Sunday, July 28, 2013

Put me in coach.....if you have to

So my eldest niece and her friend decide they want to raise money for cancer research. As they've played softball nearly all their lives, they decide it would be fun to have a 100-inning softball game to do it. If you play, you convince people to give a donation to the cause based on the number of innings you can complete.

This is how they sold it to me: "Oh, come down. It'll be fun. We'll have a bunch of girls and you'll only play as long as you want to. You won't have to play every inning. We'll mix it up and play with bouncy balls and running the bases backward and fun stuff. Even the little girls can play. It'll be fun."

So I said yes. As long as I could just write a check and not hit my friends up for donations, I'd do it. Jeff would get a weekend at home alone (he had to work anyway); Ali would hang out with her cousins; and I'd get to hang out with my sisters before and after the game. 

Here's what really happened:  Ali and I went down Friday night. She wanted to spend the night with her cousins and I didn't want to get up at dawn for the 9 a.m. start. Friday night, Jaime tells me not to worry about being at the ballfield at 9. They had a bunch of girls ready to play. Just sleep in and show up when I was ready.

So Donna, Jim  and I were having coffee, catching up on Saturday morning when the call came in. The crowd hadn't showed. Could we please get our butts in gear and get the heck over there?

Off we go. Forty innings later -- that's six hours for you unfamiliar with how softball works -- we called it quits.  Some of us had had to leave early due to family obligations; others were just there to fill in and never wanted to see a softball again; but most of the original 15 or so were there til the bitter, aching end. 

And it was SO much fun.

It had been something like 15 years since I'd played and my only real goals were to deliver my check; get Ali on the field and having fun; and not embarass myself. 

Many of the girls -- I can say that because I was literally the oldest on the field (not that I outed myself; at least verbally) -- had been playing off and on together since high school. They had real skills. I threw my mitt away years ago after discovering it had grown over with mold in the garage.

Connie Bolinger was non-stop hilarious. We'd never met before but I do hope we meet again. She was  part coach, part rodeo clown. I don't think she stopped talking for more than 30 seconds from inning one to 39 when she had to go home to get ready for her high school reunion. 

That reunion had to be something. She has a twin sister, who I deeply regret not meeting. Apparently "back in the day" they were fearsome on the diamond. Brittany, of course, we knew, but there was an Angela, an Ashley, Tiffany, Tara, Alisha, Sherri, Diane and a cluster of others who I'm sorry I can't remember all their names.

This is all you need to know about them all: 

We'd gotten there, were introduced and lightly mentioned that Alison hadn't really played before. Ali got up to bat. A swing and a miss. On her second try, she got a hit. The field and dugout erupted in hurrahs and claps.  Alison's grin rivaled the sun.

Now she didn't stick with it as long as the rest of us. She took a few breaks to help Aleasha out in the rarely-visited concession stand, and she ended up playing with small children -- enough to earn $5 as an unexpected babysitter. But she had a good time. 

I'd never met any of the softball ladies before, other than Jaime and Brittany, but I felt like I was home. 

I asked Tiffany how she'd gotten mixed up in this. "Brittany," she shrugged. And that word said it all.

These girls were there for fun and love of the game. And probably for love of each other. For me, it was as if my Bunco and Book Club had gotten together on a softball field in Sullivan County with little pink houses on two sides, a field and U.S. 41 on the others.

The ages ranged from 12 to past 40. My sister Nancy, Jaime's in-laws and a host of others dropped in to watch. My sister Donna was there almost throughout. Mostly, though, it was just us on the field. 

The laughter could have fueled the highway traffic. I'm not sure today that my muscle aches are all from sprinting and throwing. Thank God I work out.

Rachael, Jaime's daughter, is a sought-after fast-pitch softball pitcher. She's 13 and played in the outfield. Others play on high school teams. When the defense was short, some of the offensive players ran to the outfield. And yes, they'd get their teammates out, given the chance. 

