Sunday, January 31, 2010

A cup of tea to comfort me

Up this morning at four-thirty again, a time which has become very, very familiar over the past month. This morning, it was Zuzu, barking frantically in her crate. My husband and I were sound asleep and our bedroom door was very slightly ajar, but Aisling sleeps with her bedroom door open (it gets cold in her room, she says) and she came to wake us up, grumpy and tousled.

"THAT PUPPY won't stop barking and I can't sleep," she groused, standing in our doorway with a fuzzy blanket, a relic of her baby days, trailing over her shoulder.

I floundered up from sleep. "Puppy? Puppy not sleeping and barking? Whose puppy?"

"Ours," said my husband with a groan. "She's really at it and she's never done that before. She must have to pee or poop really bad." He threw back the covers, allowing an icy blast to creep in and grab me by the feet. "I'll take them all outside and then let them come up here."

One thing we've learned is that the dogs are very happy to come upstairs after their early morning sojourn and sleep on our bed, lolling in heavy slumber for hours on end, as long as a human is there with them. This knowledge has allowed my husband to sleep in later than he anticipated several different times in the three weeks since we rescued Zuzu, so my rule about no dogs on the bed, ever? Well, it is a thing of the past and I always put my pillows on the armchair in the corner so that none of the three of them can get them dirty. Gross.

He was gone for forty-five minutes on that walk and after the first twenty, I began to worry. Had he and the dogs frozen solid to a fire hydrant due to all ill-aimed stream of dog pee? Did they get run over by a milk truck, the sound of which is one of my favorite early-morning sounds? Did the three dogs see a maurauding squirrel up for an early nut and sweep my husband off his feet, dragging him at the end of their leashes across town like a cowboy in the Wild West being dragged across the prairie by his horse with his boot stuck in the stirrup?

By the time he got back, freezing and irritable ("On WARM mornings, they all pee and poop FIRST THING, but on the mornings when it is TWO DEGREES? They have to sniff each blade of grass in a five-block radius to see which one is going to win the honor of being anointed WITH THEIR URINE," he said bitterly), I was wide awake. I generously lent him all my pillows and my two microwave heating bags and then decided to just go ahead and take my shower.

Religious ed class, I noted wearily, was due to start in four hours. No harm in getting ready a bit early.

Once downstairs, I found that I wasn't in the mood for coffee. Coffee, in my mind, is a fun drink. It's so good and rich and sweet -- at least it is the way I drink it -- and it is enjoyable in a "let's get a cheese danish and have a cup of coffee!" kind of way.

This morning, tea was definitely indicated. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles once noted, when Xander noticed him drinking a cup of coffee, that "tea is comforting, and I don't wish to be comforted." Well, I wished to be comforted, so I went to the cabinet and looked at my many choices:

Orange/Spice...Earl Grey....English Breakfast.....Irish tea with peach...Darjeeling....Chinese Oolong.....regular ol' tea....the interior of the cabinet smells like tea when I open the door. It smells....comforting.

I brewed the tea, leaning my face over the pot so that the gentle fragrance of Orange/Spice could touch my face. Once in the mug, it warmed my hands that had turned cold in the chilly house. I drank it. I felt better.

In the bleak midwinter, when sleep is far away and car sales are the worst they've been in two years, and sad things happen that make our souls wince in pain, tea is a tangible comfort.

Friday, January 29, 2010

As you can see....

....I had a complete caffeine crash after Monday's action-packed day of choring. Complete with several nights of little sleep, a runny nose, an achy head and an UNPLEASANT ATTITUDE. The weather is back to being frigid and my husband keeps mercilessly stealing all the covers AND snoring and I started out this morning by carefully sipping a cup of herbal tea.

DE-CAF herbal tea.

BOOK REVIEW: Breaking Dawn (Book #4 in the Twilight Series)

Book: Breaking Dawn (Book #4 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publication Info: 756 pages (hardcover), young adult fiction, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, New York 2008

Jacket blurb: none

My rating (out of five stars): [none]

Ohhh, Edward and Bella, Bella and Edward! Here we are at the beginning of the fourth and final and longest book in the Twilight saga, wondering where your true, pure and endless love will take you next. And let me just say that, since Breaking Dawn was published nearly two years ago, everyone in the world knows that the altar is where the two star-crossed sweethearts are headed.

Why? Well, you could be pardoned for thinking that it was about love, right? Because ever since Bella and Edward first laid eyes on one another in the Forks High School cafeteria a mere twenty months ago -- minus the time when Edward left town to spare Bella from further harm and Bella drearily marked time with the wolfy, hunky Jacob -- they have been all about being toether. Edward in the more traditional sense that requires vows and Bella in the sense that requires, er, interconnecting anatomical features.

At the end of Eclipse, the third book in the series, Bella and Edward brokered a deal for their future which included them getting married before Edward would either "turn" Bella or have sex with her. With negotiating skills like that, he should run for a political office. Bella agrees to this with bad grace, and Breaking Dawn opens with Bella at a level of excitement about her wedding day that people usually reserve for running sores. Given the fact that she's been pining for an eternity in which to drink in Edward's physical beauty, listen to his musical voice and even smell his breath, you'd think she'd be galloping altar-bound down the aisle like Seabiscuit in the final furlong at Pimlico, but Bella's vision for her future evidently doesn't extend as far as death, as in "until death separates us," which is kind of a joke on both of them. Because she's going to do just that -- die -- in approximately three hundred pages. THE LONGEST THREE HUNDRED PAGES OF YOUR LIFE.

So Bella stands like a wax figure while Alice dresses her, does her hair and makeup (Bella doesn't even bother to look in a mirror before leaving Alice's dressing room) and steers her to the staircase of the Cullen home, which is where the ceremony is to take place. At that point, plan to be wishing that Alice will just give her a solid push. Few people will blame you, if the reviews of this book at are any indication. Friends and family members of both the human and vampircal variety are in attendance and the whole thing kind of passes in a blur. Bella mentions "profusions of white blossoms....hung in garlands" and "long lines of white gossamer ribbons" and "white petals swaying above [her] head," but that's it.

Bella's description of her wedding gown?

"Shiny fabric."


Things pick up at the reception, especially when Jacob shows up to pay his respects. He's just back from traversing all of Canada in wolf-form, trying to outrun his feelings for Bella in spite of the fact she treats him so badly. Things sour abruptly, though, when Bella artlessly reveals to Jacob that she and Edward plan to have a "real honeymoon," in spite of the fact that Bella will still be a human.

Jacob reacts in outraged shock and dismay. After all, Edward is immortal, cold, as hard as marble and possessed of superhuman strength. It has been indicated more than once that a human woman and a male vampire having sex would be extremely physically dangerous for the woman, but Bella handles the situation with all the maturity we've come to expect from her over the past three books.

"I'm not putting anything off," I snapped. "And yes I can have a real honeymoon! I can do anything I want! Butt out!"

Jacob goes all wolfy at this bit of unwelcome news and begins to undergo transformation right there at the reception, which is slightly more awkward than someone slipping and falling down on the dance floor. He threatens to kill Edward as the other members of the wolf pack try to hustle him away into the woods behind the Cullens' house, but I myself was still right there, thinking What a really stupid thing to say. She is such an idiot.

I proved to be the idiotic one in about thirty more pages, because Edward and Bella did it. They consummated their marriage despite the fact that Edward knew beforehand what the likely outcome would be -- Bella injured, if not killed. To be quite clear, Bella knew beforehand, too, but she is so pathetic and stupid, I didn't really count on her to do anything that made sense, relying on Edward to be the rock of self-control he's always been, in spite of his indications of being a potential abuser.

And somewhere in the murky fade-to-black of page eighty five, this book completely and irrevocably lost me.

Meyer chastely refuses to describe what ensues, but the morning after the night before, Bella awakens to a brooding, haunted Edward, a bed full of feathers and, "large purplish bruises...across the pale skin of my arm...up to my shoulder" and relates that her naked body was "decorated with patches of blue and purple" and admits that she'd "look even worse tomorrow." The whole scene, in which Bella soothes Edward by telling him that the experience was "wonderful and perfect" and that she's "totally and completely blissed out" and that "[she] can't imagine that life gets any better than [this]" was utterly ghastly, a total mockery of two young lovers meeting one another for the first time in the sweetness of their wedding night.

Edward feels so remorseful. He vows that it will never happen again. Aaaaand...does anyone have that checklist for Things Abusers Typically Say and Do handy? Because Edward, you see, is no longer a potential abusive partner.

