Monday, September 26, 2011

NUNDAY: Picky, picky, picky

I love this picture of Benedictine nuns picking apples. They all look so happy, and there was probably no complaining about who was going to climb the ladder and no speculation as to whether Sister Scholastica intends to let that branch go on purpose and Sister Mary is not groaning, "Mother Abbess says we have to fill another bushel." We hope.

Menu Plan Monday

This week, I'm debuting a new fall soup. It sounds delicious and I hope I'm not wrong! To see more Monday menu plans from around the country, visit Laura at her blog, I'm an Organizing

Menu Plan for the Week of September 26, 2011

Monday - Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables (baby carrots, zucchini, butternut squash)

Tuesday - Chicken quesadillas (made with whole-wheat tortillas, chicken, refried beans and reduced-calorie cheddar-jack cheese, plus spicy seasonings galore) and Green Giant Steamers Buttery Rice and Vegetables

Wednesday - Chunky Split Pea Soup, homemade honey-whole wheat bread

Thursday - Thai Broccoli-Chicken Stir fry with brown rice

Friday - My husband and I are going to Beth and Jim's house to meet them and Jeff and Julie for dinner. Helen (Beth's mother-in-law, Jeff's mother-in-law and Jim and Julie's mother) will also be there, and various friends and family members will undoubtedly be in and out. To that end, Beth, Julie and I are collaborating on a spaghetti dinner, to which I am contributing a big pot of Rag├╣ Americana to go with Beth's homemade meatballs and Julie's garlic bread, which she always butters lovingly on both sides.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Creepy old perv or innocent grandpa?

I was at the grocery store with Meelyn on Friday and we'd filled our cart and finally made our way to the check-out. We had to wait just a little bit, but when it was our turn to start unloading all our food onto the conveyor belt, we did so with great dexterity, having practiced this maneuver many, many times before.

I was unloading the small part, the part where a child can sit, so my back was to the people in line behind me. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem at all -- I am not noted for my paranoia -- but there was a problem. With "but" being the operative word, only add another "t" to the end of it.

As I was removing items from the cart and placing them on the belt, I couldn't help but feel something? someone? touch my bottom. I sort of froze for a split second, evaluating the situation. I mean, I've been to Italy before and I don't know if things have changed over there in the past thirty years, but my bottom got touched, like, all the time. It was great. I'm kidding. Sort of. Anyway, I was only fifteen at the time and my bottom was, well....different than it is now. I glanced quickly back over my shoulder and noticed that the old gent who was behind us in the line was actually BEHIND us. It was his behind touching my bottom.

I murmured, "Excuse me," and pushed our cart a little bit forward so that I'd be out of his way and continued piling groceries on the belt. A few seconds later, there it was again: a gentle but insistent pressure on my backside. Another quick glance confirmed that it was that man again, standing back to back with me, pressing his rear against mine.

Flustered, I moved the cart a bit forward again, deciding not to say "excuse me" again because it was just kind of embarrassing, you know? I mean, the dude was old, right? And because he was so old, it just didn't right to imply that he was engaged in some kind of pervy shenanigans that might have gotten his face slapped if he'd done such a thing forty years previously.

Because old men don't think nasty thoughts, do they?

So, back to the groceries. Back to the unloading. We were almost finished, and Meelyn, oblivious to my plight, was standing in such a manner that I couldn't push the cart forward any further without mowing her down. Which is why, when the elderly man pushed his keister into my derriere for the THIRD TIME and just left it there, touching me, I had no good way to escape.

Let me just go off on a rabbit trail here. American women, for all our Virginia Slims and equality and freedom and such, are often just too freaking nice. We are so nice that we let people get away with doing stuff that they shouldn't ought to be doing because we don't want to make a fuss, don't want to cause a commotion, don't want to embarrass anyone or draw undue attention to ourselves or whatever. So we let people carry on doing something that is clearly wrong - or perhaps maybe....not so clear? When you're in a situation that's hard to define, what exactly can you do to define it?

For instance, should I have turned around and said to the old codger, "Sir, I can't help but notice that you've pressed your backside rather firmly against mine three different times now and I'd like to know just what you're doing? I mean, are you just in a hurry and needing to get your groceries unloaded quickly and are therefore being heedless of my personal space? Or do you have some other intent? I need to know so that I can decide whether I should hit you with my purse, or threaten to have my husband hunt you down or just give you the Miss Manners patented glacial stare-and-thin-lipped-smile combo."

Instead, I just turned all the way around so that I was facing him. He must have sensed my breath on the back of his neck, because all of a sudden, he pulled his bum in and, casting a furtive look over his shoulder, suddenly busied himself with re-arranging all the boxes and cans in his own cart.

He wouldn't look me in the face, wouldn't meet my eyes.

I didn't say anything. How could I? I mean, maybe he was mortified that he'd run into me three different times. Sadly, my bottom does stick out a good bit. On the other hand, if you were an elderly clandestine bottom-rubber, mine does make an easy and visible target. It's just all RIGHT THERE, hard to miss.

I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I didn't want to call him out in front of all those people. I was second-guessing myself like crazy by that point, anyway. Surely it was just my imagination that led me to think that my rear end was not only being touched, but pressed against?

No. It wasn't my imagination. I felt all weird and twitchy about that incident for the rest of the afternoon, wondering what I would have done and how I would have felt if it had been Meelyn's bottom he'd touched. Because I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to my hiney, but discovered that I was totally and completely unable to summon any feelings of "Aw, the poor old thing...he probably didn't even realize," when it came to Meelyn's hiney.

