Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chicago (Sort Of)

Well, we never actually made it into the city, but we did spend a few days in Oak Brook last week. The owner of J's company visited her plant in the morning last Tuesday, but she was able to leave shortly after noon to pack and then head to Illinois. Our trip was uneventful, smoothed out by a Kay Hooper mystery on CD and punctuated by toll paying and extraordinarily bad Cinnabons, all dried out and hard. Yuck! When we arrived at our hotel, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant (beautiful salad, overcooked filet and stunning veggies) before soaking in the hot(ish) tub for awhile before bed.

In the morning, J got up and went to work while I ordered an omelet from room service. I relaxed in the room all morning, reading, playing around online and writing. A friend from seminary, Lisa, who now has two churches of her own in a town of about 1,000 people outside Chicago picked me up for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We ended up sitting there talking shop for 4 hours! She'd had a rough week and I am eager to absorb all the wisdom and experience I can before I am out there in the trenches, so it was just great. To the great credit of the staff, we were not hurried out of there or even given reproachful glances, even when the dinner crowd started coming in. The spinach dip was good, the Cobb salad was great and the cheesecake wasn't so shabby, either, although it needed more raspberry flavor for my taste. When Lisa dropped me off, I hung out reading for a bit, then took myself to the hot tub with a good book. J was at dinner with the folks from work, so I was on my own for the evening. When she got back, I ordered some delicious cream of chicken soup and a lovely salad starring a fruity vinaigrette and fresh mandarin orange slices from room service and ate as she dozed off.

In the morning, she was off to the conference bright and early. Knowing I'd be driving home, I slept late, then got our room all packed up and checked out. I spent the early afternoon wandering the Oak Brook Center mall, with lunch at Cafe Nordstrom and plenty of time to drool over the housewares at Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel. I picked up some Frango mints for J's secretary and some for us, then spent the rest of the afternoon hoping they wouldn't melt in the heat. They didn't. I spent the later afternoon reading magazines and sipping iced tea at Borders. I'd purchased Cloth, Paper, Scissors for the spoon book project, which I definitely want to try, and Hallmark mag just because I usually like it, so I found a comfy chair in a sunny window and curled up with the magazines until J called to tell me she was finished.

I picked her up at the hotel and we went to Mon Ami Gabi for dinner. We'd had lunch there while we were in Las Vegas in December. I'd adored the croque monsieur and the artichoke with lemon Dijon sauce. It had been, in fact, our favorite restaurant we'd tried in Las Vegas. I assumed the dinner menu would have equally good things on it and J had heard from the folks at work about how amazing the food was there. We chose a patio table overlooking the parking lot. Not the best view, but there were sprightly flowers in window boxes all along the railing, at least. We love eating outdoors, anyway. J had a very tender crab cake with gribache sauce while I indulged in the artichoke. Is there anything more perfect for a summer evening than pulling velvety artichoke "meat" off the leaves with your teeth after dipping them in a wonderful sauce? Of course, I like my lime butter better, but this sauce is lovely, too. For the main course, J chose the chicken paillard with gorgeous lemony haricots verts. Honestly, I like my chicken paillard better, but this was very good, despite my egotistical preferences. My steak was perfectly cooked and tender, slathered with a very generous amount of roquefort and accompanied by crisp frites. It utterly made up for the not-so-hot steak at the hotel. For dessert, against my urge to order the crème brûlée, we split the bananas Foster crepes with vanilla ice cream. They could never measure up to the expectations created by the amazing bananas Foster we had one Fat Tuesday at the Winds, but they were pretty tasty anyway. J discovered, however, that she no longer likes crêpes, so I ate most of that part and she had lots of the ice cream. Thus fueled for the journey, we got out of Oak Brook and onto the thruway at about 9 o'clock Ohio time, meaning we finally arrived home and fell into bed a smidge after three Friday morning. The trip, aside from that long drive home, was very relaxing. My only regret is not having made it to Ethel's Chocolate Lounge for fondue.

