Sunday, June 21, 2020

Rest Stops, Road Trips and Fathers Day

We celebrated Fathers' Day a little bit early on a spontaneous road trip to Maine.  It was a long time in the car, but we have three drivers now, so it made it a little bit better. We were able to see Gary at his managed care facility for 30 minutes a day - which they let us stretch to an hour - outside. Most days, it was pleasant; on the first day, though it was a little chilly. We'd dressed and packed for August but found ways to make do. It was great to see him and hear some stories we hadn't heard before and meet some of the folks who live and work with him. 

We stayed with Jen and Peter at their new camp on China Lake. It's about 90 minutes north of Portland (where Gary is) and about 50 miles south of Bangor. And in June, the drive off the highway down to the lake is bordered by an amazing field of lupines. One of our favorite books to read back when Ali was a little girl, and which was part of a pile Grammie Reed had kept for years, is "Miss Rumphius" AKA the Lupine Lady.  The field brought it all back and made it clear that what I thought was a lupine and wrote about a while ago, is clearly not.

Oh, and look: a deer! Jen and Peter have been keeping an eye on a fawn and mother that live somewhere in there.

Jeff, Jen and I were all working in between the visits, juggling video and voice calls so as not to interrupt the other. But if you have to work and drive a ton on vacation, there are worse places to do it than Maine in June.

We squeezed in a couple visits with James and David, too, but did little else. Not that any of us were complaining. It was awesome to stroll a bit with Grandpa and to enjoy the peacefulness of the lake. Ali coached Jen and me through a bit of yoga, and we took some walks. Jeff helped chop wood with Peter, who made sure Ali got some good lake time in. 

If a road trip is in your future and you, like me,  have long ignored state rest-stop signs, do yourself a favor and renew your acquaintance should you need pee break. I re-learned that the hard way.

Now, I'm the person who buys at least a pack of gum in exchange for restroom privileges. I don't expect something for nothing. And I try to be responsible in stopping at places where there are lots of options. But one of our stops didn't have much in the way of accommodations. It might have been Pennsylvania. But it could have been New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Hard to remember as I was rather desperate and as you'll see below, most of the trip was just a long blur of trees. 

The restroom in question was one door halfway round the back of the building. Both the sign on the door and the guy at the counter claimed you didn't need a key and that if the door wouldn't open, it was occupied.

I tried to open the door, read the sign and crossed my legs some more. Went inside to check that I could still read English. The clerk confirmed the door wasn't locked. I hobbled back to the doorway and tried the knob again. Whoever was in there did not respond. I'd bet $10 no one was in there, and the clerk was laughing at me. 

I waited a little bit more, bit my lip and finally said screw it. They must have that somewhat secluded corner behind the place but within site of a little traveled road there for a reason. I put my money on the fact that the few motorists were eyeing the imminent stop slight rather than the lady crouched down by the trash cans. For all they knew, I was tying my shoe. Which is, of course, what I was doing.

State-run rest stops are the way to go. They have more toilets than visitors. The buildings are clean and offer lots of soap and touchless faucets, flushers, dryers and doorways. I'd have left a tip had I seen a place to do it.

Here's that blur of trees, I mentioned. Gold star if you can correctly name the state they're in.

We were all a bit worn out from all the driving, but wouldn't have missed it. While my biggest disappointment on the trip came in the form of a bad pee stop, Alison's came while she was driving. The rule is "Driver Picks the Music" and she and the Captain were rocking out to the song from Rocky Horror Time Warp. 

She claims she carefully timed her driving so she could jump to the left lane and then step to the right. "He didn't even notice," she said later.

Jeff had no reason to be disappointed as we made two side trips to pick up craft beer for him and his buddies. This morning, we surprised him with a walk-to-brunch at Delicia and some Crocs sneakers he's been wanting. He and Ali are now watching JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a Manga series she's gotten him into. With dinner prepared by Ali and me still to come, it's not a bad way to spend Father's Day, I'd reckon.

Sunday, May 31, 2020


Sometimes when I'm toiling in the yard, it's because it needs it. But sometimes it's because I'm trying to overcome a mental challenge, calm down from being angry or I'm just in need of peace.

It usually works. But not this weekend.

