Postcard from Portland

18 Nov

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If you’re flying to Portland, get the window seat that faces the mountains because if you’ve got decent weather, you’ll spend your descent looking at mountain majesty. In terms of going to Champs, it’s a pretty good way to start a weekend that’s all about majestic performances.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I’d be leading a non-skating officiating crew at WFTDA Champs, my third time in this role at the top tournament in the roller derby calendar. One of the fun things about being a crew head is that each crew you lead is completely different, and in my experience, the tone of the crew has been completely perfect for that particular tournament.

In 2013 I had a “yes, and” crew, which was fantastic for the pre-tourney exercises I wanted my guinea pigs them to do. I’d been reading up on coaching and talent development and wanted to to prepare more than I ever had as a Champs official. They did me proud all month leading up to the tourney–mention a concept, and within two hours of group messages, you suddenly have a mascot and a t-shirt and a crew head who wonders what the hell is this awesomeness that is happening before her eyes.

Last year, my initial reaction to my crew list was “Champs! Champs! Awesome! Awesome!” which  played out all weekend. Getting to Champs takes work. Staying alive in Champs takes work. Being the Champ takes work. We experienced all of that over the weekend. After Day One, the crew needed focus, and it took one very long shower to figure out a potential fix: hot potato. Luckily, I had packed way more pairs of socks than I needed, and those became our hot potatoes for pre-game warmups. But when the crew found their focus, they insisted on continuing hot potato play before every game.

This year, with an all-female crew, our crew circle felt very nuturing, very welcoming and very caring. We wanted crew time together and were lucky enough to have assignments that gave us the opportunity to do that. Side note: Should you find yourself in Portland, have breakfast at Cheryl’s on 12th. Two words: complimentary beignets.

This crew was amazingly talented and came together nicely, which is impressive, considering we came from Europe and all points of the US. The teamwork we had was inspiring. We brought their best every game and then performed even better, which made me proud and a little bit wistful. This was a last tournament of sorts because change is coming: New rules and standard practices are around the corner, so this may have been the last weekend I officiated this way. There’s always a little sadness on closing the door on a rule set–another chapter in the history of roller derby is closing, and even though the coming changes are exciting, this moment of change as they all are, needs its moment of acknowledgement.

Rules may not be the only change. I recently started reffing, which is a whole different skill set that’s put me at the bottom of the reffing mountain in the range of officiating. Depending on the path I choose to take–and there are many officiating paths, so I need to map them out and find my optimal route–this could have been my last Champs for a while. Hopefully not forever though. The top of the mountain does have a nice view.

Two Women I Want to Be

11 Nov

On Election Day, I work the polls because I love being a part of the process, and I love watching people exercise their right to vote. [this year my polling place had a voter who came straight from his naturalization ceremony. Talk about a tearjerker!]

This year, I worked in Newton, MA, which is a pretty wealthy and liberal town and was a warden at a polling place in a community center. The warden is the manager in charge of the precinct, makes sure things go smoothly and takes care of all of the unusual situations, such as provisional and inactive voters.

An aside: Hey, guess what! If you don’t fill out your city census, the city doesn’t know that you still live there and will list you as an inactive voter, which means you’re flagged for being taken off of the rolls soon. Don’t complain about your lack of carelessness in forgetting to return the city census; don’t assume they’re going to take the time and taxpayer money to knock on your door and make sure you still live there; just fill out this little confusing form that makes you repeat your address and city a few times, and it’s gonna be all good!

Anyway, during the day, I got to interact with a couple of women who are the type of woman I want to be when I grow up: Ageless.

The first came in to vote, and she’s friends with the clerk (the #2 at the precinct). Dressed super-nattily*, glistening white hair. I look on as they chat:

Clerk: Are you going to aqua zumba?

Heroine #1: Not today. I’ve got cancer, so I’ve got to go to a treatment. [shrugs]

Shrugs!

They make a little more small talk, and after H1 leaves, the clerk turns to me and says, “Guess how old she is.”

“I don’t know…..70s?”

“She’s 90.”

Ninety. Looks in her 70s only because her hair is so white. Otherwise, I would’ve said 60s. Still driving, still doing her thing. Oh, and the cancer? Second time she’s had it, and her attitude is basically that you get the treatments, you get through it and move on.

But wait! There’s more!

One of the inspectors in my crew is a true gem. She’s been doing elections for decades (since the polling place was over at the Jewish school, but when they went kosher, they didn’t want the precinct to be there anymore because they didn’t want the food contamination–see, the history you learn, even if no one remembers when exactly that was), and was sometimes quick to remind me that she’s been doing this a long time.

