Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We used to call 'em thongs

I don't remember when these cheapo summer shoes that you can still buy for around $2-$6 at any discount department store started being called "flip-flops."

I do know that they used to be called "thongs" when I was a child and a teenager and that you could say, when walking with a group of friends, "Just a minute. My thong fell off" or "Whoa, I've got a rock in my thong" with everyone obligingly stopping and waiting while you fixed your SHOE and without everyone jacknifing at the waist and staggering around, helpless with gasping laughter.

My daughters have taken great care to educate me in this new way of speaking, partly so that I won't embarrass myself, but mostly so that I won't embarrass them. I heatedly told them that I'd never be caught wearing one of those new-fangled thongs anyway, since my rear end has reached such proportions that even if I could put one on, I'm not sure if I'd ever get it back again. But I do still wear the shoes. The shoes that used to be called thongs, but which are now called flip-flops and HEAVEN HELP YOU if you ever happen to be in Wal-Mart and casually remark to your children in a thoughtless moment that your new THONGS are really comfortable and that you'd like to buy a few more in different colors.

Because? They will claim in vehement whispers that you have killed them, you have ruined their lives and that they wish huge craters would suddenly form in the earth and swallow them up and that fire and brimstone would rain out of the heavens and strike you down, so great is the level of their killedness and life-ruinage.

For those of you who have been living under that particular rock with me, all you children of the 60s, 70s and 80s, "thongs" are now called "flip-flops" and what we all used to call "indecent underwear that doesn't cover even half of what your Mama gave you" is now called a "thong" although some devastating wits call this garment "butt floss."

Please remember this, especially if you are the parent of teenagers. Because it would just be awful if they got swallowed into gaping abyss in the crust of the earth.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We don't have these where I come from

CousinFest teaches us so many things. Our first CousinFest in Asheville, NC, which is getting on for ten years ago now, taught us that sometimes even strolling violinists can be a real pain in the butt. CousinFest Knoxville, TN taught us that some people like their barbecue with vinegary sauce and some people like their barbecue with brown sugary sauce, but it's all sticky if it gets in your hair. CousinFest Shipshewana caused us to understand that even the Amish can be bought.

CousinFest Madison, IN alerted us to the fact that the number of times Susan will try to make you watch her wedding-on-the-beach-at-Maui DVD is slightly greater than infinite.

The most interesting thing we've learned by far from CousinFest in Bowling Green is that Kentucky has liquor stores with drive thru windows and beer coolers in their grocery stores.

"Doesn't this seem....counter-intuitive?" asked Carol several years ago as she peered out the window of Susie's car at the young man, a Matthew McConaughey swap-out, who was leaning out to take our order. (Sadly, there's no speaker, like what you'd find at McDonald's or similar; I was hoping there would be because I'd love to pull up and order a pint of Cuervo, a fifth of Triple Sec and an order of fries.) "Kind of like the state of Kentucky is urging people to drink and drive?"

"Better to sell it at drive-thru liquor stores than to have people doing home brew with stills," I said prudently. "That stuff can make you go blind. Or send you crazy. At least that's what I've heard," I added hastily as Susan and Carol looked at me and then exchanged a long glance as if some dimly held suspicion had suddenly been made crystal clear.

"I suppose they'd turn you down if you said, 'I'd like a cold six pack and crack that first one open for me,'" Carol mused.

Susie thought all of this was killing funny -- she hasn't lived in Kentucky long enough to lose her deep appreciation for the comedy offered by a drive-thru liquor store, but the beer cooler at the Kroger was a different story.

The first time I saw an entire aisle of the store devoted to one lo-o-ong cooler filled with every kind of beer imaginable, I slowed down my brisk pace through the grocery and came to a complete halt, goggling.

"What are you doing, staring like that?" asked Susan. "Come on, we have to beat that woman with that buggy that has about six months' worth of food to the check out."

"Look. Look at all that cold beer," I said, gesturing. My husband would think he'd entered Shangri-La if he saw this, I thought to myself. All beer, all cold, all the time.

Carol stopped behind me and did some goggling of her own. "Wow," she said. And then added, "Doesn't this seem counter-intuitive? Kind of like the state of Kentucky is urging people to drink and drive?"

"How do y'all buy your beer?" Susie asked, surprised.

"Warm," I replied.

"Well, eewwww! Why would y'all want to drink warm beer?"

"We don't want to drink warm beer," Carol said. "We buy it warm and take it home and put it in the fridge and wait for it to get cold before we drink it."

Susie frowned. "That would take an awful long time, wouldn't it?"

Carol and I both sighed sadly. "You could go to a package store," I offered. "But for some reason, they're considered a bit tacky. Like you're so greedy for drink that you can't even wait long enough to cool it off yourself."

"That's just terrible," said Susan frankly. "Y'all need to move down here where things are civilized."

"And where a larger percentage of the population is apparently driving around half-lit," Carol whispered to me as she followed Susie to the check-out stands.

"There's some civilization for you," I agreed, falling into step behind her.

As we were walking, I said, "Wait a minute! Why do we need to go to the drive-thru liquor store? Why don't we just buy what we need here and save ourselves a trip?"

Susie halted and turned around and gave me a funny look. "Because we need some tequila and Triple Sec for margaritas, 'member?"

"Yes, I know, but we could get that here and it might even be cheaper."

"Buy it here?" Susie asked incredulously. "We can't buy hard liquor here!"

"You can't?" asked Carol.

"No way. Not hard liquor. Southerners have their standards. Why? Can you buy hard liquor at the Krogers up where y'all live?"

"Sure," I shrugged. "And at CVS and Walgreen's and Wal-Mart, too."

Susan's mouth dropped open. "Y'all have got to be kidding me! I have never heard of such a thing! What crazy thing are you Yankees going to think of next? Doesn't it seem counter-intuitive to sell hard liquor in a pharmacy where someone can come in and get his prescription for painkillers filled and then buy a bottle of Jack on the way out?"

