Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How To: Infuriate Me by Holding My Check

Six weeks ago, we had the piano tuned for Aisling's benefit. Oh, why be such a liar? Okay, I also had the piano tuned for my benefit because it hadn't been tuned for seven years and some of the songs she was playing were so discordant by ears began to bleed and then just fell right off onto the floor, kind of like that scene from Blue Velvet.

Anyway, it cost $80 and I paid the piano tuner with a check and then promptly forgot all about it because I was kind of busy getting my ears re-attached.

That $80 was IN THE BANK on the day I wrote the check. It stayed there for days and days thereafter. But time marched on and the check wasn't cashed and then it marched a little further and still no check and by the time that particular rousing John Phillips Sousa was finished, so was my bank balance.

I spoke to the piano tuner's mother on the phone -- she happens to be Aisling's lovely piano teacher -- who said to me in a deprecating manner, "I don't know if you know this, but Brad's check bounced and that cost him $37.50 in fees from his bank and you know, that also puts his account in jeopardy because of checks he's written and...."

I had to stop listening then, I really did. Because I truly admire and respect Aisling's piano teacher, I really do. But FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!!! Why -- WHY WHY WHY? -- would anyone who has been paid for a service like piano tuning or leaf raking or transmission repairing or whatever HOLD ONTO A CHECK FOR SIX WEEKS BEFORE CASHING IT?

Don't people need the money? I'm trying to imagine living the kind of life where I wouldn't be out the back door in one hot second, leaping into the car and slinging gravel out of the driveway to cash a check for ten frikkin' dollars and....nope. No, I can't do it. I can do a lot of other things with my imagination, like wondering what that thing was I just saw out of the corner of my eye or if that bump on my arm is a mosquito bite or skin cancer or if the pains from food poisoning will be as horrible as I suspect they will if I eat the rest of that taco meat that's been in the fridge for over a week, but I just can't imagine not cashing an $80 check as soon as it touched my hot little hands.

I know good and well that the bank isn't going to see it my way. I am a nonentity to them. But if they cared, I would tell them (and maybe Brad, too) that a person who holds onto a paper check for SIX WEEKS in this age of instant banking with online bill pay and debit cards and PayPal is just begging to find some insufficient funds a-waiting when he finally works up the energy to go to the bank and endorse that personal check.

So now I still owe him $80, plus the $37.50 in ISF fees his bank charged him. And I know quite, quite well that our bank is going to demand its own pound of flesh and that I'm going to be paying them $37.50 as well. Which makes that original $80 payment, which I thought was so very reasonable, all of a sudden a little more dear than I'd intended it to be.

When I was collecting money for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival trip last year, I recall a few times when I held people's checks for a few weeks because I was waiting for everyone to get paid up and, because I am not a numbers kind of girl, I knew I'd be confused if I took one person's check and deposited it at one branch and then got another check a few days later and deposited it at another branch....you see my difficulty. It is very, very hard for me to count higher than ten because I run out of fingers: I can only count to eleven because I have a nose and I'm too stout to be always with the bending over and taking off my shoes and socks, although my most arithmatick time of year is the summer because I'm always wearing sandals...ANYWAY, I wanted to make it as easy on myself as possible.

But now I see that that might not have been all that easy on my traveling companions. So Virginia, Jerri, Michelle and Katie, if I held your checks for too long, I am very sorry.

Monday, March 30, 2009

We'll see how this goes

Edited to Add: I forgot to mention that this meatload -- and yes, I spelled that correctly and ON PURPOSE -- was made of turkey because it is cheaper than the ground beef and pork sausage I usually use. Oh, yeah....and it was the worst meatload I have ever eaten. Very dry, very bland. I felt like Oliver Twist or maybe Sara Crewe with every bite I ate.

We're a little bit poor-ish this week, due to several bills that have come in all at once, in that dismaying way they tend to do, usually coinciding with the weeks that my husband's commission checks are not all that robust.

So tonight, I am making a meatloaf for dinner that contains more "loaf" than "meat." Should I call it Loafmeat, then? Hmmm... I am all for truth in advertising, but that might be pushing it a bit.

I think it's telling that I just accidentally typed the word "meatload" in the first sentence of the above paragraph. Huh.

Extra whole wheat bread was employed as filler, plus a half a cup of ground flaxseed. Instead of the usual two eggs, I cracked a third 'un into the mix, hoping that would help things stay stuck together so that this would look like dinner instead of breakfast.

I considered throwing in some oatmeal and even thought about tossing in some Frito crumbs left in the bottom of the bag that my husband was snacking on yesterday. I also have recourse to some bran cereal and a box of Cheerios, but the thought of eating anything too cerealy with ketchup sauce on it made me feel a bit throwy-uppy, so we'll just see.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sending the kids back to college

We have hugged and kissed and waved goodbye to Poppy and Nanny, who left Indiana today and made it as far as Missouri before running into crummy weather. This necessitated an overnight stop and Cracker Barrel figured in there somewhere, because when we called to find out where they were, that's where they were: At a Cracker Barrel in Missouri getting served something fattening and delicious.

We here back in the Hoosier state are looking at getting life back to normal for the next three weeks, when Poppy and Nanny will be making a weekend appearance for Meelyn's sixteenth birthday party -- they're flying in on a strange route that goes from Colorado Springs to Minnesota to Indianapolis, poor things, but Meelyn is over the moon that they're coming home.

Until then, we have tomorrow. It is supposed to be cold and cloudy, with snow flurries, in spite of all the daffodils, crocuses and pansies that are dotted about. Which just goes to show you that Mother Nature is a bitter old hag with a mean streak wider than the infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So to keep our spirits up, I'm going to bake a French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours. Its primary flavor is lemon, which is my favorite flavor for cakes, pies, cookies and whatever else. I thought it sounded spring-like. Kayte told me that it was both easy and delicious, so I think I'll try it, although I'm hedging a little on the marmalade glaze: I'm thinking about making either the lemon cream or lemon curd recipes that Dorie offers in the book because they sound so awesome.

I have a real urge to do another Julia Chicken, maybe with some newpotatoes and a pretty little butter lettuce salad with some homemade croutons, all full of garlicky goodness. But my husband said the word "chili" in a longing sort of voice, so I don't know. I may make it for him because this could be the last time we have chili until next fall.

Here's something I found out this week: I make better noodles than the Amish ladies who make and package them up in Nappanee. Who knew? The Indiana Amish homemakers are the gold standard to which all other Indiana cooks compare themselves. When I made beef and noodles the other night (combining a nice beef roast simmered for hours with seasonings and some red wine) and a package of Amish noodles, my entire family agreed that mine are better. So see! All that time I spent in my youth breathing heavily through my nose and watching Grandma Houser roll out her homemade noodles to the thinnest thin sort of thinniness paid off, especially when I found out entirely by accident that they're a lot easier to cut if you use a pizza wheel.

Here's another thing: St. Anne's groundbreaking ceremony for the new church is at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon in New Castle. I wish they were going to have better weather, but at least they have this bit of progress to look forward to. Three years is a long time to have Mass in the basement of the parish hall with the Blessed Sacrament locked up in a safe. The new church has a price tag of 4.4 mil and I'm sure it will be a lovely place.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I have taken a verbal beating from my brother

I have just been run through the mill by Pat for not knowing how to turn on my dad's laptop computer, despite the fact that he knows that I do not have a laptop computer of my own, since the computer that I do use is a desktop model that belongs to him, being the same one he lent me last May.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kids are okay; jams and jellies around the world clamor for vintage dates

I am happy to report that eating last century's apple jelly has not harmed my darling nephews, Kieren and Dayden, nor has it inflicted my adorable niece, Kiersi, with some kind of unpleasant gastrointestinal distress.

So now I'm thinking that wine collectors around the world should start rethinking that expensive hobby and converting their cellars and caves into jelly-storage facilities. I can just imagine what the tastings would be like, with the cool air below ground redolent with the smell of toasting English muffins and bagels. Ahhhhhh! A rotund man picks up a piece of toast, enjoying the sensation of melted butter dripping down his fingers, and inhales the sweet scent of a nice 1999 cherry preserve. "Notes of almond!" he says rapturously. "Fruity, with a hint of oak! Made from cherries picked at the height of the season, just after the morning dew evaporated from the tree's leaves!"

