Gridiron Glory


boy_running_with_footballI’m not a big football fan. Despite the fact that my son played the sport for many years and that America gives it almost mythological significance, the three-hour spectacle generally leaves me bored.

Still, there is something in the air when football season begins each fall. For one thing, my husband starts watching sports more often than Fox News, giving me a much-needed respite from right-wing political diatribes. As preseason stories focus on new players and team predictions, the imposing men of the gridiron dominate the media.

During my son’s teen years, I watched as he and his teammates began turning themselves from average-sized young guys into massive, bulked-up behemoths. I’d never realized that football players could be made, not born, into these giants. A simple regimen of intense weight-lifting and large amounts of food was all it took to make my boy into the Incredible Hulk. My fellow mothers of linemen surely must feel as I do. Where did our little boys go?

Tonight marks the football home opener at our local high school. For weeks I’ve seen local news stories, banners and posters, and social media posts talking up the start of Red Devil season. The cheerleaders are decked out in costume, the band is tuning up, and the stadium is getting a spruce for tonight’s kickoff. Excitement is in the air.

My son will be on hand to see his Red Devil heirs take the field. It’s fun to see him still excited about high school football, which is so much less polished but more wild and woolly than college or professional ball. Although his own football days are behind him, I can easily imagine him returning here to his hometown and coaching his own boys in the youth league. Football is as much a part of him as his dark eyes and mischievous smile.

I may not take in many games myself this fall, but I’ll savor my loved ones’ enjoyment of the sport as the days turn cool and the leaves start to fall. I’ll tend to the pot of chili on the stove as College Game Day cheers emanate from the television. It’s football season. Let the games begin!



Summer Cold



It started earlier this week when my husband had a runny nose and nonstop sneezing. Sure that it was his allergies, he was disappointed in the failure of Claritin D to stop the onslaught. Then that evening, I started to feel it: the telltale tickle in the back of my throat that signaled an oncoming cold. Allergies indeed.

Having a summer cold is a strange phenomenon. While everyone is out and about on a beautiful sunny day, I am stuck on the couch with a box of tissues. Colds make sense in the depth of winter when the sun hasn’t been seen for days and the air is frigid. Then it seems appealing to have a cup of hot tea with honey or a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup. But since it’s sunny and warm these days, I’ve been using cold food and beverages – mostly water, but also the occasional bowl of ice cream – to assuage my sore throat.

I had all kinds of plans for cooking my son’s favorite dishes before he returns to college in a week. But since I look and sound like a plague victim, it seems unsafe to be handling food. And I had also planned to watch my daughter play soccer on this lovely morning, rare for August in Chicago, when the temps are moderate and the humidity low. But the weight I felt on my chest this morning when I woke up told me it would be best to get some extra rest.

Summer colds are a drag – unexpected, unpleasant, and inconvenient. In the scheme of things, I guess, my little cold is no big deal. With all my downtime, I’ve been reading a novel about a virus that turns people into vampires, creatures that the futuristic characters in the book call “virals.” In comparison, my bout of sneezing and sniffles seems like a summer breeze.


Summer Song



A summer morning is the best time to hear the birds. High up in the trees, they tweet and trill and shriek their secret language while I walk along, out early to beat the August heat. Summer mornings in suburbia are quiet. Many of my neighbors are off on summer vacations. Kids sleep in, and parents enjoy the unaccustomed hush. The only other sounds I hear on my morning walk are the hiss of lawn sprinklers and the occasional whoosh of a car on asphalt.

The sounds of summer are pretty much the same ones I remember from my childhood. As the day gets going, lawnmowers roar, garbage trucks squeak by, and air conditioners hum. (Well, I guess some sounds are newer. No air conditioning in my childhood!) Kids come out and play, and their laughter and chatter can be heard on the breeze, as well as their splashing at the local public pool.

One of my favorite summer sounds is the rumble of thunder in the distance as heavy clouds roll in and a storm heads our way. Of course, I only enjoy these storms when I am safe inside with a good book. But when we lived in California, thunderstorms were one of the natural phenomena I missed most. They’re so fleeting, yet so dramatic.

As the sun goes down on a late summer day, the symphony takes to the trees once again. This time the sound is the pulsing whistle of hundreds of cicadas hidden in the upper reaches of our giant maples and elms. It’s so mysterious. You seldom actually see one of these hideous creatures other than the occasional cicada carcass that falls on the ground or the shell left behind as one grows. Yet they are undoubtedly there, singing and mating and enjoying their too-short lives.

By the time darkness falls, I am usually safely ensconced indoors, away from mosquitoes and their blood-sucking ways. Inside I’m surrounded by the sounds of modern life: the drone of TV voices, the hum of the fridge, the gentle clinks and sloshes inside the dishwasher, and nowadays the occasional ping of a smartphone receiving a text.

Tomorrow there will be the same nature songs to enjoy even as summer starts to wane and my daughter heads back to school.

Thinking about the sounds of summer reminds me of an old Chad and Jeremy number titled “Summer Song.” “They say that all good things must end some day,” sing the pop duo. So let’s enjoy them while we may.

Stupid Things To Do In Summer


Screen_Shot_2017_07_03_at_1.34.23_PM.0.pngWith Memorial Day around the corner, our fancy turns to all things summer. In the spirit of the upcoming season, I’m happy to provide a PSA on what NOT to do this summer. You’re welcome.

