Saturday, June 30, 2007

They live!!! THEY LIVE!!!!

My marigolds, the ones the girls and I planted with pink and red geraniums and the two spike plants by our front yar Mary shrine? They came back! We thought they were goners, but they came back!

They live! I did not kill them!

I honestly don't know how it happened. They were all slumped over, very limp. They had turned a strange, greasy-looking, brownish-black color that did not bode well. I mean, when reading gardening books, you seldom find a picture of any plant that is brownish-black and keeled over with a caption that says, "Here's a photograph of the florificus floritopia in vibrant health."

But they came back when I wasn't looking and are actually blooming.

I'm going to hurry off now to mark marigolds off the lengthy list of Plants I've Murdered.

Now, there's something you don't see every day

I just read a message from my friend, Karen, whose subject line read, "Guess What I Saw Today???!!!!"

Gosh, I just didn't know, but I love playing these games.

Uhhmmm....the pope? No, no. That can't be it. Otherwise, she would have written "Guess Who I Saw Today???!!!"

Uh, lessee...A gas station with prices listed at less than $2.00 per gallon?

A cutting-edge refrigerator design that not only stores the cold and frozen food, but also unloads the shopping bags into its innards and is capable of purging itself of those science-experiment-gone-sadly-amok mashed potatoes left over from February?

Buy one, get twenty free cases of Cherry Coke Zero at the grocery?

An issue of "O" magazine that doesn't feature Oprah on the cover? Because this would be, like, a miracle in the world of publishing. Oprah's done more covers than Cindy Crawford, Princess Diana and Tyra Banks combined. Of course, she had to get her own magazine to do it, but I digress.


A bathing suit designed to make the wearer look forty pounds lighter?

As it turns out, I was wrong on all counts. What Karen and her kids saw through the underwater window was the Indianapolis Zoo's big polar bear, farting as he swam, with big air bubbles trailing behind him, rising lazily to the surface of the water.

I hate that I missed that.

The Indianpolis Zoo's polar bear. Better lay off those chili nachos with the extra
beans, buddy. Image credit: copyright 2007 Indianapolis Zoo

Friday, June 29, 2007

Meelyn and Aisling at the keyboard

Happy 26th Birthday Mommy, LOL! I hope you have a great year! I feel that every year I spend with you my life gets happier and happier! This year has been great in school because you work so hard to make our lives in school better then yours were! Because of you I am becoming a Shakespeare fanatic, and because you believed in me I got great grades in school (especially in math,yuck)! Youre a wonderful mom to spend time with going to Hobby Lobby and shopping for clothes with us. All I can say is that I am grateful that you and Dad have worked hard to do things with us. I'm getting to know you even more every year, and I want to tell you that your the best Mommy that I could ever have!

your Mighty-Mee


Happy birthday mommy! Just remember when the coppers come and they ask to see your drivers lisence just remember to tell them your real age, 29. And your never to old to do the chacha. And if you ever forget what grade your in just remember your in grade ten. And that your never to old to teach grade school.

Your so special and I would never ask for any one other than you. Whenever I'm around you we're always smiling and laughing and making up silly little songs in the car. You always put your family and others first and always and always love to serve God.

You truly are a blessing from God.

Happy birthday. ( () ):**

( Hugs and kisses )

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thursday's List

READING: Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. First of all, I had to giggle at the idea of anyone with a solid Scots surname like "Campbell" writing a book sympathetic to the Irish and their potatoes. I got this in the young people's department, so it isn't a weighty tome, but rather an extremely readable -- and horrendously sad -- account of the Potato Famine that brought some of my ancestors (and my husband's) to the United States, courtesy of Ellis Island.

POOLSIDE READING: Size Twelve Isn't Fat by Megan Cabot, the same woman who wrote the book and the screenplay for The Princess Diaries. The Princess Diaries are for girls, but they're so funny and cute that I've enjoyed them too. But this book, I'm afraid, doesn't quite measure up. It's a light murder mystery and so far, I'm having trouble caring about whodiddit.

LISTENING TO: Paul Simon's Graceland

THINKING ABOUT: throwing a little balsamic vinaigrette on the chicken breasts that I did manage to unthaw for dinner tonight and calling it a marinade

HAPPY TO SEE: the landscaping project in the driveway continuing to take shape

FAVORITE NEW FIND: this new stuff called "rain" -- it comes down from the sky and it's really, really wet! I know! Our grass looks better too!

FAVORITE THING TODAY: three hours of peace 'n quiet during the hours of volleyball camp

WISH I HAD: blonde highlights in my hair

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: zero, because I am still freaked out

PRAYING FOR: all the people in Texas who are getting too much rain; a little boy from our homeschool group who has a very aggressive cancer; a safe trip to Italy for Kayte's Matthew, who is going to Italy to sing

Nosy neighbor

Next door to our house is a very lovely Craftsman-era apartment building that used to be two luxury apartments (upper and lower), complete with servants' entrances, when it was built in the early 1920s, but is now four apartments. The two front apartments, upper and lower, are big, beautiful two bedroom apartments with fireplaces surrounded by hand-painted ceramic tiles, and gorgeous wood floors waxed to a glossy glow, plus ceiling beams, knacky little leaded glass windows on either side of the chimney, and re-wired original light fixtures where they could be salvaged. There are also built-in bookcases which cause me no small amount of envy. The rear apartments are one bedroom beauties with galley kitchens and little baby bathrooms with pedestal sinks.

We have lovely neighbors, all of them. We all say hello and talk in the driveway or on our porch and in spite of the fact that the upstairs front neighbor, an artist, is a very bitter ex-Catholic, he likes us anyway and always sends over gorgeous braided coffee cakes and cookies at the holidays. He also gave my husband and I each a rosary that he bought for us at the Vatican when he vacationed in Italy last fall and gave us an oil miniature of Father Christmas which is so beautiful, I couldn't bear to put it away with the other Christmas decorations and left it sitting on my desk where I can see it.

Here's my thing: the former owner of that apartment building completely restored it, putting in all new kitchen and bathroom fixtures, taking care to choose items that wouldn't be too jarringly modern in the gentle confines of these beautiful spaces. He did each apartment over with enormous attention to detail so that they'd be pleasurable to live in, but he also added some modern conveniences. Like garbage disposals. Mini washer/dryer hookups. And central air conditioning, which is an enormous boon in a building that is almost one hundred years old.

Our house, as I mentioned before, is around 150 years old. It is a wonderful house on the inside and the outside, but I wouldn't even agree to look at the inside until I found the pot of gold on the outside: a great big brand-new AC condenser. As I type, the thermostat is cranked down to a perfectly chilled 70 degrees, making me feel like a fine and cherished wine. You would not believe how nasty I am when I'm too hot. Ever had a mouthful of warm champagne? Well, I'm even worse than that. Bitter, harsh and completely incompatible with everything, with a tendency to bring tears to the eyes.

However, none of our neighbors except for our upstairs artist friend have their central air on. How could this be? Are there people out there who don't mind the heat and humidity? How could they not? How could a person wake up in the morning with the sheets kind of sticking to the legs and walk past the thermostat, yawning his or her way out to the kitchen for coffee, saying tohimself, "Oh, I don't think I need to turn that on."

This is as far from my way of thinking as it would be if I found out our neighbors slept on bales of straw instead of beds.

One neighbor told me that she only likes to turn it on when it gets into the nineties outside and is really unbearable because she "likes to hear the birds."

Don't get me wrong: I like birds as much as the next person, but if I want to hear birds in the summer, I'll get one of those clocks from the Harriet Carter catalog and it can sing to me once every hour. I want my air conditioning.

None of them ever appear to be hot and sweaty, which confounds me. Even the neighbor who is six months pregnant. It may be because they are all skinny and I'm, well...not. The last time I was skinny, I was eighteen years old and I had braces on my teeth and a bad attitude and I didn't like being hot then, either.

I don't think I'll ever understand it. But I do figure that by the time I hit menopause, we should be able to hang meat in the living room, no matter what the neighbors are doing.

Summer homeschool - Whine 2.0

Summer brain-drain is a constant source of worry for teachers and is the reason why textbooks -- particularly math books -- have those first few chapters that are nothing but review. Students' minds have to be completely re-engaged when summer ends and it was one of the things that drove me mad about teaching, the business of having to start ALL OVER AGAIN with nouns and verbs and how we capitalize the first word of a sentence and put a period at the end, unless the sentence is a question, in which case we use a question mark, which is like a period with a squiggly backwards "c" with a line drawn down from....oh, it was just bad.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can keeping going on with a little bit of schoolwork here and a little dab there, with no need to re-engage when we start on September 1. Our summertime deal is that if the girls will work on their math up to Lesson 36 in their Saxon books (these texts typically have 128 lessons for the entire year), my husband and I will reward them with $10. On the first thirty-six lessons, they only have to do the practice set -- usually around ten to fifteen problems -- as long as they're only missing one problem. Any more than that and they lose the practice set privilege and have to do the lesson set, which is more like twenty-five problems. They can earn back the practice set privilege, but last summer, both of them were convinced to just do it right the first time. Unfortunately, that is something that seems to fall by the wayside once September gets here, but whatever.

Last summer, Meelyn made it to Lesson 36 and was the happy recipient of $10, which I believe sheput with some money she already had and bought a pair of mules with three-inch wedge heels that make my feet ache just to look at them.

Aisling, who didn't take the whole math thing seriously until the last week of August, only made it to Lesson 28 and did not get $10, which put her freckled nose seriously out of joint. She sighed and huffed and flung herself down on various pieces of furniture and kept saying, in a high-pitched nasal tone, "But it's not faaaaaaaaaaaaiiirrrr! Sheeeee alwaaaaaaaaays gets things aaaand I nevvvvvvvvvvvvvver doooooooo."

I finally told her that if she didn't cut it out, she was going to pay me $10 for having to put up with hearing her dreary mouth going on and on and on. And I meant it, too.

Meelyn's new math book needs to be ordered so that she can get started (if she wants.) Aisling will be using a hand-me-down math book that Meelyn previously used. Hopefully, I'll be out $20 on August 31.

