Oh, What a Night

This is going to be a good story, I promise. I only hope that I can give it the proper care and verbiage it so deserves.

We had a craft show again today.  I know that no good story begins with those words, so trust me, it will only get better from here. Bonnie and Natalie are my craft show cohorts.  We call ourselves "Velocicrafters."  We find that very funny, but that doesn't really mean other people will.  They work so hard alongside me, and I couldn't do it without them.  They're so awesome.  Today, I really wanted to do something special for them, and had the perfect idea.

In previous blog postings, I have mentioned my email group.  We send multiple emails around daily, keeping up a continuous dialog.  We talk about nearly everything. Sometimes (well, usually) things get out of hand.  We have this weird habit of calling each other rude names, even though we don't mean it -- usually.  There is a twenty year span in our ages, we live in different states, we come from different backgrounds. A few of us have met a few others, but we've never all been in the same room together.  We love each other dearly.  When my brother passed away about six weeks ago, they wanted to do something for me, so they sent a generous gift certificate for a restaurant in Omaha called The Grey Plume.

My big idea for something special for Bonnie and Dawg (oh, by the way, we call Natalie "Dawg") involved taking them to dinner at The Grey Plume.  They were excited, and so was I.  It had all the markings of the perfect post-craft show wind-down and chill session.  We called for a reservation, and found that we could only get in rather early, at 5:15.  Fine with us.

We looked up information about the restaurant.  Their mission statement on the website is intriguing:  "Seasonally-driven, contemporary cuisine from locally-grown produce and livestock. The life-cycle of food begins even before the seed and should always end with an emotional connection. Understanding the journey to the plate evokes a deeper appreciation and respect for the meals we share. We seek to inspire and elevate the way Omaha thinks about food through culinary excellence, the promotion of local foods and growers, and a commitment to community."

Well, this may surprise you, but we can be a bit prone to poking fun. We joked that we should ask really great questions, like "Can you tell me what this chicken's name was?" or "Did someone hug this cow daily?" or "How often did someone sing to my carrots?"  But off we went, excited for our evening.

So there we were.  We were seated at a table in the window, and were assured it was the best table in the house, and they had saved it for us.  (I think she said that to everyone, though.)  There was a small vase on the table, with a sprig of rosemary in it.  We liked that.  They immediately brought us tall, narrow glasses, opened a bottle of water, and poured.  No Omaha tap water for us.  I never did ask if the water was local.  Actually, it seems like Omaha tap water is already pretty local.

We studied our bamboo-encased menus.  There were words there that the three of us, all avid readers, all "word people," really didn't know.  Fortunately, there was a sort of "food glossary" on the table.  Our server told us a little about the restaurant, and we were fascinated. Then the "Wine Director" came over to have a chat with us.  Wow.  There is such a job as a "Wine Director." I had no idea.  I don't even drink wine, but was hanging on her every word. Her descriptions included words like "meaty," "nutty," "earthy," "supple," and "woody."  Many of those words are known to make me snicker, so I had to contain myself. At some point, I said, "Could I just get a Diet Coke?" It was one of those moments you see in movies, where the music stops, all chatter ceases, and everyone in the room gasps and stares at the offender.  I think I may have offended the Wine Director with my question.  She quickly recovered, though, and told me that they didn't serve it, but could make me an Italian soda. Her descriptions again held me enraptured.  She began to suggest a mint and rosemary blend, and I mentioned that I'm allergic to mint.  Oh dear!  She excused herself quickly, grabbed a notebook, and jotted down this important medical information about me.  She then scurried off and apparently alerted the bar, our server, and possibly everyone in the place.  No mint would DARE try to reach our table.  The Wine Manager strictly forbade it. At her suggestion, I had a citrus-infused Italian soda that had a sort of flowery lilt to it. Or something like that.  Either way, it was heaven in a tall, skinny glass.  (But I still got a Diet Coke on the way home.)

While we were still examining the menus, our dear server brought us a complimentary plate of... something.  I have no idea what it was, although she did describe it.  It was sort of a little cream puff, but was filled with cheesy, garlicky heaven.  I nearly wept.  They brought us brioche, which translates to "a really good roll with a fancy name."  So good.  Also, our bread plates were made from colorful repurposed wine bottles.

