Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So much for the long, graceful neck

You know how people are always saying that swans are lovely because they have such long, graceful necks? Well, I'm sure that's true, although it wasn't true of this particular swan we met while strolling the banks of the Avon River in Stratford.

On first blush, what could be more romantic than a swan on the banks of the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario? Well, first of all, it wasn't necessarily a romantic occasion because my husband and I were with Meelyn and Aisling, who trailed along behind us, honking like grumpy geese: "I'm cold!" and "I'm tired!" and "When's dinner?" and "Haven't you taken enough pictures YET?" washing over us in a querulous tide. When my husband and I saw the swan, which was very tame, we stopped to watch it for a moment.

Although I found this swan's leathery black feet -- huge feet -- very off-putting, it was still a very beautiful bird. It observed us impassively for a couple of moments, and when it had apparently determined that we didn't have a little bag of corn concealed about us, it proceeded to give us the cold shoulder in more ways than one. The swan was intent on grooming her (his?) feathers, especially the feathers on its own rear end. Because one of the benefits of having that long, graceful neck? As it turns out, you can use it to angle your beak back and bite your tail feathers A LOT. In a disrespectful sort of way.

Here I managed to get a picture of him just as he was going back for one more dig. All the others I took feature that long neck at an awkward angle, as the swan nips pleasurably at his own butt. Ah, it any wonder I'm not all that fond of you?

Menu Plan Monday

Laura over at I'm an Organizing is the originator of Menu Plan Monday, and many's the time I've been thankful for her splendid idea of posting a week's worth of menu plans here at InsomniMom. Not, you understand, because I think my vast readership (*ahem*) is sitting and wringing their hands in anxiety, wondering what I'm going to serve for dinner on Thursday, but more because posting the menu plans keeps me on the straight and narrow, budget-wise. When I post my menu plans, I tend to make a shopping list. When I make a shopping list - and bring it with me -  I tend to spend less money. And when I spend less money, my husband is very, very happy and doesn't get that little worried crease between his eyebrows.

So here goes!

Menu Plan for the Week of September 27, 2010
Monday - Pot roast, potatoes, carrots and onions in the slow-cooker, homemade 2-egg brioche

Tuesday - Baked pork chops and cabbage, pea and carrot medley (I love to call mixed vegetables a "medley." That's just what James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School used to call mixed veggies on their school cafeteria menu and that always brings back a wave of nostalgic happiness. Not that I ever ate them. Because, ick.)

Wednesday - Breakfast for Dinner! Scrambled eggs with sausage and oven-baked potato puffs. My husband requested biscuits along with this meal, but I vetoed that idea.

Thursday - Simple/Cheap! Corn dogs and potato puffs. Maybe some green beans.

Friday - Taketh me to a restaurant, if thou cravest thy lady's favor, my lord! (I'm reading a book about the Middle Ages and it seems to be working itself out in my speech.) Edited on Saturday to add: No money for a restaurant experience this week, not even Arby's. Have I mentioned how much I hate this recession? So we were back to Seafood/Meatless. I made bean and cheese tostadas and corn casserole and it was pretty darned good, even if no one served it to me with a margarita.

Saturday - Spaghetti Night! Spaghetti with meat sauce and garlicky-buttery breadsticks. The sauce is left over from two weeks ago - I froze a little less than half of it in a gallon-sized freezer bag, laid it flat on a baking sheet until frozen, marked with the date I put it in the freezer. To serve, I'll defrost it in the microwave, add a couple of cans of tomato sauce and some extra mushrooms, maybe a beef bouillon cube. Then all I have to do is heat it up, cook the pasta, bake the breadsticks and serve. (We really like the Pillsbury bread sticks that come in a tube - they're so easy and actually very delcious.)

Sunday - A roasted chicken, Julia Child-style, served with mashed potatoes, glazed baby carrots and mini croissant rolls.

The Catholic churches of Stratford

Immaculate Conception Parish, Stratford

St. Joseph Parish, Stratfor
On Friday, September 10, Meelyn, Aisling, my husband and I spent several hours of free time just driving around Stratford and looking at different places of interest. Two places we were automatically drawn to were the Catholic churches in Stratford, the enormous St. Joseph parish and the smaller Immaculate Conception. Both churches were lovely in their different ways.

St. Joseph was mind-boggling to those of us who attend humble little plain parish churches where the actual church isn't even built yet and Mass is celebrated in the building that will someday be the youth center. St. Joseph was a striking combination of pumpkin and apricot, baby blue and deep navy, which might sound completely hideous, but it wasn't. It was gorgeous. I love the way the sunlight was coming in blindingly bright in my photograph, right over the crucifix and the tabernacle. I took that picture from not even halfway up the aisle in the nave, so this is a big, big church. We tried to keep our exclamations of admiration very soft and quiet, as there were people coming in and out to pray. We prayed as well, so as not to give the impression that we were just gawking tourists who had come in to gape at their architecture, completely unmindful of the presence of the Son.

Immaculate Conception also had its share of pray-ers in the pews, so we were very quiet there, too. But honestly, both churches were just too beautiful not to take a few pictures. Immaculate Conception is very sweet and pretty and reminded me of my home church, St. Anne in New Castle, the one that was burned down and has since been rebuilt. It smelled faintly of beeswax and incense, as churches should, and an elderly man praying in a pew looked up from his devotions and smiled at us indulgently as we all breathed an "Ohhhhhh..." of delight and then genuflected before taking out our cameras.

In a couple of years, my husband and I hope to make our Stratford tour a three-night trip, a Thursday-through-Sunday excursion that would require Mass attendance in Stratford on Sunday morning before we all left to drive home. We picked up bulletins and other literature in each church, noting the staggered Mass times for those who prefer the Saturday vigil Mass and those who like to rise early on Sunday morning, or for those who prefer to sleep a little later. It looks as if attending Mass at either of these parishes will be a treat for the eyes as well as the soul.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Home is where the good smells live

I took this picture last summer, so it doesn't really reflect the way the house looks now. Because now? The grass is dried up and brown and feels crunchy if you walk on it. Also, the potted and hanging plants haven't fared so well this year because of the heat: every vining petunia I have is gasping its last breath and demanding to see its lawyer to that it can jot a few more bequests into the will and all are generally looking very sad and defeated.

Meanwhile, the impatiens -- featured on the east and north sides of the house where we don't get much direct sunlight -- are holding mad, raucous parties and spilling out of their beds and containers like a bunch of lusty sorority girls, all dressed up in their pink, salmon and scarlet cocktail frocks, the little tarts.