I would have jumped over the cart full of groceries and gone all Matrix on him.

Later that evening, when my husband and I were at dinner, I recounted my touchy tale to him. When I explained the first incident, he just nodded his head to acknowledge his agreement that it was probably nothing, but raised his eyebrows when I got to the second episode. By the time I was getting to the third moment of the old man pressing against me, my husband laid down his fork.

"Did you say something to him?" my husband asked.

I shrugged and swallowed a bite of salad. "What could I say that wouldn't make me look like some freakishly high-strung individual?"

My husband gave me a long look and then replied, "A lot of the time, that's probably what people like him count on. That no woman is going to want to accuse some nice old fart in a Mister Rogers cardigan of touching her for fear that she's going to seem hysterical and bizarre. Because what could be more harmless-looking than a guy who looks like he could be your granddad? That just gives men like that a green light to go ahead and touch a few more ladies. Never in a way that seems on purpose, like just reaching out and grabbing. But in a more subtle way, pressing against a butt in a grocery check-out line, 'accidentally' getting some side-boob action with his elbow when he reaches across you as we pass the collection plate at church...."

I gulped and glanced around nervously, doing a quick Spot-the-Pervert check amongst my fellow diners. "You're freaking me out. Like there's this whole world of dirty old men out there, prowling around trying to cop a feel."

It was his turn to shrug. "Well, that stereotype got started somehow. We can't blame it all on Benny Hill." He picked his fork back up and speared some lettuce on it.

"So, if this sort of thing should happen again? I should?...."

My husband smiled his lop-sided smile, the same one that melted my heart when we first met. "You look at him and say, in a very quiet voice, 'If you don't stop touching me, I am going to break you in half, motherfu.....'"

"Okay. Gotcha," I interrupted hastily.

Next time....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Observations (admittedly mundane)

I think it's a real shame, here in my city, that none of the plumbing companies -- and I just Googled eight of them -- saw fit to locate their businesses on John Street. That seems like a regrettable oversight.

If you're at the doctor's office and you're sitting there in an exam room waiting, bored, and decide to sneak your book out of your handbag to read a bit and then the doctor comes in right afterwards and says, "Oh! What are you reading?" why is it always some book like a Sookie Stackhouse novel instead of, say, A History of Western Philosophy?

Life would be so much easier if butter tasted like castor oil.

A dog who just came in from the rain is exponentially more likely to want to sit on your lap than a dog who just got home from a good, long spell at the groomer's.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Ah, a rainy Monday. Although I've always been very fond of Karen Carpenter (a secret I guarded close to me during my teenage years, when my friends had no idea that I was singing "Superstar" and "Close to You" into my hairbrush in front of my vanity mirror in my bedroom), I've always liked rainy days, although I am as meh about Mondays as she was. Since rainy days are okay but Mondays are less so, it's always nice to have the week's menu planned out ahead of time.

I have Laura over at her blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie, to thank for this weekly kick in the hiney. It makes everything so much easier when Wednesday rolls around and my wits are totally scattered because of a million things going on and the last thing I want to be thinking is, "Oh, noooo, I forgot about dinnerrrrrrrrrrrr!" Because believe me, I used to try that on my husband in a bid to get a mid-week Applebee's outing, but now that we're in this recession, it would be more like a mid-week fast food drive-thru run, and frankly, I'd just rather cook.

Menu Plan for the Week of September 18, 2011

Monday - This meal has come up more than several time in the past couple of months because we all love it: Jalapeno Cheeseburgers made with Morningstar Farms Grillers, grilled onions, sliced jalapeno peppers, pepper-jack cheese and that Onion Blossom Sauce you can find right here on InsomniMom. I like to pair it with skillet-roasted potatoes and a simple veg like seasoned green beans.

Tuesday - Broccoli-Chicken Thai Stir-Fry, which is actually a "diet" recipe, but so help me, if anyone eating this concoction can tell that it is low-calorie and low-fat, they've got more evolved taste buds than I do. I should put that recipe up on the site. It's so good and fresh and easy.

Thursday - a good, old-fashioned taste of fall: Chicken Pot Pie, that delicious recipe from, I believe, the 1950s? With the Bisquick crust that just melts in your mouth? It is fabulous and easy, made these days with reduced-fat Bisquick and (don't look, Kayte) the same old cream of chicken soup it's always been made with. Comfort food supreme, crammed with vegetables and delicious chunks of chicken breast.

If you're interested, we had that Game Day Taco Dip (recipe here at the site under Recipes for Appetizers) on Sunday, which was a fun dinner, and on Saturday, my husband, who is a big poophead, ordered himself a pizza from a local pizza place, while I made a delicious homemade deep dish pizza with a yeasty whole wheat crust for me and the girls. It was absolutely loaded with turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and green pepper and it was fabulous. His greasy pizza later gave him indigestion. Not that I thought it served him right or anything.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A serving of thoughts on the side

Around here, because we generally go to church on Saturday evening, Sundays aren't the organized days they were when I was a child and we had to be sitting in Sunday School, turned out in our best and in a Jesus state of mind by nine-flipping-thirty a.m., despite the fact that my dad was grumpy because he hadn't had a second cup of coffee and the chance to read the sports section of the Sunday Indianapolis Star as thoroughly as he wished, and my brother was grumpy because he had to stop running little cars down that orange Hotwheels track laid across the living room furniture so that the cars could crash into the fireplace hearth and I was grumpy because that's just who I've always been.

