Beach bound

We leave tomorrow, bright & early, for our annual trip to Salisbury Beach. I. Can’t. Wait. My bag is packed, I’m ready to go. My favorite girl made a count-down sign and has been packed for a week. The two male members of this household have yet to pack but will throw trunks & toothbrushes in a bag at some point today. Between now and our 6 a.m. departure tomorrow, a few important things need to happen, including one last swim as I attempt to hit my goal of 800 meters before I let myself go completely to pot on vacay; delivering a birthday gift to our favorite 18-year-old (happy birthday, Alexis!); and one last cooking club gathering tonight with some of my besties. We’ll toast the waning of summer while sipping bubbly in the pool.

My math may be off, but I think this is our 9th year to make the beach trip. Two summers ago, I was benched by the heinous post-mastectomy infection. Missing the trip was as tough as the ordeal that caused it, and I’m still in do-over mode. I usually invoke a 10 a.m. start time for drinking on the beach, but in true do-over fashion, I may just relax that rule and say anything goes in the beverage-consumption department. 

The beach trip is always special and much-anticipated for many reasons: spending time with our surrogate family, escaping the brutal Texas heat, lounging on the beach, eating lobster, and going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game or two. The trip has taken on additional relevance for me in the wake of a health crisis, because it signifies the light at the end of the tunnel and the reward for making it through the really rough stuff. It symbolizes a return to normalcy after a hellish span of time.

The bittersweet part of this year’s trip will be leaving our little piggie behind. While she would be a fun addition to our beach party, the logistics of getting her from here to there and back again are too stressful — for her and for us. She’ll be in good hands, though, with Keely the piggie-loving pet sitter. We stocked up on provisions for our little piggie, so it will be business as usual for her as she fills the hours in between breakfast and dinner. 

On the way home from Costco, with a half ton of produce in the backseat, I saw this car and smiled to myself. I viewed the whimsical paint job as a harbinger of good things to come: fun, carefree, colorful days in the sun, surrounded by the people I love the most. I couldn’t help but notice the placement of the Modelo billboard just beyond the St Arnold’s Brewery tie-dye car as I prepared for our big trip–that’s some good karma right there.

This beach trip will be full of all of our favorite things, and we’ll have the added bonus of sharing our favorite beach with none other than Amy Hoover, my medical sherpa, and her 3 boys as they make the long journey home from Maine. Salisbury Beach is right on their way home, so we’ll rendezvous on the beach. How fun!

We’ll be doing a whole lot of this

and some of this

with a little bit of this

and a pinch of this

and of course, a healthy dose of this.


The news of our beloved Red Sox trading Kevin Youkilis got me thinking about loyalty. It’s an under-appreciated trait, IMHO, and its value tends to be most noticed in its absence.

Youk was one of my favorite players, both for his on-field production and for his feisty attitude. He spoke his mind and took the heat that ensued from fans and press who prefer their players to shut up and play. He was part of the Red Sox from 2001, and was an integral part of the roster that my family fell in love with in our early days of Sox indoctrination. I’ll never forget this little Sox fan asking me what his beloved Nomar did wrong when he was traded in 2004. This loyal fan didn’t yet understand that baseball is not just his favorite game, but a business as well, and players are commodities that are moved and used to ensure financial success. It’s a hard-learned lesson and one that removed forever a piece of my little guy’s innocence.

Despite Youk’s last name, he’s not actually Greek but this Greek girl considers him an honorary countryman. In the wildly successful book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis christened Youk “Euclis: The Greek God of Walks” and the nickname stuck. I appreciated Youk for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was his record for most consecutive errorless games at first base (until Casey Kotchman came along, anyway). He’s scrappy and intense, and as Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan so aptly described, “He does not look like an MVP candidate; more a refrigerator repairman, a butcher, the man selling hammers behind the counter at the True Value hardware store.”

I’m thinking he could easily pass for a crew member on “The Deadliest Catch” as well. All part of his charm. His Gold-Glove-Award-winning, three-time MLB All Star, and two-time World Series champion self will be greatly missed by this member of Red Sox nation. Upon my first visit to Fenway, a decade ago, I couldn’t understand why fans uniformly booed Youk when he came up to bat. I quickly realized they weren’t booing but chanting “Yoooooooooouk!”  I hope to see many jerseys sporting #20 when we go to Fenway in August. I’ll be wearing mine.

Is it strange to feel so sad seeing our current favorite player hugging an outgoing Sox mainstay? Is it weird to feel bereft about a player’s departure from a favorite team? Is it naive to want everything to stay the same? Sometimes loyalty brings great sadness; to pledge oneself opens one up to vulnerability. And unfortunately, loyalty does come and go. I learned this firsthand when given a cancer diagnosis.

