Almost Like Old Times

I had a trying day. I mean, just one of those really frustrating, nothing-goes-your-way kind of days. It felt like dominoes. Just one problem after another and nothing going right. At the end of the day, I felt a little better thanks to the fact that I have some amazing coworkers. But I was still stewing a little bit.

Mark and I went out for a casual dinner and he listened while I blathered on about things that have no context for him. But he listened and it felt good to get things off my chest. Afterwards, we went to watch Kacey play softball.

Kacey’s serious softball days ended last summer when her fast-pitch team reached the end of the line and girls went off to college. She was sad to say goodbye to her ball-playing days. And as much as I’ve enjoyed tournament-free weekends and time to do my own thing, I often miss watching those fun and exciting games.

When Kacey came home from college this past spring, she was invited to play slow-pitch softball on Thursday evenings with a group of friends. She couldn’t resist the call of the game, even if it wasn’t going to be as intense as her last few years as a softball player. Mark and I didn’t so much feel the need to be at the games anymore. That one year away at college had changed things. Last summer, Kacey was still a kid, and it was a given that we would be there to support her at her games. But when she came home from school for the summer, she had grown up a little bit and her softball games became “her” thing. Not to mention, she discouraged us from coming to watch because, as she told it, “We suck!”

The summer games were played and each week, Kacey would come home laughing, with stories about how bad her team was. The season began to wrap up last week with play-offs. Suddenly, Kacey had a change of heart. I knew it when she joked to me, “You don’t love me. You haven’t come to even one of my games!”

“You asked me not to,” I defended myself.

“Well it might be nice if you came to one,” she said. “You never know. I might never play softball again!”

And so last week, we went to her play-off games. And they actually won one! Word has it that was maybe the second win all season. And it was enough to keep them playing another week. With such momentum, we couldn’t resist going to watch her team play again tonight. They won another won and it allowed the team to advance to the consolation game! And it was exciting! They ended up in a tie with the other team, going into international rules and losing by one in an exciting finish!

It was a chilly evening for August and we wore jackets for the first time in months. It was nothing like the more serious softball of the past few years, but as I sat in the bleachers watching the girls joke and play with one another, watching them simply have fun playing the game, and cheering them on in the hopes of a win, I remembered how much I love watching one of my kids doing something they love. And it was good. After a day like I had, I really needed to forget about my work problems and just enjoy having my kid home and see her enjoying life.



Josh on the Ice

My brother and his wife are in that stage of life when their kids’ activities inevitably overlap. Sometimes there are more places to be at one time than is physically possible.

Mark and I are in that stage of life when we often have nothing on our plates. My brother, realizing this about us, called a couple of weeks back to see if we might be able to help him out on a Friday night. Among his four kids, one had a hockey tournament in another city, one had a gymnastics meet at home, and the youngest had a hockey game in a nearby city. My brother would be accompanying his oldest son to the out-of-town tournament. His wife would be accompanying their daughter to her gymnastics meet. He wanted to know if Mark and I might help them out by taking their youngest, Josh to his hockey game last night.

It was an easy decision. We had nothing on our calendar and were free for the evening. Josh is my godson, so I have an extra soft-spot for him anyway. And he’s eight years old. Kids are cute at that age. Besides, hockey is one of the few sports our own kids didn’t play, so we thought it would be fun to go cheer on the little guy.

We picked up Josh after I got home from work and loaded him, his hockey sticks, and the big bag o’ hockey gear into the truck. The rink wasn’t all that far from home, but because of rush hour traffic, we gave ourselves an hour to get there. And as we expected, the drive was slow. Josh chatted from the back seat in that adorable way that little kids have of expressing themselves. Eight year-olds are honest. There’s not arrogance. They just tell it like it is.

“You guys are lucky to be coming to my game,” he announced as he watched the scenery pass out the window.

“We are,” we agreed. “We’re excited about seeing you play,” Mark said.

I was excited too,” Josh said in earnest. “I was counting the days.”

There was a little lull in the conversation before he picked up again.

“I’m a fast skater.”

“I heard that,” I said. “Your dad told me you’re pretty good.”

“I scored a goal at my last game. It was so fun! It was easy too. We beat that team like eleven to nothing. I like scoring goals. We’ll probably win our game tonight.”

The truck continued along the freeway and it was quiet again until Mark asked Josh about school. He rambled on about movie-reward day and how “some… a few … a handful” of his classmates hadn’t behaved during music class.

“The music teacher doesn’t yell at us,” he said.

