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.