He would then bite into the toast and roll it around in his mouth, which could possibly lead to unfortunate choking incidents, so we'll have to be careful with that.

I also like the idea of jelly sommeliers presenting diners with those dinky little jars of jam and sophisticated confiturophiles tasting and then elegantly drawling, "Myself, I prefer a nice, sharp 2002 Robertson's lemon curd, although I did have an extremely piquant currant once that was quite tempting, and I believe it was just a 2005 Knott's Berry Farm. But on the other side of the coin, I had the most delicate fig preserves last year. It was at my mother's house on Christmas morning and I asked her where on earth she'd found it. Turns out, she'd snapped it up in the international foods aisle of SuperTarget a couple of years back. Bonne Maman! Product of France!"

Hacked by Catholic haters

I'm very sorry to say that my blog has apparently been hacked by some for realz Christians from BibleCollegeOnline.com. Some readers -- including me -- have found that in typing in my web address, they're being taken there instead of here. On their obnoxious website they feature a "Catholic Desk" that tells you, predictably enough, that according to Scripture, the Roman Catholic Church is the Great Whore of Babylon, along with all the other usual stuff about Boniface III being made the first pope, which is something I would probably find very funny if it didn't make me feel so completely weary. Haters, do you realize that if Boniface III had been the first pope, HE WOULD BE BONIFACE THE FIRST?

You big dummies. I mean, really. Is this truly what passes for scholarship in some Protestant places?

If you're typing in my web address, which is http://www.insomnimom.blogspot.com/ and you're being taken to the BibleCollegeOnline, just go to Google and type InsomniMom in the search field. I'm listed there and you can come and read via that route until I can contact Blogger and have them fix the problem.

Better yet, just bookmark this site right now. That'll work!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This time it's APPLES

Nanny and Poppy are safely home from Colorado Springs for a week of spring break, and this time, they didn't bring some kind of bologna virus, for which we were all grateful.

All of us gathered at their house today for lunch, which is the first time we'd been there since December 28 for my husband's birthday "party." I'm calling it a "party" because all of us were too weak to be very festive, sitting there with our grey faces and sunken eyes, toasting one another with glasses of Pepto-Bismal and flat Sprite and snacking on Cold-Eeze lozenges from the candy dishes my mom had sitting around.

The Christmas tree was still up in the family room.

"So that's what it looked like," said Kieren. "I wasn't here on Christmas morning."

"You were eating bologna sandwiches at home," said Aisling helpfully.

"Yeah, I know. Thanks for reminding me."

"It doesn't matter, because we were eating them here," Meelyn sighed.

"I wasn't eating bologna," said Pat. "I had a very nice breakfast, with the casserole and the cinnamon rolls and the fresh-squeezed orange juice and the coffee. It was very delicious."

Several pairs of narrowed eyes swiveled in his direction. He cleared his throat. "Of course, I wasn't really able to enjoy it fully, because I was so sad that the rest of you were sick."

It was at this moment that Dayden saved his father from a richly-deserved smackdown by asking for jelly for his biscuit. My mother retrieved a new jar of strawberry preserves from her pantry shelves, but when my dad opened it, there was no sound of the vaccuum seal popping open. Poppy unscrewed the lid and looked inside to find that approximately one tablespoon of preserves had been used from the jar. We all concluded that it had been put back on the pantry shelves instead of into the refrigerator by mistake sometime last December.

"That was my favorite kind, too," Poppy said sadly.

Dayden mourned the loss of the jelly by saying that he doesn't LIKE just BUTTER on his BISCUIT; he likes to HAVE some JELLY and my brother and sister-in-law explained to him that jelly cannot be formed out of thin air because you'd at least need some fruit. And some sugar and a large pot. And maybe some canning jars. Or you could just cut to the chase and drive to the market and pick up a jar of Smuckers, whatever.

My mom, ever the Compleat Nanny, went back to the pantry and returned with a jar of apple jelly, which she held up triumphantly. "HERE you go, darling!" she said, applying herself industriously to the opening of the jar, which with my mother means that she added a lot of dramatic flair, such as bending halfway over and struggling with the jar as if she were trying to unscrew the head of a live possum, oooofing and arrrrghing and panting until my father finally held out his hand and said, "Please."

She gave it to him and he opened it with ease; she automatically said "I loosened it up for you" and my father rolled his eyes. He handed the jar to Kieren, who put jelly on his own biscuit and then gave it to Dayden, who spooned out enough jelly to cover pieces of buttered toast laid end to end from from Arizona to, I don't know, maybe Nova Scotia. And by that time, Kiersi wanted some too. All in all, the jelly was a big hit, and my mother beamed happily.

It wasn't until later, when Pat, Angie and I were cleaning up the kitchen that Pat said, "Ohhhh, geeez. Look at the expiration date on this jelly jar's lid."

He held out the jar with a curious mix of laughter and bug-eyed horror on his face; I took it from him and read "Best if used by 4-10-2001." I counted backwards on my fingers and said, "Eeewwwww...."

"What's wrong?" asked my dad. "Is it about to expire?"

"About to expire!" yelled Pat, "That jelly is almost as old as Dayden!"

"Actually," I said, "it's probably closer to being as old as Aisling, see, because the expiration date would've been for a couple of years before 2001..."

"My KIDS are about to expire!" Pat said. He smelled the jelly and declared it smelled like apples.

"Apples from what century?" I asked anxiously. "Should we call Poison Control?"

It was eventually decided that we'd all just watch the kids very closely. Dayden did come in from playing outside to throw himself beside me on the couch for a foot rub, saying that his stomach hurt. All the blood immediately left my brain with a sucking whoooooosh until he revealed that he'd just eaten a large bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce, drunk a can of Coke and then jumped up and down many times. Once I was finished with the smelling salts, I allowed that jumping up and down after the consumption of ice cream and soda pop could make a guy feel a bit uneasy in the midsection.

They all seemed fine for the rest of the afternoon. I will keep you all posted, and if they all continue to be fine, we can all add jelly to the list of things we store on hand in case of snow emergencies and have no electricity to use stoves, crock-pots or microwaves. We can all eat bread smeared with ancient jelly and not worry a bit about sell-by dates.

You go ahead and make your sandwich first, though. I'll make mine later. After you eat yours.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Il dolce libri

Today, I read one of the most exuberant and charming lines I think I have ever read in a book:
"What a happy woman I am, living in a garden, with books, babies, birds and
flowers and plenty of leisure to enjoy them."

That bit of loveliness was taken from the semi-autobiographical novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden, written by Elizabeth von Arnim, who was actually the Countess von Arnim-Schlagenthin, although she was born Mary Annette Beauchamp and nicknamed "May" by her family. Keeping all that in mind, you might understand why, in her first book and nineteen other novels, she simply published them with no name at all. All that dickering around with names would have left the poor exhausted woman with no time to write.

At any rate, that simple sentence, once read, rung in my head like a little golden bell, striking the kind of note that enchants and soothes my mind all at once. Or maybe that sentence was like a morsel of something so delicious, it had to be savored very slowly, each word a different level of flavor, layered together in a taste so complete, it was as good as a meal in itself, a meal for the eyes and the mind.

There are certain phrases in books that do that to me and make for a gorgeous bit of reading. It doesn't always have to come from a novel; I have found phrases that make me feel happy in the Divine Office, in Julia's cookbooks, in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Vianney. As far as serious writers go, I've found lines in J.D. Salinger (but not in The Catcher in the Rye, which is a book I simply do not like) and Shirley Jackson, although I've also found them in books by Maeve Binchy and J. K. Rowling. Agatha Christie treated me to several in her fabulous autobiography.

And then there were those childhood friends down in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee and Truman Capote; both of them have penned phrases that can wrench you so deep with beautiful pain that you almost have to lay your head down on the pages for a moment, just willing yourself to breathe, do Lord.

