Why Little League?

During my 7th grade year, I joined the track team, embracing the daring-do of the long and triple jump. It was my first foray into the world of sports beyond the usual Physical Education requirements. As a child I spent my time climbing trees, throwing a tennis ball against the side of the barn and catching it, bike riding and roller skating. Away from town, sidewalks and crosswalks, team sports held little appeal. My sister rode her bike into Hughson to swim under the supervision of Brenda Henley, eventually joining the swim teams of Turlock Schools where we attended. I was more content with my books, my daydreams, and my world of pretend. 

I like baseball.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

I like the idea of baseball and I find, as an adult, I like the pace of baseball. It is America’s pastime, the America I still dream exists beyond the quibbling of party lines, the media hysteria, the bleak and negative news cycle. 

At last year’s Hughson Youth Baseball and Softball season-opening and anniversary, I saw my ideal goes beyond imagination. David Spears spoke poetically of the power of the team sport, the engagement, the fathers and sons, the daughters, the history and tradition. It is a world that does exist when we continue to put in our effort and make it happen with open hearts, minds, and sportsmanlike attitudes.

So when registration opened, I signed up the two children most intrigued whenever we ventured to the baseball fields of Lebright Park, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, neither of whom knew how to bat, catch, properly throw, or how to play the game. As we waited for tryouts, excitement and anticipation turned to fear and self-consciousness. Neither wanted to do it. 

My musician-husband also preferred track to team sports as a youth made the call:

Try it first.

Wise words.                   

I knew a tryout date of January 25 posed problems with my January 23 due date. It was time to enlist the help of grandparents. After a few conversations about committing to something the days and times of which we knew not, they were on board. Away they whisked the kids to Bilson’s to buy the gear, back and forth my mother emailed with the accommodating organizers, patient with us country folk who never played on a team.

Stella Chiara came into the world before tryouts, two weeks earlier than planned. My mind clouded in the fog of sleep deprivation, my husband running long hours after squirrelly children and meal planning (a change from his intellectual work of teaching and playing the arts), the grandparents came to the rescue. They confirmed all the times and picked up the kids on tryout day, one to try out, the other to watch.

She sent me photos throughout the afternoon. My sweet child whose athleticism has been primarily geared toward archery, tree climbing, rope swinging and moving logs stood out a bit in his khakis and hiking-style tennis shoes against the cleats, baseball caps and athletic pants of the more professional seven and eight-year-olds among him. It was unfamiliar territory.

There were other children the kids knew and other mothers my mother knew who both advised, informed and warned about the pleasures and perils of team sports. As David Spears had promised, there would be other mothers to look after my boy while I stayed home caring for those who by age or medical condition, cannot handle the heat.

Final score

Upon returning home, the report was positive. “Great!” he said, “it was super fun.”

“What did you like about it?” I asked.

He answered, “The catching and the batting.”

“What do you think about playing baseball now?”

“Good. I do really want to play it.”

Pretty poetic, I’d say. We are ready for a new experience to begin both in our adventures of raising five children and doing our best to give those less fragile in health than others, who might fly under the radar, those experiences that were so definitive for others and part of our cultural tradition.

Choosing the Small

Journey in Love: A Catholic Mother’s Prayers after Prenatal Diagnosis is now available online at Our Sunday Visitor.

 

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With my first book published and another on the way, there is cause to celebrate. Yet I cannot help asking myself, where do I go from here?

That same question arose a little over two years ago, after saying goodbye to my littlest girl. In fact, two years ago this month was my son’s last fearful hospitalization. It marked a turning point in his life and ours.

Two years ago I decided to dive deep into writing. I joined Hope*Writers, to which I credit this success being possible. Home with time to spare, while healing physically and emotionally, I was ready for action. I looked online for publications and began submitting. Some outlets, like Mind & Spirit, worked out beautifully; others fizzled (looking at you parenting.co and 209 Magazine).

In Hope*Writers I learned the process of submitting non-fiction to publishers: write the proposal, the sample chapters, pitch the proposal, do not write “dear editor” but know the editor’s name.

In Hope*Writers, I found book recommendation upon recommendation. Some were [professional] life-changing (“The Memoir Project”, “The Business of Being a Writer”); others make me wish I could have that time back (“The Artist’s Way” – what a loss was that hour of skimming!).

