Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rediscovering the Game of Jacks


We enjoyed two Christmases this year, one with all the Krons, and a second one with all the Liles. Both were great fun. Food and gifts complimented the quality time we spent together on both occasions.

IMG_6316Korben, Callie, and Ty were on hand for the Kron Christmas,

IMG_6324 as were Colten and his friend Stormi.

IMG_6412Then Colten celebrated again with Ben and Maya at the Liles Christmas.

And I had the pleasure of reacquainting with an old friend-the game of jacks. At the Christmas at the Liles’ house, one of Maya’s stocking stuffers was a new tin box filled with jacks and a ball and a set of pick-up-sticks. Amid all the video games,  remote control cars, and a fancy new cell phone, a set of jacks and pick-up-sticks seemed rather quaint and out of place. But here were two games I could play! And play well, thank you very much. Especially the jacks.


I dropped to the floor, threw out the first hand of jacks, and started the first round of play. AJ took on the challenge, for about half of one turn, and gave up. Colten sat down for about two tries, bounced the ball off his hand and  under the table, declared it was way too hard, and he gave up! Two perfectly coordinated athletes who couldn’t master throwing up a little ball, picking up  a jack, and catching the ball before it hit the ground. And weren’t willing to take the time to learn how. Amazing.

I tried to show them some of  the other rounds in a jacks game after the plain first game where you just pick up the ones, then the twos, till the last  round when you pick up all ten. Then you progress to other games,  like around the world; pigs in a pen, scrambled eggs, double ball-bounce, and others the names of which I can’t remember.   They were impressed. “When does the game end? AJ asked.

“When the bell rings,” I said, because that’s what ended our games at Travis Elementary. We passed many a recess and had hours of fun playing a game that required only our ability to sit  flat-legged on the sidewalk and a well-developed amount of  hand-to-eye coordination, which, of course, we had honed playing previous hours of jacks. Strategy of which jacks to pick up and in what lay-out also plays a part in being successful at jacks, which we also learned from the many hours we spent squatted on the floor bouncing that little ball.

I don’t know if little girls  play jacks much any more, or pick-up-sticks for that matter, and as it turned out, I wasn’t able to  lure Maya away from her other gifts before we left  to find out if she had played much. I just know my friends and I  spent many happy hours bouncing that ball  while carrying on lots of conversation, laughing, having a good time. I came home and dug around and sure enough, found my jacks in the original bag Mother made just for my jacks. You know, some things are just too valuable to throw away. An old golf ball was in the bag, but everyone knows that the best jacks ball is the rubber center you cut out of that golf ball, and alas, I don’t seem to have one of those any more. But I can still slice open a golf ball and get one. I guess new golf ball centers would still make a good jacks ball. Hmmm, something to work on  in the near future.


Next time I run out of something to do, well, I can always fall back on my jacks and briefly revisit my childhood, 65 years and  thousands of  jacks games ago…

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Of Christmases Past

I can’t remember how old I was, but I am guessing in the neighborhood of six or  eight or so, when I told my mother we needed a manger scene to properly celebrate Christmas, the whole point of which is supposed to be  the birthday of Jesus.

I can remember going to the dime store in downtown Rosenberg to buy our first family nativity set. All lined up neatly between glass partitions were rows of  Wise Men, camels, shepherds, sheep, cattle, donkeys, Marys, Josephs, and little baby Jesuses in their hay-filled mangers. Next to the rows of plastic characters were the  cardboard stables in which the birth unfolded. I chose one of the simpler models with a blue-glittered star on top and make-believe hay glued to its roof. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are of course the stars of the drama, and I picked them first.  Then the Wise Men have to journey to the manger, so they and their camels were next. The shepherds were there, too, so I chose two shepherds. But the fun part was the animals who witnessed the baby’s arrival, so I loaded up several sheep and lambs, a cow and calf, and a donkey.

Once home with my treasures I set up the manger on part of a sparkly cotton tree skirt and added cut-up pieces of straw excelsior for hay on the floor of the stable. Then Mother appeared with a short electrical cord with a blue night-light bulb screwed in the socket to put in the back of the manger to cast a soft light behind the Holy Family.