And of course, there are also children's books that have sublime bits, like Antoine de St. Exupery's Le Petit Prince and Margery Williams's The Velveteen Rabbit. And Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- how I love that book. I know this may seem unkind, but it's hard for me to imagine that the same woman who wrote about the twee Cedric, the chirpy, curly-haired twit in Little Lord Fauntleroy, was the same person who sternly wrote in Racketty-Packetty House, "[Fairies] never call or leave their cards at a dolls' house where the dolls are proud or bad tempered. They are very particular. If you are conceited or ill-tempered yourself, you will never know a fairy as long as you live" and named the dolls things like Victoria Leopoldina and Aurelia Matilda. I can't resist it. It's so much fun, it makes me shiver every time I pick the book up.

Meelyn, who, don't get me wrong, can stick her face in front of a TV with the best of them, once said to me at around six years old, "What do people do who don't like to read?"

I've never really been around people who didn't like reading. My husband didn't read much for pleasure when we first got married because he said he had to read all day at work and was sick of it. But he gradually succumbed and now gets very nervous when he's down to the last thirty pages of his current book. He likes to have a new book sitting on his bedside table, ready and waiting for him.

My parents both read almost constantly, my mother carrying on with different books in different parts of the house: one by her seat in the family room, one in the living room by the fireplace, one at her bedside, one in the kitchen. I find this behavior slightly fickle and tell her that some day, those books will all find out about each other and cast off their bookmarks all at once.

My two grandmothers, the dearest companions of my childhood, both read a lot: When my Nanny died and my mother and I were wretchedly clearning her belongings out of her apartment, we were able to smile as we hauled about six boxes crammed with Harlequin romances out of her bedroom closet. My other grandmother, Ma, read everything she could get her hands on and then passed it on to me, although she begged me not to tell my mother that she'd let me read Shelley Winters's autobiography when I was about twelve, which not only included numerous uses of the eff word, but also detailed descriptions of Ms. Winters's smoldering affairs with several of Hollywood's Leading Men, including a snippet of information about Errol Flynn that intrigues me to this day. Ma hadn't been playing close attention when I asked her, "Can I borrow this book about this Shelley person?" She said yes, absentmindedly, and then her conscience smote her about two weeks later when I had long since finished the book, and she happened to remember just how racy it was.

So I don't know what people do who don't like to read. "Maybe they play a lot of solitaire," I said doubtfully to Meelyn. "Or crochet nine-patch afghans? Or join square-dancing clubs?"

I am so happy that I found a new beloved book today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

RECIPE: Parmesan-Garlic Tilapia

Thankfully, my husband works such insane retail hours, we don't sit down for dinner until 8:30 p.m., so when I wrote that post earlier today about not knowing what I was going to cook, I was actually not too terribly worried because it was five hours until everyone was expecting me to start shoving casserole dishes into the oven (or, perhaps more to the point, shoving cardboard platters of On-Cor Family Size Salisbury Steaks into the microwave.)

[Brief pause...]

Kayte, I am just kidding. I do not serve those nasty things to my family, although I used to, back in those halcyon days before you looked at me with big, sad eyes and said, "Oh, Shelley. Shelley. Please. Please, don't buy those awful things," which is around the same time you started giggling when I asked, in innocent surprise, "Whaddaya mean, Kraft doesn't make good cheese? What is good cheese, if not Kraft?" until you realized I was serious. And then you fainted.


So anyway, I figured I still had time to burn. I sat myself down upon the couch with a cup of tea at my elbow and my book propped on my lap and read cozily until oh-my-freakin'-gosh, it was 6:30.

So I went to the kitchen and prayed for some kind of magic to happen, which it didn't. St. Zita, where are you, girl? Then I opened the freezer door and a bag of frozen edamame came flying out as if self-propelled and hit me in the head, which didn't seem magical either. But then, when I picked the edamame bag up off the floor and started to stick it back into the freezer, I saw some flash-frozen tilapia. Yippee!!!

Problem solved!

I love tilapia because it goes with just about anything. I love flash-frozen tilapia because it tastes so good and is so easy to prepare, requiring all of fifteen minutes in a moderate oven. And I love being able to make something for dinner that everybody enjoys and which also looks as if I spent a lot of time cooking it. Which is kind of the complete opposite of the Julia Principle, which is make something for dinner that everybody enjoys, but which took seventeen hours to prepare, albeit with easily obtainable ingredients.

I think Julia would have liked this recipe, though.


4-6 frozen tilapia filets

2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon water

1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
a bit of dried parsley, for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 375o

Break the eggs into a shallow pan (I used a cake pan) and beat, add the water to combine. In a separate shallow pan (another cake pan, natch) pour the melted butter and then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. This mixture will be very thick and a bit clumpy.

Rinse the tilapia filets in a bit of cold water and pat dry with a towel. Place each filet in the egg wash and then place it in the bread crumb-butter mixture, pressing the crumbs onto the top of the filet. Transfer the filet to a baking sheet that has been lightly oiled; repeat the process with the remaining filets. Sprinkle some dried parsley on the top of each filet.

Place the baking sheet in the heated oven and bake the filets for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with some lemon pepper. These filets are very pretty and make a nice presentation, being not at all pale and fishy and nekkid-looking.

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

We really do live in an amazing neighborhood, this historic preservation jealously guarded by the National Historic Register, which means I have to get special permission to paint my back steps their original color (dark red, very attractive with our butter-colored house) and which also means that some of the houses are so gorgeously well-maintained with their Victorian paint colors and their immaculate gardens that our house is almost embarrassed to be near them, and some houses so unutterably dreadful that a self-respecting meth cooker wouldn't squat there.

Our house, which is just a plain old mid-Victorian gentleman's residence, sits on a corner. It was built, in its current elevation, in about 1880 or thereabouts, although our living room, which boasts walls nearly eighteen inches thick, was originally constructed as a log cabin in the 1830s, according to the former owner. And then there's the basement, which looks like it's been there since Dracula was a young lad, cruising the strip with his friend, Ra Ankh-Hamen, whose internal organs were removed from his body and put into decorative canopic jars shortly before his corpse was wrapped in fine linen. I don't go down there, because mummies and vampires? I do not care to mix with their ilk.

The house next door to us is actually an apartment building, constructed in the 1920s. Back then, it was built as an upper and a lower, with the most amazing tiled fireplaces and built in bookcases and china cupboards and little leaded-glass windows on either side of the chimney piece. The same man who used to own our house also owned this apartment building, and he cleverly divided the upper and lower flats into four separate apartments, the two front apartments being large two bedroom places with the original wood floors, refinished and glossed to within an inch of their lives, and two studio apartments 'round back where the servants' and tradesmen's entrances used to be, and those were intended to serve students at the local university.

Our house is separated from the apartment building by a very narrow driveway, juuuust wide enough for Anne to creep down, hugging her side mirrors all up around her ears, as it were. This passage was originally intended only for a buggy, so it's understandable that a plump girl like Anne might find it a bit of a squeeze. The buggy shed, which used to sit behind our house in a state of wanton disrepair, was torn down in order to make room for the parking of modern cars, since it, with room only to house the buggy and the horse that drew it, was not deep enough for a newer car. While it's always nice to have an artistic horse around the place, it would be wrong to have a tumbledown building out back just for him and his easel, oil pastels and gum erasers, which would mean we'd have to park our cars on the roof.

You might wonder if I have a point to all this, and if I do, when I'm ever going to get around to letting you know what it is, so I'll tell you that this piece is about our neighbor in the lower apartment next door and her deplorable tendency to peek out of her bathroom window and into our kitchen and dining room.

This young woman and her husband and baby moved into the lower apartment a few months ago. They're a nice young couple, quiet and pleasant. This past winter, when I was outside with the dogs, she came out to sweep the snow off her generous front porch and confided to me in a honey-and-peaches accent which ended every statement in a question that she was from Florida? And had never seen snow like this before? I apologized on behalf of the entire Hoosier state and told her that this amount of snow was uncommon even for us, and that I fervently hoped neither she nor I would ever see this much again.

