Out of My Comfort Zone

My brother said it was good for me to get out of my comfort zone. That’s how his suggestion to visit morphed into a small family gathering at an unfamiliar location. They wanted to combine their visit with March Madness.

Since I’m the local here, it was my job to send out a save the date message to my family and to scout out good locations. So at noon on a Saturday in March, I showed up with my brother and sister-in-law at Champps Americana Sports Bar. We were later joined by a sister and brother-in-law and their son and his fiancé.

The bar was humongous, nicely furnished with several areas perfect for large gatherings. And there were lots of small parties already going on. I was surprised how full the place was given the time of day, then realized I’d clearly entered a culture quite foreign to my usual travels.

The crowd included lots of families and a surprising number of small children. I mean small. In the five, six, seven age range. How a family could afford these prices made me wonder. When I was a kid, it was a very big deal to go to the American Legion hall for a fish fry once in a while. I could see that these kids were being introduced to the bar culture while quite young.

We ordered drinks and got ready for the game to start. Drinking so early quickly led to the need for food. Since our table was in the main pathway from the kitchen, the steady stream of overloaded platters let me know I was in for a culinary delight. Or at least, plenty to take home for another meal

After a lunch that was more like a dinner, we got down to some serious catching up with the biggest news being the recent engagement of my nephew. Before he and his new fiancé arrived, my sister told the very entertaining popping-the-question story. This was repeated first by my nephew and then by his fiancé. It was fun to enjoy their happiness and compare their different perspectives of the same event.

My sister should be proud of her son who went all out on his proposal. He’d gathered his and her entire family, placed them at the end of a bridge were he and his girlfriend often look evening walks. As they came over the bridge, there they all were.  Down on his knee, ring in hand. A perfect story.

From our table we had a close view of seven TV screens. Not only was there the basketball game but also baseball, golf, even a hockey game and others I can’t even remember. By this time, I realized that the first game was mostly over. I was informed by my brother that we really only need to watch the last five minutes. And sure enough, the game got very exciting.

My brother is a referee for high school and college basketball and football in the Madison area. He’s also the President of the Southeast Wisconsin Referee Association. So, he knows his stuff and filled me in on the finer points of fan behavior.  I took full advantage of his expertise. Before we knew it two games were completed (that we’d hardly watched), drinks and food enjoyed and it was time to go back to my comfort zone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the bar scene. Back in the 1960’s I spent a good share of my time taking advantage of the eighteen-year-old beer drinking law. Things were quite different back then. Small, shabby bars. No big TV screens. No virtual fantasy leagues. It was a simpler time with sports not the big deal it is today.

Not being a sports fan or one who now frequents taverns, I enjoyed this short adventure into a foreign culture but have no plans for changes in my social life. Though, in a few weeks I’m invited to a Brewer’s opening day party at another sports bar. I’m looking forward to it now that I know what to expect. It’s kind of fun to get out of my comfort zone.

Pitter Pat…Pat…Pat

A handsome, young waiter noted,
when returning our credit cards
that there were so many Pats in our group.
From this, I realized, my life is filled with Pats.

In that group of long-time friends,
bean bags in Door County,
where we teamed by height,
as munchkins and giants,
Patty P and Little Patti were on opposing teams.
Patty P won a writing contest but claims she is no writer.
Trish and Little Patti are friends from college days.
Little Patti’s college nickname was  “Jersey.” Origin unknown.
Trish belongs to three book groups and shares good reads with all.
That leaves the final Pat,
usually identified by her full name.
How else to know who we’re talking about.
Good thing the group has only one
Betty, Bonnie, Ginny, Sandy, Diane, Helen, Kathy, Lex.

Then yoga group
with Pat and Pat.
To keep them apart one is Patricia Lynne,
the other is Pat.
Then poetry group.
The same two Pats.
Then writing group.
Two more Pats.
But one is the same Pat from poetry and yoga.
Then in my building,
you guessed it.
Three more Pats
But one is the other Pat from poetry and yoga.
Pats are everywhere













Third Grade Wisdom


The building where I live has arranged a reading program where third graders from two local schools visit us each month throughout the school year. We grandparent-types are assigned children who read to us; once we get started the room is abuzz as we work hard for nearly an hour.

This gives the kids an opportunity to read out loud and us a chance for some quality time with someone outside of our usual social circle. My job, other than being an alert and supportive listener, is to help with word pronunciation and meaning. Each year, I’ve met some delightful children and marvel at their demeanor and quickly developing personalities. I’m often surprised at how much they already know.

Sam loves maps. Instead of showing up with the usual third grade story books, he brought an atlas. It’s a kid-sized atlas given to him by his father. When I asked him where he’d most like to visit, without hesitation, he said Madagascar, then quickly flipped the pages to show me where that was. I could see right away this was a very unique child.

He was puzzled that Scotland wasn’t in the atlas. Ah, a teaching moment, I thought. I asked if the United Kingdom was on the list of maps at the front of the book. He knew right where it was and pointed.  I then said that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom, so it wasn’t an independent country and therefore not listed as such. It made my day to see this piece of news registering in his alert little mind.

At Christmas, Sam’s mother dropped off a plant for me. The card thanked me for spending time with her son. She also wrote that whenever Sam talked about me, he smiled. So, who’s getting the most out of this?

First time, each child brings a personalized letter they’ve written to introduce themselves. Sam’s letter told me he liked to play twenty questions and assured me we’re going to have “a really good time.” Samantha’s letter focused on reading and asked what my favorite genre was when I was her age. The fact that “genre” was even in an eight-year old’s vocabulary was surprising. But she had no idea what my childhood favorites, Nancy Drew Mysteries were.

Samantha was most excited about the reading program because she’d heard that on the last day, we’d have a party. I recalled how, the year before, Jada had made a very big deal about waiting on me. I had too many cookies and glasses of punch that day. I didn’t have the heart to say no to her diligent efforts. Her determination confirmed my assumption that she was a child lost in the rush of a large, blended family.

When fewer and fewer volunteers were signing up for the program, we had to double up. So, with two children, issues of fairness and splitting the time evenly had to be addressed. Though Teddy and Mick were friends, they couldn’t have been more different. Teddy was clearly from a family of means and talked, quite matter-of-factly about his many vacations in far off places.

Mick was his own person, informing me that his name was Michaël but he insisted on being called Mick. For all their differences, they worked out their own method of sharing time and helping each other with problem words. My job was easy.

My most recent pair were Max and Emma. Again, different as can be. Emma is a quiet and thoughtful girl. She gets out a lot to movies and travel with her family. But I have to work to be sure she gets attention and doesn’t get lost in the bushes. When a character in the book she was reading had a tattoo, she told me her father has tattoos.  Curious and jumping to conclusions, I asked what they looked like. She said they were of her name. Admittedly, I was relieved.

Then there’s Max. A ball of energy and oh so smart.  This third grader can list all the US Presidents. In order and even giving their number. He also does a spot-on impersonation of Kevin Hart. He’s often stood up in the middle of reading to do some tai chi that he learned from a video. Oh, and no surprise, he’s an excellent reader.

I have no children. I decided quite young that being a mother was not very interesting. Being in a reading program with third graders is totally interesting. I get more out of this than they do, I’m sure. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that children are very smart and I’ll never underestimate what I can learn from them.

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