Friday, May 30, 2008

Tick tock

I have not been able to sleep more than four or five hours per night for the last four nights and my head feels like a boiled onion.

Although, I have to say that Operation Tidykleen (OT) is made much easier when I'm super tired because OT is fueled by the fact that I shout at family members like a drill sergeant: "Pick that up! Put it away! Bury it! Burn it! Mail it to Australia, I don't care! The only thing that belongs on the piano bench is someone's rear end and maybe some piano music. Not socks! Not half a peanut butter sandwich! Not the curling iron or a volleyball!" When I'm tired, I'm already halfway to shouting as soon as I come downstairs in the morning. I'm a fun person, I am! My husband and children are permanently disgruntled and Wimzie tries to hide under the couch every time I walk into the room where she's lounging, but my house is very, very clean.

This morning I woke up at around 2:15 and stupidly let my mind drift to bills that are coming due and school books that we have to buy for the coming year and what if gas prices soar to $8 per gallon and the sun suddenly blows up? Just the kind of thoughts you want to entertain if your goal is to immediately snap wide awake with eyes that look like a bush baby's. Why are those always the kind of thoughts that assail us all in a moment of wakefulness? Why can't people ever wake up in the night and think blissfully, "I'm brilliant, I don't owe Vectren any money, and I have the best hair, like, ever!" Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy???

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sprinting towards the finish line,,,,

I just wanted to make this short post to say that the girls' research papers are finished -- they completed their end notes and bibliography pages today with minimal coaching from me -- and, although we are still reading Kidnapped...






(Maybe if the weather warms up, we can go to the

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Operation Tidykleen

Since Project: Dinner is cooking along so well (pun intended) in spite of the slop we've had to eat over the past week, I decided to add something else to our family roster. I call it Operation Tidykleen.

Operation Tidykleen is very simple. We started on Saturday, when the girls and I spent ninety precious minutes cleaning the downstairs rooms. You'd think they wouldn't be that bad, since we just did our spring cleaning six weeks ago, but guess what? Dirt! Filth! Grime!

I am at war against these things.

So anyway, Operation Tidykleen has continued on in this manner: Three or four times a day, I look around the house and see people's belongings -- schoolbooks, articles of clothing, hair do-dads, shoes and the occasional stuffed dog or MP3 player -- strewn about. I then commence screaming at them like a shrew until they pick everything up, hustle it upstairs, and shove it under a bed or in a closet.

We'll see how this works. Usually, I get tired of screaming at everyone fairly quickly. But strangely enough, Meelyn and Aisling never seem to tire of leaving their crap all over the house so that I can either trip over it, sit on it, or have it fall on my head.

By acting like a heinous witch, I have so far managed to keep a completely uncluttered house for the past four days. It works for me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dotting i's and crossing t's

Meelyn and Aisling are working away really, really hard on their research papers, which, other than finishing Kidnapped, is the VERY LAST THING they have to do for this school year.

We covered a lot of ground this morning and Meelyn has finished her rough draft; as I type, Aisling is sitting at the dining room table beside my desk and is putting together her last paragraph before her conclusion. I am really pleased with the way these research papers have worked out. The Seton Composition for Young Catholics, Grade 8 text/workbook has been one of the best homeschooling books we have ever used. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants their student to be a better writer. Excellent, excellent source.

The girls have learned how to make source cards, note cards, search for internet sources (they already are pretty proficient at Google, so there wasn't a lot to learn here), cite sources, avoid plagiarizing the work of others and eschew the use of the word "I" in a term paper. They have known how to use the library's computerized catalog for a long time.

I love seeing these papers coming together. For an English major, it's kind of like having grandchildren.

We may use these same text/workbooks again next year. Well, Aisling definitely will. Meelyn may need to move onto something else, but then, maybe not. The books are so good and provide such an excellent foundation, I can't see that it would be a bad thing to get it into their heads firmly. Using different topics, of course. I wonder if they'll ask me if Meelyn, whose topic is tornados, can use Aisling's topic (volcanos) next year, and vice versa? Heh.

A very nice Memorial Day

Yesterday was really the nicest day, a really lovely holiday that was full of enjoyment and a mindfulness that we were able to have a pleasant, simple time in our home together because of the men and women who gave their lives to keep our country free.

Aisling made us a delicious breakfast of french toast sticks, maple syrup and spicy sausage. She had the table all set by the time the rest of us yawned our way downstairs, including a sign that read "Welcome to Aisling's Bed and Breakfast." The syrup was in a bowl with a ladle (she couldn't find the pitcher) and the cold milk was in the cute bottle that matches the dishes. I have to say, being served a restaurant-style breakfast while still in my jammies was a very satisfying way to start the day.

We didn't have the money to spend on gas for a trip to the cemeteries we usually visit, so we just passed the day at home. The weather wasn't sunny, but it wasn't stormy, either, and my husband and I spent hours sitting on the front porch reading, both of us engaged in John Grisham novels. My husband was blazing through Grisham's newest book, The Appeal, dragging his eyes from the pages to say things like, "Boy, you are really going to like this book" and "Wow, this is definitely one of Grisham's best." When he finally turned the last page, he shut the book with a sigh and said, "Well...."

"Well?" I inquired, looking up from The Runaway Jury.

He took a contemplative bite of the cookie he had in his hand and said, "It didn't end the way I wanted it to. It ended like real life."

"Grisham is bad for that," I said. "Remember The Firm? And The King of Torts? And what was that other one? Was it The Broker?"

"To be honest, they all kind of run together into good stories with bad endings," my husband admitted. "I think I'll read Prince Caspian next."

I snorted. "Don't expect it to be anything like that dumb movie."

"I know. You told me. Allllll through the movie. All. Through. The. Movie," he said. "We both hated it. You hated it because you said it was nothing like the book and I hated it because you wouldn't stop telling me how much you hated it. Meelyn told me I should read it and come to my own conclusions."

An hour later, chewing on another cookie, my husband looked up in disbelief from the treasured C.S. Lewis tale about the prince from Telmar and the re-awakening of Narnia and said in disbelief, "This book is nothing like the movie!"

"Technically," I said, "the movie is nothing like the book."

"Whatever," he said, chewing.

Rain pattered down gently from time to time. The dogs snoozed happily, awakening every once in a while to bark at the neighbor's cat, which had the nerve to brazenly walk onto its own front porch across the street and sit there licking its paw, if you can imagine that.

Later on in the afternoon, we sat down with the girls and played a game of Clue, which Meelyn won, as usual. I made the first deduction and turned out to be wrong and my husband covered himself with disgrace about ten minutes later by making the exact same guess as I did. His defense was that he hadn't played Clue since he was ten years old, so we gave him a break.

Dinner was our take on the Outback's Alice Springs Chicken: I marinated four chicken breasts in our favorite Italian vinaigrette for about an hour, and while my husband grilled the meat, I sautéed Vidalia onions, green peppers and sliced Portobellos (all now available at ALDI - sweet!) in a pan with butter and a clove of garlic while also stirring seasoned fried potatoes in the iron skillet. Meelyn had made a vanilla cake earlier in the afternoon, so we had slices of that later in the evening after she frosted it with milk chocolate frosting.

We prayed our rosary early and then met again at the tournament arena -- the dining room table -- to play a game of Sorry!, which Aisling won. Her sportsmanship was not the best and she crowed and preened herself until I thought I was going to have to lock her in a cage with a perch and a seedy ball.

One of the things that made the day wonderful was the fact that the television was off for the greater portion of the day. Oh, there was some video game playing and some computer time, but for the most part, we read, played games, ate and talked.

It was such a good day.

Monday, May 26, 2008

RECIPE: Meal-in-One Casserole (reject)

The recipe for Meal-in-One-Casserole comes from the same issue of Quick Cooking (March/April 2000) that Chicken with Mushroom Sauce came from, so perhaps that should have been my first clue. I think Quick Cooking has reinvented itself and now has a new name, although the quick factor is still part of their vision, but I don't know if I could be persuaded to buy a new issue and test their recipes. Every slow-cooker recipe we've tried is a total dog -- and I'm not talking a Westminster show dog with prancy feet and bright eyes and a silky groomed coat; I'm talking, like, the mean, mangy curs that hang out at the junkyard who feed on rusty auto parts and the brains of intruders.

