Two Lost Keys and Goodbye to Summer

Procrastination and denial are the culprits. This is a post that can wait no longer, with the official debut of the fall season tomorrow. Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to summer.

Sigh.

Our summer weekends are pretty damn wonderful. My family has a beach house on the New Jersey coast, “down the shore,” as the vernacular goes. Just two hours away is our beloved getaway. My husband and I, and assorted other relatives, relish our summer weekends of pure relaxation.

This is not a razzle dazzle beach community. No boardwalk, no shopping district, few good restaurants. That, along with my no makeup/no hair care policy makes for a quiet weekend of eating, drinking, spending quality time with family and best of all, getting engrossed in a good book for hours.

Duncan and I take early morning walks on the beach. The sunrises are extraordinary.

He zonks out after our walks …

and I move on to the next item on the agenda.

And that is pretty much the extent of it.

Reluctant to bid a final adieu, we lucked out when Mother Nature graced us with glorious September weekends that extended the summer just a bit. Which brings me to the lost keys.

Our plans last weekend were to spend the day in NYC and head down the shore at the end of the day. Daughter Laurie and her friend would be spending the weekend with us but wanted to leave earlier in the day. Could we give her the key, she asked.

We did. We went off to do our thing in the city. The key? She lost it. She lost it.

I almost lost it.

How do you lose something that you’ve had for no more than 15 minutes and fail to recover it? She and her friend looked everywhere, ransacked the apartment, to no avail.

Fortunately, another key existed, hidden in a safe spot at the beach house. No, I won’t tell you where. Laurie and friend were able to get in the house, and we joined them a few hours later.

The weekend was lovely, and we hated packing up on Sunday, but it was time to go. On the way home we stopped at Wegmans for some groceries. We got back to the car and I waited for Pete to unlock the door. And waited.

“Where’s the key?” he asked me.

“I don’t have it. I gave it to you.”

He emptied every pocket. Nothing. He retraced his steps, but no key. How does somebody lose a key between the grocery store and the car? Do you see a pattern here?

“Maybe someone turned it in,” Laurie offered.

And indeed someone had. Relieved, we got back in the car and headed home as night began to fall.

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Remembering the Sky

In the end, it is the sky that day that haunts me. A sky so purely, brilliantly, heartbreakingly blue. Cloudless. Endless.

I have a tendency to gaze at the sky, finding such beauty in this marvel of nature. Driving to work that day, I remember the intense blueness. And then, driving home mid-morning in a surreal reverse traffic jam, blinked at the brightness, the sun climbing higher, my panic rising as I drove to my children’s school.

My husband and I arrived home at the same time. We had left on a bad note that morning. A silly argument, who knows what it was. Now we gripped each other. Held tight.

We turned on the television, not believing our eyes. In that brilliant sky, flames, smoke, terror. Crumbling buildings. It was hours until we heard, thank God, that family members who worked at the Towers were safe.

Today, and every September 11, I will remember. The innocent lives that were lost. Children who were now parentless. Our lives changing forever.

And that impossibly blue sky.

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The Woman in the Mirror: a Personal Reflection

I remember sitting in a college French class absently twirling a string of my hair and half listening to the professor talk about idiomatic expressions. Until one in particular caught my attention.

Etre bien dans sa peau

The literal translation is “to feel well in one’s own skin.” It means to feel good about yourself. But typically the expression is used in the negative — ne pas etre bien dans sa peau — and relates to anxiety or dissatisfaction with yourself. As in “I’m too fat, too thin, not pretty enough, not smart enough …” Wow, I thought.

Je ne suis pas bien dans ma peau. 

Mon dieu. C’est moi.

Yes, that was, and is, me.

Since as far back as I can remember, I have had … issues. Like looking in the mirror and grimacing at my image.

I blame my internal critic who is on call 24/7, providing continuous commentary of the negative sort.

She gives me a head-to-toe appraisal, her eyes flickering over the most egregious of body parts, and shakes her head sadly. Clears her throat. And with a sigh, begins to tick off the litany of flaws present in my body.

I listen. I agree. Even though, by probably anyone else’s standards, I look just fine.

