Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Thanksgiving Day Heist or Three

I'm a fan of pumpkin roll. So much that I never buy it and I try really hard to avoid it when we come face to roll.

I was so good at Thanksgiving!  I avoided the scrumptious treat altogether but rewarded myself when it came time to pack up, bringing home three slices to get me through the weekend. I had leaves waiting so I was pretty sure I'd work it off.  Jeff is a pecan pie man and Alison hates pumpkin. So I took my three slices and a big container of Lori's cranberry relish, which is almost as good and three times healthier.

Thanksgiving was super fun ... once we finally got there. We went to Aunt Shirley and Uncle Larry's latest home. They're in search of a place since they sold their Columbus house but haven't found the perfect spot yet. I had it pictured on the other side of Worthington than it actually is, so we were later in arrival than intended but no one seemed to mind. That much.

Jimmy -- Aunt Shirley and mother's cousin -- always brings the pumpkin roll. He's gotten it for years from a church group of women who've been rolling out the pumpkin (and other treats I'm sure) longer than many of us have been alive.

We ate. We laughed. We ate. We played cards. We laughed some more. And finally we cleaned up and headed for home.

Friday afternoon as I Ali and I decorated the house for Christmas, the pumpkin roll slices disappeared. I started out with just one, but decorating is hard work and before long, all three were gone. In another hunting trip through the fridge, though, I stumbled across a plastic wrapped something that hadn't been there previously. I hadn't put it there. Sure enough. It was an entire pumpkin roll.

We stared each other down for a while. I thought I might be dreaming. Then Jeff came home and noticed the missing slices. We discussed that travesty for a while and I asked him about the extra roll. I thought maybe he had talked with Jimmy and had worked out a deal.

Nope. Ali wandered by and breezily admitted that she'd snatched it. She knows how much I like it. It looked sort of left over, she said.

My sister, Diana, happened to be in town for the annual Monument Circle holiday ceremony. I texted her to see if I could bring it to her so she could return it to its rightful owners.

"Hell no," she texted back. "Rachael and Aleasha got out with chocolate cakes. That's what it's about. Proud of Ali! Remember Grandma's strawberry pie? Dave stole one each year until she made him his own!"

The things I never knew. Apparently we have a tradition of stealing dessert from family gatherings.

"Anything done in the name of love is legal," avers my sister Diana.

So now I have a whole pumpkin roll calling my name from the fridge. Seems like it would be a slap in the face not to have some, now wouldn't it? I guess I've earned my holiday mug.

In other Thanksgiving news, our annual Friendsgiving with Patrick and Patricia Jackson was just as magical as it's always been. We've been having dinner the Friday after Thanksgiving since Ali was 2 or 3 and it's only been this year that I've realized they don't really come here to see Jeff and me.

I don't think you could tear Ali and Patricia away from each other with a crane. It's a super special thing to watch. I'd better warn her not to carry around any pumpkin rolls, though.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Soul sister?

Alison was reminiscing this morning. We were talking about the likelihood that we will play euchre today after our Thanksgiving feast.  She suggested that we convince everyone to bet on the games. 

Jeff reminded her that we don't really do that at my family gatherings. She was disappointed but hasn't given up on the idea because she thinks she has mad card skills.

"I once won a kid's soul," she said.

I just looked at her.

"It was Alex," she confessed, speaking of my favorite of her friends who are boys. "We were playing BS and he said he'd bet half his soul, but I won. So then I asked him if he wanted to bet the other half, and I won again."

I swear to you, her eyes sparkled and her grin glowed with evil as she intoned: "I own him."

I love Alex Ogden for many reasons. He and Ali met at Day Nursery and they were three or four when we met the parents. After an initial hesitation on Karin's part, we soon became fast, platonic friends and Ali and Alex did, too.

Once he tried to save me from a terrible, awful prank that almost got us killed. Alison has zero regrets for putting that plastic snake on my shoulder as I drove them somewhere. 

Alex, though, he knew then (if not before) that she has demon blood. He was -- and remains -- a valiant champion of Mrs. Reed, even if he lost that particular battle.