Initially, Meal-in-One sounded like a sure thing. With ingredients such as ground beef, chopped onion and green pepper, salsa, egg noodles and Monterey Jack cheese, how could you go wrong?

Huh. Believe me, you can go very, very wrong. To be honest, my stomach feels a little strange just typing these words as I recall the food that appeared on my plate last night.

This recipe gained no points at all, although the ingredients were all easy to come by.

This recipe lost points because, when it was dished up on our plates? It looked like vomit. Horf, hurl, barf, ralph, the technicolor yawn...whatever term you'd like to use for describing what happens when your digestive system suddenly slams itself into reverse, that's what Meal-in-One Casserole looked like.

I served this meal with very attractive mixed-greens salad the girls concocted, accompanied by a tasty garlic vinaigrette dressing.

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 cab whole kernel corn, drained
1 can mushroom stems and pieces, drained (I omitted this ingredient because mushrooms? With salsa? I think not.)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
5 cups uncooked egg noodles
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup hot water
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheese -- cheddar, colby/Monterrey, etc.

This was easy-peasy to put together. First, you had to brown the ground beef with the onion. After it was cooked through, I put it in the slow-cooker first, adding the chopped green pepper on top. After that, the can of corn went in, followed by the salt and some vigorous grinds of the pepper mill. Salsa was next, topped by the egg noodles, undrained the diced tomatoes, the water and the cheese.

The instructions said to cover the slow-cooker and cook the ingredients on low heat for four hours, or until the noodles were tender. I did this, but some of the noodles never got tender. Some of them stayed a bit crispy, which is not a pleasant texture.

Dished up, this meal was the most awful-looking thing I've ever seen. Truly. It was horrible. The taste was extremely bland, in spite of the fact that I used a medium-heat salsa and set some jalapeno peppers out on the table. Nothing could counteract the blandness.

Mostly, we all just pushed it aside and ate our salads.

Aisling and I entertained ourselves later by scooping the leftovers into the kitchen sink with a spoon and making throwy-uppy noises when it splattered into the sink. Meelyn found this vastly amusing, and screamed with laughter. It sounded very realistic. And looked realistic, too.

So it might not have looked or tasted good, but maybe I should give it a few points for the entertainment value.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

RECIPE: Chicken with Mushroom Sauce (reject)

So far, Project: Dinner has not met with much success. Or maybe it has, because every slow-cooker recipe I've made so far has sucked. Get it? Suck-cess? Sucked? Hahaha hahahaha....


Anyway, this recipe came from the March/April 2000 issue of Quick Cooking magazine and was so bad, I was tempted to write a strongly worded letter to the editors, castigating them soundly for allowing this hot mess out of their test kitchens and onto the pages of their magazine, where innocent, hungry people like me and my family might decide to make it, eat it, and then sit around uneasily for the remainder of the evening, trying not to bring it right back up again.

It gained points because it was easy.

But immediately lost them plus some because it all just didn't taste good.

I served Chicken and Mushroom Sauce with whole wheat couscous and peas, both of which were good and ended up being the majority of our (starchy) meal.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 T butter, melted
2 T dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup white white or chicken broth
2 T cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

This was very easy. I put the thawed chicken breast in the slow-cooker, brushed it with the melted butter and then sprinkled it with the parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper. The sliced mushrooms went over that; I added the half-cup of white wine from the bottle of Oliver's soft white I keep in the fridge (Oliver's Winery is in Bloomington, Indiana and it is a super-fun place to stop for a little smackerel of vino: I like to support the home team.) After that, all that was left to do was cook it for five or six hours.

When we walked in the door, I started the frozen peas in the microwave with a little butter, sea salt and a couple of tablespoons of water; I had the water, olive oil and salt already in a little saucepan to start heating to a boil for the couscous. While the peas and the couscous did their thang, I removed the liquid from the slow-cooker and made the sauce with the cornstarch and water.

This meal actually looked very nice, in my opinion. The chicken breast presented itself well with the herbs sprinkled on top, plus there was that nice little wine sauce to drizzle across it and onto the couscous, which, being the whole wheat variety, was a darker brown than the chicken. The peas were a nice bright green and sparkled like little emerals on the plate. I would have liked to see a nice piece of bread (from the bread machine, natch) or a dinner roll on the side, but it never entered my head.

The taste, however, was something yet again. We eat roast beef in wine sauce fairly frequently during the cold months and that gets yum-yummed right down in a jiffy. I can't imagine what would be so different about the wine sauce served with this chicken. I don't think it was the wine's fault, because I poured myself a little glass while I was stirring the couscous and peas together and it tasted fine. I've had other chicken dishes in wine sauce and they didn't make me want to gag. So I'm just not sure where this went wrong.

I just know that NO ONE that sat around the table that night will ever willingly eat it again.

Positive thoughts

As it turns out, all of us are hideously upset at the idea of not playing volleyball this fall. Meelyn hasn't said much, but I know her. Aisling surprised us by saying that she sat on the bench too much last year anyway, so maybe she wouldn't miss it much after all. I finally told my husband that I felt like a truck was running over my head every time I thought of no volleyball, and he admitted he felt the same way.

So for now, we have decided to think positively. The fees are supposed to be lower this year (last year they were $150 per girl -- ouch!) because we don't have to pay rent for the lovely practice facility. The facility is a church gym and the varsity coach is the assistant pastor, so voilà! Free practice! It is very true that we have no car, and how I'll be able to ferry the girls to practice in Delaware county while my husband is waiting for a ride home in Hancock county is something that I am not yet able to wrap my mind around. Hopefully, we'll be able to car pool to away games with other team members and share the gas costs.

So. Positive thoughts. Poh-zih-tiiiiiv. Volleyball. Volleyball. Volleyball.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't tell me 'cause it hurts

We've had a major family pow-wow around here and come to a big decision that has made me cry.

Because of our one-car status (with no hope in the near future of getting another one) and because of gas prices and traveling to practice -- which is in another county, about half an hour away from our house, but the facility is free and gorgeous and has all new, top-of-the-line volleyball equipment -- as well as to away games that include locations like Lafayette, South Bend and Ft. Wayne, Meelyn and Aisling are not going to be able to play volleyball this year. This would have been Meelyn's first year playing varsity.

The Indiana Honors Diploma

I found this information online and thought it would come in handy to post it here, not only for my own reference, but also for a few of my friends who are also getting ready to begin their first year of high school at home with their teenagers. As Aladdin said to Jasmine, it's a whole new world: The more we know about it, the better.

Naturally, Meelyn and Aisling won't be receiving diplomas through the Indiana Department of Education; they'll be receiving their diplomas through our homeschool, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School (there are places online where homeschoolers can order gorgeously printed diplomas with leather covers in your choice of colors. Snaaaaaazzeh!!!) But still, the information will come in handy, I'm sure. As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity (maybe even the duty?) to strive for excellence, and what could be more excellent than earning 48 credits or even more, to know that one has exceeded the average standards? Which, let's face it, are usually pitifully low where public school education is concerned. I know this. I've been there.

Academic Honors Diploma

The Indiana Department of Education offers the Academic Honors Diploma. Students must adhere to the following guidelines to qualify for this special diploma.

General Guidelines:

  • Students must have 48 credits.

  • No semester grade lower than a C- may count toward the diploma. A student must have a grade point average of B or better.

  • Student must be enrolled in the highest level of the class. (Example--academic English or Honors.)

  • If a student meets the requirements of the academic honors diploma, the School Corporation shall make note of it on the student's transcript.

Credits must be earned as follows:

ENGLISH - 8 credits to include course work in literature, composition and speech. These are not to be separate courses, but integrated into existing English classes.

SOCIAL STUDIES - 6 credits to include U.S. history and Government and at least one course in Economics and at least one course with a major emphasis on Geography and or World History.
MATHEMATICS - 8 credits to include Algebra II and at least one upper level math course (Advanced Math or Calculus). If a student is awarded credit for Algebra I course-work completed in junior high school, that student needs to complete only 6 credits.

SCIENCE -6 credits to include 2 credits in Biology, plus 2 credits in either Chemistry or Physics, plus 2 credits in Biology, Physics, or Chemistry.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 6 credits in one language or 4 credits in one language and 4 credits in another language.