Fine Arts and Father's Day

J still had company at work Friday when it was time to make the drive to PA for the boys, so I headed off on my own. We had a pretty quiet ride home, with Pie absorbed in his video game and Boot in his thoughts. So, I listened to Neil Gaiman reading the stories from his book, Fragile Things. Every once in a while, Boot would pipe up, most frequently with weird and worrisome questions about how heroin addicts get their needles and whether they can be re-used and how you "open an account with Western Union." Handling the teen years with any kind of grace is a dance that requires great skill. When he asks me things like that, I want to interrogate him about why he is asking. But, I've learned that the full picture develops over time and that interrogation not only doesn't work, but makes him feel as though I think he's not trustworthy. What came out is that he is very interested in obtaining steroids through an online venue, wiring money to some former Soviet place or other. He's become obsessed with steroids in recent months, which scares me. Pie's obsession with energy drinks scares me, too, but it pales in comparison to this. We have talked to him about how badly steroids can mess up his body, about the ramifications of their illegality and so forth, but he persists. His coaches tacitly encourage it, too, which pisses me off. He is bound and determined that he is going to do this. He is saving up money and intends to make his way to a Western Union service in PA. His father doesn't communicate with us, so we can't call and talk to him about it. All we can do is warn Boot that he is likely to either lose 50-some dollars or to get pills filled with dirt or dried horse manure. I hope he will start to think about that. And, frankly, I hope he does get ripped off. I do not want my kid on steroids. I am afraid, so very afraid, that he will do damage to himself with these drugs. Further, I worry about the 'roid rage you hear about. He already has anger control issues and his brother bears the brunt of that, telling us that he has spent the beginning of his summer vacation being beat up. Nothing we can do about it, as part-time parents. If he were living with us full-time, I would take him to be tested every so often, but almost all the parenting is out of our hands now. And in the hands of an incompetent.

When J got home Friday night, she made cheeseburgers, with tortilla chips and dip and baked beans on the side. We hung out and talked, but went to bed pretty early because J had to be back at work early. She'd promised Boot he could go with her and in the night, he put a series of notes outside of our bedroom door: 1. "Wake me up pleaze" 2. Take me to *work and let ME *work" 3. "Wake me up so I can get $ paid" 4. "If you take me to work you a promoting a good work ethic." Where does he come up with this stuff? So, they got up before 7 and headed out. Boot is a hard worker. J let him pack a little, intending to pay him out of our money. At the end of the shift, though, he told her, "No, Mom, I don't need money." He'd just wanted to share time and experience with her, I guess. He is planning to work full-time for her next summer, though. He definitely has a good work ethic already. Pie, on the other hand, stayed home with his step-mama and both of us slept in. Then, I went grocery shopping. I missed out on the farmer's market because I couldn't find one parking space, so I indulged in Heinen's fabulous produce selection. Boot immediately climbed back into bed when they got home and slept until 9 that night. Pie told us his brother always catches up on his sleep over the weekend. Neither boy wanted to go to Crocker Park with us. J worries that they will feel neglected or be bored. I told her it's normal, developmentally speaking, for teenage boys to want to sleep and play video games all weekend. What's unusual is for them to want to spend large amounts of time socializing with their parents. Nonetheless, she is planning structured activity for their next visit and won't take "No thanks" (Pie's likely response) for an answer. Maybe a water park, maybe the movies. I'm game for it, anyway. The boys most often say they would prefer to relax at home, although Boot is usually happy to hit the mall or go out to eat with us. He noticed Houlihan's over this last weekend, so I think I'll take him there sometime. He'd like Melt, too.

