Friday, July 31, 2009

Julia making an omelette

As one YouTube commenter put it, "She is an omelette ninja!"

She makes this look so easy and her omelettes look so perfect. Mine always come out looking like they've just gotten home from a hard day at work. Of course, I don't have one of those seven and a half inch bottom diameter non-stick skillets....I'm sure that's where the problem lies.

The dating game

Now that Meelyn has entered the workforce through her job at a local upper-end fast food establishment, she is having lots of new experiences, like resisting the temptation to vault over the counter and pull the hair from the head of the woman who orders a cheeseburger with tomato, ketchup and lettuce and, by the way, no cheese.

Another new experience is the one where men, attracted by the big smile on the cute little blonde at the register, ask her out on dates.

One good-looking guy with a great tan and light brown hair (as per Mee's description) came in last Tuesday and ordered his lunch in a mildly flirty way -- and here I have to interject that I am now so old that I can't imagine ordering a Beef-n-Cheddar combo in a come-hither-ish manner; I personally find that the Chicken Cordon Bleu makes me feel more the coquette -- and, as she counted out his change, said, "How old are you?"

Meelyn said she looked him straight in the eye and said, "Sixteen."

Crestfallen, he said, "Well, I guess I can't ask you out on a date then, seeing as how I'm twenty-one."

When she told this story at the dinner table, my husband and I locked glances across the Pfaltzgraff. He looked like he had swallowed an entire chicken leg without chewing, and I felt the need to pour a glass of iced tea over my head to cool the tide of protective mother bear rage that swept over me. Twenty-one? TWENTY-ONE!!


[The nonsense letters above are intended to express the range of thoughts that were all jumping up and down and clamoring for attention inside my head, some of which were so poorly formulated that they just sounded like train whistles]

My first coherent thought was that at least this guy had the integrity to realize that it is a stupid thing for a man his age to date an underage girl. A lot of guys wouldn't have.

We talked about this incident, as you can imagine, with the Number One Important Topic being how young ladies do not accept dates from unknown men, even those of outward hotness, who attempt a casual pick up. Unless, of course, she wants to risk becoming the kind of girl who ties maraschino cherry stems into knots with her tongue at kegger parties.

The next day, Meelyn and I talked about it again, and she mentioned that she's taken to re-reading this excellent book, The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband: How to Find and Marry a Great Guy by Steve Wood, founder of the Family Life Center International. She's read it once before as part of her freshman year health class, because I don't think a good time to tell a girl what to look for in a husband is when she's already started dating. Or, heaven forbid, engaged to an unsuitable guy, which is what we call in Indiana, "shuttin' the barn door after the horses done run off."

I've had Meelyn read several books about dating, courtship and marriage (this year it's Aisling's turn) and I've told both of them that there is no need for either of them to get involved with a total loser because there is already a substantial LINE formed to get messed up by those guys.

If there is a man who is:

1. addicted to drugs or alcohol

2. abusive

3. unemployed

4. mean to his mother

5. the father of several children by different babymamas

6. a great fan of the ganja

7. shiftless

8. criminally minded

9. constantly down on his luck through his own fault

10. a drop out

11. a big, fat liar

12. unfaithful

13. an eternal child

14. a "playa"

15. a stupid buffoon

IF, I say, there is a man who exhibits these qualities of low character and complete unfitness as a candidate for one's life's mate, there will be a queue of women fourteen miles long, panting and desperate to be with him, to prove how misunderstood he is, to attempt to take care of him, to weep over him and to bear (more of) his children who will grow up to perpetuate the cycle and be just as screwed up as the old man.

I used to listen to Dr. Laura when the girls were small, and although I stopped because my ears were starting to corrode, I do think that she had many things of value to say, and here's one that stuck with me:

In the animal kingdom, the males of some species fight to see who is a worthy enough mate for the female. The female mountain goat, let's say, gets the ram who is big and tough and aggressive, which in mountain goatworld is a good thing. That means that the tempting she-goat will pair up with a virile male goat and they'll hopefully have vigorously healthy goatbabies who will be able to leap from one peak to the next with great strength and agility.

Among humans, however, Dr. Laura said, many women have abdicated their role as the choosers of a worthy mate. Whether this is because some girls don't think they deserve a good man or whatever, I don't know. Or maybe they're just desperate for love and feel that even a bad man is better than no man at all? At any rate, when confronted with a man who has a rap sheet long enough to circle the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or is mean, or has been spreading his seed, so to speak, over the tri-county area, some women will set out to make him their pet project instead of RUNNING AWAY.

Anyone who has lived a while has seen this kind of thing played out over and over again and it is a huge tragedy for the women, but even more so for their children. In the interests of fairness, there are men who suffer at the hands of women, too: many of us have had the experience of seeing a guy who married a pretty girl who was a total princessy, high-maintenance [*bleep!*] To Catholics who believe what the Bible said about divorce and remarriage*, it is a thorny problem indeed. Marriage can be hard enough with two loving, stable, companionable adults without saddling themselves with a spouse who is clearly a liability.

So when it comes to the very beginnings, sweet-sixteen-and-never-been-kissed and all it implies, the very first flirtatious comments made by personable young are important. Kindness and civility are always a factor, but the immediate decision to go out on a date with anyone who asks is something that can only be tempered by age, experience, and lots and lots of talking with Mom and Dad.

And, I don't know, maybe a pack of wolves being turned loose on some impertinent dude.


Also from the Family Life Center International, The ABCs of Choosing a Good Wife: How to Find and Marry a Great Girl. In my opinion, teenagers need to read BOTH books, in order to know what they should be looking for, and also to know what's being looked for.

*Divorce and Remarriage
Malachi 2: 14-16 - for I hate divorce, says the Lord
Matthew 5: 32-33 - to divorce or marry divorced wife is adultery
Matthew 19: 4-6, 9 - to divorce wife and remarry is adultery
Mark 10: 11-12 - if either divorced and remarries = adultery
Luke 16:18 - to divorce and remarry or marry divorced = adultery
Romans 7: 2-3 wife consorts = adulteress if living, but not if dead
I Corinthians 7: 10-11 - if wife separates, stay single or reconcile

Copyright (c) 1999-2003 San Juan Catholic Seminars. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sweet dreams are made of this

Okay. Long story short: My parents have some friends named Don and Betty who are downsizing their house and have bought a cute place in Alabama with a master bedroom too small to accommodate their king-sized bed they had at their house in New Castle.

Accordingly, Betty, a jewel among women, asked my mother if she knew of anyone who'd like to have a really nice king-sized mattress, two twin-sized box springs and an oak headboard. My mother, always one to think of family first, said, "Oh, Shelley and the Prince of Salesmen would love to have it!" Which was true. We do have a very nice mattress and box springs, queen-sized, which we bought with our tax check ten years or so ago, but who would be goofy enough to pass up a free king-sized mattress, box springs and headboard? Especially ones that belonged to Don and Betty, who have an income bracket that is, oh, I don't know, several hundred thousand dollars a year higher than ours? So they buy nicer stuff? I'm just saying.

So this morning has been spent with making preparations to move our queen-sized bed to Aisling's room where she will have a queen-sized bed upon which to store 7,000 Build-a-Bear Workshop plush animals, all of whom wear clothes nicer than mine, and a twin bed, upon which she will rest her weary bones, all tired from unloading the dishwasher and doing algebra and dusting. She has also just asked me to add that she exercises a lot, which accounts for some of her fatigue.

And also moving the king sized bed and its accoutrements from New Castle to our city, using two minivans with all the seats taken out. Which is so easy to type, but so awful to actually experience, with all the lifting and heaving and sweating, not to mention the sweeping up of dust bunnies under my bed, which made me just want to die of shame when my mother came upstairs and saw. Inexplicably, I found a volume of the poetry of Byron, Shelley and Keats under the bed. Why?

Thankfully, my mother, who used to make me and my brother clean out the cracks between the boards of the hardwood floors with toothpicks when we were children, admitted to some dust bunnies of her own when her bed was last moved. Somewhere in heaven, our mutual grandma, Hazel Williams Houser, may be sitting on a speckless cloud right now, rigid with shock and determining to step up her prayers on our behalf.

Anyway, the king-sized mattress is in the upstairs hallway and the two twin-sized box springs are in my living room and the king-sized headboard is precariously leaning up against the wall in the foyer. My husband is disassembling the gorgeous wrought-iron headboard and footboard from the frame of our queen-sized bed; the queen-sized mattress and box springs are leaning up against the wall.

My dresser, armchair and ottoman in my bedroom still have to be moved in order to make room for the king-sized bed frame, which is also in our room. We also have two king-sized egg-crate mattress toppers rolled up and propped in the corner of our room like two giant burritos.

The four seats of our minivan are in the dining room, the first Station of the Cross got knocked off the wall in the foyer and the gorgeous Bouguereau print of the Madonna and infant Jesus my friend Lori gave us was safely removed to the kitchen table, along with the 30 inch statue of St. Thérèse, which usually sits on the piano.

"Tell me," I said bleakly to the statue, "do you think we'll have this sorted out by Christmas?"

In short, the house is in chaos and the mess is nothing short of overwhelming. I have dust in my hair and grit on my lips and I can hardly wait to take a shower tonight and go climb into my NEW KING-SIZED BED.

Thank you, dear, sweet, generous Don and Betty!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twenty-eight years ago today

I was glued to the television set, wistful and kind of jealous. Eighteen years old, with braces, for heaven's sake. Boyfriendless at the moment. Ready to head out for my freshman year of college like some dumb kid.