"Well, when you put it that way...."

Susan stalked on, murmuring things about Yankees and Northern Aggression and what-is-this-world-coming-to's under her breath while Carol and I followed meekly along in her wake like a pair of ducklings. We got through the check-out line and headed for the parking lot. Just before we got to the car, Carol grabbed me by the elbow.

"Make sure you wear your seatbelt," she hissed, nodding knowingly toward the state highway that runs in front of the grocery. "You never know who just got done at the grocery."

[In the pictures, Susan is giving the drive-thru liquor store guy the money for our little teeny bottle of tequila (we are extremely conservative drinkers) and then striking her famous tree pose next to the beer cooler in Bowling Green's Kroger.]

The Mom Hat

This is me today at the pool, wearing what my lovely, sweet, horrible little daughters refer to as my Mom Hat.

I wear this hat because my hair has just about as much processed color as Helen Thomas's, and she is the only nearly-ninety-year old person I have ever seen who still has thirty-year old hair. I do not want my hair to get fried by the sun and I do not want it to turn a funny color (most likely either greenish or a really horrible brassy color that I associate, for some reason, with Bonnie Parker. I also don't want any sun on my face, which will lead to my having age spots. Or to put a finer point on it, more age spots than I already have. Because, when I was seventeen? I was all about the Hawaiian Tropics and very, very little about the "you're going to regret this when you're in your forties."

So as soon as I claim a bench to sit on, I unpack my swim bag and my Mom Hat is the first thing I pull out. I put it on my head and pull it low on my brow, right down to the tops of my huge Jackie Onassis sunglasses. This not only keeps me shaded as to skin and unfried as to hair, but also allows me to stare at people quite frankly without them knowing that I'm doing so; I'm going to write a public service announcement here very shortly about women and girls who wear low-rise shorts or jeans and then bend over or squat down and give everyone that money shot look at their butt cracks.

I never really considered my sage green straw hat with black grosgrain trim a Mom Hat until the girls informed me that this was indeed the case. I thought of it as....jaunty. I got it about a thousand years ago on St. Maarten, where I purchased it to give me shelter from all those obnoxious street hucksters who kept trying to get me to braid my hair, buy some gold and drink some tequila, not necessarily in that order. And if you've ever been to St. Maarten, you know exactly what I'm talking about, which is the reason why I would balk at ever going back: I'll just stay aboard the ship, thanks.

So I was a bit crestfallen at hearing that my hat, which also can be worn with the brim turned up in kind of a Mad Hatter style, was a Mom Hat. But I wasn't truly bummed out until Meelyn and Aisling informed me that those pink flip-flops I wear? Well, those aren't just Mom Flip-Flops.

Those are full-on GRANDMA flip-flops.

"My mother grew up in the Depression"

Back at my own computer, I have the ability to post pictures, so here's a completely adorable one of Carol and Susie just a-cookin' up a storm in the kitchen at Susie's house, y'all. Wait. Sorry. I don't know what gets into me, but a few days in Bowling Green and I'm typing with a southern accent.

This is the best place to find us during CousinFest, right there in the kitchen. There were a few summers when we went away -- Asheville, Knoxville and Amish country in northern Indiana the year that Susie and Doug got married in Maui, so she elected not to go with us that year as if she likes Doug better than us or something -- and we didn't have kitchens to cook in and all we had to do was sit around talking and then get up and go to restaurants when we were hungry, but that wasn't nearly as fun.

We are all cooks, really good cooks, if I do say so myself and cooking and eating and hanging around the kitchen drinking iced tea and talking about things like Hellmann's versus Kraft and how we all seem to have the same smile and Carol -- on the left -- and I have the same hair, but Susie, to your right, and I have the same eyes, but Carol has her mother's eyes, which are the same kind of eyes our shared grandmother had...those are the things we talk about. We talk about eggs and whether we can eat them devilled or sunny-side-up. And dogs, we talk about our dogs. Well, I mean, not about eating dogs, just in case you thought we enjoyed some kind of exotic Asian cuisine. Which we most certainly do not.

But one of the things we talked about most in the kitchen was the deplorable tendency that Carol and I have, according to Susie, to throw away, say, two small spinach leaves and a sliced cucmber left in a serving dish after dinner. I handed the bowl to Carol so that she could rinse it out and put in in the dishwasher, but when Carol turned on the faucet, Susan screamed, "WAIT!!!!! THERE'S STILL SOME SALAD IN THAT BOWL!!!!"

"No, there isn't," I said. Carol held up the bowl so that Susan could see the two very, very small spinach leaves and the lonesome cucumber slice clinging to the sides.

"Well, listen, y'all, my mother grew up in the Depression and there's practically a whole salad left in there. Scrape that out, Shelley, and put it in a Ziploc."

Carol and I looked at each other helplessly. "Susan, there's not even enough salad left in that bowl to feed a garden gnome," I protested.

"Isn't it going to just be a waste of a plastic bag to save it?" Carol asked reasonably.

"No, seriously, I'll eat it for a snack later," Susie said. She came into the kitchen and grabbed the bowl from Carol, hugging it protectively to her chest. "Remember, girls: 'Waste not, want not.'"

Carol and I are considerably bigger than Susie, who is just a little bitty thing. I know we could have overpowered her, taken back that bowl and washed the rest of that "whole salad" down the garbage disposal, but it was only Thursday evening and we hadn't heard a whole lot about wasting and saving and not wanting and the Depression at that point. By Saturday, it was a different story.

Over the next few days, we heard stories about growing up in the Depression when it came to scraping chip dip out of a Rubbermaid container, sunscreen out of a plastic tube and the dregs of the wine out of the bottle. When I smartly asked Susie if she had a really, really skinny little spatula with a very long handle so that I could scrape the sides of the wine bottle, she gave me a Look. When Carol suggested that Susie was born in 1961 and was almost two generations removed from The Grapes of Wrath, Susan tried to give her a paper cut with a dollar off coupon for Kashi Summer Berry granola.

