A LESSON IN CIVIC PRIDE: THE SEAHAWKS VICTORY PARADE

February 7, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting, Tales of Inspiration

Having our hometown Seattle Seahawks go to the Super Bowl was a huge event for our city. My kids’ and other neighborhood schools held Seahawks events prior to the big game: Blue Fridays, contests for which class could show the most Seahawks spirit with the winners earning an extra recess, and taking time out from class to line up the students in the formation of a giant #12 to show their support for our home team. But all that changed when the victory parade was set during a school day. Kids couldn’t miss school for the Seahawks parade…could they?

Die-hard fans had their own arguments for pulling their kids out of school:

“I’ve waited my whole life for this and I want to share it with my kids.”

“It’s a once in a lifetime event.”

“The Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl before. This is history in the making.”

Even Pete Carroll was calling for the schools to close.

They didn’t close, but many school districts recognized that this was something more than an ordinary parade: it was a lesson in civic pride. Education is important, and not everything is best learned in a classroom. Sometimes you have to live it to learn it.

For me, it was a no brainer. I had already set a precedent by flying to Williamsport, PA for a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to support our home town Little League team. I could hardly say no to a simple drive downtown! So I pulled two of my kids out of school, bundled them up, and headed downtown with our friends to witness this historic moment and celebrate with the Seahawks players. (My oldest, in middle school, claimed his workload was too high to miss a day, making for an interesting parenting moment: “You can’t go to school! Wait…what am I saying?”)

Approximately 700,000 other people joined us: old, young, male, female, from nearby and from far away, with every color of skin you could imagine, including blue and green. It was cold—really, really cold—and it was packed, but not much could compare to the moment when Marshawn Lynch, the first Seahawks player in the parade, came into view.

The players were in awe of the outpouring of support from the sheer number and volume of their devoted fans.

The fans were beside themselves, jumping up and down, waving frantically, screaming at the top of their lungs as their favorite players passed by. (This particular fan wished the players wore their jerseys because it was hard to tell who was who after watching them all season with their faces hidden behind football helmets.)

And when Steven Hauschka held up the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, the roar that went up from the crowd was deafening.

Yes, it was freezing cold, and yes, we’re now drowning in makeup work from a missed day of school, but it was worth every second to give back to the Seahawks what they have delivered to our city, and it’s much more than a Super Bowl Championship. The Seahawks have united our city, and our state, like nothing has before.

CONGRATULATIONS SEAHAWKS!

 

 

 

WHY NOT ME? MY NEW MANTRA

February 3, 2014 in Tales of Inspiration

Photo from nfl.com

There were a lot of amazing moments in yesterday’s historical Super Bowl game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos:

The odd snap by the Bronco’s center resulting in the Seahawks scoring a safety in the first 12 seconds of the game, the quickest score ever in Super Bowl history…

Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kick return to score a touchdown in the opening play of the second half…

Jermaine Kearse’s spectacular run to the end zone, breaking through five tackles on the way…

Malcolm Smith beating the odds to earn the Super Bowl MVP, only the third linebacker and eighth defensive player in Super Bowl history to do so…

Russell Wilson leading his team to becoming the Super Bowl Champions during only his second year in the NFL…

Every single player on the Seahawks team winning their first Super Bowl Championship together…

And the Seattle Seahawks winning their first Super Bowl ever in franchise history!

I reveled in every one of those moments. It was a huge night for both the Seahawks and the city of Seattle. But there was one other moment, a quiet one off the field, that struck a chord in me. It was Russell Wilson talking to the media about something his dad said to him.

Becoming a professional football player isn’t easy. There are millions of kids that dream of becoming a football player in the NFL. According to businessinsider.com in 2012, 1,108,441 kids make it onto their high school teams but only 255 are drafted to the NFL. That gives a high school football player a 0.08% chance of playing professional football. The odds aren’t good.