We haven't yet set out the pumpkins and hay bales and chrysanthemums and corn shocks yet because we don't do that until October 1. But today happens to be the first welcome, blessed day that is too cold to have the windows open and so I went ALL OUT and put a pot roast with potatoes and carrots and onions in the slow-cooker and the ingredients for a 2-egg brioche in the bread maker and the house smells so luscious, I swear I just want to eat the air.

It's always nice when our house smells delicious because I'm afraid that it often smells of dog. Which I guess could be a good thing. I mean, better the smell of dog than the smell of gunpowder or crystal meth cooking merrily away on a hot plate back in the laundry room. At least the smell of dog could be considered homey and pet-friendly, if not perhaps hygienic. To cover the smell of dog, we buy lots of scented candles from Bath & Body Works and yesterday I was burning one named "Kitchen Spice" and I kept wondering if I'd forgotten something in the oven.

As nice as that candle is, it's still the smell of fake food, which is what makes today's aromas so pleasant. Home-cooked food....home-made bread....I hope the girls will come across these fragrances in later years and, in that evocative way scent works in our minds, will immediately remember that this is what Mom and Dad's house smelled like, way back when.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The best dress-up box EVER

When Meelyn and Aisling were little, they had a huge trunk full of dress-up clothes in their playroom full of fairy wings and junky jewelry and hats and frocks and high-heeled shoes that my mom and I collected from different re-sale shops. Because you know all those bridesmaid's dresses you furtively bundled into the trunk of the car and took to Goodwill, hoping that no one would see you and realize that you'd actually WORN those awful things? It turns out that little girls think those are the most awesome dresses, ever. Here's Aisling posing in a wreath of flowers that looks kind of Midsummer Night's Dream-y to me.

Maureen, Rachel, Beck and Kathleen posing in costumes from various plays and eras. I wish you could have heard all the giggling and screams of delight and cries of "Take my picture! Take my picture!" as the girls all delved through the racks of clothing.

Gina, whose personality is less like a goofy court jester's than just about anyone I know, dressed like one. So very cute!

My husband in a puffy Renaissance style hat.

Meelyn in a queenly garment combined with a hat that looked like a bizarre combination of Audrey Hepburn and Goodwife Prudence Bradford.

More from the Costume and Prop Warehouse tour

It was with great disappointment that our group learned that the Costume and Prop Warehouse doesn't rent out costumes for Halloween, because what could be more perfect than dressing up as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, or Bottom wearing a donkey's head? Or how's about King Henry VIII? No? Me neither. Although I've been given to understand that our figures are remarkably similar. And -- heaven be thanked -- I don't have a beard.

But there were some other very interesting things to be seen 'way back in the dim recesses of the warehouse. Such as this immense and towering mast, which looked like it could have served on the Nina, the Pinta or the Santa Maria.

Tasty hors d'oeuvres, anyone? If you're hungry, you might want to skip these, seeing as how they're made of dense foam carved into the shape of deviled eggs and celery sticks.

My husband was delighted to see these mugs of beer sitting temptingly on a table. They looked so incredibly real, but being made of plastic, they were extremely lightweight. You'd think that maybe they were those joke mugs you can find in souvenir stores and the like, but they were actually crafted on site by the craft artisans employed by the Stratford Festival.

Sometimes the props are a little gory. There was one of a life-sized decaying corpse that startled us all as we came around a corner, and then there was this severed head, which looked very realistic. I can't remember what play this was used for, but a mask was taken of the actor's face so that the artists couldrecreate him in foamand latex looking very, very dead.
The hair was even real. Eeek!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We're learning how to write our names in elvish runes

The Costume and Prop Warehouse tour in Stratford was one of the best field trips I've ever been on. You can tell from this exterior view of the building how truly heeeyooge it is: I couldn't even get the whole thing in my camera shot while standing way out in the parking lot. We learned all kinds of amazing things while there, but I think one of the parts of the tour everyone enjoyed most was the fifteen minutes at the end when we were taken to the back of the warehouse, where several racks of costumes and a big rack of hats awaited us.

My family automatically gravitated toward a sparkly gold elf hat and it seemed very important for us all to have our pictures taken while wearing it. To be honest, my husband didn't actually GRAVITATE - Meelyn, Aisling and I had to alternately cajole, threaten and wheedle my husband into putting it on his head, but persistence finally won out.

Aisling looks like she should be in Santa's workshop at the North Pole, making toys.

Meelyn wears the elf hat with a jaunty air, perhaps thinking that she needs to get back to her job baking cookies in the Keebler hollow tree.


Do not even think of messing with Mr. Meanie McElfhat. He will take your candy cane and crush it into a fine powder.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sometimes I surprise myself

There are times when miracles can be wrought with a simple point-and-shoot Nikon and a button-pusher with ten thumbs and a shaky hand. Isn't that pretty? I took a lightning trip down to Madison last Thursday to see Carol and Susie and we went to the river to talk after we ate dinner. At one point, the sky was so lovely and the water was so serene, I lifted the camera up to my face and clicked and this is what I came up with. For some reason, when I look at this picture, the only appropriate response seems to be "Amen."

Menu Plan Monday

It was a busy weekend around here, as weekends often are. Work, church (two different times), religious education classes, youth group....we buzzed around and now here we are on Monday already, which has become....a day of relaxation? That can't be right.

Thanks to Laura at I'm an Organizing for jump-starting my week. Click the link to find out what she's serving her family. I kind of wish I could pile everyone into the van and go eat dinner at her house.

Anyway, we're on the third week of the month which means that the Meal Matrix has designated this week as Chicken, Beef, Soup, New Recipe, Seafood/Meatless (or Restaurant, if I'm lucky), Mexican and Pork. Although now that football season has started, the Sunday dinner will most likely become a thing of the past until after the Super Bowl's over, at which time we'll resume with tradition. So let's call Sunday "Football Snack" for the time being.

Here goes!

Menu Plan for the Week of September 20, 2010

Monday -- Crispy Oven Chicken, Cranberry-Walnut dressing and green beans

Tuesday -- Comforting Beef Pot Pie

Wednesday -- Grade-School Chili and peanut butter sandwiches

Thursday -- New Recipe: Apricot Chicken (in the slow-cooker instead of the oven), served with seasoned almond rice and peas.

Friday -- Restaurant? Please?

