Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

... and the Winners are....

Rule # 50   - Just enjoy!

     What a difference a year makes!

     Last year, I watched the Super Bowl - watched what got to be a great game, some great commercials, had fun, ate great food, and cut down the commentators and their bro-mances with certain players.

     This year, I watched the Super Bowl - watched what got to be a great game, some great commercials, had fun, ate great food, and cut down the commentators and their bro-mances with certain players.

      Sounds like same stuff, different year? Not hardly, Hon! My AFC team, the Baltimore Ravens, made it to the top of the mountain as Super Bowl Champs. I had a reason to watch the game this year.

     Now, I must confess to being a rabid sports fan. Never was much for playing the games, myself, except for a little softball as a pre-teen. My senior year of high school was spent with the marching band, as a majorette. But family gatherings, up South Jersey way, always ended up with a “discussion” of the Phillies or the Eagles and how they were faring that year. Once the Broad Street Bullies got their game on, family time also revolved around the Flyers. We became an army of armchair coaches, like every other Philly fan. We always knew more than anyone overpaid to work for any Philadelphia team. We alone were allowed to call our guys “Bums” on a regular basis. We perfected the Boo Bird chant. We taught the Philadelphia Daily News how to hold the sports teams accountable.

     But then Hub and I got sent overseas. We spent three years as guests of Japan. In our absence, we lost track of the Philadelphia teams from a personal perspective. Oh, yes, our families wrote about the Flyers and 76’ers. We heard about the Freedom. But it just wasn’t the same as living it.

     When we got back to the States – or as they told us, rotated to CONUS – we ended up living in the space between Baltimore and Washington. It wasn’t hard to get back into the swing of fandom. There was the Redskins, with Joe Theissman. There were the Orioles and Earl Weaver (God rest his soul) and Jim Palmer. The Colts were still Baltimore’s team, though the owner was a butthead, even then. We could root, root, root for the home teams, because there were so many of them.

     But then, on a dark and snowy night, the Colts skulked out of Baltimore, along with all the history and tradition that belonged to the city. Our loyalties became a tale of two cities – Baltimore in the summer, Washington in the fall, and winter with the Capitals and Bullets – now the Wizards (Cheering for the Wizards is hard. I mean, really…. Go Wiz?)

     Bring on Art Modell moving the Cleveland Browns from that city to Baltimore. We fans were very conflicted with this. We Baltimore football fans wanted a team so badly… but we didn’t really want to take someone else’s team. We knew what it felt like to have a team and its management middle finger the fans as they cross the city limits. But, it worked out for both cities in that Baltimore got a team, and a new beginning; and Cleveland got to keep the name and history. Within two years, the Dog Pound of the Cleveland Browns was woofing up a storm. It was still hard to say “That-other-city Colts”, though.  For so long, they were the Indianapolis Irsays. The name Colts did not belong with Indianapolis – even after their great success with Peyton Manning at the helm. As a die-hard, I’m not sure it does now, either. But the past several years with the Baltimore Ravens has definitely erased the pain of the move.

     Now this crazy city has its second Super Bowl championship! This is after a wild and crazy run by Robert Griffin, III, and the Washington Redskins. There was hope for an I-95 Super Bowl. This was after playoff baseball by both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles – something not seen in this area in decades. We didn’t have time to miss the Capitals and hockey… we still are waiting for them to show back up to "play". The Capitals record leaves a lot to be desired so far in this shortened season. (So does the Flyers record)

     And what a season 2012-2013 was! The birds of a Purple Feather were 10 and 6 by the end of the regular season. Everyone in the national media was defining the word “choke” with “John Harbaugh and the Ravens in the post season.” Each game had the media prognosticators going for the other team, and not Baltimore. There were a few rebels in the crowd – and my hat and thanks go to Steelers Coach Cowher for sticking with us all the way. This bunch of Ravens seemed to thrive on being the underdog. And the game itself was billed as the "Har-bowl". Brothers were meeting as competing head coaches for the first time in a Super Bowl. They met before on the football battlefield on Thanksgiving 2011. This game had more back stories than your average blockbuster movie.

     And what did these disrespected underdogs turn up and do on Sunday, February 3? They came out and dominated the first half with fantastic play – and they quieted Phil Simms a bit, who questioned South Jersey native Joe Flacco’s ability. They chased Boomer Esiason from the half-time dais. They ran back a second half kick-off 108 yards for a touchdown. Thank you, Jacoby Jones!

