Monday, October 27, 2008

How to annoy me

On Saturday, my parents sent my family a great big package from Colorado, filled with little love-you gifts, including a bunch of candy and a check for $50. It was lovely tearing into that box like Christmas-come-early...I can't remember the last time I had that much fun diving into cardboard and bubble wrap.

The check was the biggest surprise of all, and most welcome during this time when the mainstream print and broadcast media is doing their earnest best to assure everyone that it is impossible to get loans for cars or houses, so naturally people have been staying away in droves from the automobile dealership where my husband works as a salesman. Naturally, the mainstream media is wrong, as it usually is, but how do you convince people of that when all their attention is focused on the fact that balance on their 401(k) now resembles the sum of a third grade arithmetic problem?

Anyway, I pulled up to the drive-thru of a local branch of my parents' bank today to cash the check, in the pleasant anticipation of becoming fifty dollars richer. I planned to turn that anticipation into bread, milk, eggs, meat and breakfast food for the coming week directly thereafter, so I did what I expected would need to be done and sent my photo ID through the little suction tube to the teller indoors with the endorsed check wrapped around it.

"Ms. McKinney?" the teller asked as soon as she opened the tube and looked at the check -- and I'm sure it was just the fact that it was Monday morning rather than the fact that her parents had never had her adenoids removed that made her voice sound so nasally and grating, poor girl -- "if you want me to cash this check, you'll have to come in to have your thumb print taken, plus we charge a three dollar fee for cashing checks for people who don't have accounts here."

I looked at her incredulously and said, "But this check is drawn on this bank!"

"I know that," she responded. "But that's our policy."

It took just about everything I had in order not to say, "Well, you know what, missy? That policy SUCKS SWAMP WATER." The most maddening thing was that I had driven by the branch of our own bank and come to this one, farther away, because I thought it would be best to come to the actual bank where my parents have their account.

And I don't know about this thumb print thing. Is that a standard banking practice? If it is, I think it's creepy and weird. If they have my photo ID, which, sadly, depicts me in an all-too-factual manner, then that ought to be enough, right? Why do they need my thumbprint like cashing a fifty dollar check from my mom is some kind of financial fraud?

Ooohhhh, I am really grumpy today. Please excuse.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Judgment Day

November 4, 2008 is not only the date of the presidential elections in the United States, it is also the day report cards will be issued for the first grading period of Our Lady of Good Counsel Junior/Senior High School.

RECIPE: Game Day Caramel Corn

My family loves caramel corn, but I think it is fairly expensive to buy - something like $2.38 for a cardboard box that holds a cellophane packet inside that is half-full of caramel corn, which takes the four of us approximately half an hour to plow through.

So I was very pleased to find today that homemade caramel popcorn is a lot cheaper to make on your own, and easy, too.

I don't think I've made caramel popcorn for about sixteen years or so. I remember that the last time I made it, I was still teaching. My sixth graders held a bake sale in the cafeteria every Friday afternoon to raise funds for a class trip to Chicago, and I frequently made caramel popcorn balls in various cute ways, such as with a little bit of candy corn stirred in (adorable for fall) or with red and green M&Ms stirred in for Christmasy corn balls, or even with plain old milk chocolate chips. I packaged them in pieces of cling wrap and tied them with coordinating colors of curling ribbon and they always sold very well.

As I wracked my brain trying to remember what recipe I used, it came to me that the one I used for those popcorn balls was one from the church's first cookbook, published by the Ladies' Auxiliary. Even though I no longer attend that church, that cookbook is one of my favorites and many of the recipes therein were submitted by old friends whose faces I can still see in my mind's eye.

So here, with a few tweaks, is one of the easiest and most delicious caramel popcorn recipes you'll probably ever find. You can add little candies to the finished product, as I mentioned above -- let your imagination run wild -- or you can leave it plain. You can put on some kitchen gloves (so that you won't burn your dainty fingers) and form the popcorn into popcorn balls. It is a very versatile recipe.


1 cup unpopped popcorn (makes about two gallons of poppped corn)
canola oil
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Pour half of the popcorn kernels into the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan on stovetop. Add canola oil just to cover. Over high heat, pop popcorn, shaking saucepan frequently to allow kernels to fall to the bottom of the pan. Repeat with the rest of the popcorn kernels.

When popped, pour all popcorn into a paper grocery bag; set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter and add corn syrup, brown sugar and salt. Allow mixture to come to an easy boil; cook for two minutes, stirring continally. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring at the end of one minute. Repeat. At the end of the second minute, add the baking soda and stir, allowing the caramel mixture to foam up.

Pour half the mixture over the popcorn, fold bag over and shake vigorously. Open bag and pour remaining caramel over the popcorn; shake again, turning the bag upside down and sideways, taking care to hold it shut.

