Friday, February 29, 2008


Meelyn, Aisling and I went to the public library yesterday so that Mee could do a little research for the fine arts project she's doing for the 4-H Fair in July. While she busied herself, Aisling and I logged onto computer terminals, thinking that we could have some fun visiting one another's Webkinz houses, but the library's servers were being very touchy and we couldn't get it to work.

So I was browsing around on the internet and, having forty minutes of time online at my disposal, thought how nice it would be to Google some different sites for praying the rosary online.

There are many places to pray the rosary online, but the one that caught my eye was one called 59 I clicked on the link and found that it's a new site being promoted by Phatmass, a site I enjoy visiting for the daily Mass readings, the Pope's monthly prayer intentions and the like.

59 Beads is still under construction, so the only Mysteries available so far are the Joyful ones, which I prayed there at the library computer. They're really well done with gorgeous artwork, scripture verses that correspond with the event being meditated upon, and a virtual rosary that you click on to move to the next "bead."

It will be a fantastic prayer tool when the whole thing is up and running, but for now, I hope you'll enjoy those Joyful Mysteries.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'd like a BIG bowl of that, please

Tonight, because it is so stinking cold, we are having Grade School Chili for dinner. I was just putting the ground beef on the stove when a sudden thought of a couple my husband and I used to be friends with years ago came into my head.

This was back before we had children, so the female half of the couple, a woman I'll call Mandy, and I were both off work for the afternoon, me from the school where I was teaching, she from a local bank where she worked as the teller supervisor. Our husbands worked at the same place, so they were due at our house at 7:00. It was a Friday and my husband and I had invited them over for chili and a rousing evening of euchre.

"Oh, that sounds like fun!" Mandy had exclaimed when I'd called her on Tuesday with the invite. "We love chili!"

But three days later, Mandy was sitting at my kitchen table with a Diet Coke while I threw the chili together, and as I began my preparations, she kept breaking in with little worried comments.

On seeing me take out an onion for chopping: "Oh, dear...would you mind not putting onion in it? Troy won't eat anything with onions in it. He's such a picky eater."

On seeing me opening a tin of chili powder: "Oh, goodness...Troy just doesn't like spicy food at all. Do you have to use any of that? "

On seeing me open a can of chili beans: "Oh, no! I'm so sorry, but Troy just can't eat beans. He says they give him awful stomach cramps."

By this time, I was heartily wishing that maybe I could give the disagreeable, dyspeptic Troy a bowl of arsenic and put him out of our collective misery, him and his finicky ways. It's bad enough trying to deal with a pre-schooler who inisists on surviving on a diet made up solely of chicken nuggets and red Jello without having to deal with such vagaries in a grown man.

I got a box of elbow macaroni out of the cupboard and she jumped in quickly with, "Oh, gosh! Troy doesn't like pasta in his chili. Would you mind...." She broke off as she saw the expression on my face.

Working to keep my voice even, I replied, "I thought you said you liked chili?"

"We do! We really do! We have it several times a month!"

"But Mandy, what you're having isn't chili -- it's tomato soup with hamburger floating in it!"

"That's how Troy likes it, though," she said meekly.

"Well, I think that sounds really gross," I said with a wry smile, taking pity on her. I'd heard some stories from my husband about Troy at work and he was just as annoying there as he apparently was at his own hearth. "Listen, let me make it my way, okay? I'll use onion powder instead of an onion and I can puree the chili beans in the blender. My husband can eat chili without macaroni in it for once, and I won't add as much chili powder. And I'll make some peanut butter sandwiches, and if he doesn't like my chili, he can just eat those."

A pained look passed over her face. "He, ummmm....welll...."

I sighed. "He doesn't like peanut butter sandwiches either, does he?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"Well, I have some potato chips and dip for later and some cut up celery and carrots. Or some, I don't know...Raisin Bran. Or something."

The men arrived a short time later and I dished up the soup, unrecognizable from the way I usually made it, bringing it to the table with a fanfare of shredded colby-jack cheese and some minced green onions, along with the standard Hoosier addition of saltine crackers. We all fell to.

After a few moments of happy munching, Troy put down his spoon, wiped his lips with his napkin and said, "Shelley, this is the best chili I've ever had. When Mandy makes chili, it's always so bland."

I stole a glance at her as I thanked him through stiff lips; she was giving him a look worthy of Medusa, sans the writhing hair.

I've often wondered about the fight they had on the way home that evening, but I never heard mention of it, because we didn't invite them over for dinner again. Some couples, it's just best to meet them at the movie theater.

Sweetest Poppy

My parents took me, Meelyn and Aisling to the Olive Garden yesterday for lunch, which was just very, very nice. We all know that the food would not be recognizably Italian to a native of that country, but who cares when somebody else cooks it, serves it and cleans it up afterward? Plus, it's yummy and they put as much grated Parmesan as you'd care to eat on your salad.

We always want a lot, stopping just short of the server's developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

I had grilled chicken and gnocchi in creamy Parmesan-ricotta sauce and Aisling, who was sitting beside me, had chicken parmegiana. I can't remember what anyone else had because it all passed in a blur of breadsticks.

Just as we were finishing, a crowd of five city police officers came in and were seated beside us. They all seemed like very pleasant people, courteously giving their drink orders to the server and then talking quietly among themselves about what was best to eat. Mom, Poppy, the girls and I got up to put on our coats, nodding hello to them and smiling as we left the dining room. Poppy, who is always a gentleman, stood aside to let all the ladies pass and then followed me out to the restaurant's entryway.

Only when we got there, he wasn't behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw him coming down the hallway from the dining room with his wallet in his hand.

"What were you doing? Did you drop your wallet or something?" I asked him as he opened the door for me.

"No, I was talking to those police officers," he said, tucking his wallet into his jacket's inner pocket.

A sudden thought came to me. "Did you pay for their lunch?" I asked fondly.

"Yes. And I told them, 'If you're ever in New Castle and you see me speeding, please don't arrest me," he joked.

Lovely Poppy, what a generous man he is.

Grumble, grumble

Aisling feels, perhaps justly, that she spends a lot of her time being bossed around by somebody or other. Mostly by me and her dad, of course, but all too often by her older sister, whom, she bitterly claims, "acts like some SECOND MOM or something."

Today, the girls and I were sitting at the dining room table enjoying a game of Pounce and Aisling was being her ownself, laughing boisterously in a shrieky, high-pitched manner, singing obnoxious snatches of made-up songs, laughing at her own jokes.There's only so much my nerves can stand in the late afternoon, so I was making some sharp remarks along the lines of "Please hush!" and "Aisling, use your INSIDE VOICE!" and "Would you please stop being SO LOUD?!?"

After all my remarks, Meelyn would add, "Yeah!"

Aisling finally looked at the pair of us and said in a resigned and dreary voice, "You know, I guess I am just going to have to get used to the fact that, in this house, I am the walking path and you two are the hikers."

I thought that was pretty funny. But I still made her hush her noisy mouth.

RECIPE: Egg Salad

One of our favorite lunches on Fridays during Lent is egg salad. This is one of those beloved comfort foods, for me dating back to my college days at Ball State. My friend Jennifer and I would lug all our books down to the Dugout, a little cafe in the basement of Studebaker Hall where she lived and sit in a booth and study, eating egg salad sandwiches on white bread with glasses of the coldest milk ever. Dee-licious! Those were happy days, fondly remembered. Jen, who was worried back then that she'd fail out of the BSN program for lack of being able to administer an injection into an orange, is now a nurse at a big hospital in Indianapolis. And I am, well, me.

I don't really have a recipe for this, so all amounts are approximate. If it isn't creamy enough for your liking, add another dollop of mayonnaise. If you prefer it less tart, cut back on the mustard. That's one of the great beauties of egg salad -- you can adjust the ingredients in various ways and still have a tasty final product. We've found that the only thing you can really add too much or too little of is salt.

Egg Salad

6 eggs, hard cooked and de-shellified

3/4 c. mayonnaise

2 T mustard + a couple of extra squirts

1/4 tsp celery seed (can substitute one stalk of diced celery)

1/2 tsp dried dill weed, crushed

salt to taste (eggs need a lot of salt, so add, stir and taste until you have it as you like it. Ha! I threw some Shakespeare in there!)

