Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Merry Christmas Card

Photo Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Party Hardly - Bubbly Addendum!

Whelp.  If those couple of personality tests I took in highschool and college are to be trusted (believe me, I was BARELY in the camp of any of the letters) then I am a Myers Briggs ENFP.

Thusly, according to this fun little libation-matcher, I am "Champagne."  Lucky, bubbly me.  I guess I do bring life to a party.  

So, if I'm champagne, I at least get to be from a lovely region of France (oui!!), pair nicely with lots of different things, and can be fancied up with some Chambord (read: make-up, jewelry or other finery) for a Kir Royale, my favorite, highly-nostalgic apertif.  

And you? 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Party Hardly

I’ve come to realize that I’m generally a great party GOER, a terrible party THROWER.  Sure, I’ve had many a casual dinner gathering here at the house, hosted a few Valentines parties, New Years get-togethers and the like, but no one will ever put them down in the pantheon of “great parties.” If they do, it won’t be because of the amazing sides, killer atmosphere or flashy decor, but for the people and the conversation and the BYOB wine they drank. (And maybe the raucous piano and guitar sing-alongs)

November and December are festive-season central.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and most intimidatingly, my daughter’s birthday.  While Hadley is filled with joy and anticipation, I’m stewing over details like...what to do, who to invite, what to serve, when to gather.  My aversion to party-hosting is particularly acute for my kids because I love them so dearly I don’t want their birthday to suck.  Plus, I’m rather obsessed with things “working out” and making sure people have a good time, and aren’t disappointed, or overburdened.  I want them to think I’m creative and funny and with it and not completely lame because I buy a tray of nuggets and Publix cake for kid parties, or don’t have an awesome theme. 

I think I might have problems.  And I probably need to just be okay with my penchant for hosting “low-key” events.  

The thing is, I love a good party.  I will BRING the party, and maybe even food or wine, or an at-the-ready playlist of good tunes. Just don’t make me plan or host.  I’ve served as casual DJ at parties, been asked get the dancing going when everyone else is wall-flowering.  I’ll talk to strangers and enjoy connecting with people over small and big details (for a while, then that exhausts me).  I’ll bring the crazy white-elephant gift and whoop whoop when someone trades for the tacky boxers or the leg lamp. I’ll after-party with the bachelorette at a seedy dive-bar.  I may be exhausted afterward, but I'll enjoy it.  I think I might be an extrovert.

My friend Kristin is an AMAZING party host.  Her kid birthday parties are color-coordinated, fun, engaging, the food is adorable and kid-friendly and tasty.  There are marked glasses for adults, things on sticks in faux grass, seasonally appropriate decorations. There are games and beautifully packaged party favor bags for the kids.  I love that Kristin is just delights in that stuff. Its a beautiful thing. While I’m sure its a tiny bit stressful in the lead-up, she really loves to do it for her kids, and her friends, and we delight in it.   

The thought of getting together half the awesome stuff she does is purely exhausting to me, and doesn't seem enjoyable. 

So as my daughter’s birthday looms and the details remain unfinalized and I keep telling myself she’s just 4 and won’t care.  I just hope my friends and family know and love me enough to grant me grace about the poor party throwing thing.     

My babygirl is worth celebrating. Low-key throw-together or birthday-bash style, we’ll have lots of love.

And babyJesus is worth celebrating (which is why I’m really looking forward to GOING to a friend's Christmas party.) 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Veteran Story

Eleven. Eleven. A day we honor those who have served our country in times of war and peace,  those men and women who gave themselves over to something bigger than themselves.  My Dad is one of those people who joined the US army.  But Dad wasn't born in the US, he was born in East Germany.  Some of his earliest memories involve fleeing to the woods around their town to escape bombs dropped from American planes.  Yet he found his way to Uncle Sam's doorstep.  And ran into some future veterans along the way.

I think about this story on Veterans Day, about the first Americans Dad ever met - US servicemen.  (This excerpt is from his memoirs, multi-year project he and I have labored through together.)