“That’s good,” I said. “So how does she ask kids to behave?”

HE … claps his hands and just says, ‘Sit down, please.'”

I smiled at the not-so subtle way Josh had corrected my misconception of his music teacher’s gender.

“I think his throat must hurt,” Josh said about the teacher who doesn’t yell. “That’s why he doesn’t yell at us.”

I tried not to giggle.

Josh kept watching out the windows, asking periodically how long before we’d arrive. I assured him it wouldn’t be too much longer.

“Hey, look,” he shouted! His head was tilted upward as he watched the clouds in the sky. “It’s a frog!”

“Where,” I asked?

“Right there! See him? He’s holding a tea-cup in one hand and a shrimp in the other!”

I couldn’t see the frog in the clouds but pretended I did. I wished my imagination was still as unfettered as Josh’s.

We finally arrived at the hockey arena where young parents with young children hovered around, watching their kids play or helping them into or out of their hockey gear and socializing with each other. It occurred to me that it wasn’t so long ago that my days were dictated by my kids’ activities.It wasn’t so long ago that my social life included parents of the kids who were my kids’ teammates. But there I was, feeling older and somewhat like an outsider.

Mark went into the locker room with Josh and helped him tie up his skates. Then we found a place against the clearest spot I could find in the plexi-glass where I might snap some shots of Josh playing.

The game was fun. Those little kids are impressive the way they get around on their skates and manage to handle the puck. They also spend a lot of time tripping over one another, falling and getting back up again. I was impressed with their resolve. But no wonder Josh was tired by the time the game was done. We offered to take him out to a restaurant with us, but he was ready to go home and shower and slip into his pajamas.

Oh, and Josh was right. They did win! Two to nothing. Josh almost got a goal. We told him how we watched him get ready for the pass in front of the net. He was there. He was open. But the pass never came.

“He wanted to get his own goal,” Josh said of his teammate who had failed to pass the puck. There was no judgement in his opinion. Just fact.

Josh was quiet on the way home. It was clear that he was tired. He told us he hoped we’d come see another one of his games sometime and we assured him we’d try.

I helped him carry his stuff back into the house when we got him home and he gave me a big hug before I left.

It was fun spending time with Josh. I hope we do it again soon.

Bowling Better

“Can you be a sub on my bowling team?”

I laughed at my best friend and said, “I’ve bowled a handful of times in my life, mostly under those disco lights at Moonlight Bowling. I don’t think you want me bowling on your team.”

“You don’t have to be good at it,” she said. “I mean, you pretty much know how it works, right?”

“Um. Yeah. You throw the ball down the lane and try to knock the pins over.”

“That’s all you need to know. I’ll take care of the other details.”


It was three years or so ago when that conversation took place. And being a sub on the bowling team quickly turned into being a regular in the second half of that season. I used one of my son’s bowling balls that he had used in his junior bowling league. I rented shoes. I did okay too. I held my own. And I had fun.

I think I was surprised that I had fun. I was surprised that I wanted to do it again when that first season ended. Prior to joining the team, I had a stereotype image of the sport of bowling. I pictured bowling as something that middle-aged, lower-class men did to get away from demanding wives and the pressures of home life. I pictured Ed Bundy look-a-likes, with beer-bellies swelling under their button-down bowling shirts. I pictured a place filled with the haze of cigarette smoke and pitchers of beer on every table.

courtesy Google images

“Listen Jerry, bowling is a man’s sport. If God had wanted women to bowl, he would have put their breasts on their backs so we would have something to watch while waiting our turn.” … Al Bundy

My mental image was a little bit off.There’s no smoking allowed anymore. Oh, there are definitely some beer-bellied men in the sport. There are some beer-bellied women too. There are men and women of all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds. And maybe some of them are there to escape having to be somewhere else, but for the most part we all have one thing in common. We love to bowl.

It took a while to convince myself that it was okay to like bowling and to want to get better at it. Up to that time in my life, I hadn’t really invested myself in anything that I didn’t have to do. Growing up, I learned to believe that most hobbies were a waste of time and money because I’d never had the opportunity to explore any interest to the point where it might require a time or financial commitment. In my adult life to that point, I had done the things I was supposed to do. I earned a living. I took care of my family. I invested time and money in activities and sports that my kids enjoyed, because I wanted to nurture their abilities as much as possible. I had a few hobbies of my own, but for the most part, they didn’t take me outside of the house. And somehow it escaped me that it might be good for me to nurture other interests of my own and that it wasn’t too late to do so.

