Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hero Worship in the Modern Era

I wrote this story last Fall, following Rob's first experience at Dodger Camp.  I have refined it a bit over the past few months, but have wanted to "publish" it for awhile.  I am finally getting around to it, with some pictures as well.

Many of you might remember a time when you had a hero.  You wrote letters, you sent cards, you followed a person’s every move.  You might also remember when your illusions of greatness about this person were shattered, when you realized all too painfully that he or she was human, and possessed all of man’s inherent faults.  My day of reckoning came in the third grade.  I had written a letter to President Ronald Reagan and surprisingly got a response.  As I excitedly tore open the letter, I was taken in by the official seal, the bonded paper, the signature.  My excitement was then shattered when someone (a family member) mockingly told me that the letter was a “form letter,” one of probably hundreds or even thousands sent out to school children just like me, all over the country each day, likely prepared and even signed by a staff member.  My image of the President was instantly tainted, and I was suddenly very aware of the fallibility of mere mortals. 

My days of hero worship were pretty much over then, aside from a brief relapse this past year, when I so wrongly believed that a photographer, somewhat of a celebrity in the industry, would take the time to respond to my comments, as one “photog” to the next.  I was quickly returned to reality when I got a short and cryptic email from a staffer and remembered again that our heroes are at the core, human. 

I try not to get too upset as my daughter chooses a hero (most recently, Manny Ramirez) who might let her down, and watch with the rest of the world as many of the younger generations “heroes” and those held in high esteem (Tiger Woods, Roethlisburger) are shown to be quite human, with all the same faults and fallacies.  Certainly, one might think that the days of true hero worship are long past.  In today’s world of internet and the information highway, heroes are felled with a mighty click of the mouse, instantly sending pictures or stories of misdeeds out on the “wire” to the masses.   

Despite the recent onslaught of fallen heroes, there is still a place where true heroes can be found.  While I am sure they are human, with their own faults and lives to live, for one whole week they return to hero status and are exalted by the “common” man.  I am referring to that little patch of dirt in Vero Beach, Florida, lovingly known as “Dodgertown.”  The week is known as “Fantasy Camp.”

For the entire week, men return to the days of their childhood, running and jumping and playing.  Knees creak in protest, backs and arms ache like never before, but they play through the pain, usually with ear-splitting grins plastered across their faces.  To do otherwise would squander the opportunity.  Men who remember the days of O’Malley and the move to L.A. are transported back to the simpler times when the smell of popcorn and a hot dog at the park could wash all of your cares away.  Boys who pumped their fists with Gibby in ’88 run the bases imagining that they too can achieve greatness.  Perhaps even more poignant now, as today’s team struggles in the aftermath of the tumultuous McCourt era and hopes for a little bit of “Magic”, a trip to the past reminds us why we love our Boys in Blue, and why Dodgertown is, and likely always will be, an institution.

They come from all walks of life – policemen, doctors, lawyers, accountants, salesmen, business owners, teachers and so much more, a range of ages among them; the youngest perhaps 32 or 33, the oldest…. well, he just wasn’t going to admit that.  Rookies and veterans alike, they converge, to glory in the presence of their heroes, to walk and play where the great ones have walked and played.

Lockers for players and coaches alike, in the same locker rooms used during Spring Training.

Some might consider it crazy for these men (and a few women) to pay for the opportunity to spend time with these baseball greats (and spend a week playing baseball.)  But for those as steeped in the history of this team as they are, it is an honor, a privilege, a right and even for some, a duty.  As the years tumble forward, the true greats, the names which built a franchise like Pee Wee Reese, Don Drysdale and Duke Snider leave us and it becomes all the more important to squeeze in these moments with those who are left.  These fans, these hero worshipers revel in the greatness, proud and humbled to take the field with those men who dominated the field and their childhoods with baseball.

