Tuesday, December 21, 2010

To you: Love, joy, hope, peace and life

 It’s a good thing gift wrap was made from sturdy paper when my brother and I were kids.

We were gift tag stalkers and package shakers.

Whenever we saw our name on a present under the Christmas tree, we had to shake it, pick at the corners and try to lift the edge of the seam to get a glimpse of what was inside. If we’d had an X-ray machine, I’m sure we would have used that.

But one year that stopped. Not because we’d grown up – when it comes to Christmas, who ever grows up? – and not because we were finally listening to our parents’ plea to, “Quit shaking the packages.”

It stopped because our mother didn’t use gift tags that year. We didn’t know which gifts were ours until Christmas morning.

The next year, my brother didn’t tag gifts, either, and then my dad and I quit using them. And yes, there were times when the giver forgot who the gift was intended, so Bill might get a skirt, and I might get a dress shirt. But that just added to the fun and made Christmas morning more memorable.

God doesn’t tag His gifts, yet we always get something to cherish or sustain us. Talent and treasure. Humor and health. Food and breath. Quiet and laughter.

Best of all, we get His greatest gift, His love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

That tiny baby, born in a manger, brings love, joy, hope, peace and life – here and in eternity -- to you. To me. To everyone.

What an amazing gift, and no tag needed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Antarctica trip brings true adventure

The Drake Passage isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s 500 miles of open sea where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. The closest land is South America or Antarctica. Even travel brochures acknowledge that the passage is known for having the stormiest water in the world, making it an adventure to cross anytime.

But my brother, Bill Voige, says that bucking high waves is worth every rise and fall when you experience Antarctica.

He was one of 88 Americans who boarded the Clelia II Nov. 30, hit a heck of a storm Dec. 7 and left this landlocked Hoosier wondering if I’d see him on dry land again. The 290-foot cruise ship rocked, pitched and creaked all along its southbound trip. Here’s how Bill described the wild trip down, and the even wilder one back north:

“On the way down, the Drake lived up to its reputation. Think of the most severe turbulence you’ve ever experienced on an airplane and then imagine it going on continuously for three days and nights.

“But the trip back was even more exciting. For on that leg of the journey, we encountered a storm of breathtaking ferocity: 35-plus foot waves and 50-knot winds. To add to the excitement, during the storm a 2.5-foot section of deck railing broke loose and crashed through one of the windows of the ship’s bridge. The resulting onrush of water, wiped out our radar and most of our radios.

“Fortunately, we were able to use one remaining low-power radio to contact a nearby National Geographic cruise ship which pulled alongside and used a cannon-like device to shoot an additional radio to us. But we were still without radar, which made navigation somewhat risky. At one point, we were told the safest maneuver was to turn into the storm and use the engines to essentially ‘tread water’ until the storm broke, which might take three long days.”

It didn’t take three days, but watching the video that the Explorer crew shot could make you queasy as the ship crashes violently against waves, gets pummeled with water, and is tossed from starboard to port.

While the storm made the trip an international media spectacle, the two days passengers spent in Antarctica were nothing short of spectacular.

Bill compared the weather to a beautiful winter day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where he lives. The sky was clear and blue, with temperatures in the 30s. (Ironically, the coldest day of the entire trip was Dec. 13, when Bill landed at Dulles International Airport in Reston, Va.)

The ship made four landings, giving passengers an intimate look at penguins, seals, birds and glaciers. The penguins have no fear of people, so they would get two or three feet from the thrilled tourists, most of whom were in their 60s and 70s; the oldest was 85 and the youngest was a man in his 50s who was traveling with his mother.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators regulates tourism in Antarctica, and it has some very strict rules:

>>Only one cruise ship can be there at a time.
>>No more than 100 passengers and guides can be on land at any given time.
>>Garments must be vacuumed before going on land to ensure that no seeds from other continents are introduced to Antarctica.
>>Visitors must pass through disinfectant stations leaving and boarding the ship.
>>Water can be taken onto the land, but no food of any kind.
>>Penguins always have the right of way.

No souvenirs can be taken, not even a rock, but -- and this was my biggest surprise -- there is a gift shop on Antarctica. It’s at a British scientific station, which uses the proceeds from sales of post cards and T-shirts to help fund the work done there.

When the Clelia II arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, the ship was met by ambulances, fire engines, reporters, camera crews, and official representative of the British government, sent to see if they could be of assistance to two British expedition leaders.

The passengers, however, “weren’t exactly suffering,” Bill said. They were finishing dinner -- lobster, steak, champagne and baked Alaska.

Due to the complications encountered, Overseas Adventure Travel rebated some of the ticket price for this trip and credited each passenger $2,000 for another. Bill has already decided he’ll use it to visit Thailand in the spring.

Hey, aren’t there tsunamis there?

I’d like to think I would make the crossing to see Antarctica if the opportunity arose. How about you? If not Antarctica, what adventure would you like to take?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Building character, 6 minutes at a time

I’ve become a fan of the Hamilton Heights wrestling program.

It surprises me to write that because wrestling is as far from my peace-loving, non-confrontational psyche as the Arctic Circle is from Antarctica.