I didn't get actual bile in my throat until the next night, when Bella and Edward do it again. She wakes up from a powerful dream about makin' the sex and boo-hoos and begs and whines until he finally gives in and nails her.

Okay. Could there be anything sicker than lovemaking on one's honeymoon that ends with one spouse battered? That is wrong and bad on so many levels, I'd be hard put to list them all. Let me just start by saying that a decent person would NEVER DO SOMETHING that would put something he loved in danger of being physically or emotionally harmed. Edward knows how physically fragile Bella is compared to him, but he goes ahead and gives in to her infantile pleadings for sex and PHYSICALLY HURTS HER.

That's sick, Stephenie Meyer. Really, really sick. Especially since Bella's extra-mature way of dealing with her aching, black-and-blue body is to basically tell Edward it's okay if you bruised me because I know you love me. God help us all.

Since this book is seven hundred fifty-four pages long, I'll spare myself the anguish of exploring every nuance of this unbearably hefty plot line. Frankly, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in places anyway - events happen here and there that simply don't hang together, are left unexplained, or are referred to once and never mentioned again. So I'll hit the low points from here on out -- after that honeymoon, I can't bring myself to call them high points -- designated numerically.

1. While Edward and Bella are still on their honeymoon, a curious thing happens: Stephenie Meyer breaks another rule of vampire lore, only in this case it's her own vampire lore. According to Stephenie, vampires have no liquid inside them except for their venom, so imagine everyone's surprise -- theirs, Carlisle's, Alice's, yours and mine -- when Bella suddenly gets nauseated, develops a stubborn appetite for certain foods and discovers a baby bump between her hip bones. Yes. In spite of the fact that Edward supposedly cannot produce sperm cells, Bella is pregnant.

The two of them head back home, where Carlisle and Edward press for an abortion: they know that any child created by this union is likely a monster of unknown quantity. Bella allies herself with the baby-wanting Rosalie and refuses to consent, protecting her "little nudger," which is growing at a pace that is faster than the speed of a vampire running through the forests of Washington state with his girlfriend clinging to his back. And not only is the baby growing fast, it's also killing Bella. The story takes over in Jacob's first-person narrative and he describes Bella's weakness as she lies on a couch in the Cullen's living room, fading away by the moment. Edward fades right along with her, becoming a total helpless wreck, moaning and brooding and generally doing all that he can to make sure that the family has two invalids to care for.

Until, of course, someone thinks that maybe the baby and Bella aren't really being properly nourished on pickles and ice cream and those giant vitamin pills pregnant women have to swallow. No, this baby and this mother need some blood. Big ol' cups of it, with straws. Straws that will allow Bella to gulp it down and burp gently.

Human blood.

I'll pause to let you process that and maybe go find a small wastebasket to vomit into.

There. Better now? Oh, too bad, because you're going to be sick again very shortly.

So the Little Nudger gets stronger and starts nudging her a little too hard. Jacob relates that Bella's entire body is bruised, and before long, the baby starts cracking her ribs. When Bella experiences placenta abruptio and vomits "a fountain of blood," the Cullen gang realizes that it's now or never and they whisk Bella to Carlisle's study, which has been turned into a birthing center. Jacob performs CPR a little too roughly while Edward struggles to deliver the baby (Carlisle is not at home at this crucial moment) and CHEWS THE BABY OUT of Bella's uterus WITH HIS TEETH.

I found it very ironic that Meyer, who did that coy fade-to-black on Bella and Edward's honeymoon sex just freaking UNLEASHES on the birth scene, with blood and anguish and broken spines and floppy legs and a cracking pelvis and the sound of Edward's diamond hard teeth scraping and rasping and tearing through his wife's flesh... It's not the kind of thing you'd want to read while eating a bowl of chili. And it goes on for pages, like my gosh, the soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy didn't see this level of violence.


2. Slightly before the baby is born, Edward and Jacob have a conversation at the Cullen's house. Jacob is there because he can't bear to be away from Bella, which is.....huh? I mean, she is another man's wife at this point, right? So Jacob's continued worried presence is there and he makes himself useful by sitting next to Bella and warming her up when she gets cold.

Uhhh, okay.....

Not many husbands I know would be all that thrilled to have their main rivals for their wives' affections before marriage present and accounted for in order to warm her chilly pregnant body, but whatevs...By this time, who expects any sense out of all this?

Given what Edward does next, though, you may want to find that little wastebasket you just used, because what's coming now won't make any sense, either.

Out on the front porch of the Cullen residence, Edward suggests to Jacob that perhaps, if this baby, erm, DIES and Bella survives, that she's going to want children someday. She loves her little unborn devil-baby, after all, and he, Edward, just KNEW that the maternal urge would grab her someday, so if Jacob could be so kind as to oblige....

I think the charming way Edward put it, this whole notion of putting his wife out to be bred, was "She can have puppies if she wants them." With a sidelong glance at Jacob. The shape-shifting wolf.

Jacob takes a personal moment to consider how awesome it would be to make the weekend sex with Bella and give her a little pack of wolfbabies to cuddle and then send them all back to the Cullens on Monday mornings. And could there be a bigger EWWWWWWWWWW!!!! than this?

Honestly, just when you think Stephenie Meyers has already hated the idea of independent, strong, smart women enough, you find out that she has deeper levels of loathing to explore.

Fortunately, Jacob sees that this preposterous and SICK idea is going to be absolutely unworkable because how are they ever going to get Bella to agree to it? At this point, I had a mental flash of Spike and Angel discussing Buffy in this manner and both of them saying nervously, "She's going to stake both of us with a telephone pole for even thinking such a thing," but come to think of it, there's no way they'd ever have such a conversation because their respect for Buffy and who she is and what she can do is so immense. It would never cross their minds, this kind of perversion.

The fact that Edward could even come up with an idea like this and be serious enough to entreat Jacob to help him convince Bella that this plan could work is Edward has no respect for Bella as an autonomous person, like, at all. This is his wife, his companion for eternity, and yet he feels free to come up with a plan like this behind her back? Stephenie Meyer, what the HELL is wrong with you??!!

3. The baby is born alive, but Bella is dying quickly after the traumatic birth and Jacob tells us that Edward goes to work on her with a syringe full of vampire venom so that it can spread throughout her body while her heart is still feebly beating. She is going to die, but the venom will heal her. And it will take a few days, but then everything will be like, YAY! because being a vampire is something only very, very special people get to do and aren't you sad you're not one?

But then.....

While Edward is injecting deadly venom into his nearly-lifeless bride, Jacob is holding the baby. If you read New Moon and Eclipse, you might guess at what's getting ready to happen: Jacob imprints on the newborn baby. Yup. He looks at the newborn baby and is all SCHWWWIIING!!!

Yeah, you made it past the honeymoon and you struggled through the idea of Edward and Jacob sharing Bella for sex and you hung on through that revolting birth scene, only to arrive at the place where Jacob decides that this baby is the person destiny has picked out for him to spend his life with. The bewilderment and gagging just start all over again, don't they?

What kind of life does Stephenie Meyer live that she can think up all of these unbelievably disturbing male-female relationships and present them as if they're acceptable? Like, sure it's okay for a little girl to grow up with a young man that she would probably perceive as a brother or even a father figure, someone who's poured juice into her sippy cup and taken her to the potty and then....marry him? The fact that an imprinted relationship between a baby and a teen wolf pre-supposes that someday, they're going to be sexual partners is just so messed up, there aren't enough negative words in the English language to convey how wrong that is.

4. Thankfully, Stephenie ends with the crazed and possibly illegal and definitely immoral relationships and we move on to Bella, who is now a vampire.

Through all three of the previous novels, we've been warned repeatedly that not only is the process of "turning" very painful and difficult, but that the first few years of vampirism are difficult to navigate: the new born vampire will be a creature of enormous strength and thirst, making him/her a danger to everyone around, both human and vampire. So Bella goes through her change -- and of course, we have to go with her, this heeeeyooooge rite of passage Meyer has been preparing us for, and I was expecting Bella to fly up off that table in Carlisle's study and start with the killing, maybe making that snotty Lauren she graduated high school with her first victim.

But guess what? Meyer lets us down flat. There is no conflict. None. Anywhere. There was a great opportunity here for Bella, who has been possibly the lamest, weakest and most clueless heroine in post-modern American literature, to grow into a character of substance and depth. The biggest conflict we experience in Bella's turning is the fact that, while she was out of it, Alice dressed her in a gorgeous, shimmery dress that made it hard for Bella to run in the woods on her first hunt with Edward. So guess what? She had to tear the dress. OH THE AGONY!

