Monday, May 29, 2017

Putting the Memory in Memorial Day Weekend

It's been a while since I put my child in danger.

Our hiking weekend doesn't count. Because while she may have been in danger, and I'm not saying she was or wasn't, it was danger of her own making.

Today, though. This was all me. I would like to stop here and make a case that I was simply trying to get the house in order. We have a small one coming over for dinner tonight and it's been a while since I had to really think about whether the corners in this house are clean enough for a crawler.

I'd gotten most of the grime out of the crevices when I glanced into the bathroom. Alison's bathroom toilet came with the house. And it's prone to have a semi circle of gorp hanging around the water line in the basin. Ali and Jeff had fled the cleaning craze to get last minute supplies, so I squirted in the cleaner I had on hand and let it simmer in all three of the toilets. None were pristine.

I'd finished most of the cleaning and had even scrubbed myself by the time Ali and Jeff got home and they'd brought bleach along with foodstuffs we'd need for dinner. I had a moment of inspiration. "Why scrub when chemicals can do that for me?" I asked myself.

I grabbed the bleach and added a liberal dose to each commode. Then, captured by another less-than-shiny object, I walked away. I was downstairs when my mildly asthmatic child asked me how long before she could use her bathroom.

"You can use it now," I said, "But scrub it for me first, please."

Off she went. In the basement, I caught a whiff of an exceptionally potent odor. I looked up as if I could see through the floorboards. And then I heard a cough.

"Uh-oh." In a flash, I remembered a few years ago when I was the cougher at the very same toilet bowl. Then, I'd invented a concoction of bleach, ammonia and Comet, I think. Jeff called it mustard gas, as I recall.

It was easy to recall because he was in fine Captain form, informing me that my chemistry credentials had never been extended to me.

We gave her a bunch of water and got her outdoors. Jeff set about opening doors and windows, flipping on fans and bringing more up from the basement. I sat with Ali, apologized but assured her she would recover.

Yes, I felt terrible. I ignored the tickle in my own respiratory system as she hacked up a bit and fretted that I'd inadvertently shredded her more delicate breathing apparatus. We took a little walk down the street. On the way back, she said she was feeling much better and was thinking ahead to next year's advanced chemistry class and how she might answer the question, "What did you do over the summer?"

"I inhaled pure chlorine gas," she projected into this flash forward classroom scene.

"You know, now that I'm feeling better, I'm kind of thinking about the chemistry of all that," she said. We wondered what might have happened had I added another favorite cleaning fluid: vinegar.

"If you'd added aluminum, you could have exploded the toilets," she informed me.

I'm going to take her off the cleaning crew. And hide the bleach. And aluminum foil. And maybe see if I can channel her back into baking. That's chemistry too.  I'll be her clean-up crew.

In other, less lethal, holiday weekend fun, we managed to attend the annual pre-race Tokash Indy 500 Bash and a Race Day gathering Cordy-Sweetwater at Lynn Sinex's lake house. Jeff found new craft beer buddies in our old friends the Fralich's and Ali won the Indy 500 race pool at the lake house.

We had to drive home through a near monsoon Sunday that started happily after the race  -- and with me at the wheel no less -- but again, we made it. We may be un-killable. 

The photo below is of Ali and me after the Captain evacuated the house while the fumes were dissipating. Ali is threatening to never enter her bathroom again, but I think I'll calm her down before long. 

The others are random weekend shots. Hope you're having a great weekend. And that your toilets are clean.


I'm counting it as a mark of parental success that when I told Ali I was thinking of going hiking on a girls' trip, she didn't just nod as if she'd heard me, she said, "That sounds like fun. Can I go?"

Some 16-year-olds would gag a little bit if they were invited on an overnight hike with a bunch of old ladies. My kid said she'd go along.  And we actually had fun!

Sure, she got to play a couple of card games not really designed for mixed company of youthful and those who pretend they're still 20.

We went with Tracy Wiseman, Susan Kessler and my new great friend Melissa Miller, staying at Grand Bear Lodge. We visited Matthiessen and Starved Rock state parks in Illinois. Both were awesome, in part because we went during the rainy season so the waterfalls were in full rushing glory.