Like the late Nora Ephron, whose book “I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” resonated with many of us dames d’un certain age, I fret about wrinkles, cellulite, hair loss and all the rest of it. That is to be expected, I suppose.

But that doesn’t account for why I felt this way as a teenager. Any probably even younger. I wasn’t obsessed with my body image. But I sure wasn’t happy about it.

The insecurities start at a very young age, especially with girls. Where does it come from? My mother didn’t instil these feelings — I did. Why? Is it societal norms, the overwhelming pressure to be thin, be beautiful, be perfect, thereby finding eternal happiness?

As I begin my latest diet to get rid of the 10 pounds that have crept up on me, I think of the alternative, being content absorbing the extra 10 pounds. Being happy in my own skin.

But that’s just not me.

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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

According to the calendar it is still summer, but for those of us in higher education summer will soon be a faded memory. I work in a marketing and university relations department on a college campus, and the new academic year is just days away. Goodbye summer, hello students!

I won’t deny that I’ll miss the quiet (and clean bathrooms). But I do love the start of the semester, greeting returning students and getting to know the freshmen. The campus practically hums with positive energy and new possibilities.

Part of the fun of my job is having a student intern each semester who assists with writing, website updates, research, list management, etc. Many of our interns have minimal experience but plenty of enthusiasm, so they get a semester’s worth of Journalism 101 in a matter of days. They learn about deadlines. About suddenly having to shift gears when necessary. How to write in AP style, conduct an interview, take photos.

What do they get out of it? In addition to receiving college credit, they acquire new skills (and beef up their resumes) and get a byline in our publications. That’s great to have in a portfolio.

We benefit from this experience as well. In fact, lessons learned from our students have been invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. Here are just a few reasons why I admire them so much.

They are expert multi-taskers.

Most of our students carry a full course load but have outside obligations that require a good amount of their time. Some hold full-time jobs. Others are responsible for the care of family members. Yet these are often the students who consistently make Dean’s List and hold leadership positions on campus. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m pretty sure they don’t get much sleep.

All it takes is a little creativity.

Who wants the same old same old? Not us! We’re open with them about our expectations, but from the get go we encourage the proverbial thinking-outside-the-box. Out of these brainstorming sessions have come some really cool ideas, things that we hadn’t thought of before. One of our interns taught himself video production and editing, and made several fantastic videos that we added to our website.

They are self-assured and driven.

I am often awestruck by the composure of our students. They are well-spoken and respectful, but do not hesitate to question the status quo and offer alternate solutions. Many of our students are first generation college students, and very motivated to succeed. The dream of a college degree, and the doors that will open for them, keep them going even when the challenges seem insurmountable.

Take two LOLs and call me in the morning.

They are funny, these Generation Y-ers! Just in the nick of time, when the work is accumulating and the stress level is inching up, they come out with something that tickles our funny bone. Finding the humorous side of things can make the tension dissipate: just what the doctor ordered. We have a laugh and then get on with it.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

It is gratifying that our interns stay in touch. Just when we start to wonder what ever happened to so-and-so, we’ll get an email or an impromptu visit. Occasionally it will be to request a reference, but most often it is just to say hello and catch us up on their careers, their families. A good thing that is, staying in touch.

We feel good knowing they’re out in the world making a difference. And what they’ve left behind has made a difference for us.

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My Son is in the Olympics

(Cue the booming drum) DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM …

(Cue the bugles) Dum, dum, de dum dum dum dum, dum dum de dum ….

Allow me to translate. That, my friends, is the thrilling and iconic Olympics refrain, which is giving me goose bumps even now. BECAUSE MY SON EVAN IS IN THE OLYMPICS!!

Is he a champion swimmer, you may be wondering. Does he run the 500 meter dash? Can he lift massive dumbbells above his head and grunt louder than Maria Sharapova in a tie-breaker?

My son, while gifted in  many ways, is not an athlete. Well, not an Olympics-qualifying one. BUT what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in chutzpah. This cheeky chap, my first-born child, is in the Opening Ceremonies.