"Eventually, all bombardments and artillery stopped, and the rain of bombs and fire was
replaced by hundreds of thousands of leaflets floating and fluttering peacefully from

allied planes. The leaflets advised residents to surrender and lay down all weapons and

receive the American occupation forces. Our neighborhood was covered with paper

and we scurried around to collect the excess as cheap firewood. All civilians were

also instructed to prominently hang out white sheets of surrender from their houses

and apartments. Each house in our neighborhood quickly sprouted a white bed sheets

tacked to one of the windows. For the sake of our lives, we did what we were told:

display a white flag of surrender or be prepared to die. Not all in our neighborhood were

supportive of the new occupation. There were more than a few die-hard Nazi supporters

in our neighborhood who hung their white flags under duress, with tears in their eyes.

However, the majority of us were more than glad to surrender with the symbolic white

flag if it meant that the bombing would stop and the war would be over. We just wanted

to start living life again, as normally as we could amid piles of destruction. Our dreams

were understandable, but how does a family, a community start living again when a

sizable part of the city lay in ruins, with no food, no jobs, no infra-structure,

no water, no electricity, no stores, no public transportation, and

few glimmers of hope?

A day or two after white flags bloomed from neighborhood windows, the first convoy

of trucks loaded with American infantry slowly moved into our neighborhood.

They stopped only fifty yards from our house at the end of the street where Bernie and I

happened be outside playing. We eyed them carefully and found that they looked very

friendly - not at all like the cruel enemy they were accused of being. There must have

been at least twenty of them on the first truck. With smiles on their faces, they waved

for us to come over. We cautiously approached the green-clad soldiers as they started to

unload the trucks. We were in fearful awe, as if toy soldiers and trucks from a strange

land had materialized in front of us. One of the soldiers jumped off the back of the

truck and grabbed my shoulder in a friendly way, as if I had helped him off the truck.

He smiled and said something to Bernie and I in English, which of course we did not
understand. But the language barrier quickly evaporated as he handed my brother

and I a chocolate bar and a stick of Wrigley’s chewing gum. We were delighted by this exchange in the international language of candy! We quickly devoured the treats,

savoring every sweet calorie in our sustenance-deprived tummies. The soldiers laughed
and smiled a lot, which, combined with their “peace offering” was just what we needed

to allay our fears that the Americans were a ruthless enemy. That short meeting at the

end of our street was a tentative but positive beginning to the American occupation of our

Dad's school picture in E Germany

Dad, United States Army

Friday, July 05, 2013

Gender (in)Equality in Tennis

A documentary film entitled Venus Vs aired on ESPN a few days ago.  I did not watch the piece, but from the previews I surmised it was about tennis great Venus Williams and her battle for equal prize money in women's tennis. 

ESPN surely planned this film to air during the final few days of it's Wimbledon coverage, highlighting the brave fight of one of America's most decorated athletes to gain equality in what has for more than a century been largely a "gentleman's game," most pointedly in the realm of compensation. 

I am a female, and an athlete, a tennis player, a tennis fan, and an advocate for initiatives like Title IV which opened the door to girls and women to realize their potential as athletes in schools where once they may not have been able to.   Which is why it has been a bit puzzling to me that since the airing of the Venus Vs previews, I've been so hung up on the issue of equal prize money for female tennis players.  I'm against it. 

I feel like the last several days of Wimbledon tennis have solidified my argument.  If you watched Thursday's first women's semifinal between Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli and Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, you were treated to a little over an hour of tennis, culminating in a lop-sided victory for Bartoli.  The seemingly dis-satisfied crowd clapped politely, still working their way through their first glass of champagne, wondering why they paid that kind of money for women's semi's tickets. 

By contrast, Friday's first men's semi-final featured almost 5 hours of two of the worlds top players bludgeoning the ball at each other.  There were 'tweeners, turf dives, aces, winners from unbelievable court positions.  I was riveted, the crowd was going nuts, and when it was over, a victory for Novak Djokovic, both men were spent.