As she moves into vampire life, the Cullens are stunned and incredulous that Bella can control herself. Sure, there's a brief moment of wanting to indulge herself in a yummy-smelling hiker out in the woods, but Bella just claps a hand over her nose and runs in the other direction: problem solved. And they're concerned that she might attack Renesmee, who has a heartbeat, but her great love and bonding with the baby lead her to be able to see past that moist and luscious sound and cuddle her daughter protectively. And Esme's antique dining table is in a moment of danger as Bella and Emmett consider it as a place for an arm-wrestling match, but that's all.

That's all. Really. Truly. There is no conflict. Bella is the most beautiful, the most strong, the most gifted, the most graceful vampire ever, like, in the whole world. Her voice is like the music of tiny bells! Her ability to leap over the river surpasses even Edward's, and as for speed? Well, up until now, Edward has been the undisputed Speedy Gonzalez of the Cullen clan, but Bella leaves him eating her dust. No one has to buckle her seat belt for her anymore; no one has to carry her anywhere because she can't twist her ankle; Charlie is a little freaked out by her but prepared to accept the unacceptable; brown contacts hide her bright red new born vamp eyes; who knows what happens with Renee and Phil, because they're never mentioned again; and it's really kind of too bad that Bella doesn't have to poop anymore, because you can be certain that Meyer would go to great lengths to tell us how beautiful and fragrant her bowel movements are.

I mean, really, girls, who wouldn't want to be a vampire? Bella can die and go through this incredible change that makes everything different and yet there's not one single consequence. She has everything! Supermodel looks! The most perfect husband ever! A lovely baby, who's so perfect, you just want to brush your brain with toothpaste to get all the sticky sugar out of your mind after reading about her! The perfect adoring family! Who are, like, mind-blowingly rich! Closets full of designer clothing! A perfect little rose-covered fairy-tale cottage! A Ferrari! An alliance with the werewolves! Amazing talents that surpass the talents of everyone else around her!

There is a tiny misunderstanding with the Volturi and Meyer builds us up for pages and pages, leading us to think that there's going to be an epic battle, like the one between Voldemort's followers and Dumbledore's army, or the one between the forces of Mordor and Aragorn's troops, but it all amounts to nothing. Just a misunderstanding. The Volturi literally turn around and drift away sulking and go back to Italy. And it's all because of Bella.

This is just.....unconscionable. At nearly eight hundred pages, you'd think there could have been room for some real plot and character development - that Bella would have to go through some massive internal and external struggles to make her ready for her new life, to help her grow and change into the person she is going to be, um, ETERNALLY. Harry Potter had to do that along with all of those Hogwarts kids we followed from the first book to the last. Bilbo and Frodo and Sam had to do it; it took Aragorn three thick books to come to terms with his rightful place as the king.

But Bella? She can just jump from one milestone to another with no struggles whatsoever. Oh, sure, she had to wear the brown contacts. And the stupid things kept dissolving on her, because of the venom filming her eyes. And she had a difficult time figuring how to meet up with J. Jenks and discerning his relationship with the Cullen family. And she was pretty ticked with Jacob for imprinting on her baby, but that actually turned out to be a blessing. I was ready to see her go on a killing spree and for Charlie to be caught up in the investigation for this string of brutal murders and for the Cullens to be providing moral and physical support and then for the Volturi to show up and for there to be casualties on either side.

But no.

Bella was perfect from the start of her vampire life and when the book ends (with Edward referring to Jacob as -- PUKE! -- "My son"), everything is just like a really stupid fairy tale. It is the laziest and most shiftless writing I've ever read and it galls me that Stephenie Meyer could write this pap and be smirking all the way to the bank with her stupid books and her stupid Bella and all those woman-hating, freakishly messed up male-female relationships. This, my friends, is what passes these days for stellar literature for our young adult readers.

Read it and weep.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today, low-caf coffee; TOMORROW, THE RED BULL

I was really tired this morning when I woke up -- I've been on one of those sleep cycles where I'm unable to fall asleep until about two o'clock in the morning, aren't those just FUN, fellow insomniacs? So instead of brewing our pot of coffee in my usual half-caf method, I made it quarter-caf.

Something about that extra little jolt of caffeine just really INSPIRED ME TO ACTION. I mean, I was WHIRRING AROUND THE HOUSE like a CYCLONE OF BUSY-NESS. I was cleaning things LIKE THEY'D NEVER BEEN CLEANED BEFORE.

"WHOOOOAAAAA!!!" said the refrigerator shelves as I yanked them out of the fridge and scrubbed them maniacally with hot, soapy water. "Hey, next time, go a little easier on us and JUST USE A SANDBLASTER."


Anyway, I'm just a little hopped up on this bitter alkaloid that's whizzing through my veins. Take a gander AT WHAT I'VE DONE TODAY. Oops, sorry.

1. Dusted my bedroom

2. Removed sheets from bed and took them downstairs to wash and dry

3. Washed dogs' bedding

4. Washed out entire inside of fridge, including veggie drawers

5. Cleaned out inside of microwave

6. Shined up all major appliances on the outside

7. Tidied up the laundry room

8. Talked to Katie on the phone

9. Talked to my husband on the phone

10. Sent about ten emails


12. Ran a load of kitchen towels through the wash

13. Loaded and ran the dishwasher

14. Folded/hung up some laundry

15. Tidied up my desk

16. Helped Aisling get started on her second semester Music Appreciation course

17. Jumped over the moon

18. Conducted a series of successful peace talks between Israel and Palestine

19. Wrote a novel

20. Sent a taunting letter to Merry Maids featuring a picture of myself posting with a toilet brush and a feather duster with the caption "WHO DAT?!?!"

I am now getting ready to make the Mexican chili and clean out Hershey's crate.

Caffeine. My NEW-FOUND LOVE.

Er, sorry.

Menu Plan Monday

Monday again, and thanks to
Laura and her blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie, I'm on my third week of making life so much easier for myself and probably the rest of my family too, because when Mama's stressed out because it's 4:00 p.m. and she still doesn't know what she's going to cook for dinner out of that jumble of food items she bought at the grocery on Saturday, everybody's stressed out. Particularly since I field my first "So! What's for dinner?" question at 7:39 a.m. every morning.

Monday -- Mexican chili (didn't end up having this last week, so it was this week's little bonus)

Tuesday -- Baked Spaghetti and homemade bread (spaghetti and meat sauce left over from Sunday)

Wednesday -- Crunch-crust baked fish fillets (from freezer section of grocery), baked sweet potatoes and green beans

Thursday -- roast beef in slow-cooker with potatoes and onions, croissant rolls

Friday -- Inexpensive dinner out with family (Think "Arby's new dollar menu.")

Grocery shopping was accomplished on Saturday afternoon, as mentioned. Ve-e-e-ery tight budget this week. Gaaaaahhh....HATING this recession.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things that go HRRRRAAAAUUUGGHHHH in the night

I woke up at 1:30 last night in the clammy throes of a terrible Jurassic Park-style nightmare about a mastodon. In my dream, I was by myself trying to protect the girls from the huge beast, urging them to crouch down in some tall grass to keep it from seeing us.

Unfortunately, it did. And it began to charge us. I was screaming at the girls to run, run!!! And I, accompanied by my non-bending knee even in this stupid dream, was trying to move along as quickly as I could, without much success.

It bore down on me, huge and hairy, and I thought in anguish about the girls, who would likely become a tempting dessert, a couple of tasty morsels, after a satisfying dinner of me. I could almost feel its breath on the back of my neck and I wincing, anticipating the skewering with a mighty tusk, hoping that my impending chompage WASN'T GOING TO HURT MUCH, when all of a sudden, I jerked awake and lay there in the darkness, regrouping, breathing.

It was such a relief to open my eyes and see that I wasn't huddled in the itchy weeds of a prehistoric prairie, but rather in my own bed. The bed that I share with my husband. The husband who was blissfully asleep, lying flat on his back with his arms comfortably arranged behind his head. The head with the nose and mouth from which were emerging a series of noises not unlike what the enraged trumpeting of a hungry mastodon might be imagined to sound like.

"HUURRRRRRROOOONNNKKKK!!!!!" he proclaimed, with the bedcovers tidily pulled up to his chin. "HRRRRAAAUUGHHH!!!"

"Honey," I whispered urgently, giving him a poke in the side.

"Ow-don't-poke," he replied groggily in a cross voice.

"Honey, turn on your side. You're snoring like an angry mastodon."

He turned over on his side, fiercely keeping his eyes buttoned shut. "I-can't-snore-don't-do," he said with dignity. More than his share of the blankets went with him as he rolled, but that was okay because I was damp and disheveled from the scary dream anyway.