FINE ARTS - 2 credits in Art, Music, and other art areas, which encompass visual, aural, performing and creative modes of student learning.

HEALTH & SAFETY - 1 credit.


ELECTIVES - 7 to 13 credits depending on foreign language option selected and the amount of high school credit awarded for junior high school course work.

Explanation of Credits
Students earn 1 credit per semester in all classes except basic physical education and driver's education.
Students may earn 1/2 credit for a semester of basic physical education.
Students will not receive credit for driver's education.

Class Level Classification
For the official records, student class placement will be determined in the following manner:

Freshman = Less than 11 credits
Sophomore = 12 credits to fewer than 23 credits
Junior = 24 credits to fewer than 35 credits
Senior = 36 credits to 48 credits

One year anniversary

As of yesterday, May 23, 2008, my family has prayed the rosary every evening for one year. That's an accomplishment I wasn't sure if we'd be able to stick with when we first started out, to be honest. We have good intentions -- one might even say fantastic, honest, enthusiastic intentions -- but while the spirit is willing, the flesh is often weak, as a wise man once said.

The rosary has been one of the most important Catholic prayers (the Mass being the most important prayer, accompanied by the Divine Office and the Stations of the Cross) for around eight hundred years. Many non-Catholics -- and I used to be one of them -- associate the rosary with the meaningless, babbled prayers of the heathens that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7*, as well as with the "worship" of Mary. As my family has grown in the understanding of what the rosary actually is over the past six years, our understanding of this devotion has changed and we've taken it on as a habit we want to continue for the next year and beyond.

As a Protestant, I understood that the Our Father was a prayer straight from holy scripture, which of course makes it a worthy prayer for any Christian to pray. But I was stumped by the Hail Mary. I couldn't see any sense in it, any reason. I was so firmly convinced that Mary was totally unnecessary to the life of a Christian person that I actually prayed that God wouldn't hold my ignorance against me the first time I prayed those simple words. That makes me laugh, now, but at the time, woooo! I was afraid I'd be struck down dead like Ananias and Sapphira or wind up out in a field eating grass like Nebuchadnezzar or something.

As it turned out, of course, neither thing happened. Not only because Catholics don't worship Mary, but also because the words of the Hail Mary are taken from scripture as well; they're the words of greeting used by the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation and those of Elizabeth when she first laid eyes on her young relative at the Visitation. Which are both two of the rosary's twenty mysteries that center on the life of Christ and who we are in Him.

The rhythm of the rosary is one conducive to prayer, we've found. The repeating of the ten Hail Marys for each decade helps us to corral and focus our meditations, rather than just being meaningless babble. And there's something about reminding ourselves many times per daily recitation that we will be forgiven our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us that keeps us mindful of one of our foremost duties to God and our fellow man. Meelyn does the introductory prayers and the first, third and fifth mysteries; Aisling leads the second and fourth mysteries. As a family, we've chosen to add the St. Michael prayer and the Memorare after the tradition Hail, Holy Queen to end it off nicely.

We keep a book of prayer intentions, so if you would like us to include you and your intentions in our daily prayers, email me by clicking the link on the middle right hand side of the main page.

*"In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them." --Matthew 6:7

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RECIPE: Savory Cheese Soup (reject)

This recipe hails from the June 2000 issue of Quick Cooking magazine. I have categorized it as a reject.

It scored points because of the number of fresh ingredients it included; also for the fact that all of the ingredients were easily available at ALDI, which is where I do most of our shopping.

It lost points because of the high calorie/fat content. And also that it didn't taste all that great.

My husband, Meelyn and Aisling all said they liked it, but that it needed something, namely potatoes. Which would turn it into a savory potato soup. But I already have a tried-and-true potato soup recipe that doesn't have nearly the fat and calorie content of this one, so adieu, savory soup.

I served this soup with garlic bread and a green salad.

3 cans of chicken broth (or six cups of chicken stock)
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, chopped
2 T butter
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cold water
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 12-oz can od beer

Optional toppings: croutons, bacon bits, chopped green onion

To make this soup, all you had to do was put the first eight ingredients in the slow-cooker and cook them for 7-8 hours, which seemed pretty excessive for broth, celery, onion, carrot and red pepper. After eight hours, you were to stir together the flour and water into a smooth paste and then add it to the ingredients in the slow cooker, replacing the lid and cooking until the soup thickened, which it never did. Half an hour before serving, you were to add the softened cream cheese and the shredded cheddar so that they could melt. The shredded cheddar did; the cream cheese didn't, leaving what looked like little curdled lumps in the bowls. It was not an appetizing presentation.

The resulting soup tasted just....all right. It wasn't the kind of soup that made you think that spooning dirty water out of a mud puddle would taste better, but it wasn't the kind of soup that made you think soup-ish thoughts: in my mind, a good soup is hearty, comforting and rich on the tongue, whether it's a clear soup or a cream soup. This soup didn't really do any of that, and you'd think it would, with all that cream cheese in it, wouldn't you?

The lack of heartiness is undoubtedly what inspired my husband and the girls to say it needed potatoes. I personally felt the lack of meat and wondered aloud if the addition of smoked sausage would make it better, but decided that it would only add more calories and fat; the sausage would be good, but it wouldn't be good enough to make that compensation.


My husband's new job is going along rather well; he likes it and he's making some money, which seems very positive. I think it's about as good as it can get when you have only one car and are doing a twice-daily shuttle service, but as it turns out, we have all enjoyed those times in the car. Wimzie comes with me in the mornings and Meelyn and Aisling come with me in the evenings, and it's actually very pleasant.
The only fly in the ointment is the fact that his hours are just really kind of bad. I thought he was working all the hours God sent in his old job, but the new job has proved that false. He works three days a week from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., which makes for a really long day, for him and for us. The part that's been so difficult has been how to have a family dinner.

Since we go to pick him up, the four of us generally aren't sitting down at the dining room table until 8:45 p.m., which is too darned late if you're a glass-half-empty sort of person, or intriguingly European, if you're the other kind. I think I'm somewhere in the middle.
Finding good dinners that can be served as soon as we walk in the door has been a challenge. I definitely overworked the Mexican chili and the tacos: I will vomit everything I have eaten since birth if I have to eat another bowlful of Mexican chili anytime soon. Ditto tacos. I have a homemade chicken pot pie that can be baked in the oven for the hour that it takes to go get my husband and drive back home, but the one time I had that baking in the oven, I was a bucketful of nerves, wondering if he was going to get stuck dealing with a late-arriving customer while our house filled with smoke, courtesy of the chicken pot pie.

As recourse, I have turned to my slow-cooker. Meelyn, Aisling and I browsed through some cooking magazines I've saved over the past six years or so for Crock-Pot recipes that sounded good -- Quick Cooking magazine, to be exact. I know that the idea of this magazine, which is based on the premise that you can use convenience foods like frozen tater tots and canned cream of mushroom soup is one that makes Kayte and Susie want to fall prostrate on the floor, but all I can say is that I haven't had a copy since my subscription ran out about four years ago. Mea culpa.
My criteria for slow-cooker recipes was that they needed to be prepared with as many inexpensive ingredients (read: "available at ALDI") as possible; hopefully including some fresh vegetables; and something that the whole family would eat without balking. Luckily, none of us are picky eaters, so that last item didn't seem like it would be too difficult to accomplish, until last night's dinner was served, that is.
Here are the recipes we picked out, which, strangely enough, came from only three issues of Quick Cooking:

1. Savory Cheese Soup - June 2000 (Meelyn)
2. Pork Chops and Baked Beans - June 2000 (me)
3. Turkey with Mushroom Sauce - March/April 2000 (Aisling) [we're substituting chicken]
4. Tender Barbecued Chicken - March/April 2000 (me)
5. Meal-in-One Casserole - March/April 2000 (me)
6. Creamy Chicken Fettucine - January/February 2001 (Meelyn)
7. Casserole in the Cooker - January/February 2001 (me)

I thought I might post each recipe here at InsomniMom with a review of how well it cooked, how it tasted, etc.
One nice thing that's come of these later hours is that we're not copping out and eating dinner on trays in front of the television much at all anymore. I know, I know. We're barbarians. Picts, Angles, Saxons, Visigoths, even. We're sitting at the table with my lovely, rugged patchouli candle -- lighted -- in a bed of potpourri in my great-grandmother's burl bowl as a centerpiece, classical music playing gently in the background.