Optional ingredient: stir in about ten sliced green pimiento olives. Make sure to cut down on the salt you add if you choose this option

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, smoosh eggs with a fork. Or if you have one of those fancy chopper doo-dads like my mom does, use that instead. Add remaining ingredients, except for salt. Add salt in 1/8 teaspoon increments and stir, tasting after each addition.

Makes six nice sandwiches. Serve on toasted bread or on plain, soft white Wonder Bread. In the summer, however, this is also really good on a quartered ripe tomato.

Monday, February 25, 2008

HAPPY MOVIES WEEK: Mr. Holland's Opus

"Playing music is supposed to be fun. It's about heart, it's about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it's not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can't teach you that other stuff."

As a former public high school teacher, I like movies about other high school teachers, particularly the ones about the other high school teachers who don't go to their jobs in order to change the world. They go there more to earn some money and just get through the day -- and somehow end up changing the world in the process.

Mr. Holland's Opus is about a musician named Glenn Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Glenn Holland's real job -- and his life's goal -- is to compose a symphony, one that will take the world of music by storm, one that will feed body, mind and soul. But everyone knows that artists were born to starve in garrets, huddled over the pianoforte and warming their hands over a candle while feverishly scribbling notes on staff paper, so Glenn takes a job as a high school music teacher. [The only task in a school that I think could possibly be more thankless than that of a band director is that of an English teacher (I might possibly be biased) because everyone has to take English, while band is an elective and the students presumably want to be there.]

Glenn Holland encounters varying degrees of talent in his students as his fake career as a teacher continues on over the years. His real career as a composer is sidetracked by teaching and family responsibilities -- he marries his sweetheart, Iris, and they have a son, Cole (named for jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane). The turning point in the movie comes when Glenn and Iris realize that their tiny baby is deaf.

Glenn struggles to come to terms with the fact that his son will never be able to hear music and as the years wear on, taking us through Kennedy's assassination, the VietNam war, the drug culture of the 1970s and on into the program-slashing, down-sizing 1980s, Mr. Holland grows up as he helps his students through the same thing. Along the way, with life's big disappointments and tiny victories, he finally realizes that his entire life has been a symphony of sorts, the music sometimes moody, sometimes despairing, but ultimately bursting forth in triumph, just as bright and beautiful as any of your Mozarts or Vivaldis.

The end of this movie is very beautiful and happy, but the moment that really shines is when Glenn, tormented by his son's disability, sings John Lennon's lovely tribute, "Beautiful Boy", to Cole. Very moving, it is.

Recommended for everybody, not just former band geeks.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Give mom a hand

At Mass this morning, we sat behind a family of four: Dad, Mom, a boy who looked to be about eleven and a little girl of four.

At first glance, the little girl didn't appear to be the spawn of hell. She had brown hair that was arranged in a short bob with bangs, a cute little outfit and pink boots. Her tongue was not forked and she didn't have a pointy tail protruding from the seat of her pants. The pink boots were made to fit normal human feet, not cloven hooves. But all normalcy ended right there. Because from the opening bar of the processional hymn, this kid acted like a goblin. Or maybe like her oatmeal had been sprinkled with crack.

The things she did were too numerous to mention, but two stood out in my mind in particular. The first was the way she snaked her skinny little arm behind her mother's back while we were standing to say the Nicene Creed. The child reached over and grabbed a bit of skin on her brother's side and pinched the living snot out of him, causing him to writhe in surprise and pain.

"OUCH!" he hissed indignantly, casting a Death Glare on his sister and appealing to his mother for justice. "She PINCHED me! Really HARD!" The girl smirked at him.

The mother, harrassed beyond all knowing, grabbed her little hellspawn by the upper arm and plonked her down on the seat and threateningly whispered, "You had better STOPPIT and I mean RIGHT NOW."

The child shrugged, completely indifferent to her mother's command, and sat there biding her time through the Mass until we stood to say the Prayer of the Faithful a few moments later. When her mom got to her feet, the little girl formed her hand into the "blade" shape favored by cheerleaders and abruptly shoved it nearly wrist deep up into her mother's butt crack. And I'm not talking about the upper butt crack, either. I'm talking about the nether region -- right there by the exit ramp, if I can be so delicate.

The mother, to her credit, did not yelp wildly and project herself onto a light fixture. Oh, she jumped, all right. She jumped good and proper. And she may have gasped, but I didn't hear it if she did because I was too busy trying to stifle the sudden urge to erupt in peals of helpless, horrifed giggles. I did not want that poor mother to hear me, adding to her possible embarrassment. But the sight of a little girl plunging her hand into her mother's rear is not something you expect to see happening right before your eyes on any given day.

Acting with admirable self-restraint, the woman reached behind her and removed her offspring's hand from between her clenched buttocks while simultaneously fixing the child with a look that would have melted the hair off any normal four-year-old. The kid, impervious, smiled smugly. The mother, in that manner parents have of communicating with their spouses using on the eyes, looked over at her husband and silently conveyed the fact that she was mere seconds from homocide. The father took his daughter by her (other) hand and led her out, presumably to hold her by the ankles and dip her into a holy water font like a big tea bag.

I hope he doesn't turn his back on her, I thought. And had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from exploding.


For the past month, I've been doing some substitute teaching at one of our local Catholic schools, the one which is conveniently just seven blocks from my house. This proximity makes it possible for me to wake up at 6:2o to shower, dress, do my hair and makeup, pack a lunch and then screech into the school's parking lot by 7:29 a.m., while sucking the remains of half a peanut butter sandwich from my teeth and washing them down with a swig of milk. You've gotta love those short commutes.

On Friday, I subbed for the first grade teacher, who was felled by the flu on Thursday afternoon. Since my degree is in secondary ed, spending the day with the little ones is always entertaining; they do things a lot differently in the Land of Knee-High Desks.

There were fourteen children in the class, ten of whom were of Hispanic descent. Now, truly, there isn't an ugly six-year-old in the world, but show me an adorable little bundle named Rosaria or a compact, tough little Jorge, and I'll show you a really cute kid, all big brown eyes and latte-colored skin, sometimes plastered with cartoon character bandages and often missing both front teeth.

A couple of the kids had very endearing Mexican accents, but the most endearing one of all was a dark-eyed Romeo who beckoned his little fingers to me as he was sitting on his knees with his classmates, waiting for our morning restroom-and-drink break to be over (the girls were being very poky.)

I went over to him and said, "Yes, Luis?"

He reached up and took both of my hands as I leaned down in order to hear him better.

"Meeses MeeKeenee," he said softly, "You have a very beeg stowmack, but you are very, very beeyooteeful."

They say drunkards and children always tell the truth. It was 10:30 in the morning in a Catholic elementary school, so I am completely certain that no drink had been taken. And Luis was, after all, only as tall as my waist and missing one front tooth. He definitely qualified for the latter item on that very short list of truth-telling individuals. So I reveled in that hilarious comment all day long, treasuring the moment when I could get home and tell my husband that he had a possible rival for my affections.

Later that afternoon, in front of the mirror in my room, I glanced at my expansive, middle-aged profile, winked at my reflection, and said, "Meeses MeeKeenee, you've still got it, chica."


Thursday, February 21, 2008

HAPPY MOVIES WEEK: Pride & Prejudice (2005)

"Mrs. Darcy...Mrs. Darcy...Mrs. Darcy..."

This version of Pride & Prejudice is the one that stars Keira Knightly (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) as Elizabeth Bennet. I am listing it because it is a movie, whereas the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, the one that stars Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and the unbelievably drrrrrrrrrreamy Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, is actually a many-hours-long miniseries. But really, I think both versions are very good. It all depends, as so many things in life do, on how much time you have.

One of the reasons why I like this movie so much is because actually reading Jane Austen drives me batty -- I'm not one who has much appreciation for that verbose Regency style of writing, no matter how much you may be sniggering in disbelief if you're a frequent reader of this (long-winded) blog.

But ol' Jane sure can write a good tale. In terms of following her plot, the BBC version is much better; in interests of forcing her storyline into a two hour screenplay, screenwriter Deborah Moggach had to do a lot of cutting. When I took Meelyn and Aisling to see the cinema version, I had to do some 'splaining so that they'd understand what was going on with Elizabeth's sister. That's one drawback of the shorter version.