For years after, through school, college, and the early years of our marriage,  the manger was set up the same way at Mother and Daddy’s house,  save for numerous changes in the staging of the animals and people around the baby Jesus. At some point the manger came to live with Bill and me and the kids and became a tradition at our house.  The cotton skirt yellowed and fell apart; the excelsior dwindled to nothing.  The cow and calf disappeared, and I am down to one sheep and lamb. The  shepherds wandered off most recently, but the basics are still here. The cardboard stable is getting wobbly, and the star has lost most of its glitter.

Even though the little dime store diorama is at least 60 years old, it still finds it way out of the box, still finds a place to be set up, and still reminds us of the night Jesus was born.


But for me, it means something else as well.  It will always remind me of  my Christmases past, the memories made,  and the people who loved me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Learned at The Muppets Movie

Erin and I took Ben and Maya and her friend Faith to see The Muppets over Thanksgiving. It was an education for me. I don’t go to the movies as much as I used to, and certainly not that many geared to kids, although this one was also  a nostalgia trip for adults who grew up with  Sesame Street and puppets known as  Muppets. That’s the first thing I learned-Muppets and Sesame Street are not all-inclusive. I think Kermit is the main one who can lay claim to being a part of both camps.

We made an effort to make an early feature in hopes of taking advantage of early bird prices. Ours started at 10:40 a.m. The early bird matinee was at 10:00 a.m. The kids’ tickets were $7, Erin’s was $7.25, and my senior ticket was a real bargain at $6.75. I saved a whole 50 cents to spend on popcorn. Now I know that the concession stand is where the real money is made, not the ticket booth, but things have gotten ridiculous. I know Austin is a big city and prices are always higher and all, but really, $16.50 for two drinks and a gargantuan box of popcorn? Sure, it was a lot of  popcorn for all that money,  more  than any human should consume at one sitting, but still. And people wonder why Americans are obese. We passed on refreshments.

We sat through three ads for high-end  cell phones-at a movie aimed at six-year-olds, remember- an ad for a video game with cartoon characters that I thought a bit violent, considering it was  for little kids, at least five kid-geared  previews that also seemed a bit violent, and then without warning a short  Toy Story video that just came out of nowhere. 

And then the movie finally came on. The reviewers are giving it high marks; I thought it was a bit slow. By now you probably know the plot: Muppets put on a marathon to raise money to save the old Muppet studio while Gary and his Muppet brother Walter  discover in which world they each belong, human or Muppet, the high point of that being Walter looking at his reflection in the mirror to see Jim Parsons, a.k.a Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, as Walter’s human side, a perfect piece of casting, I thought. The movie had some other nice touches, like the travel by map bit, Amy Adams’ character making a point about being alone with the aid of a thesaurus, and positive themes like finding your talent, that everyone has a talent, believing  in yourself, and not give up sprinkled throughout the story. Among the fun celebrity cameo appearances was  Selena Gomez,  the movie’s  ace in the hole to make sure slightly older kids would show up.

Unfortunately, when I heard one of the characters make a comment  about those ones, the movie lost credibility with me. Gross misuse of pronouns, and kids will think it’s okay because it was in a movie!

At one point  Kermit expresses concern  that perhaps the Muppets are no longer relevant in today’s world. A valid concern when you consider the paradox of ads for cell phones and video games sharing screen time with a movie starring low-tech hand-manipulated puppets, which, let’s face it, in reality is still what Muppets are. And while I may not be as taken with the movie  as everyone else, who can argue with a sincere green frog who still packs ‘em in?

Miss Piggy knows he’s still relevant. And who would dare argue with her?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Good Memories, Great Season, No Regrets; Thanks, Mules.

The season came to an end for the Mighty Mules Friday night when they fell to the Melissa Cardinals 49 to 36.  And what a season it was! One loss the first game of the year to Shallowater, a 3A team that went deep in the playoffs, followed by a twelve-game winning streak filled with exciting moments and fun times.

In this game the Mules still supplied exciting moments, but it’s just not as much fun to lose. The weather was cold but nicer than the game last week in Midland, and  a full moon watched over the large, loyal crowd that made the drive over to Sweetwater, including two full fan buses  provided by Muleshoe ISD.

Melissa drew first blood with 6:56 on the clock, 0-7, and we answered with a strong drive down field that ended with a failed field-goal attempt.