With the refrigerator stuffed with different sizes of plastic bags of different provenance, none of them labeled and all of them determined to slide out on the floor when an unwary person opened the door, mealtimes became an adventure. We tried to find different ways to use up the leftovers without them screaming "LEFTOVER!!" at each meal, and those that refused to be integrated into a new meal in a new way, Carol and I silently introduced to Our Favorite Appliance, the garbage disposal.

"Look, Susie!" Carol would say excitedly, pointing out the dining room window to the ninth green on the golf course behind the house. "There's Kenny Perry!"

"WHERE!!!" Susie would yelp, bouncing up out of her seat and running to peer out the glass. "Oh my gosh, y'all, he is just the sweetest thing ever!"

While she was thus occupied, I'd take a moment to empty two peas, a piece of pie crust with a smidgen of pie still clinging to it and a quarter-cup of clam juice into the sink.

Later, I'd say, looking out the front door, "Oh, no, Susie! The neighbor's dog is pooping on your lawn!"

"WHAT??!!" she'd shriek, momentarily forgetting that her neighbors don't even have a dog. "Shoo! Get away! Stop it! Don't mess up my yard!" She'd zoom out the front door, giving Carol the chance to dispose of a half-eaten peach gone mushy and one spoonful of chicken salad on a plate covered with plastic wrap.

Carol and I deeply enjoy teasing Susie, but in spite of our wicked ways, we both admit that there's no better hostess. She may be a nut with the plastic bags and her stories of the Depression, but if you want more bath towels, an extra pillow, a foot massage, a bottle of water or a pep talk, there couldn't be a better person to ask for those things. And if you read those previous sentences and thought that I was sugaring up the rhubarb, you may be right because for all I know, Susie will get some time to read my blog and the next thing I know, she'll be on the phone calling me that name that starts with a B and is one syllable in Yankee and about four when drawled out in a Southern accent.

We can do that because we love each other.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Susan is so bossy

This morning we were all in Susie's beautiful kitchen making those Ziploc omelettes we made last year? And Carol and I were marshalled into action and set to chopping onions, cutting the cheese (yes, we giggled very hard and she shot us a baleful glare) and defrosting some ham she had in the freezer. She broke the eggs very professionally, using one hand and an extravagant up-in-the-air gesture that I found theatrical, yet somehow very impressive. I have to break eggs with two hands.

After Susie had the eggs all whirred up in the blender, she doled us each out a Ziploc bag with our names written on and snapped her fingers at us when she sensed our attention was wandering. "Now y'all listen up. I want you to hold open your bag and I'll pour in some eggs, then you go through this line and put what you want in your bag. Use up all that ham. And I don't want to store that strong onion in my fridge; eat that, too. And the spinach. Come on. Hurry up."

Carol, Meelyn and Aisling and I bumbled through the kitchen, choosing different assemblages for our personal omelettes while Susie yipped, "Squeeze the air out of those bags! We don't want them to float! Here! You need more egg! No, not you! C'mere!"

That's what we get for letting all the margarita wear off that girl.

On Friday evening, we all trooped up to the theater room to watch The Blind Side and it occurred to me, as she propelled me around the kitchen and took my plastic bag from me to drop it in the kettle of boiling water, just how much like Leigh Anne Tuohy Susan is. Which is, because Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Mrs. Tuohy was so adorable and funny, is actually kind of a nice thing to have in the family.

Even though Carol and I plan to pinch her shortly.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Notes from Cousin Fest '10

But no pictures! Because I personally live in the technological Dark Ages and I don't have a fancy phone that uploads photos! I know. It is really all very, very sad, especially since I long for the opportunity to text all my friends with all the ardor of, say, Aisling. Who also doesn't have a fancy phone. But boy, does she want one.

Carol, Meelyn, Aisling and I arrived at Susie's house yesterday right before lunch. We had a very nice drive down from Indiana and arrived in the Bluegrass State, emerging from Carol's SUV already complaining about how HOT it was. We brought everything in and got settled in our rooms and then came downstairs, complaining about how HOT it was, even though we were all sitting in the air-conditioned house. Occasionally, we'd lift our selves off the couch and go to the windows and stare outdoors, whining about the TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE HEAT.

Then Susie lured us to her car and she, Carol and I went to the drive thru liquor store and we came back home so that Carol could make the margaritas and then we were the three happiest people in Kentucky over the age of twenty-one. Meelyn and Aisling were still complaining about the heat, but it somehow didn't matter anymore.

Everything has been so much fun, except for the part where Aisling told one of those stories about our family that is usually kept in the family. You know what I mean? It was one of those stories that made me look like a person of questionable character and she told it in front of Susie's husband, who is completely unlike Susie, being a very religious member of the Church of Christ. But it's funny how a second margarita can make you not worry about that kind of thing. HAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!!

(Mom, when you read this, please substitute the phrase "Bible Store" for "liquor store" and "chocolate milk shake" for "margarita" and everything will be just fine.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The shaving of a schnoodle

Yesterday was the first time I have ever taken a dog to a professional groomer, being as how I am an old school kind of pet owner who thinks that I shouldn't pay more for the dog's hair to be styled than I do for my own. Which is, of course, what ended up happening, only it was one of those styles on Zuzu where she came out looking worse than she did when she went in and I'm all, like, "OH MY GOSH, your HAIR! WAAAAHHH!!! YOUR ADORABLE FURRY BODY!!!!"

It wasn't the groomer's fault. Blame it all on the idiots who abandoned the poor little thing out in the country on that lonely road last winter. When we brought Zuzu home that day, I noticed -- once we'd MELTED ALL THE ICE OUT OF HER FUR -- that she had some substantially matted hair. Matted hair was something I was used to dealing with with Wimzie, who was a broken-coat Jack Russell. Wimzie's mats usually happened on her belly and her legs and I'd just carefully snip them off with scissors when I was grooming her with my pet clippers - Wimzie was violently opposed to groomers and tried to bite the one I took her to once, which is why I ended up with my own personal pet clippers and a very entertaining and instructive video titled "How to Groom Your Dog."

