Heading Home

It started with the realization that my kids’ spring break aligned with my second son’s lacrosse game schedule. We could travel to Ohio for two Saturday games – and even a mid-week one, if we wanted – and spend the rest of the week visiting friends and family nearby.

Using the frequent flier miles and hotel points my husband has accrued through his travel-dependent job, we could enjoy a low-cost, multi-city trip away from home.

However, at some point I realized that “home” was at every stop along the way.

At my son’s college, it’s clear that after a somewhat bumpy year, he is finally acclimated and determined to stay for the duration. His younger brother, following a night in the dorm, seems surprised – and a bit awed: “Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him! His friends say he’s already a legend.”

I know that when my son stays in our house this summer, he will miss his new home.

food carts nycWhen we arrive in NYC, where I lived from ages 21 to 31, I take a deep breath and think, “I’m home.”

My New York home is full of yellow taxis, blaring car horns, crowded, stinky subways, thick accents, food carts, chewy bagels, brusque shopkeepers and honest, straightforward people. Strangers who strike up conversations on the #1 train. A deli owner who complains that his son is slacking on the job. Street performers who pull onlookers into the act.

Home in New York is friends who leave work early and take busses and trains to meet me for a drink. Friends from my first journalism job, my long-surviving book club, my summer rental in Connecticut. Friends who literally watched me grow up, stood beside me all the while and still offer love and support.

A few days later, as we drive to my hometown from O’Hare Airport, I think, “No, this is home.” The familiar yellow-brick bungalows. Super Dawg’s French fries. Dunkin’ Donuts.

My childhood house has belonged to other families for 30 years. My mother’s apartment still does not feel like home. My brother’s house – which once belonged to a high school friend – is a bit more comfortable, but still isn’t home.

Evanston has changed significantly over the years. The Central Street Baskin and Robbins shop, where I learned to scoop ice cream and count change, disappeared long ago. So did Herdrich’s, the Fotomat, Mr. Meyer’s shoe store and Uncle Ed’s grocery.

The Prudential bank, where I established my first account and procured my first set of dishes, is now a Starbucks.Field's clock

Marshall Field’s, where we purchased special clothes that weren’t available in the Sears Catalog, was converted to condos, a restaurant and small shops years ago. Betty’s of Winnetka, where we searched for Cotillion and Prom dresses, is gone.

I walk around as a stranger in a strange land. I don’t bump into people I know. I’m not familiar with most of the restaurants and stores.

And then, my niece leads me to Bennison’s bakery, where I used to buy chocolate donuts and smiley-face cookies on the way to the YMCA for swim team, gymnastics and Y-club meetings.

The donuts and cookies taste the same. The Y still stands.

Early one morning, my oldest and dearest friend – who I met when we were babies – joins me at the hotel for breakfast. Talking with Ann is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. They fit just right. They’re comfortable. They know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.

The waiter appears at our table, and smiles in recognition. He’s the same server that has brought my family orange juice during at least 15 annual visits. His warm smile feel like home.

The following day, another wonderful old friend drives in from Chicago for breakfast. As always, we speak openly and honestly about our joys and challenges, our dreams and disappointments. My daughter, fresh out of bed, stops by our table. “Did you know I met your mom when I was your age?” Chris asks Pea. Again, home.

rocks skylineThat afternoon, several family members – both Evanston- and Seattle-based – walk to the lakefront. After an excruciatingly long, cold, snowy winter, the sun has finally made an appearance. Northwestern students cavort in shorts and T-shirts. Birds chir and squirrels scramble for food.

Chicago’s impressive skyline emerges in the south.

We stop at the large rocks that line the coast. The same rocks I had played on as a child, waiting for a turn on the sailboat. The rocks where my friends and I congregated as teens, where I sat with boyfriends and then, years later, watched my own children play.

Some of the rocks bear graffiti affirming couples, announcing feelings, marking occasions. They have been painted and repainted over the years, and yet, still tell the stories of many decades, of the passage of time.

