Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back in the Saddle

August 31, 2010

After bowing out of soccer last year, Nicholas has made his return to the field. He had already decided he was done after his 6th grade year, mainly because he thought chances of him making the junior high soccer team weren't all that strong. Although he's strong and has a pretty powerful kick, he simply doesn't have the speed of some of his counterparts. He loves playing and being a part of the team, but he's not particularly competitive, and he figured that would probably end his career. When he broke his foot just before last year's soccer season, even the idea of trying to coax him into trying out became a moot point, and we accepted that his last year of elementary school was his swan's song.

This year, though, when I was looking online to find registration information for Danielle, I discovered that there was a recreational league for boys Nicholas' age and up. I hadn't realized that there was an alternative to the school teams, so I casually mentioned it to Nicholas. His eyes immediately lit up, and he said, "THAT sounds like fun!" It turns out, he really missed it, but was still intimidated by the idea of not making the cut for the team. "Rec. league means everybody gets to play, right?" When I assured him he would be able to play if he wanted, he quickly asked me to register him. Just like that, my boy was a soccer player again.

This past Thursday at practice, Nicholas' coach informed us that the first game would take place on Saturday in Hanford. Hanford?? That's almost an hour away! When I registered Nicholas, I asked about the location for the team and was told they would be either at the park a block away from my house or on the fields by my school. Perfect, I thought. Soccer season would be easy! But no. What I discovered was that the practices would be held at those local fields, but that our boys would be playing teams from neighboring cities, and often our games would necessitate drives of half an hour to an hour. Had I know that, knowing also that I will have to get Danielle to her local games once her season begins, I might not have been so hasty to sign him up. I'm glad I did, because Nicholas gets so much out of being on the team, but my goodness, it's going to get tricky trying to manage soccer games in two different cities each week. Different fields is hard enough! Nevertheless, I tried not to think too hard about the logistical issues in the coming weeks and just focused on watching Nicholas play his first real game in two years.
At the beginning of the game, Nicholas was on the sidelines, cheering on his teammates. Then suddenly, Coach gave him the signal and he ran out to the field...to forward. Forward? Seriously? Nicholas had never been a forward! His position of choice was goalie. He spent a good deal of time at defender as well, and even at mid-fielder every now and again. But forward? That was definitely new. And yet, in his handful of minutes in the position, he managed to make a goal assist. Then he was pulled off the field to get ready to go in as goalie, where he make several very impressive saves before the final whistle. Our kids came out victorious with a final score of 4-1. It was a very exciting game!
After the game, we took advantage of the locale and headed to the famous Superior Dairy, where we met up with Kim and Tim and their kids to indulge in some unbelievably huge servings of ice cream. Nicholas and Chris took on the ultimate challenge of the S.O.S. dish, and they attacked it with fierce tenacity. Those two peas in a pod devoured the S.O.S. with gusto, stopping only occasionally to temper the effects of the inevitable 'brain freeze.'It was a bit of a long day, but Nicholas' first game of the season did wonders to build the self-esteem of Nicholas and all the boys on the team. And if a game in Hanford every few weeks means we get to visit with the Harrison clan AND get to end the afternoon with ice cream, well, it seems like there are worse ways to spend a Saturday.

Pop Culture Break

August 31, 2010

We are pop culture junkies, my husband and me, most specifically of the T.V. variety (but certainly not limited to that medium). Naturally, we love to watch the Emmys together when they're on. This year, more than any other year, we feel like our pop culture junkiness has been validated by the awards bestowed upon the shows that we hold dear to our hearts.

In the past, there have been awards given to Law & Order Whatever City and Unit, and to Survivor and to House. Good shows, I'm sure, but nothing that we watch. This year, however, praises were sung to many of our favorites. With the exception of Top Chef, our lauded shows were newcomers to the television landscape, perhaps an unexpected result of writers having time to really germinate and mull over some good ideas during the writer's strike not long before the shooting schedule began for last year's shows. Solid writing and spot-on casting have made Glee, Community, and Modern Family shows too good to be missed.

Not only are these shows a joy to watch during the regular season, but they also provided some of the best Emmy enjoyment as well. Glee's opening number was fantastic, and the George Clooney bit with Modern Family was hilarious. The cast of Community essentially did a car commercial at every break, but I didn't even mind that, since everything leading up to the fade-in on the logo was characteristically Community--awkward, ironic, tongue-in-cheek, and droll. Just my cup of tea.

Of course, one of the best reasons to watch the big awards shows is the beautiful dresses on the red carpet. My picks for the best dressed of the night were Jane Lynch, Tina Fey, and Lea Michele. All of them were stunning! It must be fun to have an excuse to get all dolled up and go to a grown-up prom every year.

