Friday, March 30, 2012

Judge Dread

                              Judge me by my size, do you?

     Judging others.  We all know we're not supposed to do it.  I try, with varying degrees of success, not to judge other people; but have you ever gone a week without passing a judgement?  It's tricky!  So, imagine my delight when twice in the past year I have been asked to judge other people, on purpose, and in public!  Woo-hoo, I thought - this is going to be FUN!
     My first foray into the world of judging was delicious, literally.  I was at a church-sponsored blueberry festival in Blue Hill, ME.  This setting was as quaint as you are picturing.  Kids frolicking in a bounce house, blueberry crafts, blueberry smoothies, blueberry muffins, music, sunshine...and of course, a contest for "Best Blueberry Pie."  But there was a big problem.  The committee was short a person to judge the pies.  They had already asked several people, all of whom had politely declined. This is a very small town.  People are serious about their alliances, and about their blueberry pie.  No one wanted to get caught up in that kind of trouble.  However, being "from away," I was targeted and eagerly agreed to participate.
     I sat down with my co-judge and winked conspiratorially.  This was just for fun, right?  How hard could it be?  We eat some pie, and pick the one we like the best. Not quite. My co-judge leaned in and said, "this is how I do it," and he pulled out a spreadsheet of sorts.  It was a small scrap of paper with a numeric rubric, and I got a quick lesson in how to dissect and judge the proper pie:  Crust - dense or flaky?  Filling - runny or firm?  Taste - nutmeg or citrus?  I started to shift in my seat.  Oh, we're taking this seriously?  You betcha.  A small crowd formed as we took careful, small bites of several pieces of pie.  We ate, we rated, we revised, we re-tasted.  Since each one was delicious, how could I ever choose?  But slowly, with the rubric to guide us, a winner rose to the top.  I took several more bites, (you know, just to be fair. I wanted to be completely sure of my vote, after all).
      I came away unscathed from that experience, and was even thanked for taking my time and  judging so thoroughly. To that, I flashed a blue smile and piped, "anytime!"
     The winner of that pie contest walked away with bragging rights and a small ribbon, I recall.  But what about when there is money involved?  My second experience with being a judge is happening right now.  In the small(ish) town of Windsor, CT, there is a long-standing tradition called the Shad Derby.  What started as a fishing derby has grown into a months-long celebration, culminating in a parade and festival, and a coronation ball, where the "Shad Derby Queen" is named.  (I'm not making this up).
    Girls age 18-21 can compete for the coveted title, and accompanying scholarship money.  When a good friend asked if I would participate as a judge, I willingly agreed.  I knew there wouldn't be pie, but I'm always up for something new.  Why not? I thought.
     The first event was a very nice gala, with a cocktail hour followed by a program where each young woman competing gave a one minute introductory speech.  The other three judges and myself sat at a panel-style table facing them. "Like American Idol?" asked my daughter the next morning.  Yes, like that, but without the singing.  I was in awe of the poise of these young women as they took turns at the microphone, and realized with dread that judging people is nothing like judging pie.  This was going to be really hard.
     Things only got worse for me during the "interview night" where the young women again faced the panel of four judges, one at a time, to answer questions.  The more I got to know each person, the harder it was for me to judge them.  They are all darling, all active in their community, all stars in their respective school sports and activities.  All have good hearts and big, bright smiles.  I'm sure to some of them, the accompanying scholarship money would make a big impact on their plans for college.  Judge them?  How??
     Luckily, as with the blueberry pie, there is a scoring rubric.  As judges, at each event, we've entered numbers relating to various aspects of the candidate's performances as diligently as we could.  I'm told that somehow, when all the scores are tallied, it will all work out.  The right person will be named Shad Derby Queen, and her court of Princess Royale, First Princess, and Second Princess will be rightly named in turn.  I do not know who will "rise to the top", but two things I do know for sure:

1) She will be deserving, because in my mind, I think all of these bright young women are.
2) I am so glad my 18-year-old self isn't competing against them!

     What is amazing to me is how hard it has been to be an official judge, when it is equally difficult for me to not judge people in my everyday life.  This experience has taught me a valuable lesson:  even when you look down under the bottom crust, most pies, and people, are good and deserving of love.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: The Astro Outlaw

          Baseball fans, rejoice!  For anyone who says, "There are no good books out there for boys!" author David A. Kelly has an answer.   The Ballpark Mysteries is an intriguing book series based on two cousins, Kate and Mike, who travel to different baseball stadiums around the country, and solve curious dilemmas at each stop.  In Book Four of the series, The Astro Outlaw, the cousins travel to Houston, TX where they meet astronaut Nicholas Rice and help him find a missing moon rock.
     This book has all the elements a teacher or parent is looking for to interest a "reluctant reader."  Although not necessarily just for boys, The Astro Outlaw plays on both astronauts and baseball, a nice brew for the 6-8 year old set.  The Houston Space Center and the Houston Astro's ballpark are both richly described, giving young readers some juicy vocabulary to chew on.  By the end of the book, I was ready to go check out the stadium, and I'm merely a lukewarm baseball fan.  David A. Kelly's obvious love for the sport and the arenas it is played in comes sparkling through.  Part travelogue, the book has a unique glossary that gives further details about the baseball stadium and helps the book (and it's readers) dip into the non-fiction genre.
     One other unique aspect of the book is that the main character, Mike, actually has a website you can follow, called The Dugout Scoop.  This is a nice extension activity, and yet another way author David A. Kelly shows us that he understands his young audience and seeks to engage them right where their interests lie.
     Mystery series have a long history of entertaining children.  Most of us can recall curling up with Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, and being glad as you finished one story that another was waiting in the wings: more clues to be followed, more adventure to come!  The Ballpark Mysteries is geared toward new chapter book readers, and kids will likely want to start with book one and keep on reading.
     Click here to purchase or to read the latest info on the Ballpark Mysteries.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Manners of the Uber-Rich