I got out of bed and got a drink and wiped off my face with a cool washcloth, went back to the bedroom and quietly rearranged the bedclothes from the tangle I'd left them in. With my pillows plumped back up and my heart rate returned to normal, I climbed back in bed and curled up on my left side, putting my chilly toes on my big microwave heating bag at the bottom of the bed, which still amazingly retained some warmth.

Unfortunately, my getting back into bed disturbed my husband's delicate slumber, and as I settled down, he twitched and said distinctly, "THE BENGALS WERE ROBBED" and rolled to his back again.

The next sound I heard as I drifted off to sleep was, not surprisingly, "HRRRRRAAAAAAUUNK!!!"




Exciting hoofball action

This piece of news always hits Susie and Carol with a terrible shock of betrayal, but I don't follow sports very closely.

I know that the Colts play in Indianapolis, of course. I've seen the awesome Lucas Oil Stadium from the outside and deplored the silly name. And I casually watch the Masters every spring, but mostly because of the azaleas. And I am vaguely aware that there are lots of people playing basketball, particularly at this time of year, but the only one I have any interest in is Kieren.

So today, when Aisling and I went to Kroger after we left the church (religious ed from 9:00 - 10:15...sighhhhh), it dawned on me that something important must be going on because we were the only two people in the store not attired in Colts gear.

I self-consciously drew my long coat around my spherical frame to cover my burgundy top and said out of the corner of my mouth to Aisling, "If anybody looks at you, say, 'Colts! Yeeeaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!'"

"Why?" she asked absently, checking a package of fat-free crackers made of twigs and sphagnum moss for their calorie content. "Are the Colts playing today?"

I furtively glanced around. "I think so," I whispered. "And it must be big, because look at all the balloons."

Aisling put the crackers back on the shelf and glanced upward, where she took in the sight of about three thousand blue and white balloons cheerfully bobbing away, trailing their curling-ribbon streamers. "Whoa.....I think I kind of remember something about some off-plays, now that you mention it."

"Play-offs," I said helpfully. "I think they're called play-offs. Not off-plays.

"Great," she said in a bored voice. "Can we get some fat-free ice milk?"

I laughed shortly. "Not in this lifetime."

"Well, what can we get?"

I thought for a moment. "I think I'd better make something festive. How about some queso dip and tortilla chips?"

She eyed me with disdain. "Isn't that, like, fattening?"

"Yes, heaven be praised. It is entirely full of fat and calories and therefore will be worth eating," I said tartly, heading off to the aisle where the salsa lives.

On the way to get the chips, we passed a bakery table with chocolate cupcakes frosted with blue and white. And sprinkles. I put them in the cart with a feeling of satisfaction. Because, you know? I like to do my part. So I am ALL ABOUT supporting our local sports teams, especially the Colts, with that nice Patrick Manning boy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

March for Life 2010

Today is the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion in the United States. The annual March for Life started at 9:00 a.m. at the National Mall on 7th Street and continued on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here's a nice picture of some students from Ave Maria University, which is Katie's oldest daughter's alma mater, marching in the cold and supporting the right of the most innocent and vulnerable among us to live.

And here's a quote from Mother Teresa, spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washing D.C., February 1997, with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton sitting right there behind her, trying to look like they hadn't just been slapped across the face with a pair of wet, dirty gym socks:

"What is taking place in America," Mother Teresa said, "is a war against the child. And if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"

Please pray for an end to abortion.

He said whaaaat??!!

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania told U.S. representative Michele Bachman of Missouri to "act like a lady" and stop interrupting him two times when the two clashed during a debate on the Dom Giordano Radio Show (1210 AM-WPHT) on January 20.

Here's a link to a video on YouTube -- I can't get the video to format right, so I didn't post it here -- so that you can hear him for yourself in all his contemptuous, sexist, it's-way-past-time-to-retire-and-grow-hollyhocks stupidity. It never seemed to occur to the old coot that telling someone to "act like a lady" is JUST AS OFFENSIVE as being interrupted. Maybe even more so.

But major props to Represenative Bachman for not going all Pippi Longstocking on his head and teaching him a lesson like Pippi did those two unfortunate burglars who robbed her house.

I think my headache just got worse.

Headache remedy

I woke up at four o'clock this morning with a real whopper of a headache. Which is, I believe, my least favorite way to wake up, my favorite way being my husband leaning over my side of the bed and whispering, "Honey! Someone pushed a cashier's check for a million dollars under our front door during the night. Let's go out for breakfast!"

With the weather doing its weird thing lately -- temps in the teens, temps in the thirties, temps in the forties, sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and who knows what-all else -- it's just a fact that my head is going to hurt. It is my faithful barometer, one I've been able to depend on ever since I first starting getting sinus migraines in the second grade: My pediatrician thought I had a brain tumor or more likely that my GREAT BIG BRAIN was so smart that it was just, like, overflowing my head, I'm sure that's right, and sent me for x-rays. But just turned out that my sinuses hate me.

My headache remedy is this: I start out with four ibuprofen tablets and a cup of coffee or tea for the caffeine. The microwave heating bag Katie made me -- Katie, bless you a THOUSAND TIMES for that wonderful thing -- feels very good on my neck. After I get those first four tablets down, I eat something with protein in it so that I won't get sick. Those of you who get bad headaches, whether they're sinus migraines or some other sort of hideousness visited upon you, know that there's a delicate balance between so much PAIN that you get sick to your stomach, or so much MEDICINE that you get sick to your stomach. Keep a little bit of food going, I find, and nausea is held at bay.

I swallow two acetaminophen tablets about half an hour after the ibuprofen. Then I wait about an hour and if I feel any better at all, I just stay in a holding pattern, applying caffeine and protein-y food judiciously. I am violently allergic to both aspirin and naproxen sodium (Aleve), so those meds are both out for me. I'm not really a candidate for actual migraine therapy, so I don't need the high-octane medications that several of my friends use.

If I don't feel better, I take two more ibuprofen.

The best thing I can do for a headache is to keep as still as possible -- walking or driving just make things worse -- and trying to distract myself from the pain, which is what I'm doing right now. Unlike "real" migraines like my friend Beth gets, I don't see an aura, which is the typical precursor of a migraine headache, I'm told, and I'm not sensitive to light, but sound? I'd prefer that all three dogs NOT bark at every single passerby that walks by the house. And even though I deeply love Chris Daughtry, there's only so much of him I can take when my head hurts.

If I just sit and do nothing, it makes my head hurt worse because all I can think is "Ow. My head hurts." The best thing for a sinus headache is listening to the television. Reading is second. Being on the computer is third best, which is why I'm planning on logging off...




What's your remedy for a bad headache?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to: Get a bathtub/shower sparkly clean with FlyLady-ishness

I took these pictures in our upstairs bathroom this morning, the one the girls and I share. My husband, offended by the number of bath poufies and floral-scented body washes (see the top picture, haha), decamped to the downstairs bathroom three years ago, unfortunately just after I'd spent my birthday money re-decorating it in a pink-and-cream color scheme, featuring roses and camillas, right down to the switchplate and the soap dispenser. He suffers, and not always in stoic silence.

Anyway, the bottom picture is an illustration of what I use to clean my bathtub/shower combo on a daily basis, based on FlyLady Marla Cilley's methods of doing a little bit here and a little bit there, to save yourself having to do a GREAT BIG HUGE AMOUNT two hours before your weekend company is due.

I will be the first to admit that our tub/shower combo isn't the best. We have an enameled cast-iron bathtub that is ordinary white. The outdated tile that used to line the three sides was removed by the former owner and replaced with a three-piece surround. It's pebbly-textured and probably just made of some kind of plastic, rather than the nicer fiberglass. The fixtures are okay, although I'd like to replace them, but the nicest feature is our really awesome hand shower, which hangs on a bracket over our heads until we wish to remove it. The biggest shower problem we have is our lack of soft water, which has stained the bathtub and fixture-wall of the shower with faint rusty stains that have proved to be impossible to remove. I know this. I've tried.

The faint pinkish stains just really bother me, but since it's obvious they're not coming off, I've decided that the next best thing is that the rest of the tub is going to gleam with shiny cleanliness.

Hence, the FlyLady method. My main tub cleaner is regular ol' shampoo. Yep. Shampoo. The purpose of shampoo is to remove two things from your hair: dirt and oil. It follows logically that shampoo, then, can remove those two things from your bathtub, and the best thing is that you can use it while you're in the shower without having to worry about gassing yourself to death with toxic fumes.

