Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Call me June Cleaver

I have never been -- will never be -- confused with a good cook. Give me a phone and I can order the best dinner this side of the Ohio River, but there aren't many people who've left my dinner table extolling my skills in front of the stove. Jeff gets all that love. I'm the default sous chef/clean-up crew.

In my defense, I've never killed anyone with my culinary attempts. (Jeff has come close a few times.) It's OK, though. I don't have to be great at everything. But there are those occasions when I wish I was better in the kitchen.

Jeff's out on a work trip, and Alison had decided we shouldn't be take-out queens in his absence. She even said she'd been thinking about planning a menu that would have her pitching in to cook. I looked at her funny and asked her to repeat herself. She's known as the Taco Queen for a reason, and she generally looks forward to Jeff's night away from dinner because I'm almost always down to order out.

"I want to make Mango Chicken Curry," she said. "Do we have fresh ginger?"

Here's what it's supposed to look like. Pretty, right?



I should have known things wouldn't work out as planned. Ali woke up Monday feeling bad, complaining of a sore throat and asking if she could come home early from school. She didn't want to miss Chemistry, but didn't think she was up for a full day of learning.

I agreed, and she spent the afternoon and most of the evening on the couch where she went through two boxes of Kleenex as she watched YouTube videos, did homework and picked up notes and assignments online. I glanced at the mangoes I'd bought for her and wondered if they'd make it into the saucepan.

She was feeling better by Tuesday and said she wanted the curry chicken for dinner.

"Do I have time for a bath?" she asked as she darted into her bathroom.

I'm sure what I offered was to prepare the ingredients so she could make the dish.

I sighed. "Mother up," I told myself.

The recipe said it would take 15 minutes to prep. The recipe lied.

I've been known to get halfway into a recipe only to discover I don't have an essential ingredient. This time I was going to be smarter and assemble all the ingredients ahead of time. I needed white vinegar, which was in the far corner of a tall pantry shelf.

In getting it, I knocked over a bottle of fancy olive oil that's infused with hot, red pepper. The fancy cork in the stupid fancy bottle popped out and I had olive oil and red pepper flakes all over the wider, lower shelf. My wasabi peas were safe in their clear plastic box, but the lid was covered in oil. It was everywhere, actually. Oil is good for wood, right?

I mopped up most of the oil and went back to assembling ingredients and reading the recipe.

I had to chop the onion, bell pepper, chicken and mangoes, and mince the garlic and the ginger. I considered that a while. I know what mincing is, but I thought we have a tool for that.

I'm not exactly sure what the tool I used was really for, but it didn't squeeze out little minces of ginger. It was more like a juicer. I ended up chopping the clump of root that emerged and threw the juice into it. I almost kissed the jar of minced garlic I found in the fridge. It was right beside the jar of minced ginger. (I might have cursed when I found that...)

Now for the produce. I debated the difference between "diced" and "chopped" for a while. God forbid I end up with wrong-sized chunks.

I Googled it. Turns out chopping is what my dicing usually turns into when I have to dice too much of something. So I chopped. It also turns out that mangoes are super slippery and have some sort of a fibrous core to them like a pineapple. I was pretty sure that I didn't keep the core. I learned that mangoes are sturdy enough to wash off just fine if they shoot off the cutting board and slide across the floor.

SIDE NOTE: Growing up, my family called green bell peppers "mangoes." Don't know why, but we did. FYI: mangoes are not green bell peppers. Not even close.

The recipe called for a red bell pepper. I had orange. Same thing, right?

I went back to the recipe. Step one was "Cook onions, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, spices.

We didn't have any vegetable oil and I'd spilled all the fricking olive oil.  Jeff is always yammering on about the right kind of oil and its smoke point or flame level or some such nonsense. I can never remember which one is right or the for what reason. But ha! I have a can of spray coconut oil. That counts, right? Mangoes and coconuts are both tropical. Close enough.

I sprayed the spray oil until it was near liquid in the pan and threw in the chopped onions and pepper, the minced ginger and garlic and the spices and went back to the recipe.

