Monday, May 30, 2016

Every weekend should have at least three days

If there's a heaven, I'm sure there are no alarm clocks there.

I love waking up on my own with nothing to do but contemplate what fun thing to do and when to do it. Unfortunately, in order to do all those fun things, work must be part of the equation. So when a three-day weekend comes along, especially in good weather, it's well received.

Because she's almost an adult, Ali had plans already for Friday night, which allowed Jeff and I to have a mini-date night. We had an amazing dinner at Mama Irma's, a Peruvian restaurant in Fountain Square and then walked around a bit, having a cocktail here and gelato there.

We found Alison at her friend's cookout finishing up story time with a little blond haired girl clinging to her back. Never one to fail to make an impression, she'd scared the bejesus out of her host by climbing on his garage roof.  She also ate my leftovers - swordfish with rice and a spicy sauce -- with her fingers on the ride home.

Saturday started with a two-hour bike ride for Jeff and me before we went down for Rebecca's high school graduation party.  This is the baby who was six-weeks old at my wedding. Now, she's salutatorian of her high school class and Butler-bound.

Ali made a friend, though. And Aleasha got up close and very personal with a hot dog on the deck.

Sunday featured a two-hour bike ride for Jeff and me before we watched the race from the comfort of our family room. For you non-Hoosiers, this was a big deal.

The Indy 500 has been blacked out for television broadcast for literally 50+ years. The venue sold out for its 100th running and the Hulmans were apparently struck by the Be Nice Fairy and allowed the locals to watch from home.

I'm glad for the city and the Speedway that they sold out. But you couldn't pay me to join 350K+ people sitting elbow to elbow in the hot sun. I did enjoy the photos, though...

We emerged to prep for dinner with our Ogden friends. Alison was helping wearing her paint-stained sweats. Jeff asked her if she was planning to dress for company. "We're not having company," she said. "We're having the Ogdens. They're family."

We had a great time. We hadn't gotten together en masse for a while but it could have been yesterday it was so easy.  The picture of the kids on the couch was them reverting to type and hitting the video games. The one with money is a yesteryear shot when they'd cleaned up selling old Beanie Babies in the front yard.

I convinced Ali to ride bikes to the gym today and she's up sleeping it off now and resting up for an  Indians game. It's back to the grind tomorrow. Well, for Jeff and me.

Ali is off to a Harry Potter movie marathon with a school friend. We may see her again before it's time to send her off to summer camp. It's a rough life she's living. But the way I see it, she might as well have as much fun as she can before she'll be greeted by the alarm clock every day.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How does your garden grow?

When Alison is an old woman and someone asks her about her mother, she will not likely tell stories that could confuse me with Mrs. Cleaver.

She might, though, talk about a tradition we've had for the last several years: preparing the Angie's List garden. Ali hasn't made it every year, but she's more regular than some of our staff. Kelsey Taylor -- our Fitness Director and a great friend -- and I have been getting dirty every May together.

This year, in fact, Kelsey was also my chauffeur as my Mustang is in the shop and Jeff had plans that involved his being away in the Subaru.

The first year Ali helped in the garden, she was substantially shorter than me and it's possible she was more in the way than helpful. One year she napped among the fruit trees. This year, though, she was awesome.

She helped me shovel manure from the back of a pickup truck, planted mint transplanted from our garden at home into a vintage wheel barrow and lettuce seeds and other seedlings in the dirt; she helped us pickup some plants at a local nursery and at the end of the day harvested eggs from Kelsey's chicken coop.

We went hard at it for about three hours with about 20 other Listers. By the end of the tour, we had weeded the 30 or so raised beds and filled them with either seeds or young plants. All summer long, we'll have our pick of tomatoes, herbs, melons, cucumbers, peppers and a bunch of other great veggies.

The garden is tended by a larger group of Listers, who pitch in to weed and water throughout the spring and summer. Anyone in the garden club has their fill of whatever grows out there. It's a good deal, a good thing and more fun than work.

The annual planting event was a great day -- especially after our 46-degree/wind chill of minus 12 day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Angie's List Grand Prix. We got a late start to the 3:30 race while Jason and Jim Bradbury got there when it was probably still 30 degrees with a wind chill of minus 40. Clearly, they are better race fans than we are.

With 20 laps to go, Jeff suggested to Alison that she could go to the car if she wanted. I walked her from the bleachers to the parking lot and was nearly to our seats when Jeff and our neighbor/friend Jason Green found me on the return trip. "We're cold, too," they said.

The Bradburys were hardier sorts. Poor Jim -- a Nascar rather than an Indycar fan -- had waited all day in the windy cold to see the Grand Prix and the only Indycar driver he really likes: Tony Kanaan.

Unfortunately, as the pack of cars headed for the first turn of the race, Scott Dixon bumped a car that bumped a car and ended up pushing Kanaan into the wall and out of the race.

It would be almost three hours before the race ended and he and Jason found heat again. Nevertheless, they said they'd had a great time and would come again. Of course that was by text as I was already sitting on a heated seat en route home.

Between the track and the garden, I'm going to be in a world of hurt tomorrow. But it was a great weekend. Well worth a memory or two.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Poison v. Sea Salt Caramels

It's bad enough that Alison blasts "Highway to Hell" every time she thinks I've  made a driving mistake, she's taken to calling me "Poison" when she deigns to address me. If I call her on the phone, she answers, "Yes, Poison?"