Saturday -- Tamale Casserole

Sunday -- Football Snack: Game Day Caramel Corn

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bentley's looooove

Bentley's is a Stratford institution, a place that came highly recommended by a new friend named Aaron, who is a Stratford local. We owe Aaron a huge debt of gratitude because Bentley's was a lot like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way. From the fun pubby atmosphere to our darling waitress to the delicious food, Bentley's was a definite high point on our Stratford trip and it's a place we'll want to return to again and again.
See? Could this place be any cuter? The bar area was raised up from the main floor and decorated with cheerful advertising signs and everything was dim and cozy. It was a place that looked like it would be a comforting stop on a snowy evening after work, but it wasn't bad in the hot September weather, either.
Al, Michelle and Gloria beaming brightly while waiting for their dinners, which were delicious. So maybe they were beaming even more brightly after they ate, but I was too busy with my own plate to take their picture then.
Gary and Katie, a handsome couple, are the parents of one of my longtime students, Beck, and are our dearly loved friends.
Bentley's is famous around Stratford for two menu selections - their fish and chips and their Mennonite Apple Pie. My husband and I had the fish and chips and agreed that we've never had better and wondered if Canada is too far to drive to during Lent. As for the Mennonite Apple Pie, the words that can describe this delightful dessert are ones like: mmmm and fabulous and utterly and completely delicious. The person who would use words like "calories" and "fattening" and "high carb" to describe this masterpiece of pastry should be soundly beaten around the head and neck with a rolling pin.

French Fridays with Dorie - October cooking schedule

The October cooking schedule was published for the French Fridays with Dorie group at the website. If you'd like to join, there's apparently still room for more. I am excited about these five recipes because guess who chose them?

Dorie herself!

The recipes all sound fairly easy to manage and none of them have crazy-weird ingredients that could wind up being hard to find in central Indiana, except maybe for the "two points of star anise" called for in the Vietnamese Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup. I have a bottle of anise seed; I've seen star anise in pictures, but don't know if I've ever had the pleasure of meeting any personally; I have no clue what a "point" of star anise is. Can I convert that to teaspoons?

The gougères are little appetizer cheese puffs and sound a tad more impressively sophisticated than the Bisquick sausage-and-cheese puff common to these parts, although if you've ever had a Bisquick sausage-and-cheese puff made with really spicy sausage and really sharp cheddar, you know that they're a great thing to enjoy at a party with a really cold beer. Dorie recommends kir (there is a very interesting sidebar on page 6 that talks about that famous apéritif) with these little dainties, however. Either that or champagne, so you can see that those of us with baking mix in the pantry are going to take a few steps up.

Gerard's Mustard Tarte sounds very straightforward and simple, a lovely savory custard with carrots, leeks and rosemary garnishing it -- although I'll just come forward right now and tell you that I, in the interests of not breaking my grocery budget, am just going to use plain old scallions and not fool with their more expensive leeky cousins -- and, naturally, mustard. Two different mustards, in fact. The smooth Dijon kind made famous by those snooty men in the Bentleys and the grainy kind that we like to eat on ham sandwiches. I may have to scouting for different mustards, though, because the mustard section of the condiment aisle is one of the most fascinating places in the whole grocery store. This tart, Dorie advises, can either be served as a starter or as a main course and I appreciate that kind of versatility.

Hachis Parmentier
is the French version of shepherd's pie, the meat pie with the toasty mashed potatoes on top -- I am already mentally steeling myself for a comment like the one my husband made about my beef bourguignon last spring: "This tastes just like what I ate when I was in the army!" Because your hachis parmentier is his shepherd's pie and pretty much a staple in my kitchen come winter. Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake, however, will likely prove to be a hit with everyone; the picture of it in the cookbook made my mouth water. And what could be better for a chilly fall Friday than a warm piece of homemade apple cake?

October 1, 2010 - Gougères, pp. 4-6

October 8, 2010 - Gerard's Mustard Tart, pp. 154-156

October 15, 2010 - Vietnamese Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup, 98-100

October 22, 2010 - Hachis Parmentier, pp. 258, 259

October 29, 2010 - Marie-Héne's Apple Cake, pp. 432, 433

Friday, September 17, 2010

Satan invited us to a Bar-B-Q! (darn, we're busy)

Today Aisling went out to gather the mail -- I got my copy of Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table for the new internet cooking group Kayte and I joined -- and brought in a funny little letter, addressed to my husband in a childish, unformed hand.

"What do you suppose this is?" she asked dubiously, holding the envelope up so I could read it. I squinted at the handwriting -- it looked like maybe it could be Dayden's? Although why our nine-year-old nephew Dayden would be sending my husband a little letter with no return address was beyond what I could puzzle out on a Friday in the mid-afternoon.

I'd really like to say that Aisling and I waited until my husband got home from work before we tore open the envelope to satisfy our vulgar curiosity about the sender, but, well....we didn't. We ripped it apart like a hyena on an antelope and a little invitation fell out.

"You're invited to a Bar-B-Q!" it announced luridly. I flicked it open and noticed that the sender was none other than Satan, the Prince of Darkness himself, and this barbecue he was inviting us to was one of the eternal kind involving a lake of fire and everlasting damnation. It told us that we could tell Jesus to "stuff it," and that if we really wanted to tick God off, we could drink -- I gave a moment's thought to the twelve bottles of Killian's Irish Red my husband had recently placed in the laundry room's fridge -- get tattoos and then commit suicide.

The invitation told us of another party going on, one that would be taking place without the four of us. The only way we could be invited to the other party would be to repent of our sins and be saved. And I guess the anonymous sender figured that there's no possible way we could possibly be saved, since we have that big old statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary out in the front yard.

I'd like to tell you that this is the first time we've gotten Bible tracts in the mail urging us to repent of our wicked ways, but it isn't. That statue is like a red flag to a bull for some people. Although as I recall, this is the first time we've received an invitation to eternal torment from the Old Scratch himself, which made it an interesting thing to happen on an otherwise boring afternoon. So after I took its picture to commemorate the occasion, I dropped it into the trash and said a little prayer for all the Christians out there who think they're the only ones a-goin' to heaven. I tried not to be huffy about it, reflecting that the sender thought he was doing something nice, but Jesus knows this kind of thing really wears on my nerves. Yet somehow, He manages to love me anyway.

Has everyone known about these except me? (Playaway audio books)

I did a solo drive yesterday -- two and a half hours down to southern Indiana and two and a half hours back -- and I knew before I left that I needed something to listen to. I know that it makes me out to be some kind of freak to admit this, but I hate listening to music in the car. I could play nothing but Aerosmith, Def Leppard and the Beatles on a long drive and all it would do is put me right to sleep. I have to have words.

So I went to our public library's website and looked up a book I'd been wanting to read but couldn't because the library owns only one copy and some dumb patron lost it. Do they maybe have it on audio book? I wondered. It turned out that the answer was yes, it's just that it wasn't on CD. It was preloaded onto this handy little device called a Playaway.

