Friday, May 30, 2008

Summer Days

It is difficult for me to believe that what passes for summer today is in any way related to the summers I knew as a child. Although many of my memories are blurred around the edges, others remain pristine in their clarity and I play them out in my mind like an old home movie.

There I am, riding my bike around the neighborhood or to the park, alone. I'm probably nine. I ride my bike to my friend Neece's (pronounced like niece-y, short for Glenice) house and then we go to get a couple of other friends and soon a group of four or five girls tear through the neighborhood, pedaling as fast as we can, pretending to be Charlie's Angels or the Dukes of Hazzard.

I see a blanket of sunny days with brown-skinned arms and legs that would merit being told I was brown as a biscuit. Mornings spent helping my grandmother in her garden followed by afternoons of playing tag or shadow tag, kickball and baseball with my cousins and the other kids our age in the neighborhood. A box elder tree, mailbox, a stone, and a silver maple tree served as our bases. After lunch, we'd walk to the store where 50 cents bought a Coke and a candybar or pack of Now and Laters or a pack of candy cigarettes. The afternoons bled into evenings of running around in the yard catching lightning bugs and putting them in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked in the metal lid. Then, we'd sit on the porch and eat watermelon, spitting seeds out into the yard. Or maybe my aunt and uncle would show up and we'd pile into the car, barefoot and giggling and go to the lake where we'd grill hamburgers and skim stones as we watched the sun set.

And with the exception of helping my grandmother in the garden, or having a meal prepared for us, or interacting with the clerk at the store, or being driven somewhere, there was nary a grown-up in the picture. We were self-sufficient. And trusted. And confident and competent. Because our parents trusted us and trusted the world we lived in.

Now, at five I wasn't riding my bike through the neighborhood or walking to the store or park alone. But I was walking across the street to my friend Scotty's house. And I was playing outside for hours on end by myself. I'm sure my grandmother poked her head out once in a while to make sure I was still there, but she wasn't hovering over me, making sure I was engaged and entertained in something constructive. I didn't have a summer reading list or daily flash card time. I was free to imagine and be and create my own worlds where I was a race car driver or a mommy or a veterinarian or a doctor. I climbed trees and sang songs and chased the dog and had the opportunity to be a kid in ways I didn't always get to.

We blame video games and TV for our kids lack of activity and creativity; the rise in obesity, and all the rest of society's ills. But really? Isn't it our fault? We're the ones cowed by fear of bad things happening to our children if they're out of our sight for an instant. And we're the ones who either don't have the time or the inclination to get up and get out and do things.

I'm not saying I do. Clearly, I'm sitting here typing and sounding off on a perfectly gorgeous sunny morning. But, when I finish my coffee and Kashi, I do plan to get my boys outside today. At least for a while.

I may not be able to recreate my idealized summer, especially since school begins August 11 (thanks Mr. President for your stupid NCLB). But, I want to do my best to create some fun memories for these guys and to allow them the opportunities to make their own memories as they become capable and secure in their abilities to do so.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rocky Top

One little known fact about me – at least to people I've met the last five years or so – is that I am a huge sports fan. I love college football and college basketball and professional baseball and the NBA and once upon a time had the space in my brain to store names and positions and statistics and oddball anecdotes.

Then, I had kids.

All the space I reserved for sports has been filled with other trivia after a long stint as cold storage thanks to sleep deprivation. Where once there was room in my brain to have an opinion on whether Manning or Helton should be the number two behind Jerry Colquitt or who Duke should start against St. John's, or whether or not the Braves should trade Maddux and Glavine, now I have a broad and deep knowledge of all things geek.

I can name 20 different Pokemon on sight or by charades. I can name most of the Autobots and tell you what kind of vehicle they transform into. I know my Triceratops from my apatosaurus . I know more backstory on Spiderman, Venom, Carnage, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and the Fantastic Four than I do on a lot of my friends.

Now, though, I'm so excited about college football again that I might have to eke out some room for it this year. And it's all thanks to this man.

David Cutcliffe, is no doubt, a great football coach. He has coached and mentored two of the best quarterbacks in history and at two different schools. But he's also a good man. He and his wife, Karen, took in their son Chris' best friend when the boy's mother died.

Last week, after reading a story about how Coach Cut was changing attitudes about football at Duke and holding the administration and other coaches accountable for treating the football program with the same respect they want, I felt compelled to send the man a note to let him know that Duke football fans are really excited by his presence. (At least those of us who are dyed in the wool college football fans (i.e. the ones from the South) are.) Attached to my e-mail was a photograph of me holding Brendan at his first Duke football game. I never expected to hear anything back at all.

The next day, I got an e-mail from Coach Cutcliffe's secretary telling me the coach had something he wanted to send me and asking for my home address.

A few days later, we received a nice handwritten note from the coach along with a copy of my original photograph, blown up and autographed by Coach Cutcliffe.

It was a very sweet gesture and he certainly didn't have to do it or have his staff do it. But I think it shows what a great guy he is and I am very excited to have him at Duke. I can't wait for August 30th.

Go Duke!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mary, Mary

It's been almost a month since I planted my garden. I haven't taken any pictures of it since the first day.

I followed these guidelines for a beginner's vegetable garden on the Farmer's Almanac site to get started.

My neighbor, Mr. Martin, broke up the ground for me. He's an awesome neighbor with every kind of tool known to man just waiting around for someone to need it. After tilling the soil for me, he got out his chain saw and cut some branches off a couple of trees to let more sunlight into my garden space.

Once that was done, I amended the soil and got it ready to plant. All I did was put some lime down to counter the acidity of the pine needles that had previously covered the ground. The next day, I planted.

I planted pumpkins, yellow squash, cukes, tomatoes (cherry, Big Boy, and yellow), cantaloupes, leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, bush beans, zucchini, green onions, and I think that's all. I honestly don't remember and forgot to diagram it. So, we'll see.

Right now, everything I've named has sprouted. Some things (beans, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes) are thriving. The rest, not so much.

Send positive vibes my garden's way.

I'll keep you updated.