Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trade Secrets

In the 15 years or so that I've been traveling to Maine for Christmas, there's been an old Currier & Ives popcorn can full of Nuts & Bolts there to welcome us. Nuts & Bolts are the Reed family version of Chex Mix, and like all good family recipes, there's an extra special secret ingredient that makes the concoction irresistible. 

The can starts out full and generally hits empty before we leave. Which is fine because we always have a bag sent home with us.

This year's production was apparently halted early and never got back on track -- a discovery made on Christmas Day. While the lone daughter in the family received not one, but two bags of the treat, her poor brothers (occasionally considered to have a few screws loose) were also bereft of Nuts & Bolts.

It was a great mistake, in my opinion, though, because Grandpa not only insisted on getting back into full production, he also agreed to share the recipe -- and the secret process -- with Alison, his more than willing sous chef. 

The follow are excerpts overhead from the kitchen:

"Hey, Grandpa, is it OK that the Rice Chex box is bigger than the Wheat Chex box?"

"Grammie always said the Chex people had made exactly the right size boxes for our recipe."

"How many mini pretzels?"

"What does Grammie's recipe say? Two gray bowls and a handful. That's what we need because we always have to follow Grammie's recipe."

"How's our mah-gerine doing?"

Hey, Grandpa, what's "whis-tis-chir usually used for?

"Well ... it's used in Nuts and Bolts."

Alison was in charge of mixing. "We need a good cultural diversity. Give it a good stir. Ah, excellent: you're an expert Nuts and Bolts maker."

They got it in the oven and apparently were quite pleased with themselves.

"I like making Nuts and Bolts with you Grandpa."

"I like making them with you, too. I don't have Grammie here to help me anymore so this is kind of special."

"I think it's kind of special, too."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Planes, Trains and Fallen Woodpeckers

OK, so there aren't any trains in this particular story, but we almost had a John Candy moment getting to Maine.

We set out on our annual journal on Saturday hoping to get to Portland before the entirety of New England iced over. Or at least that was what the weather people were predicting. As we taxied in Charlotte (you can't get directly therah from herah anymore) I overheard a young woman complaining to someone that her flight to Portland had been cancelled so I was aware before my earbudded companions that we had to regroup.

We opted for forward motion and were able to get to Boston, arriving at midnight. Alison immediately started assigning shifts for who could sleep at the airport and who would guard "our stuff." 'Cause you, know, Mom, we have to be careful." We decided Jeff should be the last one on the wall because he's always up later than we are. I was designated as the weakest link.

But thanks to my currently favorite BIL, his quick thinking (and sibling tracking) wife and excess travel points, we crashed for a few hours at the Logan Airport Hilton. I'm sure it was a lovely hotel. Not sure I'd be able to pick it out of a line up given that we had to get up at Zero Dark 30 to catch a bus to Portland. And then, finally, one apple and 126 hours since our last meal, we arrived at Grandpa's house. 

(Jeff negated my bid to have the taxi make a drive thru run.) His luggage was still in Boston so he was extra cranky, and if you've ever traveled with the Captain, you know Ali and I deserve more in our stockings this year...

It'll go down as one of our more adventurous trips out, but we're all grateful we weren't the girl we met one year who discovered on board that she was headed to Portland, Maine when in fact she wanted to go to Portland, Oregon. While I don't remember her name, I do remember she was training to be a nurse, so if you're ever sick in Portland, Oregon, uh, watch out.

Since arrival, we've shopped like Tasmanian devils, wrapped faster than Jay-Z and generally made a mess of things at Grandpa's house. He's tolerant, thank goodness. Of course, it IS the season and Santa's still watching.

Speaking of messes, Auntie Jen's cookie factory was going great when to our wondering ears did appear a big, fat, thunk against the window. Alison rushed over to find a woodpecker, which we'd just seen nibbling at Jen and Peter's bird feeder. I don't know what they're slipping into that feed, but the woodpecker looked like he'd tied one on and was passed out on the ice-covered deck, wings splayed like Blake Shelton's arms after a night in the honkey-tonk.

Alison was ready to rush out with first aid, but we waited a while and the bird shook itself awake, tested its parts and eventually flew off, a bit wobbly, perhaps, but it got airborne. So we assume it's OK.  A baby squirrel at Grandpa's house kept Ali entertained for a while in the back yard. None of the feed here must be spiked as all the wildlife seems happy and healthy.

Jeff and Ali are glued to the latest Dr. Who marathon so I'm checking our list and trying to be ready for tomorrow. Frankly, I'll be lucky to have put the right tags on the gifts. I did manage a walk this morning. My current theory is that when it's below freezing outside and you move enough to sweat, you've had a fine work-out. We'll see if the scale agrees post-holiday.

Merry Christmas, everyone, near and far. We're blessed to have you in our lives and we hope you know that we know that and are grateful every day.  Wishing you happy travels and healthy and happy new years...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Go Dog. Go! and other transportation tales

It seems like a million years ago when I used to drive Alison to day care. 

It was only a bit more than 12, but those were wonderful mornings. I’d strap her in, toss her stroller in the back of my behemoth SUV and drive to park at the Indiana Statehouse. I’d stroller her over to the Day Nursery across the street.

Our only problem those mornings was dodging the hordes of smokers who congregated in front of the doors. Most of them were helpful, waving away the clouds of smoke from the stroller as I’d approach and smiling at the bald little baby inside.

As she grew older, we’d chatter a bit. One day, I stopped at a red light just short of the Statehouse. As the light changes, I heard from the back seat: “Go, Dog. Go!”

And that began our tradition of “reading” her thick-paged books on the way to “school.” She’d memorized “Goodnight Moon” “Pajama Game” and “Moo Boo Lalala” from Sandra Boynton along with the PD Eastman’s classic.

