Xavier At The Bat

First, there was the Xavier's train obsession for two full years, after his cousins gave him their entire Thomas the Tank Engine set of tracks and trains for his first birthday. He slept with his trains, ate with his trains and played all day long with his trains. But then his dad took him to his first Seattle Mariners baseball game right before his third birthday. He sat, enthralled, through 13 innings (with a short nap in his seat). He was hooked. Boompa sent him a Twins baseball hat from Minneapolis and then a Mariners Jersey. Uncle Patrick gave him a glove. He'd now rather watch baseball highlights than train cartoons and likes videos of bloopers even better.

Most days, we walk to the baseball diamond in the park where we throw pretend balls. Xavier directs the plays, slides into bases, insists on slow-motion replays. He delights in saying, with hand motions and appropriate flair, "He-eee's Out!" or "He-eee's Safe!" At 10-months old, his sister Georgia watches him in adoration from the grass and claps her hands to cheer. He says matter-of-factly, "My sister is my number one fan."

In our backyard, he can actually connect with the wiffle ball, tennis ball or real baseball on the tee on almost every swing. He's also started hitting home runs over the fence into the neighbors' yards. He listens to Casey at the Bat on cd (written in 1887) on the car stereo if we can't find a game on the radio. At home I often overhear him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to himself. He makes baseball diamonds out of Legos. He practices his batting technique and pitching form in the mirror. I'm trying to entice him to get excited for potty-training with bribes of baseball cards and plastic baseball figures.

The stack of library books next to his bed includes:
The Visual Encyclopedia of Baseball
Eyewitness Baseball
Baseball ABC and also Baseball from A-Z
Baseball Is...
Brothers at the Bat

Some recent quotes:
"I'm not Xavier, I'm Ichiro."
"Give it up for me!" as he runs around the bases with his hands up in victory
"Watch this replay, Mom!"
"That player is a switch-hitter like me!"
After I point out a Blue Jay in the park, "That's a baseball team!"

And he loves to hear his Daddy "announce" him...

It has been five months now of this obsession. Daddy has promised him he can join a tee-ball team next summer when he is four.


Lake Okoboji

I like to tell people grandly, “I used to summer in Iowa.” Iowa may not have the cachet of Nantucket or the Hamptons, but Lake Okoboji is a little heaven.

We had a cabin on the lake from 1985-2005. Twenty years of summers and occasional weekends in the off-season. Being a resort lake, most of the businesses are only open Memorial Day through Labor Day. We had a modest place we affectionately called "The Villa." The four of us kids slept in bunk beds, pullouts or the very best spot: on the sleeping porch.

We had a Cobalt ski boat named the Afternoon Recess, a word play on my dad’s job as a lawyer and my mom’s job as a teacher. We would have boat picnics with sandwiches, chips and lemonade in the middle of the lake, when we’d cut the motor, eat and jump off the boat to swim. As a kid, I loved to ride the tube behind the boat, and then I learned to water ski on two skis and then one. In the evenings my parents would fix Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics and we’d take sunset “booze cruises” and wave to friends on their docks.

I taught myself how to do a back dive by slowly climbing higher and higher on the dock ladder to launch myself.

There is a fictitious University of Okoboji, "where fun in life is your degree."

When I was little I swam, built forts, hunted for toads and read piles of books on the beach. 

When I was a little older, I swam, water skied, daydreamed about boys and read piles of books on the beach.

If I woke up early enough on the weekends, I might get to join my Dad for a boat ride over to the O’Farrell Sisters for pancakes and coffee.

The best thing was a clean dive into the smooth bright lake first thing in the morning.

The other best thing was driving the boat fast across a smooth, dark lake under the stars.

My maternal grandparents, Chuck and Delores, lived behind us and I would run up to their house to play pinochle, cribbage or dominoes. It was a big deal if I beat them as they never let me win, or at least, I don’t think they did. My grandmother always had cookies or pie waiting. 

