Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday weekend

I have a love/hate relationship with holidays. They're great. You get to pretend you live the life of Riley. You don't have to brush your hair. You can look at those chores and keep on walking. You can hang out with friends like you did when you were in school. You can go to the movies or surf the 'net for stuff you don't really need to know. You don't have to shower.

But then comes the last day. The day that when it ends is the beginning of another work week. And suddenly it's all over. You're a grown-up again.

It could be worse. We might not have jobs to go to. And then when the next holiday came around we'd have no money to enjoy it. So no more moaning.

I am moaning a little bit, though. Yesterday Ali and I went to Climb Time with Tina and Lilly Noel to try our hand at rock climbing. It was a lot of fun, but at one point when I jumped down from my climb, I landed on my heels in between where the padding of two sections met. It's wood over concrete down there.

My poor heels. While they do carry my fat ass around all day, they don't generally have to bear all of my weight plus the force of it all coming down in a blur. I think I owe them a pedicure and maybe a day off from the pumpkin roll that somehow came home from Aunt Shirley's house.

(Bickel family update: It was a great time. Everyone seems happy and healthy. Chris and Cory Lehman (Beth's sons) are heartbreakers and way fun. Allyssa is on the swim team and has really cute scrunchy hair now. Julie and Diana actually behaved themselves (as far as I could tell) and everyone had a great time.)

We also had Jenna for a little while this weekend, which was way fun. Jeff had Drew, Jenna and Ali while Amer and I went to the Twilight movie on Friday afternoon. It was great fun for us -- and it forced me back on the couch to re-read the books. Yes, I saw the movie already, but Amer introduced me to it, and we needed to see it together.

We decided to keep Jen -- Drew was aching for some male bonding with his own friend by the time Amer and I got back here. Ali and Jenna decided they wanted to decorate the Christmas tree, so I started dragging the bins. They did a great job of helping sort the artificial branches (they're tagged by letter) and sticking them onto the pole. They oohed and aahed over some of the ornaments and argued over whether there were too many reds or purples in one area of the tree.

Along the way, Jen finally mastered how to blow a bubble. Alison has been trying to do the same thing for a few good months.

She took one look at Jenna's bubble and decided she she didn't really need to learn how to blow a bubble anymore. Suddenly, it was beneath her to try. (She's not always a gracious hostess.) Jenna didn't care, though. She was thrilled beyond words and just kept getting better at it. While it was killing Alison that she couldn't do it, too, she found a way to channel the little green monster that clearly would have easily taken her over. She started showing off her hand-standing abilities. There was a time when I think she might have been in danger of blood trauma she was upside down for so long.

Jenna was was too happy with her bubble-making ability to care. Finally, she declared, "This gum tastes nasty!" and spit it out. Ali came up for air and they trotted off. "Miss Cheryl, can we take a break from decorating?" I didn't see them again for hours.

We got to spend a little time with Patrick and Patricia Jackson, which was way fun. Alison has finally found a restaurant that rivals the North Side News grilled cheese: Cafe Patachou. Most people swear by the cinnamon toast, but Ali is a grilled cheese connoisseur, and she's found it an acceptable 2nd place to Matt the Newspaperman's GC.

Speaking of which, it's time for our Sunday walk. Wish me luck in wresting the redhead away from her PopTropican island game...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Grasshopper, the Ant and Alison's interpretation

Jeff has always wanted to let all the leaves fall down before we ever make a move toward a rake or a leaf blower or a bag.

I've never been able to wait -- until this year. The weather had been too nice, and for most of the fall, I've been able to mow it all up. But then the mower -- now in it's 10th year -- stopped starting on me, and I need Jeff's help to get it going. Funny how busy a guy who hates yard work can be when his wife wants him to help her get the mower started.

So today was the day. There are still a few leaves hanging on for dear, desiccated life up there, but our front yard was pretty much buried. A few of my Bunco sisters came by and I think Amer was afraid she'd get lost in a leaf bank trying to get from her car to the house.

Bunco is a story I need to tell, but I'm surprised my fingers are still working. They're still connected to my arms, which are connected to my back, and none of those parts are speaking to me. They're screaming, actually, and none of it's good. So the Bunco stories will have to wait.

Ali and I sent Jeff off to basketball and then tackled the yard. She was a pretty good helper for quite some time. But then she needed a break, so I told her she could take 5. She started climbing the Magnolia tree while I kept blowing leaves into a small mountain.