Those were wonderful days. Eventually, I left state government and Jeff got to drive Ali to school. Yes, I was totally jealous and missed the conversations that just got better as she grew more verbal. When she started school, I got her back, and he was totally jealous.

We’d bike on good days. There’s a lot of intel dished on those little drives, let me tell you. It’s a time to treasure. She’s captive there in her seat and she’s a chatterer by nature. So if you’re smart, you learn to drink it in.

So I got her for kindergarten and part of first grade. When I started at Angie’s List, Jeff got her back. I go in earlier than he does, and it fits better for him to take the morning and me to take the evening. It’s only a three-minute drive, but still. It’s 1-on-1 time.

Jeff had an overnight business trip this week and I got to take her to school Wednesday morning. I’d had her to myself the prior night as well and we snuggled and watched Big Bang Theory re-runs. She even convinced me to play Mario Kart with her. 

I’m beyond terrible at video games. She said I’d never get better if I didn’t try. I really, really, didn’t want to try. But I did. And guess what?  I was TERRIBLE. 

I died a thousand deaths, hit more walls than track and was completely befuddled when she bellows at me to push the button on the back, "You'll get a rocket!!!!"  What? Where's this button. Damn. Into the lava again!

When I muttered that Rosalina was a sucky driver, she put her hand out and said, “Mom. She’s not a sucky driver. YOU are. Don’t hate the character.”

I tried not to curse. I actually tried to drive. But that Rosalina doesn’t know how to steer, man.

Anyway, we had a lovely time. After I’d turned out the lights she wanted to have a little girl chat in the dark. We talked about her potential love life and stories about how Jeff and I had met and become a couple.  “Mom, you know you’ve told me that story like, 100 times, right?”  she said after I’d finished, being careful to edit the story of when I’d tried to set Jeff up with a friend of mine and he hadn’t appreciated it because he was ahead of me in the “I think we should try this” game. 

She waited until I was done, though, so I think she likes that story.

On the drive to school the next morning, I almost wanted to drive past the school. She was strapped in. She was “Hey, Momming” me. She was making note of the squirrel activity in our neighborhood, talking about her upcoming day and reminiscing about our girls night.

Of course, she was still fixated on my Mario skilz -- or lack thereof. 

"You said so many bad words, Mom. You said the 's' word the 'd' word , another 's' word and you almost said the 'f' word."

I demurred, sure she was mistaken.

"And the 'g' word, and a word I haven't even heard before."

I didn't even think to shout, "Stop, dog. Stop!"  

Sure, I might have used some in appropriate words. Sure we laid around watching too much TV and eating take-out food. I won't win any parenting awards, but it was fun. And when your kid can tease you about using bad words at least they know they are off-limit words. Right?

Eh. I'll risk it. I want credit for her early-years vocabulary skills -- not her most recent ones.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Holiday decorations are going up all over, December snow is falling down and the holiday season is nudging my pocketbook.

It must be Christmas. I am not the person who finds Christmas treasures in hot weather and puts them away for months. If I buy early, I give early. Life's too short, man.

It takes me a while to get into the spirit but I think I'm there. We decorated Thanksgiving weekend, and we've been playing X Marks the Spot ever since. Last week, we had snow, we each had work parties, and we went to the annual Champagne & Shopping event at Kahn's Fine Wines with our great friend Cheryl -- a visit so good that even the tapping of her car by our neighbor's girlfriend didn't dampen the spirit.

I also had my first gift-giving smack-down of the season. 

The first of those events may seem normal. The last was from my friend Amy who was chastising me before I even thought about what Alison would give her BFF Jenna for Christmas. She was reminding me that Jenna had already been given her gift -- a trip to Wicked and a small shopping trip.

This lecture came after Jeff gave me the lowdown of a conversation he'd had with Amy and I was giving her grief for violating the Girl Code and siding with the captain.

They both have ice in their veins when it comes to child rearing. If the opportunity to say "no" comes their way, they don't just embrace it will full hearts, they're loud about it.

Alison is 12.5 Her current winter coat is a gift from a neighbor whose daughter never wore it. It's purple with black fur and makes her look like a grape-flavored Michelin Man. Sure, she's warm, but it's at least two years old, and is starting to get short in the sleeves. It's made of some indestructible plastic that cockroaches will call home after the Apocolypse.

So Ali asks me if she could possible get a new coat this winter. Maybe one from North Face, which can be expensive but is very well made and will keep her both warm and within sight of her normal size.  We found one at a reasonable price that she just loved. It's that really thin, but warm quilted material and it's trim to her body.  She loves it.

"You did what?!" Jeff said, listing things like: it's Christmas; it can wait; she already has a coat; it's white.She doesn't NEED a coat and if she NEEDS a coat, did you even shop around?"

I did, actually. Well, I went to an outlet instead of the actual North Face store, and I had looked around a bit. It's my opinion that a girl occasionally needs to have something that she wants. Not all the time. Not always what's on trend. It's a winter coat for God's sake. It's fricking winter!!!  Parents buy shoes and coats and mittens and food and stuff for their children. It's kind of what we're supposed to do.

Ugh. He's such a boy. But when he ran into Amer, he spills the details of our, uh, discussion, of the coat and she AGREED with him!  She was MY friend first. We are Bunconians. We are girls. But she sided with HIM. Worse, he comes home to tell me that after their chat, "I got mad all over again."

Worse than THAT, she's not even apologetic. Blah, blah. "you're too lenient." Blah, blah. "You're a pushover."

Whatever, Amer. Jeff's the one who bought her Uggs already....Bet he didn't tell you THAT.

