Sunday, August 12, 2018

When you can't tell family from friends, you've got it made

Possibly the best line I heard at my first-ever book signing this weekend came from Meredith, the IndyReadsBooks manager.

"It was clear you had a lot of family members come out to support you," she said. "That's key."

What's great about that statement is that only about 12 percent of the small crowd had a blood connection. So it was awesome when a stranger observed us in a semi-natural habitat and saw a family, too.


For the record, the official family members included my sisters Donna, Nancy and Debbie; my cousin, Lori; and my niece-in-law, Shannon. They braved city traffic and drove two hours to mingle with people who have known them for years via my stories. They were more than happy to be on the story telling end of things for a change.

Eric and Tracy won the prize for longest distance, coming up from Evansville, about three-and-a-half hours away. Kirsten win, through her mother, the prize for best marketing. Her mom has bought and read all four books. She lives in Australia, so I'm officially an internationally known author.

Also attending were most of Book Club and Bunco, and even a Showgirl. People from former jobs, current clients,  people who were at or in my wedding. We solidified a new friendship with folks who are new to the city and took a chance on stopping in to a room full of strangers who were at least an hour ahead of them in the drinking game.

I will admit to being terrified that no one would show up. And getting out the door with all of the books and snacks and drinks and things was a bit of a train wreck.

At one point, running late and still discussing if we had the right collection of libations, we were driving south on Keystone and slowing for a stoplight when a voice came from a motorist in the next lane.

"Sir, Sir! Something fell out of your car," said the nice woman.

We looked back. Jeff had lowered the back windows to get a little air, forgetting the back of our Subaru was stuffed to the gills. A bag had been leaning against the glass and spilled some of its contents when he lowered the window. Traffic was hopping, but Jeff jumped out to retrieve the spillage before we left a trail of snacks along Keystone Avenue.

Once we got to the store, though, it all fell into place. And people came!

Folks who couldn't attend the signing, but wanted to, reached out over the Interwebs and phone, so the crowd there was even larger emotionally than physically. Alison's French macrons and cupcakes were a huge hit, as was the array of libations the Captain was pouring.

We even sold a few books -- dozens of mine in addition to stuff from the shelves -- which was awesome because revenue generated at the store helps support the IndyReads literacy program.

I began this report with the best line, but there were many others bandied about as we essentially had a little party in the middle of the store. We even went over an hour our allotted time, which no one working at the store seemed to mind.
The Captain got a special bartender's license so he could serve.

"I want to meet your sisters!"

"Are you Chris from Facebook? The things you post are so funny!"

"I think I know that voice."

"Oh, my gosh, is that you? I haven't seen you in years."

"Tell me stories."

"That's the Captain."

"These macrons are stupid good."

"Are you going to read something?"

"When's the next book?"

Thanks to everyone who came or sent good vibes or messages and made it an awesome day.

That's Meredith behind the counter and Sarah Branham (and Anderson) checking out.
Jeff and I capped off the amazing weekend with a 2.5 hour hike with Eric, Tracy, Susan and a group of other fun new friends. Susan, who had come to the signing, along with her husband, Jeff, asked me what I'd learned from writing the book(s). Susan is often more philosophical and kinder than I am, and I'm always hoping some of it will rub off.

So there, along a trail at Eagle Creek Park, I pondered her question. What had I learned in the year I took to mostly focus on the thing I'd wanted to do for so long. That I could do it? That I should do more passion projects?

Yes, those things are true for me, and probably for you, too. But I think what I'm taking away mostly from this weekend is that I am truly blessed to have the family I have -- and I'm using Meredith's definition.

And now, a short note from our sponsors:
We went in with three boxes of books and came out with one, so we have a small surplus available at bargain prices. Hit me up if you want one. I suspect I'll have a sampling in the trunk of my car for a while. If you're out of town and want a book faster than the next time you see me, or better yet, you know someone who would enjoy my little thriller, direct them to Amazon here.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Gravel in our Travel

I reported already on Alison's Awesome Summer, but this morning our NBC affiliate, WTHR, aired its story on the filming of "The Misadventures of Bindu," and our messy-haired redhead made the cut. So it seemed like I should share the story.

