Books, Bowling & Finding Family in the Most Unexpected Places

It was a very full weekend!

Friday evening found me curled up in my favorite recliner with a book I couldn’t put down. It was Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay and I picked it up based on a coworker’s recommendation. The story revolves around Sarah Starzynski, a young French Jewish girl who, in 1942, was arrested along with her parents and thousands of other Jewish families who were held in inhumane conditions for several days at the Vélodrome d’Hiver in Paris before being transferred to Auschwitz. Before Sarah could be taken from her home, she hid her four-year old brother in a secret cupboard in her bedroom wall and locked him in so the police would not find him. She was sure she would be back home by the end of the day to set him free again. The story surrounds Sarah’s fight to get back to her brother as she realizes the police have no intention of letting any of the Jewish families return to their homes.

The story was riveting and heart-wrenching, and as I said, I couldn’t put it down until I was finished. I highly, highly recommend this book!

Saturday night we returned to our couples’ bowling league after having had a break for the holidays and missing a week due to Kacey’s out-of-town volleyball tournament. It was fun to see everyone again, and I bowled well, surpassing my average pretty substantially all three games. (We still lost, however, as our partners were absent this week and we had no substitutes to take their places.) One of the other couples, Dan and Bonnie, asked if we wanted to join in their poker game. I see people playing cards while bowling all the time, but this was a first for me. There were seven of us playing, a dollar per game per person in the pot. Dan explained that as soon as you bowled your first strike or spare, you could pick up your hand and draw a card. Then for each subsequent strike or spare, you got to draw a new card and discard one. The winner of each game would win the pot. And in spite of having a full house and a straight, I wasn’t able to win the pot either time. But the bigger surprise, as I found out when I picked up my very first hand, is that we were playing with porn cards! Soooo, I was slightly shocked but amused, none the less. I kept my hand safely tucked in my back pocket so as not to offend anyone who might see. One of the guys was studying the cards and adding commentary. “That looks like it hurts… THAT looks interesting!… This one? Maybe not…”

Sunday morning came too soon and we were off to one of Kacey’s volleyball tournaments. We didn’t have to go far, just across the border to Hudson, Wisconsin. But it was an early start as the girls had to be there at 7:15.

As soon as we found our way into the building, I ran into Terrie, the wife of one of my cousins, Johnny, neither of whom I  see often enough. We were totally surprised to see one another. Neither of us had any idea the other’s daughter was involved in this level of volleyball. Terrie was on the board of the group that was running the tournament, so she was busy keeping things running smooth all day long. We stopped to talk several times during the day and when I saw her daughter, Jessica, who I was sure wouldn’t remember me (she didn’t) I introduced myself and explained how we were related. Jessica was sweet and told me her dad had been at the tournament but had left. But, he was going to be back again later. I told her to be sure to tell him his cousin wanted to see him if he had a chance. When he returned, Johnny came and found us and we enjoyed a nice talk during some down time between games.

But the best part of the day was the fact that our girls finally pulled off a win and came home with some medals! They had to fight hard for it and that made their victory so much sweeter. Of course, this was the one time I didn’t bring my camera along, so the best I could do was a couple of camera-phone snap shots of the winners!

It had been an exciting and fun day, but a long one, and we were glad to get back home.

Life is Good – January 29, 2009

The past week has been good. No, I mean really good! I feel like I’ve been given a kick-start after weeks of dragging myself through each day.

It was last week, Wednesday when I began to realize that something had to change. I felt a headache coming on that day. It grew in intensity throughout the day. My headaches always come up the back of my neck. I took some Tylenol a few times, but the headache just got worse. I paid a visit to the chiropractor that evening. Usually, an adjustment makes me feel good, but that evening there was no relief. I went to the gym and tried to run. That was pointless. I finally went to bed and slept until the next morning. That is what it took to shake the headache. The next day I realized that I have felt sluggish for too long and suffered headaches too often lately. But it was more than that. My mood was in the tank and had been for weeks on end. I didn’t even realize how bad I was getting. Being sulky and sluggish was my new norm. The winter always has a slightly depressing impact on me, but this was bad. I needed to do something different.