In other news, Ali, Jeff and I went to see Thor and dropped into 5 Guys after for our first taste of the trendy hamburgers. It was awesome. (Thanks, Lisa Tabor)  
On the way out into the bitter cold, Ali and I left as a man with a wife and kids was coming in. He held the door. Jeff held the door for the family and then urged the man in, too.

"You know, he's really a nice guy," Alison said as we walked to the car and she observed her father. "When he's not being annoying, that is."

My laughter might have cracked a few windows.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thankful. Even for the chicken fat bath.

You know your Thanksgiving is a good Thanksgiving when having chicken fat poured all over you is a moment for hilarity.

My sister, Debbie, was in charge of the noodles this year, as she should be every year. Part of her magic involves chicken stock she makes herself.  She asked me if I thought she should skim some of the chicken fat from her stock.

I shrugged. "It's Thanksgiving. It looks like a fine amount of fat to me," I said. I'd used that same holiday logic to use half-and-half and butter in the mashed potatoes.

So we set about transferring the stock to the noodle pot. I was holding the noodle pot because it was too high when on the stove for easy pouring. And that's how I took a chicken fat bath. I even had a dollop of chicken fat in my shoe.

Luckily, the skimming of the fat resulted in a fabulous pot of noodles. And I got to change clothes. At the moment it happened, Debbie was kind of mortified and I was kind of shocked. My kitchen and living room full of guests, however, were highly amused.

We had about 30 people for dinner, which included the City Boy (Jeff) deep frying three turkey breasts and six drumsticks; roasting a pork tenderloin, making gravy, grilling a bushel basket of root vegetables and popping at least three champagne corks. ( I lost track after a while.) I made 15 pounds of mashed potatoes to go with those awesome noodles, Donnas rolls and sweet potatoes made from her garden harvest.
Aunt Shirley's dressing was devoured. I hoarded Lori's cranberry relish salad. Kirsten's mushrooms were a huge hit. I lost track of the appetizers, and despite my best efforts to send food away, my house is stil full of Nancy's dessert offerings, along with Jimmie's pies, Shirley's cheesecake and someone's pumpkin rolls. I made two loaves of apple-anna bread along with one of pumpkin bread. Two ended up in the freezer for later. Diana's ice cream remains in my freezer. (Ali is grateful.)

Right up until everyone left, Jeff worried that we didn't have enough food.

We were lucky to have Grandpa come visit. He came Tuesday and was quickly introduced to Alison's outstanding report card. We'd been warned that the 
school play generally results in every student's grade dropping -- without exception. Many a full letter grade. Ali had asserted that she would be the exception, and she was.

We continued to impress Grandpa with dinners out to Petit Chou, Flatwater and Boogie Burger. He was less impressed with the sou chef duties Jeff imposed on him but he was a good sport and helped a lot with the TD prep work.

It was really cold here. A few hardy souls gathered around the grill with Jeff, but most of us stayed inside, We spread out and had a great time. Paired with Duane Jaheway's mother, Joyce, I was victorious at euchre, so the whole day was great.

We took Grandpa to the airport on Friday and came home via the Edinburgh Outlet Mall. Jeff was looking for a new briefcase but Wilson's disappointed. Ali and I managed to find some nice stuff, though. 

We spent today getting a jump on Christmas. Alison's job is the tree and finding homes for our Island of Misfit Toys collection. The weather turned nice and Jeff got carried away with our lights. We wrapped as much of the magnolia tree that we could. 

I still have a bit of organizing to do downstairs. Thankgiving stuff needs to be put away; extra tables need broken down and pots that get used every five years or so need to find their resting places. I have only three extra serving/storage devices and we're missing a saucepan lid. But otherwise, we're good.

Tommorow, Jeff is threatening that we need to address the garage so my car will fit back in it. I'm not so excited about that. I'm actually looking forward to a day of just hanging out before heading back to work after my five-day weekend. 

It's not like I haven't been working, but I've barely even checked work email for the past few days. The yard is as clear of leaves as it's getting. The house was as clean as it will get for the remainder of 2013. I might put things back where they belong but that's as far as I'm going.

I discovered some corners I'd missed during my pre-Thankgiving cleaning while Christmas decorating, but I decorated around them. So if you come over, you might want to come at dusk or dark. And don't look too closely then.

But DO drop by. I have desserts to fob off on you. My will power is pretty much gone. Oh, there was one disappointment at Thanksgiving.

My young and vibrant nieces bailed on me. Not one of them was ready for the plank challenge. As I have made it to six minutes, I silently declared myself the winner. 

I would have showed off for everyone but I was afraid I still had chicken fat in my toes and that would have upset my form.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Star is Born?

Alison's acting debut couldn't have gone better.

"She stole the show!"

"She was amazing!"

"You are not going to believe how good she is!"

And those were unsolicited. I swear. But she really was good as the genie in the Christ the King 7th Grade production of "Aladdin."  Directed by the incredible Mrs. Donna Aragon, the play was, well, it was a small school production.  But it was pretty awesome.
Jeff captured great video. We're trying to figure out the best way to reproduce it for some of the parents who've already asked for it.

Among the best parts were having Jenna, Aunts Debbie and Donna and cousin Rebecca in the audience. The out-of-towners had to drive -- on a school/work night -- for the 7 p.m. show, and Jenna stayed up way later than her normal bedtime.  (Thanks, Amer!)

Another great part was seeing the playbill, which included a thank you to Jenna, who'd loaned her family's strobe light to make the magical scenes more magical. Jenna had gone with Ali and me on the Saturday before the Wednesday play. We didn't do much. Beth Christoff, Annmarie Phelps, the Kaciuses, J'netta Crawford and Chris Williams had done a ton more. Everyone contributed. But Mrs. Aragon took the time to remember Jenna -- not even a CKS student.  That's why we love CKS.  It's just a really good place to be.

