Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The B Team

So I made a LeBron deal with my son.

My soccer kid got the itch to play basketball this year, which we found amusing since he’s been sort of cold on the sport the past few years. Who knows what triggers a 13-year-old? Especially Cole. Maybe he wanted to impress a girl. Maybe he wanted to hang out with his buddies. Maybe he was influenced by a celebrity who has glamorized the sport. (No!) Or maybe he just truly found his heart in the game. No matter. His Dad and I were excited to see him doing anything other than assassinate...xBox style, of course.

I was even more pleased to find a pair of hand-me-down Nike basketball shoes from one of his cousins. For once, we’d save some money on an activity! And since 7th grade basketball is school-sponsored, there’d be no jersey to purchase! No additional t-shirt to buy! Just perhaps some socks…for the low, low price of $20 per pair.

After the first day of practice Cole informed us the A and B teams were already selected. Apparently the A Team kids have been playing together on a select team for years. That ship sailed for our kid in the 4th grade already. And while Cole was disappointed, we encouraged him. I,  being the super-motivator I am, told him to work hard, keep a positive attitude and good things will happen! After all, Michael Jordan didn’t even make it onto his high school team at first!

Well, Cole had another idea.

If only he had LeBron shoes…his game would improve so much. He’d probably become amazing. NBAish.

His father immediately dismissed the idea. I sort of smiled to myself and thought, “Maybe Christmas.”

After a few weeks into the season, I was on a shopping trip with my daughter. We visited the Footlocker. After asking the sales assistant about these mystical shoes, he directed us away from the regular display of footwear into the LeBron ROOM. Not only is there a room dedicated to his gear, but Mr. James has his own fancy logo made to resemble a crown. Obviously, this LeBron is something pretty special. Then we came to the shoes. I really can't tell you much about the design. All I noticed was the $300 price tag.

No way, Cole.

I’m not one to kill dreams. But I do like to encourage.  When we got home that night, I offered Cole a deal, “You make it on the A Team, I’ll buy you those LeBron shoes.”

His face dropped and he moped away. Later he said to his sister, “Does Mom realize that I have no chance of getting on the A Team?”

Of course I did. Thus, the offer. But I didn’t want him to stop working hard.

Here’s how the season went down.

Cole started on the C team.

After his first game, he was moved to the B team starting as the point guard. And after some mentoring from his coach and even more pointed and copious advice from his dad, Cole made awesome progress–as objectively observed by his mother.

Luckily for me, he didn’t make it on to the A team. And no one had to shell out $300. But I don't think Cole was terribly disappointed. I believe he found the reward in his efforts, which makes me proud.

He practiced whenever he could–even when it was crazy cold and his fingers were ice. He studied the game on the Internet and TV, asking his dad questions about strategy.  He can even finally beat me at HORSE.

Parents tend to be annoying when watching their kids play sports. There isn’t one of us who isn’t just a tiny bit nuts. Because once our kids are born, we’re amazed we've created something. Then once they begin to form into beings, we ponder their potential. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve created the next Michael Jordan! Or LeBron.

Probably not though. And that’s okay. Because we created someone else. Someone unique. Someone who reflects a piece of us. And someone who’s a miracle no matter if they’re on the A, B, C team, or watching from the sideline.

It's a great time of year to make your kid feel like a miracle.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cookie Monster

#HolidayBakingChampionship. Life Changing?

I’ve been watching the Holiday Baking Championship with Bobby Deen on the Food Network Channel. It’s riveting. Sugar and bourbon concoctions. Burnt confessions. Decorating divas and some molten disasters. Intense bakers on a quest to create something delicious and stunning. Judges devouring as they pick apart texture, flavors, and plating. "There's a flavor here that's off-putting? Did you use flour as your thickening agent?"  It’s so much fun!

And apparently inspiring.

The show (along with a baking magazine at a checkout line) gave me an imbued confidence in regard to my own skills with a whisk and rolling pin. So I took to the kitchen this weekend, beginning my new venture as a pastry chef. How'd I fare? Well, beside a flour-dusted kitchen, the results were...something unusual for our family. Homemade cookies in the house. Here's the lowdown.