Patriotic spirit? Whoa! Heroine #2 dresses for every election–this time it was navy pants, white blouse, navy sweater vest. Red necklace and earrings, American flag scarf, navy beret. Boy, I was envious of how she was able to pull off that beret!

Stamina? Most of the people I work with (old or young) start flagging at the end of the day. Not H2! She was still sharp and feisty at 9:00 — maybe a little crankier, but then so was I.

Age? Ninety-four. Also still drives. Sure, in the middle of the day, she put her cane–which she needs mostly for stairs–on the top of the car and drove off, losing it, but who hasn’t done something like that? I seriously think that if I went into this precinct in a decade, she’d still be sitting at the check-in table, checking people in with lightning speed.

These two ladies gave me some hope on Tuesday, and right now, that’s some hope in times where it seems that hopelessness might take over for a while.

*Note: Super-natty dressing might be a hard thing for someone who wears a lot of jeans and t-shirts, but I can learn. Thank goodness I started that subscription to Vogue.

Champion of the Other Side

4 Nov

Today I’m in Portland, Oregon, to officiate at the 2016 WFTDA International Roller Derby Championships. It’s my seventh go-around at Champs in eight years, which is a pretty nice streak. This year I’m leading a crew of non-skating officials (NSOs)–the third time I’ve had that position, and the second year in a row.

With the Cubs winning the World Series, you think of how exciting it is for the players to achieve total victory–to make it to the World Series or whatever championship trophy you’re playing for–but it’s also exciting for the officials involved as well. They’ve gotten to the top of their game too, and it’s pretty special to be selected to work the biggest events in your sports’ season.

My crew this year is phenomenal (though I say that about all of the Champs crews I’ve been on, since every year it’s been true), and to top it off, we’re the first all-female crew at Championships. That’s also pretty special.

When I prepare for Champs, I like to think of officiating goals I want to have for the weekend. Sometimes they’re positional-based, sometimes they’re bigger picture. For this weekend, one of my big goals is to have fun. The pressure of Champs can really get to you, and sometimes it’s easy to be awestruck by the teams or the level of gameplay, and that can cause you to lose focus and make mistakes. I want to keep it fun–to have that fun mentality the entire weekend, even if my crew does make mistakes or needs some help in gelling together.

My other goal is to be in control of my part of the game–and to help my crew be in control of their parts of the game, to put all of those pieces together and create a beautiful officiating jigsaw puzzle.

Last year, my crew was selected to officiate the championship game. And in roller derby officiating, crew assignments aren’t really based on the NSOs, the referees are the ones looked at and scrutinized a lot more. But NSOs can make a ref crew look better–or they can really bring them down. This crew had some of both. Our first day was a little rough, but we all worked on improving and finding our focus and teaming with each other. By the end of day two, we’d found that championship groove. Getting the last game–which was historic in that the team who’d won the Hydra trophy more often than any other was defeated in an epic match.

During that game, I stepped back twice and had two observations about the game at hand–and I’d never really done that before, especially not during gameplay. One was that the crowd was crazy and loud and that I was a part of this historic moment. The second was that our crew of refs and NSOs was in control of the game. That was a magical moment for me–feeling the flow that came as a result of everyone being on top of their own game and working together seamlessly. Doing our jobs, not walking all over each other, but if needed, helping each other out. It was a beautiful thing to be in that much harmony, and it’s something I hope to experience this weekend as well.

If you happen to be in Portland, Oregon, this weekend, come on down to Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch some of the best roller derby in the world. On Friday, I’ll be working the 4:00 and 8:00 games. They’re going to be excellent, and I can’t wait to be a part of them.

 

[EXTRA] This Is Next Year

3 Nov

I discovered baseball when I was in the third grade–the joys of watching professional baseball, that is. My team? The Chicago Cubs. Pa Jaracz was a Cubs fan, and sports was our way of bonding–Cubs, Bears, golf, Indy car racing. It was what we watched together.

He took me to my first game in 1982–Baseball Card Day (I still have the set). I got to go to an Opening Day (rained out, naturally), and a few others with him.

Of course, little did I know that choosing to become a Cubs fan would be an exercise in futility. When the Cubs lost, they lost big. When the Cubs won, they figured out how to lose it all. 1984, 1989, 2003…all years that were bright spots of heartbreak among the dismal years of failure.

But they were still my Cubbies.

I lived in Chicago for 15 years and would usually catch at least one game a year. It didn’t matter where I sat or stood–it was just magical to escape from the city and be within this little sanctuary where time moved slowly. Where you could have a hot dog and a beer and keep score (if you’re single and interested in meeting someone who also has a passion for baseball, I highly recommend learning how to keep score. It can be a total turn on).