Did I mention that girl's softball is big down home? The older ladies were local legends in their day. These days if they're not playing women's travel leagues, they're playing coed. When I say I just didn't want to embarass myself, I mean it. 

Connie should be a color announcer for some professional team; she was so excited to be there. She cheered on even semi-good plays her teammmates made. She cheered on the opposition.  She ribbed players for running too slow or swinging too wide. She even had commentary on her own hits and misses. You couldn't help but laugh with her.

We played one style for five innings. Once it was a drill from high school (not my high school) where the fielding team would have to run to wherever the ball was hit as the runner ran the bases. If it was left field, you had to drag your sorry butt from 1st or 3rd or right field to get out there. 

Once there, the team had to toss the ball to each other without dropping it. If the defense could get the ball around before the runner got home, it was an out. If the runner scored first, it was a run. If someone in the defense dropped the ball, you had to start over until the whole defense caught the ball.

My team somehow ruled at this drill. But it was a heckuva lot of running for everyone involved.

Other innings involve using a bouncy ball instead of a softball; using a foam ball and bat and playing regularly; and running to 3rd first instead of 1st base -- it's easier to run the wrong way than you might imagine. I actually got Jaime out at home because she'd run all the way to first and had to hot foot it back past home to third base. 

Sometimes we had enough people to field every position. When we didn't, it was an out if you hit to an unmanned outfield position. Two of Jaime's daughters played every inning with us. They were thrilled to get  their mother out. At one point, poor Rach was getting it from both sides. Mom in the outfield and Grandma in the dugout were criticizing her batting form. 

"Softball season is over," she reminded them. My sister, Donna, coached Jaime's team. Jaime coached her daughters until they got to school. They've eached served time with the local ball associations.

Tara and Jaime were rival players in opposite schools when they were in high school. Jaime once slid into Tara and broke one of Tara's limbs. Tara is now the principal at the elementary school Jaime's girls attend. Happily, their softball rivalry is behind them.

Rachael had a hard time cheering for "Tara" and ended up using her title instead. "I just can't call her 'Tara,'" she said.

Cousin Kaitlin -- long banned from softball due to her failed knees -- got in a few innings. She's only 18 and is generally unable to play because of knees ruined from her years as a softball catcher. 

You'd have thought she'd died and gone to Iowa to play in Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams. She loves softball. It's been three years since she played. 

It's not as if we were competitive. So we promised her mother to keep her from injury, and Kaitlin got to bat and run and play 1st base.  

So we didn't get to 100 innings.  But it really was fun. No one got hurt, though Becca, Jaime's oldest,  ended up with raccoon eyes from her wrap-around sun glasses, which she didn't remove once during the games. We raised almost $1000 for cancer research.

Sunday dawned and both Jaime and I could still walk, though I think I am more sore now than I was yesterday. I don't know about the others.  

We'll see what tomorrow brings. I'm pretty sure the memories will eclipse the pain.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

This one time at summer camp

It took a little while but we convinced Alison to come home with us from Flat Rock River YMCA Camp.

That's not really true. We did have to show Ginny Reed the Alpine Tower and the girls did have a few last hugs, email and phone number exchanges and top-bunk gatherings to do, but we were all ready to get back home. 

"I really need some time alone to chill in my house. And TV! I haven't seen a screen all week!," she said. "And Ramen. And I missed you guys."

She had a great time, as always, and made better by the presence of BFF Jenna Tokash. They slept -- and I use that verb very lightly -- head to head in a top row bunk. They made friends with Reagan and Kennedy -- ha! -- and were paired up with new horses. They canoed and river stomped and swam and played volleyball and had an awesome spa day that included some special mud packs. They're claiming the camp has access to deposits of mud with a special ingredient -- the largest such stock in the country... 

"Feel my face. My skin is super smooth and the pimples on my nose are gone!"