My mother was grumpy because it was her job to make sure we were all ready to head out the door by nine-twenty, plus put a roast covered with Lipton onion soup mix into the Crock-Pot, and we all fought her every inch of the way, including the meat and the little foil packet the soup mix came in.

So these days, things are much calmer and there's plenty of coffee and no one cares about the Sunday newspaper and dinner is a much more laid-back affair notable for its lack of silver flatware, good dishes and nice glasses, which all sensibly stay where they're supposed to, which is in the china cabinet. They make grudging cameo appearances on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter because they can't be put in the dishwasher.

Here are some of the thoughts swirling around in the calm of the day:

1. The annual argument that pits my husband against me and the girls began today, with opposing sides voicing strident opinions on on whether or not the furnace should be turned on. My husband contends that it is mid-September and mid-September is too early to have the heat on. The girls and I offer rebuttal by pointing out that it is rainy and chilly outside, a weather pattern more common to mid-October, which is a perfectly reasonable time to employ the use of central heating.

2. Today is the first Sunday for making a snack to accompany the afternoon's football, so we are having Game Day Taco Dip with tortilla chips. I really like this dip because it's easy to throw together, can be served warm or cold, and it a relatively sensible snack if you make it with neufchatel cream cheese, nonfat refried beans and reduced-calorie shredded cheese - and these little fixes happily are unnoticeable and the dip tastes the same as it does when all the fattening stuff is used. SCORE!

3. I bought a new top yesterday because the hanger on the store's rack had one of those little plastic bead-type things with my size printed on it, but when I got the blouse home, it turned out that it was a size smaller than the size noted on the hanger. Thankfully, I still have the receipt, but wouldn't you know that the store is one out-of-town?

4. Aisling found a piece of piano sheet music in the piano bench today, a copy of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and said, "Where did you get this?" I sat for a moment, looking at the music, bemused. That sheet music brought back one of my worst memories, a memory of the night when my friend Lori was being installed as the leader of the Rainbow Girls in New Castle's Masonic lodge. She'd asked me to play this music, which had great personal meaning to her, to accompany another friend of ours, Dave, who had a gorgeous tenor voice.

It was a very dressy affair and I was wearing an outfit of my mother's, one in the late-seventies peasant style, but made with a gorgeous satiny blouse in watercolored lavender, turquoise and lapis, slightly off-the-shoulder and paired with a long, gauzy tiered cream skirt, the tiers banded with the same satiny fabric as the blouse. It was very, very Stevie Nicks. I felt like a fairy princess in that outfit and my mom even let me wear her little diamond stud earrings.

I had practiced on that music for weeks and weeks, both with my piano teacher and with Dave and everything went really well until that night, when even the confidence I'd gained from wearing that beautiful outfit leaked out through my toes once I saw the lodge's ballroom, with chandeliers and lots of chairs set up and a grand piano, all surrounding a highly polished dance floor.

I had a moment of choking stage-fright, worsened by the fact that, in a moment of pee pee-nerves, I somehow managed to flush the entire back of that gauzy skirt down the toilet. I hauled it, hand-over-hand, out of the potty, frantically picking pieces of wet toilet paper out of the hem. There was no time to take a breath and regain my composure because I was due to be sitting on that piano bench in about half a minute. So I wrung out the skirt, which then showed a distressing tendency to cling to the backs of my legs, and tearfully exited the bathroom, only to find that in my absence, all the seats had filled up. I had to walk across that entire huge room under the inquisitive gaze of a big herd of people, all by myself, the heels of my taupe suede Candie's mules click-clacking on the dance floor and my skirt billowing gracefully in the front, but stuck to me in the back from my bottom down to my ankles.

Do I even need to tell you how "Bridge Over Troubled Water" went?

Let's just say that Dave intrepidly sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," but I was playing something totally different, like maybe a tuneless rendition of "Cecilia" or even "Scarborough Fair." It should have been more along the lines of "The Sound of Silence." Huh.

I was utterly mortified, Dave was nonplussed, and poor Lori. Poor Lori. Here was her shining moment of becoming the rainbowiest Rainbow Girl of them all and there I was, a piano student of TEN YEARS, whacking and thumping desperately around on the keyboard like a possum trying to get out of a cage.

That was in 1978 and here today, thirty-three years later, I still felt a miserable sense of "Dear God, if you love me, please kill me right now," only this time, my undies weren't wet.

What a terrible memory. I wish I'd never brought it up.

5. If you are a lady who goes to a gym to work out, and if you shower there after you work out, but haven't yet taken that small moment of time required to stop at the front desk and rent a locker, be aware that there is going to come a reckoning, a time not specified, when either your shampoo, conditioner or body wash will come open in your gym bag and make a hellish mess that will convince you that it might just be better to pitch the whole mess into the garbage bin and start over, with new sneakers and everything.

6. I love Sundays when you can do things just because you want to, rather than because you have to. Which is why I just put together a loaf of oatmeal bread with sunflower seeds and diced apricots (excellent for ham sandwiches) and am sitting here typing a blog post....instead of working on lesson plans for my Shakespeare and Brit Lit classes. Which I have to do. Right now. So goodbye, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'm blaming it on the recession

I have long since stopped apologizing for being the kind of person who takes great pleasure in girly things; like jewelry (real is good, but fake will work) makeup (fake, but hopefully not as fake as, say, Disco Party 1979) and manicured fingernails (the faker, the better.) The job I have is one where people see my hands a lot - or at least my perception is that my hands can be seen a lot - and I have the world's worst fingernails, despite the fact that the only mammal that drinks more dairy than I do is a baby calf. I'm practically out there in the fields and meadows, skulking around and wresting calves away from their mothers, but do I have good fingernails? No, I do not. And I also eat yogurt every day, so if you really needed any more proof that life is not fair, there you have it.