On the dresser there, you can see the White Rain shampoo I bought for one small buck at the Dollar Tree. I use the pink sponge with a little shampoo squirted on it and scrub the three shower walls on Wednesdays and do the same thing to the tub on Thursdays. I wipe down the two shelves that hold all of our beeyooooteee products on Fridays, see above photo with props to Victoria's Secret and Arbonne. I do all of this lickety-split while I'm taking my morning shower.

Once out of the shower, I spritz the walls and tub off with the Clean Shower on a daily basis. Which I am convinced this stuff is part cleanser and part magic potion devised by Professors Slughorn and Dumbledore. I've never seen anything like it for not allowing soap buildup to stick. It also keeps the fixtures shiny-bright, and it smells fresh and good, not all yuckily chemical-fragranced.

I spritz the mat -- which I wash with the towels twice a month -- with the Lysol disinfectant, also daily. Everyone knows to rinse that mat off with the hand shower before they get in there and stand on it. I buy a really nice mildew resistant tub mat (meaning "$8.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond") a couple of times a year and ALWAYS in the clear color: If some kind of mold starts growing on that thing despite my best efforts, I want to know, like, right away.

So! That is my cleaning trifecta-plus-sponge that keeps the tub looking really nice. I love FlyLady's method for cleaning the tub, sink and toilets every day with a swish and a whisk. Our bathrooms are always company-ready even in the middle of a long, dull winter week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jane tames January

I'm sadly out of the PBS loop since Meelyn and Aisling no longer watch children's programming on either of the two local Public Broadcasting Service stations here in central Indiana, so I didn't even know that Masterpiece Theater was doing a production of Emma until I heard the news this morning from some internet friends.

Pictured to the left, there, are Romola Garai, who plays darling, lovable Emma, and Jonny Lee Miller, who plays her devastatingly sweet and handsome (yet somehow overlooked) childhood friend George Knightley. I can hardly wait to see this version, knowing what a completely excellent job Masterpiece Theater did with the giggles-and-swoons inducing Pride and Prejudice, starring COLIN FIRTH OH MY HEAVENLY HANDSOMELY COLIN OF FIRTHISHNESS and that girl who played Elizabeth. Uhhhhh....Jennifer Ehle. Not that she wasn't completely adorable as Elizabeth, because she was, but COLIN FIRTH OH MY HEAVENLY HANDSOM-.....



Anyhoo, Emma will be airing in three episodes on your PBS affiliate from January 23 through February 7. Check your local listings and get those DVRs and TiVos set, ladies and girls. I would venture a guess that if you loved Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1996 cinematic version (which we surely did) and/or Kate Beckinsale in the also-1996 made-for-TV version (which we haven't seen), you will undoubtedly like Masterpiece Theater's version. From past experience, I predict that the costuming, scenery, screenplay and acting will be just about flawless.

Jane has redeemed January. I am happy now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Zuzu and shampoo

I'm sorry this isn't a better picture, but it's the only one Aisling and I took that could adequately document Zuzu's first bath. I couldn't bear to have a picture taken of her in the sink -- the poor baby just looked so incredibly pititful and thin. In this picture, Aisling is fluffing Zuzu's bangs while Wimzie looks on, disapproving of this whole urge for cleanliness, even though she herself enjoys a bath a great deal.

The thing that surprised us about the bath is how utterly filthy Zuzu was. Maybe because she's kind of brownish-tannish-greyish, she didn't really look dirty. She didn't smell dirty, as if she'd rolled in something unpleasant. But she did have a general air of insouciant bedragglement that reminded me of Anya leaving the orphanage in the movie Anastasia. Apparently beneath that jaunty surface, she was encrusted in grime, because the water that ran off her little body was the color of charcoal and fireplace ashes.

As with most first dog baths, she was not a happy camper. The water was warm, the shampooey massage comforting, my authoritative voice was low and pleasant. Zuzu didn't squeak, but she trembled so hard, it wrung our hearts.

"Do you think she's remembering being outside with all that snow and ice caked in her poor fur?" Aisling asked, lip trembling.

"I hope not," I said fervently. "I think I'll skip the conditioning rinse this time."

Aisling handed me the towels we'd warmed in the dryer and I wrapped Zuzu like a burrito and lifted her out of the sink, cradled in my arms, speaking soothingly in dulcet tones. We took her to the couch where I sat down with her in my lap and rubbed her gently. Her bones were still so very evident, particularly her ribs and her sharp little breastbone. Poor baby.

Wimzie and Hershey were totally underfoot, expressing their DEEPLY FELT CONCERN for the baby. Hershey planted his big hard paw right on my instep to give himself a little boost up so that he could sniff and make sure that I hadn't washed Zuzu in cheese or bacon fat. Wimzie stood up with her front paws braced on my knee and made sure that I hadn't washed Zuzu with plutonium soap or rinsed her with vodka.

"Ow, will you get off?" I said to Hershey, pulling my foot out from under his. "And Wimzie, back off, honey, so I can set the puppy on the floor."

Once on her feet, Zuzu careened around the downstairs like some kind of wind-up toy run amok. Her long floppy ears flew out behind her and her scampering paws thundered on the floor.

"This bath thing?" she indicated. "Not so much on the fondness for the wet and the bubbles." She expressed her exhilaration at Freedom from Sinkishness by jumping straight up in the air and pouncing on Hershey's back.

He shot me a sidelong glance and did everything but say, "Kids. What're you gonna do?" Then they chased each other around the coffee table four thousand times.

Wimzie, on the other hand, barked in a fussy, bossy manner. "You get right back up there and get wrapped in that towel. Go on! Do you want to catch your death-a cold? Don't make me come up on that couch! Don't make me tell you twice! And I'll thank you, young lady, not to roll your eyes at me."

After a few minutes of zooming around, Zuzu allowed that she'd like to be picked up and cuddled in the warm towel. We naturally obliged and she promptly fell asleep, yawning widely with her long, pink tongue poking out and a contented "wo-o-o-o-o-owww!"

We are so happy that she has joined our family. Sometimes I still find myself shaking my head and thinking, "Three dogs? Are you kidding me?" but it's okay. It's all good. Even if it does up the housework so that the living room won't smell like a kennel.

If you had just turned four years old....

...wouldn't you want a pink Barbie scooter, a pink-and-purple bike helmet, a pair of pink sunglasses, a pink Barbie bike with training wheels and a pink suitcase full of Barbies for your birthday? And more stuff, like clothes?

I know I did. And Meelyn and Ailsing sure did. Observing my niece, Kiersi, opening up her presents at her fourth birthday party recently, I found myself having as much fun watching her as she did exclaiming over the contents of all the boxes and bags. She was, appropriately, tickled pink.

Happy birthday, Miss Girl! We all love you so much.

PRODUCTS REVIEWED: Utterly dumbfounded by clean

Last July, the girls and I began working on a cleaning schedule that was loosely based on the plan by FlyLady Marla Cilley's proposed plan for keeping one's home free of CHAOS, which wittily stands for "Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome." The FlyLady website is in my list of favorite links over to the left and I found her book, Sink Reflections, to be an enormous help in getting things started. Every now and then I dip into it again for some fresh inspiration.

The amazing thing about the FlyLady concept of cleaning, whether you follow her instructions to the T or whether you cobble together your own plan using her basic ideas, is that it really works. What I take from FlyLady is that you don't need to spend a million hours cleaning your house on the weekends, which is when you want to relax and have fun. Well do I remember the days of my youth when my mother would bang the vacuum cleaner against the bottom of my bedroom door to wake me up, insisting that I hit the deck and strip the sheets off my bed and get a can of Pledge in my left hand and a clean cloth in my right and MOVE-MOVE-MOVE!!!!

Geez, it was just terrible. It wasn't how I wanted to spend a Saturday morning then, and it sure isn't how I want to spend a Saturday morning now.

Instead, the girls and I made our plan so that we each do about twenty minutes of housework on the five workdays, with about ten minutes on Saturday and some laundry on Sunday. We start with the upstairs at the beginning of the week, ending with the downstairs by Friday, because that's the area guests are most likely to see.

Home schooling, I've found, is a synonym for clutter and clutter makes me crazy. To that end, we pick junk up as we clean, putting it away where it goes instead of stacking it on the stairs or on the dining room table.

Meelyn and Aisling work on a revolving schedule and I do the same chores every week.

Carrying on in this manner, we have managed to stick to our schedule and keep the house looking very nice for six months now: dirty dishes rarely in the sink, laundry clean and folded -- SHOCK! -- actually put away in closets and dressers, bathroom sinks and toilets cleaned several times weekly, bathtub and shower shiny-clean, stove un-spattered and microwave gleaming inside and out. Dust is whisked off all surfaces and the sofa pillows are attractively plumped -- unless a dog's head is resting on them.