Because we've lost so many spoons in the garbage disposal (the little buggers are short and once they slip down in there, it is all over in the hideous, grinding shriek of metal on metal), we're always a spoon or two too few, so my husband suggested that we get out the silver flatware my grandparents gave us as a wedding gift and use it. Initially, I was unsure about this. It can't be washed in the dishwasher, which makes it a bit of a pain, and I'm concerned about losing a silver spoon down in the depths of the disposal. Somehow, that isn't as alarming when you're talking about a piece of stainless steel Oneida purchased at Target. But he and the girls won out, and I have to say that it is a great pleasure to use that flatware. It makes me think of my grandmother, who passed away when I was expecting Aisling, and I have such happy memories of her.

Pain and peril at the pump

Today, gas was marked up to $3.99 a gallon in my city -- I just love the way the gas station owners are using that super-clever marketing trick of making us all feel that we're merely spending three bucks and a little bit of change to put some fuel in the ol' minivan.

My husband called and told me that a certain station in the city still had gas priced at $3.68 per gallon. He asked me to "do him a favor," which is a phrase that never fails to fill me with fear and loathing, because his "favors" are never easy little things like sprinkling some extra croutons on his salad at dinner. No, they're always big, hard, exasperating things that make me want to bang my head on the desk. The favor he wanted me to do today involved my getting $50 out of our checking account and going to this gas station (not the one pictured above) and filling the tank. I agreed, knowing that there was going to be nothing short of severe mental and emotional toil ahead of me, and boy, was I ever right.

The line at the gas station was backed up for about four blocks. It was backed up so far that when I came over the hill on the bridge, I would have rear-ended the last car in the line if I weren't such a careful and competent driver. I groaned aloud and called him; his opinion was that the girls and I should wait and get the gas. "I would," he said, with the subtle inference that I'm not a team player and have no sense of thrift; the type of person who would buy a pair of shoes she really liked for full retail when there was an ugly pair sitting right next to them that were marked down 60%. He knows me so well.

My opinion was that I had accidentally left both my library book and Kidnapped sitting at home on the dining room table; I had nothing to read and was therefore restive and a little huffy after only fifteen minutes of waiting. He called back to make sure I was still there; I told him I was, but that I was very unhappy about it. He encouraged me to stick it out and the girls nagged me about the money we'd be saving until I wanted to smack them both.

Finally, I found a piece of paper and a pen and did a few calculations. I may not be able to do much math, but I can do some. I figured, with my $50, that I would be able to save approximately $4.71 for sitting in that long line that was moving with all the energy and enthusiasm of a glacier. That did it for me; I peeled out of that line and headed off to do my other six or seven errands, feeling sixpence none the richer, but with a much improved outlook on life.

The girls carried on with the badgering until I told them shortly that $4.71 doesn't even buy all three of us an iced coffee from friggin' McDonald's and that the first person who said "a penny saved is a penny earned" was going to get out of the van and walk home. So they shut up.

I am really hacked off about these gas prices. If I had my way, I'd be drilling in ANWR so fast, the antlers would be spinning around on the heads of the caribou.

Waving the checkered flag

Our seventh year of homeschooling -- the best yet (I said that last year on this blog, too) -- is winding down. The girls and I are just about ready to cross the finish line.

Meelyn and Aisling have finished all their books. The only things we've left to do are their research papers, which they are writing now, and the reading of Kidnapped for the afterARCHES Book Discussion Group. The girls have their thesis statements, outlines and source cards done; they are currently going through their library books and internet sites and gathering information to use in the actual writing of their papers which commenced today with the first draft of their opening paragraphs.

We're halfway through Kidnapped and are all three glad that it is more entertaining that Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. My group co-sponsor, Jane, liked Nat Bowditch, and my friend Cam, who sat in on the last meeting of the Book Discussion Group, really liked Nat Bowditch, but I disliked him from about Chapter 3 onwards and was reluctant to give up my annoyance at his insistence that mathematics solves all the world's problems even when the book concluded with a relatively happy ending.

Achievement tests are still to be done, but we've run into a slight snafu in the ordering of the tests: My husband went online to the government website where citizens can find out when their tax stimulus checks will be directly deposited into their bank accounts and assured me that our large sum of money would be delivered last Friday. Well, Friday came and went and I was chewing on my fingernails: we have a lot of stuff coming up that puts us in need of that money. One night, I was wide awake worrying about where our stimulus check could be and I padded quietly downstairs to visit this website and found out that my husband didn't read the paragraph directly beneath the chart that outlined when our check would arrive according to the last four digits of his social security number.

The paragraph beneath the chart stated that if you have had the tax preparer's fees automatically deducted from your income tax return, you would not be getting a direct deposit; you would be receiving a paper check in the mail. So we have gone from yearning for that money that we knew would be available within a few days to yearning for money that we won't have until somewhere around the second week of July. I'm so happy, happy, happeeeeeeeee!!!!


Anyhoo, it looks as if the girls will be doing their achievement testing in late July, which will probably make them say %$#&. Only if they say it, I can ground them. Which I will.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No wonder I love him

Last night was Moms' Night Out and it started off in a lovely way with Katie coming to pick me up at the dealership and me talking her head off as she drove us to the restaurant. I mean, I hadn't seen her in, like, two days, so I think it was understandable. It was understandable, wasn't it, Katie?


Well, we got to the restaurant and the first thing that happened was that Katie ordered a gallon-sized bucket of frozen strawberry margarita, so maybe I really did talk too much and felt the need to anesthetize herself from further burbling chatter from my yappy mouth.


The second thing that happened was that I ante-d up and ordered a giant-sized margarita of my own -- regular, on the rocks, no salt, because the salt they use at this particular restaurant is colored green and looks like the bartender smeared pond algae all along the rim of the glass -- which unfortunately made me talk even more. Katie showed polite signs of manic relief when Michelle walked in shortly thereafter; it would have hurt my feelings if she'd leaped from her chair, thrown her arms around Michelle's neck and cried, "THANK HEAVEN YOU'RE HERE."

Virginia came, but had to leave to pick up Isaac at choir rehearsal j-u-s-t as her dinner arrived. Thank goodness the restaurant is one that does a curbside carryout service; they have plastic flatware available. So, much to our disappointment, Virginia left carrying her dinner where she presumably ate it in a parking lot while waiting for her tuneful offspring to emerge from the building. That was the only down side of the evening.

Kayte came in just a little bit before Virginia had to leave and she had another one of her blog contests going on: The person who could tell her what today's blog post was about would win the cookie she'd made and brought along with her in a baggie. I, having partially exhausted my powers of speech, yelled out the answer right behind Katie, who was well-rested from listening to me rattle on and on, so she said, "Tomorrow is recipe day!" So she won the madeleine and cut it into pieces while I sulked.

Julie and Jerri bounced in late from a used curriculum sale they'd been to on the west side of the city; they were very delighted with their purchases and I was a bit jealous, frankly. Jerri snagged a completely unused Analytical Grammar student workbook for $30, and I think they're close to twice that much new. But I was carrying my Louis Vuitton handbag and set it on the table and told the story behind it (which poor Katie had already heard) and allowed me to go on and on about it. We all agreed that it is a very cute bag, but there's no way in you-know-where we'd ever spend that much money on it...and a couple of my friends there at the table could afford to.

(I'm seriously thinking of selling it on e-Bay. I have found that you have to be perilously careful when you're carrying a $600 handbag. Yesterday, I was thinking that if I had the choice of spilling my iced cappuccino on Meelyn and Aisling or on my Louis Vuitton handbag, I would choose Meelyn and Aisling in a heartbeat. They'll wash up nicely with no damage and they aren't lined with rich, buttery suede.)

Anyway, the best part of the evening occurred at about 9:12, when my husband and the girls were coming to the restaurant to pick me up. (They went to the dealership to stay until he got off work, then they went to Noble Roman's and had a slice of pizza and some breadsticks.) My husband was supposed to call me and tell me when they were out front waiting, so I was sitting there with my phone on the table, waiting, my back to the door. Thus positioned, I was unable to see him come in and approach the table, bearing one gorgeous, long-stemmed red rose, which he reached over my shoulder and laid on the table in front of me.

