Saturday, October 31, 2015

Peaks & Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I was all in angst about Alison and her unwavering commitment to growing up and being her own damn person.

I know every parent and every teen goes through this peak and valley kind of thing, so what makes our problems so much bigger than everybody else's? In my best Ally McBeal paraphrase: "They're ours."

And, I'm happy to report that we're out of the valley and approaching what I hope will be a big, long peak.


Alison is the biggest user of our data plan so when we get messages from AT&T that we're in danger of eclipsing our plan, the Captain heads straight to the redhead. By biggest user, I mean her Internet, Spotify and movie downloading generally uses 3/4 of our limit.  So her surfing wings have been clipped until the new cycle begins.

I asked her to look something up for me on our way home from school. She asked for my phone. In response to my inquiry, she said she wasn't using hers unless she was on a wifi network. I said I thought we had a little room. She declined and used my phone.

"Dad's gonna kill me if I use any more data," she said.

I laughed. "Oh come one. The worst he'll do is take your phone and iPad," I said.

She looked at me. "I know. He's gonna kill me."

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur with both Jeff and I crazy at work. Ali had mid-terms. She thought she did well on them, and I'd have to say that high school so far has been a great success. Parent-teacher conferences were due but work kept both of us away.

So I emailed all of her teachers, explaining we weren't deadbeat parent; just busy ones. I gave them each a bit of what I was experiencing from her and asked if they'd reply via email - at their convenience - if they had concerns, issues or accolades to offer.

Here's a great thing about Herron High School and it's teachers: "their convenience" was nearly instantaneous, within hours at the latest. I was really expecting something over the next several days as most other parents would have made a way to have these visits in person.

Alison's teachers are finding her "a delight" "a hoot," "a sarcastic wit" a welcome presence in class and a great kid to have around. Except when she doesn't get her work done in class. She might need to be challenged in Honors Algebra -- she didn't get that from me -- but all in all, she's having a great freshman introduction.

She's making great new friends and her independent nature is being fed quite well. She had an unusually low test score in one class that I wanted to talk about more deeply than she did. I let it slide over dinner then came back to it. She ended up going to bed early and I was conflicted about whether to see what was up. I let it go.

She went to bed, Jeff went to work downstairs and I went to watch bad TV in my bedroom. It wasn't 10 minutes before she came rushing in, crying and laid across my lap. It took me while to even understand what she was saying.  "I've been so mean to you! I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I was taken aback because we were well beyond the occasion when she came slightly close to being mean and even then, it was just being 14, not malicious. She had spent a large part of the day with Hannah Ogden, and I don't know what all they talked about but I suspect it might have covered some of our somewhat troubled ground. (Remind me to send Hannah a gift.)

Also, she'd been listening to a play list that happened to include, somehow, "You are my Sunshine." I used to sing that (badly) to her when she was tiny. It is, apparently, some sort of guilt-laced trip wire of past gloriousness. All I know is, she came in to snuggle a bit before going back to bed, apologizing for sins I'm not aware of nor need to be.

Last night, we went to a Pumpkin Slashing party hosted by the Horlanders, who've had the party for years for the boys in Ali's CKS class. Last year was the first time Alison had been invited -- she was the only girl to ever be invited and they had had a great time.

She had reservations about going, though she clearly wanted to. She even gave up going over to Asher's house to do it. She walked in and it was like a "Cheer's" episode with her playing the part of Norm. Nick, Nathan, Ty, Lindy, and gaggle of other boys were there.

She wore her father's Army hat and jacket with green pants and a camp tank top. Costume of the night, though, was either Tom's Star Trek uniform or Drew as a knight with real chain mail and period helmet.

It was a fun night and from all appearances seemed like nothing had changed among the group except for everyone being a bit taller.

"That's just wrong, Mom," she said later. "I'm supposed to be taller than some of them and Rylan's voice got deeper too. It's just wrong."

This morning, she slept in while Jeff and I ran to the Broad Ripple Farmer's market where we were at the Lee Orchard apple stand chattering away. I stepped back a bit and saw a guy I knew I knew but couldn't place.'

We chatted a bit. I petted his puppy and recommended he try the apple cider ice cream at the Lic's booth. After a while he said, "I don't know if you remember me but I'm Clay Taylor."

I confessed. "I know we've met, but..."