It is then, and there, that I realize my home is not just located in one city; my home is where I feel strong memories and the love of forever friends and family.

- Linda Williams Rorem, 14 April 2014
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Despicable Mom

I was going to write about my daughter’s upcoming 14th birthday, an auspicious event that — I hear from many sources — will grant me entry into the “Despicable Mom” club.

Apparently, it happens all over the world. One day these darling little girls want to share information with their moms, try on their fancy dresses and high heels and act like little mommies when playing with dolls.

And then, poof, they wake up one day and hate all things related to motherhood. Especially the women who brought them into the world.

These formerly sweet young things roll their eyes. They sigh with exasperation. They question Mom’s fashion sense: “You aren’t going out wearing THAT, are you?” They embark on secret lives that take place via texts, Instagram posts and Snap Chats. Sneaky lives that depict Mom in a very unflattering light. They slam doors, leave tried-but-failed outfits in heaps on their bedroom floors and lock themselves in bathrooms for hours. At the school lunch table, outside lockers and in bus lines, they gather to discuss how stupid, mean and unreasonable their mothers have suddenly become.

If you don’t know a 14-year-old girl that fits that description, you haven’t looked very hard.

“Girls have to go through it,” my own mother said when I mentioned my dread. “Otherwise they would never move out. And you don’t want that, do you?”

Absolutely not. I love Pea enormously, but I do want her to go to college, launch a career, accomplish her goals and live happily ever after. Somewhere else.

My boys are very independent and the two that have entered college are doing very well…today. So, yes, I’m all about them moving on and out.

However, as it turns out, I may have a little more time with Pea by my side.

On Saturday, when my husband, Pea and our youngest son, Bodie, arrived at an 1830-ish bed and breakfast in Ohio, I looked at the fading woodwork, clouded windows and jagged rooftop and said, “Oooh, I hope it isn’t haunted.”

That was enough to send a certain super-mature, ready-for-makeup, high fashion and high school young lady into tears.

“I am NOT staying here,” she announced, planting herself, and her suitcase, in the middle of the root-rumpled sidewalk.

The rest of us mounted the steps and rang the bell. Pea reluctantly followed.

Our host, Tom, was anxious to tour us through the house and share a bit about its, and his late wife’s ancestors’, history. We learned about the vintage furniture, books and china, the house’s additions and the fact that the large eating area once served as an infirmary for the doctor who lived and worked there. Think Downton Abbey during World War I.

“Think about how many people must have died in this room,” Bodie said to Pea.

More tears.

Later, Tom told us he had been running the place alone for a decade, ever since his wife had died of a heart attack. In her sleep. In that home.

That was the proverbial last straw. Pea was ready to call a cab and find her own lodging. However, the $8 in her backpack wouldn’t have taken her far.

We climbed the stairs to the third floor, where we had reserved both bedrooms, each with a double bed and a single cot. The knotty pine floors creaked, the rafters had developed cracks, the upholstered chairs sagged and the wallpaper was just starting to peel.

I loved it all.

After we dined with our older son on the college campus, we decided to leave Bodie with him, to attend a party and sleep in his dorm. So, that left Pea with her choice of three beds, after my husband and I grabbed one of the doubles.

“I am NOT sleeping alone,” Pea stated. “After all those people died here, I’m sure their spirits are haunting the house.”

So, the three of us slipped on our jammies, climbed into bed and turned on the TV, which was showing “Modern Family.” Ironic, isn’t it?

It took about 45 seconds for my husband to fall asleep, and, after several minutes of jostling for space, Pea and I followed.

And then, in the middle of a deep slumber, something…or shall I say someone…woke me.

“I woke up thinking it was morning, but it’s only 11:30,” Pea said. “Now I can’t fall back asleep.”

“Well I can, and I will,” I replied.