This summer, we're doing something new. I told the girls that I wanted us to spend 90 minutes per week learning; I was going to claim half an hour of that ninety minutes as my own to teach them something I wanted them to learn or brush up on and they were responsible for finding some subject of interest to occupy the other hour.

I was interested to see what they would pick. "Choose something that interests you," I urged them. "It can be something that you've always wanted to know about, but we haven't yet studied, or it could be something we have studied that you want to know more about. It could be a project of some sort, and if you need supplies or materials, Daddy and I will do our best, within reason, to get you what you need. We can go to the library and check out books and DVDs; we can go on a field trip. Just find something that interests you."

They ended up both choosing two things.

Meelyn got on the internet with a skill that I truly didn't know she possessed and looked up the prayers of the rosary in French, copied them to a Word document, printed them out, and has spent the last week murmuring, "Salut, Marie, pleine de grace..." and crossing herself. She also decided that she wants more of Shakespeare, and checked The Tempest (Folger Shakespeare Library edition) out of the public library, and then downloaded a character analysis, plot synopsis and some other things from the internet to assist her in understanding the play and the difficult Elizabethan English, emailed them to herself and printed them out. She's carrying The Tempest with her wherever she goes, and I credit her interest to the breaking of the drought we've been suffering from here in central Indiana; ever since she checked that book out of the library, we've welcomed some much-needed rain.

Aisling, who is working hard at the piano to learn the Mass music, has undertaken to learn the chord patterns for the major, minor and augmented triads, plus the dominant 7th, minor 7th and diminished 7th chords. She's already got to major triads (C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E, A, D and G) conquered on the piano, reminding me what a truly plodding and uninspired piano-lesson-taker i was, eleven years and who knows how many dollars spent on a big bunch of no talent whatsoever. Her second interest was in volcanoes and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which she learned about by studying for history bingo this year. We got a stack of books from the library, several of which she has already devoured. She's now expressed an interest in going back to the library and getting some books on the eruption of Mt. St. Helen, which is interesting to her mostly because her father and I can remember how weather patterns were affected more than halfway across the country by the force of the blast. We're not exactly like talking to the survivors of Pompeii, but we'll do.

For my part, I had the girls review our history/geography/social studies study cards that we keep in the van. We went through those together on our way home from Nanny and Poppy's house the other day and great was the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Even though ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS READ ME THE QUESTIONS, which I answered. Just to keep their hand in, so to speak. Meelyn sulked and pouted and whined until I wanted to throw the stack of cards at her head. Aisling, who decided, chameleon-like, to assume her Good Little Girl persona, sucked up to me by primly saying things like, "You know, Meelyn, if you'll just read the cards to Mommy, we can get through this much faster," and then, "MO-OOOOOOM!!! She has her MP3 player on her head, Mom!"

All in all, by the time we were done with that half hour, I was ready for them both to be upstairs, in separate rooms, far. Away. From. Me.

I turned on the floor fan, got myself a Cherry Coke Zero (very delicious, by the way) and did my own form of summer homeschooling that I call Improving My Mind, which means that I sat on the couch with a sturdy bit of informative non-fiction on the cushion beside me, but with a mindless bit of fluffy and inconsequential British chick lit in my hands until my husband got home. I love summer.


It has come to my attention that not only have I scheduled an orthodontist appointment during the time when Meelyn will be at Volleyball Camp Day #3, but also that we have COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY RUN OUT OF DIET COKE.

Honestly, the carelessness with which this dump is run is just unconscionable. Double-scheduling, the very staples of sustained life being absent from the I'm going to be told that there is no clean underwear and that the chicken meant for dinner is still completely frozen.

I want to have a talk with the management. I have had it with this lackadaisical, hit-or-miss, jerry-rigged, poor excuse for a household and I plan to voice a strongly-worded opinion stating that this squalor is no long-...



Never mind.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why our basement may become even scarier

My shoulders got a little bit pink when the girls and I spent four hours at the pool between the hours of eleven and three o'clock the other day. Who knew? I was liberally smeared in PABA-free SPF-9000 sunscreen so my baby sunburn never really hurt. It just made my back itch.

So this morning, I was sitting on the edge of the bed and contemplating the idea of rolling on the bedroom carpet like a horse, when it suddenly occurred to me that my husband was lying there, sort of half awake and emitting little pained growling noises about having to get up, and I thought, "What better way could there be for him to welcome a brand-new sunshiney summer day than by scratching my back?"

"Will you scratch my back?" I asked sweetly. "Up at the top, by my left shoulder. It's really scratchy there."

"Itchy," he corrected automatically, as I knew he would.

I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy the sensation of fingernails on my itchy back. That is a feeling I could get used to quite easily -- someone to follow me around all day long, alternately scratching my back, massaging my shoulders and pulling off any stray gray hairs on my head they happen to see.

My husband began laughing fiendishly behind me and I drowsily said, "Whasso funny?"

"Look," he said in his wicked voice.

I glanced back over my shoulder and he was not scratching my back with his fingernails. He was scratching my back WITH HIS TOENAILS. Those same nasty, long, waxy-looking things protruding from those same skinny, salt-white feet that made me check my babies' precious little feet seconds after they were born to make sure they weren't cursed with those awful-looking things.

I jumped from the bed with a vertical leap into space that could probably land me a spot in the WNBA, supposing I could ever manage to repeat it, and ran for the shower to wash the toenail cooties off my skin. There is NO EXCUSE for that kind of thing in a marriage, that intentional touching of the toenails to the spouse's unsuspecting skin. No excuse AT ALL.

That's why I'm thinking about locking him in the basement the way Betty Applewhite did her son Caleb on Desperate Housewives, until he learns to behave himself. If he doesn't, I may have to buy a deep freeze and go Mrs. McCluskey's route.

There is, after all, no housewife more desperate than the one who's just had toenails that Dracula would be proud of raked down her back.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Flashy mama

I was going to sit down and write a sonnet about hot flashes and how they signify the beginning of the end of one stage of life, with heat and energy bringing on the next phase. But then I realized that I had ended the first line with the word "wit" and the only rhyming word I could think of to adequately express how I feel about having a hot flash in the middle of Meijer with nothing but a paper napkin from Wendy's to mop myself up with in the third line was a word that I knew would make my mother pinch me really hard the next time I see her.

It didn't help that the Wendy's napkin had already been used as a hanky.

Generally, my hot flashes are triggered by stress, although sometimes, really spicy foods like jalapeno peppers can bring them on. Mostly, my hot flashes always seem to happen in stores, though. Great big stores, usually. The kind that are so large that the word SUPER generally figures in their names and you can see the curvature of the earth when you look down the middle aisle.

I don't know why super stores bug me so much. I think I just get overwhelmed by the fact that I could potentially buy shampoo, garden plants, furnace filters, a set of tires, a wok, butter, birthday cards, imported cheese and bath towels all under the same roof. It's too much. It's just too much. And the more time I spend in one of those places, the more money I spend and it makes me very nervous to see my cart piling ever higher with shampoo, garden plants, furnace filters, a set of tires, a wok, butter, birthday cards, imported cheese and bath towels.

This time of year is a great time to have a hot flash. Yesterday, after having to visit TWO big stores, I was a mess. A great big sweaty, sticky mess, which is one of the worst ways listed in my personal lexicon of Ways to Feel About Things. My hair, which is long and coarse and as dense as a clutch of barbed wire, felt damp. My clothes felt like they were made of plastic wrap. At about 4:30, I peeled everything off and put on my swimsuit, my mind entirely focused on the swimming pool that was calling my name.

For the first time since we joined the swim club, we went there entirely without coolers, tote bags, floats, or toys. We each grabbed a towel and piled into the van, sweaty and grouchy.

The pool water has never felt better than it did yesterday evening at 5:30. It was very cool, I estimate somewhere around 78 degrees. But as I plunged in, it felt like liquid silk moving past my hot skin. Despite the fact that I am roughly the size and shape of a manatee, the water makes me feel graceful and lithe. And cool.

The girls and I took our showers in the ladies' locker room and came home at 7:00. I was in my pajamas by 7:05 and came downstairs, barefoot, to start making the tacos. My husband came in from work and kissed my cheek, sliding his hand down my arm.

"You're so cool," he said in surprise. "That's how you usually feel in December."

"The pool re-set my internal thermostat," I replied.

"That's always nice. Good day to go to the pool It was a hot one out there today," he said with a sigh.

"It was nice. Pretty cold in the water, but, you know. Summery." I stirred some seasoned rice into the hamburger I was browning and added a fourth of a cup of jalapeno pepper juice.

"I thought jalapeno peppers made you have hot flashes," my husband said.

"Not tonight," I said, adding a package of Ortega taco seasoning to the skillet. "It was cool at the pool."

Volleyball Camp, Day #1

Three free hours of blissful solitude for me!

Three hard hours of sweating, running, serving and stretching for Meelyn and Aisling!

There are a whole bunch of girls Aisling's age coming out to play on our homeschool/Christian school volleyball league. That's pretty exciting, because we're going to be graduating a BUNCH of seniors in November 2007. It's good to know that there are some up-and-coming.

Aisling discovered that the knee pads she's had for three years are now too tight. Apparently, she's grown. Who knew? This calls for a trip to the sporting goods store. She also needs long socks, because wearing knee pads with ankle socks is awful - the knee pads stick to skin on the backs of your knees something dreadful, I'm told.

The girls were both scarlet-faced, dripping sweat and ready to collapse, in spite of the Gatorade and water they had to drink; also in spite of the almond-scented cold face cloths I tucked into their cold packs. One sugar-free popsicle each failed to cool them down, so we are off to the pool for a refreshing half-hour of swimming and a nice, cool shower before coming home to make the tacos.

See you in the deep end!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sandwich ambush

I went out to the kitchen to make myself a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast just now. I reached into the cabinet and pulled out the jar, only to find it completely empty. Taunting me.

This kind of thing makes me want to hurt someone, using the empty jar as a missile and the perp's head as a target. Just one good bounce off the skull would relieve my feelings considerably.

I contented myself with stomping over to the kitchen wastebasket and throwing it inside with a great deal of force. That'll teach 'em.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

You go, Miss Thang!

We are avid watchers of American Idol in our house. We don't like it half as much as So You Think You Can Dance, but there you go. You have to take some rain with the sunshine.