But here’s the greatness in Russell Wilson’s dad’s message to him: why can’t it be you? What can’t you be one of those 255 draftees to the NFL? Yes, it’s going to take talent, perseverance, practice, and probably a bit of luck, but hey, it’s going to happen to someone. Why not you?

What a fantastic message to give to a kid. It opens the door for a child to follow his dream and to believe in himself. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl yesterday because every single player on that team believed they could do it. Amazing things can happen when you believe.

I’m borrowing Russell Wilson’s dad’s message and not only am I going to say it to my kids, I’m going to say it to myself. Why can’t I fill-in-the-blank? Why can’t my kids follow their dreams, whatever they may be? So the odds are slim. Someone’s going to get there…why not my kids? Or me? Or you?

If you want it, go out and get it. The Seahawks certainly did.

Congratulations Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks!

 

 

 

FOR THE LOVE OF SCIENCE: A BOOK & ARTICLE REVIEW

September 12, 2013 in Book Reviews, Tales of Inspiration

There is a reason I was an Animal Physiology major and a Psychology minor in college: I am fascinated by how the human body works and what happens when something goes wrong. I find it astonishing that with the number of mutations and alterations that can happen on a genetic  and cellular level, a human baby is born healthy at all, let alone the millions of healthy babies born all over the world on any given day.

So when I was wandering the aisles of Target recently, it was a no-brainer for me to pick up the newest Target Book Club pick (which was 20% off!) called Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.

Susannah Cahalan was a bright, young 24-year-old writer for the New York Post when out of the blue she became obsessed with a non-existent bedbug problem in her apartment (paranoia), developed symptoms that sounded suspiciously like mono although she tested negative for the virus, found lights so bright they were painful (photophobia), began having uncontrollable crying spells, and ultimately had a seizure. Ensconced in a hospital bed in the epileptic section of the hospital, every test they gave her came back negative. As time progressed and her symptoms became frighteningly worse, there was one thought that crossed everyone’s mind: perhaps she was more suited for being in the psychiatric section of the hospital instead.

Was she going crazy or was there something physically wrong with her? That is the question that Susannah’s parents and boyfriend fought every single day, refusing to believe they had lost her to mental illness. That is the question various doctors battled with, until one doctor stepped in, asked the right questions, and finally saved her life.

This is an extraordinary tale of the diagnosis of a rare and scary disease, the support of her family, and Susannah’s fight to get her life and her sense of self back following a harrowing month where she lost everything to madness and which she doesn’t remember at all.

There is a nice juxtaposition between her personal struggle and the science of her disease, which she has meticulously researched and clearly explained. Even if you’re not a science junkie, this is definitely worth the read.

If that’s not enough amazing science for you, check out The Atlantic’s “The Mystery of the Second Skeleton“ by Carl Zimmer. It is a fascinating exploration of a disease I had never heard of before: fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). It is an extremely rare condition where the body systematically grows a second skeleton that fuses to the original skeleton and the joints, thus preventing movement. New bone growth is triggered by trauma, so surgical intervention to remove the new bones to free up the joints only makes the condition worse.

What is fascinating is the process by which doctors have finally isolated the mutated gene that causes the disease and how they are looking at it in two different ways. Obviously, the ultimate goal is a treatment for FOP, but they are also seeking to harness this bone growth for use in patients who are born missing a bone or to help with osteoporosis.

The human body is amazing, and so are the doctors and scientists with the patience and perseverence to sift through 20,000 individual genes to find “the one,” and to think beyond only curing the disease and into how they can use this mutation to help others.

I hope Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan and “The Mystery of the Second Skeleton” by Carl Zimmer satisfy your science fix for the week. As for me, my appetite has only been whetted. I sense an Oliver Sacks book in my near future!

 

 

 

 

A SIDE TRIP TO PHILLY

August 30, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Tales of Inspiration

I couldn’t imagine a visit to Pennsylvania without a side trip to Philadelphia. The richness of the history encased in this one, walkable area was too much to pass up.

