What I did on my summer vacation

ImageGetting ready to go back to school next week — yes, Catholic schools start early! – I’m looking back on our summer and see that it was time well spent.

We tried to broaden every one’s horizons with a trip to the Big Apple and the wilds of Maine, with a few college tours in between. And it may not be as glamorous as a mini-mester in London, Madrid or Rome, nor a Third-World mission trip, but we had one child visit Americana at its best during the College World Series in Omaha, another made her first solo road trip to All-Things-Aggie Land, while the third is pondering her many good options – Ivy and otherwise — for going away to college next year.

Besides hitting the books for “summer homework” and get-ahead summer school classes, plus a little volunteer work, they managed to accomplish some life-enriching things that will make them bigger, better and more ready for school than any required-reading list ever could.

For instance. Oldest Child cheerfully checked groceries by day several days a week, and pulled a graveyard shift in the meat department.

While Middle Child was busy saving others both at her poolside lifeguard job and serving in “God’s Army,” pink hair and all, as a faith retreat leader.

Our youngest put a summer’s worth of gym-based strength training to the test rebuilding a local school track — a day’s worth of very real manual labor that stacked a cool $90 in his bank account during the hottest part of summer.

Now I hear the “Rocky” theme drifting from the upstairs TV room. Yea, I think they are ready for whatever school, and life, throws their way.

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Lucky future

If the superstition surrounding Friday the 13th came about because Friday was once considered the most unlucky day of the week – Helloooo! TGIF is a good thing – and 13 the most unlucky number – though we can all admit how perfect 12 can be (why, just look at a baker’s dozen for proof) – then I’m not worried.

And I’ll tell you why.

I consider myself and my family blessed beyond measure. (As a matter of fact, today, July 12, 2012 is the day Marty McFly visited in the future, which was actually a first-date movie with the man I married.) But this entire Summer of 2012 has brought the full force of unlucky upon us. In the form of illness, rejection, sad farewells and general bad news.

All we’re missing is a locust invasion of Biblical proportion. Yet perhaps after yesterday’s deluge, the flying insects aren’t far behind.

So, like the good and faithful Catholics we are, the prayer texting chains have been going night and day. Tomorrow, however, we’ll light a candle rather than curse the darkness.

We will cash our paychecks and declare Friday, July 13 as a turning point for wellness, acceptance, and a Back to the Future feel-good ending.

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Wait for it

Fourteen years ago today, I welcomed my son into this world, on time and under-budget, thanks to military benefits and Wilford Hall Medical Center, proudly bringing to fulfillment nine months of waiting and hoping.

Come to think of it, I seem to do that a lot. (Waiting, not birthing.)

For instance, I planted seeds in a plot of rich soil along the backyard fence a week ago today. Tomatoes and tomatillos, peppers and cucumbers, okra and dill, all seasoned with a dash of MiracleGro. I realize I’m a little late to the garden party this year, the season half gone and all, but still I water. I wait.

Every season is feast or famine in this freelance world, and since I’ve been doing it so many years – to be flexible and available to my family — and work for some awesome clients, most days are like a 10-course meal. They call. I write. But it’s still a waiting game.

As for birthing, I also have one in college who is so smart she can do anything but can’t/won’t/isn’t declaring her life’s profession yet. Another a high school senior who dreams of faraway colleges yet can’t/won’t/isn’t declaring her top picks yet. Their choices, their decision. I can do little but wait.

Then there’s my one and only. Next time you’re a patient in the waiting room, count up how long you’ve been waiting, then tack on about another hour or two. That’s how long his/her family will wait to see him/her at the end of the day. Not a whine fest. As they say, anything, anyone, worth having is worth waiting for.

What are you waiting for today?

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NYCCTRIMAME

When a family of five from the Lone Star state covers five states in 10 days, via planes, trains and automobiles, you discover a few things that don’t exactly fit inside the luggage home (especially considering the amount of shopping my teen girls accomplished along the way).

  • Starry-eyed and excited to brush with fame, we lined up on the Today Show fence at the crack of dawn. Then, the heretofore-unknown-to-us “famous” Turtleman shows up for his appearance, and we see that you can have as much “live action” fun with him as the nice weatherman and the host with the great shoes.
  • Times Square may have the most LED in town, but down the street, inside the lobby, around the corner, to the left, behind the magic curtain, in a dark corner, lie some of the best burgers in town, marked only by the smallest neon sign I’ve ever seen. Thanks for letting us in on your hideaway faves, Mekado Murphy.
  • If Dad’s told us once, he’s told us a thousand times, you’ll love the pork dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai so much it’s worth the hour-long wait on an empty stomach. Sure ‘nough, father knows best.
  • Show tunes rock on Broadway. Especially in third-row seats at the Winter Garden theater showing of Mamma Mia live. The experience of a dancin’ queen’s lifetime.
  • Drugs not so much. As evidenced by a free and unfortunate side show on Fifth Avenue involving an out-of-control young woman, her bewildered boyfriend, half the NYPD and the ever curious public. (But we knew that.)
  • A tree grows in Brooklyn (and Manhattan, too) – a tiny one thriving against all odds at the site of the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial – reminding us that life and love will always triumph.
  • Though a vendor still has us scratching our heads over the question, “You’re from San Antonio? Say, what’s outside of Houston?” the High Line is the smartest, coolest thing NYC ever did.
  • According to another nice cashier, one who sold us a Brown University sweatshirt at the bookstore in Providence, my middle daughter will, in fact, be accepted when she applies next year. (Just thought I’d put that in writing now.)
  • Aside from ogling the Bush family compound and chowing down at the Clam Shack, there’s not actually much to do in the little piece of heaven that is quaint Kennebunkport. But you wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • If you manage to climb to a rocky place atop a hill in Maine’s Acadia National Park where the sun first shines upon North America during daybreak every morning, you deserve as many buttery popovers as you want for lunch.

