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!

Army Football Highlights 2013

Video

I love a man in uniform, even one in a football uniform. The Hubs played once upon at time at our Alma Mater Penn State. Now it is the Older One’s turn as an offensive tackle for the Army Black Knights. 2013 may not have been the greatest season for our gridiron warriors, but I never miss an opportunity to talk about my oldest and all the great things he does. So, take a look at the 2013 Army Football highlights, and keep an eye out for #57. I’m extremely biased, but he’s my favorite!

Welcome, Coach Monken. 2014 is our year. Go Army! Beat Navy!

The Re-Resolution of Stiletto Momma

2014…Day Two. The Christmas decorations are wrapped and boxed again. The bushes lining the house are dark as their formerly twinkly lights are extinguished for another season.

People are returning to their pre-Christmas carol, pre-gift giving lives of work, school and business as usual. “Merry Christmas!” has been replaced with “Happy New Year!” followed shortly thereafter with, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?”

Resolution? Hmmmm…

I am rarely able to come up with a resolution much sooner than 11:59 p.m. on December 31st. I’m too exhausted from all the party planning, menu making and present wrapping to think beyond the current holiday much less think about how I want to change my life starting at the stroke of midnight.

Then I’m faced with the inevitable failure of actually keeping the resolution. The minute I resolve to get back in the gym, I want a nap. If I resolve to eat a healthy diet, I will immediately start craving Reese cups.

I have never experienced the thrill of successfully achieving a resolution…until January 1, 2012 when I wrote and published the inaugural post of a little blog named after my alter ego, Stiletto Momma. In that post I resolved to simply “Do Something New.”

Yes, it is very open ended and non-commital, but at the time I also threw out a few possibilities like learning photography and Photoshop. I did buy a good camera that year…in September. I haven’t learned to use it beyond what I read in the first half of the instruction manual, and about the only thing I can do in Photoshop is look at my pictures. I suppose that counts, but just barely.

I mentioned one other possibility in that New Year’s post two years ago.  “I’ll start a blog,” I wrote, and because I typed those words and clicked the “Publish” button, I was a successful resolutioner in the very first hours of the new year! Counting this post, I have gone on to write and publish 64 posts as Stiletto Momma–warrior of all things maternal, corporate and pointy-toed!

When 2013 rolled around, I knew exactly what my resolution would be.

Do Something New!

However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, 2013 was a witch of a year and a wicked one at that.  I couldn’t get around to deciding what “new” was going to be, so I stayed with what was working, and I blogged some more. Pretty soon I was blogging about what was really on my mind–my ongoing battle against Crohn’s Disease.

thegreatbowelmovement.org

My prize pack from TheGreatBowelMovement.org gave me everything I needed to raise IBD awareness in 2013.

In my quest for answers and information, I ran across what has turned into one of my favorite websites, www.thegreatbowelmovement.org, which has been making Crohn’s and Colits (the two forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease) cool since 2010. The founders of this non-profit encourage patients and caregivers to talk about their diseases in an effort to raise awareness. They even sent me a cool prize pack complete with intestine socks and an “Ask Me About My Crohn’s Disease” hoodie.

My 2013 “new” turned out to be writing about something that has been a part of me for almost 25 years. I may have lost some readers who weren’t interested in learning about the woes of a sick person, but embracing a new mission of raising awareness for something I know quite a lot about encouraged and empowered me in a time when I needed to feel strong.

With two successful resolutions under my belt, I’m ready to declare the 2014 version. Any guesses on what it might be?

DO SOMETHING NEW!

That’s right. I’ve decided on a new “new”, and if you’ve been following along for the past few months you could very well have an idea of what it might be.

I am a writer. There, I said it. I am a writer and this year, I intend to write with more dedication and purpose than I have in a long time.

I have a master’s degree in journalism, but outside of internships during college, I have never worked in the field. Maybe I was just waiting around for the blogosphere and digital publishing to be born. Whatever the reason, I graduated from Penn State with a journalism degree and immediately took a job in marketing.

The next one was in fundraising (another form of marketing). When I tried technical writing next, I found my skills were wasted writing about boring things like databases, and moved back to marketing. I had found myself a niche, and that’s where I’ve stayed for over 20 years. I was a marketer with writing skills.

keyboard

The Hubs gave me this cute little keyboard for my iPad–perfect for a blogging resolution.

Now, I want to be a writer who knows how to market herself. You can expect to see more of Stiletto Momma in 2014. I will soon be launching a Facebook page, and I might even start Tweeting. If you’re lucky, you could get a glimpse into this impressive shoe collection I’ve been hinting at. We could even do a contest or two!

I’m starting this blog re-energizing effort with the WordPress Zero to Hero program where my favorite blogging platform will give me a daily task for blog improvement during the month of January. Today’s task is to introduce myself to my readers. If I’ve done my job, you should have been able to pick up a few nuggets of me from the above ramblings, but in addition to being a chronically ill writer who markets (or a marketer who writes) and makes unoriginal New Year’s resolutions, I am:

  • a momma to two amazing children–a six-year-old tomboy and a 20-year-old all-American boy.
  • an adoptive momma to that six-year-old who was born in Russia and became a US citizen five years ago.
  • an Army momma since the 20-year-old is a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point. (Go Army!)
  • a football momma because that cadet also plays on the offensive line for the Army Black Knights and has been working toward that goal since he was five years old. (GoArmy!)
  • a football wife because the Hubs played football at Penn State once upon a time, coached our son for most of his football career and will accomplish seemingly impossible tasks to avoid ever missing a Penn State Nittany Lion game or a Pittsburgh Steeler game.
  • a doggy momma to the Furry One and the Fluffy One who, like the rest of the family, have clever pseudonyms in this blog because it is my choice to blog about them, not theirs, and they deserve a little bit of anonymity.
  • a fairly decent home cook whose specialty is anything her son requests and anything her picky daughter will eat.
  • a lover of shoes and all things fashion.

