Monday, September 29, 2008

There is barely time to draw breath

I know you all know what I mean.

And I'm sorry that some of you were wondering if I'd fallen into a hole somewhere and couldn't find my way back out.

I took this moment on the fly to sit down and write: I am in the process of making a pot of potato soup for my husband and the girls to eat for dinner tonight; I myself am leaving in half an hour to drive to Indianapolis, where I plan to eat dinner with a number of my friends, drink a beer and complain about how busy I am to people who actually understand and sympathize.

I am buried UP TO THE NECK in Shakespeare Workshop handouts that have to be passed out on Wednesday. Every time I close my eyes, I see Lady Macbeth with that damnéd spot on her stupid hand - what a twit. You know Macbeth had her killed to shut her up. What a lovely couple.

There are so many things I'd like to write about. I started writing them down about a week and a half ago, but the list got so long, I finally just threw it away.

Everyone here is well and says hello to all of you out there who inquired about our well being!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Why we aren't scientists

Today, we got out the microscope and selected some slides and slide covers (no, I'm not talking about the kinds of slides you find at playground, sillyboots) and prepared to do an experiment in which we were to view cells swabbed from the insides of our cheeks.

Meelyn, Aisling and I all participated in this experiment and frankly, we're not sure if we're even human right now. Or alive. One thing we are sure of is that Eli Lilly & Company is going to put those applications we filled out for positions as research scientists straight into the circular file.

The instructions in the biology text told us to:

1. Get out a glass slide

2. Swab the inside of our cheeks with a Q-Tip

3. Swipe the Q-Tip onto the slide

4. Put a drop of methylene blue on the slide so that the cheek cells would be visible

5. Put a cover slip over the cells and the methylene blue

6. View the cells

We did just fine as far as step one. On step two, both of my dopey STUDENTS balked at swiping their cheeks. Good grief. I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily, demonstrating how to swab the inside of my cheek. They followed suit, twitching and flinching and acting like the little Q-Tips were sharp and the approximate length of of the main pole in a circus tent.

We all prepared our slides, adding what seemed like WAY TOO MUCH methylene blue, but there wasn't any way to reduce the amount that came squirting out of the little bottle. Adding the cover slides trapped a number of air bubbles between the slide and the cover slip; only Meelyn was successful in getting a slide prepared that had no air bubbles.

We put all our slide under the microscope in succession and only once did we catch a brief glimpse of what we thought might be the nuclei of the cells we were supposed to be viewing, and that was probably just little tiny particles of dust or whatever.

So Meelyn pulled a hair out of her head and we looked at that under the microscope and it was kind of cool, and then I took off my wedding ring, which has three diamonds in it and we looked at it and it was kind of boring.

Then we put the microscope away and I began to fervently pray that the girls would be able to score highly on things like ice cream cone formation and how to pack groceries so that the eggs and bread are always on the top of the bag.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Coming up on InsomniMom...

It has been a very strange week and we have been scampering to keep up with classes and deadlines and the occasional unexpected quandary that life likes to toss at humankind every now and then, perhaps in an effort to keep us humble, or maybe to ensure that we eat way too much chocolate moose tracks ice cream straight from the carton at 2:30 a.m.

So here are some things I want to post:

1. My Whisk Wednesdays assignment, which tickled me pink.

2. Volleyball quandary

3. Various bitter thoughts about how we're now three weeks into the school year, but strangely, each day seems like the very first day. It's sort of like "Feels Like the First Time" by Foreigner, only not with a positive, upbeat tempo. I'm thinking more of Chopin's Sonata #2 in B-flat minor, otherwise known as the Funeral March. We have slogged through these three veryveryvery long weeks with our cement boots on.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Threat

Meelyn, Aisling and I share a bathroom, the upstairs bathroom. It is big (I think maybe it used to be a bedroom) with a sweet, low barrel roof that gives it the kind of cozy feeling you like in a bathroom: A lot of warm air can nestle snugly up against a ten foot ceiling, we've found.

