J is for Jersey Numbers

JI don’t have just one lucky number. I have five: 48…64…55…57…16.

I can’t see the number 48 without thinking of my son. That was the number he wore on his back for seven football seasons. He first claimed that number at age seven when he started playing tackle football.

It was a magical season. Prior to that year, the team had the dubious honor of being labeled the worst team in the league—the team all the other teams figured as an automatic win. That season, however, saw a change in coaching staff which took the team to an undefeated season and a city championship.

Jersey 48

The cutest #48 ever.

He fell in love with football while wearing the number 48, and fought to keep it throughout his youth football career. To this day, I feel a jolt of excitement when I see 48 on a football player. It is quickly followed by a twinge of irritation because I know in my heart no other player is worthy of wearing that number.

I feel the same with 64—his jersey number in high school. I have my own team hoodie with the number displayed across its back. I wore it to every game. It’s been six years since he wore that number, but I still have the hoodie hanging in my closet. It brings a smile every time I see it.

Jersey 64

“Six and four is 10!”

Sixty-four was also the number that proved to me my youngest was a genius. She was three-years-old at the time, and while prepping her to find her brother on the field, I told her to look for number 64. “Sixty-four,” I explained simply, “is the numbers six and four put together.”

At the game, I quizzed her. “What’s six and four, honey?”

She waved her little pom-poms in the air and gave her biggest cheerleader yell… “TEN!” (See, she’s a genius!)

Next came 57, his jersey number for his first year of college football with the Army Black Knights. It was later changed to 55, then back to 57 and back to 55 again. These are good strong numbers, and I like to think they were fighting for the privilege of riding his shoulder pads.

The number 16 was added to the list a few weeks ago when the Young One played in her first competitive soccer tournament.  We had ordered her uniforms–more like a soccer wardrobe complete with two sets of game uniforms, training gear, warm ups and bag to carry it all–weeks before the tournament, but two days before the first game, we still didn’t have them. The backup plan was to borrow a jersey from another girl who was going to skip the tournament

As the newest girl on the team, the Young One had a strong desire to fit in with her teammates. Without a uniform and her very own number, though, that task (in her eight-year-old mind anyway) was utterly hopeless.

I checked my email every hour on the hour for a notification that the uniforms were ready. Game day arrived…still no uniform.  Ours was a late afternoon game, so we decided to make one last desperate run by the soccer store just in case they forgot to send me an email. We gave our name at the counter and waited…and waited…and waited.

Finally, the saleswoman came out of the storeroom, arms loaded with a plastic wrapped bundle. “Here you go,” she said. “We were just waiting on a pair of shorts to come in, but you can take what we have now.”

Jersey 16

The Big Jersey Number Reveal!

The Young One squealed and looked desperately through the plastic, but the number she was so desperate to see was buried under layers of cotton and Nike logos. I could tell she wanted to tear the package open right there in the store. Being the cool momma I am, I made her wait until we got home.

When we finally made it through the door, she tore off the plastic to reveal her personal magic number…16!

“I’m number 16! I’m number 16!” she chanted as she jumped up and down.

I have to agree with her enthusiasm.  Number 16 is pretty awesome. How could it not be? She’s going to wear it on her back for years, and she’s going to make it just as great as her brother made every number he wore. 

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Football Momma

My daughter plays football with the boys at recess. 

She joins her father in front of the television for College Game Day on Saturday and cheers for her favorite NFL team on Sunday. (She prefers the Bengals to the Steelers, but he firmly believes that is a phase she will eventually grow out of when she has a better understanding of the game.)

At a post-Thanksgiving get-together with friends, she was one of the first to hit the backyard for a game of touch football. The Hubs sent up a rousing cheer when she ran the ball in for a touchdown. I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures while I contemplated if I had enough time to run back home for my “real” camera. 

  
My daughter’s wish list to Santa reads like this:

  • A football
  • A helmet
  • A jersey (preferably one baring A.J. Green’s number 18)
  • Football pants
  • Shoulder pads

I spent 15 years watching my son play football, and when I watched him play his last down (Army/Navy 2013), I thought my days of cheering a child on the gridiron were over. Apparently not. 

 Once a Football Momma, always a Football Momma!