We can all agree that murder is wrong, can't we? And when it's perpetrated and protected by those sworn to protect and serve, it's especially egregious? Property damage isn't murder, but it's also wrong, right?

I understand how sometimes people get carried away. But I worry that much of the violence we've seen across the country and even here in Indianapolis was instigated, physically this weekend, by people who have an interest in civil unrest or even war. Peaceful protesters were on edge, and many had already gone home  when the first glass was shattered. For those who lingered past the peaceful dismissal, the act of destruction  triggered more acts and that quickly raged out of control.

I've never had to fear police. I've never had to fear whether my child could drive, engage in horseplay with her friends, run down the street, go bird watching in a public park and have to pay for those acts with her life. But people of color do. Every day. In America.

Kneeling in silent, peaceful protest in the hopes of calling attention to this terrible inequality was met with hate and anger from the highest levels of our government.

Now, after yet another black man was killed by police, and in the middle of a pandemic where it seemed people of all colors were working together to help each other through it, we are waking up to burnt buildings, broken windows and more death.

I don't have enough weeds in my garden to get my brain to understand how humans can treat each other so badly.

Many of my friends are speaking out, protesting, posting poignant phrases. I haven't done much of that because I don't know that it matters what I say or post. But I keep hearing that phrase of "evil persists when good men say and do nothing" in its face.

I told a group of my friends that I'm not joining a peace processional today because even though it's outside, I suspect it'll be crowded. There's a part of me that wants it to be crowded to illustrate that there are people of all color standing up for the equal treatment of all. There's another part of me that worries we'll see even more cases of COVID-19 because someone in that crowd shares it.

I'm not mingling with strangers these days. I'm barely mingling with friends and family. COVID-19 is as real as racism, and I want no part of either.

Is that saying and doing nothing in the face of evil, or is it responsible parenting? I don't know.

I'm feeling broken this weekend, friends. I suspect  you are, too.

Let me know if you want me to weed for you. And somehow, lets find a way to weed out racism from each of our lives. It's insidious. It's evil. It's hate. Most of us don't want any part of it for ourselves or for others. Right?

I'm seriously asking.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

For Whom the (Dinner) Bell Tolls.... (it's not for me.)

It's widely acknowledged by those who know me that I'm not the world's best cook. I'm generally OK with that. I don't find joy in cooking. And people expect to eat every stinking day.

I used to love to back with Ali back before she got all fancy and started measuring things by weight and making complicated recipes. That's still super fun for her, and we get the benefits of it, but I'm more the sous chef/dishwasher in that equation.

Jeff loves to cook, and like Ali, there's no recipe too complicated for him to try. In the weeks of sheltering at home, he's borne the biggest burden of putting dinner together. We generally fend for ourselves for breakfast and lunch, though we sometimes will double the salad or sandwiches we start if the other happens to want lunch at the same time.

Ali remains solidly against sandwiches unless they're hot dogs or hamburgers, and her lunches are usually Ramen or pizza or cereal depending on when she stumbles out of bed.

The other day, Jeff tried a recipe that had pork marinating in grapefruit juice all day. It was fine, but not as exotic as he'd hoped. Ali has made dinner using a recipe from our friend Miss Sidi, and another one from an African food cookbook I'd bought her years ago and she'd never used. My meals since March have included a stir fry that started with a Birds-eye-bag, my signature lasagna and, hmmm. I'm not sure of what else. Sausage and peppers one night, for sure. A quiche weeks ago? Oh! Two dishes from the "At Home" section of the NY Times in recent weeks.

"I really haven't been doing much lately when it comes to dinner," I remarked, more to myself than anyone else.

"Nope," he agreed.

I offered to cook more often, but reminded my dinner companions that I don't really have a big range. After a while of agreeing with me but then deciding it had gone on a wee bit too long, Ali started defending me. She likes my sausage and peppers, for example, which Jeff decries because the vegetables aren't crispy like you'd get in a Chinese restaurant.

"That's not how we like them," we argued to no avail. Jeff is, above all things, a devotee of "real" chefs and their techniques.