Evan lives in London and noticed a link on the London Olympics 2012 website for applying to be a volunteer. Thinking, what the hell, he clicked away and, long story short, he and 14,999 other hopefuls were invited to audition. “We were taught a dance en masse,” Evan said, “and then broke into groups of 10 and had to perform it in front of everyone as well as a panel of seven judges. For a non-dancer, it was pretty nerve-wracking!”

The number was whittled down to 4,500, and he made the cut. Rehearsals began in early May, and now, with just weeks left until the Games begin, the frequency of the rehearsals has ramped up to three times a week, roughly eight hours each time.

“The director, Danny Boyle, has been at every rehearsal and is very hands-on,” Evan said. “He speaks in soaring metaphors that somehow work and often goes off on metaphysical tangents which lead you to believe he’s either much deeper than us normal folk or much better at making up stories. Probably a combination.”

You may remember that Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle and Evan

Although he won’t yet reveal the details, Evan said that his group of 1,500 performers will appear in the first 15 minutes of the show. I’ll let you know more when he clues me in (he’s been sworn to secrecy so far). He won’t get special access to any of the events, but was able to snag tickets to many of the events, including the gold medal basketball game.

As the Games get closer, the excitement and anticipation are building. “It’s been draining so far,” he confessed. “My section has had the most rehearsals and I haven’t had a day off between work and this since the middle of May. However, since we moved into the stadium two weeks ago, adrenaline is kicking in. We’re starting to see the technology and pyrotechnics woven into our scene. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Through it all we tell ourselves that on July 27 we will be in the center of Olympic Stadium as 80,000 cheer us on and 2.5 billion around the world watch us. That’s what keeps us going back to rehearsals.”

He added, “I think it’s going to be extraordinary. I just hope I don’t trip.”

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More than Once

When I was eight years old, my parents took me to my very first Broadway show. As the curtain rose and the orchestral music swelled, a hush came over the crowd. My eyes grew wide with expectation.

And then the magic began.

The show was Carnival, with Anna Maria Alberghetti as the naive ingenue, Jerry Ohrbach as the puppeteer, and Kaye Ballard as, well, Kaye Ballard. I was mesmerized by the beautiful singing and dancing and the poignant love story that tugged at my heart. My eyes stung with tears when Lili, who I guess in modern times would have a diagnosis, was stunned to find out that her puppet friends were not real.

(As an aside, many years later I was thrilled to find out that there would be a run of Carnival at a local community theater. I purchased tickets for the whole family and excitedly prepped them for what was to come. Although well done, the play was so outdated that my kids — and my husband, I suspect– squirmed in their seats until it was over.)

For many weeks post-Carnival, I would race home from school, throw my belongings down, and turn on the record player to listen to the cast album. It wasn’t enough to memorize each note, word and inflection. I choreographed every song on the album, roped two friends into joining me, and persuaded Mrs. Wagner, my second grade teacher, to let us perform for the class.

It was clear that Broadway and I were meant for each other.

Was I obsessed? Yes, indeed, Yes, I was.

I’ve had the great fortune to have seen many more Broadway shows, too many to name. My favorites? Hard to say, but there are two I can think of right off the bat that had the same effect on me as Carnival did. I hear a  couple of bars of the music and my eyes well up. And I know every word of every song.

and

So, you may be wondering … or not … would my passion for Broadway catapult me into a career on stage? I certainly had the emotional energy, the drive, the enthusiasm.

Just one thing was missing: any discernible talent.

But a true blue fan I have been and will always be, and I am currently bedazzled by a most wonderful show called Once that my friends and I were lucky to see.

Here we are after the performance. I’m the one in the middle. Can you see the stars in my eyes? Can you hear me humming the tunes?

Once is the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant who share a love of music. Last week the spectacular ensemble performed a number on David Letterman. Watch this and fall in love.

Bravo, Once, and may your run be long and fruitful. I can’t wait to come back.

Let the curtain rise. Let the magic begin.

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Cheeky Cherubs

Can I share my latest obsession? I can’t help but smile when I think of them: the precious pint-size duo from Essex, England, the little British girls who are taking this country by storm. On the cuteness scale, they are way off the charts. Meet Sophia Grace and Rosie.

