My Tennis Journey

After a recent visit to my parents in my hometown of Mountain Home, Arkansas, I was reminded of my beginnings in tennis.

My mother organized and ran a variety of programs through the Parks & Recreation Department in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s from synchronized swimming, to building a swim team, to tennis lessons. My older sister, younger brother, and I did it all: Red Cross swim lessons, swim team, softball, tennis lessons, and free swim days. #mountainhomearkansas

I recall tennis lessons at the public park courts with my mom at about age 10, a kids’ day camp type situation at the Racquet Club, and vague recollections of either taking lessons or just playing at an indoor facility in Midway.

As I got older other sports like swimming and basketball gained interest and I didn’t play tennis in high school. Throughout high school and college, I would occasionally grab my cheap Walmart racquet, a can of balls, and play somewhere with a friend or two or three.

One semester in college I took a 1-hour tennis elective just to have enough hours to qualify for a loan. It was in this class where I learned how to manage a “big kids” serve rather than dinking it in like that proficient 10-year-old beginner.

My tennis obsession began in 2015 after having gastric bypass surgery for weight loss (Thanks, Dr. Josh Roller!). Obvious to some is the physical activity aspect of life-long success with weight loss, but it was so strongly encouraged by Roller Weight Loss that I knew I had to find a consistent activity. Walking, jogging, and playing basketball were all out – BORING and horrible on your knees.

Enter Kim Wood: my sister is the true athlete in the family and was one of the top 2 players in the state back in high school. As a mother of a serious, traveling, nationally-ranked son, she picked tennis back up in San Antonio and was an amazing 4.5 player. She checked out tennis in my state and area and told me where to join, how to register with USTA, bought me a cool, REAL racquet and my nephew picked out my fancy Wilson tennis bag! I had the equipment and a location.

I started by joining Cardio Tennis sessions almost every night and on Saturday mornings. No one was rude or judgmental at Cardio: everyone was just there for the exercise and fun! This is where I heard people talking about leagues and teams. It was already October and no singles league teams had room and I had no idea what to do. A Pro at FAC (Fayetteville Athletic Club), gathered up enough new-to-the-area and new-to-tennis ladies for a 3.5 team. I was a 48-year-old, self-rated 3.0 who probably should have begun at 2.5, but knew I could be competitive as I lost weight and got in shape. Also, I was technically a college athlete, having swum without a scholarship for a semester at Hendrix College.

I lost my first match 0-0, the double bagel! My first lesson was learned here – tennis is fun and you meet so many people from diverse backgrounds! Jennifer Rogers was my first opponent and was so patient and pleasant that we are still friends on and off the court! Who would be EXCITED after a double bagel? Me! I called my sister immediately to tell her my results, but the fact that I was becoming active again and could even step on the court was a true achievement.

When I won my first game (not set, not match), I called again. When I won more than one game in a set I called her. My sister was always supportive of my gleeful journey and always encouraged me to just keep playing. It’s for the exercise, the fun, and meeting cool people.

When I started playing on a Spring League team (which the area League Coordinator helped me find), I finally broke down and bought a package of 4 lessons with a Pro at FAC, Dillon Yeilding. I spread them out so I could just focus on one thing as I played matches and attended a weekly drill at Memorial Park. It took me a year to use up those 4 lessons, but as I got better, I had a specific problem, deficit, or frustration each time to have Dillon help me with. It was perfect for me. (Matt Hogan, Melissa King, Wakako Yamaguchi, Robin Wise = #saturdaymorningdrill)

When I won my first singles match I was high as a kite! When I was slaughtered in my subsequent match my sister taught me my second major lesson: tennis is a humbling sport! Regardless of abilities, some days it’s just not your day AND you have to remember that the other person across the net is also trying very hard to win.

I now have a core group of cool tennis friends, play in most leagues as each season rolls around, have had two knee replacement surgeries (right then left, both in 2020, Thanks, Dr. Hanby!), and won a state championship with my team who also went to sectionals in Mobile, Alabama and made a respectable showing.

Tennis is fun, great exercise, and social. There is a place for everyone: all ages, abilities, backgrounds, races, sex, and even financial status. There are always independent teams who do not play out of a club, so players do not have to be a member of an expensive club. There are lots of parks with courts that anyone can play on, and yes, you can still buy a racquet and can of balls at Walmart!