Anyway, when Zuzu had her first bath at our house, I noticed that some of the mats were biggish, but when I tried to brush her, she cringed and cried and I nearly cried myself, thinking hotly of some former "owner" who had pulled her fur and hurt her and scared her. Other mats were small and I clipped them off of her body in the same way I did with Wimzie. Zuzu was reconciled to this invasion of her modesty by the generous application of Pupperoni treats.

Over the past few months, the mats got worse, naturally. Here's a thing I didn't realize: poodle fur, which is what Zuzu has inherited from that end of the gene pool, along with the schnauzer face from the other side, is very high maintenance. I realized this after we got to our appointment at the groomer's studio and she looked at me pityingly and said, "Poodles have very high maintenance coats."


I brought Zuzu to the groomer's -- Kathy -- because it was clear that the mats weren't going to untangle themselves. Her outer chocolate-colored coat didn't look so bad, but her silvery undercoat was a mess. It was beyond what I felt I could attempt with my handy clippers, seeing as how my video didn't include a segment on How to Shear Your Dog Like a Sheep. So to Kathy's we went, Zuzu pleased as punch to be going on a car ride and me silently cussing at the money I was getting ready to be parted from. Funny, but my dad is approximately thirty miles away right now and I can hear his incredulous query: "You took the DOG to a GROOMER?" This is an item on his personal list that covers everything from lying in bed past seven o'clock for the sole purpose of reading a good book to going to more than two stores to find a pair of shoes. That list is titled Things That are Spoiled and Self-Indulgent and Leading to the Rapid Decline of Western Civilization.

Kathy removed nearly every hair on Zuzu's body, leaving her clean and untangled and looking NOTHING like the dog you see in the picture above. The only thing left on her face (yes, there were even mats in the under-fur on her beard and moustache) are her fluffy ears, which have been trimmed and carefully combed out. Kathy left enough of her bangs to affix a bright red ribbon, to which Zuzu is very partial, given her smug attitude. She also made Zuzu's tail, the only part of her that was really, really ugly, look somewhat cuter, like a lion's tail with a tuft at the end. Kathy's assistant bathed Zuzu, blow dried her remaining fur and sprinkled her with some kind of substance that makes her smell better than I do, even after she got wet outside this morning.

In spite of the royal treatment she received at Kathy's hands, looking at Zuzu makes the four of us here want to burst into tears. She doesn't look like her. But the funny thing is that she's not even acting like herself. She's always been bouncy and happy and sweet-tempered and energetic, but this morning when she exited from her crate, she positively bounded to the foyer like a white-tailed deer. She went outdoors to do her business and frolicked in the rain in a manner that I can only describe as Gene Kelly-esque. When I let her back in, she tore around the house like a dervish, emptying her toy basket in about three seconds and randomly throwing stuffed plushies up in the air and pouncing on them when they came back to earth. She literally did not stand still long enough for me to take a picture of her in her shaven state.

I would have thought that being shorn would have wounded her pride, but it has obviously done just the opposite. I have never seen a dog so full of ginger. If she had a soundtrack accompanying her this morning, I believe it would be something along the lines of Michael Bublé's "I'm Feelin' Good" -- "It's a new day, it's a new dawn, it's a new life for me....and I'm fee-e-e-elin'....goooooood." At the present moment, she has jumped up on "her" chair beside me as I type and settled into a contented, drowzy curl, chin pillowed on one of my husband's socks she filched from the basket of clean laundry that was waiting to be carried upstairs. She positively oozes well-being and I frankly wouldn't be too surprised if she suddenly pulled out an Audrey Hepburn-style cigarette holder and languidly asked me for a light. She's that relaxed.

It's making me feel that a gift certificate to the day spa for a massage and a mani-pedi might cure than sinking spell I get every day around five-thirty, which now requires a glass and a half of wine to pull me out of.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Yesterday I engaged in one of my favorite activies, which is waiting until my husband leaves for work and then finding random items around the house to spray paint. If he's not here, he can't say, "WAIT just a minute! You can't spray paint that! Put it back! NO!" As it turns out, he's sometimes right, but if he's safely off at work, I can usually clean up the mess or otherwise rectify the damage before he gets home.

Sometimes he wishes I could be content to watch game shows and soap operas on television. He feels that would keep me out of trouble, and argues very convincingly that the paint fumes probably do as much damage to my brain cells as too much TV would.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The tale of two blue pitchers

I am really drawn to two specific shades of blue -- a kind of cobalty and/or periwinkle blue. First of all, I just like to say periwinkle. It's one of those names that belongs to a fairy, isn't it? I feel that Will really missed out in A Midsummer Night's Dream by not naming one of Titania's fairies Periwinkle, although Pease-blossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustard-seed are all very nice indeed.

Secondly, I have these two pitchers, both in pleasing tones. The one on the left is a new one purchased for FOUR WHOLE DOLLARS a couple of years ago. Although it's made of plastic, it has a graceful design and holds almost a gallon of shivery cold water or iced tea with lemon or whatever else you care to put in it. The other pitcher is very old, having been passed from my Grandmother Marshall to my grandma to me. It is of a more rustic design, glazed inside and out, but with no kiln mark on the bottom: my great-grandmother loved pottery and bought whatever caught her eye and I have to admit, that pitcher is a beauty. I estimate that is is maybe sixty or seventy years old? Hard to tell.

Unfortunately, neither one is very usable.

The new pitcher, the plastic one? It looks very nice sitting on the dining room table, filled up most of the way with ice and the rest of the way with water. The problem is that any liquid left in the pitcher for longer than, say, the time it takes to eat a family meal begins to take on the taste of petroleum or whatever it is that plastic pitchers are made from. Which? No, thanks. If I want to drink harmful chemicals, I'll just open up a can of diet soda.