All the kids did a great job. Hair and makeup was superb, thanks to Mary of David & Mary, grandparents of harem girl, Madison Miller.  At one point I started to thank David even thought I'd witnessed Mary and some helpers doing the actual work. "Oh, I didn't do anything," he said.

"I know, but it's what you're supposed to say," I said, grinning.  David and Mary are way fun.

Anyway, the play was great and Alison is still singing and dancing around. If it's not the Wicked soundtrack going, it's Aladdin.

"Mom, do you think I have what it takes to be an actress?" she asked me.

I reminded her that "Penny" from "The Big Bang Theory" is still a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory.

"Uh, Mom. That's a TV show and the real Penny HAS a job. Acting," Alison responded.

Damn. I thought. "She's good."  (That's a line from the play. I just cracked myself up.)

But we'll explore the Children's Acting Theatre here in town. Our friend Hannah Ogden is a veteran there and Ali and I have been to a few of her shows. It's worth exploring if only for the amazing jolt of confidence it's given her.

I'm not the only one to notice it. Her third grade teacher (one of her all-time favorites) sent me an email the next day saying how she couldn't believe her little pupil who was afraid to give a speech in class had offered up such a show-stopping performance.

At four, Ali wanted to be a paleontologist. She could even spell it. I bought her (as did her grandparents) a horde of rubber dinosaurs. She built a dinosaur hotel and later had a dinosaur section of her McGroo zoo that took up most of the family room floor for a few weeks.

Lately she's wanted to be a baker and we've survived untold dozens of actually very good cupcakes, macaroons and cookies.  (I'll just not mention our tiramisu attempts.)

So if she wants to act, we'll check it out. I would make a GREAT stage mother.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Wicked Good Weekend

We are not extravagant people. Our house is sized just right for three people -- at least according to my adult mind. I grew up with two parents and six siblings in a house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. 

And yes, to my daughter's horror, I remember using the outhouse -- though we did install indoor plumbing before I went to school. My father built beautiful homes. For other people. 

We lived in an old family farmhouse that had a kitchen floor that sloped to such a degree bowling alleys might have been based on it. It was heated for many years by a wood stove. My Dad was a true-blue Pentecostal believer who took too closely to heart the Scripture about how it's so much harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a poor man. 

My dad was really looking forward to Heaven and the damn Old Testament better be right about the rewards you get for having suffered on Earth. Job would have felt sorry for my father's tribulations, those self-induced and those thrust upon him. But that's another story.

Jeff grew up in a modest family too. But normal people modest. Not like us.

Regardless, Jeff and I are frugal people. Some might call us cheap. I clean my own house. We have used cars that we keep longer than most modern day marriages. We use the coupons that come in the mail. We do own own yard work.

But we're not crazy about being frugal. We eat out well. We have a three bedroom home with three full bathrooms, and we buy good wine and great food. Alison doesn't want for much -- though she has to do chores for her allowance and she often has to contribute to the growing pile of electronics, jewelry and boatloads of perfumes and lotions that are taking over her bathroom. (Bath and BodyWorks is her crack house.)

That's what made this weekend unusual. 

We'd been looking forward to having Jenna for a couple of days while her brother played hockey in some far off state. Wisconsin or Michigan or someplace colder than here. On Friday night she asked me what the plan was. I had no plan other than to spend some time in the yard and some time at Alison's school where they're putting the final touches on the 7th grade play. Alison will be the Genie in Aladdin.

Earlier in the week, Ali had mentioned in passing that she'd like to see Wicked. She'd seen a commercial for it and she's been tra-la-laing for weeks now, preparing for her part in the school play. 

I'd been wanting to see Wicked for years. But remember I'm cheap. I mean frugal.

The production had never come to Indianapolis at a birthday or anniversary or Christmas season before -- or if it had, I wasn't in a mindset to ask about going. Going to the theatre seems like such an extravagance. I WANT to be more artsy and sophisticated, but I generally let the odd thought pass. I've gotten better about it: witness last August, or was it a couple years ago, when Blake Shelton was in town. Jeff is a rock guy, but he suffered mightily to give me that night. It was a GREAT night.

Anyway, I spend some time in the yard yesterday. Jeff wandered out and we talked about the need for chores. (I'd already grocery shopped while the hoodlums slept inside but there other things.) I could return her basketball uniform when we stopped by the school to help with play stuff. He went in to corral the girls and prepare to do the dry cleaning, etc...

But then he had a thought and asked if I thought the girls would want to see Wicked.  Adding my own ovaries to the equation, I sent him off to find tickets. He loves that kind of thing. He called me later at the school with the bad news: it's sold out. We could go next week, but that would leave Jenna out and it would interfere with volleyball try-outs and Alison's own play.

"Rats." I said. "Maybe you could scout around?"

Jeff's a great scout. In moments when he's annoying me, it's easy to forget just how great a person, husband and father he is. But he's a keeper. He called me later saying he's found great seats but they're pricey. Like, Blake Shelton birthday pricey. Like, more than Bruno Mars -- Alison's first rock concert pricey.

But you only live once, right? And why do we work? He negotiated a bit while we finished up at school to rush home to find clothes to wear. 

"Can we wear make-up, Mom?" Alison asked hopefully. 

"Sure!" I said. "We'll need to get a little dressed up, too. And you HAVE to brush your hair."

"Ugh. Like how dressed up?"  

"Nice clothes. No, you can't wear your black stretch pants. No sneakers. And you HAVE to brush your hair."


