4 Ways I’m Surviving Winter in Southcentral Pa.

My view on a snowy day

I have several friends who dread the winter and can’t wait for it to end. Maybe it’s due to my pasty skin and propensity to sweat, but I have always preferred colder weather. And although I’m not living in Florida, southcentral Pennsylvania has the mildest climate of any place I’ve lived. On the rare occasion that it snows, snowplows clear the roads in a timely fashion, especially compared to Indiana. I think back to one ice storm in Muncie when my mom’s car got stuck in the street in front of our house. And of course, there’s my renewed interest in skiing.

Recently I read the excellent book “Wintering” by Katherine May in which she uses the ups and downs of the winter months as a metaphor for rough patches in one’s life. May interviewed native Scandinavian, who said she was happy never to move back because of the difficulty of dealing with cold weather and snow issues daily.

That got me thinking, like May, that maybe the reason I enjoy winter is because I don’t live in a place where it disturbs my life regularly. I loved the two years I lived in Minnesota, but I was a middle schooler who didn’t have to shovel, drive, or make it to work on time.

Hibernation

When I do tire of winter (and it usually involves wind not cold), I mostly seem to find something indoors to entertain myself.

Other than my obsession with Mitchell’s college search, this year a plethora of interests have distracted me from the winds that seem even worse out here in the country.

First, I loved watching “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS on Sunday nights. The first night I started season two, Mitchell said, “What are you watching?” But as the weeks have gone on, even he warmed to the small-town British vet life that has comedy, romance, and of course adorable animals.

On a completely different note, Greg watched (for a second time) with me “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” which I found sad but interesting. Football is one of my least favorite sports. However, being related to and friends with people who find it interesting, I can’t completely ignore it. The murders are tragic and so is the idea that Hernandez’s chronic trauma encephalopathy may have contributed to his actions.

In terms of music, I am thrilled that one of my favorite bands Cloud Cult has a new song out “One Way Out of a Hole.” I first heard Cloud Cult’s lead singer, Minnesotan Craig Minowa, interviewed on ”On Being” a few years ago and after listening to the band’s music, I was hooked. The group largely avoids the commercial music industry, so I’m really excited to listen to the rest of their new album soon.

Finally, food is always something that comforts me, as long as I don’t overindulge. Let me clarify by saying — not the food I make, but rather the food others prepare. I was introduced to a new (to me) restaurant in Hershey – Simply Greek — by some tennis friends about a month ago. All the food on the menu looked delicious, but on that visit I only chose a gyro considering I had to play tennis again in a few hours. Nevertheless, it was excellent and reminded me of my doner kebab-eating days in Germany. The desserts appeared even tastier, so now I will have to go back and somehow save room for dessert.

I’ll take a picture of my food next time.

Although this winter has been milder than some, sometimes my urge to hibernate prevails. Thankfully I have had books, music, television, food and of course family, friends, and my cuddly pooch to keep me company.

A Lifetime Sport

 

Recently, while rummaging around in the attic, I came upon my high school yearbooks.

A friend wrote in my senior yearbook, “Good luck in life, and I hope you accomplish your dream of marrying a wealthy man, volunteering at the hospital and playing a lot of tennis.”

I relayed this to Greg, and he said, “Well, at least you play a lot of tennis.”

True that.

After taking a 20-year break from the sport, six years ago I ran into an acquaintance at the local coffee shop who I heard was “playing the circuit.”

Julia had just started first-grade, and I had yet to find employment of any kind.

This friend invited me to a clinic at Spooky Nook, a new facility near us. At the time, there were six indoor courts located in the middle of the work-out area. Music thumped in the background while we hit on the courts below.

As it turns out, muscle memory exists. Tennis came back easily. While exercise in general reduces stress, beating on a tennis ball is especially satisfying. It helps when the ball lands in the court.

If you asked me in high school if I would still be playing tennis at 43, I would have said no. While it was an integral part of my teen years, after high school I needed a break. From seventh-grade on, I played several days a week, year-round. I have great memories of traveling in the school van around Central Indiana to play teams like the Logansport Berries, New Castle Trojans, and the Richmond Red Devils. In the summers in high school, I spent my afternoons in a three-hour clinic, traveling to tournaments on the weekends, always stopping at Steak ‘n Shake on the way. One of my closest friends to this day I met in those summer clinics.