I turned a corner when I bought my own bowling ball and shoes and made a (maybe subconscious) commitment to the sport. I began to make friends at the bowling alley, with people besides just the girls on my bowling team. I learned more about the sport, like  how to score a game and how to make the ball go where I wanted it to go so it would knock down the most pins. (That’s a skill I will forever be trying to perfect!) I watched others bowl, especially the ones who were good at it. I tried to learn by watching them so I could improve my own game.

Many, many times over these past few years since I started bowling, it has occurred to me that I’ve never really learned how to bowl. I did only what I knew to do and improved some by trial and error. But sometimes I’d be talking with others who really know the game and I would be embarrassed to join the conversation because I didn’t really know the ins and outs of the game. For instance, the place where you stand when you’re preparing to throw the ball? It’s made up of a whole bunch of vertical boards. Each board has its own number. One time while practicing, someone suggested I try standing on a particular board on the approach and I had no idea where it was.

I was getting better at bowling than I was when I first started, but I hit a plateau and didn’t know how to get past it. So when I met my friend Teri in summer league last year and learned that not only was she a really good bowler, but an actual bowling coach who offers instruction, I nagged her to run a class that I could attend. Teri and her partner, Lonnie ran a clinic at our bowling alley last weekend and for three hours, I learned the basics of bowling and then some. I learned all the things I thought I should know but was afraid to admit I didn’t know. I learned about timing, and the optimal number of steps one should take on the approach. I learned that it was important to keep my fingers curved when holding the ball, and to keep them that way when releasing it. I learned how to swing my arm and how and when to release the ball for the best performance. They taught us that throwing hard and fast doesn’t necessarily mean throwing accurately.

And I learned that the number of boards varies between bowling alleys, but the boards are marked with a dot on every fifth board. The middle dot always signifies the 20th board!

courtesy Google images

Teri and Lonnie taught me all kinds of things, so much that I probably won’t remember it all. At their suggestion, I chose to focus on a few things, and once I get comfortable with them, I can build on them with the other stuff.

Last night I went to my Monday league. During warm-ups, I practiced standing on a different board than I normally do. I practiced my new swing and release, trying to remember to keep my fingers curved, bend my knee, kick my right leg behind and hold my balance with my toe down on the floor. Everything felt strange and different. I watched as my ball consistently went close or directly to the place I wanted it to hit the pins. It took a while and I had to remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day. My game was not going to improve overnight. I spent a lot of time moving my starting position slightly to the left or right, in an effort to find where I might hit the pocket consistently. I was getting frustrated during the first two games because even though I sometimes felt more in control of the ball, sometimes it went somewhere completely unexpected. Teri had brought one of her young helpers along when she came to leagues last night and told him to watch me and offer pointers when needed. He told me to just relax. He said I was doing all the right things, but my arm was still too tense when I was throwing.

courtesy Google images

Throughout it all, I remembered that as much as I want to be a better bowler, the other big reason I bowl is because it’s fun. I bowl with some wonderful ladies who don’t really care whether we win or lose, as long as we have fun. And as soon as I remembered that and stopped thinking so much about all of the mechanics of bowling, it all began to come together. I talked with the girls and shared a whole lot of laughs. We cheered each other on. And I threw five strikes in that third game, which for me, is a pretty good thing.

I was excited after that third game and sorry to see the night come to an end. The fact that I had begun to grasp some of the new things I’d learned from Teri and Lonnie made me want to get back on the lanes as soon as possible to keep working on improving my game. I can’t say that I’ve ever grown bored with bowling over the past three years, but last night I felt a renewed sense of excitement about it.

I guess it just goes to show that you’re never too old to learn something new!

Crazy Much?

I’m cold. It’s ten degrees outside right now.

I know. I shouldn’t complain. It was above fifty degrees earlier this week, on Tuesday. We’ve hardly had any snow yet. Last year at this time we were sitting under about eight feet of snow. (I may be exaggerating slightly, but we had at least two blizzards by December last winter.)

It’s good timing for winter to show up though. There’s a big event around here this weekend, drawing lots of attention. It involves brave people wearing ice skates and helmets and hurtling themselves down a frozen ice track. Somehow I don’t think that protective equipment is going to keep it from hurting when one falls!

Red Bull Crashed Ice.jpg
Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships 2012
Red Bull Crashed Ice Saint Paul

Headed downhill

Red Bull Crashed Ice Saint Paul

Pretty sure this isn't going to end well!

