Sunday, April 30, 2006

Why Gymnastics?

Short answer: We don't know. We took our daughter Boo Boo to a gymnastics class sponsored by the local Rec Department when she was 4. It was on Saturday mornings at the Middle School and was run primarily by high school gymnasts. A year or so later, we noticed a new Gym being built along the highway on our way to work. Little would we know how important this would become to our family. We signed Boo boo up for an introductory gymnastics class after reading about the new gym, Gymfinity, in a local paper. We soon realized, as we had with our son's chess, that our daughter had found something she loved. Something about putting her body into motion in an orderly way clicked with her. We found that her combination of fine and gross motor skills, along with her joie de vivre, made her a perfect candidate for a future in gymnastics, and we found how time consuming it would be. Soon after she started, the coaches had the girls climbing a rope in the gym, and, as a reward for getting to the top of the rope, there was a horn to honk once the girls made it to the top. As it turns out, Boo boo was one of the first girls to make it to the top to honk the horn. She was fearless. So fearless, in fact, that she once climbed up when there was a substitute coach, and she got up so fast, she didn't think about coming down! She got about half-way down and let go of the rope. Fortunately, the coach was there to catch her. As time went by, Boo boo progressed, and the coaches at the gym asked us if she would join the competitive team. Little did we know at the time what we were in for. All we knew about gymnastics was what we saw every four years at the Olympics. Let me say this, those girls who make things look so easy have worked their collective butts off to get where they are. In the first competitive season, we learned that even the simplest maneuvers take time, training, patience, and guts. Six and seven-year-olds on uneven bars have guts. We also learned about travel. In Wisconsin, most of the established gyms are in the Milwaukee area, so we have spent many a Fall day traveling the roads of Wisconsin to watch gymnastics. I will never forget the smell of the sweet fall air while traveling with our daughter in the back seat... The difficult part of the was getting used to competitions. First off, competition begins at Level 4. To this day, I don't know why. It's just one of those things. The other difficult part of going to meets is that the girls compete in four events: Floor Exercise, Vault, Uneven Bars, and Balance Beam. We usually spend about three hours at a meet, from warm-ups through the awards ceremonies, and our daughter competes for a total of about 10 minutes. Work. Gymnastics = work. Our eight-year-old is in better shape than anybody else I know. Some days she is tired, and we have thought about, and we have talked with her about quitting. We wonder if it is worth the commitment. The day may come when it's not. But right now, she's one of the best students in her classroom at school, and she still does round-offs in the living room. It's just in her blood. Time will tell if this experiment will be worth the work, but for now, her smiles from making a "kip" on the uneven bars, a "back walkover" on balance beam or a "back-tuck" on the floor tell us what we need to know....

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Good Monday

Spring inhaled yesterday
And exhaled today

But Winter’s not done
His icy grip still holds
In shadowy hollows

Snow still lingers
In places of doubt

Frost-defiant Winter
Gives Spring the Finger


My shades are a sign
I’m inhaling, too

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Quiet Journey Photo Contest

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Throne Room

Last night, we were at 5:00 Mass, and our Pastor, Father Rick, opened his homily by asking us all to close our eyes and imagine ourselves as children, entering a throne room, the room of the King, and God is there, waiting for us to crawl up into his lap, and opening his arms for us.

Later in the evening, we were watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark" together. There is a scene where the Nazis open the Ark, and all sorts of chaos erupts. The scene takes place in a room that looks like it belongs in a castle or maybe a pyramid. Our daughter said, "That looks like a throne room. But when we were in church earlier, I imagined that the throne room was a room where the poor people lived, because Jesus lived among the poor."

Wow. I don't know what I could add to that.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Oshkosh Chess Musings

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Mom gently sends me up to bed
Backyard dinner party swinging

White noise of adult voices rising
While I awakely lie

Glasses clinking, people drinking
A gentle camaraderie

Sifting through the troposphere
I turn the dial, searching

With each twist Magical waves
My open soul begins to see

Unknown music, strange cultures—
Signals from far away

I lie in ten-year old reverie
As the summer evening fades

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why Chess? Part 1

Every parent (I hope) looks for ways to encourage their children, steer them into activities that promote their growth as people, and give them a chance to have some fun. Kids have to have fun or they aren't kids, right? Chess has given us all of those things.

I remember my father teaching me how to play chess at our dining room table. I guess I should say he taught me the basics. How the pieces move, etc. Just enough so I could play. I don't think he was ever much of a chess player, and I don't remember why he taught me. I probably saw the old set lying around and asked him to show me, or he thought it was a good idea. I think I was about 10 or 11, maybe younger, I don't remember exactly.

Anyway, one day when my son PJ was about six or seven, he saw the chess set on our shelf and asked what it was. I grabbed it and and showed him how the game works. Pretty much the same as my dad did. (BTW, In all of my posts, I will not be using my children's names. I will use their initials or refer to them as son, daughter, he, she, etc). To my surprise, he was really interested in learning more about it. We would play, and sometimes I would let him win and sometimes I would win. (Another lesson we've tried to teach as parents. Let the kids have some success to encourage them to keep trying...)

In third grade, PJ joined the chess club which meets after school in the cafeteria. My wife and I thought this was a great idea. Get him involved in a social activity after school which promotes independent thinking and socialization with his peers. What could be better?

One day, he brought home a flyer from his chess club. The flyer explained that the club was taking a group to the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Tournament in Oshkosh the following weekend. He didn't show us the flyer, we just read it while browsing through his schoolwork in his backpack. We asked him if he knew about this and he said he did, but he didn't think we would let him go, so he never brought it up.

We were shocked. We told PJ if he wanted to go, I would call the coach and ask him if our he could still play. We also explained to PJ that if he was ever interested in these types activities, we would always try to allow him to go. I believe this was on a Tuesday night and the team was leaving for Oshkosh on Friday.

The coach was excited that we were interested in going, and there was still time to get PJ registered. However, the flyer also said that the kids needed to know how to notate their games. We didn't know that the coach had taught the kids to do this. In fact, we knew so little about real chess that we didn't know there was such a thing as notation. I asked the coach about this and he explained that PJ knew notation so that wasn't a problem. (Another surprise...)

So PJ and I drove to Oshkosh and stayed in the dorms at the university. What a different experience chess had brought us! (Anyone who has ever been in a dorm can laugh here...) Actually, the floor we were on was all chess players and their parents and coaches, so it wasn't bad at all.

PJ Played six matches, had two draws, one win, and three losses. It was a wonderful experience for him and for me. He was disappointed with his losses, but he had never played in a tournament before, so I had some teachable moments with him about how to handle disappointment, and how to handle victory. Sportsmanship rules in chess. There is always a handshake before and after each match.

PJ had fun, we were very happy with his performance, and his team took third place in the K-5 division. Not bad for a team that had never event sent a team to a tournament before. The school had to find a place to put the trophy since they didn't have a trophy case!

Chess took us to an unexpected place. It always does, even when you are in the middle of a match. As with most kids' activities, it's not all about the playing, it's also about the experiences built around the activity, and the opportunities we get as parents to teach our children. We are lucky to have stumbled upon one where sportsmanship rules, where the mind matters, and where there is always a challenge.