Whereas Lady Diana Spencer, only two years my senior and part of a world I'd only read about in books like Brideshead Revisited and The Secret of Chimneys. She was so young and seemingly such a regular girl, a mass of contradictions: a kindergarten teacher, yet the daughter of an earl; set to become a member of the British royal family, Princess of Wales, yet so bashful, she blushed like a peony and dug the toe of her shoe onto the sidewalk when standing before the paparazzi.

My grandma was also watching the wedding from her house; we talked to one another at about five o'clock that morning and wondered why I hadn't just come out to spend the night with her. We talked several other times, too, but I can't remember when. Probably when Diana got out of that gorgeous state carriage that once belonged to Queen Victoria and that train unfurled like a triumphant banner as she walked down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral on her father's arm. Trumpet voluntary! Be-hatted congregants! Family heirloom-style diamond tiara!

It was the wedding of a lifetime and I remember it almost as well as I remember my own.

Why I should be your child's godmother

Being received into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil 2003 was one of the greatest joys of my adult life, one gift -- a pearl of great price -- that I never expected to receive.

There have been so many blessings along the way, everything from being a religious education teacher to teaching my Shakespeare classes, gosh. There are too many to list.

There's one thing, however, that I haven't yet experienced and it's something I'm yearning for: I would love to be a godmother.

I think I may start a lobbying group to endorse myself as an excellent godmother. Here's my initial promotion strategy, offering, in snazzy bullet points, a list of attributes I possess that would make me an excellent candidate:

  • Willing at any and all times to coo over a pee-soaked pregnancy test

  • Will pray daily rosary for baby, both before and after birth, also novenas

  • Still have all my own teeth

  • Would acknowledge birthday and sacrament dates with nice Hallmark cards, not cheapos from Balloons, Etc. like I buy for other non-godchild people in my life

  • Would never consider being one of those people who tips back the head and gulps to drain the chalice dry at Mass with five people in line behind (what is up with that?!?)

  • Promises not to booty-pop during fast dance number at child's eventual wedding reception

  • Will have Masses said for baby and family on anniversaries of baby's birth and sacrament receptions

  • Will turn blind eye and step up the prayers if child ever dyes hair purple

  • Will still like child, even if he/she is not a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Shakespeare

  • Ready to take down Community Bible Church or similar relatives in parking lot after baptism if impertinent comments are made regarding baby's salvation and/or infant baptism; can do this through well-reasoned, Scripture-centered oral argument or through pummeling - parents' choice

I think it seems like a promising campaign.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This may be the best three minutes of your day

Oh, the fast-food folk song! Rhett and Link, seriously, I worked in a couple of fast-food restaurants in my younger years and I would have climbed through the drive-thru window and pummeled anyone who pulled this stunt on me, but I have to admit that the song is funny and as clever as all get out, especially to people like me who enjoy spoofs and song parodies. The people at this Taco Bell are obviously much, much nicer people than I was as a harassed employee at the Taco Bell in New Castle, which is incidentally where Pat and Angie met.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'Bout that time again

Today, my husband passed by my computer desk on his way to the kitchen. I was sitting in my chair, watching a YouTube video and singing quietly to myself.

"Ah. I see it's about that time of the month again," he noted, pausing with a wry smile.

I clicked the pause button on my video. "What makes you say that?" I wasn't aware of having been touchy or otherwise unpleasant, or having gone after anyone with a shotgun or a meat cleaver.

He nodded toward the computer. "You're listening to 'Kiss from a Rose' again."

"Well. Yeah. I love that song. Seal, you know."

"I've noted that you love it more at a certain time of the month. It's okay, though. It's like a distant early warning."

Touchily, maybe even a bit unpleasantly, I said, "How do you know when the event has actually occurred?"

He pondered a moment and replied, "Well, either you tell me by holding a pillow over my face in the middle of the night and waking me from a sound and healthful sleep by screaming 'STOP BREATHING LIKE THAT!' or I'll find you here at your desk listening to 'I'll Stand By You' by the Pretenders and crying."

Oh, he knows me so well.

Here's Seal. I wonder if he says that kind of impertinent stuff to Heidi Klum? And I wonder what she listens to when she has PMS? Oh, wait. I just read on Wikipedia that Seal announced in April 2009 that Heidi is expecting their fourth child. Guess she was spending less time watching videos on YouTube and more time doing other things.

And The Pretenders, with Chrissie singing "I'll Stand by You," a song that a lot of people insist is a song for lovers, but others insist is one she wrote for her two daughters, Natalie and Yasmin. Whichever, it is a great song.

I thought it was hilarious

Driving home from Mass today, my husband was rubbing the back of his neck.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"My neck hurts," he said. "I must have slept on it funny."

"Really?" I replied. "I didn't hear you laughing." Then I burst into laughter and said, "Get it? Funny? Laughing? Ha ha haha ha haaa...."

He gave me a long look.

I guess it wasn't quite as amusing as I thought it was.

Friday night date

Friday night was our last alone-together evening of vacation week, so my husband and I decided to go for the all-out romance and go for dinner at the local authentic Mexican restaurant where they have cheap, delicious food and wondrous-to-behold margaritas and then home to watch Slumdog Millionaire, a movie I have been urging my husband to watch ever since I returned from CousinFest.

To be honest, the Mexican restaurant is usually a bomb, and the only reason we continue going there is because it's so inexpensive. Let me explain: It's owned by members of the same extended family, all of them eye-achingly beautiful and as friendly as a pack of chupacabras. After you're seated, a waiter eventually comes to your table and slams down a basket of tortilla chips and a bowl of homemade salsa without comment; fortunately, the chips and salsa are good enough for you to overlook this surly behavior.

After a good, long time, a time in which I imagine a group of handsome servers are huddled in the kitchen drawing straws to see which of them has the misfortune of taking your order and suffering the unimaginable misery of refilling your Diet Coke, a fabulously beautiful young man with melting brown eyes and a curled lip will approach you with order pad and pencil held at the ready. If you have any questions about the food, he will answer them in the bare minimum of words, albeit in delightfully accented English, somewhat in the manner that his Spanish ancestors may have had to answer Torquemada. If you require an extra slice of lime in your margarita, a dish of the salsa caliente or a fork to replace the one you clumsily dropped on the floor, forget it.

On one memorable occasion, my mother was able to obtain a dish of the extra-hot salsa, but I attribute that to the fact that the waiter could see that she was fully capable of not stopping talking to him about what part of Mexico his family was from and how she'd once gone to Cancún and stepped on some coral, cutting her foot rather badly, and how much she'd enjoyed the missions trip she'd gone on, that he relented and brought the salsa, scurrying back to the kitchen after practically hurling it like a frisbee at our table from a distance of ten feet. But that's the only time I've ever had it. It was good.

This restaurant creates succulent beef tamales, the meat as tender and deliciously seasoned as any I've ever eaten. They can take humble foods such as rice and beans and turn them into masterpieces of ethnic culinary art. Their way with guacamole must surely be magic. But if you go there hoping to find mariachi and shining white teeth beaming from smiles in faces the rich color of café au lait, forget it. The atmosphere is brisk and businesslike with a vague underlying hint of irritability and you just have to get used to it because the food is so good.

After we were given the bum's rush from the restaurant, we came home to watch our movies, both Slumdog Millionaire and the Liam Neeson movie, Taken, about the man whose lying little poophead of a daughter gets kidnapped into a middle eastern prostitution ring while in France. We were going to watch both, but my husband ended up being too tired, so we watched Taken first. It was actually a very good action movie and the perps were given a very satisfying beatdown by Neeson's character, a ex-CIA agent who took early retirement in order to move to California to be closer to his teenage daughter.

We watched Slumdog Millionaire yesterday evening while waiting for the call from Pop, Nan and the girls that they were within an hour of New Castle so that we could go get Meelyn and Aisling. Our longing to see them had progressed to the point that my husband and I were both fidgeting and trying not to look at the DVR's clock every single second, so it was a good thing we had this movie to distract us.

Slumdog Millionaire was every bit as good the second time around, with Jamal once again proving to be the romantic hero of every girl's dreams, and maybe even some who couldn't really be classified as "girls" anymore. *ahem* ("Mr. Big," I thought scornfully. "Mr. Bug, more like.") Just as I did the first time, I spent the last ten minutes of the movie in an absolute storm of weeping, but my husband? What did he do?

Oh, nothing much. Just sat there in his seat, just at the point when Latika answered Salim's cell phone as Jamal's Phone-a-Friend and said, "I have never known," talking to the dogs.

"For twenty million rupees: Who. Was. The. Third. Musketeer," said the slimy game show host.

"I have never known," said Latika.

"Do you have to go outside again?" said my husband, causing me to erupt in an explosion of outrage.

A few moments later, when Jamal finally reached Latika's side and embraced her, she said, "I thought we would be together only in death."

"No," Jamal said quietly, kissing the scars on her cheeks. "It was our destiny."

"Here, boy! Want a cookie? Sit!" said my husband and then I strangled him. It was his destiny, for being such a...such a....MAN during the final moments of what is possibly the happiest ending in the history of film.

When "It was written" appeared on the screen, I was using the cloth off the dining room table to staunch my flowing tears and my husband was looking at me, all, "What is your damage?"

Hmmmph. Wait until Meelyn and Aisling see it. They'll be able to appreciate it. Showtime starts after lunch this afternoon. Then we shall see, my fine man.

