Saturday, January 31, 2009

RECIPE: Susie's Taco Soup & Carol's Black Bean Soup

Carol and Susie sent me their recipes for their own south-of-the-border soup specialties. Mine is Mexican Chili. We were sharing these recipes because we noted in several emails that soup is 1) good; 2) hot; and 3) cheap.

The only thing I refuse to concede is that plain yogurt tastes like sour cream, and I've got a teacup in my hand ready to back that opinion up, Susie.

I copied these here just as they sent them to me via email. They are my cousins and so much fun and I love them.

Susie's Taco Soup

1 pound lean ground beef - I use the 93/7
1-2 onions, chopped
garlic if you want - you know, 1-2 cloves
1 package Ranch dressing mix
1 package hot Taco Seasoning Mix
1 can Rotel tomatoes, 28 oz
1 can chopped chilies, 4.5 oz
1 can black beans, 15.5 oz for all the rest
1 can dark, kidney beans
1 can your choice - white navy or pinto
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can mexican style corn
1 can white shoepeg corn - I've only found in small cans - this is a little, white corn, but hey I'm talking to Indiana girls who know their corn
1 can white hominy
3 cans water

Brown beef and onion(s); add taco seasoning mix and ranch mix (dry, not real liquid dressing!), In a large slow cooker or pot, combine all ingredients. Use liquid in all the vegetables/beans, do not drain. Cook until thoroughly heated - at least 1/2 hour. Dpending how hot you like your food, you could add jalapeno peppers to it. I don't think the chilies have much flavor.

Can serve by itself or like A. did - a sliver of avocado on top, shredded cheddar, fritos or tortilla strips and a dollop of plain, nonfat yogurt - tastes just like sour cream and much less calories!!!

This makes a boat load of soup so be prepared to store in the freezer. It freezes well. I think the most interesting thing about this recipe is the white hominy and putting dry ranch dressing mix in it. The ranch gives it such a good flavor. Enjoy!!!

Carol's Black Bean Soup

3 can black beans in seasoned sauce
2 chicken breasts
1 can corn
1 can petite diced tomatoes
assorted spices - I use cumin, garlic, cilantro, oregano
1 small chopped onion
garlic if you have it - last week I didn't.
2 cans chicken broth

I browned the chicken breasts in olive oil and added the onion and garlic. Then I put those chickey breasts in a big pot and added everything else. Let it simmer for a couple hours and take out the chicken and cut it up and put it back in.

Serve with cheese and/or sour cream and those tortilla chips are good too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A laugh for a snowy day

Aisling and I just found this video at YouTube and we laughed ourselves silly. Cat lovers will love it, and I think even non-cat people will get a laugh.

Katie, this post is dedicated to you, Abby and Lupe!

When Cats Pray

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The way you look tonight

On Saturday evening, we had Kieren, Dayden and Kiersi over for the evening, complete with Papa Murphy's pizza, brownies, fruit juice, about a gallon of soda pop and those really yummy little Stouffer's frosted animal cookies that I don't think I've had since Meelyn and Aisling were about six and four. They are still good. The cookies, I mean. Meelyn and Aisling are middling.

Pat was going to take Angie out for her birthday, to dinner and a movie. Since her birthday is so close to Kiersi's (as Aisling's is to mine) she sensibly adopted my idea of having her own private festival the weekend following their joint family birthday celebration. And as much as you love your kids, you know they just aren't all that fun to take along on a romantic dinner (which would invariably involve french fries and chicken fingers and a cup of milk spilled across the table and into your purse) or to a movie, where someone always has to be taken to the potty just as something exciting happens.

So the kids came over. I had explained to Dayden and Kiersi that their uncle, who wrestles with Dayden and who chases Kiersi while growling like a bear as she screams with delight, was not yet home from work, but that didn't stop them from calling his name all over the house.

"We're finally here!" Dayden shouted, shrugging his coat off and dropping it on the kitchen floor. "Hey! Where are you?"

"We is here!" Kiersi called in her piping voice. "Here I am! I am me! Where is you?"

Hastily, I said, "Let's get out some toys and things. Your uncle will be here really, really soon."

"Soon? He be here soon?" Kiersi asked wistfully. "He come see me?"

"Yup," I answered.

Meelyn and Aisling brought down their baby dolls that I have never managed to convince them to pack away; the babies, which look very, very real, sleep in little cribs in their room, sitting right in a place where they're sure to catch an unwary piggie toe.* Kiersi was delighted with the wee cribs, the real diaper bags stuffed with real preemie-sized clothes I bought for chicken feed on e-Bay and the tiny little car seats.

"You dress this baby, Aunt Sheldy?" Kiersi asked, holding up a naked baby doll by the leg and proffering a ruffled party dress and a pair of tiny pink sweat pants. "She wear this and this and this today? Right now?" She held out an infant's knitted cap with a pompom and one red sock. I complied and she wandered off happily to put the baby in bed, holding it by the top of its head and swinging it at her side.

Kieren sat down at the dining room table and began shuffling a deck of cards. Dayden wandered off upstairs to play PS2. Meelyn and Aisling got drinks for us all while I slid a pan of brownies into the oven.

"What should we listen to?" asked Aisling when we were finally all seated around the table, getting ready to deal out our first hand of Pounce.

"How about Frank?" Meelyn suggested. "His music is always so cheerful."

"Do you like Frank Sinatra?" I asked Kieren, wondering. I already knew that card-and-game playing appears to be handed down genetically, but could a love for Frank Sinatra be the same?

"I do," he said. Kieren is a man of few words (until he starts trash-talking while playing cards).

So Meelyn put one of my Frank Sinatra CDs on and we all played cards and sang along. To my chagrin, I noted that I am no longer coordinated enough to sing and play cards well enough to beat any of them; their teenage reflexes are much, much sharper than mine.

My husband came home bearing pizzas to a warm welcome from all of us at the table, commenting on the delicious smell of brownies that was permeating the air downstairs. Kiersi came running to greet him, throwing her arms around his knees and somewhat impeding his progess since he didn't know she was with us.

"Whoaaaa! A curtain climber! A crumb snatcher! A rug rat!" he said, swinging her up into his arms.

"Hi!" she said. "Here's my dolly. Chase me? Dress baby?"

"Do you mind if I change my own clothes first?" My husband set Kiersi on the floor and began to loosen his tie.

"I don't know," Kiersi said, deliberating. Her face brightened. "Hey!" she said in a voice full of sunshine. "You have a cookie and I have a cookie!" She gestured with fulsome generosity towards the table where a big bowl of cookies was sitting far too near my right hand. My husband chose two cookies and handed her one, putting his cookie into his mouth, chewing and swallowing in one gulp.

Kiersi's eyes were wide. "That cookie good?" she asked, awestruck at his amazing cookie-eating powers. I thought fondly that if she was amazed by that, she should stick around and see what he can do to a longneck Bud. He defies description! Bear witness to his mighty powers! Ladies and gents, he is the wondrous beer-guzzling man!

My husband and Dayden came downstairs. Dayden sat down at the computer and my husband helped me get the pizza unwrapped and into the oven before flopping into his chair and clicking the TV remote onto Notre Dame basketball.

Just then, Frank's sweet classic, "The Way You Look Tonight" came on. We all kind of sang and hummed along with the words.

Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you...
And the way you look tonight.

Yes, you're lovely,
with your smile so warm,
and your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
and the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart...
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.

Lovely ... Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it ?
'Cause I love you ...
Just the way you look tonight.