For the entire week, they eat, sleep and play with the Boys of Summer, some raised on the heroes of ’55 and others of ’63, ’81 and ‘88.  Split up into teams with at least two former Big League players as managers, sharing lockers and showers as if they themselves were in the “show,” they play several games a day, take batting practice, and even share meals.  Meals are filled with laughter and jokes, player-of-the-day awards handed out by managers and an all-around good time.  Memories are made in mere hours or days but will last the rest of their lifetimes.

Rob catching and hitting in the All-Star game on the last day of camp.

Top - Phil pitching in the All-Star game.  Bottom - Dad catching for Phil.

One day a whisper roared through camp.  He’s here.  He’s here!”  Unable to believe their own luck, they sought out more information.  “Where?”  “Will he sign anything?”  Suddenly, a camper ran past some of the others, carrying a baseball, frantic to get through.  “He’s in the trainers’ room and he’s signing autographs!”  The great Sandy Koufax had appeared at camp.  For many raised on Dodger baseball, his is the name and face that defined the team for several generations.  Men became boys again and stood in awe of the greatness.  Koufax, who seemingly shuns the spotlight most days, was magnanimous, signing whatever bat or ball or piece of paper that was reverently handed to him and just as gently taken back, a memento to be treasured and a story to be told to a child or grandchild.  He swapped stories and chatted with the campers, and posed for many pictures.  As his time at camp drew to a close (he was not a coach or manager but had been invited to stop in by an old friend, Tommy Davis) campers were reluctant to turn away, hesitant to allow the moment to end, as they knew it must.
Phil with Sandy Koufax.

But the camaraderie doesn’t end on the field.  For many it extends back to their hometowns, where they might see one of these players at the market or the mall.  The heroes continue in their gallantry, posing for photos and signing autographs for the children they heard so much about at camp.  One named “Brooklyn” drew particular attention from these Boys in Blue.  They remember the campers and while the names might be momentarily elusive, with some help and in a minute or two, it comes back, and they remember a game or a play or a practical joke.

Throughout it all, these players remain humble, almost in awe of those who come to see them, just as the campers are a little bit in awe of being in the presence of these men who played and who filled their childhoods with heroes. 
Tommy Davis signing a ball for a fan during the All-Star game.

And as the week of camp comes to a close, the players are saddened, a little melancholy that playtime is over and they must return to the “real world,” and maybe more than a little hopeful that the stars will align again in a year, that they will be able to return and that the players that they love will return as well.  For in that place at that moment, the heroes have risen once more and all is right with the world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

But Where Did All the Money Go?

Going to PTA meetings these days can be incredibly depressing.  Most of last school year's meetings were filled with the "doom and gloom" of the impending cuts to 81 of our district's teachers, 6 from our school alone.  PTA Board members and parent volunteers worked their butts off to raise money to cover things that we all took for granted as kids - art, music and phys ed classes, field trips and assemblies.

Over the summer, several of our classrooms were overhauled to make room for more students, as the class size mandate has gone from 25 to 30.  While there were 4 full size 1st grade groups last year, there are now 3 full size second grade groups.  When I was in elementary school, there were usually 30 kids in a class, so I don't think the size itself is as big of an issue.  But we also had art class once a week, music twice a week and phys ed twice a week, in a separate classroom (or gym) led by a separate instructor. (Yes, this was public school.)  The teacher had that break each day to count on.

Initial news at the beginning of this school year is not much better.  As our school continues to struggle to get its fair share of funding and state dollars, more programs are in danger of being cut, due to lack of funds or a lack of volunteers.  Art and music programs, once funded directly through the state and the school districts are now being left up to parents and the PTAs to keep alive.

As school starts this week, just 8 short weeks since the last school year ended, I can't help but wonder what is going on around here.  While understanding that "times they are a'changin'," I can't help but compare my elementary educational experience with the one that my daughter is getting, and can only hope that she will fare o.k.  I already mentioned that we had gym, art and music on a weekly basis.  On top of that, there was no such thing as "minimum days."  We did not have "early dismissal," a week long fall break, or an almost 4 week long holiday break.  We had 1 day of school off during each 1/2 of the year for parent-teacher conferences and another day off for "staff planning day" or "teacher in-service" day, 2 weeks at Christmas and 1 week for Spring Break.  (If we were lucky, we got Snow Days in the winter.) 

