Thursday, January 22, 2015

#PlayBall!

              The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. ~Bryant Gumbel, 1981


Football. Basketball. Soccer. Lots of sports in the headlines right now. Never a lack of something to watch for your average sports fan. It's only natural we turn off ESPN to watch the 18-hour Ken Burns documentary on...baseball. If you haven't seen it, and you're missing the crack of the bat and the comfort of a juicy hot dog, search it out on Netflix now.

Before I met my husband, I barely knew a thing about baseball. Three strikes, you're out. That was about the extent of my knowledge. But with marriage, comes appreciation for other passions. Admittedly, I was mostly impressed with how my boyfriend (future husband) donned a baseball uniform. (Our early dates consisted of a few town team games.) Now, twenty years later, I can honestly say I've grown quite a fondness and fascination for the past-time.

Strategy is still a bit beyond me. I get there's some psychology, but usually I need to ask a bunch of pesky questions to the expert in the room. Shifts. Pitches. Suicides squeezes–whatever that really means. Once in a while, I'll surprise Doug with a statement like, "he's probably gonna throw a sinker, huh?" Usually though, I'm fairly clueless. HOWEVER...I'm not too bad at identifying heros. And I do believe hero-spotting is one of the most fun parts of this game. Ask any kid.

Much of baseball is the same story. But the story is great. And it never gets old. An unlikely kid from a common family becomes a baseball legend. The hapless team with an unsavory history rises to the top. Fill in the blanks with your favorite player/team. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio. Jackie Robinson. The St. Louis Cardinals. The Brooklyn Dodgers. I'm not allowed to give space to any other New York baseball teams. Except of course, the Giants and the Mets. Anyway...

Ted Williams once said:

"Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."

One journalist noted that perhaps baseball is really more about losing. I've given some thought about that statement. While I get that the long season can involve scores of losses and that a batting average includes a heckuva lot of strike-outs, I'm not sure I agree the game has more to do about losing. I think the game is about democracy and opportunity. Once Jackie Robinson began to break the color barrier, reflecting an overdue shift in our nation's sentiment, baseball seemed to carry on its roots as being the the great equalizer...granted this didn't happen overnight. But eventually, it did happen.

It seems everyone knows of someone who had their shot in the majors. The game offers individuals, with any background, opportunities.  And the game never runs short on hope. Down by ten runs in the bottom of the ninth? No problem! There's an entire half an inning left. And guess what? No time clock! The game might go past midnight...or for three more days. And the faithful who watched the entire game would wear the honorary badge for not missing one single play or nuance. These stories tend to brighten spirits in the room when discussion eventually magnets to...baseball. How can they not, with themes of opportunity and hope?

Three months until opening season. Enough time has now passed since the World Series as I watched the excitement bubble in my diehard Royals fan–only to be heartbroken in the bottom of the ninth on the seventh game. It's time to kindle hope and begin the search for more heros.


Monday, January 12, 2015

In Memory Of


It’s been nearly thirty years since I stepped into the church where I attended Sunday School and was confirmed. While I live a mere fifteen minutes away from that quaint place of worship, I feel I’ve journeyed a thousand miles from it–and my childhood.

As I rode along with my parents to a funeral for a family friend, I began to sense a settling of my past and a regret that perhaps I had forgotten who I was and where I came from. We entered through the basement of the church where the musty smell wrapped around me like a favorite blanket. When my eyes set upon some of our oldest, best friends, I couldn't hold back my smile–despite the sad circumstance.

When we took our seats in the pew, my dad had to tap me on the shoulder to inform me he’d be sitting by my mother. Apparently, I had fallen back into my childhood, when I always took center seat between my parents. And as I listened to the tribute being given to the cheerful woman who died too young of Alzheimer’s, I decided to be thankful for my own memories. A crocheted Lord's Prayer, still hanging behind the alter. The Christmas programs, arranged by the ladies of the church. The potlucks, which ended in unfortunate gastric events from my inability to stop eating.