Quickly into the second quarter, however, Isaac Baca tied the score running in for the TD, 7-7, but Melissa scored again making it 7-14, and we answer with a TD by Ryan Deleon, tying the score again at 14-14. But then we  discovered they have their own version of an Isaac Baca bulldozer, their QB who just doesn’t go down easily.  With 38 seconds on the clock, Melissa scores again, and it is now 14-21. When the Cardinals kick off, it is a short, dinky little thing that we suspect was designed to keep Saul Elizalde from running it back for a touchdown like he has been known to do. The Mules drive down for what looks like a touchdown before the end of the half and, alas, quarterback Beau Avila throws an interception with 8 seconds left, so we go into the half behind, not something we are accustomed to doing.

The third quarter looks more promising, however, as Isaac Baca quickly scores, runs for the two-point conversion, and we lead 22-21. Melissa answers by scoring again, 22-28, we have some troubles, lose the ball, and with 2:52 on the clock they score again, 22-35. Things are not looking good at this point. Based on their body language, I fear that this is when the psychology of the game is getting to the Mules. They have seldom had to come from behind like this, and I think the pressure of winning a semi-final game is almost worst than the tension of the final game-you are so close and yet so far from that last chance to shine-and I think it took its toll. With 2:21 left in the quarter, Avila loses another pass to an interception, and that seals the deal.

The fourth quarter starts with another quick Melissa touchdown, 22-42, which we answer with a good drive down close to the goal line when Ryan Deleon does not arise after the play. At all games, crowds usually do the right thing and are quiet our of concern for  an injured player, but it seemed even more so this time,  perhaps because of the stakes involved in a semi-final playoff. When he finally was loaded onto the cart and waved the high sign to everyone, both stands gave a rousing and relieved applause of approval. We were told he suffered an injured ankle. We wish him speedy recovery.

At 7:08 we are down close to their end zone, recover their bad punt snap and Isaac Baca  runs it in for a TD; the score is now 29-42. I was hoping that would be the spark they needed. The band even tried to help by playing non-stop when Melissa was in the huddle to drown them with noise, but it didn’t work. Melissa goes on to score again, 29-49. With 1:01 left on the clock and two penalties in a row Jr. Baca is able to score, 36-49, but it is too little too late and the game is over. Final: Melissa 49-Muleshoe 36.

It was a night filled with explosive, exciting plays; they just had more of them than we did. But it was a memorable game, and I doubt there was a fan there that was sorry they had gone to the trouble to go and support the Mules, a bunch of “overachievers,” to quote Coach David Wood, who also said, “I would take a thousand seasons like this one. The kids always played all 48 minutes and left it all on the field every game.”

A season to remember.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cancel School? I Was Just Getting Started!

I agreed to be a long-term substitute for Morgan Marricle when her baby came and she took her maternity leave.  It sounded like a good idea at the time; Morgan teaches freshman English. I taught freshman English for about five years before tackling sophomore, junior, and senior English before retiring in 2004. I can do this. So I said yes.

Everything was fine. And then the baby took matters into his own hands and decided to come about a week early, which pretty much trashed our game plan to get me on board with topics she wanted covered,  materials to use,  and to be introduced to the dreaded CSCOPE. I should have known better than to put it off and trust the baby to follow the schedule. So now I had two days of fumbling around and making it up period by period, not having much luck remembering kids’ names, coming up with a test on the vocabulary they had been studying. Or not, as too many of the grades indicated.

That was Thursday and Friday, Friday being an early release so everyone could go to the playoff football game in Odessa. And early release days are always a wreck. So over the weekend I graded papers, found some tried and true lesson plans of my own, made some decisions about what direction to take, visited with Morgan as she recovered from her C-section, and in general  got organized. I was  ready!


So Monday morning I am up extra early to get to school  before the kids to get everything ready, and we awaken to snow! Then I look on gillambadvertising.com to discover school has been cancelled. Well, by this time I am dressed and ready for the day, so the logical thing to do is go on to school and get ready for the next day. Which I do, but there are pictures to be taken first. I am always a sucker for snow pictures, as you know if you have read the blog very long. Mari and I brave the elements and get some really cool pictures in the overcast pre-dawn morning, and then I head out for for a morning of quiet preparation.