Since the boys were out for the count, we gave them pizza money and headed over to Crocker Park for the fine arts festival. It's a moderate-sized craft show, nothing like Summerfair in Cincinnati, but okay. I only saw a couple booths that tugged at my purse strings, but I refrained. One artist creates wonderful cat pictures, the other pictures of women on the beach with fun sayings added to the picture, stuff like "What happens at the lake stays at the lake" and other girlfriend getaways kinds of things. We had lunch at Aladdin's. It was delicious, as always, but I think it made us sick. It was either that or Coldstone Creamery, where we got ice cream. In the late evening, we were both attacked by classic food poisoning symptoms. No fun and I worried that I might still be ill in the morning for church. Yikes! I wasn't, though. Anyway, after we'd had our fill of the arts, we did some more grocery shopping. J wanted to make ribs. I'd planned to make chili, but allowed her to steal my cooking night. When we got home, both boys were asleep, so J snuggled in for a nap, too. I read some magazines and watched Alton Brown watching andouille being made. When it was time to make dinner, J wasn't ready to get up, so I offered to make chili after all. It was soooo good. Our oven has broken, so I wasn't able to make the honey cornbread I wanted to go with it, but the tortilla chips were a decent substitute. I hate not having an oven, though, and I don't know how long it will take our landlord to replace it. J said the chili was the best I've made her yet (and I've made lots of chili in the 7+ years we've been together) and Pie ate all of his and pronounced it good, even though he commented on its spiciness. 3 tablespoons of chili powder bought at a roadside stand in Chimayó, New Mexico will do that. Lucky for him I didn't add any cayenne.

In the morning, I got up before 7 this time. J stayed in bed, promising to make it to the later service. I was at the church by 20 'til 8, visiting with the early service folks and greeting the guest preacher. The first service went quite smoothly. We visited with the folks in the adult Sunday school afterward, had some good conversation about how we are all called to ministry, not just people who do it full-time for a living. Then came the main service, in the main sanctuary. I was decidedly nervous, especially about how the offering and children's sermon would go. The mikes made me nervous, too, but they turned out to be a breeze, thanks to our well-seasoned sound guy. Mostly, my first main Sunday service at this church went well. I did manage to bulldoze right through the prelude, totally forgetting to stop between announcements and call to worship so our organist could play it. She is a good sport, though, and told me afterward that the extra time not spent prepping the prelude while she's on vacation will be great. I also almost forgot the children's sermon, skipping right to the offering. Oy vey! Luckily, the guest preacher reminded me and the acolytes are very flexible & well-trained kids who jumped right in to help with the offering. The children's sermon, once I finally sat down for it, went very well and the kids were great participants, not to mention so adorable that I wanted to squish them all. I got a drawing from one of them later. I'd invited "the young at heart" forward, too, and our wonderful Christian Ed director, Lucinda, came up and sat with us. It was deliciously calming to have her up there. It was also good to have J sitting right up front nodding encouragement throughout the service. The scripture readings went beautifully. I do really well when I can just stand in the pulpit and read...when there's blocking and I have to memorize lines, not so much. LOL!

After church, I went home and changed. J took the kids to the grocery again. Pie spent all the money Grandpa gave him on energy drinks, which I wish J wouldn't let him get. She says it's his money. Boot, as always, is saving his, this time for steroids. Augh! When they got home, Pie settled in on the couch to watch Sci Fi, allowing me to tuck him under a quilt, and promptly fell asleep. Boot helped J grill and I hung out to talk to them. Pie didn't want to get up for lunch, so it was the two of us and our Boot eating ribs, chips, baked beans, corn on the cob and strawberries with cheesecake dip on the deck. He was delightful company and even helped clean up without being asked. He is one of the most helpful teenagers I've been around. I may not like his foul mouth or some of the things he talks about, but I have never seen a kid be so perceptive about what needs to be done and or so willing to do it. Take the trash out? Sure! Carry a heavy box upstairs? No problem! It's really nice. Once we'd gotten things cleaned up, it was getting close to time to take them back, so we roused Pie, with great difficulty, and got him out to the car. He slept the whole way home while Boot joked around with us (or, just J when I nodded off) the entire time. Pie was really crabby when Boot awoke him just before we turned onto their street, wanting to sleep more. I said, "I bet you're going inside and going right back to sleep." He nodded with drooping eyes.