I hope I'm not the only dope out there who had never heard of a Playaway until the nice clerk at the public library put it into my hand. If you haven't heard of them either, click here for a description of how they work and click here for a list of titles. You can see the unit itself, front and back, in the pictures up there. It's a little smaller than an iPhone and the library in my city requests that patrons provide their own ear buds and triple-A battery. I got my copy, I suppose you could call it, of Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark -- and yes, I know it's hardly highbrow literature but I read a lot of Shakespeare and everyone needs a break sometimes, so shut up -- and deeply enjoyed my drive.

I noticed at the Playaway store that these little babies cost anywhere from around $34.99 to $104.00 each, so this definitely isn't something I'd ever buy for myself, but they're nifty little things and I've enjoyed using it today, too, while doing busy work around the house. Fun! I am a Playaway fan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wherein I am betrayed by nature, now with more Shakespeare.

People who know me know two things about me, definitely. The first is that I hate nature. Oh, don't get me wrong. I love the brook that babbles, the eagle that soars, the fields of grain that ripple like a horse's skin when a fly lands on it. I am ALL ABOUT the purple mountains' majesty and all that crap. It's just that I only want to see all of it through a window.

The second thing people learn about me rather quickly is that I have the attention span of a gnat. Which would explain why, when going into the bathroom for a wee, I'm sometimes distracted by my own reflection in the mirror and how it looks like the blush on one side of my face is darker than the blush on the other side and then I wind up with wet socks.

That would explain why my husband, while we were waiting to go through the international border last Thursday, was gazing around at the cars around us and then sucked in his breath and let it out again in an enormous whoop of laughter.

"It's YOU," he wheezed as the girls and all all chorused "What? What? Whatso funny?"

"It's perfect! It's like it was made for you, but on someone else's car." He pointed to an SUV in another line, about two cars ahead. On the tailgate of the vehicle was a large bumper sticker that read:

I don't have a short attention span, I just....Oh, look! A squirrel!

The girls started chortling, "Oh, Mommy! That's TOO perfect! You have to get one, because, you know, you're SUCH a DOPE."

"Humph," I said, glowering at the three of them. "I do manage to get dinner on the table every night, don't I?"

My husband looked in the rear-view mirror to meet the girls' eyes. They all traded a silent glance and seemed inclined to start laughing again. "Well, sort of," said my husband. "Unless it's Friday night."

"Or Saturday," said Meelyn.

"Or Sunday," Aisling chimed in.

"If any of you ever want to eat anything without having to suck it through a soda straw ever again, we'll just cut this conversation short right now," I threatened.


So that brings us to Friday night. My group was at the Festival theater, upstairs on the balcony, waiting for the performance of As You Like It to begin. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening with the sunset and the flower gardens and the trees; all the adults were sitting around at one table (except for Katie, who was taking a thousand pictures) and all the students were sitting at another.

I'd just finished telling my sad story to everyone about how my family thinks I'm stupid and the "Oh, look! There's a squirrel!" bumper sticker and all, drowning my sorrow in a bottle of really tasty pilsner from the Stratford Brewing Company. Katie came back to the table to show us a message that had just come up on her camera.

"Look at this," she said, turning the camera so we could read what it said. "'Warning! Camera battery is exhausted.' Like it's the only one that gets tired. Has it been the one walking around all day and getting up at the crack of dawn to go on the Costume and Prop Warehouse tour?"

We all laughed and then started going "Ooooh!! Look!" because the troubadours who come out to the balcony with their drum and trumpets to play the fanfare that announces the beginning of a performance were walking by. Katie was cursing her camera's exhausted battery and went closer to them so that she could maybe coax a couple more pictures out of it; I gave my camera to Meelyn so that she could go get a few pix for us.

The troubadors finished tootling their welcome to the crowd and Gary, Katie's husband, said, "Well, I'd better get Katie."

"And I'd better go get my coat," said our friend Gloria, whose jacket was draped over a chair at the kids' table.

"And I have to finish my beer," I said and tipped the bottle up to get the last swig.

Gary waited until I was in full gulp before he said excitedly, full of mischief as usual, "Look! There's a squirrel!" He pointed to the other end of the balcony.

I tore the beer bottle away from my lips and squealed, "Ooohh! Where is it?" I'd noticed that Stratford has quite a few black squirrels -- we have them here, too -- and they're just so cute, all silky and dark like little chimney sweeps with their bushy tails. I looked where Gary was pointing and I didn't see any squirrels at all, so I looked back at Gary, who was exchanging a good, hearty laugh AT MY EXPENSE with my husband, the man who vowed before God to cherish me and buy my theater tickets until death separates us, which looked like it was going to be coming sooner rather than later because it's a pretty steep drop over the railing of that balcony down onto the cement sidewalk below.

"Gary, I LOOKED," I said indignantly.

"I know," he said smugly, giving my husband a fist-bump. "And it was really funny, too."

You think that Katie, Gloria and Dwan, as my friends and fellow women, would have been on my side, but they were laughing their heads off, too. If they go again in 2012, I'm going to put nothing but gummy worms and Tootsie Rolls in their treat bags. And if they want some cold, refreshing bottled water? TOO BAD!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Water Nazi

In preparing for the Stratford trip, I had to think of a lot of things, some of which were a pleasure to think about and some which nearly gave me permanent hives, such as when I went to pick up the theater tickets at the travel agency one bare week before we were to leave and she casually mentioned that she'd never received a confirmation for our motel reservations.

"By the way," she said, "we've never received a confirmation about the motel reservations."

My group was due to stay at this place for two nights. The hotels and motels in Stratford have been booked for months in advance - we'd made our arrangements with the proprietor of this establishment last February -- and since the festival season was still in full swing, it was going to be unlikely that we'd be able to find another place at the last minute that could accommodate the number of rooms we needed. Not to mention the fact that I'd already written the travel agent a check for a couple thousand dollars to make sure everyone with me had a place to brush their teeth and rest their weary heads.

I stared at her across her desk, resisting the urge to staple a Kleenex to her forehead. "Well, do you think you could maybe CALL HIM UP while I'm here?" I asked in a level voice.

The travel agent and her assistant traded a glance. "You call him," said the agent. "I can't understand him. He's some kind of foreigner."

"I believe Mr. Patel is from India," I replied.

"Well, whatever. Wherever. I can't understand him."