I used to be very diligent about making balanced meals for the family. Fast food was a rarity. Things started going downhill when I started working outside the home. And it got worse when I went to work full time on this ten-hour a day schedule. There are too many days when we are just scrounging around for anything to fill our stomachs. We eat fast food way too often. My kids often don’t even eat breakfast. Over the past few years, I’ve given up on trying to maintain a balanced diet at all. After the last headache, I knew I had to try harder. I knew better than to get too ambitious. I’ll never be a truly healthy eater. But I realized (again) that I had to make smarter food choices. Enough with the cheese popcorn dinners when I’m home alone. Enough sneaking a Diet Coke when the work day is dragging. I went to the grocery store the day after the headache and bought fruit. Lots of it. I bought bottled fruit smoothies and yogurt and frozen fruits to make home-made smoothies. I bought veggies and whole grain bread and ingredients for balanced meals. Of course, I didn’t want to throw the kids into sugar withdrawals. I bought one box of Hostess cupcakes and one box of Twinkies for them.

I almost always bring my lunch to work, but now instead of a frozen meal, I’m bringing fresh salads and yogurt or leftovers from dinner the night before. I’m snacking on fruit or cheese and crackers instead of chocolate.

I thought the kids would balk at the lack of sugar and fat in our food supply, but what I quickly found out is that if I chopped up fresh veggies and offer some dill dip, they’ll eat that instead of Cheetos. If I slice an apple, they’ll eat it. They won’t eat one whole, but they’ll eat slices. And a home-made yogurt smoothie is almost as good as a bowl of ice cream!

Dinner was another story. I leave the house for work shortly after 6:00 a.m. and don’t return until 5:30, except for Thursdays when I’m off. The kids are often gone to work or volleyball practice even before I get home. I solved the dilemma of how to make sure they had a hot meal when I wasn’t even home by making good use of the crock pot as often as possible. We may not be able to eat together, but I can still make my kids a hot meal. I can put some meat in the crock pot before I leave, then just call home later and ask someone to make potatoes or bread and a vegetable. It’s not ideal, but better than fast food, pizza … or cheese popcorn. When I’m not using the crock pot, I shoot for a one-dish meal or something that can be prepared ahead of time.

And then there was the issue of exercise. I run every week, but I had no schedule to speak of. I’d go two days in a row, then it would be four (or more) days before I found my way back to the gym. It’s so hard to stay on track. Life gets in the way. But I decided to try really hard not to go more than two days between gym visits. I’ve been there four out of the last seven days.

Within the past week, I’ve noticed a major difference in the way I felt, both physically and emotionally. I woke up last Saturday and already felt so full of energy and had a noticeably positive attitude. It made me realize the truly negative impact my bad habits can have on my well-being. There have been many times in the past I’ve decided to make healthier choices, but this is the first time I’ve seen direct and positive results. I think I stand half a chance of sticking with it this time.

And besides, as it turns out, my family actually likes my cooking! Go figure!

Reasons why I'm impressed with myself

First, I bowled a 195 last night! 195! Can you believe that? That’s my highest score ever! The pins; they just kept on falling! Of course, we were bowling just for fun. Do you think I can pull off a score like that in leagues? Probably not. I have this habit of showing up for leagues and forgetting what I did right.

Also, I had the grocery shopping done by 9:00 and dinner made before noon. It’s 11:40 a.m. and I have dinner made. A real dinner. With vegetables and everything! It’s a broccoli-chicken casserole kind of thing with slivered almonds. It just needs to go in the oven later on.

I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I like it!

Actually, I kind of know what’s going on with me. I’ve been working hard at eating better, avoiding junk food and exercising more consistently. And we all know I have that “plenty of sleep” thing pretty well covered. It’s amazing what these improved habits are doing for my motivation and productivity!

I have to go now. My arm hurts from patting myself on the back.

Strikin' and Splittin' and Slippin' and Scratchin'

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a true update on the Ball Busters. So if you’ve been desperately wondering how they are doing lately, today is your lucky day! I have an update.

