics counters in posh department stores, but I can't help it.

Does it have to feel like it's made of gravel? Hate!

The powder I bought also comes with a cute little brush for application and I knew before I even used it that it was going to be horrible. I love the quality make-up brushes I've bought over the years and there's something really icky about cheap brushes that shed long, synthetic boar's hairs all over the face. They need to get rid of the cheap brush, so matter how adorable it looks under the little domed lid. I'm just saying.

On the other hand, my husband and I bought Meelyn some Physician's Formula Mineral Wear® loose powder, blusher and bronzer for her birthday and she says she really likes it. So what do I know?

Physician's Formula Mineral Wear® Makeup is good for sensitive (mine) or breakout-prone (Meelyn's) skin. The translucent powder I bought is available for around $11, give or take some change, at all your local discount department stores and pharmacies.

Gas prices and homeschool driving

My husband is a purist.

He believes that if you are homeschooling your children, you should be home. Schooling.

I have a much different approach which says that we stay home (schooling) long enough to study math and grammar and all that stuff and then pile into the van so that we can do some real learning.

(This is achievement test week, by the way, so we'll see if my thoughts on homeschooling have led Meelyn and Aisling into a transcendent sort of scholarly wisdom, or if we've just been frittering away our time on different activities when we should have been seated around the dining room table learning how to spell parellellogram...paralillogram...parelellegr....oh, never mind.)

So we have a wide range of outside-our-four-walls activities, some which occur weekly, like French, piano lessons and art class. Others happen once a month, like our docent-led tours at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; some even less frequently than that, like HISTO History Bingo or the Shakespeare Workshop. Some, like our recent field trips to the Simmons One Room Schoolhouse and Conner Prairie or to the Indiana Repertory Theater to see Twelfth Night may occur only once a year, but we really treasure them for their very infrequency.

We also try to go to our parish church for daily Mass at least once a week, a practice that we started during Lent.

Recently, I have noted that our comings and goings - mostly goings - have been eating away at my housekeeping money at an alarming rate. The week before last, I spent $115 on gas, just traveling our normal round of activities. It's a good thing that summer vacation is within waving distance because frankly, we just can't keep this up.

If gas prices continue to climb throughout the summer, or even if they stay the same, something's going to have to give, and I know what it's going to be. It's going to be Exxon. I am going to write them a strongly worded letter explaining in detail the low esteem in which I hold them. They will buckle beneath the weight of guilt I will pile upon them as I describe how my daughters are being denied the opportunity to use the freedom of homeschooling to have educational experiences that many traditionally-schooled students are denied.

No, really, I don't think Exxon is going to care all that much.

So my husband and I have been doing some talking and it looks like art class might be on the chopping block next fall, the same art class I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The lessons, I mentioned, were ridiculously inexpensive, but the 45-minute drive there probably costs us about $15 a trip. Four times a month. That takes art lessons from being a bargain, considering Kendra's level of artistic talent and her skill as a teacher, to being a significant chunk of change that is the approximate equal of our electric bill.

I can't sleep. It is 2:42 a.m. and I am up late worrying about money, money, money -- why our income isn't increasing at the same rate as our utilities and grocery bills; why we don't have one of those trees out back that my father was always referring to whn I was growing up; why the part of the country in which we happen to live is one of the few parts of the United States that is in an economic tailspin in the retail sector.

"If all your problems are money problems, you don't have any problems," the old saying goes.

I always think that the person who said that was a well-meaning sort who spoke those words right after he checked the numbers on the NYSE and found them much to his bullish liking, right after he shared a good cigar with his accountant and his mutual fund broker. It's always seemed to me, cynically, that the only people who can afford to say that if you have money problems, you don't really have problems, are the people who have money.

I guess they're in a position to know. We sure aren't.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Well, that narrows it down

Today, Aisling came up to me and said, "Mommy, you know that one movie we saw?"

"Dumbo ?" I asked. "Sabrina ? The Incredibles ? Anne of Green Gables ? Pirates of the Caribbean...stop me when I get the right one...The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ? The Quiet Man ? Mulan ? The old version of Cheaper by the Doz -..."