Red Bull Crashed Ice Saint Paul

The track starts at the Cathedral where racers can offer up a quick prayer before taking their lives in their hands.

Kacey and Connor went yesterday and just returned from watching today’s events. They plan to go back again tomorrow. I knew nothing about this extreme sport of Ice Cross Downhill until just a few days ago. I guess this is the latest in cold weather entertainment. What will they think of next?

Bowling Night

Scotty is usually the first person I see when I walk in. He’s in his stance, behind the counter, probably bracing for the onslaught that Monday night brings. He’ll be busy making change and selling chances for the strike pot. The place is full-up on Mondays with three leagues taking up almost all of the lanes. I wave at Scotty as I make my way toward the middle section of lanes where the women’s league plays.

My eyes scan the computer screens hanging from the ceiling, looking for the names of the girls on my team. When I see it, I know which lane we’ve been assigned for the night. I’m rarely the first one there these days. I set my bag down and unzip the side pocket where my shoes are stored. I exchange hellos with everyone as I put on my shoes and search my purse for cash to pay my weekly dues.

Andy makes his way over while we’re getting ready and starting to warm up. He knows we’re all good for a hug. Not a week goes by without Andy coming by, looking for his hugs. I ask him how his day was and he always shrugs and gives a shy smile, saying, “Pretty good.”

“Did you work today,” I ask him?


“How was work,” I ask?

“It was boring,” he always says. Andy works at the Goodwill. He hates when they make him stock the shoes.

Andy is twenty years old, but mentally, he’s probably not quite that old. He’s sweet. He’ll wander to and from our lane throughout the evening, cheering and giving high-fives when one of us bowls a good frame. He’ll take extra hugs if he can get away with it too.

I look over to the lane next to us and I’m happy to see that Carol’s team is bowling there. I love Carol’s team. They are never short on laughter. You don’t even have to know these women to know that they’ve been friends for a long, long time. Their team name is Who’s Up?. It wouldn’t take you long to figure out why the name is so appropriate. For as long as they’ve been friends, they never run out of things to talk about. They talk so much they forget to pay attention to the game. Eventually, one of them will remember there’s a game in progress and ask, “Who’s up?”

Michelle is bowling with us this week. She was a regular last year, but decided her life is too busy and that she would just to sub for us when we need her this year. Michelle is always good for lots of shouting and laughter. We all marvel over her shoes. They’re really cute, for bowling shoes.

“I liked ’em so much, I almost bought a second pair just to wear for everyday,” she tells us. We actually hear this same story every time Michelle bowls with us.

The pull-tab guy is leaning out the window of his pull-tab booth. He rests on his elbows, his hands clasped in front of him as he watches the goings-on in the bowling alley. The booth is lit up behind him, and the glass boxes inside are full of multi-colored pull-tabs. I don’t think he sells a lot of pull-tabs, but he talks with everyone who passes him by and says hello. He flirts with all of the women.

“How are ya,” I ask as I pass his booth?

“Great, now,” he says with a friendly smile on his face.

I see my friend, Terri and remember I have a registration form to turn in. Terri is a bowling coach in her spare time! She’s such a good bowler, she’s not allowed to bowl in the women’s fun league. She has to bowl in the men’s league where the real competition is. I’ve nagged Terri since last summer to run one of her bowling clinics at our bowling alley, and she’s finally scheduled one for this month. The clinic only allows for eighteen participants. I need to turn my form in and make sure I secure a spot. I need the help! I’m in a rut.

I take my form and registration fee to the front desk.

“Hi Terri,” says the tall, bald-ish guy with the deep voice. He’s working alongside Scotty.

“Hey,” I say cheerfully in return, handing him my registration. “How are ya?”

“Good,” he says, deadpan. I don’t know his name. He hasn’t worked there all that long, but I really should know his name. I’ll make it a point to find out.

I return to our lane and we actually do some bowling. There’s an odd number of teams in our league, so once in a while, like tonight, we pull the bye. We bowl, but only against ourselves. It’s fun having a bye week. We can relax and spread out more because we don’t have to share the lane with another team. We take our time and we have fun!

Carol comes over to our lane and sets a glass of beer in front of me on the round pub table where I’m standing, waiting my turn.

“What’s this,” I ask?

“It’s a glass of beer,” she says, looking at me as if this should be obvious.

“I know that it’s beer,” I laugh. “Why are you bringing this to me?”

“It’s a chaser,” she said. “I’m supposed to chase my Bloody Mary with it. But I don’t like beer.”

