Thursday, December 18, 2014

Traditions, Treasures, and a Tree

I love traditions.  There is something about them that brings such joy to my heart.  The Christmas season is filled with them.  Making sugar cookies in an assortment of shapes and sizes, and then decorating them with the most candy possible, driving around and looking at the lights while drinking hot chocolate, and the Elf on the shelf that loves to get into mischief are just a few of the many traditions we have grown to love as our family as grown.   One tradition in particular I have grown to love more and more every year, is putting up our Christmas tree.  Sure lugging it out of the attic takes some work, and putting it together inspires sounds that are less than cheery coming from my mouth.  But once it is down and put together, and the branches are fluffed, then the magic begins to happen.  I open the first box full of treasures that we have collected throughout the years, and the emotions and events that are tied to each ornament come flooding back.  My children magically stop whatever activity they are doing, and join me at the bare tree.  I start with the first ornament, and begin to tell the memory of the delicately made glass or plastic object.  Lots of first are on our tree.  My son and daughter’s first Christmas bears.  And an elegant bride dances gracefully on one of the top branches with her tulle veil.  My children have heard these stories over and over again, but every December it’s as if they are hearing it for the first time.
            The tradition of collecting these life events through ornaments began when my aunt gave me and my then fiancée a Precious Moment ornament of a couple under the mistletoe.  Ever since then I have realized how powerful an object can be at triggering a memory and the feelings that are tied to it.  Good, bad, painful, or happy.  It doesn’t matter.  It is all a part of life.  All of those peaks and valleys hung on little branches. 

Every year, I would pick out a new ornament that reminded me of some special event that happened in the past year.  Now that my children are older, they each pick out their own ornament and add it to the tree.  We have some repeats.  My daughter can’t have enough ballet shoes on the tree, and the colorful spheres we used to place on the tree have transformed into soccer balls.  But it’s our tree.   It is not a tree that would be chosen to star in a catalog for nothing about it matches.  Handmade ornaments share the stage with more expensive ones.  The lights are mismatched, and the branches are needing a little more oomph.  But what it holds is so beautiful.  Years and years of blessings and memories gently and strategically placed.  I love to sit and reminisce on the beautiful life I had and I get excited about the treasures that are yet to be added to our tree.    

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Demise of College Football by Carolyn

Let me begin by saying I am a die-hard Aggie football fan, as well as a former student (we don't have "ex-students" at TAMU, just "former students"). My experience with college football has been limited to what I have seen played by the "noble men of Kyle", what I have watched on TV, and participating in discussions about it with my very knowledgeable younger son. So I am sure my vision of what college football used to be (or should be) is an unrealistic one, colored by my own desires and limited experiences. That said, I do have some opinions about the changes I have noticed in recent years:

I used to see college football as a sport played by fine, upstanding young men who were driven by a life-long desire to play for "their" school, a school they had dreamed of attending since they were little boys playing flag football in the neighborhood park. College football, to me, was all about the team, the experience of being part of a close-knit group of guys who worked and struggled and bled together to ensure that their college was proud of their fighting spirit, if not their win-loss record. College football was about packing up the babies and grabbing the old ladies, and everyone going to the game together to cheer and cuss (and hump it, Ags), and be caught up in the spirit of the game. If only it were still true.

I am sad to report that college football is dying a slow and painful death. As much as it hurts, we have to face the fact that college football as we knew it will soon cease to exist.

Here are the underlying causes and their effects, in my opinion:

Because college football players can place themselves in the professional draft at such an early age, they may not feel a deep sense of commitment to their college team. The investment of their time, energy, and ability may be more for what it will gain them in the NFL rather than in what their college team needs. It is becoming all about the individual's stats, the numbers, the records, and what dollar amount those will earn when the time comes to move on. As a player, how can I make myself look good so I can get out of here and start earning the really big bucks as soon as possible? What's best for my team and my teammates? Who cares? This is a huge departure from the spirit of Aggieland. We have always been a family, a brotherhood, a community. I'm very afraid that will disappear in this every-man-for-himself era.