It really has made the most amazing difference, that little bit of daily work. And its amazing how much more high def our television actually is whenever there's not an inch-thick layer of dust covering the screen.

Our success became the most apparent this past weekend when Mee and Aisli had guests over. In the past, the imminent arrival of company would have precipitated a storm of desperate cleaning that would have ended with flaring tempers, tears and exhausted frustration as we tried to dust, vacuum, clean the toothpaste flecks off the mirrors, wipe some spilled soup out of the fridge and try to make the living room smell like something other than wet dog.

Instead, Meelyn went off to work and Aisling and I took a calm, leisurely forty minutes to do our daily chores and a few extra tasks like setting out new hand soap in the bathrooms, pile some freshly-washed bath towels in the upstairs bathroom, stow away the dog toys that Zuzu had scattered all over the place and start a pot of coffee. It was so restful and it made me feel like an actual hostess -- a chatelaine, perhaps -- who had everything running smoothly for her guests' comfort and her own peace of mind, instead of a wild-eyed four-in-hand driver whose horses are careening madly out of control and headed for the edge of a cliff.

And I can't tell you how lovely it was to open the front door and be warmly smiling and free of care instead of sweaty, disheveled and clenched of jaw. Must have been better for the guests, too. Heh.

To help us keep things looking spiffy, check out the picture above:

Front row: Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, Satin Smooth fabric softener, Spray-and-Wash Stain Stick, The Works toilet cleaner, Freshine glass cleaner and Tundra bleach.

Back row: Freshine disinfectant wipes, Cascade dishwasher detergent, Tide laundry detergent and Tandril laundry detergent.

Here are some individual comments on these cleaning supplies:

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers -- These things are just, well....magic. I've never seen anything like them. Whether I use them on the fridge, on the woodwork, on the stove, or on the bathtub, they have this amazing ability to clean stuff like nobody's business. I've tried the knock-off brands, but I find that the originals last the longest and work the best. I just wait 'til they go on sale.

Satin Smooth fabric softener -- This is an ALDI product and honestly: I've tried the expensive stuff and I do agree that the fresh scent does last longer with the name-brand products, but that is the ONLY difference I can discern and since this bottle of Satin Smooth comes in two pleasant scents and lasts for a loooong time, PLUS is so inexpensive, I cheerfully buy it instead of the spendy stuff.

Spray-and-Wash Stain Stick/OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover Spray -- I use both of these products interchangeably for stain removal and they both work really well. If I had to pick a fave, I'd probably plump for the OxiClean, but the Stain Stick is no shirker. These are both name brand products, of course, and you can find knock-offs that are cheaper, but these two friends are the ones who have stuck with me through chocolate and blueberries, spaghetti sauce and mustard.

The Works toilet cleaner -- I find this stuff to be amazing. Now mind you, it smells just terrible, just exactly like those sanitizing disks that go in the men's room urinals at interstate rest stops. Utterly dreadful. But if you can just kind of, I don't know, hold your breath a little, you just won't be able to find anything to make your toilet cleaner, especially if you have hard water like we do. Seriously, our water is so hard, we practically suffer from internal bruising when gulping down a cold drink on a hot day. The Works removes and and all hard water deposits and here's my big secret -- it not only does this on toilets, but will also do this on sink or shower fixtures.

Listen up, though -- I use it VERY CAREFULLY on my sink and tub fixtures. I don't go squirting this stuff with wild abandon all over my marble tile surround, mostly because I don't have one, but even if I did, I'd know better than to use a caustic substance like an alkaline toilet cleaner on porous stone. So be careful, you know. Test the area with the hard water deposits beforehand. And wear gloves, okay?

The best thing about this product? You can buy it at Dollar Tree for yep, you guessed it, one slim George.

Freshine glass cleaner -- Yes, you can buy the name brand product and we all know what it's called and it works great. But the thing is, so does the Freshine, which is another ALDI product. And it is so very, very inexpensive. Give it a try!

Tundra bleach -- Bleach is bleach is pretty much bleach. Chlorine bleach! Very simple! Smells kinda yucky! Makes stuff white again! Disinfects all kind of germy junk! Don't spill it on your favorite black pants! Tundra is an ALDI product and super-cheap, works just great.

Freshine disinfectant wipes -- Oh, the ten kazillion happy uses for these little cloths. They're about the size of a baby wipe and come in a similar canister-style container. We use them to wipe down the outside of the toilets several times a week. We also use them to wipe out the sinks. I wipe down the kitchen countertops with them. If someone has a cold, I use them on the computer keyboard, the phone, the doorknobs. You get thirty-five wipes in two different fresh scents for about $1.79, which seems a little bit cheaper than the name brand or store brand products you can get at the more expensive chains. Maybe not, but they're convenient to grab when I'm picking up the rest of the ALDI cleaning stuff.

Cascade dishwashing detergent -- Because of the aforementioned hard water, this is the only kind of detergent that works well in our dishwasher. If we use cheap stuff, whether liquid or powder, the plates and glasses have a nasty streaky residue left on them that is just really unappetizing. The Cascade is really expensive, although it is slightly more reasonable at Wal-Mart than at the chain grocery stores. But it cleans the dishes, utensils, glasses, pots and pans better than anything else, so I'm willing to pay the extra.

Tide laundry detergent -- Ditto everything I said above about the Cascade, except substitute "clothing" for "dishes, utensils, glasses, pots and pans." It is 'spensive, but it works so well, I can't complain.

Tandril laundry detergent -- I use this ALDI product to wash the bath towels, kitchen towels, sheets and dogs' bedding; the Tide costs too much to use for the second-tier laundry. This was actually Kayte's idea because she washes so many towels, what with Matt being part fish and all with the swim team. It has really cut down on our laundry expenses, and everything gets clean and smells fresh and although I don't think the Tandril has quite the quality of Tide, it is a reasonable facsimile.

Do you have any favorite cleaning supplies that have stood the test of time and toughness? Please leave a comment if you do, or if you don't want to do that, email me at InsomniMom at live dot com.

Menu Plan Monday

It's my second week of Menu Plan Monday, and I have to say, everything was much easier last week. I mean, I always have a general idea of what I'm going to serve everyone for dinner, but having it posted on the internet made it feel so....official. And I am ALL ABOUT following rules and plans and schedules and schemes, except for Weight Watchers. Shut up.

This week features a lot of winter-type food, I noticed. Probably because it is. Winter. Blame it on the unrelenting streak of gloomy grey days we've been having, although I should probably bake some sort of celebratory cake that the single-digit cold snap is finally over. For now, anyway.

Monday: Chicken and homemade noodles with mashed potatoes and peas

Tuesday: Sausage gravy and biscuits with scrambled eggs

Wednesday: Mexican chili topped with shredded cheese, chopped green onions and corn chips

Thursday: Baked pork chops with dressing (maybe some green beans with that?)

Friday: Poured crust pizza with pepperoni, extra diced onion and mushrooms, with jalapeño peppers and maybe barbecue sauce instead of regular pizza sauce

The very divil of a month

There's just something about January. It's got something to do with the feeling of let-down after the joyous push of the Christmas holidays and New Year's. It's undoubtedly got a lot to do with the weather, which until about four days ago was deep with snow and Arctic of air. And maybe it's about the fact that it starts us out with thirty-one unrelenting days -- dark, cold and dull -- that drag like an unenthusiastic spoon through the umpteenth bowl of chili you've eaten for dinner.

This particular Monday in January, we're also a little sad because the weekend was so fun: the teen girl sleepover was a great success and our guests were lovely and we were sad to see them go.

Not even a cheerful printable calendar page with smiling snowmen can redeem January. Because for all we know? Those snowmen were insulting one another's mothers and kicking dirty snow onto each other right after their picture was snapped.

What I'm getting at is this: There are some mornings -- January mornings -- that even a snuggly puppy and cup of hot coffee with real half-and-half can't redeem. Ugh. It would be so nice to be able to go back to bed with the puppy and my microwave warming bags and sleep until, oh, I don't know.... April.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teengirl sleepover night

Meelyn and Aisling have really been suffering through this first half of January. First of all because January is the very divil of a month. Second of all, because January is the very divil of a month. Thirdly, because January....ah, well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

Mixing the end of the joyous Christmas festivities with the onset of the truly horrible weather we've been having -- snow out the wazoo, temperatures plummeting into the single digits -- and the resumption of SCHOOL has been a bitter, bitter pill.

"I hate school," Aisling declared frankly. "I hate biology, I hate Spanish, I hate algebra, I hate grammar, I hate-...."