Coaching Changes and Life Lessons

I started my writing career as a sports reporter for my hometown newspaper. I was all of 19 years old, in my sophomore year at Penn State, and on the occasion of my first by-line, my total firsthand experiences with athletic events totaled exactly one–the girl’s high school basketball game on which I had just reported.

Despite my lack of athletic prowess, I went on to be a constant presence in that gymnasium as well as local baseball fields and natatoriums, proudly flashing my press pass at the admissions gate. A year later, I moved from the sports room to the newsroom and never looked back.

I never covered a football game, but I know an awful lot about a certain football player!

I never covered a football game, but I know an awful lot about a certain football player!

Earlier this week, in response to a Zero to Hero blogging challenge assignment, I posted the Army Black Knights 2013 football highlight video introducing new head coach, Jeff Monken, and I briefly flashed back to my days on the sports desk. Later that day, I answered my ringing phone to hear my son on the other end–my very own Black Knight football player. We talked about school and roommates and care packages.

Then we talked football–not plays or practices or games. We talked about coaches. More specifically, we talked about coaching changes and the uncertainty that surrounds the Army football program as the new head coach takes over. That was when I realized the 2013 football highlight video is more than just crashing shoulder pads set to booming music and a brief hello to the new guy in charge. It is a life lesson for every Black Knight who walks into that locker room wondering how their team and their place on it will change.

Change, in my opinion, is always good. It may not seem like it at the moment, but a fresh perspective is rarely a bad thing. We can all benefit from new experiences and grow with our responses to them. My son and each of his teammates, however, are about to learn change can also be very frightening.

No matter their opinions on the previous team leadership, each player is uncertain of how this change will affect him. The complete picture of the new regime is still a question mark. Which assistant coaches will stay and which will go was determined early on in the transition, but the full staff has yet to be named, and new procedures and schedules have yet to be set.

On the phone the Older One expressed concerns about rumors of late night practices and lack of study time. “Has the coach told you that?” I asked.

“Well…no,” he admitted.

“Then just wait. Don’t let rumors keep you awake at night,” I said–the voice of experience.

I’ve been through re-organization several times. Some of the re-orgs have been good for me, others not so good, and others didn’t have much of an affect at all. In all cases, the post-announcement upheaval was a cycle of uncertainty, rumors, changes, more uncertainty, more rumors, more changes, and eventually a new normal.

The difference in this case is that the Older One gets to experience it for the first time at the age of 20, before he truly enters the work force. One day soon though, he will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. He will be given men to lead, and to them he will be the “new coach”. Eventually, whether he stays in the Army or joins corporate America like his momma and his father before him, his commanding officer will move on or his boss will be replaced. Before he knows it, he will be right back in that locker room wondering how he will manage the rapidly shifting emotions of change.

But this time, he’ll have experience in his arsenal. In the midst of the chaos, he might feel the fluttery fingers of uncertainty in his belly, but he’ll know to take a deep breath for calm. He might hear a rumor from a colleague or listen to the concern of an anxious soldier, and he’ll stop him, and say, “Just wait. Don’t let the rumors keep you awake at night.”

In those instances, he will be able to look back on the day he got a new football coach, and he will be able to see it for what it is–a life lesson. Whatever the outcome of this change may be, how he responds to it will shape how he responds to the challenges yet to come.

Go Army!

The Wicked Year Is Dead

IMG_2943

My Toto (aka the Fluffy One).

I woke up this morning feeling like Dorothy fresh from her victory over the Wicked Witch. I wasn’t holding an empty water bucket, but there was a small fluffy dog at my feet, and I could practically hear a chorus of Munchkins singing:

“Ding dong the witch is dead! Which old witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding dong the Wicked Witch is dead!”

While Dorothy’s witch was known for her high-pitched cackle and green complexion, mine was branded with only numbers: 2…0…1…3.

I knew I was in for a rough patch as soon as I flipped the calendar last January. That ominous number 13 seemed to stare back at me in defiance. I have never been particularly superstitious in regard to the number 13, but after enduring the last 12 months, I’m glad I’ll never live through another year ending in those two digits.