Jenna had packed for our normal weekend. So I found something that sure, I CAN wear; but SHOULD I wear it?  for her. Alison came up with a totally inappropriate LBD from who knows where. I made her wear a jacket with it, but it's headed off to Goodwill today, I'll tell you that. Nothing in our shoe collection would fit Jenna and go with her outfit.

While Jeff fed Alison, Jenna and I sped off to Target. In under five minutes we had the cutest black suede boots to complete her outfit.

"This is why you need to get a good job, Jenna," I said. "One day when you're older, you're going to want to be silly and buy things you don't need. You need a good job to do that."

Now let's be clear here. I took her to TARGET to splurge. Macy's is right next door but we didn't go there. I might be occasionally generous but I'm still cheap.

So we get back in time to throw down some lunch, brush our hair, slap on some makeup and judge each other on what else we might need. 

Back in the kitchen on his laptop, Jeff showed us where our seats were. Dead center in front of the stage. Row N.  

"Mr. Reed, can I ask how much the tickets cost?" Jenna said.

Never one to miss a teachable moment ala Pete the Planner, Jeff said, "Why yes you can, Jenna," and then proceded to talk to her about value and fiscal responsibility. I don't know if her eyes glazed over. I was with Ali getting ready.

Jeff, who hadn't wanted to go with us, decided to be our chauffer so we didn't have to worry with parking or coats. He did marvel at how quickly we'd manage to transform ourselves from donut-glazed, bed-headed girls and a pony-tailed leaf gatherer into a trio of hotties in so short of time.

The show was amazing. It's nearly three hours long with an intermission after the first hour or so. When it came, the girls, who hadn't unglued their eyes from the stage, looked at me and started with the squeals. They thought it was over but were totally happy with it. When they found out there was more, you'd have thought One Direction had stopped by for tea.

Jeff picked us up and we chattered all the way home about the plot; favorite parts; favorite songs; the set; the $300 chance we passed on to ride in Glinda's bubble; Alison's struggle to buy something she could afford yet still have as outer wear for school; the voices; the acting; the ways in which they sped through time to get all the story in. The dragon. The flying monkeys. What elixer is.

Jeff had suggested dinner out when we'd all agreed we'd have dinner in. Plus, it was Saturday and the whole event was spur-of-the moment. We couldn't get in to the first place without a long wait outside and we didn't have coats. The girls were happy with the dinner at home.

Later, Jeff and I were talking about it. The girls were downstairs eating. He and I were at the kitchen counter. Caught up in the moment, I casually mentioned that I'd wanted for years to see Wicked. I'd read the book -- it's around here somewhere -- and I'd envied my friends who'd seen it already. Several more than once.

He just looked at me. He stopped eating and he said, "Hey. I want you do do something for me."

I'd already been planning a suitable reward after the girls had gone to sleep, and it had a few wicked elements to it if  you know what I mean. 

I was caught up in reliving the most fun moments of the show, seeing the girls have so much fun with their big night out, and I was totally amazed that he'd gone to so much trouble. He'd had to go get cash and meet the guy who had the tickets; he'd fixed lunch; he chauffered us and then helped with dinner.  He could have asked for a lot and I would have happily agreed.

I looked at him, inviting him to ask me anything.

"The next time you really want to do something, would you tell me?" he asked.

Now that's not wicked. That's a wicked good man.

And I'm one lucky witch.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

What kind of parent takes their kid to Hooters?... I mean other than you?

Yes, it's true. Alison and I went to Hooters today. But it was not my fault. Nor was it my idea. It was a measure of my devotion to seeing my family. Really.

Alison was outraged that I'd even thing about going to Hooters. How she knows so much about it, I don't know. I suspect I need to limit her screen time or at least monitor it better. 

"These are the things you have to do when you have siblings, Ali," I said as we drove downtown today to see my sister Debbie, her husband Steve, their daughter Annie and her boyfriend, Justin. 

Fresh from her first babysitting gig for three children, Alison contemplated the obligations that family brings. She decided she might still want to have a sibling, but only if she could train him or her to act like she liked. 

I wished her luck with that and advised her that I was pretty sure she wouldn't be too scarred by the visit. And while I was sure it was OK for her to go in, it wasn't where I wanted her to work later in life.

"I checked to be sure you could go in. Hooters even has a children's menu," I said.

"What kind of parent brings their kid to Hooters?!" she exclaimed. "I mean other than you."

I explained that Debbie and crew were in town for a Colts game and that they were pre-gaming at Hooters -- likely because it was Justin's choice.

"Is he, like a teen-ager or an adult?" she asked. 

"He's Annie's boyfriend so he's between 25 and 30, I guess," I said.

She was curious because at school this week, they had a lecture -- "A promise to keep" -- which talks a lot about abstinence. She learned there, so she informed me, that teen age boys experience a lot of lust, so Hooters made sense if Justin were a teenager.

We agreed that boys are weird at any age. She sighed. I sent up a silent prayer that she wouldn't ask the waitress to put some clothes on -- a request she'd made of an earlier Annie boyfriend when she and the Ogdens had happened upon him and he happened to be shirtless.

We managed to survive without issue, though Ali worried a lot that someone from school would see here there. We actually had a great time; Ali kept her Puritanical utterances to a minmum and the food was good!  It was a lot of fun catching up and meeting Justin for the first time.  

It was a minor miracle that we even got down there. I spent about six hours working in the yard yesterday and there are parts of my body that aren't speaking to me. I was determined to finally distribute the mountain of mulch I got from Karen and Pat Terrell.   It's been sitting in the yard for about three weeks now -- a nasty cold had sidelined me last week.