If you’ve never been to a meet, trust me when I say there can be more twists, entanglements and which-way-is-up holds in a 6-minute match than you’d see at a weeklong contortionist convention.

Yet, after spending approximately 15 years chastising my nearly 17-year-old son against rough housing, I now find myself yelling, “Sweep his legs.” “Flip him over, Christopher.” “Hold him down.”

Let me tell you: Soft, teenage flesh makes a heck of a slam when it hits hard rubber. I can’t help but wonder how a wrestler’s knees feel when he gets thrown to the mat after being lifted shoulder high into the air. My knees hurt in empathy all the way up in the bleachers.

Invariably, that’s when my eyes squint, my face grimaces and I mutter a parental “ooooo,” no matter what school the far-flung wrestler represents.

I’m not the smartest wrestling mom, mind you. In fact, the matches make about as much sense to me as advanced calculus. (Who am I kidding? Make that basic calculus.)

I rarely know who’s winning until the ref raises one boy’s arm. And it wasn’t until “my” third meet that I learned how to read the scoreboard. I’m starting to recognize when points are scored – still no idea how points are scored -- and I do know that when the ref slaps the mat and one side of the gym starts clapping, it’s a pin.

I also know that the boys work extremely hard to prepare for their matches. Practices can be exhausting. Coaches Rick Willoughby and Jason Reecer are respectfully demanding. Together, they’re working to build strong bodies and smart wrestlers.

There’s a camaraderie and solidarity among wrestlers that I haven’t seen in other sports. As each boy wrestles individually, HHHS teammates are on the sidelines, watching every move, encouraging loudly and cheering proudly.

Wrestlers have to shake off their losses or savor a win quickly when their match ends. After they get a job-well-done high five from each teammate, it’s time to focus on encouraging the next wrestler to do well. There’s no place in wrestling for sulking.

It might take years for me to understand the sport of wrestling, but I already know the point of Heights’ program and why it appeals to a pacifist. As these coaches train warriors, they're building the character of peacemakers.

Athletics are a valuable part of a child’s development. Add your comments about what benefits you, your son or your daughter has reaped from sports.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dad's trick becomes my treat

My dad approached life with exuberance and always liked a joke.

He never seemed to mind when the joke was on him. Many times, in fact, he encouraged it.

Sometimes a joke misfired, as one did on a Halloween night in the 1960s. But Dad didn’t let that stop him from making people smile and giving all he had. It’s a lesson I try to embrace and teach my kids.

We were living in Perry, a typical small town in northeastern Ohio. He and Mom were doing what they did every Halloween: handing out Hershey bars from a wooden bowl. When it wasn’t holding the Halloween stash, it was our mixing bowl for salads, so it was deep and pretty big.
About midway through trick-or-treat hours, a young boy inched up to our door by himself; his parent stood watch just off our porch. The boy clutched his bag, already so heavy with goodies that he struggled to maneuver it up two small steps. He peered out his mask with great expectation and said, almost in a whisper, “trick or treat.”

It was an Americana set-up, and Dad decided he’d go for a laugh.

“Look, Dorothy,” he said to my mom. “This little boy brought us candy.” Then Dad plunged both hands into the bag and pulled out gobs of the evening’s sweet loot. Lollipops and bubble gum clung to chocolate bars and marshmallow confections. It was the little boy’s treasure, possibly the rewards of his first trick-or-treat outing.

He was horrified watching it all be taken away.

So was my mom. “Bill,” she scolded as the boy’s look of delight morphed into dismay, “what are you DOING?”

Dad stuffed the purloined candy back into the boy’s bag, all the time trying to assure him that he was kidding. Not convinced that was working, Dad then dumped the entire bowl of Hershey bars into the bag, too.

The trick-or-treater grinned and found lightness to his walk down the steps and driveway. Dad turned to Mom with a hapless satisfaction smeared across his face, reminding me of Stan Laurel. No words were needed; the look itself said, “There. I fixed everything.”
But as usual, my mom had the Oliver Hardy-like last word: “Now,” she said, grabbing the empty bowl from my dad, “WHAT are we going to give all the other trick-or-treaters?”
I’ve tried to mimic Dad’s exuberance and teach it to my kids. I acknowledge that sometimes being high-spirited will trip you up, but advise them not to let the occasional slip slow them down.
Is it just me, or would this world be better if more people dipped down deep, even if only one night a year, and gave everything from their bowl?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blood drive draws Colts cheerleaders to HHHS

Students Against Destructive Decisions -- the SADD Club -- at Hamilton Heights High School has made some rewarding choices.

When members rolled up their sleeves to conduct a spring blood drive, all they wanted to do was boost the Indiana Blood Center's supply. They did that, and they wound up winning the Colts Blood Drive Challenge, which will bring Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders to Arcadia to cheer for an hour at a game.

Even better, by winning that challenge, the school has been entered into another competition where it could win $10,000 for a program of the students' choice.

The SADD Club, sponsored by School Resource Officer Brad Osswald, promoted the drive, lent muscle to set up tables and chairs, and registered donors. The students recruited 135 classmates, teachers, staff, parents and community residents to donate.