[At this point, you would be a VERY SMART PERSON if you took that saucepan you just made the caramel sauce in and filled it with hot soapy water. Because, caramel sauce? It hardens like LAVA on the insides of your cookware and it will make you wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just throw your saucepan in the garbage can outdoors than to try to chisel off all that hardened candy coating. Just trust me on this.]

When the popcorn has been thoroughly shaken, fold the bag over and place in the microwave; cook on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove bag from microwave and shake thoroughly. Put bag back in microwave and cook for another 1 1/2 minutes.

When the caramel popcorn is finished in the microwave, remove bag and carefully pour the popcorn into a large roasting pan -- it will be VERY HOT. Stir to make sure all pieces are coated and allow to dry, stirring every now and then. If you want to stir in candy pieces, chocolate chips or nuts, this is the time to do it. You can also form the popcorn into balls at this time. If you don't want to make popcorn balls, break the popcorn up into smaller pieces.

Store in an airtight container. Serve in a ceramic dish shaped and painted to look like a football.

This recipe makes a lot of caramel popcorn, so take some to a fellow football lover.

I love this recipe because the worst part of the mess is on the inside of that paper grocery bag. Yay, Team Snackage!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blessed are the consumers of fast food

This morning I drove Aisling to her piano lesson and then took myself (along with a stack of Shakespeare books so that I could finalize my class notes for tomorrow) to the McDonald's out at the interstate. I really love it that all their soft drinks are $1 and I ordered a Diet Coke in a cup big enough to wash a Dalmation in.

I hadn't yet had breakfast (and the lesson was at noon, just to give you an idea of how hungry I was), so I sifted through the contents of my little change purse and was delighted to find that I had enough cash to buy a small order of french fries. I placed my order and started assembling a fist full of coins.

When it was my turn to pullup next to Window #1, I held out my handful of change, but the cashier inside shook her head and smiled at me. "The lady in the car ahead of you paid for your order," she said.

I had a sudden urge to just burst into tears. At a time when you turn on the news (which, let's be frank, I do at least ten thousand times per day) only to hear that it is mostly bad, the simple act of someone's anonymously buying my fries and soda pop really touched me.

So thank you, unknown lady in the white Buick Regal. The french fries were crisp and perfectly salty and the Diet Coke was icy and refreshing. I spent a very pleasant hour sitting there in the sunshine with my Macbeth notes and a grateful heart for the small blessings that come my way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happily ever after

Strangely enough, as soon as I threatened to take away their computer time, the girls found the pencil sharpener within ten minutes.

But then they discovered that the batteries I bought for it? That very special package of batteries, purchased especially for the pencil sharpener? Well, those very batteries are being used in one of the television remote controls and the camera.

So even though the pencil sharpener has been found, it still can't be used.

It's going to take every bit of self-control I can muster not to buy them each an electric pencil sharpener with an actual cord and plug of their very own someday for a house warming present.

Future Son-in-Law: Geez, what's up with the $20 pencil sharpener as a house warming gift? Are your parents kind of cheap, or what? I thought they'd at least be good for a queen-sized camp bed that inflates in under five minutes, can hold up to five hundred pounds and saves guests from strained backs.

Daughter: Oh, they're not too cheap; it's just my mom's way of passively aggressively commenting on what pigs my sister and I were when we were teenagers. I bet they'll get us a Brita water pitcher for Christmas!

Why I love my dogs

This morning, Meelyn and Aisling were both complaining about their duuuuull pencils and how haaaaard they are to write with and I was very puzzled by this. We have a nice automatic pencil sharpener that I bought at the beginning of the school year last year - it's a sturdy thing and only asks that its batteries be replaced every so often. I bought new batteries for it just last week.

"I bought batteries for the sharpener just last week!" I exclaimed indignantly. "If your pencils are dull, then summon the energy to put the new batteries in the sharpener."

"We can't," said Meelyn.

"But we'd like to," added Aisling helpfully. "Diagramming sentences is bad enough, but boyoboy, when you have to use a dull pencil and draw all those dumb brackets and...."

"Never mind about diagramming," I interrupted shortly. "Why can't you put the new batteries in the pencil sharpener?"

The girls traded a knowing look and then turned their limpid blue gazes on me, innocent astonishment at finding themselves in circumstances that are so absurd as to be incomprehensible oozing from their every pore. Let me just say that there were probably snake oil salesmen selling a remedy to naive homesteaders off the back of a horse-drawn caravan -- a remedy that would cure everything from dandruff to B.O. to the galloping consumption -- who looked more trustworthy and reliable than my two children did at that moment.

"It's lost," said Meelyn simply.

"Lost?" I said, my brows drawing together threateningly. My voice went up a notch. "Lost?"

"We can't find it," Aisling elaborated helpfully. "It's nowhere to be found."

