Monday, March 31, 2008

Small mercies

I swear, if it weren't for the fact that Mom's Night Out is tonight and the Ka(y)t(i)es and Michelle and Virginia and Kathy are going to be there and some other friends and some new people, I think I would just. Give. Out.

One of the biggest problems with homeschooling is that life keeps happening concurrently along with all the assignments and the trial CDs for foreign language software that keep showing up in the mail and needing to be tried out and the worries about which math curriculum to choose for algebra and did we put enough postage on the envelope that was to carry Meelyn's Right to Life essay...sometimes it is overwhelming. Especially when last week held an unexpected job loss and a pleasant job gain and twenty-four hours of throwing up and adjusting to being a one car family with a two car life. I am so excited about my husband's new job (frankly, I'm thrilled that he's out of that last place), but I could be a lot more excited if I could get the look of thrown up bean burriots out of my head. If you know what I mean.

On the other hand....

I was just about ready to go back upstairs and crawl into bed earlier this afternoon when I looked out the dining room window and saw a fat robin sitting on the bare branch of the burning bush, not two feet away from me, separated only by the glass. Spring rain was falling down from a sky that was as soft and grey as a rabbit's fur and the little bird eyes were so bright, its breast was so red. It sat there, sheltered by the eaves of the house, bobbing up and down on its twig, then sang one clear note and flew away.

Now that was a calming sight to see.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The McKinney Corollary

If someone in my family throws up more than three times within a two-hour period, I will also start throwing up. Because one is the loneliest number that you've ever seen and everybody needs a friend.

It's been a long-ish sort of weekend at our house.


You see that up there? That's what happens when you allow your head to fall forward onto the keyboard and just rest there for a moment.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A little thought at Easter time

Today is the first Friday we've been able to eat meat since early Febrary.

So what did we have for lunch today?

Bean burritos. Go figure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reason #6,752,921 why my husband is awesome

Yesterday he lost one job, but today he has a new one.

He took absolutely no time out to lick his wounds, but instead hung up the phone from talking to his old boss, went to work to collect his stuff in a box, and came back home and started making calls. If you need someone to go out to hunt, kill something and drag it home, my husband is THE MAN.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Break!

Time flies when you're having fun during Easter Break. I love being a homeschooler, because you're actually allowed to use a politically incorrect term like EASTER without having to look furtively over your shoulder to make sure the Christian Holiday Police aren't listening.

What have we been doing this week? Well, mostly sleeping in. Which is so wonderful. I automatically wake up at my usual time, open one eye to squint at the clock, and then pull the blankets back up to my chin. I've also been trying to do some reading, but Round 4 of HISTO is coming up and the categories (mostly dealing with Alexander the Great) still have to be typed up and printed and a good plenty of my Shakespeare Workshop handouts for The Taming of the Shrew were nixed in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2008, so several of those have to be re-written. Before next Tuesday.

Let us all ponder the need to BACK UP OUR FILES early and often so that none of you reading this (all five of you) will ever have to spend a good part of cherished vacation time sitting at your desk and re-writing things that you'd already written once before. Waaaahhh....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday - "The power of this holy night..."

Tonight is the great Easter Vigil, where we will enter into a dark church with an empty tabernacle, the sanctuary lamp snuffed out; where a new fire will be lit, both without and within. Where the beautiful Paschal candle, recalling the wounds of Christ will be lit from the fire; where that Paschal candle will light the candles of every person there. Christ is the light in the darkness and His light has spread throughout the earth.

Tonight is the night of the Church's highest hymn, the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation. This hymn is traditionally sung by just one voice, no instruments. Just one pure, clear voice in the church, telling in these ancient words the story of mankind's downfall, God's plan for salvation, His showing of the way through the law and the prophets, and finally through the coming of His Son, Jesus.

My favorite line: "To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son." I always bring tissues. It's impossible to sit through this Mass and be untouched by Him.

Here's the Exsultet, the powerful hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the unearnable gift of our salvation through Christ Jesus.

Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is night, when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night, when Jesus broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.
Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!
May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. +Amen+

One of these would be nice

I plan on getting one of these nice little rolling carts someday very soon. Only I don't want to fill it with paint supplies; I want to fill it with Shakespeare Workshop stuff, which we are currently hauling around in a great big ugly cardboard box that has definitely seen better days. It's also a heavy cardboard box, which Meelyn generally ends up carrying. The box, which I picked up at the grocery, says something about breakfast cereal on the side of it, which I feel is not quite the dignified, respectable image I'd like to promote for my class.

At any rate, this rolling tote is called a Quik Cart. It is the same width as a plastic milk crate, but just a little bit taller and sturdier, but one knacky thing about it is that it will collapse and fold up for easy storage. It also has that handy lid, as you can see, and this lid supposedly helps the Quik Cart double (triple?) as both a seat and a step stool. Although I don't think I'll be trying either one, considering my embonpoint. Really, all I require it to do is hold a lot of stuff and roll placidly along behind me. I've seen people using these things and thought what a smashing idea some clever person had, but had no idea where to buy one.

Thanks to Google, I typed "rolling milk crate" into the search field, and less than a second later (thanks again, Pat, for the loan of this whizzy computer) Quik Cart came up at the top of the page at the Space website. Thirty dollars + shipping well spent.

Friday, March 21, 2008

WEBSITE REVIEW: The Rosary Workshop

The Rosary Workshop is a website I found a few years back while surfing around on the net. Back when money was not so tight, I bought two chaplets from the Rosary Workshop for my husband and I to carry as we were welcomed into the Church in April 2003. He carried his, an Irish Penal rosary, in his pocket, but I looped mine around my wrist as I received my first holy communion that Easter Vigil night.

My husband bought me a rosary from the Workshop as a combination Mother's Day/birthday gift a few years ago and I use it every day.

These rosaries and chaplets are all really expensive, but they are one-of-a-kind. And if you'll take a look at the guild's creations by clicking on the pictures, you'll see that they are wonderful works of art. Sometimes I just go to the site to look at the gorgeous photographs and read the scripture passages they use to highlight the names they choose for each piece. It's like a trip through a virtual art gallery. I find it very restful, very moving.

The Rosary Workshop has lightning fast shipping, each set of beads arriving in a beautiful little gift box. When my husband's chaplet got stretched out from being jostled in his pocket every day, I mailed it to the guild in Michigan and they re-strung it for free and paid for the shipping. The ladies of this rosary guild are very nice people indeed.

These rosaries and chaplets would make excellent gifts for confirmations, weddings and other events where an heirloom rosary would be appreciated. There's one at the Rosary Workshop to fit the taste and personality of any person praying this beloved devotion.

Easter basket blessing

Our parish is very new, so new that we don't yet have a real church. It's nice to be in on the ground floor, so to speak, because we get to help build the traditions that will be part of the parish for years to come.

One new thing Father D. started last year was the Easter Basket Blessing. The girls and I had lovingly bought all the things we wanted to put in it and were sitting in the kitchen coloring eggs when my mother called to tell me that an arsonist had set fire to St. Anne's in my hometown. Hopefully, this year's Easter Basket Blessing day (tomorrow) will be a lot less eventful. By the way, the Easter basket in that photograph is not our Easter basket, although you can see the same elements: ham, bread, cream cheese, etc. But look at those gorgeous, hand-painted eggs! And I have a feeling that bread didn't come from a store.