     Then came the blackout! And afterward, things got really interesting. Let’s just say that Joe Flacco’s dad is not the only one with conspiracy theory ideas on the blackout’s cause.

     Oh, the nerves during that last quarter!! The 49ers came back and made it so close – too close for comfort. That last two minutes – well, let’s just say that I now have nothing to manicure. The last 11 seconds – you had Sam Koch do what? The last 4 seconds – oh, my heaven, they did it again! Now it was time to watch the Ravens celebrate. It was time to watch two brothers meet on the field of battle in the aftermath.

     I am totally convinced that John and Jim Harbaugh are THE classiest coaches in any professional sport today. ‘Nuff said!

     Celebrate, we all did. The bars in downtown Baltimore emptied onto the streets. They rocked the place, but not to the point where there were criminal offenses. We had a parade through the downtown area of the city. It ended at M&T Bank Stadium – a.k.a. the Purple Palace. Everyone was having a great time… and no one was getting ridiculously crazy!

     Baltimore may have been defined by cable shows like “Homicide – Life on the Streets” and “The Wire”. True, there is a part of the city that resembles those shows. But our sports teams are raising the behavior bar. We now expect our fans to party hearty but not insanely. And our fans are coming through.

     Now we have a few days to catch our collective breath before our birds of an Orange Feather send pitchers and catchers to Sarasota for spring training. And in a little more than a month, Buck’s Boys will be back in town.

     Ahhhhhhhh! Cue Queen… We are the Champions!
     Is this a great place or what?!

Photo credits - Thank you to CBS Sports and Baltimore Ravens! All photos are public domain.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On the Road... Again!

Rule #46 – Learn something from every experience.

     For years, I’ve been the family navigator on trips. I’d sit in the passenger seat, with maps out and directions out, charting where we were on the road, and how far it was to the next rest stop. When you travel with kids – and future old people – finding rest stops is priority one. I really enjoyed following the maps, being the visual person I am. 

     Last October changed things dramatically, and not by my choice. Now I’m flying solo, so to speak. My late husband used to do all the driving. Now, it’s all up to me. And I’m finding that driving and reading maps are not activities that a person can participate in at the same time – at least, safely. It’s either drive or read the maps and directions.

     In reality, I did do some of the driving on our road trips. Hub would sit in the passenger seat, and hold on for dear life. He never relaxed when I drove. He’d held on to the “Jesus bars” so tight, it would be white knuckle time. Yes, he’d criticize. Yes, I’d yell back. Yes, I’d threaten to put him out on the side of the road, if he didn’t stop complaining. Yes, I’d gently explain that there was no “right” way to drive a route and he could get over his ideas that his way is the only way. I was in charge… and he wasn’t too happy when I was in charge.

     By the way, those “Jesus bars” I’m talking about… that’s the name our family gave to the safety grab bars on the door and/or roof of the car. When we were teaching our kids to drive, they would push the limits of parental civility at times. That’s when I would grab the bar and start to pray, “Oh Jesus! Save me!” So, hence, the name “Jesus bars”.

     I decided that I would continue our tradition of taking road trips. We still had 2 trips planned before the end of the year, and I was determined to take both of those trips. One of them was to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Not being too familiar with the roads that lead to my destination, I dug out the directions and maps. Then I realized that I’d have to make a choice. Do I memorize the directions and just drive? Do I keep maps and directions open so I can check periodically? Do I break down and get a GPS unit?

     I remember using a GPS on a trip Hub and I took years ago. We were heading to Maine and trying to avoid the interstates… especially traveling through New York City. We rented a car with a GPS in it. Hub programmed it and it worked really well for a while. We actually enjoyed hearing the voice say “continue on I-287”. But then Hub’s directions took us a bit “off the beaten path”. We started on the Taconic Parkway, which is a great drive with scenic views. We took local roads up to Killington Vermont. Every time we ventured from the programmed route, we heard “Make a U-turn at the next safest location.” When the U-turn didn’t happen we heard “Recalculating” come from the micro-chipped voice. We got to a point where we were mimicking the voice, saying “recalculating” with her. We’d answer her “Yes, Dear” and then ignore her. Then Hub, decided to just drive the GPS unit crazy. By the time we got to Meredith, New Hampshire, we were both laughing ourselves silly with every turn we made. GPS became on-board entertainment for the long trip through the wilderness of central Maine.