A crisis, whether health or other, galvanizes some and chases away others. Friends show their true selves, for good and for bad. Some of the people I most expected to be there for me upon diagnosis and in the trying days beyond were the first to depart. The reasons are as varied as the people. I imagine fear is top among the list of reasons people flee when a close friend is given shockingly bad news. While everyone knows in their rational brain that cancer isn’t contagious, the proximity of a dreaded disease causes some people to distance themselves from the afflicted person. Personally, I don’t get that, as I was brought up to believe that a time of crisis is the best time to be by a friend’s side. This lesson was reaffirmed and underscored tenfold as new friends appeared on the scene in my hour of need. Y’all know who you are, and I thank you, again and again. Another reason for the exodus is lack of loyalty. My sweet mama used to tell me it’s easy to be a good friend when everything is peachy, but the real friends, the loyal friends, will be there when things aren’t so peachy. As usual, she was right.

Confucius said, “The scholar does not consider gold and jade to be precious treasures, but loyalty and good faith.” I’m not much of a scholar, but I do treasure loyalty.



Lucky 13!

My firstborn turns 13 today.

A watershed event.

The last of “The Gerber Gang” becomes a teen. The Gang was our very first playgroup. Six babies (3 girls, 3 boys), all born within 6 weeks of each other. My guy was the youngest of The Gang, and now they’re all teenagers.

Lots of things have changed since days of The Gang. No more strollers, no more diapers.

Some things remain the same, however, despite the passage of time and the achievements of milestones.

My boy still loves to read.

I’m proud of him for a lot of reasons, but being a lover of books is on the top 10 list, for sure.

He still loves animals. 

Baseball remains his all-consuming passion. He’s always been reliable at the plate, and this past summer during All Stars was known as “The Doubles Machine.” He knows how to keep the line moving.

Little League has been a constant every year since he was old enough to play. 

His very first season, as a kindergartener, was the start of some exciting time spent at the ballpark.

This is his last season of Little League. While it won’t be the end of baseball for him, there’s something special about Little League, and the innocence and purity of the game up to the age of 12.


He’s a Red Sox fan to the core.

A proud member of Red Sox Nation practically since birth. He even wore his favorite Nomar jersey on the first day of kindergarten.

He loves his junk food!

And he does not like to try new foods!

He loves the beach.

He’s still not a fan of dressing up, and his idea of formal wear is shorts and a polo.

He still refuses to wear long pants, even when it’s cold (well, cold for Texas, anyway).

He’s not a big fan of smiling for the camera, either.

But sometimes he slips up and flashes a little grin.

His eyelashes have always gone on for days.

And his smile has always grabbed me by the heart-strings. 

Happy birthday, Pal. You’re not too old for your mama to give you a hug & a kiss!

This may get me in trouble

I’ll probably get in trouble for this. Or at least be on the receiving end of a cacophony of “You shouldn’t have done that” and “Did you have to?” and “That really wasn’t necessary.” But that’s ok; I rather like living my life on the edge. I’ve been known to stir the pot, to not let sleeping dogs lie, and to eschew the leaving of well enough alone.

So here I go.

This post is all about Ed.

He’s going to hate it.

See, Ed is not one for calling a lot of attention to himself. Or any attention, really. But sometimes, like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s gotta be done.

He deserves it. It’s his birthday, so today it will be all about him.

Ed’s been our best family friend for a long, long time. In fact, it’s been so long, he’s dropped the “friend” and moved right on into “family.” Sometimes family has nothing to do with blood and genes and trees, and everything to do with the contents of one’s hearts and the meshing of like-minded souls. Assuming souls have minds, that is. I don’t think they operate on auto-pilot, do they?

I met Ed while toiling away in the publishing biz many moons ago in Austin. He and Trevor were in grad school at UT (Hook ‘Em!) at the same time, but we didn’t know each other during school; he was reading thick, musty books in the history department while Trevor built up his brain and hung with the geek squad in the computer science world. I hate to think of the years we wasted not knowing each other during that time, but our livers certainly breathe a sigh of relief. There was a fair bit of drinking going on in those days (as opposed to now, when kids’ schedules, middle age, and the threat of recurring cancer tempers my tippling). We did make up for some lost time, though, once we met; happy hours at Trudy’s with multiple Mexican Martinis and extra olives, watermelon margaritas at Maneul’s on South Congress, beers on the roof deck at Waterloo Ice House; and the infamous wine tasting club run by our resident oenophile Anthony King. I hope I never forget the carefree youthful nights spent lifting a glass, enjoying our youth & freedom. None of us will ever forget Trevor puking in the rose bushes at one of the Hess brothers’ houses, then coming back for more. Good times.