I am Stiletto Momma, and I resolve to make 2014 blogtastic for everyone!

What’s your resolution…or un-resolution…or re-resolution?

Daring to Fly

When the Young One was three, her pre-school teacher approached me on the playground as I waited for my child to work her way down from the top of the jungle gym. “She may be the smallest one in her class,” the teacher said with a shake of her head, “but she is our biggest daredevil!”

I laughed and nodded along. Yes, my youngest child has always had a desire to keep her feet off the ground. As a baby she wanted nothing more than to jump…and jump…and jump.

Jump

I first learned about the Young One’s jumping joy in an orphanage in Russia.

Then she learned to climb, working her way up the tall ladder of our neighbor’s play set. Next came the monkey bars, even though she was too little to grab the bars herself.

My daughter is a daredevil.

So it came as no surprise when, as we watched the West Point jump team parachute into Michie Stadium two weeks ago, that she jumped to her feet as soon as she saw the tiny dots floating out of the helicopter.

Yayy!

Yayy!

Realizing the dots were people, she raised her arms in the air, jumped in circles, and exclaimed, “I want to do that! I want to do that!”

"I want to do that! I want to do that!"

“I want to do that! I want to do that!”

She watched with fascination as the jumpers swooped and looped. Her smiled widened when the colorful parachutes burst from their packs, and she didn’t take her eyes from her new heroes until they touched down on the football field to announce the beginning of the game.

landing

A safe landing.

Since leaving West Point, she talks of little but her new desire.  As I look through the pictures from that day, I can almost see the instant she decided she would one day fly through the sky.

A dream is born.

A dream is born.

And as I look at this smile, I want nothing more than to see her fly too.

Five Minute Friday***Today’s post was brought to you by Five Minute Friday and the word “fly”. If your fingers can fly across the keyboard at lightning speed and you have great stories to tell, join us on Lisa-Jo Baker’s site quick blogging fun.

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!

Momma-Can’t-Stop-Smilin’ Moments

My kids made me so happy yesterday.

Neither of them said anything special or did anything extraordinary for me.  Actually, it wasn’t even them that made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt.

What made me beam with pride was pictures of them captured at just the right moment.

First, the Cadet…the one I haven’t seen since he left for West Point and the Army Black Knights football camp in early August. He plays left tackle on Army’s offensive line, and as a Yuk (aka a sophomore in almost any other college in the country), his goal when he set foot on the gridiron this season was to dress and travel with the varsity team.

Yesterday, marked the 2012 home opener for the Black Knights, but too few vacation days and too many miles to travel meant this momma watched Army take on Northern Illinois from the comfort of the Hubs’ man cave. Had I been in Michie Stadium, however, I never would have heard the announcers on CBS Sports discussing the significance of the unit patch affixed to each Army player’s jersey.

For each game, the team honors  one Army unit by wearing its patch as part of the game uniform. Stitched to yesterday’s jersey was the unit patch for the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum in northern New York. The 10th Mountain Division is also the Army’s most deployed division over the past two decades.

As the announcers discussed the significance of the patch, the television screen filled with a close up of the patch on a player’s black jersey.

Army Unit Patch

Then the camera slowly panned out to show the face of the player inside that jersey. My breath stopped. I gripped the arms of my black leather man-cave chair, and yelled, “That’s him! That’s him! That’s him! PAUSE IT!”

Army Unit Patch

Yes! My little boy was filling all 101 inches of man-cave screen! Wearing Black Knights black and gold, prowling the sidelines waiting for Coach to call his number and cheering his team to what turned out to be a heart-breaker–a 41-40 loss for Army.

You can almost hear him.

Army Unit Patch“GGGGG….”

Army Unit Patch“…OOOOO!!!!!!”

Of course I was happy to see him all larger than life on the flat screen, but his image was not what had me grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I was beyond happy for HIM because he had reached his goal of dressing with the Varsity team. Not much else can make a momma’s heart glow with warmth than knowing her child is happy.

The Young One, it turns out, was pretty happy with herself yesterday too. Her accomplishment came earlier in the day, but I didn’t truly see it until the day was winding down, and I sat at the computer to download the pictures I’d taken from yesterday’s early morning soccer game.

As this is her first experience with a team sport, I’ve tried to teach her to the basics of the game.

DeterminationTry hard.

Don’t give up, even when the boys are trying to take your ball.

HappyAnd have FUN!

Her face in this last picture tells me that she too had accomplished everything her five-year-old self could possibly achieve on a chilly Saturday morning. I couldn’t stop looking at this picture, and the smile wouldn’t stop either.

My kids are happy! I have fulfilled the Momma Destiny! I have kids who are reaching their goals, and having fun and SMILING!

What more can a momma ask for? Yes, my kids made me very happy yesterday. That’s not much different from the day before, but the difference this time, is that I saw their joy smiling back and me, and I am happy too.

How have your kids made you happy today?

Stiletto Momma