After playing for a couple years at Spooky Nook, I heard that the the Nook was getting rid of the courts. I ended up moving to Hempfield Recreation Center where opportunities abound. There are 10 outdoor courts, including two with a grandstand because the club hosts a professional tournament. And players almost always fill the six indoor courts. If I wanted, I could play every day of the week, morning, afternoon or night. I could play on several USTA teams, both doubles and singles, with men and women of all ages. The club holds social events on holidays and other weekend evenings.

In high school, everyone told me that tennis was a lifetime sport, but I didn’t realize I could center my social life around it.

According to a study last year, tennis players live an average of 9.7 years longer than those who participate in other lifetime sports. Experts surmised that this has to do with both the fact that it is a social sport and that tennis is similar interval training, a very effective form of exercise.

In addition to the health benefits, playing in a USTA league can offer travel opportunities as well. For the last two summers, one of my summer teams qualified for the regional tournament in Princeton, NJ. Had we won that tournament, we would have traveled on to nationals.

We didn’t win, but the experience deepened our friendships, provided the opportunity to visit a charming small town, and gave us the chance to compete on beautiful college campus.

While I would love for my children to start playing tennis now, I also want them to choose their activities. Mitchell, who is very much his own person, has followed in the footsteps of his dad and grandfathers, who played baseball. But after making a nice throw at a recent game, the coach asked him jokingly, “Where did you get that arm, Mitchell?” referring to Greg’s dad, who played professionally.

“I get it from my mom,” he said.  “She plays a lot of tennis.”

The McKenzie Manifesto

This past Memorial Day I spent a majority of my beach time reading the book, “The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life” by Mike Matheny. This is not a book I would have picked up five years ago, but with two child-athletes I knew I would find it beneficial. While the book wasn’t completely what I thought, it put some things into perspective for me.

Years ago, I never would have imagined I would be sucked into the world of youth sports. I was not a child-athlete, although I spent much of my childhood going to Bowling Green State University sporting events ranging from my least favorite football games (where I would face backwards reading a book) to my favorite ice hockey (I liked the organist and Zamboni).

I played tennis from age 12 on, but was completely oblivious to parental politics. According to my mom, there were very little. There was one coach she didn’t like, but she never said a word about it until years later.

My entry into youth sports began later on when I was an exhausted working mother of two young children.  Mitchell had so much energy that he would run circles in my kitchen and leap from one couch to another. So when I saw an ad for U-6 soccer, I signed him up. This might be the best way to enjoy my Saturdays, I thought — take the 4-year-old to soccer to run around and use up his energy. Greg was skeptical, especially after the first week when it rained. Mitchell cried and wouldn’t play. But the next week was sunny, and from then on he loved soccer. He started baseball the following spring and years passed in which he played soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring. And then suddenly he turned nine, and he had the option for travel soccer, which was a year-long commitment.

That summer, I signed Julia up for swim team, and I thought Mitchell might as well do it, too.  Because really, it makes a five hour swim meet so much more bearable if one has at least two children to watch. Once my kids tried summer swim, they decided to start swimming in the winter as well.

In fifth-grade, Mitchell added travel baseball to the mix, which brings us to the point where we are now.

As I’m writing this, I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about my own schedule.

My dad said to me recently, “At some point, Mitchell is going to have to choose,” which is what is so sad about this day and age.  Why can’t he play three sports? What ever happened to the multi-sport athletes of years past?

But it is tough to balance all the sports schedules. He ends up missing a lot of practices and at times is downright exhausted.

Even though I never played the sports my kids do, I love watching them compete. As a parent, one’s child’s ups and downs become the parent’s ups and downs. It is sometimes tougher to watch Mitchell lose a game than it is for me to lose a tennis match. Not because I get my value from his performance, which I know is a criticism of parents, but because I hate to see him disappointed. Failure is a part of life – an important part – but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch one’s kids make mistakes or lose.