Crap! The recipe used grammar and tricked me. Step one had a colon. The stupid onions and peppers were supposed to be fried (I mean sauteed) first. Then, the garlic and ginger were to be added and stirred around a bit. The spices were to arrive fashionably late. Oh well. It all was in there and damn if I didn't need to spray the pan with oil again.

I added up the times I was supposed to cook in stages and let it all cook up, spraying here and there like a beauty pageant contestant with a can of Aqua Net.

Step two said to add the vinegar, coconut milk and one of the mangoes. Goddammit! I had chopped the stupid fruit and threw it all in the same bowl. I could estimate half, right? I mean, even I can divide by two. I threw it all in and got it to the simmering point.

I feel I should point out that I was well past the 15-minute point by now. My back hurt, I was working on a case of carpal tunnel, and I had oil in my hair.

It was then I read that I had puree the concoction once it was done simmering. Me, hot, spicy fruit and a blender. That's a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

I kept telling myself to remember the lid, remember the lid: this stuff is h.o.t. I was glad Ali had the exhaust fan and her speakers on because I was literally talking myself (out loud) through the ordeal.

I remembered the lid. (Ha! You didn't think I would, did you? I totally had a Lucy Ricardo vision, but I worked hard against it.)

Even as I pulsed the blender, I was shaking my head. I don't puree things. Maybe a smoothie, but not a dinner entree. That's Jeff-Reed-level cooking. I so should have made Ali do this.

But, she was sickly, and when she or Jeff is in the kitchen, there's stuff dripping from the ceiling and all over the floor. I may not be a great cook, but I can clean the crap out of things. So far, (other than the oil) I hadn't destroyed the kitchen. I had, however, used up a ton of different vessels. Cleanup was going to take longer than the damn prep.

The puree was supposed to go right back into the pan, which seemed kind of like a cheat, but OK. I was to add the chicken and the mango and cook it for 10 minutes. I took a deep breath, surveyed all that I'd done so far and decided it wasn't a disaster. I tossed it all in and tackled the small mountain of dishes that had multiplied like litter on a post-Spring Break beach.

Crap! The mangoes weren't supposed to mingle with raw chicken. This recipe was not my friend. In its defense, the words were there. I just maybe skimmed a bit more than I should have.

I had to add two tablespoons of fat-free half-and-half because I'd bought light coconut milk, which according to the recipe was like using cardboard instead of lasagna noodles or something. It was a snarky editorial comment that I feel is not appropriate for recipe work, but who cares what I think?

The recipe actually called for heavy whipping cream, "if you "must" use light milk."

Let's get real here. If I bought light coconut milk and "must" use it, what are the chances that I have heavy whipping cream in the house? Right: zero.

Idiot recipe. I was supposed to use "slightly unripe on the firm side" mangoes, too, and be prepared to balance out the sweetness or not-sweetness depending on what level of ripe/firm I ended up with. I guess I could have Googled how to tell when a mango was ripe, but I was still laughing over calling green peppers mangoes. Who can Google when you're giggling?

There was a remedy for the mango state of existence that involved raisins or vinegar, but I decided to skip over that scenario entirely. Ali had -- thank GOD -- told me she didn't want raisins in it. We didn't have raisins anyway.

We also didn't have fresh cilantro to garnish the dish when it was done. It's Tuesday. Tuesday dinner doesn't deserve garnish. That's a weekend thing. A weekend when Jeff is manning the stove.

Anyway, I stir the stuff around and let it cook. Ali emerged from her bath as it reached the end of its suggested cook time. She peered into the saucepan. She'd been in the bath approximately six hours. (It was maybe less than that, but it seemed like a long time.)

"There's a lot of liquid in there," she remarked.

"Yeah, I may not have had exactly the right amount of chicken," I said.

