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Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

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Baseball – it’s berry, berry good

atbatThe Braves cried this week, not just because they lost for the first time, but because it was the end of the season for them.

For many, including Yoda, this was the first real team they ever belonged to. It was the first time they felt a brotherhood built around a common goal. The goal was not necessarily to win, but to bring out the best in each other. That they did.

In five months, the Braves went from a team of loosely joined boys with little experience to a determined and undefeated west county championship team. It was a joy to see them grow. Yoda went from barely able to throw the ball 20 feet to hurling it to the cutoff man from outfield with palm stinging power. We watched a frozen infield turn into a quick response team. In nine and ten year old boy abilities, it was like watching the Keystone Cops turn into the Bolshoi Ballet.

We were all astounded at their progress, but most of all we were proud of the sportsmen they became. To a man, the Braves played honestly and with honor.

Their head coach, Joe Lewis (and yes that is his real name) made it clear from the very beginning that baseball is a game to be played using the best of themselves. Coach Lewis and the other three assistant coaches, Benton, Clack, and Thigpen always upheld themselves as the examples of what they wanted the kids to be. Each advancement made by a boy was celebrated proudly with a high-five, swooping hug or just a “guy” fist pound and each frustration handled with finesse as to bring out a betterment, not an embarrassment.

This true coaching led the boys to an undefeated title in their division of live pitch. And as such, they were slotted to play in the wider all county championship series. And play they did.

The first game of the series, they played on fire, but the flames were doused by a nasty thunderstorm. In the second inning the game was called due to weather. They would have to begin again the next day.

The boys were a bit dispirited the second day. Whether it was fatigue or their first exposure to the darker side of sportsmanship, I’m not sure. This was the first time the boys had experienced parents that openly mocked them, shouted insults and attempted to overrun the umpires’ calls. It was disheartening to see such behavior directed toward nine and ten year old children.

It took a lot not to return in kind, but instead we returned in kindness. We applauded every effort and every well-played inning. We drowned out the ugliness with cheers. Coach Lewis made sure that his boys would not be the ones to create animosity on the field or that his parents would not be thrown out during this championship series. We chose to show the boys the high road.

The boys ultimately lost the series, but not for trying. There were great hits, excellent pitches, throws and catches. There were a couple of amazing and clever home plate plays and even a tie-breaker extra inning, but it was not to be. The shameful tactics used by the other team won out. Cheaters do sometime prosper.

The boys were upset that they lost. It was hard to face their first losses this late in the game, but it wan’t until they cleared the field and gathered their equipment out of the dugout that the true meaning of the loss hit home. It was their last game together.  For Yoda, it was as if he lost his best friend and he wasn’t the only one. Reports from other parents were the same.

Several of the boys are moving up to the next level, as is Coach Lewis. The Braves as we knew them will not return, but we are glad to have the experience we did. It could have been something so different. Coaches Lewis, Benton, Clack and Thigpen built a team based on camaraderie and pride in a game well-played; the boys’ reaction to the last game proved that.

We were fearful that long ago blustery try-out day in February. We had heard the horror stories of spiteful parents and coaches that screamed, but fortune smiled in our favor. We became part of the Braves and Coach Lewis, we got a piece of that pie.

The Essay I Should Have Written

UnknownA cold, miserable mist greeted me when I walked out into the evening after my last semester final. The kind of mist that doesn’t quite call for an umbrella and yet leaves you damp by the time you get where you are going no matter the distance traveled. It fit my mood perfectly and summed up the semester quite well: all wet.

It really bothers me that I have not performed well, especially in this anthropology course on identity, despite knowing that there have been some extenuating circumstances involved – work issues, home issues, health issues – and as only my closest of closest’s know, identity can be a challenging subject for me. But I also know that I made some poor choices in the past fifteen weeks. All came back to haunt me this afternoon.

Given the choice of two out of five or six questions, we were to write complete essays integrating the information we gleaned from the course and our supposed intellectual interpretation of said information. I say supposed because, at least in my instance, my intellect fled from my brain as soon as I began to read the questions.

The questions weren’t difficult, really just slight variations on things we had discussed in class. What was lacking was my ability to form a single cohesive unit of thought. We had two hours to give back any indication we understood the course work. It took me an hour and a half to write the first piece of drivel and the remaining half hour to slather my paper with the second piece of nonsense. I cried on the way home, whether in frustration, relief or shame I cannot say.