I'll find a way for her to return  his soul, but he'll always be in my heart.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Reason for Optimism

It's been a difficult couple of weeks. Sure the national election didn't turn out like I wanted. Like more than half the popular vote wanted. The state election went south. We had great stress at work and a lot of folks I really love are no longer in my 9-to-5 life.

But the sun came up on Wednesday. The millennial map gave me hope for the future. I have confidence that my friends will find wonderful, new opportunities. And I got to witness my friend, Kirstin Jasheway,  and 137 other people born in more than 30 different countries take oaths to become U.S. citizens.

It was a somewhat surreal capper to a contentious election and I couldn't have been more proud to be at the ceremony. We sprang Ali from school early so she could be there too.

Like many of the liberal kids at Herron, Ali was deeply unhappy with the election. There were so many tears at school on Wednesday, one of the teachers opened her office for one-on-one counseling and Alison cried one of her contacts out. It was lost to the world and I didn't even care. I like her passion and I understand her concerns.

My advice to Alison is to be the best person she can be; to represent her generation so well that skeptics will be convinced they're really all OK and to be ready to vote when the next presidential election comes along and she'll be eligible.

It's a good -- and really, really hard -- life lesson. You don't always get what you want. But the system is the system. You respect the office and you go about working to achieve the outcome you want next time. You don't give up. You don't concede your principals. You  keep your core values and you plan.

The first election I remember was when Jimmy Carter ran. Our living room at home was a polling place. My dad was a Democratic precinct committeeman. Indiana went red almost at 6 p.m. and I turned to my father, aghast. "But I thought we were Democrats," I said.

He laughed. I will never forget the day I first learned there were people with different ideas than those I'd been surrounded by.

Other than the election, Alison is doing really, really well. She competed in her first-ever high school swim meet and posted up some really competitive times. Her school won the meet, too, we found out today.

Better yet, she's loving it. And not complaining at all about all the practice. She is eating like a mad woman.

Tonight at dinner, we were having a rather spirited discussion. It might have included a double flip off and an eye roll or two between my esteemed spouse and myself. That might have inspired a roar from the Captain. All the while, Alison was trying to tell a story and kept saying to the both of us, "Can I finish? Can I finish? Can I finish my story?"

Alison's reaction to t he whole thing: "I love my family. These are my favorite kinds of dinners."

Oy vey.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Redefining the Breast Stroke

For the past few weeks, Alison has been focused on her efforts to join the Herron High School swim team. She was two-years-old when she first started swim lessons and she's always loved the water, but she's never been trained for competition.

So I was concerned that she would be disappointed. The coach had said this would be the year the school would focus on true competition, so you had to really make the team. Ali supplemented her conditioning and practices with the school to trips to the gym where she worked on the strokes she'd been perfecting and/or learning.

I, of course, was her transportation and she'd ask me each time if I wanted to swim with her. I wanted to but as many of you know, I pay a lot for my hair and I didn't want to either diminish the sheen or encourage gray -- or green strands. So I worked out in the fitness area while she swam in the pool across the wall.

But I really wanted to swim with her and this week bought a swim cap so I could.

My own swim lessons started early, like Alison, but they were more a survival lesson than instruction from professional swimmers. My actual memories are sketchy, probably as a result of oxygen deprivation. My siblings told me the lessons started when they decided to build a boat one summer and wanted to test its float-ability.  Donna was still home then, so I was probably five or six.

So they built this boat from scrap wood, dragged it up to the top of the pasture and put me in it. They shoved it into the middle of the pond where it quickly sank. Which gave them an unexpected second experiment: What was my float-ability?

Like all good scientists, this test was repeated more than once as they tried to fix the boat. It never floated, but I never stayed down.

Always the tag-along, I was apparently more hungry for inclusion than scared of the next test.

I also remember a summer where we took swim lessons of a sort at Shakamak State Park. Most summers, my mom would drop us there in the morning and return when the lake closed in the late afternoon. My memory is overhearing two lifeguards talking about me. "What's that stroke that one is doing?" one asked. "I dunno," said the other. "But it looks like she can really move."