It's still a wicked funny and beautifully romantic movie, though. I really love pretty Kiera Knight as the spunky Elizabeth. And Donald Sutherland is a hoot as the much-tried Mr. Bennet and gets to utter one of the best dryly humorous lines ever written for page or screen: When the enervating Mrs. Bennet wails, "Oh, Mr. Bennet! Have you no consideration for my poor nerves?", he replies with mild acidity, "You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They've been my constant companion these twenty years."

My ideal Pride & Prejudice would be one with Kiera as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, but since he's old enough to be her father (being several years older than I am, and since I graduated from Cretaceous High, that may give you some idea of how old Colin and I are.) At any rate, both are very good movies with brilliant costumes and hairstyles and sumptuous manor houses and wide views of windswept moors. If you dig that kind of thing, rent this movie before Jane gets any older.


"Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren't completely embarassed yet, but you glimpse tomorrow's embarrassment?

Considering my feelings for Tom Cruise, which are of the eye-rolling and chuh!-noise-making variety, it's strange to me that one of my favorite movies of all time is Jerry Maguire. But who could resist this happy-ending movie with all its funny one liners and uplifting theme of nice guys finishing first and getting the girl and the enormous contract for his football player?

One of the best moments of the movie is, oddly enough, when his football playing client (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) takes a smashing hit from a linebacker and is lying on the field, unconscious. The player's wife is watching the game on television with a bunch of other football wives and when she sees her husband, she hysterically dials Jerry's cell phone to find out what has happened. "This family means everything to me, Jerry," she says tearfully, trying to contain her fear, "and it doesn't work without him."

And that's what it's all about. Families with their loyalty and trust and committment to one another, whether the family in question is a husband and wife with their children, or two sisters making a household with one another, or whether it's in the relationship Jerry wants to forge with his clients -- he's a sports agent with a difference.

This movie, of course, is also famous for Jerry's "You complete me" speech to his wife/business associate Dorothy (Renee Zellweger), as is her following line, "Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello."

There is just no maintaining composure during this happy moment. My husband has even been known to clear his throat loudly a time or two. It's just that kind of movie. If you don't come away from it loving Jerry, you're eating the wrong brand of popcorn or something.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


"Dancin'? I dunno, really... Let's see, there's the, uh... The boomp, the stomp, the boos stop... Me breakdancin' days are probably over, but there's always the foonky chicken."

I heard things about The Full Monty for about two years before I saw it, things that I simply couldn't grasp (no pun intended.) I didn't see how a movie about a group of desperately broke, unemployed steel workers in Yorkshire and their decision to raise some cash by performing a striptease at Ladies' Night at a nightclub could possibly be funny, sweet or heartwarming.

So when we finally rented it -- on one of those snowy, grey weekends when everybody goes to Blockbuster as soon as they get off work on Friday, leaving latecomers with unappealing choices like Jaws II and The Neverending Story -- I felt we were lucky to get it, even though I was pretty sure it was going to be a stinker.

Several hours later, after having laughed until I had a stitch in my side, after wiping happy tears off my face onto my sleeve, I said to my husband, "I have to own that movie. I have to. It will be wonderful to watch it when I feel blue. It's sure to cheer me right up."

So he bought me the DVD and I loved it so much, I memorized long swatches of dialogue, which I would repeat softly to myself in times of stress, to make myself laugh. I've never been able to get that thick-as-suet accent down right, but oh, well. It's one of the best movies I've ever seen, and if you've never perceived Donna Summer's disco smash-hit song "Hot Stuff" as a sentimental tear-jerker before, here's your chance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

HAPPY MOVIES WEEK: The Wedding Planner

"You smell like sweet red plums and grilled cheese sandwiches."

That's the moment Mary, the wedding planner, knew it was for real, the minute that Steve tackled her to save her and her Gucci slingback from being plowed over by a runaway dumpster. The only problem is that Steve (Mr. Sweet-plums-and-grilled-cheese) is the fiance of Mary's biggest client, the one who's going to insure that she's made a partner in the business.

But she doesn't find that out until later, since grooms, as she puts it, are "N.I.D.s" -- Not Interested in Details. When she does find out, it explodes her orderly world of Scrabble, alphabetized lists and handy belt of bottled Evian water, tranquilizers, sewing implements and breath mints she conceals beneath the pastel suits she wears to each wedding she plans.

Mary and Steve keep getting thrown together because of the wedding plans in progress. The bride, Fran, makes them dance the tango together. They accidentally rip the willy right off a statue and engage in a mad scramble to reattach the limestone member. They visits various wedding venues together. Gradually, it comes out that Fran has a major case of cold feet, and one crazy motorbike ride later, right before Mary says "I do" to the man her traditional Italian papa fixes her up with, things all come together, as you imagine they might.

This is pure escapist fluff, witty and sweet and fun to watch. Especially because the delightfully handsome Matthew McConaughey plays Steve. And because just about every movie is better if Jennifer Lopez is in it.

Things that go "sold" in the night

On Saturday night, I had a nightmare that was so bad, I actually woke up shaking with fear. Oh, I thought that elusive, unremembered dream about the vampire and the can of creamed corn was bad -- and it was bad enough to make me not want to go back to sleep -- but it turns out that the vampire nightmare was just the Babe Ruth league of night frights. The one I had Saturday was The Big Show, all the way, the World Series winner.

I dreamed that my husband and I bought a house in an exclusive area here in our city. The houses all date from the 30s, 40s and 50s and they're all enormous, with long sweeping lawns and gorgeous trees and landscaping. There's an entire neighborhood of these houses and each one is more interesting than the last.

We managed to buy our dream house, one that we fell in love with from the minute we clapped eyes on it. It wooed us, from its two fireplaces and cozy side porch with a swing, to its curving stairway and mullioned windows. I loved it. My husband and I were ecstatic to get it for a really good price because it hadn't been updated since the early nineties -- there was a lot of hunter green carpet, lots of country oak and kitchen counters done in navy blue tiles, lots of "window treatments" featuring drapes and swags and sheers galore. You know the look: Not hideous, but still dated.

We moved in with the girls and the dogs and began to joyfully unpack. The furniture just seemed to find the right places to sit, although we didn't have nearly enough to fill up such a big house."I'd like to have a grandfather clock for that corner of the foyer," I remember thinking. "And two big, squashy leather chairs to put in front of the fireplace in the study." But even as I thought those things, there was an apprehensive knot in my stomach, which I simply dismissed as part of the normal stress of house moving, and went on putting up towels in the bathrooms

Neighbors started dropping by with little gifts to welcome us, but instead of bringing brownies or peanut butter cookies, they were bringing brie baked en croûte with wee little French crackers and gorgeous bouquets of flowers made out of fresh fruit. They were pulling up in our driveway in their Mercedes sedans and their Lexus SUVs and it gave me a funny feeling when I saw those cars next to our ten year old van.

"These people in this neighborhood all seem to have a lot more money than we do," I whispered nervously to my husband. "I wonder what they all do."

The nightmare progressed with a growing feeling of anxiety and doom hanging over me. It had nothing to do with the type of stuff that went on at that house in Amityville; no, it was more like being haunted by the knowledge that we were in way over our heads and it was too late to turn back.

In the manner of dreams, it turned out that my husband and I had completely forgotten that we had to pay property taxes. And when we got the mortgage amortization coupons, we realized that the monthly payment was about four hundred dollars a month more than we'd planned. There was going to be no buying of granfather clocks and big squashy chairs -- it was more going to be a matter of being able to buy food.

"What are we going to tell the girls?" I sobbed in the dream. "Everyone is going to think we're so unbelievably stupid. We're going to be in a lot of trouble. We've lost so much money that we're never going to get back. After going through such awful money troubles before, how could we have set ourselves up for this?"

I jerked awake at that point and lay there, breathing and shaking, thinking, "Oh, thank God. Thank God I am here in my own room. Thank God it was just a dream."

If it's true that our subconscious helps us work out our fears, it turns out that taking on debt must be one of my biggest ones. I'm also afraid of vampires, although I don't think I have any unresolved fears about corn, canned or otherwise. I did read a Marian Keyes book titled The Other Side of the Story last week, and it featured a character named Lily who unwisely moved into a too-expensive house, and I also listened to a few calls on Dave Ramsey's radio show from people who had gotten caught in the sub-prime lending crisis. Those factors may have had something to do with it.