Starved Rock is allegedly the state's No. 1 tourist attraction, a factoid greeted skeptically by most of us. "Was there an asterisk for attractions outside the city of Chicago?" I asked.

We had planned to check for more detail about that but got sidetracked. We'd neglected to tell Alison that we were going to a park that was famous for a grisly murder in the 1960 that featured three middle-aged ladies. We three middle-aged ladies decided that with the addition of our youngster, we'd be OK.

We survived Starved Rock with only one small fall and were at dinner Saturday night at Casa Mia  when the secret got spilled. Phil, the owner, had stopped by and was asking how we came to drop by his charming little house-turned-bistro.  A charmer, Phil mentioned something about the murder site.

"The what?!" Ali paused while cracking a crab leg open.  She stared accusingly at me. "You took me to a murder park?"

It may have been about this time that Phil switched the subject to asking if we planned to visit Matthiessen State Park while we were in the area. We had been planning to return to Starved Rock but Phil's description changed our minds, and we were glad we did.

We were stopped before we got started down into the ravines and caverns by two men who seemed concerned that we "ladies" were up to the task. "It's pretty greasy down there," one said.

"Excuse me?" one of us asked.

"Greasy," he translated: "Muddy. You ladies best be careful."

We nodded. It WAS muddy. But we were nimble and in fine shape. Well, Ali was. We got to the bottom and came across a solo male hiker.  "You ladies be careful," he said. Before we got back another kindly gentleman had advised us to be careful.

I refused to feel matronly or out of my element. Yeah, maybe, there were a few times when one of might have shrieked a little as we slid down a slope perilously close to the icy creek.  Or gasped as we crossed said creek using rocks and logs to keep out of the drink. And when Ali climbed up a ravine, risking a slide over jagged rocks and stumps if she lost her footing on the way back, I might have grown a few more gray hairs.

But it was super cool.  We had a little fun scaring ourselves by wondering if the random animal tracks we came across were from hungry bears or rabid raccoons. We postulated on why the murder over at Starved Rock hadn't used some of the Matthieson nooks and crannies, which seemed like much more effectives areas to hide a body or three.  But mostly we just enjoyed the really beautiful parks.

And I loved chatting with Ali along the trails and watching her chat with my friends, all of whom seemed perfectly happy to have the next generation along. Maybe because we thought she'd be able to go for help if we did fall victim to our aged limbs and feeble ways.

That was before she reminded me that if a bear really was chasing us, she would likely leave me for dead. "I don't have to run that fast," she said. "I just have to run faster than you, and Mom, let's face it, that's not going to be hard."

If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend every place we stopped. Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge has an indoor water parked that seems sized for the 12-and-under set, but there are separate cabin/villas you can stay at as well.

If you have a teenager, drag him or her even if the initial response is less than enthusiastic. Bring "Cards Against Humanity" and a game of "Chronology," if you can.
Accept that some of the more outrageous words/reactions that will ensue are within a cone of silence. If you're lucky, you'll come away with a new appreciation for a portion of Daniel Radcliffe's anatomy that will afford you years of hysterical laughter that no one outside your hiking party will get.

And yeah, maybe the bear WILL get you. But I bet your teenager will at least go back for what's left of your body.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Put Your Poop in the Box

I'm not one to trot off to the doctor for every little thing. It's probably partly because I was raised by wolves and my parents didn't blanch at the sight of a little blood. Fevers were just God's way of burning your sin away. What didn't kill you made you stronger.

You had to have a bone protruding to get a trip to the doctor. Our small town doctor had delivered all of us and probably our parents so he knew us pretty well. We might have been unusually healthy. Or maybe Darwin wasn't paying as much attention as he should have.

Ali has always had respiratory issues. She had a tiny mask that we had to force on her in her baby days and she's always had an inhaler. I'm convinced she got that from me as I coughed like an old smoker all though elementary school. I carried a bottle of liquid cough medicine and routinely finished my work in the hall so I'd not disturb the other kids with my cough. If it was really bad, my mother would call Doc Rotman and ask for some red pills.

Red pills cured everything. I have no idea what they were but once when I was a grown up living on my own in Evansville I had another cough I couldn't shake. I called my mom. She called Doc Rotman and I got some red pills.