Strangely enough, I'd just been telling the gang that I thought I loved him as much as it was possible to love another human being on the day we got married, which is about three weeks shy of seventeen years. But as time has passed, I've found, as many couples do, that what you have with your spouse on your wedding day is a small, pale thing compared to what you have as time goes by.

So thank you very much, honey. That was a very lovely and romantic early anniversary gift!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Requiem for Pigeon and Possum

I feel so badly about stealing the life of the greedy, french-fry gobbling pigeon on Friday afternoon, that I have decided to post the lyrics to "Happy Working Song" from the faaaabulous movie, Enchanted.* Also for the possum whose life was cut short in 1988.

"All right everyone, time to tidy things up!

Come my little friends
As we all sing a happy little working song
Merry little voices clear and strong
Come and roll your sleeves up
So that we can pitch in
Cleaning crud up in the kitchen

As we sing along
And you’ll trill a cheery tune in the tub
As we scrub a stubborn mildew stain
Lug a hairball from the shower drain
To the gay refrain
Of a happy working song

We’ll keep singing without fail
Otherwise we’d spoil it
Hosing down the garbage pail
And scrubbing up the toilet

How we all enjoy letting loose with a little
While we’re emptying the vacu-um
It’s such fun to hum
A happy working song
Oo-ooh, a happy working song

You could do a lot when you got
Such a happy little tune to hum
While you’re sponging up the soapy scum
We adore each filthy chore
That we determine
So friends even though you’re vermin
We’re a happy working song

Singing as we fetch the detergent box
Or the smelly shirts and the stinky socks
Sing alongIf you cannot sing then hum along
As we’re finishing our happy working song!

Ah...wasn’t this fun?"

*Kayte, have you seen this movie? Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey are just too cute to be imagined in this twist on the Cinderella story. The girls and I screamed with laughter through the whole thing, especially when Gisele tries to get the divorcing couple to reconcile.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Death by french fry

Yesterday, when I had those several lovely hours to myself, I found and bought the Louis Vuitton handbag, as you may have read (if not, scroll down, because, like, WHOA!!!) and after spending an hour and a half in the charity shop, I was pretty thirsty. So I went to a nearby McDonald's drive-thru and bought a medium Diet Coke and an oatmeal raisin cookie with the intention of spending my last forty minutes sitting in the parking lot of Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and reading my library book while enjoying my snack. It was a perfectly lovely spring day; too nice to go into any little bistro-type place, much less a McDonald's. So fortified by this happy plan, I drove out of the McD's parking lot.

Just outside the parking lot was a stop light. Some previous McDonald's customer -- a car picnicker, perhaps -- had thrown some food out of his or her vehicle, maybe some french fries. Anyway, there were two pigeons there at the stop light, right in my lane, pecking away at the food on the road.

The stop light turned green. I was rolling forward. The pigeons were not moving. The pigeons were not moving. THE PIGEONS WERE NOT MOVING!!! They were just standing there in the road, greedily gobbling french fries and not paying the least bit of attention to the fact that Death, disguised in two tons of applesauce-colored steel and fiberglass, was bearing down upon them. All of a sudden, one lazily took flight, leaving his comrade there to get truly and soundly squished by Applesauce Anne's right front tire. Eeeewwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!! I didn't dare look in my rearview mirror.

I don't like squishing things with my car. The last time I ran over something was, I believe, 1988. I ran over a possum that darted across the road and I cried for the next twenty minutes, over a dirty, nasty possum. I was only 25 and still full of Cinderella-type ideas about happy woodland creatures helping my hang out the dwarves' washing on a line spun by a spider between two birch trees. This time, at a more cynical and forest-weary forty-something, I merely shuddered and winced and said, "Dude. I am really sorry about that" as I drove on to the church, where I bowed my head and said a prayer to Jesus, Who sees even the little sparrows (and presumably pigeons) fall.

Her presence, with presents!

Last Tuesday was our monthly Pizza Hut Book-It luncheon. We got there a few moments before Pizza Hut opened to find Kayte already there in the parking lot, sitting in Blue Bernice and busily engaged in deleting unwanted photographs off her digital camera. I have to say, I was shocked that she wasn't knitting, with Bernice's interior getting more and more stuffed with wool, kind of like that sheep in Through the Looking Glass.

Meelyn, Aisling and I went on ahead to carry a stack of board games and prizes into the restaurant, but as I was walking in, I heard Kayte call, "I'm coming!" and I turned back to see her climbing out of Blue Bernice with a fouffy-looking gift bag.

When we got inside, she gave it to Meelyn, saying, "These are your prizes! See how I wrapped them in matching paper with ribbons and tags?" It really looked nice -- one of those kind of gifts that is almost too pretty to open. Almost. We opened our little packages to find the knitted dishcloths we won at Grandma's Kitchen Table during her Great Dishcloth Giveaway a couple of weeks ago. They were very nice and are, in fact, my favorite type of dishcloth because they actually absorb water so that you can wipe down a counter. (There's that other type of weird dishcloth you can buy in numerous places, made out of a waffle-type weave, and those things are the worst. They seem to actually repel water, which is not a favorable characteristic in a dishcloth. If you've ever bought one, you know what I'm talking about. There are also tea towels in that same troublesome fabric that do nothing towards drying the wooden surface of the kitchen table or your grandmother's wine glasses. I've never figured out why those things are even sold.)

I was vastly pleased with my dishcloth, which was worked in the very same buttery yellow color I'd requested. Meelyn's, I believe, was bright yellow, and Aisling's was a washcloth of many colors, being worked in a multi-colored blue, red, green and yellow in jewel tones.

But there was more! "There's something else for you in the bag, Shelley," Kayte said mysteriously, so I reached in and pulled out the most darling market bag I've ever seen, just like the one she took a picture of over at GKT. I was completely delighted and wanted to go out right away to the nearest boulangerie and buy several baguettes so that they could stick adorably out of the top, perhaps accompanied by a shiny fashion magazine and a florist-wrapped bouquet of Gerbera daisies. (The Concorde is pretty fast, but it only takes me moments to go to Paris in my head.)

Kayte revealed that she had a private contest going on in her head, which was that she would make a market bag for anyone who posted on her site and admired the one in the photo. Her sister Karen and I were the only ones who squealed over their cuteness, so let this be a lesson to the rest of you: from now on, when Kayte posts a picture, tell her how cute it is. You may wind up with a pear tree in full flower, a fruit salad, or maybe even Matt and Alex emptying your wastebaskets and not rinsing out your milk bottles!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The beginning of the world as I'd like to see it

Something happened to me today that never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ev....sorry, I'm a little wound up. Never ever happens to me. But it did.

Today, Meelyn and Aising went to an ARCHES yearbook staff meeting, so after I dropped them off, I had three whole hours to myself in Carmel. And although there are many fascinating places to go in Carmel, if I have at least ninety minutes to myself, I always go to a certain charity shop where some amazing bargains can be found on barely worn clothing, often designer brands that I wouldn't even pretend to be able to buy otherwise.

I love that store and we buy lots of clothes there. My kids, in their Hilfiger jeans and GAP tops and Talbots sweaters? All secondhand from this shop. But the thing that draws me like a moth to a flame is the Locked Cabinet.

The Locked Cabinet is stuffed with expensive handbags, wallets, jewelry and other stuff that is costly enough that the clerks would like to keep a close eye on it, mostly because everything there is small enough to be stuffed under your coat and walked right out of the store, with no one the wiser. I always check out the Locked Cabinet, mostly out of curiosity, but today, my eyes went out on stalks like a cartoon character's.

I saw this Louis Vuitton handbag in the Locked Cabinet, complete with the engraved LV padlock and wee little key and the glam tag embossed with "Louis Vuitton, Paris" on it.

The price? Nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents, my friends. I had that cash whipped out of my plain black leather shoulder bag so fast, the clerk's hair almost caught on fire.

"I just sold a Prada bag for $24.99 about ten minutes ago," he said conversationally as he handed back my change. My fingers went numb. Could you imagine finding a Louis Vuitton and a Prada on the same day?