College recruiting is now, more than ever, based on what they can offer players. Who has the best weight room, the fanciest clubhouse, the richest alumni (willing to give)? Have you seen the videos featuring the TAMU facilities lately? Incredible - or maybe incredibly wasteful. Can you say "conspicuous consumption"? Because the emphasis is now on recruiting the best for every position on the team (and several layers deep) wherever the players may be found, the boys who grew up dreaming of playing for the school their father and grandfather played for, the school whose colors have decorated their room since the age of five, the school whose jersey they would absolutely give anything to wear, may have no chance at all to even warm the bench. Instead, teams are made up of young men from who-knows-where who have no heartfelt connection to the school with the best offer, no family history there, no real desire to play on that team, except that that school was the highest bidder in the race to recruit. Increasingly, the teams seem to be populated with a rather large proportion of thugs who don't value their college or their school experience at all, except as a stepping stone to a multi-million-dollar deal in the pros. (And that's another story - don't even get me started!) Many of the players have no maroon (or burnt orange, or crimson, or purple and gold, or whatever) flowing through their veins, just the green of dollar bills. And while they are suffering through the couple of years they must spend on campus before they move on to the big leagues, they seem to be increasingly badly behaved. I am sick to death of hearing that one of my Aggies (or a member of any collegiate team) has been arrested for who-knows-what. The Aggie Code of Honor says, "Aggies don't lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." I'm sure many, many TAMU students adhere to the code, but according to news reports, lots of TAMU athletes don't. I believe the same may be true of athletes from other schools as well. Who do we want representing our schools?

The colleges' desire for the almighty dollar is a major contributor to the impending death of college football. They must dun alumni for more and more and more money in contributions in order to build a bigger stadium, a better clubhouse, a more impressive whatever. All this building-bigger-and-better-and-best business results in ticket prices that are out of reach for the average family. True-blue fans can no longer afford to go watch the games in person. Maybe once a year, to watch one of the "cupcake" games, when prices are lower, but probably not even that. Parents can no longer dream of taking their kids to watch games at their alma mater, grandparents can't plan to spend quality time introducing their grandchildren to an exciting game at the stadium they loved when they were students there. Too expensive. Furthermore, the crowds are incredible. Is it really necessary to have more than 100,000 people in a stadium? It is impossible to walk around campus anywhere near the stadium in any semblance of comfort when you are surrounded by 100,000 other fans. An Aggie t-shirt of a few years ago had the tagline, "Where 80,000 become one." I like that sentiment, but I'm not sure 100,000 can "become one". I like my football up close and personal. To fit 100,000 bodies in a stadium, a lot of the fans have to be far, far away from the action. It's a good thing we have mega-huge screens all over so we can tell what the little ants running around on the field are actually doing. And, besides the ticket costs and the crowds around the stadium, who wants to fight the traffic? When 100,000 people come to watch a game, they must enter campus; worse still, they must at some point leave campus. No matter how well-thought-out the traffic plan, it is impossible to get tens of thousands of vehicles into and out of the area without major traffic snarls and lots of time spent sitting and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. That can take the joy out of even the biggest win!

Well, there's my rant about college football. No apologies for my opinion;  nothing to be done about it. I just needed to mourn out loud. Thanks for listening.


P.S. I still love my Aggies!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Finding Home

by Susan

De tanto despedirme se me secaron las raíces y debí generar otras que, a falta de un lugar geográfico donde afincarse, lo han hecho en la memoria; . . .

                                                -Isabel Allende

From saying good-bye so often my roots have dried up, and I have had to grow others, which, lacking a geography to sink into, have taken hold in my memory. 

                                                -Isabel Allende

Sometimes I envy those who have a place they call home, a city they are proud to call theirs. Growing up in Iran in the 60s and 70s, there was always the talk around my house of immigrating to the United States, which kept us from digging our roots deep.  There was always a hesitation to decorate too much, anchor things to the walls too permanently.  When you live in a two thousand year old monarchy, change seems improbable.  You read about kings and dynasties that have lasted for hundreds of years at a time. You never think that you may actually witness the fall of an empire.

But it happened and we did emigrate in 1978, months before the Islamic Revolution.   We went from living in a six-bedroom house where each of us had our own full bathroom to the spare bedroom of my cousin’s house in Houston, where we kept our clothes in paper grocery bags.  My mother thought she was just waiting it out.  Who would have thought that thirty-five years later she would still be waiting? 

I became a chameleon.  I learned the language and spoke it in a way that did not signal my foreignness too much.  I paid attention to the customs and the mannerisms, learned to get inside the head of the average American. I married, got a college degree, a job and then moved to Venezuela.  By some miracle, I learned Spanish as well and learned my way around yet another place.  I really thought that was for good.  I was willing to put down roots, have kids, raise them and totally embrace a culture that was neither my own nor one I had been exiled to.  But the world and its problems caught up with me again and after thirteen years I found myself back in Texas.  For the past decade or so I have lived in Austin.  For now, this is where I am calling home.  

