This ignorant American, enlightened

stumped

“This is the world famous Rockefeller Center. Founded of course by Theodore Rockefeller. This is the skating rink, and I think the Rangers practice there sometimes.”

Michael Scott from The Office, demonstrating his vast insider knowledge of New York City for the show’s documentary camera

Since Saturday I’ve been showing Australian friends Dieter and Lorraine around historic and interesting sites in our wonderful East Coast middle state area, and I swear, I feel like I am so not smarter than a fifth grader.

Yes, when we visited Independence Hall, it could have told you that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it took me a minute to remember that the Constitution was signed in 1787. And I’d have never gotten that one if it weren’t for Schoolhouse Rock.

I had no idea when the interstate highway system was built, but thanks to my civil engineer/Delaware Department of Transportation employee sister for a good pick-up on that one. Eisenhower was the president (if I’m remembering correctly…which I might not be). But the year? Gone.

I know that the Washington Monument (which we visited on Sunday) is 555 feet tall (Forgot about the 5 1/8 inches, though. Darn!). However, I choked on why the thing two-tone. I had pretty much no idea. It seems that the project ran out of money after the first third was built and, when the project was restarted 24 years later, the stone came from a different quarry. See, everybody? At least I was listening on the tour.

I confessed as we walked up to the Korean War Memorial that while I find it very moving, I have no clue about the details of the U.S. involvement in the Korean War (to which my lovely friend Dieter replied, “Didn’t you watch M*A*S*H*?”).

Thankfully, while we were at the World War II Memorial I was able to confirm that Hawaii was indeed admitted for statehood in the 1950’s, and again, for that I have TV to thank (Remember the Hawaii Statehood Party on Happy Days? Strangely educational.)

Yesterday in Rehoboth Beach, DE, I was stumped as to the names of the shells that we were picking up, didn’t know why there were pipes going into the water, and could not, in any way, put a description of salt water taffy into words.

On the bright side, I am very hip to the Walter, the Farting Dog picture book series, and was able to snag a few books for my friend Lorraine to take back to her classroom. She said the boys will love it.

Score one for the ignorant American.

Thankful for a sports wardrobe

SOCCER_GRAPHIC

This morning, 11-year-old Jake woke up in a T-shirt and soccer shorts. Then he changed for school, into a Little League baseball training workshop shirt and an identical (but fresh…I hope) pair of soccer shorts. When I folded what was in the dryer yesterday, I came up with a blue DJ Rockers shirt (Spring soccer ’09), a purple Dover Litho shirt (Spring soccer ’07), and, you guessed it, yet another pair of swishy black soccer shorts.

To be honest, we’re not a huge sports family, but let me tell you: if it weren’t for sports, that kid would be naked.

I remember those guys in college who walked around in shorts all winter, and you know what? I get it now. They weren’t athletes, I don’t think. But they were probably athletes once. And they had a lot of T shirts that they acquired for playing something, somewhere, with someone. And the numerous, identical (I’m hoping there was more than one) athletic shorts with their elastic waistbands that those guys wore every single day really worked for what I can only imagine were their ever-increasing Thursday/Friday/Saturday drinking guts.

Yup, Jake’s one of those guys (without the drinking and the gut, though, right?). He hasn’t got a world class baseball cap collection yet, but I’m sure that’ll be coming down at some point, and it’ll come in handy when his hair inevitably starts to thin. For now, I’m just glad for the triple blessing of kids’ sports: physical fitness, good lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship, and major daytime and evening wardrobe supplementation.

My favorite kids’ soccer shirt of all time is actually my daughter’s, from the one and only season she played. Her team sponsor was the First State Funeral Services. Their team color? Black.

My husband thought they should be called “The Undertakers.” Win or lose, you gotta love that.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Ghostbusters

Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Venkman: Why?
Spengler: It would be bad.
Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Venkman: Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

I realized this morning as I was sitting on my bottom step waiting for Hayley to locate her shoes, put on her sweater, organize her backpack, inventory her snack pack, zip everything up and move it on out the door, that even though we were kissing our drop dead departure time for school, I hadn’t detected the usual mini-spike in my morning blood pressure. Last year’s me would have been much more aggressive in the “we gotta go” department, but I guess I’ve grown. If Hayley misses the bus, then, I ask, so what? It’s not like we’re headed for total protonic reversal.