One of the most disappointing seasons we ever watched was the one where Carrie Underwood, a country singer, beat out Bo Bice, a rocker, for the spot of America's pop idol. Carrie was outstandingly beautiful and had a gorgeous voice, but the girl had the stage personality of a can of corn. To call her "wooden" would be an insult and an injustice to all objects made of wood. She just...stood there. And sang! She could definitely sing! But up next to Bo, him with his sexy growl and his long hair and sunglasses...woo!!! He did a cover of the old 70's tune "Vehicle" on one episode that was just electrifying - it brought down the house in the television studio and in our living room, where we were all but holding up cigarette lighters and whistling through our fingers.

Carrie has done really well for herself since her win. Despite the fact that she scored big with the deplorable "Jesus, Take the Wheel," which I find nearly unforgivable. It's not that I'm opposed to Jesus -- quite the opposite, in fact -- it's just that I hate maudlin ballads, except for "Barb'ry Allen," which is old enough (about 400 years) to have earned a place of respect.

Anyway, my husband and I were in the living room a few Saturdays ago; he was getting ready to go to the gym and I was getting ready to go to the coffee maker. He was doing that click-pause-click-pause-click-pause thing that men do with the TV remote when all of a sudden, he paused on VH1 and we saw someone who was undoubtedly Carrie Underwood all dressed up in black with her hair all bleached and dark eyeshadow on. Wow. It was a totally different look from the Pretty Pink Princess thing she had going during her season on American Idol, and I have to say, she was rockin' it.

But then I started listening to the song she was singing, which had a slight country flavor to it, but not enough that I couldn't choke it down, and I was all like, whoooaaaaaa! Carrieeee! Check out these lyrics:

Right now he's probably slow dancing
with a bleached-blond trim,
and she's probably getting frisky...

Right now, he's probably buying her
some fruity little drink
'cause she can't shoot whiskey...

Right now, he's probably up behind her
with a pool-stick,
showing her how to shoot a combo...

And he don't know...

That I dug my keys into the side
of his pretty little souped up
4-wheel drive,
And carved my name
into his leather seats;

I took a Louisville Slugger to both head lights,
slashed a hole in all four tires,

And maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.

Right now, she's probably up singing
some white-trash version
of Shania karaoke..

Right now, she's probably saying "I'm drunk"
and he's a-thinking
that he's gonna lucky,

Right now, he's probably dabbing on
three dollars' worth
of that bathroom Polo...

And he don't know...

That I dug my keys into the side
of his pretty little souped up
4-wheel drive,
And carved my name into his leather seats,

I took a Louisville Slugger to both head lights,
slashed a hole in all four tires...
And maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.

I might saved a little trouble for the next girl,
'cause the next time that he cheats...
Oh, you know it won't be on me!

Oh, no.

Not on me.

I think I might be a little bit scared of her now. Like, she might find out somehow that I was a Bo Bice supporter, so she'll come to my house in the middle of the night and pull up all my plants by the roots and knock over my Mary shrine and paint a very bad word in big red letters on the side of the house. I mean, she's got me thinking! I don't know about that poor dude in the video, but I am definitely not going to be crossing Carrie any time soon. You do not want to mess with this girl.

Would it be possible for a tiny little thing like Carrie to inflict this much
damage on a truck? Because, wow. Or maybe I mean ow. She tore the back
wheel right off the axle! Quick, let's hide...

Somehow, the director of this video managed to get her to act like a human instead of a robot, and she's either a better actress than I've given her credit for (which was none at all), or she's really enjoying this thing. Carrie sings this song with a great deal of relish, voluptuously enjoying that sensual frisson of dark glee in running her car keys down the side of her arsey boyfriend's SUV, ripping into his upholstery with the lazy pleasure of a lioness tearing the throat out of the gazelle she just hunted down and killed. I can't tell you what a different kind of Carrie this is, and despite the fact that I am completely not in favor of acts of vandalism and/or violence against motor vehicles or people, I have to say that this song really packs a wallop, coming from a sweet little Alphi Chi from Oklahoma State University. This song is all about "Jesus, Get Out from Behind the Wheel Because I'm Comin' in There With a Hammer and I Don't Want to Hurt You."

Dang, girl! I think you might have just sung the official anthem of all women who will not be cheated on, ever again. "Before He Cheats" makes "You're So Vain," Carly Simon's sneering 1970s ode to the philandering Warren Beatty, seem like something you'd sing in Sunday School.

And Carrie, that thing with Bo? Well, I didn't really mean it. You were the one I was cheering for all along. Please don't hurt me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

PRODUCT REVIEW: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap

I used to think that I was allergic to doing dishes. But then it turned out that I was merely allergic to just about every type of dish soap on the market - contact with them makes my hands itch like crazy and then develop a red, scaly texture that would be so interesting on a reptile, but not nearly as fascinating on me.

There was a brand that made my hands itch less than some of the other brands I'd tried, so I pretty much stuck to that, wondering if it was the harsh detergent that my skin was reacting to, or the chemical fragrances. But even that wasn't entirely satisfactory. I mean, there are a lot of dirty dishes in my life, and although we do have a dishwasher, you have to use something to wash out the sink and the microwave and clean off the stove, the counters and other surfaces.

Then the day came when I was browsing on the cleaning products aisle at the grocery store and my eye fell upon an attractive display of "green" products. I noticed that there was one bottle of amber-colored liquid labeled Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap. I picked it up to read the label and found that the majority of the ingredients were derived from plant sources, including the use of actual essential oils to scent the product. It does contain a preservative, which all good cleaning and cosmetic products should, but other than that, everything on the label seemed much less likely to make me itch than the stuff I had been using. The label "soap" is a give-away: having owned and operated my own cosmetic soap-making business several years back, I know that there are vast differences between soap and detergent. Since this product is listed as actual soap, it does contain lye and if I had a dollar for every person who has said to me, "Lye! Lye in soap? Isn't that dangerous?" I would have sold out long ago and you'd be seeing little franchises of my company in shopping malls and airports, like, all over the place. While I kicked back on a deck chair on a beach in St. Barth's, cackling and counting all my lovely money.

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap
in Lavender and Lemon Verbena
scents posing for the camera to
show off their cool retro-print

I bought the Lemon Verbena scented dish soap (there were also lavender and geranium scents available.) It cost $4.99 for a very attractive 16-fluid ounce bottle, so nice looking that it won't be a big deal if you leave it sitting on the edge of the sink. This is pretty pricey for dish soap, but if your dish detergent is eating the skin on your hands and making you scratch like you have a bad case of poison ivy, it may well be worth the money. It is to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reprise: There goes another $130

Meelyn had her orthodontist appointment on Wednesday and was allowed to have the bands taken off all her molars (the brackets were taken off her front teeth three years ago) and her permanent lower retainer removed. Dr. Chuck had spacers put in between her molars to make room for her last set of chompers to break thru, and then one of his assistants took the impression for Meelyn's new upper retainer.

When I had braces, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, you had one choice of retainer color: a pink bit of flesh-colored yuck that looked like a little flap of skin taken from someone's buttock, hopefully your own. But now! Retainers are things of beauty and a joy to behold!

Her ruined one was of a tie-dye design, but they've added a few new patterns and colors in the past two years to please the taste of the most discriminating teen. Meelyn chose a white one with the masks of comedy and tragedy embedded therein.

The orthodontist has also added a new price tag: $150 instead of $130. *sigh*

As I handed over my check, I bit the bullet and asked if I could make Aisling's first appointment to discuss the orthodontic work she's going to have to have done. Right now, she has the most adorable jack-o-lantern teeth which are just beyond cute on a little freckle-nosed sweetie with bangs and pigtails, but perhaps not quite so charming on a young lady. I can hardly wait to see her with braces. The assistant told me I was going to have to wait a while on those, though: Aisling has to lose two more baby teeth, neither of which are loose, before anything orthodontic can happen.

When it does, our checkbook is ready and waiting.

Dust mop

Wimzie is a grumpy little ten-year-old lady, a dog with a personality that makes Hallmark's Maxine look like a sweet little cookie-baking granny. If Wimzie ever baked cookies, she'd put ground up glass Christmas ornaments in the dough and then forget to mention it as she offered you one.

I'm not really certain why I'm so foolishly attached to her. It certainly isn't because she's my best friend. If I ever suggested such a relationship to her, she'd probably hold up the middle claw on all four of her paws at the same time. Maybe it's because such a strident and vivid personality is such a funny thing to see in a fourteen-pound dog who looks like an old-fashioned dust mop. She does some impudent, annoying thing every single day, but I can't help but laugh at her.

A couple of days ago, she dismantled the kitchen trash, creating a mess that looked as if she'd waited until we pulled out of the back driveway, then ran to the front of the house to let in a group of her friends, including a couple of possums and several raccoons. When we walked in and saw what she'd done, the girls and I all exclaimed, "Wimzie, you are a bad bad girl!" and she got kind of close to the floor, but when my husband, her boyfriend, walked in and said, "Wimzie...." in a disappointed voice, she rolled over on her back and looked up at him beseechingly.

"Please love me," she begged him with her eyes. "It doesn't matter so much about the rest of them. In fact, I'd prefer that they all move out. But if you withhold your love from me, I will not be able to breathe."

Wimzie loves my husband with a passion that she doesn't bother to conceal, even in front of me, the one wearing his wedding ring. She ignores Hershey and tolerates me and the girls. She adores company and puts on this act worthy of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by being frisky and adorable, allowing visiting friends to pick her up and carry her like a baby. Her perfectly round dark brown eyes twinkle and her black button nose sniffs fetchingly; four furry paws are held up like a little bunny rabbit's. Of course, guests don't know that if this mite had the chance off the leash to catch a rabbit, she'd break its neck and strew its entrails all over the grass before you could say hassenpfeffer.

This is a rough-coat Jack Russell terrier. Although
this is not Wimzie, it looks a lot like her. She's act-
ually a little bit cuter. I hope this one is a nicer
person than she is. I mean, dog. Photo credit:
Phinzup at

Today, I was having a few Cheetos with my lunch. I was sitting on the couch and the girls and I were getting ready to watch an encore TiVo'd performance of So You Think You Can Dance?. I thought it would be nice if Wimzie would come up to sit beside me so that I could pet her furry back, so I called to her.