Since I don’t have any pictures of the actual bowling, I threw in this one of my best buddy, Gina and me. That’s Lou in the background. I was going to crop him out, but he makes for an interesting character so I left him in there. Lou is married to Mary, who bowls in our league. Mary is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and also has the biggest boobs I’ve ever encountered. Lou has a funky eye and I always have to work hard to focus on the good eye when he’s talking to me, which is often because ever since I bumped into Mary and Lou at my local Target store, Lou thinks we’re the best of friends. Lou is a nice guy too and gives me lots of bowling advice and plenty of encouragement when I throw a good frame.

Of course, the team was saddened by the departure of Shannon last week, but Pam, our sub, has stepped up to the challenge and is performing well in Shannon’s absence. And that’s no small feat because Shannon was a pretty consistent bowler with an average near 150.

I did pretty well myself, last week, if you don’t mind me saying so.  I bowled a 189 and a 146 and a… ahemcough…125. So, that 125 fell below my 135 average, but I think I more than made up for it with the 189 game. And that 189 landed me in last week’s top scores listing for scratch game and handicap game. (I don’t really know what either of those things means, just that I done good!)

This week started out, shall we say… interesting for the Ball Busters. While warming up, Alishea’s foot stuck and she fell into the lane. For those who may be unaware, those bowling lanes are covered in oil. Alishea had to crawl her way out of the lane as there is no way to maintain a standing position once you’re in the oil. That stuff is slickery! I’m sure there have been many a bruised butt-cheek for those whose feet were unfortunate enough to cross the foul line. After Alishea’s crawl back to safety, there was an oily trail of hand and footprints to clean up with some napkins once we determined that the only damage she suffered was to her dignity.

Things went well for us again Monday night. I bowled a 144, a 166 and … I forget. Maybe a 150-something. I think we won. I’m not sure. I was too busy having fun.

One of the guys in the men’s league bowling next to us had a t-shirt on that said, “Did you get your nookie today? I did.” It was an advertisement of some sort, but for what, I never figured out. It just made me laugh.

And the Ball Busters are in first place… for the time being!

WOOT! WOOT!

Cutie Patootie

My nephew, Ryan turned one year old this month. Kacey, Jake and I attended his birthday celebration on Sunday.

Ryan is SO adorable and he’s all boy! He has not only mastered the art of walking, but he’s got a pretty good grip on running. He looks quite comical racing across the living room with his fluffy little diaper butt filling up the back side of his little jeans.

Ryan looks amazingly like my Jake looked at one year, with his wispy blonde hair and huge blue eyes, not to mention a set of chubby, chubby cheeks just like Jake used to have.

Wasn’t Jake a cutie?

I’m such a sucker for babies. More than once, I reached out and snatched Ryan into my arms as he was running full force past where I was sitting. Then I’d talk baby nonsense to him and blow zerberts on his rosy little cheeks until he belly laughed with joy. He’d pretend to want to escape the mad-zerbert auntie, but then would not-so-subtly jam his chubby little cheek right back against my mouth, grabbing handfuls of my hair and throwing his head back in laughter .

Ryan’s gifts included bunches of the cutest clothing and lots of noisemaking toys. He really wasn’t interested in opening his gifts, though. He was content to pluck the bows off his packages, then examine them thoroughly and do his best to rip them apart. In the meantime, his 5-year-old sister, Ellie, made sure the presents were opened.

One is such a wondrous age. Spending time with Ryan made me miss those baby days with my own kids. Time flies… too quickly sometimes.

Important life skills?

I love the way Kacey shares snippets of her days with me. Sometimes it seems as if there is nothing in particular that has triggered her thoughts and some of her best stories simply come forth very randomly.

Saturday was a mellow day at our house. There were no volleyball tournaments to attend. No errands that absolutely had to be run. The kids helped with the weekly cleaning. Then while I chipped away at a mountain of laundry, they played the new Wii Sports Resort game.

I think it was while we were cooking dinner that one such random story made its way to the forefront of Kacey’s thoughts and she felt compelled to share with me. She was mixing up some green bean casserole to go along with our main dish of seasoned tilapia when the story began…

It was SO cold in Chemistry class on Friday.

Mmmm-hmmm…

Miss Hei let us light the bunsen burners to stay warm.

Really!