Before the recession, I completely enjoyed being able to go to the salon to get my nails done. I've always favored a discreet french manicure and it was such a satisfying feeling to look down at my hands and see fresh, pretty nails instead of the dull, scraggly and prone-to-splitting things that God favored me with.

Then the recession happened and life changed.

[Pausing for a moment of piteous sobbing]

So now I do my own nails, mostly successfully because of my friend Juju. Juju does her own nails too and you would never know, they look so beautiful and professional. She claims that she finds life dismal and grey without manicured finger- and toenails, hardly worth getting out of bed for. So she gave me some tips (haha...a little nail-related humor there for those of us in the biz) and I got started and I've been ever so pleased with the results.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I broke a nail. So aggravating, but luckily I was headed back home anyway, so I stopped off at the Sally's in town to replenish my nail stash (I even craftily bought a packet of nails and a teeny glue bottle to keep in my purse just in case; I don't know why I've never thought of that before) and then drove home hurriedly. My husband was due home from work at about 5:15 and we were going out to dinner. Observing myself in the bathroom mirror, it was perfectly apparent that I needed to do a major overhaul before I was going to consider myself presentable at Applebee's or Ruby Tuesday's or Bob Evans or wherever we were going to end up. I needed to change my clothes, trowel on some makeup over the old makeup I'd put on at eight o'clock that morning, do something to control the mad frizz that had become my hair....and
fix that nail.

The nail, I determined, was the easiest part. Just open the packet, choose the nail that fits, apply a dab of glue to your actual fingernail, press on the fake one and hold for ten seconds, et voila! A perfect fingernail, all shiny and pretty.

At least that's what you'd think. But remember, you're not reading Gwyneth Paltrow's blog about how your life can be just as perfect as hers if you had her fame and her money, you poor thing. Nor are you reading something by Michelle Phan, who is to the YouTube world of cosmetics what Martha Stewart is to doing crafts and putting sheets on your bed with properly mitered corners.

No, you're reading my blog, and you know something bad is getting ready to happen, right?

Well, you know me: always thinking of others, that's me. I wouldn't want to disappoint you, so I'll tell you -- and oh, is it ever true -- that I squeezed the glue bottle a little too hard because I was in a hurry, right? And the squeezing led that glue, which is a very liquidy liquid, to gush out all over my fingers. A LOT of my fingers.

In spite of (or perhaps because of?) its lack of viscosity, that glue dries fast. So in spite of the fact that my fingers were liberally bathed in wash of extremely liquid and fast-drying glue, I managed to grab that fingernail, press it on and hold it down.

If I'd just been able to continue holding that nail down for, say, another week or so, I think everything would have been okay. But there came a time, about thirty seconds later, when I needed to use my hands for the aforementioned clothes-changing, makeup-reapplying and hair-fixing. That was when I discovered that I'd glued about four of my fingers together.

I gasped and did the natural, yet so very stupid thing, which was try to pull my fingers apart. It hurt quite a bit, so I did the next thing I could think of: I went out the the upstairs hallway and yelled down the stairs, "GIRRRRRRRRRRLLLLLS!!! I NEED YOUR HELP!!!"

They were occupied with their own interests, the first and second of which were making their own dinner in the kitchen and listening to really loud music. I waited impatiently for the song they were listening to to end and then bawled out again, "GIRRRRRRRRRLSSSSSS! C'MERE!!! HURRY!"

"WHY?!?" they both yelled.

"BECAUSE I'M THE MOM AND I SAID TO COME HERE!" I hollered, agitated. If my fingers were all permanently glued together, how was I going to live life as I once knew it? My immediate worry, that of changing clothes, repairing my makeup and fixing my hair, wasn't a problem anymore because I knew quite well that there was no way I could go to a restaurant: I couldn't hold a fork.

Grumbling, the girls came up the stairs and met me in the hallway.

"Why are you wringing your hands?" Meelyn asked after looking me over.

"You'd better hurry up and get ready," Aisling advised helpfully. "I think I just heard Daddy's car pull in the driveway."

"Listen," I said. "I do not have time to explain. Just listen, because I need your help."

"If this is about rubbing that cream on your heels again, I am so out of here," Meelyn said, turning to go back downstairs.

"It's not my heels! It's my hands!" I said tightly.

"Can I see your phone?" asked Aisling. "I want to look up movie times."


Meelyn said blankly, "How on earth did you manage to do that?"

Aisling said angrily, "You said I could go to the movies!"

I shot her the Ice Cold Glare of Maternal Displeasure and then turned to Meelyn and summarized the situation: "I was fixing a broken fingernail. I squeezed the glue bottle a little too hard. Glue came out everywhere. My fingers are stuck together."

Meelyn, as the take-charge and competent first-born, said, "Oh, that's bad. What do we need to do to unstick you?"

Aisling, the baby, for whom life is just one big party waiting to happen, doubled over laughing until a sudden thought struck her: "Hey, since you can't, like, use your hands anymore, can I have your phone?"

The next ten minutes weren't a lot of fun. They involved me putting my gluey hands into the sink and the girls pouring acetone-based fingernail polish remover, which dissolves this type of glue, over my hands again and again until I could finally work my fingers loose, unfortunately leaving a bit of skin behind in the process. It hurt. It still hurts, both on my hands and in my soul. Because you know what? I blame the recession.