The recipe called for 1-and-a-quarter pounds of chicken. I had two breasts leftover from a larger event. They were in an unmarked Ziplock freezer bag. I have no idea how many pounds it was. It had taken FOREVER to chop into bite-sized pieces and I'd had to trim off gross wads of fat. It looked like enough. I sure didn't want to thaw and chop more.

"Did you weigh it?" Ali-of-the-bath asked.

Uncle James got her a fancy kitchen scale for Christmas. It lives next to the blender, but I averted my eyes from it. I really didn't want to chop more chicken than I had to.

She tasted it and said it might be OK anyway. "I'm going to add frozen peas," she said.


Cool, I thought. Better peas than raisins. I microwaved some rice and she took her bowl to her sick couch.

"Hey Mom," she called. "Can you bring me more Kleenex?"

I walked into the room and directed her to the Kleenex behind her, within arm's reach.

"It's really good!" she said, snatching the box and grinning.

"It's really good," she repeated.


I snatched my phone and started taking pictures. She told me to stop taking pictures.

"It's not very often I do things right," I explained.

"You do things right," she said. "Just not in the kitchen."

She's lucky she's sick.






Sunday, April 15, 2018

Status: Glass approaching full

Standing in the hallway of the Purdue University Memorial Union 10 days ago, I'll admit to being weepy. Someone had called out for the parents to step to one side of the wide hall and the students to step to the other.

We were there for a visit to determine if Alison might want to attend the school, and for all I knew, it was the last we'd see of Alison until the end of the day.

She was super chill about it and strolled off with a quick smile. Jeff was doing his cool dad thing, but I know he was desperate for her to turn around and ask him something ... anything that would reassure him that she still needed his advice. He got nothing.

I really, really tried to keep it together, but  it was one of those terrible/wonderful events where another thread ripped free of the slender cord connecting us. I could see it unraveling and flying off in the breeze as clear as day. He turned around and saw me and started to laugh.


He positioned himself so she couldn't see my face. It's not that I wasn't proud of her or don't want her to live her life, but man, the milestones are hard. The division of parents and students was short-lived, and my weepy moment passed. I tried to keep back and let her do her thing.

We ended up having a really good day and we only embarrassed her a couple of times. That I know of.

At one point, we were in a small group, and Dr. Beatriz Cisneros was querying parents and students about what they wanted out of the day. Were were only about a dozen people, and as an ice-breaker, she asked us to give a fun fact about ourselves. Mine was that Mitch Daniels had once fired me. The adults in the room thought it was a super fun fact. Alison was not amused.

"Why did you say that?!" she asked me later. 
 
She knew the former governor had invited me and my fellow Democrats to leave when his Republican regime took over, but she didn't realize he was now the president of Purdue. She gave me that "uh-huh" look when I explained the hilarity of my fun fact.

I can't remember exactly how Jeff embarrassed her, but I'm sure he did. I mean, it couldn't have only been me...

Anyway, I'm mostly over my anxiety over her imminent departure. I have another year and half before it's time for college, and we have more visits to make. I'll have to work on my fun facts for them. It's doubtful I'll have a better one.

In an ironic twist of fate, I had an actual Mitch encounter a week after our visit to West Lafayette via a work project headed by Bill Oesterle. The event was the Brain Gain Talent Summit, the first event of a larger project designed to keep talented people in Indiana whether they're natives or come here for college or university. It's a concept Bill and the former governor have been talking about and working on for years and I'm happy to be helping with it.


As the event wasn't about me and I had a job to do, I didn't take the opportunity to tell the governor/president that Ali is considering his university as her next educational institution or that he met her years ago. Not that he was the first governor to make her acquaintance, of course.
  
I was working for Governor Frank O'Bannon when Ali was born. There was a Day Nursery school in the state office building next to the Statehouse, so she and I had "gone to work" together since her enrollment there as an infant. She was a frequent visitor to the governor's office, once marking it as her territory when her diaper leaked all over one of the couches. 

One night when I was working late, my friend Cindy Athey was dispatched to pick her up. That was the longest walk in Cindy's life as Alison apparently screamed most of the way. In later years, her Day Nursery class visited with Governor Joe Kernan. So the entire state complex was just a playground to her and everyone -- even the security detail -- was just another potential playmate.

