A Hole-in-Eight (aka: Anything But Mini-Golf!)

“Ugh, I can’t stand mini-golf!” I groaned as my kids and I pushed open the heavy wooden castle doors and stepped outside. “Anything but mini-golf!” The sky was filled with dark, billowing clouds, giving the mini-golf kingdom an ominous appearance. Someone was going to suffer a round a bad luck on the course today.

Me, probably.


My kids, however, did not share my sense of foreboding. Brightly-colored golf balls in hand, they raced over to the first hole, eager to face the challenge. It had one of those loop-de-loop obstacles, then a straight line to the hole. My kids each stepped up to putt, giggling as the ball bounced off the loop-de-loop or returned to the beginning. I shook my head in amazement. How were they able to be so at ease when they had played so poorly? Sheesh…almost like I had raised them well.

I stepped up to putt, already accepting my certain defeat. It had been many years since I had even bothered to pick up a mini-golf club. Even now, my mind was filled with the pitying laughter of the ghosts of mini-golf past; a remnant of those futile attempts which resulted in a hole-in-seven, or eight, or ten, when the par was like, two. I placed my neon yellow ball and took my usual backwards stance, as I am a left-handed golfer, and therefore cursed, as putt-putt courses were clearly designed for the right-handed crowd.


Then I swung.

To my disbelief, the ball swirled around the loop-de-loop, then made a beeline for the hole. It dipped around the edge, teasing, then rolled off to the side. On the second putt, the ball went in. A hole-in-two. My mini-golf unlucky streak was broken!

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then, I began hitting an almost-perfect game. A hole-in-one on the second hole, followed by another two, then another one. With every great shot, I was starting to hate miniature golf a little less and less. My kids, meanwhile, were producing quite the comedy of errors. My 12 year-old son, who plays actual golf, kept overshooting every hole at least four or five times. My 17 year-old son kept getting shut out by the automatic doors on the little buldings. And my 15 year-old daughter, who has never played golf in her life, magically learned how to chip the ball. Which apparently you’re not supposed to do in mini-golf. She chipped her ball into the bushes, into a pond, and over a windmill. She might have chipped one right onto the head of one of the guests playing on a nearby hole if her aim had been a little better.


I did experience one hole that made my newfound love of the sport falter a bit. It looked deceptively easy – a somewhat straight shot toward a small hill, with the hole hidden in a dip in the center. My kids finished their shots, then for the next ten minutes, gloated as they watched me struggle. “Come on, Mom! This hole is simple!” They taunted, clearly pleased to unthrone the queen, if only for a moment.

After a round of 18 mini-holes, I had achieved the impossible — a total score of 57. I had conquered miniature golf! Whether it was due to a serious streak of good fortune, or a course designed by left-handers, I have no idea. I’m also not sure whether I had so much fun due to so many sub-par holes, or due to the fantastic company I was playing with. I just know that I would totally play mini-golf again, and without the moaning and groaning.

“Okay, Mom,” my kids said as we put away our golf clubs. “Now it’s time to go play lazer tag!”

“Oh no,” I said, as my kids shoved me back through the heavy wooden doors of the arcade castle and led me toward the battle arena. “I can’t stand lazer tag. Anything but lazer tag!”

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (aka: Christmas Choices)

It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve.

I would love to be tucked into my bed, watching visions of sugarplums dance through my head, but no such luck. Because I’m the mom.

santa-lte-night

The mom gets to sit in the living room, sipping a glass of chardonnay as Smallville plays on the television, and staring down at a pile of metal bars and chains, which, when assembled, will somehow form a bicycle. Afterward, I get to rip open yet another cardboard box and start putting together a second bicycle. Two shiny new bikes for teens who actually really need them to get to school each day.

At least, I’ve convinced myself that they need them.

I like to choose Christmas gifts based on the familiar old adage:

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
and something to read.

Pajamas? Check. Books, check. They hardest part is discerning between something my kids desire to have and something they actually need. It is something that many of us Americans struggle with in this culture of excess. We stroll through a Target store, drooling over the shelves packed with sparkling novelties. Coffee makers that produce a perfect cup of joe at the mere push of a button. Water bottles with built in filters to make our clean tap water even cleaner. Powerful tablet computers that fit in a handbag.