On another pop culture note, the newest contestants have been unveiled for the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars. If the buzz about the internet is any indication, I am not alone in my disappointment at how loosely the title of 'Star' is being stretched these days in order to populate the dance floor. Bristol Palin? The Situation? Give me a break! Really, the only two I can really get behind this season are Florence Henderson and Jennifer Grey, but honestly, I don't know that their dim and distant stars shine brightly enough to illuminate the rest of the cast and keep my interest this season.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to School Dance

August 30, 2010

Ah, the Back To School Dance. It's a celebration of the end of the first week of school, and a Welcome To High School invitation to the newest inhabitants of Buchanan High. Largely populated by Leadership kids, Link Crew, and our baby freshmen, it's the probably the smallest dance of the year, but luckily for those of us who get to chaperone, the least likely to result in the kind of bumping and grinding dancing we generally have the misfortune of having to break up at the other dances. Although we had an ugly heatwave earlier in the week, the weather cooled down and was pleasant throughout the evening.

A.P. Literature

August 30, 2010

I feel very blessed this year, my daughter's senior year, to be teaching an A.P. Literature class populated with several young men and women I have known since they were chasing each other on the playground during 2nd grade recess. I have grown to know and love these kids over the past several years, this band of, on the whole, responsible, respectful, intelligent, humorous, goofy, and talented kids. Even the kids I am meeting for the first time seem to fall right into the 'family." This year with Bree and all of her classmates, my 'adopted' children, I fully anticipate having an enlightening and memorable year. I hope they are looking forward to the journey as much as I am.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Soccer Camp

August 28, 2010

A couple of weeks before school started, Danielle got to attend an AYSO soccer camp in Southern California with her cousins, Taylor and Devin. Although it's a U.K. camp, the young men running the camp for the kids were all Australian--go figure! Danielle really got to learn some skills and techniques that were new to her, and she really felt like she was well-prepared when she headed into soccer team clinics last week. She said she didn't learn anything new at the clinics that she hadn't already learned at the camp the previous week.
Some of the coaching was a little heavy on the technical terms, and in a thick accent at that, so I wondered how much Danielle was taking in. (She gave the camp an overall 9.5 rating on a scale of 1-10, deducting .5 because she 'couldn't understand anything they said.') That question was answered for me, though, after the third night when Aunt Lisa was driving the girls home from camp. "Today I got DOMs," she said.

"Really?" Aunt Lisa said. "What's DOMs?"

Without missing a beat, she replied, "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, from when you get sore muscles a day or two after exercising or working out. I'm sore today."The camp was money well-spent, and Lisa and I already have plans for the girls to attend again next year. All of the girls had a great time. Both Danielle and Devin garnered "Player of the Day" awards, and Taylor's team won the big scrimmage on the final day of camp. I'm looking forward to seeing how Danielle uses the experience in the season ahead.

First Day of School--The Beginning of the End

August 28, 2010

We've wrapped up the first week of school, and pretty successfully, I must say. It's a unique year in the Lutjens household, since all of the kids are at the tops of their respective food chains--Danielle is a 6th grader, Nicholas is an 8th grader, and Brianna is now officially a senior. I am really looking forward to all of the milestones we'll approach this year for all of the kids, although I am fairly certain that there will be a great deal of sentimental tears for me along the way.

Nicholas, Danielle, and Bree on the first day of school.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Closer to Private Benjamin Than To Grizzly Adams

August 18, 2010

I'm not much of a camping kind of a girl. I'm not exactly a princess, but, you know...I don't like to get my hands dirty. I'm a fan of creature comforts, like a bed, and doors. Floors, too, for that matter. Also, I'm not a fan of sharing my living space with creatures and critters. We have a mutual arrangement, as it turns out, that works quite well. I'll stay in, and they can stay out. It works for us; we understand each other.

It's true what they say, that who you are as an adult is heavily influenced by your experiences as a child. When I was a young girl, I was involved in scouting and really loved it--Bluebirds, Brownies, and Girl Scouts. By my estimation, spent at least three and a half years learning to "Be Prepared". My mother, however, did not. (She was, in fact, a Girl Scout in her youth. I just think she got a little fuzzy on the motto by the time I was a Scout). When I was perhaps nine, my Brownie Troop went on its first weekend camping trip. That's when my aversion to camping was bred.

It wasn't even the dirt or the critters that were problematic--those aversions came later, perhaps as justification for not having to camp. The real reason, the real problem, was my decided LACK of preparation. I was nine, mind you. Still what you might call training ground for life. Even now, when my son or daughter (who are both well over the age of nine) want to go on a sleepover at a friend's house, they get the check list reminder from me: Did you pack your toothbrush? A change of clothes? Do you have a brush? A pillow? Don't forget your underwear! Inevitably, he or she will run back to the bedroom to collect up the forgotten items before climbing in the car. My mother, before my first Brownies camping trip, gave no such reminders. As far as I can tell, she didn't even look over the packing list given to the parents. For whatever reason, she just assumed that a couple of pairs of jeans and t-shirts would suffice. We threw those into a duffel bag, and on the designated evening, she pulled up to the house of our troop leader, who would be driving the group in her station wagon up to the camp site. I got out of the car and waved goodbye, and Mom drove away, probably off to tend to the other four kids at home.