You can see it here. I love her giggle at the end. It's so Alison.

In other news,  Ali drove us down to Brazil Saturday, her first at-the-wheel experience on the Interstate. Traffic was light so that helped, but she still had to deal with semis and other drivers coming up fast behind her. She did really well in both the city and on the highway.

It was a slightly different story when our GPS turned on us and directed us to leave Indiana 59 in our quest to get to a baby shower at Briley and Patrick's house. We'd not been there before, and if I'd only explored a tiny bit, I would have known that it required no gravel in our travel at all.

But I made the mistake of trusting the voice coming from my GPS. We turned onto a county road and Ali learned that not every roadway in America is clearly marked.

We wandered around a bit and found ourselves at an intersection with a road not referenced by the GPS. The numbered county road we were on led to what my rurally-trained eye told me was a driveway.

"Let's try right," I said, thinking that was at least in the direction of where I thought we needed to go. We hadn't gotten far when I decided we needed to double back. We met Cujo turning around in a driveway.

"Uh, Ali," I said. "Drive faster."

She was busy trying not to land us in a ditch, which I guess was a good thing, too, but the dog wasn't looking friendly as it approached. Yeah, we were wrapped in steel, but I had no wish to get Cujo slobber on the windows or to explain claw marks to the Captain.

We went back and through the intersection and found nothing but fields. We turned back again as I wondered if I'd entered the name of the road incorrectly. I'd never heard of a West State Road. Usually, three word-ed streets are county roads. So I changed the GPS to WCR instead of WSR.

We lost our signal, wandered some more and found ourselves back at the Cujo intersection. I mumbled something about being lost in BFE, using the three words of the acronym and taught my teenager a new word. I can already hear the detention message I'm going to get in a few weeks from her school.

Sitting at the now very familiar intersection, Ali said, "Let's just go straight."

She's a scientist. That was the one direction we hadn't tried.

"That's a driveway," I repeated.

"I bet it's a road," she said. "We are in the country."

"It's a dirt path," I said.

"Right and left didn't work," she reminded me.

"I have to pee," I said.

"Well I'm dying of thirst," she responded. "We have to get somewhere!"

We went straight and encountered a shirtless, unfriendly man coming out of a barn. Because it was a driveway.

She hit reverse again, seemingly more concerned about a close encounter with the man than she had been about the rabid dog. Backing up and turning is a new skill for her and she always has to remind herself out loud how to turn the wheel to point the car in the direction she wants. Amped up by thirst and adrenalin, she got out of there -- cleanly -- in record time.

I called my sister, Donna, who we were to meet at Briley's house. She also hadn't heard of WSR 340 and was coming from Brazil. She had the same address I did because I'd given it to her. I told her we'd drive until we got our signal back and let her know.

We found ourselves back on Indiana 59. We called Donna again. She had no clue and also hadn't heard of the WSR.

"Call Nancy," she suggested, another sister.

Nancy confirmed we had the right address all along and that WSR was really a thing. We plugged it in again, and it sent us right back to where we'd been. We waved to Cujo from the safety of our Subaru and eventually emerged onto US 40.

I remember enough about my home area geography to know that Indiana 59 intersects with US 40. If we'd stayed on the original state road, we'd have never gotten lost and been to the party on time. Stupid GPS.

The good news is that Ali and I got our diametrically opposite bodily needs met, we got to see family we hadn't seen in too long and Ali is more comfortable driving backwards.

She later drove Donna's big-ass pickup truck on US 41 on the south side of Terre Haute. The vehicle is larger than my house, so she had a tiny bit of drama turning off the highway where she and Donna met me for dinner. Two lanes of traffic turn into the street she needed and there was a vehicle right next to her as she made her turn. She apparently encroached a little bit into her neighbor's lane.

To her credit, Donna didn't yelp and Ali didn't panic.

But come to think of it, Donna hardly ever orders a cocktail at dinner and she didn't fight the suggestion.

Addendum:  While Ali and I were wandering Indiana, the Captain had another niece, Becca, on a morning whirlwind of shopping.We've been lucky to have Becca stay with us a few weeks while she takes some summer classes. She'll leave us soon to go back to Butler, which will make us all kind of sad.