Our upstairs bathroom is adorable, although we'd like to redecorate sometime soon with something more sophisticated, now that the girls are in their teens. Our shower curtain is a medium blue gingham, appliqued with chenille flowers and ladybugs in pastel colors, apple green, lavender, yellow and tangerine. We also have the requisite matching toothbrush holder, tissue box cover and soap dish because my particular brand of obsessive compulsion requires that everything in life come in a matched set. If there is an accessory, I have to have it.

The rugs on the floor are pale yellow and the curtain that hangs in front of our linen closet door is of tangerine. The sink and vanity (including the drawer pulls) are vintage 1960s, as is the mirror, and I have yet to figure out how to rip them off the walls and take them with me when we move someday without the new residents noticing. They've obviously been beautifully cared for over the years and I love them past all reason, considering that they don't love me back. Kind of like Wimzie.

So, you might think, what is the pill in all this jam?

Meelyn and Aisling prefer to shower at night. I am an adamant morning showerer. And I happen to be a morning shower person who is SICK AND TIRED OF FINDING A SLIMY LUMP OF HAIR ON THE DRAIN COVER EVERY STINKING MORNING.

I have told the girls about this over and over again: "It's disgusting to leave YOUR HAIR in the drain. Heaven knows, if God provided, I'd love to move to a house with a million bathrooms in it and I'd take my own fifty or sixty favorites and keep them bright and clean and you two could choose your own and mess them up like the PIGS YOU ARE, and I'd put my vintage 1960s vanity, sink and mirror in my own best bathroom and never deal with the likes of you again, but as things are, I have to share this space with you and if I have to pick up one more nasty clump of hair, you want to know what I'm going to do?"

The girls gazed at me with neutral expressions on their faces and shook their heads "no" simultaneously. Oh, if they'd been aware of the pleasure I would have taken in banging those heads smartly together just then! The wad of wet hair I'd pulled off the drain cover this morning was particularly gross and some of the hair got stuck in the setting of my wedding ring and it wouldn't come off my hand and....[shudder]

I leaned a bit closer to them and spoke with in a tone of menace. "I am going to get that slimy hair and I am going to think about which one of you took the last shower last night and then I am going to carry that hair out of this bathroom into your bedroom and I am going to turn back the coverlet on that girl's bed and PUT IT ON HER PILLOW."

Meelyn was shocked and offended. "You wouldn't!"

"Oh, yes. Yes, I think you'll find that I would."

Aisling regarded me thoughtfully through her glasses, her lips pursed. "If you put the hair on my pillow, will you please wrap it in some tissue first? Or a washcloth. I don't want that soapy wet yucky hair on my pillow, please."

Maybe I didn't make myself clear.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

TUESDAYS WITH DORIE (In spirit, after church) -- Basic Biscuits

Four times I have made Dorie's Basic Biscuits.

Four times I have failed.

This really honks me off because biscuits -- especially ones whose first name is "basic" -- should not be that hard to make.

Dorie's recipe is very simple. It calls for flour, butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and milk. You put the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl and then add the butter, which she instructs you to cut up into pieces and then toss to coat in the dry ingredients. You can then either use a pastry cutter or your fingers to form a sandy mixture with some pea-sized pieces and some tiny pieces, kind of like a dirt road, Dorie says.

You add the milk to make the dough, knead it a couple of times to make sure everything's hangin' together the way it should, and then turn it out on a lightly floured pastry board. She offers the choice of either patting it out or rolling it out, so I always choose patting, since I'm a lazy sod and don't like making more dirty dishes.

Four times I have done this.

Four times I have failed.

At first, I thought it was the buttermilk. Dorie offers a variation on the recipe that cuts down on the baking powder with the addtion of one cup of buttermilk. The biscuits looked spectacular as they went into the oven, but when they came out, they looked more like crackers. They were still the exact same thickness as the dough I'd cut them from. My family, somewhat puzzled at being urged to put butter, honey and strawberry preserves on crackers, ate them politely.

So the second time, I made them for breakfast for the girls and my nephews. I fixed scrambled eggs, sausage and the biscuits and I was very proud as I put the little sausages and the fluffy scrambled eggs onto my big platter and conveyed them to the table with a flourish. "I just need to get the biscuits out of the oven," I said, and whisked back through the swinging door. It fell behind me with an ominous thud; I should have taken it as a portent.

