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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Halloween: Bah Humbug!

IMG_0634Some people are Halloween people and love to decorate their homes and throw costume parties.  I’m more like the Ebenezer Scrooge of this fall holiday, especially now that we’re empty nesters. My husband joins me in this sentiment and recently asked, “If we don’t have any children at home, do we have to hand out candy?” Of course we do; don’t get me wrong, I always helped my daughters with their costumes, and have never been accused of withholding candy. I just don’t like any part of it. There, I said it. I think it goes back to my youth when I didn’t enjoy dressing up and going trick or treating. I’m not sure why. I think I developed a complex when I was 5 or 6 and exited my house in a store-bought costume from J.C. Penney only to be met by my across-the-street neighbor whose mother was crafty. I remember one year she was dressed as an apple, fully decked out in a stuffed red felt suit complete with a stem on top of her head. How could my polyester, one-dimensional Snow White dress with plastic mask compete with that? Oh, and, I hated ringing strangers’ doorbells. Who knew what dangers lurked within? I was an unusual kid, I know. I didn’t enjoy hay rides or haunted houses, and found carving pumpkins messy. Thankfully, I eventually outgrew the holiday and the pressure to wear a disguise every October 31st ended. Then I had children. Talk about costume pressure! At first it wasn’t too bad; we just stuffed the baby in a little orange onesie with a Jack-o-lantern stitched on the front. But, before long, the girls were toddling and the Disney store opened at North Star Mall. Claire wanted to be a fairy princess in a pink dress with many, many layers of tulle and a light-up wand, and Caitlin needed to be Princess Jasmine in her turquoise outfit complete with shoes and lots of exotic gold accessories. Cha-ching! When you do not have a creative bone in your body, this can be a costly holiday. Some years I was able to save money by recycling a ridiculously expensive dance recital costume purchased the previous spring. Of course, in a pinch there was always the pair of scrubs grabbed from my husband’s closet – instant Doctor! And, a classic psychedelic dress that belonged to my mother in the ’60’s paired with some groovy shades could transform anyone into a hippy. Thank goodness for the Harry Potter decade – Grandma sewed a cape, we grabbed a wand, (aka a stick from the backyard), and were done!  Today kids don’t seem to outgrow the holiday. Mine were still dressing up in high school and college, and I believe my grad student transformed herself into The Hunger Games’ Katness just last weekend! My dad said that when he was a little boy, he and his brothers were aways ghosts for Halloween; they just threw on a sheet and went over to their aunt and uncle’s house for an apple or a shiny coin. How did we let this holiday get so out of control?

I’m starting to feel guilty about my Halloween admission; it almost seems sacrilegious in this day and age. There are almost as many outdoor decorations in my neighborhood as there are at Christmastime. Goblins and ghouls at least two stories high grace the lawns; and there are many inflatable decorations that lay flat on yards all day, then magically morph into Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin at night. The best decoration I ever had was a huge pinata fashioned as a witch riding a broom, which I hung from a tree in my front yard. I’ve also been known to put out a decorative door mat.

Despite my bad attitude, my front porch light will be burning on Thursday night and I’ll have plenty of M&M’s and mini Snickers bars, as usual. But I’ll really miss having my girls here. They were always happy to answer the door and greet the car loads of strangers’ children who were bused in from the hinterlands. (I know this because there are exactly TWO children of trick or treating age who live on our entire street.) My girls were even kind to the teenagers who appeared later in the evening with their pillowcases out-stretched. Oh well, perhaps a glass or two of Chardonnay will help me smile and cheerfully greet my little visitors. I wouldn’t want to be known as the neighborhood *itch. (Rhymes with witch.)

Happy Halloween!


Gobbler Pride

UnknownIn Texas, high school football is something akin to a religion, as the popular show “Friday Night Lights” has made clear.  When I was in high school in Cuero, Texas, “Turkey Capital of the World,”  the stadium was the Church, and no one dreamed of being anywhere else on Friday nights.  But, as a parent of three girls who attended public schools in San Antonio, I’m ashamed to admit that none of my girls showed much enthusiasm for their high school teams, and even attended movies on Friday nights upon occasion. SACRILEGE!