I was under the impression that people would be very judgmental when I was unsure of a rule or etiquette, but with very few exceptions, that is not true! Everyone was super kind and helpful when I told them I just started playing and encouraged me to keep playing!

Tennis is a sport you can begin at any age and play through any age! I hope to play until I am 90+!

#tennis #getoutandplay #tennischampion #FACtennis #rollerweightloss #ozarkorthopaedics #arktennis #USTAArkansas USTA Arkansas United States Tennis Association – USTA (Official) USTA League (Official) Fayetteville Athletic Club Kristin Webb Libby Smith Kim Wood Matt Hogan

Family Vacation: 1979 Edition

We traveled a lot when I was growing up, but not the fancy trips on airplanes, hotels, or even overseas. We drove places, admired the beautiful scenery, read Archie comic books and library books, and stayed with family or friends of my parents.

For a full year leading up to the summer of 1979, we planned a 5-week family vacation.

Perspective Reminder: there was no such thing as a cell phone, internet, home computer, or even push-button telephones (we had rotary phones and only needed to dial the last 4 numbers if it was in town). 

Process: My mother either called or wrote letters to the Chamber of Commerce of numerous cities and small towns throughout the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest of the United States. Then we waited a week for the mail to come in: pamphlets, letters describing local interests and accommodations, brochures, etc.

Mom would lay out piles of these treasures on their king-sized bed for my brother, sister, and me to pore over and talk about what we thought sounded interesting or fun.

From all this information, plus taking into consideration where friends and family lived (Oregon and Montana for example), mom set the route. *Map to be included in the next post.

Also during this time, we either bought a Coleman pop-up camper or maybe just spruced it up. We were already serious camping people, often combined with lake or canoe trips, so the prospect of camping out for 5 weeks was not anything new in itself.

Dad also ordered a custom-made new Dodge Maxi-Van remarkably similar to the picture below I found online! That had to be a serious splurge they had saved up for! It was maroon and silver, and the custom part was how the two bench seats in the back could be configured: facing forward like normal, facing each other with a table in the middle, flat like a bed, or, our favorite for times when we drove for most of the day, a “lounge” with the back seat set regular, but the front seat flattened out. Cool!

NOTE: no one wore seat belts in 1979, so all of these configurations worked with no safety restrictions to ruin our fun. We could play cards at the table, read in our lounge, or sit on the seats facing forwards.

Kim always had dibs on the front and center bench, staring intently at the highway or road between mom and dad’s captain’s seats in the front because she would get car sick otherwise. Bob could read, sleep, sing, talk, or do whatever in a car. I was somewhere in between; as long as the road wasn’t too curvy, I was fine reading in the back or gazing out the side windows.

One other thing my dad created before our trip was what he called a “Grub Box.” If we were going to be camping out and cooking outdoors for 5 weeks, there were some things we needed to have readily available all the time. It was a wooden box approximately 3 feet square with a front that dropped down with chains on hinges to be a sort of table opening up to a mini-pantry with cubby holes. Salt, pepper, sugar, flour, some canned goods, and other non-refrigerated goods could all be stored neatly in the Grub Box. What a genius my dad was!

**This one is going for $335 on Etsy and is similar, but my dad came up with his own idea and made an even better one himself back then, before the Internet, Amazon, and Ikea.

We also had a large cooler we iced up and drained at every possible stop to keep things like milk, cheese, mayonnaise, hot dogs and the like.

Man, were my parents amazing planners! They really thought of everything!

International affairs nearly spoiled the whole thing and we almost did not get to take this incredible journey. If you are old enough to remember, there was an oil crisis to do mostly with events in Iran. With the serious spike in gas prices, doubling the cost per gallon, my parents were uncertain we could still afford to take such a long trip in a big van pulling a camper.

But we did …

**Trip stories in subsequent posts this month**

Feliz Navidad 2020 y Próspero Año 2021

Mentioning the year 2020 immediately raises most people’s blood pressure or instant grief or negative thoughts. It has inspired unique creativity in the meme world, which definitely helps relieve stress. Normally optimistic folks who take on challenges for fun have either stopped trying new things or complain more than usual. Granted, between 9 months of COVID living, racial strife, ugly political leadership, and so many changes to the perceived normal, we’re all a little on edge and a little more quick to pout or quit. Personally, 2020 will forever hold several monumental happy memories for me.