If it weren't for the recession, I'd be at a nail salon, where any reasonable person would be, getting my nails done by an actual professional. If I broke a nail, I'd be able to swing by the salon, hold out the affected finger, and sit in a comfy chair sipping a Diet Coke while the technician tut-tutted over the damage, fixing it in a jiffy and maybe even giving me a coat of polish to match my outfit. I wouldn't have to be juggling packets of fake fingernails and tiny little obstreperous glue bottles in my bathroom, trying to give myself that ladylike and well-groomed appearance I enjoy.


Later on at the restaurant, I was holding a menu and my husband, who is such a gentleman for noticing little niceties like this, said gruffly, "Your fingernails look so pretty, honey."

I glanced down at my nails, which looked pristine, and thoughtfully considered the other side of my fingers, which were gouged and scraped and a little bloody. "Thanks, sweetie."


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Because I have That Kind of Face

Do you have that kind of face, a face like mine? A face that beckons every weirdo in a thirty mile radius and says, without your lips even moving, "Tell me something about your scary life. GIVE ME DETAILS." A face that convinces people that you should be the recipient of their most personal information which they will tell you and tell you and tell you, even though you're actively backing away while looking at your watch and saying, "OH LOOK AT THE TIME! I'M LATE FOR MY LOBOTOMY APPOINTMENT."

Listen, I am a nice person. Fairly nice. Say, not nearly as nice as my grandmothers (they both had That Face too) or as nice as my mother, but one heck of a lot nicer than Kim Jong Il. I'm not insensible to the needs of others to unburden themselves of painful experiences, or find a shoulder to cry on. I understand that, I really do. And I'm not actively opposed to being the person who holds the burden or offers the shoulder. At least until last Monday, I wasn't.

People have told me stuff ever since I was sentient enough to sit up straight and say, "What happened next?" (Note: It is ALWAYS a mistake to ask this question. A better question to ask might be, "Do you hear that tornado siren?") One time I remember in particular was when I was a Ball State student and a fellow co-ed from a class on modern poetry followed me to the student center, talking. And talking. I bought a Tab, she bought a Tab. I went to sit in a booth, she accompanied me. And while we were sitting in the booth drinking our Tabs, she confided in me, "When I was in high school, my acne got so bad, I tried to dry out my skin by soaking cotton balls in lighter fluid and using it on my face."


I told the world's record for the fastest speed at which one can exit a booth while babbling, ""I'msosorrybutIhavetogo.IjustrememberedIhavetocatchaplanetoMadrid.BecauseIjustdecidedto
bea foreignexchangestudent."

Episodes like this have continued to happen over the years since I received my diploma, which was for English literature, but maybe should have been for psychology. But one of the worst in recent memory happened last Monday.

I was at the YMCA, in the swimming pool, getting ready to start the hour-long water aerobics class I attend. It's a pretty big class, about twenty-five people, so we're all crowded into the water like a school of little fishies. It makes it easy - FAR too easy - to strike up a conversation with people nearby. Now, listen, when I go to the gym, I don't mind trading pleasantries with people, but I go there to work, and my feeling is that if I'm in the pool conversing with my fellow splashers, I'm not really giving my all to the cardio, know what I mean? So I try not to get involved with the talkers.

Try as one might not to get involved, sometimes the talkers will just HAVE YOU. As I was warming up for the workout, one of them made her way over to me and said, innocuously, "So how are you this morning?"

I smiled at her, swishing my arms back and forth through the water, warming up those muscles. "I'm great! How are you?"


If you get the vibe that someone might tell you a bunch of personal stuff about themselves you definitely do not want to hear, it is a very, very bad idea to ask them, even out of social politeness (the kind where you don't really care how they are, but ask anyway because that's just what we DO) how they're doing. You know why?


The water aerobics instructor, Becca, waded through all the people in the pool and started the class, saying, "Let's start with a jog. Move those arms and get your knees up high!"

"Well," my pool friend said confidingly over the splashy noises going on around us and the sound of Bachman-Turner Overdrive singing "Takin' Care of Business" in the background, "You might have wondered why I don't have any teeth."

Honestly, what do you say when someone says something like this to you? I mean, you have to be nice to people. Yes, you do. Don't argue with me. The world is bad enough as it is without people like you and me responding with something like, "No, I can truly say to you that I have never even once wondered why you have no teeth and I don't want to think about it right now, so move on, sister."

Becca yelled out, "Jumping jacks! Arms UP! MOVE that water, ladies!"

I said, "Uhhhhh.....welll....err......"

"I don't have any teeth because I used to do crack," my pool friend said at high volume.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, hoping that was the right thing to say. It hardly seemed appropriate to say something reassuring like, "That's okay. I know a lot of people wholost their teeth because they did crack" because I don't. Thank goodness.

"Yeah, me too," she bellowed. Becca looked inquiringly over her shoulder and then said to the class, "Back to a JOG, high knees! PUMP those arms!"

"Yeah, the guy I live with did too, but we quit."

"Oh, good!" I offered plaintively, wishing that Becca would tell us to do the remaining forty-five minutes of the class under water.

"It was bad," my friend hollered, shaking her head dismally. "I have four kids, and they had to go live with my mother."

"I'm so sorry!" I yelled back, splashing. I tried to put a little distance between us by craftily moving back in the water, but she caught on to me right away and followed.

"Boy, you really move around in the water!" she observed. "Well, anyway, where was I?"

"I have no idea," I said firmly, but she'd already recalled that she'd left off at the part where her kids were with her mom because she and her live-in boyfriend were both doing crack.

"So anyway, they're pretty much grown up now and I wanted to get some teeth, but now I have TMJ and osteo-arthritis in my jaw, so it isn't going to work out," she said, confusing me with her slightly garbled story.

