Sunday, November 29, 2015

And so this is Christmas

We have strict rule about Christmas around our house: no decorations can go up before Thanksgiving is over. But with Alison off all week last week and me off Wednesday, we violated it a little bit.

Defying her father, Alison broke out Jeff's legendary X-marks the Spot collection of Christmas music in early November and has been blasting it every chance she gets. He grumbled about it but was not-so-secretly pleased.  And on the way home from Aunt Donna's house, he blasted it in the car.

If you happened to be traveling I-70 Thursday evening, you might have heard us singing along to Snoopy v. the Red Baron, by the Royal Guardsmen one of my favorites, or some of the classics.

The CD collection pre-dates Ali and my appearance in Jeff's life. He started it with cassette tapes for his family, which explain the alternative stuff and the 80's classics for Jen and James and the classics for Gary and Marian.

There's a bit of everything in there, a lot of classics with a bit of a twist or two, classics straight up, some reggae, calypso and hip-hop. Elvis and Bing Crosby are well represented, along with country (for me) rock, jazz and bits from comedy albums and Christmas-themed shows and movies.  There's even some Wiggles and Crazy Frog (for Ali from Christmases past.) Ali and Jeff like to torment me by twanging out to some of the country songs.  

I take heart that Alison can identify all of the country artists even as she claims disdain: "That's Alan Jackson," she'll say before starting in with a sound somewhere between a yodel and a howl when he hits the honky tonk part of "Honky Tonk Christmas."She skips Toby Keith's "Santa I'm right here" because it makes her cry.

Each of us has  trigger song. For Jeff on the way home it was "White Christmas." As it ended,  he said something like, "That'll do it for WMPG. Gram if you're out there, this is for you."  Then he told us the story of when he was DJing in college, his shift happened to be the last one before Christmas break. He ended the session with this song for his grandmother then went home to find her crying in the living room, so touched that he was thinking of her.

Alison is trying to get Jeff to work together on a new CD but he's been working too much lately to do it. I can't decide if it'll be a great collaboration or will be one long fight. She has no idea the hours he put into those things. He used to start in August. On the other hand, it would be fun to watch. For a while.

We had a great Thanksgiving. It rained for most of it so the inside of the house is fully decorated. Jenna's coming over soon -- if Team Tokash ever wakes up -- and we might get out in the yard to do the rest. We have a 6-foot-tall inflatable Godzilla (Thank you Eric & Tracy) that Alison is determine to turn into Santa.  I have a fine place for it on the back porch. Or back yard. Or back in the box where it's lived since our wedding.

We had planned to re-gift it back to the Yokam-Wisemans but clearly failed in that mission. There's still time... Part of our Thanksgiving tradition is Friday night dinner with the Jacksons. Ali was three or four when we started this, and I wouldn't have blamed either Patrick or Patricia with being a little leery of having dinner with us and a toddler. Ali is as much in love with them as they are with her, though, and there were times last night when I thought she might just sneak off with them instead of coming home with us.

Part of my mission this holiday break was to back up my tons of digital photos, to finish some homework I have to do and get the house decorated. I got lost for a bit in the shots of Ali and her friends as little tykes  but I'm about 80 percent there, so I'm feeling pretty good.

We have too many pumpkin chocolate chip cookies leftover from Thanksgiving. And Jimmy sent us home with a pumpkin roll so it's been an exercise in discipline, which I've largely failed.

For Thanksgiving I tried a new dish that paired roasted Brussel sprouts with butternut squash, pecans and cranberries. It didn't look much like the photo Lisa posted and I might have been the only one to eat it. I figure the fiber count alone negated some of the cookies.

So today, I'm thankful for sweater weather. And fabulous friends and family. Possibly not in that order.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving with a side of guilt

Like most of us, I often let myself get bogged down in third world problems.
  • How to get the photos off my phone and onto the backup hard drive 
  • Is it time to tell Alison to stop with the full-bellied laughs over South Park that the neighbors can hear
  • Frustrations at work 
And then I open the paper to find stories like this and I realize how fortunate I am to be born in the U.S. where the most we do to inappropriately dressed people is put them on a People of Walmart post or, if the perpetrators are in LA, bow to their fame and beauty.

It's so easy to ignore the news or tell yourself "It can't happen here," "It doesn't really affect me" "I don't need to know that." I'm a bit of a news junkie and I almost put down the paper this morning and turned to TMZ to distract myself.