In light of these contrasting contests, it seems utterly unfair that Kirsten Flipkens, who may or may not have broken a sweat, should get the same check as Juan Martin Del Potro, who may still be in an ice-bath recovering.    The toll on the body is greater for men's players, there are more high-profile injuries, retirements, walk-overs.  Higher-risk, higher reward, right? Fortunately for the paying fans on ladies semi-final day, the second match was a fantastic one, giving them about 2.5 hours of great quality hitting.  Yet that "long" match was closer to the average length of a given men's match.

I'm not necessarily advocating for a change of the ladies format from best of 3 to best of 5, but just for honest consideration that the reward for winning these matches should not be equal (note: apparently many women's players are willing and in favor of moving to a best-of-5 format)

Mustn't tennis governing bodies consider the business of tennis?  Ticket demand, sponsors, merchandise sales.   Equal-pay advocates have argued that the women's game is more popular in many cases, and true, athletes like the Williams sisters carry a higher profile than most men's players. However, beyond them, and say, Sharapova, I think the high-profile scale has been tipping recently toward the boys. 

Consider that over the course of today's men's match, Wimbledon was able to offer 5 times more commercial spots for their official sponsors, sell 5 times more overpriced bowls of strawberries and cream, and get a bunch more clips on SportsCenter.

There was much hub-bub a few summers ago when the Japanese women's team, having recently lifted the World Cup trophy, were not flown to a tournament on a chartered plane, standard treatment for Japan's men's team that has has far fewer accolades.  That's an argument I can get on board with.  They all play 90 minutes, they all have hard training and travel schedules, and the ladies lifted the damn cup.  Fly them fancy, equal treatment.  But lets have some honest consideration about this tennis prize money thing.  It pains me to not be on board with Venus and Billy Jean here, but equal pay just doesn't make as much sense to me in tennis.

And for what it's worth, I'm pulling for the German and the Scot in the finals.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ryner's Immigrant Story Excerpt Part 2


Chapter 28
New York and on to Grand Rapids
Once recovered from our seasickness, we all returned to the wonderful job of enjoying the journey.  Incredibly, the SS United States had suffered only minor damage during the storm, a testament to its sheer size and strength.   The storm set back the ship's schedule a bit, but in what seemed like no time at all, we spotted the coast of the United States.  Like flowers sprouting in spring, the city of New York slowly grew up from the flat horizon.  As the city came into frame before our very eyes, we were awed by how huge and prosperous it looked with its great skyscrapers.  Our hearts began to beat faster as we slowly entered New York Harbor.  We passed by famous Ellis Island, following the same journey that thousands before had taken.  In operation since 1892, Ellis Island had welcomed millions of immigrants like us to the United States.  A few decades before our arrival, immigration services and intake had moved from the island to a commercial pier in New York Harbor where we were headed. 
The great ship pulled into the dock and was tied down.  It took an hour or two to clear customs and collect our luggage. With some time to spare before our train left the city, our family of seven newcomers took the chance to shake off our sea legs and walk the bustling streets of New York.  The city seemed so jaw-droppingly massive, and the busyness made our heads spin, but did not quell our absolute elation at being in this new place, this new country that would be our home. Huge buildings that actually seemed to be scraping the sky surrounded us, and throngs of human beings walked briskly between office buildings, while yellow taxicabs buzzed up and down the streets.  We were fascinated by the myriad of clothing styles and cultures we saw. Even though we were dressed in unmistakably poor, European attire, nobody seemed to notice.  We quickly realized that we were in the beating heart of a totally international city.
After a warm meal and an ice cream cone, we headed to Grand Central Station where we would board our train to Detroit, then on to Grand Rapids.  Our ride to Michigan was a thrill.  The country we steamed through looked beautiful to us, and everything seemed so big!  We also couldn't help but notice how nice the buildings and streets looked.  We were so accustomed to the ravages of war damage written on every building face and street corner, that America seemed utterly pristine.  Before we knew it, the train had covered the eight hundred miles from New York and was slowly easing into the Grand Rapids train depot.  Our hearts began to beat faster as we pondered the incredible changes that we were about to experience.  A new country, a new language, new friends, and relatives that none of us, except Mother, had ever met in person.  We all scrambled off the train and Mother spotted Uncle Joe standing there to greet us with Aunt Marie, Aunt Marie's sister Katherine and her husband Ted.  Our welcome committee also included Ted's son Ted, Jr., a budding young photographer who snapped pictures as we greeted everyone.  We exchanged handshakes, hugs, tears and laughter, amazed and relieved to be at our final destination after weeks, some would say, years on this journey westward.  I will never forget that illumined, historical journey of ours:  out of the arms of Germany into the arms of loving relatives a continent away in the United States of America!
Chapter 29