Back in "those days," we shopped for our own school supplies too.  Each year when class lists went up, we scrambled for those supply lists and happily went trekking off to KMart or Hills (a mid-west retail Target-type store.)  We brought our own crayons, pencils, pens and glue to school, based on what the teacher said we would need.  In some classrooms, each student brought a box of tissues, which were used throughout the year.

Looking back over that last few paragraphs, it seems as though I'm talking of days "long ago," when in reality, it wasn't that long ago. (Was it?)  I can't be that old, right?  Apparently, I am.

In today's world of budget cuts and economic downturn, of raising taxes and decreasing benefits, it seems that the schools are feeling the pinch more than others.  I can't help but wonder what our elected officials are doing with that money - it has to be going somewhere, right?.  Goodness knows that they aren't spending it on the education system.   Add to that the cuts to the Court systems that have been ongoing over the past 3 years and I think we have a recipe for disaster. 

I don't pretend to have a solution.  I do have questions - lots of questions.  I researched the use of lottery funds a few weeks ago, since that was supposed to help education years ago.  If you are curious, Google it yourself, but the short and quick answer that I found was that the money put out by the lottery is a drop in the bucket compared to the money schools apparently need to run each year, and in some cases is barely noticed.  (By the way, the financials for the LA Unified School District are staggering.)

One question I posed to the school principal (and a few other parents) at the end of last year - why is the school or the teachers purchasing the basic supplies for students to use in class?  I was told by someone that it was a way to maintain uniformity among the supplies.  Another answer I got was that it lessened the likelihood of embarrassment for that student or students who could not afford supplies.  To that I say "Hogwash!"  There is not a valid reason out there that I can think of for our school or the teachers to be spending money on students' supplies that they can just as easily go out and purchase themselves.  At Wal-Mart last week, you could buy a box of 24 crayola crayons for $.50.  A pencil box was going for $.99.  There are low cost options.  And in the limited situations when a student can't afford everything they might need, then the school or teacher could have a small supply on hand to help out that student.  I just do not see the need for the school to go out and purchase 900 bottles of Elmer's glue, when there are other things better suited for those funds.  As a parent volunteer last year, I spent a good 1/2 hour one day (towards the end of the school year) searching for white paper to make copies.  Yes, white-paper-to-make-copies.  There was not any and according to one of the teachers, it was in high demand.  Newsprint for art projects was something else apparently hard to come by.

You have to wonder if the public education system is putting itself out of business.  The economy takes a down-turn and the government raises taxes.  People can't afford to continue living in their neighborhood because of the property values and taxes, so they move, taking their kids with them.  At the same time, the public school systems declare that they cannot afford to pay for art teachers or music programs or gym teachers.  Those same school systems operate an annual budget based largely on the state "ADA" rate (Average Daily Attendance - the school gets paid a per student, per day rate based on attendance.)   Parents, frustrated that their children are not getting the same well-rounded, quality education that they once got, which included art, music and gym, a library that was staffed and had newer books, seek other options - charter schools and private institutions.  Despite the expense, some parents believe that it is worth it to pay for an education that includes those things.  As the enrollment numbers in the public schools drop, so does the money from the state, causing further cuts.  It is a vicious cycle with no end in site - other than possibly the privatization of the entire public school system.

I shudder to think how things are going to look 5 or 10 years from now.  We moved to this area because the schools were supposed to be better than LAUSD and because there were many young families with lots of school-age children here.  We moved to a neighborhood where the school is literally down the block and we can walk our daughter to school.  We heard good things from friends in the area and we have liked things so far.  But I worry as things continue to decline and parents are asked to raise more and more money to cover these programs that are being cut, assemblies, field trips, busing... and the list goes on.