The first two events are intertwined. First, it’s the year my daughter and I spent nearly 24/7 together from February to August. Emily came home from China for Christmas break and the day she was set to fly back, February 9th, every airline cancelled all flights overseas – she was home to stay! Since I had just had my right knee replacement surgery on February 4th (positive event number 2), and she was completely my right-hand girl, this was not sad news to me. I’ve always pushed my children to go, go, go explore the world, try new things, go places! Since she couldn’t go anywhere, I felt personally blessed to have her with me. She did more than the obvious: drove me to physical therapy twice a week, drove me to school and back home, brought me things when I was too tired to get up, made me get up when I was too tired to get up. She watched funny shows to cheer me up, made me join her YouTube drawing lessons, walked with me, talked with me, drew with me, wrote with me, read with me. Replacing my horribly worn-out right knee could not have been more positive, due to Dr. Hanby and Emily Rose.

Event number three was left total knee replacement. Again, Emily was there for me and we kept learning new things, dreaming about what we wanted to do, watching more Taskmaster, and recuperating. By the end of July I was slowly playing tennis again – just standing and hitting at first – but I played my first doubles match in early August and it was a phenomenal feeling to play tennis with no pain in my knees! After not playing for 6 months, almost every other part of my body ached, but it was such a good feeling!

Next, my granddaughter Piper Joy turned a year old on August 5th. Julius and Nicole made the trip north to celebrate with GP Rains, Mama Elena, and Ganny Haynes and it was simply wonderful to see her after 8 months of separation! Julius and Nicole were wonderful about sending pictures, taking time to FaceTime on the weekends, and sharing her growth and changes with us, but seeing that beautiful, funny personality in our home in Arkansas was priceless!

After school started (crazy, blended, insane, sometimes illogical system that it has become), and I got a bit of a feel for what my year was going to look like, Fred and I decided to have our Vow-Renewal Wedding as planned. Well, not exactly as planned, but at the Christian Life Cathedral Chapel on our 30th anniversary, and live-streamed with limited, socially-distanced seating! My best friend Kristen Novotny planned and took care of about 90% of every detail, with Fred’s help on decisions. This left Fred and me free to meet with Pastor Ron Harris for counseling, growth, and planning for our Covenant Marriage ceremony. We enjoyed taking care of what details we could before we left for Florida, like shopping for outfits and buying lovely “past, present, and future” rings! With the benefit of two “Remote Learning” days which were designated “recuperation days” for teachers, students, and everyone involved in school, we headed to Florida. While there we had the time and separation from daily life to focus on our vows, the details of the ceremony, and ourselves. We chose songs to play with a slideshow we put together, decided on songs for during the ceremony (thanks to Aunt Nancy and Uncle David), and then a playlist for after the ceremony. With Pastor Ron’s direction, we discussed our Core Values, and took care of our extensive list of questions for homework. While some friends and family were able to attend the ceremony on Sunday, October 25th, most watched from the safety of their homes, sharing sweet comments on the FB Live Stream. The day was so special for both Fred and me: our best friends from college repeated as our Best Man (Gred McCone), and Maid/Matron of Honor (Irene Larson Dacus), my best friend organized everything, our daughter selected and sang “Tightrope” from “The Greatest Showman,” both my parents walked me down the aisle, and our friends Jared and Tanya Park carried a picture of Fred’s parents down the aisle. We have video, pictures, and a lovely framed picture with signatures to constantly remind us of this special day and our re-dedication to each other. Kristen collaborated with Fred, my children, Irene, Nicole, and others to ensure everything was wonderful for us. Fred made sure the day happened – for me, for him, for us, for our children. I have the most beautiful 3-stone diamond ring smiling at me every day as a reminder of our past, present, and future together!

