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!”

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!

Pompons and Ponytails (aka: High School Cheerocracy)

When I was eight years old, every girl I knew wanted to be a cheerleader. We used to imitate the high school cheerleaders by shaking our cheap dime-store pompons and chanting the only cheer that every eight year-old girl knew:

 

“Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

The boys have the muscle

The teachers have the brains

But the girls have the sexy legs, so we won the game!”

 

cheerleaders cheering

 

I will not even address how that cheer was so wrong in so many ways, although my inner feminist is screaming. I will now duct tape shut the mouth of my inner feminist while I share this next part with the world:

My 14 year-old daughter wants to be a cheerleader.

It’s true. She wants to try out for her high school squad and become a bonafide, short-skirt-wearing, pompon shaking cheerleader. I know. But she has good reasons that, thankfully, are much more valid than sexy legs and popularity. She misses gymnastics.

competitive cheer tumbling

As I shared in another post a few years ago, my kid was once a level-8 competitive gymnast. However, she did not have Olympic aspirations, and I did not have an Olympic-sized budget, and so she retired at the end of a great season. Since then, my daughter has been learning to redefine herself outside of the gym and chalk dust, and exploring new sports, like recreational soccer, cross-country, and track. She enjoys it, but she still grows wistful at the sight of athletes flipping through the air or dancing across the floor. After watching a bunch of high school squads doing basket tosses, tumbling, and scorpion lifts on TV, my daughter came to a decision. She was going to try out for the cheer squad. And so next week, I will join the parents of    other cheer-hopefuls at a meeting, where they will tell us how we will have to sell everything we own just to pay for the uniform and participation fees.

Oh wait, that was gymnastics.

 

cheerteamontrack

 

I once thought I would be more excited to have a daughter interested in becoming a cheerleader. After all, I was once a cheerleading coach.

Oops…my inner feminist just died of a heart attack, I think. Oh well.  Time to free Cheer Girl from my girly-girl closet for a moment and confess to the world: I WAS A MIDDLE SCHOOL COMPETITIVE CHEER COACH! Look, I was in my early twenties, okay? Pre-kids, post-college, teaching Kindergarten at a private school which just happened to need a cheer coach. So I stepped in and taught a group of girls how to do Herkies, and stunt, and do real cheers that weren’t just lame Steppy-Clappy cheers.

(Example of Steppy-Clappy cheer):

“Ready? OK!

It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot in here

There must be some Toros in the atmosphere!”

 

This is a Cheerocracy

No, we were much cooler than that. We went to an expensive cheer camp. We competed against other squads who did basket tosses and wore fake curly ponytails. We were the wanna-be middle school version of those snotty teenagers in Bring it On.

 

Cheer stunting silhouette“ONE! We are the Eagles

TWO! A little bit louder

THREE! I still can’t hear you

We are number ONE!”

 

See what happens when I let Cheer Girl out of the closet? Give me a second while I stuff her back in, right next to Elle Woods and the girl from Clueless. But I’ll still keep my inner feminist under wraps until after my daughter tries out for the cheer squad. And maybe until I satisfy this sudden urge to re-watch Bring it On.

Welcome to the Machine (aka: High on Tennis)

world-famous tennis player SnoopyMy kids and I decided to join a club.

It’s nothing fancy – just a local tennis and swim club, where we can spend time exercising as a family. My 14 year-old daughter is thrilled about the workout equipment and yoga classes. My 11 year-old can’t wait to use the pool. And my 16 year-old finally gets to take tennis lessons, which he’s been requesting for ages.

This weekend, however, the kids went off to visit their dad, and I headed to the club alone, racquet in hand. There was a drop-in tennis group, and tonight would be my first time joining them.

tennis loveFirst of all, I am not a newb to the tennis world. I have been an avid fan of the sport since the Williams sisters first made a splash and opened up my eyes to a sport that quickly became one of my favorite addictions (after soccer, of course). Do I play tennis? Occasionally, is what I always answer. Of course for me, occasionally meant dusting off my racket once a year or so and playing a clumsy match against other unskilled opponents. A couple of years ago, I discovered a local Meetup group and have ventured out a number of times for drop-in matches at local parks. It can be a lot of fun.

However, tonight’s tennis group was all about technique. After a few of my shots went wild, one of the more experienced players explained the difference between approaching the ball with my racket open or closed. Then another player, who turned out to be a tennis instructor, pointed out that I stopped short on every hit.