She was four-years old and Mitch had just taken office as governor when they met. I was still licking my wounds from the election lot and was freshly unemployed. Jeff, who was still working downtown, had taken over getting her to Day Nursery and back.

When they came home that night and he told me that he'd encountered the new governor that day. Not only had they traded cordial greetings, the governor had leaned down to talk to Ali and then taken HER HAND and walked with them to the cafeteria, chattering about this and that like you do when you meet an adorable little kid.


I was not amused.
 
"You let him hold her hand?" I asked, outraged. "Did you tell him that he'd just fired her mommy?" 

I'm pretty sure the eye roll he gave me at Purdue the other day was the same one I got that day back in 2005. I like to think I've matured since then. 

Jeff has abandoned us for a few days for a work trip that has a special side bonus of being in Portland, Oregon, home of our good friend Sami Khawaja. It'll be a mix of craft beer, wine, jazz and, of course, important work.

Ali left me too, for an overnight with a friend of hers. It wasn't a problem because their absence left me open to monopolize my nephew Jason, who was in town for his weekend with the naval reserve. Even though I knew what he was here for, seeing him walk toward me in uniform was a bit of a shock. There's a big welcome home party for him next week, but it's also Alison's prom so I'll miss it.

I was thrilled to be able to spend some quality time with him ahead of the party, which he pointed out, is something I probably wouldn't get at the party. So it couldn't have worked out better.

I don't think I have words for how proud of Jason I am. Don't tell him because it would embarrass him, but he's the kid every parent hopes to have. He's not a kid, of course. He's a grown-up. A husband. A parent. A grandparent, actually. He's a frickin' soldier.

I'm pretty lucky to be surrounded by all kinds of people doing good things. Ali needed service hours for National Honor Society, and my friend Karin Ogden didn't hesitate to put her to work around the Athenaeum YMCA.

All around me, people are doing amazing things, and it's making me optimistic even on this rainy Sunday when all I have to keep me company is my laptop and my NYT.

There's a lot this world has to work on, but I'm glad to know a lot of folks who are making a positive difference in whatever way they can.

It even seems Old Man Winter is about to be wrestled back to his cave after one last battle tomorrow.
Even if there's more snow in the forecast, spring IS coming.  There's more good ahead than bad in the days to come. I'm sure of it.

Cheers to a glass that's more than half-full today. Hope yours is, too.









 


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Paradise Lost

It's only fitting that after a week in paradise, we come home to a monsoon, the threat of tornadoes and now, snow. We do live in Indiana, after all.

We have a bit of water in the basement, but my guess is there are few bone-dry basements in the central part of the state after we were hit with record high rainfall. We've been down this road before and were prepared, so nothing but a small inconvenience at this point.

Some of my other family members and friends south and west of here weren't so lucky, with trees down; some
in outbuildings that now contain smashed vehicles. No one hurt, though.

Tomorrow, the Captain and I will take Ali to our first family college visit. She's visited a few campuses as part of high school trips, but we've never gone along before. We're headed to Boilermaker country, Purdue University. For you non-Hoosiers, it's about 90 minutes northwest of Indianapolis.

The forecast calls for 46-degrees and cloudy tomorrow, which is not as great at Turks or Caicos, but better than a blizzard, which based on the year so far, is still as possible, as is sunny and 75 in Indiana.

As the snow falls here, I'm going to think about last week rather than this one. And once again thank Gary Reed for his generosity and the rest of TeamReed Maine for hanging out with us.