"I was on Coach Reed's basketball team," he said and instantly I placed him. When Jeff and I were first dating, he coached for Immaculate Heart of Mary. His group was largely the same over three years or so and we had the best time with the boys and the parents.

It's not uncommon for us to be some where and hear, "Coach!" and it's one of those boys from those or their parents and it's alway something that stays with you a while.

Ali wasn't born yet when Jeff was coaching so the "boys" are all grown up now, so I think I should be forgiven for not recognizing Clay right way. He introduced us to his wife, for goodness sake, and he's about to join his father's dental practice. He's a man! They're all men. But the photo below is how I will forever see them.

Clay is at the top. The Miller boys are the twins. One of those poor boys is the one Jeff made run so much that his mother protested. He has flat feet, she said. He shouldn't have to run so much. "Ma'am, he may have flat feet, but if he's gonna play ball for me, he's gonna run," Jeff responded.

At some point during their seasons, we got married and word trickled to me that the team fully expected to attend our wedding. "Of course they should!" I said.  Some of the moms were appalled and thought they had overstepped.

I thought it was an enormous tribute to the coach and they were among the highlights of the event.

Speaking of the coach, the captain, Jeffrey Merle Reed: he had a birthday on the 29th. We celebrated - sort of - at a work event at Hotel Tango and of course our traditional morning present drop. We'll do more later tonight. And I think we'll be checking back in to HT early and often in the coming weeks and years.

Today, leaving the market, he said to me, "I got a thank you card and letter from my sister."

"A thank you note? I said. For what?"

I usually know what's going on in the family, and I was pretty sure if anyone had done anything remotely worth a thank you for Jen, it had not been the Captain.

"Listen," he said. "Sometimes when the words don't make sense, you should just go with it."

Hmmm. Words to live by. We're off to Halloween stuff now. Alison's actual Halloween costume will be revealed later. I'm still trying to decide if I should have hired bodyguards for her. She's off with Herron friends, Asher and Asher's friends.

I'm a little spooked.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


I took time off work to hang out with Alison during her Fall Break. I'd pictured us taking advantage of the beautiful weather by biking all over the neighborhood.

Biking to BR Nails for pedicures, then to lunch somewhere in Broad Ripple or maybe all the way up to Carmel via the Monon. She has a homecoming dance soon and I was hoping we'd have some fun shopping for that -- incorporating bike trips to Macy's or Marshalls or the vintage shops sprinkled in between.

I forgot that she's a teenager now.

"Why would we bike?" she asked?  "I think I'd rather stay here and sleep."

It was 10 a.m. Maybe 11. I'd just walked back from 55th and Keystone where I'd left my beloved Mustang in the hands of Mike at Edwards Transmission. The car's get up had gone a while ago and I feared a huge problem. Mike was great, theorized a bit and assured me he'd get right on it. His 2010 Mustang convertible had been T-boned a while back and he still had traces of the grief in his eyes. I thought it was in good hands.

So I was energized when I got home. I'd texted ahead and even gotten her to start my coffee. I knew I'd need caffeine when I sprang my plan on her. She's a wily one. But her toes were in bad shape and the dance approacheth.

"Why?," she asked again. "Do we need to bike? Dad left you his car."

I agreed that the car was right there but it was for emergencies. "It's a great day. Let's ride up and then maybe shop for an outfit for the dance."

"I have plenty of clothes," said she. "I don't need to shop. And I'm NOT wearing a dress."

Pete the Planner and the frugal captain might have rejoiced at those words, but this is her first high school dance. The first dance she's ever expressed an interest in attending. She skipped all the catholic "gatherings" and had to be tricked into the father-daughter Girl Scout dance.

Come to think of it, I might have tricked him, too. No matter.

I caved in on the biking to BR Nails, thinking we could drive up to Castleton and spend a few hours shopping. She suggested the Glendale Target instead. We compromised on Macy's for the outfit and Target for some candles.

Off we set, successfully shopped via car, but when we got home, the 3-wick candle I bought would only catch one flame. Then, we discovered one of the garments we bought still had the clunky plastic tag on it. It was late afternoon, though, and we were making dinner, so I decided to move my bike plan to Friday.