"I see," I replied in clipped tones. "Well, you know what? It's going to get FOUND again very SOON because until it is FOUND neither of you two girls is going to have ANY COMPUTER TIME."

They looked a little panicked. "It could be in the rolling cart with the scrapbooking stuff," said Meelyn hurriedly.

"Or in the Shakespeare crate...."

"Or in a drawer...."

"In a backpack?"

"Out in the van?"


"Can't we just buy a new one?" Aisling asked. "It's so boring looking for stuff that's lost."

I had to leave the room at that one and I went out to the kitchen to pound my head on the counter, reflecting that this morning I'd had to tell Aisling for the six hundredth time that there is a difference between Martin Luther, the 16th century Augustinian monk who started the Protestant Reformation in Europe and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the twentieth century civil rights leader who was assassinated in the 1960s.

It's days like this that make me think about the empty nest, which will someday be home to me, my husband, a dog or two and an un-lost pencil sharpener.

RECIPE: Game Day Snack Crackers

These are very delicious and delightfully snacky, but they will give you really, really bad breath, so plan to brush your teeth thoroughly after every handful.

You can eat these as is, or add a cup or so to a big bowl of hot popcorn. You can make variations on this recipe by adding a cup of cashews or using cheddar flavored goldfish crackers or tiny pretzels as well.


1 12-ounce bags oyster crackers

1 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon dill (heaping)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 packet ranch dressing mix


In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the canola oil and the three remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Put the packages of crackers into a bowl with a tight-fitting lid; pour the canola oil mixture over them and gently stir to coat. Flip the bowl upside down and allow the crackers to rest for half an hour. At the end of that time, flip the bowl again and allow to rest for another half hour.

Serve in a large snack bowl (or package in tins to give as gifts.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

RECIPE: Game Day Taco Dip

My husband was watching some television commercial that featured women -- not women wearing skimpy underwear or using their feminine wiles to get you to buy a Cadillac a la Kate Walsh -- but presenting their husbands with special Football Sunday snacks and treats, holding up sheet cakes decorated like football fields, which is anathema to me. I think it might have been a Kroger commercial, so remind me to go to their dairy section a drop a carton of eggs on the floor. It was that goofy.

Anyway, he gave me this wistful look out of his melting brown eyes and said, "I sure wish you would make some special game day food."

I trumpeted a scornful laugh through my nose and said, "I suppose you mean things like Rice Krispie treats with orange and black M&M's stirred in for the Bengals?"

He looked discomfited. "Well...yes. That's just what I meant."

Apologetically, I said, "I'm sorry, honey. I thought you were being satirical."

"I don't know how to do satirical. I can do sarcastic, gloomy, hopeful underdog, pulling-for-them-in-the-clutch and maniacal fan shouting and jumping around the living room, spilling beer on the couch and grinding Doritos into the carpet, but I can't do satirical."

"I think I can come up with a few things, then. And they won't be inspired by satire."

My main requirement for Game Day Snacks and Treats is that they would do beyond just opening a crackly bag and a carton of french onion dip, but also that they would be very easy, since I consider Sunday afternoons and evenings my own personal time out. Of the kitchen, that is. So when I found this really delicious recipe for taco dip, I knew it was a champion.


1 can traditional refried beans

1 8-oz package cream cheese

1 packet taco seasoning

1 1/2 cup salsa

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, colby, colby-jack, whatever your preference)

4 green onions, finely chopped

approx. 10 grape tomatoes, very thinly sliced (optional)

1 small can sliced black olives, drained (optional)

sliced jalapeno peppers (optional, to taste)


1. Place the refried beans and the cream cheese in a microwave-safe dish and warm them in 30-second bursts to soften, about 2 minutes total. Add the taco seasoning packet; stir to combine.

2. Spread the beans/cheese/taco seasoning combination in the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan.

3. Pour the salsa over the beans and spread to the edges

4. Evenly sprinkle shredded cheese over the top of the salsa

5. Add the green onions and the tomatoes, black olives and jalapeno pepper slices, if desired.

6. Serve as is (room temp) or chill and serve with tortilla chips. Makes around eight servings.

On the run

My husband completed his second Indianapolis Marathon/Half-Marathon (he did the half) yesterday at Ft. benjamin Harrison, which is a beautiful place to run this time of year. The Marathon/Half-Marathon is very hilly, but runners are compensated for their efforts by the sight of all the gorgeous trees along Fall Creek Boulevard. My husband bettered his time from last year a little bit, which was a very happy thing. Congratulations, honey!

My friend Michelle also ran the Indianapolis Marathon 5K event yesterday and stood at the finish line waiting for various people to come across so that she could cheer them on, my husband being one of them, as well as some people from our church and members of the group she ran with. She told me yesterday afternoon after Mass that she ran the 5K in the same amount of time that she used to run that same distance about fifteen years ago, so good goin', girlfriend!