It's not been too much of an eventful summer, but she had a budgetary trifecta hit. Her phone died and her car needed an oil change. Jeff likes nothing better than bargain shopping, and she and Becca had spent a good portion of Friday night talking about phones.

So they spent the morning first getting an oil change for her car, then phone shopping. Now, Jeff has hearing issues, but even he could hear her brakes grinding, so he forcibly suggested she get her car fixed, too.

The bargain he won for her phone was eaten up by the brake job, but at least she's safer.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Rock star? Check. Movie star? Check. World traveler? Check. I want Ali's life.

Unless you're a Kardashian or some other crazily entitled person, my guess is you will be -- as I am -- jealous of one Alison Reed. Here's what her summer has been so far:

  • 10 days in Eastern Europe on a school trip, where she made out with a yellow boa constrictor ala Brittany Spears, ate amazing food and saw amazing sites, tempered by an incredibly emotive visit to Auschwitz;
  • 6 days in Maine with her best friend at Auntie Jen's lake house where they spent more time in the water than on land and got to work on their water skiing skills;
  • Serving as an extra in a Hollywood movie called "The Miseducation of Bindu." It includes David Arquette and other up-and-coming famous people, and Ali has spent hours and hours on set. 
    • She was sitting around waiting one day when the director pointed to her and said, "We need someone to talk to a reporter outside. You! Go." So she did. I flubbed recording it on WTHR and found only this online. Her interview could have been cut, I suppose...
    • The extras hanging about the school yard.
    • Kelly Wilkinson, an Indy Star photographer, snapped her and used the shot above in a 50+ photo gallery that accompanied the story you can get to via the link above.
  • Singing on stage with Foreigner. Sure, only one of the original band members is still on tour, but it was really Foreigner. She and some of the Herron High School choir provided backup vocals for "I Want to Know What Love Is." 
    She's in the group on the left, but hard to see.
  • Taking an overnight trip to Holiday World with friends from school. No chaperones. Yeah, that's coming up next week and both the Captain and I are queasy. Not because we don't trust her. It's just a long time to be on the highway in an SUV full of teenagers. Any of my Evansville peeps want to go shadow them and report in regularly that all is well?
She still has about a month left before she had to report back to school for her (gulp) senior year. She had exceptionally good grades both in school and on her AP tests and finals and she hasn't stepped too far out of line yet in the chores and attitude department so it's getting hard to say no to her.

I'm just saying that this is not how my summers went back in rural Clay County. To be fair, I guess, last year she broke her collarbone to kick off the season. Still. I'm a little green-tinged these days.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Miss Independence

Alison is off with Auntie Jen and Jenna Tokash for a week and who do you think has communicated more with the poor, lonely parents back home?

That's right. My second daughter, Jenna. And mostly because I guilted her into it.

It's all just fine, though, because we know they're safe and having a ton of fun. Alison will jettison technology if she has a chance of getting into water, and as Pleasant Pond is in Jen's back yard, I'll be lucky to hear from Ali until she's waiting to board her plane to come home.

Before the girls went off to Auntie Jen, they helped us out with a community field day, hosted in part by our great friend, Kelsey Taylor.  Follow the link to read about it if you want.

It was the first attempt by the group, and we would have loved to have more people, but it was still a great (albeit hot) day. At one point, an IMPD office came by and was attacked by a toddler/little kid group that had a kiddie pool full of water and some water guns. He was a great sport. I hope he had a dry uniform somewhere because he had just started his shift and was soaked.

We got to spend a little time with the awesome Northern family, who are headed to Charlottesville soon. Karl and Elizabeth's eldest, Jack, has plans of running the country one day, so it makes sense that he get a little history lesson in when he can. He's serious. And he knows a lot about becoming president. So be prepared to send him your vote when the time comes, which could be a little shy of 30 years from now. It would be sooner except for that silly age restriction.

After we got home and showered the sweat off, Jenna straightened Ali's hair. Last year at Jen's, she went a different direction, which apparently gave at least one of them a laugh.
Jenna Tokash: Future Stylist to the Stars
This is us at Taco Bell fueling up for the Stop the Violence Community Field Day
The hair stayed mostly straight overnight, but I'm sure was back to her curly mop once they got out of the water. I'd share a photo with you, but oh yeah, I don't have one!!!

