Archive | June 2010

Marco? Polo! Oh no … what’s that?!

I’m warning you, this blog entry is a bit gross.

It was our family’s first trip out to our community pool. We love driving there, especially for our inaugural trip. It’s a 20 minute drive from our house that takes us through pastures with grazing horses and corn fields with corn stalks that grow taller by the day.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a public or semi-private pool, you know how long it takes to pack up the towels, sunscreen, and the optional giant foam noodle (as mentioned in my previous blog). There is the effort in making sure that a supply of snacks are packed and a change of clothing for the shower.

All this preparation is paid off by that first plunge into a sparkling clean pool.

Here comes the aforementioned gross part.

Let me just say that we have been swimming at this pool for a decade now, and we love going because of all the friends who we see out there any time we go. Our kids have gone to camp here, as many children in the area for decades since the 1930’s.

Every trip to the pool becomes an unplanned social outing for us. And finally, our children are at the age where they are all confident in the pool and we let them go off with friends and down the slide. So it was no burden to me when a friend asked if I could watch her daughter for a moment so she could get out of the pool.  In fact, I enjoyed having swimming and walking races with this delightful 5 1/2 year old I have known since the day she was born.

Until I saw some brown matter hovering near the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. 

I immediately informed the lifeguard, who had problems hearing me above the ever-present shouts of Marco? Polo! that has been a long tradition in any pool in North America.  I pleaded again to check this brown matter out, while I coaxed my little friend to swim over to the other side of the pool.  Because when it’s your first swim of the season, and you made all that effort to be at the pool, you don’t want your worst fears of what you thought you saw in the water confirmed.  

But alas, the lifeguard gave a sharp, long blow on her whistle and yelled, “Everybody out of the pool!!”

Yep. 

The lifeguard staff promptly did exactly what they were supposed to do. They evacuated the pool and attended to the situation.  It was the closest thing to a Caddyshack moment I can ever remember having at a pool. 

There are strict federal guidelines about what to do in these situations, because these situations have caused to make many people sick if not handled properly. In fact, in 2005,  New York State officials had to close a state-run spray park because hundreds of people became ill after exposure to contaminated water.

So, as they say, it happens. It just has never happened to my direct knowledge. But it hasn’t made us afraid to go back in the water, and when the lifeguard finally gave the okay – 90 minutes later, we jumped right back in.

I hate you! Now play with me now! Sibling love

One year on the last day of school, my oldest children got off the bus, greeted their visiting grandparents with a big hug, and went directly to the backyard to be bored.   Eventually, with nothing else to do and no one else to play with, they started to play their favorite game: kick the ball on the swing.

Kick the ball on the swing always requires two people. One person swings, the other, in perfect synchronized timing, throws the ball at the exact moment the swinger swings forward. This way, the swinger extends their feet and catapults the ball into the air. The goal is for the ball thrower to catch the ball. But sometimes, the ball goes as high as the branches of a nearby pine tree. Or, even goes over the roof of the house.

Of course, it is much more fun to be the swinger than the thrower. And there must be a fair and even amount of chances for the thrower to be the swinger and the swinger to be the thrower.

This was not the case on that last day of school, where my son had enough of throwing and just gave up, with a pout.

This is where my daughter, who I believed had just finished up the 4th grade, yelled: “That’s not fair, I threw more to you than to me. And there is no one else to play with and I am bored! And I hate you! Now get back here and play with me now!”

This fighting and loving seems to be, according to my neighbor, a favorite form of entertainment for brothers and sisters. I can go through all the parenting magazines like Family Fun or read books like Kids Unplugged. I have art materials and cooking projects ready to go.

And what was the chosen activity of my three children on their first afternoon of summer freedom this year? Hit your sibling with a giant foam pool noodle. THWACKTHWACKTHWACK! Let the summer games begin!

There are no tomatoes like Jersey tomatoes

Our first house in Fanwood, New Jersey was on a street called Shady Lane. It was anything but shady. There were very few trees around our 1950’s Cape Cod, the former site of one of the countless farms that were sold to suburban developers.  The one advantage of living in a neighborhood that was once farmland: great soil.

“You have to dig a trench and plant your tomatoes horizontally to encourage the roots and make your plant less leggy,” my mom instructed as I planted my first garden.  My mom was raised in an apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, but knew all there was to know about tomato gardening from her tiny yard in Staten Island. 

So I planted my first tomato plants.  Jersey Big Boys and a few plants of cherry tomatoes. The support cages I surrounded them with were so tall it gave my neighbor, a chain-smoking retired firefighter, chuckle with skepticism.

“You really think they will get that big?”

But they did. Each night after work, I would come home to find new flowers on the plants that continued to grow and stretch inside their cages. Thanks to that soil and constant New Jersey sun.

The sun was merciless that summer. In fact, New Jersey in 1998 was under a severe drought alert and temperatures reached 90 and above. Every night, after my husband and I bathed our kids, I would haul out the bathwater, one bucket at a time, to water my tomatoes.  By the end of the summer, I had baskets of tomatoes to enjoy with my neighbors, who weren’t laughing at my puny tomato plants anymore. I brought in bags of cherry tomatoes to snack on in my office in Manhattan and left some in the break room for my co-workers to enjoy.

