Monday, March 29, 2010

Hoosier Hysteria

For those of you who don’t know the term, “Hoosier Hysteria” refers to basketball. And if you’ve never experienced it, you simply cannot grasp the unbridled fun it represents. So in honor of March Madness, I want to explain what it’s like to grow up in Indiana, the Basketball State.

My hometown’s population is 3,500. Our town’s high school basketball gymnasium seats 5,000. That fact alone could allow me to end this story right here. But let me explain further.

My family were not fans of Bobby Knight – I think we tended to be basketball purists. Knight was rude and unsportsmanlike; we respected fair play, hard work, and quiet talent instead of in-your-face victory. Boston Celtic Larry Bird grew up in French Lick, the town next to mine, and he exemplified the talent I refer to – a good old boy who made it big due to his talent, hard work, and ambition. Qualities to respect.

In my high school in Paoli, Indiana we were taught to respect the sport and to respect the other team. If our crowd’s cheers started leaning toward disrespect, our principal let us all know the next day in the morning announcements what was appropriate and what wasn’t. We were taught right and wrong through basketball. We sang along with the National Anthem, cheered on our team, and then clapped for the losing team when it was over. But don’t get me wrong, we weren’t too Goody-Goody; we had our share of slams, like at the end of the game when we were about to win and we’d yell to the opposing team “Go start the bus!”

My earliest memories of basketball, besides the men in my family playing ball at the basketball hoop that was requisite at every house, was in 1979 when our high school basketball team won the sectional. I received an autographed picture of the team when I won a kindergarten poster contest, and I treated that photo as if it contained movie stars. I got to go to the Sectional and see the packed gymnasium in all its glory, with the band playing, the cheerleaders yelling, and the crowd members – every single one of them – on their feet and into every moment of the game. It showed me that basketball was important.

This was back at the beginning of the good old days of Celtics vs. Lakers, and we watched every game in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room with my uncles and anyone else who dropped by. To this day, the ambient sound of a crowd on a TV is the most comfortable sound I can think of on an otherwise quiet weekend afternoon.

When I was in the fifth grade, our fifth grade team was undefeated, and I predicted that when we were Seniors we’d have a great team. Little did I know…

In the late 80’s, Indiana’s high school basketball was not divided into divisions as it is today; we played the teams in our area, no matter the size of the school. So it was amazing when our little town of 3,500 won the Sectional, then Regional, and went to Semi-State for the first time in our town’s history.

We were like the movie Hoosiers. Our team was featured in the big-towns’ nightly news and in Louisville and Indianapolis newspapers. We were the tiny town with smart players who went up against Goliath.

And boy was it exciting. The whole town went crazy, putting our slogan “We play ball!” on the sides of semi trailers and buildings. Townspeople attended our pep rallies and joined in caravans to our games. The whole town was decked out in our purple and gold school colors. In fact, they already were, year-round.

Hoosier basketball fans are like Cubs fans, supportive no matter what. When our guys lost their semi-state game, our fans – all of them on one side of the huge big-city gymnasium – stayed in place far after all the other winning team’s fans had gone. We stayed and continued cheering for our guys, who had played with honor, talent, and wholesome ambition.

I watched that whole basketball season from the edge of the court, my press pass allowing me closer access as I took photos for our yearbook. Later I went on to college, excited to attend my first basketball game and get all excited again, but in Missouri it was different. Yes, the fans cheered, but it wasn’t the same. The people were there but almost seemed indifferent. That’s when I learned that Indiana basketball is special.

Indiana is the land of corn, cows, and basketball. If you ever get a chance, please go to a basketball game there (preferably between rivals like Purdue and IU, or Paoli and French Lick). Now and then I go to a UNLV game to get into the spirit, and although it isn’t Indiana, it reminds me of home and those good old days in the popcorn-littered stands, together as one town, cheering for our boys. I can just hear the PHS fight song now…

Monday, March 22, 2010

"The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man." ~Author Unknown

To celebrate Las Vegas’ recent gorgeous weather, George and I took a stroll around Floyd Lamb State Park, a literal oasis in the desert with lakes, trails, towering trees, ducks, and peacocks. In addition to nature, the park also has historical value: it is full of fossil remains of mammoths and other prehistoric animals, and it is a dude ranch where women used to go in the 1930’s to wait for their divorces to become final. All types of history!