It's hard to hear with that thing blowing, but finally I heard the "Mommy! Mommy! I'm stuck."

This I'd heard before, and generally it's just Ali with a momentary hesitation. "Seriously?" I shout back, turning to look. And there she was. Higher than she'd ever been, clinging to a tree, unable to land her feet anywhere.

A neighbor happened to be out in his yard. We'd never officially met, but his wife is a nurse at the clinic we all go to, so we nod and wave.

I know he's heard me question her, but as I look up and over, he starts over, shouts that he has a ladder and disappears. I go up the tree. Alison is starting to get really frightened, and the guy -- my new best neighbor, John -- comes running with the ladder.

I get to her, but can't get positioned to actually grab her independently. I have part of her, and we tell her to swing over to the ladder. "I've seen plenty of cats up trees, but never a little girl," John says.

Ali sees no humor in it. But after a while, she agrees to put her arms around his neck and they skinny down the tree.

She was a little bit embarrassed, but remembered to thank him once her feet were planted on terra firma -- with no prompting. He disappeared as quick as he'd come.

Later, while I was back to work and Ali was looking for another break, she decided we should go inside. I said we could in a little while.

"Do you remember that story about the grasshopper and the ant?"

"Sure," I say.

"You know, where the grasshopper didn't work but the ant worked all summer?"

"Yeah. I know the one," I say.

"Well, do you know the rest of the story?"

"Uh, no Paul Harvey, I don't."

"Well, turns out that the grasshopper played and played and even got to enjoy himself in the snow when winter came," Alison said. "And the ant, well, the ant froze to death."


"Yeah. And you know what that means?"

"No. What does it mean?"

"It means that Moms and Dad shouldn't work all the time or they'll have no time to play with their girls and boys," she said.

So we agreed that she could go inside and that I'd join her soon. Jeff came home, I threw down the tools and we took our walk to Northside News, then he and I finished the front lawn. Later, the Ogdens came over and we played Yahtzee and Payday.

I don't know if I can ever fully embrace my inner grasshopper but it's good to let it leap out occasionally.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Twilight -- the movie

Call me silly if you want, but my book club friends went to see the new Twilight movie tonight, and I had a grand time despite:
  1. Getting stuck in traffic (for nearly an hour on 86th Street)
  2. Missing dinner; and
  3. Having to eat cold vermicelli and chicken in the theater (thanks to Kate for smuggling for me.)
The movie is a little cheesy at times, and the production is going to have to get better if they're going to keep up their momentum, but I'm already itching to read the books again...

Amer and Lyn couldn't go tonight so I'm likely going to have to see it again....poor, poor me.

I might be saved from that obsession by my new one: I joined Facebook and now I'm all caught up in looking up old friends. It's a good think I can't drink.......

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What goes around...

If you need any proof that Karma exists in this world, I'm here to prove it. Remember last week when I laughed at Jeff for pushing a screwdriver through his hand and then intimating that he's a Drama Queen when he's sick, injured, happy, sad, busy, idle, etc...?

His latest injury involved the opening of a coconut.

Hours after he'd gotten bandaged up and was licking his wounds in private, Alison and I harvested the coconut. She didn't like it much. I, however, am a fan. While Jeff was off on a business trip in Las Vegas, Alison and I were laying around like puppies and I had the container of coconut at hand. It was one of those nights when I was feeling lazy so we had Taco Bell.

Had Jeff been here, he would have insisted on something more healthy. But he wasn't. I was lazy, and it was Taco-ville. Except that I was still a little hungry, so I kept dipping into the chunks of coconut. There's a reason coconut is most commonly consumers in tiny shreds, mingled amongst sour cream or stuffed into chocolate or cookies.

Short of a person stuck on a desert island with nothing to offer but a palm tree for shade, I'm willing to wager that no one has suffered like I did the night I had coconut for dessert.

It was awful. It was painful. And well, let's face it: it was deserved.

Jeff's hand is on the mend, but today marks week 2 of no basketball. He's not really whining much about the pain he's still in, and he'd dutifully swallowing his lime-green antibiotics. The air travel has, however, temporarily deafened him. So now when he reminds me I wasn't a hugely supportive spouse during his time of injury, the whole neighborhood hears him.

Oh well. At least neither of us will be tempted by coconut again.