Recipe #1: M&M pretzel drop cookies.

Result:  Tasty enough. (There was chocolate in them for God's sake!) Not terribly moist. In terms of appearance, the cookie was about as pretty as an M&M pretzel could probably be. Other foibles: Burnt my last batch. Perfect cookie chips for the dog. Yes, I know dogs shouldn't eat chocolate.

Recipe #2: Cranberry shortbread cookies.

My results
Result: As tasty as shortbread gets. Even moist! In terms of appearance, the design is somewhat recognizable as a star. Ok...a little disappointed on the look. Note: These cookies were hard to make! Lots of rolling. Cranberries stuck to the cutout. And it took me, like, forever. Will have to do some deep soul searching before attempting this cookie again.

How the cookies are supposed to look
 I had plans of baking a few more varieties, but I ran out of weekend daylight. And I had plenty of cookies to give out anyway. (Discovery: true homemade batches are voluminous compared to store-bought!) Admittedly, I was anxious how these were going to go over. After all, when was the last time I used something as organic as flour and butter?

So, how did they go over you ask? It's Wednesday and every single cookie from last weekend is gone. I'm not sure that means the cookies were delicious, but it at least means they were edible. (I liked them, but I'm not terribly picky when it comes to sugary treats.) I really do hope my cookies were enjoyed... because I've already decided–more is coming. Just need to determine which one of my many dog-eared recipes to conquer.

The Holiday Baking Challenge. Try it. Even if you don't bake. Challenging yourself is... invigorating! And hopefully not terribly torturous to those around you.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Confidence Formula

How would you define the difference between arrogance and confidence?

I recently was intrigued by a LinkedIn post by Beth Collins which explored the issue of accomplished women downplaying their success for fear of appearing conceited. There's probably not many out there (men and women alike) who haven't experienced this inner conflict to some degree.

It's easy make a research project out of this self-confidence issue by simply studying kids–if you happen to have any nearby. One of my kids seems to be blessed with an abundance of it. The other has her days. Yes–Mr. Confidence happens to be the boy. They're both talented and loved equally. And I thought we had raised them similarly, but I wonder. Have I reacted differently or taught them to respond differently at certain, critical developmental stages?

Cole has a healthy opinion of himself. Very healthy. If either of us has been gone, and I tell him I missed him, he always responds with, "I'm sure you did." I know he's joking. Sort of. But I'm sure my giggle confirms his conclusion. But the kid definitely feels good about his place in the world. He typically has a story about an amazing feat he's done. Heck, just the other day he beat his sister and his mother playing a wicked game of one-on one in basketball. That is amazing. He told me and I agreed.

Alex, on the other hand, has not put herself on that same pedestal. She hardly gives herself credit when it's very much due. A "1" on her vocal contest solo? Not that big of deal. The judge must've been easy on me. State history essay award winner?Yeah. Didn't make it to nationals though. Did I teach my daughter to respond this way? A daughter who won't recognize herself for her own achievements?


No one wants to be construed as arrogant. But I really want my children to understand it's more than okay to be proud of their achievements. In my opinion, arrogance only occurs once a person has used their prestige, money, or accomplishments to make another person feel badly. Perhaps this is why many people (especially women) choose the route of self-deprecation–to ensure no hard feelings. But a problem occurs with this–we begin to negate our self-value. It doesn't have to work this way.

Most people would agree that confidence generally equates to happiness. Confidence comes from many things. Achieving a personal goal. Trying your best. Being loved unconditionally. Some people have a need to express this level of happiness once they've attained a certain level of confidence. Some do not. Neither is wrong, but sometimes communicating our own achievements can be helpful–whether seeking opportunities or affirming our capability.
When we feel comfortable with our level of confidence, we feel the same level of happiness for others when they exude confidence as well. This is the best way to defeat jealousy and ill-will. It's a wonderful, un-vicious circle. This is the best reason to promote self-confidence in our kids and ourselves.