But what a scary dream. It makes me feel tense and upset just writing about it. Nothing that a diet soda won't cure, I'm sure. But still. Still.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tax relax

My husband and I got a call from our H&R Block agent today, letting us know that she was done with our taxes and it was all over except for the signing. We zoomed in to the office and signed our names and all was done. We were so super-lucky this year -- our income went down and so we didn't owe anything! Everybody say BOOOOYAH!

H&R Block is hideously expensive, it really is. But we fled to them in a time of storm, after owing the IRS and the State of Indiana about $4,000 in taxes. We owed this money because we were using a popular do-your-taxes-at-home software and as it turns out, if you make typing errors when keying in alllllll your many numbers, you can wind up with figures that don't jibe with the ones calculated by the revenuuuuuuuers.

I really don't know where we went wrong. Many's the happy hour my husband and I spent, crouched uncomfortably together in front of our keyboard and monitor, him reciting numbers off all the forms, me typing. Come to think of it, that may be where we went wrong: I am not noted for my accuracy in typing, having once addressed the director of educational programming at the Indiana State Museum as "Tuna" instead of "Tina" in an email I sent her to confirm a field trip date. There should be a special stint in Purgatory for the person who put the i and u keys so close together on the keyboard.

The IRS found some mistakes in that current year's tax returns, which of course made them go back and re-figure the last year's tax returns and then the year before that and the year before that. Then they tattled on us to Indiana, who started doing their own re-calculations. By the time they all got finished, we owed, as I stated before, around $4,000.

Strangely enough, they never offered us any money back for any mistakes in our favor we might have made. I'm sure that ALL the mistakes we made didn't benefit our federal and state governments. I'm not that bad at typing.

This just in....

Kayte's son, the adorable Matt, is going to

STATE as a freshman

on his school's swim team!


Go, Matt, go!!!

(We just called and left a very loud message on their voice mail.)

Kicking self in tushie

If, in the varied and memorable experiences of your lifetime, you ever have the opportunity to misplace or lose some important documents, take my advice and don't.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love over lo mein

This evening, my husband took me out for dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant in these parts. It is beautifully decorated and they play soft classical music -- lots of J.S. Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart -- over their speakers and their food is delicious. It is also inexplicably cheap.

Two things of note happened while we were dining:

The first thing is that I dipped my egg roll in a small puddle of Chinese mustard I'd put on my plate for that purpose, but continued talking to my husband throughout the dipping process, so that by the time I (long-windedly) got finished with what I was saying, I'd forgotten about the first act of dippage and went for the second dip. The resulting bite of egg roll nearly made my sinuses implode. I thought my head was going to turn into a flaming skull and start shrieking around the room like a helium balloon with the gas released, only scary-looking. Anyway, the allergy medicine I take at night? Well, I don't think I'll be needing it. Maybe for the next two years.

The second thing that happened is that the Tall Family came in. I'm talking about a man who was about 6'6 and his wife, who was about 6'2. They had their two daughters with them, one who was as tall as I was and the other, who wasn't much shorter. I figured that they were probably a first grader and a pre-schooler, all vertical things considered. They were very nice looking people, very stately and dignified. I thought that maybe they were somehow related to Legolas, Arwen, Elrond and Galadriel.

Anyhoo, Mrs. Tall did a very curious thing. She rummaged around in her large handbag (a Chanel knockoff) and brought out a plastic canister of anti-bacterial wipes and a pump bottle of Purex hand sanitizer. The family stood back, making sure not to touch anything, and the missus went over the entire surface of the tabletop with an antibacterial cloth. Then she did the chair seats with another cloth. And, I kid you not, she wiped down the ladder backs of the chairs. I AM NOT KIDDING. No matter what you're thinking, I am telling you the truth.

After she had wiped down their table (I thought she was going to come over to me and my husband and spray us with a Flit gun full of bleach solution), her family lined up solemnly in front of her and each received a squirt of Purex onto one upturned palm. At this point, I had abandoned my manners and was staring in frank amazement, a bit of lo mein falling out of my mouth onto my plate.

"Hark, yon germophobes," I whispered to my husband, indicating the Tall Family with a gesture of my head. "They are not only tall, they are very, very clean."

"When they come and sit back down, do you think I should start coughing?" he asked wickedly.

Mrs. Tall had left the canister of wipies on the table -- maybe she planned to start on the wall behind their table after she ate -- and I noticed the little Chinese server looking at it in bemusement as she set down a little tray with their bill and four fortune cookies on it.

I wanted desperately to see if she'd wipe off the tray and the cookie wrappers with an antibacterial wipe, but I never got the chance. Mr. Tall's shoulder was in the way.

My fortune cookie said this: "Be prepared to accept a great opportunity that will come your way."

I can hardly wait.

Saying goodbye to my baby

When I was teaching 5th and 6th grade in a Christian school years ago, I couldn't help but notice how much all the kids hated history. While I understood their pain, it also made me kind of sad. I, too, was a former history hater, having come to love it late through the efforts of a truly gifted professor at Ball State. That man could make it seem as if the Battle of Hastings was happening right outside on the Quad; I practically felt the need to duck under my desk to avoid an onslaught of arrows.

(Incidentally, he was the one who also taught me, in a completely secular context, that Jesus Christ was the founder of the organization that came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism is a faith, he said sternly; everything else is a denomination that was founded by a person. Yes, I was nineteen years old before I learned that. I know. It's either through the failure of our public school system or -- let's be honest -- my total lack of focus as little high school ninny. At any rate, this professor was always quite clear in telling us that he was not only an agnostic, but also of Jewish heritage, so I was impressed by his impartiality.)

Anyway, to help my students enjoy history more, I kind of invented a little history bingo game that I called HISTO. I culled different important facts out of their history text and turned them into questions that the kids had to memorize. Then I wrote out standard bingo cards with the answers to the questions. On two Friday afternoons per month, I'd arrange with the school cafeteria to send us up a couple of gallons of apple cider and a huge vat of popcorn and we'd play HISTO for silly prizes like a package of notebook paper, or an automatic pencil or whatever else I could purchase cheaply with my employee discount from the school bookstore.

Not surprisingly, history grades began to go up. The kids started being interested in reading biographies of famous Americans (we were studying American history the first year I did HISTO, natch) instead of those deplorable Goosebumps bumps that were just gaining in popularity at that time. I was really stoked.

When we joined this homeschool group the year after we began homeschooling, I knew I wanted to take up with HISTO again someday, but Aisling had just started first grade and there wasn't much history to be done with her at that age. I definitely knew that I didn't want to start it up until both girls could participate, so I waited until Aisling was a fourth grader (Meelyn in sixth) before I started HISTO Indiana History.

HISTO Indiana History was a labor of love. About fifteen kids played that first year. I used it as an actual history course for my two instead of just as entertainment. I combined it with fiction and non-fiction by Indiana writers, as well as a number of Indiana field trips. We went to the cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana, to the Wilbur Wright Birthplace in Henry County, to the Levi Coffin Home in Wayne County, as well as to James Whitbomb Riley's childhood and adult homes, the Benjamin Harrison Home, the Indiana State House and some other interesting places.

We played three rounds of HISTO Indiana History. The three rounds consisted of seventy-five questions each, which the kids had a couple of months' worth of time to memorize before we played. They loved it. They loved it! Everyone brought in some sort of snack to eat and I made sure that there was a festive party atmosphere: Above all, when the kids, who were a bit unsure about this whole HISTO thing and the memory work at first, went home that first day, I wanted them to be shining with happiness and saying to their mothers, "History is FUN!"

From then on, it was much easier for the students to devote themselves to the memorizing, since they knew that they were going to have two hours of HISTO to play in just a few weeks. At Round 2, they all earnestly assured me that two hours was not nearly long enough, so we increased it to three.

Meanwhile, I was having a wonderful time writing questions. I trolled through history websites and library books and read about Indians and dinosaurs and Revolutionary War battles and the fascinating Carl Fisher. But even better, I found websites that allowed me to trace Indiana's Catholic history back to the early eighteenth century when the first Mass was celebrated in the territory that later became known as the state of Indiana. I was thrilled to be able to share our common heritage with the kids, to teach them about the people who came here as explorers or pioneers or railroad laborers; to tell them about the circuit priests who kept the faith alive for the people living in a wilderness that didn't know a beautiful church or welcoming parish hall the way we do now.