Inside the oven were ten more crackers.

Despite the fact that I'd used regular milk this time and made the recipe according to the letter, they still didn't raise.

The kids all thought they were very funny and giggled as I sulked.

I began to suspect that my baking powder was beyond its good-until date. So I bought a fresh new can, carrying on with my brilliant idea of cooking all my Whisk Wednesday and Tuesdays With Dorie food with as many generic or store brands as possible: I came home with the new can of Kroger baking powder and girded up to make the biscuits again.

I made them the third time last Thursday, when I was serving beef stew for dinner. Once again, I followed every direction vigorously. I added the new baking powder to the dry ingredients with triumph, feeling certain that I was going to pull a sheet of light, high biscuits out of the oven.

Imagine my vocabulary when the timer went off and I pulled out another tray of, you guessed it, crackers. Better yet, don't imagine. There's no need for you to soil your brain the way I soiled my tongue.

Four times I have made these biscuits.

Four times I have failed.

My fourth attempt was today, Sunday. I made a simple, down-homey chipped beef gravy with scrambled eggs for brunch and thought that I'd do biscuits instead of toast points because the girls and I had just arrived home from Mass and religious ed and my husband (who went to Mass yesterday afternoon) had just run six miles, and we were all ravenous.

This time, I brought out my secret weapon: a brand new can of Clabber Girl baking powder.

I know this recipe so well by now, I can practically make it in my sleep. In fact, I frequently do make it my sleep, waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares in which flat pieces of baked dough launch themselves out of my oven like those ninja throwing stars, burning red circles on my forehead and cheeks.

So I made the biscuits again, laughing maniacally like Vincent Price at the end of the Thriller video as I added the Clabber Girl -- "Muuuuaaaa ahahahahahaha haha haaaaaaa!!!!!" I put them onto she baking sheet lined with parchment paper and slid them into the oven, certain that I had Discovered the Impenetrable Secret of Biscuits. The Dalai Lama should be so lucky.

I stood impatiently in front of the oven door for fifteen minutes, tapping my fingers on the dishwasher and shifting back and forth from foot to foot. When the timer went off, the chipped beef gravy was ready and the scrambled eggs were steaming in their pan. It was going to be a beautiful brunch.

I put the oven mitt on my hand, reached into the oven, and pulled out a tray of crackers.

Four times I have made these biscuits.

Four times I have failed.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Hot stuff

Yesterday at MOPS, Meelyn and a university student had two babies in their care in the 12-18 months class. One was a sweet baby girl and the other was a little boy who had just learned to walk.

Mee said that he was the cutest thing, like, ever - all blond curls and blue eyes and a devastating saucy grin complete with dimple, which he used indiscriminately, flashing it at the girls until they pronounced him "a young Heath Ledger."

Evidently, the young man agrees, for the dribble bib tied around his neck bore the legend "Chick Magnet."

That made me laugh.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New gig for the girls

This has been a grade A, most-this-amazing sort of day.

First, Meelyn and Aisling were unexpectedly asked to do a school-year gig doing child care on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month for the local MOPS group. MOPS stands for Mothers of Pre Schoolers and is a church-based program for moms to participate in a Bible study and small group discussion while their kids are watched over by paid caregivers, most of whom are education majors from the local university who are working on their early childhood education degrees. They are assisted by teenage girls -- mostly from the home schooling community, for obvious reasons -- and have play time, a snack, a craft and a little Bible lesson geared to their age group.

Meelyn will be able to earn $7 per hour for six hours of work per month; Aisling, as a junior high aged teenager, will earn $10 per event. Plus, they'll gain some really invaluable child care experience, which makes me very happy. Them too!

Well, plus the money. They are STOKED about the money.

Later in the afternoon, I had to drive our minivan full of girls to volleyball practice, which was too far away for me to go back home. So I took a huge bag full of books and planned Meelyn's work out for the next couple of weeks in a nice room off the church's gymnasium, where I had a fairly comfortable folding chair and a big table to spread out all my books. With no internet, no telephone, no doorbell and no dogs to distract me (well, okay, and no snacks, just shut up), I was able to get done with everything I needed to do in that two blessedly quiet window of opportunity.