The moment of truth came, and we made our selections.  I chose the Majinola Farm Wagyu beef tri-tip, which was served with potato, wilted kale, carrots, beef belly (think "bacon," only beef -- oh my) and local oyster mushrooms. I said that I'm not a fan of mushrooms, and she said that they're very good, and "foraged locally."  She gestured toward the window with her hand, as though they were discovered growing near the Mutual of Omaha building.  Bonnie chose the Blue Valley steelhead trout, because it reminded her of being in Africa, served with creme fraiche spatzle (Gesundheit.) and seasonal veggies that had once been rocked to sleep by fairies.  Dawg went with the Bluff Valley Lamb, with potato gnocchi, beets, butternut squash, and jujube (which are NOT the movie candies, as it turns out).  

She suggested an appetizer, which was not called an appetizer.  It was called a "first plate."  We had duck fat fries.  They were pieces of potato (like french fries) cooked in duck fat, which made them very rich.  They were covered with some sort of creamy, light, cheesy goodness, and there was a fried egg over all of it.  I wish I had the vocabulary of a food critic, because these were some incredible fries.  I never thought to ask for details of the duck who supplied his fat, however.

By this time, we had been there for about an hour.  We were just so relaxed, and having such a good time.  We checked out the people around us.  We watched an awkward first date, and listened to other people's conversations, while pretending we weren't.  We had our own conversation, and hopefully no one was listening.

Our food arrived, cradled tenderly in the arms of our servers. They told us about each item on our plates.  Dawg and I had large, white, square plates, but Bonnie's enormous trout came on plate that was the size of a huge 2x4.  No, bigger than that.  It was handcrafted from Nebraska clay.  Cool.  Each dish was a work of art in presentation alone, and there are no words to describe how wonderful they were.  We moaned and groaned, tasted each other's food, made inappropriate commentary, and so enjoyed ourselves.

We ordered French press coffee, and scoops of pear-anise sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate ice cream.  Oh my.  Again, we tasted each other's, and discovered that the combination of the pear-anise sorbet and the chocolate ice cream together was just so wonderful.  

When the check came, I reached for my gift certificate -- and that's when I remembered.  Oh dear.  I remembered what was written on the gift certificate.  Whichever member of my precious email group who actually called and ordered the gift certificate -- and I think I probably know who that was -- she had asked for these words to be written on it:  "For Susie... we love you!  From -- Your whores." It was then that I realized that I was going to have to hand this certificate over to these gentle souls, who are so proud to work at the place that earned the distinction of being the greenest restaurant in the nation.

Oh dear.

I agonized with Bonnie and Dawg.  They thought it was hysterical, of course.  I said, "You realize that one of these sweet people is probably the person who actually wrote this, right?"  And they laughed more. So when our server came over, I said, "My dear, dear friends gave me this gift certificate, and there is something written on it that may be a bit shocking. I am so sorry."  She laughed, said it was fine, and walked away with it.  Phew.

We resumed our coffee and conversation.  Earlier, I had seen a young man emerge from the back, and he made eye contact and smiled at me.  The same young man now approached our table.  I quickly noticed that on his uniform was the name "Clayton Chapman" -- he was the owner and the head chef.  Coming to OUR table.  He said, "I just had to come and meet you... I have been waiting to see who would come in and use this gift certificate!"  If I was a person who blushed, I would have been Husker red.  I laughed and laughed, and he said that HE was the one who took the call, and filled out the gift certificate.  He said he hesitated, but was assured that it was "safe."  He chatted with us a little, we told him how much we had enjoyed everything, and he retreated.  He was a delight.  He was also, I kid you not, 25 years old.  I googled him.

Eventually, we realized we had been there 2 1/2 hours, and decided we should peel ourselves away from this little green slice of heaven, with its recycled steel framing, its vegetable-based to-go boxes, its low-flow faucets, and its reclaimed barnwood furniture.  As we left, Clayton (the owner-chef) met us at the door and sent us off with lovely little pastries to enjoy with our morning coffee.  Bless his heart.

We took a picture in front of the place, because such a memorable evening needed a photo.

