Heaven Couldn’t Wait

I’ve watched a community grieve online twice, in the past year or so.

This time, the community – our community – has lost a beloved teacher.  Although I’d known Mike Tetlow for several years, it was a superficial acquaintance; he was my kids’ religion teacher at St. Paul’s in Jax Beach.  I’d see him around the middle school and stop to say hello, to give him a fist bump – his version of a handshake, I suppose.

Quadriplegic, Mike lost the use of his athletic body in a car accident while on his honeymoon, several years ago.  He spent the following years strapped into a power-driven wheelchair, and resumed the teaching career he’d started as an able-bodied younger man.

Word of his unexpected death Sunday spread across cellular networks and Facebook faster than parents could take their children aside, and do the telling, properly.  But such is the social community of today, and I’m as big a part of it as anyone.  I was able to get to my daughter just before her cell phone began to bleat with text messages from friends:  ‘OMG, Mr. T died, for real’ *bleep* ‘Mr. Tetlow died I just saw him in Mass last night’ *bleep* I was the one who told her that her religion teacher, the man who reviewed Monday’s scheduled test with her class on Friday, had gone to sleep on Saturday night, and woke up in Heaven on Sunday morning.  His was a blessedly peaceful passing, and I cheered for that, while choking back tears for this gentle guy whose masculinity was not diminished by his disability.

Others knew Mike Tetlow as a baseball player, a coach, and a teacher of history, social science, and religion at Catholic schools in Jacksonville.  Our family knew him only during his life in the chair, teaching Catholicism as a course as tough as any other.  He told us, “I want these kids to know their Bible as well as the Protestants, to understand the Biblical basis of their Catholic faith!” And so he taught his classes with both an intellectual and spiritual focus.  He held help sessions after school before each test: he was a kindly reviewer of the test material; no student could claim not to know what was coming.  And he made it fun: yes, he was generous with the candy, and why not? He gave candy when a kid would get the right answer during a help session, and, I’m told, sometimes in class; and always, when the test review was finished everyone there got a piece.  His help sessions were always popular with students at St. Paul’s.

Mike was in and out of the hospital frequently, battling assaults to his physical body in one form or another for many years.  Last year, he missed several months of teaching, but was finally welcomed back for the spring quarter.  He seemed to fight for life, and his demeanor was always cheerful, but I guess I had to have known that his life expectancy could not have been great.

I love social media for many reasons, and when someone dies, it’s good to have a space to share memories, photos, anecdotes, tears, and sometimes, despair. It links hundreds of people in an instant who can support one another, and it’s helped me to understand more about Mike Tetlow than I had ever known.  Someone posted an old photo of Mike as a softball coach; I had never seen him as an able-bodied guy.  To consider how a person would have to adjust to a physically constrained life is overwhelming, and we know it was hard for him, too.  But in the end, he told me – and others, I’m sure – that he was at peace with it.  His teaching career remained vigorous and he never balked at speaking the truth about love, life, and human relationships, to his students.  I was glad to know my kids – a son, and a daughter – had Mike Tetlow as a male teacher, a role model.  He spoke with the boys during their ‘love and life’ curriculum and was firm about impulse control, respecting themselves and others, and keeping the Holy Spirit within their budding male-female relationships.  He gave the girls some practical advice as to how to resist a guy’s physical advances!  As a parent, I’m happy to hear this.  He wanted our kids to make the choices that would not harm them, and would draw them closer to God. He encouraged conversation, and sharing of music; he’d sometimes give students extra credit if they shared a song that honored God in some way.  It didn’t have to be a church hymn; in fact, one of his current favorites was ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay.  He often played this version in his class this year.  Read the words as you listen to the song (and ignore the misspelling, as Mike advised his students, too) …you’ll hear what Mike heard.  I believe it.