Not long after the New Year, I learned my boss had been fired, and I was reorganized into a new department led by someone whose management style leaves much to be desired. That poorly managed reorganization left me with sleepless nights and stressful days. When I finally came to the realization that I had just taken three steps back in my career, I was rewarded with a Crohn’s flare.

I spent most of 2013 in doctor’s offices and hospitals trying to pinpoint the source of my newest pains. I was in good company though. 2013 also forced my brother into an intensive care unit for a drawn-out battle with pneumonia. My MIL had surgery for a cyst in her neck and then we all got to watch her suffer through a TIA. My mom had to dust off her walking cane because her 2011 knee replacement surgery didn’t quite work, and my dad found out through a routine stress test that he had had a heart attack sometime in the not-too-distant past.

2013 was apparently in an alliance with healthcare companies across the country.

Back on the job front…I returned to work in October after seven weeks of medical leave for major abdominal surgery only to be told my job was moving south and somebody else would be doing it. My official layoff date was also my birthday, which turned out to be the same day I found out I would have to undergo a second surgery because one is apparently just not enough for 2013.

There were, however, some bright technicolor spots among all the wreckage of 2013.

Even though I and many of my family members suffered through serious illnesses and health problems, we’re all still breathing and on the mend, and that was the biggest victory in this war of a year.

Take THAT 2013!

SuperGirl

Super Girl to the rescue!

The Young One started Kindergarten, and to my great relief, she is enjoying and excelling at it. She has made friends and discovered the joys of chapter books. (Thank you Magic Tree House.) I have watched her personality take hold this past year as she declared war on not only skirts and dresses, but hoodies and sweaters as well. Her independence is blossoming with unsupervised bath time, and her chore list is growing as trash detail has officially been passed from the Older One to the Young One.

A word to the wise, 2013,  my daughter wears a cape, calls herself Super Girl and travels with me down our little piece of the Yellow Brick Road. You don’t stand a chance against that!

The one making the Navy Midshipman take flight is my oldest child. Go Army!

The one making the Navy Midshipman take flight is my oldest child. Go Army!

I also had the joy of watching the Older One fight battles on the gridiron, including the bucket list-worthy behemoth of all football rivalries, America’s Game…the 114th Army Navy game. Yes, I sat through snow, sleet and freezing rain to watch Army fall to Navy for the 12th straight year (I’m sure 2013 had a hand in that too.), but I have a hard time finding anything else that induces as much joy as sharing a hot meal with my son after witnessing him pore all his heart into a sport he loves so well.

Here’s another note for you, 2013. You may have tried to keep me down with two surgeries this year, but you failed to realize I manage my own calendar.  I scheduled both surgeries just days after seeing my oldest child on football Saturdays. Those were visits with my wizard, and they gave me all the strength I needed to overcome you.

As far as being newly unemployed…I have to admit there are worse things than having entire days with nothing on the to-do list but Christmas shopping, decorating and baking. I also now have the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom for a while, complete with daytime book reading in the car pool line and week-day, mid-morning grocery shopping adventures–things about which a working mom can only fantasize.

I truly believe everything happens for a reason and that no matter where you are, you are right where you are supposed to be. I’m finally starting to feel better…just in time to devote myself to finding out exactly what I want to do next.

Last year did it’s best to steal all the ruby slippers from my walk-in closet. But guess what, 2013… I’m still here, and you’re not.

The Wicked Witch is dead!

Long live 2014!

Happy New Year!

My Duty is to Write

The goal of any momma is to see her children happy. My heart aches when my offspring are sad, and my temper flares when injustices make their lives more difficult.

Right now, I am a mad momma…a momma on the war path…a momma on a mission.

The government for which my oldest child has decided to serve is letting him down with its failure to agree. As a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, he is directly affected by the shutdown of the government he has pledged to defend.

FArmy Football

The Older One will be able to take to the gridiron this weekend thanks to the Secretary of Defense.

One of the biggest news stories coming out of the service academies so far has been the uncertainty of Saturday football games. The Older One plays on the offensive line for the Army Black Knights, and in a football household like ours, the cancellation of a game is considered a disaster. The potential of such a rare event sent the Hubs and I on a frantic search of both traditional and social media for answers which finally came Wednesday night when the Secretary of Defense declared all service academy games are on as scheduled.