The agent's assistant heaved a heavy sigh and put on her headset. She looked up the number in my file, dialed, and began speaking very loudly to the person on the other end of the line whom I assumed was Mr. Patel, whose first name is, unaccountably, Bob. It is true that he is very difficult to understand, even when you're standing right in front of him. He speaks beautiful English; it's just that he has a very heavy accent. I did sympathize with the assistant, but there is email and there are fax machines. It seemed that this oversight could have been handled quite efficiently using either of those means.

After about twenty-five minutes of shouting, it became clear that my group still owed a balance of around $126.00, which did not please me at all.

And then I found out that when I made the arrangements for the two dinners that were to be served at the two different restaurants? The travel agent hadn't made an allowance for the tax and the gratuity for either meal.

And THEN I realized when I was already back at my house with the theater tickets that the travel agent had failed to secure the A+ and A rated theater seats I'd requested. Considering that we ordered these tickets in early December 2009, it didn't seem like it was an unreasonable thing to ask for. That was when I called my mother and told her I was going to go burn down the travel agency: she could either come with me and help carry the gas cans or go to the bank and withdraw enough money to bail me out of jail.

She sighed. "I completely sympathize, but it's so hot outside and we're going to have to wear ski masks to make a sporting attempt to disguise ourselves. And your dad says he'll be glad to come with us if you can wait until Matlock is over."

"What time does it come on?" I asked, disgruntled.

"Oh, it'll be over by 9:00. But are you sure you don't want to reconsider? This seems like an awfully strong response to her inefficiency. How about a strongly worded letter when you're back from Canada and have had a chance to cool down?"

It took a lot of doing, but she finally calmed me, mostly by speaking admiringly of the treat bags I'd lovingly made for each family. Those treat bags were dear to my heart and I'd done everything but snuggle up to them in bed at nights, along with the two cases of water I'd been chilling in the laundry room fridge for the past week.

The treat bags -- the lovely, lovely treat bags -- were adorable black totes with red handles, decorated with a white filigree design on the sides. Very baroque. They went so nicely with the red travel folders I'd designed to hold everyone's itinerary (printed on adorable white paper with a black filigree border), theater tickets and a list of FYI addenda. The treat bags held what I thought was an amazing assortment of goodies: microwave popcorn, chocolates, granola bars, chips, cheese crackers, hard candies, plus a separate bag of comfort items like a hand soap with a pump (I hate washing my hands with those teeny bars of hotel soap), some hand sanitizer, wet wipes and some air freshener to get rid of that motel-y smell - although if I'd known then about the motel what I know now, I would have included a travel-sized package of Napalm.)

Along with the goody bags, I had those two cases of water to load up into our coolers. I wanted to be able to give each family water bottles to store in their room fridges because it's a pain in the toe trying to get a cold drink out of those little weeny cups supplied by hotels. I was very happy about that water and I even brought plastic bags to put the drippy little bottles in as we handed them out to our guests.

Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication between me and my husband about those water bottles: My opinion was that he was a HOST and his opinion was that he was both a HOST and a GUEST. An epic battle took place in a McDonald's parking lot in Clearwater, Michigan when he opened one of the coolers and tried to remove an icy cold bottle of water to slake his burning thirst.

"Wait, there. Whoa, whoa, whoaaaa....What are you doing with that water bottle?" I asked him. I had opened the rear hatch and was standing there cooing over the goody bags and he'd joined me at the back of the van and opened the cooler while the girls were still in the restroom.

He gave me a strange look. "I'm getting a bottle of water," he said, holding it up for me to see.

"You can't have one of those bottles of water," I said indignantly. "Those are for the TRIP."

He looked around him and then leaned close, as if to whisper in my ear. "Uhmmm...I think we may be ON THE TRIP, right at this moment. Because we're, like, two hundred miles from home."

"But we're not at our destination," I argued. "These water bottles are meant for everyone's motel fridge in STRATFORD. This, my friend, is CLEARWATER."

"Well, if I'm thirsty now in CLEARWATER, I'm really going to be parched by the time we get to STRATFORD. And you know what would help me with that? A nice, cool, refreshing BOTTLE OF WATER."

"Get one through the drive-thru then," I said, attempting to snatch the bottle out of his hand. He held it above my head where I couldn't reach it. "Gimme that! I mean it! That water isn't for you, at least not 'til we get to Stratford!"

"Are you seriously telling me - seriously - that you want me to go through this drive-thru and BUY A WATER BOTTLE WHEN WE HAVE FORTY-EIGHT FRIGGING WATER BOTTLES IN OUR CAR?"

I stopped trying to grab the bottle and put my hands on my hips, glaring at him defiantly. "Yes, that is EXACTLY what I mean."


"Oh, quit being such a brat and go through the drive-thru, already. I want a Diet Coke."

"I bet you do. And you know what? I bet if there were forty-eight Diet Cokes, perfectly chilled, in the back of this van, you'd be helping yourself right now."

"Not true," I said with dignity. "I want a Diet Coke with ice in it."

We piled back into the van where the girls were waiting for us. "Are you two seriously out there bickering about water bottles?" said Meelyn mildly.

"He started it," I said defensively.

"Did not."

"Yes, you did! You tried to steal one of my water bottles!"

"Oh, so now they're YOUR water bottles. I thought they belonged to our guests!"

"Ohhh, you know what I mean."

He looked at me as he pulled into the drive-thru lane. "No, I do not know what you mean. It makes no sense to me at all. But I'll tell you one thing I do know - you are a WATER NAZI. 'No water for you!'"

From that moment on, he told the Water Nazi story to just about everyone we met: the people on the trip with us, the teller at the bank who changed our American dollars for Canadian dollars, the ushers at the theater. By the time we headed home, I was glancing fearfully over my shoulder to make sure there wasn't an angry mob coming up behind me with the intent of dragging me to the Avon river and holding my head under until I promised to buy everyone in Stratford a chilled water bottle of their very own.

I made it home safely, but my husband couldn't resist pointing out that we still had water bottles left over. I don't believe he'll be letting me forget it any time soon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Just about all my recipes this week are from, which is one of my favorite websites, like, ever. The recipes there have bailed me out time and time again: there was a point last winter where anarchy reared its ugly head in my home and I was informed by three people who shall go unnamed to protect other people's good opinion of them that if I made chili or tacos one more time, there was going to be BIG TROUBLE.

Menu Plan Mondays originated with Laura, whose blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie is so far beyond what I'm capable of in my daily life, it just makes me feel all nervous and inadequate to read it. Let's just say that Laura would never buy a new container of red pepper flakes every week for four consecutive weeks because she kept forgetting about the new one in her cupboard. Not that I'd do anything like that either. I'm just saying.