My brothers got banged up a lot. They may have been the first to discover that. Super Glue -- or Crazy Glue -- was just as effective as stitches. They self-medicated in more ways that that, of course. But the point is, going to the doctor just wasn't something you thought of early or often.

As a teenager, I once came home from school to find my brother laying on the couch with his foot propped up and bleeding on (probably my) pillow.  Out solo hunting, he'd somehow shot himself in the ankle with his bow. Like any reasonable member of my family, he hobbled to his truck and yanked out the arrow. Fortunately, he'd shot his left ankle so he could elevate it out the window and still drive home.

Sure this was before cell phones. But still. After I surveyed the situation, I suggested calling my friend the paramedic. My brother refused. See, he'd sat on the side of the bathtub and run water over the wound while pouring iodized kitchen salt on it. He was just waiting for the blood to stop flowing and he was going to superglue it.

My job was to clean up the mess he'd made. Which of course I did because that's what you do when you're the youngest wolf in a family of feral animals.

This is a true story. Not even an ounce of exaggeration.  I tell it to you to explain why it's taken me more than a month to get my bum leg checked out. I've been limping around for about a month and half or so, thinking if I rest it'll get better. I consulted with my friend and trainer, Kelsey Taylor.

"Hmmmm," she said when I told of my ailment, my diagnosis that it was a muscle strain and my cure.  "OK, try that for a few days but then you need to see a doctor, girl."

So finally, I went. My doctor is a great, conservative guy who tries to work within my "I don't like to take medicine" lifestyle.  I AM taking the anti-inflammatory meds he gave me. I even made an appointment for physical therapy. It was the other stuff that made me remember why doctors are to be avoided.

They want me to get another mammogram. I'm sure I did that not so long ago. Worse, it's time for the dreaded colonoscopy. Here's why you're going to be glad you suffered through my hunter-brother tale: I learned of a way to get around the colonoscopy.

It's a little gross. Alison is still disgusted by it. But I'm telling you. It's a great idea. And why it's taken this long to offer the alternative I can't imagine. If you're a pet owner, you probably wouldn't flinch. I'm not and I did.

The alternative test involves a small kit. In the kit are two strips of paper which have adhesive on each end. There are two in case you do it wrong the first time. Speaking for myself: once was enough.  And I mean that.

So, you, um, well, you make a deposit on that strip. I'm not going to get into all the things that could have been involved in this transaction but it's an action you really want to plan out well. I'll just say that.

So you have your deposit. I re-located it as quickly as I could because I don't like fishing for fish, let along that kind of deposit. Plus, I'm guessing it would have been contaminated and I'd have to start all over again.

So you have it. Then, you take out this stoppered vial that has an applicator not unlike, say, mascara or eye drops. You have to pierce the deposit six times. Not too much, not too little, but six times. Then, you replace the wand, tighten the lid, put it in a plastic bag that's got adhesive in it, put it in an already addressed and stamped box and hand it over to your favorite postal delivery person.  (Sorry, John.)

I am a forgetful person, so I had my carefully refolded and taped (Lynda) box on the kitchen counter so I wouldn't forget to return it.  Ali picked it up.

"What's this?"

As is my parental pattern, I answered her question. She dropped the box. Hysteria ensued.

"Why is that in the kitchen? We have FOOD in here?! Get it out! Get it OUT! GET. IT. OUT!"

She was truly disgusted.  "Dude," I said. "It's in a vial, inside a sealed plastic bag and inside a box."
I explained that it was just six jabs of the actual deposit, not the aforementioned deposit.

"I don't care. Ick. Gross. Ugh. Blech."

So I put it on the counter.  I did not make her take it out of the box.

I told Jeff about it and he thought it was as funny as I did. Being older than me, he'd gone the traditional route and may be a little miffed that I went a road less traveled.  This morning he chased her around a little bit with the box. Regardless of its location, she wants nothing to do with it.

Neither do it, but hey. Even a feral wolf understands preventative care.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

So, Ali asked me to buy condoms for her

Yeah. It happened. And of course I complied.

But it's not what you think.

She's working on a school project. A 3D report on Peter Picot's "No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses," which is mostly about Ebola and AIDS.

We know her project will include vials of blood (not really blood: my shopping list included stuff to manufacture a realistic likeness) and pill bottles (we were going to use actual pills but even Herron High School frowns on glue-gunning actual meds). We discussed whether she'd need a banana too. That decision has yet to be made.