"I sense you're working on a theme, here," I interrupted.

"Yes," she said shortly. "I hate history, I hate American Literature and, oh yeah, I hate doing chores and having chili for dinner forty-eight times a month." She opened her Biology I book with a snarled-up look on her face and said, "OH GREAT. AN EXPERIMENT. Do we have clear dishwashing liquid, an onion, some meat tenderizer, isopropyl alcohol and some sugar?"

"Yes to all of those things. Why is this experiment coming as such a surprise?" I queried, typing an email to Carol and Susie while I talked. "You told me you had an experiment for today on Monday and asked me then if we had all that stuff."

"I forgot," she said. "Hey. Why do you get to mess around on the computer while Meelyn and I have to sit here doing schoolwork."

Silently, I lifted one hand from the keyboard and pointed at my college diploma, which I have displayed on the top shelf of my desk's bookcase.

Aisling heaved a heavy sigh, grabbed up her biology textbook and left the room, murmuring. Meelyn, suffering in stoic silence, bent her head a little farther over her U.S. History text, so close that her forehead was almost touching the page.

"Didn't you put in your contacts this morning?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied wanly. "But life is so bleak and meaningless, all the words are running together in a dark grey blob."

I sighed and brought out my Secret Winter Weapon. "Why don't we plan a sleepover and invite a few of your friends over in a couple of weeks?"

Meelyn's head snapped up and a happy smile irradiated her face. Aisling burst through the kichen door, similarly glowy. The very air suddenly began to sparkle and the sweet golden warmth of a May morning suffused the room. I looked around, startled. It was like the spirits of fourteen Disney princess had suddenly invaded my home.

"Can we, Mommy?" they chanted, eyes bright. "Oh, can we? We won't complain about anything. We'll do all our chores really nice the first time and we won't complain about chili or school or the dumb weather, we promise. Oh, Mommy, you're the BEST MOM IN THE WHOLE WORLD!"

So we planned the party and three girls were invited, although one wasn't able to come. Because the girls both dearly wanted that one particular guest, I was somehow talked in to letting them have another sleepover at the end of February. I don't know what I was thinking. It must have been that sudden change from the frowny faces and the general air of doom and being made to feel as if I should be turned in to Child Protective Services for requiring my two home schooled teenagers to do algebra. I don't know. I guess I'm easy that way.

So! Sleepover! Home made pizza and monkey bread and popcorn and Season One of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The guests will be here between three o'clock and three-thirty and I'm guessing that the waiting for that time to arrive will be almost as difficult as waiting for Christmas a month ago.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A day in Zuzuland

Life with our rescued mystery pup, Zuzu, has been a whirl of adventure these past few days. If it's been a long time since you've raised a puppy, you forget how much joie de vivre can be packed into a small, wiggly body. A paper napkin on the floor? Yay, confetti! A stray slipper! Time to run-run-run while the slipper's owner gives chase! Oh, there are just so many things to do when you're relatively new to the world. All in all, it is so exciting, how could you possibly be blamed for an occasional puddle on the floor?

Here's how Zuzu has spent her time today:

7:00 a.m. -- Bark! bark-bark-bark! Time to go outside, so hurry-hurry-hurry!!! (No mess in the crate for the third night running, excellent.) Pooped and peed outside, much praise from Dad.

7:15 - 9:00 -- Time for breakfast, two little scoops of puppy chow and a little warm milk. Fresh water. Gobble breakfast, gobble-gobble-gobble. Check out older dogs' breakfast. They do not wish to share. THEY DO NOT WISH TO SHARE. Feelings hurt, run to Meelyn or Aisling.

9:00 -- Find stuffed duck in toy basket. That's a duck that needs some killing. Throw duck in air. Pounce on duck. Chew on duck. Grip duck in teeth and shake-shake-shake. Grow bored with duck, remove rest of toys from basket and leave strung all over the living room floor.

9:30 - 10:00 -- So tired. So veryveryvery tired. Must find place to snooze. Mom is sitting on couch reading book. Looks warm. Looks comfy. Sleeeeeeeep.......

10:00 -- Wha-...??!! Whoa. WHAT'S GOING ON??!!! Is that the next door neighbor? And doesn't she appear to be engaged in the heinous crime of strapping her one-year-old baby into a pink polka dot car seat??!! THE GALL OF THAT WOMAN. SHE MUST BE BARKED AT. A LOT. IN A HIGH PITCHED REGISTER THAT MAKES ALL HUMANS IN THE ROOM CLAP THEIR HANDS TO THE SIDES OF THEIR HEADS! BARK! BARK-BARK-BARK!!!!

10:05 -- Garbage truck arrives. Ditto.

10:07 -- Pedestrian. Ditto.

10:20 -- Lawyer briskly strides by carrying briefcase on way to city court. Ditto.

10:21 -- Mom sternly threatens to send puppy to the crate. Works on teaching command not to bark. Not that it works with the older dogs or anything, couldn't help but notice, but will try to appear attentive.

10:40 -- Alternate playing and barking, barking and playing. Then napping.

10:57 -- Oops. Puddle.

11:30 -- Lunch!!! More scoops of food in bowl with milk!! Very tasty!! Older dogs still not inclined to share and reject friendly offer to help them eat their food.

12:00 -- Outside! Beginning to recognize what that means!! A chance to smell the smells of all those other dogs in the neighborhood. Have never met, nose-to-butt, but already feel familiar. Cozy feeling. Much better than wandering country lanes, scared of coyotes and hawks. WHAT THE FREAKING FREAK IS THAT SMELL??!! A FREAKING SQUIRREL??!! NO WAY. [barks until tumbles over in snow, is borne ignominiously away into the house by Meelyn, barking over her shoulder] Squirrels will not be tolerated.

1:00 - 2:15 -- Girls gone to gym. Very sad. Very lonely. Except, wait! There is mom! Can sit with her! Lick her face! Bite her hair! Press puppy nose into side of neck! Snuffle at ear! Then fall asleep, flat on back, with all paws dangling in the hair. [Mom pleased to note that tummy is growing rounder]

2:15 -- My name is Zuzu. I recognize it. Will even respond to "Zooey Bear" and "Zuzulicious." I am much smarter than my brother, Hershey, who finally learned to respond to his name after FIVE MONTHS. He really is as dumb as he looks, but don't tell the family because they seem fond of him.

2:30 -- Am very fond of Cheez-It crackers. Delicious. Excellent snack for afternoon.

2:35 - 3:15 -- Sleep on couch with older dogs, all in a heap. Very warm. Feel loved. Yawn with tongue out and make squeaky sound; girls and Mom all laugh.

3:15 - 3:37 -- Play game of chase with Hershey. Run-run-run!!! Bark-bark-bark!!! Try to keep him from taking my tennis balls. Jump clear over him at one point, like cow jumping over moon. Wimzie reluctantly joins in, fearing she will be accused of being boring and elderly. She is, but it's probably best that we not tell her. Our little secret. Shhh.

Lots of day left!!! Playing is fun!! Eating older dogs' food is fun!! Chewing on pencils is fun!!! Trying to sleep on Wimzie's special own bed is fun!!! Being forcibly kicked out of that bed by its owner is not all that much fun!!!! Dragging Aisling's sneaker around by the laces is fun!!!

Looking into front of dishwasher and barking at that strange puppy there is fun, but also disturbing. Where is this other dog? Why no smell? Friend of squirrels? Highly likely. Sworn enemy.

Ooops! Puddle.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Miniature schnauzer??

I've been doing some internet research to find out not only how old Zuzu may be, but also what kind of dog she is. At first, we assumed that she was just a little Heinz 57 kind of dog -- a little of this and a dab of that -- but as I've been reading, I've begun to wonder if she could be either a purebread miniature schnauzer or at least dominantly a miniature schnauzer. With all I've been reading, I'm wondering if the dog we saw with her was actually her mother, or just a traveling companion. Perhaps two pets from the same home?

According to what I've been reading, miniature schnauzers have curly coats: check. They can be designated as "liver tan," which means brown with touches of lighter fur: check. Liver tan mini schnauzers have brown noses and paw pads: check. They also can have green eyes: check. Generally, their noses and tails are docked at around six weeks old for aesthetic reasons, and obviously, that didn't happen in Zuzu's case: her ears do stand up, but are actually kind of floppy and her long, whippy little tail curves over her back in a feathery kind of style.