I am beyond blessed, to be so well-loved by a group of women who would seek to bring me cheer from afar, by providing me with the gift of this evening.  It is humbling.  I love you, my whores.

Accosting a Candidate... Maybe

I really should be writing a blog post about the Stupendous Grandma Trip of 2012, a tale of two grannies (my sister-in-love, Wynette, and I) trekking across the country.  But I'm afraid that once I tell the story of how we visited the World's Biggest Ball of Twine, everyone will get over-excited, and stop reading completely.  And I really need to tell this pertinent, timely story first.

I feel I must preface this by saying that this will not be a political story, although it will involve a political person.  If you've known me for longer than five minutes, you know I love politics, and certainly don't shrink from discussing it in the right setting. But I don't want to be that obnoxious person who uses Facebook and her blog as a boring platform.  My social media outlets encompass friends from work, church, community, school, etc., so  I usually keep my politics more private, unless I'm asked.  Luckily, I'm asked often. :-)  If you want to know how I feel about something and why, then hit me up privately, and I'll spill.  Oh, I'll spill -- as many of you know, and sadly, encourage.

ANYWAY....  the story.

So there I was, tooling down I-70.  I'd left Wynette's place in Henderson this morning, and was making good time.  I was in Utah, between Salina and Green River.  If you travel that stretch, you know it as "the section where there are no services for over a hundred miles."  It's also the stretch where Bonnie and Natalie and I almost died a few years ago.... but that's a story for another blog posting, right, girls?  I was zipping along at 80 miles per hour. (Yes, 80!!  There were signs up saying they were doing "speed limit testing" or something, so I got to go fast!)  Hmm, I can see I'm going to be quite easily distracted while telling this tale.  I'd best start over.

So there I was, driving in Utah.  I got a text from one of my "work peeps," saying that my assistance was needed quickly.  I was approaching a "scenic overlook" area, which was around a bendy road that curved around a hill.  I whipped in, snaked around and parked, glanced to my left, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Mitt Romney's bus.  It was large and navy blue.  Wow!

Okay, I know it's annoying, but I have to pause again to say something else.  I'm kind of a freak about meeting political candidates, because you just never know which one is going to turn out to be President, and we'd all like to be able to say we've met the President, right?  And because of my unique blend of "living in first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa," "formerly having a super specialized job with CNN," and "being a political junkie," it turns out that I've met or talked on the phone with most of the political candidates since the Clinton era.  So to just happen to get called by work at that minute, and to just happen to whip into a random "scenic overlook" in the middle of butt-nowhere, and happen to see Romney's bus... that's fun.

So in an instant, my razor-sharp (ha) mind noted that there was a small group of people gathered around the steps of the bus, as though they were boarding for departure.  Obviously, there would be no time for planning my approach.  With no regard for my personal dignity (as if I EVER have such regard) I hopped out of my car, which was parked right at the back side of the bus, and called out, "Mister Romney!"  (It probably should have been "Governor" Romney... but that's the least of my embarrassment, I suppose.)  Mind you, I didn't actually see Romney in the group of people... but I assumed he was probably there.

For some reason, the group paused and looked over.  I realized I didn't see him, although I'm not super familiar with his appearance. But they were sort of looking into the bus, and then this head popped out.  I realized I was on the spot to say something, so I called out three words.  Oh dear.  I can't even bring myself to tell you, dear readers, what they were.  You'll have to hit me up in private if you'd like to know.  But let's just say I was pressed to say something quickly, and quickly I said something.

The people sort of chuckled and the head popped back in the bus, turtle-like.  They all quickly boarded, and I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture.  The bus pulled out and was gone.  There were three touristy-type "regular folks" standing there watching, and I called out, "Was that...?" and they nodded real big, and got in their car and left.  I just stood there scratching my head for a minute, then remembered that I had stopped for an actual reason.

I got back in my car, and handled the work situation.  ("Another life saved.")  Side note:  Turns out that I get pretty slow internet when I'm parked at a scenic overlook a quarter mile from the Interstate, at least 50 miles from any sort of town civilized enough to even have fuel or other "services."  Crazy.