In Alison news, we've mostly hunkered down as Indiana has taken a decidedly wintery turn. Ali had an unexpected sleepover at the Ogdens, so Jeff accompanied me on the walk to the newspaper stand. Matt Elliot, aka Matt the Newspaper Man, claims he, too, has skewered his hand in search of fresh coconut meat. Men!

In the early afternoon, I went over to get Ali, Alex and Hannah for a walk from their house over to the library.

On the way back, it had started to spit snow and the kids tried to catch snowflakes in their mouths. It was fun, but we were all a little frostbitten by the time we wandered back to Chez Ogden. Once we got back in, we stayed inside.

Karin thinks I'm working out with her at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow. Wish me luck that I make it...

The picture is a sampling of Alison's fashion sense. Today she paired her favorite pink camoflage pants with a patterned pink top, my pink argyle anklets and her sneakers. I made her wear her winter coat and pink gloves for the walk. A good two inches of long leg peeked out, but she didn't complain of the cold. Any price for fashion, aye?

Johnny Cash made me do it

I'm listening to Johnny Cash this morning and it's got me thinking about my Dad. We didn't listen to much music as a family when I was growing up. Our background noise was generally either the boys fighting (with the neighbors, their sisters, each was always someone) or the television. But if there was music, it was hard core country.

I'm thinking about my Dad, partly because Johnny Cash reminds me of him. Not that my Dad was a crazy drug-taking, alcoholic, philanderer saved by his Christian wife. My dad's tribulations came mostly from his health, his wife and his kids -- but he and Johnny Cash were hard scrabble Christian men with simple rules.

Plus, Johnny Cash sings my favorite line of all time in his song about a boy named Sue: "kickin' and a gougin' in the mud, the blood and the beer." Yeah, it's a little vengeful and violent and I don't know why that rhyme sticks in my head. It's ultimately a song about redemption, doing the right thing and forgiveness. And, I bet you don't know this, Shel Silverstein, acclaimed children's author, wrote it.

Which brings me to my point: doing the right thing.

Whatever faith you subscribe to or have recently rejected, all religion comes down to those four words. Hell, even the atheists and Wiccans subsribe to that thought.

So I'm sitting here reflecting on an issue currently roiling my siblings; recent news that people across the country are talking about the need to assassinate Barak Obama because he had the temerity (as a gasp, black man!) to run for elective office and win; and legislation banning the right of some people to marry.

What's wrong with us? How hard is it , really, to do the right thing?

My Dad had a pretty simply philosophy about how to behave. He never pushed his Pentecostal faith on people -- other than his children. But when we were old enough to drive, he pretty much let us make up own mind about religion. My Dad went about his life doing what was right rather than preaching about it.

He gathered up food for the poor and distributed it -- even once in the middle of either Christmas or Thanksgiving Dinner (which royally ticked off my mother.)

He visited the local jails, offering a friendly face and a talk if it was wanted. (I don't think he ever ran across my brother there, although chances were sometimes good.)

He didn't seek out controversy, hoping always that people would work out their own differences first -- but he'd give advice if asked.

And if he or his kids did something wrong, he tried to make it right. My mind is foggy on specifics, but I know that I didn't fear anything more in my life (still don't) than disappointing my Dad -- falling short in his eyes. He would forgive you anything if you tried to make up for it, though.

So when I screw up -- and you know as well as I do, that I do it early and often -- I try to make it right. It doesn't always work -- but as long as I still try, I figure I'm not a total shit.

Let's hope these idiots talking about assassination just shut up and consider that people are people. I don't think that "in his image" thing ever said what pigment came with the ability to stand, speak and reason. I think it would be hilarious if God turned out to be a strong black woman. Wouldn't that set some heads to reeling?

For the heteros who think it's OK to deny gay couples rights like hospital visitation, the ability to make health care decisions when they can't and even basic insurance coverage, I just wish they'd examine the divorce rate. And then I wish they'd evaluate whether they qualify for the institutional rights their little trips down the aisle gives them. Maybe we should limit everyone to one marriage per lifetime. Anything more, you don't get the rights and perks -- would that do it? (I'm not saying people shouldn't get married as often as they want; I just think anyone who wants to do it should be able to.)

As for my family's issue du'jour, I shouldn't get too specific. I'm sure to offend someone -- if I haven't already. Let's just please do the right thing. WWDD, people?!