Magic mud indeed. I asked if they'd squirreled any away in their baggage, but they followed camp rules and left it in the bogs from whence it came. Amy and I both want to go back and camp there ourselves, so if we ever get that chance, we'll be sure to sample the magic mud.

There wre only two occasions when Ali had to eat bread sandwiches because she didn't like the food. She happens to love bread sandwiches so no harm there. No day this year of salad for all three meals.  She even tried chicken pot pie and found that if she discarded the biscuit topper, the filling really was made of stuff she liked. 

We got home, garbage-bagged her bedding to ward off bed bugs and tossed it in the garage where it will sit for a week just in case. As I fixed her Ramen, she got reaquainted with her iPod and unpacked the rest of her stuff.

Before she disappeared, I advised her that laundry and a thank you note obligation were outstanding on her to-do list. She didn't protest, but she's had her door closed ever since.  At one point Jeff said he was leaving to run errands and she did pop her head out to express dismay.

"You've been in room with the door closed. You won't even know I'm gone," he pointed out.

"But I like to hear your voice in the house," she said.

I know that feeling....


Friday, July 19, 2013

Stay-cations are so 2012; How about a Plate-cation...

I love food. All kinds of food. This does not make me a bona fide foodie. I am a simple country girl. I have evolved from a Crisco-based diet, but my palate isn't sophisticated and never will be. But I would much rather have a food hangover than a drug or alcohol hangover given the choice. 

Now the captain, he's got a deep appreciation for food and libation, and he'll invest in research, time and tools to produce great stuff. I tend to be the sous chef and scullery maid. And chief sampler. 

All that said, we tend to get into food ruts. Jeff once picked up dinner from our favorite Chinese take-out place, Zheng's Garden, and was reprimanded by the owner who I chat with but don't really know well: "No. No. No. Your women, they like steamed dumpling, not fried." The guy at The Gyros Joint knows Alison by sight and slips her extra pita when she goes in to order while Jeff stays in the car.

There are a ton of new restaurants around us and some that have been open for years without us darkening their doors. So this week while Alison was away at camp, Jeff and I had our own little vacation, which I've decided was a plate-cation. I'll be working it off for weeks, but I'm OK with it. As the former food editor of The Evansville Press used to say, patting the sides of her rotund tummy, "Every pound came from really good food." 

So we established a plan to have dinner out every night somewhere neither of us had ever been before. But on Monday, we went to Carnicerias Guanajuato In

We were turned on to this little slice of Cancun on Indy's West Side by our friend Joe Hudson. He learned of it because his aunt is a fan of flan (how do I say "blecchh" in Spanish?) and she buys it at the grocery which also houses the restaurant. Jeff and I spent many a great night in downtown Cancun back in the day with our friends Eric Yocum and Traci Wiseman. 

Walking into the grocery was like being back in the heart of that city and the restaurant just sealed the deal. I ordered the Shrimp el Diabla and our way fun waiter looked at me and shook his head and if it's possible to frown in Spanish, he did so. 

I stared him down. He stared right back. "El Diabla? Oh no, not for you," he said. 

So of course I had to insist. Jeff put his order in the hands of the waiter who was muttering things about me that I couldn't understand. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with "crazy American lady," but he was good natured about it. 

Joe had a huge burrito. The guacamole was good. There was a variety of hot sauces. The Mexican beer was great. The shrimp? Well, the shrimp were hot. Very hot. And they were living in a sauce that promised more than I could handle were I silly enough to dredge my shrimp through it. I only did that once. Jeff was too full at the end to try the flan and the bakery was closed by the time we left. 

Rating the plate: Great atmosphere. Entertaining and helpful wait staff. Good food and lots of it. Good drinks. Not expensive. We'll be back. And not just for the flan. 

Next up was Mesh. I had heard a lot of great things about this trendy place on Mass Avenue so perhaps my expectations were set too high. We're wine drinkers and Mesh likes to sell by the bottle, but we went after work and were driving home so we decided to just have a drink or two. The waiter was very nice, but he might have been new. We didn't recognize one of the fish items so we asked about it. He explained very well and I ended up ordering it. 