My great-grandmother's pitcher is fashioned out of thick, sturdy clay. The very bottom of the pitcher is unglazed and the clay looks pretty red to me; could she have bought this when traveling out-of-state somewhere? The thing that worries me is the glaze, though. I wonder about the vast quantities of lead that might be leaching from the interior into our lemonade. Not to mention that the pitcher, empty, must weigh ten pounds. Yes, ten pounds. At least eight. Serving drinks to guests from that thing -- and I always picture sangria -- would cause the hostess to emit an unladylike grunt as she hefted the thing off the picnic table, and pouring would definitely be a two-hand maneuver.

So while both of these pitchers are beautiful, tinted in a hue that always suffuses me with well-being, I can't really use either one. Instead, I use a big ugly gallon container with an aesthetically offensive red lid that I got at Wal-Mart. Its functionality is unquestionable, but its appearance leaves a lot to be desired.

[I took this picture behind our house on our lovely little slate path, original to the house, which a roofer smashed into pieces just before we moved into the house by dropping a bundle of shingles on it. I'm always so torn about the clover that's growing in the cracks. One the one hand, weeds growing in sidewalks cracks is yucky; on the other hand, have you ever seen anything cuter than that clover growing in the cracks of that bit of slate?]

Monday, June 14, 2010

Here's who I sat next to at lunch

Meelyn had to work today, so Aisling and I went on a little shopping expedition to Hamilton Town Center; she had some birthday money burning a hole in her purse (her birthday's not until Friday, but we had her family party early due to Pat and Angie's vacation plans with the kids) and was longing to spend it. On what, you ask? Why, clothes! And makeup! And purses! And shoes! And bath and body unguents! And jewelry! And hair do-dads!

Me, I used to spend my birthday money on books, and when I informed Aisling of this, her eyes welled up with tears and she put a sympathetic hand on my arm and whispered, "Oh, Mommy, I'm so sorry."


Shopping wore us down to a fine frazzled version of our former energetic selves, so we stopped by Paradise Café to split a sandwich and chips and have a cold drink. We stopped by numerous times during the winter for their truly delicious (and surprisingly inexpensive) coffee, but this was the first time we'd ever eaten lunch there.

The Paradise Café is one of those places that looks like either Tuscany or a very pukka sahib Bangalore, it's hard to tell. It's a cute place in kind of a self-conscious way, but they bake their own giant croissants, so who am I to quibble. One thing that does bother me is that all the tables are really close together: it's not the kind of place where you'd want to tell your lunch companion about your last moustache waxing or how your pedicurist had to hone down the corns on your toes with a belt sander, know what I mean?

Anyway, we sat down at a table for two near this pig, who had just sat down with a large cup of iced tea and a book. It looked like she was waiting for some companions to come in, at least this was my surmisal since she was at a table for four. Since she was so close, I was right there watching her empty two packets of Splenda into her iced tea, take the paper off her straw wrapper, stir the tea and then take a drink. Nothing unusual so far, since this is an action often performed by many non-pigs around us.

What startled us so much is what she did next: The pig put the plastic lid back on her cup and then casually swept her torn-in-two Splenda papers and her straw wrapper onto the floor. Just....onto the floor.

I was raised in a household where it was strongly intimated that if I so much as let an stray eyelash blow off my cheek onto the grass, God would smite me. Remember that television commercial that featured the American Indian shedding a tear as he looked around at how polluted things were? Well, I took that commercial darned seriously, my friends. And we have raised our kids to be the same way. Eyelash fall out? Well, CATCH IT AND DISPOSE OF IT IN A TRASH RECEPTACLE, GIRRRRRRLS.

So when the pig pushed her trash off the table onto the floor, Aisling and I looked at the trash, looked at the pig and then looked at each other, mouths open like goldfish. We looked back at the trash.

"I'm just shocked," I said. "Shocked."

Aisling whispered, "She's all, like, 'Hello, Guatemalen immigrant working at a menial job, bend over and pick up my garbage because I'm too good to sit at a big table that has two torn Splenda packets and a straw paper on it. I am clean and tidy and you are here to serve.'"

"I know!" I said fervently. "I wonder what her house looks like?"

"Maybe she has help that comes in a couple of times a week to pick up her used tissues and coffee filters," Aisling hissed. "Or maybe every day."

I scrutinized the woman closely. "She doesn't have daily help; her handbag and her shoes aren't that great."

"It must be ankle-deep around her place."

Honestly, I couldn't take my eyes off that trash on the floor for the rest of the time we were there. I seriously wanted to tap her on the shoulder -- our tables were so close, I could have reached out and touched her -- and say, "Excuse me, you seem to have DROPPED SOMETHING" in a sweet voice, but darn you, Mom, for raising me to be all ladylike and long-suffering. Actually, I also wanted to slap her right in the back of the head, but I've heard that the authorities frown on that kind of thing, so I resisted. But I fumed silently and kinda-sorta sat there hoping that one of the walnuts in her chicken-apple salad would make one of her crowns fall off.

Other than that, our shared Paradise Club was very delicious and it even came with a complimentary chocolate chip cookie, which almost made up for having to sit next to a pig. Which I think is an insult to pigs, but if I called her what I really want to, my mother would call me to say indignantly, "I did NOT raise you to talk like that, YOUNG LADY."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Now with a real Irish-y flavor (I hope)

This past Monday was the thirteenth anniversary of Father D's ordination to the priesthood, so like all good church ladies would do, an email went viral amongst us on Saturday asking that everyone bring in some kind of home-baked yumminess to eat for breakfast after Mass on Monday morning.

I wracked my brains to think of something interesting (well, okay, and easy) to make and came up with the Irish soda bread I made for St. Patrick's Day, only in muffin form for easier serving. I made two dozen out of the linked recipe, eschewing the use of currants and caraway seed (which my friend Katie H. told me is actually called "Spotted Dog"), adjusting the cooking time to thirty minutes instead of sixty. I made some whipped honey butter with a touch of almond, made what I felt was an attractive presentation with a bowl, a basket and a couple of cloth napkins, and headed off to church feeling pleased that I could pitch in at a moment's notice. Doing stuff at a moment's notice is not one of my strong suits.

