Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sports for the soul

I love a news story that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Bonus points if it has to do with underdogs or kids doing amazing things.

Remember the story a few years back about the autistic boy who was allowed to play in the last game of the season and ended up scoring several points, including a just-before-the-buzzer three pointer? (Here's the video, if you need a refresher.)

Back then, the story made me teary. I was so glad that this kid got his chance to shine, doing something he loved so much. Everyone was genuinely excited to see Jason McElwain not only play the sport he loved, but succeed at it too. The community rallied around him and celebrated his achievements.

Today, I stumbled across a similar story. This one didn't make the mainstream media -- I found it on a website that covers Kansas City sports -- but the sentiment is every bit as heartwarming.

Matt Ziesel is a fifteen-year-old freshman at St. Joseph Benson High School. He is also five feet, three inches, 110 pounds, and (as of last week) had yet to play in a real game. But at last Monday's game, with the opposing team up 46-0, the Benson High coach, Dan McCamy, called a time out and sent Ziesel into the game. reports that Coach McCamy went over and spoke with the opposing team's coach, saying “I’ve got a special situation. I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”

The opposing team cooperated, allowing Ziesel to run 60 yards for a touchdown, but keeping pace with him the whole run so as to make the moment feel as realistic as possible. As a result, Ziesel was able to score his first touchdown, and two communities were able to share in the joy of seeing a boy accomplish his dreams.

Sports, like many organized activities, offer kids the chance to participate in something that makes them part of a team, makes them feel included. I'm a big fan of anyone who includes children with special needs in their activities. It may not always be easy, but it's always worth it. Just ask Matt or the basketball player if it was worth it. I'm sure they'd say it was.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rules for the gym: friendly guidelines for the etiquette-impaired

In an effort to be generally healthier, I've been heading to the gym. It's working out (hee hee) okay and I find that even if I don't fully love going, I certainly don't hate it either. There are, however, a few things I encounter at the gym that make me cringe. Parting with my hard-earned cash and dragging my keister to the gym in the wee-hours of the morning are tough, but sometimes, dealing with the fellow members is tougher.

Here are my top three rules for the gym:
  1. Wear appropriate attire.
    Sweatpants, shorts, and tee shirts are all acceptable items of clothing at the gym.

    Wearing Spandex bike shorts sans underpants is unacceptable. Same goes for nothing but a sports bra on top (save it for Sweatin' to the Oldies at home) or men's short-shorts that would qualify as dubious even on basketball players in the '70s. No one wants to see your jiggly, dimpled butt, bouncing around on an elliptical for half an hour.

    While I'm at it, wearing too much clothing is just as bad as not wearing enough. A pair of jeans and a long-sleeved fleece pull-over do not an appropriate gym outfit make. Riding an exercise bike in such gear is unacceptable, as it makes me worry that you'll will pass out from heat exhaustion, or I'll pass out from nervousness that you'll pass out.

  2. Keep quiet.
    Although it's somewhat annoying, feel free to exhale sharply when exerting yourself; breathing is important! You can even listen to your iPod (at an acceptable decibel level), or chat with a nearby friend.

    Grunting, however, is not allowed. Neither is singing along to the Ruff Ryders' Anthem so loudly that I can't hear myself think. I also don't care much for your TMI conversation with anyone who will listen. I don't even like to be at the gym at 6:45 a.m., so the less I have to listen to your grunting, groaning, singing and over-sharing, the better.

  3. Work out alone.
    Sure, you can bring a buddy or a significant other, but nothing's worse than being surrounded by the varsity cheerleading squad. Similarly, leave the damn Blackberry at home! For the love of God, no one needs to hear a one-sided conversation about your latest visit to the gynecologist, your recent mole biopsy, or your drunken regrets. I also don't want to worry about your falling off the treadmill in a texting frenzy; think of the paperwork! You can handle being "alone" in a crowded gym for an hour; the Blackberry can wait.
By following these simple rules, you'll save hundreds of fellow gym-members from the anxiety induced by bouncing butts, off-key singing, and your beeping Blackberry. Many thanks in advance for your cooperation in following these rules!

Faithful readers, what would you add? What are your gym pet peeves?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Music so bad it's good

I once worked with a guy who was very knowledgeable about music. He was in a band, reviewed new albums as a freelancer, and knew more about bands than anyone else I hung out with. And although he loved all kinds of music, he was especially big into folk music and artsy stuff.