Menu Plan for the Week of September 13, 2010

Monday - Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff with egg noodles, served with some green beans on the side. I found this while researching slow-cooker recipes because I'm determined to use the crock-pot once or twice a week this school year. We are so busy and the slow-cooker and the bread machine are really excellent ways for busy mothers to serve home-cooked meals fast-ish-ly.

Tuesday - Lemon-Garlic Chicken with seasoned rice, served with croissant rolls from a tube. This is also a new recipe for the slow-cooker.

- Amish Breakfast Casserole, a long time family favorite. I'm going to go all out and serve this one with a side of french toast bites.

- Nouilles à la sauce de quatre fromages which would actually be "Four-Cheese Macaroni Hotdish" in many places in our country. I'm planning on putting some chunks of ham and chopped onion in it to make it into a real casserole, although I'm sorry to say that it has no cream of mushroom soup in it, hahaha Kayte.

Friday - Someone please take me out for dinner!

This past Saturday, we were still on the road coming home from Canada, so we ate a bunch of crap like smokehouse almonds and Twizzlers for dinner, which may explain my mood on Sunday. Sunday, which was yesterday, I made homemade sloppy joes for dinner and they were pretty good, considering that I made them with only one eye open.

French Fridays with Dorie

Dorie Greenspan, beloved of many kitcheny types, has a new book out titled Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours and I've joined a new internet group to cook my way through it. My friend Kayte urged me to sign up with her, knowing my deep appreciation for French food, cooking it and well, eating it.

The two of us have decided that we'll skip over the recipes that call for the enormously expensive ingredients French cuisine sometimes insists upon -- saffron, truffles, sirop de cassis at twenty dollars an ounce -- but I have already steeled myself to a huge financial outlay because, BUTTER. We may have to buy a cow and keep her in the laundry room where she can earn her keep by giving us milk and folding the towels.

If you'd like to join the group yourself, click here to register; the first recipes are to be posted on blogs on October 1. I'm not sure what number that the group is limited to, so nip right over there if you're interested. To protect Dorie's copyright, no recipes will be posted online, so you're going to need to buy the book. That shouldn't be a hardship because Dorie's cookbooks are so lovely.

Bon appétit to us all, mes chéres!

There and back again

Oh, you just have to enjoy a good toll road - three dollars will open up the door to Canada, or at least it will open the door that leads to the door where the very intimidating border crossing agent, armed and wearing Kevlar, will step out of her booth and ask in a very severe voice: "Do you have anything to declare? Tobacco or alcohol? Firearms or other weapons?"

"Why?" my husband asked anxiously. "Will we need them?"

The border crossing guard permitted herself a very small smile, the kind that didn't push her cheeks up. "I sincerely hope not," she replied. "Could I have your passports, please? And please remove your sunglasses."

I whipped off my sunglasses and my husband pushed his to the top of his head. "She doesn't know that I'm much more handsome without them," he said to me in a low voice out of the corner of his mouth.

I was digging into my binder for the passports, which I had pulled out and touched every hour upon the hour for the past five hours, just to make sure they were still there. "She's terribly, terribly polite, which is somehow scarier than rudeness," I said with a slight quiver in my voice. "It makes you think she'd say, 'I'm so sorry I have to do this' just before she pulled her gun and nailed you right between the eyes."

The border guard carefully scrutinized our passports and then demanded that we open up the doors on the van so that she could look inside. Meelyn and Aisling, comfortably ensconced in their seats amid oceans of pillows, blankets and crinkly Jolly Rancher wrappers, looked abashed as the agent peered in at them.

"Hi," said Meelyn sheepishly. Aisling just stared with round eyes.

"Hello," the guard said smartly. "Having a good time, girls?"

"Yes," answered Meelyn in a small voice that indicated that her father and I were kidnappers who were preparing to sell her into white slavery in Toronto.

The guard closed the van door and went back to her booth. "Where are you going?"

My husband and I did this strange thing we've developed through nearly twenty years of marriage: We answered in unison, using nearly the same words. It only happens when we're nervous and probably makes us look as furtive and guilty as homemade sin, like we've rehearsed our story well in advance and got it down pat.

"The Stratford Shakespeare Festival," we chimed.

"How long are you staying?" she demanded.

"Until Saturday," we replied, looking at each other out of the corners of our eyes. Furtively. Guiltily.

"Have a good time," she barked at us. The two of us nodded like bobble-head dolls. Oh, we would have a good time, because the border guard gave the impression that if we should be so foolish as to have a bad time? She would personally hunt us down and beat the snot out of us.

We drove on across the gorgeous bridge, Lake Huron a perfect, ineffable blue under the sunny September sky. It was a wonderful trip. We stayed in the most hideous motel I've ever set foot in, went on two fabulous field trips, ate at some delightful restaurants, learned what peameal is, and saw two plays, one of which I loved and had to be pried out of my theater seat so that the theater could close for the evening and the other which I hated. Although don't get me wrong: Half the fun of watching Shakespeare, whether on DVD or onstage, is comparing it to other performances and stacking them up against one another, so it's all good.

We're back home, safe and sound, and feeling a teensy bit blue.

Next summer, the four of us hope to do a scouting trip to Stratford with the aim of finding, above all things, a different place for everyone to stay in 2012, because I firmly expect the place where we stayed this time will have crumbled to the ground under the weight of its own dirt and mold. Embarrassing, that was.

Oh, and we're hoping to see Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor, too. No sense in coming on an expedition and not seeing a couple of shows. They're just too good to miss, even the bad ones.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

And we're off!!!

Or we will be in about forty-five minutes, anyway. The girls were both sound asleep by about 11:00 p.m., but my husband and I puttered around, packing our suitcase, my husband marveling at the enormous amount of cosmetics, unguents, lotions and hoo-doo it takes for me to maintain the appearance of a modest forty-something mom instead of, say, a gargoyle.

"We should have rented a U-Haul trailer," he told me earnestly.

I was tempted to go all Taming of the Shrew on him, but we saw that two years ago.

We were all up by 5:15, looking like shiny, happy people as my friend Karen says. Right now we're waiting for the rest of our caravan party to get here -- they're not due for about twenty more minutes. The van is crammed full of our luggage (are we really only going to be gone for three days?) and goodies for my tour people. Those are a big secret, though, and I hope they'll all be delighted when they see them.

So, my dears, until Sunday, when I'll be back with lots of pictures to post and plays to talk about, parting is such sweet sorrow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Counting down the hours with a hey and a ho and a hey nonny-no

It's been months. So many months that it hardly seemed worth counting because that just made the wait seem longer rather than shorter.