The next year, we moved on to HISTO Roman Empire, which ran to five rounds. This year, we're doing HISTO Ancient Greece. I know that's backtracking a bit, but next year we'll move ahead in history to do HISTO Medieval Period. From that point, we'll either keep moving ahead in history (HISTO Renaissance, HISTO Brittania, HISTO American History) either until Meelyn and Aisling graduate from high school, or I can't take it anymore.

However, there's now a whole new group of students in the fourth-to-sixth grade age range. I started wondering if any mothers in the homeschool group would be interested in doing this activity, because I'm going to be too busy to do it myself. Someone would have to volunteer to organize it all -- to find a place to meet, to set up some dates and times. There would also have to be someone willing to coordinate all the field trips, because let me tell you: When I did HISTO Indiana History, I did the whole dealio mostly by myself. I wrote questions, I made bingo cards, I telephoned different trip was an enormous amount of work, too much for one person. Honestly, I look back and I have no clue how I did it. All I can say is that it is easy to do things when you have a white-hot passion for your subject matter.

So I sent out a message to our group e-list, and sure enough, I found a coordinator, my darling friend Gloria. She agreed to take it on (she may be kicking herself by now, because I just sent her an email detailing the first FOUR things she needs to do, all of which are pretty involved and important). So far, there are fifteen kids signed up, and I imagine more will come along before this school year ends.

It will be a great pleasure to see HISTO continuing with this younger group. I've told Gloria that I'll be there for her in an advisory capacity, plus I am providing all the bingo cards, study questions, caller's cards and even card markers for the group, so she won't have to worry about any of that -- the distribution of the study binders will be the most onerous task she'll have to face.

I am very excited to be passing this baby along.

St. Valentine's Day

A member of our homeschool group sent this out to all of us on our e-list today. The source is William Federer's American Minute. The information in it lines up with information I found at the Patron Saints Index and several other Catholic sources, so I thought I'd copy it here.

St. Valentine's Day

In the 3rd century, Emperor Claudius II was faced with defending the Roman Empire from invading Goths. He believed single men made better soldiers so he temporarily forbade marriage.
Claudius also forced the Senate to deify the former Emperor Gallienus, including him with the Roman gods to be worshipped. Legend has it that

St. Valentine was a bishop in Italy who risked the Emperor's wrath by refusing to worship idols or the former Emporer Gallenius and for secretly marrying young couples. St. Valentine was dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and have his head cut off on February 14, 269AD.

While awaiting execution, it is said he prayed for the jailers' sick daughter, who miraculously recovered. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as the feast day of St. Valentine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sight to see

I haven't mentioned this yet, but last Friday, I was driving in town and came across a man with dreadlocks and a full Rastafarian bonnet walking along the sidewalk pushing one of those fancy baby strollers with a bundled-up toddler sitting alertly in the seat. If there was a soundtrack available for that scene, I wasn't sure if it should be the Wiggles or Bob Marley and the Whalers.

RECIPE: Chili when it's chilly

Last night was such a perfect night. It stayed light until way after 6:00 p.m., even though the sky was very overcast and it was actively snowing. The snow looked very pretty coming down; our big front window framed a perfect winter scene.

It was cold and blustery, a good night for chili. We eat a lot of chili around here, first of all because it's very cheap to make, second of all because we all like it. I make two varieties that I never use a recipe for, so I thought I'd add them to my file here, just in case I ever forget. Which, considering the fact that I forgot to put on deodorant the other day until I was downstairs in the kitchen and suddenly thought, "What's that smell and why do my underarms feel sticky?" forgetting my chili recipes is a good possibility.

CHILI RECIPE #1 -- Grade School Chili

This is a classic chili recipe, the kind you eat with saltine crackers, the kind that was served in the James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School cafeteria with half a peanut butter sandwich on the side, where it (along with Beef Manhattan) became one of my life's major comfort foods.

1# ground beef
1# ground turkey
1 large onion, diced

a whole lotta chili powder

1 can hot chili beans, undrained
1 large can tomato juice
1 cup elbow macaroni
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

1/4 cup jalapeno pepper juice, optional
ten jalapeno pepper slices, optional

Brown ground beef and turkey in a soup pot, covering the meat liberally with chili powder. A lot of chili powder. More than you think you'll need. More than seems possible. If desired, add the jalapeno pepper juice and peppers. Add the diced onion and stir until onion is translucent and meat is cooked through. Drain slightly, because chili is supposed to be a little bit greasy. That's what makes it good. Add the chili beans, salt, sugar and tomato juice; allow chili to come to a simmer. Cook for fifteen minutes. Add the elbow macaroni and allow chili to simmer for another ten minutes.

Decorate with shredded cheese and more jalapeno slices, if desired. Serve with saltine crackers. Makes enough for four people with plenty of delicious lunch leftovers for the microwave.

CHILI RECIPE #2 -- Mexican Chili

1# ground beef
1# ground turkey
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 envelopes taco seasoning

1 can hot chili beans, undrained
1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 large can tomato juice
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste

1/4 cup jalapeno pepper juice, optional
10 jalapeno pepper slices, optional

1 cup shredded cheese
1 bag corn chips
two green onions, diced

Brown the beef and turkey in a soup pot, adding the taco seasoning, onion, garlic and cumin. Drain slightly [see above]. If desired, add the jalapeno juice and slices. When the meat is cooked through and the onion is translucent, add the chili beans, corn, tomato juice, sugar and salt. Allow the chili to come to a boil and simmer for fifteen minutes. Turn down the heat and cook slowly for ten more minutes.

Serve with shredded cheese, green onions and corn chips sprinkled on top. Muy delicioso! Serves four with leftovers, etc.

Wiped out

I was driving Aisling out to her piano lesson this morning -- sales have been good and bills are caught up, so we were able to rake up enough green for a one hour lesson -- and it was such a pretty morning. The roads were still very slushy, which was irritating, but there were little, tiny wet snowflakes dancing through the air; in the sunshine, they were very sparkly and faerie-like.

So we're rolling along behind a truck, which was throwing some road slush up on the windshield. Plus, there were those little snowflakes, which turned all melty as soon as they touched the glass. So I put the windshield wipers on to clear the mess and found that the blades were encased in great big ice cubes. The swiped across the windshield, leaving nothing but a big, blurry smear of water, which rapidly began to turn to ice. My visibility was zip. Zero. A big, fat goose egg.

Obviously, I slowed way down. I could see enough of the road in front of me that I wasn't in immediate peril; I could see fine through the rear window and there was no one behind me at all. So at a hesitant crawl, Aisling and I meandered our way into the little town we were approaching, just a quarter of a mile distant, thank heaven, and pulled off at a mini mart so that I could break the big ice cubes (or maybe they should be called "free form ice sculptures," I don't know) off the wiper blades.

I guess I don't know my own strength. I thought I was being as tender as a mother sheep with her little ewe lamb, but when I gently pulled up on the wiper and started breaking off the ice sculptures, the whole thing came off in my hand in a most distressing manner. I stood there, holding it in my gloved hand, looking at it blankly.

"Whadja do that for?" Aisling asked.

"I didn't do it on purpose. It just...came off," I said. I felt stricken, as if I'd just harmed the van.

"Are you going to be able to see?"

"I am definitely hoping so, but there are no guarantees."

The piano teacher lives out in the country, just beyond the hamlet with the mini mart and I felt instant misgivings about traveling any farther with a disabled windshield wiper. You just never know when you're going to find yourself behind another vehicle on these sloppy, slippy roads, getting all splashed with dirty snowsoup, so the only course of action was to turn it all around and creep cautiously back home, where my husband was not best pleased to find that I had apparently wrenched the wiper off our vehicle with malice aforethought.

"Whadja do that for?" he asked.

You know, I didn't think so when I first woke up, but it's looking as if it may turn out to be one of Those Days.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Charlie bit my finger!"

I didn't find out about this YouTube video myself; I read about it on another website. So I'm not making any claims for originality. But it's just soooo cute, I had to post it here, these two little brothers sitting in the big chair. What's even cuter is that they're British! Could that be any more adorable? I mean, your average little kid is pretty darn cute anyway, but add a British accent and you've just got yourself a bushel basket chock full of cheek-pinchin' sweetness.

"Charlie bit my finger!"

Cultural conciousness

My friend Mike, with whom I teach 7th/8th grade Religious Education at our parish, posited an interesting idea last Sunday: He says that the word "respect" is so ingrained in our cultural imagination, what with Aretha Franklin being the Queen of Soul and the influence of Motown and all, that anytime someone in the United States says that word, another person within hearing distance will automatically spell it. Or at least think it.