I brought the bag home, trying to resist saying, "My preciouuussssssssss" and stroking it with a loving hand. The internet was a gold mine of information: My new bag, which has no signs of use whatsoever, is a Speedy 30 Monogram Tote Bag (dumb name, isn't it?) and purses identical to it are currently being briskly bid upon on eBay for several hundred dollars apiece, with multiple bidders and reserve prices. The original retail price was apparently $605.00.

I am fuhhhhhreaaaaaaaked out. Really, I am. I can't decide if I should carry it (turned out in my Mom Clothes, which is to say sport pants, henley neck sport tops and casual Sketchers sneakers)nonchalantly hanging on my arm, or whether I should sell it on eBay and make a few hundred dollars off my $20 investment, or whether I should reverently stuff it with tissue and put it in a box and let it gently age until it is a true vintage bag instead of one dating about six seasons back or so.

My husband opines that such a bag doesn't really fit into my lifestyle, what with the aforementioned wardrobe and the van with the chipped paint on its nose. The girls murmured appreciatively at the idea of my keeping it, since they have been to Macy's and Jacobsens and marveled at how some people will actually spend $700 on a purse. I think I just want to look at it for a few days while I make up my mind -- praying all the while that I don't spill a Diet Coke on it -- and think about how something that never, ever, ever, ever happens to me actually did.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The end of the world as we know it

Today we went to the local driving school and signed Meelyn up for a summer class in July, two hours a day on Monday through Friday for three weeks. I felt a strange mixture of triumph and tearfulness as I wrote the check. On the one hand, look at Meelyn, so beautiful and good and wonderful (I am biased) and isn't it a truly fantastic thing that she has reached this new, important milestone? But on the other hand, wasn't it just yesterday that I was carefully buckling her pumpkin seat into the back of the station wagon we used to drive and making sure that I covered her tiny face with a light shawl if the air seemed too chilly for her tender skin?

The lady behind the desk at the driving school made Mee sign a contract stating that she promised to study hard, be attentive in class and careful on the road, and be respectful to the teachers. It made me kind of wonder what sort of trouble they'd run into before that they feel they need a contract for good behavior from teenagers who are there to learn to drive. What better motivator could there be for a young person to keep a civil tongue in his head? But then I remembered that I used to have students going through my English classes who had to be there in order to complete their requirements for a high school diploma and that never stopped some of them from being vomitous little toerags. Vive le homeschooling!

I filled out all the paperwork and got a surge of happiness again when I was able to write "Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic High School" in the blank where I was asked to write what high school my student attended. I have just realized that this marks a huge milestone for our entire family -- Meelyn has completed grades 2-5 in elementary school and grades 6-8 at home (Holy Family Homeschool) and is moving on to her last four years with Aisling doggedly chugging on behind her. It's really very exciting.

The receptionist told us that they'd mail us a certain piece of paper three weeks before the class starts so that we can go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and get Meelyn's learner's permit, which is very exciting. That date coincides with the time that my husband and I will have to pay the remaining balance due for the driving lessons, which isn't nearly so charming. Ms. Receptionist was pleased to hear of Meelyn's driving practice in empty church parking lots and urged us to keep that up, as it would be very helpful. Meelyn lit up in excitement -- I believe we may be spending a lot of time searching for various parking lots around town.

Monday, May 12, 2008

RECIPE: Seasoned Taco Beef

Quick, I have to type this up before I forget it.

I've been trying to make seasoned taco meat that will be a departure from the chili-powder heavy seasoning packets offered by Ortega, McCormack's, Old El Paso and the like. I'm looking for flavoring that is fresher and livelier, and I think I may have it.

This is pretty spicy, so if you try it and you're not as loco about pepper-hot food as we are, omit the jalapeno pepper juice and cut the sliced peppers down by half.


1 pound ground beef

6 green onions, diced

1 clove garlic, diced

approx. 20 jalapeno pepper slices

1/8 cup jalapeno pepper juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin


Put the ground beef in a skillet with the garlic, jalapeno peppers, jalapeno pepper juice and green onions until the onions are soft. Add the salt, pepper and cumin; continue cooking the meat until no pink remains. Use the meat to fill tacos, burritos, quesadillas or in Mexican chili.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Patchouli love

Back when I was making lots and lots of soap, one of my favorite soaps to make was a lavender/patchouli scent blend that practically made me weak in the knees.

There's just something about the scent of patchouli. I can't really say that it smells good. Because you know what smells good? Cinnamon rolls. Coffee. Nutmeg. Vanilla. All those things smell very good, but patchouli smells like none of them.

The smell of patchouli is a balm to my sense more because of what the fragrance evokes, rather than the actual scent. Patchouli, as seen above, is an herb. I suppose some people can actually grow it, but since I have a canny knack of killing God's flora, I just. Stay. Away. I get my patchouli fixes from fragrance oils and linen sprays and the like, rather than from the dried leaves of the actual plant. I am a murderess when it comes to green and growing things. ANYWAY -- I am coming to the point, so please wake back up -- patchouli is an herb that actually smells like dirt.

Dirt. Yep, dirt.

But it isn't just plain old dirt, the kind your family tracks in on the carpets and grinds into the fabric of their clothes. Patchouli smells like the dirt in a beautiful forest on a day when there is a light rain falling. Not a chilly rain or the kind of warmish rain that presages tornadoes; no, just a light, cool rain. The rain falls on the green, living leaves above and the dead, damp leaves underfoot and it smells, all at the same time, clean and musty and woodsy and airy and earthy.

It is, as I said, very evocative. Pungent, yet elusive. Fresh, yet fusty. And the reason I know this is because I am sitting here at the computer gustily inhaling the scent from my new patchouli candle and potpourri I got for Mother's Day from my family.

What a lovely day it's been, with the three of them. And patchouli.

A Sweet Mother's Love

A Mother's love is truly priceless;
Worth more than diamonds, silver, or gold.
We recognize her sacrifices
As, through the years, our lives unfold.

She taught us all about God's word.
With unending faith, her voice was heard.
Her patient heart came from above,
For us to cherish 'Sweet Mother's love'.

Mothers don't judge you, even if you're wrong.
Their love is steadfast, loyal, and strong.
She sows good seed, from up above,
Then cultivates them with her love.

A Mother's love is rare, indeed.
She takes care of my every need.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
I Love You!
And Happy Mother's Day
To all Mothers, everywhere.

Unkown Author

From Aisling

Happy Mothers Day to Mommy Darling!

(Reading this post obligates you to see any bad spelling)!

First, I want to thank all of the mothers for being such wonderful mothers and role models. My mother and Father are the focus from now forward in this post. I am going to tell you our family story, beginig in the month of November of last year.

It all started when Dad, who is a car salesman, wasn't selling any cars. Dad was also having trouble with his boss. As I'm sure all of the people reading this know that being on commission and having a single parent work is rough. My parents remained through every trial from having no money, and all the way to having 3 of either our cars or borrowed cars brake down in a 3 week period. My parents through the money troubles could have dropped me and my sister off at the nearest middle school, and let Mom go get a job to bring in more money, but instead of following their ways they continued to walk the ruff path of Christian. At this point, Let us think positive!

Through all of our bad luck we have had continued graces such as getting money to help us out with bills, we have been lent a computer and 3 cars along with all of our friends getting together and giving us rides their and back from home school activities. So in the midst of all of our awful luck we have grown in Faith with God and Love in our family. We know we have God and friends watching over us. So thank you Mom and Dad for continually remaining sane through these bad times. Isn't it funny to think that we don't appreciate family to the fullest extent until something bad happens?

Your Daughter,

Friday, May 9, 2008

Two more high school curriculum picks - Math-U-See and Analytical Grammar

[edited to add: I don't know why this post won't format properly with paragraphs and all the rest. Believe me, I've tried to correct it, but it keeps coming out in this eyeball-glazing one-long-paragraph style. Very annoying.]

Here are two more high school programs I've learned about through my most excellent friends Jane and Michelle.