We must have come across as rubes because when Jeff asked his opinion about the various cuts of steak, he gave us Steak 101. FYI: the filet is the best cut and you should have it rare or medium rare. The mushroom in puff pastry was really, really good. Jeff liked the fish tacos but didn't moan over them. The tortillas from the night before were still fresh in both our minds and they were far and away better than the fancy ones that wrapped around the fish. The entrees were fine. Not bad in any way. But between people repeatedly trying to take our plates before we were done and the waiter trying to push drinks we'd already refused, it just wasn't a great experience. 

Rating the Plate: (Meh)esh. Trendy venue. Staff was pleaseant but kind of pushy. Our waiter did tell us that bottles are half-price on Sundays, which would bring one of our favorite (and hard to find lately) champagnes down to retail price. Food was fine but not exceptional. Jeff's Belgian beer and my malbec were poured without spillage. Crazy expensive given the total experience. We won't likely go back for dinner. Maybe for brunch. 

On Wednesday, we went to Flatwater with our Jasheway friends. Kirsten favors vegetarian fare and Duane (like Jeff) likes to sample beer. We'd thought we would sit outside but we couldn't get a table and that was OK because it was really hot. Of course it was hot inside, too, but the waitress was kind of fun and we were in a casual kind of mood. Jeff and Duane fell in love with the pork nachos. Like lick the plate kind of love. I had a salad so I could drink and have fries. We introduced the waitress to putting malt vinegar on the fries, which was fun. We were so stuffed we had to walk -- even in the heat -- but our ulterior motive was to end up at Brics for ice cream. (Another reason for the salad.) 

Rating the Plate: It's a great casual place and one we'll take Alison to when we get her back. Entertaining and helpful staff. Food had its really great moments and it's good moments. Nothing remotely bad. Drinks were good. Shaved about $100 off the price of Mesh. We will definitely go back. 

Brics is always good. They don't have a big diet ice cream selection so I always get the child's portion of the Death by Chocolate in a chocolate dipped cone. I'd love more but can't afford the lbs. Regular portions are enormous. Alison always wants two scoops but I think it would equate to a full pint. She says when she's an adult and away from our control, she's getting two scoops. 

On Thursday, Jeff's softball game was cancelled so instead of the snack and drinks we'd planned, we had another dinner opportunity. We tried Twenty Tap, which is within walking distance of our house and has a wide array of craft beers , and we'd been told the food was much better than you'd expect from basic bar food. Jeff was excited but we'd talked options on the way there. We'd worked later than planned so we'd agreed that if the wait was long, we'd try our luck elsewhere. The wait was 25 minutes. Not that long, really, but we moved on. And while we'll still try Twenty Tap one day, my impatience paid off. 

We ended up at Petite Chou in Broad Ripple. We're fans of its parent -- Cafe Patachou for breakfast and its sister Napolese for dinner -- but we'd never been to this place, which bills itself as a champagne bar. 

Now going in, I will admit to being a little grouchy. It was hot. I was hungry. You know the feeling, I'm sure. 

We debated buying a bottle of champagne, but we still had the issue of driving home and we have plenty of bottles of champagne at home. Jeff wanted to try their cocktails anyway so he started with a French Martini made with St. Germain. It was good but the follow up -- The Bittersweet Truth -- made with Campari, Averna Amaro and St. Germaine -- may replace our Old Maids as our favorite summer drink. I was happy with my champagne, but the cocktails were new and exciting. 

The manager, Matt Dye, came over to chat with us about the drinks, gave us the truth about the Bittersweet recipe and told us how the drink came to be. It was created by him and a colleague one night and almost tossed out as a reject. I hope he enjoyed the conversation as much as Jeff did. 