Last week I was visiting my daughter in Cali, Colombia.  As we went around with friends who spoke lovingly of their town and its sights, I wondered where my home was.  For a minute, I felt sorry for myself.  But as I reflected, I realized that I am actually blessed in my ability to find a home wherever I live.  I may not belong to one place in particular, but I can feel myself being from any place.  I count myself lucky in that I see no one as a stranger and all people can be my people.  I rather live with the ambiguity of my ethnic identity than with the limitation of defining myself as one thing or another based on the accident of my birth or choices made by others.  My home is wherever I can make memories. 

Sometimes I envy those who have a place they call home, a city they are proud to call theirs. But then I remember they are my neighbors.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On Proverbs by Carolyn

Proverb:  "a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated that expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity."

So if proverbs purport to tell the truth, why are so many of them contradictory?

I provide the following evidence to support my claim:

There's no time like the present.     but       Good things come to those who wait.

Which is it? Should I wait for the good things to come to me, or should I jump up and go search for them?  If I search for them, will they not come? Will I scare the good things away?

If you want something done right, do it yourself.     but      Two heads are better than one.

So . . . should I do it myself (because then it will be right), or should I find someone else to contribute their brains to my project (because then it will be better)? What if I pick the wrong person to combine my brains with? Would it then be worse than if I had done it by myself?

Discretion is the better part of valor.     but     Fortune favors the bold.

Discreet or bold?  Discreet or bold?  Discreet or bold?   I can't decide! I read that proverbs are situationally based, so you choose the one that best fits your situation, but I can see this being a problem - what if you are bold when you should be discreet, and discreet when you should be bold? For instance, you discover that your boss is doing something shady. You decide to be bold. You confront your boss. Your boss fails to appreciate your boldness. Now you are jobless. Or possibly, you decide that discretion is the better part of valor. You keep mum about your boss's shady dealings. Unfortunately your boss's boss finds out about the nefarious deeds and that you knew about them. You are jobless again. Bummer.

Many hands make light work.     but     Too many cooks spoil the broth.

What is the right number? Where is the line that divides "many" from "too many"? I really need to know, because I absolutely do want light work, but definitely not spoiled broth. I wonder if the size of the kitchen has anything to do with how many cooks are just the right amount?

It's the thought that counts.    but     The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Hmmm.  Perhaps you can only get away with good intentions for so long, then you are on the very slippery downhill slope leading to Hades. I hope I haven't worn out my good intentions allotment yet. By the way, people who are self-disciplined enough to regularly follow through with their good intentions really make the rest of us feel inadequate. You know who you are.

And now to totally confuse us, we have tag-team proverb wrestling. In this corner, we have the mighty team of proverbs that admonish us to lose no time in acting:

If you snooze, you lose.     and     He who hesitates is lost.     and     Strike while the iron is hot.

Pretty definitive, right? The advice is very clear - we should act RIGHT NOW!

But wait! In the other corner we have this formidable team that urges us to slow down and be cautious:

Haste makes waste.     and     Look before you leap.     and     Slow and steady wins the race.

Now I'm totally bumfuzzled. So that's it. I've decided that you can't trust a proverb to guide you. You just have to make your own decisions. After all, you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket . . .

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The trapeze artist must learn to let go

By Susan

I had my whole life planned out since I was thirteen years old. I even had the name of my three children picked out. Despite the wrench that the Iranian Revolution threw in many of our lives, in the plane of my little life, things were going as I had planned them.  I had gone to college right after high school, gotten married at nineteen (the same age as mother, as I had planned), gotten a job, saved money and was now ready to embark on the next phase of the plan.  For Ben and I, the next step was finding some place outside of the United States, where we could live among people of a different culture and serve our Faith and humanity. After some extensive traveling around the world and looking into various job possibilities for Ben, we ended up in Venezuela.  Instead of Ben finding a job as a mining engineer, however, we started a business selling computers in Puerto Ordaz, an industrial city in the southeast part of the country.  For the most part, everything was going according to my plan.  I had always put very little importance on money and material well being.  But I have to say that I had been blessed with both, with very little effort on my part.  The computer store had been open for a couple of months and I was about six months pregnant with Miranda.  Ben and I quickly realized that we did not have the best instincts for running a business.  People would come in with their children to buy home computers.  The twelve year olds would try to tell their parents that they needed the top of the line color monitors and the fastest processors for playing games and doing homework.  I would try to talk them out of it!  Things were going pretty slowly. 

And then one day, we woke up to find that one of the biggest businesses in town was venturing into computer sales and opening a store in the same shopping center as ours. I remember sitting at lunch when Ben told me of this new development.  I burst into tear, crying uncontrollably, saying that our baby was going to starve because we could not provide for it.  We had used up all of our savings in setting up our life and our business, and I could not see a way for us to succeed in something that we neither enjoyed nor were good at.  Ben, of course, comforted me and assured me that things would turn out fine, but I was completely scared.  This was not part of my plan. 