“No!” Pea hissed. “I don’t want to be the only one up.”

So, a solid hour of tossing and turning ensued. Ain’t jet lag grand?

At some point, I whispered, “It’s too crowded and hot in this bed, and your dad is snoring. I’m moving to the other room.”

“Please, no,” Pea pleaded. “I’ll lie still.” She changed from her sweatpants and brand-new college sweatshirt into a t-shirt and shorts. Then she started poking at her father.

“Roll over. You’re snoring!”

Welcome to my world, Little Miss.

After being nudged one too many times, Dad grunted and moved to the cot. Pea spread into his former spot, and quickly fell back asleep.

I did not.

Soon after, I heard sirens in the distance, and wondered if my too-young-for-college-parties son was okay. I lay awake, waiting for a distress call from one of the boys.

Pea started snoring.

Yes, I’m ready for a little distance, and even a dose of temporary dislike, from the kids.

Linda Williams Rorem, 7 April 2014
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Blog It or Not?

When we conceived writing Permission Slips back in the “old” days of 2010 we had only a vague idea about blogging. Social media was an emerging avenue of communication and the term “Blogger” was not widely used nor understood. Digital media outlets were not even considered legitimate journalism by traditional news organizations. However, the numbers of readers and writers exponentially exploded and could not be ignored. Finally, in 2012 the Huffington Post became the first blog to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the tide turned permanently.

We found blogging to be an accessible, democratized way to share stories. Without a publisher operating as a gatekeeper, we had unfiltered freedom and loved it.

In preparation for our blog launch we interviewed dozens of women and medical experts in-depth. During this process we observed an unhealthy behavior pattern. Women were running themselves into the ground in an all-sacrificing quest for the sake of work, community and family. This common pattern negatively impacted their mental and physical well-being and relationships. The doctors we consulted were seeing this pattern emerge at an increasing rate in their practices and were alarmed.

Thus, our blog mission was born. We decided that through our writing we would give frazzled women permission to take better care of themselves. The feedback was positive immediately. We heard not only from women, but also from men who shared our blog with their wives, girlfriends and mothers.

The stories seemed to resonate and aid the navigation of life’s road bumps, challenges and joys.  It should come as no surprise that health, parenting and friendship have been our most popular topics over the years.

While we don’t receive loads of public comments on our site, we do get many heartfelt emails from readers each week. Some letters are long enough to be blogs in their own right. We believe this is indicative of our ability as writers to bring up universal topics that hit a nerve. Our readers may be active on Facebook and Twitter but they prefer to “share” their personal journeys privately.

In 2010, Linda and I wrote topics together. Eventually, we split off and used separate by-lines to aid our own freedom of expression and give readers a little variety. Readers have said they enjoy this format.

In the past few months I have been admittedly a little off-mission in my writings.

I felt a little burnt out and took some delightful side trips. I enjoyed blogging about the Olympics, Seahawks and other topics that are perhaps not top-of-mind for frazzled women. This has amounted to one giant permission for me to display my personal passion for sports. I am pretty certain that a few readers who decided to follow our blog after reading some of these stories are wondering why the masthead is pink.DSC00174

Today I am giving myself another permission – to take a break from blogging. Linda will take over most of the writing and I will guest blog on occasion. Thank you Linda for being a great editor and mentor. I must owe you private tennis lessons for life by now.

Thank you so much readers for all your “likes, ” encouragement and thoughtful emails through the years. I have truly enjoyed getting to know you.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 31, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Spring Into a New Year

Last week marked the start of my favorite season, the appearance of sunnier skies and fragrant flowers, the 23rd anniversary of my marriage and the approach of Easter. For me, as for most people, springtime initiates deep cleansing and fresh starts.

Beautiful sunrises, clear skies and fresh air provide renewed energy and lead to more positive outlooks.

hyacinthsHouse windows open, letting in the scents of blossoming flowers and budding trees. Birds appear on windowsills and chirp as they fly to their new nests. Children squeal with delight while playing in their yards. Neighbors emerge from their homes and chat as they stroll in the evenings or work in their gardens.