It feels soooo goooood to be caught up...

I may well be behind again on Monday, but at least I'll be able to treasure this brief, shining moment in my heart.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Summary of our week (so far)

1. Aisling had an unpleasant intestinal virus and Meelyn did all her regular school work on Monday;

2. Aisling was better on Tuesday, so we went to our monthly Pizza Hut Book-It lunch. Meelyn and Aisling did a truncated schedule of work, some in the van, which we refer to as "mobile classroom";

3. Meelyn, Aisling and I went to our first British Literature class in a nearby city, making use of a classroom in their public library which had a whiteboard, a TV/DVD player - totally awesome! - and read a very lo-o-o-ong historical introduction to the Anglo-Saxon/Medieval period of Brit Lit and half of Beowulf, which was pretty cool, as it always has been;

4. What is going to happen with Whisk Wednesday today? What? What? The very photograph on page 196 of Le Cordon Bleu at Home makes me want to hurl. I am not going to waste God's perfectly beautiful spinach greens by putting sardines on them, which technically are also God's but not perfectly beautiful and in fact, highly distasteful. What was He thinking?

And what are the French thinking, with all this boring insistence on sardines, sardines, sardines? This should be a separate chapter in LCBatH titled "How to Ruin Good Food by Putting Slimy, Salty Little Fish On or In It."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie (in spirit, on Friday) — Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

I read many of the Tuesdays with Dorie blogs about these cookies (scroll down and look on the left for the TWD blogroll), and since we're having company over tonight to play cards, and since I'd been planning to bake something kind of treat for my husband to take to work, I thought these Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters sounded likely. The first attraction was volume: the TWDers were reporting that this recipe made something like seven dozen cookies, and I needed a lot.

Secondly, I really hate baking cookies. REALLY. They take so many ingredients, and they dirty so many dishes and they're a pain to roll into little balls: I just flat-out won't make any cookie that requires rolling out and using a cutter on. Hate!

But I do like the idea of cookies with peanut butter and oatmeal in them, because they do have a saving grace: protein and fiber. If I want to get a nasty cookie with no nutritional value whatsoever, I'll just go to the store and buy a package of Oreos with their fake chocolate and their shortening-and-powdered sugar creamy filling and throw those yummy little things straight down my throat. But if I'm going to go to the trouble of messing about in the kitchen for FAR longer than I want to, then I want it to be for something.

So I made these cookies yesterday afternoon, putting them together while the girls were exercising at the YMCA, sticking the dough in the fridge to chill, and then baking (most of) them when my husband and I got home from our dinner at Bob Evans. They went together very easily, I found to my surprise, nothing like wretched Toll House cookies, which are the very bane of my existence. I used two mixing bowls, large and small, a spatula, my hand-mixer, the measuring spoons and two measuring cups, two cookie sheets and two corresponding sheets of parchment paper and that was it. I am one of those people who believes very strongly that the kitchen should be cleaned up as one works along, so it was lovely to be able to stash those few items right in the dishwasher as I finished with them. Yay! A clean kitchen!

I did take the liberty of making a substitution, which seemed a very pert thing to do, considering my lack of expertise with baking sheet and oven: I traded the bittersweet chocolate chips for milk chocolate because I wanted a really richly sweet result.

Because of the milk chocolate chips, I rolled the dough into tiny balls to produce the kind of cookie that a woman or a girl would make two or three dainty bites of, but a man or a boy would eat in a single chomp. We all sampled one as they cooled and pronounced them awesomely good.

Kayte was so right about Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. Although I haven't blogged about all of them, I have made about six different recipes from this book so far. And even though I really hate baking, I've found them to be easy and pretty much foolproof.

And if I can't manage to screw them up, that really says a lot for the cookbook. I am seriously thinking about making this cookbook one of the things I give as a wedding or shower gift.

Friday, September 5, 2008

First week of school complete

We are ready to DROP IN OUR TRACKS.

This year's course of study is requiring about six hours of work, and it is heck-a-slammin' all the way from nine o'clock until three o'clock with just a short break for lunch to help us slow down and now spin completely off the planet.