“We’ll take good care of it,” I assure her. I taste it after she walks away and decide it’s not a beer that I like. We let Teresa, the waitress take it away with our empties later, at the end of the night.

I haven’t bowled really well in weeks. I used to always have three bottles of beer over the course of the evening, one for each game. But lately, for no reason in particular, I’ve been drinking Diet Coke or having just one beer. With Michelle around, there’s more of a party atmosphere and I find myself saying “yes” when Teresa asks if I want a beer, and later, another.  I bowl under average my first game, and then just over average in my second game. By game three, I’m drinking my third beer. I’m having fun with my girls and I’m relaxed. I bowl a 182. This is solidly over my current average of 140. From here on out, I will not neglect the three-beer rule! My game obviously depends on beer consumption!

There’s a ruckus going on next to us. One of the girls has thrown her ball, but after her release, the pin-sweeper falls down and stays there. This isn’t right! The pin-sweeper acts as a barrier to her bowling ball. She’s got a pretty hard throw and the ball bounces back, rolling straight back up the lane. She is laughing and embarrassed as she goes back to retrieve her ball. Her team keeps asking, “What did you do?

It’s not her fault. Something is broken. They are still laughing, hard as they and Carol’s team move to a different lane to finish their games.

Jodi is asking if I can take her place in the state bowling tournament if she has to travel for work the weekend of the tournament. I don’t do tournaments. I’m not good enough and the atmosphere is too serious. Tournaments make me nervous. But I find myself saying, “Of course. If you can’t make it, I’ll do it.”

Denise is saying that she’s not signing up for the clinic. Her handicap is in the seventies. (Read: She’s not a good bowler!) “If I go to the clinic, I’ll get better at this. If I get better at this, my handicap is going to drop. My handicap is the only thing that keeps me competitive in this game.”

Who can argue with that logic?

Our games are finished before we know it. Another night of bowling is behind us. Mary comes over to see how we did and complain about her own games. I call her a big baby and tell her to suck it up. She bowled a six-hundred series several times over the past few weeks. (If there is any question in your mind about what this means, just know that it’s really good!)

Mary’s husband, Lou is calling good-bye to us as they leave. We’re in no hurry to go and we hang around for a little while after we’ve finished. Teresa brings us our tabs and we pay up. I always give her a little more than necessary when I tip her. She’s good to us. Attentive. When I finally leave, there is a succession of good-byes and “see you next weeks” as I make my way to the door.

Did we win? I have no idea. But we had fun and I can’t wait until Monday rolls around again!

My Short-Lived Career as a Soccer Photographer

Let me just say that trying to photograph soccer players is a lot tougher than photographing softball players. Soccer players don’t stand still, at least not if they’re doing their jobs. And when your eye is glued to the view-finder of a camera, it’s next to impossible to anticipate which direction a player is going to move next.

I attended two of Kelsie’s games and took about 400 shots, only to come away with literally a handful of semi-acceptable ones. I really should have tested my settings a lot more before doing this. The setting sun at the second game really threw me off. And I know I don’t really have the proper lens for this kind of photography. Hopefully Kelsie’s dad will be able to use some of these to make a poster for her for Christmas! (It might have to be a very small poster!)

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Photography Job

Earlier this week, I received an email from Kacey’s softball coach. I was kind of surprised, considering the fact that the softball team’s time together has come to an end and the only reason I ever had to exchange emails with the coach was softball related business.

Turns out that the coach has a special Christmas gift in mind for all of his daughters. He wants to give each girl a poster featuring her playing her favorite sport. Since I took bunches of photos of the softball girls, including two of his daughters, he asked if he could hire me to shoot photos of his youngest daughter playing soccer.

I was hesitant at first and held off on responding to his email. But then I remembered how much fun I had taking the softball photos. So I emailed him back saying I’d love to take the job. I insisted he wasn’t allowed to pay me. It was the least I could do for all the time and energy he’d invested in the softball team for the past several years. And besides, I told him I might have an eye for a good shot, but anybody with a decent user-friendly camera could do what I’ve done with sports photography. There are much more talented photographers, but if he’s just looking for something on par with what I’ve already done, I felt pretty confident in my ability to get him some fairly good shots.

These are just a few of the softball shots I took this summer.

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I expect shooting a soccer player will pose a few more challenges than shooting softball players. Softball players can be caught standing in one place at any given time. Not so much with soccer players. But there are four home games coming up, so if I don’t get what I need the first time around, I’ll have a few more opportunities to get it right.

Wish me luck!