Store shelves burst with gardening supplies, birdseed, short-sleeved clothes, Easter baskets and jelly beans.

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to Nowruz, the Persian/ Iranian New Year, which is celebrated on the first day of spring, commemorating the rebirth of nature. As the sun crosses the celestial equator, bringing night and day into balance, it seems a fitting time for fresh starts.

Apparently Nowruz has its roots in the religious traditions of Zoroastrianism, which dates back to the 6th century BC and later influenced Judaism, Islam and Christianity. According to Wikipedia, “the religion states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay.”

Preparations for Nowruz include a major house cleaning (Khouneh Tekouni – shaking of the home) and the purchase of new clothes and spring flowers, such as hyacinths and tulips. It seems spring cleaning is a universal concept.

In addition, Nowruz promotes time to honor family and friendships with short visits and gifts. Wikipedia tells me that “whatever a eastercandyperson does on Nowruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Nowruz, then the new year will be a good one.” I grew up with similar versions of that concept: “Do unto others…” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

When my friend told me about this Persian high holiday, she showed me her family’s Haft-Sin – or seven S’s – table display. The array includes seven items, all starting with the letter “S” in Persian, symbolizing such virtues as age and patience, love, affluence and health.

I like to think of spring as the start of a new year, too. A new year of marriage and life, with a clean home, a colorful garden and thoughts of health, happiness, patience, love and good deeds, I wish the same for you, dear friends and readers.

Oh, and I give myself – and you – permission to dip into the jelly beans a bit early. I’m already on my third bag.

- Linda Williams Rorem, 24 March 2014
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College Admissions Hunger Games

Over the next few weeks thousands of high school seniors across the country will be receiving news of college acceptances.  Some students will be elated after getting accepted by their first choice school. Others will be heartbroken after receiving a “no” from their dream school.  Both students and parents will try to make sense of a selection process that can appear quite arbitrary.

They have good reasons to feel this way as highly selective schools have thousands more applicants than slots available leading to the oft repeated mantra in college admissions communications, “Sorry, we reject more qualified applicants than we can accept.”

There has been a simultaneous escalation in the number of applications received by schools and the number of applications prospective college students submit. The phenomenon is driven by a system that equates college value with selectivity measured by a low admissions rate.

Since colleges are incentivized to drive up the number of applicants they deploy a variety of tactics to achieve this goal. The most basic tactic is advertising to students via glossy brochures and post cards after obtaining home mailing addresses from PSAT, SAT and ACT test registrations. Schools may also entice applicants by waiving fees or sending a partially complete application that requires merely a signature. The college doesn’t need to care about the quality of the applicant, simply the grand total of applications.college admissions solicitations

It is no wonder that college admissions are starting to feel like an academic “Hunger Games.” Colleges select “Tributes” from different “Districts” guided by student application “targets” and admission “yields.” There is no denying who the “Victors” are in this scenario – the schools and college admissions advisors – not the students.

The students incur the expense of applying to multiple schools with admissions rates that border on a lottery-style chance of winning. In 2013, schools such as Stanford and Harvard accepted only 5.7% of students who applied in a pool of 35,000 to 38,000 applicants. Happy college admissions games, the odds are never in your favor.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/colleges-announce-2013-acceptance-rates/2013/04/01/bc546484-9adc-11e2-9bda-edd1a7fb557d_story.html

Exacerbating the matter, the phenomenon is no longer exclusive to private universities. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) received an eye-popping 105,000 applicants for admission to the fall 2014 freshman class. http://dailybruin.com/2014/01/17/ucla-sets-records-with-more-than-100000-fall-2014-applicants/.