The food was fabulous. I'm not a fan of onion soup, generally, but this was great and I kept stealing Jeff's spoon. The menu includes more traditional French dinner fare, but I had a fabulous omelette and Jeff had a crepe that was really, really good. Yes, I stole that too. I did share my fries -- which were awesome as well. Here's how great it was -- even the butter was something to write home about. 

And the dessert. My god. The dessert. We were a bit lubricated by the time the dessert menu came our way and we ordered a lemon tart and a chocolate pots de creme. The tart was tart and fresh. The mousse had a sprinkle of salt between the creme and the chocolate and it was amazing. (This is an example of why I can't claim foodie status. I'm sure real foodies know all about the magic of salt and chocolate but this was new to me. Picture Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. But I wasn't faking it.. Jeff likes sea salt and carmel ice cream but that doesn't do it for me. This does.) 

Rating the Plate: The restaurant is billed as replicating a French neighborhood restaurant. I may learn French just to fit in. It's cozy but I'm guessing you'll make friends with the folks next to you if you're any fun at all. Entertaining and crazy helpful and interesting staff. Matt was very cool and Susan, our waitress, was key to making the evening flow well. The food was exceptional start to glorious finish. The drinks were very good to phenomenal. It's not inexpensive but we're value shoppers and we don't mind paying for greatness. Even at that, this was our second-most expensive bill -- and a far better experience than the most expensive. We will definitely go back. 

On Friday, Jeff played poker and to be honest, my gastrointestinal system needed a break. I had a drink with some friends and then went home, mowed the back yard, took a shower and had a salad in front of the television in my pajamas. 

Rating the Plate: The venue was private, exclusive even. The wait staff was efficient and helpful and the guilty pleasure television was all the entertainment a girl could hope for. The food was perfect in its simplicity. The iced-tea was lovely. The price was the best bargain of the week. I will definitely go back.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Alone again

Our house is quiet again and the only difference between when Alison first abandoned us and this time is that I seem to be hale and healthy.

So it's Date Night every night this week. Watch out world.

Ali had been packed for her week at Flat Rock River Camp since Thursday, and this morning she was sitting in the car waiting for us, having put all of her belongings in the trunk.  I'm proud of her independent spirit but a little foot-dragging would not have been unappreciated.

She did take a few occasions to this week to sneak in an extra hug or two, and before she got all raring to go, she did snuggle a bit with us. We killed time watching recorded episodes of The Big Bang Theory -- she is enamoured with Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler.

It's all fun until she uses a Sheldon line in response to The Captain asking her a question to which a "bazinga" type response can be used. 

"I'm fairly certain that Sheldon did not respond to his father that way," she was informed the other day.

I found it amusing.

Ali and Jeff were on their own Saturday night when my Book Club had a sleepover at the Downtown Sheraton. It's a fairly nice (needs a bit of work) hotel on the circle downtown. We were celebrating Niki's birthday and the good weather in general. We'd camped out at the pool, which had an awesome view of the Circle and a fair amount of friendlies in the pool.

All was going well -- we had at least a bottle of champagne for each Book Clubber -- until Kate noticed her flip flops were AWOL. We nearly had to tie her down when decided they'd been stolen. Let me just say that Carrie Bradshaw has nothing on Kate Shepherd.

Somehow we made it through the night. Jeff and Alison had a less crime-ridden evening complete with a bike ride for Fazoli's breadsticks and ice cream downtown where Jeff noticed a group of young girls -- fancy that -- needing a photog to memorialize their outing.

Apparently the girls were grateful and Alison thought Jeff was a knight in shining armour. At one point he had them move to get a trash can out of the shot, which also got a club bouncer who was trying to photo bomb, out of the shot. Alison didn't see the trash can and thought Jeff was referring to the bouncer when he said they didn't need a trash can in the shot.

She thought that was hysterical, too. 

So we'll all have fun in our separate corners this week. Hope you do, too.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Return of the Princess

Against all odds, Alison came home to us after a week in heaven AKA Jen and Peter's lake house.