Some highlights from the week:

  • A slight knee injury had me packing a knee brace and lounging with an ice pack the first day, but by the end (and after much more lounging) I was virtually healed. I'd injure it again if I thought I could do rehab back at Beaches.
  • No one was super painfully sunburned.
  • We indulged in wonderful massages. 
  • Ali and I were convinced a taxidermist had  installed a stuffed bird into the shrubs one morning. We watched it for a long time and it didn't move so we decided it was odd, but had to be an April Fool's joke or something. Then it appeared in a different shrub some hours later. It moved and freaked us out. So much for taxidermy on the island.
  • David didn't catch only a fish head this year, but he didn't land a whole one either.
  • Peter hauled in a Tuna and Mahi Mahi, some of which he had served up as fabulous appetizers one night. He donated the rest to the kitchen staff.
  • Ali, James and I snorkeled and saw sea turtles, a manta ray, a barracuda and tons of fish and pretty coral. Ali and James spent more time in the reef than I did, and they added a lion fish and some other creatures to their vista. We'll get the photos in 10 days or so. 
  • I was reaching out -- not really intended to touch it -- but close to the tail of the barracuda when Ali saw me and snagged my fin. She's convinced she saved my life. I'm convinced I wasn't that close.
  • Jen and I swapped books, and she and I shared the same opinion of my Book Club book. 
  • Most of us hit the water park with Ali on our last day, trotting up and down the stairs to the slides as if we were all teenagers.

    Early in the week, some of us had gone to Sapodilla's, one of the fancier restaurants, and Ali and Jeff fell in love with their desserts and were conspiring to come back before they'd savored their last bites.
 It wasn't until our last night, after we dined at Kimono's a hibachi restaurant, that they got their chance. It was late by the time we finished dinner, and there was a chocolate fest going on near our rooms. None of that mattered to Jeff and Ali, who had waxed so poetically to the other family at our table that they actually beat us there. The staff was closing down but agreed to slip them all to-go plates. I was too full to order, and even managed to pass up the chocolate buffet on the way home.


As we had to have our bags ready to go before breakfast, we had packed up before dinner. Ali hit the room, stripped off her dining attire and stuffed it into her bag, planning to indulge in comfort. It was only after she'd stripped and stuffed that she realized she'd packed everything but clothes for the morning.

She looked at the suitcase, her dessert plate, the clock and back to her dessert plate. She shrugged, grabbed the plate and hopped onto her bed.

"Guess I'm eating creme brulee in my underwear!" she said. And she did.

 We have little to show for our time in the sun but good memories and some fun photos. But they're pretty awesome memories.









Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lame and braced but inspired

Doesn't matter what side of the gun debate you're on, I think we can all agree that we'd like our kids to be safe in schools and to be productive citizens.


I'm proud of every kid who made it to a rally or took part in some way and all the parents who got them there. Even knowing what fuels their passion is heart-rending loss, it's awesome to see their activism.

Ali and I had been talking about going to the Indianapolis rally for a couple of weeks. But on Friday, I injured -- or re-injured -- my knee on a walk to the Glendale Library. No idea what triggered it, but I've been following the RICE plan and going a little crazy in captivity. We go on vacation Tuesday.

A big part of RICE is rest, and I considered not going to the rally. I thought about dropping Ali off and waiting for her in the car or the mall or something. In the end, I hobbled over with her and stood in the steady snow for about 30 minutes waiting with thousands of others to get into the Statehouse.

We were behind some college students who had good use of all their legs if not all their faculties. (Like I'm one to talk...)

One girl was in a crop top, light jacket and flats with no socks. She'd stepped in a puddle. I was miserable for her, but she wasn't talking about giving in to the cold.


The longer we stood, the longer the line grew as people kept coming. It was awesome. People were asking if people needed to register to vote, prepared to sign them up on the spot.

"I can't yet, right?" Ali asked wistfully. She'll be 17 in May, so no, she can't. Yet. But it won't be long.

There were little kids playing in the snow and tons of great signs. Some of the words were running as the snow soaked into hair and cardboard and through shoes.

I kept my concerns about why it took so long to get in to the building largely to myself. Seems like Capitol Police could have found a way to get the people inside faster and also safely.

Among the thousands of peaceful rally goers, there was apparently a guy with a real, semi-automatic rifle strapped to his back walking around. He was expressing his rights just as we were, I guess.