The college admissions business is further fueled by the proliferation of private for-hire college admissions consultants and coaches. While many parents are happy to delegate the stress of the process to a non-emotionally vested outsider; the use of coaches may only serve to feed the monster. After all, counselors benefit by demonstrating the admission results of their clients. They are able to capitalize on parents’ lack of time and fear that their child will not “get into the best school.”  A recent article in the Huffington Post claimed that “In 2013, 26 percent of all college applicants — three times as many as in 2003, hired a “private admissions consultant” or an “independent educational consultant (IEC)” to assist with their college applications.”

The new era of college admissions can seem daunting and perhaps a bit discouraging at first but there is hope.  I am on my third round in this game. After observing my own college-aged children and their friends only one thing seems to hold true. If a student is happy and has found a good fit at their college they will thrive regardless of the institution. Go ahead and open up those emails from college admissions offices in the next few weeks and don’t take it as a self-worth referendum. The happy and satisfied adults I know have many traits in common – the one they don’t share is where they went to school.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 17, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Netflix Nearly Ruined My Life

Books serve as a window into different worlds, time periods and lives, and provide endless hours of entertainment and escape.

When I was a young child, books held a great mystery that I could not wait to unravel.

I remember the Bookmobile coming to our suburban-Pittsburgh neighborhood, and the excitement of checking out picture books. I recall the thrill of applying for my first library card (and bank account, on the same day), as soon as I could write my own name. And I have a fond memory of the first book my mom bought just for me; it was shaped like a sleeping cat.

Over the years, books have provided company during quiet afternoons, comfort in stressful times, unexpected knowledge and endless delights.

Movies provide much of the same pleasure, but in the past, they were less tenable and required advance planning.

Trips to the movies, for a family of eight, were rare. Birthday party outings to theaters were special.

We anxiously waited the once-yearly TV broadcasts of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  My mother let us stay up late when old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields films ran. My siblings and I watched “Bozo’s Circus” during lunchtime (what kid didn’t love hearing, “Let’s go over the Bozo buckets?”), “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons on Saturday mornings and “Laugh-In” on Monday nights.

photo-2But with Netflix, it’s all too easy to watch movies and TV shows anywhere, any time. And, recently I got sucked in to the abyss.

Perhaps I should blame my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the one who showed me how easy it is to order films on an iPad. And, she introduced me to a TV series I wouldn’t have watched otherwise.

In an effort to retain any shard of respect you readers may have for me, I won’t mention the name of the program. Let’s just say it’s about people much younger than me, whose lives I really shouldn’t care about.

Here’s what happened: During a recent road trip, I watched several episodes of that show with Pea. It gave us an activity to share and something to discuss afterwards, and those of you with teenage daughters may understand that is no easy feat.

While traveling together, Pea and I watched the last five or six episodes of the show’s six-season run, and I was left with many questions.

“It’s too complicated,” she said, with the patience of a teenager. “You’re just going to have to start at the beginning.” So, she showed me how to watch the show on my iPad.

Soon, I had it streaming when I was cooking, answering emails and lying in bed (my husband travels for work every week). At the gym, I could watch an entire episode during one workout on the elliptical, instead of covering 45 pages of a novel.

I became far involved with characters that had literally nothing in common with me.

Now, I might add that during this period, the escape was welcome. Those who know me well would agree that the past year has been more than a little challenging for my family. While my husband and I are still married, gainfully employed and well-housed, we have experienced unparalleled stress and sadness related to several loved ones.

So, perhaps a few months’ “vacation” into these other lives was just what the doctor ordered.

But the price was too high, as l stopped reading. My stash of unopened New Yorker, Sunday New York Times magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Kenyon Review publications piled up. My email queue contained more than 2,000 messages. I stopped looking for French-class assignments in Le Monde. I barely touched the assigned readings for my two book clubs, and went to meetings unprepared (definitely not my style).