Here's an article I found online titled "How to Put Together a Traditional Easter Basket" by Fr. Hal Stockert about the Easter baskets of the Slovic, German and Greek Catholics. Father D. sent this out as a little flyer in our bulletins. Below is the list of the things we're putting in our Easter basket and their symbolism.

ham -- This meat symbolizes our freedom from the Law of Moses, which forbid the eating of pork.

eggs -- European people traditionally gave up dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent -- ouch! -- and so eggs were abundant at Easter. Martha Stewart did this great segment on her show a few years ago, demonstrating how to dye eggs with onion skins, which is apparently a Polish tradition. I know that sounds awful, but onion skins turn the hard-cooked eggs an absolutely lovely golden color. Anyway, we're just using the traditional Paas dyes. In fact, I'm typing this post while we're waiting for all the little colored tablets to dissolve.

bread -- We bought hot cross buns at Panera this morning (and believe me, they weren't one a penny, two a penny). The hot cross buns will take the place of the sweet loaf I made last year, which everyone refused to eat. But anyway, the buns are rich with eggs and dried fruit (strawberries and orange peel, or so said their little label inside Panera's bakery case) and they are included in the Easter basket to remind us that Christ is our True Bread.

salt -- Salt is a condiment, much prized throughout the world when Christians first started assembling Easter baskets, and it reminds us of our duty to flavor the world and make it better by our presence.

cheese -- We bought a tub of cinnamon cream cheese which I'll form into a ball and put on a pretty plate covered with plastic wrap. The purpose of the cheese is to provide a food that is bland yet sweet, and is intended to remind Christians that we are to be moderate in all things. (I think that maybe the cream cheese of the Slovak, German and Greek Christians wasn't as good as ours.)

wine -- Red wine reminds us of the Blood of Christ, shed to cover our sins.

candle -- Jesus is the Light of the world. We bought a nice Sacred Heart holy candle at the grocery in the section where Hispanic foods are sold.


The only thing we don't have is a traditional basket cover which Fr. Stockart's article says is usually "intricately embroidered" with various Resurrection themes. I don't trust myself on the "intricate" part, but I used to be a real whiz at cross-stitching, so I wonder if maybe I could come up with something for next year? Hmmm...

Tomorrow at 1:30, then, we'll be at the church with Aisling lugging the basket (as the youngest child, she gets this honor) for our second Easter Basket Blessing at our parish.

Good Friday - Stabat mater dolorosa

A lovely piece of traditional Good Friday artwork

At the Stations of the Cross, we always sing a verse of the ancient hymn, Stabat mater dolorosa, after each station, translated from Latin as "the sorrowful mother stood weeping." I don't think it is a particularly beautiful hymn -- it's almost more of a chant, each syllable, word and line varying by only a few notes. But the words are very powerful, telling the story of Mary's pierced heart, prophesied in the Temple by Simeon when Jesus was an infant.

Here is the English translation we sing from the 1901 Adoremus hymnal. It is sung in a dirge-like tempo, perfect for the solemnity of this day.

Stabat mater dolorosa

At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus at the last.

Through her soul, of joy bereavèd,
bowed with anguish, deeply grievèd,
now at length the sword hath passed.

O, that blessed one, grief-laden,
blessed Mother, blessed Maiden,
Mother of the all-holy One;

O that silent, ceaseless mourning,
O those dim eyes, never turning
from that wondrous, suffering Son.

Who, on Christ's dear mother gazing,
in her trouble so amazing,
born of woman, would not weep?

Who, on Christ's dear Mother thinking,
such a cup of sorrow drinking,
would not share her sorrows deep?

For his people's sins, in anguish,
there she saw the victim languish,
bleed in torments, bleed and die.

Saw the Lord's anointed taken,
saw her Child in death forrsaken,
heard his last expiring cry.

In the passion of my Maker,
be my sinful soul partaker,
may I bear with her my part;

Of his passion bear the token,
in a spirit bowed and broken
bear his death within my heart.

May his wounds both wound and heal me,
He enkindle, cleanse, and heal me,
be his cross my hope and stay.

May he, when the mountains quiver,
from that flame which burns for ever
shield me on the judgment day.

Jesus, may thy cross defend me,
and thy saving death befriend me,
cherished by thy deathless grace:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More thoughts on closing the soap business

1. One of the things that made closing my business so easy was the fact that I had zero debt. I steadfastly resisted all attempts by various banks to sign up for credit cards and small business loans. I am really, really glad I did that. I still have all my soap stuff, from leftover inventory to cool molds and even pots, utensils and the like, but it's all there now so that I can play with it when I want to, paid for with cash.

2. Here's another reason why I don't regret closing my business: weird customers.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of my customers were wonderful and so supportive. In particular, Margaret, Katie, Kayte and Michelle were willing to buy anything and everything I offered. They loved it and asked for more, and what could be nicer than that?

But then there was this one customer, an acquaintance, and she drove me absolutely insane. For one thing, she was the ONLY person I found in five years of making soap (three as a hobby, two as a business) who claimed that my soap made her break out. It also made her kids break out. And then it made a little friend of her daughter's break out. Now call me suspicious, but I started to suspect that she wasn't being entirely straight with me. Since she was an aquaintance, I had noticed that she wasn't entirely straight with other people, either. I didn't trust her, but I still can't fathom her motive in lying to me. How odd.

The crowning outrage, though, was when she confided to me and another person that she was using my soap to brush her teeth. BRUSH HER TEETH. With SOAP.

"Why in the world are you doing that?" I said with my own teeth clenched together.

"Well, because your soap is so natural," she said brightly.

This is the kind of thing that can make a cosmetics manufacturer -- which is what I was according to the FDA, since I made cosmetic claims about my soap, such as that it would moisturize your skin or help with exfoliation or whatever -- want to bang her head on a wall.

First of all, "natural" is a highly disputed term in the cosmetics industry and it's one that manufacturers often use to stretch the truth about the quality of their products. For instance, there are two types of vitamin E that can be added to cosmetic products: one is a natural plant derivative (tocopherol) and the other is synthetic (tocopherol acetate). I can't tell you the number of times I've read that a soap, lotion, lip balm or body scrub is "all natural" and then read the ingredients list and seen that they've listed tocopherol acetate on the label of their "natural' product, counting on the fact that their customers won't have a clue. Just in case you wondered, the synthetic form is a lot cheaper than the natural form. So understand that I never made claims about nature or the lack thereof.

Secondly, why would someone do this? I already had to crowd up my really nice labels with Warnings for Dipwads such as: avoid contact with eyes, for external use only, keep out of reach of children. Those are the standards. Was I now going to have to find room on the label to discourage people from brushing their ridiculous teeth with my soap? Anyone who's ever had his or her mouth washed out with soap as a child will know that soap in the mouth is not a good thing. And let me tell you, I wasn't paying beaucoup dollars per OUNCE of expensive vegetable oils and butters so that some dope could moisturize her TEETH.

I coldly referred her to Tom's of Maine and reminded her that I could not be held responsible for an unpleasant outcome, since she was using my product in a manner in which it was not intended to be used.

Out of my customer base, I had very few customers like this one. And she was the only one who ever said that my soap did something bad to her skin and other people's skin. But those few were plenty, believe me. Plenty.

Holy Thursday

An old favorite from Leonardo daVinci, meant for this day.

Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum, the three days of solemnity when Jesus suffered His Passion. The Masses and services held on these three days are so beautiful, so holy and so heavy with meaning, it's impossible to come away untouched.

We often go to Mass on Holy Thursday (last year, my husband had his feet washed and had to take off his shoes and expose his salt-white feet next to a guy who'd evidently spent spring break smack dab on the equator), but this year, his work schedule is not permitting that to happen, since the Masses offered at the two parishes we frequent are both at the same time -- seven o'clock p.m.

Tomorrow, the girls and I will go to the Stations of the Cross at twelve noon and stay on for the Good Friday service, which includes Holy Communion and the veneration of the cross. Tomorrow is also the first day of the Divine Mercy Novena, which will start at 3:00 p.m., the hour of Jesus's death, the hour of mercy.

This, in my opinion, is the best time of the entire year to be a Catholic.

