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.