My realization is very much in keeping with some tips I picked up on a radio talk show the other day. It seems that the army, responding to the rising tide of post-traumatic stress disorders among members of its current fighting force, is now incorporating stress response into basic training. The drill goes something like this: You call home and no one answers. You immediately think, “My wife has cleared out the kids and the dog and LEFT ME!!” Yup, that’s the worst case scenario. But what’s the best case? Something like, she’s won the lottery and is right now down at the local convenience store holding a press conference. What’s the most likely explanation? She’s in the basement and couldn’t hear the phone.

Applied to my late for school issue, the logic goes something like this: worst case, we miss the bus and drive to school, with plenty of time to spare. Best case, our extra couple of minutes makes us miss out on participating in a cataclysmic traffic accident. Most likely case, we have a couple fewer minutes to spend with each other waiting at the bus stop.

Notice how the worst case is never life as we know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light? Barack Obama’s got those kind of worries, I guess. But me? Not so much.

Fortunately…Unfortunately

Love this cover, from a customized book all about me, that my mother had made when I was a child

Love this cover, from a customized book all about me, that my mother had made when I was a child


Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do some gardening yesterday.

Unfortunately, I was gardening barefoot and dropped the garden shears, point down, sending them slicing directly into my toe.

Fortunately, I didn’t need stitches.

Unfortunately, I was bleeding badly enough that even a novice CSI team could have tracked my movements from the garden, up the driveway, across the porch, and up to the front door.

Fortunately, 9-year-old daughter Hayley doesn’t mind the sight of blood and was very willing to get me a paper towel, splash a pitcher of water onto the bright red puddle pooling next to the doormat, and ignore my gasping and rocking as she swept my bodily fluids into the ground cover.

Unfortunately, the first thing my husband Craig saw when he came home was me limping out to greet him.

Fortunately, he sent me into the den to watch the US Open Women’s Doubles Finals on TiVo while he made dinner.

Unfortunately, we’d planned to paint our bathroom that night, and I was still having trouble stopping the bleeding.

Fortunately, I had it in me to tape off and paint the trim.

Unfortunately, the color that we had deliberated about, voted on, and eventually purchased turned out in real life to be a ridiculous shade of poolside blue.

Fortunately, it takes less than $50 to change a paint color.

Unfortunately, I am completely preoccupied with the wrongness of the color, the potential for scathing judgments from other people, and the sucking sound of more money (albeit not much money) leaving my wallet.

Fortunately, I was watching the US Open on Saturday night and witnessed Serena Williams vs. the meek little line judge lady, live and in off-color. With that in mind I have realized that I have this to be thankful for:

I may have chosen the wrong color for my bathroom, but at least I didn’t break my tennis racket (a cost that for Serena is surely upwards of $500, conservatively), receive a USTA fine ($10,000…for now), or royally double fault on my reputation in front of millions of tennis viewers around the world.

Yup, I’m OK…unless the world’s tennis fandom starts stopping by to use my bathroom.

Now that would be truly unfortunate.

A few “would you rather”s for parents

fork

Just wondering…

1. Would you rather take your children with you to the grocery store or volunteer for an electroshock treatment trial?

2. Would you rather rummage through your child’s closet looking for his missing soccer shirt or eat the science experiment that’s growing in the rear recesses of the fridge?

3. Would you rather talk your children into giving away their ancient, unused PlayStation or run the darn thing over with your car “by accident?”

4. Would you rather have 2 cents for every sock you pick up off the floor or a dollar for every shoe you pick up off the floor?

5. Would you rather your children spend a day without talking or a year without listening?

My thoughts on football (careful, it’s not much)

lehigh lafayette

In response to yesterday’s Sunday School getting to know you question, “What do you think about college football?” I had several thoughts, and said as much, to which I heard several cries of “Blog ’em!” and “Facebook it!” (to which I’m not really sure how to respond, as I am the world’s most insecure individual and figure that the mocking vs. encouraging ratio of such comments is about dead even).