I ran into Mike and his sister two years ago on Thanksgiving Day at the festivities on the street in front of Pete’s Bar.  Although he was no fan of drunken foolery often seen at open parties, he enjoyed the afternoon outside…Thanksgiving at Pete’s is a beaches tradition, and has grown to become a block party over the years. But the weather was lovely and the sun shone brightly; it was our first time at Pete’s on Thanksgiving, and we chatted about it for a bit.  I snapped a photo of him and his sister, and published it on in a post about Thanksgiving at Pete’s.  I later gave him a copy of the picture, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my sharing it here.    


Mike Tetlow was pro-life.  He believed that life begins at conception and ends at natural death.  He certainly embodied the dignity of life, the way he lived and worked during his latter years.  He was an iconic figure around the school. It’s tough to realize we won’t see him anymore – until we meet again. That’s what he truly believed, and how he lived.  He influenced so many: his current students, and hundreds of alumni over the years.   Reading the stories and memories being posted on his Facebook page flesh out so many aspects of Mike Tetlow that I simply didn’t know.  His teaching colleagues have scores of memories of Mike that go back for years. Really, the whole community will miss him.  The Angie’s Subs sign, which always seems to have its finger on the pulse of the beaches and/or the culture, paid tribute to Mike this week.

Beach Teens 4 Life is a pro-life youth group that Mike supported.  They’ve created wristbands in his honor that they’ll distribute at his viewing, from 6:30-8:00pm on Thursday, and before his Mass of Christian Burial on Friday at 11:00am.

I’ve used social media for many years and many reasons, from personal amusement to legitimate social networking.   And twice now, I’ve watched, and participated in social media as a group reacting to the sudden death of a precious person.   Mike Tetlow has quite clearly made an indelible impression on the lives of so many. Not a Facebook user during his life, he has 728 members (at this writing) of his Facebook Memorial Page in just one day’s time.  Colleagues, students, and friends are posting wonderful memories that give the rest of us a more complete understanding of the life of Mr. Tetlow.  What would he have to say about that?

When our family suddenly lost A Beautiful Boy we ran into Mr. Tetlow as we were making frantic preparations to leave town for his funeral, and shared our sorrow with him.  The Beautiful Boy’s personal Facebook account remains open, and his friends are still posting to him, several times a week, fifteen months later.  He was a life force among his friends in life, and is quite clearly influencing them for the good from Heaven, today.   The social media can help keep our relationship with them feeling tangible, even after their physical deaths take them from this earth.

As one of Mr. Tetlow’s students posted, a few days ago, “…now I have an intercessor in Heaven.”

We believers accept that eternal life is a mystery, but if we take the time to look and listen – the Bible, the Mass, in online communities, in groups for fellowship with, and service to others – the evidence we yearn for is there.  I see it on A Beautiful Boy’s Facebook Wall still, week after week.  Let’s keep Mr. Tetlow’s Page going, too.

I believe that he will be honored to be your intercessor to the Lord.  Go ahead and ask him.

Live in Atlantic Beach: A Newborn Sea Turtle Finds Its Way to Sea

Atlantic Beachlife was live on the scene last night when a nest of loggerhead sea turtles hatched.  Arriving with our crew as the final group of turtles were at the shoreline,  we followed the last straggler of this sibling group of more than one hundred find its way to the water’s edge.  It was waddling gamely but seemingly confused, while the trained volunteers of the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol assisted. They gently turned and guided it several times, until the tiny marine reptile finally found the water’s edge and was carried away by an outgoing wave.

The birth of any baby brings out the best in people, and sea turtles are no exception.  Tonight, families were seen hugging, tearful with joy to be part of this rather rare and fleeting moment (a nest can hatch and baby turtles dispersed within 10 or 15 minutes), and snapping photos with camera phones.  Everyone on site was careful to observe the no-flash photography rule, and no one even tried to touch a baby but the gloved specialists who were on hand for the hatching. Unfortunately not everyone who lives at the coastline understands (or cares?) that dimming or dousing their ocean-facing window lights is de rigueur along our beaches during sea turtle season, which runs from May 1 to October 31.  This year, there appears to be an abundance of nests in our area, and we observed that several were wrapped in the rear with blackout sheeting.  We have observed in the past that many of the oceanfront homes and condos have lights blazing inside which can confuse the little ones, who have a long and treacherous journey to maturity.