Bashert, bless her non-cooking soul, had made matzah ball soup while I was off torturing myself. It was a welcome balm to my aching ego, as was the time spent relaxing on the couch with her and Yoda just watching a mystery show together. It gave me space to breathe and mull over what had occurred during the final. It gave me a chance to get my thoughts in order and think about what I would have written had my brain been in working order.

One of the choices in the questions given was to state three things you have learned about your identity through this course. This is the essay that I should have written.

Identity is a nebulous thing. It tends to defy definition because there are so many ways to define it. When researching information about my term paper, I found that Toon van Meijl attempted to define identity as “a kind of nexus at which different constructions of self coincide, and sometimes also collide”. Identity is who you are, but also who you are taught to be and who you are ascribed to be. Identity is fluid and changeable, yet fixed and determined. That is what I have learned this semester.

In my parents’ home I am the third child and youngest daughter, sister to my siblings; immutable non-choices, determined by my parents’ genetics and timing. In my own home, I am Mom; I am now daughter and mother. Two of my identities have coincided and collided. I exist in the context of both constructs.

In my spousal relationship, I am wife and not-wife, to corrupt a phrase used by Serena Nanda in her article, “Men and Not-Men”. The hegemony in which I reside still does not fully accept the identity marker of wife for my partnership in life. Since I live in a domestic partnership and have the sex designation of female, it is customary to identify my role as “wife”, but in my domestic partnership, the other is not male. Here a different construction collides. Because of my sexuality, I am not wife, but I am not husband.

Along the same lines is my gender identity; gender, as we have been taught, being the cultural interpretation of physical appearance. Because of agreements to societal changes over the years in the Western cultural structure in which I reside, I am able to utilize my own agency and choose to not wear clothing typically interpreted for people who have a feminine gender. But because those societal changes did not necessarily encompass a change in the central meaning of the generalized concepts of what masculine and feminine connote in our society, my choice of attire and even hairstyle creates yet another identity when seen from another social worldview.

In my place of work, I occupy multiple spaces. I am employee, boss, trainer, acquaintance and friend. In school, I am student, but designated as other since I do not fit the cultural profile of the typical college student. In my religious sphere, I am Jewish to the outside faiths, but may not be considered as such by those Jews whose worldview is much more orthodox than mine.

At my own nexus of self, I am all of the above and more. I identify as artist, writer, political agnostic, curmudgeon and nice person. How I see myself may not be the way another will or can view me. If I have learned anything in the time spent through this course is that identity is a process, a state of being that is always fixed and always in flux, determined not only by the institution in which we reside, but also by the resistance and agency we as individuals choose to apply.

The People You Meet

Lion of Judah – by artfulexpectations. (Bashert w/Yoda)

There are people sent into your life for a purpose, not always is this purpose clear beyond gaining a new friend (or enemy), but there is a purpose. Take my friend Betty.

Betty is an eternal optimist. Like Annie, she knows that even though the sky may be covered in bruise coloured clouds, there is a sun shining fiercely behind it just waiting to break through. Don’t get me wrong though, Betty is no Pollyanna (for those of you not born of an age, go look her up). She doesn’t spout cloyingly sweet phrases or sing to the birds – at least I don’t think she sings to the birds, I’ve never witnessed it anyway. Betty is just, well, happy.

Betty has seen her share of things that would rock anyone’s world. I’ll not relate them here as they are her private affairs and hers to hold on to. Let it suffice to say that these things could bring a lesser person to their knees. Betty rose to meet all comers and came out the victor.

She is the woman, who under any other circumstance would rub you completely wrong, with her: “Hello! Monday, what good have you got for me to start the week?” But Betty in her determined sunny-side of life, makes you inquire what wonders Monday might actually hold.

Her laugh is incredibly contagious. One of my fondest, BEST memories of my college years (the last ones, not these) is of a rainy afternoon down in the sculpture lab with Bashert, Thriver, myself and Betty. We laughed so hard that my face hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath. I will never look at another bamboo paintbrush or container of Preparation H in the same light after that day.