Here's the video for "Jai Ho," complete with stills from the movie.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And then he pulled my ponytail and knocked my books out of my arms

My husband came in from work late this afternoon, looking wrecked. It was one of those days, apparently, when people disguised as ACTUAL CAR BUYING CUSTOMERS came to the dealership to stand by the new Camaros and tell the salesmen, who were standing there silently plotting murder, all about the Camaro they had back in '68 or '74. Or '79 or even '83. Whatever.

"Dude, what a day," he said, coming into the kitchen and plopping onto a chair, a haunted expression on his face. "Camaro, Camaro, Camaro, and no, stupid, your 2002 Silverado with enough miles to have traveled to the freaking MOON and back is not worth $15,000."

I've heard this kind of thing before and carried on with dinner. "Do not call me 'dude,'" I said absently, stirring.

"Dudette, what a day," he began again without missing a beat. "Camaro, Camaro, Camaro...."

Sign of the times

We live next door -- and I mean, really next door, seeing as how the driveway was built wide enough to allow a horse-drawn buggy room to roll -- to a lovely old Craftsman style apartment house. It used to be one huge apartment upstairs and one huge apartment downstairs, but was renovated to a four-unit dwelling about ten years ago: one large and gracious downstairs apartment, one large and gracious upstairs apartment, both with heart-of-pine floors, fireplaces and built in bookcases, and two one bedroom apartments up and down. The larger apartments are just beautiful and the bed-sits, intended originally as furnished rentals for the university students in our city, are a very nice size and feature all new kitchen and bath fittings.

In the years we've lived here, there have been several tenants in the one-bedroom apartments, which are situated at the back of the building, shaded by the spreading branches of an old oak tree and snuggled cozily up to the little community theater (former textiles warehouse) next door. We share a common large gravel area for parking (and very convenient it is, too, when we have guests) that used to be our back yard.

But last week we got something new.

An entire family has moved into the downstairs bed-sit apartment, mom, dad, pretty teenage girl who looks to be about fourteen, a little blond boy about nine and their little Yorkshire terrier.

All four of them, plus the dog, in that apartment.

They have decent looking vehicles, a pickup truck and a black four-door family car, that look like ours: older but still respectable looking, not enough rust to activate your false pride sensitivities, paid for.

So far, they've kept strictly to themselves which is unusual for our little corner. We're all very matey and trade hellos and cookies and complaints about the unfriendly mail carrier. I imagine it's because the man and woman are still reeling from losing their house to foreclosure, actually ("We used to our our own home, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, garage, yard and the flowering trees we planted every Mother's Day. How are we here, now? What happened?") and are still carrying themselves very carefully, like you'd carry a glass of water that was too full, to keep from spilling it on the floor.

The girl keeps her eyes firmly fixed on the ground when we both happen to be outside at the same time. The boy is the only one who doesn't appear to be bruised on the inside; I saw him out of my laundry room window just now, playing in the grass with his dog.

Sometimes, life makes your heart hurt.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Homeward bound

The Florida travelers packed their bags tonight and apparently rented a trailer to bring home all the shells they picked up in their beachcombing expeditions and also all their purchases made in the shops they found, including a patchouli soap intended for me.

They were planning on staying overnight somewhere on Saturday night, but instead have decided to drive straight through. They should be back home late tomorrow evening, and my husband and I are planning to go and sit on my parents' driveway with all the determination of couple who used to compete in dance marathons, only stationary.

A week is too long. I am so READY to see the girls, I simply can't relax. It's taking every ounce of self control I possess not to get in the van and start driving with the one determined thought that maybe we'll cross paths somewhere in Tennessee.

I will never complain that Meelyn and Aisling are making me crazy ever, ever again. This Saturday. On Sunday, all bets may be off, depending on what kind of mess they create upstairs, unpacking their suitcases.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From my brother, trapped in Old Florida

I got this email from Pat late last night, feverishly typed in one long, eyeball-busting paragraph. I present it to you here with minor editing for punctuation. And paragraphy-ness.


Okay so I saw the update Meelyn sent in. Here’s a reason to be glad you didn’t come down.

After several days of eating TLC food (a.k.a home cookin'), we finally decided to take the longer than expected trip to civilization last evening for dinner. Everyone purtied up, which included me shaving, Poppy showering,the women applying make-up, Kiersi and Dayden getting sand out of their hair and Kieren putting on a nice shirt.

Everyone climbed into the Tank and we set off for commercialized Florida with visions of thick steaks and potatoes overflowing with butter in our heads and leaving behind the dreaded Deliverance music that seems to be playing almost constantly. I say "commercialized Florida" for Nanny has taken to calling everything “old Florida” which in my estimation refers to the lack of normal human necessities such as a Wal-Mart or even a Starbucks! Who knew such a reality still existed!

So anyway, off in the Tank. We drive for the better part of one-half hour when we see the 1st signs of humanity i.e. Burger King. Sad to say after driving around the town, Burger King appeared to be the closest thing to Outback in this alternative universe. We did stop at the town
square which appeared to have some potential food that didn‘t have whiskers or a tail or been described as road kill. Suddenly Nan points out a barbeque restaurant down the road.

Mistake #1 – not realizing a place called Jim Bob’s Bar-Bee-Q would not serve steak. Having in my mind Damon’s and knowing they served steaks and tators, I backed out of my spot and drove to the restaurant expectantly. The 2nd sign of trouble was the “restaurant” was in a house. Being somewhat distraught, we sent Nanny in to scout the joint. Mistake #3: She was in there for quite some time. Long enough that Dad and I made a bet on what she was doing. I was sure she had passed on the place and was asking the locals what restaurant they would recommend. Dad was sure she was tasting food, talking about the history of the store, and reminiscing about “old Florida.” Mistake #4 – don’t bet against a man who has been married
to a woman for the better part of half a century. Nanny re-appears toting a cup of punch and tells us to roll out of the tank. So we get into the “restaurant” and immediately my Spidey senses start tingling or maybe that was my hunger pangs longing for the steak that now was a nothing more than a heavily spiced, medium cooked dream.

To my dismay, the “restaurant” contained a total of 4 booths and a corn-o-copia of trite tourist trap nick knacks. Having been raised to not be rude, I fought a valiant internal fight to not flee and leave my family in the midst of these master deceivers. Mom and Dad and the girls ordered
first. After that, everything started to swirl. I somehow placed our order. What happened next will be something I won’t quickly (or easily) forget. Instead of a flaming grill, my beef Bar-Bee-Q was scooped out of a pan, slopped into a Styrofoam plate, squirted with a ketchupy substance, and an ice cream scoop full of baked beans and coleslaw added.

Gray dots started swirling all around me and I am quite sure I saw a tunnel of light with Jesus beckoning me to a better place. I summoned the power to down the beef and baked beans, but no way did I consider even a bite of the presumed salmonella-laced coleslaw. I walked down trodden to the front door, all the joy ripped from my heart. And then the coo duh grace (Indiana version) – I looked at the restaurant store door and saw that it had closed 20 minutes earlier. We had actually kept them open late so we could have the old Florida experience…. Insert Amityville music here.


"Ketchupy substance"??!! No Wal-Mart??!!

I can't decide which freaks me out more. Upon consideration, it may be the area's lack of a Wal-Mart. Anyone who lives in the United States should be familiar with Wal-Mart's modus operandi, which is to invade even the more one-horse towns, the ones too small to be represented by more than a pinhead-sized dot on the map, build a Wal-Mart, operate for several years, and then build a Super-de-Dooper Wal-Mart four miles away, abandoning the first building and leaving it to decay on the little town's main thoroughfare, looking haunted. If the place they're staying in Florida is too small to warrant even a Wal-Mart -- a Starbuck's! -- it must be really Old Florida, the Old Florida of Jody Baxter and Flag and those weird neighbors of theirs who wanderered around in the Everglades a-shootin' at things. Also, if Old Florida is anything like Pioneer Indiana, well....GET OUT!!! GET OUUUUUUUT!!!!!

The thing that really worries me, though, is that Pat, who is normally so stoic that you could poke him in the arm with a sharpened pencil and all he'd do is look at you with a raised eyebrow (well, and then grab the pencil from you and snap it in two), actually used two exclamation points in his email to me.

It's getting really serious down there. I am fighting the urge to go down there after them with a lantern and a rope and a hunting dog, which I'll have to borrow from someone else because neither Hershey nor Wimzie could track a roast duck if it was over five feet away from their noses, and go down there to bring them out safely.

Here's the 1946 theatrical trailer for The Yearling. Be advised that in spite of the happy, rollicking music (played with a complete absence of banjos), the deer gets it right in the head in the end. That should be fun in TechniColor!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Survey says....

Meelyn polled everyone on their Favorite Things in Florida and emailed me the list. Amazing how each family member's personality shines through even when giving Mee their messages via dictation.

Everyone contributed except for Aisling, who was going to write her own, but says her email is "acting funny."

From Poppy

Poppy is very happy over here watching golf and going to the beach and he said to tell you that the top of his feet are sun burned [This is nothing short of a miracle, because the tops of his feet have been the color of salt ever since I've known him. -SM]. He loves watching the ocean and listening to Rush and Sean, and of course watching his grandchildren flounder around in the ocean. He thinks that their should be a Ranch Beach House since their are a total of 60 stairs in this house. He says that Weigh Down is going not as smoothly because he says that he has been over eating ever since he got here.

From Uncle Pat

Uncle Pat is the main chef of the house, cooking cheeseburgers, pancakes, tacos and spaghetti! He has finished an entire book and has started a new one. He enjoys lots of ocean and private pool swimming. He also loves scaring Nanny while she is in the ocean by going under water and touching her feet and legs. Nanny screams at the top of her lungs, making everyone around look over and wonder if their is a stingray or shark of some kind. Uncle Pat also does not appreciate this area, which doesn't have a reasonable Wal-Mart within 50 miles.