Still, if you’re interested, here’s my stream of consciousness about college football, my experiences with football, football in general, and my after church plans:

  1. I went to Lehigh University, which, along with Lafayette College, enjoys the country’s oldest college football rivalry. During my time at Lehigh, this rivalry dragged out an ever-evolving group of 18–19 year old non-football enthusiasts whose presence at the annual game could be explained simply by the fact that they were pledging fraternities and were under strict orders to obtain a piece of goalpost. This quest often resulted in the kind of violence that can only be carried out by boys who’ve drunk more at Friday afternoon cocktails, Friday evening fraternity parties, Saturday morning sunrise cocktails, and Saturday pre-game tailgating during their college careers than I will have drunk in a lifetime. Considering the intoxication level, it’s a wonder they could even navigate the bleachers.
  2. My freshman year at Lehigh marked the last game in Taylor Stadium, which was located just below my dormitory quad. My friend (now husband) was determined to go to the historic last game, despite predictions of wind chills of forty below (that’s below zero, folks, which for Eastern PA is freakishly cold). I remember huddling with Craig under a blanket that was maybe 4′ x 6′ (was this what ignited the first sparks of future romance?) and wondering (seriously) whether I would ever feel my feet again (which I did, about 6 hours later). The best part of the game for me was imagining all the members of the marching band brass section with their mouthpieces stuck to their tongues.
  3. I learned how to play football at Villa Walsh Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, where I had like 15 kids in my gym class. In that one flag football gym class, Mrs. Webb taught me all I ever needed to know about football: 4 chances to go 10 yards. Any other regulation is for me like the infield fly rule in baseball or the corner kick rule in soccer: someone knows when these things apply and it doesn’t need to be me. What I remember about that gym class, besides the 4 downs thing and the “kick or stick” choice after a third down, is this: one girl in the class tied her flag to her underwear, which, looking back now, was not necessarily an advantage.
  4. I don’t really follow football—college or pro—but I do like a good game. I watch the Superbowl, but always make sure to get the New York Times the day of the game and read the entire sports section to apprise myself of well-researched factoids that may prove useful in conversation. Fine, laugh if you must.
  5. Sometimes after church we take the kids to Dunkin Donuts. Unfortunately, a car collided with our usual Dunkin Donuts, due to a driver who had a seizure at the wheel. Luckily, no one was hurt (but were any donuts harmed?) and DD was back in business for our visit on Sunday. I couldn’t help thinking while I was there, though, what if someone had been hurt, or heaven forbid, killed, and it was because of an irresistible donut craving? Is it more noble to meet one’s accidental end at the library, or the symphony, or ringing the bell on a street corner dressed as Santa Claus? All I know is that I’m glad I didn’t meet my end due to hypothermia or lose my toes due to frostbite at Lehigh/Lafayette 1987. I know people sacrifice a lot for sports, but come on—that’s a bit much.

Thankful for thankfulness

mom rocks
Yesterday at 2:30, when I went on the mother’s walk of shame to meet my growing 11-year-old boy at the bus stop, I saw through the drizzle that Jake spotted me, looked up into the trees, and, honest to goodness, whispered, “Thank you,” to the God that he must have prayed to when he got off the bus and realized he had a long walk home in the rain with his trumpet, his backpack, and yup, no umbrella.

This makes me thankful on a couple of fronts:

1. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed Jake personally acknowledge the presence of a/the higher power on his own initiative. Cool–I guess kids aren’t completely self-centered after all.

2. I am vindicated in my long held position that weather really does have an effect on Jake, despite his long time insistence of, “Mommmm, I’m alrighttttt.”

3. Despite my boy’s sometime grimaces when I hug, kiss, mush, or otherwise show affection to him in public, he actually does sometimes like seeing me when he gets off the bus, if only for the extra horsepower I provide.

Let me tell you, at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.

A TIME to Twitter

shaq_vs_boykinsI was in the doctor’s office today, waiting twenty minutes for the nurse, who first called me ‘Nancy Shurr’ and then ‘Carol Share,’ until I perked up and spoke aloud as none of the other patients ever seem to do and said, “I’m Cheryl. Do you want me?” She did, but, that aside, in the meanwhile, I was catching up on good old TIME magazine, which I only read while waiting (which honestly isn’t a very good advertisement for TIME, now is it?)

In my semi-annual reading of TIME, I learned of the death of dapper author/journalist Dominick Donne (which struck me as interesting, as he is the brother-in-law of Joan Didion, whose book, The Year of Magical Thinking, chronicles her year after the sudden death of his brother, her husband). I discovered (to my cheer) that Delaware is no longer the first state of cancer (a distinction which now belongs to Kentucky). I read page after page about why Leno’s new 10 pm variety show on NBC is doooooomed to fail—but destined to go on.