As Frank sang, I looked around at the people around me -- Kieren and Meelyn fighting for elbow territory while Meelyn squealed "Foul!" and Kieren laughed at her; Dayden sitting engrossed in Webkinz World, talking to his pet frog and telling him, "You need to eat this. It's good for you"; Aisling shuffling her cards and flipping most of them onto the floor in a shower of pasteboard; Kiersi singing to her babies and putting one hapless plastic infant in the car seat head first; my husband shouting, "Run! Go! Run!" at the television while putting another doll's legs into a sleeper suit...

They are six of the people I love best in the world, and I am helplessly, totally, head-over-heels in love with them all. They will change over the years, especially the kids, but I believe it will always be for the better. Their bright young faces are so full of happiness and hope, and my husband, whose beard gets a little grayer each year, is always the one I want to grow old with.

Later on that evening, Kiersi (who was up later than any just-turned-three year old ought to have been) was chasing Hershey, saying imperiously, "Herssie! You come here! I hug you now, bad bad boy!" He was too wily for her and slipped his tail out of her grasp and went under the dining room table, defeating all her efforts to corner him by hiding behind different sets of legs, both human and table. Somewhere in the process, she fell down and began to cry. When I picked her up, she looked at me and said with perfect clarily, in a voice that could have shattered glass, "I WAAAAAAANT MY MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMY!"

If she were older, I probably would have tried to distract her, maybe handing her to her uncle, who was watching an old movie and placidly rocking in his chair so that she could fall asleep on his lap, since she was already wearing pajamas and a Pull-Up. But she's so little, and I'm determined that Aunt Shelley's house is not going to be a place where a small girl is scared and sad and needing her mom, so I hastily dialed Pat and Angie's number.

"Hello?" said Pat.

"We've got a pretty sad little girl here," I said, raising my voice to be heard above her howls. "Do you want to meet me halfway?"

"Yep," he answered.

There's a convenient Taco Bell halfway between our house and theirs that makes a nice drop off point; it takes about fifteen minutes to get there. The girls rounded up all of Kiersi's belongings and Kieren reassured me while I bundled her into her coat.

"I feel bad for calling," I said worriedly. "I don't want to ruin their night, but it doesn't seem like she's going to calm down."

"Once she gets started, she doesn't stop," Kieren said. "It's better this way."

Kiersi was somewhat placated by the news that we were going to go see Mommy and Daddy and she sniffled and hiccuped as I buckled her into her car seat, right side up. She looked at me through wet lashes, her big blue eyes brimming with tears, a tremulous smile on her wee face.

"Aunt Sheldy," she asked me hopefully, "you take me to see my Mommy and Daddy?"

"I sure am!" I said cheerfully, climbing into the driver's seat and buckling my own seatbelt. I put a Sarah Vaughan CD, a lovely collection of George Gershwin songs. I began to sing "Bidin' My Time" as I pulled out of the driveway onto the deserted street.

"You sing, Aunt Sheldy?" Kiersi said, sounding happier than she'd sounded for the past half hour.

"Yep," I said. "Do you like to sing, honey?"

There was no answer.

"Kiersi?" I looked into the rear view mirror. Kiersi was fast asleep, head tipped back, mouth wide open, snoring gently.

The next day, my husband told me that when he went upstairs to change his clothes, he saw Dayden in the playroom, thumbs busily working. "Hey, Daydie!" he said.

According to my husband, who was extremely touched and pleased, Dayden paused his video game, got up from the couch and came over and gave my husband a huge, tight squeeze around the middle.

"He loves me," said my husband in a wondering voice. "That's really.....awesome."

"You're a loveable guy," I said, and put my head on his shoulder, humming a few bars of Frank.

*"Can't we store these things in a Rubbermaid container?" I've groaned a thousand times, rubbing my foot and strenuously avoiding the urge to wail every cuss word I know (and some I just invented for the occasion) at the top of my lungs because, as Aisling told me severely, "sweet dollies might hear."

"Mom, look at these dolls," said Meelyn, holding up her two, which were cradled in her arms. "They look REAL. When Aisling and I used to carry them around, people thought they WERE real. Can you tell me how we are suppoed to put real-looking baby dolls in a Rubbermaid container without feeling like some kind of vile abuser?"

"I could do it," I grumbled crossly.

"No, you couldn't," said Aisling definitively. "These are your little plastic grandchildren. What kind of Nana are you?"

"I don't know. Let me think..." I mused bitterly. "How about a PARTIALLY CRIPPLED ONE?")

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RECIPE: Veggie Chowder

Last night, I was going to make cream of potato soup for dinner, but I just couldn't face it. Cream of potato soup always looks so dreary to me. Just kind of plain white and wallpaper-pasty looking. Even when I put shredded carrot in it, it still just doesn't make me say, "Oooh, look at the yummy bowl of delicious souuuuup!!!" It makes me say, "Oh, great. I get to cook this hot mess again?"

But here's the thing: cream of potato soup is very good. And it is really, really inexpensive to make. And a meal that is hot, good and inexpensive is not really one I can just blithely turn away from just because I think it looks unappetizing.

So I decided to try something new and add carrot coins, peas and carrots along with the potatoes. I thought about calling it "Starch Soup" or "Carbohydrate Stew," but decided that "Veggie Chowder" sounded like a better sell. We all agreed that little chunks of ham would be good in this. (Honestly, it could probably use the protein, but it sure is cheap and easy made this way.)


5 cups chicken broth (either homemade, canned or in bouillon cube form)
5 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into coins
1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1/4 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup frozen peas

1 stick butter
8 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups milk

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth to a boil, adding in the potatoes, carrots and dill weed. Reduce the heat and allow the vegetables to simmer until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Add the corn and peas and simmer for five to ten minutes.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour to make a roux; cook for two minutes while stirring constantly. Add the salt and pepper; stir to combine. Add milk slowly (by the half cup), stirring the mixture smooth over a medium heat before adding more.

When all the milk has been added to the flour/butter combination, pour the chicken stock/vegetable mixture into it. Stir carefully to combine; bring to a slight simmer if necessary.

Serve immediately. Sprinkle with some paprika and add a little parsely for a garnish, if you like doing that sort of thing. A nice green salad with some sliced, hard-cooked egg (protein) would go well with this, I'm sure, but the other night, it was just to cold to even consider eating a salad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I parked Meelyn and Aisling in front of the television today so that we could all watch the historic inauguration of the United States of America's first black president (I don't do terms like "African-American," because if I went that route, I'd have to use a string of mongrel titles a mile long to describe my own heritage and I just don't have the energy for committments like that.) I found it to be a very emotional thing, coming just one day after the country's remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Aretha Franklin, in a really fancy hat (Click here for a picture, courtesy of the LA Times), sang "My Country 'tis of Thee," echoing the words of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two other famous musicians of whom I have never heard played a composition by John Williams written especially for the inauguration that contained bits and pieces from two songs we frequently sing in church, one being the hymn "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" (about the angels, archangels and all the saints in heaven gathered around the Throne of God) and the folk chorus "Lord of the Dance".I found this puzzling: Do you think there are some people out there who really do think that Barack Obama is the messiah?

I know there's that one lady I saw on the news who said that she was looking forward to seeing him elected because she wouldn't have to worry about how to fill her car's gas tank or how to raise the money to pay her mortgage anymore. She seemed to think that the office of the president would confer him with magical powers. I wonder if he agrees with her?

Yale poet/professor Elizabeth Alexander read a poem she had written for the occasion titled "Praise Song for the Day," which I thought had some powerful thoughts and interesting images, but which she read in a voice so overly enunciated and devoid of emotion that I felt like I was listening to her read the phone book. I'm sure she was nervy, but my gosh...Her robotic delivery ruined what I thought was actually a very fine tribute.

Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not,
about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise.