That might not sound like much, if you're unfamiliar with homeschooling. After all, public school kids do this Monday through Friday without surprise. In fact, they go longer: In our city, the public school high schoolers attend classes from eight-thirty until three o'clock.

But they also have passing periods that eat up some of that time. Morning announcements. Downtime while the teacher takes attendance, collects homework and says "Turn to page 322. What do you mean, you don't have your book? This is English class. What did you think we were going to do, build a birdhouse?"

And then there's the nearly constant tending to one discipline problem or another: "Brandon, please get your head off your desk...Alyssa, this is not a beauty salon. Put away the lip gloss and follow along....Michael, I saw that, do you want to come to school on Saturday? No? Then cut it out...."

And then there's a knock on the door, a runner from the main office bringing some memo that the principal wants delivered right now.

It's surprising how much time is wasted, and most of the teachers I know deplore this. But what else can you do? There's no avoiding the constant interruptions.

In homeschooling, the interruptions come from things like the telephone, which I rarely answer during school hours unless it's my husband or my mother or my brother or one of my friends whom I know hates talking on the telephone as much as I do, so if she's calling during school hours there must be some pressing reason for her to do so.

The dogs don't interrupt us unless the mail carrier comes. Then they carry on like the Hound of the Baskervilles for a couple moments while we all scream, "Shut up! Stop that noise! Hush, right now!"

Otherwise, things move along at a brisk and efficient pace and I think that the flow of our days would make any public or private school teacher feel wistful for what we're able to accomplish. Homeschooling is nothing if not intense and productive.

But oh my just flat wears you out. Just to demonstrate how weary I am at the end of this four-day week, I'll tell you that I typed this entire post with my forehead.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Whisk Wednesday Assignment #14, Part 2 -- Brochet a Beurre Blanc (Whole Poached Pike with White Butter Sauce)

I missed last week's Whisk Wednesday assignment for a lot of reasons I gave Shari -- all of which were true, Fearless Leader! So don't think I was trying to pull a fast one -- but the major truth of Steak Mirabeau (Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Anchovy Butter) was that the very idea of smooshing up some slimy little anchovies into perfectly good butter was, in my mind, a combination of blasphemy of dairy products and a sick-making endeavor better left untried.

Besides, I have made compound butters (which was what the lesson was about) many times, garlic butter and honey butter being the two main compounds that have come out of my kitchen. I felt no need to mess around with nasty anchovies, the very description of which -- "small, silvery fish cured with salt" -- makes my skin crawl.

So today, I was pleased to undertake Beurre Blance, although I'm just going to come right out and say that there was no way I was going to be poaching an entire pike, whole. I used some lovely salmon filets and the beurre blanc was absolutely delicious on them and produced several eager requests for me to "make that again!"

This recipe, which is designated "Beurre Blanc Sauce I" in Le Cordon Bleu at Home, was very easy to make, especially if you've already met with success at emulsified sauces like mayonnaise and béarnaise.

The ingredients were also simple, things I already had on hand in one form or another (my herbs are almost always the dried variety instead of fresh, but to be honest, either my dried herbs are of outstanding quality, or my palate is so deadened after years of eating barbecue-flavor Bugles that I'm incapable of much discernment in flavors), although I did substitute heavy cream for the crème fraîche called for in the recipe.* I used shallots, dry white wine (the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge chard which makes my evenings take on a warm and happy glow), white-wine vinegar, thyme, bay leaf, the cream, the butter and some lemon juice.

Really, this just couldn't have been much easier. The first few ingredients were combined over the heat and I allowed the liquid to evaporate, as per instructions (reminiscent of the béarnaise), then added the cream , gave it all a stir, and then allowed it to reduce by half, which it obligingly did. I was surprised by this, because I was halfway expecting it to balk in the manner of that really annoying Velouté Agnès Sorel -- the cream of chicken soup -- which never thickened, ever in this world.

The butter was whisked in without trouble (although it got a little softer than it needed to be in my warm kitchen) and once the lemon juice was added, it was ready to serve. Get this: Le Cordon Bleu at Home, in describing the plating for this dish, advises chefs-in-training to peel the skin off the pike while it is still warm and spoon a little sauce over the body, "leaving the head unsauced." Zut alors, my lunch trembles anxiously in my stomach just reading that. Eeeuuwww!!!