My problems are not real!
  • My friend Google and I could do it if I was the damn administrator or knew our IT codes. As it is, I just need to get them from the Captain. Think about that: my only restriction to the Internet is my own ignorance. In countries right now, people could be whipped or killed in a public square for violating limits on use and going to sites where others deem they shouldn't go. We're not talking porn or criminal activity. Meanwhile, they kidnap women for troop entertainment.
  • Alison is a kid. Table manners aside, her laughter lights my world and I should revel in every note.
  • Frustrations aside, I have a good job. Heck. I have a job. Lots of people don't and wish they did. 
It's so easy to get overwhelmed today. So many choices, too little time or energy. As we go into this Thanksgiving week and the holidays to come, I'm going to try really hard to do a better job of appreciating my place in this world. I would like to say I'm going to do something that will change the fortunes of people who have real problems. I don't know yet what that would be.

My charitable contributions generally go closer to home; organizations I'm either involved in or close to that help people and kids in my backyard. I support politicians who put humanity ahead of ideology. I try to set a good example.

I'm feeling really unhelpful to the world right now as I sit in my warm house in my warm clothes with more food and drink on hand than I need with a healthy, beautiful, smart kid who's streaming video and howling at the antics of animated 4th graders. I have a healthy, employed husband out playing basketball and anticipating an afternoon of The Red Zone football.

I don't know what I can or will do to help others in the future; who those others might be or where they might live. I'm pretty sure I can stop complaining about how difficult my life is, though. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My daughter the barbarian

We were so proud of Alison, whose first high school report card was stellar. Honors classes; one teacher said she thought she might need more challenging math; another said she was a delight; and one more said she was a hoot.

And then this week came Etiquette class. You all know that I was raised in the woods by wolves, but the Captain had great instruction from his mother, a highly proper Maine lady. If we had a nickel for every time he's told her "Sit up straight at the table," "That's too big a bite," "Get your elbows off the table," or "Eat like a person," we'd be swimming in coins.

And yes, this is the same Captain Reed who once showed me how he and James used to eat french fries "like a trout" which meant "No hands, Ma!"

Anyway, she knows good and well how to properly behave at the dinner table. So when we were being indoctrinated into the Herron High School lifestyle and they talked about etiquette lessons during their Thanksgiving lunches, I was unconcerned.

I think she flunked it, though. As in, sub-zero scoring. As in, she'd fit right in among my siblings where it was every kid for himself and you were lucky to leave the table without bite marks on your forearm.

To hear her tell it, it  began with unfortunate seating. "I sat right beside lady who teaches the class," she said. "She was kind of scary."

This is no five-minute lecture on how not to slurp your soup. It's a professional etiquette course taught by Christe Pate Herron.  Now, remember, Ali knows how to behave. All I can imagine is she had some kind of mental breakdown.

"There were three forks but all we had was salad, mashed potatoes, green beans and turkey," Alison said. "There was no way I needed all those forks."

The meal began with the kids being told how to properly fold and lay their napkins on their laps. Used to paper napkins beside her plate, this exercise apparently took a toll on Alison as she managed to get the napkin on her lap but then immediately forgot it was there.

She had her eye on  the rolls and the turkey but was instructed that you pass the food to your right, only taking it when it comes back to you.

"You do that and all the good stuff is gone," complained my delicate flower. "The teacher did that and all that was left for her was crumbs. She didn't have hardly any food at all!"

Like her mother, Alison loves bread. She'd taken a huge bite of her roll just as Ms. Herron was telling everyone about proper bite sizes.  Ms. Herron's eyes met Alison's as she downed a full 2/3 of the buttery roll.

A super fan of gravy, Alison took issue with the delivery system. "There was a spoon in the gravy boat," she said. "A spoon! I told everyone that it was a gravy boat and you were supposed to pour from it. There shouldn't have been a spoon in it at all but she didn't listen. And I had to fish the spoon out of the gravy boat a couple of times."

"You at least used your knife when it came to the turkey, didn't you?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No. I didn't really need it."

I gulped. "You didn't stuff huge wads into your mouth, did you?"

"Well. Um. Probably not. I could cut it with a fork like with egg foo young," she said. "And everyone thought I was crazy when I put gravy on my turkey. But who eats turkey without gravy?"

I asked if she at least kept up polite conversation with her dinner companions. "Well, I told the teacher she kind of scared me," she said.

Any inroads she'd made with Ms. Pate were likely eroded when, in a flashback to the buttery roll incident, she was wiping the gravy off her mouth with her sleeve when she next caught Ms. Pate's eye.

I asked her why she hadn't used her napkin.

"Well, I totally forgot it was there," she said.

At least she didn't entertain the table with stories of squirrel as the main course. I'm hoping academics will outweigh etiquette when it comes time for graduation.

out gravy?"

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Heroes among us

Sometimes I'm amazed at the great people I know. And disappointed in how I sometimes take them for granted.

Thank goodness for Karin Ogden who reminded me about this last week without even knowing it. The great person in this scenario is Betty Cockrum, who heads the Indiana-Kentucky Planned Parenthood operations.