A New World

After the excitement of meeting everybody, Uncle Joe led us to the front of the station and started loading our family's belongings into his and Uncle Ted's car.  We were astounded not only by the large size of the cars, but that both our uncles seemed to own cars of their own. I had only been in a car three times before, but this was by far the most luxurious.  In just a few minutes we arrived at Uncle Joe's house, where again Uncle Ted's son was taking pictures of us, this time with a movie camera. We relished this celebrity moment on the porch at Uncle Joe's. 

Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie's house was huge and beautiful. Its roughly 2500 square feet were average for the area, but equated to a mansion by our standards. Nestled on a quiet, tree-lined street, the home had a living room, a dining room, a sitting room, 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, a sun porch, a tile bathroom with tub, and a basement.  We were amazed as we toured each room, hardly believing there could be so much space in a single home.

That evening Aunt Marie prepared a scrumptious meal for all of us, etched in my memory as one of the biggest and best meals I have ever eaten.  We talked and laughed, fighting fatigue to absorb every moment of that first night in our new homeland. When bedtime came, we nestled into their large, comfortable beds.  Despite the seeming luxury, sleep did not come quickly that first night, for we were just too excited by all the newness (and probably a little jet-lagged)! 

The following day, a newspaper reporter from the Grand Rapids Press came to the house to talk to the immigrant family of seven that had just arrived in town.  He talked to all of us while Uncle Joe interpreted, then he took a picture of our family.  The next day a long article appeared in the Grand Rapids Press profiling our family and our long journey from Germany to Michigan.     

Ryner's Immigrant Story - Excerpt Part 1

Today marks 60 years since my father's family stepped onto American soil for the first time.  A few years ago, I worked with my Dad to record his memoirs.   I may have posted a few excerpts before this one, but I wanted to share more extensive piece. Mostly for my family to read and remember.  
Dateline: 1953
...The SS United States was berthed in a huge dock in Bremerhaven.  We arrived several hours before departure with all of our remaining possessions packed tightly into six suitcases. I remember rounding a corner in that old port city and catching a glimpse of the huge ship.  Its sheer size and presence took my breath away.  We were all in awe, for no ship had ever looked sleeker or more inviting to a family of seven than this SS United States looked to us.  Our last hours as a family in our German homeland were spent in a local restaurant for a light meal, an interesting last respite for me since I'd only been to a restaurant a few times in my life.  To satiate our palates before the rocky voyage, Dad introduced us to a special treat there, a new drink we had never tasted before called Coca- Cola.  What a wonderful, ironic sendoff before the bells rung to call us aboard to our future.

Chapter 27
A Rocky Crossing
The hustle and bustle of the dock was Hollywood-like.  Our tickets were checked, paperwork stamped, visas inspected, and luggage loaded away.  Our excited family then joined the throng of passengers climbing up the long gangplanks. Friendly stewards dressed in black tuxedoes and white ties greeted the passengers as we boarded, leading everyone to their cabins.  All seven of our family members fit snugly into two cabins outfitted with bunk beds.  Even though they were the cheapest quarters on the ship, and Dad had warned us they would be small, they still looked great to us!  Our family's passage and those two cabins, nine floors below the ship's decks, cost $1,600  (equivalent to about $12,000 at today's rates.)  Every penny paid for those tickets came from Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie in Grand Rapids.  Dad vowed that that someday we would repay it all. 
Once settled in our cabins, we heard an announcement in several languages that departure was imminent.  We rushed back upstairs to find a place along one of the railings, nudging ahead to get a front row seat for this historic family event.  Soon the ship's horns bellowed, ringing through my entire frame, heralding our departure.  The passengers all waved with gusto to throngs of people below who had come to see off loved ones, some for just a time, others for forever.   I remember Mother and Dad's broad smiles and misty, joyful eyes as the harbor shrunk into the horizon.