On another professional note, we still managed to have a large number of students in Springdale apply for and earn the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy during the Pandemic – nothing will hold some people back! Young people are resilient. Don’t let them think this is completely negative – ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, you can! Making excuses has been a problem to deal with. Perspective: if everyone on the planet is dealing with masks & COVID, you are not unique and you can’t claim “adversity,” the meaningless sports claim. Not for everyday tasks that a person can definitely perform. Make excuses and underachieve all you want, but many people are completely overcoming every obstacle thrown at them – racism, COVID, extreme poverty, language barriers, lack of resources. With excuses, you will be left in the dust. [Note: I am very aware that many people who were already struggling with anxiety, stress, and other mental illnesses, or simply needed counseling to deal with life, were hit especially hard with the isolation and differences in a COVID life. This is NOT what I mean by “making excuses;” rather, I am talking about kids and parents who have no real excuse, but use them as a crutch.]

Finally, with the support of an excellent principal in the best school district in the region, surrounded by outstanding teachers and an especially team-oriented World Language department, and of course, my best friend Kristen Novotny, the fall semester was an interesting experience. I’m not a liar – there were definite moments, days, and even a few weeks of extreme frustration and mind-blowing, life-altering situations. However, we all felt “in it together” and sometimes together against the world. We were always supported to do not just what was right for the student, but what was best for me personally so that I could survive, continue, and not give up. So much support from so many sides made it all possible and even positive overall because, after 27.5 years, I learned a great deal.

Here we are, December 31, 2020. We celebrated Christmas with all our children, our sweet, perfect granddaughter, friends, and even with family thanks to FaceTime and Zoom. We watched Christmas movies, hung the lights, sang the carols, read the Advent Calendar posts, wrapped and opened gifts, and played with Piper. [My children are amazing aunts and uncles!] Heading into 2021, we have to face the reality that our COVID situation continues and we absolutely must be diligently safe for everyone’s sake, regardless of personal safety ideas or incorrect philosophies. A vaccination has arrived on the scene, but it’s so early in the process, we have to hold strong on mask-wearing, hand-washing (still can’t believe so many needed reminding to wash hands after going to the bathroom – gross – so please continue that for the rest of your life), and socially distancing regardless of supposedly-important shopping needs or desperate need for bars (is the need for strangers so important?).

We can do it, people! Remember that “freedom” does not mean that you can do whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want…because I have rights, too. We all do – so wear your masks, treat everyone (of every race, social status, religious belief, political belief), with respect and kindness, and continue to stay at home when you can. These aren’t “limitations” but rather “measures” to keep us safe while still doing, mostly, what we want or need to do. Family game nights, family pizza nights, and family movie nights are on the rise – keep up the traditions! If you don’t have a family to stay at home with, invite 2-3 people to be part of your bubble and go out of your way to plan weekly, fun activities either in person or through technology!

I wish you all a wonderful, positive, memorable 2021 – but hopefully memorable for different reasons!

#blacklivesmatter #2bilit2quit

Real de Catorce, Parte 2 [2009]

El próximo año decidimos viajar la noche anterior para poder disfrutar un día entero en el pueblo.

Esta vez viene mi hijo Benjamín y también David O, Ann A, Anthony y Hilde B, Larry, y mi amiga y anfitriona de casa Mary Malacara.

Me estaciono al lado de un edificio, tan cerca como los nativos: sin un centímetro extra para tocar la pared.

Las calles – las llamamos caminos desde ahora, ¿no? – tirados de escombros, piedras y montones de tierra o un burro atado enfrente de la puerta de una casita.

Encontramos el hotel y detrás del mostrador de la recepción veo retratos enmarcados de una cantidad de estrellas, directores y productores de Hollywood. Obviamente este escape a otro siglo no es tanto como secreto que habíamos pensado. Aunque el estilo del hotel queda con la atmósfera de un pueblo antiguo, no es tan rústico como el túnel, gracias a Dios.

Antes de acostarnos por la noche hay tiempo dar un paseo por la “Plaza Mayor”, pasar por unas tiendas y un supermercado y hasta comprar gorras y guantes al estilo andino o nepalesas en mi opinión. Empezamos a sentir la atmósfera mejor – increíblemente tranquila.

Para no gastar tanto dinero, compartimos un cuarto con 2 camas dobles: Ana, Mary, yo y mi hijo Benja de 16 años. Como hombre normal no quiere dormir con su mamá tan cerca y se acomoda en un sillón con una manta. Se enfría tanto por la noche que de repente se levanta y sin vergüenza se mete en la cama conmigo, enterrada con mis 25+ centímetros de manta. Como tortugas sólo sacamos la nariz para respirar de vez en cuando.