Pat to the rescue

Pat came by at around two o'clock, looking terribly handsome and bankerly in his charcoal grey suit, highly polished shoes and glowing white shirt. He came in clutching a big armful of computer components, eschewing all offers of a turkey sandwich and a Coke, saying briskly that he never eats lunch. Yesterday, he said, he didn't eat from breakfast time until he got home at ten o'clock yesterday evening. While he dismantled Putey, I silently reflected that this has always been the biggest difference between me and my brother: he is content to go without eating, knowing that he will find food sometime in the future, while I, if I had his authority in the bank, would be sending my underlings out in frequent forays to the fast food establishments that are in close proximity to his place of employment and my house.

The computer he brought from his house is four years old, he said. It took him very little time to set it up and I was secretly very thrilled that it has one of those new-fangled flat screen monitors, the likes of which has never been seen around this place. He also pointed out that I have access to Excel and PowerPoint on his system. I was too intimidated to tell him that I haven't a clue what Excel even is, although I have often thought that it would be beyond cool to put all my Shakespeare handouts into PowerPoint format. I'm sure my students would appreciate it, too.

Pat loaded my internet software onto his computer so that I could connect and when he first logged on, it happened so quickly, I thought my hair would catch on fire. "Whoa! What just happened there?"

He looked at me quizzically. "'re on the internet?"

"It happened THAT FAST?"

"Well, sure...."

"But usually, with Putey, we would click on the Internet Explorer icon and then go take a shower, or cook a frozen pizza or play a backgammon tournament and then we'd look at the screen and that little hourglass would still be swirling around."

"This'll be a lot faster. A lot."

Ooh! How exciting!

Pat was also able to figure out how to get my printer to work on his computer, which involved going to the Lexmark site and clicking here and there. I was so happy about this, because I have to start printing out the aforementioned Shakespeare handouts -- once I write them all over again, that is -- and what was I going to do without a printer? I am so very glad that he knows computers.

It finally happened

My new virus protection software cleaned all the viruses off my computer, but either the viruses were just too much for it, or the muscular efficiency of the software overpowered it, because Putey's hard drive died at about 4:40 p.m. yesterday. I was sitting beside it, holding its mouse when it passed. It was a peaceful death, at least for the computer. I, however, was inconsolable and did the first thing I always do whenever the computer doesn't seem to be living up to its end of the bargain we have together (which is that I turn it on and occasionally dust the screen on its monitor, and it works without troubling me): I swore fluently under my breath.

Then I did the second thing I always do when I have computer trouble: I called Pat.

Pat was still at work, but he patiently listened to the scary problems I was having with Putey. "It was doing some very strange stuff, like not allowing me to load the anti-virus software, and then it wouldn't let me stay logged onto the internet, so I shut it down so that I could reboot it and now it won't come back on. It just keeps saying 'Welcome to Windows," but then it shuts itself right back off again. Welcome to Windows....Welcome to Windows....Welcome to Windows...that's all I get from it. I even pressed F12 to start it that way and for a moment, it looked like it would come back up because it actually went to my desktop page, but then it went back to the black screen again."

"It sounds like your hard drive crashed," he said carefully, possibly aware of the fact that I might start screaming.

"I was afraid of that," I said.

However, Putey's death isn't as much of a disaster as it could have been, because when I mentioned to Pat about seven months ago that my computer was seven years old, he let out his breath in a slow whistle and looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "Do you have all your files backed up?"

"Well. No."

"Okay. Here's what you need to do: Tomorrow, if not sooner, go to whatever computer supply store is nearest to you and buy a flash drive so that you can back up all your stuff. Because a seven year old computer is pretty old and it is really risky to have un-backed up files on a computer that could bite the dust any day now."

That scared me half to death. I went the next day and bought that little gizmo and somehow figured out how to make it work -- I'm still not sure how I did this -- and backed up all my Shakespeare and HISTO files, plus all my soap recipes and other assorted things I wanted to keep. It was great fun and I proudly called Pat to tell him of my success. "I have a lot of files, though, and this flash drive has two gigabytes of memory on it. Will that be enough?"

Pat started laughing. "Okay, you know that flash drive you have? Well, it has about ten times the memory capacity that your entire old grandpa of a computer has. You have no worries."

That was nice to know. So thank heaven I listened to him. You should listen to him too, if you don't have your files backed up. My flash drive (or smart stick, whatever you want to call it) was about $52 for the two gigabytes of memory, although I got mine on sale for $29. I was mondo pleased about that.

The only files that weren't backed up were my new HISTO Indiana History files and a few documents in my Hamlet file. I really want to kick myself about this, mostly because the reason I didn't back them up is because it was a pain in the tushie to plug the flash drive into the USB port on Putey. Putey was so old that all his USB ports were on the back side of the CPU and it was a real test of my patience and flexibility to haul that monster out of the cabinet on the desk where it lives and tip it forward enough to plug in the flash drive. (This is also why I haven't yet installed Nicki's software onto Putey, and now it turned out that it's a good thing I didn't.)

Katie pointed out to me that there are cables one can buy that allow you to plug the cable into the USB port on the back of the CPU and then plug your peripheral appliance -- digital camera, flash drive, etc. -- into the cord. I actually think that Nicki might have come with one of those cables, darnit. But as usual, I kept thinking, "Oh, I'll check that out tomorrow," just like Scarlett O'Hara, but without the slender figure and the dress made out of Miz Ellen's po'teers.

So here I am at the public library, tapping away so that I can catch up on some email. I'm trying not to get all freaked out because of the many, many links in my favorites file that are now gone along with Putey -- all those links to Shakespeare sites where I did research, all those history sites....ugh. It just doesn't bear thinking about. So I won't. I'll think about it tomorrow, like my friend, Scarlett.

Pat is coming over today during his lunch hour to bring me one of his old computers. As it turns out, there are some people who don't wait until their old computers' hard drives crash until they buy new computers, so he has several older ones at his house, all of which are nicer and newer than Putey. That computer will be on loan until my husband and I buy our new one, which should be happening in a few weeks.

Pat is sacrificing his lunch -- something I would never dream of doing -- to set up his computer on my desk so that I can conduct my life as normal. It's so strange, how dependent we become on these silly boxes for our daily activities and business to carry on. He really is the very best of brothers, and now I feel very bad that I used to steal his G.I. Joes so that they could go out on dates with my Barbies. That used to really tick him off, but anyone should have been able to see that a woman would much prefer a date with the tough and rugged Joe than with the mild, foppish Ken. So I would probably still take his G.I. Joe, but I would at least ask him this time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oil and lye

I've been thinking about oil for the past few months.

Coconut oil, palm oil; olive, castor, avocado and sweet almond oils.

And I've been thinking about butters...avocado, cocoa, hemp and mango.

I've even been thinking about beeswax.

In short, I've been thinking about making soap.

It's been a long time -- just over a year -- since I've made soap. I stopped making soap not because I got tired of making soap. Rather, it was an issue of having so much soap already in the house, pounds and pounds of it, that it seemed silly to keep adding to it. The soap I had on hand was useful for family purposes only; it was all the rough ends of loaves and soap balls that turned out to be more egg-shaped and stuff that I was experimenting with, maybe on a combination of colors or scents or shapes or all three, that didn't turn out as planned. Anyway, it was all soap that I refused to sell because it didn't pass my quality control standards.

I used to have a soap business called St. Florian Soapmakers LLC. I sold a lot of nice soap and a bunch of truly excellent lip balm (my own recipes, of which I am very proud). I had a little catalog website and a catalog, a PayPal account and even a debit/credit card swiper. I went to craft shows and did home parties and ran a mail-order business via the internet, shipping soap to thirty-eight of the fifty states.

St. Florian Soapmakers LLC closed in 2005, not because I was doing badly. I was actually making some money, which was quite a thrill. Soapmaking can be a really expensive and I was managing to make back what I spent for supplies, plus a little profit. But I closed the business in spite of this because it was KILLING ME. I was a one-woman show, doing all the manufacturing, the packaging, the marketing, the website designing and maintaining, the shipping/receiving, the ordering...I even had to do the accounting, and that was the straw that finally broke the camel's back.