She seemed nice enough.

Three weeks ago on a Saturday, the girls and I were getting ready to leave for Mass, which involves a lot of gathering up of music books, and urging Aisling to hurry and urging Meelyn to stop yelling at Aisling to hurry up, and reminding Aisling to put on her shoes, and reminding Meelyn that she is not Aisling's mother and if anyone is going to yell at Aisling for trying to leave the house wearing pink pig bedroom slippers, it will be me.

Meelyn and I were standing in the kitchen and Aisling was in the kitchen, with the swinging door open between the two rooms, and I was in mid-flow in my speech about how if Aisling would put her shoes where they belonged, she'd be able to find them when she needed them, when all of a sudden, Aisling said, "Look at that lady!"

Meelyn and I looked where Aisling was pointing, and sure enough, there was our neighbor, framed by her bathroom window, gazing into our house and at us with unabashed frankness. Well, until she perceived that we could see her just as clearly as she could see us; as soon as our heads swiveled in her direction, her mouth formed a round O of horror and she immediately dropped out of sight below the windowsill. I presume she made her way out of the bathroom by crawling on hands and knees, for we saw no more of her after that.

One week to the day later, I was at the kitchen table with my back to the window, eating a bowl of tomato soup for my lunch. I was already dressed for Mass, and since I knew that a slurp of soup would be attracted to the front of my nice top the way paper clips are attracted to magnets, I had taken the precaution of tucking a kitchen towel in the neck of my blouse. It's a good thing I had, too, because just before I stood up to get another bowl of soup, I spilled a spoonful right down the very front of me, making myself look something like a gunshot victim.

I turned around to go to the stove when my attention was arrested by the fact that someone was watching as I dabbed ineffectually at my bosom. You know how you get that weird, prickly feeling? Well, I had it, so my head snapped up and I met the eyes of my neighbor across the way, looking in at my discomfiture, soup running down my front and a bowl in my hand.

Again, she got that look on her face that clearly said "Busted!!!!" I was rendered extremely peevish by this -- who does this girl think she is? Harriet-the-friggin'-Spy? -- especially at being caught at wearing a messy bib and being greedy over my soup. I reached over and smartly switched the window blind closed.

Closing the blind is not a permanent solution, though, because my kitchen is as dark as the Black Hole of Calcutta, only not as dangerous. It was built, of course, in a time when the thing that was done in a kitchen was cooking, whereas the homes of today often combine an entertainment feature as part of their kitcheny goodness. All I can say is that if anyone wants to come out and sit at the table and watch me roast red peppers or peel potatoes, they're welcome to do so, and there's a jar on top of the microwave requesting donations for my Paint the Kitchen a Tuscan Sort of Yellow Project. That should brighten things up.

So the blind is open. Right now, for instance, it is open. And, I couldn't help but notice just a few hours ago, so is the neighbors' bathroom window. As I was sitting here typing while Meelyn and Aisling were at the YMCA, I caught her at it again -- standing there as bold as brass, watching me type.

Finally, I decided that I'd just let her look. Heaven knows, it's always nice to find someone who finds you fascinating. So I jazzed up the typing, flinging my hands into the air in a theatrical manner, as if I were playing some difficult but transcendant piece on a Steinway concert grand instead of on a Dell computer keyboard. I mussed my hair into an artistic disarray and bent forward, with my nose so close, I could have typed QWERTY with it, then throwing my head back and typing like a virtuoso, helped along by Johann Christian Cannabich's Symphony No. 57 in E Flat Major, which was pouring like wine and sunshine through the speakers in the living room.

Oh, I put on a show, I did. If she's going to be such a Stary Mary, she might as well get some entertainment value for it.

I'm thinking about having my husband build a marquee above my kitchen window, with lights, and announcing daily performances:



Or, more to the point:


Although come to think of it, she's already seen that. I don't want to go into re-runs quite so soon.

This does not bode well for a pleasant evening....

It is 2:03 p.m. as I type this, and I have just realized that I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what we are going to have for dinner. I just went out to the utility room and gazed thoughtfully at the large plastic bin the dog food is stored in and wondered if I could get away with making some pastry -- and I've become a dab hand at that since last summer -- and calling it something fabulous like nourriture pour chien dans la croûte.

I mean, the dog food is, according to the bag it came in, a nourishing mixture of lamb, rice and vegetables. I think that sounds perfectly delicious, don't you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I improve upon Julia

Oh, my dears, the cooking that has gone on here today!

I decided to put together a lovely, old-fashioned Sunday dinner because I found a chicken in the freezer I didn't know I had. I honestly have no recollection of buying it, but I took it from the freezer yesterday and defrosted it, puzzling my head all the while. Today, I went to the living room, where my husband was cozily watching college basketball and asked him suspiciously, "Did you buy a chicken and not tell me?"

"I did not," he replied, his eyes never leaving the television screen.

"Because if you did, it's okay. I'm going to roast it today."

"Sounds great."

"And if you ever decide to buy another chicken? And put it in the freezer? It's okay to tell me."

"I'm telling you that I did not buy a chicken."

"Did you buy a bottle of wine, by any chance, while you were shopping?" I asked wistfully. "I could really go for a glass of wine and we don't have any and here it is Sunday, and illegal to buy alcoholic beverages at the grocery..."

"I didn't buy a bottle of wine at the same time I did not buy a chicken, but you are welcome to have one of my beers. And if you'll just step from in front of the TV screen, I'd be very grateful."

Murmuring, I went to the shelf where I keep my grandma's Mastering the Art of French Cooking books and chose Volume I, wherein Julia gives lovely, long detailed instructions on how to roast the perfect chicken. Her directions are perfect for one such as me -- I mean, I -- who occasionally becomes flustered when asked to assemble eight hundred and fifty different dishes, bowls and saucepans (Le Cordon Bleu at Home, I'm looking at YOU, my friend) plus fresh tarragon and a sea bass. I'd have better luck rounding up a baby unicorn and a garden sculpture taken from someone's courtyard in the lost city of Atlantis than finding fresh tarragon and a sea bass in this city, which is why Julia and I are so tight: She doesn't make unreasonable demands either of me, my kitchen or my budget that hurt my feelings.

Julia's roast chicken is very easy to prepare, but it is definitely a venture only for a Sunday afternoon when I have luscious long hours of time stretching out before me which I can spend basting the divil out of a chicken. Ingredients-wise, Julia is very easygoing. But when I tell you she wants you out in that kitchen quickly basting that chicken every ten minutes, I am not joking, chéries. Wear your track shoes and don't bother taking off the oven mitts; just keep them on and learn how to turn the pages of your book with the tip of your pert nose.

The first thing with you do with the chicken is rinse it off, and then deftly salt the....*gulp*...."inner cavity" and rub the skin with butter while the oven is preheating. When it is hot, place the chicken breast up in a nice roasting pan and brown it for fifteen minutes -- if your chicken is about five pounds, which mine was -- brushing it with a mixture of butter and olive/canola oil. At the end of that initial fifteen minutes, turn the chicken on one side, baste, and brown it for five minutes and then repeat the process on the chicken's other side.

I always run into problems at this stage because the chicken -- headless, with salt up its butt -- always looks so....jaunty....resting there on its side, leaning on its elbow as if it's going to wink and ask me who my daddy is, only it has no head. When it comes to meat on the bone, Iamthisclose to being a vegetarian, so seeing my dinner posing in that roasting pan, I always have to squint a little and think about how deeply and truly I hate live chickens, so smelly and pecky and inclined to look at you in that calculating, sideways manner which always makes me nervously imagine that they're wondering what my eyeballs would taste like. That's the only way I can get through it. A glass of wine helps, which is why I wondered if my husband had bought any. The things I'm required to suffer in order to feed my family just beggar description.

The bird has to roast on one side through the entire ninety minutes it is in the oven. I assume this is because you want all those rich basting juices to be sinking down into the meat; if you roasted it breast up, the breast meat would likely be dry and fairly tasteless.