And the ringtone on his cellphone was Milkshake.


When I heard I asked him about the ringtone and he extolled its virtues I figured, it's official: everyone has some guilty pleasure music.

I'm willing to bet that I have more than most people, and I am equally eager to admit that I love my guilty pleasure music unabashedly. I'll listen to it in my car with the windows down and the volume cranked. I'll listen at work, in the shower, at a party, or while doing chores. It's music so bad it's good.

Do I have a go-to tongue-in-cheek rap song from the '90s? Yup. Highly embarrassing Spice Girls CDs and '80s movie soundtracks? Uh-huh. Several burned CDs with inappropriate music from Eminem and 50 Cent? Sure do. Songs sung by cartoon characters? Definitely. But doesn't everyone?

While you think about your own list, I give you this, for your viewing pleasure:


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Madam Librarian

Lately I can hear the sirens' song, and it's about books. The tune is forever in the back of my head, tempting me to read in much of my spare time and making me long for a job in which I'd be surrounded by writing.

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me I learned to read before I was three years old and I never stopped. Many days of my childhood were spent flipping through my books, my brother's books, my parents' books, library books... I spent dinners sneaking glances at novels and magazines, while my parents scolded me: No reading at the table!

As I got older, I read even more. In middle school we were required to read at least eight novels each year during our "silent reading" period; we then had to take tests to "prove" that we had read them. Some kids never finished. Most kids read eight to twelve books. I read 140.

Shortly thereafter, I got my first summer job as a librarian's assistant at the Carnegie Library in my hometown. Each day I'd get there early (some days before the other librarians), eager to get started. My working hours were filled with checking out and shelving books, updating the card catalog (which was still made up of cards and in triplicate, since our library had other branches) by pulling out the cards of books we no longer carried and replacing them with new cards. I spent my Friday mornings helping with the children's story hour, my afternoons helping patrons, and much of my time feeling blessed that I was fortunate enough to score the perfect summer employment.

The best part about working at the library was access to all the books. I read dozens of books that summer. I read lots of young adult fiction, worked my way through law novels of all stripes, and even managed to read all 1,000+ pages of Gone with the Wind, which smelled musty and had thin pages like a bible and felt weighty and substantial in my hands. During lunchtime, most of the librarians would go home to eat and I would stay at the library, sitting outside in the warm sun with my back pressed against the hot brick or snuggled inside on cloudy days, wedged underneath the giant moose head on the wall or tucked back in the stacks sitting on a footstool, my book in my lap and a sandwich in my hand.

While all this may seem to make me a bit of a nerd, I always maintained a social life and other interests. I don't suffer from the debilitating shyness that is sometimes linked with being bookish, and though I often prefer to get lost in a book, I enjoy parties and get-togethers a great deal.

I've always pondered what it would be like to be a librarian. Lately (since I'm finding less and less satisfaction with my work), I've been considering this whole librarian thing a bit more seriously. And when I read (in the New York Times, no less!) that being a librarian is suddenly cool, I began to think that maybe a career change is in order. After all, there's nothing I love more than a cardigan and a good book!

Good books aside, becoming a librarian will require more school. I'm not sure if I'm ready for more school. While I love to learn, I don't love being broke or being overbooked. Life as an undergraduate is relatively simple; you take out some loans, focus on nothing but school and extracurriculars, and spend your summers living at home, rent free. Graduate school is another animal entirely; you have to hold down a full-time job, take out even more astronomical loans, and pay for your own rent and groceries.

I haven't yet decided if I'm up for the challenge of library school, but it's certainly always nagging in the back of my mind. For now, I'll continue working my way through mystery series, memoirs, and non-fiction and will pepper my life with young adult novels (which I still love wholeheartedly). Maybe I can volunteer at my local library (which, alas, is not the library of my youth and does not feature a giant moose head on the wall) and live vicariously through a friend who just started library school.

And at the very least, I can keep reading. In fact, I think I might start right now...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Too cool for school? President Obama's plan to address students

Yahoo! News reported today that President Obama's national address to the students of America is under fire by conservatives who believe that the president is promoting a leftist agenda. The article goes as far to say that some conservatives are "calling the speech an excuse to brainwash American children."

At noon on September 8, the address will be broadcast live on the White House website and C-SPAN. According to the press release, President Obama intends to speak directly to students about succeeding in school. He will challenge them to "work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning."

Image courtesy of AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.

