Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Ride of Their Lives

When she was five years old, I took my daughter parasailing. As we floated in the sky supported by a colorful parachute and tethered to a ski boat in the Gulf of Mexico, she said in her little girl voice, “This is the best day of my whole life.” How must have she felt this morning?
One of her closest friends celebrated her 19th birthday with a hot air balloon ride over Shreveport and Bossier City. She brought two friends and her mom along. What a thrill.

The ladies had been looking forward to this event for weeks, and by all accounts it lived up to expectations. The morning was a little hazy, but the sky was clear and the wind was accommodating.

The balloon was, of course, driven by that gentle wind. It guided them south to north and allowed them to float along on the periphery of downtown while they got a spectacular view of the cities and the Red River.

I had a ground support role as the trip’s official documentarian. I quickly got in touch with the uncertain nature of balloon flight while not-so-simply following the chase vehicle as the driver meandered on highways, occasionally going off road while maintaining radio contact with the guys flying the balloon.

During one short pause in the proceedings, I had a chance to speak briefly with the driver and said, “This isn’t exactly a science, is it? It’s more of an art.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, a dark art.” The local hot air balloon community knows how to have fun, it seems.
As we continued on our uncertain, circuitous path to an undetermined landing spot miles away, the balloon riders coasted blissfully along enjoying the view.

At one point, we are told; their altitude and trajectory led more than one alarmed driver on an interstate highway to believe they may land on the road.

I recall losing sight of them for a few minutes mid-flight, which was slightly disconcerting. I mean, they’re supposed to be up in the sky and if I’m chasing them, in theory I should be able to see them.

Happily, they did not merge with interstate traffic and they rose above the trees safe and sound.
One of the friends admitted to being significantly scared as the flight began, but based on the laughing that was easily audible as they began their descent, fear was clearly supplanted by glee.
The landing, in a field across the river from downtown, might have been smoother. The basket bounced at least once as the strapping ground crew labored to keep the passengers grounded.

Even the post-flight process yielded a few shenanigans as the passengers dog-piled on the balloon in an effort to get all the air out so it could be packed away.

When it was all finished, there were smiles and hugs all around. There was a lot of love on that balloon, as well as a healthy dose of relief from a frightened flier grateful to find firm ground.

So, our daughter’s low-key, home-based spring break comes to a spectacular conclusion. For my wife and me, another memory is made as we say so long once again to our young friends. It’s back to school where they are learning moment by moment that despite their many adventures, the best days of their lives are still ahead.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who's Feeling Ducky?

On our daughter’s last night at home before returning to school, she stumbled upon a new meaning for “down time.” Horrible puns notwithstanding, her close encounter with ducklings is a fitting metaphor for her spring break. She spent her time in low-key pursuits such as getting a haircut, lying in the hammock in the back yard and goofing around with hometown friends who, like her, opted out of the seemingly obligatory ski trip or beach vacation.
We had a great Friday evening together. Her brother stopped by and hung around long enough to have dinner. The four of us sat around for several hours on the patio, just talking. As the sun set, my wife busied herself rounding up something for everyone to eat while the rest of us kept our heads down. We were all playing the Scrabble knock-off “Words With Friends” on our phones.

Lest you think technology divides us, let it be known that it was a hotly contested WWF game that brought us together. One of our son’s female friends claims to be unbeaten. Make that “claimed.” My son and another of his friends placed a bet on the outcome of a game between her and me. The game spread out over several days, and while it was nip and tuck until the end; I eked out a narrow victory. The bet was a six pack, and since I drove the victory train I demanded that it be shared with me. My son brought over the spoils of triumph and wound up hanging around until well after dark. That certainly pleased us, having the family together even for just one night.

Distance seems to be helping the kids’ relationship. Whenever they’re together they’re usually in catch up mode. As parents, it’s a joy to hear them tell one another stories; especially when they make each other laugh.
Our daughter is missing her college friends now, so she is ready to get back to Texas. Back at TCU, things are sure to be lively as the students prepare for the spring semester’s final weeks. I know she will welcome the activity and the company. After all, a little down time goes a long way.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 14, 2011

Debutantes or Jesus? You Decide

It’s spring break for Texas universities and our daughter is home for most of the week. This is fantastic news on several levels, the most significant being that we can spend a lot of time with her. The other consideration is money. She’s sitting at the house instead of on the beach or the ski slopes. That’s pretty easy on the bank account.