All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din,
each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform,
patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky;

A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth,
whispered or declaimed;
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of someone and then others who said,
"I need to see what's on the other side;
I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe;
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce,
built brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle;
praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign;

The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love,
love beyond marital, filial, national.

Love that casts a widening pool of light.
Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Barack Obama seemed very, very nervous when he stood to take his oath of office, administered by SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts. I felt sorry for him when he stumbled over the words, remembering how hard it was, in my state of heightened excitement, to repeat my wedding vows. He got through it and looked relieved when it was over and who could blame him?

His inaugural speech was okay. I thought it seemed very full of the typical presidential platitudes and it occurred to me that his message of "Yes We Can!" has been somewhat tempered over the past two months into something more along the lines of "Yes We Can - But, Wow, It's Gonna Suck!"

As if agreeing with that assessment, stocks have plummeted today and the mood on Wall Street is very blue.

I didn't vote for Barack Obama because I my politics and his are poles apart. On the issue of abortion, I think his ideas are downright evil. On other topics, I think he's either a naive idealist or that he secretly does have magic powers like that lady in the YouTube video believes. He certainly has laid out some ambitious plans re: bridges, roads and power grids. It'll be interesting to see how many of his magnanimous campaign promises have to be abandoned by the wayside as the hard truths of the job he's undertaken begin to sink in. I imagine that's probably when we'll start to see his hair going gray, and for that, I feel a lot of compassion.

In spite of our political differences, I really do hope he succeeds in office. For the sake of the country, I hope our first black president will also be a great president. I hope he's more than just a sharp guy who makes good speeches.

I hope he's ready for this. Nothing in his resumé has convinced me that he is, and a lot of things in his resumé have convinced me that he is not the right man for right now.

But now is when we have him, and I hope his administration will be a good one that leads the country to a better place.

I also hope that his family will enjoy the experience of being the First Family. It's nice to think of young kids in the White House again. What an incredible day this must have been for them! I think Michelle Obama makes a beautiful First Lady -- she looked very beautiful and elegant in her gorgeous yellow brocade dress and coat. I didn't realize before how tall she is! I hope they find the family dog they all want and that next Christmas, they'll treat us to a doggie cam like Barney the terrier used to wear.

What a blessing it is to live in a place where the transition from one leader to the next is a peaceful and joyful occasion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2nd quarter grades at Our Lady of Good Counsel

Last Friday was the final day of the second quarter grading period here at Our Lady of Good Counsel Junior-Senior High School, just as it was in many of the other schools in the area.

This is the grading scale we use. I know it's a difficult one, but it's the one that I feel is the most realistic when transcripts are being reviewed by college admissions offices:
100% A+
99-96 A
95 A-
94 B+
93-86 B
85 B-
84 C+
83-76 C
75 C-
74 D+
73-66 D
65 D-


Spanish 89% B (92% B for the semester)
Biology 92% B (88% B for the semester)
Pre-Algebra 78% C (83% C for the semester)
Grammar 90% B (89% B for the semester)
Vocabulary 94% B+ (88% B for the semester)
British Literature 95% A- (96% A for the semester)
Speech 88% B (91% B for the semester - averaged with Composition)
Phys Ed 84% C+ (92% B for the semester)
Religion 97% A (98% A for the semester)

Semester GPA = 3.61 (determined by taking the semster grade percentage x 4 - ex: Spanish would be .92 x 4 + 3.68 and then averaged with all the other semester grades.)


Spanish 88% B (89% B for the semester)
Pre-Algebra 84% C+ (85% B- for the semester)
Grammar 92% B (86% B for the semester)
Vocabulary 8 91% B (89% B for the semester)
British Literature 94% B+ (92% B for the semester)
Speech 90% B (92% B for the semester)
Phys Ed 94% B+ (94% B for the semester)
Religion 84% C+ (79% C for the semester)

Here's a link back to their first quarter grades.

I have a dream

I am very unpopular with my children today, the day on which our country celebrates the life and life's work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

You see, my feeling is that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an educated man, an activist, a worker, a man with a vision that went beyond his dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their characters. I personally don't feel that the best way to honor Dr. King's memory is to have a vacation day. While sitting around watching Bravo and HGTV and fiddling around on the computer and playing cards might be fun, it's still not the way to honor a peaceful man who gave up his life to a bullet for the cause he believed in.

So, in spite of the fact that schools across the county have the day off tomorrow, my home schoolers will be hard at work, plowing through their usual day's work. They aren't very happy with me, but we've had school on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for so many years now, they've stopped bugging me for a day off. I used to always reply, "Yes, and I bet all those people who weren't allowed to drink from the same drinking fountain would have liked a day off from doing that. And I bet all the people who were forced to sit in the back of the city buses would have liked a day off from that. And then there are those people who couldn't get served in certain restaurants or stay in certain motels or whatever...I bet they would have liked a day off from reading signs in windows that said 'Negroes not allowed,' and...."

The only difference is that, after lunch, we'll gather here at the computer and click on the link below, which will take us to YouTube. We'll be able to watch Dr. King speaking at the March on Washington, out in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963.

From I Have a Dream -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I found out yesterday evening before Mass that our parish will be breaking ground for our youth center, the first proposed building on new church's complex, next month. This building will be the place where the three weekend Masses, plus all the weekday Masses, will be held until the church, which is the second proposed building, is completed.

This will be very nice because the Sunday 10:30 Mass has grown far too large to accommodate the congregation that comes to worship, so it had to be moved to the theater of a nearby high school, which doesn't really answer. The Sunday 8:00 Mass and the Saturday vigil are getting pretty packed as well, and never was this more apparent than when I went forward to receive Communion yesterday.

Father likes two lines to form for Communion, feeling that this expedites the process of serving everyone before we all hyperventilate from singing the same hymn forty-two times through. So I got in the right hand line, falling in beside a large sort of man who was in the left line.

The pair of us must have made quite a sight, lumbering up the aisle like a couple of trained bears, our hands prayerfully folded at our midsections. Unfortunately, the man was a lot taller than I, even though his pumpkin shape was very similar to mine. This left him in the position to be able to jab his right elbow into my left boob as we got to a narrow place.

He tried to pretend he didn't know he'd elbowed me -- and in the boob at that -- but he knew that I knew that he knew, the big boob poker. You'd think he would have offered a humble, "I beg your pardon," but no, he did not. He simply proceeded forward, looking neither left nor right, maybe aiming for the change to nudge me again.

I will be very happy when we have a larger building with a larger center aisle.

Hello, my deer

We left Pat and Angie's house after eleven o'clock last night, driving home in a strong wind that was blowing flurries practically horizontally across the snowy roads.

"We'd better be getting home," my husband and I told them nervously. "Your roads out here in the country are so bad and it's so...dark. And....and....windy. And snowy." It was very scary for us city dwellers, living in a place where every road's surface has been as dry as a spinster's kiss for the past week.

Pat and Angie, at hearing that their plowed and salted roads rated as "bad" to us, nearly jackknifed themselves laughing. "Bad?" Pat said incredulously. "Bad? You've got to be joking. You don't know bad until you've driven home from work on an unplowed road where the snow is up to the windows and you have a preschooler in the back seat screaming that she has to peepee and then you realize what you thought was the road was actually the neighbors' koi pond. Bad...geeez, you big babies."

We departed with our dignity trailing behind us like toilet paper on the sole of a shoe and got in the van. "We're not babies," I stoutly assured my husband. "We're just cautious."

"Yeah! Cautious! And careful!"

"Yes, we're very careful. We are very carefully careful and considerate, too. We would never drive in the neighbors' koi pond, thinking it was the road."