"Oh, I'm sorry...."

"So my son? The one that's twenty-one? He came over to our place the other night and he stole about eighty vicodin pills out of our bathroom medicine cabinet."

At that point, I nearly just stopped in defeat and drowned myself. I mean, what the heck? Who was this woman? The other ladies in the class are retired teachers. Retired nurses. Current nurses who work non-day shifts. Ladies who serve Meals-on-Wheels and volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul. Ladies who finish the water aerobics class and shower and go to bridge club together. I'm familiar with and comfortable with all those people, and most definitely out of my sheltered league when dealing with former crack addicts and the toothless mothers of pill-stealers. Not that I don't totally applaud her for being able to beat the crack thing, and not that I'm not sorry that her life took such a bad turn that she couldn't even raise her own children - that's a tragedy no matter what. But....but...why can't I just do my exercise? WHY?

"Cross-country SKIS, ladies! Get those arms and legs MOVING!" shouted Becca. The other members of the class obediently began thrashing around in the manner of skiers on an open field of snow. I felt like I'd just been hit in the side of the head with one of their poles.

"He's probably gonna sell them," she predicted gloomily. "And my arthritis is going to be kicking my butt tonight."

"I' sorry," I offered inadequately. "Listen, I need to get out of the pool. I have to pee." It was a frantic bid for escape and a total lie. But at this point, WHATEVER it took to get away, anywhere.

"Oh, me too!" she exclaimed brightly. "I'll go with you!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unable to maintain my Zen-like serenity

So I was in a yoga class this morning and feeling pleased with myself because it was the first time I'd been able to maintain my balance nearly perfectly in a very respectably executed vriksha-asana, or tree posture.

The person closest to me, a woman who just recently began coming to the class, whispered "Hey!" in a quiet voice. Being me and so full of myself that I'm in danger of choking on my own eyebrows, I turned my head, ready to graciously accept her expressed hope that she, with many weeks of arduous practice, would be able to do a graceful and balanced tree like mine.

Instead, she pointed at my left ankle. "Hon, you've got a panty liner coming out of your pant leg."

I physically felt my face change. My mother and I both have a problem with this. While trying to express an outward attitude of calm and generous tolerance, it's often perfectly obvious that what we're really thinking inwardly is, "Oh, shut up, dirtbag." I tried to rearrange my features into a gentle smile while bending over to remove the DRYER SHEET from my pant leg. I crumpled it up and dropped it into my gym bag and briefly considered interrupting the class so that I could whack that woman in the side of the head with my water bottle. Just as a helpful measure to correct her faulty vision, you understand.

Panty liner, indeed. I am never standing by that hag again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

We've had some autumn-like weather in the past few days. Then we had some summery weather. Then it got all fall-y for a few days so that we couldn't go to the pool and missed those final moments, unreclaimable until next summer. Now it's hotter than hob of hell again and the central air is going full-tilt even when I get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. Whatever. I am cooking fall food and that's all there is to it: slow-cooker, bread machine, soups and stews, casseroles in the oven. Game on.

Menu Plan for the Week of September 12, 2011

Monday - Vegetable soup (simmering on the stove right now and smelling so delicious I just want to, like, eat the air) and homemade whole wheat bread

Tuesday - Roasted chicken (not a Julia chicken; just seasoned boneless, skinless breasts), rice pilaf, green beans

Wednesday - Parmesan-crusted tilapia (the recipe for which I got off the back of the box the tilapia filets came packaged in), sweet potato "fries" and green beans

Thursday - Poured-Crust Pizza, Hawaiian-style, which means topped with spicy barbecue sauce, Canadian bacon, onions and pineapple chunks.

Friday - Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf, oven-roasted potatoes and carrots, apple cobbler

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Like most people across the United States, I suppose, my first recollection of the morning of September 11, 2011 is that it was the most perfectly beautiful day - sunny and warm, without a cloud in the sky. Which seems like the ultimate irony.

Meelyn was eight and Aisling was six and they were both sitting at their little tables in the living room doing their schoolwork. I'd just finished teaching Aisling a math lesson when my husband had to leave for work. We kissed him goodbye and he cheerfully drove off, waving at the three of us as he drove off down the street. I turned on the television to put it on the cable channel that plays the classical music and the screen automatically came up to FoxNews. One of the anchors, with a grim face, was just announcing that the first tower had been hit by a plane, and of course it was being portrayed as a tragic accident, some kind of terrible pilot error, maybe. As I was standing there in front of the TV taking in that bad news, my husband's SUV came screeching back into the driveway.

"Something bad has happened," he said as he crashed back into the house.

"I know," I said soberly, indicating the television and keeping my voice low so that the girls wouldn't hear. "I just turned it on and saw the news. What happened? They're saying on Fox that a plane hit one of the twin towers."

My husband was looking at the television, at the smoke pouring from the side of what we now know was WTC one. "It wasn't just a plane. They're saying it was a jet."

I was shocked. "How can that be? A jet wouldn't be flying low enough to crash into a building in the city."

We both turned our attention to the television just in time to see the footage of the second jet, looking huge and surreal and so very wrong there among the skyscrapers, like seeing a rattlesnake curled up in your baby's crib, go crashing into the second tower, triggering a huge explosion that sent a massive fireball bursting out of the wounded building. Both towers were on fire, blazing, smoking. It looked like something out of a movie - how could something so shocking be real? - something that couldn't possibly happen on such a beautiful day.

A day without a cloud in the sky, until now.