From Nanny

Nanny loves the beach house, especially going out on her porch and reading her Bible and loves drinking her coffee out there too. She loves all of the balconies in the house with all of their comfortable seating and views. She enjoys grilling hamburgers and corn on the cob. She loves going to the beach and helping her grandchildren find shells. Nanny also loves going to the famous authentic Mexican restaurant Peppers. Nanny loves floating in the ocean with her legs together [Wha-?... -SM].

She loves watching HGTV, especially House Hunters, she also watched HGTV Showdown for the first time the other night. Nanny loves the quaint seaside towns, with their unique shops. She is very excited to eat dinner out by the pool because grilling is her favorite part. When the whole family got into the gulf at one time it was so much fun. Aisli is learning to float and we are learning, even thought it's hard, not to wear makeup!!! Think about that!!

From Kieren

It is fun and relaxing. He enjoys the beach and loves to get souvenirs with other people's money. [A true teenager! -SM]

From Aunt Angie

She enjoys spending time with family, especially on the way down. On the way down all of the kids switched vehicles at different stops. She loves the drive down seeing different sights especially palm trees. She really loved when The Tank's alternator gave out because that made the trip down even more thrilling. She enjoys sitting on the beach tanning because she does not like going far out into the ocean because of the little creatures that like to crawl across her feet. If Aunt Angie wasn't already married she would have married HGTV. [I would have married the Food Network, or maybe Fox News. -SM]

From Dayden

He has no comment so I thought that I would make one for him. He enjoys the beach; swimming and boogie boarding are two of his favorites. He loves playing on his DS, getting on the computer and going to Cartoon Network to play games. Dayden also loves playing in our private pool. He loves to pick a fight with Uncle Pat in the pool all of the time.

From Meelyn

I am having a fabulous time with family. I love going to the beach and I am building quite a good shell collection. We have seen hermit crabs, sting rays and crabs, all of which I prefer to think do not exist. I am also loving the beach sun. I am getting a very pretty brown color which I cannot get at the pool!

Everyone enjoys souvenir shopping, eating, playing board games and it would not be a vacation if we hadn't brought playing cards to play Pounce ( according to some friends, Pounce is the whimpy version of Nerds; I on the other hand do not agree). We also are going to play Hand and Foot!

Everybody here is looking a maps to see where the hot spots of Florida are. We are taking beautiful pictures, the other day we saw people horse back riding on the beach, how romantic! It is very interesting how when we got to the famous food mart called Piggly Wiggly we were at the deli getting lunch meat when the man asked us if we were on vacation (People over here can tell who the tourists are and the locals.) [Probably because you all talk so funny. At least that's what Susie says. -SM] They told us that a good way to keep flies away is to hang ziploc bags of water in your house, so interesting, we thought for a minute that he was yanking are chains, but it is true, flies do not like water! A way to keep mosquitoes away is to keep fabric softener sheets in your pockets and around the house, that keeps mosquitoes away! Locals are so smart!

We all just love hanging around watching Fox, HGTV and old shows on TV Land. We are relaxing and nobody can stop us!

From Kiersi

Kiersi is still very young but I did get out of her that she likes the beach, pool and she LOVES searching for shells.

Aisling? Where R U?


A dangerous bread, Kayte called this. Dangerous. I pictured Casatiello as the Michael Corleone of breads, but it actually turned out to be more of the Tony Montana of breads. Because with all those pieces of sautéed salami and pockets of melted provolone hidden within? Well. Let's just say it gives "Say hello to my little friend" a whole new meaning.

Casatiello is an Italian bread, kind of the flip side of panettone, the bread stuffed with candied fruit and nutmeats that Italians traditionally serve at Christmastime. The little cubes of salami and provolone are tucked into a rich brioche dough (poor man's variety) and I have to say, I think it is the best bread I have ever eaten. Ever. Whether in a simple slice or in a sandwich, it is so incredibly good, I can see why Kayte called it dangerous.

Making this bread was as easy as falling off a log because I CHEATED. Yes, I did and I'm not sorry. I halved Peter's recipe, sitting at my kitchen table with my bangs in my eyes and my glasses perched on the tip of my nose, doing subtraction problems on a piece of scratch paper and murmuring to myself. I finally just gave it up because, if you read my review of Poor Man's Brioche, you'll know that the handmade Poor Man's Brioche recipe in Peter's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, was identical to a recipe called "Egg Bread" in the little pamphlet cookbook I got with my bread machine all those years ago. Peter's recipe did call for a little more butter, but that was not a problem -- I just put more into the machine's baking pan.

Yes, I used my bread machine. However, I did set it on the dough cycle, so I did have to do a punch down, a short rising, another punch down and the final proofing. What? You were thinking I was totally lazy and let the machine do everything? Not me!

Since the machine was doing all the work doing the job it was built to do, I sat in the living room drinking iced tea and reading my book until I was summoned by a discreet beep-beep-beep to come and add the salami and the provolone. With that minor chore complete, I was free to do what I wanted for the next hour.

When it was time for the final punching-rising-punching-proofing sequence, I did it all with ease -- I have acquired a few skills! -- and slid the pan into the oven. I wanted to use a regular bread pan so that my loaf would come out ready for sandwiches.

And ohhhhh, did it. It came out of the oven about an hour before my husband got home and I was already hungry. I waited for forty-five minutes, which was surely a virtuous thing to do, and then sawed off the heel of one side. Oh, my gosh....the aroma! And the flavor! It was so delicious and completely different from any bread I've ever had before.

For dinner last night, then, my husband and I had big pub sandwiches made of thick slices of grilled Casatiello and stuffed with ham and provolone. Romantically, a pub sandwich would be consumed with a pint of home-brewed ale and maybe a side of mushy peas, but my husband made do with a frosty mug of Bud. If I asked him to eat mushy peas, he would rebel, although he is an enthusiastic eater of non-mushy peas. I, a total plebian, had a glass of milk. I was made fun of.

Today for breakfast, I had a thick sliced, grilled with a sliver of provolone on top.

For lunch, I had another slice, thicker, grilled on both sides and then topped with a sliced tomato that I'd picked out of my mother's garden forty-five minutes before. Then I put two slices of provolone on top and let the cheese get melty over the tomato.

I was in HEAVEN. There has never been such a lunch.

If you buy this book for no other reason (and it is a really great book, believe me) buy it for that Casatiello recipe. It is that good. And dangerous. It is a dangerous, dangerous bread.

BBA CHALLENGE: Brioche (Rich Man & Poor Man)

Brioche! The very name is exciting, making me think of trips to France I have not taken, boulangeries I have not yet visited, and breakfasts of les petites brioches with strawberry conserve and chocolat chaud that I have not yet eaten. Ah, it's a full, full world inside my head, a veritable vacation paradise, which is why I can't remember where my car keys are.

As far as the BBA Challenge goes, I've been kind of a drop in, drop out sort of baker. I really regret that, but it took me FOREVER to get my hands on a the book (The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart) and so I was behind from the beginning, a curious place to be. I baked the Anadama bread (page 108), which I reviewed here at InsomniMom -- you can click on the BBA Challenge link over to your left to read about that -- but I skipped the Artos and also the bagels. That was very naughty of me because while I was not baking those breads, I was baking others, most notably the corn bread (page 151) and the lavash (page 178, also reviewed here at the site).

So that brings me to these two brioche recipes, both of which I baked in June, which I am just now posting. What my damage has been, I do not know, but now I have not only the brioche to review, I also have the Casatiello. Whew.

First of all, brioche is a rich bread made from whole milk, butter and eggs. The difference between Rich Man's Brioche and Poor Man's Brioche, Peter tells us, is in the amount of butter used: Rich Man's Brioche called for two cups of butter, while Poor Man's requires only half a cup. And that kind of makes you laugh, doesn't it, only half a cup? My word, you can practically feel your arteries slamming shut like the door of the Bastille just thinking about it.


I made the Rich Man's Brioche first. I don't want to sound like a baby, but I was put off this recipe when reading Peter's commentary. He wrote: "When we examine the formular for rich man's brioche, one thing becomes evident: it has almost the same flour to fat to sugar ratio as pie dough." And I know this probably sounds stupid, but I don't want to eat pie dough, or more to the point, a big slice of pie crust. I prefer pie crust to be rolled very then and crimped at the edge, with some sort of filling in it, preferably cherry or chocolate cream. But mine is not to question why and all that, so I proceeded, albeit with some ill feeling towards this bread.

I have to say, it went together very easily. I had to allow the sponge to ferment about twenty minutes longer than the twenty minutes Peter called for, and I think that's probably because it was an almighty hot day that day, according to my notes, and we had the central air conditioning on, rendering the house both cool and dry. I could be wrong about that because I don't really understand the science of bread baking yet and frankly, it seems kind of math-and-chemistry oriented and I suck at both of those things.

My major problem is that I do not own a large stand mixer. CousinFest occurred about four days after I made the brioche, and when I went into Susie's kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of her enormous professional grade Kitchen Aid stand mixer there on the counter. It is about the size of the lunar module and looks as if it could knead your bread and kick your lazy butt straight into next week with no problemo. Awed! I was awed! Particularly because my beloved food processor almost gave up the ghost when brioche dough sneakily ran down the middle part and clogged up the mechanism.