Oooh, I need that, we tell ourselves as we fill our red plastic shopping carts with far more items than would fit on our actual shopping lists. But in reality, we don’t. We want those things. We desire those things. But we so easily get what we want and desire mixed up with what we need.

wants-or-needs

My kids probably don’t need most of what is currently wrapped and waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Those are desired luxury items; scented lotions and electronic doodads that will bring moments of excited smiles and happy laughter as they rip open the colorful paper. My children already have what they need — healthy food, clothes that fit, and a mother who loves them like crazy. These beautiful new bikes (once they become bikes) are not a true need. They want bicycles, and I want them to have bicycles to get to school and around town. Could they have lived well without them? Absolutely. They already have.

As we transition into the upcoming new year, I hope to do a better job of separating the things that I want or desire from that which I really need. I also hope to transmit the correct value to these three terrific kids of mine, too. You can’t always get what you want. You shouldn’t always strive for what you desire. Believe it or not, life is better when you learn to be content with what you have instead of always looking to the next Big Thing that catches your attention.

Oh look — it is officially Christmas morning. And there are still these pieces of bike to be assembled. Santa doesn’t get much sleep on such a night. Time to crack open the toolkit and make this Christmas morning a merry one for my family.

I wish the same for all of you. Peace!

bmxmas

 

Never Have I Ever (aka: Stuff I Should Probably Try)

never-have-i-ever

My oldest kid, a senior in high school, did something recently that he has never ever done before. He went to his high school’s homecoming dance.

Yes, I know, lots of kids go to school dances, not a big deal. But for my son, a late bloomer, it was a first. Truth be told, he didn’t enjoy it all that much, thanks to a group of party-pooper friends who bailed halfway through. But he saw the value in attending, if only once in his lifetime. Now if I can just convince him to go to prom, too…

Have you ever played the game, Never Have I Ever? Here are the classic rules:

  • Friends sit in a circle with ten fingers pointing in.
  • Someone makes a Never Have I Ever statement, such as, “Never have I ever played Chinese Fire Drill at a stoplight.”
  • Those who have actually played Chinese Fire Drill remove one finger. Those who have never done it do not remove one finger.
  • The winner is the one who still has fingers remaining in the circle when everyone else has been eliminated.

drinking-gamesThis game sounds an awful lot like The Purity Test, which I used to play back in college and win every time, with a score of around 95% pure. And apparently, Never Have I Ever is also a popular drinking game, which I wouldn’t know, because Never Have I Ever played a drinking game of any kind.

While I’m trying to guide my kids toward taking calculated risks in life and trying a few things they’ve never tried before, I become glaringly aware of how many Never-Have-I-Evers are still on my own list. Of course, there are plenty of Never-Will-I-Evers on the list, too, like sex with a stranger, smoking cigarettes, or inciting a riot, but let’s just ignore those.

 

NEVER HAVE I EVER…


…caught a fish
(and likely won’t, unless I actually try going fishing one day).

…been intoxicated (What can I say? I’ve never had occasion to overindulge with alcohol. Once I drank three glasses of wine while relaxing at home alone, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t too affected).

…traveled somewhere that required a passport (unless you count those teen missionary trips to Mexican border towns back in the no-passport-required days).

…gone out dancing as an adult (Well to be fair, I did get to dance at a couple of weddings around 20 years ago, and once at a conference party for writers. But I’ve never been out to dance at a club, which is probably weird for someone who loves dancing as much as I do).

dont-judge-me-meme

…been on a cruise (unless you count those 1-hr. ferry tours around the San Francisco Bay, but that’s not really the same thing).

…fired a gun (And to tell you the truth, I kind of have a phobia of guns and even the idea of holding one freaks me out. Can I play the girl card?).

…played golf (Seeing as I’ve played soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and a slew of non-ball sports, too, it’s probably just a matter of time before I get sucked into golf world).

…been camping in the desert or on the beach (one of these days…).

…gone wine tasting (which is strange for someone who enjoys wine and lives less than two hours away from Napa Valley, California. But wine tasting just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one does alone).