Yippee! We can watch football this weekend…. But that’s just a game. What about the rest of it?

What about the classes that are cancelled indefinitely because 30% of the teaching staff at West Point is made up of civilians now on unpaid furlough?

Cadet

My Cadet on the first day of class. I’m worried he could have his last day sooner than expected.

What about the assignments that just got more complicated because, while the library remains open, cadets can’t check out books with the facility now severely understaffed?

What about the added stress of keeping appearances up to military standards with the on-post barber shop and dry cleaners closed?

What if this shutdown doesn’t end soon? Will the USMA be forced to close completely like the Merchant Marine Academy already has?

It’s not fair! This is making my child unhappy! It is making me angry!

I want to drive the 13 hour trip to West Point to do his laundry, cut his hair, and teach his class.  No matter how much I want to be there to make this crisis better for him, I am realistic. I know I can’t do those things. It would embarrass him too much, and I’d be too tired by the time I got there any way.

There is one thing I can do, however.

I can write.

I can write to my congressman. I can write to my senators. I can write with a plea for compromise, a request for change, and a demand for common sense.  Keep our government open. Bring back the so-called “non-essential” employees. Stop cutting funding for programs and institutions that directly affect the lives of innocent people. Thank you for the football game, now let’s start talking about the bigger issues and end this dysfunction.

I can write. The Constitution of this great nation says I can express my opinions. I helped put these people in office so they could represent me. It is my duty to tell them how they can best do that, and right now, they can best do that by ending this shutdown.

That would make this momma extremely happy.

How are you affected by the government shutdown? Have you written your government officials?

Five Minute Friday***This post was brought to you today by Five Minute Friday and the word “Write”. After you write your letter to the government, head on over to Lisa-Jo Baker’s site and write about the experience.

Comfort Cooking

Everyone has a comfort food–that go-to cuisine that fills your heart while it fills your tummy. Chicken noodle soup…mashed potatoes…grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off accompanied by tomato soup with itty-bitty croutons swimming on the top.

Canatini

Comfort food at its finest.

I can’t say any of those are my personal feel-good meals. When I’m blue or feeling kind of blah, I turn to Snyder’s of Berlin BBQ potato chips (imported via the world wide web from my home state of PA to the bluegrass state of KY) and ramen noodle soup. Both of which I am convinced are a result of a Crohn’s Disease-induced sodium deficiency. Some days you can just hand me a salt shaker, and I’ll perk right up!

Unlike me, most people have comfort foods that grew their roots in childhood when Momma heated a can of Chicken and Stars to ward off the chill from a head cold or mashed those taters to the point where they had just the right ratio of fluffy to lumpy. She also knew that the best way to get her pickiest child to eat all the wholesome goodness she could was to saw off the brown parts of the bread and disguise them as little boats in soup! (Mommas are talented and sneaky like that.)

As a momma, I know a little something about cooking comfort, but sometimes, I think the comfort may not come so much from the eating as it does from the preparing.

Take my house-favorite pasta dish as an example.

Canatini–a lusciously savory concoction handed down from my momma to me when I was a newlywed testing my skills in the kitchen. I’m not really sure “canatini” is a real Italian word, but in western PA, it is a pot-luck staple usually made with three different shaped pastas, mountains of cheese, several pounds of ground beef and the always crowd pleasing deli wonder that is pepperoni. Cover it all in Ragu, and you have a family recipe for the generations.

Pepperoni

Health food? No. Really super tasty? Yes!

When the Older One declared as a sophomore in high school that his goal was to play Division I football, I nodded my head and said, “Okay. Your dad can help you with that.”  When he mentioned later that one of the best ways to start toward that goal was to get as big as he possibly could while still being able to move, I shouted, “Yes! I can help you with that!”

Gone were the frozen dinners. Gone were processed products and convenience foods. If my son wanted to gain weight, I vowed, he wasn’t going to do it by eating junk. He would do it by eating homemade meals made with fresh ingredients. Let me just say, this was a very ambitious goal for a working momma who previously believed taking a sack of chicken nuggets out of the grocery bag and placing it in the freezer was part of dinner’s mise en place.