When we got home, J put on the stereo and sat on the porch while I made dinner. She kept popping in to help and made the steak for me. I made pepper steak with cherry tomato salsa on garlic toasts, lemon asparagus and what I now consider to be the best drink in the world, the Latin Lover, all fruity, slushy goodness. Wow! Those go down easy and I could happily have consumed 20. J loved them, too. We each only had one, since we're not really big drinkers, but man o live were they fab! We sat on the porch watching the fireflies, listening to Taj Mahal and sharing memories of my granddaddy, who loved Taj and introduced me to his music when I was but a wee one. People talk about the traditional lullabies their folks sang to them, but for me "Fishin' Blues" (along with other blues, Taj and otherwise) is my childhood music. That and memories of my mama singing Grateful Dead songs and the "Swaying" song about the elephants to me. Oh, and my uncle Vic jiggling me on his knee and singing "Froggy Went a-Courtin.' " I was taken to the Mariposa folk festival up in Toronto at a tender age and went to a B.B. King concert with my grands when I was 10. Then, there was the Dead Kennedys concert at Antioch College when I was 16, where my mom hurt her ankle slam-dancing. Aaaaah. Such good memories. I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Aunties and Cousins and Pride! Oh my!

My grandmom decided to host a special coffee hour at church to honor and commemorate what would have been her and my granddaddy's 65th wedding anniversary. Thinking about how hard it would be for me to host such a thing for our would-have-been-anniversary, I suggested to J that we should plan to visit for the weekend. Of course, she agreed readily, especially since we didn't have the boys for the weekend and we needed to visit her folks, anyway.

So, Friday we headed down there after J got home from work. We drove through Burger King on the way down so that we'd arrive earlier and thus have more visiting time. My uncle Jazzbo was in town overnight before embarking on a boys' motorcycle road trip with my uncle Vic & cousin John to visit my mom, Graham and Lenore for the evening. Even though he and Anne live in the Cleveland area, too, our schedules prevent us from seeing them as often as we'd like, so I was happy to get a chance to visit with him. We had a nice visit, then J and I blew up our humongous air mattress and Jazzbo tucked himself in on the couch. I ended up staying up until almost one with my cousin Leah talking about school, our shared vomit-phobia and sundry other things. It was great fun to see her again.

In the morning, we visited over cereal, then Jazzbo took off for Columbus in his rain gear while Jeanie took my grandmom to her hair appointment. Leah had opted to attend Dayton Pride with us. She'd never been to anything like that & had a great time despite some obstacles. First of all, we arrived at 10:30 to line up, as requested by the church we were marching with. Nobody from the church was there, so we poked around the library for awhile and re-emerged. Nobody. J was getting hungry, having skipped breakfast, and Leah and I were wishing we' had something more substantial ourselves. I remembered that one of my favorite greasy spoons was around the corner, so we headed over there. Yummy Burger, a joint that serves both American dive fare and Thai food, caught our eyes on the walk over, but we persisted toward Wympee. We sat at the decidedly sticky counter, with its view of industrial gloom and grit, and settled in with the paper. Leah had a BLT, J chose French toast and I opted for a burger with home fries. It was all good and we emerged ready to march at 11:45. We roamed among the crowd until we spotted familiar faces from church. Don and Nan were actually marching with P-FLAG, but were able to point us toward the church and remind us that we couldn't wear political candidates' stickers when marching with the church. Glad we ran into them! I'd forgotten.

So, we got into the line-up and were hugged madly by several folks we'd not seen in ages. I introduced Leah all around. The rain kept coming down and Leah and I were wishing we'd opted for big umbrellas rather than attractive ones, as our whole left sides got progressively wetter. J never uses an umbrella, so she was just getting soaked. Luckily, it was warm! We marched the short route with the church, then ran into the guys who run the local youth support group. It was good to see them, but I was sorry to hear that the group has dwindled away to practically nothing. They seem confident about their plans to revitalize, though. Then, we saw Adrian, a seminary buddy who has gotten me through the last semester with sanity and sense of humor intact despite a very emotionally challenging group dynamic in the class we shared. We had fun visiting with folks we knew, but there was very little going on, just as with the last Dayton Pride we attended. There were a couple of tired-looking drag queens and a few boys running around in tidy-whities (or tidy-blackies) and not much else, who will probably dominate any media coverage, despite the predominance of ordinary folks marching with churches and what-have-you. I'd hoped that it had improved over the several years we'd missed, attributing the general suckiness of the last one we attended to the fact that it was still in its infancy at the time. Adrian assures me that it was the rain and that Pride wasn't sucky last year. However, the suck factor and rain combined to encourage me to respond in the affirmative when J suggested we leave just after the Pride band finished playing. I'd wanted to find Kevin, anoher seminary friend who marched with the MCC, but he was nowhere in sight, so we skulked off to the car and headed for the (equally sucky) gay gift shop. Somehow, Leah had a great time and is going to recommend to her best friend, Casey, that he head to Dayton from Vermont. Hmm. I'm thinking Columbus might be a better Ohio option for the queer.