For the last five years, the Boy and I lived within the Wrigleyville neighbor zone. Close enough to be annoyed by all of the traffic the games caused, but far away enough to not deal with the public urination of idiotic attendees who didn’t really watch the game; they basically walked around with stacks of empty plastic beer cups. If the wind was right, you could hear the crowd cheer and know it was time to check in on the game.

One year we won the Wrigley Field neighbor lottery and got to spend an a few hours at the park, playing catch on the field (I PLAYED CATCH ON WRIGLEY FIELD!) and eating hot dogs. To this day, it’s one of my favorite memories of living in Chicago.

The Boy really isn’t into baseball, so regular season viewing tends to be what I catch in bars and am tracking on my phone, but during these Playoffs, we started watching the games religiously. During the series against the Dodgers where the Cubs lost 1-0, the old heartbreak started looming in my chest. I still hoped, but I knew we were losing that game–and that it spelled trouble.

But this year’s Cubs didn’t let that get to them. The next day they completely turned it around and crushed them. That might be the point where I really knew it would happen, because I decided to make a W flag, and after every win, I made the Boy get the stepladder and hang it from our porch. Even though some losses made me a little ambivalent, I never again got that feeling of despair that I had with that Dodgers game.

This weekend I’m leading a crew of officials for the WFTDA International Roller Derby Championships. While the Cubs were heading back to Cleveland to close out the series, I reminded my crew that some of us would be watching Game 6 and Game 7, and remember to get some sleep (the games ended brutally late on the East Coast). The one other Cubs fan on my crew loved that I knew we’d be going seven games. The rest of them indulged me.

You couldn’t ask for a better, crazier way to get that final win–this year’s Cubbies knew how to hold it together on defense; they knew how to create offense; they made it happen. It’s inspirational, really–a great lesson at keeping your head in the game, believing in yourself and your talents and making things happen.

Between the joy and the cheering of the generations of Cubs fans who witnessed history, there are tears for the all of the die-hard Cubs fans who didn’t get to live to see this moment.

What makes me love the Cubbies even more is the fact that they honor those fans. They won it for them, of course, but they won it for us too, and the organization understood that they also won it for the greats who weren’t able to win it. They won it for the broadcasters who helped create some of the most beloved traditions in baseball (want to see the 7th inning stretch on national TV? Be at Wrigley. Want a fountain of tears? Announce Eddie Vedder as leading “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and have him introduce Harry Caray singing via Jumbotron).

A day later, and it’s still a little surreal. I’m so used to not winning that it’s hard to believe that it happened. But it did–we no longer have to say, “Wait ’till next year.” Though with a team that’s this good, I can’t wait until next year to see what they can do.

What’s the First Rule of Politics?

28 Oct

Because I’m working the polls on Election Day, I voted early this week. It should’ve been an exciting experience–this is the first time Massachusetts is doing early voting, and it’s a historical Presidential election–but instead, it made me so angry.

The only contested election on my ballot was the Presidential election.

That’s messed up.

What happened to the choice? I live in a democracy! We’re supposed to be about being able to decide who should be running the main offices in our government at all levels. Where’s the Green Party or the Libertarians who are making such a stink at the Presidential level? Why aren’t they running for state office or sheriff?

I truly don’t understand how alternative candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have deluded themselves into thinking that the American public would really pick one of them when they don’t bother to let the voters get to know their party on the local level. They have no chance, and even if they did, federal government would have serious issues because the legislature likely wouldn’t allow them to get anything done.

In my area, the Republicans just gave up (they gave up in the primary too). Why didn’t they throw some names on the ballot? They have to hold meetings. They couldn’t stand around in a circle and say, “OK. We have to have some people running. Larry, you good with running for sheriff? Great! DeShawn, how about you run for state representative in your district? All right, that’s two races accounted for. Let’s get some more candidates, people!”

Even if your party doesn’t put you up, you can go as an Independent. It’s not like you can’t get on the ballot. I had to look longingly at the other ballot in my city because they had a choice in one race, and that was between a Democrat and an Independent. I even decided to do a legit write-in candidate because I wanted to have options and didn’t like the one choice I had.

Maybe your part of the country is different. Maybe you do have choices in other races. But if you don’t, then let’s agree that we’re going to do something about it next election cycle. Let’s stop all the lip service. Let’s stop all of the focus on one race. Let’s give the talking heads something to really talk about and analyze besides the minute-by-minute movements of two people. Let’s choose to give our voters real choices.