In Hope*Writers, I met a network of writers looking to support each other, generous with their experiences and knowledge, willing to offer feedback. The group primarily consisted of Protestant-Christian authors, so their audience was somewhat different than mine, but the vastness of that market made me better prepared to pitch to the Catholic-Christian market.

More than anything, I look back to a brief conversation with Adriel Booker, author of Grace Like Scarlett whose advice, though lost in the stream of Facebook content, centered on the idea to go with my gut.

The common advice is when you finish a book, immediately begin to work on the next. The common advice is to grow the platform, get more followers on social media, sign more people up for the email list, then keep regular contract with your email list. The common advice is to work and pour yourself out in this way for that purpose.

But let us lay aside the common advice. Stretched thin, one must make choices. We cannot do it all. Stretched thin, one must choose what energizes rather than drains.

In this past year I found that going small, going local, looking across the street rather than across the web invigorates me and makes me feel I can make a positive impact on the world beyond the reaches of my home. Our world says more reach is better, but time and again I come to reflect, a more personal reach is better.

I need to loosen the reins and step back, but one thing is for certain, I want this column and my newspaper work to continue. Never on a social media post did I feel the connection I feel meeting folks in the Historical Society, the baseball field, the Chamber of Commerce, Bike to Work, and drive-thru dinner fundraisers. It is in person, when we take the time to talk, to listen, that we can hear each other’s stories, meet a person where he is at, see the look in her eyes as she thinks back to her aunt’s upbringing in this small town and those beautiful sycamore trees.

Books have to be sold online. It is the way of the world and Amazon Prime. But stories can be told anywhere. It the power of the local market. It is the power of the positive press and I am proud to be a part of it.

 

Previously Published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

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Herd Some Chickens

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

We have chickens at our house. Down in numbers from our first purchase, the two remaining are a sight for sore eyes. One is a tiny, mixed breed. The other, named Cobalt, is large, dark gray hen, often mistaken for a rooster, who generously lays double-yoke eggs a few times a week. Despite Cobalt being a full two inches taller than her, Audrey (named for the slight figure of Audrey Hepburn) is the alpha female.

There are ten new chicks on the farm, properly called pullets. I looked on as Audrey herded Cobalt away from the little ones during this, their first day of free-range freedom.

She is the Mama Bear. She is the Mother Hen. With the potential danger getting too near, she set her sights, she protected those in her charge.

But they are not her chicks.

How very much like life it is. For one’s children, we pour ourselves out for their well-being and livelihood. Beyond that, I seem to find others mysteriously in my charge. The boy my husband brings to babysit after work, the young woman I have mentored since she was a pre-teen, the widow who begins to divulge her mental illness during a news interview.

How did Audrey get into this situation of fostering those chicks? She was brooding and, my husband worried that she would not “snap out of it.” He read a brooding hen can sometimes starve herself by refused to move from her nest. Following a recommendation, he put her in with the group of chicks.

The ones she helps now, helped her, and possibly saved her.

Animals have the power to grow and move, and the instinct to survive.

How much more powerful a role will these relationships play for those of us with the ability to think, to reason, to choose?

I think, perhaps, relationships are the key to everything. Therapeutic techniques, like interpersonal therapy, support that idea focusing on improving issues in relationships rather than focusing just on the mental illness.

How many relationships are born out of rescue? Two lives come together unexpectedly or rediscover each other. As one helps the other, they begin to journey together, generally for a season, sometimes for a lifetime.

Gratitude binds one to the other. Love binds the other to the one.

A time comes to reciprocate that love.

The relationship deepens.

A mother anticipates the needs of her offspring. She knows their personalities, knows how they react to certain vegetables and how to motivate them to clean their room (with a little help). She can anticipate those environments that will give them trouble (too big of a crowd) and redirect as needed.

With our ability to choose, unlike the chicken, we can choose well or choose poorly. Few and far between are the saintly individuals who could look at their life and say, “I always chose to give of myself. I’ve never made a selfish decision.”

Are our eyes open for those chicks in our life in need of protecting, of support, of guidance?

If we did spot them, could we leave our own perch and help them out?

I worry with the way of the world we do not ever hear their cry.