She texted me her shopping list while I was at the gym. I asked her if she wanted to go with -- especially as she'd get to buy her very own condoms and I had no doubt she'd want to parade them around the store.

"Kinda," she said. "But I really have to get working on some other homework and it makes more sense for me to do that."

So off I went. Riddle me this, though: Why is the least expensive package of condoms the one that promises to be so advanced that the wearer won't even realize it's on there? Shouldn't that kind of promise come at a heftier price?

It's been a while since I bought condoms. If you find yourself suddenly in the market, they're housed in the "Family Planning" section of Meijer. I do hope that section won't cause the Republican Party to want to close Meijer. I kind of like the one that recently opened near us.

It had every item on Alison's list -- food coloring, buttermilk, vanilla extract, baking powder, condoms, hot glue refills, small Styrofoam poster board -- except the buttermilk. Every other variety and flavor of milk was there, as well as kefir, which I had to Google to know what it was. Pass.

She's already made her "blood" and is plotting out exactly how to get the necessary information on her Styrofoam base. She was a little concerned about the fate of the prophylactics once her classroom work is done.

"If I come home one day and find they've been used, I'm not going to like it," she warned.

I laughed.

"Yes. I know I got here but I prefer to think..." she started.

"That it was a one-time deal?" I asked.


I laughed again. I decided not to remind her that I got the ones that you CAN'T EVEN FEEL!!!!!

'Cause I'm a good mom.

As evidence, I posit the following photographic proof of an awesome Mother's Day that will include a massage very soon from my favorite tiny boutique massage place, Leaf & Limb.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Super Sweet Sixteen -- the anti-MTV version

We've had a lot of birthday parties for Alison. Sixteen, to be exact. And like the little redhead, the current one has almost always been better than the last.

We've done a wide array of parties. Rock climbing, laser tag, Chuckie Cheese, in the park, mani/pedis, water park, SkyZone, you name it. It seems like we've done it all. This year, Alison wanted to stay home with a dozen plus of her closest friends.

She's 16. I was more than happy to indulge this choice. And it was all great until we were inundated with something 15 straight days of rain. Our basement held out as long as it could, but with water standing everywhere, it was inevitable that it would find the hairline cracks in our foundation.

Our grand plan for using the family room and basement bedroom as party central were drowned out. The Captain, initially, was not a believer that we could make enough room upstairs for the invite list. But Ali and I were undeterred.  And it was a wonderful, cozy, loud, silly, crazy weekend.

It started, as is tradition, with family gifts in the morning. Even though she had to report for a big test at school by 7:30 a.m. Jenna and Bree came over Friday night; Jen late due to soccer. Ali wanted to celebrate at Cancun, a Mexican restaurant. Her birthday is on Cinco de Maya, so we were not the only ones trying to crowd into the place. But we managed just fine.

Jenna came after dinner and it was immediately a return to our Day Nursery Days. Saturday morning, Jenna and Bree took turns doing Alison's make-up.

The Princess Bride was playing on a random station before the first guests arrived on Saturday. It was followed by a Cinderella Story which had some hokey scenes that had the group cat-calling, cheering and jeering at villans and stupid boys. After Chinese food came the Disney onslaught and outbursts of sing-alongs or dialogue shouting.

Saturday, the horde starting arriving around noon. By 2 or so, the place was filled and the girls had arrived hungry, flush with the promise of a Gilmore Girls-like take-out fest.

"How much Chinese food do you want to order?" the Captain asked. "There's no way they're going to eat that much."

Dude. This was just the first round.......I thought it. I didn't say it. I know the Captain. But off he drove, coming back with more Chinese food than I'd ever ordered in my life. Even Chi Hong Li, the owner of our favorite take-out place, Zheng's Garden was taken aback. And he knows us.

"How many?" he kept asking when I started the order with eight tins of steamed dumplings and four orders of crab rangoon.

As I write this, this is what remains of our order: two egg foo yung patties and gravy. The General Tso's chicken went first, with the dumplings and crab rangoon following suit. Not a grain of fried or white rice or a stray lo mein noodle lasted past dark.