So after Mass, we were all milling about what Father calls the "doughnut slash conference room" (I don't know who he thinks he's kidding; Anyone in the church could tell you what room is designated as the doughnut room, but ask them where the conference room is and watch them flounder) and the organizer of the little feast, a woman named Elizabeth, came up to speak to me.

"Did you make those Irish soda muffins?" she asked. "They're so delicious."

"Why, yes I did," I responded, pleased as punch.

"Well, there's a woman over there," Elizabeth discreetly pointed, "and she was born and raised in Ireland and she'd like to meet you."

"Oh, how nice!" I said, but inside my head, I was thinking, Wow, that sounds ambiguous. Does she want to meet me because she thinks the muffins were good? Or is she going to berate me publicly for calling my silly little quick bread "Irish"? Is she going to say, How dare you call these muffins Irish, you imposter You are clearly not a descendant from the oulde sod.

I never found out. She left before I got a chance to talk to her, not that I went and hid out in the sacristy or anything. My muffins had a very satisfying dent in them and I got a lot of compliments, so I know that the Americans liked them. But whether they're actually Irish or not, I may never know.

And then I fell to the floor

The girls and I have a summer plan of getting together with Kieren, Dayden, Kiersi and the grandparents on Fridays this summer with the intention of taking all the kids to the New Castle library and having lunch. Sounds fun, whether lunch or the library is your focus.

We're going to the library because of a strange contretemps Pat and Angie have experienced since moving into their house some years back. As it turns out, when you live out in the country surrounded by ALL THAT NATURE, you might not be able to avail yourself of your county's library services, perhaps because your library, with a deplorable lack of foresight, doesn't exist. In their county? The library belongs to the nearest city and if you live outside that city's limits, I guess you're just doomed to illiteracy or boredom. There are no branch libraries like there are in my city.

In New Castle, where Nanny and Poppy live, the library is called the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, which is generous of them, don't you think? Nanny checks items for Kieren, Dayden and Kiersi out on her library card, warning them all not to lose any books or risk her substantial wrath which would be....not getting a cookie for a mid-afternoon snack? I don't know. She scares me half to death, so I've never lost a book she's checked out for me.

So I was telling Aisling our summer plans and said, "Doesn't that sound like fun?" in eager happiness, because libraries have figured largely in my life, just as they have in hers. My mom took me and Pat to the library when we were kids and we brought home stacks of books. Towers. Skyscrapers of books. And that continued on into my adult years when I once checked out an entire tote of sixty books for Meelyn and Aisling, read every single one of them to the girls, and then put the tote box in the trunk of my car and forgot about it until all sixty books were three weeks overdue. Oh, my husband was so pleased! He credits the New Castle-Henry County Public Library's recent renovation and expansion to the fines I paid for that little mistake.

Aisling looked at me in the way teenagers sometimes do, not really with a curled lip and scornful eyebrows, but with the impression of such. "It sounds okay," she yawned, examining her fingernails. "But you know, I don't really like libraries that much, not like you do. I'm not that crazy about reading."

And that, gentle readers, is when everything SUDDENLY WENT BLACK.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Blown away

I've been doing some online research on The Tempest through sources like the IMDb and have finally decided to go ahead and purchase the 1979 production directed by the artsy late film director Derek Jarman -- I know! It was a big step! Now we can all sleep soundly tonight! -- who will probably turn out to be too much for me to wrap my head around: not only does his portrayal of Shakespeare's script include "considerable nudity, mostly male" (why?), but I often find that artsy things frequently strike me as pretentious, giving that air of trying so hard to be avant-garde. In the many reviews I've read, Jarman's Tempest either takes a beating or earns lyrical praise from both professional and amateur film critics, so I guess we'll see. Thankfully, it isn't very expensive.

One positive thought in all this is that no matter how many naked man-bums and willies I'm forced to behold, Jarman's version will have to be better than the BBC's made-for-TV version, directed by John Gorrie and starring no one that I've ever heard of before. This one was released in 1980, and if it can be compared to every other version the BBC filmed for the edification of British schoolkids, it will be a record stinker that will be painful to watch. I might find myself wishing for a little nudity to relieve the unremitting boredom.

HOWEVER, as captivating as all this is, I just found out that there's a new version of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren and due for release by Disney through Touchstone pictures this very fall.

At reading this, I jumped up from my chair and clicked my heels in the air several times. Yay, a new Tempest! Yay, no reports of gratuitious nudity! Yay, a (reportedly) faithful adaptation of the original script! I gamboled about the room until I grew breathless, which was in approximately seventeen seconds. Then I sat back down to read more about this production and felt that I'd been swamped by a tsunami.

This production, which is directed by Julie Traymor, stars Helen Mirren as.....wait for it.....Prospera. Not Prospero, PROSPERA. As in, Prospero is now a woman. Yes. Helen, you traitor! Now, depending upon your level of interest in and committment to the works of William Shakespeare, this news will either make you say, "Shut UP!!! That sounds FASCINATING!" or "I just remembered that I need to go to Walgreen' to check out their coupon page." If you're like me, you'll immediately fall to the floor and start biting the legs of the chair you were sitting in.

Okay, I'm assuming you're all back in your chairs again.

Julie Traymor also wrote the screenplay for this production, which smacks of nepotism in a particularly incestuous way. And just read this snippet of a review:

Prospera's throne is usurped by her brother, and she is sent off on a ship with
her four-year-old daughter. They find themselves stranded on an island devoid of
society. A power struggle develops between Caliban and Prospera due to her
efforts to become a father figure to Miranda.

This nearly made me fall to the floor again -- it's like throwing some chicken nuggets on a baking sheet in the oven and basting them with margarine and calling the resulting mess "Julia Child's roasted chicken" -- but the news that Russell Brand plays the role of Trinculo sent the tornado warning sirens blaring in my head at an alarming volume.