"MOMMY!" she interrupted. "Not any of those, silly mommy. I mean the one movie we saw with that GIRL in it."

"Oh, THAT movie!" I said, wisely nodding my head.

"Yes," she said eagerly. "What was that movie called?"


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oldster McPottymouth

A man who looked to be in his late 60s/early 70s came up to me and Meelyn and my friend Michelle today while we were talking to a docent at Conner Prairie's Zimmerman House and told us that he and his wife had driven to Indiana from Missouri by way of Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

"My, that was quite a journey," said the docent playing the part of "Bea Zimmerman."

"Yes, it was," he said. "We listened to the radio while we were driving and I heard this joke. It should be okay to tell, because it was on the radio." He winked at us conspiratorially.

Now, look. I'm not a real quick thinker. I should have known, being aware of Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony, that just because you hear a joke on the radio, that doesn't mean it is okay to tell. It might be un-okay enough to get your butt fired. But I stood there like a lump of mashed turnip and let him start telling.

"There were two girl friends," he started out. "They'd been friends for a long time, back when they were just kindergarteners. And one day, one friend said to the other, 'Can I ask you a personal question?'

"'Why, of course you can,' said the other friend. 'You know we've never kept secrets from each other. Remember when we were teenagers and we used to go out on dates and afterwards we'd tell each other what we did to the boys and what the boys did to us?'"

Don't you think that I would have sensed that this joke was headed in an uncouth direction? I should have immediately re-classified that conspiratorial wink as "lecherous" and walked out, but I blame my mother, who taught me to be unfailingly polite to my elders, although I think even she would draw the line at dirty old men.

"'We don't have to keep secrets just because we're both married,' the other friend said," the senior citizen continued. "'Oh, good,' said the first friend. 'So, do you and your husband have mutual orgasms?'"

At this point, my eyes were out on stalks and I grabbed Meelyn, who was standing directly in front of the man, by the wrist and said, "Come on, HONEY! Let's go look at the WASH HOUSE!"

I hurried her out of the house, wishing it were socially permissible to kick old men in the shins. I mean, I am no prude. I have a ribald sense of humor that still gets me in trouble with my mother, who is the type of person who thinks that the f-word is "fart." I occasionally refer affectionately to Lilly, Carol, Susie and myself as rotten whores. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and it appears that my line is drawn right in front of older men who come up to me and my 14-year-old and start telling off-color jokes.

Is there a time when this could be considered an appropriate thing to do? It would be kind of like me saying to my religious education class, "I have a little poem to teach you and it goes like this: There once was a girl from Nantucket..."

The punch line of his joke, by the way, had something to do with Mutual of Omaha.

Meelyn, bless her sweet heart, has no idea what an orgasm is.

My mother probably just fell right off her chair.

Thursday's List

READING: Still working on Shakespeare by Michael Wood. It is just so good. He is an amazing writer and speaker, one of the most interesting writers I've ever read, on any subject.

POOLSIDE READING: Still haven't been to the pool, but I'm reading a book called Nicholas Cooke by Stephanie Cowell, set in Elizabeth England. It's written from the first person point of view and the language and cadence of the speech is very different: I'd say that it is our idea of Elizabethan speech patterns rather than being actual Elizabethan English, which I probably wouldn't even be able to read.

LISTENING TO: The sound of my head rattling.

THINKING ABOUT: Meelyn and Aisling going to spend all day Friday and Saturday with Nanny and Poppy. On the one hand, I will have some free time, all to myself. On the other hand, I know I will miss them and feel sad at bedtime.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: Art History I just found this website a couple of days ago, totally by happenstance. I haven't had time to really assess how I can use it best for the girls and their art education, but it looks very promising, a fun place to browse.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: Getting ready to leave for a field trip to Conner Prairie!

WISH I HAD: Like, a million dollars. Two million.

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: Ahh! That is the agenda for tomorrow!