But back to Johnny. I don't know what the Man in Black would say about the state of our country today. But he sang once about why he wears black and essentially it was to represent all the people who didn't get a fair shake in life. Until things got better, he'd wear black.

Sadly, I think he'd have no need today to change his wardrobe. Here's your song for the day:

The Man in Black

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A roller coaster weekend

Anytime your Friday night starts with a bottle of champagne, you know you're onto something good. Ali had a babysitter and practically kicked Jeff out the door Friday after school. We went off to celebrate Lisa Sirkin's upcoming 40th birthday.

I've been less than sympathetic to her occasional complaints of hitting the milestone. Partly because I have climbed that particular hill and partly because she's the size of a twig and looks like she just graduated from college.

We met up with John, Lisa, Lynn (Lisa's Mom) and two new (but way cool) friends -- Kierstin and Ken Cincinnati. (I don't remember their last names, so I'm pulling out a Margaret Burlingame trick and naming them after their city of residence.) After the champagne at the Conrad, we went to Fogo de Chao -- aka Adkins Diet Heaven.

It's a Brazilian steakhouse where the waiters walk around with skewers of roasted meat looking for what look like red paper coasters on the tables. You start out with a green coaster, which you keep green as long as you're grazing on the salad bar. When your internal carnivore kicks in, you flip it over to red. And the meat doesn't stop until you go back to green. Or fall over dead in your chair.

I think Jeff may have eaten an entire calf, and Ken finished off its mother. I don't know about the rest of the crew: I was too mesmerized by the "bring it on!" comments from across the table. It was amazing. It's an experience you should try, but don't eat for a couple of days before you go. And don't even hint of your plans to any of your vegetarian friends. I'm surprised there's not a standing PETA picket outside this place.

When the boys couldn't choke down another bite, we said goodby to the gauchoes and headed back to the hotel for more drinking and a visit by night owls Tina Noel and Megan Garver, fresh from a bash we'd had to skip: a Democratic gathering hosted by Judy O'Bannon. It was partly in honor of Jonathan Swain's great work helping Barak Obama turn Indiana blue for the first time since I was born (literally) and partly just an excuse to get good friends together. That party turned out to be a hit, too, and we were sorry we missed it. But Lisa's only turning 40 once, and we hope Indiana will be blue for many years to come.


Saturday I spent most of the with my sisters and niece in Brazil, IN. We met up to show our respects to Richard Monday, whose mother passed away. Mr. Monday (why is it that 20 years later you still think of teacher by their title?) teaches biology and chemistry at Shakamak High School. He was in his third year there when my sister Donna came into his class. He taught all of us, and now he's teaching my nieces and nephews. He's always lived in Terre Haute and commuted down to teach three counties away. It added to his mystique. We all considered him a big city sophisticate.

I remember one year thinking I'd take psychology instead of geometry. My first day of class, Mr. Monday and Mr. Weir, my algebra teacher came to the door to chat with the phsycology teacher. Funny, I can't remember her name but I do remember that you could sometimes see through her dresses. Anyway, they dragged me out of there and sent me off to geometry, having decided I shouldn't waste my time outside math and science. The next year, I chose newspaper over chem II. While it ticked Mr. Monday off, I didn't give in, and it sort of worked out for me.

I've thought for years that he'd harbored a grudge about me dumping his class after spending three years with him. I don't see him often, but he never, ever recognizes me. He always knows everyone else in my family -- of course, he sees them or their kids every day.

When I saw him a few weeks ago when I went back to Shakamak to give a speech (I think I mentioned this earlier) it was as if time stood still. The kids still loved him and called out to get his attention, and he always gave it. I introduced myself and after a while, he agreed that yeah, I was me.

I had this passage in my speech about how success means different things to different people at different times in their life and how definitions change over time. After seeing him there, I meant to add a line something like success doesn't have to mean you leave your home town. It might mean you're a science teacher in a small town who finds a way to push kids to work hard and do their best. But of course I got nervous and forgot my impromptu tribute.

At the funeral home, we were among the early arrivals, and you could tell that the line of visitors would be long. Mr. Monday was trying his best to be stoic, but he was really shaken. I was last in line, and watched as he spent time with Nancy (who's teaching at the school and sees him often,) Annie (who graduated just last year) Donna, (one of his all-timefavorite students.) He was very emotional, and you could tell that he was happy to see them.