Soap, when you think about it, is not very expensive. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. I charged a fair price for my soap, enough to make a modest profit per bar without gouging my customers. Let me tell you, though, you have to sell a lot of soap to make all the effort involved worthwhile. And when I say "a lot," I mean hundreds of pounds. Hundreds. Of. Pounds. Preferably every month.

At the height of my business, I was making about twenty-five pounds of soap per week and that was just enough to keep up with demand. Which was good! Don't get me wrong. I was really pleased about that. But then The Season started, that time of the year when people start buying Christmas presents. I had barely recovered from Mother's Day when all of a sudden, orders for gift baskets came flooding in, mostly from internet sales.

In November and December of 2005, I went to the post office with enormous stacks of boxes two or three times a week. The staff at the local PO got to know me, although the me they knew was one with frizzy hair, dark circles under my eyes and a slight air of hysteria. I was really worried about sending the wrong present to the wrong recipient and making a customer angry. It was really stressful, mostly because I was an unflagging perfectionist and checked and re-checked addresses and order forms two, three, four, five times before slapping on mailing labels and then checking it all again a few more million times.

My last trip to the post office was somewhere around December 18. My husband went with me, because there were too many boxes for me to carry by myself without making several trips back and forth to the car. All that was visible of us was our legs: our torsos and heads were completely obscured by teetering stacks of fragrant packages outward bound for fifteen different states, including Alaska.

When we got back in the car, I fell into my seat and closed my eyes. "I can't do this anymore," I said, my voice rasping in my throat. "It's too much. I can't believe people like handmade soap this much. Do they have any idea what they're putting me through, with these relentless orders and their recommendations to friends and family and their suggestions that I open a factory and retail establishments in shopping malls? I'M NOT THAT STRONG."

"You don't have to keep doing it," my husband reminded me. "You can stop. You're a sole proprietor. You can call the IRS and cancel your federal tax ID number and your small biz bank account and just stop. No one ever said that you had to do this forever."

"Oh, good," I said. "Because as of now, the business is officially closed."

When I called the IRS, the agent to whom I was speaking giggled when I sourly told her I was closing my business because it was too successful. "Strangely enough, I don't hear that very often."

"Well, my nerves are whittled into kindling," I said. "I'm making enough money to turn a nice profit, considering that this is just a little cottage industry, but I'm not making enough money to hire someone else -- or several someone elses, more to the point -- to shoulder some of the burden. I could afford to pay someone about $2.00 an hour, part time, and I'm thinking that's illegal."

"That's too bad," she sympathized. "But at least you can go out in glory."

"I suppose," I said grumpily. "Listen, can I tell you something frankly?"

"Sure!" she said. "What else are IRS agents good for if not to hear frank statements from taxpayers?"

I pondered that for a moment before plaintively replying. "Look, making the soap and packaging the soap and marketing the soap and selling the soap and ordering supplies to make the soap and filling orders for soap was all hard enough, but doing the taxes on the soap I sold? That was the absolute worst. It sucked the will to do business right out of me. Federal taxes, state taxes, county taxes...I thought I'd go mad."

"I can see how it could get to you."

"I am not a numbers person. And having to deal with numbers every month when I filled out those state tax made me want to eat my own head."

"Thank goodness you decided to close it down before that happened," she said seriously. "You have no idea, the number of calls we take from business owners who have cracked from the stress of dealing with tax laws and accounting and have actually eaten their own heads, although actually, they have to get someone else to call in for them. Because they don't have mouths anymore. Because their mouths are on their heads. Which have been eaten."

"Errm...listen, I need to hang up now, so about that tax ID number?"

"Right. Got it taken care of, soap lady."


Anyway, that's the story of my soap business. I don't think I'll ever start it up again, but I'm not finished with soap. I still like making it, and now that we've used up all the tag ends and ugly bars, I'm thinking how enormously fun it would be to make more. Just two pounds to start off with. Scented with my favorite summery scent, roses combined with a fresh, grassy scent. Just like the gardens at Biltmore House.

I do love making soap.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Notes on recent posts and life happenings

1. I read over some of my website reviews, and I just realized that they are the dumbest things, like, ever. Not the things I'm writing about, you understand -- Kayte's blog, the Virtual Rosary, FlyLady, all those things are very very good and you'll like them. Which is basically all I ever say, as in:

WEBSITE REVIEW: You will like this website. So go there. Love, Me.

Really dumb.

Item 2 on the list is this: I served my family instant mashed potatoes the other night because I was just too tired to peel the real things that are growing ugly sprouts back in their little bin in the laundry room. Meelyn keeps threatening to tell Kayte, holding it over my head as if I took possession of a bunch of TVs that fell off the back of a truck or something.

I served instant mashed potatoes. I SERVED INSTANT MASHED POTATOES. Hungry Jack. And I'd do it again, gol ding it.

WEBSITE REVIEW: The Virtual RosaryTM

The Virtual Rosary is, in my opinion, one of the best downloads you could ever hope to happen across on the internet, and that's exactly what I was blessed enough to do several years ago.

The best thing about the Virtual Rosary is not that it is enhanced with music (which can be shut off if you find it distracting) or that there are wonderful passages from Holy Scripture that accompany each Mystery; the best thing is not even that you can not only download this onto your palm pilot as well as your home computer. The best thing is that this amazing prayer resource is absolutely free.

As in, it costs no money. When you see how nice it is, you'll wonder why. But Mike Monteleone, who founded the Virtual Rosary Project (and whose story you can read here), says that he has three goals for the site:

1: To teach the rosary and make it simple with the program's super-easy operation.

2: To help keep the rosary refreshing and deep for anyone with the aid of scripture, illustrations, and music.

3: To build a worldwide community of people to pray for each other through the PrayerCast network.

To that end, it is cost-free for anyone who'd like to make it a permanent computer file, and it is so worth it. It's easy, too. If you're a little freaked out about downloading and installing software on your computer, don't be. Simple instructions are available by clicking the Tech Support tab on the site.

WEBSITE REVIEW: The Stations of the Cross

This is one of the best online prayer sites I've ever found. There's nothing to download; all you have to do is click the link and you can be praying a beautifully well-done Stations of the Cross right at your computer. It's very easy to do and the artwork and scripture that accompanies each station is just lovely. They even have a button at the upper left part of the page that allows you to make the text bigger. They've thought of everything!

The site is maintained by the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Norwich, England. It is a fascinating website and also offers the Rosary and the Angelus for those who find it convenient and helpful to say their prayers online.

Holy Week, of course, is the crowning time of the year to pray the Stations. I guarantee that this will deepen your faith and lead you to a greater closeness with Jesus. It just will.

So if you can't make it to your parish during this week -- and working folks and the homebound can have a lot of trouble making this happen -- try this.

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick was born in 387, the Christian son of Roman parents living in Britain. As a young man, he was captured by Celtic slave traders, who kidnapped him and took him to Ireland where he led a very difficult life for several years. He eventually escaped from his captors, made his way home, and was reunited with his family. He began studying for the priesthood and was ordained as a priest and then appointed as a bishop. St. Patrick had a dream in which he saw the people of Ireland calling out to him, begging him to bring Christ to their pagan land. He left Britain to do that very thing.

St. Patrick spent forty years among the Irish people, teaching, preaching and healing the sick. He founded monasteries and trained young men to be priests; he cared for the poor. He started a small flame of faith in a land that burned into a brushfire, allowing the Irish people to withstand hundreds of years of persecution for their Catholic beliefs.

St. Patrick died on March 17, 461.

St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the people of Ireland about the Holy Trinity.