Only one per one thousand live births will actually live to maturity. At the ripe young age of fifty years old, a surviving female, will return to lay her eggs at the site of her birth.  That means that of the hundreds of sea turtles born during this season, probably just one will be back, nearly two generations from now, to perpetuate the species.  Perhaps you will be on this beach with your (great?)granchildren, and will pass on the lessons of caring for these endangered creatures.

Enjoy the video shot by our reporter, Jeannie Greenwald.

Eastern Market Summer Saturday





Detroit, Michigan’s Eastern Market has to be one of the country’s older farmer’s markets.  It’s in downtown Detroit and Saturdays is its largest draw.  There are restaurant supply companies and little specialty markets in the district, but Saturdays is when it comes to life, and has been the only day of the week I’ve ever gone there.  Now that I live in Florida, it’s been ages since I’ve been to Eastern Market.  I’ve been reading this guy’s blog with fascination for his life in the city with his wife and kids (they live in a small historic district called Lafayette Park which is a pleasant area surrounded by decrepit Detroit (here’s an article about the architecture in the city in the Lafayette Park area); his elegant writing, his adventures and creative projects with his kid, and his trips to Eastern Market.  He and his wife have made a rich and satisfying life within the city that my Michigan family think I’m crazy to want to visit.  Hey, I used to work with kids in that city, back in the mid-90s. I went into the neighborhoods, into their homes, and saw dwellings so foreign to me that I had to feign nonchalance.  Surely I stuck out like a white girl in a Pontiac Sunbird, but never did I feel threatened despite the fact of the locale,  and the people I worked with who were (almost) always nice to me.  I also spent four years in a different Detroit career, downtown, playing with the big boys, although I was callow and naive at that time in my life. Later, I drove to Wayne State University for my Master’s degree, and loved it.  So I’ve been on these roads and walked the city streets, and I met my husband in a Detroit bar.  I’m not exactly a Detroit virgin.  I was born in Detroit, and grew up in a suburb that bordered Detroit. While I did not  grow up in the city with the city experience, quite different from my own, neither was I immune to it.

So this blogger used to post weekly pictures of his fresh food haul from these Saturday trips to Eastern Market,  and I was amazed by how much locally grown produce he got for such a small amount of money.  Since I’m in Florida, I’m stuck, pretty much, at Publix, but during my past few summer trips to Detroit (well, a close western suburb) during the annual Michigan trip with the family, I’ve longed to go into the city and have a look around.  Eastern Market was definitely on my to-go list.  But my desires were met by family resistance (“Oh, forget about that. Why would you want to do that?”  “Oooh, you don’t want to go there,” and so I acquiesced, and sat on the couch, instead.  Until this year.  (Well, I still sat on the couch, but I went into the city, finally.)  One Saturday I said, “I’m going to Eastern Market,” and took my foodie daughter and showed her the place.  You should have seen her face when confronted with all that fresh, colorful produce.  Here are some pictures from that day.  On another day, I went into the city again…but I didn’t tell anyone until afterwards.  Oooh, so daring!  But here are some pictures from the best farmer’s market around, with a great Saturday vibe.
























Three Endings

Do three endings make a beginning?



Three?  Yes, three.

Do you dwell on the ending or use it as fuel for the beginning?  No; we make choices.  It’s the future, and that’s that.


At home in the water, this is good water.*  There’s joy in good water, in full immersion, diving down and surfacing.  With no time pressure and sunshine it’s  tactile and sensual and cleansing all at once.  With no time pressure you can emerge and air dry and get hot again. In you go, back to the water which beckons.

It sounds so cliche, but this is how I experience the joy of good water, on a leisurely summer day. It’s a simple and exhilarating pleasure.