As students at Cuero High, we  plodded through each week until Game Day, Friday, when the whole world seemed to revolve around our fightin’ Gobblers. First thing in the morning, the entire student body poured into the gym for a big pep rally,  to cheer for the football team and its coaches. There were songs, skits, and, of course, cheers while the boys stood in a row looking serious and focused, hands folded behind their backs, most looking at the floor. The pep squad sold ribbons that everyone pinned to their shirts or jackets. “Bulldoze the Bulldogs,” “Disband the Apaches,” “Rupture the Rockets,” they proclaimed, and each included the names and numbers of every player on the team.  It was considered cool if you could memorize the key players’ numbers. (I still remember some!) Following the pep rally, the excitement carried over into the halls, decorated with hand painted banners and draped in green and white streamers. Classes dragged all day, and in the afternoon, attendance was sparse as the football players, band, cheerleaders and dance team left early for practice or to catch the buses for an out of town game. Finally, it was 7:00, game time! The stands were filled with Gobbler fans; the entire town seemed to be there, united in their quest for victory.  The band struck up our fight song, “Raise the flag for Cuero High School, watch us win this game,” and everyone sang in unison, then the team came charging from the field house and busted through the massive sign painted each week by the pep squad.  For two hours or so, everyone in town had a sole purpose in life, to cheer our team on to victory. We won forty-four games in a row, playing nearly until Christmas for three years in a row, when I was in 9th – 11th grades. We went to the Class AAA State Championship game those three years, winning in 1973 and ’74. As soon as the games ended, we all rushed the field in the hopes of hugging or back slapping one of our sweaty heroes. Then, we headed to the old Armory across the street from the high school for a Victory Dance in the hopes that a football player would ask us to dance. In ’73 and ’74, Christmas seemed particularly bright for Cueroites. There were letters to Santa published in our local paper, “Dear Santa, All we want for Christmas is STATE!” In the spring of 1975, following our second State win in a row, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach, revered by many, and famous for his “Hail Mary” passes, came to town to speak at the All-Sports Banquet. After being blessed by St. Roger, we thought that we were unbeatable. Sure enough, football season of ’75 proved to be just as golden as the prior two years, as the Gobblers won all fourteen games before proceeding once again to the State championship.  Sadly, the Gobblers’ reign came to a tearful end with a loss to Ennis on December 12, 1975.

My role as a Gobbler fan was small, at first. I was a member of the pep squad which had as its primary duty the painting of “the big sign” that the players ran through at the start of each game. We also sat in the stands and obligingly joined in the cheers led by the cheerleaders. I  aspired to something more, and, after pondering it all summer following my sophomore year, I talked my best friend into joining me in trying out for the dance team. Much to our surprise we made it and could proudly call ourselves “Trotters.”  I couldn’t believe that I would finally perform on the field. Being just a little intimidated by the other dancers, my friend and I decided that in order to keep up the high standards expected of us, we would practice even more than our fellow Trotters. We chose my parents’ bedroom, which contained a floor length mirror, as our personal studio. Who knew there were so many different types of kicks to perfect? High kicks, fan kicks, side kicks, and others I can’t remember. We spent hours practicing them all, and consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we were about the same height, so we could line up together and perform next to one another. One Friday, early in the season, the Trotters were asked to perform at a pep rally in the gym. My friend and I were more excited that Friday than usual; our chance to shine before the entire student body had finally arrived. We marched into the gym and the band struck up “The Wabash Cannonball.” We planted big smiles on our faces and followed our sergeants in perfect step. Then came one of our many kicks, a fan kick, which is a kick that looks like a fan unfolding. The right leg is supposed to go gracefully out, then up and over to the right, before returning gently on the ground next to the left leg. As I began the fanning part of my kick, I was alarmed to see, out of the corner of my eye, my best friend’s head jerk toward the ground. I looked to my right and was horrified to see that the Gobbler green tassel of my boot had gotten tangled in her long, blonde hair and her head was going wherever my boot took it. Luckily, when my foot touched the ground, she was able to free her hair, and we continued smiling through the rest of the routine. I later apologized and she didn’t think anyone noticed.