It took me more time to clean up and comfort my trembling, hyperventilating food processor than it did to bake the bread, but that's another story. Let's just say that the food processor debacle was the point where I had my second indication that Rich Man's Brioche and I were not going to become les meilleurs amis.

I ended up having to knead the brioche by hand, which is exactly what I did not want to do: That's why I love my bread machine so much. But with my food processor not possessing a capacity that could deal with that amount of dough, I was at a loss as to how else I was going to get all the ingredients incorporated into a mass that could be baked. I sure wasn't going to throw it away, with all that expensive butter cozied up in there!

So I kneaded, with all the grace that Marie Antoinette showed when she said, according to Peter and several other sources I've found, "The peasants can't eat Rich Man's Brioche? Why, then, let them eat Poor Man's Brioche!" Not cake. Brioche.

And then I kneaded some more.

And more.

My resentment rose along with the dough, and when I finally pulled two goldy-brown loaves out of the oven (one way smaller than the other because of my inability to form two equally-sized lumps of dough), I was hardly glad to see them.

Peter is firm in his command to let the bread cool completely before cutting -- it's actually Step 11 in his twelve-step bread baking program. I think he would just know that I'd cut the bread after only ten minutes post-oven and send a higher power to my kitchen to smite me. So I waited, and when the bread was cool, the girls and I had a slice.

It was...okay. It looked fabulous, if I do say so myself, and it practically melted on the tongue. I felt that it cried out for Nutella, but we don't keep it in the house, for reasons you can probably discern. Other than that, meh. I gave one loaf to our neighbors, identical twin brothers in their fifties who are bakers extraordinaire, and we kept the other one here, where we halfheartedly ate a slice here and there until it got stale a couple of days later. I fed the rest to the dogs.

That was when I realized that my favorite kind of bread is peasanty, preferably with a whole grain. Maybe with a couple of different kind of seeds scattered on top.


I read the recipe for Poor Man's Brioche with a strange feeling of déjà vu. I knew this recipe. But how? I read it again and light dawned -- I use the same recipe in my bread machine for a recipe that was named, prosaically, "Egg Bread." The only difference is that there's slightly less butter in my bread machine recipe.

Just for the fun of it, I made both breads on the same day, one by hand, one in the machine. I had a much better attitude, because I already knew that all of us like the Egg Bread recipe. I kneaded the dough by hand again, since my food processor threatened to have a nervous breakdown if I tried to put bread stuff in it again. Once again, I found that it isn't all that fun incorporating butter into the flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and yeast, but at least I had less to work with this time.

Here's my thing: I love bread. I love the way it makes the house smell. I love putting the ingredients together. I love it that my family loves it. BUT I HATE KNEADING. I just hate it. Call me the anti-artisan, but throwing and punching and pushing and pulling a lump of bread dough around on my counter is just too earthy for me and please keep in mind that I had my first baby with no drugs. I don't want to do that much work. As it turns out, I didn't want to do that much work in childbirth either, so I had an epidural the second time around, but anyway, kneading bread is a major pain.

When it was finally kneaded and risen and punched down and risen and proofed, I slid the loaf pans into the oven with a heavy sigh and an adoring look at my bread machine, which was sitting there on the counter, industriously going about its business of giving me a funny-looking but yummy loaf of bread and causing me no grief whatsoever. Peter Reinhart says that he kneads all his bread by hand and I can only wonder if his mother had a bad experience with a yeast packet when she was carrying him.

Anyway, as it turns out, Poor Man's Brioche is delightful no matter how you bake it. Bread machine, oven, it comes out with a lovely golden yellow hue and is so extremely good for sandwiches or breakfast toast. It is a most delicious bread and you should make it.

In your bread machine.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fruit for the Spirit -- The Pear Tree 7

Hard as it is to believe, we actually KNOW this incredibly talented family. This song -- psalm -- was written, I presume, by King David, yet my very own friend Celia has set it to a breathtaking melody, sung by her daughters and a friend. Their voices are so clear and pure, you could almost think that the holy angels were standing there singing with them. And who knows? Maybe they were!

Give it a listen. It is something....more. I can't describe it. Well, I could, if I could stop crying long enough to type a sentence that doesn't have fifty mistakes in it that have to be corrected.

If you would like to buy this gorgeous CD, the Perillos are selling it via PayPal for a mere $15 plus S&H. You can go to their website,, and click on the PayPal link.

A very pleasant day

I had planned to go to the swim club today since it is both warm and sunny, but not going to bed until 4:00 a.m. has put me in kind of a drowsy, dreamy sort of mood and I decided that since this was my week to decide, I wasn't going to pack the cooler and my swim bag and the towels and the blue burrito and lug it all over there.

Instead, I've stayed home and puttered around the house. This is the kind of thing that drives me insane when the girls are home, mostly because they're cluttering up the floor under my feet with their pressing need to DO SOMETHING LET'S EVEN GO TO WAL-MART, ANYTHING, whereas I have no pressing desire to do much more than read my book and maybe take a little nap.

I've not been totally idle, considering that I've also done the laundry, cleaned the bathroom sinks and toilets upstairs and down and vacuumed all the downstairs rooms. Right now, I'm in the midst of baking the Casatiello bread from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which is proving to be a very absorbing project. Casatiello is an Italian bread that has little chunks of salami and melty pockets of provolone baked into a rich milk-and-egg dough. I just finished sautéeing the diced salami, and oh my gosh, it smells so incredibly good. The aroma brought Hershey to the kitchen from his snoozy place snuggled into the sofa cushions at a brisk trot. Wimzie followed him, trying to be all nonchalant, as if she was just coming to the kitchen for a drink and not because of that tantalizing odor wafting through the house.

"By any chance would the salami in that skillet be intended for me, the best and most loyal dog you've ever known?" he indicated with bright eyes and pricked up ears.

"Oh, you're cooking?" Wimzie's over-the-shoulder look communicated. "Salami. Hmmm. I was hoping for prosciutto. I guess I can take some off your hands. If I must. Since there's nothing better to do around this dump."

As soon as the dough comes off this first rising, I need to incorporate the salami and the provolone into it and set it up for another rising. Then a punch down and the final proofing, and it will be ready to go into the oven.

Kayte says that this bread is addictive, perhaps even dangerous. My husband and I will be finding out at dinner tonight. I'll write about making the Casatiello and that dumb brioche that I've been putting off for, like, three weeks now, tomorrow. I hope.

Life's a beach, and then you go shopping

I talked to Meelyn and Aisling before they left for the beach this morning; I was sitting outside on the front porch bench watching the dogs do their business on this SUNNY morning where it finally feels WARM. Miracles still occur, please don't ever doubt that.

Meelyn told me that the gang had been looking into visting a nearby water park, but they balked when they found out that the admission price was $32 per person. And here's a weird thing, and I hope it sounds right because the phone was kind of dodging in and out, it was more expensive for tall people? So the admission price was going to be more for Pat and Kieren?

That can't be right, can it?

Anyway, everyone really liked the beach they went to yesterday, so they're going back there. Meelyn tells me that there were lots of pretty shells on that beach, and she found a particularly lovely one, a small one of cream and grey and delicate pink. She thought there was a creature inside it, but when she took it to my mother, Mom said that she didn't think the shell was inhabited. Meelyn put it in the bathroom she's sharing with Aisling and left it.

Some time later, she came back into the bathroom and heard the little sea creature gasping for breath. Horrified, she hurriedly grabbed it up and ran it back to the salt water and released it back to its home. We were both in agreement that we didn't care if it was a yucky little mussel or mollusc or whatever -- anything that can gasp for breath needs to go back where it can be alive.

I'm just assuming that it wasn't gasping in horror at the state of that bathroom, since I'm not there to make them pick up the wet towels, polish the mirror, neatly store their various hair products and makeup, and clean the globs of toothpaste out of the sink. Heh.

A midsummer's night, with fairies

It is midsummer and midsummer always makes me think of Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night's Dream because I love the fairies, Peaseblossom, Mote, Cobweb and Mustardseed. I adore those sweet names.

Here's a lovely painting by the American artist John Anster Fitzgerald (1832-1906) of Titania and her little changeling with the attendant fairies.

And a fabulous Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) print of naughty Puck and a fairy dressed in rainbow colors.

Last of all, here's a magnificent photograph of actors Jack Corrigall as Oberon and Jon Miles as Puck from The Inn Theater Company's 2007 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Just spectacular costumes, I am awed. Great color and texture and wonderful stage makeup as well. Set against that rocky backdrop, they do look like creatures from another world. The Inn Theater Company performs in Dartmouth, England. If you'd like to have a look at their blog, which is hosted here at Blogger just give the link a little click and poooof!!! You'll be taken there by fairy magic!

Beloved cucina

I seem to be on this kick where I'm baking a lot of bread. Well, I've always baked a lot of bread in my bread machine, which I would sleep with under my pillow if it weren't certain to give me a kink in the neck, but I mean baking bread with my own sweet hands and my oven. To this end, I'm thinking about asking my mother to buy me a baking stone from Williams-Sonoma (or maybe one from King Arthur Flour) as a Christmas gift: it's one of those things that's juuuust expensive enough that I would never buy it for myself, but I have to admit that it is the intensely practical kind of gift I love, and I'm sure I'd get a lot of use out of it.

I was reading the reviews, wondering if the Williams-Sonoma model was the stone for me and was pleased to see that it got a glowing 4.4 out of five stars from twenty-six reviewers. That seemed pretty solid to me, but I was curious to read why the people who'd given the stone low marks had done so. That's me, a top-flight researcher.