But back to work…Ed wrote and I edited. His hair was long back then (mine was too), and he labored over every word, every sentence, every TEKS standard (see how far we go back — long before the TAKS and now the STAR state standardized tests for public schools). I learned real quick that he was smart. Really smart. And he really cared about his work. He had such a high standard for himself that sometimes, just once in a while and not really very often (!), he made me wait for his work. I really don’t like waiting.

See, there was a progression to creation of a textbook, and we were both cogs in the wheel. Schedules were made, which we had to follow. Deadlines were enforced, because if our book wasn’t ready to go to print–back in the day before e-books and widespread Internet use — another publisher would get our spot and the book would be delayed. And we would all be fired. So I learned pretty quick with Ed that some tough love was necessary. I schooled him in the “good enough is good enough” principle that editors must embrace in order to keep the line moving. Oh, how that boy labored over every word, every sentence, every standard. There were days when I was a hair’s breath away from snatching the copy right out of his hands so that I could get my red pen all over it and keep the line moving.

It’s probably no surprise that Ed left publishing and took a rather circuitous route to teaching. A heart-wrenching detour to care for an ailing parent, work for an educational non-profit that trained teachers, a foray into self-employment in the handyman biz, a little time off to determine the color of his parachute (tricky when you’re a little bit color-blind), and finally, he was home.

Ed has a job that not many people would take on: he teaches kids who’ve been sent to the alternative school. Reasons for being sent there vary from fighting to drug use to crimes both petty and serious. The classes are small in number but large in ramifications. Several years ago, when Ed was contemplating whether to enter the teaching profession, I told him that he would be the kind of teacher who made a difference in kids’ lives. It sounds hokey but it’s true: he’s the sort of teacher who kids will remember always, and they’ll look back and say, “Man, Mr C really cared.” It’s true, and he does. He guides kids that a lot of people would cast aside as lost causes. He listens and becomes the sole person who cares. It’s no surprise to me that kids who pass through his class come back to visit, bring him a homemade Christmas treat, and mail him an invitation to their graduation ceremonies.

Those kids are not the only people who benefit from Ed’s unique brand of caring. After enduring the rigors and heartache of watching his dad die of pancreatic cancer, he became my sherpa when my mom got sick. I’ll always remember him telling me that if I thought it was bad now, it was gonna get worse. A lot worse. He was right. It was awful.

My mom knew Ed well, and when she moved in with me after retiring and moving away from Houston, it was Ed — not me — who she wanted as her caregiver for the icky parts of her cancer battle. She wanted him to sit through the class at MD Anderson on how to care for a PICC line, not me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was trying to shield me from the routine horrors that make up a cancer patient’s life. When she was too frail and weak to step into my deep bathtub, it was Ed she asked for help. She would rather have had him see her in that state, to spare me from the eternal impression of being able to count each rib in her battle-weary, wasted body. It was Ed who she requested, not me. He made many food runs in the maddening game of “What can we get her to eat?” only to see her take 2 bites and be done. So much for that. But he never got frustrated, he never pressured her to eat. It was Ed who bore the brunt of the fallout from her radiated bowels. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for such service, but that’s just the kind of person he is. My mom knew it, and so do I. Ed’s the kind of guy who sets up the ladder and willingly allows grafitti in his garage. No project is too big, no mess too messy.

He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t freak when a little kid pukes on his brand-new couch, which Macy (right) did just after this photo was taken at Ed’s house in DC.

He’s the kind of guy who gives a little kid his watch to wear while patience runs short and naptime runs on by during sight-seeing in DC. He knows how to make a little kid feel like the most important person in the world. 

He knows how to keep a little kid quiet during a long, boring grad-school graduation ceremony, and he thinks anytime is the right time for a junky snack.

He digs the deepest sand-pit every year at Salisbury Beach every year, even when he’d rather be reading his book, and waves off the old-man critics who pass by and warn of the pit’s collapse and threat of said pit swallowing little kids whole. He knows what he’s doing.

He’s the creator of Halloween costumes too far-out for my brain to imagine.

He knew Maddy, the best dog on Earth. Ever. In the history of dogs. He loved her with his whole heart, and finally gave in to my years-long pestering that he needed a dog of his own. Not once, but twice. And he let my kids name both dogs. Hence, a female chocolate lab named Snoopy, and a wily basenji-mix named Sugar.