Forgive me if I can’t recall much about what we picked up on our quick stops in New Haven (Yale University) and Boston (Harvard) – after all, this was a college visit trip as much as a long-planned family vacation to visit relatives and friends – but I’m sure we got a little smarter by default just being there.

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Soccer mom, retired

My oldest now 18 and in college, I’m no longer driving the bus. At least not for her anyway. I’ve still got a 16-year-old soccer playing-slash-drama girl and a son who, if he’s not playing two sports a season, considers it taking time off.

My firstborn began soccer at age 4, and never stopped, even when the going got tough. Not when we moved to another state and there was no real playing season that fall – she endured a tortuous “training” season – and not after a sudden relocation back to Texas had her searching in vain for another team.

The first team turned her away (a divine intervention, we came to learn). So even after finding one – if you can call that rag-tag group of mostly beginners and half-hearted middle-school girls, a team – game-after-game, goals were elusive. Then came the day coach put her in as goal keeper. Would that be the end, we wondered.

It was not. In fact, it was the beginning of a long, very successful soccer career with more wins than losses, fun travel, even more fun teammates, and tournaments to remember. Last year was her final bittersweet season of competitive youth soccer. Most of the girls would head off to college. The end.

Now for part 2, the best part of all. She’s now helping coach a U9 girls team in College Station, making me an official soccer coach’s mom. Why’s it the best?

  1. She can drive herself to practice.
  2. No more uniforms to buy, no more $$ goalie gloves.
  3. Fewer trips to the ER/podiatrist/orthopod/physical therapist.
  4. I can watch the games. Or not. Nobody gets hurt.
  5. But I do get to watch her get excited to share what she knows with the next generation.

As they say, priceless. (So thank you, coaches Walter Koenigs, Dixie Jensen and Ken Ewell, and countless assistant coaches, teammates and parents, who taught, encouraged and played a role in making me a soccer coach’s mom.)

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Read The Help, just know there is more to the story

So the coast was clear last night, the house all to myself, only small piles of laundry waiting. I slipped out to the patio with “The Help” in hand, pried open to the halfway mark I had reached earlier in the busy week. This time, surely I would find my grandmother in the pages.

The End. Well, no such luck. Never did the poor working-class white make an appearance this story.

If the author had turned her story ever so slightly to the one behind the counter at the drugstore serving the League ladies, we might have glimpsed her.

Or, she could have been the one organizing other ladies to deliver dishes for Louvenia and the one driving her blind grandson to his doctor appointments. She did that you know.

My grandmother founded the local ladies club. But she was not Mrs. Hilly. And, though she caught and killed, or planted and grew, much of what was fried-up and served at her laminate dinette set, nor was she Aibileen or Minny.

Of course, she was not formally educated like Skeeter either. She married at 17 to a turnip farmer and she took care of her own children, all 10 of them, plus a few grandchildren who came along a little too early.

And she was a friend to her poor black neighbors. Even as she lived day-to-day among people who, like the Hilly character, would never, ever consider themselves a racist.

I enjoyed the book very much. I really did, for many reasons. The voices, the scenes, the foods, and yes, the attitudes, took me back to a childhood, dancing across a greasy linoleum kitchen floor or bringing in the eggs. Oh, you can find my grandmother’s name in lots of church cookbooks today. But she remains the one important character you won’t meet in books like “The Help” — a Southern white woman whose role in the dynamics of that society deserve at least a chapter or two.

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Grant writing: My verbs in action

I write newspaper articles and press releases. I write ads and brochures. I write scripts, websites and social media content.

You name it, something happens somewhere, someone creates something, or plans something, and I tell the story.

When I write a grant, I make something happen.

Yesterday, I attended my first pre-bid conference for construction work that will begin as a result of grant money we won last year. It was a well-deserved prize and the funds will be put to very good use.

Short of wearing hard hats, I could already see the ground being broken and the change being made. It’s really going to happen, I thought, and the sun shone a little brighter, I’m just sure of it.

When I write a grant, it’s most always and every where a team effort of which I’m blessed to be a part. It starts with an exceptional cause, and people who are dedicated to a mission matched up with generous people and organizations who give because it’s the right thing to do – all the ingredients that make any story easy to tell.

And that’s where it really begins. With people making a difference in our community. I didn’t make it happen just because I filled in the spaces on some grant application and penned a compelling cover letter.

But now I am part of the story, and I take that to heart.

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