She happened to be scratching herself in the middle of the living room floor, splayed out ungracefully like a broken umbrella. When she realized I was watching, she delicately began to scratch inside her ear and then commenced to use her tongue to clean off the toenails of the foot that did the scratching, which she only does because she knows it makes me want to vomit.

"Wimzie!" I said sharply. She ignored me. I tried to distract her by saying, "Wimzie, come here, baby. Come jump up here and sit with Mommy."

She looked at me disdainfully over one shoulder. You'd think I was the one with bad breath.

I don't think that bribery is always a good choice for manipulating the behavior of either children or pets, but I have to admit that it's sometimes dead useful. "Wimzie," I cooed, proferring one of my Cheetos. "Would you like a treat?"

Wimzie shot up onto the couch with an enthusiam that I managed to confuse with love for myself, the Generous Offerer of Junky Snacks, instead of for the junky snack itself. She sat on the cushion beside me, her head, with those bright eyes beneath the fringe of bangs fixed lovingly on me, tilted to one side. Her raspberry-pink tongue peeped out of her mouth and she put one paw on my leg.

"Who is Mommy's little girl?" I asked fatuously and handed her the Cheeto, which she took from my hand with a great deal of delicate refinement. She would prefer to take all her food in this manner, but not even I like her that much.

Having gripped the snack between her front teeth like FDR, she briskly jumped back down off the couch before I could stop her and ran off without a backward glance, probably chuckling inwardly at my gullibilty. I saw her a few minutes later, sneaking up the stairs, probably going to check and see if the bathroom wastebasket was full enough to warrant the effort to strew its contents all over the floor.

If this keeps up, she won't even answer to her name anymore and will oblige us all to call her Ms. Wimzie.

Thursday's List

READING: Still at it with the homeschool curriculum catalogs.

POOLSIDE READING: Hamlet; articles from scholarly journals about Hamlet; literary analyses of Hamlet; comparisons of Hamlet's Claudius to Fidel Castro; critical reviews of filmed versions of Hamlet; theatrical criticisms of different modes of staging Hamlet. There is so much Hamlet in my head lately, it's starting to sound funny when I say it: Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet.

LISTENING TO: a Hannah Montana episode on the Disney Channel. Against my will.

THINKING ABOUT: whether or not we should tackle Latin next school year. My heart says "Yes! Yes! Yes!" but my mind says, "You will suck. Just.....don't. Okay? Don't."

HAPPY TO SEE: that the perennials we planted out back are taking hold and doing well.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: this really great lotion, completely free of petroleum by-products (which I refuse to rub on my skin), that not only moisturizes really well, but also smells of satsuma and patchouli. I'd like to squirt a little dab into each nostril so that I can keep on smelling it, but I was afraid that might create a bad impression.

FAVORITE THING TODAY: getting ready to go to the library, always one of my favorite things to do, ever in this world.

WISH I HAD: the time to go get a mani/pedi. Well. And the money, of course.

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: none, because I'm still freaked out. But I did buy a nice little tablet to keep in my purse that I can jot journaling thoughts down on. I haven't used it yet, but I did make the effort to purchase.

PRAYING FOR: so many people who are sick and suffering, I can't list them all. Please join me in praying for all those who need it, and especially for those who think they don't.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Some people prefer pickles and ice cream

Something about the final episode of The Sopranos being aired last week, plus my thoughts yesterday about the possibility of one's naming a child Dannon as a nod to a pregnancy craving made me think of a very strange craving I experienced when I was pregnant with Meelyn.

I had an odd, intense craving for crime family movies. I nearly drove my husband insane by bloodthirstily requesting The Godfather, Goodfellas, Scarface and such when he would make his Friday night run to Blockbuster. There I'd sit on the couch, my fingers laced around my belly, wearing a pink maternity smock with ducks pushing baby carriages embroidered on the bodice, yelling, "Make sure you get one with LOTS OF BLOOD AND SHOOTING" at my husband's retreating back.

When I was in labor and the nurse came at me with a syringe full of Demerol, I said, "'Say hello to my little friend'," and nearly hurt myself laughing. No one else thought it was funny.

Ah, good times....gooood times...

One kid's named Dolce; we named the other Gabbana

We spent nearly four relaxing hours at the pool today, reveling in the bright sunshine, the music playing on the sound system, the chicken salad croissants from the snack bar and water so frigid, I think I may have a frost build-up around my liver.

I stayed in the water for an hour, playing with the girls and dutifully engaging in the aerobic exercise recommended by my doctor for the prescribed twenty minutes. Then I got out and went to my deck chair and spread out a bunch of different Hamlet books, pens, a highlighter and a legal pad and got to work on making plans for the Shakespeare Workshop.

A couple of chairs down from mine was a young mom with a little boy of about two and a brand-new baby. The baby was in a stroller/carriage combo with the "lid" on, draped with polarized mosquito netting (pretty cool invention) with a beach towel over that to provide endless bug-free shade. The mom was placidly sitting and minding the baby while her little boy, his tiny hot dog arms encased in giant Spongebob Squarepants swimmies, jumped into the pool and climbed out; jumped into the pool and climbed out; jumped into the pool and climbed out. His enjoyment of this activity was not dulled by repetition and he said, "Watch me, Mama!" time after time. It was just very, very cute.

His mom thought so, too, looking up from the magazine open on her lap to say, "Woo! You are somethin' else!" and "Just wait 'til we tell Daddy how good you are at jumping into the pool!" She was calling him something that I couldn't quite distinguish; I thought I wasn't hearing correctly. But it turned out that I was.

The little boy's name was Dannon. And that was verified not only by my ears, but also by the letters that had been written in Sharpie marker on his swimmies.


Which is....a well-known brand of yogurt?

In our culture, you kind of get used to celebrities naming their children odd things. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple. Her colleague Julia Roberts named her twins Phinnaeus and Hazel. My thought is that Phinnaeus, who is maybe around two, had better start learning self-defense techniques right now so that he'll be ready for that sneering playground full of Joshes and Jacobs and Ethans and Zacharys.

Soccer star David Beckham and his wife Posh Spice named their sons for the places at which they were conceived: they have one little boy named Brooklyn. Nice. Very nice. What kid wouldn't want to think, "I am named for a place where my parents had sex"? That'll be some costly therapy. He should just be grateful that his parents didn't conceive him when they were vacationing in Turkey.

Years ago, when movie stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore had their third daughter, Tallulah Belle, Conan O'Brien remarked on his late night television show, "After adding Tallulah Belle to their family after sisters Scout and Rumer, I was thinking that maybe, if they had any more kids, they could just cut right to the chase and name the fourth 'Pretentious.'"

So back to Dannon. I mulled that one over while I sat with my legal pad on my knee, wondering what would drive a couple to name their son after yogurt. Was Dannon the mom's maiden name, maybe? Could that unusual name have come about because of pregnancy cravings? I know it wasn't one of the top names of 2005 or 2006 in the United States because I googled those lists to check. Heaven forbid that the boy's parents chose this name because they were touring the Dannon yogurt manufacturing facility in Minster, Ohio when passion struck them along the whey.

It's not that I object to unusual names. I do have children named Meelyn and Aisling, after all. And my two nephews and baby niece all have unusual names that just absolutely fit them to perfection. But none of these five children are named after America's best selling brand of yogurt, either.

I can just hear the schoolyard taunts right now: "Hey, Dannon, you'd better go wipe because you've got fruit on your bottom."

I couldn't help but wonder if they'd named their new baby daughter Yoplait.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Further signs that I have taken leave of my senses

We had to get up really early today. Not Kayte's sort of early, mind you. She gets up to take one of her sons to swim practice every day at an hour that I consider ungodly and fit only for bathroom breaks, not getting into the car and driving to the swimming pool, but I digress. We had to get up at 8:30 to take Aisling to her piano lesson. I was up very, very late last night.

After piano, we went to my parents' house for lunch and card playing and I lost Hand & Foot by many thousands of points for about the millionth week in a row. The we drove to the nursing home and spent forty-five minutes visiting with our grandparents and then another half an hour standing and talking to my friend Beth, the hospice nurse whose motto is, "If you've seen one tushie, you've seen them all."

By the time we got home, I was tired. I hauled myself ungracefully out of the van, feeling grateful for all the rain that had fallen so that I wouldn't have to water the flowers. And then, as if it was something I do every day, almost by instinct, I pointed my van's remote key fob at the house and pressed UNLOCK DOOR.

Totally as if I expected the back door of the house to fly open.

It didn't work.

Meelyn and Aisling looked at me as if I'd snapped my twigs.

"I meant to do that," I said, gathering the shreds of my dignity around me and sweeping regally across the gravel swatch into the house.

And there goes another $130...

"Mommy," said Meelyn hesitantly, yesterday evening, "I think I may have done a bad thing."

"Oh, really? What was that?"

"Well, when I was eating breakfast while Aisli and I were watching TV, I took out my retainer and wrapped it in a napkin and left it on the end table and now it isn't there."

"Meelyn," I said with a great deal of irritated force, "how many times have I told you to never, ever, wrap your retainer in a napkin? Or a tissue? Or in a sock, an old army blanket, or the flag of these United States? You are never supposed to wrap your retainer in anything, just for this precise reason!"

"I know, I know...." she said miserably. "I'll go through the kitchen wastebasket."

While she was engaged on this task (which I was observing with my hands on my hips), my husband came wandering in to grab a can of Coke out of the fridge and said, "Why are you going through the trash?"

"I, uhmm, wrapped my retainer in a napkin this morning and put it on the end table and now it isn't there," she explained, not meeting her father's eye.

A pained expression came onto his face and he said bleakly, "Oh. So that's what crunched when I crumpled up the newspapers and that napkin that were littering up the end table and the floor."

Just then, Meelyn triumphantly pulled a wadded up napkin from the wastebasket and unfolded it, only to find her $130 retainer inside -- the second replacement -- neatly snapped in half.

[Edited to say: Meelyn now has an orthodontist appointment at 9:00 on Wednesday to get that new retainer. I plan to take my debit card and some smelling salts, just in case I need to be revived. Gaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!]