The following prayer is known as St. Patrick's Breastplate. It was taken from his Confessions.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Erin go bragh!

An Irish toast for ye, me dearlings, for when ye hoist your wee dram:

May those who love us, love us.

And those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts

And if He won't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles

So we'll know them by their limping

And what would this day be, then, without some singin' to go with the drink?

In Dublin's Fair City
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheel'd her wheel barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

Alive, alive o!, alive, alive o!
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

She was a fishmonger
But sure 'twas no wonder
For so were her father and mother before
And they each wheel'd their barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

She died of a fever

And no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone
But her ghost wheels her barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

Lesson learned

Because I am a big cheapskate at heart and because we rarely have money enough to just throw around, I haven't bought virus protection software for oh, uh, let's years. Which is when we bought this computer.

A couple of years ago, I found an online purveyor of anti-virus software which kindly allowed me to download a freebie of very, very basic anti-virus protection, obviously hoping that I'd be so pleased with it that I'd spring for an actual purchase. They didn't know me very well, how obdurate I can be in the face of the likely possibility that my entire hard drive, with all my HISTO and Shakespeare files on it, plus lots and lots of other stuff. "I'll never happen to me," I told myself.

It almost did. Yesterday.

The computer was acting very strangely and I knew from experience that this was more than the crankiness of its extreme old age. So I did a scan with my free software and the scan turned up twenty-two malware and spyware viruses. Every time the software found one, a virtual siren would go off and Aisling would say, "There's another one!"


As it turned out, it could only quarantine and remove half of them. That old freebie software wasn't capable of dealing with whatever had infected my poor old computer. Now THAT was powerfully SCARY. You know that expression "My heart was in my throat"? Well, I can testify that I literally felt a heart-sized lump in my throat. It was unpleasant, kind of like the feeling you might expect to have if you'd just swallowed an entire Parker House roll without chewing.

So today, I bit the bullet and purchased and downloaded a primo anti-virus protection package. The cost of it rendered my husband momentarily speechless and made my palms sweaty as I was typing in the debit card number. Yikes.

But now the computer has been scanned and those remaining eleven uglies were obliterated. The computer is running like a dream -- well, as much of a dream as a seven year old computer can expect to run like, which is more like a flat-footed trot than the full-out gallop of Poppy's streamlined machine.

Next year, I am telling myself that I will remember how awful yesterday afternoon and evening and this morning have been and I WILL RENEW MY ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE.

I have spoken. It will be so.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good Shepherd, think of me (Palm Sunday)

This is one of my favorite hymns, written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) The lyrics were translated from his writings by Henry Williams Baker in 1861.

The image of angels adoring the Lord Jesus as He hung on the cross is a very powerful one, I think.

O Sacred Head, Surrounded

O Sacred Head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding Head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!
Our sins have marred the glory
of Thy most Holy Face,
yet angel hosts adore Thee
and tremble as they gaze

I see Thy strength and vigor
all fading in the strife,
and death with cruel rigor,
bereaving Thee of life;
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying,
O turn Thy face on me.

In this Thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
with Thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:
beneath Thy cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
in Thy dear love confiding,
and with Thy presence blest.

But death too is my ending;
In that dread hour of need,
My friendless cause befriending,
Lord, to my rescue speed:
Thyself, O Jesus, trace me,
Right passage to the grave,
And from Thy cross embrace me,
With arms outstretched to save.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week and marks the first time that we read the story of Christ's Passion from the gospel of St. Matthew. It's always surprisingly difficult to be part of the congregation at this Mass, reading the part of the Crowd. We have very few lines, but the ones we have make me tremble just like the angels: "We choose Barabbas!", "Crucify him!" and -- worst of all -- "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

During Holy Week, we almost spend more time in church than we do at home. We attend weekday Mass every day during Holy Week if possible. On Good Friday, which is a day of fasting and abstinence, we go to church at noon and stay through an entire series of events: Stations of the Cross, the rosary, communion service and then through the solemn time of gathering in the narthex where the Blessed Sacrament has been placed on a makeshift altar, surrounded by spring flowers. There we spend at least an hour in Adoration, heeding His request to His disciples to stay with Him, be with Him during His hour of need. On that night, we are His disciples, waiting with Him in the garden called Gethsemane.

Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament won't be present again in the church until the consecration at the Easter Vigil Mass.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Public Service Announcement re: dogs and hot dogs

I'm putting this message out into cyberspace in the interests of saving you and your loved ones from a painful death by asphyxiation:

Never -- and I mean the kind of never where you don't even let the thought of doing this cross your mind and if it does cross your mind, like right now, for instance, immediately go and remove your brain from your head and wash it in an 80:20 water-to-bleach solution; allow brain to air-dry and return to head, resuming thought processes as normal -- give hot dogs to your canine companions.

It is a very bad idea. Especially if you give hot dogs to your pets and then you have a daughter aged approximately 12 years who comes along after you and feeds the dogs one or two or maybe ten more franks so that their digestive tracts are thrown into some kind of turmoil that could probably rate as high as 3 on the Fujita Scale used to measure the velocity of tornadoes.

Lest you worry about our dogs, let me say that they appear completely unconcerned about the havoc they're wreaking on the rest of us. The only signs of emotion we've seen from them are happy little sighs as they silently release some interior pressure into our midst, sending us running for smelling salts, gas masks, Vectron's emergency help number and our Bibles so that we can check Revelations to see if this noxious cloud is a sign that the Apocalypse has been ushered in.

The only thing I wish is that my mom was here to share this with us because for some reason, dog farts always make her laugh really hard.

She's going to be so mad at me for saying that.

And also for typing the word "fart," which she calls "the eff word."

Anyway, to summarize: dogs + frankfurters = vile stench that is so thick, you can almost taste it, heaven help you. And us.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Water bath, sun bath

Yesterday, the dogs had their first baths of the new year. This is Aisling's job and she loves to do it, mostly because it puts her in the position of being able to boss the dogs. I had to work very hard to convince her that she could not use my deep conditioning hair treatment on their fur. She was deeply disappointed.

When the door opened on the upstairs bathroom, Hershey shot down the steps as if he'd been launched from a giant slingshot. He pranced into the living room, where Meelyn and I cooed over him and his fluffy fur. I then had to work very hard to keep him from drying himself off on the carpet.

Wimzie dearly loves a bath and she hopped down the steps like a happy bunny, her normal ill-humor suspended in the pleasure of being massaged with shampoo and sprayed with nice, warm water. Aisling had put a barrette in her bangs and I had to work very hard to keep Wimzie from clawing it out of her hair and eating it. Wimzie then indicated that she felt it was only right for me to offer her a hot dog as payment for not eating Aisling while the blow dryer was running.

The dogs shared a frankfurter and seemed very pleased.

Currently, the two of them are lying in front of our big living room window. Sun is pouring over the floor like warm honey and both dogs are stretched out on their sides, soaking it in. Every now and then, one of them will heave a contented sigh. Wimzie has been lying there long enough to roast herself and she's panting heavily, lying flat on her back with her four feet in the air in a ridiculous manner.

"It feels good on my stomach," she says to me with her button-bright eyes, upside down.

Hershey just got up and moved to his favorite shady spot under the dining room table. He can still monitor the sidewalk out front for squirrels, lawyers and the occasional mother pushing a baby stroller. He gets hot because his coat is so very, very black.

All in all, they are greatly enjoying this bit of early spring sunshine. I haven't broken it to them yet that we sometimes see freezing temperatures and snow flurries up to the second weeks of April, but as long as there are hot dogs (the furry kind) and hot dogs (the sausage kind) in the world, I don't think they much care.

Practice makes perfect

Three times a week, my husband gets up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the YMCA and run on a treadmill. Since I am often just going to bed at 5:30 a.m., this creates some interesting situations with him yawning a "Good morning" to me while I scratch myself and yawn "Shut up" back at him.