For whatever reason, of the three sports Mitchell plays, baseball brings the most politics. I don’t even consider myself that competitive of a person, but I find myself praying (yes, praying to God) that Mitchell has a good game. I don’t even believe God works that way. Surely God has more important prayers to answer than whether my kid has a hit or makes a play in the field!?!

In his book, Matheny says, “Watching their kids play sports becomes many parents’ primary activity. Other parents become their main social group and their entire identity begins to revolve around their kids. All of a sudden, whether or not their kid makes the team can become almost as important as whether Dad or Mom keeps their job.”

There is much truth to that statement. I am not exempt from this group. We have met some of our closest friends from sitting together at soccer games, swim meets and baseball games. Greg often says, “What did we do with our time before we had kids?”

Eat dinner on tray tables and watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Seinfeld” re-runs?

When it comes down to it, I hope my kids continue playing sports. I want them to learn life lessons, make friends, stay out of trouble, and learn to live an active and healthy lifestyle. But as I’ve told them, more than anything I want them to be kind.

I want them to learn the importance of building up their teammates, of doing what’s best for the team rather than for the individual, and of winning and losing with class. These skills will help them succeed in life, which is our ultimate goal as parents.

Our children are not a reincarnation of ourselves as child athletes.  They are not a prize or trophy to brag about at the office, and they are not an achievement to give us self-worth.

As my grandmother used to say, “Our children are on loan to us for 18 years.”

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Photo by James McKenzie

All Things Literary

Our family spent this past weekend at a baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa., and Julia spent both of Mitchell’s Saturday games reading a book. Not only was she reading during the games, but she was also reading in the car on the way to the games, on the way to lunch between the games and during Mitchell’s warm-up for the second game.

All I could think was that she is a girl after my own heart.

A lot of my childhood was spent reading.  Even today, when I walk into a library or a bookstore, a sense of calm comes over me

Some people like to take vacations to sit on the beach and relax; others enjoy hiking and experiencing the outdoors; and others like visiting historical attractions.  To some extent, I enjoy all of these activities.  But, to me a vacation would not be complete without some type of literary tourism.

Wikipedia actually has a literary tourism page, with the following definition, “Literary tourism is a type of cultural tourism that deals with places and events from fictional texts as well as the lives of their authors.”

I would add that my definition of literary tourism also includes visiting independent bookstores, although Wikipedia calls this “bookstore tourism.”

So, yes, I am officially a nerd. But I prefer the term bibliophile.

I became aware of my bibliophilic tendencies during the sweltering summer days of 1987. My friend and I would ride our bikes down a huge hill where we lived in Minnesota to the tiny library below to pick out books and then back up the hill.

While moving across the Midwest as a 12-year-old wasn’t my idea of fun, one of the positives of moving to Minnesota and specifically, Mankato, was that it was the home of Maud Hart Lovelace and the Betsy-Tacy series. And we weren’t too far from Walnut Grove either, one of the childhood homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My interest in literary tourism only grew as I got older and met my husband. When it came time to discuss honeymoon destinations, one of my first choices was Prince Edward Island, home of the fictional character Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables.”  Luckily, Greg was kind enough to put up with my request, and we honeymooned on PEI.

In recent years, my interest has grown into visiting independent bookstores, which have now become an anomaly with the prevalence of electronic readers.

In 2011, I read a news article that Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, had opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tenn., a city I fell in love with while visiting in the 1990s. I wanted to visit the store, and by 2014 I convinced two friends to make it a girls’ weekend. Parnassus Books turned out to be charming, and Nashville was as fun and interesting as it was in the ‘90s, if not more so.

And then there is the perk of living in proximity to several major cities on the East Coast.

A few months ago our kids had a few days off school for spring conferences, so we took the opportunity to spend the weekend in Baltimore. After visiting museums and sightseeing, I informed my family that I wanted to visit a few bookstores before leaving town.