Fourth of July was a big deal with a huge fireworks display over the lake. Everyone would go out on their boats to watch the fireworks exploding overhead and boat horns would go crazy with applause. After all, this is the heartland of America. We called it God’s Country.

We lived next to the Yacht Club and I learned to sail the little lasers and then the X-boats. I crewed in some weekend races but I didn’t like the competitions, I just wanted to play on the water. The Yacht Club threw great cocktail parties and I had one of my first underage drinks, a whiskey sour, on the lawn. I had crushes on all the sailors.

I had a fake ID from the time I was 17. It helped that my older brother worked at Murphy’s Bar and everyone knew me as his little sister. People all knew I was underage so they looked out for me.

One summer I drove our boat onto a sandbar coming home late for curfew with a few friends. One summer I was in a motorcycle accident. One summer I was arrested by the lake patrol while driving the boat home a bit intoxicated from the bar at 5 miles an hour with a shoe over the stern light – we were trying to look at the stars. Innocent shenanigans, mostly, with lucky outcomes.

The amusement park on the water, called Arnold’s Park, has an old wooden roller coaster. As you go slowly up the big incline you approach a sign that reads, “The Point of No Return” and then you plummet down the chute, screaming with your hands in the air. There is the fun house with the wooden carpet slides and the fat and thin mirrors and the turning barrel tunnels you have to stumble through. And during the summer concerts at the Roof Garden where my dad would dance with me.

Goodies Chocolates makes the best Black Silk truffles and caramel logs. My mother would cut each piece into tiny slivers to ration them.

When I was old enough to move on from babysitting to a real job, I was lucky to land a spot at Maxwell’s on the Lake, the fine dining restaurant in the Emporium. I started out as a busser and hostess and then worked my way up to serving lunches and then dinner. I worked there seven summers in a row, with a small crew of devoted staff who also returned every summer from school. The staff was loyal because the tips were good and the owners, Lewis and Julie, treated everyone like family. The favorites on the menu were the steaks, lobster tails, prime rib and sautéed walleye. We had lots of local regulars as well as weekend tourists. The best part was, I could drive our boat to work and tie up on the dock. After our shift, we would often change out of our uniforms into our bathing suits to rinse off in the lake and then change into summer dresses to walk over to Murphy’s Bar, Captain’s Getaway or the Ritz to sit on the deck.
Come Sunday nights, my father would inevitably say, “Oh let’s just stay one more night and drive back early in the morning.” He hated to leave.

We don’t have our cabin anymore. It has been 12 years or maybe more since I’ve been back, the last time to be a bridesmaid in my friend Gigi’s wedding. All around the world I've run into people wearing University of Okoboji tee-shirts or baseball hats. Someday soon, I’ll go back and teach my kids how to execute a back dives off the dock.


August Lists

August. I just love the sound of the word. August.

As usual, I've been writing lists: trips to take someday, fun-summer-things-yet-to-do, books Xavier and I have read for his summer reading program, films to watch, a grocery list. In the midst of writing my lists, I found a book called Lists of Note:  An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher. I immediately added it to my hold list at the library. In it, one can read lists jotted down by Galileo, Sid Vicious, Marilyn Monroe, Ben Franklin, Michaelangelo and F.Scott Fitzgerald, among many others fascinating figures. You can see and read a few of these handwritten lists here.

And one of mine here:

August, A List

Bare Feet
Lake Time
Clean Dive
Peach Galette
Sprawling in the grass
Ice Cream Cones
Evening Walks
Splashing in the creek
Hammock Naps
Summer Camp
Porch swing
Sail Boats
Dandelion Wishes
Bandol Rose
Panzanella Salad
Day Hike
Rope Swing
Splash Parks
Sun Tea
Ferry Boats
Tide Pools
Gin Fizz
Water Balloons
Building Forts
Riding Bikes
Beach Boys
Sand Castles