It may mean a loss of time on our part, a loss of energy, a redirecting of projects. I may have to dedicate some more effort in memory, strain my schedule, or face my own past trauma. It may mean revealing my heart and the wounds suffered. It may mean sharing that story, again and again, feeling the labor pains once more.

But that revelation could lead to our own healing.

In a small community, we see the same people again and again. Their presence reminds us of their need, that reminder calls us to keep our eyes and hearts open, even if means herding chickens bigger than ourselves.

 

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One Inspires Many

 

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

At the Bookworm Literacy booth during Love Hughson, my 8-year-old, at my strong encouraging, selected “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. One character, the Finn Woman tells her reindeer, “I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don’t you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart.”

My daughter asks me, “it ‘The Snow Queen’ real?” She is very concerned with the line between the real and the unreal.

“No, but even though the things in it did not happen, it teaches us lessons that are true,” I answer.

“Barefooted though she is,” the Finn woman described the girl. Gerda, the child protagonist, owns a pair of red shoes which she offers first to the river, thinking the friend for whom she searches is drowned. Her barefootedness comes out of sacrifice.

 

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Later she is given warm boots and removed them when she entered a warm house. Leaving in haste, she is mounted on the aforementioned reindeer, forgetting her boots.

Her barefootedness comes from the simple forgetfulness of a child. Even in the rain, my children can still manage to climb out of the van barefoot. Their eagerness is their virtue, though not yet tempered by the prudence and careful planning of age.

Barefoot though we are, we all go forth to do what we can. What drives the barefooted person forward? Connection. Relationship. A sense that I am not alone in the world if I can do one thing to help another.

In towns and communities where volunteering is commonplace, where many an event provides many an opportunity, where schools require students to earn citizenship points, it can be easy to reduce the motivation to, “I want to help the community.”

Gerda might have said the same of her friend. Why would she travel the cold world over, meeting strangers and risking adventures?

She might have said, “Because I love him.” Believing him alive, she will not give up so long as there was a need.

Gerda and her friend, Kay lived next to each other. Their windows faced each other and they played together. She watched his personality change and then he disappeared. She noticed.

She noticed and she acted, even if her actions could change nothing. Her connection to him, his presence in her life, her love for him, moved her to act.

Fairytales are useful things when they simplify nature. It is true we are all complicated sorts, but why not condense our complication to barefootedness? Then we can see the effect of good in terrible situations.

Her goodness inspires others to help her. She begins the mission, she persists in the mission, even though she endures suffering. Because of the purity of her intention, others help her along the way.

There are leaders among us in our community. They see the need; they begin the mission. Barefoot though they are, they move forward, and that inspires others to join in. I might not have noticed the need in this insulated life, but the gofundme page, the Love Hughson website, the signs about town, wake me up a little.

The best leaders bring others and their ideas together. Project leaders bring their skills, their ideas seen in the windows that face their own and connections that make them care in a special way about that project. Then others join in.

And thus, we help the community.

Small-Town Solidarity in this Political Season

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

R. R. Reno, the editor at First Things Magazine, an intellectual journal exploring religion and public life, offers some intriguing thoughts this month in his article “Common Good Conservatism.” In the first section, Reno focuses on the terrible rift in American society today between the sides of the political spectrum where both feel “under assault”, “inflamed” and “on edge”.

Sides disagree vehemently on economics, equality and immigration. Disagreements are fueled for political gain by villainizing anyone in opposition to one’s views. Reno sees the solution, not as agreement or the victory of one side over the other, but the desperate need in our society to restore solidarity.

He writes solidarity has “weakened dramatically over the last generation. The collective “we” have become remote and inaccessible…The threat is magnified by the blindness of our political establishment. It can only see threats to inclusion (left) or threats to freedom (right). Our task, therefore, should be to promote a politics of the common good, one that seeks to repair the fabric of our society.”

This belief in solidarity is a powerful one. When a population holds and practices solidarity, the littlest among them begins to matter.

 

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Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.”

At the Hughson Community Thanksgiving Dinner, I pressed Pastor Tim for great interview quotes regarding community. Having nothing to do with this column, I asked him to explain the value of helping the community. He pointed out, astutely, that many of the familiar faces who gather together for the many volunteer opportunities in Hughson launched by the City, the Chamber, the Citizens for a Healthy Community, the Ministerial Association, and more, do not come together just to help the community, but to build community.