HAPPY THAT I'M: Wearing my favorite celery-green v-neck top with a really cute bronze colored "antique-y" necklace with a filigree heart pendant.

PRAYING FOR: A variety of things, mostly selfish. St. Teresa of Avila, pray for me!

The critical importance of undergarments

The other day, Aisling asked me how to do jumping-jacks.

I had to explain it to her because I myself can't do jumping-jacks. I ruined my left knee in a car accident when I was 21 and my life has been blessedly free from calisthenics ever since.

"First, you stand up straight with your arms at your sides," I instructed from my seat on the couch, wishing I had a whistle around my neck. Meelyn, who knows how to do jumping-jacks, was sitting beside me with her chin on my shoulder, but had declared herself to weary to teach.

"Okay," said Aisling, standing at attention like a Marine. "What next?"

"Next, you bring your arms up above your head and clap your hands together while jumping out sideways with both legs."

"Okaaaay...." Aisling said, concentrating on this complicated maneuver. She did what I'd told her, only it didn't look the way it was supposed to. Instead, it looked as if Aisling was being simultaneously electrocuted and buffeted by a gale-force wind.

"I don't think that's quite it," I said, hiding my face behind my book to obscure the wide smile I was wearing. Meelyn suddenly developed a coughing fit.

"What's not quite it? And what's all that banging around?" asked my husband, coming into the living room. He had just come out of the shower (he won't use the upstairs bathroom because he says there's too much "girl stuff" in it) and was wearing his typical evening uniform of gym shorts and a Notre Dame t-shirt. Under the gym shorts, he wears boxers, which had never struck me before as being an unappealing type of undergarment, but that was back in the days of my innocence.

"I want to learn how to do jumping-jacks," Aisling explained. "Volleyball camp is coming up next month and I don't want to look like an idiot."

My husband is very athletic, one of the few people in the universe who has a gym membership and actually uses it four times a week; the type of person who goes for a five-mile run or a ten-mile bike ride to "relax." How we ever ended up together, I can't fathom.

"Oh, jumping-jacks are easy," he said, kind enough not to say "And if you want to know how to do them, why are you asking your mother?"

He proceeded to do about twenty jumping-jacks, showing really good form in the coordination of arms and legs, also very speedy. The problem was the boxer shorts, which were not contributing to the effect of musculo-skeletal precision. To put it delicately, my husband's nether regions looked as if two puppies had started a sudden quarrel in a gunny sack.

"Dad!" said Meelyn, scarlet, covering her eyes with her hands. "DAD!"

"HONEY!!" I said insistently, "Honey, please stop, please stop, please, okay, well, thanks, just...STOP!"

"What's wrong?" asked Aisling, who was standing beside him instead of in front of him, thank goodness.

"Stop?" asked my husband, stopping. "Why stop?"

"You, ummm...need to reign in the business before you do any more demonstrations," I said, delicately.

My husband cast one mortified look downwards and grimaced, his eye on Meelyn, who was lying with her face buried in the sofa cushions, screaming with embarrassed laughter.

"Should I contribute a few dollars to our Future Therapy for Emotionally Scarred Offspring Fund?" he asked, and then fled for the stairs. When he came back down, he was wearing four pairs of jeans, the lower half of a suit of armor and some ski pants.

"I still don't know how to do jumping-jacks," Aisling complained.

"Your mother will teach you," my husband muttered.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Favorite Non-Necessary Appliance

Our homes tend to have lots of appliances, many of them what we would consider necessities, like a refrigerator, a cook-top and oven or a stove, but I've been thinking about the appliances that really aren't necessary, when you think about it. It's just that when you get used to having them around, you never want to go without them again.

Here's a list of my favorite non-necessary housekeeping appliances:

1. washer/dryer -- My life after my college graduation was spent in finding living quarters that either had a washer and dryer or were close to a respectable laundromat. The day I moved into a rental house that not only had two bedrooms and a nice yard, but also had a full-sized washer and dryer in a laundry room, I was nearly hysterical with joy. Anyone who has ever spent time in a laundromat along with some seedy looking people who seem to be there for the express purpose of washing the smell of marijuana out of their clothes will understand this feeling.