So here's the thing... I'm not even sure that was Mitt.  The lateness in the day and the direction of the setting sun made it hard to see that side of the bus, and you can see in my photo.  While I was sitting there with my slow internet, I was googling to find out where he is today.  The best I could find out was that yesterday, when he made a statement about the Colorado shootings, he was in the Northeast. The head was Mitt-shaped, certainly, but that doesn't mean much.  Maybe the people chuckled because they thought I was nuts, and might charge them if they didn't act pleasant.  For all I know, they jotted down my license plate number, and I'm now on (yet another) FBI watch list.  Great.

After I finished my working and googling, I headed back out, and later I caught up to the bus.  I have to tell you that they drive at a very safe speed -- nowhere near 80 miles per hour.  I was careful to not make eye contact with the bus driver (it wasn't Mitt, by the way), or even look too closely at the heavily-tinted windows, in case they really did think I was a loon.

So, I exchanged words with yet another Presidential candidate.  Maybe.  Either way, it was a fun story.

Sometimes my life is surreal, even to me.

UPDATE:  After a few Facebook comments, I realize that I'd better just admit the three moronic words that I called out.  Okay, here we go. I cheerily said, "Go get 'em!"

Of course, I meant a general, "Go take on the democratic process, and show the world the glory of free and fair elections!"  The people who were gazing at me, especially if that wasn't Mitt in the bus, probably thought I said, "Go get him!"  And that will only contribute to my name being added to the FBI watch list.  In fact, don't be surprised if I disappear from this hotel room tonight.  Wish me luck.

Another blog for Metaverse...

Well, it was my turn to write the blog post for my company.  It always stresses me out, because it's hard to pull out just one topic from the scary tangled mess that is my brain.  I got lucky this time, because I wrote some stuff in an email group I'm in (which happens to include the company CEO... who was my friend long before she was a CEO), and after she read it, she said, "Looks like a blog post to me!"  And now it is.  Phew.  Easy-peasy.  So, here's the post:


Offline Advice: Tips for Sports Parents


Yes, we’re all techno-geeks.  We can’t get enough of our electronic gadgets.  But eventually, we all have to pull away from our computers long enough to do something else.  Well, most of us do.  Okay, some of us.  If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you get pulled away fairly often.  Kids have a funny way of expecting to eat a few times a day. And if you’re a parent whose children are involved in sports, there’s even a regular schedule you’re supposed to follow. 

As a sports mom, I’ve got some street cred. Four athletic kids (one’s an All-American!), plus a coach for a husband – that all counts. And while volleyball is my family’s “thing,” we sure aren’t a one-sport bunch.  Oh no. Football, basketball, track, cross country, wrestling, soccer, bowling (yep, that’s a “sport”), baseball, softball… and that doesn’t even include their “fine arts” endeavors.  Oh yes, I’ve put in my time in the bleachers.
So, here is some offline advice for sports parents.  You’re welcome.

First tip:  Go. Your kid wants you there, even if he feigns disinterest in your presence, or acts like you are an embarrassment. (Bonus tip: If you’re sporting a jersey with his picture on it or waving a big foam finger – any finger — you ARE an embarrassment.) Learn the appropriate things to call out. If you don’t know the rules and intricacies of the game, keep your mouth shut until you do, except to be encouraging. Take your cues from the more seasoned parents, but remember…

Second tip:  Most parents are idiots when their kids are playing sports.  Don’t let them drag you into their lunacy.  If it’s more fun to sit somewhere else, then sit somewhere else.  But don’t sit with the other team’s parents, because they’re even bigger idiots.

Third tip:  Be kind to the refs.  They really don’t hate your kids.  They’re probably calling the game the way they actually see it.  Sometimes they get it wrong, but games are almost never lost because of bad calls, even if it seems that way.  Even if a “bad call” happens at the end of the game, there were still plenty of missed opportunities, turnovers, or incidents of poor execution that might have changed the outcome.

Here’s a bonus tip about basketball, when your team is playing:  If your team is on defense, and one kid bumps another, you’ll see it as an offensive foul.  If your team is on offense, you’ll see it as a defensive foul.  You just can’t help it… you see it as the other team’s fault.  Keep that in mind before you stand up and scream about the inequity of it all. And remember: It’s a lot more fun to quietly mock the parents from the other team who are standing and screaming about the inequity of it all if you haven’t already engaged in that behavior.