Meelyn and Kieren ran the Lungs for Life 5K in downtown Indianapolis at the IUPUI campus on Saturday, September 27 and did very well there. Kieren, who runs cross country for his school's team, is over six feet tall now, most of it legs. So he was able to speed Meelyn along quite nicely: his own personal time was about fifteen minutes slower that he could have run it, but Meelyn took about five minutes off her own time.

We all traveled together to the Lungs for Life event, which, to be honest, is not very well organized, but in our family, my brother and I had both grandmothers die very young of lung-related illnesses: Our maternal grandmother died of the complications of emphysema and chronic bronchitis at age 54 and our paternal grandmother died of lung cancer at age 63. Both were very heavy smokers, and neither got the chance to meet their beautiful and loving-hearted great-grandchildren.

One of the parts of the event not being well organized became most apparent when Pat, Aisling and I were standing near the finish line waiting for Meelyn and Kieren to come along and we realized that there were families pushing strollers and pulling big plastic wagons full of preschoolers, as well as people in wheelchairs rolling across and one elderly lady with a walker.

Pat and I looked at each other. "What's going on here?" he asked me. "Did they decide to stop running and maybe, I don't know, think that it would be a good idea to crawl?"

I was mystified as I watched the little elderly lady with the walker pump the air with her fist as she crossed the finish line. "Do you think one of them got hurt?" I said uncertainly.

"No, look, here they come," said Aisling, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand and pointing down the street. And indeed, there they were, Meelyn doggedly chugging along and Kieren loping with that easy grace that comes so easy to teenage boys, them with their untapped reservoirs of strength and energy.

The two teens crossed the finish line and joined me, Pat and Aisling, where they told us that the race's course was not very well marked and they'd made a mistake somewhere and found themselves cruising by people who were on the one mile Family Fun Walk.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back from the Festival

The trip to Ontario, so long planned (and paid) for, is over already for another two years!

Everyone seemed to have a very good time, and thankfully, my organizational abilities managed to hold out until I got home, at which time I promptly lost my toothbrush and have had to go around with bad breath ever since. Stratford is a beautiful little city and the experience of Shakespeare performed live is something beyond amazing.

Our motel, although humble and shabby on the outside, proved to be comfortable on the inside, with large, clean rooms and showers with an enormous supply of hot water and pressure strong enough to rinse all the shampoo out of your hair before your skin turns pruney. Except for the fact that the only cable news I could find was CNN -- a network which I hold in such low esteem, one might say that my liking for them is nonexistent -- Meelyn, Aisling and I were very comfortable and had a good night's sleep.

We saw, as I mentioned, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet, both in the same theater in the very same seats. The theater was the Festival Theater, the largest and most elaborate of the theaters in Stratford (the others are the Avon and the Tom Patterson). It overlooks the riverwalk, which was resplendent with gracious homes built of stone and brick peeping through the autumn-hued trees on the opposite bank, and swans charming us all with their grace and regal bearing. I deeply wanted to get out of the van and hug one, but Gary refused to stop.

Everyone was of the opinion that they'd like to go to Stratford again, so here is a list of things I don't want to forget that I think would make the trip better:

1. We need to go for two nights. Not because this schedule was un-doable, but more because I think it would be better to leave on a Friday morning, arrive on Friday afternoon, see a play on Friday evening, then stay all day Saturday shopping and relaxing around Stratford, topping off the day with another evening performance on Saturday night, then getting up on Sunday morning to drive home.

The first reason why this is important to me is because we saw Hamlet as a student matinee and I just can't tell you how awful it was. And that's not because of the play (although we had hours of happy discussion on the way back home talking about the things we did and didn't like about it); it's because of the students with whom we were sharing the theater. And if you don't want to read critical stuff about the average public or private high school group, then stop reading right here because you won't like what I'm getting ready to say.

The majority of high school groups that are taken on big yellow buses to go see plays have only the most minor level of civilization. Yes, I know, they're not ALL bad kids, but the bad kids outnumber the good ones by such an enormous margin that it's really just no use to try to convince me that there's one angel for every juvenile deliquent that slouches into the theater.

Frankly, the high school kids there ruined Hamlet for me. They were too immature to pay anything but the slightest amount of attention to the play: the school group sitting across the aisle from my seat threw paper wads and airplanes made out of pages of their playbills over the edge of the balcony every time the house lights went down. There were titters and guffaws at the most inappropriate times, such as when Hamlet was speaking his "to be or not to be" soliloquy, during Ophelia's mad scene, and at the death of Gertrude. Was there something funny happening at those times? Uhhh, no. It's just that the student audience is so pathetically shallow and insipid, they can't wrap their minds around any sort of drama that takes place outside the school cafeteria.