Oh no! The President of the United States of America (elected by a solid 53% of the population) is encouraging children to embrace education? What's next? Socialism? The brainwashing, good-for-nothing monster shouldn't be allowed near our children!

Seriously though, sparking a national conversation about education is exactly what this country needs, and America's young people could use a little encouragement to take their education seriously. Our nation's children are far from mindless. It is highly unlikely that President Obama (or any U.S. President, for that matter) would be able to "brainwash" any students or even sway them to unwillingly support a "leftist" agenda.

Just moments ago, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school. I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

My point exactly. Our children need encouragement to pursue an education, and they need to hear about the importance of education from a variety of sources, including parents, friends, teachers, and people in positions of authority. In addition, since many of our nation's failing students are from low-income or minority communities, hearing from successful men of color does nothing but good, in my opinion.

I even think that this speech is an opportunity to teach children critical thinking skills. If a teacher or parent doesn't agree with what President Obama says in the address, why not ask the students questions that require critical thinking skills? Why do you agree or disagree with the President? What improvements would you make to the education system as it is now? What is the most important factor contributing to your success in school? What is the hardest obstacle getting in the way of your education? Failing to allow our children to develop critical thinking skills is failing as parents and teachers.

We need to expose our kids to healthy, appropriate situations in which they will have the opportunity to think for themselves. We need to stop being a country full of helicopter parents and politicians who enjoy nothing more than standing on soapboxes. What we need, is to stop and listen to the President on Tuesday at noontime. Give the man a chance to say what he has to say; then, form your opinions and find a young person with whom to talk about your reactions.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bigger sizes not bringing in bigger bucks: why the sale of plus-size clothes is down

Last week the Associated Press ran a story about a slow-down in the sale of plus-size clothes. The article discusses market researcher's ideas as to why sales have slowed; overall, I find their theories unlikely and misguided. Among the theories? Retailers don't want to send out "the wrong image" by marketing to plus-size shoppers, plus-size shoppers prefer to shop online, and plus-size women have been hit harder than average-size women by cuts in pay.

Oh please.

Being a plus-size woman, I have a few of my own theories on why plus-size clothing sales may be down. The number one reason in my book? They were too expensive to begin with! Retailers like Lane Bryant, The Avenue, and Torrid cater to plus-size women, offer fashions exclusively to those size 14+, and have used their niche to charge high prices for plus-size clothes. Given that many stores do not offer attractive options for plus-size ladies, many women were forced to shop at these stores and pay the exorbitant prices. In this economy, however, people can't afford $98 blouses, $188 jeans, or $70 "casual" dresses.

I believe that women are finally cluing in that they shouldn't have to pay super-high prices for clothes simply because they're overweight. As the argument goes, it's more material, but it's not so much more that a size 1X sweater should cost $20 more than a size XL sweater! And women shouldn't have to pay for the "convenience" of shopping in stores that cater to carrying their sizes.

I buy most of my clothes at Kohl's, a department store that has a reasonable selection of plus-size clothes that are both trendy and classic and of good quality. The clothes I buy there are nearly always on sale and those that aren't I buy with coupons. It's more economically sensible than spending two- or three-times as much at a specialty store, and I leave with great clothes. Plus, since Kohl's is a department store, I can also pick up new towels, a toaster oven, or some makeup while I'm there; it's one-stop shopping.

The AP reports that other department stores are getting in on the action, and I see it as a step in the right direction. With more than half of American women wearing plus-sizes, featuring plus-size fashion in most department stores makes simple financial sense. Plus, long-gone are the days of mumus and sack-like garments made to conceal the body. Plus-size women want fashionable outfits just like average-size women. Stores like Bloomingdales, JCPenney, and Macy's all offer plus-size lines, which the AP reports is good for business.

I'm perhaps most excited by the prospect of stores like Forever 21 (a clothing retailer aimed at teenagers) creating plus-size lines. Teenagers and young people need fashionable options that fit their bodies and lifestyles, regardless of their size. It's hard enough to be a plus-size woman; I think it's even harder to be a plus-size teenager, dealing with all the other perils of adolescence. Why trendy retailers haven't thought to reach out to plus-size teenagers before this is beyond me. Teenagers have always had more disposable income than adults and they spend most of their money on clothes. In tough times, more retailers would benefit from marketing to young people, who are more likely than adults to keep spending.

Readers, what do you think? Why is the plus-size clothing market dropping even faster than women's apparel overall? Please share your thoughts in the comments.