"You got that right," said my husband fervently, gripping the wheel with both hands and pushing gingerly on the accelerator. The needle on the speedometer shot up to forty miles per hour and hung there breathlessly.

I was watching the road, noting with alarm the two and three inch snowdrifts all pushed up against people's mailboxes, when all of a sudden, a very large buck stepped out in front of the van, giving us a haughty glare as my husband began to brake. His branched antlers crowned his proud head and I was beginning to think that they'd look nice mounted on my living room wall. That is, until I summoned some crazy reserve of nervous energy from the depths of my being and screamed as loud as I could, pointing at the buck through the windshield as we rolled to an easy halt.


My husband was very startled and jumped so high, I practically saw light between him and the seat. Meelyn and Aisling, who had been relaxing in drowsy contentment, bolted straight upright yelling, "What? How? When? Who?" Even the buck appeared to be startled and gave us a contemptuous look before sauntering to the edge of the road and disappearing into the trees.

"What is wrong with you?" my husband asked indignantly, turning to look at me with a gaze that was only slightly less disgusted than the buck's. "You scared me worse than the stupid deer did. Did you not notice that we were already stopped?"

"I'm sorry," I apologized, abashed. "I don't know why I did that. I didn't even know I could scream like that."

"A hidden talent," said my husband huffily. "A scream like that could get you jobs doing voice-overs for horror films."

"Sorry, dear," I said, suddenly overcome with laughter at my own bad joke. "Get it? Dear -- deer? Hahahahahahahaaaa..."

"Ha ha," he said sourly.

"Yeah, ha ha," said Meelyn.

Aisling was convulsed. "Dear -- dear," she gurgled helplessly, "dear -- dear....that is so funny..."

"Thank you," I said. "It's nice to be appreciated, DEAR."

Rock on

This performance of Bon Jovi's rock and roll anthem "Dead or Alive" is one of those things that brings back so many memories, I just about get tearful whenever I see it. I am automatically reminded of long summer evenings in Beth's cute apartment where the central air was either roasting us or freezing us ("You have no homeostasis!" Beth would scold us, throwing around some of her fancy nursing terminology; "Oh, yeah? Well, you're an oxymoron!" I would offer as a rejoinder) as Hoot, Julie and I ate potato chips and drank Bartles and James wine coolers. We had a particular fondness for the fuzzy navel flavor except for Hoot, who declared that wine coolers were sissy drinks and had beer instead.

From -- Richie and Jon at the 1989 MTV Music Awards.

Julie is married to Jack now and lives in Beech Grove. Hoot lives in Indy and is divorced, sharing custody of his daughter (who is probably Meelyn's age) with his ex-wife. Beth is married to Jim, of course, and lives in New Castle with a stepdaughter at IU and two kids still at home. And you know about me, if you read this blog.

We were all very young then, in our early twenties. Jon and Richie were famous and so cool and the first time our quartet of un-famous friends saw this unplugged version of "Dead or Alive," it was rock-n-roll magic.

The clip starts at 2:29 -- hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A pain-free life

I'm feeling very much better now and I thank those of you who emailed me for your kind thoughts, prayers and insistence that I avoid Kayte's blog's message to GET RUM since I also GOT VICODIN. The two would not make a pretty combination, you all assured me. And I listened.

So instead of lying unconscious on my bedroom floor in a puddle of my own vomit à la Spinal Tap, I am downstairs in Pat and Angie's den, typing this post and kind of half watching a fierce table tennis tournament over my right shoulder and a fierce Wii tournament over my left. My husband keeps taunting Aisling for hitting the ping-pong ball "like a girl" and Dayden keeps telling Kieren that his Wii character "sucks." Kiersi, whose third birthday is being celebrated with this family get together, keeps insisting that various people push her around the room in a wheeled office chair.

Dayden just yelled, "I'm SMOKING you!!! You're goin' DOWN!!!" so loudly that Louey, the beagle, just ran upstairs with his tail tucked between the legs, evidently thinking that Dayden was saying (in the obviously difficult and confusing human language), "I saw you POOP ON THE FLOOR!!!! You're going OUT TO YOUR CRATE!!!"

Kiersi got lots of clothes, a really cool Barbie wardrobe kit that I actually kind of wanted for myself, some big girl panties with princesses on them and a pretty little tote bag full of hair do-dads from us.

Oops. Everyone has abruptly decided to go upstairs, so I think I need to log off because I don't want to be down here all by myself because if I know Pat, the minute he finds out I'm alone, he will turn out the lights and take great pleasure in my shrieks of terror. Brothers are just that way.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Completely traumatized

Had bad wisdom tooth pulled today. Am sitting here at desk with huge, bowling ball-sized wad of cotton batting (feels like) in mouth. Completely numb on right side of face. Thoughts veering around wildly; wish head were also numb. Could not possibly have happened at a worse time. Hurts -- mouth, head, neck, whole works. Really want my mom something fierce, but she is in Colorado. Consoled only by thought that at least she is still alive and could still have her; matter of car journey or plane trip out west. Maybe will call on phone when can speak without drooling blood down shirt front.

Can't believe people used to have this done by the village blacksmith. On the other hand, the village blacksmith probably would have accepted a chicken and a bottle of homemade apple brandy as payment, whereas this dentist wanted much more than that. For the first time in life was saddened that I've grown to be fat and middle-aged so that I couldn't offer him my virtue in exchange for extraction. Just kidding about that. I think. Never fully appreciated the powerful commodity of good looks while still had them. Figures. On the other hand, teeth were pleased at being healthy and doing their job without complaint when self was aged twenty or thereabouts, at height of cuteness with streaky Early Madonna hair, great suntan, etc.

Must go take Vicodin and have a nice little sleep. Perhaps will feel better when wake up.

Should have gotten wisdom teeth taken out YEARS AGO as Dr. Jim Myers scolded self to do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is this....a sign?

I was just over at Kayte's blog a few minutes ago, Grandma's Kitchen Table, posting a comment. Her blog is set up at TypePad, and when you comment there, you have to type up one of those little codes websites use to keep automated whatsis-whosits from doing something-or-other, don't ask me, it's just some kind of security feature and I just do it. I don't have to understand it to do it. Mine is not to reason why, etc. etc.

Wellanyway, when the little code comes up, it usually comes up as totally randomized sets of letters and numbers such as DL62YB or 47J9L. There....I typed both of those with my eyes shut to illustrate the randomy randomness of those codes so that what I am about to relate will both surprise and astound you.

I finished my message, clicked "Publish Post" and the little code came up and -- get this -- it read:


Is it a message? A sign that I should get a little Captain in me? Well, I mean, that sounded kind of bad, but you've seen those commercials for Captain Morgan rum, right? Should I buy a case of Coke or rent Pirates of the Carribean ("The RUM is gone? What do you mean, the RUM is GONE?") or maybe make a pilgrimage to a ski lodge, where I can partake of the hot buttered variety while sitting by a fire with Carol and Susie? I know those lushes would jump at the chance to drink some rum, especially if they got to do it at a ski lodge.

Or maybe it just means that the girls and I are going to be spending a lot of time in the house over the next few days as the Alberta Clipper moves in, and I'm going to need a great big bottle of something to help me slide effortlessly all those endless arguments beginning with, "Why did you turn the curling iron OFF when you knew I'd just turned it ON? Is it because you feel like you wanted to hurt my feelings because you heard Mommy say that I got a C on my Algebra test?" and ending in tears, slammed doors and bitter recriminations. And if you think that's bad, you should see the way the girls act.

I am a firm believer that there are. No. Coincidences.

Get rum.

I have been told.