Contrast this with my garden in Rochester. My neighborhood: home to 80-year-old towering sun-sucking Sugar Maples. Unlike the loamy beautiful soil of New Jersey,  my Brighton neighborhood is the site of a former brick yard. You guessed it: thick, clay soil.

I love trees.  I have — no had – 10 trees surrounding my property. But with only an average of 165 sunny days in Rochester, and a huge pine tree standing in the way between my vegetable garden and the sun after 3 p.m., I did the unconscionable. I cut down that tree.  I wanted those red tomatoes that badly. Even so, my vegetable garden in Rochester, will never be so kissed by the sun as the ones back in New Jersey. The threat of frost lasts until mid-may. Days of clouds and rain cause blossom rot and blight. Last year, we received so much rain that if my tomato plants could dream, they dreamt of a sunny hillside somewhere in Italy. Or New Jersey.   

Only this summer did I witness what other sun-starved Brighton neighbors did to achieve that perfect, sun-ripened tomato: for $25, they reserved a plot of land in the town’s community garden. On a tract of land that used to be a farm. More on this community garden in a future post.

Soccer players get younger as the game gets more US popularity

His shirt nearly touched the ground, but Toby, at age five, was ready to play

You would think I know about soccer. My dad coached high school soccer for almost three decades. When I was the coach’s daughter, I went to nearly every practice, every game.  The guys on the team were like my brothers.  A crush on one of the players, I knew, would go nowhere when you are the coach’s daughter, for fear of dating the coach’s daughter.

I watched my dad’s frustration when, the first year or so in the early 1980’s,  the Tottenville Pirates, struggled to find players to come out for the team. The first year, they didn’t win a single game. Then, as I sat on the bleachers on a grey fall afternoon, I watched a triumphant team lift my dad into the air on their shoulders after the team’s very first win. Years later, the Totenville Pirates clinched the city title several times over.

Fast forward to the present:  Today, there are approximately 17.5 million kids who play soccer, according to U.S. Soccer.  I was never one of those kids. My brother was.  When he was very little, he would go straight from a game in his St. Charles uniform straight to Hebrew school. Later, he played, though I think begrudgingly, for my dad’s team in high school.

I’m an adult and I am still happy to be on the sidelines, sometimes with a book, sometimes screaming and jumping when my daughter’s team nears the goal post. I am very grateful for the parents who get out there and coach.

In my town, Brighton, soccer seems to be the new religion. I remember one summer, when my youngest was around six, the family took and after dinner stroll around the neighborhood, looking for people to chat with. No one could be found. Why? Everyone was on a field, in a folding chair, watching their kid play soccer. We never made that mistake again and signed our kids up for soccer every succeeding summer.

At a quick glance, the fields in Buckland Town Park in Brighton on Tuesday and Thursday evenings appear as if they have been invaded by a colony of little green Martians. But if you adjust your eyes, you will see that this is no alien colony but the future of soccer. For the first time, hundreds of the town’s six and seven year olds are all on the same neon-green team and are learning to dribble, pass and score in Brighton Soccer League’s new program called the Small-Sided Games Initiative.

Cities across the country – and now Brighton – are implementing small-sided soccer as a new trend that affords the youngest soccer players “more opportunities to have contact with the ball and gain confidence in the sport,” according to Mike Tullio, a member of the Brighton Soccer League board who facilitates the E, F and Pee Wee divisions. Dedicated volunteer coaches switch off with random groups of ten children each night with 30 minutes of drilling and dribbling and learning how to control the ball, and then 30 minutes of scrimmage play with half the “team” wearing blue aprons.

Is this new method working? Mike said that like anything new, it is too early to tell, and it is a bit of an adjustment. There are a few drawbacks from a coach’s perspective, he said, such as the inability to work with one set group of kids for the entire season.

Brighton resident and volunteer coach Barbara Egenhofer agrees. “At this age, they are really starting to understand the game, and I need to get to know where a kid’s strengths are – be it offense or defense.  For younger children, the new setup may be good for straight skill development, but the older kids really want to wear those separate team colors and have a greater desire to play a real game,” she said.

Either way, the smiles on the kids’ faces as they run the width of the field – and score a goal into tiny nets — are proof that they are having a good time. The only drawback for kids – no organized team means no organized snack at the end of practice.

The End is at hand. Time to blow up the pool!

Can you feel it? Can you hear it? The last time this year the school bus will round the corner to drop off our precious passengers.  The squeals of children that bound off the bus, their arms and backs laden with a year’s worth of art projects, worksheets, and whatever winter boots and mittens that strayed in their cubby.  The initial relief and exhilaration that at last, the school year is over. Only to be followed by the yawning, gaping weeks of unscheduled time before camp.

I look forward to this time of year and dread it all at the same time.  I look forward to sleeping in, not having a schedule but no schedule can lead to boredom and the downward spiral of me asking my kids for the umpteenth time to turn off the TV, or get off the computer.