Back in 1997 a friend took me to dinner at an independent bookstore in Baltimore. Since living in Pennsylvania, I’ve been trying to locate this store/restaurant ever since. My best conclusion is that it went out of business, but that didn’t stop me from searching for other bookstores in the Baltimore area. I’d heard about The Ivy Bookshop and also read that one must-visit bookstore is Atomic Books in the Hampden neighborhood. This bookstore is known for its comic book collection as well as for its connection to the filmmaker John Waters, who frequents the bookstore and receives his fan mail there.

After spending a few minutes in Atomic Books, however, I determined that it was not the best choice to visit with kids. While they do have a small children’s section, the background music was not exactly kid-appropriate unless one is okay with children hearing multiple expletives in every song. As in most stores, Julia found a knickknack she wanted to purchase, an inflatable unicorn horn for our cat. Greg told her no and hightailed it out of there.

Thankfully, The Ivy Bookshop was our next stop and turned out to be as lovely as it sounds, with a large children’s section and classical music playing in the background.

Both my kids found books they wanted, although I cringed when Julia picked out a book from the “Captain Underpants” series. But the optimist in me always feels that it’s better to read what one chooses, even if it’s not quality literature, than to not read at all.

Eventually she will come around, I think.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to push my love of books and all things literary on her and Mitchell. And occasionally, I’m rewarded with the joy they find in reading when I see Julia absorbed in a book or when I find a note like the one below.

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Shorts in the Wintertime

At 6 a.m. on approximately 10 Saturdays a year while many people are still tucked cozily in their beds, I drag my children out of bed and into their swimsuits, sweatshirts, and towel pants and off to an early morning swim meet.

Several years ago, a friend signed her daughter up for the swim team and shared that her Saturdays in June and July were booked due to swim meets lasting from the early morning to early afternoon. I thought she was crazy. Why would she give up her Saturday morning for a swim meet, I wondered?

Fast forward five years and I found myself with a six-year-old who loved the water and seemed to have a natural ability for swimming. Combined with the encouragement of a friend who was a swim coach and other friends whose children were on the swim team, I decided that Julia would try summer swim. And, if we had to be at practice every summer morning, her nine-year-old brother might as well do it, too.

As with most new activities, my kids weren’t star swimmers, but they loved summer swim team. They already had several friends on the team, but they soon made more friends and enjoyed the fun summer practices and meets. What kid doesn’t like hanging out with his or her friends on a Saturday morning, eating candy, playing video games, and swimming competitively for a total of five minutes?

Although I was not a competitive swimmer, some of my high school friends were on the swim team, and it seemed like their families were a tight bunch. But I never gave it much thought until my children started swimming.

It makes sense. You spend almost every Saturday morning for four months of the year with the same people, and you’re going to form friendships. Not to mention that swimming parents are some of the nicest parents I’ve met. I have witnessed very little competition among parents, perhaps because it is an individual sport, and the swimmers’ times determine what heat they’re in. In what other sport do the slowest athletes get the loudest cheers?

Years later, I can see why my swimmer friends’ parents still hang out together, even though their children have been out of school for almost 25 years.

Sadly, Mitchell informed me that this will be his last year of winter swim. He is more focused on soccer and baseball and with today’s year-round sports mentality, he has become too busy.

Plus, winter swim has been tougher for my kids than summer. For one, it is a long season – lasting from September to February. Second, practices are held at the Elizabethtown College pool, which is kept at a cold temperature. It is not an easy feat to persuade Julia to go to the chilly pool for practice in the middle of winter. Finally, swimming is an intense sport that takes a lot of drive. Mitchell counted the number of laps Julia had to swim in one of her recent practices, and it totaled 33. That same day, Mitchell swam 74 laps in practice.

I am in awe of these kids’ ability and endurance.

Overall I think I do a decent job of not living vicariously through my children, but I will miss the swim team if Julia quits. Chatting with the parents, complaining about the excessive heat of the natatorium (hence the need to wear shorts), volunteering as a timer, and cheering on the swimmers has created a camaraderie that has me selfishly hoping she continues for a few more years. After all, what else would we do at 6 on a Saturday morning?

cGarber J 7 Dive great facePhoto by James McKenzie

Community

A few years ago I attended a memorial service for a friend’s mom.  One of her friends who gave a eulogy talked about what a wonderful, fun, and loyal friend this woman was. She talked about their long-term friendship and how they traveled together, supported each other through difficult times, and laughed together.