The Beurre Blanc was truly delicious on the salmon filets, which I served with steamed (fresh) carrots and (frozen) green beans that I cooked with a teeny, tiny bit of bacon, in spite of the fact that our healthful salmon had already been given a generous application of CREAM and BUTTER. Oh, my poor arteries!

Next Week: Salade de Sardines Crues aux Epinards (Spinach Salad with Fresh Sardines) page 197-198 {discussion of Vinaigrettes page 55}. Umm, I won't br using any sardines in this recipe either. They makes us feel creepsy, my precious.

*I found out later that a better replacement for crème fraîche is actually sour cream, rather than heavy cream. So this recipe perhaps missed a bit of flavor that it could have had, and my Beurre Blanc was probably more "saucy" since the heavy cream is thinner than the crème fraîche, if you follow me. But still, it was very delicious, and I consider it a successful undertaking.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday Toot (September 2)

I haven't done the Tuesday Toot for a few weeks because I ran out of stuff I can do really well and was too embarrassed to post something like: "I can fold a washcloth in a tidy, three-fold manner that looks nice when it is placed in a Longaberger basket on the bathroom shelf."

My Toot for today is this: I did not destroy either the Rosetta Stone software OR the headset. I haven't been able to bring myself to touch them, but they are still viable.

I think I deserve, like, a MEDAL. Maybe a song written in my honor and performed by Aerosmith.

It is the first day of school and I am going to...

...destroy the Rosetta Stone headset.

Now that I finally figured out how to get the course started for both girls, it was time to set up the headset. There was a handy card that came in the box that showed, step by step, how to accomplish this objective in an easy A, B, C format.

I went along smoothly until I got to the point where I had to speak the words "One....two....three....four.....five...." slowly into the microphone. From that point, no matter what I did, all the Rosetta Stone software would do was taunt me with a short, sharp sentence "AN ERROR HAS BEEN DETECTED!" in big, bold red words.

So I went into the control panel to see if there was anything that needed to be reconfigured so that the computer and the software would recognize the headset and microphone, allowing a young student of Spanish to listen and speak.

I followed all the instructions on the card provided, halting at the point where I was supposed to "Make sure the Select checkbox under Microphone is checked."

Okay, and that would be....where?

There IS no checkbox under Microphone. Mostly because there is no Microphone.

So I called Tech Support again and went through their entire system ("Thank you for calling Rosetta Stone, the world's most widely-used foreign language software! If you know your party's extension, please enter that number now. If you would like to place an order with Rosetta Stone, please press one now. If you'd like to speak to a support technician, please press two now...") so that I could be put on hold again, only this time, the phone actually rang! I was very excited until a canned female voice spoke up and said, "Hello! The number you're trying to reach is busy! Please call again!"

And then that....that.....[I am mentally deleting any word I might ordinarily use, for fear that I'll get an irate telephone call from my mother, the one who thinks that the f-word is "fart"]...person directed me straight back to the opening system ("Thank you for calling Rosetta Stone, the world's most widely-used foreign language software! If you know your party's extension, please enter thatnumber now. If you would like to place an order with Rosetta Stone, please press one now. If you'd like to speak to a support technician, please press two now....")

I'd like to add another sentence to that opening spiel: "If you wish you'd never bought Rosetta Stone and enrolled your children in a Spanish homeschool co-op class, please press aitch-ee-double hockey sticks now."

I think I'm going to wind up calling Pat, who will probably be very nice and come over during his lunch hour or something and accomplish in two minutes what it has taken me two HOURS to do, which will make me feel both guilty and dumb. Which will make me go into the kitchen and eat three brownies in a furtive manner, carefully folding back the aluminum foil covering them so that it doesn't give me away in a tell-tale rustle.

It's the first day of school and I am going to...

...destroy the Rosetta Stone software.

This had better teach my kids how to speak Spanish like citizens of Puerto Rico, or I am going to spit on the television the next time one of their commercials comes on. On second thought, maybe not.