As I said before, I don't have a solution and the search for answers has been difficult. Perhaps the first step is to have people, even those without school-age children, realize what is being cut, to realize what the state is paying for and what parent organizations and volunteers are raising money for.  Then maybe we can start working towards other solutions.  But in the meantime, I also think we, as parents, can step up and pay for some crayons and pencils and glue.  It is a small step, but it could be an important one. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things....

Many times over the past few years, I have mentioned something called "Project Life," a way of scrapbooking that was designed by Becky Higgins.  The first year I tried it, in 2010, I wanted to take a picture each day and journal each day.  I won't say that I failed miserably, but there are a few holes in that book.  In 2011, I resolved to do so much better, and I actually did.  With just a few (2 or 3) days when I did not take a picture, I completed the year with photos and I journalled each day.  It was sometimes a bit tedious when I was doing it, but it is fun to look back and see how our year progressed.  2011 was a big year for Kensi, going from 3 months to 15 months and so it is fun just to see her growth through the year.

When 2012 rolled around, I decided that I did not need to do a picture or a journal spot for each day of the year.  Instead, I borrowed an idea that I saw posted on Becky's Blog (www.beckyhiggins.com/blog) from someone who did weekly pages.  So far, that seems to be working for me.  I sit down each Sunday night and think back over the week and journal about what we did, who we saw and life in general.  I sometimes find that I only have pictures from 1 or 2 days in a week, so I fill the pages with those days.  Other weeks, I seem to have more pictures than I know what to do with, so I will go back later and do separate layouts for some of those different events or outtings.

For now, I feel like I'm keeping up with some of the most important times of my husband and my lives - the growth of our girls.  Kensi will be 2 in October and Brooklyn will be 7 in December.  These are the fun times that I want to make sure we capture and are able to look back on later.  They seem to grow so fast and I just want to capture a moment of that.

Now some specifics - Becky has created a number of different layouts that you can use for your pages, should you choose to embrace this journey.  I use her "standard" pages, which have places for 4 horizontal photos (size 4 x 6) or other insert, along with 4 smaller inserts for journalling.  Sometimes I include smaller photos in the smaller spots, sometimes I fill them with journaling.  To mix things up a bit, I also added one of her slightly smaller page sizes, I think it's an 8 x 10 or 8 1/2 x 11 page, but it has places for 2 horizonal and 2 vertical 4x6 pictures, plus 2 smaller spots for journaling cards or photos.

I thought since I had talked about these things before, you,  my faithful few readers, might like to have a quick way to get at them.  (And here is where my shameless plug comes in....)  You can only get Becky's designs at Amazon.com.  So I've included a handy little link on the side of my blog with some of my favorites marked.  Here's the kicker.... if you click on the link and buy her stuff, I get a few pennies!  Yup, that's right.  I know, it sounds incredibly strange and almost like a commercial, but I figured "what the heck, I'll give it a try." 

So now you have the best of both worlds (whatever those "worlds" might be) - you have my blog posts, with pictures of what I've done with Project Life, and you have a quick link to Amazon in case you want to get started on your own Project.

I will add that new products for the 2013 year have been getting added here and there and I have only posted to my favorites those that I can see on Amazon.  As the journaling cards and new albums and other things come out, I'll come back and add those to my favorites as well, so that you can see them.

In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of my efforts with "life".

This is a week from my 2010 book - April, I think.  A picture for each day and journaling.  The arrows point to the appropriate pictures.  Below is another one from 2010.

This next one (below) is a week from this year in February.  We had quite a bit of fun with Valentine's Day, so I did one show side of the week (using the smaller page that I mention above) for the pictures.  I added some stickers on the outside as well.

The last two are more from this year (2012.)  You can see I did less journaling, opting instead to highlight bigger events, rather than the everyday "mundane" things that we have going on.  I also have smaller pictures in some of the spots.

One final note - I don't have pictures of it to show you, but I borrowed another idea from one of Becky's fans and went back and rounded the corners (yup, ALL the corners) of all of my pictures - big and small.  I'm not sure why, but I like the way it looks.