You're thinking it right now, aren't you? Hee hee.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sacrifice unrequired

Today was a longish sort of day, a difficult day. Ash Wednesday usually is. But it's supposed to be, right? It's a day of penance and fasting, a day when we're not only reminded of our own mortality and the grace and mercy of Jesus, but also the day when we're reminded that all our Lenten sacrifices -- things that are so hard for us -- are so very, very small when compared to the sacrifice He made for us.

So it wasn't a particularly jolly day, but not terrible.

When my husband came home, I was huddled on the couch with my feet up, covered from chin to toes with my big, thick Symphony on the Prairie blankie. I was drowsy, all warm and comfy with Wimzie curled up beside me. Hubby entered the room and said, "Are you going to be ready to leave for Mass in twenty-five minutes?"

"Yup," I said.

"What are we having for dinner?" he asked, looking pitiful.

"Mac and cheese."

"Are you in a bad mood?"

"No, I am not."

We went to Mass, which was lovely, praying our rosary on the way home. (We're adding the St. Michael prayer and the Memorare to it during Lent and probably thereafter, since this six weeks is a very habit-forming period of time.) As soon as we walked in, I put a pot of water on the stove for the pasta and set the cheese sauce to warm. I was bustling around in the kitchen and I wasn't aware of being terse or cross or otherwise unpleasant, but suddenly my husband turned to me and said, "Have you had any pop today?"

"No," I said, surprised. "I gave it up for Lent, remember?"

"No," he said firmly. "No, I do not remember that. I thought you said you weren't giving it up."

"I said I was."

"Okay, well, good. But you can't. You can. Not. Give. Up. Pop."

"I already have given it up!"

"Take it back. I mean it. TAKE. IT. BACK."

"Good grief. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard! I am not taking it back!"

"Oh, yes you are," he said grimly. "Look. Lent is already hard with the other stuff we give up as a family. The no cookies, no candy, no jam on our toast. The Fridays with no meat. All that stuff. The last thing the rest of us need us for you to be suffering major withdrawal from your chemical dependency on diet pop."

I was wounded. "You make me sound like some kind of addict!"

"I'm just saying."

"Okay, FINE!" I tossed my head haughtily. "I'll think of something else. I hope you're happy."

"Oh, I will be," he said fervently, and reached into the fridge, pulling out a Big K Diet Cola, clean and cold and tempting. My eyes followed his hand as he popped the top and held it out to me. I grabbed it, somewhat in the manner of a cheetah culling a gazelle out of a running herd, and began pouring it straight down my throat.

My husband watched me in alarm, mental images of junkies with needles hanging out of their arms playing on the movie screen in his head.

"That is some goooooooood stuff," I said, coming up for air and wiping my mouth on my sleeve. "Goooooooooooood stuff."

"Would you like another one?" he asked politely, proferring another can.

"OH yeah." I took a couple of deep swallows and then said, "I heard this funny joke today. It seems that an invisible man married an invisible woman. They had a very happy marriage, had a couple of children. Their kids were both really nice, got good grades and the whole bit, but neither one of them was anything much to look at."

My husband sagged in relief against the refrigerator. "It is very, very good to have you back with us," he said. "Very good."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Ash Wednesday, 2001 to present day

Or maybe the other way around?

Today is a fasting day, which is kind of a bummer after the happy gluttony of Super Bowl Sunday and Mardi Gras. I didn't want to get up because my stomach was already growling when the alarm went off this morning, and I felt that by turning it off and sleeping an extra hour, I would lessen the time of my fast and therefore not suffer as much.

It would be nice if that had worked out, wouldn't it?

Meelyn was the first person downstairs and she asked if I'd like to split a peanut butter sandwich with her: the rule for fasting is that all Roman Catholics aged 14+ must observe the required fasts, which consist of two small meals not equal to one full meal, and then one regular meal. No meat (unless there are medical reasons that would make a fast unhealthy). So half a peanut butter sandwich sounded like just the thing.

Unfortunately, when I got downstairs twenty minutes later, Meelyn had already made the sandwich and eaten her half. I say "unfortunately" because she had made it with strawberry jam.

"Meelyn," I said, "you put jam on this sandwich."


"Well, it's Lent. We've given up sweets, remember? All sweets? We've been talking about this for days? 'No cookies, no candy, no jam on our toast'?"

She came into the kitchen carrying her plate. "Oh yeah," she said sheepishly. Her face brightened. "But I did use the sugar-free jam and it wasn't very good, so there! It didn't really count as a sweet!"

I gave her a baleful look (I also gave up diet soda pop and not having a soft drink it the mornings makes me all twitchy and weird) and left the sandwich on the counter.

Tonight, we head off to Mass at 5:30. We'll receive our ashes on our foreheads and receive Jesus in our souls and come home to eat macaroni and cheese.

It's all so much different than the first Ash Wednesday we experienced seven years ago.

At the time, I still considered myself a Protestant. My husband, the girls and I were going to the same charismatic evangelical church my own family had been attending since I was fourteen years old. It was as familiar and comfortable as a pair of fleecy slippers.

But you know how that even the most comfortable pair of fleecy slippers can wear out? That's how I felt about that church. It was still comfortable, but something was wrong and it was wrong enough that it couldn't be ignored. I was very nervous because it appeared that what was wrong was me. I felt so extremely empty. There wasn't a word the pastor could say -- and he was a very gifted teacher -- that I felt I hadn't heard before. I was tired of singing worship choruses. I was tired of church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening and Wednesday night. What did it all matter? This particular church had nothing more to offer me. I was at the end of that particular experience.

At that time, I would no more have thought about continuing on my Christian faith as a Catholic than I would have cut off my own foot. Catholicism was so far from being an option, it wasn't even on my radar. But heck if I knew what other church was out there. I had no interest in mainline denominations; anyone who has ever read statistics on churches and church attendance in the United States can clearly see that the mainline churches are doing a slow bleed. There was no way anyone was ever going to get me through the doors of a fundamentalist denomination. That left evangelical churches and out of the many thousands of those there are, I felt that what my current denomination had to offer was among the best out there.

I wasn't interested in how many ladies' Bible studies a place offered. I didn't care about youth programs. I was (and still am) utterly horrified by the idea of attending a church where I could sit in a "coffee shop" drinking a half-caf non-fat latte and watching the pastor deliver his message on a plasma screen television; that seemed a little too much like ridiculously self-indulgent behavior to me, not even being able to bestir oneself for two hours on a Sunday morning to devote full and complete attention to worshiping God, but instead having to avail oneself of the grown-up version of a church nursery. That was definitely not for me.

Nothing seemed to be for me. It was very depressing. I was worried that I was losing my soul - that the enemy had found some way to breach my defenses and was slowly dragging me away to eventual damnation, peeling my fingers off the cross one by one.

Gradually, I began remember the Episcopalian traditions of my childhood and how close to Jesus I had felt as a little kid and decided to see if bringing some of those tradtions -- Advent, Lent -- into my own family would help me know Him and love Him more.

In October 2000, I started a project to write a Book of Hours for the season of Advent. I did hours and hours of research through library books and the internet and eventually compiled the four week prayer book that I think may well be the most precious and dearly-loved thing I've ever written, before or since. I gave them out to about fourteen people: some went to my church, some went to family members, some went to friends from different churches. One person was terribly offended and one person wrote me that she followed every reading faithfully. Most people thanked me warmly, but obviously thought I was a tiny bit strange.

That was also the same year I bought an Advent wreath from the grandaddy of all online Catholic stores, Catholic, and waited with trepidation for it to arrive in the mail: at the time, it seemed extremely daring to order something from an actual Catholic store. My husband, who was raised in an extremely anti-Catholic fundamentalist denomination, was extremely unimpressed and refused to light the candles and pray the little prayers with me and the girls.

In spite of his non-participation, those weeks leading up to Christmas were the best I'd ever known.

And if Christmas could be that much better, what could following those Episcopal traditions of my childhood do for Easter?

Raised in the Episcopal church, I had never been comfortable with the way my family's charismatic evangelical church celebrated Easter. All there was to it was Easter -- all the alleluia-he-is-risen and not one moment of thought given to His sacrifice and what it meant to us as Christians. I asked the pastor that year if there was a chance that the church could hold a Good Friday service and he said, "I don't think so. We tried that a couple of times when we first moved here years ago and nobody came."