Between the lake, our pond and creek and various pits left behind by surface coal mining, I was in the water a lot as a kid. Like the lifeguards from 100 years ago, Alison was puzzled by my mobility when we finally swam together at the Jordan Y.

She channeled the Captain with her coaching. "OK. We're going to 500 meters, no break. Go down freestyle and back backstroke, OK?"

"Wait a minute! How long is one length?" I asked, not sure I could finish a lap, let alone however many laps 500 meters would be.

"One trip down is 25, so you need to do 10 times up and back. No break," she said, preparing to start.

She saw my face. "OK. Let's start with five times," she said.

I took a deep breath. Now, like all good parents, we've equipped Ali with all the stuff she's needed for the various activities and sports she's taken up over the years. From dance to Tae Kwon Do to softball and acting. She has two Speedo, one-piece swim suits, goggles and a swim cap.

I was wearing a Target suit that has seen probably six or 10 seasons and my hair-protective cap. I borrowed her spare goggles.

The freestyle portion was fine. Sure, my muscles started protesting after a while, but I was chugging along really well. The backstroke was good, a little soothing at first. I got through the first test just fine.

I was coasting back to the edge when she nudged me. "What are you doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"That is not a stroke," she said. I'd stopped actually lifting my arms out of the water for my backstroke and was sort of propelling myself like an otter. Apparently that's not "real."  "You have to do the actual stroke," she tells me.

She tried to show me the breast stroke. It's a lot harder than it looks and requires a coordination I'm not sure I've ever had. She showed me the butterfly but agreed before I voiced my concern that this was a lesson for another day.

We focused for a time on just using legs. Then just arms. Have you ever swam 50 meters in a pool with your legs dragging behind like dead weights? "Uh. Mom. It's not time for a break yet," she said.

I sighed. Back to the grind. Thirty minutes in, I was kind of done. "How about you just focus on freestyle and backstroke?" she said.

Hurrah. Except this was about the time I noticed a wardrobe issue. I was fine with the freestyle stroke, but when I flipped to the backstroke, my suit with its shirred front and three-seasons-too-long fit had taken to drifting with the waves. I'm not sure how long I was exposing myself to whoever might be watching, but it was frequent and at times fairly flagrant.

I had felt like the lifeguards were fairly vigilant for a pool where there were only four lap swimmers and two parents with their kids. I'd initially thought they were checking Ali out, which isn't at all unlikely as she's getting a bit buff as she swims so much.

Then, I'd wondered if they were pondering how long I'd flail around before they'd get a chance to use their rescue gear and  fish me out of the drink.

But once I realized I'd been flashing the world every time I practiced my backstroke, I had a few different thoughts:

1. These boys must be truly bored to think a 50+-year-old nipple or two is worth their time, 
2. I flashed back to the time two snooty teenage girls in the same gym's fitness area telling me  I couldn't wear just my exercise bra when working out. I had to cover my midriff with either a bigger bra or a tee-shirt, and
3. OMG. I'm a flasher.

That's about the time I called it a day. I'd made it 45 minutes.

Besides the obvious criminality of the endeavor, every muscle in my body was shaking. Ali was still going strong. I climbed out of the pool like some primordial goo, pulled up my top and headed for the women's locker room hot tub, careful to avoid eye contact with anyone.

Oh. Alison made the varsity squad. She's super excited. I'm going to buy a new swimsuit. Maybe switch gyms.

In other news, because she needs to be able to see in the pool, Alison has a trial pair of contacts. We'll make sure they're the ones she needs before she gets a full supply. We took Jeff out for a late birthday dinner. He'd celebrated much of the day with his buddies at their annual Purdue football game outing on his actual birthday last week.

You might have noticed that I've not said a ton about the election of late. I don't think there's anything left to say. Whatever happens after Tuesday, I hope we can regain some sense of mutual respect and acceptance of the outcome -- whatever that outcome is.

I'm thinking that our country isn't much different than that boat my sisters and brothers kept trying to build. It's still an experiment, but we can get to shore and try again.