Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mushroom Season

My friend Lisa e-mailed me the other day asking if I wanted to go down with her to the lake house. Way cool, I'm thinking. The weather is great, I can lay on the dock and read and tan. The boys will cook. The kids will play. What could be better? I'm in!

But she went on. John is taking her mushroom hunting in the woods that surround the lake in southern Indiana. She calls herself a Hoosier, but this will be her her first foray into the woods for fungus.

For my sister Nancy, Lisa's would have been a must-do offer. She's always loved mushroom hunting. At Easter this year, when the big kids were looking for money laden eggs at Shakamak State Park, she was scouting for 'shrooms.

If you're not from the country you may not know that Springtime in Indiana is the time the woods are alive with fungus. Morels are the holy Grail -- the biggest and best, but there are a lot of different ones -- small, medium, dark, light. All musky , velvety and kind of phallic, if truth be told. They're sneaky little buggers, though, and like to hide. So to be a good mushroom hunter, you have to have great vision, great patience and a great affinity for all God's creations.

  • I can barely see with my glasses on or my contacts in.
  • I have never met this thing called patience.
  • And while I love many things, creepy, sleepy snakes just waking up from their winter's lethargy are not among them.
So I had to decline the invitation. I hope Lisa likes it. Plenty of people do.

I remember my dad taking us out in the woods when I was a kid -- back home you keep your mushroom hunting territory to yourself much like the Sanders family guard the special recipe and the Coca-Cola family shields the formula.

How people don't walk all over each one's area was beyond me then and is beyond me now. It was all such a secret. Yet there was limited land. I'm guessing there was a lot of criss-crossing, but like fishing, mushroom hunting is a silent game. (yet another reason I'm not good at either) so maybe the hunters never knew each other was in their territory -- unless the evidence of shorn mushrooms was found.

So Dad would pile us in the truck and then send out out in the woods. He seemed to think we had an inborn talent for it just because we were related to him. Or maybe he was just getting us out of my Mom's hair for a while.

Invariably, I'd be somewhere within his sight, stumbling along looking out desperately for snakes and stepping all over the mushrooms I never -- as in EVER -- saw.

I'd hear him say, "Cheryl. Stop right there!"

Every time I was sure he was warning me about a snake. But no. He'd say, "Can't you see it?"

"See what?" I'd shout, looking this way and that, straining to hear the slither. Sure I was in the sights of some fanged monster.

"Just stop and look around."

He'd be crouched down, one knee to the ground. He'd have already collected a dozen morels and their smaller cousins. "Look over there. It's RIGHT there," he'd say.

He would sit there in the middle of the woods and take a long look around him. He must have had some sort of mushroom radar because he'd spy them under leaves and nestled next to rotting branches. He'd point me in the general direction and just shake his head when I never came up with anything.

He never got so frustrated that he left me out there alone, and I never got into trouble for not finding them. For all I know I was just comic relief. In all my years of forced mushroom hunting, I may have found 5. Maybe. But probably because I fell down on them. Come to think of it, I don't know that I ever actually saw a snake either... But they were out there. I just know it.

The hunting is, of course, just the prelude. Once you have an acceptable "mess," you take them home, split them in two and let them bathe in a bowl of water for a while. This isn't just to marinate them. It's to help get the dirt and bugs off of them. Ick.

Then, you dredge them your own breading concoction (another real mushroomer's secret) and you fry them in a cast iron skillet. You can have them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sometimes you have gravy.

It's a real delicacy. Just like brain sandwiches, Rocky Mountain Oysters and frog legs.

Give me canned, sliced mushrooms. Or porta-bellas stuffed with crabmeat, spinach and yummy cheese.

Yeah, I know they come from the woods, too. And that cheese comes from milk, which spurts from the udders of cows or goats.

But I don't have to forage for the fungus I eat, and I have never yet felt a four-legged creature's udder, teat or any other nether region. Nor do I intend to.

So enjoy mushroom season and all the hand-selected, breaded and pan-fried fungus you want.