But here we are now, leaving so soon, so very soon, that I'm wondering how to get everything done I need to do; time is flying so, with wings the size of an eagle's and the speed of a hummingbird's.

Stratford waits for us -- The Tempest! As You Like It! -- and I only wish I could feel more convinced that our passports won't decide to climb out of the car when we stop for lunch and hitchhike back home. I'm always convinced that passports are plotting some wicked scheme that will involve me standing helplessly at an international border while an armed guard with a big rifle and one raised eyebrow listens to me explain why I thought it would be a good idea to lead a travel group to Canada.

Worries about my passport remind me of going to Italy with Ma when I was fifteen. We went in November, so the weather was soft and cool. I took several sweaters with cowl necks so that I could keep warm, but also so that no one could see my secret shame, which were these strange passport-carrying devices Ma had found in the Harriet Carter catalog or somesuch place.

The secret shame was an opaque plastic packet, just big enough to hold a passport and some folding money. It attached to one's bra straps with snaps. This left the pocket dangling in one's cleavage, although I didn't really have any cleavage to speak of at age fifteen, which left the pocket banging around on my chest instead of resting cozily on my bosom. It was as much of a torment as Laura Ingalls's long underwear, and every time I wanted to get my money out, Ma had to turn around and throw her London Fog trench coat over me like a magician's cape so that I could gracelessly fumble under my sweater to find my lire. Oh, it was a lot of fun, but not quite as much fun as being hit in the kidneys with an umbrella by a nun on a city bus who must have thought I looked like I was hiding something. Which, of course, I was.

Ma was totally vindicated, however, when someone tried to pick my pocket when we were standing in St. Peter's Square right before we went to the Sistine Chapel. He came up with nothing but a Bonnie Bell Tootsie Roll Lip Smacker and was so disgusted, he threw the lip balm on the ground at my feet and swore at me in Italiano. Heh.

What the people in my tour group don't know is that I've made passport pockets for ALL of them, even the dads and the boys, who need to immediately go out and buy bras so that they'll have something to snap their artfully concealed pockets to. Which should create many memories, don't you think? Won't they all just be delighted with their little gifts?

My rotten, horrible, no-good, vomit-inducing, ham salad on my foot, very bad day

See the wringer on that old-fashioned washing machine? Well, I have been run through it today. Twice. From the way my neck feels, maybe three times.

There are just days like this one, although mine officially started yesterday. I went to Mass in the morning with Allison because she played the piano at church and so I was confused all day -- Labor Day -- because I'd been to church and I was convinced it was Sunday.

Then yesterday, my befuddlement got worse and ended up with me splashing my new top with melted butter in a colossally uncoordinated movement that I'm not sure could be replicated even by using stop-motion claymation. I also broke one of my favorite bowls into the kind of tiny, sand-particle sized pieces that even smithereens envy. I'm simply passing over the brown rice I spilled all over the kitchen counter because the five-second rule was in force in the kitchen and I swept it all into the slow-cooker before it had time to pick up any germ lingering around.

But today? Bad. EPIC badness. First of all, I was purely convinced it was Monday, and therefore completely forgot to take Aisling to her piano lesson. Well, she forgot too, but that still doesn't make up for the fact that the piano teacher? We're going to have to pay her that money anyway.

About the time I realized about the piano lesson was when I was on my way home from the grocery. I'd purchased some ham salad to serve for dinner tonight -- I always doctor it up with extra hard-cooked eggs and chopped green onion and celery and some shredded cheddar and a hit of Hellmann's. As I was thinking "OH MY GOSH, I FORGOT TO TAKE AISLING TO PIAAAANOOOOOOOO!!!" I felt a squooshing sort of feeling as the grocery bag, which THANKFULLY was on the floor of the car and not in the back seat where I wouldn't have seen it or felt it until it was too late.

What I felt was ham salad, pouring stickily out of the deli container onto my sandal'd foot. I let out a shriek that stirred the dead in cemeteries all over central Indiana ("Was that a trumpet I heard just then?") and looked down to see ham salad stuck to my skin, where it was doing a really, really good impression of a foot that had dinner-plus-five-Berrylicious wine coolers yakked up on it. Which almost DID make me yak, but all I'd had was a piece of toast and a cup of coffee. There was a lot of unpleasant cleaning up to do and I did it with a noticeable lack of good cheer.

And then, there's just been a lot of other sucky stuff that's happened. The kind of sucky stuff that, if just one sucky thing happened all on its own, you could kind of shrug it off and laugh a noir little laugh. But by the time six or seven of those sucky things pile up, you just want to go hide in a closet and hum for a while. Or cry. Or call your mother, which I did. And since she's so funny, she made me laugh instead of crying.

But now, it is bedtime. And I don't mind telling you all that I just took two Benadryl because of my itchy eyes and my itchy throat and my incessant sneezing, but also because I know those Benadryl will give me a good night's sleep, something I could sorely use right about now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Your daily recommended allowance of indelicate thoughts

This yogurt, I just don't know. Even as much as I admire the Activia spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis, I just can't bring myself to buy this stuff, even though I do believe that it is probably very delicious. Because buying this yogurt and walking around in the grocery with it displayed along with your Metamucil and your prune juice and your big ol' box of All-Bran? It is tantamount to announcing over the store's public address system: "The lady in the dairy section with the full cart and the shopping list and the really cute Coach knock-off bag? SHE CANNOT POO."

Honestly, those television commercials just make me cringe, particularly the ones that talk about the "Activia Challenge." The Activia Challenge is a promotional deal the Dannon yogurt people are offering to tout their product by "naturally regulating your digestive system." Seriously. Click here and go watch the videos submitted by Mary Ellen, Toni and Emily if you don't believe me. What you have to do is eat Activia yogurt for fourteen days and videotape yourself during this time and....

See? See, right there, I had an indelicate thought. You know how I am about sharing -- ALWAYS THINKING OF OTHERS -- so I'll tell you that just now I got this mental image of these three women in their respective bathrooms, perched saucily on the potty and saying, "I used to come in here and sit and sit and sit for so long, I could read the latest issue of Cosmo from cover to cover. And all for nothing, except maybe some leaky capillaries in my eyeballs from all the straining. Now I come in here once or even twice a day and whoopsie! There's some right now, slick as a whistle!"

And then there's that commercial where the woman is dressed in a slim pencil skirt, twirling in front of her mirror. In a voice-over, she says something like, "My lifestyle is so busy and hectic, I sometimes don't have the time to eat healthy foods."