"That was no accident," my husband said as the news anchor on Fox gabbled, "Another plane has just flown into the second tower! The second tower has also been hit! This can't be an accident!"

"I have to go to work," my husband said. He hugged me long and hard. "I'll call you later."

I nodded wordlessly and turned my attention back to the television. I felt very alone. All my friends were at work. My parents were vacationing on Prince Edward Island in Canada. But my friend Cato, who had just moved to Cincinnati with her family, was a stay-at-home mom. I called her and she answered with a trembling voice. Her TV was on FoxNews too, so we sat together while Mee and Aisling did their school work and her daughter Rebecca played on the floor at her feet. We sat there for about four hours, sometimes talking, but mostly just sitting in silence, but we were there together.

Here are the memories that stand out for me.

1. The worst part was seeing the people jumping out of the buildings. That image of the man and woman climbing together out of the building onto that windowsill and then jumping, hands clasped, was the worst thing I have ever seen. Ever. The news anchor said in a strangled, agonized voice, "People are jumping. They're jumping from the upper floors." Cato and I sat and sobbed, unable to even speak.

"Mommy, why are you crying?" Aisling came and asked me, her face scrunched with worry. "Are you sick?"

"Mommy's sad," I told her. "This is a sad day today."

2. The second worst thing I remember seeing was that camera shot from the harbor after the towers fell, where the entire skyline of New York City was obscured by smoke and dust. I've never been to New York City, but like a million other movie-goers, I'd seen that famous view a thousand times. Like the harbor view of the Sydney Opera House and the view of the bridge in the San Francisco harbor, it's probably one of the most easily identifiable landmark views in the world. But not covered up. Not obscured. I kept having to remind myself that this was happening, right now. It was real, not some apocalyptic movie scene.

3. The third thing I remember is the horror of watching that same cloud of ash, smoke, dust and debris roll like a massive freight train down the streets of Manhattan, hungry and malevolent. Watching the people run, screaming in raw terror. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Cato said from her end of the phone. "Oh, God. It's going to kill them."

We heard that clip from a young woman, a reporter maybe? The one who'd been standing on the sidewalk with a camera, filming, when the cloud started rolling toward her. She began screaming,.and a man threw open the door to a shop and pulled her inside, slamming the door as the cloud went past. "You saved my life!" she gabbled. "You saved my life!"

4. Another horrible, horrible thing was watching the people in the streets after the buildings had collapsed and the cloud had passed. People staggering around in a critical state of shock, many of them with blood smeared in the ash and dirt on their faces. Some of them sat on curbs, their heads clutched in their hands. You couldn't see them without wanting to take each one of them by the hand and lead them somewhere safe, somewhere clean and peaceful. You couldn't see them without wanting to just hold them and rock them in your arms, wash their faces, find bandages for their wounds. You wanted to tell them that everything would be all right, but that was something nobody knew. With the horrors piling up by the moment, who knew if this was the worst, if something even more awful was going to happen?

5. "Let's roll."

In some ways, it's hard to imagine that it's been ten years. On the other hand, those memories are so clear, it could have all happened just last week. I know that there are going to be a lot of memorial services televised today. I know that the cable news channels will be having all day coverage of the camera footage of that day. I probably won't watch any of it. It brings back too many memories of grief and fear and that awful feeling of helplessness that there was just nothing to do but sit and wait and watch.

I don't want to have all those feelings and images brought back to me today. But then again, I know I'll never forget.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Songs that make me cry (hopefully you have some too?)

Aisling just played this song, Taylor Swift's "The Best Day," for me on the piano and I am seriously thinking about lying down on the floor and crying until my eyes fall out. I cannot listen to songs like Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" or Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" or any songs about people getting older and children growing up; it's just ridiculous. I even cry over that absolutely STUPID "Butterfly Kisses" song, which just enrages me but I can't help it. That person who sings it, whose name I can't even remember, gets to the part about his daughter in her wedding dress and I am just a face full of bubbles and snot.

Once I was crying quietly to myself in a store while looking at handbags and some lady asked me in a concerned voice if I was okay. I said yes, I was fine and tried to get rid of her but she said persistently "Are you sure?" and then offered me a tissue and I was tempted to tell her that I just found out that I'd lost my job so that I wouldn't have to tell her that I was crying because Alanis Morisette's "Head Over Feet" was playing and it always reminds me of when my husband and I were first married. In the end, I couldn't lie and couldn't tell the truth, so I left her mystified, that nosey thing, thinking that I was weeping sadly over the fact that the Nine West bag I coveted was $110.

 I used to cry a lot over "Cat's in the Cradle" but it has that really distinctive opening bar and I generally can make it to the radio in time to quickquickquick switch the station, unless I'm in a store and then I just leave, abandoning entire carts full of groceries or once, an Ann Taylor Loft 100% wool gorgeous winter coat priced at a steep post-season markdown and WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!? Please tell me I'm not the only one who spontaneously starts leaking tears whenever certain songs start playing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

RECIPE: Outback Steakhouse Onion Blossom Sauce

For those of us who really like spicy food, the sauce that comes with the Awesome Blossom at the Outback (or at Chili's or Lone Star or wherever - the onion blossom has several permutations) is better than the actual blossomed onion. The saddest day I ever experienced at a restaurant was the day when my husband decided that he liked the sauce better than the ketchup he'd been using to dip his blossom petals into. This sauce doesn't just have to be reserved for battered and deep-fried onions, however: we've found that it is good on a number of different things, including the jalapeno cheeseburgers we ate for dinner last Monday, and even the "fried" potatoes I cook in my great-grandmother's cast-iron skillet.