I don’t remember whether it was hours, days or months, but it was not too long after that day that I saw an image in my mind.  It was of a trapeze artist swinging back and forth, back and forth and finally choosing the perfect instant to trust her partner and let go, knowing that she would be caught.  I realized that up to that point I had claimed that I trusted in God and believed that I could live on very little, all while I had savings in a bank account and everything going my way.  It was at that moment that I came to understand that trusting God is like that trapeze artist letting go.  You make plans, you prepare but you must also trust that God will guide you in the right direction, protect you from making serious mistakes and have mercy on you when you do.  True happiness does come from letting go and trusting.  Perfect plans are usually anti-climatic anyway.  What’s the fun in knowing how everything ends?  It is more exciting to be prepared and let God guide you, test you and lead you. 

We stuck it out in that business for another three years.  When Miranda was about two and a half and we were about to have Safaa, my cousin Vafa showed up as reinforcement.  When even with his business savvy, we could see that there wasn't much future in that business, we thought about coming back to the States.  But luckily, we remembered the lesson learned from the trapeze artist and decided to stick it out.  Because it is one thing to venture out into the unknown, fully prepared and with a savings account to back you up.  It is another level altogether to fully trust.  We made up our mind to stay and for Ben to start consulting as an engineer.  Few days after that decision was made, one of his American clients walked into the computer store.  Ben mentioned that he was thinking of leaving the shop and going out on his own to consult.  The guy told him to come out and interview with his mining company.  He did, got the job and worked for them for the rest of our time in Venezuela. 

And, because we had learned to trust in God’s will, we ended up with a fourth child.  Ben got to chose his name. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Do You Like about Yourself? By Andrea

What do you like best about yourself?  While perusing the internet, I came across this question on multiple pages so I decided to give it some thought.  Like most people, there are plenty of lines in my story that I would like to change- my waistline, my bust-line, my bottom line, just to name a few. Overall, though, I think I have a fairly healthy self view.  I like me. I am a ‘glass half-full’ kind of girl by nature, and I like that about myself.  

But as I thought and wrote about this more, I remembered a line from one of my September journal entries I just reread a few days ago: I think my optimism and idealism, my hope and ‘look for the good in others’ mindset has gotten me into trouble yet again.  I can clearly recall my emotional state of unrest and anxiety in the taxing, overwhelming situation about which I was writing.  I was also very frustrated that I could not turn off the Pollyanna in me. I was angry that I could not communicate what I was feeling rather than what I believed. 

During that time everyone kept telling me about how great it was that I could keep 'such a positive, gracious, hopeful attitude’. All I really wanted was a reprieve, relief from the stress, for someone to rescue me from the mayhem and foolishness. I prayed for God to remove the burden. I hoped for the problem to just disappear. I wanted someone else to see that I was wilting, instead people said things like ‘way to keep persevering’, ‘way to be a problem-solver, ‘thanks for looking for gems rather than stones.’  I wanted to be able to say “This really stinks!  It’s really hard, and I really CANNOT handle it!”. But that is not how I am known. People expect me to give my all, to be faithful, prayerful and to stay in the fight until something changes- for the better. The truth is and always has been that I expect this of myself, too. Even in the middle of all the woes and anxieties, I could not stop believing that things would get better.  I could not stop searching for answers.  I could not give up or give in. I could not communicate that my glass was half-empty because that’s not really what I believed.

I know God is at work.  I know that hope is a game-changer and love does conquer all.  I believe there is a solution to every problem, a possibility for growth and change for even the most challenging of us. I guess the thing I like best about myself is that I am a perpetual optimist with a desire to see and to do good in my little world.  Yes, this view does get me into trouble sometimes- making people think I can handle a lot more than I maybe actually can or should.  Over time, I have grown a little less idealistic than in my youth.  I know that life does not always go the way I believe it will, no matter how much I believe. Nonetheless, I also know that having a positive, proactive outlook makes a greater impact than the opposite approach.  Looking for the best gives me strength to keep going.  So here I am- staying the course, pursuing hope and embracing optimism.  I think I look pretty good in rose-colored glasses.

For each of us there is something unique that we add to the world. We have all heard it before.  It is true!  Rather than self-deprecating, spend a few minutes self-appreciating. What is it about you that you like best?  Chances are appreciating yourself will cause you to be more of yourself. Being yourself may invite challenges or obstacles.  It may get you into trouble sometimes.  You can handle it.  By being more of yourself, you will empower others to do the same.  And without even having to try very hard, you’ll have made your world a better place.  Simply by being you.