This summer, please don’t:

  1. Leave children or pets in hot cars.
  2. Take kids tubing on a lake without a spotter to watch them constantly.
  3. Go out into the woods without being covered in DEET.
  4. Go outside after dark without being covered in DEET.
  5. Leave anyone in a hot car.
  6. Go on a diet during barbecue/ice cream season.
  7. Drink and go boating.
  8. Drink and drive.
  9. Drink and slice watermelon.
  10. Leave mayonnaise-laden foods outside for long periods of time.
  11. Leave children unattended in any body of water.
  12. Play with fireworks.
  13. Go out in the sun without sunscreen.
  14. Fail to hydrate.
  15. Touch any three-leaf patterned plants.

I’m sure there are other potential hazards looking to spoil our summer fun. Lawn mowing, for instance, can be extremely dangerous, especially if you do it in flip flops. Sports related injuries also increase in the summer as the warm weather encourages weekend warriors to get out and run, bike, swim, rollerblade and play frisbee.

With a little common sense, though, we can fully enjoy the glory of long, warm summer days, balmy evenings roasting marshmallows by the fire, and time spent outdoors with family and friends.

So break out your white shorts and start summering it up this Memorial Day! (Safely, please)

One Man’s Weeds



The dandelions are popping up all over a field near my house as spring finally makes an appearance here in the Midwest. On the less tended lawns of my neighborhood, the profusion of cheerful yellow gladdens me.

Why are dandelions considered weeds, plants that need to be eradicated with toxic chemicals? They look so lovely, at least until they go to seed. Even then, the fuzzy grey tops are fun to blow on and scatter.  And you can even make wine out of dandelions!

Walking around our yard with an expert in horticulture, my husband and I will point to plants and ask, “Is that a weed?” I sometimes feel that if you have to ask, maybe you should just leave it be.

As in other areas of culture, deciding what makes a beautiful or desirable plant is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. For instance, we have a Japanese maple in our front yard that my hubby despises. But one would hardly call it a weed. I realize that some plants take over and kill grass or other plants. So I understand why you might want to get rid of such weeds. And truth be told, the foliage of the lowly dandelion is nothing to write home about.

Still, after a long hard winter, I am ready to welcome just about any growing thing around my yard and my neighborhood. Even the cheeky dandelions.

Phat Tuesday


koJYM-1.So.79The crowd inside my favorite neighborhood bakery this morning could only mean one thing: suburbanites stocking up on paczki – those over-the-top Polish doughnuts filled with all kinds of sweet things – and king cakes, the traditional rings of pastry favored by New Orleans residents to celebrate Mardi Gras. I, of course, had to pick up my share of these delicacies for one last hurrah before giving up sweets for Lent.

Tomorrow begins a six-week season of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. While our meatless Fridays and traditions of giving up something we enjoy for Lent feel painful, other Christians, particularly Orthodox and Eastern Rite faiths, have much more stringent rules for fasting during Lent. Many eschew all dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent. Some fast every morning until noon. Compared to these dedicated believers, I’m a piker.

I also must confess to the somewhat selfish motivations behind my abstinence from sweets. I’m hoping it will make me slimmer, healthier, and less addicted to sugar come Easter Sunday. Still, I find it important to mark the season with some sort of sacrifice.

So “Fat Tuesday” has become a fun day of indulgence for me and my family. Around the world revelers will be celebrating in grand style. There is, of course, the legendary decadence of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the streets are littered with beads and partiers drink too many hurricanes. And the granddaddy of all festivities is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, where millions of people parade through the streets in outlandish costumes and the party lasts 5 days.

Compared to those festivities, my plan of pigging out on king cake and staying up late to read the latest John Grisham thriller seems a little tame. Still, I plan to indulge myself, enjoy myself, and laissez les bons temps rouler!


Under the Weather


chiberia-7-1050x700-7244You’d have thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding into town the way weather reports heralded the arrival of a devastating Ice Storm that was projected to halt life as we know it. In what is becoming all too frequent an occurrence, the schools put out a message that early morning activities would be canceled and school possibly opened a couple of hours late to avoid the treachery of streets and sidewalks coated in ice. It did rain last night, but the predicted life-threatening conditions never arrived. My daughter disappointedly headed to school at her usual time, and life went on.

The drama of this late winter season has gotten to me. Last week’s dumping of snow followed by record low temperatures across the Midwest – a situation that meant 3 days of school closures – made an ordinary week an ordeal. Then an unseasonable thaw gives way to a new storm with potentially dangerous icy conditions. I am so over Winter 2019.

Each time we dig out and take the time for a sip of hot cocoa, another storm system starts heading our way. Or the polar vortex comes swooping down and forces us to wrap ourselves up in cocoons. Last week I kept seeing that Chicago was colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and probably Uranus. (Cue the sophomoric jokes.)

It does not help that meteorologists have taken to giving these storms names. Back in the day, only hurricanes were named, and in less enlightened times, those names were all female. Nowadays, though, we need high drama with everything, including our weather reports. I appreciate being apprised of conditions that might affect travel and safety. But either weather prognosticators need to get better at their predictions or reporters need to become more measured in their response to potential weather events. This “The sky is falling” approach to weather reporting has got to end. We have enough drama with our politics these days. And the doomsday scenarios only give my kid false hope for another canceled school day. With the way this winter is going, she will be making up snow days in July!

Meanwhile that famous rodent Punxsutawney Phil has supposedly predicted an early spring. If only, Phil. If only.