2. dishwasher -- I grew up, spoiled, in a house with a dishwasher. Then that dishwasher broke and my parents, ever frugal, decided that I could become the dishwasher. When my mother remodeled her kitchen when I was in college, I was overjoyed when we went to pick out that sturdy KitchenAid, wringing my dishpan hands in glee.

3. microwave -- Believing that microwave popcorn is an abomination, I still use the microwave for a number of little tasks, like heating up my soup, melting butter, heating water for hot tea and cooking bacon. Yes, cooking bacon. My mom bought me a microwave bacon-cooker at Wal-Mart for something like $8 and it has been one of my favorite things ever in this world. I bless the dual inventors of the microwave and the bacon-cooker. They are brilliant, extraordinary people and should be given medals and trophies which I could probably purchase out of the money I've saved by not having to buy grease-cutting stove cleaner by the gallon.

4. bread machine -- All the yummy of homemade bread with none of the fuss. Sometimes, when I feel that our lives are too ruled by stuff, I get Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books out of the playroom bookcase and read about what those poor pioneer folks had to go through to make a simple loaf of bread and then I go downstairs, call the florist, and have roses delivered to my bread machine.

5. little food chopper -- I have never owned a food processor, but I do have a tiny Black & Decker food chopper that I bought when Meelyn was a baby and getting ready to eat solid foods. I used to whirl peas and carrots and green beans and chicken breast in it for her (and then did the same for Aisling a couple of years later), but when they grew out of the need for whirled food, I kept on using it to chop carrots and celery and hunks of Parmesan cheese and onions and all kinds of stuff. It is a nice thing to have and really saves the fingers from being skinned on one of those old-fashioned graters.

These are the five things I use the most frequently and I can't imagine having to do without any of them, but my dishwasher would have to be the thing I would hate to get rid of the most.

In the little city where my husband works, there is a really nice laundromat and when all's said and done, I suppose the girls and I could schlep the dirty clothes over there and do that neat trick where you efficiently do the entire week's laundry by using five washers at once. That is one benefit of laundromats. But this is theory, not practice. Two months ago, when our ten-year-old washer gave out (with its life mate, the dryer, going into some kind of Victorian decline and developing an alarming squealing noise that made the washer repairman, who had just declared our washer D.O.A., give it a grim look and say, "That is not a good sound") I was so very grateful for financial whiz Dave Ramsey's insistence on having money saved up so that I could go right out and buy a new set.

Dave Ramsey, besides being awe-
somely handsome, also encouraged
us to become debt-free and save up
the money to be able to buy a new
appliance when an old one croaks.

The dishwasher is good to have because it makes it possible to hide all the dirty dishes that seem to constantly be loitering around my sink. And I can't stand to see dishes in the sink, I just can't stand it. I am philosophical about dust and have become resigned about doggy nose prints on the windows, but a mess in the kitchen is anathema to me. I know this sounds a little like I need some kind of soothing medication, but when I see my kitchen looking yucky -- dishes in the sink, mail scattered on the table, a wet teabag reposing forlornly on the counter -- I feel very anxious and irritable, with a desire to go shout at my family and say, "You are all pigs. PIGS."

My first dishwasher was purchased for $50, a portable Whirlpool that was formerly owned by my friend, Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen had a really freakishly annoying husband whose hobby was accumulating vast amounts of debt, buying mostly computer stuff, but then assuaging his guilt for being a selfish, immature you-know-what by using his many credit cards to buy things for Mary Ellen that she didn't even want.

Like the dishwasher.

Mary Ellen and Whatsizname lived in the tiniest house I have ever seen, but also the cutest. Every wee little room was just as perfect as could be and her garden was like something out of a magazine. Her kitchen, and I am not kidding about this, was probably 10x10. It was big enough for a stove, a fridge and one itty-bitty cabinet to the left of the fridge that had two small workplaces and the sink.