Three times a week, I wake Meelyn up at 7:30 a.m. and patiently listen to her whine her way into her gym clothes, reminding her that her friend Matt, the swimmer, gets up for practice at some vile hour nearly every morning of the week to go do laps in that wet, wet water while she gets to run on a treadmill with a built-in fan, watching Fox & Friends and listening to her MP3 player. Matt cannot listen to his iPod while swimming, so just give it a rest already and put on your shoes.

Every Sunday afternoon, Mee and her dad go off on one of their long runs. Last Sunday was their first day this training season to be able to do that outside. They did six miles on a new route that takes them through town rather than out through the wind-swept prairie they were running last year.

They came in the house all rosy-cheeked and cheerful, throwing off gloves, hats and sweatshirts and smelling of fresh, cold air. My husband is stoked because they're doing a much stronger pace than last year, doing very little walking. The two of them managed the six mile run in just a bit over an hour, which is a huge step for Meelyn. My husband generally has about a ten-minute pace per mile; he's holding back for now to coach Mee, but he tells me that with practice, she'll soon be able to leave his forty-one year old self in the dust. Or the snow, as the case was last Sunday.

They had to run on the city streets (into the traffic, single file, as is proper when on foot) because the sidewalks were still covered with piles of snow. My husband says its amazing how many people will see them running along the side of the road, yet won't move over into the second lane to avoid hitting them.

"Some of those cars come within inches," he said, making my mouth go dry and my heart momentarily stand still. "We're running as close to the curb as we can and the second lane is wide open, but theyll look right at us and refuse to move."

"But one guy moved into the other lane and gave us a friendly beep-beep and a thumbs-up," Meelyn said hurriedly, lest I think that all the drivers in our city are heartless monsters.

That's one reason why I didn't like them running on the prairie road last year. That road has a wide shoulder, but it is a state highway and people were flying by them at 60+ miles per hour. On this new route, the cars are much slower. But also much closer.

I'm thinking about taking out a big, colorful billboard along their route that says something like, "Please be considerate of runners -- sometimes the sidewalks are covered with snow or are in bad repair and they have no choice but to run on the street. Drive by them the way you'd want people to drive by your spouse or child."

I pray that God will keep them safe and protect them from careless, arrogant aggressive drivers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Housework makes you ugly

If the above statement were true, I would be the most beautiful woman in the world. And I am not. Not even close. But I do keep hope alive by continuing to not do housework in the tremulous belief that someday I'll wake up, look in the mirror and see something very different than what I'm used to seeing, which could set the banshees howling.

Anyway, I am not a good housekeeper. I used to be; my husband can testify to that. Honestly, up to the time that we started homeschooling, our house looked a treat. I used to vaccuum the carpets every single day. I know! That was a little bit overkilly, wasn't it? I also used to do mad things like turn out everyone's dresser drawers and closets in a rotating order, making frequent trips to St. Vincent de Paul with bags of clean and neatly folded outgrown clothing.

But then we started homeschooling, and as my friend Jane put it, "When you work where you live and you live where you work, it's just about impossible to keep it all together."

True, too true.

If you've ever been to my house and it looked clean, or even reasonably tidy, it's because we knew you were coming and spent the hour before your arrival galloping through the house while I bellowed, "Wipe that off! Straighten that up! Hide that! Don't ask me where! Stick it in a drawer! Shove it into a closet! Under a bed! In the oven! Take it out to the van! Give it to the neighbors!"

To be honest, I hate being this way. Hate. It. I miss the days when I had time enough to meticulously dust the tops of every ceiling fan's blades and sandblast the bathroom fixtures weekly with a mixture of powdered diamonds and Clorox. When Carol, Lilly and I traveled down to Susie's last summer, every surface in her glorious house was so dust free and gleaming, every floor so shiny, every upper corner of every room so free from cobwebs -- I felt so peaceful and happy.

We aren't total pigs, though. We do the rudimentary sweepings and dustings and bathroom cleanings every week. The beds get made. The dishes always get done and the counters are clean. My husband is an absolute whiz at the laundry. But the clutter...the endless, horrific clutter. Books, junk mail, un-junk mail, papers, notebooks, magazines, scrapbooks and scrapbooking impedimenta, hair doo-dads. It drives me bonkers and I feel very handicapped by the two daughters of the house who are impervious to messes and could walk by a Pop-Tart wrapper lying crumpled on the floor a thousand times a day and never once give thought to picking it up and putting it in a wastebasket. I look at the same Pop-Tart wrapper and fume and silently refuse to pick it up myself, even though the sight of it makes me want to fall prostrate to the floor and drum my heels on the carpet.

A few years ago, I went to this site, at the recommendation of a friend who has the same trouble I do with marshalling the troops -- assuming, of course, that one's family considers themselves one's allies and not the advancing enemy -- and getting the house into a well-ordered state. FlyLady's system works on the principal that if one does a little bit consistently each day, starting with having a shining clean empty kitchen sink before going to bed at night, the house will never be a hideous mess all at once. Doing fifteen to twenty minutes each day isn't hard, she says. Cut the clutter, shine the sink, swish out the sinks and the toilets every day and keep up with a few other small details and you will never live in CHAOS (which stands for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

Every fall, I start out with a freshly sharpened ambition to FlyLady my way through the school year. I speak persuasively to Meelyn and Aisling about how easy it will be to keep things tidy. They look at me with a speculative eye, wondering how long it will take before I'll crack. It usually happens somewhere around November. They wear me down by not following through with their part of the routine and before we know it, the clutter is back with us and I'm buying hair color in greater quantities than in the previous year and my husband is asking plaintive questions like, "Why has there been a sock draped over the arm of my chair for three days? Is this a science experiment?"

By spring, when it's time for deep cleaning, I am tired of the mess and I read FlyLady Marla Cilley's book, which is titled Sink Reflections and is linked here to I hold a series of stern lectures with the girls about how if they continue to treat this house like a barn, they're going to be served hay for breakfast, lunch and dinner until they get a clue. And sometimes, I even call my brother, Pat, if I have a frightening mess on my hands, because he is the world's best Clean Sweeper (TLC needs to give him a show) and has proved himself in the past to be very good at throwing out my things. We get the house cleaned up for spring and we stick with FlyLady like glue until school ends.

Then we go to the pool and by the time we get home, I'm too tired to do fifteen minutes worth of housework, even though all I've done all afternoon is bask on a lounge chair and sedately paddle in the in the water like a happy manatee.

And now you can see why the whole cycle begins again in the fall. *sigh*

Dizzy Busy

Isn't English a weird language? Dizzy and busy -- how could they possibly rhyme when they're spelled so dissimilarly?

Anyway, Monday was ARCHES and Tuesday was Book-It and today we spent several hours at the public library where the girls did their schoolwork while I researched HISTO -- I am now in the position to tell you that the pottery in ancient Greece's Hellenistic period was no longer incised; it was decorated by by figures painted right onto the piece. Also, the human figures featured on the pottery of the Hellenistic era had natural-looking poses and exhibited skilled painting techniques in the way the folds of their chitons and cloaks fell, unlike the very stylized poses and stiff folds of the incised pottery in the Archaic and Classical periods.

HISTORY NERD ALERT!!!!!! Kayte, you'd love it. Everyone else, run for cover and pretend you have to wash your hair.

I checked out about 22 books. I wonder if there's any chance in the world that I'll return them on time? Probably not.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Big dumb sofa

I am mad at my couch.

I am mad at my couch because we bought it five years ago -- FIVE, not FIFTY -- when our tax refund check came in. It replaced the old Flexsteel sofa we inherited thirdhand from my grandpa, who then passed it on to my brother, who then passed it to us. The Flexsteel sofa, which was just a regular ol' three cushion model with two rolling ottomans, wasn't noticeably worn, it was just dated; an late-80s fabric, not of the pouffy, overstuffed look of more recent furniture (although that particular style also seems to be gone.)