Sunday, June 17, 2007

For my dad on Father's Day

My dad and I have shared a number of significant times in my life, most memorably the day that my younger brother, Patrick, was born.

I was six and my mother was in labor. She was in labor all evening long and she didn't feel so hot and my dad was nervous, so we were all three sitting in our living room, watching the news as Walter Cronkite told us about Charles Manson and his "family" and the Tate-LaBianca murders. If they hadn't been so wrapped up in the drama of my brother's impending birth (which ended up happening on a gurney as my mom was raced through ER to Labor and Delivery, so that Pat was born by the time my father got back into the hospital from parking the car) they never would have let me watch such a terrible thing.

I was a little bit nervous about Charles Manson, but not half as nervous as I was about this new person who was going to be making his presence known.

My dad drove like the wind on the way to the hospital, screeching into the little Indiana burg where my grandma lived to drop me off. "Hospital. Baby. Going. Be back," he gasped and ran down the front steps and charged off in a swirl of gravel. I cuddled up next to my grandma in her big bed and fell asleep, only to be awakened by my father coming in just as it was getting light and telling me that I had a baby brother.

The most memorable part of my brother's birthday was that my dad took me to Jack's Donuts and we got a sack of glazed applesauce beauties, Jack's specialty. We took them home and plowed through them, him gulping coffee and me drinking milk. What a party atmosphere! We were both pie-eyed from our lack of sleep, but the doughnuts were so good. The crowning jubilation of that day was that my dad let me come in and sleep on my mom's side of their big bed, which would probably have gotten him investigated by Child Protective Services if he'd done it today, but back then, in a more innocent and less weirdly suspicious time, my dad's heart was too soft, I believe, to send me off to my room by myself on such a momentous morning.

We slept like tops, woke up, and ate the rest of the doughnuts.

Golfing -- actually, athletic talent in general -- runs in the blood of my family like quicksilver. It completely missed me and you know it so just shut up. But anyway, my dad was a brilliant basketball player in high school and good at every sport he attempted. But golf has always been his first love and he used to take me with him sometimes when he played on Saturday mornings with my uncle and my granddad. I was more than useless as a caddy, doing things like making chains out of clover to put in my hair, or reading a book as we walked along, occasionally having to be reminded not to fall into water hazards. Golf isn't a game that encourages a whole lot of conversation and I absorbed the basics of the game by watching, without giving a hoot if I ever swung a club myself. The allure of golf to me as a child was the chance to spend some time with my dad, who never talked a lot, but was just...there.

And "there" was good. It was quantity time and quality time and my dad, unlike some of the poor fathers you can read about today in parenting magazines, didn't have to buy me a toy, swing me on a swing, pay for a pony ride, take me to a movie and then treat me to ice cream to convince me that he loved me, even though he was not the kind to say so very often, what with his quiet and reserved personality. He let me come with him to the golf course when I wanted to and I don't think he ever told me no, although I smile as I think about this now and all consider all the times when I just want to go. Somewhere. By. Myself. Or at least somewhere that wasn't work, where other grownups were.

My dad's personality has blossomed since he became a grandpa to five grandchildren, ranging in age from 14 to 1. It's been interesting to watch him venture outside his comfortable, quiet manner in order to deal with the enthusiasms of his grandkids. He's always been very patient about listening to me and my mother go "Bla-bla-bla and then I blablabla, but of course that didn't bla-bla bla bla, so we went to bla bla instead..." but dealing with kids is a different matter indeed. So my dad rose to the occasion and learned to do something he'd never done much of when I was little, which is hug and kiss and say "I love you."

I've come in for my share of this and it has meant a lot to me, even though I am not a hugger either, except for Meelyn and Aisling.

About a month ago, I had a dream that my dad and I were sitting in my parents' family room and talking and he said to me, "You know, Shelley, I would really like you as a person and want you as a friend, even if you weren't my daughter."

It was a really nice dream.

The next day was one that the girls and I spent with my parents, eating lunch and then spending the afternoon with the adults playing cards. I call this one-day-per-week tradition my "mental health day" and it's a good thing for Meelyn and Aisling to be able to see their grandparents once a week and have lunch and bake cookies

While Mom, Poppy and I were fiercely playing a brisk game of Hand & Foot, I mentioned the dream, saying, "You said you'd like me even if I wasn't your daughter, and you'd want me as your friend."

Poppy looked up in surprise, his glasses sliding down to the end of his nose. "But I do feel like that," he said in his quiet way. "I would want you as a friend, and I would like you, even if you weren't my daughter. But I'm really glad you are." And then later when the girls and I were leaving, he gave me a big hug, my dad, and kissed me on the cheek. "I love you," he said.

I love you too, Poppy. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

He does things like this just to freak me out

My husband occasionally does things on purpose to make me crazy.

Today, for instance, we were driving home from our favorite pizza parlor's carry-out window with a delicious-smelling pizza reposing on the back seat when he suddenly remarked in a conversational tone, "Hey! The other day I picked up a hitchhiker."

"You did what?" I gasped, hand to my heart.

"I picked up a hitchhiker," he said casually.

"What in the world were you thinking?"

"I was thinking, 'there's a guy who looks like he needs a ride,'" he answered.

"Okay. Have you never read Stephen King?" I asked in a terse voice.

"You mean that Stephen King who writes works of fiction? You know, stuff that doesn't really happen?"

"Did Ted Bundy hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers or something like that?"

"I don't know," he said firmly. "All I know is that this guy was about one hundred twenty pounds, kind of an old dude, and he looked pretty tired. I could have taken him, easy."

"Oh, yeah, him and his switchblade or his...his...gun," I said sarcastically. "Strangely enough, you don't have to be a big ol' muscular guy when you're packing heat."

"'Packing heat'?" he said, laughing. "'Packing heat'? Are you watching Miami Vice re-runs on cable?"

"No," I said with dignity. "I watch news shows on cable. And there are....lots of stories about hitchhikers on the news."

"Oh, please," he said, rolling his eyes. "Honey, this was some dude in his fifties with a long, grey ponytail and a big back pack and he needed a ride and I-...."

"HE HAD A BACK PACK??!!" I interrupted, my alert setting cranked up to full crisis mode.

"Yeah, he said he wanted to see the continental United States and he had all his gear in his back pack. He said he was glad for a ride because it weighed eighty pounds."

"Eighty pounds, huh? Well, listen, my friend. I bet eighty pounds is about the size of two dismembered legs and arms and the head of a small-framed woman," I said.

"Oh, he didn't look like that type," said my husband, grinning wickedly. "He was a quiet sort who never gave me any trouble, kind of kept to himself, friendly, but sort of distant. Just a loner type, a middle-aged white guy traveling anonymously across the country..."

"Stop it. Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!!!!"

4-H County Fair countdown

We had our final 4-H meeting of the year yesterday, and this was the one where the kids have to fill out all their project record sheets and the group leaders have to sign them, and where all the project display tags are handed out and where the parents can sit, tense and nervous, and feel hopelessly inadequate about doing a single thing right.

Last year, for instance. Last year, I had to ask our group's leaders at least 7, 345, 971 times how to put the project card on a scrapbook. I feel it says a lot for my friends Katie and Margaret that they answered me patiently 7, 345, 971 times, although maybe if I'd gone one more than that, they would have rumbled me by stapling project cards to my head.

Then there was the fact that I realized we'd never turned in Meelyn and Aisling's project sheets or had them signed. I was still holding onto them, about a week before the fair started when they were a mere three weeks late. Margaret was very nice when I called her up, slightly hysterical, and said she'd meet me at the fairgrounds in a couple of hours (midway point between my house and hers), sign them, and get them into the main office.

I yelled my head off at the girls to get them to fill out the project sheets, simultaneously demanding that they hurry up and use their best handwriting, which is something like asking a baby to smoke a cigar while watching Masterpiece Theater and then write an essay on the themes of abandonment in Wuthering Heights. They barely had time to put a period on the end of their final sentences before I had hustled them into the van and charged off with a squeal of tires to head to the fairgrounds. Oh, that was a happy day! We were all in such a good mood!

Fortunately, when we met Margaret, she was her usual soothing, reassuring, unflappable self and she kept the three of us from killing each other.

Of course, all this is trumped by the fact that we were actually on our way to turn in Meelyn and Aisling's projects when I realized that they were supposed to have completed ten scrapbooking pages for the judging, and both of them had only finished seven. That was a very bad moment. Because, you know, the girls were basically doing what I'd told them to do, trusting that I was getting it right. It was their first year in 4-H, too, after all. To realize that I did not have it right (and had had the information about the ten pages for, oh, about ten months) and that the girls' scores were going to reflect my mistake after all their hard work made me feel so awful, I was nearly sick to my stomach.

We took the books into the proper exhibit hall where Kayte, who designed the scrapbooking 4-H project model for the state of Indiana, was sitting and receiving the entries. I babbled my story to her and she said, "It's okay. It's okay. Just go ahead and put them through and we'll have to see what happens."

What ended up happening is that whoever judged Meelyn and Aisling's scrapbooks apparently didn't notice that they were each short three pages. Aisling got a blue ribbon (the captions of her pictures were loaded with spelling errors written in permanent marker, which was aggravating at the time, but will probably seem adorable when we look back on it in years to come) and Meelyn got a blue ribbon with honors. I don't know how it happened, but I wasn't about to argue.

All I know is that I deserved a blue ribbon with honors for not falling prostrate to the floor and refusing to get up until someone brought me a double-shot espresso to revive my numb and shattered nerves.

This year, we've learned some of the ropes and we're doing much better. The girls have begun filling out their project sheets, which we will turn in to Katie for her signature on Wednesday; I have project cards a-plenty and in most cases, I know how they should be affixed to the individual entries. And last night, the girls and I stumbled upon an unexpected sale of frames, mattes and picture-hanging hardware at Hobby Lobby. My husband and I worked for about an hour last night getting their artwork mounted and framed and both fine arts projects look absolutely beautiful.

I'm jubilant because last year, we had Meelyn's fine arts entry professionally framed and it was $68 for a not-very-big project. This year, we got all the framing supplies for $40, which is a definite coup.

The scrapbooks are done; the girls just need to decide which ten pages they want the judges to look at.