This is a real break, considering her plans for the summer, which were Topic A on her first evening back at the family home. We have to buy her a plane ticket to Seattle, where she will hop on a bus which will take her to a ferry which will transport her to somewhere in the wilderness north of Vancouver (Malibu,BC). The scenery should be spectacular.

So should the weather. She will spend the month of June on the idyllic shores of Princess Louisa Inlet. We are told that elevations near her destination reach 8000 feet. What a way to beat the southern heat!
I have a friend who has been to where she’s going, and she shared photos with us.

Our daughter is heavily involved in a non-denominational Christian organization which has a summer camp there in British Columbia, among many others. She has volunteered to work at these camps several years in a row, and by all accounts this particular facility is considered the plum placement. Just looking at photos from the area can help you understand why.

Apparently, competition for spots on the summer staff there is stiff. It’s somewhat telling that none of her friends or anyone else with whom she’s worked at other camps in the past drew this assignment. She heard from one fellow TCU student who will be there at the same time.

I hope it’s everything they expect it to be. Her experience tells her that the work is demanding and the hours are long, but the relationships she develops are meaningful and lasting. Now that she’s a college student, she has moved into a kind of mentor role for high school kids. I’ve had an opportunity to speak at length about all this with the local adult leader of the organization, who expresses pride in and admiration for our daughter. I don’t know, but I suspect she was chosen for this highly-sought after placement thanks in large measure to a recommendation written by the local lady.

By the way, my wife and I aren’t even blinking at the travel costs. Last summer, we were formally approached by a local high-society type organization which formally invited our daughter to be a debutante next summer. Having heard about this kind of thing all my life and despite being married to an actual debutante, I still don’t really understand what all that’s about. In some circles, to be included in these activities is considered quite an honor. At the time the invitation was offered, our daughter was indeed flattered. But, she was told the bulk of the activity would take place in June. She politely declined, saying it was too early to commit to such a thing. Plus, she had her eye on being on camp summer staff. She made a choice, pursued a goal and achieved it. What great life lessons to learn.

Oh, and when you factor in the cost of being a debutante: dresses, parties, various other summertime social activities….we’re getting off easy. I have to say I'm pleased with the way things are lining up. I least I understand the appeal of summer camp in the mountains near the Canadian west coast.

British Columbia, here she comes.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Drama, Debauchery, Basketball and Salsa

“I thought she was going to break her in two.” The lady who lives across the street was in Norman, Oklahoma at Oklahoma University when her daughter and mine had an emotional reunion. Both are freshmen in college and the occasion was a theatrical production at OU for which our young neighbor was cast in the lead role. The young ladies have been close since they were little girls, and it’s a testimony to the depth of their friendship that our daughter rounded up a crew from TCU and DBU and hit the highway for OU.

The post-production hug seemed to affirm how meaningful the trip was to both of them. Also in tow: the girl from down the street, another TCU freshman. Three 19-year-olds whose home bases are five houses apart convened at a distant outpost to celebrate one’s early success in college.
It’s such a beautiful thing.
Somewhere between where they were and where they were going, there was a casino. In the middle of the night, the bright lights must have seemed like an oasis. Or, like a flame to a flock of moths, it shined in the Oklahoma night. They simply couldn’t resist.

On another highway headed in exactly the opposite direction, our son took the celebration of being 21 to arguably the highest possible level. He went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend. Details from the trip are slow to emerge, but he did manage to disseminate exactly one image from Bourbon Street.

He was in a group of friends traveling in a caravan; and the few bits of information we have received indicate the experience lived up to expectations. If you know anything about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, that can be exciting and a little alarming at the same time.

While the offspring were living it up, my wife and I were staying out much later than we normally do.
We were invited to a surprise birthday event for a younger friend. As the youngsters have a tendency to do, they started late. We arrived at 10:00 p.m.! I told our friend that this was a true indication of our affection for him, because we’re normally in bed at that time of night. We were at a popular Mexican restaurant. There was a price to be paid for eating chips and salsa that late in the evening. Man, I’m old.
It was the end of a long day during which we also hit the road, bound at a 90 degree angle away from the traveling young adults.

We went to a basketball game at Louisiana Tech, where I represented the employer by ambling out to mid-court at halftime to receive a basketball autographed by the coach.

So far I have resisted the temptation to add up the miles accumulated by the family fleet this weekend. That would be a wet blanket on all the fun. I just hope everybody starts the week safe, awake and alert.

Sphere: Related Content