Heck, you don’t even have to put a ton of money into those races if you don’t want to. Treat it like a hobby–spend a small amount of money and some time and see how you do. Even if you don’t win, get involved and make a difference at the local level, because that’s where the real races are. That’s where you’re really affecting people’s daily lives. Are there really only one-size-fits-all candidates? Surely not. So let’s have some real choices–at all levels of government.

 

 

 

Postcard from Winnipeg

21 Oct

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You know those cities that just make you feel happy and delighted whenever you think about them? Winnipeg filled one of those slots in my heart this year.

I was in the unofficial Gateway to Churchill this August to teach at a WFTDA Officiating Clinic (more on officiating in a future Friday diversion). Churchill’s the Polar Bear Capital of Canada, and to get there (from the US at least), you’re likely flying through Winnipeg. But Winnipeg isn’t just a fly-through or flyover city, even though that’s the mantle it seems to wear.

I learned this from the minute I walked over the Hug Rug at the airport and met the clinic hosts, who took me on a driving tour of the city. Along the way, they apologized for the state it was in. “The city doesn’t spend much money,” said one. “Our roads are just horrible.”

I peered out the window. “You’ve never been to Boston, have you?” I said, noting the pretty dreamy condition of the roads we were currently driving on. I honestly never really saw what they were talking about the entire weekend. Sure, the roads weren’t brand-spanking-new, but they weren’t chock full of potholes either.

Perhaps it was their modesty–and it turned out to be the modesty of the city–that I found so charming, but after exploring for a little while, I wanted to scream, “Listen to that message on the garbage cans, Winnipeg! This place is great!”

Why? Perhaps it’s the idea that it’s this sizeable city smack dab in the middle of of the prairie, rising up out of the flat earth. Perhaps it’s the bustling Forks area by the rivers–and the really nice riverfront path. Maybe it’s the beautiful Legislative Building. Or the French Quarter with that chocolate shop that sells delicious Manitobars. Or the amazing collection of native statuary at the WAG. Or the delicious meal at Peasant Cookery that put the cap on a lovely weekend.

I had a day of exploration before the clinic, and during it I made the mistake of going to the tourist office and getting some brochures. This made me a little depressed about all of the places I couldn’t fit in on this trip (new polar bear exhibit at the zoo! The Exchange District! Baseball game!), but the bright side is that Winnipeg will just go higher up on my list of places to revisit.

Postcard from Montreal

14 Oct

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Over Labor Day weekend I was in Montreal for a couple of reasons: to officiate at the WFTDA D1 Playoffs and to visit the Olympic sites for my Olympics blog, The Feverr.

I hadn’t been to Montreal in over ten years, so suffice it to say, I didn’t remember much, although a few places jogged my memory, which was nice. But even though Montreal’s surely changed in the last decade, I’m not sure it’s changed so much.

Montreal’s one of those cities that doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi; it has a je ne sais meh. There’s definitely something special about Montreal, and you can see that in the way design matters. So many times I turned a corner or walked out of a Metro station (like the one above) and saw something surprising, cool and unique. They make the city exciting, you want to be a part of that creativity.

On the other hand, while design matters, other things clearly do not. Like clean streets. Or urgency. At the tournament, one of the skaters had a bad accident and needed an ambulance. The ambulance was on its way, tournament staff was told, and they’d get there soon, unless, of course, there was a stabbing or something that they needed to go to first. Maybe translation and Franglish comprehension was bad, but it sounded like there was only one ambulance on the island on Sundays.

Twenty, thirty or so minutes later, one shows up. No rush, no big deal.  One of the women on ambulance watch thought maybe the delay was a Canadian healthcare thing, but one of the locals set her straight: No, no, no. It’s Montreal. Why the rush? Meh, you’re not dying.

And maybe that’s the reason I waited so long between visits. Why the rush, Montreal? You’re lovely, but eh, there’s the rest of the world too.

 

 

Postcard from Woodbine

7 Oct

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Recently, the Boy and I were driving back to Massachusetts from Florida, and we needed to stop for lunch. We mostly take the I-95 corridor when we drive, which means you have ranges of advertising for your roadside stops. There’s a Wawa range, a Cracker Barrel range, a Bojangles range, and your BBQ joint range. Not to mention South of the Border.

When you’re in Georgia, you’re definitely in BBQ joint range. Along the highway there are some chain-type places and not-so-bad buffets, but if you’re willing to take a slight detour, I’d recommend going to Woodbine and stepping behind the magic fence at Captain Stan’s Smokehouse.

Since the Boy was driving, I was in charge of finding the place. Anyplace with a magic fence certainly intrigues me, so I directed him off the highway through about four miles of nothingness until we got to Woodbine. The town isn’t that large, and Captain Stan’s is on the main drag. You’ll probably smell the smoked meat before you see the place though.