After our visit to Hersheypark, we hopped in the car and drove the two hours to Philly, passing by Valley Forge, the site of the American Continental Army winter encampment in 1977-78 during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of soldiers died during this rough winter of disease, starvation, and weather. Yet, the Americans emerged from this deadly cocoon with enough organization, spirit, and skill to tackle the British at the Battle of Monmouth. I only wish we had time to stop and tour the park. Next time, I thought, if we ever get back to Pennsylvania.

We stayed right in the middle of historic downtown Philly, surrounded by cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and Independence Hall. I wish I could describe how clean and quaint this area is. Where else in the world can you be transported back in time to the birthplace of our country? We tourists walked alongside minutemen as we viewed the Liberty Bell, learned how to write with an old-fashioned ink pen, and stood in the courtyard of the magnificent Independence Hall, where both the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence were signed. (We didn’t get there in time for an actual tour…maybe next time.)

We toured the US Mint, peered through the bars at the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence, and, my absolute favorite, visited Betsy Ross in her home. Not only was it fun to see how people lived back then, in tiny spaces connected by steep and narrow staircases and with no electricity or refrigeration, but we got to spend some actual time with Betsy Ross (magnificently portrayed by a character actress) who so charmed us with her courage and cleverness that we didn’t want to leave.

She told us the story of how she came to be the maker of our American Flag, commissioned by none other than George Washington. He wanted 13 six-pointed stars representing our original 13 colonies, but Betsy Ross demurred. She didn’t like the arrangement of the stars, stacked straight across in lines, so she delicately suggested arranging them in a circle instead, signifying the unity of our country. Washington agreed, which emboldened her to make another suggestion, she told us with a glint of mischief in her eyes. Instead of six-pointed stars, she thought it would be better to make five-pointed stars. Her reason? She knew, as a seamstress, that with a piece of fabric folded a particular way, she could cut out a five-pointed star with only one cut of her scissors. She could whip out those 13 five-pointed stars in no time, and then she proceeded to show us how. It was like magic! She handed her magic paper star to my youngest son, and I have it now. As soon as I figure out how she folded the paper, I’m going to create an art project for my kids that requires cutting out a lot of stars in this very simple way…so cool!

Visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…there are no words.

We topped off our historic day with dinner at Max Brenner’s: a chocolate lover’s delight with a dessert menu much longer than the dinner menu. I chose this delectable little number that was as delicious as it was interactive:

The Melting Chocolate Truffle Heart Cake & Shake with vanilla ice cream and an iced milk chocolate shot with a chocolate ganache I got to pour myself.

My son ordered this dessert treat that I sampled many, many times:

The S’Mores Concoction served in this little mason jar with caramel sauce in a tiny glass flask.

We came to Pennsylvania to see our local baseball team compete in the Little League World Series (where they wound up 3rd in the United States: Awesome job, Eastlake!), but we found so much more to enjoy in this lusciously green state. Even though I figured it was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the thought that keeps popping up in my mind these days is that we will be going back…someday.

 

 

WILLIAMSPORT, PA: A TRIP OF A LIFETIME

August 22, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Tales of Inspiration

I am a planner. I love spending hours on the couch with my iPad planning trips months in advance, searching for things to do and places to stay. I contemplate the benefits of a tour vs exploring an area on our own, the number of active events we can possibly do and still find time to eat and sleep, and whether it’s better to tackle an entire area or just plant ourselves at one locale.

So no one was more surprised than I was when, after our hometown team won the Regional Championship and punched their ticket to the Little League World Series, I told my kids we were heading to Williamsport, PA in three days.

I’m still not quite sure how I pulled it off. The flights to Williamsport were nearly booked, leaving us a red-eye with 2 stops as the only option for arriving in time for their first game. Their second game would be played either Saturday or Sunday, which meant we’d need something to do in the meantime, but for how long and where we wouldn’t know until Thursday night. I booked hotel rooms all over the Pennsylvania area for multiple nights and we boarded the plane in an almost heady burst of freedom: we’re going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip and apart from Williamsport, we have no idea what we’re going to do!