People kept asking if they could light stuff on fire. Someone asked if they could light a piece of paper on fire. I think it was Brandon V.  Miss Hei wouldn’t let him. Someone else asked if they could light a pen on fire, but she said no to that too.

What’s with these kids? Do they seriously think the teacher would let them light things on fire just for the heck of it?

Well, sometimes she does let us light things on fire, if we have a legitimate reason.

Such as?

Like if we wanted to know what would happen if you light a pencil eraser on fire. Sometimes she’ll let us do it so we can see the effect.

I don’t remember learning such things when I was in high school. The most fascinating thing I got to do was look at a cremated body through a thick, clear plastic bag in my Death and Dying class. (It was a required religion course. I went to a Catholic high school.) I remember seeing a zipper. I guess when they cremate you, they keep your clothes on! I’m not sure what value this knowledge holds in my day-to-day life, but it was intriguing at the time. And it leads me to wonder…

Is knowing what happens when a pencil eraser goes up in flames an important life skill for kids today?

Of rain, ice and temporarily misplacing one of the kids

Mark’s alarm clock went off at six o’clock this morning. He was due at work in one hour.

Mark’s morning routine is simple and quick. He doesn’t putz around the house the way I do before work. He just does his thing and goes. He got dressed and brushed his teeth, tossed on a jacket and headed out to the garage in his typical morning haze. He started up the truck and backed out. It was immediately clear to him that the previous day’s forecast of rain had been correct. It had most definitely rained, and in addition, the temperatures had dropped, transforming our driveway into a down-hill skating rink. A mild panic settled over Mark as the truck slid sideways down the icy driveway. The mild panic soon transformed into an intense panic as the truck slid past the spot where Jake’s car is normally parked. The car was not there.

I can only imagine what crossed Mark’s mind as the realization hit him that our son had not come home from work last night. It is not uncommon for Jake to work until 1:00 a.m. and we are usually sound asleep when he gets home. We’ve often joked about how we sleep like the dead and our kids could come in at any hour of the night and we’d be none the wiser. Even when they wake us to tell us they are home, I rarely remember it the next day. I’m sure the joke suddenly didn’t seem funny at all as Mark thought about the fact that Jake had never returned home the previous night and we had never even noticed. Where was Jake? Had he gone home with a coworker by chance and maybe fallen asleep? Was he lying in a ditch somewhere? (And why do the ditches always get blamed when someone doesn’t get home at night? How did ditches get such a bad reputation?)

Mark’s truck slid to a stop at the end of the driveway and he reached for his cell phone, dialing Jake’s phone as quickly as he could. After a few rings, Jake answered his phone, sounding groggy.

Hello?

Where are you???

In bed….Where are you?

In the driveway.

Oh. Why are you calling me?

I was worried because I thought you didn’t come home last night. Where is your car?

It was icy when I got off work. I couldn’t get the car up the driveway, so I drove it over to Nanna’s house. I parked in her driveway and walked home. (Nanna’s house is a block away.)

Oh. Okay. Go back to sleep.

Several hours later, I awoke lazily after a good night’s sleep, totally unaware of what had transpired in the early morning hours. The house was still quiet. Deciding to go to the gym first thing, I put on some workout clothes and tiptoed upstairs so as not to wake anyone. As I passed the living room, I heard the quiet sound of the television and noticed Jake sleeping soundly on the love seat in front of Saturday morning cartoons. Next, I noticed a series of Post-It notes stuck to the kitchen doorway (which has become the family message center as of late.) On the notes, in Jake’s writing, it said, “I tried and tried to get the car up the driveway, but I couldn’t. It was too icy. It’s parked in Nanna’s driveway.”

Clearly, Mark had never seen the note.

I peeked out the living room window, through the yards that separate my house from my parents’ house. Their driveway is just barely visible from my front window in the winter, when all the leaves have fallen from the tree in my front yard. There was Jake’s car, just where his note said it would be.

Assuming he had just had trouble falling asleep in his own room, as he often does, I left Jake in the living room and slipped out of the house, only learning of his temporary misplacement later, when Mark called and relayed the story to me.

I’ll bet Mark starts doing bedroom checks in the early morning hours before he leaves the house from now on!