Just trust me that their software takes, like, FOREVER to download and it is not what I'd call intuitive. Keep in mind that, through our years of homeschooling, I have downloaded dozens of pieces of software, so it's not like I have no experience at this. Just now, I was sitting in front of the Homeschool Dashboard with both of the girls' names listed, unable to ascertain how to get to the home page of the program so that one of them could begin a lesson.

After fiddling and figeting with it until I thought I'd go mad, I finally called tech support, which is something I am always grumpily reluctant to do. I want to solve my own problems, darn it, without the help of some smug, computer-savvy twenty-something techie privately mocking me by writing the words "Middle aged woman - I've got five on pre-menopausal and that she'll call me a bodily orifice before we hang up" on a legal pad and showing it to the techie in the next cubicle.

I waited on hold for ten of the best years of my life and then got a support person who greeted me in a cheerful manner. I mentioned, in a slightly terse voice, that I'd been trying to install the Rosetta Stone software on the computer for about two hours and couldn't figure out how to access the home page.

"Have you assigned a curriculum to your users?" he asked.

"Yes," I responded. "And the only thing I see is a button that says 'Add/Remove Course' and a button that says 'Progress Report' next to both their names."

There was a pause. "And you can't find the home page?" he asked slowly, no doubt furiously scribbling 'IDIOT!' on his legal pad.

"No," I answered.

"Ma'am," he said patiently, "all you have to do is click on a name, and the home page for that student will come up."

Is there any reason, ANY REASON AT ALL, why it couldn't have just said "Click on a name to continue"?

I wonder if Rosetta Stone teaches you how to cuss in Spanish?

First day of school

It's the first day of school.

I've been up since 5:00 a.m. after going to bed at midnight. Why, you ask? Well, naturally, because the BEST WAY to start out a new school year is with bloodshot eyes, a demeanor of quiet menace and a bitter interior monologue.

Yes, that should start things off well.

This is also the day of our first away volleyball game, which is fortunately only as far away as the nearby city -- maybe a twenty minute drive. Meelyn can drive there while I ride shotgun and contemplate how the ninety-three days that comprised our summer vacation went so quickly.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Brit Lit syllabus DONE

I worked for FOUR HOURS -- one, two, three, FOUR -- on this holiday to type up the syllabus for the British Literature class I'm teaching first semester, starting on September 10.

I've never taught Britlit from this text before (we're using Poetry and Prose of England from Seton Press, supplemented by C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters as an example of modern fiction and Agatha Christie's short play, The Mousetrap, as an example of modern drama) so I have either wildly overestimated or underestimated the time we'll need to cover everything from Beowulf to Spenser to Keats to Kipling to Yeats to Chesterton. It's hard to know these things, especially when you have only a certain amount of time each week to finish an entire textbook. I am not good at skipping over some writers in favor of others, and I am also not good at not finishing textbooks. Textbooks for which I have paid money.

(Have I mentioned that I am wound a little tight?)

Anyway, this textbook has a deplorable lack of women writers: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti are two lonely ladies stuck there in the middle of the Victorian Era. And I'm all huffing, like, so what happened to the Brontës? Mary Shelley? Jane freakin' Austen, gosh darnit!!! And why no mention of Agatha Christie, one of the Great Britain's best selling and most prolific authors, whose books and plays and short stories are surely every bit as entertaining as The Faerie Queene and "To An Athlete Dying Young."

So I'm working them in as supplements.

I just called my husband in to look at my lovely, my beauty, my dearest sweet syllabus, and he remarked dubiously, "You know, don't you, that I'm not going to have a clue what I'm looking at, right?"

"Oh, I know," I said. "I just want you to admire how neatly it is laid out and how flawlessly I have formatted it."

He came in and peered over my shoulder for a moment as I proudly scrolled through the document, then he patted me on the shoulder and said, "I always hoped to marry a woman with some book-learnin' about her."

Britlit always reminds me of one of my favorite bits of Dorothy Parker doggerel:

A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature

The Lives and Times of John Keats,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of Lyrical treats.

The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,

But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Online text © 1998-2008 Poetry X.
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From Sunset Rope