You might think it's not easy to bike carrying a defective 3-wick candle, but I managed it. I also stuffed in her still-tagged outfit and the receipts and money we'd need. First stop Target where it was easy to get a credit and then Macy's where the clerks waved off the need of proof of purchase.

"You two were in here yesterday weren't you?" the check-out clerk said. This was not the same clerk we'd rung out with. It's possible I was wearing the same clothes as I wore Thursday, but still, I was a little curious as to why she didn't think we could be shoplifters.

At our puzzled looks, she said, "I remember that beautiful hair."

We smile. Minutes before, in the Target customer service line, a strawberry blond woman with a fragrant toddler had asked me if we were both natural redheads. I just smiled because, WTH lady. I don't ask people if they're naturally chubby. Why be so personal? I don't lie about my hair. I just don't feel the need to confess all to perfect strangers.

So Ali of course, as she always does, tells the nice stranger that SHE, Ali, is a natural but I'm not. The woman is annoyed with me - visibly - for not having corrected her. I'm about to point out that her kid might need a refresh when she gets called to the counter. Anyway, back to Macy's.

Compliments politely acknowledged and tag off, we went back out to the bikes.

I tell Ali that if she had planned a life of crime, she'll have to give it up because criminals have to be able to blend, to be forgettable. With her hair, she'll never be incognito.

"Do you want to me lead a life of crime?" she asks.

"Well, no, I'm just saying."

We ran into Hannah Ogden on our way to another store. It was fun to see her and we chatted about the night's upcoming surprise party for her mom's birthday and off we went to Walgreen's where I planned to buy a gag gift for Karin as suggested by her co-workers. She's always losing her reading glasses so we planned to gift her with enough she couldn't ever lose them.

If you've never shopped for readers at Walgreens, here's a clue. They're at the end of an aisle which offers on one side hair care products and on the other an amazing array of more intimate items.  I know this because I was deep into figuring out the proper magnification of the glasses I wanted to buy when I hear, "That's a LOT of condoms."

Right. Trojans have come a long way over the years. Alison read off some of the more interesting specialty items they offer now. Then, she came to the lotions and "Uh, Mom. Is it legal to have something like that in a store like this?"

Walgreens is selling a vibrator now. Right there in the magic lotion section next to the condoms. Just around the corner from the glasses for old people.

"I'm sure it's legal," I said. "Why, were you thinking you needed something like that?"

She was appropriately horrified then said, "I think Dad would have a heart attack if I came home with something like that."

We ended our drugstore shopping with just the readers, thank you. We were heading home with my backpack lighter one big-ass candle so I suggested we lengthen our ride.

"Why?!" she said. "Let's just go home."

"Why should we go home? It's a beautiful day. We're young and healthy. Let's keep riding. Why do you want to go home?"

"Because home is where the TV is," she said, pedaling hard like a field horse who could smell the hay in the barn.

I sighed and gave in again. On Friday, she slept in again. I attempted to get her to run errands with me but she clearly wanted to laze about. I got her into the car and even started out, thinking she'd come around by the time we got to our destination. No go.

Annoyed, I turned the car around, planning to set her free in the driveway.

"Are you sure," she asked? 

She was struggling with not wanting to hurt my feelings but really not wanting to hang out with me unless it involved us being at home, likely in separate rooms. I was struggling with knowing she's growing up and needs her own space. But dammit, I'd taken time off to be with her! The ungrateful wretch! When she was little, we would have been a fabulous time together.

These days, if I can't fully appreciate the nuances of the 654th episode of South Park for the day, she considers me uneducated. So in she goes and off I go, doing my chores. Alone.

I got home, later than I'd wanted, barely in time for us to get to Karin's surprise party. We go -- she peels off to be with her friends -- as she should -- and we each have a great time. It's impossible to not have a good time around the Ogdens.

On the way home she leans over and says, "I'm glad we came. This was fun."

Sigh. She's still my little girl. Kind of.

Saturday was a rush of getting my car back -- thank you Mike! -- hair appointments and YAT before she babysat. An unsolicited hug here and there. Chinese food on the way home -- eating a few dumplings in the car because we can't help ourselves. Laughing over my driving skills as I get used to a clutch that's working perfectly and causing me to stall out occasionally.

Jeff and I walked Ali to her baby sitting gig here in the neighborhood. Heading back home without her, he said, "You know, it's not going to be too much longer until it's just you and me. Walking just like this like we did 18 years ago."