I don't know what to make of this

During the heavy snow today, Aisling stuck out her tongue to catch a falling flake in the approved Charlie-Brown-Christmas manner (you know what they say about those January snowflakes) and promptly choked, coughing and gasping and staggering around the yard.

I just don't know what to think. She says she choked on the snowflake. How can you choke on something that would probably melt the second it touched your warm tongue? Or are they making snowflakes out of composted leaves these days?

Laws-a-mercy, as my great-grandma would have said.

Let it snow!

The weather outside is frightful, but fortunately, we've been able to stay inside all day and we've been treated to the sight of big, fat, fluffy snowflakes coming down from the clouds like goose down falling out of a pillowcase.

I've been going out every few hours and sweeping the front porch, the front steps and walkway and the back steps and walkway. I feel a little strange out there with a broom, but the snow is so pouffy that it's really no problem to just brush it out of the way in an energetic back-and-forth style -- whisk, whisk! whisk, whisk! -- as Wimzie leaps and prances about like a foolish puppy, wearing her warmest winter jacket. Hershey prefers to stay indoors and watch her giddy pirouettes from his warm and comfortable position on the couch.

"What's wrong with you two dopes?" he seems to say as we come in, panting and stamping and breathless from the cold. "It's best to stay in here." And then he yawns widely like a crocodile and snuggles more deeply into his blanket. The girls coo over him and give him a pillow for his head. Hershey allows his eyes to fall shut slo-o-o-o-o-owly. Wimzie throws him a look of slitty-eyed contempt.

The Alberta Clipper is due in tomorrow and the high temperature for the day is supposed to be five degrees. FIVE DEGREES. I can practically guarantee that the water trap on the washing machine is going to freeze up, so I'm thinking I may want to start a load of laundry as I'm making the spaghetti sauce for dinner tonight.

Tomorrow, I think we'll all be like Hershey and sprawl on the couch and let the snowflakes fall where they may.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dressing the part

Over the past couple of months, I've taken over the job of going out with Wimzie and Hershey in the mornings, to spare my poor husband, who has walked them every single morning that we've lived in this neighborhood, which is going on four years.

I can't walk them myself because they're too strong for me. Well, Wimzie isn't, but Hershey is a medium-sized dog in the prime of his health and fitness and he is one strong boy, particularly because he refuses to walk like a gentleman dog and insists on trying to dislocate your shoulder. Plus, I'd have to carry the pooper-scooper, which, how am I supposed to do that in the absence of a third arm?

My schtick is to let them out of their crates at about 10:30 a.m., which they both seem to vastly prefer to their former wake-up call of 7:00 a.m. My husband used to open Wimzie's cage door and have to coax her to come out, but at 10:30, she leaps out with a happy bound and jumps around doing figure eights. I then take them out the front door to the yard and let them do their business. They both mind me very well and will stop in mid-stride at the sound of my Queen of the Underworld snarl if they start to go after a pedestrian or the occasional squirrel.

So the dogs are fine. We've developed a very nice routine. The only fly in my jam is that I feel it is incumbent upon me, as an upstanding citizen and a member of the historical neighborhood society, to not step outside where half the city can see me (we live on a busy corner) wearing pajama bottoms stuffed into my snow boots, one of my husband's sweatshirts and Aisling's sherbet colored cloche.

No, instead, I have to wearily drape my nice scarf in the approved fashion around my neck, put on my nice black coat and my nice black gloves and make sure I'm wearing something respectable on my legs and feet. I don't want to look like a big lump of fashion distress while I'm standing in the snow, waiting for the dogs to finish their business.

It seems weird and complicated to have to dress up in order to watch a couple of dogs poop and pee, and sometimes I wish I weren't such a compulsive fussbudget. I make myself tired.

Fashion statements

Apparently, the Golden Globe Awards were held last night, and in a moment of weakness, I was drawn into an online slideshow of Best and Worst Dressed red-carpet-walkers. Going through the fifty photos (twenty-five of each category), I realized that I do not and never will understand what causes reviewers to gush over one designer gown, while treating another like its something they'd use to wash the car with.

Click on these links to look for yourselves: Best Dressed at the Golden Globes and Worst Dressed at the Golden Globes

Actress Salma Hayek (photo #17, Worst Dressed) was completely panned for the glamorous pale taupe Dior gown she wore, complete with fabulous earrings, an enviable bosom and an elegant updo, while Angelina Jolie (photo #3, Best Dressed) was lauded to the heavens for appearing in a baggy silver Versace hot mess with hair that looked like a houseful of toddlers had styled it with with egg beaters and toy garden rakes.

Drew Barrymore (photo #8, Best Dressed) appeared in a lovely pale blue Galliano for Dior gown, but with a hairdo (called "flirty" by the reviewer?) that looked absolutely mad and uncombed and absurdly bouffant, not to mention unbecomingly dark at the roots. That hair, plus her smearily be-kohled eyes, gave the uncomfortable impression that drink had been taken before her appearance on the red carpet.

Compare that horrible hair to Renee Zellweger's (photo #1, Worst Dressed), which was referred to as an "unsightly updo" by the reviewer, but which I actually thought was very cute. Renee was dressed, however, in an absolutely unspeakable Carolina Herrera weird black filmy, trainy getup that might possibly once have been Morticia Adams' wedding dress, or maybe her drawing room curtains, so I admit that the hideousness of the gown might have detracted from Renee's head, which was a very small part of the entire ensemble. It just goes to show that you can have bad hair and a good frock or good hair and a bad frock and people will always look at the dress first and then be either nice or mean about your hair in accordance to their opinion of your dress.

To back up this theory, take a look at the young actress Anne Hathaway (photo #7, Worst Dressed) who wore a breathtakingly beautiful midnight blue Armani Prive gown with Swarovski crystals cascading down the bodice to her hips (okay, maybe a bit to crystally, but very old Hollywood and glam, nonetheless). Anne's hair doesn't match the dress at all; it is scraped back from her face in a way that makes her ears look like jug handles. And mercy...the girl is as white as salt. She could do with less eyebrows, too, because with those heavy brows and her dark eyes, she looks a bit like someone who could turn you into a piece of granite with one glance. She makes me want to do the evil eye sign and spit through my fingers. Or maybe hold up a crucifix and a necklace made of garlic bulbs. Yikes.

But maybe I'm wrong, because Jennifer Lopez (photo #4, Best Dressed) was caught wearing an ugly, hyper-revealing are-you-ready-for-your-mammogram Marchesa dress that also displayed her great and profound need to get over herself, yet her hair was dragged back off her face to the point where from the neck up, she looked ready to go clean the toilets and scour the kitchen tiles on hands and knees. Yet the reviewer totally love-bombed that tacky dress. What do I know?

How To: Understand Women

I don't know who wrote this because it came to my inbox with no attribution, but I suspect it was written by a man. Strangely enough, my husband was the one who sent it to me and I'm not sure whether I should respond to his email by replying with a cheery "LOL!" or a "Thanks a lot for the funny email" (see caveat attached to #7), heh.


(1) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

(2) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

(3) Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.

(4) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don't Do It!

(5) Loud Sigh: This is actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)

(6) That's Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That's okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

(7) Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say you're welcome. (I want to add in a caveat here - This is true, unless she says 'Thanks a lot' - that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say 'you're welcome' . that will bring on a 'whatever').
(8) Whatever: Is a woman's way of saying @%$& YOU!

(9) Don't worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking 'What's wrong?' For the woman's response refer to # 3.