So there I was, on my troop leader's porch. It was dark, and the porch light was on. I rang the bell, and she was immediately there to welcome me and invite me in. She asked me to stack my duffel and sleeping bag next to all the other girls' things so that her husband could pack everything on top of the car. I looked at her blankly at first, then panic began to set in. I didn't have a sleeping bag! How had my mother left me to go on a camping trip all weekend without a sleeping bag? My troop leader stared at me, perplexed. Had I really just shown up at her doorstop so woefully unprepared? This was in the days before cell phones, so she couldn't immediately get ahold of my mother to see if perhaps she'd just forgotten. She said sweetly, "Didn't your mother look at the list I sent home?" I could only mumble that I didn't know. Any more than that would have opened up the floodgates of tears that were threatening to fall. This was not how I wanted to start off the weekend.

My troop leader consulted with her husband, who dug around in his garage and found a spare bag I could borrow. Most of the other girls had pink or bright orange sleeping bags, some of them brand new, purchased for a first camping trip. Mine would be an old, faded army green bag, stiff and itchy, and borrowed from someone's dad. It was something, though, and at least I wouldn't have to sleep on the ground, curled up in a ball. Perhaps it wasn't going to be so bad after all. Then, my troop leader thought she ought to run through the check list to see if I had failed to bring anything else. I had my undies, I had my toothbrush. Minus the sleeping bag, I had managed to bring most everything else. Not quite, though.

I remember telling my mom earlier that we were supposed to bring two bars of Ivory soap. Mom thought it was silly for one little girl to bring two full-sized bars of soap for one weekend, so despite my protests, she sent along a little trial bar of soap. That, she reasoned should be plenty to keep a girl clean. However, we weren't just keeping clean with that soap. We were working on badges during our weekend, and learning how to whittle was part of the experience. Our medium? Two bars of soap. THAT soap wasn't intended for cleanliness at all. We were to have brought additional soap for that purpose. When my troop leader discovered I was missing that as well, she took her own daughter's bag and pulled out one her bars to put in my duffel. "Why should I have to give up one of mine just because she forgot hers?" she wailed, glaring at me while directing her question toward her mother. "Because it's nice to share," she said simply. Clearly, her daughter did not agree.

That was how I kicked off my first camping trip--the one I had been looking forward to with great expectation. I was completely unprepared, and I had incurred the wrath of the alpha-female of the group. The girls made fun of my 'man' sleeping bag all weekend and talked about me in whispers as I whittled away at someone else's Ivory soap. I was miserable and lonely and embarrassed. Not even the S'mores made me feel much better as I shivered in my t-shirt by the campfire in the evening. I was, naturally, without a jacket.

I imagine when I returned from the trip our troop leader probably gently counseled my mother to help me 'Be Prepared' for any of our future camping trips. I know she gave my mom the benefit of the doubt--"I'm sure you probably left so quickly you forgot that Donna hadn't taken the sleeping bag out of your car yet when you dropped her off."--when there was, in fact, no sleeping bag in the car or anywhere else. What I do know is that I never went on another scout camping trip, and that was probably as much my own wish as it was hers. There was very little about the camping trip I found fun, and I was in no rush to repeat the experience.

But here's the thing: it's not really the camping I dislike. It's the being unprepared for it I don't like. I realized this about a week ago when, for the first time in thirty years, I found myself camping, despite my reservations. My own kids, my youngest in particular, have felt a void in their lives apparently, due to a lack of sleeping in the great outdoors. (In fairness, my oldest, quite the princess-in-training, professed no such lack. She was, though, a great sport at helping me indulge the other two.) I would never have agreed to taking the kids camping had we not gone with my sister, camper and Girl Scout Leader Extraordinaire. Having taken her own kids several times, she was organized, prepared, and had the background and expertise to make the experience enjoyable and even relaxing for all of us. I found that, not lacking the basics, I actually enjoyed the trip, dirt and all. (There were good showers and bathrooms nearby--a real necessity as far as I'm concerned. My take on the situation would most certainly be different if those were not available.) Both Nicholas and Danielle were completely at ease, hiking and skipping stones on the lake, and pitching in with the cooking and cleaning up at camp. Bree will probably not make it a regular event in her life, but I think she found that camping out wasn't quite as bad as she thought it would be. And me? I don't need to go back every weekend, but I would certainly look forward to doing it again sometime. Perhaps an annual trip is in order. As long as I have my sleeping bag and my soap, I'll be set.