5 dinner party albums / amazon prime music

Three essential elements to a successful dinner party:
1. good music
2. good dessert
3. pistachios.

Seriously, those little salty nuts are highly underrated as an appetizer. But I digress! If you've got an Amazon Prime membership, you now have access to a pretty awesome little library of tunes. If the parish priest is showing up at 6:00 or you got stuck hosting the book club this month, here's what I'd throw on the ol' turntable to keep myself calm and keep the background noise pleasant.

Rod Stewart

I had near-hyperventilation and cries of joy when I saw that Prime Music included ALL of Rod Stewart's crooning the classics. Whenever my sister or I hear "You Go to My Head," we immediately yearn for a cold glass of good pinot grigio and a foxtrot-like spin around the kitchen island of my parents' house. Many, many a good family dinner nights were spent in the company of Rod, the aforementioned wine, and my mom's famous New York style meatloaf.

Perfect for: any and all dinner parties--especially if your dinner parties usually include the 60-something crowd, or if you're really an 80-something at heart, like me.

2. What a Wonderful Duet
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald 

As easy to listen to as the Great American Songbooks above, but with the bonus of female vocals--and not just any female vocals, of course. Is there a musical pair today that sounds as good together as Louis and Ella? Nah.

Perfect for: guests who appreciate a little jazzy toe-tapping.

Sometimes, though, you just need something soothing in the background, something without lyrics (or a trumpet).

This is an excellent album on the whole, but you need it for the first two tracks: "Gabriel's Oboe" and "The Falls" from The Mission.

Perfect for: guests who like weeping.

4. Live at Radio City
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds 

Show me a person that doesn't have some kind of emotional, romantic attachment to at least one Dave Matthews song--just one! Does such a mythical creature exist?

Perfect for: dinner guests who will start humming along to "Crush" without even realizing it.

Ok, it's not the album for every dinner party, and your kids might have some questions if they listen to the lyrics of "Piano Man" too closely. But as mother to a 4-year-old, I've come to better appreciate "Don't Ask Me Why;" collapsing at the end of the day reminds me that "You're Only Human;" and  pregnancy gives new meaning to "Pressure." (Too much?)

Perfect for: humans with problems who want to be assured that someone, anyone, loves them just the way they are. Awww.

Go forth and give 'em all a listen! And vote: Next week, want 5 albums to keep you going during a marathon dish washing session? Or early Christmas picks?

Ps. Linking this up with Jenna's inaugural five favs link-up. Happy hosting, and thanks, Jenna!


oh, brother / east of eden


Six things:

1. Other women seem to BREEZE through five books in a month. Meanwhile, mother tortoise over here gets through 18 pages of Classic Dense Novel X at nap time every day before fighting the urge to nap herself. So my What We're Reading Wednesday posts come along, oh, every quarter of a year. This moderately irritates me, but not enough to do much about it. East of Eden traveled down to California and back with me before I finished it.
Pondering if the movie is as long and winding as the book. Also, Mr. Dean's awesome hair.

2. Why am I reading Classic Dense Novels? Because I can't stand being on a wait list for library books, so I only commit to books I can check out on THE DAY I'm at the library. Plus I usually end up renewing things three times before finishing them. Can you do that with a high-demand library book? Slow-reading minds want to know.

3. My standard reaction when I finish a Classic Dense Novel: "Huhn. Isn't that sumpin'." And then for an afternoon or two, I forage around the internet for critical literary analysis, trying to see if I missed some broad theme or archetype.

Did I miss anything, James?
This is how I ended up at Oprah.com (gag me) last week, reading a blathering article about villain-woman-prostitute-mother Cathy/Kate, trying to see if John Steinbeck really does have an issue with misogyny. 

4. He doesn't. At least, Oprah doesn't think so.

5. I assumed that if Oprah of all people chose East of Eden for one of her book club selections back in the day, it'd be something loosely romantic or at least moderately sappy.

6. It wasn't. DUH. IT'S STEINBECK. He's Mice and Men, he's Grapes of Wrath. And I expected sappy??

She looks so pleased to be the third wheel. 

The epic, multi-generational tale of two families (and almost exclusively male protagoanists) finding their way to the lush Salinas Valley surprised me with its depiction of an amoral, seemingly heartless woman. While Steinbeck sketched out those male protagonists with loving care and deep sensitivities, he drew his villain with an equally deep reserve of hatred and spite. Some say Cathy/Kate is based on his second wife. Hmm.

Nice hat, devil lady.

As one would expect in a book based on the first family of Genesis and their angst, the book centers around two sets of brothers. I'm raising two boys, and the relationships between both sets of brothers worried me greatly. Will one of my boys come to resent the other? Will one sabotage the happiness of the other? Does one think I love the other more than I love him?


That the fictional brothers within the novel had fractured families is putting it gently. Their biological mothers proved to be either weak, distant, or psychotic. As one essayist put it, the most caring and nurturing mother in the book is actually, of course, a man.

But providing a positive moral focus in the novel through all that mess is that man (or brother) is not doomed to sin--nor is he above sin, but that he has the freedom to choose not sin. No shortage of Catholic fodder here. Though born with sin on his soul, man may choose goodness over revenge and violence. And it is God alone who bestows that gift upon him.

Next up for me: a current analysis of religion in America--all heretics and polemics from here on out!