My last year of high school was a huge disappointment. The season ended almost as soon as it started and the Gobblers didn’t even advance to the District contest. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves on Fridays in November and December. I graduated that spring and chose to attend a small liberal arts college that had no football team. Somehow, I found other interests, and I rarely attended another Cuero football game. I preferred to hold on to my memories of that magical time in the ’70’s when the Gobblers reigned supreme. My daughters never knew what they missed.

“Be Afraid to Try New Things.”

college-party-14Last weekend, we traveled to our daughter’s college for Family Weekend. The events kicked off with the Vice-Chancellor’s welcome address to parents, which was especially geared to parents of freshmen. (I’m guessing because parents of upper classmen typically don’t show up for these types of events!) Just as I was beginning to get distracted by thoughts of where we might eat dinner, it dawned on me that this esteemed administrator was addressing a subject that is usually never talked about by university officials at university events that include freshman parents.  He never said the word, “Partying,” nor did he utter the words, “Drinking,” “Drugs,” or “Alcohol.” Rather, he raised the subject by describing a New Yorker cartoon which depicted a pair of nervous parents preparing to say goodbye to their child, clearly a college freshman, weighed down by his over-stuffed backpack with all his belongings in boxes and suitcases around him on the ground outside the family car. He described everyone standing anxiously beside the car, dreading the inevitable. He quoted the cartoon parents as saying these parting words to their child, “Be afraid to try new things.” Everyone in the audience began laughing softly, timidly at first, then heartily, as they saw that others around the room could also relate to the phrase. He talked about things the university was doing to teach incoming students to be responsible and honorable, and to practice restraint when it comes to their personal choices. The Vice-Chancellor also spoke about the very nature of the university as a liberal arts college, which must allow students to think for themselves, make their own choices, and live with the consequences. Then, he asked us, as parents, to lead by example and, essentially, to refrain from stepping in and trying to fix the problems that will, inevitably, come our children’s way.

I’ve thought about his words often in the past few days and, especially, about that clever cartoon.  As parents, I think we all give our kids the message, “Be afraid to try new things,” in some form or fashion. “Know your limits.” “Don’t put down a drink and then pick it up again; someone might have put something in it.” “Just say no.” “Be a leader, not a follower!” Or, in the words of my mother as I departed for college, “You never know you’re an alcoholic until you’ve had that first sip!” We freshmen parents worry, naturally, because, for the first time, we won’t be there to monitor our children on a daily basis. Though they’ve had their driver’s licenses for awhile, and we couldn’t really know where they were or who they were with, we saw them when they got home, and we usually had a pretty good idea of what was going on in their worlds. Now that we’ve dropped them off at school, we worry about their judgment, and about the judgment of all the other students with whom our kids will be fraternizing.  We went to college and we remember what it was like. So, when we said goodbye to our freshmen, we were afraid…very afraid!

In addition to thinking about my own reaction to the cartoon, the Vice-Chancellor’s words caused me to think about this from a different perspective; how hard it must be for university administrators to deal with this exceedingly difficult situation. They promise the parents of their enrolled students that their children will be in good, caring hands and in a safe environment. They do everything in their power to provide on-campus opportunities that will entice a bunch of 18 to 20 year olds away from parties where alcohol is served. And, they must stand by and look on in horror, I imagine, when one of their students is arrested, or worse, carried off campus via an ambulance due to near alcohol poisoning. I admire the many efforts my daughter’s school administrators have made to keep their students safe, but, the reality is that no matter which college our children attend, when class ends and the weekend approaches, most 18 year olds, gathered for the first time in close quarters without any parental or adult supervision, will engage in substantial partying. As parents, we know this instinctively, and we may even accept this as a rite of passage, hoping that our children will use good judgment and self restraint. After all, we made it through pretty much unscathed, right? Well, the scary fact is, we attended school some thirty years ago and things seem to have changed a bit. I know I risk sounding like a fuddy-duddy by starting a sentence with, “When I was in college…”, but, When I was in college, we attended parties where there was usually a keg of cheap beer and possibly some mystery punch served in styrofoam cups. Today, apparently, students are fond of doing shots of hard liquor, and hosting drinking parties in their dorm rooms before the actual party starts so that they can arrive inebriated. Oh, and when I was in college, the drinking age was 18.  I wonder if college students drink illicitly prior to going out because they run the risk of getting arrested if they get caught drinking at a party or at a bar? And, I wonder if alcohol would be a little less attractive if some of the risk was removed, and one didn’t need to show a fake i.d. to purchase it? Turns out, I’m not the only one wondering.