Por la mañana el aire es tan claro y refrescante. Se ve el sol en la cima del cerro tras el valle cerca mientras el pueblo está en sombra. La noche anterior yo decido no bañarme porque hace frío – ahora no puedo adivinar porque pensaba que haría más calor por la mañana, pero es necesario entrar la ducha, que de repente descubro que no hay agua caliente. Yo dejo correr el agua, rezando que se caliente con los minutos, pero no tengo suerte: me ducho con agua fría en un baño con azulejos fríos con una temperatura de probablemente 2-5 grados Celsius. Estoy totalmente despierto.

Es similar a una mañana al acampar – poco a poco la gente empieza a salir de sus casas, a vender chocolate caliente en la plaza (sin duda es como medicina para los turistas tontos que se bañan por la mañana), a abrir las tiendas…todo lentamente, con calma y sin prisa. Dando un paseo por las calles tan temprano, observando a los residentes que empiecen uno por uno su día, me da calma. No hay prisa en la vida aquí: ¿por qué me preocupo de los detalles de la vida afuera? Tengo una perspectiva bonita, me estoy cambiando.

Todo el día no hay prisa. Nadie es flojo, están trabajando, sirviendo comida, guiando a los turistas, dando masajes en una plaza, vendiendo artesanía en todas partes, pero no hay prisa: hay tiempo. Me siento visitante en un drama como los Festivales de Renacimiento en Estados Unidos, o Mountain Village 1890 o el Ozark Mountain Folk Center en Arkansas donde la gente lleva disfraces de la época y actúan como si fuera viviendo en aquellos entonces. Pero aquí vive la gente así, no actúa nadie. Es más moderno que el siglo XVI, pero no tanto.

Hay hippies, indios y muchos turistas de todas partes, y no solamente de México. El tipo de turista que visita el lugar tampoco está apresurado como el mundo moderno. Posiblemente se cambie al pasar por el túnel antiguo. En la esquina hay un burrito típico atado a un palo. Si fuera un caballo mesteño y grande, hubiera esperado que saliera John Wayne de la puerta – pero tampoco es suficientemente alto el portón para el hombre vaquero.

Lo que les interesa más a mis hijos, es la oportunidad de un paseo a caballo. Aunque no hay árboles o posiblemente porque no hay árboles, las escenas que se pueden ver en el sendero son impresionantes. Hay pozos, nopales, arbustos y cuevas chiquitas. Puedo imaginar la historia, los españoles dirigiendo la excavación de oro, plata, o lo que sea hacia los trenes en la estación Real de Catorce hacia los barcos rumbo a España y el Rey.

Llegamos a unas ruinas lejanas y arriba del pueblo. Nos dicen que los pozos tienen un depósito para guardar la dinamita fuera del pueblo. Nos damos cuenta que todo queda más lejos que parece – hay un grupo a caballo tras un vallecito, pero parecen tan chiquititos como hormigas por la distancia. Nos paramos y caminamos por unas ruinas y pasamos por una cueva que por dentro en una parte no podemos ver por la oscuridad y tenemos que tomar la mano formando un tren para no perdernos ni caernos. ¡Emocionante! En los Estados Unidos no podemos visitar lugares así porque los guías tendrían que temer demandas; así es la vida en EUA, no se puede aceptar la responsabilidad de sus propias acciones ni aceptar que pasan accidentes. Como resultado, restricciones, reglas, estrés.

Después del tour a caballo [el mío se llama Mariposa y por pelear con el de Dave le renombra Mariposa Traicionera], Ben, Rory y Courtney quieren hacer otro paseo y porque ya he sufrido suficiente y estoy sorprendida que no me he caído como en Costa Rica, me quedo con Mary. Quiero descansar e investigar lo que me ofrece “Real.” Comemos en un restaurante simple con comida tradicional y Mary me introduce el pozole.