Lately, I’m adrift. I have lost my voice here. I haven’t been happy to write; I haven’t quit but I’m on pause.  I suppose the voice will come back but it feels like that voice is changing.  Writing through it will make it happen.

*Bouvier Bay off Anchor Bay off Lake St. Clair, in Michigan.

Summer 2011

Macro Monday Water Droplets on Stems

I lay on the grass in my bathing suit and took these pictures. I suppose I’m captivated by all things tiny.

I like how I can see so many reflections in a minute water droplet.

But first, meet my Blood Lily. A bulb plant, buried several years ago, comes back annually, and each time, brings more blooms. I guess it spreads? The blooms are now in varying states of their life cycle.

the Blood Lily in bloom. it’s not a great picture but i wanted you to see what a Blood Lily looks like before I go into the world of macro.

the Blood Lily, unfurling.  i hope.

in all her glory: the Blood Lily’s profile.

droplet in Blood Lily. reflected in that droplet is the variegated Ginger plant behind me.  see?

moving on to Agapanthus leaves.

the stems of the Agapanthus had shimmering droplets i could not resist.

each stem has its own charm.

oh no, i’m not finished!

it’s a slender one.


My Blue Springs: A Love Story in Pictures

This was our third springs trip of the season; our first, to Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County.  Everyone knows this is my favorite springs of all – so far.  I’ve been to many, and enjoyed most of them, but nothing compares to Blue.  It’s like my first springs-love; the one you never forget.  The one you remember for always with a special place in your heart.

There’s so much about this place that makes me happy, and I’m not the only one who loves it here.  Its natural beauty thrills me.  Its cool, clear waters invite me  every time.  Fins and mask in place, I dive deep over the vent, or swim down the spring run, through the underwater plant life where the freshwater fish live.  There’s life in that water, and some 24 million gallons of it burst forth from the aquifer every day.  Maybe more.  I know it’s a second-magnitude spring, which staggers me as I’d have thought it a first.  But whatever.  It’s a wonderful place to take the family as there’s something here for everyone.

Privately owned, well-kept in a rustic atmosphere, that’s what I love about this place. The sandy beach entrance.  The quarter mile boardwalk that follows the spring run to the Santa Fe River.  The canoes or kayaks you can rent if you want to head out and explore life along the river.  A few smaller springs on the property, my favorite being Naked Spring for its natural beauty and intimate feel.

The pictures tell the story here.

This little spring is called Naked Spring.  Backstory on Naked Spring is here. These pictures were taken from its small, floating dock. Most picturesque. Unfortunately, there was a guy standing on the dock when I approached. I lingered, hoping he’d leave, so I could enjoy just a few minutes there, alone with my camera.  No such luck.

Above, the quarter mile boardwalk that follows the spring run to the Santa Fe River.  Many times, I’ve swam in the run out to the river…and back. You need your fins for this as the current is definitely a challenge. Upside? You can stand up in the water if you’re tired!  It’s not deep.  I feel strong and invigorated when I make this swim.  Also, the water temp between the spring run and the river is markedly different.  You swim into the river and instantly it feels ten degrees warmer.  You hang out in the river for a while, swimming about and treading water (fins make it all so easy).  Then, you know you have to swim back.  It’s like someone’s turned the hot water off in your shower, the minute your body leaves the river and enters the spring run again.  Yowsa.  Keep moving, you’ll get used to it!

See how the current flows in the spring run?

Big Blue Springs: quiet.

Second Springs Visit of 2011: Ichetucknee River

Last week, we took a group of Japanese students and their teachers to see one of Florida’s most pristine rivers and popular natural attraction: the Ichetucknee River and two springs – the headspring and the Blue Hole.

The Japanese were guests of three families from our school, and were visiting the States for their participation in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.  Our Odyssey leader requested to host a ‘homestay’ team and we were matched with this lovely group from Japan.

The teachers were a husband and wife team, both older than average.  “Like grandfather,” the Japanese man told me.

He’ll be 71 this week.

The students are middle schoolers.

And they were all delightful.