Although the ushers had asked everyone to turn off all electronic devices, the subtle blue glow from a couple hundred cell phone dimly lit the balcony as the little idiots texted their friends.

It was maddening. I sat there fuming through the entire show, thinking that we had driven too far, paid too much and waited too long to see this play to have it spoiled by a bunch of rude, obnoxious teenagers. From now on, I only want to schedule plays during the times when adults will be there so that we can be guaranteed an appreciative audience around us that won't detract and distract from the performance. The dynamic in the theater was entirely different the evening before during The Taming of the Shrew.

The second reason why we need to be able to stay for two nights is so that we can get up on Sunday morning, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and then be able to leave by check out time without everyone feeling frantic about getting everything packed and stowed away; also without leaving a kid behind who was taking one of each of the ten thousand brochures featuring info about local attractions that were displayed in the office.

A little more sleep for adults and kids wouldn't have gone amiss, either. Adults, because we bore the responsibility of looking after our children. Children, because as it turns out, when you put a group of adolescents aged 10-15 on a van for fourteen hours, they tend to get tired and disagreeable both with their parents and each other and right now Aisling and her friend Rachel aren't speaking to one another. *sigh*

2. We need to have different seats to be able to appreciate the different perspective one can get. I chose A seats for the group, mostly because the A+ seats (seats at the Festival Theater are rated from A+ to D) were very expensive. But what I didn't consider before is that it would have been very nice to have the A seats in the first balcony for the first performance and then have A+ seats in the orchestra for the second night to look forward to. In my opinion, if we're driving seven hours and crossing an international border, we shouldn't do that for anything but A or A+ seats.

There is so much energy in a live performance, both from actor to actor and actor to audience. Our seats in the balcony were good, but we were above the action and I think it would have been a great pleasure to be down close enough to see things at stage level.

3. We need to eat something besides fast food. I'm thinking that the trip could only benefit by a group meal at The Church, which is a five-star restaurant located right there in Stratford. I went years ago on my first trip to the Festival, and the fact that I still remember the delicious meal and the gorgeous surroundings is a testament to what an amazing experience it was.

On this trip, we survived on a meal at Tim Horton's, a meal at a combined KFC/Taco Bell, a continental breakfast at the motel, and the ham and turkey sandwiches, apples, raisins and chips that the thoughtful and generous Virginia blessed us all with. In truth, Virginia's food was the only healthy stuff that crossed our paths, it seemed, during the entire forty-eight hours. We were able to make two meals out of the huge crate of groceries she brought on board the van, and I was so grateful, I was nearly in tears. It turns out there's a limit to how much junk food kids and adults can consume without feeling wretched and bilious, even in a relatively short amount of time.

I think a visit to The Church would not have only provided kids and adults with a memorable cultural experience (as well as a couple of glasses of wine for the grown ups), but also with a hot meal made out of real food. And presumably the service would be about a million times better than the service we received at the Tim Horton's and KFC/Taco Bell we visited in Ontario, where the teenage staff apparently had all recently received lobotomies.

There's a huge difference between restaurant that's rated with five stars and a restaurant that's rated with a star-sucking black hole, drawing the entire universe into a grease-coated vortex.

Those are just a few thoughts to look back to as I complete my notes about the trip in my little notebook and tuck it away for future reference.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A very Shakespeare sort of morning

We're leaving for Stratford, Ontario in two hours and fifteen minutes and I have been awake for one hour and fourteen minutes, although I only allowed myself to get out of bed ten minutes ago, and then only because I was running the risk of drowning in my own snot.

The day is here, forsooth! It's been a whole year since I first contacted the travel agent and had her start making all the calls, which I have decided will be a lot cheaper and easier if I just do myself next time, especially since then I won't run the risk of having her quit her job without telling me and nearly giving me a heart attack when I went to the agency to pick up the theater tickets and no one knew who I was. I thought I was going to have to go all Mercutio on someone.

I got a call yesterday from Jerri and her husband, who, with their daughter Janie have already headed up to Canada. They've decided to make a week's vacation of it, so they won't be squished onto the van with the rest of us. The call was one of those in-and-out-again sort of things, but what I made out is that they wanted to warn us that I-69 and I-96 go their separate ways in Lansing and that if one has a sudden moment of dyslexia, one might find oneself headed to Toledo. I'm sure that Toldeo is a very fine city and that it would be possible to see some Shakespearean play performed there, but I don't know if they have an actual festival and I'm pretty sure that, whatever they do have, the tickets I have with me are not the tickets that will get us into whatever venue they use for such things, so I was thankful for the heads-up: We will work hard to not slip into reading dysfunction in Lansing.