En la plaza hay un jipi que da masajes de 15 minutos en una silla apropiada como en mi mundo. Me duele todo el cuerpo desde el pelo hasta las uñas de pies y en aquellos entonces batallaba mucho con la espalda hasta no poder ni caminar de vez en cuando. Después del masaje mágico, me siento curada y llena de energía. Me dice después el masajista que ando con mucho estrés, imagínese, y que debo tener un masaje cada día. Pues, como dice Tevia en Fiddler on the Roof acerca de hacerse rico, “I would agree if they would agree”, “Estaría de acuerdo si ellos estarían de acuerdo”; pero tristemente cuesta demasiado, aún aquí en este pueblecito, y todavía no los recibo diariamente y ando con mi estrés.

Al salir de Real de Catorce por segunda vez, tan tarde como posible, saco una foto en el túnel de una de las capillas.

Ofrezco una oración por la bendición de la oportunidad del viaje y también por la resistencia del túnel tras los años. Me transporta al mundo moderno de nuevo y estoy un poco triste por las preocupaciones que me esperan.

Real de Catorce, Parte 1 [2008]

Este pueblo se encuentra escondido en las montañas del estado mexicano de San Luis Potosí. Al salir de la carretera, empieza un viaje al siglo XVI por una calle de piedras como los romanos en España. Se espanta al principio pero si se maneja rápido, mejor para mí, el coche no vibra tanto.

Se acerca las montañas lentamente presuntamente para aclarar la mente de nuestro mundo moderno. Cuando se sube la montaña pasando, lentamente, unas cabras por aquí, unas casitas por acá, hay acantilados más y más escarpados sin ninguna barrera como protección. La persona que maneja no debe ser la persona que saca fotos – una sugerencia gratis – porque tiene las vidas de los pasajeros en sus propias manos.

Por fin se llega a la cima. Hay varias tienditas viejas con lo necesario: comida, bebidas, collares de los santos…enfrente de la entrada de un túnel. Parece igual que los que se ve en los Estados Unidos o España. Los grupos en coches o autobuses se estacionan para un descanso, una merienda, el baño y para sacar fotos enfrente del túnel.

Cada vehículo paga una entrada para pasar como si fuera una montaña rusa en la feria: un viaje al siglo XVI cuando reinaba el Virrey de Nueva España. Adentro se da cuenta pronto que no es igual que los túneles modernos que se acostumbra más allá. Es rústico con lámparas y bombillas colgadas, con paredes de tierra como en las minas o las cuevas y cavernas que visitamos en Arkansas (Blanchard Springs). Cada rato se ve un espacio al lado (¿para parar un rato?), o un altar a un santo…o posiblemente para honrar a un muerto, ¿de cuando se construyó el túnel o, por Dios, un día normal dentro de la tumba? Quién sabe…

Es increíblemente largo, más que una milla, y aunque no sufre alguien de claustrofobia, se puede sentir un poco cuando a cada curva no se ve la luz del día que se espera.

Por fin sale el vehículo moderno, pero jamás en su propio mundo. Me ha llevado a otro, lo antiguo, casi como en el cuento de Horacio Quiroga, La noche boca arriba; ojalá no me persigan unos aztecas. En este mundo el coche es ajeno, extraterrestre; no parece espacio para manejar ni doblar. Abajo a la izquierda hay callecitas casi más como una cerca para caballos y vagones, pero sumamente empinado y estoy segura que mi adorable, querida Pontiac Montana (irónico, ¿no?), no puede bajarla ni subirla sin resbalar.

He visitado Real dos veces. La primera vez con mi hijo Samuel. Basada en la descripción del lugar antes de ir, me deleitaba explicarle a Samuel que por fin no tendría otro remedio que comer algo auténtico, por fin, en vez de salchichas, quesadillas y otras comidas más americanas. La mamá de casa con la cual vivíamos, mi amiga Mary, simplemente quería que comiera porque era un joven de 12 años y nunca le esforzaba probar nada nuevo.

Cuando llegamos nos separamos y Sam se fue con Rory McW y su hijo Colby para un paseo a caballo. Aparentemente después de su viaje, en este pueblo escondido del siglo XVI, ¡Colby y Sam encontraron una tienda con hamburguesas con queso, papas fritas y pizza! Ya tenían mucha hambre pero Sam guardó una de sus 2 hamburguesas hasta estar enfrente de su mamá para comerla con ganas y ruidos de satisfacción como si fuera la mejor que jamás había saboreado en su larga vida.

Punto, Samuel.

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