I've had this recipe written on a sticky-note for about five months, so I'd say it's high time to get it recorded here where I won't lose it. This recipe makes a good portion of sauce - the serving size is two tablespoons, which is plenty - so I hope you can forgive the eensy-weensy measurements. It's worth it.

Blossom Sauce

Directions: Combine all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl; cover and refrigerate for about two hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Store leftovers in fridge, if there are any.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons horseradish (I like to use horseradish sauce because it's smoother and more blendable)
2 teaspoons ketchup (adjust amount according to taste; I always use a teaspoon or two more)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between fingers
dash black pepper
dash cayenne pepper

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Menu Plan Monday (on Tuesday)

Sometimes, like on Labor Day, life gets away from you and you spend that vacation Monday thinking it's Sunday and then you wake up the next morning and confusion reigns all day. I feel that today - TUESDAY, goshdangit! - is successful because 1) I remembered to take Aisling to piano lessons, and 2) I remembered about Menu Plan Tuesday. Uh, Monday. Whatever.

Anyway, here's the inaugural post of the new school year.To read other people's weekly menus (it may give you some ideas if you've announced "It's chili night!" for the fourth time this month and here it is, only September 6) go visit Laura at her blog I'm an Organizing Junkie by clicking this link.

Menu Plan for the Week of September 5, 2011

Monday - Ahhh, what's past is past, so let's not dwell on it. But on the slim chance that you're interested, we ate jalapeno cheeseburgers on grilled buns with pepper-jack cheese, jalapeno pepper slices and Blossom Sauce, an awesome dupe recipe from the Outback Steakhouse - I'll post the recipe here after I post this article because it is a keeper. Instead of actual ground beef, I grilled some MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Originals because they are just delicious, full of protein and very low in fat.

Tuesday - Err, it's chili night! Grade School Chili, to be exact, with both chili beans (which are red beans in chili sauce) and black beans, plus lean ground beef and about half a cup of chili powder because we like it spicy. If I'm feeling fancy, I cook some diced green pepper and onions to throw in the pot, and my husband always insists on spaghetti noodles, just the way they served it at Connersville Elementary School back in the early 1970s. I cheat and use whole-wheat pasta.

WednesdayGorton's Grilled Tilapia (if you're thinking that I'm relying heavily on some frozen convenience foods this week, you're absolutely right), oven-roasted potatoes, peas

Thursday - Patty melts, made with those MorningStar Farms® Grillers®  again, but this is a totally different type of sandwich. I think everybody in Indiana knows what a patty melt is - and hopefully, they've had a chance to eat one at Willow Springs Restaurant in Hagerstown because theirs are the best, no argument. I make a lower fat sissy version that doesn't even come close to the real deal, but they're still pretty good, smothered with grilled onions and served with good ol' American cheese on grilled bread. I use olive oil for the grilling instead of butter, which makes me want to just sit down and cry over my Paula Deen cookbook, but we all have to make some sacrifices, right? - plus corn on the cob and maybe a green salad on the side.

Friday - We're having company on Friday - a friend of Aisling's is spending the night - so it's going to be Poured Crust pizzas, I'm thinking a 12-inch with sausage, mushrooms and onions and a 10-inch made Hawaiian-style with barbecue sauce, Canadian bacon, pineapple chunks and onions. Yummer!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A dentist's office rant and poll

I just went to the dentist's office for my regular six-month check-up, filled out some paperwork that needed to updated, read a copy of Redbook from cover to cover, played around on the internet on my phone, counted the ceiling tiles, mentally rearranged the furniture and added a couple of plants and more side tables, rehearsed every swear word I've ever heard, invented some new ones and finally, after forty-five minutes, got up, walked back over to the reception desk with steam coming out of my ears and nostrils, and informed the receptionist that there were places I had to be, things I needed to be doing and a LIFE I NEEDED TO BE LIVING, and re-scheduled for next Thursday at 1:00.

I'm tempted to show up at 1:45 and innocently say, "What? You mean I'm late? Like you were last week? Oh, sorry. It sucks when people frack around with your schedule, doesn't it?"

I understand that doctors and dentists and optometrists in all their many permutations have emergencies that throw off their schedules. Don't we all? Sometimes something as mundane as a slow freight train can make you ten minutes late for an appointment and send you screeching into the parking lot with your hair on fire. I understand those things.

But if a doctor's office is running more than fifteen minutes behind schedule, the front desk people need to start making some calls (that's one of the reasons we have to give them our home and mobile phone numbers, right?) instead of just casually allowing hapless patients to trail in and then sit there, cooling their heels. It's just bad form. It says, "I am a doctor and my time is more important than your time because, well, I am a doctor and I care nothing for you and your substandard master's degree from an inferior university or the child you have to pick up at school or the fact that you were due back at work for a meeting - SIT STILL AND KEEP QUIET, humble peasant. I will see you when I see you."

It also says that, emergencies barred, patients are being scheduled too close together. And that the office is run inefficiently. And it makes me really mad.

What do you do when you're kept waiting? Comment here on on Facebook, either one. Answer any or all. No fair telling me that I'm a grouchy old bat: I already know.

1. How long a wait do you feel is too long?

2. Do you sit there fuming in silence or do you inform the receptionist that you can't wait?

3. Have you ever considered biting your dentist on the thumb to revenge yourself?

4. If your doctor's office is one of the ones with the sign that reads "Appointments canceled less than 24 hours in advance will be billed our regular fee," have you ever considered billing them for your time for making you wait longer than fifteen minutes?