I tried to skip several episodes of the program, but that left too many holes in the continuing saga. So, I rushed forward, feeling a burning pressure to complete the series before my life was totally upended. “Okay, just four more episodes, and then I can finish this month’s book club reading,” I told myself.

However, the book selection totaled about 450 pages, and there weren’t enough hours in the day – after work and family obligations – to tackle them.

Last Tuesday night, as we discussed Lent at the dinner table,  Pea announced she was giving up junk food. She asked what I had chosen, and it dawned on me that banning Netflix shows on the iPad would provide much-needed respite.

So, I stayed up late that night, finishing the show’s last two episodes. I did feel a sense of accomplishment and great relief when I turned off the iPad that night. And I was more than happy to say good-bye to those self-indulged characters.

The next day, I started reading a great book at the gym, and I have several more queued up. A new day is dawning.

- Linda Williams Rorem, 10 March 2014
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Oscar Style

I grew up in L.A. – more precisely in “the Valley.” Although I now live in Seattle and my daily wardrobe consists of jeans, some variation of a black shirt and boots, I am a Valley Girl at heart. I have a great appreciation for bright colors, sequins and sparkle.

Long live the red carpet.

Last night I couldn’t help but look – the hair, the jewelry, the make-up, the dresses. I had a serious article teed up for this morning but instead of editing my essay, I found my attention happily diverted to Oscar style.  Apparently I was in good company. Yes, there is a war erupting in the Ukraine but it is the news of Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded Oscar selfie that crashed Twitter.

I am going with the flow and shelving my contemplative matter for next time. Instead, here’s a few  links to all things Oscar. Even if you missed the show, you’ll be in the know with your friends:

  1. Ellen’s tweet that crashed Twitter: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/moviesnow/la-et-mn-oscars-ellen-degeneres-jennifer–lawrence-selfie-twitter-20140302,0,3402811.story#axzz2uv4Et6IQellen selfie
  2. Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech: http://entertainment.time.com/2014/03/02/oscars-2014-lupita-nyongo-speech-best-supporting-actress/
  3. Best Oscar dresses: http://www.vogue.com/vogue-daily/article/oscars-2014-best-dressed-celebrities-on-the-red-carpet/#1
  4. After party pictures: http://www.peoplestylewatch.com/people/stylewatch/package/gallery/0,,20768377_20789643,00.html
  5. Video highlights of best Oscar moments including Ellen distributing pizza in the audience: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lyapalater/the-best-moments-from-2014-academy-awards

In a year of unrelenting snow-fall in the northern part of the U.S., drought in California and global unrest, the Oscars provided a light-hearted break with the exception of a few political-statement acceptance speeches. It is a much-needed salve, permission to enjoy fluff. You’re welcome.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 3, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Twelve Life Lessons From Skiing

The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi have wrapped up, and those of us who relish the hours watching downhill ski racing must wait another four years for that level of competition.

However, that doesn’t mean we should wait to adopt life lessons from the sport.

I feel fortunate to come from a “ski family” and to be raising one of my own. None of us race, none of us have dreams of World Cup glory and none of us look particularly skilled on double-black-diamond runs. Nevertheless, we all learned important life tools from our time on the slopes. Following are a dozen of my favorite ski tips:

  1. Listen. Skiing is by nature a quiet sport; the din is only interrupted by the whistle of wind through the evergreens, the hum of ski lifts and occasional rattle of chairs crossing posts. After every run down a slope, skiers and boarders are afforded several minutes of quiet and calm, when they can regroup, think deeply and learn about the conditions below. Subtle changes in sounds indicate where a run contains ice, where it has been over-groomed, where bare patches expose rocks (nothing irks a skier more than the dreaded sound of scratch decimating a smooth ski bottom) and where the best powder lies. This tip works anywhere: talk less and listen more.
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  2. Keep your eyes open. Skiers know to always remain alert to their surroundings. They must be ever cognizant of who is ahead/downhill on a slope (that person has the right of way), and conscious of that person’s next move: will he or she turn into your path? Are they likely to fall? Is a snowboarder advancing too quickly near you? Could rocks or a steep cliff lie ahead? This extra sense of alertness comes in handy in other realms, as well. While single in New York City, I knew to always take note of my environment: Was that person following me on a dark street? Could that cab turn into the cross walk after I enter it? Is my purse safe at my side?
  3. Be prepared. Seasoned skiers know that the weather can turn on a dime. What starts as a frigid, overcast day can end in a wash of sun and melting snow, and vice-versa. Removable layers, ski masks and spare goggle lenses are all part of a skiers repertoire. And, of course, in any  activity we must prepared for changes in weather, latitudes and attitudes (with a nod to Jimmy Buffett).
  4. Absorb the bumps.  Moguls – large “bumps” of snow — make ski runs more interesting as well as challenging. Many of us enjoy the exhilaration of attacking and mastering a mogul-filled run, and the resulting thigh-burn that reminds us we have worked our bodies.  The best Olympic skiers seem to absorb moguls without a flinch or second thought, and I find inspiration in their ability to “go with the flow.” Without bumps on the slopes – or in any aspect of life – we wouldn’t appreciate the easier times.
  5. photoRemember your manners. Skiers are, by and large, a polite bunch. When passing closely, they usually shout “On your left” to warn others not to turn quickly or feel anxious. Most skiers and boarders wait patiently and orderly in long lift lines. (Of course, I am referring to North America here. The definition of “lift lines” in Europe is entirely different. Don’t even ask about the time I called someone a “sale de cochon” for cutting me off from my husband when we honeymooning in the Portes du Soleil.) Good manners make any activity more enjoyable.
  6. Share the road. No matter where you ski, you’ll probably encounter a bottle-neck at the end of the day, as skiers of all abilities follow the same last runs in. You will find young kids racing, almost sitting back on their skis, poles tucked under their arms; tiny kids traversing beginner slopes; and twenty-something snowboarders rushing in for après-ski activities. You all need to share the same slope. Of course, this is true of bike/walk/jogging paths, highways and hiking trails. We are all in this together.
  7. Respect others. When skiing, never judge others according to their age, appearance or equipment. Some of the kindest or most-proficient skiers use 20-year-old skis and thrift-shop jackets. Respect in skiing, as elsewhere, is a two-way street. When you fall and create a yard-sale of skis and poles on a steep slope, you are at the mercy of the skier behind you. As you lie in the snow, wondering how you will retrieve the ski you left 20 yards up-slope, you will be grateful for the skier who carries it down to you. Most skiers have their own Instant Karma stories: if they sped past a skier in need, they fell and needed help shortly thereafter. I have found this true in parking lots, as well: if you let someone take the parking place you were eyeing, another will soon open up. But if you sneak into a spot someone has waited for, the next time you’re at Costco, you will endure a long wait in the lot.
  8. Great equipment doesn’t make for better athletes. New and glitzy equipment is just that. With eight skiers to outfit, my parents certainly couldn’t spring for new equipment every season. We utilized hand-me-downs and ski swaps for our skis, poles and boots. And while, as I said, none of us attained pro-racer skill levels, we all were competent enough to enjoy our time on the mountain. Without a doubt, I do enjoy the technological advances that make boots and coats warmer and skis easier to turn, my own advances have come through hard work and patience. I remind my kids of this when they beg for better (read: new and expensive) equipment in any sport. Practice and dedication trump hefty price tags every time.
  9. Protect your brain – you only get one. Thank goodness skiers and snowboarders have seen the light, and now protect their heads with hard helmets. In fact, a recent New York Times article states that 70 percent of U.S. skiers and snowboarders now wear helmets – three times the amount from 10 years ago. However, while the use of helmets might have spared the lives of Natasha Richardson and Michael Kennedy, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher was actually wearing one when he recently fell in France. As in any sport, it’s important to use your brain in addition to protecting it.
  10. Bright colors can cheer up any gray day. Today’s ski attire is colorful and even whimsical, and the look of a lift-line crowd could make any skier smile. Last week, I spotted a middle-aged Japanese couple with comic-book characters adorning their ski jackets, young men wearing bright yellow and orange pants and kids with stuffed animals on their helmets. Years ago, when I found myself skiing alone in zero-visibility fog at an unfamiliar resort, I was grateful to join a group of young men who were wearing neon-colored coats. If I hadn’t found them, I would probably still be stuck somewhere on that mountain.
  11. Don’t take yourself too seriously. According to Murphy’s Law, if you are shushing down a slope, feeling over proud of your abilities, you will hit a rock and incur an embarrassing face plant. Lesson learned: don’t take yourself too seriously. Even the Olympic skiers hit bumps in the road and know that ski runs aren’t entirely in their control. Those of us who aren’t competing for Gold Medals need to laugh when we fall and cheer on others who are struggling.
  12. Let go and have fun. Skiing consumes considerable time, patience and money. Skiers must balance the sub-zero, low-visibility days with sunny mornings that allow fresh tracks through deep powder. When you happen upon a slope that exceeds your ability level, take a deep breath and stay loose. We all know that when we are tense, the worst outcome often arrives, and when we smile, the world seems a better place.