“Trust your follow-through,” he said. “It should be kind of like a golf swing.” I looked at him blankly. I had never played golf. “Or like a baseball swing.” He demonstrated a two-handed backhand, not stopping short as I had, but swinging the racket all the way through. Aha! A lightbulb flicked on in my head. I had played softball for a few years as a kid. I understood how to swing something all the way through to hit a ball. I just didn’t know I could do that in tennis, too.

Then the instructor introduced me to the Best Thing Ever. AKA, the ball machine. I had never used a ball machine to practice tennis before. For the first few minutes, I swung awkwardly, forgetting all the technique tips. The ball flew wild, to the left and the right.

tennis snoopy angry

But here’s the great thing – no one else was on the court to see me fail. I could try again and again, and try different things, and there was no criticism. I got to be my own coach.

“Okay now,” I told myself, switching into auto-coach mode. “Two handed-grip. Approach with a closed racket. Trust your follow-through.” The Machine spit out another ball. And THWACK! My backhand sent the ball sailing over the net for a perfect shot. The Machine pitched me another, and THWACK! Another incredible shot.

And suddenly, I had found it. The sweet spot. That place inside me where flames ignite, and passion takes over. It was Machine and me versus our grand opponent, the Court. My mission: backhand the heck out of each ball and land them inside the lines. And I did, again and again.

THWACK! Take that, Venus and Serena! THWACK! Take that Sharapova! THWACK! Take that, Azarenka and Clijsters! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!

tennis balls

I was in the zone. I’m pretty sure that someone else was waiting to use the ball machine, but my new-and-improved backhand and I were locked in a relentless battle. I hit the ball over and over. When I failed, my mental coach yelled at me to make the correction and get it right. When I hit a successful shot, I cheered silently. The Machine and I kept going until the club was closing and the staff begged me to quit. Okay, I’m totally kidding. When the mosquitoes came out, and the court lights flickered on, I finally decided it was time to give the Machine a break. I drifted home, high on tennis elation.

The next morning, I woke up and groaned. I could barely move. I felt like I had thwacked myself all over with my racquet. I could have rested until the soreness went away, but I had another, more intense tennis group lesson scheduled that morning. So I did what any sane person would do – popped a couple of Advil, grabbed my pretty pink racquet, and headed back to the club for another hit of one of my favorite drugs.

 

Pink Cleats and Salt (aka: Still a Soccer Mom)

I am still a soccer mom.

I know; that’s kind of a weird thing to say when none of your three kids even play soccer anymore. My oldest, who played soccer since preschool, quit after not making the high school team. My daughter, the former competitive gymnast, tried soccer for one year, then decided she was more into track and cross-country. The youngest kid detests sports of any kind. Go figure.

But I am still a soccer mom. I am as passionate as ever about the sport, and will happily spend an entire weekend shouting at the television, rooting for my favorite teams from around the world and here in the USA (while doing homework, of course). And though my kids no longer play the sport, I am currently on two indoor soccer teams and one outdoor team.

Yes, outdoor soccer. That’s my newest adventure, running around in the wet, muddy grass on a field that seems as large as three football fields by the end of the game. Here’s a picture of my favorite ball and my pretty pink cleats, which are now muddy and not-so-pretty:

Tiare Soccer Ball and Pink Shoes 2015 (2)

Am I any good at it? Well, if you judge the skill of a forward by her ability to score goals, then I’m not very good yet. And maybe I’ll never be quite as good as the other women I play with, many of whom have been playing outdoor soccer for years and have far more skill. But it’s fun. Mostly.

Here’s the part that’s not fun: all the running. I am just not that into running. I love to run fast, but only for like, ten seconds. After that, I’m ready for a nap. That’s why I’m not a midfielder (unless I have to be).

Here’s the other part that’s not fun: the salt.

Yes, you read that right. Apparently, whenever I play outdoor soccer, I sweat salt. Great salty beads that drip into my eyes and sting like soap. Salty sweat that crusts on my skin and clothes when it dries, so I look like I rolled in chalk after each game.

Yeah, I know it’s just salt, but IT’S SO GRODY!! Ew!

Apparently, salty sweat is a perfectly natural, healthy thing. It tends to happen to athletes who eat a low-sodium diet, which I guess I do (unless I’m eating my favorite food, popcorn). So I just have to wipe the salt from my brow, drink a lot of Gatorade, and suck it up until I can get home and hop in the shower (not a bath, unless I want to turn the tub into a mini-ocean).