     "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"... remember that show?  From the balcony of my suite at a fancy-schmancy resort hotel in Miami Beach, I keep hearing Robin Leach's voice saying things like, "He drives a Lamborghini, but that's not all...." as the camera sweeps to a shot of a 50-foot immaculately appointed yacht.
     No, I haven't won the lottery.  I just stowed away in my husband's luggage as he packed for a conference in Southern Florida.  (Stuck the kids in his carry on bag).  When we got here we were upgraded to a suite in some gracious cosmic nod to how difficult it can be to spend prolonged time with your family when stuffed into 300 square feet.  So here we sit, surveying the hotel's ridiculous spread of pools and glittering beachfront.
     We are interlopers in this world, and God forgive me, it's fun!  It's fun to play at being the person who sips ice cold watermelon-flavored water poolside. It's fun to "call down for the car," and be greeted by a phalanx of men in crisp white uniforms upon your return.  When I pick up the phone, a voice answers, "How may I help you, Tandon party?"  How lovely.  How nice to step outside of reality for a moment and peek at the 1%.
     But would I want to stay here?  As my little neighbor buddy would say, "No fanks."  That's not just because I know I can't, so therefore am pretending I don't want to.  I just know that jockeying for the "best spot" by the pool, or tripping over beach chairs lined up like automatons on my way to dip my toes in the water is not the life for me.  There is a lovely rocky cove in Maine that is never crowded that beats this jumble of people any day.  (At this point in my logic my husband points out that that cove is never crowded because the water is always ass cold.  I know.  But still.)
   What really makes me glad that I'm just a visitor in this world, however, is best illustrated by an encounter at the hotel coffee shop yesterday.  I stopped in for an $8 latte (like a drug addict, I would have paid any price at the time...) and a treat for the kids.  The man behind me ordered thusly:

     Barrista:  How may I help you?
     Man:  Give me an Americano.
     Me (thinking):  Say please!
     Man:  What's in these cookies?
     Barrista:  Chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.
     Man:  Give me one of those, too.
     Me (thinking):  Seriously? You're not going to say please?

     Moments later:

     Second Barrista:  Here is your Americano, sir.
     Man:  Silence.
     Me (thinking, and biting tongue):  Thank you!!  Hello?  Can't even say thank you?

     Moments later, alone with kids:

     Me:  I'd better never see or hear about you guys ordering a coffee when you are a grown up and not saying please and thank you!
     Kids:  eye rolls

     I'm not saying all rich people are rude.  I'm just saying at this particular resort, on this particular getaway, it was more often the norm to see people behaving in ways that made me cringe.  I'd never want my kids to think it's okay to treat anyone with disdain, no matter how many dollars are in their pockets.  Think of the character Celia in The Help - she was incredibly rich but innately kind.
     I may never be incredibly rich, but I strive to be kind in all circumstances, and will continue to teach my kids to be that way as well, no matter how many eye rolls.  Be kind to someone today!  Give an extra hearty "please" and "thank you" to the next person who serves you.  We're all in this together.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What if it all goes right?


      A few years ago, my sister gave me a refrigerator magnet that changed my life.  Or, at least, my outlook on it.  It says:  What if it all goes right?
     I'm a compulsive worrier, so even when things are going right, it makes me anxious.  All I can do is think about what's going to happen to ruin it, and when.  But this little refrigerator magnet, a small daily affirmation as I reach for my coffee cream, has somehow wormed it's way into my thinking.  Now, instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, sometimes I just enjoy things being all right.
    Yesterday was one of those days.  Not "one of those days," that you can't wait to end, but a day where everything just seemed to go right.  Nothing special, just little nice things such as finding out the price on my rental car for an upcoming trip went down by $20 a day!  (When does that ever happen?).  This was followed by other small nice things:

  • Hitting three green lights in a row when I was a little late taking my son to karate.  
  • My husband pulling hot food out of the oven just as I walked into the house after an evening meeting, late and hungry.
  • A friend being available last minute to meet for lunch.
  • Window shopping that yielded nothing I wanted on a day I didn't have money to spend.
  • Finally figuring out a particularly tricky revision on a manuscript I've been working on.
  • Having a coupon for a free hot beverage at my favorite coffee place (where the above revision took place).

     What if it all goes right? Well, yesterday it really seemed to.  I appreciated every moment, and I think that is the key.  I think things are "going right" all the time, we just need to take a moment to notice them. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take my daughter's forgotten violin into school.  Maybe I'll get all the green lights.