But really? These kids were there because people have been using such weapons to shoot kids in schools. Was he there to say "Hey, you can have one of these and not shoot people!" See: they're not that bad!"?

The world may never know.

With so many people coming and waiting and my knee getting stiffer and stiffer, I opted to leave before we got into the Statehouse. I felt bad about that, but as I had to take a bit of a break sitting before I could get back to the garage, I decided I'd been foolish to even try to attend.

So we made a lame showing at the Indiana rally. But we were there for a while and we're totally with the movement in spirit. 

I'll likely be in a knee brace at the beach, but there are worse places to be resting, icing, compressing and elevating. We'll make a better showing at the next rally, which hopefully will come without a fresh shooting before it.

Before some of you get upset about my position, I'll remind you that I'm not anti-gun. I'm anti-killing innocents of any age or color. And I think we can do better as a nation to keep weapons of war only in the hands of soldiers, to identify and treat mental illness, to be kinder to each other so we have fewer people who feel isolated and are vulnerable to whatever demons make them think bombing or shooting is a solution to their situations.

I mentioned the snow. For you non-Hoosiers, Mother Nature blessed Indianapolis with 10-inches of snow yesterday. My daffodils and crocuses are totally covered. The tulips are showing the tips of their leaves like green sharks trolling in a blindingly white sea.

Even though my spring flowers are shivering like that girl in the crop top yesterday outside the Statehouse, it's one of those beautiful snowfalls that you'll see on postcards and social media snaps.

It kind of makes you want to ignore the world's troubles and just play in it. I watched it from the couch with an ice bag under my knee and a blanket on top of the rest of me.

So, TeamReed is not without misfortune. But haven't been directly touched with violence or serious trouble we can't manage
. Here's hoping there's less of those two things for everyone this year.









Sunday, March 18, 2018

The early worm and other stories

If the early bird is the one that gets the worm, doesn't that mean the worm must be even earlier to the scene?

I stumbled across this gruesome sight this morning on my quest to get my steps:

Kind of made me pity both the bird that surely rejected the dried up morsel and the worm who met such a bitter end on the Monon Trail.

For a while, I pondered what could this mean in the greater context of life. Was it a more a Darwinian moral than Aesop? 

Was the lesson to not emerge until the weather had proven reliable? Not to burst forth to grasp opportunity when it seemed to be there?

Or was it merely that this was a worm of less intelligence and athleticism than its peers; one destined to wind up carcass rather than champion lawn aerator?

Was it, rather, just a worm? The world may never know.

Here's something you can know, however: The common phrase, "The early bird gets the worm," dates back beyond the 17th Century. A naturalist named John Ray snagged it for a book title in 1670, suggesting it was a phrase considered clever enough to entice readers.

Which brings me the subject of reading. A story from Inc. magazine, based on a new study, suggests that if you read nonfiction, you'll live longer. As you know, the Captain thinks I take on the world's problems and try to fix them. Who knew I could help you live longer?

Read my books -- get them from Amazon right here -- and you won't become a dry, dessiccated shell of a former living, breathing, active creature.

You're welcome.

In other news, my time with Girl Talk has ended, and I was delighted to be joined this week by Alison and my Book Club pals Jennifer Dunlap and Kate Shepherd. Kate and Jen, along with Niki Kelly Lohrmann joined me for week 2, and Ali came for the final week when we judged how well the girls had progressed since we first talked about speaking with confidence.

It was tremendous. Each of the five girls came for each session, and each one had made great strides in getting their points across.  On the drive home, Ali lamented that she'd rejected my offers for her to come with for the first two weeks.



 Getting back to the worm metaphor, Jeff sent me a note early in the week asking me to check out an email he'd gotten purportedly from his first serious girlfriend. It was unexpected, sent to his work, and he (and his office) is hyper sensitive to outside emails for malware and other conspiracy theory reasons.