Here's what I found out: The several reviewers who panned the stone (haha...I couldn't help it) said that they didn't like it because it got stained and dirty-looking. And I was all like, stained and dirty? But that's the whole point, isn't it?

In a cook's kitchen, how do you know which casserole dishes are the most favored? Which the favorite saucepan? Which cookbook the most treasured, and even which hotpad is the most reliable? Which knife is the one that comes to hand first, which wooden spoon stirs the soup best?

I believe that the best loved dishes and spoons and casseroles and books in a cook's kitchen will be all the Velveteen Rabbit-style pieces. You remember that childhood story by Margery Williams, don't you? The one where the little boy loves his squashy plush rabbit so much, it finally becomes real? The whole crux of the story is that a toy doesn't become real until one of its button eyes is gone and its fur is all rubbed off in places; I think it's the very same with the kitchen ware of someone who really loves to cook.

I have a stoneware casserole from Pampered Chef that I bought when the girls were just babies. It's taken a lot of years to season that thing, and it has seen everything from chicken pot pie to birthday cake to tacos stacked precariously upright. It's so well seasoned, it is dark brown in places, and not because I don't wash it. Shut up. I'm not that bad at keeping house.

Likewise, I love my cast iron skillet. Now I admit, there's not a whole lot you can do even in my kitchen to damage a cast iron skillet. But there's just nothing like it for making fried chicken, or hash browns. (Do not speak to me of skillet-baked cornbread -- we are Yankees and we do not eat that here.) Until a couple of months ago, I had a favorite casserole dish, one of a set of three nesting Corning casseroles that my mother gave me from her kitchen when I got my first apartment. When Meelyn broke it, I cried. I was ATTACHED to that casserole. What else am I going to make broccoli and rice casserole in during Lent? And scalloped potatoes? There are just so many foods that are so right in a round, 2-quart casserole dish.

My favorite pot holder is actually an oven mitt and it has a couple of burned marks on it (don't ask) and numerous stains, although I promise you it is clean. My friend Melanie got it for me as part of a housewarming gift about fifteen years ago and it is such a good fit on my hand, I can't bear to get rid of it, even though it is getting a little thin in places. People who wear it to take cookies out of the oven are liable to scream shrilly and scatter cookies across the kitchen floor, but I just can't stand to throw it away. We've been through so much together, including grape jelly. If you've ever made grape jelly (instead of being a sensible person and going to the market to buy a very nice jar of jelly that didn't cause a sticky disaster in your kitchen) you know just what I mean.

You can tell my favorite cookbooks just by looking at the shelf they sit on. Usually, the paper dust-covers are gone and their spines are exposed, frayed and stained. My two Julia cookbooks are among the worst, but they belonged to my grandmother before they belonged to me. I have terribly fond memories of last summer's forays into the ways of Le Cordon Bleu and that cookbook's baptism with chicken stock when the slow-cooker overflowed. I love church cookbooks and the two I use the most often are a mess - pages kind of stuck together in places, notes scribbled in the margins ("add hlf of sm dcd onion" and "1 tblspn sugar not enough!") and dog-eared pages. My favorite knife's handle's finish is more worn than the finish on the handles of the knives I use less often.

So when I read about these cooks who don't want a BAKING STONE, for heaven's sake, to get stained and dirty, I just don't get it. It's when stuff shows wear, like the chipping-off ersatz Pennsylvania Dutch motif that was painted on my late, great Corning casserole, that you know something is loved and used. It means something when you have a wooden spoon that is worn smooth by the palm of your hand. When you look at your spotted baking stone, it reminds you of all the loaves of good bread and all the fun pizzas you made for your family.

If you have a collection of Hummel figurines or an assortment of Murano glass paperweights or your great-grandmother's Victorian chandeliers, by all means keep those things shiny-clean - that's how you know non-kitchen items are cherished. But kitchen stuff? Let it show its wear. Don't be such a nervous nelly about everything's being scrubbed within an inch of its life. Let your kitchen be seasoned with love.

Unless we're talking about mushrooms, in which case I am right there with you. little bristly brush in hand.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Florida, finally

The family journey to Florida was finally completed yesterday, but not without a few setbacks that had me clutching my cell phone in a frantic grip and instructing myself to breathe in and out, repeating as necessary.

First, they were a bit behind schedule because they -- my parents and the girls in the minivan and Pat, Angie and my nephews and niece in The Tank, an aged yet comfy Suburban belonging to Angie's parents -- got stopped three different times by road construction.

I didn't find that all too worrisome, however, because that's just the kind of thing that happens. Many's the childhood vacation I remember being stuck in traffic, usually in Georgia, which is the longest state ever in the world. Everything is 250 miles away: First you're in Tennessee and Atlanta is 250 miles away. Then you're in Atlanta and Savannah is 250 miles away. And then, panting, you get to the Savannah area, where the signs say that Macon is 250 miles away. After Macon, the signs assure you that Valdosta is 250 miles away. The Florida state line is 250 miles away from Valdosta and all those people who say that Texas is the biggest state are big fat liars.

One particular stuck-in-traffic family vacation from my youth is particularly memorable because it is the time when Pat and I had been so horrible to each other in the back seat -- I think a roll of masking tape stuck down the middle from the rear window down all the way to the drive train's hump in the middle of the floor had been employed to divide MY side from HIS side -- that my dad had insisted that we put our seat belts on. Because? That's how parent PUNISHED THEIR CHILDREN in the 1970s -- they made them wear seat belts.

"If you kids don't shut up, you are going to put on your seat belts until we get to the Florida state line," my father would growl. And then Pat and I would weigh those consequences up against the actions we hoped to take, which of course meant slapping at one another over the masking tape. If we were near Atlanta, we'd restrain ourselves and be content with just shooting each other hateful glances. But if we'd already passed Valdosta, WATCH OUT.

Pat and I both knew that our dad was a soft touch, exhibiting lots of bark with very limited bite. So, as our car rolled to a halt on the broiling interstate through the fine state of Georgia, my brother and I escalated to the point of open warfare, with Nancy Drew books and G.I. Joes and magic markers and the little pieces of one of those magnetic tic-tac-toe sets flying around like the first five minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

We suddenly became firm allies, however, because our mother, who is of a much more energetic and temperamental temperament than our father, made even more so by the fact that her two children were acting like jackals in the back seat of an otherwise staid and practical family sedan, driven to the breaking point, I say, by our pinching and hitting and yelling and kicking, suddenly emerged from the front seat with a scream of rage, brandishing a paperback Agatha Christie novel.

"I. HAVE. HAD. IT!" she shrieked. "HAD. IT! HAD IT!!!! HADDIT!!!!"

She leaned over the front seat, flailing around with her book, swiping at us with a ferocity unmatched by Santa Ana at the Alamo. She whacked us and thwacked us and smote us with such vigor, the book started coming to pieces, pages floating through the air and entire chunks plopping onto the seats and the floor. At one point, I looked out my window (arms up to protect my head) and saw a trucker in the next lane staring at us with wide eyes and open mouth: two kids crouching down in their seats trying to avoid being bludgeoned by a Penguin paperback, a very pretty, angry blonde woman windmilling around and the man at the wheel nonchalantly looking for a radio station and trying to pretend that nothing. Was happening.

Anyway, the vacationers made it through the road construction and decided to stop for the night south of Birmingham, as I related in my other post. But what I didn't know is that Nanny, Poppy and the girls ordered a Pizza Hut pizza to be delivered, and Pat, Angie and the kids went to Chick-fil-A. And I also didn't know that when Pat/Angie/kids returned from eating their chicken, Kiersi got into the shower and slipped, cutting her little chin badly enough that they had to take her to the emergency room.

See? This is the kind of stuff that keeps the manufacturers of my brand of hair color in business.

Kiersi got those new kind of stitches that are actually glue -- don't ask me, I didn't know about it either -- and was apparently okay, although Dayden was terribly upset that she was hurt and crying. But believe me, that's NOTHING compared to the hurt and crying I was experiencing, all by myself in the house back here in Indiana. Hearing about emergency room visits over the phone is just not good.

The next day, they sailed off in fine form and got over the Florida state line, traveling down the panhandle until they were a mere ninety minutes from their destination. And then guess what happened? Well, my phone rang.

"Hello?" I said breathlessly.

"Hi, Mommy," said Aisling in a disconsolate tone. "Guess where we are?"

"At the house? Is it nice?"

"No, we're still far away from the house. We're at a Hardee's. Because The Tank broke down and we can't find anyone to fix it."

That was the point at which I realized it was a good thing that I don't believe in solving problems with alcohol, although I have been known to try to solve them with the contents of the refrigerator.

"What's going on?" I whimpered.

"Nanny and Poppy are going to drive all the grandkids on to the house and then one of them will come back to get Uncle Pat and Aunt Angie and the luggage," she said in a small voice. "They're just going to sit and wait for the tow truck, and then Pop or Nan can pick them up."

This just didn't set well with me. Like, AT ALL. I wanted to get my father on the phone and imperiously tell him and all the rest of them to just STOP RIGHT THERE: I was going to go get in the van and start driving and I didn't want anyone to MOVE until I was there to sort this thing out. Unless, of course, they wished to order a sausage biscuit.

Honestly, I should have known not to accept this story verbatim from the lips of a disgruntled and travel-weary fourteen year old. As it turns out, the situation was not as dire as she'd portrayed it to be. My parents did set off with the grandkids and got to the beach house just fine; Triple A arrived at the Hardee's only twenty minutes after the call was made and a car repair person was enlisted to replace the alternator. He made quick work of that job and Pat and Angie set out and arrived at the beach house only an hour after the first wave got in.