Our first stop after departure from Bremerhaven was the port of LeHavre, France where the ship took on more passengers.  The next and final stop before entering the Atlantic Ocean was Southampton, the huge seaport on the southern coast of England.  At each stop, passengers flocked to the decks to see the landscape.  We also marveled at the size of our vessel and its modern sleekness when compared to other ships in the harbors.  Early on the third day of our voyage, England's green coast slowly disappeared behind us and we turned northwest toward the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean. 

As the ship set off into the expanse of the sea, we settled in enjoying the delights of life on board.  The food was absolutely heavenly. We received meal service three, and sometimes four times a day.  Such indulgence was just what we needed after all the post war years of food shortages and constant skimping.  And the best part was that Mother didn't have to cook any of it, she could just enjoy being served for once.  Our fate seemed too good to be true: this family of poor refugees seated at a big round table covered with a fine linen table cloth, sitting in comfortable chairs on expensive carpeting.  Smiling, efficient angels stood by in this gilded heaven, waiting to serve us all the good food we could eat!  The table steward would even give me second portions of dessert if I so desired. Besides eating great food, there were plenty of other activities to enjoy, like billiards, ping-pong tables, shuffle boards, lounges with live music, and on and on.  As passengers in the "cheap seats," we could only wonder what first and second-class passengers might be enjoying! It seemed that nothing could dampen our joy.

On our second day in the Atlantic, the wonderful, sun-kissed weather we had enjoyed began to change.  The sky turned dark and ominous and soon the giant ship began to move up and down in a precarious manner.  Dad assured us that all was normal, telling us that the oceans may roil up a bit, but everything would be fine.  His assuring words made us feel better because we knew he had been at sea often, and surely had endured worse than this.  However, no sooner had Dad calmed us with his words than the storm's turmoil grew.  With alarming speed, the weather worsened as dusk fell.  A few short hours later the ship was rising and falling with incredible force, digging its bow so deep into the dark, heavy seas that the triple screws propelling the ship in the stern would come clear out of the water and shake the entire ship.  Soon everyone realized that we were being gripped by a mighty and dangerous Atlantic storm.   Herman, Bernie and I, who had been walking topside, were told to go below.  We took one more look outside before our descent and could see only huge ocean waves all around, boiling to heights nearly as high as our enormous vessel.  It was an awesome, frightening spectacle.  The ship's crew strung ropes along stairs and hallways for passengers to hang onto since attempting to walk up or down stairs was like boarding a county fair ride with constant jostling.  The dining rooms cleared as people ran to their cabins as quickly as possible.  With the constant rocking and rolling, rampant seasickness was unavoidable, and it struck with the same fury as the seas!  With the exception of most of the crew and a handful of passengers like my Dad who had been at sea before, all became very, very sea sick.  I have few memories as miserable as those sixteen or so hours being cooped up in our cabin, all of us expelling every last bit of all the magnificent food we had indulged in to that point.  The cabin stewards would knock on our door offering food and anti-seasickness pills, but nothing helped.  Our insides were losing this battle to the raging Atlantic.  We could only pray that the boat would hold up better. 

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the seas began to calm.  What we didn't know at the time was that the SS United States, its passengers and crew had just endured one of the most violent storms ever observed in the Atlantic Ocean.  In fact, that same storm front continued eastward towards Europe, gathering even more strength.  It struck the coasts of England and the Netherlands with awesome fury killing almost 3,000 people and doing incredible property damage to both nations.  The great Atlantic Ocean Storm of early 1953 was one of a kind, and I still marvel that our family went through it.  But it is also unsurprising that my gallant father had yet another sea survival story to tell. 

Go to Part 2