I didn't choke up. I didn't wail. It's an inevitable truth. And it's not like I don't enjoy my time with the captain. We had a great date night last night.

But this parenting thing is hard. I don't have pets because they die and I don't want to have to face that. How did I ever get talked into being a parent when you raise the little beast intentionally giving it the strength and courage and tools to leave your ass behind? What kind of a sick process is this?!

All I can do is brace myself and hope she'll drift back to me from time to time. In the meantime, I have one more day of fall break.

If she ever gets up, we're going to have  F.U.N. Whether she likes it or not. :)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My favorite SIL

OK, it may be true that she's currently my ONLY sister-in-law but she would have been top of the list even before she shared this recipe.

I should make it a secret family recipe -- it's really that good -- but that would be like hiding fine art or country music. The world needs these things. Also, the more YOU all eat, the less apparent my pumpkin-like shape will be.

The Only Cookie You Need in the Fall:

2 eggs
1 29 ounce can pumpkin
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
4.5 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp each of:
baking soda
at least one package of chocolate chips
nuts (optional)

Combine the wet stuff with the sugar: (eggs, pumpkin, oil, vanilla, milk) Blend well. Add dry stuff. I usually stir in the chips last and keep aside a portion of the batter to add nuts so I don't have them all with nuts. (I find it nuts that people don't like the nuts, but to each his own.)

The batter will be wetter than you think it should be, but don't worry. Drop in lumps, but don't get too big. They're pretty rich if you do it right. They should stand up rather than spread out.

Spray your cookie sheet with Pam or a substitute. Bake at 350 for 11 minutes. Don't let the bottoms get too brown.

They're fabulous right out of the oven and the chocolate won't scar even though you think it might burn a hole right through your tongue. It's well worth the pain. They're also good with a dip or six of ice cream next to them.

The recipe makes a lot of cookies. Especially if you are a responsible sizer. I recommend sharing or resigning yourself to shopping for a larger size. But remember: it's pumpkin so it's healthy and practically the law for this time of year.

For those of you who can't help yourselves, I used Truvia instead of sugar, whole wheat flour in equal parts with white flour. I wanted to use an oil substitute but wasn't brave enough. Next time I'll try half oil and half applesauce, a trick I learned from Cindy Athey.

But this is a post in honor of one Jennifer Lynn Reed Chase. My favorite sister-in-law now and forever. With or without pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. (But especially with...)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Screw Time. Time Doesn't Matter

So the other day at work, I'm holding the door from some guests who can't otherwise get into the key-coded doors. I'm a little distracted because I need to get in there to do a little work but, you know, I'm being polite to the outsiders.

I didn't pay them much attention, just smiled and welcomed them in and turned to get to my business when I heard: "Cheryl Bickel?!"

That's a name I haven't heard in, oh, say 24 years or so. I turn. Lo and behold it's my friend Vicki Burdick who I'd seen last in Evansville, Indiana.

"Vicki Burdick?! What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here, Cheryl Bickel?"

Turns out, Vicki works with Meals on Wheels, one of several local non-profits that Angie's List was giving its first foundation grants to. We hadn't seen each other since she left Evansville where she'd run a downtown development group and I was the city hall reporter for The Evansville Press.

How cool is Karma?

We were great friends. Super friends. BFFs before the acronym came to be. Separated when her husband got a promotion and they moved back to Carmel. A few year passed before I moved to Indianapolis, then a few more after that I got married and changed my name. I don't know how we lost touch, but we did.

What was super weird was just that morning I was trying to decide what to wear and while I was in my closet I'd thought of Vicki. She used to wear patterned business suits all the time with a patterned shell underneath. For some reason that fascinated me as I'd thought one pattern meant you couldn't wear another but she made it work and it was great. (This was before I became a Joan Ranger and developed my fashion sense from Fashion Police. Cutting edge. That's me.)

Anyway, the years just melted away and we descended into our 20-soomething gibberish, examined each others photo gallery and caught up. We've been chattering ever since.

She actually put it best in a Twitter post "When you see a great friend you haven't seen i 24 years and it feels like it's only been 24 hour!"

I'm lucky to have several friends who fall into this category. You know who you are.