When Karen offered free mulch, I said yes because I had flower beds in need of some help. And the price was right. Blinded by my frugal nature, apparently, I didn't think about how much mulch an ancient oak might make.  But when the big-ass industrial truck pulled into my yard, I learned. And it was only half of the tree!  I seriously think the pile was taller than me.

Yard work at my house is a solo sport. Neither Jeff nor Ali want any part of it. I like it, though. While nature does sometimes fight back - and I have the scars to prove it - I like the solitude and the labor of it. I'm not especially talented at gardening. I buy plants that are hard to kill and don't mind being relocated on occasion. I'll paste in some yard shots from prettier times of the years.

I'd planned to share the mulch with another neighbor. But there was only one dump site and mine was the lucky first stop. My first mulch sharer backed out but another woman in the neighborhood wanted some. I put some in my next door neighbor's yard, too. But man it was a lot of mulch.

At one point, I was tossing ground up tree around the huge oak in my front yard and I wondered whether if the living oak was offended by the thought of the dead one being sprinkled around its base like cannibalized ashes. I decided it was a circle of life kind of thing. Hakuna Matata, man. Right?

In addition to shoveling the mulch and putting it down, I picked up leaves and limbs and general yard waste; moved some rocks around to cover roots and then cleaned up the mess I made.  There's enough lactic acid in my musculature that if I punctured myself, I'd drip like a maple tree in November.

In other news, Alison's football cheerleading and girls basketball seasons are over. She had a lot of fun and it was fun to watch her out there. Next up is the 7th grade play. We're still working on her costume -- she's the genie in Aladdin.  Volleyball season will kick in soon so I'm sure that'll keep us busy.

When she starts prancing around in those tiny little volleyball shorts that "everyone is wearing Mom, so I need to, too" I'm going to remind her of our trip downtown today...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mrs. Reed in Detention?

You know you've had a tough week when you're several years removed from the classroom but still sweating out whether you'll get a detention or not.

Truth be told, I probably deserve it. And I think I'm going to blame it on a book I've just finished. "Sh*tty Mom" is a hilarious tribute to those mothers who don't always meet the Mother of Year minimum quals. Sometimes you laugh because it's ridiculous. Sometimes you laugh because you did that, too. I mean because you are a MUCH better mother than these yahoos and would never do that, too.

Alison has had a cold, which generally means she'll eventually hack like an 80-year-old man who's smoked cigars since he could walk. That's the trigger for her to get prescription help. She struggled through Fall Break and we got the meds on Monday. She started to feel better at the precise time I started to feel worse.

By Thursday, I was the cigar smoker and my hack was scaring my colleagues. I had some important stuff to do and had a quick work trip to Philadelphia that had been planned for months. I did not have time to be sick.

But there it was. I went home a bit early on Thursday, collected Alison and crawled in to bed. She was excited about a pep rally she and her cheerleader friends would lead the next day and chattered on about school and decorating lockers and an upcoming birthday party. Or maybe she sat there in silence. I don't really know. I was sick and was fixated on how fast I could get to bed and look pitiful enough for her to bring me soup.

Friday dawned and I was still in bed. I'd been snuggling pretty tight with my friend Nyquil and was prepared to spend the day with him too.  I'd set the alarm for a 9:30 meeting I had to call into, but I was planning to mute my phone in case I nodded off and snored. Once done with it, I was going to snore for real.

My fog was pierced early by my phone ringing, CKS on the screen. I answer cautiously. Alison was in the nurse's office thinking she was going to vomit.  

Straight out of the Sh*tty Mom playbook came an answer:  "So she hasn't actually vomited yet?"   See, the rule is, you have to come retreive your kid if she throws up at school and you can't send them back until 24 hours has passed.

I opened my mouth to ask Becky to call me back when the puke hit the waste can. Somehow the words wouldn't come. It was probably the mucus blocking the way, but I managed to croak out, I'll be right there."

I could not, however, bring myself to get dressed. So I went down to school in my glasses, bedhead, robe and slippers. I did wear pants.  I walked into the school office.  Becky assessed my condition.  "So I guess the whole house is sick. Beautiful robe though."

I think she threw that in there because she realized that I'd just realized I'd staggered into school just as the classes were letting out for the kids to go to Mass. I suppose it possible if they were moving fast, they might have thought I was a cardinal. They wear red robes, too, right?

I looked at Ali. "I'm not faking, Mom, I swear," she said. I pointed to the car.

It had occured to me that she was faking but the phlegm trapped those words too. Plus, she really had wanted to be part of the pep rally and wouldn't have jeopardized seeing Jenna -- even for a day off school.

It did not occur to me that she probably needed to collect her homework and all the end of the school week stuff she needs to get back into the place.

That came to me a little while ago. When we were getting her prepared for Monday. 

She'd left behind her pencil box that contains the Religion homework she needed to print out at home and her blue folder that requires a parent's signature to show you know  how they made it through the week. She could have 12 outstanding assignments for all I know. I am such a Sh*tty Mom.

I sent her downstairs with the big TV while I returned to my nest. That's where Jeff found us. God love him, he took a better-feeling Ali to Jenna's to trick-or-treat. (Weather had given the holiday a one day game delay in central Indiana.) And God love Amer for taking care of Jeff before and after the haunting. 

Saturday morning, I loaded up on OTC cold medication and flew to Philly to collect a fabulous award for Angie's List and its fabulous parenting and daycare programs. ( Yes, I realize I might need to take that parenting class...) The award was presented by former Gov. Ed Rendell, who was highly jovial,  and it was a really, really lovely event.