She co-hosted our baby shower for Yoda (her co-host was the friend we lost a year ago – see “Just Keep Singing”) – a marvelous affair with friends, family and lots of yummy food mixed with that laughter. If there is a woman who loves babies, there’s Betty (just ask her granddaughters).

She spends many of her days working with pregnant women. She’s not an obstetrician,  no Betty is an artist – a sculptor. She creates wonderful memories to, as her website puts it, “preserve and celebrate” a child’s first home. No wonder she’s a happy camper.

Betty is a free spirit, who has paid her dues to be so. She takes little for granted and beams her gratitude out with rays of joy. Even in her darkest hours, at least those I have been privileged to witness, she finds a spark, a reason to look for the light to come.

I’ve been in a funk lately. The triad of my life; home, school and work have been a little at odds. It’s kind of like the uneven three-legged stool. You keep cutting a little bit off each leg, but it never seems to quite even out.

Whether she knows it or not, Betty has been quietly encouraging me. She’s going through her own struggle right now, but even when she has a set back of some kind, she finds something good in it even it means that she must take a step back. Her fortitude lets me know that there is light to come and that sometimes you have to make your own torch to brighten the way because some tunnels are longer than others.

I may not be able to rise to her level of zen just yet, but she gives me hope that I might get there someday. What an awesome purpose. Thank you Betty.

Dreams may come, dreams may go

In the spring, I received notice that my university financial aid would not be processed unless I declared a major, met with an advisor and laid out a course schedule hurtling me toward graduation. I was informed that financial aid would no longer pay for any courses not directly involved with obtaining the degree I sought. Such is the penalty for going back for a second undergraduate degree and having no money. I have to know what I want to be when I grow up.

Some time back, I grew weary of the corporate grind, the machinations, the end of the world scenarios every time something goes wrong, the obvious greed and lack of empathy from those who have scaled the corporate mountain. I kept telling Bashert I needed to get back in school and find something else to do with my life. She finally told me to “shit or get off the pot”. In other words, do something about it or shut up. I chose to return to school.

I returned with the full intention of moving on to a graduate program here at our state Medical University. I didn’t want to become a physician, but gain a doctorate and do research. Neuroscience and psychopharmacology were the two beacons lighting my way. I am fascinated with the way the brain works. I had a dream.

I volunteered to work the night shift so that I could have my days to attend classes and study. I worked it out with my nightside partners whereby I would be the one to “close” every night except Wednesdays, the night before I had a lab class scheduled. Working the later night shift would also give me more time to spend with Yoda, picking him up from school and having supper together with Bashert.

When I got to school, it was if I had entered a magic kingdom. I’d forgotten how much I love to learn. Having a lifetime of experiences behind me, I felt much surer of myself. No longer the first time attending, scared teenager or that voiceless woman coming out of a horrible divorce situation, I was there for a purpose and with a self authority I lacked before.

My resolve of purpose faltered a year into my studies with the introduction of Evolutionary Biology and PreCalculus.

Now let me pause here just one moment and let you know something about myself. I am bitter. You see, I graduated the first time around with a GPA of 3.499 and it didn’t get rounded up. Yep, I missed cum laude by 1/1000th of a point. You know why I graduated with a 3.499?

Math.

In 1979, I took College Algebra, earned a D and it has haunted my GPA ever since.  Never mind that I returned to school, took it over and made an A, no, in college it all counts and never goes away.

What do Evolutionary Biology and PreCalculus concern? Math – lots and lots of math.

That semester was a living hell of math.

I managed to eke out a B in both classes. EvoBio was saved by my writing ability and obnoxious eagerness to have everything turned in early. PreCalculus was saved only by my four day marathon study session for the final and the good graces of the adjunct professor, who dropped three tests grades.

I looked at the remaining classes I would be required to take to earn my B.S. and move on. Chemistry I&II & Organic – math; Physics I&II- math; Calculus – math; Genetics – math.

It was then I realized that I was not going to be able to realize my dreams of moving on to any PhD. program in science. Perhaps if I was younger with more time and energy to devote myself strictly to the programs, I could do it, at least that’s what I would like to think. But with a family to care for, health issues and a job that costs me 45-60 hours a week, excluding travel time, it just wasn’t going to happen. I simply don’t bounce back like I used to and there are sacrifices I’m not ready to make. So, I had to release that dream.