Me, silently adding What You Can Read Between the Lines: "Sometimes, you get so backed up, your eyes turn brown."

Woman in Pencil Skirt: "So I eat Activia yogurt to regulate my digestive system and it helps me watch my figure."

Me, again silently: "Because as it turns out? When your colon isn't packed full of crap, it's easier to zip up your six six skirt!"

Okay, well, I don't really want to think these things. I don't really want to contemplate other people's pooing habits at all. I just want to watch HGTV and admire Scott McGillivray on Income Property and roll my eyes at the people on House Hunters who say they want to live in downtown San Francisco in order to enjoy the city atmosphere and then seem surprised and disappointed when they find out that there is TRAFFIC NOISE. I just want to watch television without seeing Jamie Lee Curtis pushing a cart of Activia yogurt through a park and forcing two people to eat some by telling them that it is "beyond tasty" with an unexpressed "AND IT WILL MAKE YOU POO LIKE A GRASS-FED COW" trailing along, unspoken, behind her chirpy words.
My last worrisome bit of thought about Activia came when I was Googling some information on this yummy treat was over Dannon's settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought against them by people who had eaten Activia yogurt and were feeling cheated by the company's claims.

Woozily, I considered the possibilities: Somewhere out there, people ate Activia yogurt and found that it...didn't make them poo? Or worse yet, that it made them poo too much? If you've ever seen that Saturday Night Live skit of "Jamie Lee Curtis" eating Activia yogurt while sitting on a sofa and doing multiple takes of a commercial, you'll understand. If you haven't, let me explain very briefly: There was an explosion of sorts. A big explosion.

As it turns out, the claim, which Dannon settled in 2010, was about the labeling on the little cartons that suggested that Activia yogurt offered immunity to disease through its "pro-biotics," whatever those are. Which, all I can say is thank goodness, because the thought of so many people -- mostly women -- walking around uncomfortably bloated from constipation, or worse yet, in danger of an embarrassing episode of projectile diarrhea -- at work, on the bus, at a child's soccer practice while handing out juice boxes -- was just too horrifying to think about.


Sing it loud and proud

Last week I took Aisling to Great Clips at a nearby Kroger plaza to get her hair cut after her piano lesson. We always get great haircuts at this particular Great Clips location, no matter which stylist takes us for a spin in her chair, but they have the world's most uncomfortable seating in their waiting area. Mindful of my middle-aged rear (and back and neck and, well, all the rest of me), I sent Aisling on inside, electing to remain in the van with my book.

Thankfully, it wasn't sweltering hot outside, so I was able to sit there in the parking lot very comfortably, my book propped up on the steering wheel and an icy-cold Diet Coke in the drink holder. I was sitting there reading, enjoying the twittering of the little birds in the trees, when my peaceful interlude was suddenly interrupted by a bellowing as of a cow giving birth. It was very close to my van and it caused me to both spill some Diet Coke on my top and drop my novel.

The clamor resolved itself into words as I groped around on the floor with trembling hands to retrieve my book. "SHE WAS A DA-A-A-AAY TRIPPER!!! A SUNDAY DRIVER, YEAH! IT TOOK ME SO-O-O-O LONG TO FIND OUT! BUT I FOUND OUT!!"

Not content with just the lyrics, the singer -- male, still unseen -- accompanied himself with the following guitar riff that anyone who's familiar with this Beatles song will recognize: BOU buh bou-bou buh BOU bou BOU! BOU buh bou-bou buh BOU bou BOU!!

I looked around surreptitiously for Paul McCartney -- I have a few sharp words I'd like to say to him -- but instead saw this Kroger employee, the cart guy, a man whose job it is to go around to all the cart corrals in the parking lot and herd them all back up to the store. He sang happily at the top of his voice the whole time I sat there in the van waiting for Aisling to come out of Great Clips, roaring out a repertoire of Beatles tunes. I sat there through "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "All You Need is Love," (accompanied by the wah-wah wahwahwah brass riff, through his nose) "Michelle," and a really moving rendition of "And I Love Her."

"BRIGHT ARE THE STARS THAT SHINE! DARK IS THE SKY-Y!" he brayed, throwing his head back as he trundled a row of carts across the lot. "I KNOW THIS LOVE OF MINE WILL NEVER DIE!!! 'CAUSE I LOVE HERRRRR!!!"

Honestly, he didn't sound all that bad. He was....tuneful. And boy, did he have some lung power. It was truly amazing, the decibel level he managed to sustain with one human voice, which didn't tire or falter even through "Paperback Writer," which is a fairly fast song that requires a lot of breath control.

Aisling came tripping out of Great Clips, handbag dangling on her arm, and I saw her give the cart guy a narrow-eyed look as he passed by her with a friendly nod and pushing yet another balky line of grocery carts. "What is his deal?" she asked, climbing into the van.

Cart Guy started lugubriously bawling out "Eleanor Rigby."

"I don't know," I mused. "He either really likes the Beatles and is a harmless eccentric who enjoys singing...."

"Or maybe just a big weirdo?"


"'Zoupy-zoupy zoupy'?"

"Violins," I explained. "He does the instrumental background solos."

"Oh." Aisling pursed her lips. "What about that other guy? Over on the other side of town, the one who stands on the sidewalk outside Radio Shack and the Hallmark store and plays the oboe?"

I'm rather fond of the Oboe Man and like to throw a couple of dollars in his basket (oboe cases aren't very big) when we're in the area. "He's a busker," I said. "Someone who plays impromptu gigs in different parts of the city for money." We pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway, leaving the singing behind.

"Okay, please don't say the word 'gigs," she admonished me, a pained expression on her face. "Is that guy a busker? Because he doesn't seem to have a basket or a tip jar or a hat to pass."

"I believe he is just free entertainment," I said. "I wonder if he likes the music of Johnny Cash? We could come back with a picnic and sit on that little grassy hill by the bank. It would be a lot cheaper than Symphony on the Prairie. We could even help out by providing backup vocals and instrumentals."

"Don't even think about it."

"WE GOT MARRIED IN A FEVER! HOTTER THAN A PEPPER SPROUT!!!" I warbled at the top of my voice, throwing my head back and abandoning myself to the persona of a harmless eccentric. Only I could bring a basket for people to throw money in, maybe the Longaberger Medium Market basket with the swinging handles my mom bought me when I was expecting Meelyn.

"STOPPIT!!!" screeched Aisling, mindful of her teenage dignity, even rolling along a state highway in the van with the tinted windows shut tight. "YOU'RE ALREADY WEIRD ENOUGH WITHOUT THE SINGING!"

Hmph. What does she know?

Probably a lot.