4 reasons to pray at abortion clinics

You know what's really depressing?

Going here to pray:

The building: an imposing yet dilapidated grey monolith lacking interest or warmth.

The iron fence outside of it: built tall and strong to remind people like me to stay away.

The activity inside: lies, pain, death, waste.

But if I don't go and pray, that doesn't make the building disappear. Death will still happen inside of it. Women (and men) will still walk away from it, wounded, forever hurt.

A kind soul recently asked me how I'd respond to people who don't understand abortion-clinic prayer vigils. Why not, they reason, spend your time inside a crisis pregnancy center? If you really want to help women, why not actually do something?

With a few caveats (one being that we financially support our local crisis pregnancy centers) I responded with my top four reasons.

1. giving alternatives 
Not every woman who knows where an abortion clinic is, also knows where a pregnancy resource center is. It would be nice if every crisis pregnancy center could be right across the street (or right next door) to an abortion clinic, but at least in our town, the center is a good 2 miles away. When I go and pray during 40 Days for Life, I hold a sign that has the phone number to our local crisis pregnancy center.

So: It's important to be there, at the abortion clinic, to spread that information.

2. mourning them 
Just as people flock to the site of 9/11 in New York City, or visit past battlefields like Normandy or Gettysburg, or even place flowers at the graves of loved ones, I pray at abortion centers because that is where babies die

They have no one to place a flower on their grave, since they are either tossed in dumpsters or disposed of as "medical waste."

So: It's important to be there, at the abortion clinic, to mourn their lives.

3. showing others
If you're driving and stop at a busy intersection, you might see a panhandler, asking for money or food. If you go to church, you might hear a missionary talk about people starving in far-off countries. If you visit a nursing home, you'll see elderly who are all but abandoned by their family. These things make us uncomfortable, and often move us to action. 

When we see suffering, it pricks our conscience. 

Many times, abortion clinics go unnoticed by the people driving by--they see only another building, not the (in)humanity of what happens behind the doors. I've talked with many pro-lifers who didn't even know that an abortion clinic was in their city, or even right in their neighborhood.

So: It's important to be there, at the abortion clinic, to show your neighbors what is happening, right on the street where they live--and that you don't approve of it.

4. being there 
I've prayed at abortion clinics for years, both alone and in peer groups. Now I take my kids with me. For this fall 40 Days for Life campaign, I'll be nearly 8 months pregnant. 

It's important for women, alone or with children, to pray outside clinics. While the presence of the older pro-life generation is undeniably important (and indeed, that generation laid the foundation for the very vigils and marches we participate in today), I believe it sends a powerful message to the world when women--especially those born after 1973--publicly pray to end abortion. 

We are there to hold out a hand and say, "Come with me to the crisis pregnancy center. You're not alone, you don't have to do this, and there is a way out. And you and your baby deserve better."

So: It's important to be there, at the abortion clinic, to show other women that they're not alone, that children are beautiful, and that life is precious--hard, but precious.  

This Saturday, 40 Days for Life kicks off in my town with a rally. I've signed up for a few vigil slots per week. 

Think about joining me. Even if you find it depressing, too.


pretty funny happy real / in CA (again) (mostly)

Looks like the last time I did the Like Mother/Like Daughter weekly linkup, I also posted pictures from a recent California trip. My only conclusion is that many pretty, funny and happy things really do happen in CA.

pretty /

Ain't no sunset like a NorCal sunset. Sky on FIRE.

funny / 

Joseph learning to finally ride a bike (thanks to Babcia's perseverance)--not funny, but it made us all giddy with pride. 

One truly funny Joseph story this week: I had Catholic radio on in the car, and a talk by Fr. Larry Richards (who I LOVE) came on. 

Joseph asks, "Mom... Is this Jesus talking?"

happy / 

A well-stocked kitchen towel drawer, filled with beautiful swaths of absorbent cotton is one of my mother's love languages (and, in turn, mine as well). If you time it right in the evenings, you can occasionally catch her at one of her guilty pleasures: ironing them. 

real / 

Back to (pre) school for my precious Little Nerd; back to mornings with mom for my Little Knight. Happy September.


maternity clothes math

In the shopping aberration of the century, the boys and I had an EXTRAORDINARILY successful trip to Goodwill. In 12 minutes, we scored new salt/pepper shakers, two train books, a barely-worn sweater for Joe AND a pair of seemingly-new Old Navy maternity jean jeggings (or leggings?) for me, for a grand total of $10.82.

I bought the jeans without trying them on and without finding a size tag in them. The waist looked to be size "extra plenty;" and big enough to accommodate the low-hanging watermelon that is my belly.

Tried them on at home--success. Nay, perfection. Maybe a little on the loose side, but since I've still got 8 weeks to go, that's a good problem to have.

Then, as I took off the blessed garment, I found that size tag. HA.

Is it fine to be a size 14? Well duh. Of course it is. But is it a shock to be a pre-pregnancy size of about 8, then to be wearing not only a size 14, but a maternity size 14, with plenty of weeks to go? YES, IT IS A SHOCK.

Maternity clothes/sizes are basically a crapshoot, so I'm issuing a new formula for determining your numerical maternity size, at least for Old Navy.

Take your pre-pregnancy size: 8

Add your trimester: 3

Add which number this baby is in your lineup: 3

In the words of Peg + Cat: Problem solved! The problem is solved!