Anyway, the end result was me cooking dinner last night. We took a family walk to the Fresh Market for some produce and bread. Ali and I were going to lay in the sun and read, and I'd planned to join her as soon as my meal prep was done. By the time I'd assembled all the marinades, washed and cut the veggies, she was starting to toast.

Dinner was fine. Like Jeff's grapefruit and pork, my pork hadn't absorbed much of the orange and lemon juice and zest I'd scraped and squeezed until my biceps complained. I enjoyed mine with a glass from a bottle of wine our friend Sami had gifted us a while back.

The wine was superb. The roasted vegetables are part of my short culinary repertoire, so they were good. The pork? Well, it was fine. Which is part, I think, of my ambivalence to preparing food.

Putting it all together had robbed me of time I could have spent lazing in the sun and it wasn't a meal we'll remember -- or duplicate.

To be clear, I love good food and have the chubby frame to prove it. But even when your dish comes out as perfectly as the recipe describes and everyone loves it, it's gone in 15 minutes, leaving only a kitchen full of dirty dishes and soiled napkins in its wake.

Now, I've had some great times in the kitchen with Ali and/or Jeff making food, listening to music and kidding around. We can even have fun cleaning up. But we've had wonderful times with take-out, too. In fact, we had King Rib just the other day at a living room floor picnic. And THAT, we will do again. And again.

My point, I guess, is that for me, the gathering around the food is more important than the origin of the food.  Betty Crocker I am not. But I'll try harder to contribute to the dinner chore.

In other news, Ali talked me into doing a You Tube yoga workout called Psychetruth Fat Burning Yoga with Sanela Osmanovic. Sanela is a lovely young woman who has zero body fat but a sunny disposition. She knows she looks good, and I suspect she knows that her audience may not.

She's a gentle torturer, though, and tries really hard to sound like she's in as much pain as you are. She's not. You know she's not. But she tries so hard to empathize you keep trying to keep up.

It helps, slightly, if your 19-year-old daughter is also in pain as she gasps, "Come on, Mom. You got this. You can do it."

It's like Sanela in stereo. Before she let us go, our new friend Sanela reminded us that we'd done a great job working on our bodies and we needed to remember to make it a part of our routine, and to also not negate our efforts by eating bad foods.

Jeff wandered through as we toughed it out. Proving that he IS a great husband, he encouraged us and did not take pictures. Although, later, as we laid around in pain, flinching at the thought of what the morning would bring when we tried to move, he asked if we were going to do it again today.

We have put dates with Sanela on the calendar for every three days. Ali is here all summer and we've pledged to keep each other honest in our goals. Day one, I had dinner and wine. Ali had dinner, and mac-n-cheese at midnight. So, you know, we're easing into it.

Today, despite my stiffness, I joined Jeff on a bike ride. Ali stayed home and did an arm work-out. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to walk once I got off the bike, but so far, so good. I went straight to the bathroom, downed two Aleve and showered for a good 10 minutes. Now, I'm finishing Sami's wine.

My guess is Sanela doesn't drink wine. I should introduce her to Sami.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A cuter, furrier and more annoying rooster

My friend Andrea lives just a few blocks from me, and for months she's been asking me if I hear the neighborhood rooster. I finally heard it a few weeks ago, and learned that city roosters aren't as devoted to the crack of dawn as the legendary country crowers.

Of late, I have been awoken, though, by what I thought was some other winged creature has taken to serenading me by weak sunlight. It wouldn't be so bad if there was any kind of variation of tone and if it didn't go on for so long. I counted 200 "chik-chik-chiks" on Friday morning before I gave in and got up. Click here for a strikingly similar, but shorter, performance.

I laid there, counting, and wondering what the hell kind of bird has that staying power. It was like a woodpecker drilling through a forest of Redwoods. It just wouldn't stop. Not even, it seemed, for a breath. 

Later that day, I mentioned it to Ali. "Oh, that a**hole," she said. "Yeah, I've heard it, too." 

Saturday morning, Jeff heard it start after I'd been to the bathroom. "It's the toilet," I said, half-way back to slumber land. 

"There is no way that's the toilet," he said.