I owe my dad for this one. After spending a month living day-to-day while he lay dying in his home, I learned that it is possible to pack up and go at a moment’s notice, not knowing when you were going to come back, and that the journey was always worth it. And if you didn’t go when you had the chance, you wouldn’t be able to go at all.

Going to Williamsport was a phenomenal experience. The first people we saw in the parking lot were wearing Perth, Australia shirts. “You didn’t come all the way from Australia, did you?” I asked. Even better, they had been to Perth once and loved it, and were there simply to support a team from a city that held wonderful memories for them. Australia deserved their support, for when Tennessee arrived in Williamsport without their luggage, Australia was the team that loaned them their own mitts to practice with.

The stadiums were buzzing with an energy I don’t think I’ve ever felt at any other sporting event. Families were there with young kids, brought to watch Little League players who would become their heroes, and older kids, wishing they were the ones who were playing in the spotlight. Some traveled from far away, like us, to watch their home team; others made the trek every year. The nice dad of a player from Michigan took my youngest son under his wing for the trek through the men’s restroom, and two Connecticut parents and I almost fell over ourselves complimenting each other’s teams in the Connecticut/Sammamish match-up that resulted in an amazing Sammamish comeback but an ultimate Connecticut win.

Good sportsmanship and camaraderie abounded among the fans, the players, and the coaches. There was no booing in the stands, only cheering for our kids, or the kids strangers had adopted as their own, and applauding a job well done by the opposing team.

Which is not to say that this wasn’t the most stressful experience I’ve ever had as a fan! The stakes are high in Williamsport, and our team rose to the challenge, usually at the last minute, which caused us undue trauma.

But it was worth it. Sammamish continues on tonight at 5:00pm PST against Connecticut for a spot in the Championships for the US pool. Go Eastlake!

HOME TOWN PRIDE: EASTLAKE GOES TO WILLIAMSPORT!

August 15, 2013 in Tales of Inspiration

On Saturday, we watched our Little League Eastlake All Star team play on a large AV screen at our local teen center with the rest of our small town. We cheered as our team beat their opponent and punched their ticket to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA as the Northwest Regional Champions. This is huge for our state of Washington, and even more so for our hometown. But for my oldest son, this is even bigger than that: this is personal.

12 of the 13 boys on the All Star team go to the same middle school as my son. 5 of them have been his teammates on baseball teams from past seasons, 3 others are friends from school, and still another is a neighbor that lives right around the corner. One of the assistant coaches for the All Stars was my son’s assistant baseball coach last year. The head coach, Rob Chandler, has been my son’s baseball coach for three years, beginning with T-ball years ago, where everyone referred to him as the “bubble gum coach,” and ending with this season’s Yankees, where Chandler led my son and his team to a Championship. These are not just kids that live in our hometown: these are my son’s peeps.

Everyone here in our community can say the same about this group of boys: that’s my neighbor, my teammate, my friend. I volunteer at the school with his mom, golf with his dad, have that kid over for sleepovers with my son. We have all watched them grow up and grow into exceptional baseball players, and now, when their moment has come to shine, we are delighted to band together as a community to support them all the way.

What they have accomplished so far is nothing less than spectacular. We will all be watching as they walk onto the big stage on Thursday in Williamsport, PA, onto the baseball field of the Little League World Series to take on Southwest Regional. Our community will cheer from their living rooms, with friends, or at local restaurants broadcasting the game on ESPN.

As for my son and our family, we will be cheering Eastlake on from the bleachers in Williamsport. Because this is more than just a group of people who live in the same town as we do: this is family.

ESPN: Thursday, August 15 at 3:00pm EST

GO EASTLAKE/NORTHWEST REGIONAL!!

AN UNLIKELY HERO

July 3, 2013 in Tales of Inspiration

 

I am a sucker for a come-from-behind-against-all-odds sports story. Remember the Titans, Moneyball, any episode of Friday Night Lights…I love them all. And now I can add my oldest son’s final game for the Little League Championship to the list.