The only real English speaking person was his wife, Mioko.  The families who hosted took them to the beach a few times, down to St. Augustine, to the Alligator Farm, shopping, boating, had pool parties, and played Kinect on the X-box. No English required!

I attended the parties, and of course, the trip to Ichetucknee, which I anticipated greatly.  I didn’t even bring my camera.  Gasp!  I snapped a couple of pics with iPhone, and that was it.  

Our Japanese guests paid for all our tubes and rafts.  We needed the tube center’s van to haul them to the park (usually we have them tied onto our cars and they just retrieve).  We had a quick picnic lunch and then it was off to the river.  Oh, after a long school year and a HOT week in Maryland, by the time we got to the river’s edge, I dove into that crystal clear 72 degree water, and the cares of a long school year melted away.  I  do love being in the water.

Since we’d chosen one large raft (I had two girls in my care), and a single tube for me, I brought my snorkel gear and fins down to the river, having a place to keep them if I decided to use them during the tubing float.  I made sure I had extra twine, for tying things (like my flip flops) onto the raft.  I put my fins on right away which was a smart move. We’d rented the large raft because one of the two girls thinks she “doesn’t want to touch the water”  in this lovely clear river. The two agreed to share the raft, while I’d take the tube.  Once we’ve been on the river for 20 minutes or so, it’s ‘abandon ship’, and Jeannie’s left to corral three (how did I end up with three?! ) tubes and the large raft,  and keep us moving as a group.  It’s easy to get ahead of your friends on the river, if one’s a tentative tuber. There is some effort (not much, certainly easy and do-able; but one can’t be completely passive) involved in keeping your tube or raft floating down the center of the river.  It’s easy to drift from side to side, and the riverbank is lined with trees and logs and all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies that I do prefer to enjoy from the center of the river.  But I don’t freak out if the tube drifts and I have to push off from the bank.  I just preferred to keep the flotilla moving down the center of the river, so I did have to do some ‘against the current’ swimming, to go back and help someone, or ‘steer’ the raft along while also holding onto tubes so they didn’t drift away. Thank goodness I was using fins for it made all my in-the-water helping out possible.    I tied my  tube to the mother ship (raft), and soon, I’d tied the other two tubes, as well.  Thus accomplished, our group  (by now we’d acquired a third girl!) was now free to enjoy the river or the tubes, and I only had to assist one thing instead of four!  Now, it’s all good.  I loved being in the water, swimming along with my fins, for a good part of our two hour float.  After a while I got out to drape myself over one of the tubes and let the river take me…oh, that’s SO nice.  This is what’s so great about the Ichetucknee River tubing experience. One can swim, snorkel or float; or one can rent a small tube with a bottom on it, with a head rest and arms – there are options at the various tube rental places that dot the highway close to Ichetucknee State Park.

The larger group of Japanese kids, other adults and kids from our school were having a blast floating and swimming and log-rolling (really!) for nearly two hours, until we reached the stopping point.  Then we drove out of the south entrance and seven miles around the park to the north entrance, where the headspring was located; the Blue Hole, a second spring, was about 1/4 walk into the woods.  It’s well worth it to see (and swim in, if you’re a swimmer) both of these springs, when you come to Ichetucknee. Why drive all this way and not visit the actual springs?    Each has a different environment, and a different swimming experience, if you have a mask or goggles and can view the underwater world.  The springs create clear, freshwater ‘lakes’ or ‘large swimming holes’  with a ‘boil’ or ‘vent’, and a fair amount of fish to look at too, if you’re snorkeling.  I watched underwater as the Japanese kids swam with gleeful abandon in the Blue Hole.

After another, last swim of the day in the Ichetucknee headspring, it was time to make the two-hour drive home.  The two girls in my car were asleep before I drove out of the park, and never stirred until I reached the neighborhood.

It was a good day.

Hello Summer, Thank Goodness You’re Here, or: My Year with Odyssey of the Mind.

It’s been a long school year and it’s nearly over. I’m calling it over though there are some (er, one) in this house who needs to study for finals (and stop watching the Cartoon Network).