We have Ed to thank for the Red Sox fever that exists in our lives. A native Mass-hole, Ed is a Sox fan for life, and he taught Payton the joys and heartbreak that is Red Sox nation. When Payton was four years old, at his first trip to Fenway, Ed showed his devious side when he made Pay think that Nomar Garciaparra hit a foul ball right into Payton’s lap. Eight years later, I think Pay still believes it really happened.

When Macy came along, a new bond was forged, and the strength of that bond sometimes startles and always amazes me. Mrs Dally, Macy’s first-grade teacher, told me in confidence one day that I might want to be careful because Macy told the class, during an exercise about friends, that her best friend is a 42-year-old man. In the case of anyone but Ed, this might raise a few eyebrows. But spend two minutes with him and you get it. In third grade, Macy filled out the “getting to know you” questionnaire from the teacher on the first day of school. For the question about  her best friend’s favorite activity, Macy wrote: landscaping. Those two are tight. 

Happy birthday, Ed. May the day be as fantastic, wonderful, and all-out-awesome as you are.

I heard the news today, oh boy

It started around age 2, I guess. The baseball obsession. From his earliest days, Payton was a baseball fanatic.

He’s probably not even 2 years old here, but he’s already at the plate, ready to swing for the fences. 

That original swing morphed into this —

and even in 2nd grade, it was game on.

The Red Sox obsession started when he was around 4 years old, maybe even earlier. He has a lot of Sox jerseys and t-shirts. He even had a shirt way back then that says “Yankees Stink” and when he wore it to Fenway Park one year, he was a rock star among Sox fans. He wore it to an Astros game and was featured on the Jumbo-Tron screens. Sweet.

He wears Sox shirts for all occasions, both important and everyday. And not just at the ballpark, either. He wears them pretty much every day, no matter where he’s going.

From playing in the driveway in our Durham house, where we lived for two years, to the first day of kindergarten, Payton wore Sox apparel. Always a Sox shirt, and usually a cap, too.

If they allowed ballcaps at school, he’d wear a Sox cap every day. At one point, we had to clean out the closet because there were so many Sox caps. Every color combination of red, white & blue, and a green one, too. Eventually he got a red one with black flames. There was a green camo one, too, but it disappeared before we had any photos of it. 

Here he is in a Sox cap at his Little League team party in 1st grade, I think. All the other boys on the team wore the team cap, but this die-hard Sox fan had other plans.

He’s wearing a Sox shirt and cap in this photo, taken in his room six months after we moved back to Houston from North Carolina. This kid is (and no doubt will be) a Sox fan no matter where he lives.

His blue Sox cap was with him at the rodeo. He’s not wearing a Sox shirt, though.

I probably made him wear a Longhorns shirt, since it was the most Western-y thing he had to wear to the rodeo. (And yes, I see the expression on Macy’s face. Classic.)

He’s probably still mad about it, too.

For a while, Macy was in on it, too. This is one of my all-time favorite pics of my kids. In New Orleans, on the way home from Fort Meyers, FL, at spring break for, what else? Red Sox spring training.

Of course he wore a Sox jersey for the first day of school in 1st grade, just like he had done on the first day of school in kindergarten. He’s got a Sox backpack, too.

We got a lot of wear from the original jersey, a Nomar Garciaparra #5 authentic MLB version. He wore that one for a couple of years, and I still have it. I keep thinking I’ll do something special with it, like put it in a shadowbox with other memorabilia to preserve the Sox legacy. For now, it’s hanging in the laundry room, and every time I see it, I smile at how tiny it is, and how the tiniest jersey was worn by the biggest fan.

Here he is at Fenway Park in jersey and rally cap, showing off his newly-toothless grin. He had just turned 6, and was already a veteran traveler to Boston and Fenway Park.

Guess what he wore to his 6th birthday party? Yep, a Sox shirt. He loved the shirt, but wasn’t too happy about having to pose for a photo.

He looks a little happier here, celebrating Ed’s birthday in, what else? a Sox jersey. 

Here he is before the birthday bash, in yet another Sox shirt. He and Ed are smiling so big because they love the Red Sox! In fact, it was Ed who first brainwashed Payton into becoming part of Red Sox Nation. Thanks, Ed! I’ve never been more proud than I was during a game at Fenway when Pay was little (4 or 5 years old at most) and quickly established himself among our seasoned seat-mates as a real fan. He knew who was next in the batting order, and who made the last out. It wasn’t long before the men around us were asking Pay questions about the roster, and he knew the answer every time.