Sophia Grace, pictured right above, and Rosie, eight and five years old respectively, are precious moppets who favor Easter egg-hued tutus and sparkly tiaras. They came to the attention of The Ellen Show because of a video showcasing Sophia Grace’s talent, natural charm and boundless energy. Their very first appearance launched these sensations into instant celebrity.

Sophia Grace is crazy about rock music and rock artists, and not only has talent, but an uncanny ability to memorize lyrics as well as strut like a pro on stage. Her breadth of knowledge of songs and artists is incredible, and her renditions are sweet and soulful. Cousin Rosie, her “hype girl,” is there for moral support and cheerfully accompanies her partner on stage. Sophia Grace likes having her there “because she gives me confidence,” she said in her sweet little clipped British voice.

The girls returned to The Ellen Show and were treated to a surprise visit from Sophia Grace’s idol, Nikki Minaj.

You can see that Nikki is completely blown away by the awesomeness of her protegé, and Sophia Grace is beyond excited to meet Nikki.

Ellen has had the girls back several times. In this clip, The Ellen Show flew them out to Hollywood to walk the red carpet at the Grammys, a dream come true for Sophia Grace. So adorable.

And just one more.

This segment is “Tea Time with Sophia Grace and Rosie,” guest starring Taylor Swift. To die for!

Have you fallen in love yet?

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THON 2012 Makes an Impact

I am achy, bleary-eyed and yawning incessantly this morning. But so very happy.

For those of you who don’t know the magic that is THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, let me explain.

AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey

Officially known as The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON was started 40 years ago by Penn State students who wanted to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Inspired by the story of Christopher Millard, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11, they earmarked all their proceeds for Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital Four Diamonds Fund which supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Christopher’s parents, Charles and Irma Millard, established the Four Diamonds Fund in his memory. Before he succumbed to the disease at age 14, Christopher wrote a story about a knight searching for four diamonds — Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength — that would release him from captivity by an evil sorceress.

It is unthinkable; the worst nightmare possible. Your child is sick, not getting better. You are delirious with worry. Imagine hearing the words no parent ever wants to hear. Picture being wracked with fear, grief, anxiety. That’s where the Four Diamonds Fund comes in. The Fund offsets the cost of treatment that insurance doesn’t cover, and takes cares of expenses incurred by the child and family, making sure that of all the things to worry about, finances won’t be one of them.

To raise money, students plan events throughout the year, most visibly on “canning” weekends, when students fan out into communities to solicit donations. Since canning weekends are in the late fall and early winter, it is usually freezing cold. But Penn State students don’t let a little cold slow them down.

All the Penn State campuses are involved. Alumni groups pitch in. Even high schools have “mini THONS.” More than 350 groups and organizations are involved with THON, and about 15,000 Penn State students volunteer in some capacity. Imagine all that goes into an undertaking of this magnitude, and then remember that this is completely student-run. Clearly, Penn State students are the most amazing in the world.

THON weekend is in February and is held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus. Seven hundred students are on their feet for 46 hours, and 15,000 people fill the stands (and “stands” is the operative word; no one sits) to cheer them on. Brightly colored t-shirts identify each participating organization.  The energy is extraordinary; everyone is always moving, dancing, cheering, singing, swaying, clapping.  THON weekend is a combination of rock concert, revival meeting, circus, song fest, dance, pep rally, costume party, exercise workout, and bonding experience, and that’s just the beginning. I still haven’t found the words to adequately describe THON.

students make the "diamond" sign

THON kids and their families are the VIPs. Many of the parents say that their kids love THON as much as Christmas. The kids get to be kids and have an entire weekend of fun. Some of them perform on stage. Most of them are happy to run around the floor and play with the Penn State dancers. There are spirited water pistol battles, piggyback rides, face painting, bubble blowing, and lots of hugging.

photo by 6ABC

Although the ambiance is mostly festive, there are moments of deep sadness. Several THON families share their stories, and not all of them have a happy ending. We cheer at the videos of children who have beaten the disease, and sob at the ones portraying kids who have lost the battle. It is because of them that we will keep fighting until no child has to endure this terrible fate, and no parent has to hear that grim diagnosis. We THON FTK: For the Kids.