My chicken turned out just like Julia promised. It was juicy and flavorful and I was terribly gratified that my family raved about it. I scuffed the toe of my shoe on the floor and beamed in shy pride.

But I also added 3/4 of a cup of nice sherry to the chicken: 1/2 cup in the roasting pan and 1/4 cup in the little saucepan of butter and oil. I also put four tablespoons of cold butter into that cavity and peppered and paprika'd the skin as well as salting it. I served it with baked potatoes, green beans and homemade whole wheat/oatmeal/sunflower seed bread.

That's how I improved on Julia, but let it be our little secret.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The best of breakfasts

Monday is my grocery day, so when I went, one of my purchases was two Haas avocados, a fruit of which Meelyn and I are most passionately fond. ALDI sells them for ninety-nine cents each, and they ripen so beautifully in a brown paper lunch bag laid on the kitchen counter and I think it's lovely that something that looks so suspiciously like a tumor taken off a crocodile can be so good and good for you. That, in my mind, is like having a child born to you who can play the harp and has an affinity for really good card tricks, an unexpected double bonus.

So this morning for breakfast, Meelyn and I ate avocado. I like it with a little coarse sea salt (there's something about the slight smooshiness of the avocado and the crunchy quality of the salt between my teeth that is very satisfying to me), but I also like it with some albacore tuna, and hopefully, a great big ripe tomato that is still warm from the garden and the summer sunshine and has barely had the dirt rinsed off it. Meelyn passes on the tuna, but is completely simpatico with me regarding tomatoes.

Tomatoes are not exactly thick on the (frozen solid) Indiana ground right now, so the two of us made do with a handful of whole wheat crackers, which were also slightly salty. It was, I think, the best breakfast I've had in months.

I did think that it would also make the most perfect appetizer, eaten at the little bistro table on the front porch on a really, really hot day, with a really, really cold beer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And we also walked to school in knee-deep snow

Yesterday evening, Meelyn was sitting on the living room floor, going through a drawer in which my husband and I keep a bunch of old CDs, the favorite songs on which have long since been transferred to MP3 players. She was holding them up and kind of giggling at our taste in music -- "Creed? Really, Daddy? The Eagles? Ahahaha haha ha ha haa!!!!" -- and then she found two of my formerly most-treasured possessions from the days when I was doing a lot of driving to and from work; also from the summer I drove from Indiana to Charleston, South Carolina with the girls to spend a week with Susie, Nicole and Adrienne.

Meelyn held up my boxed cassette books-on-tape versions of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Screwtape Letters.

"Omigosh!" she squealed, rolling about with laughter. "Look at these! Cassettes! It's like something you'd find in an ancient Indian burial mound!"

My husband and I exchanged a glance. Yeah, yeah, hahahaha ha ha, it is so funny, all our outdated technology. BUT IT GOT YOU HOME SAFELY FROM SOUTH CAROLINA, DIDN'T IT, MISSY? WITH A MOTHER WHO DIDN'T FALL ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL ON THE TWELVE HOUR DRIVE?

My husband, in an effort to seem like, I don't know, maybe like one of the trained docents at Conner Prairie who dress in period costumes and operate butter churns and horse-drawn plows in an attempt to reach the youth of today and explain to them the days of yore, said, "Actually, Mee, there are cassettes even weirder than that that your mom and I grew up with. They were called eight track tapes and they were about this big." He demonstrated with his hands. Meelyn looked on with a dutiful expression that fell somewhat short of awe.

"They were really big and you bought them at the music store and at K-Mart or Hill's and places like that, and the eight track players were, like, these huge boxes and your stereo had all these different components, big things that stacked on top of each other, plus these gigantic speakers that were so big, you could practically use them as end tables," said my husband, reminiscing happily. "Pioneer! Fisher!"

Meelyn looked on with the air of someone cheerfully humoring an elderly relative who keeps wanting to tell you his stories about the time he got a hole-in-one on the sixteenth green of the Riverside Golf Course back in '73 or maybe it was '74 because Richard Nixon was either about to resign or had already resigned or was thinking about resigning or maybe it was the seventeenth green.

"That's interesting, Daddy," she said, a little smile twitching the corners of her lips. "It's really far out, man." She burst into laughter and rose gracefully from the floor, patting her father on the head as she went by his chair.

"Far out?" My husband looked at me, hurt. "We're too young for far out. How old does she think we are, anyway?"

"Elderly," I said. "Completely fossilized, daddy-o. But I think you're the cat's pajamas anyway, you old coot."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Out for a stroll

Hershey and Wimzie are off for a walk with Meelyn and Aisling, anxious for their afternoon promenade in the pocket park down the street from our house so that they can have a pee and a poo and bark at some squirrels, not necessarily in that order.

It turned cold again, which was only to be expected, so Wimzie is wearing her pink flowered fleecy jacket. Hershey has been misbehaving lately and trying to pull Meelyn's arm from the socket, so he is wearing his Outward Hound dog backpack loaded down with two cans of diced tomatoes and two small cans of tomato sauce.

Burdening Hershey with even a small amount of weight (the little leaflet that came with the backpack gives instructions on how to load the pack so that it isn't too much weight for your dog to comfortably carry) puts a halt to his gallop, but in an unexpected way: When Hershey wears his backpack, he seems much more purposeful when he's out, as if he's saying in his (mostly empty) head, "Gee, this is some serious work I'm doing, carrying tomatoes around the block. I'd better shape up or next time, they won't let me be Mommy's Big Helper."

They are so cute -- all four of them -- setting off to walk. Wimzie trots jauntily beside Aisling; Hershey steams forward with an air of machismo, a big of swagger in his step, his tail held high. Meelyn can at last relax her poor arm a bit. Aisling swings the pooper scooper with an excess of enthusiasm; Meelyn jumps aside and screams. Hershey barks once at lawyer coming downt the sidewalk with his briefcase, and Wimzie gives them all an exasperated look.

And I?

I have the house all to myself for the next fifteen minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A severe lack of detachment

Last year, I tried to give up drinking Diet Coke for Lent and made it through the entire first day, shambling around the house like something from Night of the Living Dead. My husband got home from work, noticed my blank stare and slack jaw, realized what my problem was, and told me he was having none of this giving-up-of-Diet-Coke thing.

"If you give up Diet Coke, you'll be miserable and then we'll be miserable," he said grimly, and rather unfairly, I thought. I mean, sure, I was a little out of it on Ash Wednesday 2008, but once I rinsed the jelly out of my hair and apologized to the robin outside the living room window who was building a nest in the tree and raising the most ungodly racket with all that insane chirping and....and....SINGING, I was fine, just perfectly fine.

"There's only so much sacrifice required," he told me. "And I'm giving up eating cheeseburgers AND I'll have to live with you and that is too much. TOO MUCH."

So, resentfully, I drank a can of Diet Coke and was able to focus my eyes and close my mouth for the first time that day. I gave up all sweets instead and it was really, really hard.

My husband did not give up sweets last year.

But he did give them up this year.

And you know that pretty speech he made me about how I'd be miserable and then he'd be miserable, yada yada yada? Well, next year, I plan to make it to him if he decides to give up sweets again because I'm telling you: Without candy or cookies or even licking the powdered sugar off one of those little Hostess donuts, he is as cross as a sack of weasels and we're not even two weeks into this SEASON OF HOLINESS and I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH MORE I CAN TAKE.

Edited to add: Husband was forced by the power of the collective will of his wife and two daughters to buy some cookies from the vending machine at work and EAT THEM so that he can come home in the evening acting like himself instead of Satan's little helper.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Important conversations

Since the morning of February 9, 2009, the celebrimedia here in the United States has been focused largely on one couple and the circumstances they found themselves in on the late evening of February 8, 2009, namely the singer Rihanna (since turned 21) and the singer Chris Brown (19) and the beatdown he allegedly treated her to that night on the way to a Grammy party.