She seems to weigh about five or six pounds, but she is a bit thin. Her ribs and spinal vertebrae stand out easily for the feeling; you can even feel the bones in the poor thing's little skull. I made her let me look at her teeth yesterday, and from my limited knowledge of doggie dentistry, I'm thinking that everything in her mouth is a permanent tooth, although I didn't think to look for molars. All I know is that she doesn't have the tiny, needle sharp incisors of a young puppy.

The American Kennel Club's website says that puppies will have their permanent teeth by seven months old, which would seem to agree with Zuzu's general size and weight, although I guess I have to keep in mind that she has been undernourished: her size may be accurate for seven months of age, but her weight could be a bit low.

In accordance with what I've learned, I read the amount of food recommended for a seven month puppy on the back of the IAMS bag and gave her half that amount at 7:30 for breakfast, warmed with a tiny bit of milk. She ate it happily, leaving only about ten bit of kibble in the dish and has been bouncing around, playing and exploring, until just a few minutes ago when she retreated to Meelyn's lap for a bit of rest.

Hershey and Wimzie find her as interesting as a stage show, watching her with bemused expressions on their faces and then turning to look at the rest of us, blinking in amazement.

"Well, I never!" they say, raising their eyebrows. "Did you see that just then? When she turned a somersault over that stuffed duck?"

Occasionally, their curiosity gets the better of them and they hop down from the couch to play with her. Wimzie, the bossy terrier, is greatly interested in preserving her own dignity and doesn't have any truck with ear-nippings and head-buttings. "Rrrrrr," she says, rumbling in her chest, the sound that expresses mild irritation, which is Wimzie's habitual state of being. So far, Zuzu hasn't breached etiquette in a manner that would cause a teeth-baring and full on snarl, so I'm thinking the girls are getting along very well.

Hershey is still young enough to be playful (actually, Wimzie is very playful, but ONLY ON HER OWN TERMS), and this morning he and Zuzu had an exhilarating game of chase, running together, running apart and then running in opposite directions, only to bump into one another in the kitchen hallway. It was very cute.

The thing that still mystifies me is why anyone would let a possibly valuable puppy (miniature schanuzers seem to be priced anywhere from $400 to $800 on the internet, dependent on the desirability of their markings, but I have no idea if those places are reliable breeders or disreputable puppy millers) out to wander on a lonely country road: thin, no collar, untrained, snow-encrusted. I mean, couldn't her owner have sold her? It's hard to imagine that such a young dog would be able to get out of a house and set off on her own, and very strange to contemplate that someone could have just abandoned her, but the people at the humane society here in town tell me that it happens all the time.

I think back to two days ago when we began our day as a two-dog family and feel very grateful that circumstances led us to find Zuzu before the coyotes, hawks and other wildlife did.

High time for higher temps

I don't know what the weather's like where you are, but here? It has been awful. Beyond awful. All the way to completely and utterly sucktastic, what with the single-digit "highs" and the wind chill factors that make the inside of your nose freeze up when you take a breath and the house constantly being cold and not being able to put enough clothes on, feels like, to ward off the chill. Ugh. I have hated every single second of it, and if you live someplace where it is currently 82 degrees and you're getting ready to go to the beach, just hush yourself right now. No one likes a bragger.

From the Indianapolis forecast for this week, though, I have taken heart. It's still going to be pretty darned cold today, but tomorrow is looking better. Thursday's nicer still, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday? I might be able to get away with only one pair of thick socks underneath my snow boots. I couldn't help but notice that the low temperatures for the week are higher than the high temps for last week. Brrrr.

Menu Plan Monday (on Tuesday, but who's counting)

My fellow blogger Sharon of The Bird's Nest alerted me to this bit of web-wide fun, started by Laura on her blog, which is called I'm an Organizing Junkie. Last week was an unprecendented week for Laura, since she had over five hundred people participating in Menu Plan Monday and linking to her blog, which would be very exciting. I'm thinking of starting my own web-wide bit of wonderment, perhaps titling it "Flounder Flop Friday" and encouraging people to link to InsomniMom with their stories of how their energy has totally given out by the end of the week. Think it'll be a success? Hmmm.

Anyway, I may be an excellent candidate for the motivational hints and general helpfulness of Laura's excellent blog because here is my list for Menu Plan Monday.... and hello, Tuesday? All I can say in my defense is that, well, I was busy. Doing stuff. Oh, not my chores or anything, but just busy. Maybe playing with the puppy. Shut up.

Without further ado, then, here goes - my very first Menu Plan Monday. All food was shopped for yesterday afternoon, so see? I did do something.

Menu Plans for the week of January 11, 2010

Monday - Ham and Corn Chowder with Soft Pretzels. This soup was so bad, I am not including a link to the recipe because none of us did more than pick at it. It could be used in battle as culinary warfare. The pretzels were good, though.

Tuesday - Spaghetti and garlic toast (with the ragù sauce made from my mom's recipe) Whole wheat pasta is what we use.

Wednesday - Fifteen-Bean Soup and cornbread (made from beans from N.K. Hurst, which is right here in Indianapolis. The recipe, which is fabulous, can be found on the bag the beans come in and it is so perfect for a frigid, snowy night. And listen, I've eaten a lot of cornbread in my day, including the authentic kind you bake with bacon drippings in a skillet? And I've never found any cornbread better than what comes from an inexpensive little box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix.

Thursday - Breakfast for Dinner - scrambled eggs, sausage links and potato puffs (baked in the oven, not fried).

Friday - Meelyn and Aisling are having a sleepover, so the girls and their guests are going to make Poured Crust Pizzas in my cast iron skillets, decorating them with the toppings of their choice.

I'm going to have a couple of different kinds of shredded cheese available for the pizzas, plus diced onions and green peppers, mushrooms, pre-cooked sausage and pepperoni. For dessert, the girls want a dish of M&Ms and some of Dorie Greenspan's Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters, which can be found on page 73 of her excellent book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. For snacks later on, I'll just pop a big bowl of popcorn.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The rescue of Zuzu

Zuzu passed her first night successfuly at her new home, which Susie is now calling "The St. Francis Animal Shelter," even though I know good and well that she would never turn down a puppy in the snow at the side of the road. No, she'd pick it up and probably take it to her own hair stylist and manicurist and sit there bawling while the aestheticians worked on the pup, saying, "It was the saddest thing I've ever seen, y'all, that poor baby just strugglin' along in all that awful old snow, it would have just broken your hearts into little bitty pieces..."

We have had two of the inevitable puddles and one incident of poopy, but so far, she has followed the example of Hershey and Wimzie and done all her business outside. This morning when my husband went downstairs at 7:30 to take the dogs outside, her little sleeping area was clean, so we were very proud of her.

We taught her how to go down the steps this morning; going up didn't pose a problem, but down? The very idea of going down made her bark in a sharp series of violent squeaks, like someone stepping repeatedly on a rubber ducky. It only took her a moment to figure out how to do it, largely due to the example of Hershey, who grew weary waiting for her to go down and pushed past us all with an apologetic look at me. "I'm sorry, but I am late for an appointment with the couch," he indicated as he went by.

Last night, Zuzu slept on a blanket on the floor covered by an inverted laundry basket. We pushed it right up to the doors of the older dogs' crates, knowing that being with them would comfort her. She yipped unhappily for about half an hour but then settled down and slept all night, which I thought was pretty impressive.

She's eating four small meals daily of IAMS puppy food slightly soaked in milk. The milk probably isn't necessary because her adult teeth are coming in, but it just makes me feel better to know that she has warm food in her stomach. We had to teach her how to drink out of the water bowl and she doesn't really understand the concept of dog treats -- it's funny to see the singular habits of a pup who's been out in the wild for who-knows-how-long.

Zuzu seems to be a mixture of several kinds of dogs. Her face is shaped like a Scotty or a schnauzer, complete with the beard and mustache and eyebrows. Her bangs and body, however, are curly like a poodle's, and her long, thin tail is feathery. Her eyes are the peculiar greenish-gold of a Weimaraner and her fur is a mixture of cocoa, gunmetal grey and caramel, kind of like the color you might get if you smeared a Twix bar on a rifle. I know that sounds hideous, but she's really terribly cute, especially when beating up on the large stuffed duck she stole from Aisling's room.

She and Hershey had a lot of fun chasing each other through the living room, around the coffee table, into the dining room and around the dining room table and back again. They were making a lot of noise, what with the thundering paws and Hershey's beagle bark, which sounds like "Booooorrrrk! Booouuurrrrrrrrrk!" and Zuzu's bark, which sounds like "Squeak! Squeak! Squeak-squeak-squeak!!!" Only high and shrill enough to make you feel like a screwdriver is being stuck through your ear, especially if you're holding her and she's looking over your shoulder when she does it.