I've known Betty for a long time. She was a key player in the O'Bannon administration and joined Planned Parenthood after our time in the sun was temporarily dimmed. Betty doesn't come from great wealth or one of those families who run their corner of the world. She's made her way in this world on her own chutzpah and charm. She was born with extra measure of each.

I know some of you automatically connect her organization with abortion, and I know some of you are opposed to that procedure. You know that I adamantly prefer abortion over abuse. And sure, adoption is a wonderful alternative, no question. If only we had as many people actively engaged in that effort...

What you might not know is that abortion is a tiny fraction of what Planned Parenthood does and I know dozens, hundreds probably, of women who've received crucial (non-abortion-related) services from this organization. It's important. It's needed. And I'll advocate for it to anyone, anywhere anytime.

So when I had an opportunity to attend a small fundraiser, I invited some friends. Karin and Hannah Ogden joined Alison and me. We ran into great friends there and made some new ones. And it was there that Karin inadvertently and virtually smacked me upside the head:  "I want to introduce you to a really great woman," she said to Hannah, introducing her to Betty.

I know Betty is a great woman. Ali has chatted with her a bunch of times. I think Betty -- creator of the Redheads for O'Bannon group -- has a special affection for my little one. Not just because of her hair, but because she and the other Skirts were there for me when I had her. And the issues that came before Alison's arrival.

But I don't think I ever adequately described her to Alison. To Ali, she's just Betty; a friend of Mom's.

Ali and I talked a little bit about Betty and the challenges facing Planned Parenthood on the way home from the event. Per her usual, Ali volunteered to stand watch at Betty's house to protect her from anyone who'd protest against her there. She understands that no one celebrates abortion, but that everyone deserves good health care. And in those instances when abortion is the choice, that it should be done in a medically safe way. Am I indoctrinating Ali into my liberal world? Probably.

But this is the kid who spent nine years in catholic school without assuming the party line. I think she'd push back.

Alison also met my friend Helen Small recently. She's Bobby Small's wife and a strong woman who made her mark in the arts community. Ali met Helen in the most trying of circumstances: while Bobby was in ICU at Methodist Hospital but like me, years before, fell instantly in love with her.

I never really thought much about this 'It takes a village' kind of thing but I think I'm getting it now as Alison is really becoming a young, independent woman. I'm fortunate my village has tons of awesome, strong, funny, smart women she can learn from. I need to do a better job making sure Ali recognizes their strength.

Speaking of fine young women, Hannah Ogden is constantly amazing me. She's two years ahead of Ali, and I remember back when Ali and Alex were thick as thieves in their toddler days. We didn't really know Hannah much. I was planning on having Alex over when Hannah became available as well and was interested in coming along. We had the best time and it led to Hannah always being invited.

We had awesome summers with the three of them. Now, she drives and has a boyfriend and a job. She's so near an adult that it hurts. But she's still sweet Hannah Rose. A few weeks ago, after an unusually stressful week with Ali, she texted me to say she'd enjoyed my blog and she was sure that Ali would one day be happy I insisted on taking photos of her in her first school dance outfit. She's 16! Who does that?

It's OK to go "Awww" here in your head. I did when I saw that note. You don't get to be that thoughtful on your own. Karin just may be approaching hero status, too.

The Planned Parenthood event wasn't just a Eureka! Moment. It was fun, too. My friend Heather was there. When she told Ali she knew her as a baby and that we'd worked together in the governor's office, Alison immediately apologized for peeing on the governor's couch. (True story.)

The two of them trotted off to the bar where Heather introduced Ali to some funky tea drink and the two of them charmed each other's socks off.  I drove down home for my niece, Annie's baby shower where my sister Debbie threw everyone's gift under the bus with hers: a 6-foot-tall giraffe-shaped piece of wood that she had hand painted, installing a yard stick to make a growth chart.

I can never move from this house because Alison's growth chart is marked on her bedroom wall. I guess I could take the wall with me, but who knew you could have a piece of hand-sawed, hand-painted piece of moveable art? Debbie is an amazing artist -- as gifted with a paintbrush as Donna is with a needle and thread.

I got home just in time to join Ali and Jeff in a walk to Fat Dan's Deli -- never my choice given the menu items reflect the name of the place, but the two of them love it. We had to wait forever for a table but even at 14, Ali bore it well. Possible better than me.

While we waited for service, she slipped away and Jeff asked me where she'd gone. "Probably to get a beer," I joked as she'd headed to the bar. Turns out she was after chalk, which is an homage to Matt Elliott, who once operated what we called "The Newspaper Stand" when Ali was small.

We met Matt when I was home on maternity leave and in search of exercise and the Sunday paper. Ali honed her color skills as a toddler sorting Matt the Newspaperman's candy. He gave her her first candy -- a lollipop she consumed on the way home promising all the while not to tell Dad that she'd violated the "no sugar" policy we had going. She of course ratted me out first chance she got. Matt was unapologetic and continued to slip her candy every week.