The first is Math-U-See, a program I have heard people singing the praises of for years, but never checked into, whether through sheer stupidity or relentless inertia, I don't know which. Or it might have been the name, which I think is a little bit cheesy. But anyway, Jane did such an excellent endorsement of Math-U-See, which has just opened up its curriculum base to inclue pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, advanced geometry, trigonometry and calculus, that I decided to visit the site with Meelyn and my mom to watch the demo videos.
As we watched, I was dumbfounded to note myself -- me, the Compleat Non-Mather, doing algebra problems and getting them right with the help of the demonstrations with the manipulatives. Meelyn and my mother were similarly impressed, with my mother baldly adding that she thought it was high time I switched math programs, as she herself (who taught Saxon math as a fourth grade public school teacher) could not understand my stubborn clinging to the Saxon program.
Here's a testimonial from a teacher using Math-U-See:
Math·U·See builds a solid math foundation that connects math that can be applied not only in testing situations but actually in the real world. The students see math as meaningful and relevant. Math·U·See has worked well in my resource room. Students love to come to the board and build problems in front of the group, as others follow at their seat. No one has a chance to snooze. I am able to juggle two math groups in one period by alternating instruction. Even those kids who suffer from “learned helplessness”, suddenly work independently because they can use the manipulatives to make the problems make sense.
Jane, as a homeschooling mother, says that Math-U-See has taken her non-mathy eighth grader, Jillian, from hating, loathing and detesting mathematics to a place of tolerance, where she understands math's place in the world and why it is actually useful to know how to figure the area of a rectangle.
So! Meelyn and I are rather excited about this program, particularly as it costs almost exactly the same as the Saxon pre-algebra homeschool set plus the D.I.V.E CD-ROM. I offered to do pre-algebra with Meelyn this year for moral support, so I'm glad to know about Math-U-See. I feel it offers less of an opportunity for me to make an idiot of myself.
Michelle lugged out the workbooks that her daughters, Rachel and Gina, use and flopped open the teacher's manual and showed us how everything fits together. From the way I understand it. Analytical Grammar teaches grammar concepts in a fluid way instead of the usual "Here's a unit about nouns, followed by a unit about verbs, followed by a unit about blablabla," which is the traditional method of teaching grammar. As each new concept is introduced and taught, the students automatically go on to diagramming sentences, which I, as an English teacher, personally believe is the way to truly understand all the grammatical elements of the English language. In fact, I even tried to do that this year with Meelyn and Aisling, but it didn't work out because our grammar text and our diagramming text were from two different publishers and I never could get the two texts to work together.
I am looking forward to getting my hot little hands on that money coming from the government so that I can place these orders. I think that both of these picks will be winners for our family.

Mini-Marathon 2008 - isn't it great?

Meelyn and my husband ran the 33rd OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon last Saturday, which was a gorgeous day for a run of any kind, whether you were trying to beat last year's time or just going out to the market for doughnuts and the morning paper.

The best news is that they beat last year's time by TWENTY FIVE MINUTES. Woooooo-hooooooo!

Last year, they were hampered by the fact that Mee developed a blister on her foot at the ninth mile, necessitating a pit stop right on the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to put on a bandage that a kind-hearted fellow runner passed off to her. This year, Meelyn ran with a waist pouch containing Band-Aids, some Neosporin with a topical anesthetic in it, Glide balm, a battery for her MP3 player, some tissues, a camera and a chapstick. Because, I am told, nothing, but nothing, is worse than trying to run with dry, crusty lips.

Here's a little diary I kept of the morning's events:

7:43 a.m. We seems to be doing well after a bit of a bad start. Our Marriott Courtyard parking lot was closed this year, so we didn't have a clue where to park, after actually managing to make our way to New York Street (no thanks to MapQuest, more on that later) - not an easy feat considering how many downtown streets were closed off. I've been listening to 93.1 WIBC and Steve Simpson just related that while there are 35,000 runners, there are an estimated 60,000 more people downtown as volunteers, vendors and spectators. Which, as it turns out, is one heck of a lot of peeeeeeeoooopppplle.

Okay. Back to MapQuest. I told my husband that using MapQuest was a bad idea, mostly because every map I have ever foolishly relied upon from that website sucks the dirty water than a herd of camels and eight flocks of flea-infested sheep has just bathed in. MapQuest is one of the most useless websites on the internet and you who are reading this would do well not to forget that. But if you want to go to Indianapolis from Kansas City via Providence, Rhode Island, they'll getcha there.

Anyhoo, we found parking across from the Courtyard and it was only $5 as opposed to last year's $20, so we felt somewhat mollified.

My husband was nervous and irritable about the crap directions and the fact that Markin Luther King Street and West Street are not marked in downtown Indy. Mee was nervous because my husband was nervous. They set off for their starting corral at 7:22, which was U this year, a reflection on their slower running time last year due to Meelyn's blister. In 2008, they started in Q.

The race is supposed to begin at 7:30 with the wheelchair racers, followed by the A corral of elite runners, all of whom have legs six feet long and are made of sinew, bone and muscle with now available fat. They are all so very, very thin, they look as if you could track a bite of food through their entire digestive systems. We have no truck with that type of body structure in our family, no sirree.

Aisling and I have settled down in Buddy, armed with schoolbooks, library books, notebooks, the radio and my cell phone. I also had my makesup bag with me, so that I could make myself presentable before going out among the innocent, defenseless citizenry.

The weather is cool and overcast, a tiny bit humid, which is a total contrast to last year, which was sunny, cool and miserably, sweatingly humid.

8:44 a.m. I'm thinking about calling my husband and Meelyn to see what they're doing.

8:45 a.m. No answer

9:00 a.m. No answer

9:16 a.m. No answer. I am thinking about causing physical harm to my husband. What is the use of bringing cell phones to this $#%@ event IF HE ISN'T GOING TO ANSWER??!! AAAAGGGHHH!!!!

10:00 a.m. No answer. Much muttering in the under-the-breath style taking place. Listening to the radio is entertaining, though. The race seems to be moving along smoothly.

10:42 a.m. They're done! I just got the call. Now all we have to do is find one another in a crowd of 95,000 people. Shouldn't be too difficult.

11:00 a.m. I had to spend a great deal of time on the bridge over the Canal, shouting instructions into my telephone. I probably sounded like a harpy, but the noise level was so intense from bands playing, amplified voices on microphones and the sheer decibility of 95,000 human beings crammed into a relatively small space, I had to yell to make myself heard.

My husband was a bit turned around and couldn't remember where the Courtyard Inn was from last year. So I was standing there with Aisling yelling, "FIND THE BRIDGE! DO YOU SEE THE BRIDGE? LOOK FOR THE BUILDING WITH THE DARK GREEN AWNING! DO YOU SEE AN AWNING?"



"YES! I SEE THE MARSH TRUCK." It was kind of hard to miss, what with the six foot ear of corn on the side, and a bunch of grapes as big as dinner plates.


"WHAT?" he yelled. I began to get a terrible Grandad-and-Mary Liz foresight of our golden years together, hollering back and forth about the location of our false teeth and spectacles.

I finally got my husband and Meelyn walking up the street toward us, although he resolutely refused to admit that he could see a bridge, much less walk over it, until he was halfway across. By that time, I was bellowing, "I CAN SEE YOU! I CAN SEE YOU! KEEP WALKING!" while I watched the two of them, their heads swiveling this way and that, trying to locate us. Aisling was jumping up and down and waving her arms, but still they couldn't see us, even though we had both purposely dressed in bright clothing. The two of them practically fell over us before my husband clicked off his phone and said, in a slightly accusatory tone, "Oh, THERE you are."

We were all really stoked at their excellent finishing time and went for a celebratory lunch at Hardee's. The rest of the day was spent cheerfully lolling about and watching the action, which my husband taped on WISH-TV 6. And can you believe it? WE SAW MEELYN AND MY HUSBAND! It was just too cool. The television camera captured them just as they were crossing the starting line, moving from a walk into a slow jog. They were right at the front of the screen. It was awesome.

They're already talking about next year, and possibly doing the half-marathon at the Indianapolis Marathon in October.


RECIPE: Mayonnaise

"To make a homemade mayonnaise," said Julia Child, "you have to know your way around an egg."

She was wonderful for witty, pithy sayings like that, also coming up with this one on her television show while making a cream soup: "First, you take a leek...." and then bursting into laughter. She was, in every sense of the word, a grande dame.

My grandmother was very fond of Julia Child's show and of course, she had the two volume set of the world's most famous cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don't remember my grandmother doing much French cooking, however, although she made lovely mushrooms fried in butter with garlic, which seems kind of Frenchy, and also bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, which doesn't. And Tollhouse cookies, because all grandmothers are required by law to know how to make Tollhouse cookies, reserving half the dough for their greedy, sticky-fingered grandchildren to eat.