I left that service thinking, “That is what I want someone to say about me at my memorial service.”

Because, friends have always been extremely important to me. Maybe it had to do with growing up as an only child, where there were no siblings to play with.  I had cousins, but none lived close by. My neighbors and school friends were my support system. And I saw it modeled in my parents’ lives as well. Never living near family, they relied on their friends – neighbors, colleagues, and church members – for their network of support.

That is why the years of 1998 through 2004 were some of the most difficult for me so far. Some say one’s twenties should be the best years of his or her life. But for me, who met my soul mate at age 19, they were lonely years of adjusting to a new community and a new environment.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved being married to Greg, but I had a tough adjustment to Lancaster County and farm living.

Adding to my loneliness was the fact that my first job in Pennsylvania was in downtown Harrisburg in an office where I was the only employee. I enjoyed my job, but I was simply isolated a lot of the time. Greg was a farmer, which meant that he worked long hours seven days a week.

My life improved when I found a new job in Lancaster. There I found friends and a community, albeit not the community where I lived. I still lacked a meaningful connection to the small town of Elizabethtown (pop. 11,545).

In 2009 circumstances in our lives changed, and I made the decision to quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom, something I never thought I would do. It was then that developing strong friendships in Elizabethtown finally took precedence.

I joined a mom’s group, where I met friends who, like me, had moved into the area. I became more active in my church and deepened friendships there. Once my children started school and got involved in activities, I met friends that way. I prioritized inviting friends to my home for meals and coffee.

After 17 years, now I have lived in Elizabethtown longer than I have lived anywhere else. The reasons I liked the area to begin with (proximity to Baltimore, Philly, DC, NY, and ocean; natural beauty; lack of traffic; prevalence of locally-grown food) still apply, but now I am tethered to the people, too.  And incredibly thankful that life has brought me to this place.

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Some of my wonderful friends

Chocolate at the Finish Line

Running has not always been my favorite pastime. The hate started in the summer of 1988. My dad decided I was too much of a bookworm and that I should spend my summer getting exercise by running to the tennis courts, practicing my tennis and running home. While I have good memories of the time he spent with me, I dreaded the runs. That same year, I came in dead last in the eighth-grade mile run in gym class.

In high school I tried running at various times, mostly because I hoped it would improve my tennis game, but it never stuck. While studying in Germany in 1996, I furthered my half-hearted attempt by running regularly to shed weight from all the pastries and beer I consumed.

Then, I quit running until 2010. Around that time, I attended a friend’s wedding where I visited with an acquaintance who hadn’t been a runner in college. In recent years, she had participated in several races, including a marathon. Also a professor, she told me she was persistent, which is why she was able to accomplish goals like getting her Ph.D. and running a marathon.  When some friends suggested running a 5k that year, I agreed to join them.

Since that time, I have run 16 5ks, two 10ks and three half marathons. I am still not fast, nor will I ever be. But I have gained much from running. Not only is it low-cost exercise, but it is also convenient since I don’t live near a gym or well, let’s face it, near anything. For me, running is natural anti-anxiety medication. I can feel completely down when I wake up in the morning, go for a run, and feel so much better. I mostly run alone, but have strengthened many friendships by traveling to races and in some cases running with others. I have explored beautiful country roads on foot that I never would have driven down (always with my pepper spray :)). My 11-year-old son, who is faster than me, has run five 5ks with me and that has been fulfilling, too.

Tomorrow I will run in the Hershey Half Marathon for the second time and am feeling about as lukewarm as I’ve felt about a race yet. My ankle hurts, and I have a cold. But for some crazy reason, I am still looking forward to it. Driving to the race with my friend, who is running her first half, meeting up with some other good friends before the race and accomplishing a goal that I never would have believed I would achieve will make the struggle worth it. And of course, the chocolate at the finish line. 🙂

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Photos from my runs