Meelyn and Aisling don't listen to a lot of popular music, since 99% of it is total garbage. Aisling declares that she doesn't even like it, and although Meelyn does have an MP3 player, all songs she downloads must past the parental approval of She Who Must Be Obeyed, which means I look up the lyrics on the internet -- handy tool, that -- and read them, looking for both explicit and veiled references to sex, drugs and alcohol abuse, which pretty much cuts out most of today's crappy music. So it's not like the girls are big fans of Rihanna and Chris Brown, although they do know who they are: Rihanna was featured singing her big hit "Umbrella," which we saw on either American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance? last year, we can't remember which, and Chris did a duet with squeaky-clean Idol winner Jordan Sparks called "No Air," which has been one of Meelyn's favorite songs. That was also the song SYTYCD? contestants Joshua and Katie danced to so movingly last season.

At any rate, it was still upsetting news for them to hear that Chris apparently pounded the holy hell out of Rihanna while they were driving in his Lamborghini in downtown Los Angeles.

Here's an excerpt of the LAPD detective's notes taken when Chris Brown had already left the scene and Rihanna was apparently sitting on the curb, bleeding. I warn you, this is not pleasant reading: it's really shocking and terrible and it made me get tears in my eyes, so you have been warned. So that you won't be confused, let me tell you that Rihanna's legal name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty:

Christopher B and Robyn F have been involved in a dating relations for approx 1
and half year. On Sunday Feb 8 at 25 hours Brown was driving a vehicle with
Robyn F as the front passenger on an unknown street in Los Angeles. Robin F
picked brown,s
cellular phone and picked up a three-page text message
from a woman Brown had had a previous relationship with.

A verbal
argument ensued and Brown pulled a vehicle over in an unknown street. Reach over
Robyn F with his right hand and open the car door and attempted to force her
out. Brown was unable to force Robyn F out of the vehicle because she was
wearing a seat
belt. When he could not force her to exit he took his
right hand and shoved her head against the passenger window of the vehcile
causing an approx 1 inch raised circular contusion.

Robyn F turned to
face Brown and punched her in the left eye with right hand. He then drove away
in the vehicle and continued to punch her in the face with his right hand while
steering the vehicle with his left hand. The assault caused Robyn F Osmouth to
fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her
clothing and the interior of the vehicle. Brown looked at
Robyn F and stated "I am going to beat the s–t out of you when we get home! You
wait and see!?

Robyn F picked her cellular
phone and called her personal assistant Jennifer Rosales.
Rosales did not answer the telephone but while her vm greeting was playing Robyn
F pretended to talk to her and stated "I am on my way home. Make sure the cops
are there when I get there? (this statement was made while greeting was playing
and was not captured) after Robyn f faked the call, Brown and looked at her and
stated, 'You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I really am going to kill

Brown resumed punching Robyn F and she interlocked her fingers
behind her head and brought her elbows forward to protect her face. She then
bent over at the waist placing her elbows and face near her lap and in attempt
to protect her face and head from the barrage of punches being levied by Brown.
Brown continued to punch Robyn F on her left arm and hands, causing her to
suffer a contusion on her left triceps that was approx 2 inches in diameter and
numerous contusions on her left hand. Robyn f attempted to send another text
message to other personal assistant Melissa Ford. Brown snatched the cellular
telephone out of her hand and threw it out of the window
to an unknown street. Brown continued driving and Robyn F observed his cellular
phone in his lap. She picked up the cellular phone with her left hand, and
before she could make a call, he placed her in a head lock with right hand and
continued to drive the vehicle with his left hand.

Brown held Robyn F
close to him and bit her on her left hear. She was able to feel the vehicle
swerving from right to left as Brown sped away. He stopped the vehicle in front
of [address] and Robyn F turned off the car removed the key from inignition and
sat on it. Brown did not know what she did with the key and began punching her
in the face and arms. Brown began applying pressure to Robyn F left and right
carotid arteries causing her to be unable to breath. She began to lose
consciousness. She reached up with her left hand and began to attempting to
gauge his eyes in attempt to flee herself. Brown bit her left
ring and middle fingers and released her. While brown
continued to punch her she turned around a place her back to against the
passenger door. She brought her knees to her chest and placed her feet against
Brown,s body and began pushing him away.

Brown continued to punch her on
legs and feet causing several contusions. Robyn F began screaming for help. And
Brown exited the vehicle and walked away. A resident in the neighbor heard Robyn
F,s plea for help and called 911, causing a police response. An investigation
was conducted and Robyn F was issued a domestic violence protective order (EPO).
Affiant conducted an interview with Melissa Ford who advised on Feb. 8 2009 at
2500 hours she received a
phone call from Robin F from an unknown telephone number
later identified as the telephone number of Officer Chavez. Robin F had advised
Ford that she had been assaulted by Brown. At approx at 1 am Brown called Ford
as nothing happened. Ford advised Brown that she had already talked to Robin F
and was aware of what happened. Ford had advised brown that the neighbors had
called police and that they were with Robyn F. Brown had asked Ford if robin F
had provided police with his name. And ford advised him that she had. Brown hung
up the telephone and did not call back.

On Feb. 8, Brown turned himself
in and was given a
copy of the EPO and advised to not contact Robyn.

On Feb. 17 Ford advised the affiant that she had received text messages
from … a number that Ford recognized as belonging to Brown. In the text message
Brown apologized for what he had done to Robin F. and advised Ford he was going
to get help.

THIS is what Rihanna's face looked like after Chris Brown allegedly finished slamming her head into a window and punching her repeatedly with his right fist. You can see the bruising on her neck where he allegedly choked her with both his hands, although you cannot see her bitten left ear or the bitten middle and ring fingers on her left hand, or the numerous contusions on her arms and legs.

According to the media, the couple reunited at the Miami Beach vacation home of Sean Combs over the weekend of February 27, which was presumably long enough for Rihanna's bruising to fade enough so that she could see to make her way to the boarding gate for her flight.

A publicist was quoted as saying: "While Chris is reflective and saddened about what happened, he is really happy to be with the woman he loves."

Reflective and saddened, huh? Aw, that's precious. And I bet he was happy to be with the woman he loves down there in Miami Beach, because not only has she given him the message that it is perfectly okay to allegedly use her face and body as a speed bag and that he can be forgiven for allegedly putting her in the hospital because of the severity of her injuries, he also allegedly had the time to convince her not to press charges against him. Suhhhh-weeeet!!!

Because? Donald Etra, Rihanna's attorney, has stated to the media that the star has refused to file a restraining order that bars Chris Brown from any contact with her in favor of a Level 1 Protective Order, in which the court demands that he refrain from annoying, harassing or molesting his beloved. It also allows Rihanna to record any conversations in which he again (allegedly) threatens to either kill or beat the sh*t out of her and also permits her to video any subsequent beatings. Although how she's going to hold her cell phone camera up while continuing to try to keep him from bashing her head in, I don't know.

So! That Level 1 Protective Order, that'll put the manners on him! Yep, if there's any way to let an allegedly abusive monster know that you have had it up to here with his violence, his need to manipulate and control and his disrespect for you, it's to avoid the restraining order.

Meanwhile, this past Thursday, March 5, Chris Brown was charged with two felonies at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, one for assault with force likely to cause grave bodily injury and the other for making criminal threats. It is estimated that his sentence could range from probation to four years in jail, with eight months of that being served in a state prison. The state of California could still prefer these charges against him, even if Rihanna decides to drop the case.

On a very disturbing note, Rihanna's father, Ronald Fenty, is claiming to the media that his daughter has changed her email address and mobile phone numbers and that neither he, her mother or her brother can reach her. To that, add the widely-circulated rumor that Rihanna and Chris Brown were married when they spent that weekend in Miami, and it's like you have every single Lifetime Television for Women movie about abusers and the women who love them ever made and a real anti-role model in Rihanna, who just set a horrible example to young women and girls everywhere, worse than anything Britney Spears ever did.

I know it sounds as if I'm more upset by Rihanna that I am by Chris Brown, and I suppose it's true, in a way. I do think he's a pig, and I think it would serve him right if no woman anywhere in the world ever looked at him again, although we all know how unlikely that is. If he is found guilty by a jury of his peers, I hope he gets locked away for the longest possible period of time and I hope he learns his lesson.