A wise choice, because I now had time  to locate workbooks, gather a classroom set of  The Education of Little Tree, organize  what I plan to use, and in general feel more prepared for the kids when school reconvenes the next day. I am  loaded for bear, as my daddy used to say, and am much relieved that I will not experience my worse nightmare-having a class full of kids with nothing for them to do. You know that dream where you are somewhere around a lot of people and you are the only one naked? Well, I have had that dream, only for me it is a film-loop where I keep looking for what I had prepared and can’t find it, over and over and over.  And sometimes I am also naked or in questionable clothing as well. Fun, huh.


So wish me luck. I dug out my old briefcase, filled it with the graded papers, laid out the game plan for the day on my clipboard, and I’m ready. Now if we will just have school…


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mules 43-Eastland 36

And the Mules just keep on rolling! Everyone traveled to Ratliff Stadium in Odessa Friday night in the mist and fog and cold to watch the Mules win the Region 1 championship game against the Eastland Mavericks. The game was anticipated to be an explosive offensive battle, which finally came in the second half, but started out with both sides’ defensive teams dominating the game.

The car thermometer registered 36 degrees when we entered the parking lot, but the fog was heavy and made it seem even colder. Thank goodness the wind wasn’t a factor, but as the game went on the glare of the lights against the fog had to affect the boys’ ability to see and hold onto the ball, especially when it was in the air on punts, kick-offs, and passes. Heck, by the end of the game, the stands on the other side were just a blur and the press box didn’t show up at all. It was even hard to follow some of the plays and read the players’ numbers on their uniforms. I looked up at one point to see what the boys would see when they looked up to catch a ball and saw billows of fog instead of clear air.

Fans showed up in good numbers for both teams for what turned out to be one of the Mules’ most exciting games this year. And I can’t guarantee the accuracy of all of my notes as I tell you about it- you should see my wrinkled, crumpled, wadded-up  little notepad with the water-stained, ink-blurred, curled pages of information I am working with.

But I digress. The game started with the Eastland team running out onto the field displaying a school flag and a Texas flag, which to me was their way of saying  they were  headed to the state championship. That may not have been their intent at all, but I think it had a touch  of psychological warfare to it.  Didn’t work, though…

And since I am a bit late in getting this posted and everyone has probably read all about the game in the newspaper by now, and the fact that my notes, copious though they are, are a bit hard to read, as I mentioned earlier, I think I will give you the condensed version of the play-by-play. All most people care about is the final score anyway. So here goes-

The first quarter was all defense, until near the end when Eastland was awarded a safety after Mule quarterback  Beau Avila was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, which made the score 0-2, Eastland.

In the second quarter the offenses had more of a showing,  when Saul Elizalde scored two touchdowns, the most exciting being the 95-yard kickoff return for a TD. Eastland’s offense, however, had a better second quarter as well, and the score was tied at 15-all at the end of the first half.

The third quarter Muleshoe dominated the game and Isaac Baca scored twice, and the quarter ended with the score Mules 29-Eastland 22. This was the quarter when the referees made  some questionable calls, at least the Muleshoe fans thought so, but the outcome of any game can’t be blamed on the refs, so we just had to step up and play even better.

Which, I guess we did in the fourth quarter, as  the Baca brothers put Muleshoe ahead by two more touchdowns  making the score now 42-22, with  2:41 left on the clock. But the game isn’t over till it’s over, and 2:41 is a lot of time to kill while celebrating on the sidelines and waving for the crowd to stand up and cheer, which most everyone was doing already. And it almost came back to bite the Mules  in the butt, because that had to be the longest two minutes and forty-one seconds in the history of high school football, as Eastland wasn’t ready to concede defeat just yet and came back to make a touchdown and then  recover not one, but two onside kicks, scoring on the first one, making the score 43-36 with 21 seconds left. Now it is just a little too close for comfort. But thanks to a false start on the second onside kick, which called for a do-over , which  Avila was able to cover,  we gained control of the ball, and the game was blessedly over.

The Mules will  meet Melissa next Friday for the semi-final match-up in Sweetwater at the Mustang Bowl at 7 pm.

Go Mules!