Since I’ve begun writing this piece, I’ve learned that the Vice-Chancellor of my daughter’s school, John McCardell, Jr., (at the time, President-Emeritus of Middlebury College), wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2004, entitled, “What Your College President Didn’t Tell You,” wherein he described the 21-year old drinking age requirement as “bad social policy and terrible law.” He continued, “It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking.”  This essay led to the founding of Choose Responsibility, a non-profit organization devoted to effecting changes to the current drinking laws. I haven’t studied the issue carefully, and certainly have no authority to give an opinion. I just have my thoughts and questions about the issue, as detailed above. As the law of the land currently is that a person must be 21 to drink alcohol legally, and, as my daughter is an 18 year old college freshmanI take encouragement in the words I heard the Vice-Chancellor speak when I was nervously anticipating leaving my child at his university a few weeks ago:

“Help us, help your son or daughter, find that balance. Lead, as we will also try to lead, by example. And if we, you as parents and we as the University, are successful in our partnership, we will send out into the world four short years from now a class of educated men and women who understand that risk is an inevitable part of life and who also understand that a willingness to accept personal responsibility will set the boundaries of acceptable risk and, more important, continue to hone the faculties of good judgment.” (Vice-Chancellor’s Welcome to New Students and Families, The University of the South, Sunday, August 25, 2013)

A Check off the Bucket List

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IMG_1901Definition of BUCKET LIST: a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.

Origin of BUCKET LIST: from the phrase kick the bucket (to die.)

First Known Use: 2006.
(Source: Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I have often heard the phrase, “Another check off the bucket list,” excitedly uttered by people immediately following the revelation of some athletic feat they’ve recently accomplished or fabulous vacation spot they visited. “I finished the marathon! Check it off the bucket list.” “I’d always wanted to see Paris in the spring! Another check off the bucket list.”  I think it is most often used in an attempt to appear not to be bragging. I’ve always thought bucket lists were for old people, but now that my nest is empty and I feel old, I’m beginning to think I might formulate a list of my own.  However, this is problematic as I typically wait until the last minute to plan anything and that is the very opposite of the meaning of “bucket list.” If I wait until the last minute, my bucket may have been kicked. So, rather than plan ahead, I think I’ll look back and check things off an imaginary list; “Things that Should Have Been on My Bucket List, because I Doubt I’ll Ever Do Them Again.”

1. Watching the America’s Cup Races in San Francisco, Sept. 2013

My husband and I recently traveled to the beautiful city by the bay which we’d first visited on our honeymoon 29 years previously. We planned the trip late one night, many months ago, while dining with good friends who already had a year of empty-nesting under their belts, and were clearly enjoying their new status. They told us how they’d previously lived in San Francisco, and suggested it would be fun to travel there together after our youngest left for college. Suddenly, my husband’s eyes lit up.  “Hey, the America’s Cup is in San Francisco this September!” That sealed the deal, and plans were made for the four of us to take an early fall trip. Who knew it would be the best comeback in all of sports’ history?