In the meantime, I’ve been to the University of Maryland and back, escorting our state’s winning  Odyssey of the Mind team to the World Finals.  It was our first year as a team and we won first place at Regionals, so we went on to the State Competition in Orlando.  There, the team knocked it out of the park very early on competition day,  and I started to think they had a chance to make it Worlds (well, everyone calls it Worlds, so I will too).  We waited for the entire day’s competition to conclude and for that evening’s awards ceremony with my heart pounding.  I’ll be honest:  I had mixed feelings about going on to Worlds.  Worlds is a BIG time deal and would require so much more of my time, money, energy and emotion, when I was really quite ready for it to be over – for so many reasons.  I co-coached this team to do something meaningful for one of my children, who’d never expressed any interest in anything extra-curricular,  and it became a school-year-long thing that has a story of its own – there were so many ups and downs and issues and triumphs and tensions… You know, the usual.  Except I don’t usually get involved in such matters at school.  Well, this year, I decided I would.

The day of state competition wound down and all the competing teams from across Florida gathered in the arena on the campus of University of Central Florida for the closing awards ceremony.  Emotion ran high in our section, as honorable mentions were given and we were not among them. We all knew the kids had nailed the public part of the competition, but there is also a private challenge (Spontaneous problem-solving)  that’s not open for public viewing – just the team and the judges. The scoring system and the challenges are quite complex.  Finally, it was time to announce the second, and first place winners.  You know, they build anticipation by announcing the honorable mention winners, for each of the five problem categories, in four divisions.  Then they start over, and announce the second and first place winners. (It’s a long ceremony!)  Finally,  second place  winner in our problem category and division was announced, and it was not us.  My heart was in my throat and the entire team and coaches were poised on the edges of their seats.  Finally, it happened.  “… in first place, and going on to Worlds: St. Paul’s Catholic School in Jacksonville Beach, Florida!” and the team ran wildly (myself included, I admit it) onto the stage, slapping outstretched hands all along the ways.  What a moment!

The kids claimed their trophy with unbridled joy – especially one of our boys, who’d been on various Odyssey teams over the past four years, and had joined ours, this year.  Pictures were taken, hugs all around, and we returned to our seats to let it all sink in.  We were the first team from the Manatee Region (four counties) to ever send a team to World Finals.  We were rock stars.

A coaches’ meeting followed immediately after the awards ceremony and our blazing victory, where the reality of our win sank in.  The costs of going to Worlds was discussed.  A million other details were rolled out – and I felt awash in a sea of mixed feelings.  Certainly, exhilaration of the win was stunning, but the reality of cost, fundraising, logistics, and team unity, were also forefront in my mind.  We had a team member threaten to quit, twice prior, each time just before the important competition.  The reasons for quitting were essentially a lack of interest/commitment to the team and program on the part of the parents.  The coaches had made numerous concessions for this team member over the past several months.  I was weary of that part of the coaching job, which had drained me in particular.

We had a wonderful person at our school – the person who’d brought Odyssey of the Mind to our school several years ago, and had coached teams to the State level every time, but her team hadn’t won Regionals this year, sadly.  Still, she and two of her young team members drove the two and a half hours from Jacksonville to Orlando to support us (and watch as many of the competitions as possible to prep, already, for next year’s Odyssey of the Mind team!). When we won first place, she swooped in and worked her magic, organizing us around fundraising and in the end – after various car washes, hot dog lunches, bake sales, social mixer night for adults, and very generous contributions from our school’s PTA, the Dads’ Club, and the Knights of Columbus – we had enough money in the bank to make it happen.  Each of the kids’ cost of staying in the dorm on campus was covered.  Also, the cost of the dorm coach was covered.  Guess who the dorm coach was?  Yes.  Me.

We still had the dramatic wait while the recalcitrant team member made up her mind about whether or not to join us for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  (She decided to participate.)  We still had the usual resistance of that team member’s parents. While everyone pitched in washing cars and supporting fundraisers, they participated peripherally.