The house, they tell me, is very nice, although Dayden thinks it has too many stairs. The bedroom the girls are sharing is right by the door that leads outside to the swimming pool, so everyone woke them up this morning, the girls being the only two late sleepers in the family.

The waters of the gulf beckoned today, and they spent the day in the sand and the sun, searching for shells and playing in the waves. There seemed to be surprisingly little sand castle building, which is always my favorite thing. Go figure.

Meelyn sent me an email and said that they're thinking about water parks, a different beach or maybe a trip to the piney woods for tomorrow. I wrote back, piney woods? Excuse me? If you want trees, you can have them all you want in Indiana, both evergreen and deciduous. But beaches? Those are a bit more hard to come by.

I vote beaches for them. And the pool for myself -- we're going to be experiecing a heat wave here tomorrow. It's going to be seventy-seven degrees outside. Woooooooeeeeee!!!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Anticipating the return of summer weather

Here's Carly Simon, one of my all-time favorites, doing "Anticipation" live in her 1987 Martha's Vineyard concert on what looks to be an absolutely perfect summer evening.

Quick note: I am not sure why Carly, who is so gorgeous to this very day it makes my hair hurt, is wearing those weirdly baggy pants and the sneakers -- did we all wear pants like that in 1987? I don't remember. Unfortunately, I do remember about the shoulder pads. Anyway, if anyone could make a pair of drawstring-waist pants look oddly adorable, it's Carly. Nobody does it better.

HA! Didja catch that? SONG TITLE REFERENCE!!!

I am ON today. Must be the cool, crisp tang of fall in the air. Wait a minute....

And then I turned into a popsicle

I am sitting here on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July at a time when the central air-conditioning is usually roaring away, huddled into a sweatshirt and actual pants -- not shorts. The frikkin' Snuggie is starting to look good to me, may all of heaven's holy angels help this (hopefully temporary) madness to pass.

At 12:45 on a mid-July Saturday in Indiana, one can count on the fact that the heat and humidity are both in the eighties, verging towards the nineties. At 12:45 on a mid-July Saturday in Indiana, one can count on every bench at the swim club being occupied by a body. Today, I'm not sure if the pool is even open; I'm sure not going there to find out. The swim club is out in the country surrounded by corn fields and if you can catch a breeze anywhere in the county, it's there.

I've been to the pool plenty of times when I deemed the water to chilly for my swimming pleasure, but I've never been there when it was too cold to sit on a bench without being dressed like Nanook of the North.

My big plan for the day was to go to the pool and get in the water to read my book propped on the edge as I often do, wait until I was deliciously cool, and then get out to roast on a bench with my Shakespeare stuff. Lather, rinse, repeat until it was time to shower and get ready to go to Mass. Now I'm not sure what to do, other than turning on the furnace.

Here are our deplorable current conditions:

Indianapolis, Indiana

Currently: 66°F Cloudy
Wind: West at 8 MPH
Humidity: 65%
Dewpoint: 54°F
Barometer: 30.02 inches and steady
Sunrise: 6:31 am
Sunset: 9:10 pm

Have you ever seen anything so ludicrous?

I called the travelers a couple of hours ago; they'd all gotten up fairly early and were well south of Montgomery. As they were driving along talking to me, they caught sight of an electronic billboard that had a time and temperature posting: It was eighty-eight degrees where they were.

Does anyone have Mother Nature's email address? I have a strongly worded letter I'd like to send to her.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thank goodness for that global warming!

Here in the mid-July in the northern hemisphere, we are usually experiencing summer, that season which is, as we say in the Hoosier state, "hotter than home-grown hell." Today we seem to be experiencing early October. Note the current conditions as I type this at 8:18 pm on Friday, July 17, 2009:

Indianapolis, Indiana

Currently: 68°F Cloudy
Wind: Northwest at 13 MPH
Humidity: 54%
Dewpoint: 51°F
Barometer: 29.90 inches and rising
Sunrise: 6:30 am
Sunset: 9:10 pm

Thank heaven for global warming, is all I can say. If the globe weren't warmer, I'd probably be sitting here THINKING ABOUT BUYING A SNUGGIE.

One for the road (make that nine)

Early this morning, a caravan consisting of Pat, Angie, Kieren, Dayden, Kiersi, Poppy, Nanny, Meelyn and Aisling set out from New Castle, heading for a place in Florida on the gulf coast of which I've never heard. It's a house with a private pool not far from the beach, and if I didn't absolutely hate the thought of my husband being at home alone all week with the dogs, I would SO be with them. It's just that our current economy isn't very conducive to commissioned salespeople taking a ten day break - it's hard to sell cars from five states away.

Meelyn and Aisling spent the night with my mom and dad last night so that early start could be facilitated more smoothly. I drove back home, alone in the van, wondering why it is with kids that they drive you crazy with their messiness and their constant saying of your name and their need to tell you every detail about a very long dream featuring a bicycle, that little cartoon dude from the Hawaiian Punch commercials and a cell phone with a dead battery; their whininess when told to unload the dishwasher; their obstinate resistance to comply with my order not to leave their wet bath towels on my bed...oh, so many things. And then you send them off for a week with their grandparents and aunt and uncle and all the way home you just want to cry.

ANYWAY, I got back home and my husband and I, treading dangerously around a swamp filled with sadness and I-wish-you-could-have-gone-at-;east and No-I-don't-want-you-to-be-lonesome-and-have-to-eat-fast-food-all-week, were strangely polite and formal with one another to the point where I felt like a bawdy slut sleeping next to him when I finally went to bed at 3:00 a.m.

Here's a call log from their travels today:

AROUND 1:00 p.m.

I've called the girls once and they've called home once. They're currently in Tennessee and Allison's nose was out of joint because they ate lunch at McDonald's. I just got off the phone with her and she says they're nine hours away from their destination, so they've made excellent time.

They plan to stop around dinner time and find a hotel with a pool. The kids are all switching off every two hours, so Megan was riding with Pat, Angie, Kyler and Kiersey. Dayden was in the van with Pop, Mom and Allison and I could hear him in the background chattering like a magpie.

"He sure seems excited," I said.

Allison dropped her voice to a whisper. "He has not. Shut. Up. Since we got in the car after lunch."

When he realized she was talking to me, he started yelling, "Hi, Auntie Shelley! I love you, Auntie Shelley! I wish you and Uncle Brian were here, Auntie Shelley! I miss you! And Poppy misses you! And Nanny misses you! And Allison misses you! And Megan misses..."

Finally, everyone started shouting, "Enough! Be quiet! We'll lash you to the luggage rack if you keep yelling!"

Sulkily, he said, "Well, we ALL MISS YOU," and then he was quiet.

AROUND 6:30 p.m.

I talked to Pop while sitting on the front porch, waiting for Hershey and Wimzie to do their early evening business. He said wearily that they'd all been stuck in three come-to-a-complete-halt traffic jams on the freeway today due to road construction.

"I like to travel on Saturday and Sunday when there's no work going on," he said. "We're only a couple of hours south of Birmingham and we've been on the road for twelve hours. Luckily, we are only about six hours from where we're staying, so hopefully tomorrow's drive will be easier."

They were all sitting in the parking lot of a hotel, but he told me it looked as if the only rooms vacant were smoking rooms, which didn't interest any of them. However, he told me that my mother had just come out of the hotel office with both thumbs up and then gone over to talk to Pat and Angie, so I don't know if that means they're going to go to the nearest Home Depot and buy ventilator masks or if they're all going to take up smoking.

I got the strong sense that everyone was tired, hungry and grouchy, so I kept the call short. I told my dad goodbye and then called the dogs, telling them to come in for a treat. They both rushed in, bumping into each other and I went out to the kitchen to feed them a stale fig newton and pretend that it was fun, having the entire silent, echoey house all to myself.

I am just WAY fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to sit on the couch...

Remember the Snuggie from the cable television commercial last winter? Those backwards oversized fleece bathrobes that were supposed to take the place of skimpy sofa throws that expose your feet or shoulders to chilly drafts? The commercial featured pictures of people eating popcorn, working on their laptops, roasting marshmallows out back while gathered 'round the bonfire or -- most memorably -- cheering at a soccer game in maroon Snuggies and looking like members of some deranged (yet cozy-warm) cult. They were simply unspeakable. It was impossible to watch them with your mouth closed.

For all you people who don't watch television, first of all, what is wrong with you? Second of all, just watch this:

Okay. So now that you have either 1) refreshed your memory about the horror that is the Snuggie; or 2) seen for the first time this sign that the apocalypse is upon us, try to wrap your mind around the fact that I have just seen a commercial that informed my twitching, slack-jawed self that the Snuggie now comes in DESIGNER PATTERNS.

Yes. Yes, it is true.

You can now get yourself a Snuggie in fashionable leopard or zebra prints as well as a tasteful classic camel color. These were made, the Snuggie manufacturers claim, because many people had been requesting "a more stylish Snuggie."

A. More. Stylish. Snuggie.


Okay. So who exactly are the people who felt such passion for a backwards fleece bathrobe that they needed to have one spotted like a leopard or striped like a zebra? Or unicolored like a camel?

I just got this little mental movie of me and my husband being invited over to play cards one Novembery evening with some friends. Some little snacks are graciously set out; drinks are offered. Soon the agreeable snap of cards being shuffled fills the air; the hostess rises to her feet and says, "I'm a little chilly. I'll be right back."