Nobody came. I was really struck by that, considering that I was one of the ones who hadn't come. It reminded me uncomfortably of how there was only one faithful disciple there with Jesus at the foot of the cross on the day He was crucified; all the others were hiding in fear of there lives, which was somewhat understandable. But what were all of us doing, now? Out buying outfits to wear on Easter Sunday? Shopping for the big feast? Why weren't we there with Him? More to the point, why hadn't I been there with Him?

Now I look back on that and find it extremely telling that this same pastor's daughter was married on Holy Saturday a few years back. Because I'd known her from her infancy, I went to the wedding, but sat in the back row of the church where I could make a discreet exit when the ceremony was over. It seemed really shocking to be at a joyful occasion like a wedding when, a couple thousand years ago, the disciples were mourning the death of the Lord, praying and hoping that what He'd told them was true and that He would be raised from the dead as He'd promised. It seemed wrong to pre-empt the joy of His resurrection and the wonder of Easter with a wedding. It was wrong.

With no Good Friday service at my own church, the next best thing seemed like a service of some sort at someone else's church. In 2000, I went with my mother's friend Carole to the First United Methodist Church to a Good Friday service, but in 2001, I decided to do the whole thing and go for the ashes.

Again, my husband was not interested. He was not going to go to a church to have ashes wiped on his forehead with someone's dirty old thumb. Let alone a priest. No priest was going to touch him; he wasn't going to any church, but most definitely not a Catholic church. No way. Not a chance.

No other church in New Castle that I could locate was having an Ash Wednesday service, so St. Anne's was literally the only game in town. When I went there with the girls, it was the first time I'd been in a Catholic church in about twenty-five years. I got tears in my eyes when I saw the padded kneelers, so familiar to me from my childhood. At my current church, there was no such thing as a time when everyone would kneel in contemplation of Christ Jesus. I kept a close eye on the statues to make sure there was no worship going on and was a tiny bit disappointed that nothing untoward happened - with Catholics, you just never knew. I was considerably startled by the fact that the church, which was relatively empty when Meelyn, Aisling and I had first arrived, was completely packed by the time things were supposed to begin. Even more, I was astounded by the fact that everyone was so very quiet. There were hundreds of people in the church, but only the least bit of sibilant whispering indicated that the place was packed to the rafters; it might have been the brush on a evergreen branch against a window, the flutter of pages in a missal.

But the silence was strangely alive. It was comforting, warm, and not in the least bit weird or embarrassing. I was used to being in a church where a reverent hush was omething that never happened. The beginning of the service was a time to be up and moving around, saying hello to friends and then fleeing to a seat with a little scream when the pastor came out. A rock band was always playing loudly up front. There was a festival atmosphere, nothing like the calm, happy quietude of this place.

As a member of a charismatic church, I was familiar with the presence of the Holy Spirit. But this place had more. I couldn't figure it out. It puzzled me and frankly, it hacked me off a little. I'd gone to St. Anne's thinking I'd find a poky, three-quarters empty place with a few bored parishioners mumbling their way through the rote prayers. I'd gone there firmly believing that no one in that place would be taking this whole ashes-on-the-forehead thing as seriously as I was. Because I was enlightened. I wasn't hampered by superstitions and man-made traditions. I truly knew what a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus was like.

I look back on that uncomely arrogance and just cringe.

But I just couldn't get over that sense of MORE.

I went to talk to my pastor in his office a few days later and explained how strange it all was. "I could feel....God...there," I said uncertainly, aggrieved and yet strangely exhilarated.

I found out why a couple of weeks later, but that's another story.

At any rate, the first Mass I attended as an adult was an Ash Wednesday Mass. My life began to chance dramatically from that day on and the change has continued up to this day, with the jam on the sandwich, the lack of a diet soda, and a peaceful, blissful joy that He brought us all home to His Church.

Special delivery

I am proud to announce that a sweet baby Nikon Coolpix with all kinds of nifty features was born into our family today. The attending obstetrician was the UPS man, who delivered our newbie with a smile.

Her name is Nicki and she weighs four ounces, according to the package she was enclosed in, which took the girls and I -- not the brightest bulbs in the ol' chandelier -- about half an hour armed with scissors, a steak knife and the barbecue tongs to open.

As soon as I spend some time (perhaps up to a year?) figuring out how make Nicki work without killing her, I will post pictures here on Insomnimom.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some majorly happy news

Last night was the ARCHES Theater Night, an annual event where the kids and their families get together to hear the students recite poems, sing songs, play music and perform skits. There was a most excellent selection of local talent, which I shall describe in a separate post.

The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the winner of the ARCHES Essay Contest. Meelyn and Aisling wrote their essays in January and mailed them in, identified only by their telephone numbers to insure fairness through anonymity. The topic of the essay was to be something along the lines of how we are strengthened and informed by Jesus through our Catholic faith, or an example of how one of the great saints of the Church has influenced the writer, or perhaps an apologetics-type essay discussing a common misconception of Catholic belief and the actual truth, or even another topic pre-approved by the essay contest committee.

Meelyn chose to write her essay on a right-to-life issue, one that has had an enormous influence on our family in the past year: She wrote about my mother-in-law, Verna, who died of a stroke in December 2006. My husband and I were thrilled beyond measure when Robin, the stalwart director of ARCHES, announced Meelyn as the Exceptional Essayist in the ARCHES 2008 Essay Contest through the merits of her paper, which she titled "The Benefit of Catholic Morality."

Mee won a $50 scholarship to apply to furthering her education in the language arts. I was so proud, I very nearly got to my feet, pumped the air with my fist and shouted, "YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!"

Here is Meelyn's essay:

The Benefit of Catholic Morality

In 1992, the bishops of the USCCB issued a directive which stated that malnutrition and dehydration of a patient in an end-of-life situation are against the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church1. My family experienced an end-of-life issue involving this very thing last year when my grandmother had a stroke.

The neurologist told us that she was a born-again Christian, yet she wanted to take my grandmother off nutrition and hydration. My grandmother was going to die, the neurologist said, but it would take a long time, maybe as long as three weeks. Her death would come sooner if she were denied nutrition and hydration and her soul would be released. My grandfather didn't know what to do. Mom and Dad stood up for my comatose grandmother and said that it was against our religious beliefs to take away food and water to hurry a patient's death. My grandfather agreed with my parents.

My grandmother died a natural death early in the morning on December 23, 2006, in God's time, with nutrition and hydration. That is my sad-but-happy story of how we can always trust the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to guide us through difficult decisions.

1 "Nutrition and Hydration: Moral and Pastoral Reflections" (Washington D.C., United States Catholic Conference, 1992.)

Aisling also wrote a very nice essay, although it didn't receive honorable mention. Maybe next year!

St. Dominic Savio's Greatest Example

Standing up to friends when they're doing something wrong can be very hard even though you know it's the right thing to do. I have learned a lot from the example of St. Dominic Savio because he stood up for what was right even when his friends would have thought he was uncool and stupid.

In September, I was with a group of friends and one of them was saying something bad. I didn't say anything to stop her. I wish I had followed the example of St. Dominic Savio when he wouldn't let his friends fight even though it made them mad at him1. I wish I had spoke up in front of the group of girls even though it would have made my friend mad at me. Afterward, it really bothered my conscience.

I know now that it's better to speak up than to not say anything and let a friend sin, even though it would make her mad at me. I will try to follow St. Dominic Savio's example from now on and stand up for what's right.

1Beebe, Catherine. Saint John Bosco and Saint Dominic Savio (Ignatius Press, San Francisco: 1992)

Beeeg fat Tuesday

Last chance for chocolate. Last chance for cookies. Last chance for those little delicious Werther's hard candies, pudding cups, cake, pie, Little Debbies, strawberry yogurt and jam on our toast.

So what are we eating today? Chocolate, cookies, those little delicious Werther's hard candies, pudding cups, cake, pie, Little Debbies, strawberry yogurt and jam on our toast, of course. We do stop short of eating sugar straight out of the canister, but just barely. And if we did, we would use a spoon. Or maybe a measuring cup.