Russell Brand, for those of you unfamiliar with his name, is a noted skeevy British playboy who has won The Sun's Shagger of the Year Award three years running. Way to go, Russell, you skank. He's also currently starring in the movie Get Him to the Greek, which just looks.....oh, never mind how it looks. If I just came right out and said it, my mother would shoot me and embalm my body in Clorox. He is reportedly engaged to the American pop-tart Katy Perry, famous for the song titled "I Kissed a Girl," and their union might just cause the apocalypse to rain down upon us. That's Russell Brand's picture up there, by the way, and yes, he always looks that crazed and glassy of eye. That Katy is one brave girl.

Only the fact that Alfred Molina is also in the cast of this movie keeps me from utter despair. But I have to admit, I'm piqued. JULIE TRAYMOR, I HATE YOU FOR SUCKING ME INTO THIS VORTEX! I shall wait for the fall, nibbling on my fingernails and waiting for the storm to break.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thoughts while sitting in the church parking lot

I had to drive Aisling over to the church for music rehearsal late this afternoon and I decided to sit in the van in the far corner of the parking lot where I could commune with nature without it's getting too close to me. Because I am all for the beauty of God's creation; it's just that I only want to see it through windows. It's hot out there. And sometimes cold. With bugs.

So as I was sitting there looking at a big tree, random thoughts were running through my head as they do for all of us at times, but today mine seemed to have a theme and the theme was "Middle Age is Here to Stay," subtitled "Why I Am a Cranky Old Boot." Can those of you who are near my age (which is forty-six) relate to any of this, or should I put on a little sweater and some pearls with my white Keds tennis sneakers and go sit with my step-gran at the assisted living center?

Please say yes, that you think these thoughts. Just....please.

Here it all is as I scribbled on a piece of paper I found on the floor:

1. Found self thinking about the good old days, particularly at White Estates pool, after hearing the song "Band on the Run" while shopping at Kroger on Wednesday. "Band on the Run" is one of the definitive songs of my all-day-at-the-pool childhood -- I can smell the Coppertone upon hearing the opening chords. Have always believed that wistful reminiscences of one's childhood were the hallmark of the aged, along w/ harangues about walking to school in three feet of snow. Very worried about self. Surely forty-six is too young for this kind of thinking.

2. Have achieved an age where can go to the deli, critically survey an entire display of delicious-looking salads, spreads, dips and kitschy desserts (Jell-O salad w/ grapes, pineapple, carrots, celery; rice pudding; ambrosia) and then turn away with a sigh because I know that, in spite of the effort I'd have to expend, I already have a good recipe for every item in the case and can probably make it better and cheaper. Can clearly remember when spinach dip with water chestnuts seemed like the height of haute cuisine chip-dippery. Silly girl.

3. Find self getting increasingly cross w/ teenagers booming "music" at stoplights in their cars and grimly predicting their impending deafness. O help, what is happening to me.....

4. No longer want young, hip whippersnapper with multiple tattoos and pierced eyebrows named "Chance" or "Mysti" to cut and style my hair -- he/she will make me look like an idiot, giving me a look they would want to see on their own twenty-something heads, but instead on my forty-something head. Much prefer to have hair done by sweet-looking thirty-something who will be respectful of my position as someone who remembers Dorothy Hamill and Princess Diana haircuts and who spent her time off from beauty school reading her Bible instead of getting her tongue pierced.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Misty, Sun-In colored memories

This is the page from my high school year book that has my picture on it -- a much smaller version than I am now and I am not talking pixels, if you know what I mean. And if you don't, just shut up anyway. Some things you just don't need to have explained to you.

Anyway, I am in the fifth row down, the fourth person over. If the picture was in color like the one that hangs on a wall at my parents' house, you'd be able to notice that my hair, which has been dark brown since I was in about seventh grade, was a very odd and brassy shade of reddish orange, all due to the indiscriminate use of a hair lightening product called Sun-In.

I was at the pharmacy the other day to buy some allergy medicine and I passed by a display of Sun-In -- I had no idea that this particular madness was still being perpetrated on the innocent public. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sun-In, here's what it looks like in the bottle. I'm afraid to post a picture of what it looks like on actual hair, although I've learned through scouting around on the internet that it actually works really well on medium brown and lighter heads.

Not on dark brown. No.

The summer before my senior year in high school, approximately one week before my senior pictures were scheduled to be taken, I was overcome with an overwhelming desire to become a delicate, fragile blonde. I don't know why, but I think it may have had something to do with the fact that my grubby little brother Pat, eleven years old at the time, had the most perfectly beautiful blond hair in the world. And it was wasted on him, utterly wasted. He had no appreciation for it and I often wondered at the vagaries of fate and human genetics that left me a dull brunette while gifting Pat with hair that Cheryl Tiegs would have envied.

My mother steadfastly refused to allow me to bleach my hair, so I did what I thought was the next best thing: I went to the Hook's drug store near my house and surreptitiously bought a bottle of Sun-In and casually stuck it in my swim bag where my mother wouldn't see it and carried it off with me to the White Estates pool. Once there, I spread out my towel, sat down, and liberally drenched the top of my head only with the Sun-In. Then I remained outdoors for about the next seven hours, baking my hair blonde.

You might wonder if I was really so stupid as to think that my hair was going to be blonde, a real, true Nordic color, and the answer is, yes, I was. I was that stupid. I thought that if I sprayed half the bottle on my head, my hair would be maybe a lovely honey shade, so if I used the whole bottle, the results would be even more spectacular. Boy, were they.

That night when I took my shower, I was disappointed to see that my hair still seemed very brown, but comforted myself with the thought that hair always looks darker when it's wet. The truly horrible damage wasn't visible until the next day when my hair was dry.

My mother was the first to lay eyes on me as I scuffed out to the kitchen, yawning. "YOUR HAAAAAIIIIIIRRRRRR!!!!" she screamed, nearly dropping the coffee pot. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO YOUR HAAAAIIIIRRRRRR???!!!!!"