My kids' expressions when I'm providing life lessons.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Of Mice and Men

We have a mouse in the house.

It's not tiny.

There's no reason for us to have this super-mouse since we own a feisty cat and a TERRIER who  demand to be inside with us–despite the infinitely more interesting possibilities for animals in the country.


This mouse is cunning. We've set two traps, placing them in various, strategic locations. Yet, he scoffs at the peanut butter offering on the trap...knowing he can forage enough food crumbs in our house to last another fifty years.

And intrepid! The mouse hasn't been afraid to show himself. The other day he sauntered across our kitchen. Really. He did not skitter, like frightened mice are supposed to do when a gathering of humans are near. Like sensible people, we all jumped on our bar stools, raising our feet to avoid being attacked by the ferocious rodent.

The cleaning lady found herself facing him the other day in the laundry room. I think he was trying to intimidate her–concerned she'd remove his crumb stash. She admitted he did scare her a bit. But I don't this the confrontation dissuaded her from sweeping up the mouse's forage.

But he's still not taking the PB bait.

Clever bugger.

Incapable cat and dog.

I wish I could just convince the mouse to take a walk out the door. It's such a nice time a year. And I'm really not into killing things, even if they are classified as pests.

Any ideas? Give up? Pull out the old hamster cage? Make him a part of the family? Mice are kinda cute.
We lost a hamster in our house once. Maybe the mouse isn't a mouse?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Can your Kids Butter Bread?

I recently taught my son how to operate a can opener.

He turns thirteen next week.

Sometimes I question my parenting abilities. While I'm certain Cole could install a wireless network while simultaneously attaining Master Prestige on Call of Duty Ghost, I wonder what basics I've neglected in teaching...either of my children.

Rumor has it Cole can't butter bread.

And I can't decide if Alex doesn't have the ability to launder, or if she's just being ultra-clever in her lack of effort or results.

Maybe my teaching methods are simply inferior.

Here's another example. Cole troughs food into his mouth, using his teeth to cut food into bite-sizes, as opposed to using a knife on the plate–not completely unlike a dog. Surprisingly, we do often eat together as a family. And we do reprimand him, since we prefer a civil dining experience. But I'm wondering if perhaps the sound of my voice turn to mush just as it hits the kids' ears. Sort of like wa-wa-wa-wa.

Maybe kids are programmed not to listen to parents for a reason!

Admittedly, when I set off to college, I wasn't much of a laundress. I had to learn the skill from my roommate. (To tell you the truth, I still have my share pink foibles. Luckily, my husband doesn't mind pink socks.) But there's more. I didn't really iron until I had a job that required pressed shirts. Sure, I've had some burns. But I've healed. And I truthfully? I think I've just perfected the eggs over-easy. I honestly can't remember if my mother attempted to teach any of this to me. But if she did, I wasn't listening very closely. The moral of the story?
I eventually figured it out.

I would like my kids to be somewhat self-reliant before they head out into the big world though. Perhaps Cole won't need to rely on chicken noodle soup without a pop-tab. But we might make him in charge of the least for awhile.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Best Days

Optima dies...prima fugit. Translation: "The best days are the first to flee."

This particular theme of Willa Cather's My Antonia struck me last weekend as I finished re-reading the novel on our trip to the Iowa Games. It was almost eerie.

best days of our li-i-ves
Cole is a pretty happy kid. But when you set him in an environment with his buddies to play soccer, swim, and watch sci-fi movies... he's beyond euphoric. We could hardly convince him to eat a cheesburger–which is basically his fuel. He was too busy hanging with the guys.

When all the festivities came to that screech of a halt, and we found ourselves on the ride back home, I noticed Cole's glum expression.

"Sad, buddy?"

"I just didn't want it to end."

optima dies...prima fugit.

When I asked him the other day how he would've ranked the weekend, he told me he was waking up every day, wishing he were still at the Iowa Games. He said he's feeling nostalgic. Nostalgic. And he's twelve.