More on this salty sweat thing: http://www.training-conditioning.com/2007/08/09/salt_in_their_sweat/index.php

Yesterday, I did something really crazy. I played in a women’s soccer tournament. That meant three games in one day. That also meant two small bottles of water, two large bottles of Gatorade, and a very, very long shower afterward. And then what did this soccer fanatic do? No, sadly, I missed the USA vs. Mexico soccer match (which we lost, thanks to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez). Instead, I baked sugar cookies with my kids, then snuggled with them on the couch, watching Pitch Perfect 2. Because I’m a soccer mom. And the Mom part always comes first.

C Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Winterguard: Sport of the Arts

In high school, I was involved in marching band, along with thousands of other artistic teens with no life. (Just kidding – I totally had a life back then). However, I was not musically talented enough to march through the streets with a huge, shiny sousaphone, trumpet, or flute. Nope. I was a member of the pageantry unit.

Okay look. Pageantry unit members deserve more respect. Please do not call us “flag twirlers,” or worse, wannabe cheerleaders. Because please – cheerleaders could not do half the skills that the colorguard could do. That is, at least not my colorguard. You may call us PUMs, colorguard members, talented dancers, or, if you prefer, the goddesses of marching band who were much more interesting to watch than the uniformed clones with their funny hats and horns.

(Kidding, kidding! I love musicians. Musicians rock.)

In the fall and spring, the colorguard serves as mostly a support unit for the marching band – a show of pageantry to add visual interest and get the crowd excited (okay STOP the cheerleader comparisons. So not the same thing!). However, in the winter, the colorguard finally gets to break away from the musicians and shine in an arena that belongs only to them. Well, to them and the percussionists.

Winterguard.

Winterguard dancer

I can probably speak for many members and former members of colorguard when I say that Winterguard was the best, most exciting part of the marching band year. So much so that I will only write it with a capital W. Oh wait…you’ve never heard of Winterguard? Seriously? Where on earth have you been? Winterguard is where color meets sound in a dazzling display. Winterguard is the showcase of the band pageantry world. Winterguard is an exciting explosion of talent, skill, music, and…okay wait. I’m probably not explaining it well. Perhaps this video will help:

Just in case that did not help, here is a simpler explanation. Winterguard is a performing arts competition involving colorguard teams (although the percussion units have their own portion). It often involves a blend of dance and equipment work, with props such as flags, sabers, and rifles (no, not real ones). Most Winterguard team members then go home and twirl broomsticks, baseball bats – basically anything long and straight. (Some of us still do this, years later).

Sadly, high school budgets have made marching band programs all but extinct, including colorguards. So I won’t get a chance to push my kids into getting involved at their schools.  However, many independent guards exist around the country. Or perhaps around the world, judging by the name of the main organization, Winterguard International. Thanks to these independent guards, many talented young musicians, percussionists, and yes, colorguard members can still perform and compete against other teams. And Winterguard fans, like I, can still sit in the stands and cheer on the creative young athletes as they participate in the sport of the arts.

Mom’s Yelling at the TV Again (aka: Cheering On My Teams)

Gritar a la pantalla“Mom’s yelling at the TV again,” I’ve overheard my kids say on more than one occasion. And, of course, they are usually right – especially during the weekends, which tend to revolve around two things: kids’ sports and my TV sports schedule. On weekends when the kids are home, they’ve learned to put up with having a mom who is constantly yelling things at the TV screen, like, “COME ON YOU IDIOTS! GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME!” or “WHAT DO YOU MEAN A YELLOW CARD? ARE YOU BLIND, REF?” Not to mention the gasps, groans, and cheers as I watch my favorite athletes stumble, miss, or score.

Seattle Sounders Clint Dempsey

My current favorite MLS team are the Seattle Sounders — in part due to this guy, Clint Dempsey, and in part due to their awesome XBOX uniforms.

I know, I know, the players and refs can’t really hear me. But it is fun to get absorbed in the game, and to pretend that I am there in the stands with my invisible group of friends, decked out in my team’s colors, sloshing my drink around and rooting for my team at the top of my lungs. “WOOHOOO! GO TEAM, YOU CAN DO IT!”

 

 

My Favorite Hot Tennis Players

My two favorites are right up front – Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.

Now that the Barclay’s Premier League and La Liga’s seasons have come to an end (with Atletico Madrid disappointingly walking away with the title and Manchester City deservingly so); my attention has turned toward three competitions: ATP tennis matches (Nadal, Federer, Serena Williams, Sharapova, Andy Murray), MLS soccer (Seattle Sounders, San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy), my local USL-Pro soccer team (Sac Republic), and the 2014 World Cup (which begins next month – GO USA!!).

Naturally, all of these great sports will mean an awful lot of yelling at the television screen. I guess I’d better invest in some ear plugs for my kids. 😉 World Cup 2014