I have had little time to be bitter. I got up early Monday to take a road trip with Deb from WFMS, my country radio music station of choice. We've been Twitter friends for a while, but we channeled Thelma and Louise to get the first taste of Dunkin Donuts' new donut fries and to meet in real life. I didn't tell her until after about my terrible driving reputation.

We got there and back just fine, thank you very much, even thought we ran into a detour and had to wind our way around to find the closest shop and when we got there, the staff had a hard time realizing we didn't just want one packet of five donut fries. We wanted five packets. They thought we were crazy. I think they were mesmerized by our lipstick.

I'm generally risk averse when it comes to meeting people I've liked from afar. You never want to find out your favorite actress or singer is a creep, plus you don't want to come off like a stalker. But it was fun. The Captain even tuned in. One day I'll get him to love country music, too...

Now it's the 4th of July and Jeff and I will likely head down to an Indians game. We took a long bike ride this morning so I might have to nap before. Hope your week is awesome and your 4th of July is safe but fun. As I type, Jeff is dragging out the remnants of his fireworks collection. He's had to take  a few years off from blowing stuff up but I fear for the neighborhood dogs tonight...

Come by Canterbury Park if you're in the area after dark... I'm pretty sure someone will be breaking the law down there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jesus Take the Wheel

Alison is finally committed to learning how to drive. Thanks be praised and Hallalujah. Kind of.

She'd put it off all year. Mostly because she has two live-in chauffeurs and friends who'll cart her butt pretty much wherever she wants to go. But she's through finals and in between travels. Her summer job is to get her 50 hours of driving in and to get her driver's license before Herron rings the school bell.

She had insisted that only Jeff be her instructor. "Come on, Mom, even you know you're a bad driver," she said.

Even though the Captain wasn't in the room at the time, I could see him nodding his head. I agreed to this madness but found myself with time on my hands this week.

"We're driving today," I said.

"What?" she asked, turning around from where she was recording pluses and minuses on her chalkboard wall that's now consumed with her potential college choices.

"No arguments. You're doing it, and you're doing some of it with me," I said.

I can't remember why we had both cars home, but Jeff wasn't around. We drove through our neighborhood in his automatic transmission Subaru. She was really nervous but she did fine.

So we've been driving pretty much every day. Jeff takes her out, too.

This morning, she was backing out of the driveway and at one point had the Subaru crossways instead of heading to the street. She got it straightened out and declared that other than that one point, it was one of her best exits.

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She was going along fine in traffic as we approached a line of cars at a stoplight. I'd been sitting mostly silently as I thrashed around her twists and turns and choppy stops at stop signs but I apparently squeaked as the Acura in front of us got closer and closer.

"I saw him! I'm stopping fine," she said, glaring at me.

I looked back, a little surprised.

"Did I say that out loud?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

She drove on, we got home safely and I decided to take a little walk. I meander down the drive and saw the casualties from her driveway exit.

I knocked on the picture window and had her get off the couch to lay witness her destruction.

"Uh, well, they're not all that bad," she said. "And look! Those are OK."

I think I'm going to have her park in the street from now on...

Divided Houses

The only time I remember angering my mother-in-law was a long time ago when Sally Hemings DNA was in the news and I was remarking about how strange it was that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and fought against tyranny was both a slave owner and a rapist.

Marian was not convinced that Thomas Jefferson should be so described and said the relationship was surely consensual. I retorted that, by definition, that was impossible. At that point, she left the room rather than continue the discussion. It's a moment I wish I had back because I would have never intentionally angered her.

I remembered that day vividly when my friend Denise McFadden and I toured Monticello a couple weeks ago. Jeff and I were visiting Scott and Denise while Ali was on her European tour.

Denise and I took Sunday morning to hike up to the plantation, which had just opened a new exhibit that featured Ms. Hemings. Our guide warned our group that unless we were prepared to
hear some harsh words about what the place was really like back in the day -- and some realities of this side of the former president -- we might not want to continue on. We continued on, of course.