We stayed out past 11, walked 25 miles (in heels)  to see the Liberty Bell because we had to leave at dawn the next day and Rob insisted we get a little culture in before we left. At one point, I swear he reprimanded Kim, our national award winning day care program director, to keep her hands to herself. "Don't break that, it's history," he hissed. We made a friend on the street. Well, we liked him. I think we scared him, though, but he was a sport and posed with us and advised us to stop by the City Tavern (where Kim endangered history.)


In deference to my roommates, I thought I'd sleep in a big chair in our room. Lying flat tends to encourage the phlegm to choke me, which makes me hack loudly. 

I've had worse nights sleeping, but not many. On the bright side, we only had five hours of potential sleep before we had to catch our flight home.

Each of us had something important to do on Sunday, so it wasn't just me who agreed to the fast turn-around. And despite the rushed nature of it, we did have a lot of fun moments. 

But I had a football game to get to Sunday. CKS was in the city championship game in the 7-8 grade division, and Ali was cheering at noon. I made it in time to see them get crushed by their arch rival. Then it was home to start chipping away some more at my mulch pile and get Ali fed and prepared to meet her first babysitting clients. They were coming by to get mulch and to meet Ali. She's sitting for three kids next week. 

She had a presentation and lots of questions for the mom. She showed off her Safe Sitter credentials. (Another class I might need.) Then, it was a mad dash to 4-H for Ali and me to Book Club. 

She's all tucked in bed and Jeff and I are watching the Colts get crushed. My fantasy football team is getting crushed too. There's time for a miracle, I suppose. 

I have a note into Alison's teachers explaining her situation and accepting blame for the infractions she has coming. I'm hoping they'll assign them to me instead. It's a three strikes and you're in detention rule, and she's a pretty good kid so even if she gets nabbed, she can likely make it through the week without punishment. But really, it's my fault. We'll see if they'll me serve her detention for her if it comes to that... :)

So I might occasionally be a less-than-perfect mom but I have a shiny award to show off tomorrow. I get to sleep in my own bed tonight -- and for more than five hours. That's not sh*tty at all.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

And the beet goes on

Karma can be a bitch, but this week, she's done nothing but smile on us so I'm pretty happy with her.

Alison has been off with Jenna, so that left Jeff and me with a couple free nights. Night one, he was at a concert and I was blissfully at home alone with the remote and half a bottle of wine.

Saturday morning found me out in the yard dodging an occasional, chilly October rain while I ripped up a bunch of bricks I'd decided needed relocated from bordering my backyard flower beds.  I have this narrow strip of yard that runs along the east side of my house house, connecting front and back yards.

Along the house, there are healthy bushes, our basement escape hatch, the air conditioner and gas meter and a small tree or two. But between that strip and the neighbor's brick yard is a strip of Earth that has a bad case of going bald. Oh, dandelions and scrub grass will pop up here and there, but come August when I run the lawn mower over it, I cause a dust storm that would wake the Scorpion King.

So putting down a walkway seemed like a smart way to go, and the bricks were just sitting there. About 6.3 billion of them. 

I got out the wheelbarrow one day in the summer and relocated them. At first I was just wanting to give myself an idea of what it would look like. So I didn't prepare the ground or put down plastic or do anything but configure the bricks into a pattern. 

Before you knew it, they were all down. Some were nubby with mortar still attached to them where they used to be part of the original neighborh's wall. Others were smooth. Some were taller than others. It wasn't pretty but it did cover the ground. I wondered how long natural erosion would take to smooth them down like river rocks while they snuggled into the ground to level themselves out magically.   I'd planned to put down mulch to even up the edges and sort of disguise my work while the erosion thing happened.

To be honest, it wasn't pretty. It wasn't well-received. And I'd been thinking about how to deal with ever since the family had discovered my latest spontaneous home improvement project.

And then this week, My friend Karen -- despite Squirrel Gravy kicking her Live Action in fantasy football last week -- had offered to drop off a bunch of mulch after a tree was taken down at her house. So I was going to move that mulch to cover my brick walkway.

But even as I contemplated whether I could get the mulch and cover up the thing before Jeff woke up and caught me, I kept hearing his and others' reaction to the whole idea.

Alison: "Mom, how are Alex and I going to run through there barefoot when we play hide-and-seek? It hurts my feet."

Jeff: "That's not going to work, Cheryl. You're going to get weeds and how are you going to get the leaves without scraping off your mulch?

Even my neighbor, Mark, owner of the brick wall: "I think you're going to have some issues when the rain comes."

So I spent Saturday morning pulling up all 6.3 billion bricks and putting them back where they belong. You think planking is hard?  Brick work is harder. And longer.  But they're all back where they belong and the pathway is back to its bald-headed look.  

And here's where Karma comes in.  I'd gotten everything put away. My arms were trembling. My back was aching. And all I could think of was that truck-full of mulch headed my way that would have to be shoveled and put into the various flower beds. I was already a muddy mess. I'd broken a nail and had raw spots on the backs of my ankles from wearing my boots without socks. (I hadn't wanted to wake Jeff up and would have had I gone in to get my socks.)

I was in the kitchen, contemplating whether to shower, when I would just get dirty all over again, when my phone buzzed. It was Karen telling me the rain had washed out the tree service so there would be no mulch this weekend.

I may have fallen to my knees to praise God or Karma or whomever had sent the rain. I'm not sure.  All I know is the lack of Round 2 with the yard left me time to shower, recover and have a lovely night out with Jeff.

We went, finally, to Delicia, which is probably a mile away from our house. We'd wanted to go there for a while but had been told it was hard to get in and we're poor dinner planners. We had a school fundraiser and an award winning Broad Ripple Kiwanis fundraiser on the schedule before dinner, but I advised the school folks we weren't going to make it. (I'll send in money Monday to keep my friend Karma happy.)