She later drew in his sketchbook as kids were wont to do there. He, sadly, passed away and the deli has taken his space. It offers chalkboards by the tables and our hangman games attracted players as they passed by. Alison's "Donald Trump Needs to Go" was perhaps the winner of the night although my "Today I saw Black Jesus" won Jeff's vote. (Long story, but again, true.)

We capped the night off with a no-TV evening upstairs where Alison celebrated her love of classic rock music and the imminent arrival of sanctioned Christmas music. Jeff is trying to hold her off, invoking the  after-Thanksgiving.rule. Sunday has been largely uneventful other than me mulching another 17 tons of leaves.

We have another couple of weeks before the arguing over Christmas music will end. Ali's started calling him Scrooge instead of the Captain. In the meantime, she's dancing to classic rock and continuing to deride country music. That's one bit of indoctrination she's proven immune to. So far.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Halloween is barely over but if you're within a mile or so from my house right now you'd think it's Christmas. No, I haven't dragged out the decorations. I'm a steadfast Not-til-after-Thanksgiving kind of person: Alison has created a Christmas playlist that she's playing at a deafening volume.

I've been referring to her as a demon child lately whenever she gets to bedeviling me more than usual. I suspect it might have led to her Halloween costume. Now, she's deep into the sounds of the holidays.

Jeff lost his hearing aids at a Purdue tailgate outing so I'm the only one who's ears are bleeding. I'm sure they're thinking it's payback for me playing country music. They're enjoying it so much I don't have the heart to complain.

I have, however, retreated to my bedroom and closed the door. It's vibrating a little bit, and I can still hear the tunes but my ears aren't ringing anymore.

These are the sacrifices a good mom makes, right? I do like the Charlie Brown songs, though. And when we all three -- in different rooms -- sang, "Merry Christmas, my friend!" during Snoopy & the Red Baron, it was an indication that we have at least a little in common.

It's not a bad thing to be hanging in the bedroom. Both Jeff and I have been really busy at work. I had two fundraisers that required some work -- and heels -- Ali had acting class, Jeff had his trip to Lafayette. And there were something like 6 billion leaves in the yard that weren't going to leave on their own.

I read a gardening column this week where a guy claims that you shouldn't bag your leaves, but instead mulch then and put them on your flower beds. Every fall, Jeff and I argue over when it's time to address the leaves.

His preference is to wait until the last leaf falls before we start to think about where the rake might be.

If we ever did that (which we won't) we'd have leaves deeper than I am tall. I love our neighborhood in large part for the huge trees that are glorious autumnal bouquets this time of year. There's no need to drive to Nashville to go leafing.  I can just step outside and revel in the color spectrum.

Then they fall.

They're not as pretty on the ground, and they're not fun at all when they sweep into the house. From the magnolias and their elephant-ear sized leaves to the oaks, the maples and the ones with tiny red leaves, they just drown us in crackly debris.

So I got the mower out and start plowing through them. Initially, I was thrilled. Instead of huge piles all around the yard, there were just minuscule
leaf parts everywhere. By everywhere, I mean the yard was brown. No hint of green anywhere under that carpet of leaf guts. I think I even exploded a few tons of acorn parts.

But no raking or bagging, right? Instead, the leaf blower gets fired up. It takes a looooong time  to blow tiny leaf parts into the flower beds. It's kind of like vacuuming in reverse. And on a bigger rug.

It's better than raking and bagging, though, and as long as it rains before it gets windy, the yard should be in good shape.

There are still some leaves in the trees, but the maple and one of the magnolias have given up their bounty, so I may have to do this again. But maybe only once more.

Good eco work, right? And no back pain. Of course my arms, knees and legs are screaming but I prefer my exercise to have a purpose.

Speaking of purpose, Jeff and I had great times supporting two organizations this weekend: Meals on Wheels and the Indiana Recycling Coalition.  They both do important, great work and I'm proud to say I have great friends leading in both the efforts. If you have some extra money or time that you want to give to someone/thing, check out either. They'd be investments that help your heart and help others, too.

I have great friends who do great things. I'm lucky they put up with me. Of course Vicki made me dress up like a cowgirl and Carey made Karin and me wear recycled candy wrappers on our heads, so they may owe me more than I owe them.

I'm seriously grateful that my crazy journey has led me to not just meet fabulous people, but to count them as true friends.

Bobby and Helen Small are among that group. Both have made huge contributions through their family, their professions and organizations.

As many of you know, Bobby collapsed last week and has been in ICU ever since. He's getting a little better but he's not out of the woods yet. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. He's a wonderful man with a wonderful family and it's awful to think of any of them in pain.