All of this happened, too, with very few weeks between the State win, and the start of Worlds, with a spring break holiday from school thrown in to make our fundraising even more challenging. But it all came together so well.  We decided that since we were going to Worlds, we might as well embrace the entire cultural experience.  We requested a to be a buddy team which meant that our kids (and coaches) would sort of be like American hosts to a team coming from another country (yes, teams from about 14 other countries journeyed from as far away as Asia, Russia, and Africa).  We requested a homestay team which meant that families from our school community would host, in their homes, members of an international team who’d traveled to the U.S. for Worlds, to give that team a days-long, regular American experience.

Our buddy team was a South Korean group of kids who were the same age as our team, competing in a different problem category.  Our homestay team was a Japanese team – again, the same ages as the kids on our team, and also competing in a different problem category.  Great, because we could cheer each other on and not worry about them as The Competition!

It was truly amazing.  There were 800 teams from about fifteen countries in the competition.  In our problem category alone, we were one of 66 teams.  The whole campus was filled with students and coaches and parents.  We stayed on campus five nights and when we arrived I learned we’d been assigned to a non-airconditioned dorm, with community bathrooms down the hall.  Just like my freshman year of college – redux!  Except this time, I had a single.  My cell, as I called it, was stark and hot.  They all were.  Naturally, Maryland was experiencing its first,and early, heat-and-humidity wave of the summer.  HOT in the dorms.

But awesome too.  The kids had a blast in the dorm, where the hall was co-ed and mostly filled with South Korean kids.  South Korea sent 22 teams to Worlds this year.  Everywhere we went we heard Korean being spoken.  We found our buddy team and learned to communicate through smiles and simple words, for while they performed their skit entirely in English, their English skills in conversation were quite limited.  Odyssey hired a U of Maryland Korean American student to interpret for them and it was through her that we conversed with our new friends.  But it’s amazing how much kids can learn to interact, nonverbally.  Playing Ninja became a favorite activity as games sprouted spontaneously everywhere: dorm lobbies, metro platforms, outside the ballpark.

We competed and did not win or place.  This time, I felt we’d finish in the middle of the pack, somewhere in the 30s of 66 teams, so I was happy to see we were 25th of 66 teams!  After watching so many other teams compete, I could sense we wouldn’t take top honors but that didn’t matter so much now:  we were at World Finals of Odyssey of the Mind.  We were mixing with bright and creative kids from all over the world.  And five hot nights in a dorm was exactly where we needed to be; not off campus in a nice hotel, separate from the moments that made the entire Odyssey experience so singular for them.  The nights in the dorm, horsing around with themselves and new friends.  ‘Pin trading’ – an strategic enterprise one can’t quite explain until you’ve experienced it – was going on all times during down times.  Every team would bring their own team/state Odyssey pins, and then start hunting for cool pins from other teams.  All these pins are attached to a towel, and the kids would plop down and lay out their towels and negotiate with their peers for the pins they coveted.

This is indeed the longest post I’ve ever written, and I doubt that anyone will actually read it.  I’m writing it to tell you of the amazing journey I’ve been on during the past few weeks, and to explain my bloggy absence!  I suppose I could go on and on but I’ve bored you enough, so I’ll try to wrap this up now.  I am writing this more for me, than anyone, I think.

We had a great time with our buddy team.  They showed up at our team’s performance with cute signs, to cheer us on.  By sheer luck or providence, we happened to eat lunch after we competed in an off-campus little restaurant whose owners were Korean.  I told them about Odyssey, and our buddy team, and asked him to write ‘good luck’ to them, in Hangul, the Korean language.  He thought about it, asked exactly what we wanted to convey, as the translation of ‘good luck’ varies in Korean.  He settled on a ‘do your best!’ message, which was the exact right sentiment, and printed the characters onto our poster board with a pink Sharpie (we planned to write our sign to them during lunch, and so we conveniently had the materials with us!).  The kids then wrote the rest of their message to our buddy team in English, and signed their names.  It was a great sign!  The buddy team loved it.  I was glad we were able to impress, and not merely copy what they’d surprised us with earlier in the day.