     Both Hub and I talked about getting an updated GPS system for our road trips. But we both agreed, in spite of the laughter, we’d go it old school, with maps and directions. Okay, so we rerouted using Google Maps at the end of each day. But Google Maps was our only salute to technology. We just like to head out on to the open road and see what happened.

     But now things are different. It was just me, myself, and I heading to Massachusetts this past November. I gave in and got a Garmin. I now have this female voice telling me how to get where I want to go.
View from a Garmin GPS unit

I opened the box, freed Ms. Garmin from her bubble-wrapped prison, charged her up, and we made peace. I put in the routes I planned to take. I added the destination address to my “favorites”. Then I threw my stuff in the car and headed north. Then I found out how flexible her mind really was. She was programmed for the “fastest route”. Folks, the trip from Maryland to Massachusetts brings the “fastest route” directly through New York City, via the Cross Bronx Expressway. I’ve been stuck on the Cross Bronx before, even when the Yankees weren’t playing at home.

Cross Bronx Expressway

It doesn’t matter the time of day. That is so NOT the “fastest route”. But when I “told” her, by way of taking I-287 instead, she kept arguing with me to turn around. She finally got the message and “recalculated”.
Cross Bronx Expressway, near the George Washington Bridge

     We continued to argue as I turned on to I-684, a route that takes you directly to I-84 at the Connecticut line. From there it was smooth sailing all the way to the Mass Pike (I-90)… or so I thought. That day, there happened to be a massive accident between two exits on I-84, with fatalities. The road was closed between those two exits. It was after dark and I didn’t trust getting off the road and taking the many unlit back roads through Connecticut and Massachusetts. So I stayed put and chugged along, laughing at the guy behind me. He opened his windows up, cranked up his music and sang along at the top of his lungs. Hey, we weren’t moving anywhere, so I got treated to a floor show.
Add darkness, and this was the traffic jam on I-84

     Ms. Garmin delivered me right to the doorstep of my destination with no further argument. She got me home too, but I managed to shut her up for a while. You see, I was driving the part of South Jersey that I know like the back of my hand. I could drive I-295 in my sleep… in fact, I think I did drive it in my sleep once. But I took my tried and true route home, and stuck to my guns. Ms. Garmin got so tired of telling me “recalculated” routes that she quietly “recalculated” for a half hour. Then she figured out my route and spoke up again. Human victory over the microchip!
   She’s been a great help on subsequent trips, even if she’s along just so I have someone to argue with as I drive. It’s fun to have her sit on the dashboard showing me the next turn, and mispronouncing the names of the streets. She murders some of the Indian-named highways in Virginia.

Notice the spider web of streets, criss-crossing each other at odd angles
     Ms. G proved her worth on my recent trip to the wedding of a friend in downtown D.C. Now, if you’ve ever seen a birds-eye-view map of the capital city, you wonder how they laid out the roads, what they were thinking (or worse), and how did they crowd so much into so little space. I plugged the address of the ceremony into Ms. Garmin and she got me directly to the location. I started having more faith in her as she got me through a few crazy D.C. intersections. Then I relaxed and let her lead the way. I got to the ceremony with some time to spare. Then it was off to the reception. Ms. Garmin got me through 3 circles, including the dreaded DuPont Circle, with no problems. I’m sure the drivers behind me were not using all their fingers as they waved at me, but no matter. I drove in unfamiliar parts of the city with no problem. And she deposited me on my doorstep when the trip was over. Way to go, Ms. G!

     I learned a lot through these experiences. First, I learned that I can travel distances alone. I’ve been driving back and forth to Philadelphia and South Jersey by myself for years. But now I have the confidence to branch out, head out into the wilderness. Next, I learned that I need a travel partner for long trips, even if it is a computer. It really helps to have someone to talk to… or yell at. I feel more comfortable, too, when I do advance planning using a maps program from the internet, so I learned to keep that working for me. I learned, too, that I need to get my behind back to D.C. as a tourist – and soon! I’ve been missing a lot down there and I need to catch up. Lastly, I learned that there is no true substitute for a good, old-fashioned map. Many of mine are out of date, so I stopped at AAA to replace them. Thank you, AAA.

     Notes to self for future trips – update Ms. G and keep her updated. Double check the settings before each trip. Pack the maps you will need, just in case Ms. G gets an attitude and spends more time than necessary “recalculating”.

     Ah, yes… the dynamic duo of Ms. Garmin and fresh maps. I won’t leave home without them.

     And Self, get your touring self back to D.C!

     “Yes, Dear!”