…been to an NFL or NBA game (another thing that sounds fun to do, but not by myself. Maybe I’ll take the kids one day, when I can save up enough money).

i-have-never

This list could go on and on. There are just so many things I’ve never done which many people have by my stage of life. Some things I’m not sure I’d really want to do anyway, but others I would absolutely love to try. Some of these things I could totally choose to do at any time. Others seem just out-of-reach, either due to a lack of financial resources or a lack of social companions to do them with. In just reviewing my personal list of Never-Have-I-Evers, there are two things I can say for sure:

  1. I still have a lot of things to look forward to experiencing in life.
  2. I would totally win the game of Never Have I Ever. Which I have never played, by the way. I guess I should add that to my list.

 

The Dog Ate My Blog (aka: Lame Excuses)

Okay fine. The dog didn’t eat my blog.

In fact, we don’t even own a dog.

homework

But yes, my blog has been MIA for a couple of weeks. I had this long list of potential lame excuses as to why there haven’t been any new posts.

  • My kids have been hogging the computers. My tablet, too. And my phone.
  • I woke up one morning with blog amnesia. I remembered everything else — just forgot that I had this blog.
  • I joined a professional wiffle ball team, and we had to train for the Wiffle Ball World Series. (Okay, I just found out that that is really a thing).
  • My real parents finally arrived from Jupiter, and I spent three weeks showing them how humans live. I even gave them my copy of Earth (the Book). By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out on a vital part of your anthropology education.
  • just-didnt-do-it-excuses

Then I decided that honesty was the best policy. So I’ll be honest: I hate reading blog posts about why people haven’t been blogging lately. I hate writing about it, too. The truth is that I only have so much creative energy. And it occurred to me that I can spend it all on writing blogs, and writing mediocre poetry, or I can focus it on editing the YA novel I wrote, so that maybe someday, a publisher will want to pay me money for it and turn it into an actual book. But to reach that goal, the novel has to be super-awesome. And to write a super-awesome novel, a writer must learn to focus.

focus-on-the-important-things

Don’t take me wrong. I’m not scrapping my blog so that I can write. I’m just spending a lot less energy making sure that I post new material here every week. That’s lame, I know. But it’s so much better than coming up with lists of excuses about why I still haven’t finished editing the novel.

Like blaming the dog. Which we still don’t have.

Gold Medal Summer (aka: Let the Games Begin)

Olympic Rings

That magical time is upon us again. Every four years, we gather around our television sets to boooo our opponents, to pump our fists in the air and cheer on our favorites. USA! USA! 

No, I’m not referring to the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. Although the presidential election political circus is in high gear around this time, too.

summer games video game 80sTonight is the opening ceremony for the XXXI Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hooray! Hurrah! My kids and I plan to celebrate American-style by sitting around the television with slices of gourmet veggie pizza, commenting on the arrival of the olympic athletes and wondering where in the world countries like Tuvalu, Nauru, and Bhutan are located. Then we will ooh and aah at what’s sure to be a colorful, dizzying display of music and dancing of Brasilian Carnaval proportions.

Then finally, someone will ceremoniously light the ancient torch (insert more ooohs and aaahs), fireworks will explode overhead, and the games will officially kick off.

Rio Olympics racing runners track

I enjoy just about every sport in the Summer Games, except maybe wrestling. It’s so much fun to admire the displays of strength, speed, and grace as divers and gymnasts flip through the air, sprinters race like the wind, and soccer teams battle it out on the field. They are not only athletes – they are the elite, the amazing, the best of the best. The ones who spent hours every day training to bring home gold medals while the rest of us struggled to jog a mile on the treadmill a couple of times a week.

Our family’s favorite sport to watch during the Olympic Games is women’s artistic gymnastics. This is in part due to my 14yo daughter, the former gymnast. She once trained and competed at a level close to these elite Olympians, and still has the bulky shoulders to prove it. Some days, she is wistful, missing those chalk dust days in the gym, swinging and tumbling with her gymnastics teammates. But then she remembers how much work, commitment, and dedication it took to compete at such a level, and she is once again content to relax and cheer on Simone Biles and the rest of our national gymnastics team.

Rio Olympics 2016 Simone Biles gymnastics leap

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you are able to gather somewhere with friends or family and cheer on your favorite country as they run, swim, tumble, and jump in the ultimate sports competition. May our athletes make it through without getting bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes. And may they continue to inspire the rest of us to get off our couches and into the gym, even if our greatest competition is against ourselves. Have some pizza, on me. And – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.