I'm thinking we'll probably be in Canada at about four o'clock this afternoon. Thank heaven Ontario is in the same time zone we are, or I would be sunk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Tomorrow we leave on a long-planned trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. I went there a few years back, right after I graduated from college at the sweet age of twelve, and I thought at the time, "I am coming back here someday. In fact, I am going to come back here as often as possible."

So now that I am a dewy young matron of....uhhhmmm...(give me a moment to do some quick arithmetic in my head)....thirty-four years old, I'm going to go, and here's the part that strikes me as being both very cool and very dangerous: I'm the tour group leader. We're seeing Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew, both of which were last year's Shakespeare Workshop plays.

This is a cool thing because this is one of the supremely nerdy things I've always wanted to do: be a tour group leader. I know. Just hush, okay? It's my dream and it actually came true, so don't go and spoil it with your incredulous laughter. My only disappointment is that, since we're traveling to Canada in Virginia's van, I won't have a little jump seat up front where I can sit with a microphone and inform the travelers in a chatty voice that, if they look out the left side of the vehicle, they'll see Flint, Michigan and then later tell them that the sight we're seeing up ahead is a toll booth, so everybody pony up.

Leading a tour group is right up there with the other thing I really want to do, which is write a grant, and no, I'm not kidding about that. I'd really like to write a grant to do some Shakespeare theater with the homeschool group, but first I have to finish this trip to Stratford and make sure all my friends are still speaking to me.

The reason why this is very dangerous is that I am very good -- obsessive, some call it -- at tending to tiny details, like making sure everyone has a chocolate for his/her pillow tomorrow night and that we have fun games with prizes for the kids to play to while away the long hours of driving, but I'm also prone, as my husband will tell you, to doing things like all of a sudden start yelling that I can't find my passport and I think I left it at home and we have to turn around right now and then say, oh, never mind, I just remembered I stuck it in my bra for safekeeping.

In many respects, I am so excited about this trip, it is just like anticipating Christmas. I am so glad to be going with a gang of some of my favorite friends and their kids from the homeschool group, but on the other hand, I feel this enormous, pressing sense of responsibility to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy and having a good time. We're going to be gone for less than forty-eight hours, so there are undoubtedly going to be some tired people. And the plan for this trip was to keep it as inexpensive as possible, so there might be some dyspeptic people. But I hope that the plays themselves, plus my cheery ways and my little details will be enough to make everyone think that this was definitely worth the tiredness factor and that it will be considered money well spent.

I feel like the entire crew of the Love Boat rolled into one nervous person.

If this trip goes well, I already know some things I want to change for the next time -- and if this is a success, I hope to do this again in two years.

My long-range plan is that eventually, I'll do something along the lines of teaching Shakespeare classes (my emphasis is not only on the plays themselves, but also on the Catholicism of his works) to adults, and then my husband and I can take groups of adults to Stratford as well as the students.

A new milestone passed. Literally.

On Sunday morning as the girls and I were leaving the house to go to religious ed classes, I drew a deep breath and tossed Meelyn the car keys as we crossed the driveway.

"I thought maybe you'd want to drive and get some practice on the interstate," I said casually, trying to ignore the feeling that I'd been kicked in the stomach by a mule.

Mee's face lit up with a huge smile. "Really?" she said in delight, catching the keys in mid-flight. "Seriously?"

"Yep," I said, smiling back and inwardly doubting my sanity. "Sure! Why not?" I squashed down the compelling answer that kept presenting itself, marquee-style, across the front of my brain: "Because I know we all have to die someday, but given a choice, today is not the day I'd choose."

We got in the van and Meelyn put on her seatbelt before she put on her sunglasses, which I thought was a positive sign. Then she expertly backed up, turned the van around and pulled out of the driveway onto our street as if she'd been doing it for years instead of a matter of mere months.

Off we went, and when we arrived at the interstate on ramp, I'd had a few moments to say a few prayers (most of which started with the word "help.") Meelyn smoothly whizzed down the lane and merged onto the interstate with a certain aplomb that I myself am sometimes lacking as I shout, "Move over, you idiot! There's room enough on this road for both of us!"

I'm happy to report that she did a fabulous job. There's no escaping that first time you drive at a high rate of speed on a road with other people driving at a high rate of speed with your teenager behind the wheel and the contemplation of that thought can turn your hair turn white overnight. Fact!

But in my case, it didn't happen. Meelyn did a great job on the interstate, driving both to the church and back with cheerful competence.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Today I called the doctor

The perky nurse who works the phones at my doctor's office answered with a "Hi! Thanks for calling Auburn Road Family Physicians! Could you please hold?"

"Yup," I croaked and then positioned the cordless receiver between my head and the wall so that I could slip into a slight coma until she got back with me.

"Hi! Thanks for called Auburn Road Family Physicians! How can I help you?"

(I think this particular nurse paid part of her way through college by working at the Frisch's Big-Boy drive-thru.)