Tips for immediately after the game:  Ask your child what she felt she did well, and what she thinks she can improve on. Find a skills-related thing to compliment your kid about, and a character-related thing to compliment her about.  Save your skills critique for later, and save your character critique for later.  BUT! Be sure to see my next two paragraphs regarding the critiques.

About the skills critique: Think it over before you choose to discuss skills and technique.  Talk to the coach if you’re not sure about something — they might be teaching a method that you don’t know. It is okay to show your child another way, but do your best to not undermine the coaches, or sabotage their system.

And about saving the character critique for later: Get to it, but not immediately after the game, when emotions may be running high. But don’t make the mistake of never addressing issues you see in their character.  If you’re lucky, the coach might help in that area, but ultimately, it’s your problem.  If you disagree with the coach, talk to him — don’t tell your kid to do something different than the coach tells him to do. (Example:  we taught our kids to put out a hand and help up an opposing player if someone got knocked down — one coach didn’t allow that, because he thought it could start a fight, or put the kids in danger of being punched.) Whatever you’re noticing — back-talking the coach, rolling eyes at the ref, laughing at the other team, not being encouraging to teammates – address it with your child, and work with them to overcome these things.

And my top tip: Remember why you’re doing this. It’s not about building an athlete; it’s about building your child’s character. Except for a few very rare exceptions, our kids are never going to “go pro.” But they are going to have to function in the real world, where there are wins and losses, fairness and inequity, good skills and poor skills. What they learn about managing those things will be far more important than anything they can learn about a sport.

– Susie South | Chief Moderator | Metaverse Mod Squad, Inc.

[Originally posted here.]

This One's For the Squirrels

One reason I don't blog often enough is because of my email buddies. I have had an "email group" for, hmmm, probably at least 15 years. The participants have changed over that time, with some fading in, and some fading out, but it's always been a place where many stories have been swapped. I love my email girls. They remind me that even though we have different ideas, skin colors, economic backgrounds, religions, likes, dislikes and STD's (just kidding), underneath, we're just women with mutual love and respect for each other.  And we share a weird, irreverent humor. Plus, the subject lines of our emails are so stinking funny sometimes. Oh, but back to the point... the reason I don't blog often enough is because THEY get all my words. Lucky them. But tonight, they get NOTHING (unless they happen to read my blog) because what I was going to tell them is about to get blogged. I shall begin with the four words that comprise the beginning of every good story I tell...

SO THERE I WAS, sitting in the drive-through of Culver's, after ordering a salad and a one-scoop Flavor-of-the-Day. I was on my iPhone, catching up on my email group's daily yappings. Earlier in the morning, I had read A's first contribution, which was in response to some great news I had shared... my cancer scans came back "clean" this morning.  Woohoo!  A's contribution was this: 

We saw a squirrel in a parking lot yesterday.  Sitting in one of the spaces, which was a little weird.  Then it ran into one of the bushes and M [her adorable 6-year-old daughter] said "That is because squirrels like to be alive."  Same with Susie!

Now, that is such a great story, isn't it? It made me smile like crazy, because I love A, I love M, and I love to be alive, too.  Just like the squirrels. Then I read T's email, which also contained a squirrel story:

Yay for you, Susie!! That's the best news I've heard all day!! (of course it's early, so keep the good news coming).I saw a fat squirrel in a tree the other day and my thought process went like this: "Hey! There's a kitty in that tree! What a funny looking kitty! I hope he doesn't get stuck up in that tree - I'd have to call in some handsome firemen to save him... maybe he's on an incredible journey with his dog friend that I can't see.... wait... that kitty is not just funny looking... wait... that's not a kitty! HOLY *%$# THAT'S A SQUIRREL! OMG! IT'S THE FATTEST SQUIRREL I'VE EVER SEEN! I need to put this on the internet!!! I need a fat squirrel meme!!! Crap... he's gone..."

Now, I can't even explain how much this made me laugh like a maniac, right there in the Culver's drive-through, awaiting my salad and my FOTD. (But you know I'll try.)