They each have one more project to complete, but all their materials are assembled and ready. We have a whole month to devote to these projects, so hopefully they'll be done before we have to reprise our yelling, driving and crying routine from last year.

We love 4-H, especially when we all have a clue.

The unexpected hell of scrapbooking

I don't know why I never realized before that, in taking on scrapbooking as a hobby (an unlikely one for me), I would be setting myself up for a project that Will. Never. End.

It will never end! It's like....herpes. Or Count Dracula. It will just go on and on until someday I get up the courage to arm myself with a crucifix -- there are plenty of those around here; eight on the walls at last count -- and a pointy stick and jam it through the cover of our family book while uttering a heroic cry.

I happened to mention this yesterday at a 4-H meeting to my Other Friend Katie, and she looked at me and giggled. "No, it doesn't end. But just think: When the girls get in college, it will slow down a lot. And by then, they may have even started their own books. But then there will wedding scrapbooks that you'll want to do," she continued thoughtfully. "Oh! And grandchildren! You'll want to do scrapbooks about your grandchildren, of course."

I gazed at her in helpless terror, like a deer transfixed by the headlights of an oncoming semi. If Katie decides to get a job after her youngest goes off to college, I'm sure they've got a place for her as a prison guard at Guantanamo Bay. "Katie, Aisling is only going to be a sixth grader next year. A sixth grader! How can I keep up this pace of making charming, adorable and memorable pages to document our family's story FOR THE NEXT SIX YEARS??!!"

"Oh, you'll just fall far, far behind and then feel like a guilty failure," said Katie with a knowing smile.

Why does she take such pleasure in torturing me? I don't take well to feeling like a guilty failure. It puts me right off my sleep at night. And the idea of undertaking a project and then falling farther and farther behind...weeks behind, months behind, years behind...that's the kind of thing that will make my eyes jam themselves open for nights on end.

My only hope, I realize, lies in the thought that maybe scrapbooking is just a fad, like poodle skirts or Beanie Babies. Maybe after a time, all the hobby places and scrapbooking stores will close down and make way for some new craze that has an actual beginning and an end, like tire rotation. Maybe a time will come when I'll be able to say regretfully to the girls, "Gee, I really wanted to continue working with our family album, but it's impossible to get those things anymore...what are they called? Cameras? And, you know, paper? You just can't find it anywhere these days. I know! It's such a disappointment!"

Oh, I am doomed. Doomed.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My friend Hamlet

At the end of August, I'll be teaching my second Shakespeare Workshop to a group of middle-school and high-school aged homeschoolers. The first Shakespeare Workshop happened last February (Twelfth Night) and the weather did its best to make sure that nothing went as I had planned, including a freak snowstorm that had me, with a low-battery cell phone, driving Meelyn and Aisling and my friend Celia's two kids on a homeward journey that usually takes us twenty-five minutes, but on this particular day took three hours. I had to keep getting out of the van in my tennis shoes to clear the ice off the windshield, thinking, "No one, not even me, likes Shakespeare this much."

I'm hoping that we won't have to deal with snow in central Indiana in late summer.

The next Workshop's play is going to be Hamlet, which will be performed at the Indiana Repertory Theater throughout the month of October. I am excited about this because Hamlet is one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, especially to teach to young people. Hamlet was, after all, a young man of nineteen or twenty, despite evidence to the contrary provided by Sir Laurence Olivier and Mel Gibson, both of whom played the title role as men in their forties. As much as I like Mel Gibson, I found this to be a definite test of my credulity; the fabulous actress Glenn Close played the role of Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, in the Franco Zeffirelli-directed film and all I could think throughout the whole thing was that Gertrude must have given birth to Hamlet when she was sixteen months old because they did not look like mother and son.

I can't even speak about Sir Laurence Olivier. I know that his version of Hamlet (which he both directed and starred in) is supposed to be the benchmark of all filmed Hamlet productions, but frankly, his acting makes me want to lie down on that bench and take a nap. It seems to consist a lot of looking broodingly into the middle distance with various pained expressions. I couldn't decide if he was wondering whether to out his usurping uncle Claudius as his father's murderer or if he should take a stool softener to help him deal with that chronic constipation he seemed to be suffering from. Whatever.

Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet could have
benefited from using these suppositories,
guaranteed to remove that pained expression
from one's face. Image credit:

Anyway, I am particularly looking forward to the first day of this workshop because I'm looking forward to asking the students this question:

Imagine that you are a university student, far away from home, and you receive word that your father, the king of your home country, has died. This shocks and saddens you, but death in your time period isn't particularly unexpected - mortality rates are high and people don't tend to live all that long. So you travel home, grieving, and find that an unpleasant surprise awaits you.

First of all, your father's brother has decided to take your place as the king of the country. You are, after all, just a teenager and he is a grown man who feels that he is more capable of ruling than you are. There are laws that supposedly govern this sort of behavior, but you can immediately see that the laws are moot because your uncle has become king with the full approval of your mother, who married him just a few weeks after your father's death.

You had expected to find your mother dressed in mourning, a grieving widow. She and your father were truly in love with one another, after all. You are shocked and repulsed to find her giggling and hanging on your uncle's arm, as giddy as any happy new bride. All of a sudden, the idea of you and your mother comforting one another in this desolate time seems silly, because she has recovered from her first husband's death with an offensive quickness.

You still carry a heavy burden of sorrow. If you had lived in our times, you would have been sent to the doctor and given a prescription for Zoloft and that would have helped to lighten your mood, but that wasn't available and your episodic depression is being made worse by the thought that your uncle has stolen your throne and the fact that your mother is nuzzling your uncle's beard with her cheek and whispering little something-somethings into his ear at the dinner table. Frankly, it's about more than you can stand.

But even stranger things happen next. Your friend from college, Horatio, comes to you and tells you that he has seen your father. But not in the past! Like, yesterday. Walking on the battlements of the castle during the third watch. You are very surprised to hear this and you make plans with Horatio and the two guards to be on the battlements tonight to see this ghost for yourself.

Sure enough, the ghost appears that night. and it does appear to be your father. You follow him and he tells you that he is indeed your father's spirit, languishing in purgatory because of the sins staining his soul at death. He says that he was unable to have the comfort of the sacraments before his death because his death came upon him very suddenly, and it wasn't from a snake bite, which is the rumor going around Denmark; it was because of his brother - your uncle -who poisoned him, usurped the throne and married his wife - your mother - so quickly that, as you said, "The funeral baked meats/Did coldly furnish forth the marriage table."

You've already been suffering from this terrible depression, due to your grief over your father's death and your inability to understand why your mother seems to have completely forgotten your father and has married again so quickly, especially since it is to the uncle who has stolen your throne. But this news, this news of your father's murder...well, that just about sends you over the edge.

Now you know that your uncle is not only a usurping pretender to the throne, he's also a cold-blooded murderer.


(What about your mother?)

Could your mother have played a part in all this? Could she have encouraged Claudius to murder your father and take the throne? Were they having an affair before your father's death? Is she just as guilty of your father's death as Claudius?

(Is your mother capable of coldly plotting your father's death?)

Or could Claudius have used her, seeing her innocence as a shield to bolster his own position of power?

(Or is it possible that she could be so smitten by a murderous traitor?)

Who could think thoughts like this and just go about as normal? You descend even further into your grief, causing your mother to worry fondly over you, Claudius to be annoyed by you, and your fiancee, Ophelia, to believe that you no longer love her. You can't decide what you should do. Your father's ghost wants you to avenge him, but you're worried that perhaps this apparition isn't really your father's ghost at all, but rather a demonic manifestation sent from hell to trick you and drive you mad. Sometimes you think you are going mad. Your mother.....could she have?...Sometimes it seems like suicide is the only way out of your problems, but you feel the need to take some sort of action: there must be something you can do to find the truth.

Ahh, Shakespeare. Hamlet! There's something there for everyone: murder, intrigue, sudden death, sorrow, spying, plotting, doubletalk, dark humor and, er....a few dirty jokes.

I can hardly wait!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday's List

READING: homeschool curriculum catalogs, making plans for next year. This is one of my favorite things to do

POOLSIDE READING: The Lipstick Jungle by Candice Bushnell, author of Sex in the City. It is really entertaining, but also painful to read, following the three main characters, friends Nico, Wendy and Victory, as they try to level the playing field by pursuing their separate high-powered, high-pressure careers in a man's world. Just in case you think this book has something vibrant to say about career women and working mothers and whether it's possible to have it all, it doesn't. What it mostly says is that you have to make choices and be prepared to live with them, but it doesn't say it in a very profound way. Chick lit, baby!

LISTENING TO: a little bit of sparkling DeBussy

THINKING ABOUT: maybe buying a digital camera with my birthday money

HAPPY TO SEE: dancer Jesús wearing a Miraculous medal while being interviewed on So You Think You Can Dance yesterday evening.

FAVORITE NEW FIND: the latest issue of RealSimple magazine; not exactly a new find, but each issue is new and so much fun

FAVORITE THING TODAY: looking out the front window and seeing two little tow-headed boys -- maybe twins? About five years old? -- tearing down the sidewalk on tiny two-wheeler bikes, one red, one blue. They were followed by a guy who might possibly have been their manny, pushing a baby in a full-on navy blue English pram with shining silver hardware, while wearing baggy khaki cargo pants, scruffy hiking boots with pushed-down socks and a stretched out orange t-shirt. Cute!

WISH I HAD: the desire to go to the YMCA and exercise with Meelyn

SCRAPBOOK PAGES THIS WEEK: three more, but also had a moment of blinding clarity last night when I sat, open-mouthed and terrified in front of my scrapbook, contemplating the fact that scrapbooking is a project that will never, ever be finished. That kind of freaks me out.

PRAYING FOR: a dad in our homeschool group who was in a terrible motorcycle accident and the husband of an internet friend - they just found out he has pancreatic cancer. Please say a prayer for these two dads.

With deepening gloom

Add marigolds to the list of plants that I kill.

What did I do wrong? I planted them in the ground with a little touch of Miracle-Gro, I've given them a little drink of water every evening and yet the geraniums and the spiky grass stuff I planted next to them are going full steam ahead, while the marigolds have withered up, right there in front of my Mary shrine, which is embarrassing.