After the service, we had lunch in the basement where I attended my Sunday Schooling. I tempered my food choices this time. But I also felt an enormous amount of gratitude as I ate the open-faced sandwiches and cookies, staring at the paneled walls, listening to my father and his cronies. They still made me laugh, now poking fun of their age and reflecting on their wilder youth. I had heard the story of the pony in the basement of the church before. But there's nothing quite like listening to people share stories during those moments when we really appreciate our lives.

As I got up to refill my glass of lemonade, I noticed how many of the same ladies from my youth were providing lunch, with the same generous, loving spirit. I never would've pictured myself having such an engaging conversation with my old my old Sunday School teacher. But I did! I would've, should've  visited with her longer, actually, but everyone in my family (including me) has an incredible itch to always leave gatherings early. There are always tasks to be done.

Needless to say, I no longer belong to that sweet, little church. I've converted to Catholicism, even teaching religious education and serving as a lector in my new parish. But when we left the funeral at the Methodist Church in Kirkman, I not only felt sad about saying goodbye to our friend who had passed away, but I was quite sentimental about walking out of the church and driving out of town. There's something very peaceful about visiting the  place where much of your identity is formed.

Memory is precious. Memories should be cherished. And most of all, we should share them for as long as we can.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sick and Tired? Or Tired and Sick?


How do #sick kids cope with mothers?

The flu and cold season has spread through the region/nation, leaving behind tragedies, stress, and exhaustion. Illness, the topic, does tend to consume–especially in a world which does not have time for it. Preventative measures dominates office chatter. Home remedies. Dropping hydrogen peroxide in the ears, apparently where most germs infiltrate. Setting a sliced onion on your counter top to soak up the germs that permeate your house, if you can tolerate the odor.

My daughter was sick this weekend. And once again, the fabric of my maternal-being was tested. Methinks I teeter on failing in this aspect of momhood. Rather than fall into the role of compassionate nurturer, I feel myself become...what's the word? Impatient. Let me back up a few years to give you a hint of my predisposition toward this issue of sick kids.

Shortly after Alex had started the third grade, she began to complain of a stomach ache. She acted kind of whiny, tired–like she didn't want to go to school. I kept asking her what was bothering her. Was somebody being mean? No. Did she like her teacher? Yes! Was a subject too hard? No. Well, then she needed to tough it out. After several complaints, I finally threatened her. "Ok. I'm taking you to the doctor." She was horrified. She asked the question I knew she would. "Will I have to get a shot?" I responded in my none-too-comforting tone, "Maybe." I distinctly remember being just a bit irritated by the whole ordeal. Until...

The test results came back. Strep and mono. Yes, my daughter was sick. Really sick. And I had just brushed her aside for three weeks, telling her to toughen up. Needless to say, I was quite disgusted with myself. And you'da thought I would've learned my lesson.

When my 17-year old woke up Sunday morning, not feeling well and not wanting to attend church, I just didn't buy it. I told her to get ready.

Then I listened to her cough all day. And complain about her chest pain. Then prove her fever with a thermometer reading.

Poor kid. The thing is, Alex isn't one to fake it. She'll push herself when she shouldn't. So, why do I continue to be the horrible parent, almost refusing to believe she's sick?

I DON'T KNOW. Maybe I'm not willing to accept the facts when one of my kids comes down with something. Perhaps because I should've done something to prevent it. Yes, ridiculous. But much about motherhood is ridiculous. Like how hard it is. And hard it is to know what to do at times.

Last night she asked me if she should go to the doctor because she's still coughing. I immediately said I didn't think so. Then I stopped myself! What was I saying? So, I asked her if  she was running a temperature. She said no, but the cough was persisting. I said she's probably fine. 

Probably! Probably?

When I heard her hacking away after we had gone to bed, I was overcome with worry and guilt. I went downstairs with a glass of water and cough medicine. She seemed a bit surprised by the gesture, but appreciative. And I felt like I was finally taking care of her, just the way a mother should when their kids are under the weather.

She feels better today.

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?

Maybe.

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.

However.

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?