Before she'd landed, Jen was already making plans for next year's visit, and while Alison was clearly happy to see us, she had had a truly great trip. 

She caught two fish, though Uncle Peter baited her hook for her. She kayaked and tubed across the lake. She drove the boat. She made cupcakes twice and helped or assisted with a few meals. She shopped. She got to see most of her Maine family at least a time or two. She even got to swim with Uncle James. Uncle David reportedly just stood on the dock, wiping sweat and cursing at the heat.
Thursday was rainy all day so she packed for home, not because she was anxious, but "because she didn't want to waste any sunshine" when it cleared up.

She did not shower. At all.

Like I said, heaven.

Jennifer claims that she swam nearly every day in the lake and as the shower water is lake water, it's not like she wasn't clean. I submit that as there was no bar of of soap with her as she swam, no shampoo or conditioner, it's not exactly the same thing. (Side note to Jasonville friends and family: even Veronica Hamilton brought her bar of Ivory to the stripper pit...)

My evidence that not showering was a coup for Alison Reed is that as we walked from the gate, the first thing my truly wild-haired child did was ask me to smell her. "Do I smell good, Mom?" she asked.

Sensing a trick, I asked her what Bath and Body Works spray she'd used.  "None," she said. "But I didn't shower all week!"

It reminded me of the time I was sick and Jeff was on duty and he forgot to bathe her. "It's OK, Mom," said my 6-or-so year-old. "I Febreezed myself."

I think it's going to take a boy to make her shower regularly.

The shower issue (they were clearly taken advantage of ) notwithstanding, Jen and Peter have earned huge gold stars. She had a great, great time and I'm certain stockpiled a cach of memories that she'll trot out when she's telling her grandchildren stories of her summers in Maine.

-- Catching a "big-mouthed bass" was super awesome.
-- Dealing with the worm was not.
-- "You should hear the loons, mom. They're all over the lake here."
-- Hiking up and down Mount Battie was fun even with a blister.
-- "I kayaked across the lake all by myself. I only tipped over once."

-- "We went shopping, Dad, and I almost bought you a beer foamy holder thingie that said. "I'm the Captain and the Captain is Always Right" but it was $7 and you don't really drink beer out of a can and the bottle one was $9 and I didn't think you would use it so much that it would have been a good thing to spend my money on."  (Grandpa Reed is so proud -- I just know it.)

She discovered Jen's love of 80s music and informed us that she really liked only two songs and that when they got into the car again, Jen informed her that she wasn't allowed to play only those two songs over and over and over.

Our week alone started out with grown-up drinks at The Libertine and then a party with our Bunconian friends made special by a visit from Espie and Larry, who now live near Dallas. But then I got sick and was no fun for the next several days.

I revived a bit on Thursday and we had a fun night out that started with seeing "The Heat" and then a bit of shopping and modeling -- a little reward for the long-suffering captain who'd taken good care of me when I wasn't feeling well. 

Later, in a bit of unplanned fun, we were watching the Macy's fireworks along with Jen, Peter and Ali. Ali was less impressed than I was that Miranda and Blake's "America the Beautiful" was featured. But it was fun to text with her and share the fireworks.

We had dinner out Friday after we picked her up we toasted to Auntie Jen and Uncle Peter. Yesterday,  we went south for fireworks in person at Aunt Donna's where we saw most of my family. It was a lot of fun catching up but it made for a late night.

Today has been somewhat lazy, though Ali and I did bike over to the Glendale Town Center and ended up with another milestone shopping event -- I'll just say it was lingerie for her. She's very pleased --though totally embarrassed to have had to carry her try-on merchandise to the fitting room. Is she in need of support? Not really.

But I figure when a girl thinks she's ready, she's close enough to ready merit a shopping trip. The captain disagrees. And in this instance, the beer foamy holder thingie is definitely off the mark.

So says the queen.