Riding the T after a game at Fenway, happy with a Fenway Frank or two in his tummy and a pennant in his hand. This boy loves baseball, and to him, baseball means the Red Sox.

This was his face when he came home from school one day in the 1st grade to find his room contained new bunk beds. I love the look on his face almost as much as the fact that he’s wearing yet another Sox shirt.

He’s all dressed up here for Mother’s Day.

And for YaYa’s birthday. Well, as dressed up as Pay gets. Which is fine with me. If he’s not wearing a Sox shirt, something seems just the slightest bit off.

In 3rd grade, he wore Sox shirts on the first day of school: and the last day of school. He got an award at the end of the year from Mrs. Spearman, probably for being the biggest Sox fan.

It was more of the same for the first day of 4th grade.

Hanging out with Snoopy, in a jersey of course.

She’s a Sox fan, too.

After the Nomar jersey came the Veritek version. Then Youklis. Then Beckett. 

I’m sure there were more, but they all sorta run together after all these years.

We’re really lucky to be able to go to Boston every summer and stay with our dear friends-who-are-now-family. The trip is the highlight of the year for all of us, and getting to go to Fenway as well as hang out for a couple of weeks on the shore, is the best.

At the airport on one of those trips when the kids were really little, Pay was decked out in Sox championship apparel. People traveling from Houston to Boston on that flight with us knew where that kid was headed. First stop, Yawkey Way. 

Catching some z’s on the beach in Salisbury, north of Boston. Notice the cap?

Wearing one of my favorite Sox shirts at Markey’s Lobster Pound, one of the best places on Earth. This shirt says, “It’s obvious you wish you were part of Red Sox Nation.”


Another Sox ensemble while enjoying another delicacy at the shore: Blink’s Fried Doe. Payton prefers chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles. Only they call them jimmies at the shore.

One year we went back to the shore for Thanksgiving. It was cold on the beach, but we took a walk. Pay wore a Sox shirt, and no coat.

Back at home, we buy the MLB extended cable package so we can watch every Sox game. 

Payton always gets new Sox shirts for Christmas, which makes him smile. Santa knows what that kid wants most. 

Fuzzy dice to go with the new shirts. Good stuff.

I don’t remember what we were celebrating here, but I’m sure it was fun. And the Pedroia shirt means it was a special occasion. Or a Tuesday. Either one.

When Pay broke his wrist in the 5th grade and had to get a cast, he got a red one. While wearing a Sox shirt, natch. Then he tried to scratch inside the cast with a mechanical pencil, and the eraser got stuck and he had to get another red cast. Three days after the first one. I told him that if he did it again, the third cast would be pink.

There was no third cast.

This past summer, Pay had to go to Fenway without me. I was home recovering from the latest bout with the post-mastectomy infection and wasn’t fit to travel.

He brought me a get-well gift. Guess what it was: a new Sox shirt of my very own. My favorite player had changed his number, so I needed an updated shirt. Sweet boy.

Red Sox apparel is such a big part of Payton’s life, and his wardrobe. Our family has logged lots of hours at Fenway and spent even more time camped out in front of the TV watching games from home. We check the box scores in the morning paper, and on any given day during the MLB season Pay can tell you exactly how many games ahead or back the Sox are in the playoff pursuit. We’ve had fun seeing the Sox at our home ballpark, Minute Maid Park, during interleague play, and at Camden Yards while visiting friends in D.C. When the Sox were playing the Rockies in Colorado en route to the World Series, we were ready to pack up and drive there, but the quick sweep made it a moot point.

My baseball-loving son doesn’t have a lot to say; he’s a pretty quiet kid. But get him talking about the Sox, and you’d better settle in because it may take awhile. We’ve bonded over good games and bad, big hits and strike-outs, bad calls and triumphant victories, opportunities lost and capitalized upon. We are a Red Sox family.

And as another Little Season is upon us, Payton, the biggest Sox fan of all, just got drafted by the Yankees. Worst. Thing. Ever. (in his mind, anyway.) This happened once before, a few seasons back, and he was pretty upset. He handled it like a pro, though, saying he would wear the dreaded navy blue jersey, but with a Sox shirt underneath, close to his heart. And when he “lost” his Yankees hat a few days into the season and needed to wear a navy blue Sox hat, I didn’t question him. He decided he would play hard while on the field, because that’s part of being on a team, but would take off the Yankees jersey as soon as the games ended. I admit, it was pretty weird to see him in Yankees gear. Wonder if he can still fit into his shirt that says “Yankees Stink?”