We wanted to do something special with them, so on Monday, Memorial Day, we treated them to a major league baseball game.  We took them to see the Washington Nationals play the Philadelphia Phillies in Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.  It was awesome.  The boys and their coach (a male) loved it.  The girls, not so much, but they had fun and our seats were shaded the entire time, and for that I thanked God.  I couldn’t imagine sitting in that HOT sun and heat for nine innings. It was a Phillies crowd, despite the home stadium, and we all cheered for Nationals, who lost 5-4 (it was a good game!).

As a team, we were all over the University campus for events, competition, and activities, and we managed to take the metro into D.C. twice, en masse.  Yes, I did indeed don my bright yellow group tee shirt emblazoned with our school name, noting we were Odyssey state champs / World finalists and troop around Washington with our yellow-shirted pack.  Perfect for spotting everyone in a hurry, and count off the number of people in the group so we wouldn’t leave a kid inadvertently on the platform of the Metro or lose someone’s child in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.   I’m not usually one to travel in large groups, but I did it, and survived!  Had a great time, in fact.  There were moments…but in any venture, there are always moments.  I’d consider doing the coaching gig again, now that I’m experienced, and really know how to put together a team.  I’d have the team choose its members wisely: choose minds over friends, because a commitment to do this is a long-term one.  If a team member loses interest and decides it’s not so important anymore, it adds stress to the others.  The parents of the team members should also understand what their child is committing to doing.  I suppose I now have a greater understanding of a teacher’s experience, and how important the parent interaction/involvement can be.  I just have to say: if you’re a parent who’s a complainer or overly defensive of your child, tread carefully with the teacher.  They want to work with you…with being the operative word.  Teachers and coaches are human beings with feelings and I think that there’s probably a sort of line out there, different for all of us, that once crossed,  subtly changes things.  Perhaps it changes the way the teacher regards your child, and parents want what’s best for their child.   It’s good to pick one’s battles wisely.

Now that our team has been to Worlds, there’s been a lot of excited talk among the kids and everyone wants to join Odyssey.  I told my child, “You’re celebrities of the moment.  Odyssey is very cool, and fun, and a hard working, long-term group experience.  They need to understand that. They need to want to win and to put in the extra time it inherently requires as competition time approaches.”  Having seen the best of the best, I know what it takes to go the distance.  A new team forming with excitement at the beginning of a school year should truly understand Odyssey, and the creativity it affords kids, and understand that they do need to work to make it happen.  It helps if parents get it too, otherwise they inherently get sick of the long-term involvement and think nothing of leaving a team when months have already been invested in the effort.  It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in; I met so many Odyssey alumni who came up in the program and some who are still competing at the college level.

But now,  school is out, and summer is here, thank goodness. We’ll all have time to regroup and let our Worlds experience sink in, and fade away a bit, as the norms of summer livin’ take over.  No one’s more ready for this than I am.

Dancing in the Street

It was a busy weekend of covering our town’s 25th annual Dancin’ in the Streets party, and the Never Quit Beach Fest.

At Dancin’ in the Street,  local bands played their live music, there was a family-friendly area called the Kids’ Zone, artists and other vendors sold their wares, and alcohol was allowed on the approved streets to those who met the age qualification.  Lots and lots of people walked or came on their bikes; a smart idea for two reasons:

1.  Don’t drink and drive.

2. Parking is hard to find when there’s a huge crowd in the neighborhood!

It’s a street party that’s legendary in these parts and this year was its 25th anniversary.  You may see more pictures, and my micro-blogging all about our community by ‘liking’ our Facebook Page.  Please hop over and have a look, and like us too.  I want to break 1,000 fans and we’re four ‘likes’ away from that!

This is a video of a popular local band, the Boogie Freaks, rocking out to  happy crowd.