Bryce Carter, on crutches, and his family. His mom describes his ongoing battle with cancer. AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey.

Penn State students raised $10.6 million for the kids this year. This shatters last year’s total by more than a million dollars. Like everyone else, I was on my feet for the better part of two and a half days. I am beyond exhausted, but bursting with love and Penn State pride.

Joe Paterno left us with a mandate: make an impact. Thank you, Penn State students, for doing just that. FTK.

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Super Shmuper

Let me state for the record that I have tried, oh have I tried, to understand football.

If football passion is contagious, I should have contracted a rabid case long ago. My father, husband and son live and breathe it. For as long as I can remember, weekends during football season have revolved around our teams’ schedule. And today, Super Sunday? My husband calls it “the holiest day of the year.”

Despite having an avid interest in most spectator sports, I just don’t get football.

There are things I like about football culture. I like crisp fall Saturdays dappled with sunshine and football games. I enjoy the marching band, the cheers and the go team go. I like … halftime.

The men in my family have been patient with me. How many times have they repeated the ABCs of football at a level that qualifies as Football for Dummies? And each time, their hopeless student failed miserably. Football terminology was as elusive as Mandarin Chinese. (Secondary? Hail Mary? Split End?) After a few minutes my eyes would glaze over and my brain would demur. Uh uh, said my brain, we no get it.

say what?

In my dogged pursuit to enjoy this silly game, I force myself to watch, pretending to be interested and trying hard to disguise my cluelessness. It usually goes like this. Until Something Big happens I can stare at the screen and simultaneously plan my weekly grocery list. No one is the wiser. All of a sudden there is excitement. Something BIG has happened. The crowd goes wild and there’s a whoop from my husband.  “All rightttt!” he claps loudly. Duncan cocks an eye and wags his tail. “What happened?” I ask tentatively. His eyes are glued on the set. “Um, what happened?” I repeat. His smile fades. He sighs with thinly veiled exasperation and starts to explain, his eyes not leaving the screen. His voice trails off, and I let it go. it doesn’t matter. Whatever he tells me, I won’t understand, anyway.

So tonight I will sit through this snooze fest whose only redeeming quality is the punctuation of amusing commercials. And I’ll get to work on my grocery list.

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Joe and Bear

The man in the blue windbreaker looked perplexed. Squinting in the bright light, he waved away a swirl of clouds, searching for a familiar face. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses clean, then replaced them, blinking.  All at once he broke into a grin.

“Hey stranger!” he called to the tall guy with the houndstooth hat.

“Winningest coach, eh?” smiled the elder man. “Good to see you, buddy.”

Blue Windbreaker caught up and fell into step. “After I saw what happened when you retired, well … ” he faltered.

“I know. Kind of surprised me too, but I guess it was my time.”

“Heck of a thing,” Blue Windbreaker said. “If you’d have told me I’d still be coaching at the age of  85, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But you know how it is, hard to let go. Just one more season, I thought.”

“You had, what, 409 wins? Five undefeated seasons? Two national championships?” Houndstooth Hat asked, “Not too shabby.”

“And you had six national championships,” Blue Windbreaker said. “That’s some kind of career.”

“The last time we met up was, let’s see, October 9, 1982 in Birmingham,” mused Houndstooth Hat. “You guys were number three and we were number four. Remember?”

Blue Windbreaker winced. “Sure do. You beat us 42-21. I’ve had a hard time forgetting.”

“I think I remember every loss. Every gosh darned one.”

“Hey, you do the best you can and most times come out OK. In life, too.” Blue Windbreaker paused. “There were mistakes made, things I wish I had done differently. Regrets.”

Houndstooth Hat nodded solemnly.

“The facts will be learned. The verdict will come out,” he said softly. “But trust me, old friend. Your legacy will endure.”

“You know they gave me a statue by the stadium,” Blue Windbreaker said. “It says:

‘They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.'”

_________

Disclaimer: The conversation in this post is 100% fictional and was created by me.

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