 -       Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 24 Feb. 2014
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Related articles:

http://permissionslips.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/easing-the-downhill-ride/

http://cheese-wheel.com/2013/08/14/lessons-learned-from-ski-racing/

http://pleaseaholics.com/life-lessons-learned-skiing/

http://www.newsmax.com/JackieGingrich/skislope-springbreak-vacation-skiing/2011/03/10/id/388994

Olympic Sized Emotions

Would you invest four years of your life to put it all on the line for four minutes? Most of the Sochi Olympic athletes would undoubtedly answer “yes” to that question. The athletes are certainly all-in and it shows in their facial expressions regardless of whether their efforts lead to the podium or last place.

Perhaps it is the feelings of shared sacrifice that binds these athletes together, not simply their astounding athleticism.

The pent-up toll of sacrifice shows up when we see snowboarders from different nations puppy-pile on each other at the finish line with screams of joy.

It is on display in U.S. skier Bode Miller’s soulful eyes as he stares back at a mountain that was once a friend but now may seem more like a foe.

It is seen in the despaired visage of Russian cross-country skier Anton Gafarov. After breaking a ski and receiving a replacement mid-race from Team Canada, Gafarov merely finished a race he was once favored to win.

These years of sacrifice are chronicled in many of the human interest stories that run during the Olympics broadcasts. The video vignettes offer insight into what occurs during the four years the athletes are out of public view. One of the most memorable narratives concerns the relationship between Canadian mogul skier Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Bilodeau eloquently stated after his gold medal win, “Whatever I do in life, my brother is my real inspiration. Just like you and I, he has dreams and most of them are not realizable to him. But he never complains…Every step is so hard for him in life and I have an easy path and I need to go after and do the best I can just out of respect to him.”

Finally, let’s talk about the mom’s emotional ride on the sacrificial see-saw. Yes, I know Procter and Gamble staged its “Thanks, Mom” commercials to make me cry and remember the company name – but I still love them.

I can relate as I want to gag in tense moments of my own kid’s high school sporting events and our family has only given up a few social outings and family vacations. Imagine the tornado spinning in the stomach of Tina Oshie, mother of U.S. men’s hockey player T.J. Oshie, as T.J. went four for six goals in a 3-2 shootout victory for the U.S. team over Russia. Tina said in an interview with the Today show, “I was on the edge of my seat the whole game.”

These athletes — and their moms — have earned permission to fully release their emotions at the games and we thank them for sharing their roller-coaster rides with us.

Carol Lewis Gullstad February 17, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

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