It used to be easy to please my three children when they were little. Entertainment could be whipped up with a recipe of salt dough or a soap bubble mixture. Even in recent years, purchases of those oversized, blowup pools, complete with a waterslide, do the trick but for a day or two.

“Why should you blow that up again, mom? Daniel has a real pool? Can we get a real pool?” Yes, sweetheart, I think. I’ll just call up the contractor, take out a second mortgage and we’ll dig a whole in the ground. In a month, the pool will be in, and we can swim in it for another month before the first frost sets in.

I am quite thankful for growing up having a pool in my backyard. It was no fancy in-ground swimming hole. A humble, round, above ground pool – not even a deck – did the trick just fine for inviting friends over for a party. In fact, everyone in my middle-class Staten Island neighborhood seemed to have one. Where some codes in some housing developments ban these vinyl and steel  pools, they were all the rage back home. I always wanted to fly over my neighborhood to see what it looked like with all those round and kidney-shaped pools dotting our tiny backyards.

Even if my kids poo-poo it, this will be appreciated if the weather gets hot enough. I will drag the pool out of my shed, dust it off. I will then bring up the wet-dry vac from the basement and sit in a lawn chair as I watch it slowly inflate. Hopefully, a sharp rock or branch has not punctured it from the summer before. Then it will need a patch. Finding the hole and sealing it is about as difficult as sealing the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and a topic for another blog post.

A blowup pool is worth the investment. It will stave off boredom at least until the community pool opens. Or an invite to a real backyard pool comes along.

No in-ground pool? A blow-up pool does the trick.

Where are you from?

It’s been two years now that I have started writing my weekly column in the Democrat and Chronicle. I love the disussions that my columns have started and the responses I get from people who greet me in the supermarket, out at the park, or at my kids’ games. Here is my first column. I’m always looking for column ideas so keep me in mind if you know any interesting event or issue in Brighton, Pittsford, Honoeye Falls, Mendon, Victor, or Canandaigua.

When traveling out of town, a common opener from people you may encounter is, “where are you from?”

I grapple with this question even though I have lived in Rochester with my husband and three children for nearly a decade.  Rochester, with its cultural and community resources, affordable housing surrounding natural beauty, is New York’s best kept secret.  My children are definitely “from” here. This is where they grew up, went to school and made friends.  But still I wonder:  Does a decade of having a Rochester address constitute calling oneself a Rochesterian?

I posed this question to some of the many friends I have made here. One, who works as a lifeguard at the Summit Residence in Brighton, told me that some residents who have lived in Rochester for almost 40 years still do not consider themselves Rochesterians. Why? One of them replied, you know you are from somewhere when you knew your friends when they were still called by their maiden names.

Maybe home is where you learned to speak.  If that is so, my downstate inflections give me away every time.  I am a native of New York City.  Though it has toned down, all it takes is a weeklong trip back to see the family to repercolate my New Yawk-ese back to its full strength.

In my heart, New York City will always be home.  Perhaps home is where you can walk where your parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents once walked.  I can trace my family back in New York City five generations.  Like many in Rochester who can point to a section in the city and say this is where their ancestors lived and worked, I can tell you the street on the Lower East Side where my grandmother was born in a walk-up tenement apartment.  I can point to the building that houses the New York Daily News, where my grandfather and his father put the paper to bed as photoengravers. When we drive along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, I can point out to my children the terraces of the Luna Park apartments in Coney Island, where my relatives lived and where we watched fireworks on Tuesday nights in the summertime.  

Slowly, my family is planting roots in Rochester and we are making our own memories.  I love our neighborhood in the Twelve Corners section of Brighton with its old sidewalks, eclectic homes and gas lights.  Most of all, it is the people who live around us that make it a community.  After moving in on the onset of our first, dark, cold Rochester winter, my neighbor from across the street introduced herself by bestowing us with the brightest bouquet of sunflowers I had ever seen. Another neighbor invited us over to celebrate with them on New Year’s Eve. I will never forget the feeling of being welcomed.

After our first few months of living here, my husband and I quickly fell in love with Rochester’s accessibility.  In one ten-minute car ride, we can park for under $10 for the evening, eat at a fantastic restaurant and take in a show or the symphony.  And when the curtain comes down, I can be snug in my bed within 30 minutes.  You try that in New York City. 

Ten minutes in the other direction, I can stand in a field of sunflowers and buy a dozen ears of corn directly from a farmer by leaving money in a locked box.

Being at home may also be a state of mind.  Writing this column allows me to return to my first sought-out profession of newspaper reporting. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than telling the stories of interesting people, places and things through writing.

Now, if I can put it bluntly, as we downstate New Yorkers tend to do: what’s your story? What people, places and happenings in your part of Rochester make it a healthier, friendlier, cleaner, greener place to live? What is it that you love about your hometown?  What would you like to see change and how are you and others working to make this change?   I look forward to hearing from you at dnceastextra@gmail.com.

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