"I think I have a sinus infection."

"Uh-huh....what are your symptoms, sweetie?"

"Well, first of all, my whole face hurts."


"And my teeth hurt, all my top row teeth."


"And disgusting stuff is clogging up my head..."

"That sounds about right, hon!"

"And my neck even hurts, although that may because we're still sleeping at night with a huge fan blowing right on us, even though it's so cold at night I wake up with frost crystals on my eyelashes."

"Oooh, yes. You betcha!"

"And I'm so tired that I drag myself through the day waiting for bedtime and when bedtime finally gets here, I look at the clock and it turns out to be only 4:30 p.m."

"Yeah, you've got it all right!"

"And my last symptom, I find, is that when people speak to me in an excessively perky manner, I have an itching desire to staple things to their foreheads."

"Hmmm....not sure about that last one, doll! I think it's probably just a virus! Wait it out! Get plenty of liquid! Use nasal saline spray! Have a greeeaaaaat weekend! Mmmmmbye!"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TUESDAYS WITH DORIE (In [dis]spirit, for dinner last night) -- Basic Biscuits

Last night, I made Dorie's Basic Biscuits for about the seven millionth time. That may be a slight exaggeration. I believe I have actually made them seven million and one times.

I made them again because Katie and Kayte opined at Moms' Night Out last Monday that maybe my biscuit cutter was to blame: apparently, a dull-edged biscuit cutter can effectively seal the biscuits and keep them from rising, or they can be sealed by the baker's twisting of the cutter.

My biscuit cutter is just about as old as I am. Which....*ahem*....means that it is in the prime of its life, although maybe not quite as sharp as it used to be and if that's not a metaphor for middle age, I don't know what is.

Intrepid is my middle name. I mean, THERE ARE CRUSADERS WHO SEARCHED FOR THE HOLY GRAIL who weren't as dedicated as I have been to these dumb biscuits. So I went to Meijer and looked high and low for a biscuit cutter (Holy Grail reference again) and couldn't find one. What? Why can I not find a biscuit cutter in the kitchen implements section of a store like Meijer that is so large, one can perceive the curvature of the earth when looking down the middle aisle?

Anyway, I ended up going to the cake baking section and buying a round cookie cutter for $3.99, cussing under my breath just a little bit. It's much bigger than my old cutter, being a three-inch diameter instead of a two-inch diameter, but what are you gonna do? I wasn't aware that I was going to have to search the Yellow Pages for a tinsmith so that I could make Dorie's biscuits for the seven million and first time.

I took the new cutter home, washed and dried it, and then assembled my Basic Biscuit ingredients. I cut them out, noting that the round cookie cutter did slice very cleanly through the dough. Then I baked them and loitered around the oven door, wringing my hands and biting my lip, hoping against hope that the biscuits would rise.

They didn't. I served my family three-inch diameter crackers and I AM DONE WITH DORIE'S BASIC FREAKIN' BISCUITS.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Off to the orchard!

We've been busily decorating the house for autumn around these parts and the great outdoors has been obligingly helping us out by framing views of colorful leaves and blue, blue skies with puffy white clouds at every window -- from my bedroom upstairs, I can see the verdigris cross on top of the historic Presbyterian church silhouetted against the heavens, wreathed in the goldy-brown leaves from two huge oak trees. "Spectacular" is the very word I use to describe it.

Today, we put Wimzie on the leash and drove to the Jacob's Orchard, which has been the only orchard of my life. I flirted with Doherty's in Wayne County a few times because they've got those enormous walk-in refrigerators full of more apples than you've ever seen in your life, plus they sell about six different varieties of popcorn, going far beyond the typical yellow or white all the way over to your reds, blacks and blues. The red is gorgeous in its ruby-hued glamour, but I find it tough and not very corny in taste. The yellow and the black are my favorites. I am a popcorn connoisseure from 'way back.

Anyway, Jacob's has been around for a long time; so long, in fact, that it used to be named Anderson's Orchard, but the Andersons retired and sold it. The Jacobs seem to be making a good go of it, although I am miffed that they took away the pumpkin board. The pumpkin board was a big sheet of plywood painted white with three holes cut in it: small, medium and large. To find out how much your pumpkin cost, you passed it through the hole which corresponded with its size. Big honkin' pumpkins were something like $2.00, Mama Bear pumpkins were slightly less, and the little wee pumpkins were fifty cents.

I wish I could convey how much fun it was to carefully pass your pumpkin through the hole, only to find out that it was TOO BIG for the medium-sized hole, which meant you had a real whopper. I can only hope that you yourself had a pumpkin board at some sweet time in your happy past.

We bought:

3 large orange pumpkins, for carving

3 tiny white pumpkins, also for carving because the orange inside is so cool lit with a tea-light in contrast to the creamy white exterior. But also because they're so cute, I want to kiss them and make baby bonnets for them out of construction paper and coffee filters and maybe sleep with them under my pillow.