These small towns go beyond the events of the big city because we are living these ideas of solidarity. You may not see it on Facebook and you may not see it on Next-door. On the social media platforms, personhood is reduced to words and opinions. It takes a bit of imagination to remember all the other views and opinions and facets of personhood the responder has. We fight words with words. They are simply words challenging my opinion. The biting begins.

Did you know that when we speak to each other face-to-face, making eye contact, that we unconsciously mimic the facial expressions of the speaker? We are wired for this social intelligence, to attend to, to feel with, to respond to the one who feels (read more in Daniel Goleman’s book “Social Intelligence”). This is sympathy, empathy, this is community. And covering these events I have heard Cindy Morphy say, again and again, this is what will keep us going as a society. Working together, we see the “other,” and in the process, we see each other.

Our small towns and our rural society provide invaluable opportunities to remember who “The Other” is, how he or she has needs, daily irritations and struggles, triumphs and tragedies. In a small town, it is harder to build an anonymous bubble around me (though not impossible) because I see my neighbor everywhere! We stretch our minds when Paradise burns because we can imagine our child experiencing what that child experiences whose home was burned to the ground. We connect closer, deeper.

There are some who never lose sight of this. They make excellent, inspirational volunteer and community leaders. It is their charism, their blue flame, and society needs them badly. When you live in a town (I write from Hughson and witness it here) where the local government gives a platform to these individuals, acknowledging that they have the power to build up society by bringing people together, then you have that thing that makes Hughson and other towns like it unique and good.

It is not perfect. Nothing is, because no people are. But we are protecting a gift lost in much of America. And as politics and social media heat with anger and the state burns, the little towns of people in solidarity will become a light to show there is something bigger, greater and more enduring than the flames of indignation we cast about us.

Photojournalism Tips in my Notebook that Celebrate Small Town Life

Sharing with you my photos of the week (viii)

Last season I rediscovered the joy of using the local library. While it is an excellent source for Anne of Green Gables, some of its offerings are a little out-dated, though not useless!

Checking out Photojournalism: A Professional’s Approach, I learned a thing or two which I am learning to apply to my photographs. Combined with the wisdom of How to Style Your Brand and the deliciously laid out Brand Brilliance (not found at my library), stride might just be in the making.

1. Let your photograph tell a story.

Kyle Casey of Casey Music Service assists you with all things music. Educate: private music lessons. Restore: bringing those instruments back to glory through tunings and repair. Create: custom wind chimes for the music lover.

There should be enough elements in the photograph to tell you as much of the “who, what, when, where and how” as possible. Bonus branding points if your photograph includes the colors associated with your business in marketing photographs.

From here, we know this guy (my husband and owner of Casey Music Service) tunes pianos, works in people’s homes, doesn’t kill plants, uses a cell phone while he works but still with foreign-looking tools. We know he can hear and his hearing is required for his work (or he is blind but then that type of phone might not be as helpful).

Digital programs replaced the tuning fork but piano tuning still requires a good ear. Kyle Casey of Casey Music Service assists you with all things music. Educate: private music lessons. Restore: bringing those instruments back to glory through tunings and repair. Create: custom wind chimes for the music lover

2.Take an overall shot, an action shot and a detail shot of the story you are telling.

Even if you do not use all three, it frames them in our mind for your project.

Young Ladies Institute (YLI), a Catholic women's organization celebrates unity, sisterly love and protection (looking out for each other) in a world when most of our connections are losing their real-life touch.

3. Climb on the chair.

To get the right photograph you might need to stand on a chair, a table or lay on the ground. It depends on what you’re aiming for.

Young Ladies Institute (YLI), a Catholic women's organization celebrates unity, sisterly love and protection (looking out for each other) in a world when most of our connections are losing their real-life touch.

 

At the YLI 3rd Sunday of Lent Mass and Breakfast, it did not get too complicated and only a little disruptive to the people whose cookies I stole in order to take this picture.

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4. When you believe in your subject, it shows.

Photography is art. It is a skill that can be learned, but like the copy it accompanies, when you truly care, truly want to celebrate the accomplishments of the subjects, that love comes through. Here, celebrating Small Town Life, we have two boys going off to play in the World Series of the Little League…and they couldn’t be more excited.