The replacement sofa was a Broyhill, one with two reclining side and flip-up footstools that you deploy by pushing a button beneath the armrest on the side. It was a nice navy blue and Dijon yellow plaid with touches of dark green and mulberry. Very attractive, I thought.

The problem is that the center support bar completely collapsed last year so that when you sit in the middle, your rear end sinks down very low, causing you to struggle like a cartoon character in order to regain your footing. Then the stuffing on the back cushion on the left-hand side went all wonky. It kind of came...unstuffed. But the crowning indignity -- if indignity is something that can receive a crown, which seems rather dignified, now that I think about it, but anyway -- there is a vertical tear in the fabric of the seat cushion on the right hand side. A tear! And not on a seam, either. The fabric has plotzed, which is a useful Yiddish word that means "just went to pieces, totally and without recourse." More or less.

If I mentioned the price of this sofa to you, you might have to sit down to catch your breath. But whatever you do, don't sit on MY EXPENSIVE BROYHILL PIECE OF POO SOFA, because it might just collapse onto the floor and bury you in a pile of flimsy infrastructure, unstuffed stuffing and torn fabric.

Friday, March 7, 2008

RECIPE: Friday Bean Burritos & Corn Pudding

For some reason, we haven't yet had these yummy bean burritos for dinner on a Friday this Lent, but they are really good. The only caveat in this recipe is that you have to make sure you buy the vegetarian-style refried beans because regular refried beans are made with lard. I don't know if the lard used in the refried beans (which makes them delicious, thankyouverymuch) counts as a meat product or not -- I know that soups made with a meat based broth like chicken stock are a no-no, but lard? Better err on the side of the purity of the fast though, right?

Anyway, I usually serve these with corn pudding. Or if I'm lazy, chips and salsa. Although a salad with sliced red peppers, some onion and ripe olives wouldn't go amiss, particularly if you served it with ranch dressing that's had a tablespoon of jalapeno pepper juice stirred into it. Mmmm!

Friday Bean Burritos

1 package burrito-sized flour tortillas

1 can vegetarian-style refried beans (I like Old El Paso brand, but if you're a purist in things like this, you could always make your own.)

3 green onions, finely diced (or more, if you really like lots of onions)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, colby-jack OR pepper jack cheese

picante sauce


Place refried beans in a small saucepan and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat on stove until beans steam and emit small bubbles -- they are too thick to boil, so watch them carefully. I highly recommend that your spray your little saucepan with cooking spray beforehand.

Place tortillas in a microwave-friendly tortilla steamer (available at your grocery) with paper towel dividing each tortilla. You can also place the paper-divided tortillas on a dinner plate, inverting another plate over them for the same effect. Heat tortillas until they are steamy hot.

Have diced green onions, shredded cheese and other desired additions -- sliced black olives, jalapeno peppers, sour cream -- ready.

To make burritos, place a hot tortilla on a heated plate in front of you; spread a small amount of beans in a horizontal line from side to side. Sprinkle with cheese and onions; add some picante sauce. Ask the person whose burrito you are crafting if they'd like any additional items. If they want them, add to burritos in small amounts.

To roll the burrito, fold the right hand side of the tortilla about 1/3 of the way over towards the middle. Take the top of the burrito and fold it down over the beans, cheese, etc. Then roll the burrito from bottom to top, as tightly as you can without tearing the burrito. Serve to grateful family member or friend. Garnish with a scoop of corn pudding, if you're feeling frisky.

That's how they used to roll 'em at the late lamented Chi-Chi's, the best American Tex-Mex chain restaurant, like, ever. *sob!*

Corn Pudding

Super-easy and so good. Known as 'corn cake' at Chi-Chi's, I prefer the term 'corn pudding' because it seems to fit the consistency better.

1 can corn, undrained
1 can creamed corn
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg, beaten
1 stick butter
1 can of sliced green chilies, drained (optional)

Spray an 8x8 casserole with cooking spray. Heat oven to 375o F. Cut stick of butter into chunks and place in casserole; put casserole into oven and allow butter to melt. When melted, remove pan from oven and add both cans of corn, beaten egg and package of muffin mix (and chilies, if desired). Stir until all ingredients are combined. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes or until top is golden and center is set.

Serve with an ice cream scoop, creating an adorable mound on the heated plate. Or just dig into it with a big ol' serving spoon and splat a serving down on each plate. This recipe makes, I think, about eight servings. But don't hold me to that. It all depends on the size of your ice cream scoop, and/or the energy with which you dig into the casserole dish.


Thanks to my fabulous and lovable cousin Carol, I was able to choke on my own spit while reading an email forwarded from her this morning. I don't know who originally wrote this, but it is a little gem. I think it must be someone from Canada or Great Britain because of the goofy spellings of the words 'liter' ('litre') and 'feces' ('faeces'). Anonymous foreign writer, you rock!

To my friends who enjoy a glass of wine and those who don't:

As Ben Franklin said: In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 litre of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria found in feces.

In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop.

However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine and beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting. Remember: Water = Poop, Wine = Health. Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of crap.

There is no need to thank me for this valuable in formation. I'm doing it as a public service.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

WEBSITE REVIEW: The Official SAT Question of the Day TM

Disclaimer: Everyone needs to know right up front that I ruthlessly ripped this link off from Kayte's blog, but I love it so much, I had to put it here in my favorites. Sorry, Kayte. You have all the credit for finding it in the first place.

Anyhoo, I love this site. So far, I'm the only one to use it, although I plan to get Meelyn hooked on it, using my crafty Mom powers of teen persuasion. Maybe even Aisling, although the only way I'll be able to get her to visit the site, much less use it, is to pretend that I hate it and think it's dumb.

My own SATs make me laugh to recall them. My high school guidance counselor looked at my math and verbal scores, then looked at me, then looked back at my scores again. "Well, you certainly, right-brained, aren't you?"

Considering that I'd managed to get an almost perfect score on the verbal section of the test and just barely made it into the double digits on the math section, I thought that was a fair assessment. Even now, I agree: I am definitely a right brain type. In fact, I'm not completely certain that my brain has a left side. My brother clearly doesn't think so. And maybe my husband.


I was cleaning out a drawer in my desk today and came upon a rubberband-wrapped packet of postcards, views of Rome, Florence, Paris and a few other places that my grandma picked up on her various journeys around Yerp, as we call it here in the Hoosier state.

I was with her when she bought the postcards from Rome; the rest of the cards were from other times. There were some with views I didn't recognize, and I turned those over to see where they were from.

One of them had actually been mailed to my family in about 1972, from Paris. She mentioned that she was having so much fun; that she'd bought Pat, who was then only three years old, some liederhosen in Switzerland, plus cuckoo clocks for everyone and other fun presents that would be surprises. With her characteristic energy, she wrote that the group had been sight-seeing and shopping all day, but she was looking forward to going out to a nightclub with some friends later.

I read it once, then twice and thought how strange it was that the very configuration of a loved one's handwriting can make you catch your breath with one of those pains like you get when you've run too far too fast -- a stitch in the side -- twenty-seven years after she passed away.

Rome. Florence. Paris.


Last night -- our room -- 4:10 a.m.

I woke up shivering to find that I had been completely bereft -- with malice aforethought -- of all bedcovers. Coverlet, blankets, sheet...all were heaped upon my husband, whose blissful snores whiffled beneath a giant mound of fabric.

Not unreasonably, I began pulling on the edges of cloth nearest me, whereupon my husband clenched the coverlet, blankets and sheet in his fists, between his knees and maybe even in his teeth, I don't know, and held on like a pit bull on a New York strip.

"Quiddit!" he mumbled indinstinctly. "Doan pull! Thissiz mine!"