Realistically, I knew cooking a full course meal after working a full day in corporate America just wasn’t going to happen. Most evenings, I can barely summon the energy to turn on the Food Network let alone cook a full meal. So, Sunday became cook-until-you-drop day. The Young One and I started the day with a quick run to the grocery store, while the Older One worked on the other part of Operation Football Player in the gym with his dad. Once back home, I spent the remainder of the day cooking and prepping enough  lovingly prepared entrees to sustain a family of four for an entire week.

On heavy rotation during those days was my momma’s Canatini. It is one of those dishes that is better on day two, three and four, so a batch of the stuff was good for at least two dinners, a lunch and an afternoon snack. It was working mom gold.

Now that the Older One has achieved his goal and is playing football for the Army Black Knights, we don’t enjoy Canatini as often as we used to. I no longer have a 270-pound offensive lineman to feed, and our dinner fare leans more toward entree salad than full-size casserole, but every so often, the Hubs will say, “You know what we haven’t had for a while?”, and I’ll bust out the rotini and pepperoni.

As I put the water on to boil, I think about all the Fourth of July celebrations where my mother would make not only a casserole dish of Canatini, but a giant roaster pan of yumminess!

With each slice of pepperoni, I feel the joy I felt when preparing this meal for my oldest child and my role in helping him achieve his goal.

I layer the sauce with a smile on my face. I am comforted by the familiar task and the memories that pour from my mind of the many meals shared with family and friends.

I’d like to share my Canatini with you too. Maybe it will bring you or someone you love some comfort.

Ingredients

Ingredients for comfort.

Ingredients:

1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound short pasta (I use rotini.)
48 oz. spaghetti sauce
12 oz. stick pepperoni
1 cup mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Prepare the pasta according to directions on package.
  2. Brown the ground beef.
  3. Cut pepperoni stick in half length-wise, and slice pepperoni into thick half-moons.
  4. Combine pasta, beef, pepperoni, cheese, and sauce, and spread in a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  5. Cover with foil.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Can be prepared and refrigerated or frozen prior to baking.

Do you have a favorite food you love to cook? Please share it here. We could all use a little more comfort in our lives!

Stiletto Mommma

Five Minute Friday – Grasp

I hugged my little boy last Saturday!

Well, he’s not a little boy any more–he towers almost a foot higher than me, and when I do hug him my hands barely touch on the other side.

Post-Game

Minutes before this picture was taken the big one in the middle was crushed in a hug by the little one on the left!

But I hugged him, nonetheless, and I basked in his presence for an entire 20 minutes.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

I miss my boy, and it was fairly obvious to everyone else around us at the Wake Forest football stadium in Winston-Salem, NC, last weekend.

The hubs and I made a two-part journey from our Louisville home to West Virginia and then on to Winston-Salem to watch the Army Black Knights take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

That’s not entirely true. The Hubs was there to watch the football game. I, apparently, was there to watch number 55, even if he didn’t step foot on the field.

Another momma and her boy traveled with us to the game. Army is recruiting her quarterback son, and they wanted to check out the team on the road. Even though the Black Knights fell to the Demon Deacons, he left the stadium with a new conviction to complete the application process for the United States Military Academy.

His momma left with a new understanding of what being a West Point Mom would mean for her.

As we stood outside the stadium talking with my football player after the game, she pulled him aside and enlightened him to my pride. “Your mom really loves you, you know. It made me cry watching her watch you. She never watched the game. She only watched you.”

It’s true.

Army Football

See that grin? That’s my boy!

I try to grasp every single second of my son. I didn’t watch most of the action on the field. I used the zoom lens on my camera to find the only player I cared about, and when he saw me seeing him, he flashed me the goofy grin he knows I love. I caught it on film, and I remember how my heart warmed and my smile grew.

When I grasped him firmly in my arms after the game, I knew the long drive and the exhausting weekend was worth it.

I hugged my boy last Saturday, and I am grasping on to the memory until I see him again.

Stiletto Momma

PS. Through a fellow writer of the blog My Awesome Olive Shoots, I’ve discovered Five Minute Friday. If you’re a blogger, join us every week for a few minutes of blogging inspiration!