Whatever gets you through the winter

To me, the only inspiring sight I've had this morning -- and I'm trying hard to stay away from all windows and am silently berating the person who, one hundred and thirty years ago, thought it would be a good idea to install many nine-feet-long-by-three-and-a-half-feet-wide windows ALL OVER THE HOUSE, so that no matter where I am, I'm confronted with tracked-up, ugly snow; bare trees shivering against leaden skies; dirty, salt-spattered cars going past with their drivers hunched miserably over the steering wheels, trying to coax some heat from the vents, and oh.....bugger it....I'm just going to walk around with my eyes squeezed shut and bump into the furniture like an idiot -- AS I WAS SAYING, there has been only one inspiring sight this morning.

And that was one of my great-grandmother's old blue pottery mixing bowls, one which I've been told was a wedding gift, making it about ninety-five years old, which Meelyn piled high yesterday with not-yet-completely-ripe mangoes and gorgeously green limes. It makes me feel that there actually is some warmth and sunshine out there somewhere, as we stolid citizens of the Hoosier state hunker down and prepare for an Alberta Clipper to blast us over the next few days.

It really is so pretty. I wish I could make Nicki work so that I could take a picture and show you.

RECIPE: Comforting Beef Pot Pie

This recipe is sort of reminiscent of Shepherd's Pie, only without the mashed potatoes. And it's sort of reminiscent of Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, only without the roast beef. Or, er, the Yorkshire Pudding.

What it mostly is, is one of those Bisquick Impossible Pies that your granny made in the 1940s and I don't care what anyone says, those Impossible Pies are winter comfort food that simply can't be beat. They're easy, too, requiring little thought and many boxes and cans and bags of frozen vegetables, so if you're like me and you'd like to make a hot family meal that requires little energy and forethought, yet yields a tasty meal-in-one that everybody likes, try this one. I made it last Thursday out of some thises and thats I had in the kitchen and got a thumbs-up from the whole gang of them.


2# ground beef, cooked until no longer pink with one medium sized chopped onion and two cloves of chopped garlic. (Or if it just snowed again and you spilled some latte down the front of your favorite winter coat and the mail consisted of nothing but bills, sprinkle the beef with one teaspoon of onion powder and half a teaspoon of garlic powder and we won't tell Kayte. It will be our little secret. Sssh!)

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

2 cups beef broth

2 packets brown gravy mix

1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots

1/4 cup frozen corn

1/2 teaspoon salt

For biscuit topping:

2 cups Bisquick

one stick of butter, melted

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon dried parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 400o. Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the onion and garlic. While this is cooking, put the soups, the beef broth and the packets of brown gravy mix into a 9x13 casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Stir ingredients together into a thick gravy; add the frozen vegetables and salt, stir and set aside.

In a microwave safe mixing bowl, melt the stick of butter. Stir in parsley. Stir in the biscuit mix and milk. Combine all until non-lumpy. Set aside.

When ground beef is completely cooked, drain carefully and then add to soup mixture in casserole dish; stir. Pour biscuit mix over the top (it will be liquidy and will disappear into the meat-and-veggie mixture; that's where the "impossible" part comes in), place in oven and bake for one hour. At the end of this time, the biscuit dough will have cooked and risen to the top of the casserole. Yay! It's like magic! Makes eight servings.

Serve with tall glasses of very cold milk. Leftovers are even better the next day for lunch.

In the horrors

I woke up briefly at 4:45 am, stretched my feet lazily into the depths of the warm bed, and thought, "Mmmmm, delicious! A lovely long day to enjoy, Mass this afternoon, dinner and then early to bed...." I drowsily snuggled my head into my pillow and let my entire body sink back into oblivion.

And then I remembered. My eyes snapped open like old-fashioned roller blinds; my body stiffened, every synapse leaping like a drop of water on a hot griddle. Sunday? No, Monday. MONDAY. Monday in January! How many freaking Mondays come in the month of January? Because it seems like we've had at least eight of them and we're only, what? -- feverishly, I counted on my fingers and stifled a wail -- halfway through the month? The holidays, disappointing as they were, are over and done with and even though we spent the entire two weeks wheezing and hacking and taking one another's temperatures and passing around a snowman-shaped candy dish filled with zinc lozenges and cough drops, at least it was vacation.

I flopped over onto my pillows in despair. Why does there have to be a January? With all the cold and snow and ice and disappointment that there are no more presents or Christmas cookies to be offered (especially those peanut butter ones with the Hershey's kiss perched cheekily in the middle), it has absolutely nothing to recommend it.

I slumped downstairs and turned on the morning news, only to find that snow is expected today with an accumulation of possibly more than an inch. No sun at all, and the house is a cluttered mess from the weekend that makes me twitchy and miserable.

Mondays. Januarys. I must remember that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In particular, I must remember that when I get to about five o'clock this afternoon and my desire to give someone a sharpish clout on the back of the head begins to overtake me. I'm told all mothers feel like this at five o'clock p.m. and that I should just relax and have a cup of tea, and I wish I knew who originally came up with that ridiculous notion, because I would like to give her a sharpish clout on the back of the head. Tea, indeed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

RECIPE: Game Day Salsa and Guacamole Dip

According to my husband, there's been a lot of good football on today, which is something I consider a bit of an oxymoron, as I don't understand how the words "good" and "football" work together, like, at all.

But anyway, he's been very happy today and so have I. I've been fiddling around in the kitchen with two new and very inexpensive but delicious recipes that have made Game Day very festive and fun.

I found the two original recipes on and and then worked with them until I found what suited our taste.

The first is for homemade salsa. The thing I like about it is that you can make a very nice winter version of this recipe using tiny-dice or pureed canned tomatoes (unless you live someplace where tomatoes are ripe off the vine right now out in your yard, and in that case, just hush yourself -- the rest of us don't need to be taunted with our sub-freezing temps that grow nothing but icicles) and regular canned peaches. You can substitute half of a very ripe large mango for the peaches, if you'd like. Or you can omit the peaches entirely, if you'd like, but I'll warn you -- you'll be missing something special. The peaches take down the insane heat of all those jalapeno peppers very nicely and add a slight hint of sweetness that also removes the extreme acidity from the tomatoes.


2 cans tiny-dice tomatoes OR 2 cans tomato puree (substitute four medium-sized fresh tomatoes, deskinned by dropping them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then plunged into ice water for another 30 seconds; the skin will slip right off)

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

juice of one lime

3 fresh jalapeno peppers, finely chopped OR 1/3 cup of sliced jalapenos, finely chopped

2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup canned peaches, drained and chopped OR 1 medium very ripe fresh peach, deskinned (using manner above per tomatoes) and chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

4 squirts Tobasco sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a medium sized mixing or serving bowl. Cover with cling film and chill in fridge for two hours or so to allow flavors to blend. Serve with tortilla chips, of course!

This makes such a nice, spicy salsa (cut down on the peppers if you don't have cast-iron stomachs like we do) and it is so inexpensive to make. This is good for people like us who do everything but use salsa as hand lotion and hair conditioner. We can eat one big jar of Pace salsa, which is nearly six dollars, in the space of one afternoon.


I love guacamole so much, and it makes it even better that avocados are so good for you. Every time I eat one, I feel that my complexion is nicer, my hair shinier, my nails longer. Or maybe that's just an excuse to eat the entire bowl of guacamole? Hmm. Must think on this. While I do, here's the recipe:

3 large extremely ripe-to-the-point-of-squooshiness avocados (I like Haas; usually by the time the avocados are ripe enough to make guacamole the way I like it, they've been marked down sharply in the produce department)

juice from one lime

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup tiny-dice canned tomatoes

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper juice (from jarred jalapenos)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Cut avocados in half, removing pit and scooping avocado meat into a medium mixing bowl. Mash avocado with a fork. Add lime juice and stir. Add remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for one or two hours before serving to allow flavors to blend. Serve with tortilla chips or as a filler for tacos, burritos, etc.