After we'd browsed all the rainbow merchandise we could stand, we picked up Jeanie and headed to Buffalo Wild Wings to play trivia. We waited for an age to be seated, with staff members staring over at us all the while. All the booths were either occupied or not cleaned off, so we had to sit, little bitty legs dangling uncomfortably, at a tall table. Then, there were no trivia units available, either all taken or broken. We finally succeeded in obtaining 4 when we told the waiter we weren't ordering food unless we could also play trivia. We certainly hadn't come for the big-screen cage fighting. Only 2 of the four actually worked. J was finally able to get hers to work & traded with Leah, taking the one that insisted the player be involved with Texas Hold 'Em rather than NTN trivia. Oy! So, not the best BW-3 visit, but we had fun together anyway. We stopped on the way back to the house at the bookstore and grocery. Back at the house, we spent the evening visiting (and, in J's case, napping) and looking at old family slides Jeanie had put on the computer.

In the morning, we all went to church. Brendan was amazing, giving a really great sermon and call to action, very radical for that church and I don't think they even got a word of it. Sigh. If they don't come around, that church is going to die. If they would actually hear Brendan and heed his message, he could very skillfully lead them into a new life. But, I fear that they won't and that they have no idea what a treasure they have in Brendan. When I congratulated him on his great sermon, he said, "I'll probably get kicked out." I think not because I don't think anyone in that congregation has the energy to raise a boot if they actually catch on to the fact that he's made the transition from pastoral to prophetic. It's so sad to see them all asleep like that. I never really noticed the stagnation and apathy and general unhealth until I got into healthy churches.

The coffee hour went well, alhough it was pretty sparsely attended. When I commented to a friend that we miss doing the coffee hours, she said, "Well, we miss you doing them! It's gotten pretty scraggly lately." In truth, I had noticed that on my last visit. Coffee hour was only stale snack foods like generic cheese puffs and pretzels, tiredly sitting on the counter where they were laid out by frustrated committee members when no one bothered to sign up for coffee hour refreshments. The symptoms are all there, the doctor is willing and able, but the congregation chooses to ignore the illness instead. I don't know how Brendan stands it. Maybe if they combine with the other Presbyterians, there is hope. Can they overcome years of mutual prejudice and competition to survive? The best thing about coffee hour besides getting to chat with Brendan, was the wonderful surprise of Nola showing up with the babies for a visit! It was the very first time I got to see the new baby in person and he is adorable, fat and cheery.

I wished we could stay, but we had to move on to Cincinnati to visit J's folks. I was really dreading it because her mom is under Hospice care now and her dad is often curmudgeonly and hideously negative, guilt-tripping J about not visiting more often, no matter that she works hard and lives 5 hours away. I often joke that he is God's way of giving me practice at difficult pastoral care situations. Luckily, he was in fairly good spirits, although he complained repeatedly about our not bringing the boys this time. Oh, well, next time we'll make sure they are with us, too. The big relief was that J's mom recognized her and was even able to respond somewhat and smile when J talked to her. She even laughed once, which was a good thing to hear. So, we were able to drive home in fairly good spirits, although the long hours on the road and the tedium of the book we'd chosen to listen to took us to the brink of desperate hysteria. Kathy Reichs may be an expert in her field, forensic anthropology, but that doesn't mean she should necessarily write fiction about it. The dialogue came across as overly educational, more like a college lecture than a conversation between colleagues. What's more, most mystery readers in 2008 hardly need to be educated in depth on what Stockholm Syndrome is. It didn't help that the reader insisted on doing a horribly inadequate pseudo-French accent whenever a French-Canadian character spoke. Yikes...shades of The DaVinci Code, another poorly-written novel with fake French accents, which we listened to on the way to Pittsburgh a few years ago. At least the book we listened to on the way to Chicago yesterday is good, even though the producers insist on tinkering with weird sound effects whenever the dialogue is over the phone (one voice faded and tinny, so we can tell it's on the phone, presumably) or the action is a memory (more weird fades).