I laid there and listened. Sure enough, it was the "chik-chik-chiker" back on alarm-clock duty. I let it go a while and then got up and peered through my window, trying to identify the alarmist. It took me a while, but I spotted him sitting on a brick that hides the end of a drain pipe in front of one of my garden beds.                              
We've seen him scurrying inside that pipe for seemingly no reason but also to escape the neighbor's cat. He stays in there for hours, so we've wondered how decked out his little hideaway is and how often he has to redecorate when the water wooshes through.

Tiger Lilly, the cat lurks by the pipe every so often hoping the chipmunk won't know she's there. One day, apparently bored of waiting for her prey to emerge, she peed on the pipe and stalked away. 

Another day, I saw her trotting up the drive (on the other side of the house) with a board-straight chipmunk dangling from her mouth. As she triumphantly marched into her own yard, I gave her a nod to congratulate her persistence only to see her a minute later staring balefully as the chipmunk as it escaped up the back fence. It was a slow escape, but clearly it had outsmarted the cat by playing dead.

Given that it's Tiger Lilly who's bullying it, I don't know why the chipmunk is spending its mornings waking ME up. By all rights, it should be sitting outside Tiger Lilly's window. 

Between the chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels, the antics of the local wild and not-so-wild life has been mostly entertaining.

Except for this morning when Jeff discovered a squirrel (probably) had defiled my newest flower bed. I'd driven down to Jasonville to pick up some artwork fashioned by my sister, Deb, and her husband, Steve. I'd always known she was talented, but Steve's stepped up with great welding and other skills lately and they make all kinds of fun stuff. Their latest work are these big metal flowers created out of an rotary hoe. I almost snagged a shovel that has a sunflower cut out of the shovel end of the tool. Instead, I limited myself to three metal flowers that just barely fit into my top-down car.

In addition to the "flowers" she sent me home with succulents and pots of a new ground cover, which is a Seedum variety.

I'd put them on either side of the new flowers and between hydrangeas I planted last year in my back yard where I've slowly been pushing back some creeping myrtle. Overnight, a critter dumped over one of the pots of ground cover so I'm hoping the broken off bits will take root. My first suspect is the guy in the video to your right. He's as brave as the chipmunk is loud.

We've done a bit of yard work this year, including the relocation of a ratty looking kindling pile that used to live on the west side of our garage where it greeted Lois -- owner of the oasis next door.

I moved the brush pile behind the shed where it's much harder to see and replaced it with some Black-eyed Susans, a hosta, a mound of basil and a clump of cilantro. Behind all of that, I sprinkled a long line of Lois's sunflower seeds. If my squirrel friend doesn't feast on sunflower seeds, she should have something much nicer to look at this summer.

Jeff and Ali were slow to embrace the woodpile relocation plan as they'll have to walk 25 extra steps to dump sticks or for fire fire, but they're coming around to the aesthetics.

Ali helped me refill the porch pots with another round of Juncus Twisters, or as we call them, Medusa plants. Ali found it last year, and our first one stayed green nearly through winter. The dog and cat that guard them have lost the solar glow over the years, and they do nothing to intimidate the wildlife, but I still like them.

Ali was having a good time with them until a six-inch-long earth worm protested her soil displacement. No amount of reasoning with her about how the worm is a sign that the soil is good was enough to get her to get back to filling that pot. I'll have more luck with her silencing the chipmunk.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Celebration in isolation; good neighbors in abundance

In the past week, Alison turned 19, finished her freshman year at Purdue, Jeff returned to 450 North for the best pizza in the state (and some beer) and we celebrated Mother's Day.

Even in isolation, it was a lot and my pants are reminding me just how much it's been. But #YOLO, amIright?

Also, it should be pointed out that Ali's birthday and final exams came at the same time. She allowed us about 30 minutes of creme brulee (for her) breakfast and gifts before she went back to studying. The girl's focus is impressive, and seems to be paying off well.

She compared work load with a few high school friends who surprised her with a properly distanced and longer-than-expected visit. They're all at different colleges. Shockingly, the demands of a chemistry student at Purdue who is taking more hours than her parents advised are greater than those of other universities.

Not that her friends are coasting. They're all amazing young women who will be excelling in things like architecture and business, marketing and engineering. They've eased into college life a little bit more sanely than our redhead.