I've never yet seen the slithery tail of a viper hidden amongst the produce or dairy aisle of any grocery I've ever shopped. But they do occasionally offer morels fresh from the woods, all cleaned up and shining through sheer plastic film. So if you want to nibble and you're not inclined to find them yourself, you still can.

I can't wait for Lisa to get back. They're newlyweds still. Were I Lisa, I think I'd distract John from ever getting to the woods...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tech Support; Alison Reed speaking

So I've fixed dinner for Alison and she's indulging her passion for mashed potatoes and gravy when the phone rings. Jeff's not yet home from work, but is going to head right out for a wine tasting with his new BFF John Vielee. I'm not feeling well, so Ali is at the counter, eating on her own while I'm on the couch looking outside and wishing I felt better.

I answer and it's a boy. For Alison. Coincidentally, it's John's nephew, Charlie Vielee.

"Hi Charlie," says Alison, still eating, puts the phone on speaker. I go back to the couch.

Turns out Charlie needs help with a spy mission on Club Penguin -- the latest craze in the world of the 4-feet-tall crowd.

"Alison, how do I get past the secret code in the GS Secret Mission?" he asked.

She goes immediately into tech support mode. All she needed was a head set and she could have been on the Geek Squad.

"Are you at the ski jump?" she asked.

"Yeah. But I can't get the secret code," he says.

"OK. Here's what you do," she says, rattling off a series of instructions. "No. Look. Wait. Let me log on."

She moves over to the laptop, logs on and walks him through the process. She must have been on the phone for 15 minutes, offering suggestions, praising him every now and then and double-checking that he'd done exactly as she ordered.

Charlie managed to get through the mission and was a pretty happy camper.

"Bye, Charlie," Alison chirped, and returned to her dinner. I wonder when she's going to start charging.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Bunny and one new Angel

Happy Easter! It's off to a good, if weird start, here at Team Reed Indy. Alison got up at 6:30 this morning, eager to see if the Bunny had come. Snuggled in my warm bed, I heard a wail from the living room.

"Mommy! He didn't leave me anything," she called, her little voice breaking a bit.

"Well you know he's a tricky bunny, Al, why don't you look around a bit?" I called, thinking she could surely locate the treat basket without me.

"Or, right," she said, instantly cured and off on the hunt.

"Found it!" she called within seconds. "Wow. This is some big basket," she said.

She started squealing and I realized there was no way I was getting an extra Zs in my Easter basket. But my body refused to give up the ghost. "Why don't you bring it in here?" I called.

So we spent the next several minutes exclaiming over what the bunny had left. It wasn't long before she sped off to log-in her new Littlest Pet Shop friend, Flower the Fox. We'll go down to visit the cousins this morning, and I'm sure Flower will be going along for the trip.

I think Ali had decided to wait for Jeff to come home to try out her new Wii game -- it was her father's contribution and very well received. After her fast from candy, I thought she'd want to have her Laffy Taffy for breakfast, but she hasn't asked and I haven't offered.

It's weird to have Easter morning without Jeff here. He flew out to Maine Friday to be with Team Reed Maine. We got word Tuesday that Auntie Methyl had suffered an aneursym and has left us.

Auntie Methyl fell in love with Alison from the moment she saw her. I don't know if it was the connection of red hair or just a sweet little baby, but both she and Roger have always been very, very close Alison and of course to us. We saw them every time we visited Maine and we talked pretty often -- sometimes inspired by cards and coins Auntie and Uncle Roger would send. Sometimes just because.

Auntie introduced Alison to the world of Lynne Plourde, a wonderful children's author who lives near Methyl and Roger and who signed several of her books for Ali. If you have a little one, you need to know Lynne Plourde and her silly, invented words and crazy characters like Drew A. Blank, Maybella Jean Wishy Washy, Josephina Carolina Whatasheena the First and their teacher, Miss Shepherd.

I think Moose Of Course! was Alison's first Plourde book, and I'm fairly certain Marian was the first one to read it to her. It was an instant hit and read so many times that first visit that she'd memorized it before she needed a bath. We don't have that book here; we decided to leave it in Maine and it's one of the first things Ali grabs when we get home.