1/2 gallon of cider

1/2 dozen cinnamon-apple donuts

3 large and gloriously bushy mums, one lavender colored, which I find very ugly but the girls liked it, one bronze and one burgundy red.

3 small cider slushies, one of which fell to the ground before I could save it.

You may have noticed a strange lack of apples in the purchases we made at the orchard, but all I can say to that is just shut up. We bought cider, didn't we? And I have a bowl of Red Delicious on the kitchen counter right now, so there.

We took Wimzie, as I mentioned, and she was absolutely delighted to go to the orchard and smell all the many different smells there. Plus, she met some goats, whom she found enchanting. They were mildly interested in her and sniffed her as she stood up on her hind legs at their gate. Wimzie sniffed them back and, when the biggest one found out that she didn't have any, food available, that goat reproachfully butted Wimzie with her head.

Wimzie also met a puppy, whom she deeply admired, and a black Lab that belongs to the folks at the orchard, whom she found offensive. She rode back home with her head stuck out the passenger's side window, eyes sparkling and bangs blowing straight back.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In agreement

My husband and I completely agree that the best television theme song ever written is the one called "Best Friend" from the ├╝ber-seventies sitcom, The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

Birthdays and bicycles

We went to Kieren's 15th birthday party today at my brother and sister-in-law's house, where my brother informed me I needed to update my blog, or he wouldn't read here anymore.

I figure that my readership hovers somewhere around thirteen or fourteen people on any given day, so it would probably be best not to irritate the loyal few (as opposed to those who come here by complete accident, have a quick look around the place, and quickly leave again to head over to MSN games or or wherever they intended to go), so here is my post for today.

For his birthday dinner, Kieren chose chili, salad, various assorted chips and lemon cake with vanilla ice cream. He received cards with money from assorted grandparents, aunts and uncles and a cell phone from his parents. He is handsome and adorable and I love him very much, but take care not to mention this (except in birthday cards, where it is not corny to write "We love you!" with mooshy, aunt-like abandon) so that he won't be embarrassed.

Dayden and Kiersi were also very cute, Kiersi in a pink t-shirt that read "I Can Play the Cute Card If I Have To" and Dayden earnestly telling me that he did not want any dumb money for his birthday next month, but preferred to receive gifts.

We spent a very pleasant afternoon with the family (including some of Angie's family, whom we like very much) and drove home praying the rosary together on a golden autumn afternoon.

My husband was driving through a small town between our house and theirs when he whistled and said, "That kid on that bike back there just completely wiped out."

He backed up the van and sure enough, there was a boy who looked to be about thirteen, curled up on his side on the grass verge, crying really hard. His bike was beside him on the sidewalk, chain off, wheels spinning.

"Where are you hurt, bud?" I asked.

He was shaking like a leaf and trying to catch his breath. " shoulder. And my knees, too," he said in a trembling voice. I was just about ready to offer him my phone when he pulled one out of his pocket and started dialing. After a moment he said, "Mom? Can you come get me?"

While he talked to his mother, I got the first aid kit out from under the passenger seat, feeling triumphantly vindicated about all the teasing I've taken over the years for keeping a small suitcase stuffed with enough first aid supplies to stock a pharmacy aisle in my van. Under my husband's bemused gaze, I whipped out some anti-bacterial wipes, some triple antibiotic ointment plus lidocain and a box of stick-on bandages in a variety of sizes.

(I also had a couple of those instant cold packs, an ACE elastic, a bottle of Benadryl and a dosage cup, latex gloves, a tweezer, scissors, a roll of sterile gauze and some surgical tape, just in case you were wondering.)

I unwrapped the anti-bacterial wipes and handed them to the boy: he wiped the blood off his skinned knees and inner arm while I prepared the bandages with triple anti-biotic ointment smeared on them. He took the bandages from me and stuck them on, finishing up just as his mom, wild-eyed, pulled up behind our van.

My husband lifted the offending bicycle into the back of her SUV and she hugged her son, thanking us for stopping. He was still very shaky and winced as he stood up, clutching his right shoulder with his left hand and hobbling over to the truck, very obviously trying not to burst into tears.

Waving goodbye, I re-packed my little first aid suitcase, giving it a pleased pat on the lid.

"Gosh, it's a good thing you had that first aid kit," said Aisling respectfully.

"I know," I said smugly. "It's a good thing that kid had a cell phone."

"Mom," said Meelyn patiently, as if explaining something perfectly obvious to someone of dubious intelligence, "it is 2008. All kids have cell phones."

It was as if she was saying, "All kids have noses" or something.

Anyway, I need to go and restock my first aid kit tomorrow. I am very excited about this.