And then he got to me, and in the midst of his tears and the day he had ahead of me, he said, "Cheryl! I just saw you just a few days ago. You did great that night."

I'm 44 years old. I haven't sat in his class for 27 years. But he's still got the ability to pump me up. And he's still such a great teacher than in the midst of what has to be among the worst days of his life, he takes the time to make a positive point to a student.

That's a great teacher. Shakamak is going to lose a great asset when he packs up his chalk.


Today, we just hung around the house. It was really cold, and after our walk to the newspaper stand, Ali and I decided we'd break open a coconut I'd bought a while back. I'd forgotten exactly how to crack open the thing. Alison suggested a chainsaw.

I told her I didn't think we needed to go that far, but we got distracted, and left the coconut on the counter. Jeff came upon it and decided to take charge. He thought he needed an ice-pick, but we don't have one.

A screwdriver seemed the next best thing. Now if you know Jeff at all, you know he should be no where near screwdrivers. Unless they're drinkable.

But he insists on being handy, so we have all kinds of screwdrivers and drills and other manly items. So he gets out the screwdriver, planning to poke through one of two little holes that had to be the inspiration for the first bowling balls.

I was in the living room, minding my own business reading when I hear the commotion. Rather than pushing through the coconut, the screwdriver had managed to find itself in the webbing between Jeff's pointer finger and thumb. Made a pretty big hole, tool.

Now Jeff has hearing issues. He talks loudly anyway, but his hearing loss sometimes makes him lose all sense of volume control. When he's in pain -- or sees it approaching -- he tends to "go to eleven" if you know what I mean. With Ali in the room, he managed not to curse but the decibel level was pretty extreme.

I think he's OK now. There wasn't much blood. He declined to visit the E.R. And he eventually wandered back to the coconut and got it open.

I'm going to hide the screwdrivers and never buy coconut in its natural state again.


Alison helped do laundry and switch out summer clothes for winter. In the midst of it, she decided that one of our laundry baskets could have a dual purpose. She spent most of the afternoon in it and wanted to sleep there, too. Somehow her better judgment took over.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween 2008

On Halloween Eve, on the way to meet my sister, niece and the cousins, Alison posited the following:

"Mommy, do you think we should have picked up my costume before tonight? What if it doesn't fit or something is wrong?"

Now this would be a perfectly reasonable question if A.) we weren't talking about Dona and B.) she didn't have a flawless track record.

"Alison Reed! In six years, has your Aunt Donna ever done you wrong?"

She pondered. "No, but....."

So we pick up the costume and have a wonderful dinner. On the way home, I asked Ali if she thought Donna had done OK this year.

"Oh, Mommy. It's the best costume I've ever seen in my whole life," she said. "It's better than anything she's ever done before."

She's been bragging about her costume ever since. And I can't blame her. Every year, we think it can't be a better outfit, yet it always is. I'm including two shots of the outfit so you can see the detail. The spiderwebbing put it over the top.

We had a great Halloween. The centerpiece was the performance of Alex Vielee who climbed inside a wooden crate, stayed silent until they got close enough to reach for the candy on top and then yelled and jumped until they screamed. My neighbor is still shaking after we sent her to the box to get some candy and Alex scared the bejesus out of her. Frankly, he scared me more when he showed up in a John McCain mask -- but that would scare anyone.

John, Jeff and most of the kids were responsible for the decor, spreading spider webs and bugs, rats and creepy stuff. They even rigged up a spider they would drop on people as they wandered around the yard. Lisa and I worked in the kitchen getting the Table of Terror and the food set up. Our cupcakes may not have looked exactly like the magazine, but they were pretty good.

The Table of Terror -- Alison's concept thanks to Geronimo Stilton -- was a hit with the smaller kids. Expecially when John and Jeff went through it.

We had pretty much eviscerated a witch to develop the terrors. We had bowls of her eyeballs, her guts, her brains and her fingernails, along with a bucket of blood. To get through the challenge, you had to dig deep into each one while blindfolded. The real winners munched on an eyeball before ripping off the blindfold.

There was an unfortunate incident when some of the witch's eyes inadvertently got spattered on Helen, but overall, we had more shrieks of fun fear than real terror. Out front in the box, we did scare the fluid out of one little boy, but we'd warned his father, so any nightmares that ensued are on that guy.

Hope you had a great time, too. See below for the entire crew. And a look back at costumes past.