It certainly seems our memory tends to look back and pick out certain times of our lives as the best days. Now that my daughter is edging closer to entering college, I'm constantly telling her how this will most likely be the best time of her life. While it's been twenty-some years, I think back to Iowa City so fondly. The smell of the trees. The scampering squirrels. Walking by the Iowa River to class. I might've even attended a party or two.

The mind seems to do wonderful tricks, doesn't it? Because I'm almost certain my college days weren't quite so picture perfect. My mom might attest to a few teary phone calls. Being completely broke is usually not a lot of fun. And I'm pretty sure I didn't ace every class, like I intended. But I rarely think about those times. I usually divulge my memories with those times when my senses were most happily engaged.

With no disrespect to the estimable Willa Cather, (who actually quoted Virgil), I'm not so sure if the best days are the first to flee. I think it just feels like it at times. Just the other day, I was feeling pretty nostalgic about last summer...and those certainly aren't my first days! As a matter of fact, I'm really looking forward to a few other things (mainly trips) that I have planned for me and my family. Is it possible to be nostalgic about future events?

I was listening to a 90-year-old author on NPR the other day. She was asked about the favorite time of her life. She said her favorite decade was in her fifties. This response certainly could be different for everyone–especially when you're in your nineties. But as I think about how my life has evolved, I have to admit, I'd probably say the best time of my life is right now. Unless a time machine is invented, this is what I'll tell my kids they need to believe every day: The best time in your life needs to be now.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Embrace the Hills

Everyone said it. But deep down, I thought, not me though.

Ha Ha.

So the time had come when 'soft' wanted to make its presence known. Tummy. Triceps. Muffin tops. Yesterday, I'm like twenty-something, fallaciously worried about my weight. Then I wake up and I'm in my forties! And it did happened. I couldn't just walk twenty minutes and burn off the ice cream I ate last night. It was gonna take decidedly more effort...heart-pumping exercise and focused diet restraints. (It's no wonder all my friends are running marathons these days. It's not because they want to–it's because they HAVE to.)

Percy ponders the first hill.
I actually used to jog. Then we moved to the country with all these freaking hills, so I stopped. It was simply too hard. But now that I'm starting to appear like I'm in my first trimester (despite the hysterectomy), I determined to boost my workout by jogging. And tackle those freaking hills. And they are not just hills. They are freaking hills.

At first the inclines nearly killed me. Admittedly, I needed to stop a few times. But now, I'm proud to say, I can run the two miles non-stop. (Hey, no judging. Two miles is an awesome feat for me! I'm thinking of getting a bumper sticker that says "2 Miles.") And what's more? I embrace those hills. I go faster on those hills than any other part of the run.

Another part of my jog that was once an annoyance has now become a pleasing ritual. Mud stomping. Navigating mush feels a bit adventurous to this banker girl as she plows through some of the dirty parts of our country roads. I no longer care about the grit that sticks to my shoes. It's just wet dirt. It comes off. Wow. Isn't running the most awesome metaphor for life? Embracing hills! Tackling the mud!

I've been quite proud of my increased workout efforts lately. And I thought it timely, since I believe my son needed to re-focus his workout efforts with his current hiatus from soccer. Knowing his competitive spirit, I kept badgering him to a challenge.

"Come on! Just to the highway and back."

He was reluctant. Obviously, he knew I could beat him. One day, even though he tried to plead exhaustion, he agreed to a race. It was on.

Before we began the race, I coached him a bit–explaining he probably would need to pace himself.

"You might feel like starting fast. But trust me. These hills are killers."

 He nodded in a respectable deference.

So we took off. He began at my pace. Then after a short distance, he muttered, "This is way too slow." Then he darted away. And even though I calculated an eventual fade, it never happened. Nope.

The kid slaughtered me.

I'm still trying to find the life lesson here. Perhaps it's are, well, young. Dammit.

Twelve is a far cry from 44. And that baby got track.
Winner of the 2M Kramer Run.