At this age, who is pitching is key. Games are won or lost on the pitcher’s shoulders, and with mandatory rest days after a certain number of pitches thrown in a game, pitcher eligibility becomes a huge factor.

My son’s year-end tournament had a double elimination format. If a team wins, they get a day of rest before their next game. If they lose, they play every day until they lose again, and then they’re out. In other words, if you lose, you are set up to lose because you burn out all of your pitchers. Losing teams find themselves playing a higher-ranked team with no one eligible to pitch except a kid from the outfield who hasn’t stepped onto the mound all year.

My son’s Yankees team played well and found themselves in the Championship game undefeated with great pitchers eligible to take the mound. We were playing against the Angels, who had lost one game (to us). Because of the double elimination format, we needed to beat the Angels once to win the Championship, while they had to beat us twice to win.

On paper, the Yankees looked to be the favorite, except for one thing: should the Yankees lose the first game, the Angels star pitcher would be eligible for the second, and the Yankees didn’t have an answer for him. As one player said, “If we lose this game, there’s a 100% chance we’ll lose the next one too.”

The Angels had to win this game; the Yankees did too.

But we were down 0-3 at the end of the first 1/2 of the first inning, and we could not make up that deficit.

We got hits, but were thrown out at first base. We got someone on base, but they were thrown out stealing home. Defense played tight on both teams, and the score remained 0-3.

The game continued. Tensions were high, both on the field and in the stands. The bleachers were full, and still spectators came trickling in: “Who’s winning?” We got a rally going and scored a run. Another inning went by, and we scored again. By the end of the sixth inning, we were tied 3-3 and headed to extra innings. It was anybody’s game.

Finally, our team benefited from a couple of wild pitches. With the score still tied, we had the bases loaded with two outs. Up to bat: #46, arguably one of the least effective batters on the team.

The pitcher pitched: strike 1.

The pitcher pitched: strike 2.

Bases loaded, 2 outs, 2 strikes: the exact situation #46 found himself in earlier in the game. That time, he struck out.

The odds weren’t good. The pressure on this poor kid was too high and the count against him almost insurmountable. We prepared ourselves for yet another inning.

The pitcher pitched: cr-r-a-a-ck! #46 smacked the baseball into the outfield for a single.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Our 3rd base runner’s jaw dropped. And then he started to run for home plate. The dugout emptied and our bleachers erupted.

#46 brought home the winning run, the game, and the Championship all with one well-timed swing of the bat, and was mobbed at first base by his deliriously happy teammates. After a season of struggling at the plate, an unlikely hero got his moment in the sun.

Now that is a come-from-behind-against-all-odds sports story for the ages.

 

 

 

 

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN, PART 2

December 28, 2012 in Tales of Inspiration

You can read Part 1 here.

I have recently started taking cardio kickboxing classes, and I have come across an instructor that makes me want to snatch up some of her qualities immediately.

Her name is Leslie, and she is tough. When she says “Get your knees up!” she means it. She will move around the room with her knees up high, and heaven help you if you’re not doing the same. “Are those your feet? Are they on the floor?”

One Saturday I went to a “Super” class: an hour-and-a-half worth of cardio and kickboxing, and as it was in December, she made it fun by offering everyone a jingle bell to wear during the class.

Maybe “offering” isn’t the right word. I think the word I’m looking for here is “mandatory.” She performed an inspection and class didn’t start until everyone, including the two lone men, had a dainty jingle bell pinned to their workout attire.

When it came time for the “team” activities, it was almost comical. I was already sweaty and winded. I didn’t want to get close to anyone else, let alone perfect strangers, and I wasn’t the only one. We milled around in our groups of one, trying to figure out how to get out of this portion of the workout.

Leslie wasn’t having any of that. “You and You: get together. Now! And you…you’re a man! Pair up with the other man!” Once we were all paired off, she was able to continue torturing us in peace. (By the way, I am not a fan of team activities and I will avoid them like the plague. That being said, the ab exercises she had us do with a partner left me sore for a week-and-a-half. Perhaps I should re-think my attitude about team activities.)