The rest of the room in there was taken up by a kitchen table for four from IKEA and, of course, this enormous clodhopper of a dishwasher. Mary Ellen pointed out that she thought Whatsizname had bought it on purpose because he knew the space in there would be so tight, they wouldn't be able to sit at the table anymore. She sat and ate with their little daughter; Whatizname sat and ate at the computer (and probably flirted with girls in sleazy online chatrooms; Al Gore had just invented the internet.)

Mary Ellen also brought my attention to the fact that, in order to use the dishwasher, she would have to move the kitchen table and all four chairs into the miniscule laundry room, hook it up to the sink and let it do its stuff, and then move it back, along with the table, et cetera. Not practical.

So in a fit of pique at Whatsizname, she told me she'd sell it to me for $50. At the time, I was flush with birthday money, so I told her I'd give her $150. She told me that she wanted $50. I told her that that was not enough money; Whatsizname was probably making payments on the dumb thing that were at least that much. So she accepted $150 and then mailed $100 back to me a few days later.

She insisted that I take it then, so she and I half-rolled, half-carried the dishwasher out of her house, shrieking with laughter, and somehow loaded it into the back of my little station wagon. I'm still not sure how, but I think it involved butter.

I got it home and my husband unloaded it and I ran the first load with, like, one fork, just to hear it swishing away.

That dishwasher lasted for eleven years. When it finally broke, I was very sad because we hadn't yet discovered Dave Ramsey and his practical advice about emergency funds and we had to save up the money for a new one. It took three long, sad months of washing dishes by hand, and if I tell you that the sink water was mostly salty, you'll know why.

The new dishwasher is also a Whirlpool and it came with us from our old house to our new house because there is no under-the-counter dishwasher here either. Mostly because our new house is very old and 150 years ago, dishwashers were named Hazel and Alice and Pauline instead of Whirlpool. My kitchen is a nice size,but it wasn't meant to hold a refrigerator, a table and a dishwasher with room left over to make a meat loaf. I do have a lovely appliance garage near the sink where one could go, but then where would I put Items #4 and #5 from my above list? Not to mention the turkey platter and the toaster.

So my Whirlpool portable has pride of place on the wall near the sink, where a couple of pushes bellies it nicely up to the faucet. I wonder what I'll do with it if we move in a couple years and we go to a place that has one? Will I keep it because of its sentimental value, or keep it as a second string washer?

Maybe I could sell it to someone for $50 and let the Whirlpool bring me full circle.

It's almost over!

We are almost done with school for the year. On Thursday, May 31, we will have completed Meelyn's seventh grade year and Aisling's fifth grade year, our sixth year of homeschooling.

This morning has been so very, very long. We got started at 8:30 and now it is 12:30, but I think something Rip Van Winkle-ish may have happened with the time, because surely enough hours have passed that it is actually 12:30 on Saturday.

Nope. Just checked the computer's clock/calendar, which verified that it is indeed 12:30 pm on Wednesday.

We started out with math today -- ohhhhhh, rats. I just realized that we didn't do the Morning Prayer. Will it count to do the Morning Prayer in the afternoon? I don't think God will mind -- and it was even more mind-numbingly terrible than it usually is. Why do we have to have dumb old math anyway? That's what Aisling said, not me. But I silently and heartily concurred.

Both girls have the Saxon Math D.I.V.E. CD-ROMs with a very pleasant-voiced professor, Dr. David Shormann, who teaches them their math. The computer screen becomes a "chalkboard" and he writes out the problems, showing them how to understand and solve whatever particular lesson they're doing, which could be anything from acute angles to subtracting fractions. These CD-ROMS were sort of expensive, but very worth it for us.

You see, my voice isn't always that pleasant the fiftieth time I have to explain that that that angle CANNOT be an 80 degree angle; it is not acute, it is obtuse! Obtuse! Obtuse! Aaaaagghhh!!!!

Edvard Munch's self-portrait, evoking his feelings about

So anyway, Dr. Shormann is a kindly sort and never gets an edge to his voice and never abruptly leaves his seat, muttering, to go out to the kitchen for another cup of coffee.