You can judge whether I deserve it.

She had chopsticks on her birthday wish list and I've been busy in the week or so I've had the list to peruse leading up to her 15th birthday on Thursday. I scoured the stores at Castleton Mall, including Hot Topic where a nose-pierced, two-toned hair wearing young lady advised me that they didn't have anything that weird in stock.

She turned to a co-worker who was wearing even more hardware on his face, leather everywhere else and a shock of pitch black hair held back by a bandana that I think had skulls on it. He laughed. "Man, I have no idea for where anything like that would be."

He glanced over and smelled my desperation. "Journeys?" he posited.

"Dude. You have NO idea, remember?!" I said. I might not be a Hot Topic demographic, but even I know Journeys is where you find sneakers, not chopsticks. Walking out of the mall I remembered the Asian Market was behind it. "I'm a genius!" I thought and headed north.

As you might expect, the Asian Market has a good display of chopsticks. I really wanted enamel ones but they only had wooden and stainless steel. I picked the set I thought was prettiest, added it to the bags of other birthday goodies and headed home.

I was showing Jeff what we had to offer our one and only child and he was initially pleased at my brilliance. Then, he turned the package over. Below whatever the Chinese symbols meant there was a note in English: the state of California believes they contain chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

I don't know why California health officials are standing alone in this consumer warning, and I wouldn't have bought that set had I turned the package over and read it. But in my defense, why would you sell something like this?!  At least put them in the cigarette section where people consciously make the decision to ignore the surgeon general warning!

I wrapped them anyway, planning to tell her I'd replace them first chance I got. Jeff, meanwhile, had squirreled away an enormous jar of her favorite candies -- sea salt caramels. While on a day off work, he'd also picked up some silly socks I'd seen earlier and a book she wanted.

She was thrilled with all of the gifts but decided that -- despite my plans to switch out the chopsticks -- I had tried to kill her. And give her birth defects.

I advised her that as she was already born these 15 years, she didn't face the threat of birth defects.

"There's other bad stuff in them," she countered. "Dad gave me sea salt caramels!"

They made me pose for a picture with the things, but somehow I can't get it to post here...

She's been telling her "Mom tried to kill me on my birthday" story to anyone who slows down near her, including Aunt La and Miss Amy who stopped by to surprise her with tacos and creme brulee. (My idea, mind you...) later that day.

When I was planning her little surprise, I'd thought I'd invite Jenna, Bree and the Ogdens over - along with their parents.

"Jenna has soccer, but I can come," Amy said.

So we made it a smaller affair. I'll get her together with her friends later. Maybe.

Ali was super surprised and happy to see Lyn and Amy. And super quick to show off her poison chopsticks.

It's a good thing for me that Mother's Day is around the corner. My luck Ali will make me breakfast but insist on a Chinese theme so I'll have to use those damn things.

There goes my neighborhood

Ali and I were coming home from school Friday and I was driving north on Alabama - not our usual route. I commented that I could easily live on that pretty stretch where it seemed like each house had a prettier yard than the next.

"I like OUR house," said my co-pilot, her standard reply whenever Jeff or I talk about moving.

We do love our neighborhood. Here's one of the reasons why:

One of my next-door neighbors has a special needs child. She's nearly 18 now, but we've known her since she was born, back when my neighbor was told the little girl would never walk, never be able to be out of diapers, never talk. Chelsea is 3.5 years older than Ali.

Years ago, when Ali was two or three, the girls were playing together and Alison crawled through the doggie door to get outside. Chelsea promptly followed  her. Debbie remarked that had she not seen the example, Chelsea might never have discovered that fun escape route.

I felt a bit guilty that day and many days since when I think about Alison's growth and progress and that of Chelsea's. Because of Debbie's attention and care, though, Chelsea has blown those early diagnoses away. She doesn't just walk and talk and take care of her bodily needs, she rides a bike, she will have a conversation with people she trusts, and when she laughs it's like music in the wind.

Debbie did that. She's younger than me. She's a single mom with more than her share of physical challenges, which include back problems. She's sacrificed a lot for therapy and classes and she's been a steady, strong support for her little girl. And I will always admire her for it.

When I'm out in my yard, I'll sometimes drift over to help Debbie's out. Friday night, I was walking and she was out in the yard with Chelsea, powering through the grass. I'd been eyeing some weed issues under her beautiful maple tree and offered to help with weeding.

Chelsea was already on stick duty and very deliberately, choosing one stick at a time to take to the backyard debris pile. Given the number of sticks available to her, there was little chance the backyard would soon have more sticks than those in the front yard.

"Why don't you take two sticks at a time so they'll have friend to go with," Debbie suggested.

"OK, Mommy," came the happy reply. And then a running commentary on what each stick looked like or could have been.

Before long, another neighbor stopped by and said he'd help later but couldn't right now. And then Patty and Don from down the street came with a rake and gloves. And Jeff came home and got the chainsaw and ladder out to trim some dead branches.

Chelsea, who's been afraid of loud noises in the past, was delighted when Jeff kept climbing to to different parts of the tree to attack dead branches. "There he goes again!" she'd say, laughing and clapping.

We worked for just a few hours and it was one of the nicest Fridays I've had in a long time. It made me think of my conversation with Ali on Alabama Street. Sure the lawns were perfect and the homes might belong in the real estate section of the newspaper.

But they can't have neighbors as good as mine.

Yeah, we're not moving.