During the same week, I heard an interview on NPR with Richard Louv, the author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He discussed the fact that kids (and adults) are getting more and more disconnected from nature, as time goes by and kids spend more time in front of computers and TVs and we pave over more and more of our environment.

Kids who don’t go outside tend to be more overweight, but this wasn’t the main focus of Louv’s interview. Instead, he stressed the need we have to be in nature. We don’t need to learn more about nature in a book or google search; we need “hands dirty, feet wet experience.” I so agree.

If I go for a while without being among trees and green, I start to lose a part of myself. This probably comes from growing up in a rural area, where at any moment I could run out the back screen door and into nature. Our house was surrounded by rolling hills and dense forests. On the weekends I explored the hill behind our house; our tradition was to walk to the very top of our property, and we weren’t allowed to turn around and look at the view until we got to the uppermost part where the fences of the bordering lands met. There, out of breath, we suddenly turned around and surveyed the view, all the way across the valley, past tree-covered hills and lined cornfields, to the farm in the distance with its black dots that were cows.

On our land I had many adventures. I flew kites and had picnics. I followed the cow paths to wherever they might lead, and I played around the spring that overflowed when it rained and created a river across our yard far below the hill. In the summers I stomped across the tall grass with my cat; in the Fall we harvested vegetables from our garden; and one winter, we met our cousins on top of the hill for a snowy, nighttime campfire. It was my wilderness.

My husband also had freedom in nature as a kid in New Jersey. He and his friends would leave the house in the morning on their bikes and wouldn’t return till dusk, having filled their whole day exploring nature (and probably getting into trouble, too, but at least they were outside!).

Someday when we have kids, I hope to give them the same experience in nature. While they might not have it right outside their back door, I want them to feel that it is nearby, and part of them. I may have to drive them somewhere to experience it, but it’s worth it. According to Louv, being in nature increases kids’ attention spans, reduces stress, and gives a sense of awe and wonder. And adults get the same benefits that kids do.

I think we’ll be taking a lot of trips to Floyd Lamb State Park.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Blog!

My blog gives me a running total of how many times I’ve posted something, and last week’s was number 52. So, since I post once a week, that means I’ve hit the one-year anniversary of this blog! I started something and actually kept it up for a year! (Now if I could just transfer that momentum to exercise…) So I think I’ll take this opportunity to give an overview of my experience of writing Sundays at the Dog Park with George.

I never had any grandiose visions for this blog. Of course it would be great for it to become the next Julie & Julia, but my only goal was just to force myself to write. Putting my writing out there every week – knowing that people were expecting it every week – was a good, self-inflicted routine to follow.

And because I wanted to always post something with a positive vibe, it forced me to look back at every week of my life and find something positive to write about. Putting my life into prose every week somehow gave it added meaning, like people who write in a diary every day because they believe every day is important enough to write about.

Trying to find an appropriate photo for every week has been a challenge, but my husband helps me by holding a treat up so that George will look in the appropriate direction. The scene we make, holding hats on George’s head and putting him in weird poses, is quite funny! And then we see the final photo (the one of George cleaning the table is my favorite) and we laugh even more.

I’ve tried to always connect my writing to George or the dog park, at least enough to make the blog’s title remain appropriate. George is my muse, after all. It has been interesting to see how my writing often morphs into stories about my Mom. That was never my purpose, but I guess it was inevitable, since she’s such a part of me.

The map counter at the bottom of the blog was a fun addition. I never advertized my blog; I only passed it onto family and friends and facebook. So it has been so fun to see that people in other countries have looked at it. I wonder if the two people in India or the person in teh Russian Federation liked it? Or maybe they couldn’t translate it but liked the pictures? I love making the world smaller through the internet.