So we set off walking to Delicia. By early evening, it was brisk, but dry. It was a great walk. When we arrived -- early so we could make the Kiwanis event at The Speak Easy Indy, there were only three tables occupied on our side of the restaurant.

Our waiter, Alejandro, was telling us of the specials. One of which was a spicy beet salad. He was extolling its virtues and all the accompanying vegetables and peppers. "But there are still beets in there, right?" I asked.

He confirmed it. I advised him that I'd like to try it but I'd recently tried to convince myself that I could eat beets -- they're kind of the popular root vegetable right now -- but no, I hadn't like Napolese's beets.  Alejandro thought Delicia had a special take on it.  I was not convinced.

We did order drinks while we perused the Latin menu. My mojhito was excellent but came in a water-glass sized container. Jeff had some fancy thing but was jealous of my drink and had to have one himself. On top of the wine we'd finished, I was a little woozy before the appetizer came.

Before the goat cheese-stuffed jalapenos arrived, Alejandro dropped by with a slice of beet on a saucer for me. "So you can decide," he said.

I appreciated the gesture. Really I did. But to me, it looked like a bit of raw liver looking up at me. Raw liver that tastes like dirt. You can spice up dirt, but it's still dirt. With the texture of raw organ meat. Blech.

The entrees, however, were extreme. So amazing. I had corn cakes with shredded beef and Jeff had fish tacos. It was so amazing. Made me think they might have made similar magic with the beets.

Jeff loves flan, which to me is the beet of desserts, so I had coffee. The restaurant was nearly at capacity by this point -- and it wasn't 7 o'oclock yet. The hostess came by to ask if we'd mind moving to a two-top. They had two, two-tops left and we were at one of them. A disabled American veteran in a party of six was waiting for a seat.  Of course we didn't mind and happily scooted over.

Jeff had his flan and I had my coffee and we were talking about walking to the next event where I was sure my body wouldn't tolerate one more bit of liquor.  The bill came and they'd not just treated us to dessert and coffee, they'd doubled the cost and deducted it.

Delicia would have been on our list of favorite restaurants before then, but consider this:  it's fabulous food, indulgent wait staff, generous in pour and portion, and they're kind to veterans.

Love them. Will definitely be back.

Right now I have to scoot to Alison's football game and then get her off to  basketabll game. Jenna and Amy will get to watch, so it'll be super cool.

I'm going to have to do something nice for someone today to keep my karmic roll going. I'm accepting ideas for good deeds....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My daughter has been kid-nap-ed

This happens every so often. Amy Tokash will get a wild hair, decide she needs two daughters and call me up to demand I give Alison over to her until she's ready to give her back.

I almost always say yes because every so often, I get a wild hair, decide I need two daughters and call Amer up to demand my Jenna rights.

Alison is in heaven at Amy's house where she gets fed her fill of white bread toast and gets introduced to exotic things like Ho Hos, Hot Pockets and chicken and rice. She'll go over there regardless of season but summer offers the neighborhood pool, so I'm lucky I see her at all from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Here's how you know your kid is in good hands with your friend: Amy almost always plans to pick Alison up before she gets Jenna so she can have some alone time with her Cat. (shortened from Ali Cat back in the day.)

"If I don't do that, I'll never get a word in edgewise once she gets with Jenna," explains the elder Tokash.

Alison, of course, loves Amy, and lately she loves an audience, so I'm sure she didn't stop talking from our driveway to Amy's. Had I cocked my head to the left, I would have heard the squeals and screams as Amy pulled into Chez Tokash, which is about five or six miles north of us. 

Which would have been the only peep I've heard from that pack of losers since Amy absconded with my only child. Well that's not true. She DID text me, asking if I still have a waiver on file with the local Sky Zone for Alison. She and Jenna were going to trampoline for a couple of hours while Drew and Fralich took in a hockey game.

As for me, Jeff had left me, too. He and Duane Jasheway went off to Bloomington to see a band so I was left to my own devices.

It was WONDERFUL. I did work out and grocery shop. I even started laundery as my chore-girl wasn't going to be here to do it. A quck shower and it was me with the big screen, a bottle of wine and treats that wouldn't negate my work out but would still make feel like I was indulging. 

My friend Jodie had treated me to a pumpkin pie blizzard that morning after we'd done our Indy Do Day tour of duty. 

It was before noon, but there's a Dairy Queen right across from the Keep Indianapolis Beautiful office where we worked on a fence. It seemed like kicking fate in the teeth to pass up the ice cream when the sun had finally come out and the "open" sign was on.

This is one of those walk-up DQs that close for the winter season. So really, it was almost a requirement that we stop in. I mean, they might have been left with unsold inventory. So really, it wasn extension of our community service work. Plus, they have a kid-size portion you can buy that makes it practically guilt-free to have full-fat ice cream.

And, everyone knows (or should) that calories consumed right after doing a good deed are burned at light speed. 

I get Ali back tomorrow in time to get her to her football game where they'll get to use the banner she and her friends made a couple weeks ago.Then, it's a basketball game. The football team is undefeated going into the tournament. The basketball team? Well they're undefeated to.When it comes to winning that is. They have a perfect record of defeat.

But it doesn't seem to be getting the girls down. They only lost by 1 point last week, and it was in the final seconds that the other team scored to go ahead. 

So go Tigers!  And go Sox. If Boston gets into the Series tonight, they'll go up against Godfather Bob's STL Cardinals and suddenly my annual angst over what to buy Jeff for his birthday will be easily resolved.  

And now for the Great Plank Challenge of 2013 Update:  I went up to 1:45 yesterday. Times three. Thanksgiving can't come soon enough for me.