I am Rappaccini's daughter! Woe is me! Nathaniel Hawthorne, save me!

If this were in my yard, it would be dead. Photo credit: Annie's
Annuals & Perennials

Assisting in my mother's cultural education

Mom, I know it was a difficult blow, finding out that Elvis was a user. Even though you never really liked him all that much, preferring Pat Boone when all was said and done. (And how you ended up with a daughter who decorated her bedroom walls with huge, vulgar posters of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, I have no clue.)

You absorbed the news about Rock Hudson's orientation quite calmly.

But now I have something else to tell you, and you may want to sit down. I know you shook this man's hand when you were a teenager and he was a United States senator, but I think the fact that he was a Democrat will help you keep this news in perspective - I know how you feel about Democrats, except for Susie.

Mom, John F. Kennedy had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.

I hate to be the one to break it to you.

Are you okay?

Marilyn and JFK were more than "just friends."
Sorry, Mom...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fun times in the emergency room

After one steroid injection and three days on prednisone, my poor husband's face has finally been restored to near normalcy. Meelyn, Aisling and I can finally look at him without flinching in horrified pity and the dogs have agreed to come out from under the beds.

Really, I had no idea that pollen could do so much damage to a person. At first, we thought that the weeds he pulled late last Wednesday afternoon (one week ago today!) contained that dreaded three-leaved little vine that produces agony amongst the unwary every summer: poison ivy. But the problem was that he didn't itch. And my husband has had poison ivy before, just a few summers ago when he fished an errant volleyball out of the weeds at Jeff and Julie's sand court. He was an itchy, miserable mess, emphasis on the "itchy." I basted him in Caladryl every half hour like a Thanksgiving turkey.

The problem he was having with this allergic reaction was the redness and swelling, perhaps, the doctor thought, from whatever-it-was from those weeds blowing up into his face. He was reddish and puffy on last Thursday and I commenced with the Benadryl, the Advil and ice packs. On Friday, he woke up with eyes that looked like they belonged to a boxer who'd just gone ten hard rounds in the ring. On Saturday and Sunday, he was bright red and his eyes were so swollen he could barely see.

That was when I got kind of scared. Because all that Benadryl? All the Advil? They weren't even touching this thing.

I gave him a couple more Benadryl on Sunday morning and he went back upstairs to sleep. He came staggering down about three hours later saying, "Honey?"

I was here at the computer, so I stood up from the desk and found him standing in the front hallway, his eyes completely swollen shut and so puffed up, his eyelids looked like two halves of hard-boiled eggs. His skin was stretched taut and was a bright, angry red that looked like it would burn to the touch. And there's still more! The swelling had spread down his face on the left side and his upper lip and cheek were stiff and puffy. I was so shocked that there was nothing left of the plucky, cheerful little wife dispensing antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs: this was beyond my reach. And yet, here it was, Sunday. The most convenient day of the week for medical emergencies. Yippee!!!

"Right," I said, and stuck my feet into my flip-flops. "We're going to the emergency room."

"I don't need to go to the emergency room," my husband balked, holding up his hands in a STOP gesture. "That will be too expensive and this is not an emergency."

All I could see was that this reaction was moving downward. What, I thought uncomfortably, if all this swelling reaches his throat? Because I've experienced an anaphylactic reaction before and it is Nothing. To. Mess. With.

I put on my best screechy, naggy wife voice and said, "Oh, yes, you are. You are going to the emergency room right now. This has gone on long enough."

Meelyn and Aisling, round-eyed and worried, found his sandals. I checked to make sure the insurance card was in my wallet, checked my cell phone to make sure the battery was charged, and we set off. The girls are old enough to be at home by themselves, so we let them stay, knowing that there would be nothing to do at the hospital but sit there, anxious and tense. The hospital is only a few blocks from our house anyway, which is another reason why it is really nice to live in the heart of a city: library, bank, grocery and hospital, all within easy reach if one should ever need quick reading material, money, Fritos or medical attention.

The drive to the hospital was very short and we found ourselves in the emergency room check in area before we knew it. The clerk, a motherly-looking woman dressed in pajamas, took one look at my husband and wryly remarked, "Allergies?"

"Yup," he said.

"Do you itch?" she asked him. "Because we've had about four other people in here today who all look just like you. Poison ivy." ["Four other people who all looked like him?" I found myself thinking, "My gosh. Why haven't you called a priest?"]

"I don't itch," said my husband. Which was a good thing, because at the mere mention of a person with poison ivy inhabiting the chair I was sitting in, I had begun to itch, like, all over. I began to think of sleeping in the same bed with my husband and even of briefly putting my head on his pillow that morning. Itch? OH, yeah.

We were moved from the check-in area to triage, where a male nurse dressed in pajamas asked my husband answered a bunch of questions about the possible cause of his monstrous appearance. We knew it was going to take a long time to be seen because the people who were ahead of us at the check in were there because the woman in the couple was twelve weeks pregnant and experiencing terrible cramping. I felt so sorry for her. She and her husband were so young - twenty-somethings - and her voice sounded so bleak when the clerk gently asked, "Is this your first pregnancy?"

"Yes," she answered, her long hair hiding her sad, scared face like a curtain. Her husband stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders, obviously at a loss for what to say, while feeling a great deal indeed.

My husband and I were dispatched to a room where he sat on the gurney and I sat on the most uncomfortable chair I'd ever put my substantial bottom in. How can a chair be designed so that it hurts your neck, your back, your tailbone and pinches the sciatic nerves running down the backs of both legs in one fell swoop? Was this ER trying to drum up business by crippling people with their furniture? I wondered.

We both had our books, but both of us were too nervy to read much. Not to mention tired. I was working with about four hours of sleep from the previous night and my husband still had all that Benadryl flowing through his system. He finally stretched out on the gurney while I went out to call the girls and tell them what was going on (they were in the middle of praying a rosary for him when I called.) I came back and sat down in the Chair of Torture and, lulled by the soft hum of voices and feet and the hospital air conditioning kicking on, I found myself nodding off.

The two of us were startled awake by a nurse coming in, a perky young thing with long hair and bright eyes, dressed in pajamas. "How are you feeling?" she asked my husband sympathetically.

"Terrible," he answered, sitting up. Embarrassed, he kicked his feet against the foot of the gurney. I was suddenly smitten with an overwhelming desire to burst into tears and hug him.

"I bet," she said. She and I exchanged a look and we both raised our eyebrows and opened our mouths at each other, mute girlspeak for "If I looked the way he does, I'd be fuh-reeeeeeeking out all over the floor right now."

The doctor, a slender wisp of a woman dressed in pajamas, came in about five minutes later, greeted us, and then gave him a professional once-over that was both quiet and dignified. She then said, "Wooooooo!!! You are lookin' scar-ree!" and flipped her ponytail over her shoulder. My husband reacts much better to this kind of banter than he does with sympathy, so he perked up immediately.

"I don't feel so great," he said, which is huge for him. Huge. His sitting on a gurney in an emergency room and admitting that he doesn't feel great is the equivalent of me walking into city hall and going all Girl, Interrupted in the mayor's office.

She sat down on the twirly stool and said, "I'm going to prescribe a steroid drug therapy to get you past this and I want to get it started right now, plus give you a prescription for a descending dose of prednisone. Now. You can either start this therapy with pills that the nurse will bring you, or the medicine can be delivered in an injection."

"A shot?" my husband asked dubiously.

"Yes," the doctor replied, "and frankly, that's what I'd recommend. It's going to go to work a lot faster than the pills."

"Then that's what I want," my husband, who is not freaked out by needles, said firmly.

The pretty nurse came back about ten minutes later and said, "I have your injection for you. Could you please stand and drop your shorts for me? This has to be administered in the hip."

"It does?" my husband yelped, scandalized. "It has to go in my butt?"

The nurse explained that this steroid needed a larger muscle mass than is presented by the biceps in order to distribute itself properly through the blood stream. (I hope I got that right, and just to let you know, if at any time during this explanation of my husband's medical condition I happen to sound like I know what I'm talking about, I don't.) So he reluctantly hopped off the table and dropped trou, very modestly baring one glowing white cheek so that she could give him a stab.

"There you go!" she said brightly, withdrawing the needle. She put a bandage on the affected area and left the room, saying that she'd be back to check on him for an further allergic reactions in fifteen minutes.

"That kind of hurts," my husband winced, sitting back down on the gurney. "And I can't believe I just had to show my butt to some twenty-three year old nurse. I probably scarred her for life."

"Oh, you know what Beth says," I replied comfortingly, referring to a friend of ours who is a hospice nurse. "'You've seen one tushie, you've seen them all.'"

"Still," my husband grumbled. "Isn't it bad enough that I look like a gargoyle without having to show my butt, too?"

I patted him on the knee. "You should offer thanks that you're not giving birth, knowing that there are people lined up in the hallway to take a look at your business, some of whom might or might not be medical staff or possibly the janitor. Now shut up."

Within two hours of arriving back home, my husband's swelling and redness had started to recede. It was amazing. Now, three days later, his looks are almost back to normal, but his skin has the appearance of someone recovering from a bad sunburn, all tender and peeling. I've given him use of my Middle-Aged Lady Night Moisturizing Cream to help him out and I am happy that I can finally see his eyes again.

He doesn't want to even refer to the three hours we spent in ER, but I, Madame Scrapbooker, recorded the whole thing on film.

Including the shot.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Elvis and my mother

I'm at my parents' house, typing this post on my dad's swanky laptop. I couldn't wait until I got home because I don't want to forget a single second of the conversation I just had with my mother.

We were going through a stack of church cookbooks, looking for an elusive Texas Sheet Cake recipe. She was reading the names of various recipes out of the book she was looking through as I flipped through another.

"Pineapple Surprise Cake," she read. "Chocolate Volcano Cake. Elvis's Favorite Cake."

"Elvis's Favorite Cake'?" I asked, smiling. "That doesn't seem like a proper recipe for a church cookbook."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Well, because there are probably amphetamines stirred into the batter," I said, tickled.

She looked at me in surprise. "Why would Elvis like that?"

"Or maybe you frost the cake and then decorate the top with Valium instead of sprinkles," I continued, warming to my theme.