Sure, I'd be happy to check that out, I said. Which, of course, led to a series of fun email exchanges with my husband's one-time love. (Long-time readers may recall an exchange a few years ago with Mrs. Reed 1.0 who wasn't nearly as pleasant.) I've never met Caroline in person but I have had heard more than a few stories about her.

Anyway, I explained my mission from the outset, made it clear I wasn't a shrew, and reconnected the old friends. We were talking about it at dinner, and Alison was not impressed. At all.

"That's weird," she said.

Jeff, who you will remember, asked ME for help in reaching his former girlfriend, was puzzled as to why his daughter would think the whole thing odd. I had just said that I'd ended my email conversation with her after a while, thinking it was getting a little bit weird that I was starting to chat with her like I'd known her for years.

I thought Ali and I were on the same page. Jeff was thoroughly puzzled.

"Why would you think it's weird?" he asked. "She's a nice person. You'd like her."

 "I wouldn't like anyone who could have prevented my existence," sniffed Miss Reed.

And we're back to the problems with that early bird analogy. Which makes Jeff the worm, I know.

But I'm OK with that.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This is a test. This is only a test.

As I write, Alison is settling in to take her SAT. We've been talking colleges for a while now, and of course, her teachers have been beating the drum.

Ali is a good student, but she generally frets about big tests and more than once, she's complained about the amount of pressure she feels to have a resume, grades, extra-curriculars that will get her accepted. Occasionally, l ask her what's up in that brain of hers.

"I'm a high school kid, Mom," she said. "There's just so much pressure."

Sigh. I can't relieve a lot of that. Some of it is self-imposed, but the pressures are real. They're not limited to academics, either. She handles a lot of it with grace. Other times she'll lash out with a sharp tongue. Her genetic background isn't helping her much there, and we both try to get her to be less like us in that regard.

She's a kind-hearted person, though, despite her ability to wield sarcasm like a gifted Jedi wields light.

As she left this morning, I reminded her that this is just a practice run. She'll do fine. She's ready. Regardless, she has other opportunities to take it again if she wants, so there's no need to stress.

"I know," she nodded, clearly still stressed.

Jeff delivered her to the testing site this morning after we scrambled back and forth this morning with him making sure she had an acceptable calculator, pencils were sharp and she knew the rules. I focused on the snack bag and slipped in a handful of Laffy Taffy.

He called after he dropped her off, lamenting at how he was feeling. Usually, he'll watch her go off to tackle a new milestone and crow with pride about how smart she is, how good she is, how awesome he finds her.

Today, he was more like me. Smacked hard in the face with the reality that she is so close to leaving us behind. Not that he let her see that. He was asking her if they were in the right place, at the right door. They saw a young man headed in.

"There's a tester," she said. "We're good."

"Actually, Ali," Jeff said. "That's a boy, so technically he's a teste."

"Have I told you lately that I hate you?" she responded.

Now that's good test prep.






Sunday, March 4, 2018

Can we talk?

In this new life of mine, I've been more inclined to say yes to random requests for coffee or lunch or to attend/take part in other gatherings after spending a career of either putting such socialization off for either work or to get my gym time in.

Let me admit right now that I was wrong to say no all those years. I was also wrong not to extend more invitations myself.

Anyway, I said yes when my friend Kelsey Taylor asked me to speak to a group of young women for an organization called Girl Talk.

Kelsey, her friend (now mine) Sonya Cooke and some other outstanding women founded the organization hoping to give young girls a place where they could ask the questions Kelsey and Sonya (and I and probably you, if you're a woman) had when you were younger but didn't know who or how to ask. It's a great idea, and they've put countless hours into it. If you want to support it, go to the site. If you know a girl 9-16 in Indianapolis, you might want to check it out.

Girl Talk introduces girls to all kinds of important things, ranging from being confident in their bodies to learning how government works. Kelsey came to me for someone to talk the girls about how to speak with confidence.

I'd coached Kelsey for her first TV interview, which has led to a series of others, mostly because Kelsey is a kick-ass woman who didn't really need any help to showcase her strength, elegance, intellect and spirit.