Life is an echo.  What you send out, comes back. What you sow, you reap.  What you give, you get. What you see in others, exists in you.  - Zig Ziglar

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Apples to Apples

I drew a picture of an apple once.  For a friend of mine who was feeling down about being the only one in our high school freshman group that did not have a boyfriend.    That might sound a little odd, but I didn’t know how else to make her feel better, so I decided to draw an apple.  The apple was small, but the only thing on the paper, so it made the luscious red apple standout.  I talked with her as I drew my chosen fruit with care and detail, along with a stem and a leaf to finish off my drawing. 
            I explained to her that she was like this apple.  Full of life, and flavor.  She had so much to offer, and anyone who even took the time to “take a bite” and get to know her, would be enriched by it.  She has such a passion for everything, and was always smiling and happy, and fiery, like the red dressing of the fruit on the page.  I explained that the boys she was fussing over and worrying about where like the stem of the apple.   Sure it was nice to have, but not having it did not in any way remove the value or worth of the apple.  The apple was still worth having, and a great choice for your health.   Just like she was worth more than words can express.  And the simple fact that she did not have a boyfriend did not make her anymore special. 

            Sometimes I struggle with remembering my own advice.  The harsh words of someone I care about can make me question my worth so easily.  Even strangers, and their judgmental stares of how I chose to raise my kids, or how bad I am at mowing my grass, makes me wonder about my value as a person.  I know I am far from perfect, but when other people seem to agree with me, it makes it that much harder to see myself as that red, vibrant apple.  The young, idealistic me would be very upset with my easily influenced self-perception.  She would say to tear off the stem of self-doubt, negativity, deconstructive criticism, and believe in my value to the very core.   I think its great advice, that on a daily, moment-to-moment basis I must chose to remember, and then follow-through.   ~E

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Parenting Grown Ups

By: Susan 

My third child just left for college.  Now I have three children that are technically, and for all practical purposes, adults.  And in my experience, parenting adult children does not get any easier.  I find myself looking for as much guidance as when I had newborn babies and didn’t know what to do with them.  I lay awake at night and think about their lives, their happiness and their choices.  This is way worse than been kept awake by toddlers who wanted to watch Toy Story in the middle night of the night.  One book I read was called Walking on Eggshells, and I have to say that is a very apt description of parenting adults.  The main advice from that book was: “Shut you mouth and keep the door open.”  It is easier said than done, especially the shutting your mouth part.  As much as I try,  I can’t seem to be able to restrain myself from wanting to know that they are safe and happy at all times.  So I call and text often, asking:   “where are you?” “Did you make it home alright?” and “Are you ok?”  (My son wrote a song about that one, warning me not to ask if he was ok.)  Technology has been a great help.  I have all four of them on the Find My Friend App (with their permission, of course) and now can tell whether they have made it home all right.  When they travel, Kayak is my friend.  I can track their flights and even help them find their gates better than the airline personnel.  Last December, both my older son and daughter were traveling separately to other countries.  There were delayed flights and lost luggage and I was using my iPad, my phone and my computer to track everything.  My brother made fun of me and my “command center”.  I try not to say things that they probably already know and have thought about.  But often doubt creeps in:  What if they don’t know they shouldn’t leave the dryer running when they leave the house, or that they need to click that button to pay their tuition with financial aid before the deadline. 

What helps keep me in line is that I am myself the adult child of my mother.  I know that she is trying her hardest to adjust to being the mother of two adult children.  She has been trying for over 30 years!  Which makes me think that maybe it is the way it is.  I know that when my mother calls me to recommend a solution to a problem, a remedy for an illness or a warning to prevent a catastrophe, she is doing it out of love and concern and not because she thinks I am incompetent.  I hope my children know that too. 

The other piece of adult parenting advice I heard was at the recent parent orientation I attended at the University of Texas.  Dr. David Laude, the Dean of Student Affairs, after sharing his own personal story, told us to “be there when it matters.”  I know for sure that my mother was there when it mattered most to me, which was after the birth of every one of my four children.  I lived out of the country and each time I was about to deliver a baby, she would come and stay at least a month with us and do what no one else could.

I have always respected my children’s intelligence and wisdom, even when they were small children.  So I don’t worry about them because I think they can’t take care of themselves; I worry because there is so much uncertainty in this world.  I hope that I can be there for them when it matters.  There is no question that the door will always be open for them.  I cannot, however, make any promises about keeping my mouth shut.