Please note Photojournalism: A Professional’s Approach was a remarkable book but it does have explicit images. Approach with caution and away from little ones.

Photos of the Week (vii)

Childlike wonder makes everything clearer (photo from Vintage at the Yard).

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When summer comes I’ll look out this window to see nothing other than a beautiful mess of green from this tree.

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The sky after the rain is a powerful thing. We’ve seen many such skies in the past week. Things live simultaneously in shadow and light.

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In the shadows of a hospitalization, Peter discovered the joy of the window sill, the passing cars and barking dogs.

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To combat the cold modernism, I used the extra space in my suitcase to bring blankets and pillows from my favorite room of the house to give me a moment of joy when I entered the room each night.

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Are there better moments then coming home? It’s noisy and chaotic but, as she says, “there’s no place like home.”

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And in that joy of reunion, we celebrated the birthday and death anniversary of my daughter Celeste. I put her momentoes around the room. An indescribably dear friend presented a homemade birthday cake, flowers, balloons and card written to Celeste.

Even in the midst of sadness missing her, we find joy in acknowledging her presence in Heaven.

Shadows and light live together in the aftermath of a rainy day.

Photos of the week (vi)

So much good this week. In small-town news…

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I interviewed a sandwich shop owner committed to continuing the legacy of a man who owned an iconic sandwich shop in Hughson, Kozi Korner. Kozi Korner was my first taste of freedom, riding my bike “to town” to buy whatever I wanted.

In the same parking lot, a Mexican restaurant hosts a paint and sip night with Relax & Paint. With all the heartache in the world, I’m glad this is the newsworthy stuff we write about. Sharing a legacy, teaching the beauty of art.

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Greatest spot for the week came with interviewing a group of firefighter raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by participating in the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle on March 11. Donate to their cause here.

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At home:

I watched the lilies fade day-by-day cherishing my husband’s thoughtfulness. Their perfume filled the air for ten days before it was time to say good-bye.

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It is Lent but I’ve left up some Valentine’s Day visuals on the fireplace mantle. They’re bringing me joy this winter.

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Among them is a memento of my little love, Celeste, whose birthday and the anniversary of her death we will observe March 2. She was painting by Lotus of Whymsical Lotus.

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Photos of the Week (iv)

For small-town news, we attended a comedy date night at Connecting Point Church of the Nazarene. While the featured comedian was a little rough on Catholic sensibilities the night was overall enjoyable. Best moments: when the improv group interviewed a couple who had been married for 55 years, then acted out their story.

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There is beauty in pruning. We clear away the unwanted or out-of-control, and then we see the sky.

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It is spring in California and the blossoms are blooming. Anyone with a bit of land can grow their own fruit. It really is amazing.

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Our adventures this year include planting annuals. They look bright against the wasted foliage that died away during winter, much like our blessings. When seen in this light, the blessings look all the more beautiful.

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Little joys this February consist of lattes and bowls of citrus whether they’ll be used for martinis or pie, it makes everyday feel like a celebration.

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This week daffodils sprung up all around my mother’s property. The very first batch went to sweet Celeste at the cemetery. The rest come to us.

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The things that give me joy now remind me ever so much of how they carried me last spring as we anticipated the birth and passing of our daughter. I feel gratitude for these things. It is as though the daffodils are among the friends who supported me along the way. It is good to see them again.

Photos of the Week (iv)

The weather warmed up and when I sat outside, all desire to work magically vanished. Though I knew it was Saturday, no ramifications of that emerged in my consciousness.

With Monday comes awareness of the world beyond my home. So without further ado, photos of the week.

Only small town news this week…

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On Friday we took a “field trip” to the Carnegie Art Center in Turlock for two exhibits, (1) Valley Focus highlighting photography inspired by the Central Valley where we live, and the lobby gallery. These relief prints by Monique Wales had me smitten and amazed.

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In my high school Art class, we created small linocut relief prints. The technique plus the graphic, illustrative quality thrilled me.

At the Denair Gaslight Theater, we watched The Odd Couple. While the acting last December at A Christmas Story was a little uneven, the two leads in this performance opening night carried the show for a very enjoyable evening. Still, for the second time in a row, I admit a desire to help with costuming.

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