And this was with my dining room table full of chips, cookies, candy, brownies, cupcakes and other things that normally don't live in my house. Or at least out where I can see it, smell it and touch it.

Jeff and I ran out to make a cameo at a nearby Derby Party that lasted a little longer than we'd planned. While we were gone, the girls took a break and actually went outside to visit Canterbury Park. They were still there when we texted to announce our imminent arrival with two bags of Taco Bell sustenance.

That got them home in a hurry where the movies quickly resumed. 
Best lines of the weekend:

Ali, describing Friday night with long-time besties Bree and Jenna who enjoy make-up much more than Alison does: "I got make-upped. It was weird."

Saturday night, in between movies, I asked the crowd if anyone needed anything. Bree: "I need a boyfriend," which was quickly taken up by others.

Jenna: "If you're into guys, I have a brother. And he's hot."

Which of course led to discussion about Alex Ogden and I think I now have a side hustle match-making for the 16-year-old set.

Darianna (I think):  "This is the most fun I've ever had."

"What was your best birthday, Ali?" "Probably this one."

Elaine on Sunday morning went to shower and Alison jumped up to show her how her funky shower works. Darianna: "I'm going to go learn, too, because I'll need to know that when I come back."

And, best of all: "Thanks, Mom."  (I'm sure she thanked her father, as well. Just not when I was around.)

I camped out at the kitchen counter for a while but retreated to my bedroom after a while. I kept the door ajar because it was just too much fun not to listen. Jeff retreated to the basement where we had three de-humidifiers and five fans roaring to help dry the place out. "It was quieter down there," he explained.

We had a waffle bar for breakfast and the girls either sketched or painted in between on Sunday morning. It was sad to see them all go.

With Ali in high school, she's made a lot of new friends who, unlike Jenna and Bree, I haven't bathed or fed or comforted or teased since they were in diapers. It's been a bit of a disconnect, but one that's teaching me to let go, I'm sure.

We have had some of her Herron friends over, of course, and they're an awesome bunch. It was great to spend time with the others who I've known only by name and the stories Ali tells. To a person, they were wonderful. Funny. Silly. Smart. Kind. Even helpful.

I'd have them all back. But maybe not all at once right away...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Joy, Change & Baking Powder

My life right now can perhaps best be described as a big bag of awesomeness mixed with too much sadness, a touch of trepidation and probably just the right amount of joy.

I think we can all be excused for wanting more joy. But the reality is that joy is the baking powder in a great chocolate chip cookie recipe. Just a touch makes the whole thing rise perfectly. Too much and the rest of your confection just can't handle it.

My life's greatest joy -- one Alison Reed -- turns 16 tomorrow. Talk about a mixed bag. I'm so proud of her. Moms are biased, to be sure. But she's a pretty wonderful human being by anyone's measure.

When I was pregnant, I used to have nightmares that she'd come out with my legs and Jeff's arms and she'd waddle around like a chimpanzee. I prayed -- I know that's hard to believe but it's true. I prayed early and often for 9 months straight -- that she'd get all our good parts and none of the bad. That she'd be healthy And that that arm/leg thing wouldn't come true.

It worked out pretty well.

The Captain has kept her well in line and she got his legs, than goodness. (Hey: Can take credit for that given all the uncharacteristic prayer?) 

My contribution has mostly been a wicked smart mouth and an attempt to make her know that she is loved. That she'll always be loved. That whatever she needs -- as opposed to wants -- will be gotten for her if it's at all possible. And that if she CAN help, she SHOULD help.

We're celebrating this weekend with a bunch of her friends hopefully in a house with a dry basement.

The other side of the joy coin is, of course, sadness. And in this case, tragedy due to the unexpected passing of a friend's husband. She has two young children and they had had a wonderful life. Another friend is having a personal family crisis. It's hard to accept or understand either of those situations. It's also hard to celebrate joy when you know there's such suffering going on at the same time.

So add to this joy and pain a monumental change at my workplace. I can't get into great detail and I'm grateful to all of those who've expressed concern about my livelihood as the news has broken. In short, all is well with me and I have great optimism for the future.

But it IS a big deal, and it's lots and lots of change. Change, especially as it pertains to your work, is scary. But it's also good.

Every life recipe needs a bit, right? Kind of like baking powder.