I love Kelsey and I loved the idea of Girl Talk, so I said, yes. It was months away, and I quickly forgot about it. She reminded me of it a month or so ago and I was talking about it to my Book Club. I'd committed to a series of three Saturdays -- 2 hours -- in a row.

I like my Saturdays to be lazy! What did I have to say to these girls? They weren't going to staring down a TV camera or a reporter with a tape recorder. They had elementary and middle school problems. What in the world was I thinking.?

My Book Club agreed wholeheartedly. Sure it was a nice idea, but geeze. What would I say? What was I thinking?

We talked about it a while and, because they're awesome, most of my Book Club friends said they'd help me out for one of the days. We'd have a panel discussion and the girls could see an array of success women talking about how confident speaking was key to their professional lives.

Girl Talk came up at Book Club last week. I was fretting about it as the first session was the next day. The class didn't have many girls enrolled. I was back to being certain they'd hate me and I had nothing relevant to say. My volunteers were thinking not only was I crazy,  they'd committed to it, too.

"On a Saturday!" lamented one of them.

"Wait, how long?" another said, sounding as panicked as I felt.

"It's going to be terrible," I moaned.

"Way to sell it," came the response.

"I'll let you know how the first one goes," I said, glumly, glad Book Club comes with wine.

Fast forward to the Crooked Creek Community Center and my first Girl Talk talk. It was a small gathering and we were sitting around a table waiting for the last girl to arrive and to see if there would be some who hadn't RSVP'd.

I'd been chatting with a couple of the early arrivals, waiting to introduce myself to the group once we'd gathered. I was getting their names, ages and spellings just to pass the time.

As I struggled to hear Areonna's voice, one of the later arrivals looked over at me and said, "So who are you?"

Her friend smacked and admonished her, but I laughed. It was a good question and I said so.

So we talked a while and the girls were awesome. They want to be a teacher, lawyer, doctor, dancer, business owner and a sports journalist/president of the whole world or Queen of Wakanda.

Justice, a tiny thing, spoke at a volume about two clicks below a whisper. Alayla was eager to respond and always spot on with an answer.

Jada, the girl who'd asked who I was, was a comedian, full of spirit and eager to entertain. Lyric, was initially shy but brave enough later to point out my mistake when I misidentified one of the girls.

I had them introduce themselves like I had done and then we talked about their common tendencies to speak so quietly they couldn't be heard, to stare at the table while they talked or to be hesitate to share. They laughed when I demonstrated their techniques and didn't take offense as I'd feared.

I'm not saying it was a great talk, but we had some laughs, and I think they understood some of what I'd tried to convey. I was talking about making eye contact when Jada threw up her hands and said she didn't understand why she had to stare into someone's eyes. "Can't you just look at their forehead or something?" she said.

"Yes!" I said, "That's exactly the trick!"

We devolved for a while talking about how creepy it could get if, when you had a conversation, you stared directly into someone's eyes without ever looking away. I asked them how many of them texted or Snapchatted with their friends.

Justice looked at me, amazed. "How do you know about Snapchat?" she asked, not intending to be funny, but of course it cracked me up. I defended myself and then talked about Alison, who is old enough now that I didn't have a good handle on the shows and pop culture they were into. I don't Snapchat, but I know it exists.

As we grew to a close, I asked the girls if they thought they'd learned enough or if they wanted to gather again next week when I would have some friends with me. They were unanimous in wanting to do it again. Jada, though, had a suggestion.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but my booty gets tired and I think maybe we should maybe get up and move around more next time," she said.

"That's exactly the plan," I said.

The future sports journalist/president of the whole world, Queen of Wakanda, or whatever else she decides to be, nodded her approval and then went into a long discussion about how her teacher understands her booty's need to move around a bit during the day. I'm pretty sure Jada's not going to have any trouble communicating in the future. Like Kelsey, she has little need of me.

Like every time I regretted saying yes in the past few months, I was glad I had followed through. I'm betting my Book Club girls will have the same reaction.