It was amazing and troubling and terrible. We were both fighting back tears at the stories that were based on historical research, which included letters and business papers, ads in newspapers and oral history. One documented story was of Jefferson's plan to sell a repeat runaway slave to scare the others into remaining for fear of being separated from their families.  "The thing these enslaved artisans and workers feared most wasn't the whippings or the beatings. It was being separated from their family," our tour guide explained.

You couldn't help but think of today's immigration and family separation policy.

It gave us a lot to think about on the two-mile trek back to the car. It's a complex world, full of complicated things that can easily divide us into bitter factions. We have only to look to Thomas Jefferson to know that. This is the guy who wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Yet he also placed ads in newspapers describing the chained return of runaway slaves and the subsequent punishment they would face. He believed the races were inferior but that you could breed the black out of them.

Sally, by the way, met his 7/8ths ratio, the tipping point he claimed turned a person from black to white. I guess they weren't exactly people to him until then. How can you be so smart about democracy and individual liberties and be so wrong about slavery?

Oh, Sally was also half-sister to Jefferson's deceased wife. She was15 or so when they began their relationship in Paris where slavery was illegal. When Jefferson wanted to bring her back to Monticello, she negotiated her return. She agreed to go back to being a slave (and also Jefferson's mistress) in exchange for a promise that her children would be freed. Quite the bargain, aye?

Oh! One other thing that's still with me. A different tour guide showed us around the house. I don't know her feelings about slavery, but her tour was markedly more optimistic than the other. At one point, after showing us the many things that probably contributed to Jefferson's later bankruptcy, she referenced the day when the auctioneer came to sell off the assets of the property. One of Jefferson's (an 8/8ths white one) daughter's proclaimed it "the saddest day on the plantation."

On behalf of those without her pedigree, I beg to differ.

On the other hand, the vision of a teenager standing her ground with such a powerful man boggles the mind. Or it did mine. She bargained with the only currency she owned. Does that make the relationship consensual? I don't know. She was still a slave. A slave. He never freed her, just her children when they turned 21. He kept using, selling and presumably punished the others, too.

There's no getting around the fact that slavery is a terrible, terrible thing from which many of our founding fathers profited. There were real atrocities that we shouldn't forget or allow to be repeated.

I was thinking about this in context of today's issues that so many of us have such separate views on: environmental regulation, gay rights, how to deal fairly with immigration and those seeking asylum, affordable health care, the list doesn't stop. I couldn't help but wonder if we're a country so divided on these issues that we're heading to internal conflict.

I hope we're not. I hope we can collectively put the brakes on the bitterness and acrimony. I will admit that I started to chuckle at the irony of Sarah Huckabee and her family being denied service at a restaurant because the staff and owners oppose the administration's support for allowing retailers to deny service to gay people its demonstrated practice of lying to the American people and probably other things. I'd forgotten the baker who refused service to Joe Biden. Some of the same GOPers who declared that guy a hero now think the Red Hen folks went too far.

How do we get back to a place of unity? Is it even possible? We can, should and will continue to disagree over things. 

But let's be human first. Let's edit those Jeffersonian words and really mean them -- that ALL men and WOMEN are created equal. Giving everyone certain unalienable rights doesn't mean you have to give up your own. We ALL should get them. I don't know what's so hard about that concept.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


I'm struggling with a post about my visit to Monticello. So instead, I'm going to post some happy photos from recent travels. Jeff and I went to Virginia to spend a few days with Denise McFadden and Scott Cunningham. We went by way of Maryland so we could make some highly necessary craft beer stops.

We had a fabulous visit -- met new people and had amazing meals. Can't wait to go back.

The road to Denise & Scott's Virginia farm. It's even more idyllic than this shot.
This is the view from the front yard. It's a wonder how they ever leave...

Alison returned last week from 10 days in Berlin, Prague, Krakow and Budapest. She had an amazing time. This is her with a few of her friends. Notice they aren't looking back longingly at the families they're leaving behind...

She did return, however, and we were all happy to see each other.

And here's a happy flower from the yard. I'm working on getting to a place where I'm equally sunshiny. Current events -- and that fascinating trip to Monticello -- is making it difficult...