So, Happy Birthday, blog. I hope you have a long life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

“…drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.”

When I was a kid, the idea of a tumbleweed was a foreign, romantic thing. They were those weird round things that blew across the road in old Westerns, across the brown landscape before the camera panned to Clint Eastwood who chewed a piece of straw in his firm-set jaw. So imagine my surprise last night when I drove home from work, and due to the recent windy weather, along one stretch of road there were ten or more tumbleweeds lined up along the sidewalk, some as wide as five feet. In Las Vegas tumbleweeds are common, but this many in one place caught my attention and I wished I’d had my camera.

So I wondered, how many things that used to be exciting or exotic are now commonplace or every-day? Or vice versa? Those tumbleweeds were so novel that after visiting me out West one summer, my Mom took a tumbleweed back to Indiana in the trunk of her car. She shared it with her rural Indiana elementary students and then hung it from her porch ceiling, where it stayed as a sort of natural art display.

Palm trees are another exotic element of my daily life; we have two in our front yard. But as a kid, I remember driving to Florida for summer vacations and leaning forward from the back seat, trying to be the first person to see a palm tree. They symbolized the start of our vacation from normalcy – the beginning of swaying palms and salt water.

The other day I saw a robin sitting on a tree branch outside my office window at work. It was the fattest robin I’ve ever seen, and I stopped and watched him for a long time. I’d never seen a robin in Las Vegas before – I thought they didn’t live here. It was nice to see this little touch of home, and it reminded me of seeing these orange-bellied birds in Indiana and knowing that the first time you saw one, it meant Spring was here.

So, FYI, Spring arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 4.

Once again, the Universe has sent me a little nudge to pay attention to the little things – to remember those things that used to give me childish excitement. To recapture that feeling by noticing what I have. This summer, I think I’ll add a palm tree to the back yard - might as well bring some more vacation to our everyday life.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Not-so-dirty Laundry

On Saturday it was gloomy outside, with an 80% chance of rain that teased us all day before finally donating a few drops after dark. I love overcast days, because they make it fun to hibernate inside with a hot drink, or they put me into Domestic Mode and I get in the mood to do housework or projects inside.

This Saturday I found myself doing laundry, and I have to admit that it is the one household chore that I don’t mind. I won’t say I like it – it seems crazy to ever say I like any type of cleaning – but I have to admit that the prospect of laundry does not fill me with dread like vacuuming, doing dishes, or cleaning toilets does.

I realized this when I turned on the dryer on Saturday, and the laundry room filled with the warm rattle of the dryer’s drum turning lazily over and over. That sound – the rhythmic hum – is actually comforting to me. It brought me back to weekends as a child, when Mom was in the other room doing laundry, and it meant that I was at home, safe. Laundry days meant we had free time, an afternoon, a whole block of time to while away however we wished.

On cold laundry days, Mom would take a load of hot towels or sheets straight from the dryer and plop them onto me, where I sat on the couch, so I could snuggle into them like a cocoon. She had a knack for turning everyday things into fun.

In the Spring and Summer, Mom hung the laundry outside on our clothesline that had a bird feeder hanging from one end. This was partly an economic choice, but more likely, she liked the way clothes smell after they’ve dried outside. You just can’t beat that smell – no dryer sheet or fabric softener can capture it, no matter how hard they try.

In Las Vegas we’re not allowed to put clotheslines in our backyards because the neighborhood associations prohibit it. But my laundry room tries to make up for it. I have a retractable clothesline so I can hang things across the room if I want, I painted the walls a bright sky-blue, and I hung Mom’s painting of picnic tables above the washer/dryer. And covering the main wall are framed photos of clotheslines…one of romantic Italian clotheslines from a trip with my husband, one of my Mom’s sheets blowing in the Spring breeze, one of my great-aunt’s frozen clothesline in the snow, and one of me hanging towels with my childhood pet cat at my feet. Doing the laundry brings me closer to all of them.