I just have this "thing" with squirrels. It all started when I was 16 or 17, and a squirrel committed suicide by flinging himself under my car.  This was very traumatic for me, I assure you. I saw him approaching, and had slowed a bit, because it was safe to do so.  Then he stopped, so I continued on, and he just FLUNG his squirrelly body under my car. There was a thump, and a wee scream (I might have imagined that part), and I was too traumatized to look in the rear view mirror to see the carnage.  So I went home, and called my mom, who happened to be at my grandmother's house with my aunts.  I was telling the story tearfully, all the while knowing how ridiculous I sounded, and she was trying hard not to laugh, but finally gave up and just howled.  She had been repeating enough of what I was saying that my aunts knew what was happening... and that was that.  I was Susie the Squirrel Slayer.  They have never let me live it down.  There were squirrel cards, squirrel statuettes, secret messages from traumatized squirrels.  You can only imagine what a living hell my life has been.

So, fast forward to this past fall.  There I was, taking a walk near Iowa School for the Deaf.  It was a gorgeous day, with all the fall colors blazing. I noticed a cute little squirrel by a tree, and (because I'm a dork who documents nearly everything with my handy iPhone camera) I took a few pictures of him.  He ran up the tree and I walked on. I had only gone a few steps when I heard all this commotion up in the tree, so I stopped and looked. My little squirrel friend was falling out of the tree.  Mid-fall.  He was mid-fall in mid-Fall.  (Get it?) He was all stretched out, legs extended, slowly rotating, with an expression on his face like, "What the heck?!?  I'm a squirrel, and I'm falling out of a tree." I think I must have flashed back to Suicide Squirrel, because I just couldn't watch him land.  I looked away, heard the thump, and then gave a quick peek, praying I wouldn't see exploded squirrel carcass all over the ground.  (This was necessary, because I was going to be walking back the same way I'd come, and if there was going to be exploded squirrel carcass, I was going to find an alternate route.)  But no, he was scampering off to another tree.  Phew.

Okay, now fast forward to TODAY.  Today started off weird, with a pretty substantial snowfall that I hadn't realized was coming.  (I was pretty sick and out of it yesterday.)  We had to be at the hospital early for my scans, so the snow had to be cleared off my car before we could leave. Then the day turned all sunny and bright, and by noonish, the snow was all gone.  But then, mid-afternoon, it started snowing again!  So weird!  Almost blizzard-like!  So there I was, on the phone for a pretty important client conference call, sitting in my recliner, paying attention and taking notes and exchanging info with my colleague (also on the phone call) via AIM (that part will only make sense to some of you), when suddenly, something in the tree outside my window caught my attention.  I'll bet you can guess what it was.  Yep, a squirrel.

Now, at this point, I had read A's email with the cute anecdote about what her daughter said, but I had not read T's email.  And I hadn't thought about the squirrel I murdered 30 years ago, nor the kamikaze squirrel from last fall. (Last fall... get it?) But still, I became immediately transfixed (while continuing to pay attention to the phone call, of course) and watched him. He frolicked about, and then jumped from the tree branch to my roof.  I'm sure he's done that many times.  But this time, there was snow, then melted snow, then snow again, which was already melting.  I honestly don't know what the problem was.  Maybe he was just a really poor roof-leaper.  But I saw him glide out of sight into the space that should have been "on my roof," and then there was all this scrambling and little brown legs and whatnot.  And then he was briefly clinging to my roof by his two little front paws, and I kid you not, we had eye contact through the window in that split second before he did the splayed-out, slowly rotating thing.  Yes, with a silent scream of terror, he fell from my roof. I don't know if he hit the porch, or the ground, or the bush, but he fell.  And I couldn't shriek, or yelp, or offer to perform squirrel CPR, because I was on a pretty important conference call.  It's a good thing it wasn't a video conference, because I'm sure my face was not particularly business-like at that moment.

By this time, you might be wondering, what is the point of all this?  Well, so am I.  There is no point.  It's just that I love my life, a life that has days when one friend is so happy for my good news that she tells a precious story about her daughter and relates it to my great blessing, which causes another friend to remember and relate her weird squirrel story, along with her happiness for me... and then in the same day, a squirrel falls off my roof while staring me in the eye.  

There is no point, except that my life is great, and I am so blessed to be the one living it.  Not so great for the squirrels, I admit, but for me?  Awesome.