I think Methyl brought the book to Marian in a stack of others, thinking somehow that the mountain of books from Jeff, Jen and James' childhoods wasn't enough. Methyl taught kindergarten for many years and always checked on Ali's school progress and always always bought her books for Christmas and birthdays.

I didn't know Methyl very long, compared to the other Reeds, and that makes me sad. But the way she delighted in Alison amazes me even now. I love the picture of Marian and Methyl playing Chinese checkers with Ali. Every child deserves to have someone love him or her the way Marian and Methyl loved Alison. And it was returned with interest.

Ali never failed (without prompting) to put Roger and Methyl on the list of people she wanted to buy presents for at the school holiday shop. Though they are people who appreciate quality things, they were always thrilled to get the cheap little trinkets. They knew she'd picked them out special, and that dramatically increased their value.

Alison had even less time with Auntie than I did, but I'm confident that she won't lose her memory of her.

Jen and Cousin Mary have decided that Marian and Methyl are with their mother now, having tea and sour cream softies. Ali and I have taken comfort in that thought, and the knowledge that there's one more angel looking over my little red head.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sprung too Quick

I think time shifted into warp speed last week to make up for the prior week when it essentially went dormant, crawling sloth-like to Spring Break in Indianapolis.

I'm not ready to go back to work tomorrow. Alison was hoping the forecast for snow flurries would turn into a school-closing blizzard, but Jeff's worse than both of us: the Red Sox take to the field tomorrow for a day game after a long winter off.

Ah well. We're not alone in our suffering.

Alison has just a week to go now in her sacrifice of candy for Lent. This morning, we wandered through the Fresh Market waiting for Northside News to open. Ali immediately went to the candy display and oohed and ahhed until I tugged her away after my 53rd reminder that yes, "gumballs are candy." We were over in the dried veggie section when she reminded me that she had $1 to spend and maybe she could just stock up.

"If you're really hungry for a snack, I bet we can find a banana," I said, helpfully, thinking of my FitCity friends who are hellbent on getting Hoosier kids to give up the sugar.

"I am not wasting good money on a banana!" she declared.

OK. Don't tell my FitCity friends about that...

We did not cave into the sugar buzz, and we had a great walk before a crazy spring storm struck just as we were getting to the first Easter Egg hunt of the season down at the Athenaeum YMCA.
I worked out while the hunt was on and emerged, slightly sweaty, to find Dale Ogden sharing half his Laffy Taffy with my little Catholic.

"Um, is that candy?" I said, as the pink sliver of taffy edged into her open mouth.

She looked at me. She looked at the candy. She looked at Dale.

"She gave up candy for Lent," I said.

"Uh-oh," said Dale.

It was as if a strong wind came, pushing that candy into her mouth. Her mouth closed. I almost looked around for a cigarette to give her -- the expression on her face was priceless.

I'm pretty sure she won't go to Hell for half a stick of a snack-sized piece of Laffy Taffy. I'm not Catholic. I don't really know the rules. I just know it's been a long 33 days.

We spent the rest of the day inside, watching it rain. If it weren't so cold, the rain would be great. Ali finally got her rain boots painted -- they were a Christmas present from Auntie Jen and they are mah-velous. They come plain white and you get to paint them. There are even little wash pads so you can swipe off your design and paint again. She's been wearing them ever since the dried on Friday, hoping in vain for rain and some worthwhile puddles.

Amid the fun, we have had some bad news this week. Please hold the hearts of Ginny Reed, Amer Reed Tokash (and the rest of their family) in yours this week: Amy's father, Dennis Reed passed away this morning. Those who've lost a parent know there are few words that can comfort you, but the thoughts and prayers do get through some how.

Ginny is one of those moms you read about in the Hallmark store and see on TV shows from the 50's. She's June Cleaver, Marian Cunningham with just a dash of Laura Petry. She's just wonderful and it hurts to think of her being in pain. Amer will help her through, and we'll all help Amer. So hold them all close, if you would.