Physician's assistant

I was thinking to myself today how lucky all doctors would be if they could all have patients like me, big baby hypochondriacs who have access to WebMDTM and an obsessive need for self-assessment -- Could that be a lump? Is my tongue coated? Pupils disassociated? Ringing in the ears? A pain in the wrist signifying the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome? Gassy and bloated? -- because I think it would save them all so much time in boring office visits.

Patients like me could just email an enormous list of symptoms, perhaps attached as a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet, along with an accompanying list of diagnoses. Maybe the spreadsheet would be a better idea, because it could be configured as a check-off list, or perhaps a flow chart.

Maybe the first question on the list the doctor would answer could be: "If you think this patient is a crazy, self-absorbed pain in the gluteus maximus, go to the end of this survey and prescribe a potent anti-anxiety medication and take out a restraining order."

Just a thought I was having on this day, which is a day when I have a queer pain in one foot, an ache in my back teeth that could either mean sinus congestion or maybe ginguticulitis and a peculiarly growly stomach.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why I teach English instead of Math

British Literature class was canceled yesterday because of roads that were as slick as butter on a doorknob; my husband called anxiously home from work and said he'd seen three slide-offs on his way there and was most ardently hoping that we wouldn't add to their number.

I was kind of bummed because we had to cancel two classes due to illness (mine and Aisling's) and another class due to weather before Christmas and I was worried that we were falling too far behind. But then I had the brilliant thought of sending out an assignment via email so that we could complete the work, which is the study of the Romantic poets, i.e. Byron, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, etc. I love the Romantic poets, especially Shelley's "Ozymandias" and Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," but one of my other favorite poems is one about the most famous of the Romantics and it is called "A Pig's Eye View of Literature" and was written by Dorothy Parker.

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.

Now there's you some great poetry. That Dorothy. You thought she couldn't get any funnier than when she said, "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think" when asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, but you'd probably be wrong. She's also responsible for the saying that seems to be summing up my life in the past five years: "What fresh hell is this?"

Anyhoo, while I was thinking about Byron and Shelley and Keats and sending out the assignment to the students in the class, I was also preparing my presentation for next week, which is titled something like "The Women of British Literature: The Romantic and Victorian Periods." Because can you believe that our entire Brit Lit textbook mentions exactly TWO women writers, Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Hello, Brontës? Jane Austen? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, for heaven's sake? George Eliot? (Look it up if you don't already know, my dears.)

I've been looking forward to this presentation since the beginning of the school year, and in preparation, I've been researching all over the internet to assemble biographies of each of these ladies, synopses of their most famous works, even pictures of them. I was ready.

So yesterday I wanted to get ahead of the game and print out these special packets, which were going to be done on three-hole-punched paper so that they could be put into the girls' folders. I pulled up Microsoft Word, clicked "Print," noted that the document was thirty-five pages long, and asked the printer if it would kindly print five copies. Then I went away and complained about being cold.

I came back to the printer some time later, probably chafing my hands together to warm them, and noticed with alarm that the printer was wheezing and groaning. "Don't mind me. No, really. I'm okay. There's no need for alarm, even though I'm getting ready to DIE RIGHT HERE ON YOUR DESK."

"What?" I asked. "What's wrong and why are you printing out so many pages? Look at you! No wonder you're so tired! They're spilling off the desk onto the floor!"

"I am printing," the printer said through clenched teeth, "the exact number of documents you asked me to print: five copies of a document that is thirty-five pages long."

"No! Wait!" I said, scrambling to pull my Word document back up. "You've got this all wrong! The document is thirty-five pages altogether. So that's five copies that are seven pages each."

"I think if you'll read it more closely, you'll find you're mistaken," the printer said, smiling tightly and crossing its arms in an authoritative, I-know-I'm-right attitude that immediately intimidated me. "And just in case you were wondering, my black cartridge ran out about about ninety pages ago, so all the copies after that aren't even legible."

"Oh, shoot," I said sadly, looking at the blurry sheet that was heaving its way out of the printer just then. "How on earth did I manage to write a thirty-five page document on the women of British literature? That's more like a....master's thesis than an informative piece for high school students to read."

"I feel your pain," said the printer in a manner that told me that he did not only NOT feel my pain, but would actually like to inflict some upon me, if he could work his cables loose enough to launch himself at my head, "but would you MIND clicking STOP PRINTING? Thank you."

So anyway, if you'd ever like to read a really long piece about Jane, Emily and the rest of the ladies, just email me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to school!

In Biology today, Meelyn and I began Module 4, which is the study of Kingdom Fungi, and considering that I once had a fungus on one of my fingernails (stay well away from those do-it-yourself nails, is my solemn recommendation), I went through the assigned pages of reading thinking that maybe that Christmas bologna was going to make its presence known again. Barf.

Aisling came to the living room to say "The woman is cold" in Spanish, which was a statement of actual fact, since I was wrapped up in a fleece throw on the couch. I think I mentioned that the heating/cooling man never came yesterday, so it has tended to get a bit chilly in here as we have set and re-set and re-re-set the thermostat manually. It's 1:32 pm as I am typing and he just got here about ten minutes ago, which turned out to be awesome timing, as I was just getting ready to bash the smug, temperamental thing with a hammer for not releasing the heat I need to warm my weary bones. We keep this barn at about 660, so it doesn't seem like too much to ask for the furnace and the thermostat to get their crap together and do their frikkin' JOB.

I let him go down to the basement where the furnace lives with a warning about the vampires, but I didn't tell him about the mummies because it took him so long to get here and I was kind of ticked. I hope he fixes the furnaces before they GET HIM.

Everything else has been business as usual: vocabulary, grammar, religion, algebra, etc. and it seems that it's gone rather smoothly for the first day back. We might squeeze in a little SAT prep, which I'd like to do twice a week. I'm really kind of pleased at how easily the girls have gone back to their studies: most of the day's whining has been done by me as I've groused about the cold.

You'd think it was January or something.

Just for the fun of it all, here's my back-to-school post from January 8, 2008

How'd that happen?

Actually, I know how it happened. I'd just finished applying about a half-gallon of moisturizer to my aged skin, and I guess my fingers were still a little bit slickery.

So when I took the top off my little bottle of foundation and shook it upside down to bring the makeup down to my fingers, the bottle suddenly flew out of my grasp and sailed high up into the air and across the bedroom, looking like something Ty Cobb might have flung, with deadly accuracy, at home plate.

Only, of course, as the bottle merrily twirled its way through the room, it was dispensing copious amounts of Cool Beige on the pale yellow matelasse coverlet, my clothes, the folded quilt that sits on the end of the bed, some clean laundry that was sitting on the little table at the end of the bed and the carpet. It almost took out my husband's clean and carefully pressed white dress shirt, which he had just put on, still warm from the iron, but he did this incredible, slow-motion Matrix-like movement where his entire body moved in a backwards arc, his legs kicking up in the air and his arms going out in front of him so that he was momentarily suspended in the air, shaped like the letter C.

"Nice moves, Neo," I said, laughing really hard.

"Geez, what happened?" he asked incredulously, picking up the bottle and surveying the damage. It looked like a L'Oréal factory had just exploded.

"I was shaking the bottle and it flew out of my hand," I replied, dabbing at my eyes and feeling thankful that I hadn't yet put on mascara. Because, ouch? There's nothing like a little mascara in your eyes to make you understand that it could be used as an effective substitute for tear gas, if rioters would be willing to come up close to the police, have their eyelashes coated and then get a spritz of water right in the face.

"Is it safe to give this back to you?" he asked, holding the makeup bottle out to me gingerly. "You know, you might want to try shaking it with the lid on, Grace."