I should mention too that TIME informed me that currently indicted, longtime Republican, and former US Representative Tom DeLay will be appearing on the next season of Dancing with the Stars, a show I will not not not not not not not ever be watching (no matter which political points of view may be represented).

The most interesting piece I came across this TIME was an essay by erstwhile (love that word) E! reporter Joel Stein, entitled “Shaq vs. Joel,” in which Stein discusses Shaquille O’Neal’s new show Shaq Vs.. The idea of the show is this: Shaq challenges champions at that which they are best: Shaq swims vs. Michael Phelps; Shaq spikes vs. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh; Shaq cha-chas vs. Tom DeLay (ugh, no.). The idea of Stein’s essay is this: Shaq writes vs. Joel Stein.

The subject matter of the writing contest is Twitter (the social networking/share your every fleeting thought site on which I have never been). Shaq is the Number 10 most followed figure on Twitter. Stein is Number 195. (Readers of this blog may be wondering where Roger Federer ranks on the Twitter front, but I’ve got no solid numbers on that one.) The challenge, thrown down by Stein, is 400 words on Twitter, with the winner decided by an online vote.

When you check out the essays, you’ll find that Stein is a pretty snappy writer. You’ll find that Shaq seems to have stopped using the letter ‘w.’ You’ll find that Stein may become a challenge if you have rated G sensibilities (yes, if that’s you, stop reading Stein right after he mentions E!’s Hottest Hotties of Hotliwood; I may vote for Shaq just because of the nonsense that follows). You may really enjoy Shaq’s endearing honesty and dedication to his Twitter following…almost as much as you enjoy the way Shaq refers to himself as ‘diesel’ (at least I think that’s what he was talking about).

As for me, I’d like to challenge prima donna Shaq to the ultimate waiting room challenge: see how long you can sit there without Twitter to keep you company. I have a feeling that for Shaq it might be a welcome change.

Life in the slow lane

Slow driverI’ve been saying a lot lately that it seems like Dover is slowing down.

I’m no speed demon, but when I can sing Hey, Jude from beginning to end before the woman in front of me manages to complete the right turn into her driveway, then you know that there’s a problem.

Still, I’m thankful today to be reminded of something I read several years ago from David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Address, about our response to situations just like that:

“The point is that petty, frustrating [stuff] like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be [angry] and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who…are all these people anyway?

…The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

– excerpt from a reprint of Wallace’s address in The Best American Non-required Reading 2005

The mental game

Tennis

On Monday when I was contemplating the strengths and weaknesses of my own tennis game, here comes Devin Britton, college soph and current NCAA men’s singles tennis champ, to play the US Open first round against (wait for it…) Roger Federer.

If you are not a tennis fan, don’t worry. All you have to know is (a) while Britton is ranked No. 1,364 in the world, Federer is ranked No. 1, (b) while losing to Federer in straight sets, Britton did actually get a couple of serves past him and even won 9 games to Federer’s 19, (c) while commentators including John McEnroe (himself a former NCAA champ) rattled on about Britton’s nerves, shaky legs, and slow sprint speed, all they could say when he started to show some strength against Federer was “Is Roger facing the wind?”

The day when wind significantly influences my tennis game is the day I start cutting my grass with nail clippers.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mental side of a lot of my activities. Tennis, bowling, musical performance—there’s some mental focus/distraction and practice/spontaneity issues going on. As I’m doing these activities, I find myself thinking, “I’m really in the groove right now,” and then I jinx myself into throwing a gutter ball. Or I get so carried away by the music that I myself am playing that I run the musical train right into a brick wall at full speed. Or, on the bright side, I come off of a lousy tennis week easing up on the energy and actually faring pretty darn well.

How does one conquer the mental game? I’m looking at Devin Britton, and I’m thinking that whatever I’m doing, I should play it like I have nothing to lose. Relax. Remember the basics. When it speeds up, slow it down. When it’s going badly, start over at no score. Keep thinking that losing to Roger-freaking-Federer is the most genuine “it’s an honor just to be nominated” moment. Entertain for half a second that beating Roger Federer would rock like a caveman convention in a quarry, but know that this, too, would be deemed by McEnroe et al to be the fluke of all flukes, especially if you go down in Round 2 to Johann von Nobody.

As for Devin Britton, he may be out of the Open, but he’s still got his NCAA title, his future tennis career, and a $19,000 paycheck for 88 minutes of play securely in his court. Not bad at all.