"No it isn't!" I insisted, pulling harder. "You've stolen every last blanket off my side of the bed and all I have to cover my goose-pimpled flesh is a handful of used Kleenexes. Gimme!"

"Stobbit! Quiddit!"

So I stopped. Just long enough for him to tumble back into sleep, and then I gave a mighty pull, triumphantly releasing my share of the bed covers. I settled their cuddly warmth over me, only to find seconds later that my husband was awake again, and pulling.

"You took all my sheet! I have no sheet!"

"You," I said, in my finest moment of late-night comedy, "are full of sheet, mister."

"Oh, ha ha ha."

"Thank you. And good night."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This is why people run away and join the circus

Today has been a day that I wouldn't care to repeat. And it's only 2:30 p.m.

First of all, when the girls and I went outside this morning to get in the van and drive to the YMCA, there was an inch of ice covering the entire vehicle, in the manner that chocolate covers an Almond Joy, only not nearly as appealing.

Second of all, something is wrong-ish with my stomach, and I'm hoping that it's the type of wrong-ishness that has a 24-hour limit. It's the kind of thing that doesn't render one sick enough to lie on the couch like Camille, looking all fragile, pale and interesting, inciting compassion and a desire to buy ice cream in one's family members. No, all it does is make them seem like insensitive monsters who loom over me to ask only one question: "Can we have something good for dinner tonight?"

Thirdly, Meelyn pronounced the name "Thucydides" as "Thucky-dieds." Which made me laugh, even while I was inwardly writhing in pain.

The I was barely able to stop a ridiculous argument between the girls which culminated in them leaning across the dining room table and trying to scribble in one another's composition workbooks. Yes, I know. They're very lucky I didn't beat them senseless with a Bible while screaming, "LOVE IS PATIENT! LOVE IS KIND! LOVE IS NEVER RUUUUUUUUDE!!!!!"

And then there's my stomach...

Aisling has been even louder, bouncier and more strident than usual, causing me to give her a look earlier that immediately made her wail, "You don't love me! You love her better! Waaah-hah-hah-hah...." at a decibel level that has formerly been achieved only at Metallica concerts.

Ohhhh, my stomach........

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A homeschool list

Just a few little things going on at our homeschool...

1. Meelyn has only ten lessons left in her math book for the year; Aisling has eighteen or so. And it is March 4. MARCH 4!!!! I can't even tell you how excited we are. My thought is that we'll spend all of March doing the many supplemental worksheets the Saxon math package offers and then get the books for next year ordered so that the girls can get started on them. This is what happens when you don't have a) a million days off for teacher in-services and odd holidays that honor people who would more than likely be enormously disapproving of taking a day off from the educational process in order to "honor" them by playing video games and eating Doritos straight out of the bag; and b) the numerous out-of-class excursions to here, there and everywhere that used to drive me absolutely insane with the meaninglessness of it all. It turns out that when you're actually doing the work every day, you can finish entire textbooks.

2. The Shakespeare books arrived from yesterday -- twenty copies of The Taming of the Shrew -- in anticipation for the next workshop, which begins on March 25.

3. I'm working hard on getting the HISTO Indiana History stuff organized so that it will be ready to hand off to my friend Gloria and all the other moms whose kids will be doing this project.

4. The girls are beginning their fine arts projects for 4-H and I'm allowing them to use school time to do this since the projects double as art class here at home. After three years of art lessons with the wonderful Miss Kendra, this will be the girls' first on-their-own attempt to "grid" their chosen portrait photographs and/or set up a still life for photography and then grid it, and use the pictures as models for their art. They are nervous about shading. I think they can do it. At least I'm hoping they can, because those art lessons cost a lot of money, not to mention the weekly drive to Tipton.

5. Meelyn and Aisling wrote their best compositions of the year last week -- they just did their final drafts yesterday. I liked them so much, I decided I've have the girls type them on this blog. Hopefully, we'll get around to that later.

6. Which brings us to the fact that Meelyn and Aisling have been doggedly plowing through their Typing Instructor Deluxe software and have both achieved the level of Touch Typist. This might not be a big deal to most folks, because a lot of kids are proficient with the keyboard at, say, six months old nowadays. But since I don't know how to type at all, having devised my own three-fingers-and-a-thumb method that requires me to look constantly at my fingers, I am very joyfully impressed.

7. I got out the order forms for the achievement tests the girls are doing this May. I'm thinking about the CAT/5 this year. Must ask more experienced homeschool moms about this decision -- they probably know something I don't. Last year, the girls did the test (and of course I can't remember what it was called at this precise moment) that was just basic math and language arts skills for their grade levels. The CAT/5 tests social studies and science knowledge, as well as math and language arts. The CAT/5 is a lot more expensive, so maybe I ought to just stick with last year's test. Or would the more comprehensive test be better? Does it really matter what a sixth grader knows about science?

8. I think the Shakespeare Workshop next fall will be done on Henry V instead of another tragedy. This is probably Shakespeare's most famous historical play and I'm interested in doing this because most students get all the way through high school and college without ever having experienced a history play. I ought to know -- I'm one of them. Henry V is about the battle of Agincourt and features the memorable John Falstaff, as well as that wonderful St. Crispin's Day speech.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Volleyball 2008 headed straight for us

My husband and I are members of our local homeschool volleyball team's board of directors -- he as a coach and me as the scheduling secretary. This is something we're both really looking forward to.

Today I sat down with my list of contacts and sent out an email introducing myself and announcing that our organization is ready to start scheduling games for September and October. I set up a new email box so that volleyball email wouldn't come to my personal address, which is where I already receive email from two homeschool groups, our parish's lectors, messages from friends and an uncanny amount of promotional notices from Bath & Body Works, who appear to think I give off an offensive odor, judging from the amount of mail I get from them. I try not to let that bother me.

So anyway, I sent out my email to all the volleyball teams in our league at about 3:00 and have checked my new mailbox every half hour since then, but there's been no word from anyone. I am currently scowling at my monitor with my lower lip pushed out. These people apparently do not realize how excited I am.

RECIPE: Easy Friday Spaghetti

This is always a favorite on Fridays during Lent at our house, with the girls and my husband, anyway. I much prefer my incedibly delicious broccoli-rice casserole (sorry, Miss Kayte -- it contains cream o' mushroom soup), but this isn't bad, by any means. Even better, it's easy-peasy. And it can be jazzed up or kept as simple as you'd like it to be.

This recipe serves four people, by the way, so if you have to feed more than that, just double all the ingredients.

Easy Friday Spaghetti

1 jar marinara sauce

1 T. dried oregano, crushed

1/4 t. dried basil, crushed

1/4 t. dried thyme, crushed

pasta for four, in any shape you find appealing

Optional items:

1 small can sliced mushrooms, undrained OR 1 fresh portobello, washed and diced

1 small onion, diced

1 t. crushed red pepper

Decant marinara sauce into a medium saucepan and add herbs, as well as any other optional items you'd like to include. Heat very gently -- this sauce will splatter your cooktop unmercifully. Cook the pasta with a generous amount of salt and a dab of oil. Serve spaghetti with warm garlic bread or a baguette with olive oil and a little green salad. Very yummy, very easy.

Laetere Sunday

Today was the day of rose-colored vestments, indicating that Lent is halfway over. Two weeks from today is Palm Sunday; three weeks is Easter.

The pink vestments replace the purple ones -- the color of penitence -- because this is the Sunday when the Mass readings turn from their solemn focus on our brokenness and instead give us a sense of joyful hope: the readings are as warm and consoling as a fleece blanket wrapped around the shoulders. The best is yet to come, they say. It won't always be like this.

This is an exciting year for my family, these days leading up to Easter Vigil. This will be our five year anniversary of being received into the Catholic Church, the best five years of my life.

That's why, on this day, we are more joyful than usual.