With 179 seniors enrolled, Heights was the smallest among the five schools invited to be part of the challenge, said Osswald. In comparison, McCutcheon, the largest in the challenge with 438 seniors, had 26 donors.

Make no mistake: school-based drives help people who need blood, no matter the number of donors. Nearly 20 percent of the blood center's annual donations are given at high school drives, according to the IBC website. Last year, 184 high schools hosted 555 drives. Combined, they drew a whopping 34,548 units of blood.

"High school students are wonderfully generous and civic-minded," said Chris Crane, IBC recruitment manager, in a news release. "It is a generation that cares about making an impact and does so without expecting a thank you. (Giving blood) is an anonymous donation to a patient in need. Knowing that seems to be all the students need to hear."

Odds are, though, that the HHHS students also will like hearing Colts cheerleaders rev up a Husky crowd and team. Osswald is working on those arrangements, hoping to have the women come to homecoming on Oct. 1.

To win the new challenge, Heights must host fall and spring blood drives. The dates haven't been set, but the SADD Club is aiming for early November for the fall one. Watch the HHHS daily announcements, which are posted on the school's website, for more details.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thank you, Mrs. Volz

I can't forget something that Lynn Heinzman said after his wife, a much-beloved teacher's aide at Hamilton Heights Elementary School, died suddenly in 1995.

Lifted by the outpouring of support after her tragic accident, Lynn said he didn't think Peggy knew how much she'd done for her students. I remember wondering if a teacher as well-liked by students and parents as Mrs. Heinzman didn't know that, how could any teacher?

The answer was obvious: Parents need to tell them.

Too often, we forget or let the opportunity pass us by. Sometimes it's hard to see a teacher's effect right away. That certainly was true in our family, as signs started appearing in the spring but the indelible mark one teacher made on my son wasn't apparent until recently

As the crocuses bloomed, Christopher began injecting dinner conversations with morsels about discussions in his sophomore English class. Not a lot of explanation, but still a surprise from the young man who preferred eating in silence to talking about school.

When trees flowered, his comments budded, telling what he'd added to the discussions and what others had said.

I heard something I could hardly believe when we were feeling summer's heat. Christopher quickly answered "English" when my brother asked, "What was your favorite class this year?"

English? Really? Just a few months earlier his answer might've been, "the last one of the day."

As his first week as a junior wrapped up, Christopher made me see the signs as clearly as if he'd turned on the neon when he said, "I'm going to see Mrs. Volz."

Joy Volz was his sophomore English teacher. She had encouraged him to speak out, but more importantly, she listened to what he said then gave feedback to his comments.

Mrs. Volz had inspired this teenager to become a student.

Before this school year was 5 days old, Christopher was buying a binder to organize his papers. Homework was getting done every night, and it was in the binder, by the door, each morning. At dinner he was talking about most of his classes, and he recommended that I read his recreational reading book. Labor Day weekend, he vowed to show his history teacher -- who he also had in freshman year -- that he's "learned to be a student."

Thank you, Mrs. Volz, for engaging Christopher in class. Thank you for not just letting students talk, but listening to their viewpoints and respecting their perspectives. Thank you for chipping away at a hardened "I don't care" attitude to release an "I will do this" commitment.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Best phone call ever

I saw it coming months before July 9, 2009, so I wasn't surprised when I got called into a private office at The Indianapolis Star and was handed my walking papers.

Saddened, but not surprised.

I've wobbled daily, sometimes hourly, since then -- giddy with anticipation after applying for jobs that seemed a hand-in-glove fit, brooding when I heard nothing except an unnerving silence from prospective employers.

But unemployment has given me something precious: the chance to seize opportunities that I didn't when I was a 9 to 5 (or more realistically, 8 to 8) worker.

One of the biggest opportunities has been having time to volunteer.

I wanted to be a Meals on Wheels volunteer for years. I wanted to be part of an organization that ensured that older or homebound people in the community get at least one nourishing meal and hear at least one person say hello each day. I thought I couldn't possibly do that while I was working (I could have -- easily), so within days of my layoff, I signed up to deliver meals.

Best phone call I ever made!

I don't know if my knock at the door makes any difference to the 8 to 10 people on my route. I don't know if they look forward to their hot meal. I don't know if they close the door and walk away thinking their day just got brighter.

I do know that the people on my route make a difference to me, that I look forward to seeing them each week, even miss them when I'm off or they stop using the service. I know that my day gets brighter every time I step out of the car and walk to their doors.

Marie and I talk about how her family's deep roots in the community are intertwined with my husband's family roots, and she often mentions someone I know from my reporting days at the Daily Ledger. Edsel's smile is wider than his arms can reach; the sparkle in his eyes burns a bright spot into my day. Mary Jo's favorite color is red; I know that from all the times she's complimented the jewel red color of my car. Don likes to tease me about the meals, often asking if I brought steak that day, and his brother Jim welcomes me into their home as if I'm carrying filet mignon on gold-plated service.

Unemployment is a journey, and my destination isn't yet identified. Along the way, though, I'm learning that providing a meal, sharing a story, getting a smile or just chatting about things like favorite colors can be very, very rewarding.