Friday, June 06, 2008


J was in Chicago on business when time came to get the boys last Friday, so I drove over and got them, greatly enjoying the flower scents wafting in the open car windows as I rode along 90 toward Erie. The boys were in good spirits, didn't fight a lick while we were on the road. Grabbed some groceries and heated up some homemade chicken soup for dinner, but no one was hungry except me. So, Boot and J sat by me and chatted while I had soup and an herbed turkey sandwich.

We went to bed fairly early and slept in too late to make it to the Farmer's Market. J had gotten my cold and was miserable, but managed to get out and about for grocery shopping and poking around Crocker Park with Shopping Boy. He picked up a Cleveland Indians ballcap that looks remarkably good on him. We had a nice time over there and there was great people-watching.

Saturday evening, we agreed to let the boys try the new Pizza Hut pasta. Personally, I think ordering pasta for take-out is silly, since it's so simple and cheap to make a terrific pasta dinner at home. But, Boot's been wanting to try it ever since the ads appeared. We tried both the marinara and the alfredo. J and the boys approved heartily of the marinara and thought the alfredo was okay. I thought it was all decidedly mediocre. Oh, well.

Sunday, I was the only one who went to church. J was feeling even worse, poor thing. She's had a rough spring, first spraining her back, having an oogey stomach for about a month now and then this cold. Oh, and this is the second cold of the spring for her. Put her allergies on top of all that and she's not been a happy girl. Church was nice, but nothing amazingly inspiring. It was our summer interim's first day and she did a nice job. I had some nice visiting at coffee hour with folks who joined the same Sunday we did, then headed home to find the fam eating Dunkin' Donuts. I declined, still peeved over their ridiculous cancellation of the Rachael Ray ads that some asinine right-wingers decided proves that she's a terrorist. Apparently, they have decided that her wearing a kaffiyeh means she supports violent fundamentalist Muslims. WTF? So, if someone wears a business suit, they support greedy corporate CEOs who are willing to rob people of their retirement funds to make an enormously inflated profit? And if someone has a crew cut, surely they are very much of the same mindset as Timothy McVeigh, right? Automatically associating a traditional Arabic garment with terrorism is idiotic, bitching about it to Dunkin Donuts more so. But what is the most stupid of all is Dunkin Donuts caving to this pressure. For the love of God, why can't people act like they've got good sense??? If it wasn't so bloody hot right now, I'd have to dig out my own kaffiyeh (which I like because it's pretty and keeps me warm in the winter) and don it. I'd probably get shot.

While I'm on a rant, I also am really tired of people slamming celebrities for this that and the other perceived fault. I don't personally know Rachael Ray. She seems okay to me, but really, who am I to even judge? When I was looking into the Dunkin Donuts story, I saw some virulently nasty comments about her by random internet wankers who also don't know her. People said things like "Everyone knows she's actually a gigantic asshole", "ugly, irritating, raspy-voiced, talentless, no-necked bitch," "ol' porker Rachael," "man hands," "sausage fingers" "I despise Rachael Ray" and on & on it goes. First of all, why so mean? Is this kind of savaging really necessary? And she's not even fat!!! At all!!! And does anyone talk about Mario Batali, who is decidedly fat? Why no. Not that his size bothers me, but he's a hell of a lot bigger than she is and you never hear people saying things like "Ol' porker Mario." Total sexism right there, if you ask me. Second, why her? Why not turn your savaging toward people who are actually making decisions that affect the lives of millions of people, if you must be mean? If Rachael Ray wears a scarf, shills for Dunkin Donuts or whatever, how, really, does that affect the life of your average internet commentator? 'Nuff said.

Back to my weekend. Sunday afternoon, we KFCed the boys, then drove them back to their father's. J was having a really hard time, crying because she didn't want to have to take them back. I am clueless as to how I can help her, other than just loving her. I did make her a really good dinner, pasta Florentine, that night. Maybe that helped a little. I know, how about the internet meanies rip on J's ex & the biased judge we pulled instead of Rachael Ray, Britney Spears or the despised celeb of the day?