But sometimes, even Dr. Shormann doesn't quite cut it and I have to sit down at the table and work many problems out with the girls until they understand. Doing math irritates the very fiber of my being. It tap-dances on my ganglia and makes the skin on the back of my neck feel all bunchy. One of the hardest things about homeschooling is being pleasant even when you don't want to be.

Which, come to think of it, was also one of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher. Or a person.

Anyway, Meelyn is finished with her Saxon 7/6 math text and is now doing many supplemental exercises in the back of the book. If she misses none or one on each of these exercises, I give her extra credit. She needs it, I'm afraid. Her main problem is careless mistakes: forgetting to reduce fractions, forgetting to put decimal points in answers, making simple calculation errors like saying that 9 x 3 = 36 (oh, I wish she weren't so much like me!), but those careless mistakes can add up to a pretty rancid test score. It mortifies her and worries me.

I can remember being just exactly like this in my days as a public school student, but I don't think any of my teachers ever wept bitter tears at what failures they felt like because I was such a dunce in math. This is, I believe, the curse of the homeschooling mother. No matter how ridiculous you know it is, if your kids can't be brilliant at every single subject, carving life-sized carousel horses with one hand and splitting atoms with the other while conducting a symphony orchestra with the baton held between two toes from a score they wrote at age seven, you feel like you just haven't given it -- or them -- your all.

Aisling has only five more lessons in her Saxon 6/5 text and is due to cross the finish line next week.

We made it through math, finally, and moved on to the Greek and Latin roots workbook, which both girls enjoy very much. They also like the reading comprehension books they do, published by Seton Educational Media. The Seton books are Catholic-based and teach interesting things about the lives of the saints and the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, and to tell you the truth, I find them interesting myself. Both of these books are within mere pages of being finished, which is such a relief. The end is in sight!

We've already finished history (the Roman Empire) and literature (Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream, plus tons of pleasure reading). Science was wrapped up in late March at the ARCHES Science Expo. The girls both whizzed through their Wordly Wise vocabulary books this year; they've been done with those since early April and I think I might order their new ones a grade level ahead so that there will be more of a challenge. Or maybe I could order the proper grade level for each and schedule the exercises so that they'll complete the book in the first semester.

We finished up with French two weeks ago, although we'll be listening to our French language CDs for twenty minutes whenever we're in the car long enough for a lesson. The only two things we're still doing are American geography/history/social studies and English (both grammar and diagraming.) It looks as if we'll have to carry those subjects on into the summer.

Achievement testing will happen on those last four days in May's final week. The girls are just so looking forward to that.

I don't mind carrying our subjects on into the summer because I think it's important to keep a little something going during that long break. "Brain Drain" is the dread of teachers everywhere, no matter if their classroom is at P.S. 25 or in the dining room. When we only work for a couple of hours a week, schoolwork has a certain piquancy, we have found, and none of us really mind doing a little diagraming here and there. Especially me. I'm a bit like Aunt Josephine in the third book of The Series of Unfortunate Events, which was titled The Wide Window. "I find that grammar is the greatest joy in life, don't you?" she asked the Baudelaire orphans.

The girls also have piano practicing to do -- we carry on with piano over the summer, although we do stop with art lessons -- and then there's the Hamilton County 4-H Fair coming up in July with projects needing attention. We also go to the church once or twice a week, not just for Mass, but also for Aisling to have some time to practice her Mass music on the keyboard there. Plus in late August, a couple of other moms and I are going to be starting a Junior Toastmasters club with the ARCHES homeschool group.

Sometimes I think we never really stop at all. I can't decide if that's good or bad.

I've been working on this piece all morning; the girls finally finished their lessons at 2:00. We've all had a lovely break and now I'm getting ready to corral them into the van to head off to the church. Meelyn and I will have a nice holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament while Aisling practices.

I am really looking forward to going to Susies's house in a little over two weeks and to the lake in early August. Phew.