But Rihanna....

She could be learning her lesson right now. And she could be teaching it to her many fans. I know she's just a pop star who never set out to be a role model for the young women of America, but with fame comes responsibility -- at least that's my old-fashioned view of things. Not only did she just do her fans a huge disservice, she's done herself an even deeper one.

Because this beating thing? That won't stop. (And it didn't just start, either.) Brown has just been given the GREEN LIGHT to go ahead and do it again, only this time in a more private place where no one will be able to hear his lady-love scream for help like that neighbor did. Rihanna's taken him back and she's refused to file a restraining order and that's probably all the information that any abuser needs to know that his actions are acceptable.

So Meelyn and Aisling and I sat down yesterday and I read them the entire police report and showed them the pictures of Rihanna's battered face.

I told them that she took Chris Brown back. And I told them that he was "reflective and saddened" by what he'd done, and I told them that that is all part of the abuser's pattern: start out small, maybe with a little slap. If that's accepted (usually in the manner of saying to the victim, "Why do you make me do things like that to you? If you didn't act like that, I wouldn't have hit you"), he'll know he can continue to escalate the violence and pretty soon, a victim might find her face being shoved into a wall or a rib being broken or teeth being knocked out of her head.

I told them that although the LA district attorney had charged Brown with two felonies, Rihanna had declined to file a restraining order.

I also told them that I'd been visiting different websites frequented by young people, reading the things they've been saying about Rihanna and Chris and observing the answers given in different message boards and online polls. I've been dumbstruck by the number of girls and women who say that Rihanna needs to give Chris another chance; that everyone "has a bad day" or "makes a mistake" now and then. You'd have to see for yourself.

In a March 2, 2009 Access Atlanta poll, 66.11% of respondents answered "No way!" to the question "Should Rihanna take Chris Brown back," while 8.89% answered "Yes, definitely." But a startling 20.33% said, "Yes, with certain conditions," while 4.66% advised the star to "Hold out for more diamonds."

On the message board site Gaia Online (which you'd think, from the name, would be most supportive of women), poster DiamondWings23 posted the following message: "This thread is for all the fans of Chris Brown who still love him. I know what he did was wrong. But don't people make mistakes all the time? I mean, that's part of being human. All of us should not hate Chris Brown or Rihanna because we don't know the whole story. So, please don't post in this thread and say "I hate Chris Brown!" or "I hate Rihanna!" This thread is for those who still love and forgive Chris Brown."


Thankfully, many of the people who responded went ahead and said they hated him anyway, or had at least lost all their respect for him and would never buy a single note of his music, ever again, which sounded a bit more hopeful. A few people bluntly came out and said, "Why would you support violent behavior?" Why, indeed? And where, in our culture, have we gone so wrong that there are people out there -- young people -- who think that beating a woman's face against a window and punching her until blood sprays all over her clothes and the interior of the car is a "mistake," one of those things that just happens through absent-mindedness, like forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home?

As we ended our conversation, I read the girls this list taken from the book Love, Sex and God: Ages 14 - Young Adult from Concordia Publishing House (1995):

"How Can I Tell When I'm in an Abusive Relationship?

Does your dating partner...

  • get angry easily and often?
  • handle anger by destroying things or treating people roughly?
  • constantly put you down?
  • frequently embarrass you in front of your friends?
  • brag about previous girlfriends/boyfriends?
  • insist on making decisions that affect both of you?
  • try to stop you from ordinary socializing with friends, visiting your family, or talking with the other sex?
  • use threats to make you do what he/she wants? (I'll leave you; I'll tell everyone your secret; I'll hit you again; I'll kill myself.)
  • make you feel you deserve to be punished or abused?
  • isolate you from people who really care about you?
  • get so upset when you express a different opinoon that you always give in, just to keep peace?

If you said yes to even one of the above questions, you are in an abusive relationship and need to get help. If you do nothing, things will almost surely get worse. Don't even think about marrying a person who treats you badly. You deserve to have a relationship of equality and love, not one of dependence and fear."

I hope Meelyn and Aisling will never need this list. I wish I could send it to Rihanna, who is in a position to know firsthand -- or maybe "firstfist" would be a better term -- just how brightly colored these red flags are.

I hope all the young women will stay safe and respect themselves enough to know that a beating is not a mistake. Neither is a slap, a push or a threat.

The mistake is in staying with someone who does those things.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

That fetching smile

I just made an appointment to have some root planing done on my teeth so that hopefully, I won't experience any more abscessed teeth and have to get them yanked out of my freaked-out head. I've been fortunate that the two abscessed teeth I have had have both been wisdom teeth, but now that I've had my wisdom teeth pulled, what will happen if one of my other dumb teeth decides to go wonky on me?

This is the sort of question one contemplates in the middle years of life.

Grandad is very fond of telling people -- some of whom would rather not know -- that he still has three of his own teeth. And then he'll open his mouth very, very wide. And. Show. You.

Heaven help us all.

Talking about Grandad's teeth made me remember that I haven't talked to him for several weeks, so I called him up just now. He told me he was 1. watching golf; 2. getting over a cold; and 3. unable to find the remote to his television, which he believed was lost in a blanket. I told him I was looking out the window at a robin on the lawn and he told me he was looking forward to The Masters and then we said I-love-you-goodbye.

RECIPE: Comforting Meatloaf

Please don't tell Martha about this post because she may come here and try to hurt me, maybe by bending all my fingers back until I promise to never try to improve on her mother's meatloaf recipe again. Because that's where I got the original recipe for this meatloaf, from Martha Kostyra. Well, not exactly from Mrs. Kostyra, who passed away in November 2007 -- +God rest her soul+ --but from Martha's website, which is close to being the same thing, if by "close" you understand that I mean "as close as Indiana is to New Jersey."

We all love meatloaf in this house. Meatloaf is one of the first things I ever cooked for my husband after we were married nearly eighteen years ago. I proudly placed a plate with my meatloaf, some mashed potatoes and corn and a biscuit (which might explain why people in Indiana are so fat, and more to the point, why I grew to the body mass index I currently mourn over) on the table in front of him and what did her say?

"This isn't how my mom makes it."

Ah, gentle readers, what a sweet memory that is! It marked the day that my husband learned to Never Compare My Cooking with His Mother's, ever again. We laugh about it now and my husband no longer wears ear plugs to dinner.

The good thing about meatloaf is that it can make enough to serve at two meals with leftovers coming from that for lunch and it is relatively inexpensive to make. In her book Anybody Can Do Anything, author and humorist Betty MacDonald writes side-splittingly about her mother making meatloaf in the Depression for something like two hundred suppers in a row. Meatloaf is your friend in lean times. It will accept anything you throw at it -- two tablespoons of leftover peas some smart-aleck kid left on a plate in the fridge, the stale bread heels no one will eat, the leafy part of the celery -- and simply expand to make more. Meatloaf has heart. Meatloaf has soul. It is a great comfort food, makes fantastic sandwiches, and is the #1 way of mothers everywhere to hide veggies in the food. Mine is made of ground beef and pork sausage, but you can make it out of any ground meat you choose.

Anyway, here's my recipe, which I developed over the years and which benefited from a few ideas stolen from Big Martha, may she rest in peace.


1# lean ground beef or turkey, whichever you prefer
1# bulk pork sausage, either spicy or sage
6 slices whole wheat bread, torn into pieces or whirred in the food processor
2 large eggs
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 large onion
1 cup spinach leaves, pressed down
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder


1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons salad mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar


Preheat the oven to 375o

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat with a fork; add the meat.

Get out your food processor (thank you again, Katie, from the bottom of my heart) and whirr the bread into fine crumbs, if you don't feel like tearing into pieces. Empty the bread crumbs into the mixing bowl. Next, assemble all the vegetables; wash and peel what needs to be washed and peeled. Cut the large veggies into chunks and whiz them in the food processor until well-chopped. Drop the spinach leaves down the chute and process them as well. When all vegetables have been processed, empty them into the mixing bowl.

Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder and ketchup into the bowl. "Stir" by reaching into the bowl with clean hands and squeeze and mush the ingredients together until well-combined. If you're a big sissy, use a large rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. As you mix the meatloaf, thinking loving thoughts of your family and how nice it is to be able to make a comfort-food dinner that is so cheap, hides vegetables so well, and tastes so good. Protein! Vitamins! Low GI carbs! Fiber! Mix it, pretty mama!

When mixed, you can transfer the meatloaf to a large bread pan for baking, but I've had so many run-overs into the oven when the fat from the meat boils up that I prefer to use my 9x13 Pampered Chef stoneware baker. I use my hands to form the meat mixture into a "loaf" shape.

Place the meatloaf in the oven and set the a timer for forty minutes. While you're waiting for the timer, get a small microwave-safe mixing bowl out and mix the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar for the sauce. Zap the sauce in the microwave for about one minute and thirty seconds. The idea is not only to make sure the brown sugar is well melted, but also to take the refrigerator chill off the ketchup and mustard before you pour the sauce on your hot meatloaf.

When the timer goes off, set a heatproof cup (such as a Pyrex measuring cup in the two-cup size) in your sink. Lift the meatloaf out of the oven and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y pour the hot fat out of the baking pan into the heatproof cup. When you have accomplished this, top the meatloaf with the sauce and return the pan to the oven for an additional twenty minutes.

Let the meatloaf stand for about ten minutes before cutting or it will not slice well.

This recipe makes about ten good-sized servings. Refrigerate leftovers and enjoy for another meal or in lunch sandwiches, sliced thin and warmed up on the griddle and topped with a piece of cheese. (If you're throwing all caution to the winds, warm up the meatloaf and top with cheese and then grill the meatloaf between two slices of bread. To assuage your conscience, use olive oil for grilling instead of butter. Mmmm....)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Oh, what terrible, horrible, very bad news

Yesterday? I was reading in the book Eat This Not That? And I came to the most horrible, dreadful upsetting page, like, ever.

On page 271, I discovered that an average-sized margarita -- not those giant buckets that Carol, Susie and I stick our faces into each summer -- is FIVE HUNDRED CALORIES.


I mean, I knew it was sugary. I knew that. But I comforted myself with the fact that I was guzzling down an excellent source of Vitamin C. And if we added peaches or strawberries, which we sometimes do, I was also getting a serving or two of fruit and some fiber. It was a trade-off, see? Kind of like Al Gore doing a carbon footprint tradeoff by whiling away the long, hot Tennessee summers without using the central air conditioning so that he won't feel guilty about flying in jets to different locations in the world to hector people about global warning. Yes, just exactly like that. Because to be totally honest with you, I'm just as sure that Al and Tipper are sweltering in the summer heat as I am that the margarita is a nutritious health tonic.

Not sure at all. But FIVE HUNDRED calories?

In spite of the fact that this book has broken my heart, I still highly recommend it. Oh, I recommend it with a sob catching in my throat, but it is a very....good...book....Can I borrow a tissue?


Monday, March 2, 2009

Fear and loathing at ALDI

On Mondays, I try to get out of the house by around 9:30 in the morning, leaving the girls settled with their work so that I can run around town doing whatever boring, fidgety errands have to be done, and going to the grocery.

I shop at ALDI here in our city because I think it is one of the best grocery stores, like, EVER. Do you know that they have albacore tuna for something like $1.19 a can? And bran flakes for $1.69 a box? Did you know that they sell whole wheat pasta in several different beguiling shapes, as well as a very nice selection of flash-frozen fish filets? I adore ALDI.

The one drawback of the store, however, is that you do have to bag your own groceries. If you're not familiar with ALDI, I'll tell you that you can either buy grocery bags (paper or plastic) there for small change, gather empty boxes from around the store and load your food items into those, or bring your own bags. I do the third option, bringing those fabric grocery bags you can buy just about anywhere nowadays.

Today, however, when I pushed my grocery cart over to the bagging counter, I was dismayed to find that I only had two other fabric bags stuffed inside my largest bag. I was supposed to have four other bags, but remembered too late that we'd taken two of them out to carry our library books in, and those two bags were, in fact, sitting at home on the table in the laundry room, with books.

I had too many groceries for my three bags and I really didn't want to traipse back through the store hunting for boxes, so imagine my joy and happiness at turning around and seeing a cardboard box of the perfect size for my canned goods sitting right there on the counter! Sometimes people get too many boxes for their needs and they leave their extras on the counter for others to use; I was really glad to see that box.

So there I stood, busily loading my cans into the box in the obsessive way I have, trying to balance it perfectly with two cream of mushroom soup cans at kitty-corner ends, combined with two cans of beans at the other kitty-corner ends and a large can of tomato juice in the center, when all of a sudden, someone right behind me screeched, "YOU'VE GOT MY BOX!"

I think I probably jumped about three feet, which is pretty darn good considering that my usual standing jump is about two inches. I'm very sad that there were no talent scouts and/or sports agents in there looking for baby wipes or fresh carrots, because if there were? There would be a new line of Nike or Adidas or Puma sports shoes coming out with a silhouetted image of me -- pumpkin-shaped -- leaping into the air emblazoned somewhere near the ankle.

As soon as I returned from orbit, I looked behind me and saw a little elderly lady, about three feet tall, standing there and looking as if she wanted to beat the living daylights out of me with her cane.

"I....I'm so sorry," I stammered, starting to unload my carefully-balanced cans. "I thought somebody put it over there as an extra."

"Somebody DID put it over there," she said, glaring. "It was me. I put that box there."

"Here," I said, handing it to her. "You can have it back. As I said, I just thought it was an extra."

"It wasn't an extra. It was my only box." She grabbed the box from me, spun on the heel of her tiny, faux-leather Harriet Carter shoe and marched over to a section of the counter far removed from me and my cans, shooting me menacing glances from time to time as if I was going to try to grab her box of oatmeal and make a break for the exit.

With difficulty, I restrained my urge to sass her. I just went to confession last Thursday and it was hard enough to explain the time before that when I sassed the lady at the library. Father kept gently saying things about pridefulness and lack of humility and the deplorable need to have the last word that frankly stung just a little, thank you. I'm just saying that the sacrament of reconciliation is a very good thing and if you're a Catholic, you're lucky to have access to it because of this word: accountability.

Anyway, I sadly took my groceries out and put them in the van, wheeling my cart back up to the corral at the side of the store. I usually leave my quarter in the cart for the next person who comes up, just as an act of goodwill, remembering the many times when I've suddenly realized that I need a quarter for a cart and all I have is my debit card and a lip gloss in my pocket. And do you know what?

Do you know what?

When I was back in the van ready to pull out, that grouchy old dame...I mean, elderly lady, came out of the store after me, pushing her own cart with the box of groceries laid proudly in the basket like a newborn baby, and she got her own quarter back from her cart AND THEN SHE TOOK THE QUARTER OUT OF THE CART I'D JUST LEFT.

Oh, do you think it wasn't hard not to jump out of the van and run over there and shout "THAT'S MY QUARTER!" while brandishing my own cane in the air?

Don't be silly. That wasn't hard at all. What kind of person do you think I am?

Shut up.

Because it's Monday and it's cold and because the Dow dropped below 7,000

If you were in high school or college or in your mid-twenties when this song was released, I guarantee it will make you smile on a day when you might have just realized that you're going to have to be gainfully employed until you're 93 years old, at the rate things are going now.

This is one of my favorite songs ever. I have always thought that any music by Earth, Wind & Fire was hard to resist, but this song is particularly catchy, especially since it was featured (by boygroup B5) on The Emperor's New Groove soundtrack, and that movie happens to be one of my favorites. This is an actual EWF video, so the disco-era outifts -- I can't decide if the guys are channeling Michael Jackson or William Shatner. Or maybe Linda Evans -- are really, really funny. They must look back at those things and say, "Oy. What were we thinking with all the shiny and the shoulders and the skinny pants?"

So here you go. Stand up out of your chair. Turn up your speakers. Bust a move.

Let's Groove