I tried to get my husband to do his Letter C maneuver again, but he huffily told me that it was a one off and that I should quit joking around and trying to show him how he looked and get busy helping him clean up the mess.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany Day!

This is the twelfth day of the Christmas season, our final day of feasting and merriment (and vacation), which I celebrated by waking up at 6:45 and not being able to go back to sleep. Isn't that the way it always is on the last day of vacation?

Meelyn, Aisling and I endured the tedium of thehouse all day, suffering from a peculiar conundrum: Applesauce Anne was in the shop getting her serpentine belt fixed and the mechanics had her there all day long, so we couldn't go anywhere. And we deeply and truly wanted to go somewhere, because there's something wrong with the furnace's thermostat and I kept having to reset it every twenty-five minutes so that we wouldn't freeze.

It was a very dull and uncomfortable day, made even more so by the fact that Anne was gone all day, yet was never repaired, and that the furnace guy didn't show up. Kind of par for the course for this vacation. You cannot believe how GLAD I AM to be done with this past two weeks. Any more "vacation" and I won't be responsible for my actions. The only thing about this day that redeemed it from being a total stinker was the fact that Carol sent a box of gifts so crammed full of goodies and presents, it was practically bursting at the seams.

The Christmas tree comes down tomorrow, as do all the decorations except for the snowmen. The Advent candles are burned down to little stumps, and frankly, I'm just a little tired of looking at the rest of the junk. I feel very rueful that this Christmas doesn't have many happy memories attached to it, but I guess they all can't be candy canes and sugarplums.

The three Nativities will be with us until Candlemas on February 2 and then they'll all be boxed up for another year.

Looking back on the past twelve days-plus-three, I'd say that these things were the highlights:

1. Seeing my parents, even though they gave us the bologna virus

2. Going to midnight Mass

3. Having Christmas Eve with Grandad, who was well for the first time in the last four Christmases

4. Spending New Year's Eve with Beth, Jim and the rest of the gang

5. Getting that huge gift box from Carol today

6. Going to Gary and Katie's Epiphany party

7. Getting to spend time with Kieren and Dayden

Now, see! Look what a glass-is-half-empty kind of person I am. You should just back your eyes right up and forget you ever read this post. Here I was thinking that this Christmas didn't have very many happy memories and there I thought of seven things, right off the top of my head!


My husband came home yesterday with the news that a local Ford dealership, a family-owned-and-operated place that has been open for probably thirty years or so -- has gone into bankruptcy. It's so bad that family members' homes have been put on the market.

It's impossible to hear news like this and not have a chill of fear run through me, centering itself right in the back of my neck, where it sometimes feels like my third vertebrae is being gripped by a really big set of pliers. Pliers that have been left out in the snow.

Last year, early on, I wrote a long piece titled Reality Cheque about our financial situation and our decision to homeschool the girls despite the hardships we go through. At the time I wrote it, I was buoyed up by a fierce resolve to soldier on despite the many looming obstacles -- or, in reality, the one looming obstacle, which is and has been for the past eight years or so, money and the lack thereof.

But somewhere along the line last winter/early spring, I lost that fierceness. Oh, we definitely continued homeschooling. There was no change there. But a terrible change came inside me. I was very depressed, very bleak, very angry with God. Through His merciful patience, I made my way back from that grim place and by the beginning of the summer, I felt like myself again. This occurrence coincided with my husband's new job (the dealership where he used to work has since closed down, another casualty of the economy) and the fact that he was finally making some money so that we were able to start catching up on the rent, which we had fallen behind on, as well as a few other things. But it seemed that we'd finally made it past that really bad period when Applesauce Anne threw a rod and my parents lent us Buddy the Blazer, whose transmission ungratefully conked out and then our computer's hard drive melted as well as a number of other petty and not-so-petty annoyances that make up modern life in a fallen world.

Well, here we are in the winter again and financially, things are worse than they've ever been. I sometimes merrily think to myself that I, touchingly naive, believed we'd hit rock bottom when we had to declare bankruptcy ourselves a few years back, but as it turns out, that was mere topsoil. Rock bottom was still a good ways down, I am deeply chagrined to acknowledge.

So here's my thing: I DO NOT WANT TO GO back to that bad place in my head again this year, that place where I am convinced that God has abandoned us and that Jesus doesn't love us anymore because of all those dumb emails I deleted (except the ones from Carol, because the ones she send always seem to be pertinent to my issssshewwwwwws). So far, I made it through the Christmas season with good cheer and hopefulness intact, despite the fact that we could only afford to spend about $25 on each of the girls and $12 on each other on presents. And despite the fact that we were all spewing vomit (or worse), coming down with infections and fevers and making casual drop-ins at the doctor's office or the city's urgent care center, where they now know members of my family by name. With all of that going on, I think it's miraculous that I'm not in a tastefully decorated home right now, confined to a bed with rails on the sides, muttering unintelligibly, becoming lucid only long enough to bark at some harried nurse to bring me more drugs.

Now I need to get through the rest of the winter and I admit to you right now that I am uneasily wondering what it has in store for us. Car sales are what you might call "slow." Our tax check is a long time coming, and it is already promised to the rental office. We're still using Pat and Angie's computer. Applesauce Anne is in the shop today getting something done with her serpentine belt, which sounds like an accessory to me, but obviously is more important than as just a fashionable item, because she screams like a banshee about that belt whenever we drive her, poor girl. I'm thinking that serpentine belts must be something more along the lines of a limb, the way she's acting.

One of the few comforts I have is that we're in this mess with a lot of other people (although it makes me feel very small and mean that I even have those thoughts) because everyone else in the grocery store is walking around looking like they just woke up from a nightmare and discovered that it was real.

I hope that God will help us all persevere in faith and bring us through these difficult times.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Another one bites the dust

The Christmas holidays are nearly over -- Tuesday marks Ephiphany Day with the Last Gift of the Season for the girls, as well as a big, rowdy feast (maybe lasagna?) -- and all I can say is THANK HEAVEN. Because if the Christmas gladness went on any longer, who knows how many members of the family would wind up in urgent care?

Angie is the latest member of the family to go down like a bowling pin. Pat took her to a quick med center last Wednesday with sublingual glands "the size of golf balls," as he put it.

We had the boys over on New Year's Day for a massive taco feast and cards (me and the teens), computer games (Dayden), football (my husband) and sleeping blissfully stretched out over the entire surface area of the couch (Wimzie and Hershey). Dayden asked for that Thanksgiving favorite, a cheese taco.

"You put it in the microwave," he explained after asking anxiously if we had any Velveeta cheese in the house. We did, which was very good, but what he doesn't know is that I love him so much, I would have gone out to buy some if we hadn't had any, but there's no need for him to know that. He would only use that information to wheedle huge amounts of candy out of me. "You take a long square piece of Velveeta and put it on a tortilla and fold the tortilla and melt the cheese. And then I eat it."

"A 'long square'?" I teased. "Don't you mean a rectangle?"

He eyed me beadily. "No. I mean a long square."

"Sorry," I said, chastened.

We took Kieren (who was wearing the Aeropostale thermal shirt we got him for Christmas) and Dayden home late that evening and I slipped in to say hello to Angie: She was on the sofa covered with a crocheted blanket, looking wan and pale, but said with something of her old spirit, "I didn't know you were coming in! I look awful!"

It was the first time in a week I'd actually seen her with her eyes open and without a look of acute suffering on her face, so I think she's making excellent progress. Although unfortunately perhaps using up all her sick days at work for the entire year, which, of course, has only just begun.

I've heard of people speak of "surviving the holidays" before, but this seems a bit much.