One French thing my grandmother did do was make homemade mayonnaise, at least a couple of times. I can attest to the fact from my youth that homemade mayonnaise tastes better than the creamiest, richest jar that Hellman's ever produced, but I don't believe I've had homemade mayonnaise since I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

But now, I've been inspired by watching Top Chef on the Bravo network, and I decided I'd give it a whirl. Making a homemade mayonnaise was a recent relay challenge on a Top Chef episode and it looked so delicious in high def that I knew I had to try it.

I racked my brains trying to remember my grandmother's recipe, and all I could come up with was egg yolk, a sprinkle of onion powder, a pinch of salt, some lemon juice and a cup of oil, slowly pouring while stirring like a caffeine addict. Of course, there are all kinds of things you can add to mayonnaise: some mashed avocado for avocado mayonnaise, which may be the best thing ever mixed with a can of albacore tuna. Or then there's horseradish mayonnaise, which is so good on a roast beef sandwich, it could bring tears to your eyes. You can make tarragon mayonnaise, parsely mayonnaise, lime mayonnaise....I've always added those things to prepared mayonnaise, though, so I've never enjoyed the flavor or had the satisfaction of consuming a product made by my own dainty hands. But obviously, I thought it would be best to stick to something simple.

Here's the first recipe I made, and I don't think it was a success. (I should have just tried my grandmother's recipe, but I was worried that I'd forgotten something.) It has a lovely creamy consistency, but it is too tangy for our taste and less rich than we like. But is occurs to me that it might be a very nice mayonnaise indeed for deviled eggs:

1 whole large egg

2 scant teaspoons Dijon mustard OR 1 scant teaspoons prepared salad mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

a pinch of sea salt

1 "grind" of pepper

1 cup olive oil (or any other oil, really - although it must be the kind that is liquid at room temp)

Directions: Using a mixer on a medium high speed or a food processor, beat the first four items together very, very well in a small mixing bowl. VERY WELL. WELLER THAN YOU THINK THE TERM "WELL" COULD EVER POSSIBLY MEAN. Beat them well enough that they have some body to them; you'll know when this happens because they won't be lying there, liquid-y, in your little bowl.

Gradually add the oil, allowing a very thin, steady stream to fall over the beaters or into the food processor. Beat and beat and beat and thank heaven above that you aren't doing this the old-fashioned culinery school way, which is by hand with a wire whisk. No wonder so many classically trained chefs spend a little too much time gulping down little soupçons of cognac when they think the sous chef is adding finely diced onion to the terrine.

The egg mixture and the oil will begin to emulsify and have a creamy, spreadable consistency that is easily recognizable as mayonnaise. However, due to the egg yolk and the mustard, this mayonnaise will not be cream colored; it will be a lovely pale yellow.

As I said, it would be tasty with deviled eggs on a June picnic, but this one isn't quite us. I plan to make this a project and keep trying different recipes.

Furry barfly

Last week, Katie and Rebecca were at our house to take us to the Shakespeare Workshop. When they came in the door, they were greeted by enthusiasm by Meelyn and Aisling and I and with an almost indecent fervor by Hershey and Wimzie, who bounced around the foyer in great happiness, each trying to prevent the other from receiving more attention.

Hershey lovingly pressed himself against Katie's legs, looking up at her with eyes spilling over with love. "Please pet my back," was the thought that his gaze earnestly conveyed. "Please pet my back and I will love you forever with cherries on top."

She complied and said, "You're such a handsome boy," which is a lie and we all know it, but still it was a nice thing to say. I mean, if someone has just told you that he loves you, the proper response is never, "Your breath is bad and why are you wearing white socks with dress shoes?"

When Katie petted Hershey, this was just too much for Wimzie, who bossily pushed herself forward to claim a little Katie-love of her own. Katie looked down at Wimzie, who, since it was kind of raining outside, was a bit tangled and bedraggled, with half her bangs over her eyes and the other half sticking up like asparagus. "You are a very disreputable looking little dog," Katie chuckled.

"If she were a person, I think she'd probably be the type who would walk around with a cigarette sticking out the corner of her mouth all day," I said. Whenever we have a couple of hours to spend on Wimzie with shampoo, clippers, brush and barrettes, she is very adorable indeed. But let's be real: When we have a couple of hours, the last thing on our minds is spending time on Wimzie with shampoo, clippers, brush and barrettes.

Katie warmed to the idea. "Maybe with a tattoo of a rose..."

"And gin breath."

"With her bra strap sliding down her arm under her tank top."

"And then there's Hershey," I said, indicating the boy with the neat, shiny black fur and the four dapper white boots with brown buttons, "the complete metrosexual."


I do not know how I managed this, but this week, we have had the May ARCHES meeting, the last Shakespeare Workshop for The Taming of the Shrew and the last round of HISTO Ancient Greece. What sort of madness possessed me, do you suppose, to schedule all those things in the same week?

So anyway, that's why the posts have been few and far between. This week has absolutely flown by, with very little time to sit -- unless "sitting" counts what I've been doing in the seat of a car as we've been driving, driving, driving to various events at various places with various people. And before this week, I felt that I could hardly justify doing something that counts as a fairly frivolous exercise on my part.

I owe such a huge debt of thanks to Jerri, Katie, Michelle, Virginia and Jane, without whom I wouldn't be able to do much of anything. Any success that I've had this year with the new Teen ARCHES World Lit class, Shakespeare or HISTO has been due to them either working with me or behind the scenes, slaving away to make me look good. What an awesome group of friends they are, and I love them.

And then there's Kayte, whom I haven't laid eyes on in about two weeks, but who keeps sending encouraging, cheerful emails to me -- and those are very much appreciated.

My family's banner news is that we picked up Applesauce Anne the Minivan last night. It felt so good to sink into her familiar seats. We gave Buddy a hug and a kiss goodbye and left him napping in Poppy and Nanny's garage, surrounded by all the golf impedimenta that Poppy took out of him a month ago when he gave Buddy to us as a loaner.

So things seem to be going well as the school year begins to wind down. Meelyn and Aisling have finished up most of their books, and the ones that are left have less than ten lessons in them, so this year worked out pretty well in terms of finishing on time.

Of course, they do still have to write their research papers (Meelyn, tornados; Aisling, volcanos), but I told them that we could put off a trip to the library until after this crazy week. They also have to take their achievement tests the last week of the month. They are very, very excited about both of these things and keep begging me to let them write TWO research papers and take TWO achievement tests. Ha ha ha ha ha!

The way I see it, we'll be done with school right at about the time they need to buckle down to get their 4-H projects completed. I suppose there's no hope in wishing that the 4-H Fair could be held somewhere around mid-October this year?

Friday, May 2, 2008

One of those weeks

It's been a week since I've blogged, a whole week.

What have I been doing this whole, long, deep, swamp-water sucking week?

Well, I was almost in two car accidents, one which forced me to TOTALLY STEER OUR RENTAL CAR ONTO A CITY SIDEWALK to avoid being slammed in the side by a car driven by an elderly lady who could barely see over the dashboard. My heart still hasn't resumed its normal rate. Seriously. I drove on the sidewalk and back off again and didn't hit a street sign or one of those big, giant trash receptacles or a person or anything. It was: "OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!!! [up on the sidewalk, driving] OH SWEET MOTHER OF PEARL, SHE'S GOING TO HIT US!!!!! [driving on sidewalk, just like Kramer driving that bus and punching the bad guy and still making all the stops on that episode of Seinfeld] OH MY HELP MY HELP OH MY GOSH!!! [driving back off the sidewalk onto the road and going right into the flow of traffic]"

It was fairly dramatic.

On the plus side, Enterprise should give me a medal, or maybe even a plaque or a trophy and DEFINITELY post my picture in a sort of shrine in every single one of their locations around the United States because of my lightning-fast reflexes. I kept their car from being creamed and they should thank me.

The other near miss was upsetting and awful and involved the car my husband's place of business lent us, which decided to completely die every time I put my foot on the brake. You try driving without ever putting your foot on the brake pedal, just try it. See? See how hard that is, especially when you are driving in town and the car dies at every single stoplight and robs you of power steering and makes you almost sideswipe someone as you're making a left turn?