Like me, Ali is blessed with great friends. (My sweet friend Tina did a door drop to send yummy caramel/cheddar popcorn as a little MD gift.) Ali's friend, Nikki, brought over a massive, dark chocolate ice-cream cake that I have tried desperately to stay away from. I had bites of Jeff's and just about died. She came back three days later with a different and thankfully smaller one.  Corey brought brownies. I'm telling you, the struggle is real. I'll be wearing a mummu soon and not because it'll be summer.

We haven't received all of Ali's birthday gifts, nor did my Mother's Day gifts arrive on time. 

I know about the double-wide hammock that Jeff ordered, the width of which is going to be necessary for just my own girth. But Ali is keeping her Mother's Day selection to herself.  They conspired on breakfast and dinner and they agreed to accompany me on a really long walk right after breakfast to try to beat the predicted storm.

The weather dipped enough to frost the flowers a bit, and we got a bit of the predicted wind and rain, but we had only momentary power losses. It snowed in Maine. As it was the same storm system that hit states apart, I should feel guilty that our family there got the short end of the weather stick. I'm trying. But I'm pretty happy that we got such a beautiful morning.

Before hitting the couch to celebrate my day a little more, I spent a little time after our walk moving our wood pile from the side of the garage where it smacks my lovely neighbor in the face every time she's out in her back yard. Lois has created an oasis in her yard, so I've been feeling the need to up my game -- something the Captain doesn't quite get but went along with. 

He even burned a bunch of the sticks and debris in our chimenae while sharing a beverage and conversation -- distanced of course -- with Duane -- to lessen the job for me.

While I was relocating the remains of my unsightly woodpile behind our shed, and mostly out of Lois' sight,  my neighbor across the back fence said hello. Matt was out battling the creeping myrtle, so we had a discussion about the stuff. It provides a great natural barrier between the houses as it covers up and sprouts even higher than the fence, but it also would take over the whole yard if left to its own, creeping devices. 

His garage is directly behind our shed, he has a bunch of sticks and wood that I frankly have never noticed (Thank you, creeping myrtle.) We agreed that our joint no-man's land/utility right-of-way would be great space for a communal wood pile. He got my idea of having to keep up (or at least not offend Lois) right way.

"Oh, I know," he said, adding that in prior years neither of the neighbors on his other sides had done a lot to improve their yard, which had lulled him into the same complacent rut I was in. He, too, had taken note of the Lois Oasis. Which was why he was also working ahead of the storm. I may have committed Jeff to bringing the chainsaw over to help with some of the wood. 

In other news, Jeff may have repaired the toilet tank I broke using other neighbors' advice.

"Yeah, the guys at Hedlund Hardware aren't convinced," Jeff reported. "But it's worth a try."

We'll see if the fix is really in. With Ali through finals, she's going to make me a batch of macaroons which are going to be payment to yet another neighbor who's agreed to sharpen my lawn mower blades.

We've been gathering for cookouts/drinking on the street -- safely distanced for the most part -- for the past couple of weeks so it's been great to renew acquaintances and remember who's talented or tooled in helpful ways. 

Lois and I are planning to organize the next gathering. Here's hoping I don't break or neglect anything else. But even if I do, it appears there are plenty of neighbor to help me out. With Ali now footloose and not employed, I should have enough baked goods to barter.

And it'll be key to get them out of the house.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

We're doin' the best we can, man

Years ago, when the building now housing Luciana's Mexican Restaurant on Broad Ripple Avenue was a Greek place called Korey's, Jeff and I discovered avgolemono soup.

It was a life-saver when it was cold and drizzly outside or if you had a cold and were drizzly yourself. It was creamy and lemony and just wonderful. We'd get it for take-out before take-out became routine.  Jeff tried for a while to find a recipe so he could make it at home and finally merged two that gets us 95 percent of the way there.

He's been on a cooking kick lately as we've been sheltering in place and has hit some dishes out of the park -- couscous with chicken and olives and broccoli, his standard and awesome black bean soup, hunks of meat on the grill, pasta with home-made, fancy tomato sauce -- it's been delightful.

Last night, he broke out the avgolemono soup and paired it with the cous cous.