I feel blessed every time I run into them and every time I wish I was better at making time to see them more. Rather than wallow in the friendship guilt, I'm just going to take what I can when I can and say "Screw Time!" Time doesn't matter. It's a quality v. quantity thing here."

Vicki and I will be solving more world problems over drinks on Mass Ave. Tuesday evening if you want to join in.

In other news, Alison and her Young Actors Theatre group performed small skits on the Soldiers & Sailors Monument Circle Saturday. It was gray and drizzly and cold but they did a great job entertaining the passersby and promoting their upcoming productions.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Biking and Bladder Control

The last time I crashed my bike in a spectacular way, I was with Jeff and Ali on the Canal Tow Path and I went straight down into a deep ditch on the waterless side of the dirt path. Engrossed in counting turtles, they kept going and I had to drag my leaf-strewn, bruised and bloody body back up to the path. Alison was probably 8 or 10.

I was probably 12 or so the other time I remember crashing. I was riding my sister's 10-speed -- likely without permission -- down the road from my parent's house. A crazy dog was chasing me and I was trying to dodge it. I finally escaped him by sliding off the road entirely, over a ditch and under the electric fence that surrounded a field separating Charlie Wilson's house from the Johnsons.

Across from that field lived the Millers. And on this sunny afternoon, my father was in the front yard talking over or working on a small renovation at the Miller house. The dog was loud. The crash fairly spectacular. Much like the tow path incident, though, my impending doom must have muted me.

This is what I remember hearing in the eery silence as I twitched a bit from the combination of nearly being ripped to shreds by some slobbering mongrel and the combination of an electric charged fence reacting to me having lost all control of my youthful bladder.

"Ain't that your youngest girl, Don?"


"She alright?"

"Looks like it."

"That fence live?"

"Don't look like it."

This exchange occurred between two grown men. Fathers the both of them, who stood stock still watching first the chase then the sight of a young girl tangled up in an electric fence. Not to mention the damn killer dog.

Remember that I grew up with two thug brothers. Crying only worsened whatever ill had befallen you when they were around. Usually they were a large part of the ill. While they weren't around to be blamed for this particular incident, my father was also a faithful subscriber to the No Crying Club. We didn't see a doctor unless the blood wouldn't stop or a bone protruded.

If I could demonstrate the ability to extricate the bike and myself on my own, it would be clear that I had passed some sort of test. So of course that's what I did. I don't know where the dog went, but I went home. My father apparently finished whatever he was doing.

I thought of that crash today when I braved the chilly weather and a bit of rain to fulfill an obligation to my friend Karin Ogden whose work team is involved in some crazy competition about demonstrating love of riding bicycles. I almost didn't go. It was really cold. But I'd said I would do my part so I dug out my ear muffs, bundled up and got out on the Monon Trail on my trusty bike.

I set an alarm on my phone so I'd know when to turn around. I mean, I love Karin and I will fulfill my obligation but I'm not going to risk frostbite to do it any longer than I need to. So there I was, counting the minutes and wondering how far I'd gone.

Part of the biking challenge is to take a picture while you're biking and to report in. So I pulled out my phone, thinking I'd take a picture of the other folks on the trail and pair it with a quippy line about how I was surprised I wasn't the only one out in this chilly weather. This grand inspiration came as I was approaching an intersection and a car was approaching from the left. So I had to brake.

It might be possible to take photo with one hand while braking a bike with the other, but I will never know. Because when I did it, I over-braked. And that made the bike jerk to a stop. Which made me almost drop my phone. But I didn't want to drop my phone on the asphalt, so I stopped braking to get a more secure grip on my phone. Which made the bike fall over. That chain of events might make a woman of a certain age who's had a child lose her grip on another part of her body. Maybe. It was raining, so who can say, really?

My little accident happened just before the intersection, still on the trail so I wasn't in danger of getting run over by a car. I was wearing all black like a ninja but somehow the real cyclists on the other side of the street still saw me. They were kind enough to inquire about me as they rode by. I was upright by this time, securing my phone in a pocket and retying my shoe, clearly in no need of assistance. But it was nice to be asked.

Anyway, I limped home, showered and ran a load of darks all the while grateful there are no electric fences along the Monon Trail. Now I'm going to record my ride. I don't think the #LovetoRide folks have a trophy for this kind of challenge but I think they might need to consider it.