On our first morning in San Francisco, we knew the race was at 1:00 p.m. but didn’t have many other details. First things first, we decided to have breakfast at Mama’s in North Beach. Exiting our hotel, armed with nothing but the Google map on our iPhones, we found a cable car stop just outside our hotel, and soon elbowed our way onto a very crowded trolley. After a heart-stopping uphill climb, we hopped off and headed for Washington Square and the popular restaurant. We were greeted by an hour-long line outside Mama’s. Encouraged by the numerous reviews of the restaurant as “San Francisco’s best breakfast,” we waited. It was worth it, as we were continuously assured by happy diners exiting the building. Not only did we enjoy bold bloody mary’s, along with the world’s best eggs benedict, we spoke to a young couple who told us they’d been down to the piers and knew the best vantage point to watch the races.  Stuffed, and armed with new knowledge, we plodded up hilly Filbert Street, which looked on the map to be the most direct route to the bay. It ended at the famous Filbert St. Steps, which led directly up to Coit Tower. We trudged to the top and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the entire city. After a look around and a few photos, we excitedly went down the other side of Telegraph Hill. The descending steps led through fabulous gardens, past hidden homes and beautiful statuary.

When we reached the bottom of the hill, we rounded a corner and descended another flight of stairs which led to the waterfront. We soon saw huge signs promoting The America’s Cup, as well as throngs of people and a box office. As we approached the entrance,  I worried that the ticket prices would be exorbitant, or worse, that the event would be sold out. Instead, I was informed that tickets were needed only to watch from the grandstands, which were completely empty. We found our places by the Bay, near the finish line, and waited about half an hour before helicopters appeared, flying low in formation over the water. A small grey seal peeked his head up from the water and swam lazily by to the delight of the crowd. Excitement mounted as the helicopters hovered over a spot near the Golden Gate Bridge, then slowly flew backwards as the giant sailboats left the starting line. The two boats, America’s Oracle, and New Zealand’s Flying Emirates, looked nothing like the sailboats I’ve seen. These boats didn’t have flowing sails; they looked like something out of the Jetsons or a futuristic video game. They were catamarans, and seemed to be flying on top of the water, only their razor thin rudders plowing the bay. The sail was as big and heavy-appearing as an airplane wing, but the boats were tearing through the water outrunning all motor boats chasing along behind or beside them, reaching speeds of 50-55 miles per hour. The Americans lost that first race of the day, much to the delight of the many “Kiwis” who were standing all around us. Regardless of the loss, we toasted with a glass of champagne, and went into the elaborate “village” to watch the next race on a big screen t.v. America lost the second race, as well, but no one seemed to care as the crowd cheered wildly when the Oracle passed by, headed to its dock farther down the Bay. The score was New Zealand 8, America 0. New Zealand needed to win just one more race to be the first to win nine, and end the series that had begun a couple of weeks before. (America had actually won two races, but had been penalized before the races began and therefore had to win 11 total races to keep the Cup.)  No wonder most of the people on the docks were Kiwis; everyone expected the next race to be the last.

A couple of days later, it was time for the next leg of the race, and we situated ourselves near the start of the race between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It was a glorious, sunny, windy day. We sat on the edge of the sea wall, our feet dangling over the water. The two competitors were warming up, racing up and down in the waters just in front of us as we continuously snapped photographs. It seemed a foregone conclusion that New Zealand would take the Cup home. But, everyone seemed excited to be there; thrilled with the brilliant weather and the knowledge that this great sporting event was unfolding right in front of us. Soon, the boats took off, plying the water as before, but this time the Americans seemed to be contenders. At the end of the third leg of the race, while the ships were preparing to round the marker, we heard much “oohing” and “ahhing,” and strained to see around the bend, toward the Bridge. The giant mast of the Emirates’ sail was tilting 60 degrees or so towards the water. “The Kiwis almost capsized!” we heard many yell around us. The Americans took the lead and kept it to the finish line. Everyone was exuberant, and jumped up, excited for the next race to begin. Thirty minutes later, the two boats started racing again. Almost before we knew it, the officials stopped the race due to high winds, which were deemed unsafe for competition. The Americans lived to race another day. Score: 8 to 1. I like to say that this was the turning point; the Kiwis got scared when their boat nearly capsized, allowing the Americans to take the lead and hold onto it for 8, count ’em 8, races IN A ROW! The Cup remains in America!

Back to our bucket list. This September 2013 America’s Cup race is definitely on it because 1) it was awesome, and 2) I’ll never see another America’s Cup race again. How do I know this? Because I don’t really have the desire to, and another race just wouldn’t be as cool as this. Oh, and I don’t want to appear to be bragging.