When she returns, she's wearing a Snuggie. And she has more draped over her arm. Her husband jumps up and says, "Thanks, hon! It is a little nippy tonight!" and then she proffers one to my husband -- the maroon one? -- and offers the leopard one to me. I take it silently and put my arms in it because one size fits all. We play cards, but then it turns out that the chocolate covered peanuts were dipped in arsenic and they've sent one of their children outside to disconnect our brakes.

No wonder I never get any sleep.

I blame the Snuggie.

If you feel you must look, here's a picture of some poor soul wearing the leopard print one.

Good for the soul

Sometimes, when it's been a long day or a hard day or another sort of annoying day, I slump in my chair here at the computer and go to the Merriam-Webster website, key the word "poop" into the dictionary search field and then hit the little sound icon with the speakers turned up REAL LOUD so that my computer says this:

poop poop poop poop


poop poop poop poop poop

poop poop


Here, go try it. You'll be surprised at how cathartic it is. I have it bookmarked in my favorites list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

RECIPE: Game Day Ranch Snack Crackers

Well, okay, the games my husband is watching right now feature the Cincinnati Reds rather than the Cincinnati Bengals, but the sentiment is still the same. The only problem is that those Reds play a whole lotta games, where the Bengals tend to confine themselves to Sundays and Mondays and some other day. Thursday? Well, whatevs. Anyways, snacks are called for in the summer as well as in the winter.

These snack crackers are just unaccountably delicious. I mean, oyster crackers are the main ingredient, and what could possibly be more boring and tasteless than a dry, salt-free oyster cracker? This recipe jazzes those little buggers right up. You just wait.

This recipe makes, like, a ton, because I always send some to work with my husband, or over to the next door neighbor, or divide into little snack-sized plastic bags to take to the pool. They are a universal favorite of young and old, but please be warned: Your breath will be capable of slaying vampires all by its ownself, with no help from any crucifixes or hastily decanted holy water you might happen to have around.


3 10-12 ounce bags oyster crackers
1 6.6 ounce bag Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers

1 cup light olive oil or canola oil
4 packets ranch seasoning mix (in salad dressing aisle)
2 teaspoons dill weed
4 teaspoons garlic powder

Pour the crackers into a large bowl with a tight-fitting lid -- I use a Rubbermaid cake carrier. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the ranch seasoning, dill weed and garlic powder together with the oil until combined.

Stir every ten minutes for one hour. Serve with a toothbrush and toothpaste on the side, or at least some gum. This makes A LOT, so you can cut the recipe in half if need be.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just one of the best "gotcha" songs ever

Since I posted Jim Croce's acoustic and bluesy "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" earlier today, I thought about different songs talking about people who've got their comeuppance and this one popped into my mind, "Evil Woman" by the Electric Light Orchestra.

Like many of the songs I post here, it's another one that featured largely in my childhood and teen years at the White Estates pool, only this song has a little extra memory attached.

You know how Jeff Lynne and the backup singers do that thing that sounds like "Eee-eevil woman," giving the word an extra syllable? Well, I wasn't too bright when I was in my early teens and one day, I was over at my friend Emily Clarke's house, sitting on her canopy bed, just singing along with the radio. Only I was substituting my own invented syllable and singing "Medieval woman."

"Med-iiiii-eval woman!" I yodeled. "Med-iiiii-eval woman, such an evil woman...."

Emily looked at me incredulously. "What are you singing?" she asked.

"This song," I said nonchalantly. "You know, 'Medieval Woman.'"

This caused Emily to roll around on her floor, laughing hysterically. I was absolutely mortified. But also thankful that I'd made this error in front of Emily, who was my nicest childhood friend, second only to Jennifer.

I guess my lyrical lapse just goes to prove that I was a history geek even at thirteen.

You don't mess around with Jim. Or Slim.

We heard this song at the pool yesterday and I had totally forgotten how funny it is. I couldn't help but notice as I looked around how many other people were humming, singing or tapping their flip-flop clad toes. I used to love Jim Croce (crying over "Operator" when I was about twelve), who was yet another great singer who died too soon in a plane crash. Ugh.

Anyway, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" is a great little bluesy tune sung here live by Jim himself.

RECIPE: Chocolate-Cinnamon Sheet Cake

This is just one of the best cakes in the world. So deliciously chocolatey -- if you like that sort of thing, Kayte -- and it's big. So it goes well with a family gathering. I took one to CousinFest so that we could just munch on a piece whenever we wanted. Susie ended up having some neighbors over for an impromptu party after the fireworks, and it fed everyone who wanted a piece and there was still a little bit left over for guilty snacking. By the end of the four days, it was gone.

This is a big one at family reunions, parties and, er, funeral dinners, plus it featured largely at James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School back in the 1970s as their featured Happy Birthday cake for each month of the year. It's known in some places as Texas Sheet Cake and in other places as Picnic Sheet Cake, but it's known everywhere as y-u-m-m-y. There are several variations on the recipe -- some call for buttermilk, some call for sour cream, others for more or less cinnamon -- but this recipe is from my cousin Cathy.

The most important part of this cake is the pan it is baked in -- a jelly roll pan, which is 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1. That's what'll give you the nice, big cake.

The second most important part of this cake is the icing -- the velvety, scrumptious, home made icing. I dare you not to lick that spoon.


2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

2 sticks of butter (I know, I know....)
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water

1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400oF. Combine sugar and flour in a large heat-proof mixing bowl. In a medium sized saucepan, bring the butter, cocoa and water to a rapid boil. Pour into the flour-sugar mixture. Stir in sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon, eggs and baking soda; pour into an oiled sheet cake pan and bake for 20 minutes.


1 stick of butter (yes, I know)
6 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

In a saucepan (preferably the same medium-sized one you just used for the cake) bring the butter, milk and cocoa to a boil. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and stir until velvety smooth. Pour over hot cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. You can sprinkle the cake with nuts, if desired.

Allow cake and frosting to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Icing will set and be firm.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Granddad!

My Granddad -- teller of stories, buyer of ponies -- is eighty-nine years old today. We're going to have lunch in New Castle with my family, then going over to the assisted living center to see him and bring him a card and a balloon.

Here's one of my favorite memories of Granddad, from when I was about nineteen or twenty years old, a year or two after Ma passed away:


Granddad, who was still unretired from his executive job at a business in Muncie and was younger than my dad is now, had somehow managed to hurt his back. I don't know how or where, but his back was hurt and he was making a whole lot of noise about it. It was summertime and I wasn't taking any summer school classes at Ball State, and he indicated that my presence would be very welcome in his home for a week or so while he recuperated. You know, to fetch and carry and do everything that Ruth, the housekeeper who came in a few times a week, wasn't doing.

Which, you know, didn't sound like much. Mostly, I thought, I'd be sitting around reading and dragging a sun lounger out back and tanning. But I didn't figure on Granddad's enormous level of spoilage and his constant need for attention. He was raised, you see, by a doting granny and his Aunt Ruby, both of whom thought the sun rose and set on him and his three brothers, and he never got over it.

So while I was bowing and scraping and dancing attendance and bringing trays with sandwiches and potato chips and glasses of ice water and the occasional beer and cooking large dinners, Granddad sat in his recliner like a sultan, magnanimously telling me that that ham sandwich would have been perfect if I'd just put a little more Miracle Whip on it, and hey! How's about a Pepsi? In a glass? With four ice cubes.

The second evening I was there, Granddad told me regretfully that he was very, very sad, but he wouldn't be able to mow the lawn the next day. The big lawn. The GREAT BIG ENORMOUS HILLY lawn, out there in the broiling sun on the riding mower. I didn't mind driving the riding mower, but mowing on even a slight incline has always made me feel very oougey in the stomach region. But I was committed to helping him out, so I got up very early in the cool of the day and warily approached the riding mower, a piece of machinery which I tended to treat like a skittish horse. One that would buck me off and then slice and dice me while I was prostrate on the grass.

It started up grudgingly and we chugged down the hill to the road on our first swath; I wheeled it expertly to the right and continued on, feeling a little better this scary job. It was a beautiful day out there in the country, with all the flowers and birds and trees. I made it all the way back to my starting point to begin the second swath -- and saw Granddad, up and walking briskly, loading his golf clubs into the trunk of his big fancy Oldsmobile. He was wearing his jaunty straw Panama hat and a brilliantly colorful Izod-Lacoste golf shirt, a complete contrast to the pajames he'd been clad in for the past two days while he lay groaning pitifully in his chair.

I cut the engine on the mower off at the top of the hill with an abrupt snap of the wrist. "Excuse me?" I called sharply. "Where exactly are you going?"

He turned to look at me, all innocence. "Why, I thought I'd go to the golf course. It is Saturday, you know."

"What about your BACK?" I asked menacingly, climbing off the mower.

"It feels fine, thank you for asking," he said, slamming the trunk lid and giving me a big jolly smile.

"So when will you be home? Will it be at a time when you can safely assume that I have finished mowing the lawn?"

He had the grace to look guilty. "I'll be back around noon. Maybe earlier."

"And will you be taking me out to lunch somewhere very nice?"

"Oh, yes. Somewhere very nice."

"And what about all the nursemaid duties? Will I be required to bring you a thousand sandwiches and an ice bag for your back and glasses of Pepsi with four ice cubes, now that your back is healed?"

"I will make my own sandwiches, but I would appreciate a cold Pepsi if you're getting up to get yourself one," he said with dignity.

"Okay then."


"Have a great time golfing."

He brightened. "Oh, I will! Great day, isn't it? Perfect weather! Have a good"

I crossed my arms. "Yeah. I'll have a great time. And a GREAT LUNCH."


Happy birthday, Granddad!