The magic fence surrounds a really funky outdoor patio and creates a cool hangout place. The yard has an enormous tree in one corner that provides shade for a lot of the area. Some of the tables are covered with porch-like structures; some are out in the open. There’s a fire pit for when it’s cold and fans for when it’s hot. Posters and random paintings that one could stretch and say are folk art adorn the wooden walls. Stan’s has a regular roster of musicians that play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, Coke products (if you’re a loyalist, this will be a thing as you get into the Carolinas, which is Pepsi country), and meat. Oh, the meat!

When hitting up a BBQ place for the first time, I like to go with pork. It’s a basic. If you’re any kind of smokehouse (especially one with a magic fence), you know how to make a good pork sandwich. Boy, did Captain Stan’s deliver–and not just on the meat, but on the sauces too.

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The Boston Butt sandwich was smoky, rich in flavor and tender. I had a hard time choosing among the three sauces–there was a mild that was slightly sweet and tangy; a mustard-based one that wasn’t overly sweet; and a hot BBQ sauce that was spicy without being cruel. Even though I spread the sauce wealth around, I kind of wished I could eat three sandwiches so I could have a full sandwich with each kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, we could only make this a lunch stop, but it’s the kind of place where you could spend hours eating, drinking, listening to music and making new friends. It’s definitely on the list for a return visit. Put it on your list too.

****

Pro tip: Don’t eat too many of the in shell peanuts before your meal comes. You’ll need all that room in your stomach for the main course.

Latest Travel Feature: Midwestern Fun in Valpo

6 Sep

I grew up about 45 minutes away from Valparaiso, so it was a real treat to get this assignment from AAA Midwest Traveler to write about the town and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore during fall. It’s a great time of year to visit and see a beautiful part of the country–then get a great meal from one of the many choices in Valpo.

We Dig These Dunes

Summer might be over, but it’s still beach time in northern Indiana.

Summer doesn’t have to end when the sun sets on Labor Day. September is a great time to hit the beach and enjoy the last warm days of the year — without the crowds. Lake Michigan offers some of the country’s finest dune areas, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. Between the two protected areas, beachgoers can enjoy 15 miles of beach nestled between Gary and Michigan City, Ind.

Preservationists fought for decades to protect the area, succeeding with the development of the state park in 1925. In 1966, Congress created the national lakeshore along with the Port of Indiana. The two parks today have more than 15,000 acres of protected lands covering a variety of habitats, including marshes, prairies, bogs, and beaches.

Read more here.

Jazzing You Up

13 Apr

Freelancing is always interesting because you don’t know who you’ll end up working for and what you’ll end up writing. That’s the fun of the game though. When people ask me what I write about, I start going through a laundry list: credit cards, bridal, home, travel, corporate writing, etc.

Now I’m adding LinkedIn profiles to that list.

One of my roller derby officiating colleagues told me about an opportunity to write profiles for LinkedIn Makeover, so I went through a trial. I liked the work; they liked my work, and now I’m working with people from around the world who are trying to make better use of their space on this professional networking tool.

There are companies who do this? Well, sure. Just like there are companies that will help you write a good resume, there are companies who can help you maximize your professional presence online tool. LinkedIn Makeover’s founder Donna Serdula is really on to something, I think, as she recently described in Money Magazine’s online 30-Day Challenge: LinkedIn isn’t just a regurgitation of your resume, it’s a place where recruiters and other professionals can get to know you and hear about your expertise and accomplishments in a conversational way, much like an initial interview.

So far, it’s been really interesting work. I’ve met people from around the world who have some pretty amazing professional accomplishments under their belts. Seriously–I’m not one for cruises, but I worked with a cruise director who knew the clientele and planned such interesting events that I kind of wanted to book a cruise right then and there.

I’m also learning how to improve my own LinkedIn skills–it’s gotten me freelance work before, and I’m hoping that with a beefed up profile and more involvement on the site, it’ll help me get more work down the road.

At the very least, I’m being exposed to all sorts of careers, companies, industries and leadership levels. I’ve always been fascinated by how people do their jobs, and this gig helps me satisfy that itch, and I can help them show off their best side to help them network or find the next step in their career.

If you’re thinking, LinkedIn. Huh, I hear you. But the way business and social media work together today is really interesting, and if it’s important to you, it’s worth having a good LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn Makeover has a lot of good free tips and powerful profile examples to get you started on optimizing your own profile. Of course, we can help you do it faster for a price, but if you don’t have time or writing isn’t necessarily your strong suit, it might be worth it to pay a professional.

 

 

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