Tomorrow begins Lent. The Ash Wednesday Mass is at 5:30 tomorrow evening and it is my third favorite Mass of the year, the first being Easter Vigil and the second being Christmas.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Supper Bowl Sunday

I've been told that there's a game on, but I don't know anything about that. Well, other than the fact that my husband keeps howling at the television like it just took the last beer. That's the usual sign that something sportif is going on.

That game is the Super Bowl, but I'm more involved in the Supper Bowl. My husband went to the store yesterday and decked the cupboards and the fridge with an array of snack foods -- chips, dips, salsas, popcorn (both regular and puff varieties), crackers, cheese, deli meat for some fancy sammiches I prepared, M&Ms, cookies, soda pop and a half gallon of chocolate milk.

The sandwiches were a piquant blend of cream cheese, garlic salt, chopped scallions, sharp cheddar and a dab of mayonnaise and mustard laid over with thin-sliced ham and then grilled on butter-soaked bread so that the cheeses got all melty. They were so delicious.

After we all finished, Meelyn and Aisling went off to the kitchen to clean things up -- we'd done so much damage in there with our piggish eating that it was either load the dishwasher and wipe the counters or just turn on the oven and light a match, I was past caring -- and my husband and I fell back amongst the sofa cushions, bloated and making little gassy burps.

"If I eat one more bite, I will throw up," my husband promised, speaking very slowly through a clenched jaw.

"I'm thinking that it's not so much about 'throw up' as it is 'spew,'" I remarked wanly, feeling very wary about expending the energy to turn my head to look at him.

Tom Petty was wonderful at half time and we all four joined him in singing "Free Falling," although that song isn't so much a Tom Petty song anymore as it is a Jerry McGuire song. Every time I hear it now, all I can see in my head is Jerry singing in the car when it all comes together ("Show me the mon-aaaaaaaaaaaay!!!"), the windows down, shouting in jubilation and slightly off-key.

Best Commercials: Some car commercial where the car almost hits a squirrel who has chased an acorn onto the road and all the woodland creatures and the woman in the passenger seat are screaming "AaAaaaaAAaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!" Really funny. No squirrels die in the commercial.

Then there's an E*Trade commercial with a baby sitting on camera in front of a computer monitor and talking about what he's going to do with all the extra "ching" he makes from his trades. As it turns out, he rented a clown named BoBo, whose creepiness he seriously underestimated. Very cute.

And then we saw a Budweiser ad about a Clydesdale named Hank. Oh, Hank, you gorgeous boy! We loved your feathery boots and your perky ears.

Worst Commercial: A strange one from Planter's nuts about a girl with a ferocious unibrow dabbing a cashew on her wrists and décolletage and attracting men from all over the place. Eeeuw.

Ugh. I have to go. I think I need a Tums. And maybe some Senokot. At this point, I'm looking forward to Ash Wednesday so that we can all get whipped into shape like "lean teenage greyhounds," as Bridget Jones said.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Don't feel good

I haven't slept through the night for the past six nights and it has finally caught up with me. I don't feel good.

A frustrating pattern has emerged: I take a medication that my dad told me will work more efficaciously if I take it at night, according to an article he read on some online news source. So when I swallow this pill, I use water to wash it down, naturally. I sometimes take ibuprofen at night if my damaged knee is hurting, which it often does in the winter's cold, and I take a swig of water with that, too. And then there's my great big giant enormous glucosamine tablet, so big that I keep expecting to have to use one of those enormous pill syringes that vets use to get medicine down the throats of horses. That thing takes a big gulp of water to send it on its way.

With all that medicine and the accompanying gulps of water I take right before bed, you can probably see where I'm going with this, right?

I have a bladder that seems to hold about a teaspoon of pee. I know that you yourself were lying awake wondering about that, so you're welcome. This is made even worse by the fact that I had two babies with bowling ball heads who pressed mercilessly against my pelvic floor for months on end., weakening the muscles. You're welcome again. And I know from everything my doctor and assorted women's magazines tell me that I should be sitting here kegeling madly as I type, but I don't. Kegel, that is. If I kegeled as much as I type, I could probably drink a 55 gallon drum of iced tea through a straw and have the fortitude to hold it in all night long. Really, you don't have to keep thanking me.

So. At about four o'clock every stinking morning for the last six, I've gotten up to pee and haven't been able to get back to sleep. Once I'm awake, my mind buzzes like a hive of bees, thinking about all the stuff I need to get done. February is going to be a busy month and I have deadlines looming for several different projects I'm working on and aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.....

Wide awake at four a.m. is not a good thing to be. Especially since I haven't been able to catch up on the sleep I've missed. Oh, I have fallen asleep in the afternoons here and there -- I can't help it; I get so drowsy -- but that tends to make things worse. Sleeping during the day only makes me tend to go to bed later at night. Which is what you might call "counterproductive."

I was so frustrated by sleeplessness that I took a Benadryl capsule last night; the only thing that came of it was that I slept until five a.m. instead of four and nearly wet myself trying to get to the bathroom an hour past my usual time.

So I don't feel good. I feel a little whiny and achey. I feel bone-tired and grouchy. I have PMS and a sour outlook on life. The girls are on my last available nerve. The house is an absolute wreck -- the dining room table is a mess both over and under, there are dishes in the sink and dust all over the television screen. The sky outside is the depressing color of skim milk.

I know my cousins Lilly, Susie and Carol all suffer from insomnia. At a Mom's Night Out gathering a few months ago, I found that the entire table of eight women all have chronic problems with not enough sleep. I wonder if all our combined issues of little pains and nervous tummies and headaches, forgetfulness and irritability can all be chalked up to the fact that we rarely have a decent night's rest?

If that's true, no wonder there's such a proliferation of sleep medications advertising on television lately -- Lunesta, Ambien, Rozerem -- all of them urging the bleary-eyed contingent to call their doctors.

It has vitamins! And minerals!

I was enchanted by a television commercial I saw several weeks ago that was advertising the latest permutation of Diet Coke. It is called Diet Coke Plus and it is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Vitamins! And minerals! In Diet Coke! Have you ever heard of anything so brilliant?

I immediately wished to buy some. Because what could be more fulfilling than drinking a slurpy-fizzy Diet Coke while knowing that you are getting your daily allotment of vitamins? And minerals?

In our household, the grocery budget usually doesn't run to actual Diet Coke. I always buy Big K soda pop, which is Kroger's version of Diet Coke. The fine folks at Kroger made the effort last year to grace us with Big K Diet Cola with Lime, a gesture which I greatly appreciated. But they aren't yet on the vitamins-and-minerals bandwagon. However, a momentous occasion such as Diet Coke Plus called for a splurge.

"Oooh, lookie!" I said, bringing our shopping cart to a halt in front of a colorful display. "Diet Coke Plus! It's here!"

My husband was much more interested in a nearby display of Coors Light. "Plus what?" he asked absently.

"Plus vitamins! And minerals!"

"In Diet Coke?" he said incredulously and began laughing.

"What?" I asked him, hurt. "Why are you laughing?"

"Diet Coke Plus?" he snorted. "With vitamins and minerals? Pleeeeeeaaaase..."

I turned the nearest case over to read the nutrition facts on the back of the box. "This product has 25% of the daily requirement of niacin, 25% of B6, 25% of vitamin B12 and 15% of the daily requirement of magnesium and zinc," I read triumphantly.

"Does it also whiten your teeth and reduce fine facial lines?"

"Why are you being so mean about this, Mr. McSmartypants?"

"Because we're talking about Diet Coke. It's full of of chemicals and it takes calcium out of your bones. They use that crap to take the rust off battleships."

[My husband drinks water. Only water. Well, and beer. But not much beer and enough water weekly to fill a swimming pool. From thus comes his superior attitude.]

"They use real Coke for that," I countered sulkily.

"It hardly matters," he said in a lofty tone.

I administered my parting shot. "If we buy this, it will reduce our grocery bill by negating the need to buy me both soda pop and a vitamin supplement."

My husband rolled his eyes and made that scoffing noise that sounds like chuh. "Whatever." He loaded a twelve pack onto our card and we moved along. I already felt healthier, my step springier, my skin more lustrous, my bones more solid.

So I've been drinking Diet Coke Plus all week now, and to be honest, I don't feel one bit different. Which is disappointing. Because I was hoping to -- you know -- have the energy to do the things at which my enthusiasm ordinarily flags. Like cleaning the bathroom. Or wiping out the inside of the fridge.

Maybe it's a good thing after all.