I ran down the hall to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and burst into noisy tears. My hair was not only not the cool, pale wheat color that I'd been imagining, it was aggressively, obnoxiously orange. Like a clown. But only on top! Because, you know, I was very stupid and hadn't had the foresight to cover my whole head with the Sun-In; now I was stuck with a really frightening two-toned look that was like a physical assault on the eyes. And lo, my senior photos were looming, one week hence!

My mother took me to her hairdresser, her lips pressed into a tight line. She had pointed out some words on the Sun-In bottle that said something to the effect of "Not for use on black or dark brown brunette shades" or something like that. Oh. Whoops!!! I can't remember what the hairdresser did, but it managed to tone down the BRIGHTNESS of it all and by the time I went to keep my appointment with the photographer, I looked passable. Kind of. Still brassily orange, but not looking so much like Bozo anymore.

If the smile in my photograph looks a little strained, now you know why.

Have you ever done anything really stupid to your hair?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Teacher let the monkeys out!

This is what a ninth grade home schooler looks like on the last day of school at Our Lady of Good Counsel high school. This winds up our ninth year of home schooling, and I have to say that it's been a very good year.

This summer will see Meelyn and Aisling finishing up a couple of their courses, since I unreasonably insist on every textbook being finished to the very last page. Meelyn is finishing up the last few lessons in her Traditional Logic text and is carrying on with reading The Federalist Papers and The Great Gatsby. Aisling still has six lessons left in Algebra I and two lessons in her vocabulary book. She's going to start reading The Red Badge of Courage shortly.

We have lots of American Lit reading to do in these next few months, along with an SAT prep workshop the girls will be attending for two days in August. Aisling continues with piano all summer and Meelyn will soon mark her one year anniversary of being a smiling face behind the counter of a local fast food establishment -- she's already got a substantial savings tucked away so that she can buy a car next summer.

Next year, a sophomore and a junior. Phew, that sounds old, for them and for me!

RECIPE: Chicken Salad with Grapes and Walnuts

We have fallen in love with this chicken salad recipe, which makes me a little nervous because why, oh why can't we ever fall in love with carrot sticks? Or more to the point, why can't we ever fall in love with carrot sticks without a delicious homemade buttermilk ranch dip, the kind with two cloves of garlic and some fresh dill?

It just isn't in us.

Anyway, this isn't one of the best food pictures I've ever taken, mostly because of the bread. This chicken salad is much better served on croissants, ditto homemade, with or without the fresh dill. It's also better with homemade mayonnaise or Hellmann's scooped creamily from the jar and stirred in but I have made a concession to the health of our hearts and "light" mayonnaise can be used. If you must. And you should! But just between you, me and the enduring spirit of Julia Child, it's going to be better if nothing "light" in mayonnaise form cozies up to those trusting grapes and walnuts and chicken chunks.

This can also be served in a scoop on a bed of curly leaf lettuce with some pretty grapes and a little slice of soda bread or zucchini bread or some champagne crackers in a retro ladies-who-lunch presentation, or on a ripe tomato still warm from the garden. If you elect to eat the tomato slurping over your kitchen sink and shoveling in a bite of chicken salad out of the bowl you made it in, I will never tell. It is that good.

Here's a major thing with this salad, though: you have to dice all the chunky ingredients very finely, because if you don't, this salad just becomes impossible to eat -- you can't get a bite that includes everything at the same time if you have big hunks of chicken, big hunks of grape, big ol' honkin pieces of celery, whole walnuts, et cetera. It looks better if it's in the huge chunks, but it eats better cut up small.



4 cups cooked chicken, diced very small


4 T sour cream (okay, this can be "light" too...)

1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half, or in thirds if they're large

6 green onions, including the green stems, diced very small

2 ribs celery, diced small

1 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 teaspoon salt

several dashes black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey


Carefully stir all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and allow to chill for two or three hours. Serving size is approximately one-half cup.

See this pretty flower pot?

It has taken me four years of careful tending to turn that flower pot from something that looked like a piece of crap I got at Wal-Mart for $3.99 into an object that I fondly told myself looked like a fine aged piece of Tuscan terra cotta. You can imagine the pardonable pride with which I planted that beautiful geranium, which will have fabulous pink blossoms when it blooms, and then displayed it on my front porch.

Four years of nurturing, developing that chalky and be-mossed exterior. FOUR YEARS.

It took Zuzu exactly thirty seconds to shoot out the front door like a rocket and get her leash wrapped around the little table the pot was sitting on, sending the whole kit and kaboodle crashing down the steps, table, geranium and pot flying every which way. Actually, my pot flew in about fifty different ways and low and fervent was the vulgar language emanating from my ladylike lips as I picked up the pieces and tossed them in the bin.

I kind of wanted to toss Zuzu in there, too, but we already spent that money on her shots.

One mean Nana

Have you ever seen the likes of this badness? Here is my innocent, never-a-moment-of-trouble little Aisling out in Nanny and Poppy's backyard on Sunday afternoon, with Nanny ruthlessly attacking her on the knee with a badminton racquet while Meelyn looks on in consternation, wondering whether she should rush in to defend her sister and risk a drubbing of her own, or merely stand there looking very cute in her new denim mini from Old Navy.

Which course of action do you think she chose?

And is Aisling really the injured innocent she's been portrayed to be?

And what about Nanny? Is she really the sort of grandmother who would whack her own granddaughter on the knee with a weapon-like instrument, like that weird guy did to Nancy Kerrigan all those years ago outside the skating rink?

I'll leave you to ponder the answers to these questions yourself, but let me inform you on one point: Once, when I was being an unspeakable brat of maybe nine or ten years old, Nanny, who was then known as Mommy or Mom or Marmee or Mudgie or WHAT NOW??? depending upon my changeable moods even at that tender age, broke a yardstick across my bottom after a high speed chase around the kitchen.

Soooo.....I'm just saying. Think it over.