If that’s all it was, I probably would never think of her again once I left class. But here’s the thing: she’s passionate about what she does. She comes from a family with poor eating habits and problems with obesity, and she has dedicated her life to battling obesity and all the health problems that are associated with it. She takes the time to dream up these challenging workouts, and then she puts in the time to make sure each and every one of us gets the most out of them that we possibly can. Afterwards, she’ll send us an email about how we did (number of calories burned, etc), for she keeps track with a little device on her arm. And we know that whatever numbers her device recorded for her applies to us as well, because she won’t let us slack off.

I appreciate that in a fitness instructor.

Here’s another thing I appreciate: she’s funny. All that stuff she says about getting your knees up and hassling people when they leave class early? She means it, but she does it with a sense of humor that I only wish I could capture here. She has a way of simultaneously yelling at you, inspiring you, and making you laugh all at the same time. Man, I wish I could harness that and use it on my kids.

From Leslie, I would like to take her drive, her passion, her boldness, and her fearlessness about being a leader. I’ll also be taking more of her classes, because between the kickboxing and weightlifting, I am finally starting to see some results. It looks like Santa got me a set of biceps for Christmas!

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN, PART 1

December 26, 2012 in Tales of Inspiration

As a woman, I am constantly looking to other women, searching for qualities I admire that I’d like to incorporate into my own self. Like a themed gift basket, I take fearlessness from one friend, generosity from another, and a relaxed peacefulness that nothing can rattle from a third and I add them in. I find innocence in a woman who has been knocked around by life, and a courage of conviction in another that I had, at first glance, thought of as flexible. And still I gather, figuring out ways to add a bit of what they carry so easily into my basket.

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to spend some time with two women who couldn’t be more different from each other, and I have emerged with a new stockpile of personality traits that I’d like emulate.

The first is Kaila, a basket weaver. She comes to our school and teaches basket weaving to the students. It’s a wonderful way to round out their Native American unit. She talks about different materials the early baskets were made of and what qualities they had to have to be watertight so they could be used as a vessel for carrying water. I’ve worked with her multiple times throughout the years, both in the classroom and as a basket weaving student myself. She has a gift: she truly is a basket whisperer.

Kaila opens her time with the students by telling them that basket weaving is something she has done for 19 years, and it is the thing that has brought her the most joy in life. What a great role model for the kids (and us adult helpers): you can do what you love. She then asks the students for “willing hands.” The hands will make the basket, but only if the mind is open and willing: a great lesson in attitude.

If you’ve never done it, let me tell you: basket weaving is hard. You have to be the boss of the basket spokes, making them go where you want them to, and then you have to be a stickler for pattern with the weavers. You have to persistent, for Kaila is tough: if you make a mistake with your pattern, she’ll unravel all your hard work right there in front of you and have you start again. You have to have patience, for sometimes 23 of the 25 kids all need help at the same time and there are only 5 adults available. You have to learn how to help each other: when the adults are busy and you know what to do, pull your friend aside and help her out.

Somehow, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the multiple re-doing of steps, and in spite of the long time waiting around for help, Kaila remains calm. She doesn’t get flustered or frustrated or down on the kids. She’s quiet, but she’s strong and confidant, and the kids see that. They flock to her, half-woven baskets in their hands, because they know that she will help them to be successful. Help them, not do it for them. Oh sure, if someone makes a mistake very early on in their pattern, she will undo it and re-do it to get them back where they started, teaching all the while, so that by the time the student is back on track, she has given them the skills and the confidence they need to forge ahead.

It is amazing to watch her, and it is equally amazing to watch the kids grow under her care.

I’d like to take her calmness under pressure, her ability to weave away frustration in others, and her faith in people of ages: if the mind is willing, you can make a basket. If the mind is willing, you can really do anything at all.

Stay Tuned for A Tale of Two Women, Part 2.