Alison is an adventurous eater, but tends to eat one item at a time, rather than bites of this and that in rotation as most people in polite society are prone to do. After offering accolades for the cous cous, she and Jeff discussed the nuances of the dish as I stuck to the soup. I wasn't really paying attention to anything else, but Jeff discovered Alison soaking her pita in her soup bowl.

He inquired as to why she wasn't spooning it up in ecstasy.

"It's lemon milk soup, man," said. "I'm doin' the best I can."

It was as if she'd pulled out a bow and shot an arrow straight to his heart.

"And I totally didn't pour half my bowl into Mom's when you were in the kitchen," she informed him.

I'm more known for ordering out than crafting gourmet meals, and I rarely wax poetic over the contents even in those rare wins.  Jeff likes to discuss where the ingredients were born, died and prepared for shipment. He misses the mark far less often than I do.

So I just enjoyed the repartee. Plus, I had more soup than I deserved.

In other news, Ali and I were bored the other night and decided we needed facials. Last night, we binged on Botched and agreed that no one needs to look exactly like Barbie.

I posited that men really don't have a say when it comes to boob jobs. Ali retorted that she prefers they speak up.

"That way you know who to dump," she said.

Keepers? Cooks. Even if they sometimes make lemon milk soup.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Here's to another week at home, #Covid style

Alison is helping Jeff make caramel-stuffed, quadruple chocolate cookies, so any progress I'd made in fighting the Corona15 is about to regress.

It's an amazing cookie. Anything made with four kinds of chocolate inside is guaranteed to make you swoon and then lick the crumbs that fell in your vicinity on the floor.

The recipe came to us years ago from Kirsten Jasheway who hired Ali to make them as a surprise for her husband, Dwayne. He loved them, and we appropriated the recipe, which I encourage you to do. No sense in us being the only ones to gain weight.

You'll thank me. Or you can hire Ali, whose baking skills have only increased since what may have been her first paid baking gigs. Selling cupcakes with Jenna at Canterbury Park may precede that event, but I don't think that's quite the same thing.

Anyway, I have quadruple chocolate in my future. I haven't eaten yet, so I'm think the first one is weight-gain free.

Much like you, I presume, we've had a pretty uneventful week. In between working from home, Jeff has continued playing Tim the Tool Man Taylor.

We have a replacement light over the kitchen sink -- a project we've been eyeing for at least five years -- and we've finally put a light over the kitchen counter, which we've been talking about doing for 19 years. Clearly, it wasn't that big of a problem.

We also have a new router that's allowing me to work in my happy place -- the back porch. (More thanks to Alan Ng whose Ng Computer Services you should be your IT Help Desk, too.)

I've deep-cleaned more parts of the house and Ali successfully took a couple big exams. Today may include some yard work for me, and for sure for Alison who's helping Tracy and Eric keep their Indy house looking sharp. They've decided it's not their forever home and I think it sold (pending) in a week. My guess is the new neighbors won't be as much fun as E&T.

My weekend got started with a Zoom gathering for my TechPoint friends. Before Covid19, we were planning a fancy gala that would have been last night. A group of us got dressed up - some of us Corona mullet-style with fancy on top and sweats on bottom -- and raised a glass anyway. That preceded my Zoom Book Club, where I continued imbibing from the same bottle.

By the time Book Club started, I was already sleepy. It might not have been my finest hour as a Book Clubber. I truly am a cheap date. Jeff and I finished the bottle the next afternoon.

Alison's 19th birthday is coming up fast. Given the more we're learning about #Covid19, we're even less prone to have her out and about. Sure, she's young and healthy and her asthma is mile, but there's no reason to risk her health. I told her I didn't really want to encourage people to come by - even from the road - to give her good wishes.

"That is the last thing I want," she said. "I mean, I'd love to get texts and calls and stuff, but I don't want a lot of people driving by like that."

She seems sincere, and she's never been one to want a spotlight. So don't think I'm a bad parent if I don't organize a parade for her or have big signs in the front yard. We'll do something, and I'm sure we'll have a new box farm to deal with as I start online shopping. But what the celebration will be, is anyone's guess.

For now, we still have booze, toilet paper, two working toilets and soon, cookies. Pretty sure we'll be okay for another few days.

Cheers to however you're managing.