It hasn’t been easy giving up.  I practically gave up writing and I my camera still lies unused. I grudgingly declared an English major and met with the English vice-chair for advisement. Corporate drudgery stared me down hard. I felt defeated, weary and wasteful. At this point in my life, what use was studying 19th century British literature going to do? I sulked most of my way through last spring and the summer.

It has taken until now to climb my way back out of that hole of disappointment.

Glimmers of light are beginning to shine through. I have partners that I work with in my business life that I enjoy and trust now. And while Family Bedlam is well, still bedlam, we are a family doing the best we can with love and hope. This semester I am taking classes I really enjoy and I have an appointment to speak with someone in the Communications department about switching to an area of study that might just help me in my present career. If I cannot move on to a different world outside then perhaps I can make the world I exist in now a little bit better.

I guess that’s the good thing about dreams. One can always build another.

Photo Credit: Photo by Vail. Undated. mtholyoke.edu

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

I am vacation this week and as it is hard to get off my night time schedule, I have been fortunate enough to see a good bit of the Olympic coverage. It is thrilling to rally around a favorite team or just marvel and the strength and abilities of each world class athlete.

I have just one bone to pick. It’s not the synchronized swimming nose plugs, or the beach volleyball bikini butt slings or even that guy that licked himself before the race, no I have an issue with the Japanese men’s gymnastics team.

In a sport that is all about clean lines and perfection of form, the Japanese men’s hair is a little jarring and I’m not talking about their tousled moptops. I’m talking about the stark, black shock of underarm hair that flashes out with each arm raise. Even Danell Leyva, who has a 5 o’clock shadow at 10 in the morning has less hair than these guys. Seriously.

Call me picky or overly Americanized, but it’s very disconcerting for me to watch those guys running down the mat, muscles at the ready and then up goes that arm and then all I can see is a forest of dark hair shimmering against an otherwise clean body. My brain is filled with thoughts of sheep shearing and Marine buzz cuts.

I’m not saying that all athletes need to be as shaven as the swimmers, but dang guys, someone give the Japanese gymnasts a pair of trimmers.

Photo by Gregory Bull / AP

The Games Begin and It’s Not About Food Deprivation

Let the games begin or so we thought. I’m sorry London, but the opening night’s ceremony was disjointed, overly long and kinda creepy. The opening film was much like the beginning clip in the movies when you are optically strapped in a roller coaster and told where the waste receptacles are located.  Kenneth Branagh strutting about surrounded by six or seven Abraham Lincolns doing a very strange version of the cabbage patch dance was just plain odd. It took forever for those dang smoke stacks to rise and what was with the giant baby?

Each host country has its own issues with the ceremonies. Canada is still living down its giant beavers and Atlanta hangs its head over that embarrassing walking blue sperm, but last night? As one of Bashert friend’s said, one needed a PhD in British history to understand what was going on.

We didn’t make it to the torch lighting ceremony or to hear Sir Paul sing. With all the commercial interruptions made by NBC, what was probably two hours in person was stretched to something like four over here. The announcers kept making the comment that the march of athletes was moving at a record pace; sure couldn’t tell it as a home viewer in the USA. Two countries, three commercials, three countries, four commercials…

It wasn’t all bad. The bit with the Queen was cute. Who knew she had such a sense of humor to play along in public? Our biggest attention grabber came from Rowan Atkinson. Call us lowbrow, but his slapstick was funny. I will never look at “Chariot of Fire” in the same light again. The firework rings were pretty cool too.

NBC’s coverage hasn’t improved greatly. I mean, we are five hours behind the action, why in the world are they stuffing the program with inane material? Ryan Seacrest reviewing the number of tweets the Queen received was by far one of the most most frustrating pieces I’ve seen in a long time. I understand having to pay for the programming, but really? Seacrest? Can we vote him off?

What the next two weeks, plus will bring no one knows? Phelps defeated! USA number one in qualifying for gymnastics? China and Australia winning gold medals in swimming? So many possibilities, so much talent. Good luck, good health and good sportsmanship to all the contestants. Make the Olympic Gods proud! Maybe they will be pleased enough to send down a lightning bolt to take out Seacrest.