"Huh?" she asked, blonde-ly.

"Well, because of the way the poor guy died," I said, feeling that this statement would clear up all confusion.

"How did he die?" she asked, shocked, her blue eyes wide with concern.

"Of a drug overdose, maybe?" I said patiently.

She shot an agonized look around the kitchen to make sure no grandsons or granddaughters were listening. "Did Elvis take drugs?" she whispered.

"Yes, Mom," I said, "And you may want to brace yourself for this news, but Rock Hudson? He was gay."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Achievement test results

We got two envelopes in the mail on Saturday from Seton Testing Services. The results were back!

I felt kind of nervous as I opened one envelope, my husband the other. Whatever their scores were, there was no chance of placing the blame on the inadequacies of the public school system. All blame was going to fall on me, their teacher.

The scoring for the CAT survey test is arranged in stanines: scores of 1, 2, and 3 are considered below average. Scores that fall in stanines 4, 5, and 6 are average; 7, 8, and 9 are all above average.

Both of the girls scored roughly the same, but I'm not saying which did what because they both sneak onto the computer to read my blog and find out what I'm writing about them (Hi, Meelyn! Hi, Aisling! Mommy outsmarted you again! Ha ha!)

My husband and I were relieved to note that the majority of both girls' scores fell in the 5, 6, and 7 range. There were a couple of 8's and a couple of 4's and overall, they reflected exactly what I had predicted from observing the girls throughout the school year. They are on the high end of average overall.

As a mother -- especially a homeschooling mother -- my natural inclination is to lie like a rug and boastfully say that Meelyn and Aisling are so rocky smart that they scored in the tenth stanine and that the cherubim and seraphim had to grade their exams because their electronic score sheets were so hot, they melted the grade scanner at Seton. That's typical of motherhood.

But the reality is that not everyone's kids are brilliant. That can be a difficult thing for a mom's pride to deal with, especially in homeschooling where some of the kids are being taught at home because public school was too slow and boring and their minds were being wasted by suffering through lessons in simple subtraction when they were ready for algebra.

I suspect that most homeschooling families are just like us: completely and totally average. It's not something that moms talk about too much because naturally, there's a certain delicacy of feeling that leads a mom to underplay the fact that her eighth grader speaks three languages fluently and is now busy tackling Japanese. It's not uncommon to first find out about this kind of thing when the student in question gets offers of full-ride academic scholarships from several universities.

A weight has been lifted off my shoulders, though, in the knowledge that we don't have any first, second, or third stanine scores due to my lack of proficiency in teaching math. I feel like I can relax for now, and then later on in July, start planning all the cool stuff we'll be taking on next year.

I'm thinking Latin.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mayhem at McDonald's

My poor husband was still suffering the effects of some horrible allergic reaction when we got up this morning. He was so uncomfortable that he woke up pretty early (we went to the Vigil Mass on Saturday) and quietly left the room so that I could continue sleeping. But my normal level of sleep is about as deep as a raindrop, so I woke up when I heard him leave, in spite of the fact that I didn't go to bed until 2:30 a.m. I couldn't stand the thought of his being downstairs, suffering all by himself, so I crawled out of bed, took a quick shower and went downstairs myself, tiptoeing carefully so as not to wake the girls.

When I looked at my husband's face, I nearly turned to stone. It was that bad. He and Medusa could have had a face-off, she with her snaky hair and he with his blistery-looking bright red cheeks, chin and forehead and his swollen-to-slits eyes. Seriously, it was all I could do to smile tentatively and say, "Oh, honey....How are you feeling?"

"Awful," he said succinctly, and his code for "awful" means, "Do you remember the combination to the lock box, because that's where you'll find my will" and "We are current on my life insurance policy, aren't we?"

I immediately started in with the Benadryl, the Advil and the icy facecloths, but I was feeling kind of nervous because they didn't seem to be helping all that much. Yikes.

The girls trailed downstairs soon afterwards and we all decided that I'd go get some breakfast for us all at McDonald's since my husband and I missed our grocery date yesterday. I took everyone's order and then jumped in the van to go to the downtown McDonald's which is about three minutes from our house.

This McDonald's is very deceptive. It is a very attractive place, especially at this time of year. The service that takes care of the little lawn and all the plants does a really spectacular job and there are lots and lots of flowers and ornamental grasses and all kinds of stuff that I don't know the name of, what with my Rappaccini's Daughter Syndrome and all. But for all its beauty on the outside, the inside of this McDonald's is a den of vipers.

Here's how I know: At this McDonald's, you just never, ever, ever leave the premises without making sure that your plain cheeseburger, yogurt parfait and medium Diet Coke are all present and accounted for. I could go through that drive thru and order a McDonaldland cookie -- just one cookie, mind you, not the whole package -- and they'd still forget to give it to me. It kind of takes the whole "fast" out of "fast food" when you have to pull up, get out of your car, and go in to say, "You forgot my cookie."

So today, when I went to the drive-thru and ordered breakfast for four, guess what? The person at window number two handed me the bag and barked, "Everything's in there," so I foolishly believed her. She sounded so authoritative. But just in case, I pulled forward to the side door and took a quick peek in the bag, just in case.

Neither of the girls' biscuits were in the bag.

Okay. I was not fit to be out in public. First of all, I had on no makeup. Secondly, I was wearing an awful outfit - the kind of outfit you wear when all you have planned for the morning is watering the flowers and giving your husband some Benadryl. Third of all, I had no product in my hair; that product is the only thing that keeps my hair from sproinging up in big frizzy curls all over my head and jeering, "Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyaaaaahhhh!!!!" at me when I look in the mirror.

So there I was, looking "like the wrath of God" as Muriel said in Anne Tyler's novel, The Accidental Tourist, taking my bag of food and skulking into the restaurant and up to the counter, where I was hoping no one would notice me.

Apparently, I hoped a leetle too hard.

I set my bag of food down on the counter next to a register where a manager was taking someone's order and waited patiently for her to finish. I was looking at her, wanting to catch her eye. When she accepted the money from the person who had been ordering, I leaned forward slightly and held my index finger in the air to get her attention. To my surprise, she completely ignored me and called out, "Who's next?"

I stood there with my mouth open thinking, "Did that just happen? Did she just totally blow me off?" Because, you know what? I'm kind of hard to miss. I am not small of stature, not so much a big girl as I am a Force to be Reckoned With. It would be difficult to not see me, especially since I was trying to be seen.

An African-American lady in an absolutely gorgeous celery-green dress and hat came forward and began to place her order while I stood there, completely gobsmacked. Employees were crossing back and forth in front of me, a mere counter's width away, but not a single one of them would stop and try to get my order sorted out, even though they all looked me up and down with blankly incurious eyes, as if I were a particularly boring zoo exhibit.

When the lady in celery green paid the manager at the register, I did the same thing as before, only I leaned forward a little more and raised my index finger a little higher. And the manager kept her neck turned rigidly to the left, away from me, and pointedly called out, "Who's next?"

At that point, I was ready to start something. Maybe something like the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan, only with sausage biscuits instead of bullets. But as always, my lovely upbringing restrained me from my natural impulses and I went to a more refined place and summoned my inner Suzanne Sugarbaker and raised my ladylike voice and said, "Excuse me? Excuse me! Could someone please get me a manager? My drive-thru order was bagged incorrectly. Excuse me! Excuse me!"


Very loudly.

Please understand that I'm not necessarily proud of all this. It's never all that great to pitch a public fit. But I'm just saying. And what I'm saying is that it is a sorry day when not just the regular joes who are working the registers are rude and unaccommodating because I think we're all pretty much used to that, but also the actual managers who are dismissive and nasty.

As you can imagine, my loud, clear, well-enunciated words brought every single thing in that McDonald's to a breathless halt. Heads swiveled, voices hushed. The manager looked at me like I'd just eaten a puppy and spit out its intestines on the floor at her feet.

The African-American lady was still next to me, waiting for her tray of food to be assembled, and she patted me on the hand and said, "Mmmmm-hmmm....yes, I do know what you mean. Yes, I do. Just the other day at the grocery....mmmmm-hmmmm..."

"I'm sorry," I whispered awkwardly. "I hate having to do that, especially in front of a lady who's so obviously just been to church, but they're all acting like I'm invisible."

"You're just fine, baby girl, just fine," the lady said, still patting my hand. "You gotta do what you gotta do."

I was inordinately pleased at being referred to as "baby girl" and thought fleetingly that that skin care regimen I've been using must be doing much more for me than I'd given it credit for, but then the manager was saying frigidly, "Can I help you, ma'am?"

I proferred my receipt and said, "These two items were left off my order."

She snatched the bag from me and looked inside. The woman who had told me "Everything's in there" came over from the drive-thru (about five feet away from where I'd been standing in her full view) and said, "It's my fault that your order isn't right, but you just have to understand that I am swamped over here. I'm pouring all my own drinks."

The manager filled the entire order again, which was decent of her, but when she was over at the fryers getting our hash browns, a second manager (another woman) came over to her in my full view and within my hearing and said in a sniffy voice, "I cannot believe that woman spoke out like that in here."

"I know," said the manager who was getting the hash browns, her spine rigid. "Can you imagine acting like that?"

"I. CAN. HEAR. YOU," I said in a carrying voice so full of malevolence that I scared myself. At that point, I was probably giving Medusa and my husband a run for their money. I wouldn't have been surprised if my hair had suddenly started climbing around on my head and turning McDonald's employees into stone left, right and center.

They both jumped and looked at me guiltily and I gave them my best atom-splitting, mushroom-cloud-inducing Teacher Isn't Pleased look, the one that could bore a hole through a tank made of diamonds. My favorite manager came back over with the bag and said, "Here's your order. I'm very sorry," in a tone that plainly indicated that she was so not sorry.

"Thank you," I said evenly, and turned on my heel and left, repressing the urge to flounce. That was my second mistake of the day. Not the decision not to flounce; the leaving, I mean. I left, of course, without checking the bag, thinking that no manager could be so abysmally stupid as to get my order wrong a second time. But she did! She shorted me two hash browns. Although I am happy to state that there's no way she could have spit on the ones she did give me because I was right there watching and listening to her.

But I'm not so sure about the biscuits.