‘Lotta Happenings — Vacation Fun for a Sports Junkie

June was Rick’s birthday and I really wanted to do something cool for him since our lives had been anything but fun after my accident last November. One night I discovered that Tommy MacDonald, star of Rick’s favorite TV show, Rough Cut, had a book on Amazon.com. I wrote the woodworking legend and asked him if I could get an autographed copy of his book for Rick’s sixty-third birthday. The next morning his response was in email. “Better yet, maybe you could do a surprise trip to watch a taping for about an hour.” Since the taping was in New England, I had to confess to Rick what his present was and we decided to make the occasion a real vacation.

Flying on standby is nearly impossible with summer loads and we got on both flights by the skin of our teeth. After we rented our car, our adventure began when we decided to take in some of the local sites. Google Maps showed Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, just nine minutes away from Logan Airport. We did great until we got to a street which forked out in multiple directions. We discovered quickly that GPS didn’t work in the city. We also discovered why the guide book said, “Locals are very confused giving directions as they use the transit system rather than drive.” We became VERY familiar with the Charles River scenery including a Harvard rowing team, Boylston St and the multitude of one-way streets especially those with no street signs. Back at the original fork for the fourth time, we finally noticed just past the Fenway sign a smaller sign showing Fenway Park going the other way! Finding Fenway Park was worth the effort. Although it was just an hour tour, we experienced the ambiance of the historic stadium. We sat at the top of the Green Monster (pronounced by our tour guide Joe, Mon-stah) as well as other areas throughout the stadium. The right field bleachers housed a lone red chair amid all the blue ones. It was where the longest home run, 502 feet, landed. According to Joe, the hitter was Ted Williams and no batter has come close to the feat. We viewed a hallway of memorial plaques of famous Red Sox players, coaches, owners and announcers as well as different uniform jerseys worn by the team. Joe also pointed out the neighborhood of Fenway located on the horizon. Yes, we already knew where that was!

The following day was the Rough Cut filming. In route to the studio was Gillette Stadium. This sports nut was again in her element. Time only allowed me to peer through the tall locked gates at the turf that my hero Tom “Easy on the Eyes” Brady calls his football home. Rick was relieved at the time constraints since the gift shop was on the pricey side and I loved everything I saw. I came out with two Patriots bandanas for Roxie and Rex. Before I could check for a price on a helmet made out of Legos, Rick had us back on the road to Canton and meeting Tommy MacDonald. After all, that was the point of the trip. One side of a warehouse was where Rough Cut was filmed. The set consisted of a large room with monitors, equipment cords, bright overhead lighting and huge air-conditioning tubes. It was a woodworker’s paradise complete with orbital sanders, saws and clamps of all sizes. Although we had never met, Tommy greeted us like we were long lost relatives at a family reunion. There was furniture all over the place in different stages of completion and the room reeked of fresh cut lumber. Rick was “in the zone.” We sat quietly in an area right under the monitors and the director’s left arm. A script lay to the side with arrows and scratch-outs on the typed material. We discovered later it was rarely referred to as each re-take was spontaneous. Just as we saw on TV, Tommy filmed in front of a large wooden cabinet with bookcases over it. A military flag in a wooden case on top of the furniture piece reminded me of my parents and brought a tear to my eye. Tommy was fun to listen to. His thick Boston brogue and humor brought more tears to my eyes. It was apparent he loved doing the show and his goal was to entertain as well as educate viewers. The two hours there went quickly as we watched the production take shape. While the crew was on break, we lunched with John, the director. It was then I spotted a chair complete with baseball bats for the legs. Yes, there is always a sports connection for me!

After we left, we headed southeast to seek out where our forefathers landed at Plymouth. Again, despite GPS, it was not an easy journey. I had loaded Plymouth MA. not realizing that the town was different than where the rock was. The diversion was worth it as we went through an area of gorgeous Colonial estates nestled in tall trees facing the Atlantic Ocean. As we had been already warned, Plymouth Rock is a small rock set down in a display in the ground so one couldn’t actually touch it. A replica of the Mayflower was docked at a wharf on the shore behind it. It was still neat to imagine part of American History began there. The week went by way too fast as most vacations do however it did have its benefits. Rick reorganized the garage when we got back so he could get to his tools. He added pegboards and shelves similar to Tommy’s. <smile> It would make a great home for a Lego helmet.

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‘Lotta Commits — #IceBucketChallenge

 

I completed the Ice Bucket Challenge for raising money and awareness for ALS and I passed on the challenge to Hector Reyes who encouraged me to believe, my wonderful brother Craig Williams, my best friend in Ligonier PA — Trish and of course, for being overzealous in the ice and water, my husband, Rick. You have 24 hours to compete the challenge.  Click here to view all the action!!  And here is Rick’s answer to my challenge.

Is it almost over?

Is it almost over?

whoa!  That's cold!!

whoa! That’s cold!!

For more information on how you can help, click here.

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‘Lotta Happenings — Rangers Baseball — Woof Woof Style

This is my August column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

There is no fun more than taking man’s best friend to a ballgame. Roxie and Rex could sense that event was nearing days before the game as they watched me pack Rex’s Rangers bandana, Roxie’s red and blue tutu, traveling bowls, treats and a soft, fleece blanket. Unlike last year’s forty-one degree May freeze fest, this year’s June event was in the nineties!   Did that keep the dogs from wanting to go? No… All seven hundred and seventy mutts of all sizes and breeds lined the 3rd base building side for ticket pick-up, and then proceeded to the ramp area to “chill” for about thirty minutes. Soon it was time to start the trek through the bowels of the stadium. For Rex, who was alternating his nose between the ground and air, something was missing this year. No hot dog smell — just a lot of human and dog sweat. Meanwhile Roxie was thankful I had nixed the blue T-shirt for her; the layers of blue and red netting were quite enough of a fashion statement.   Finally we reached the huge left-field door and both our dogs wagged their tails and yapped. They knew! Showtime! About a quarter of the way into our walk on the perimeter, a Rangers representative pulled us aside and asked if Rex would mind wearing the doggie cam. Rex was all ears as he explained the pup would be filming the walk for the Rangers Insider. (Keep in mind — this is the same dog that got spooked by a moving pod last November!) How could we say no and let the dog down?!? Rex stood stoic as a stature while the cam was strapped on and we couldn’t help but laugh as he looked so official when he started his gait. At one point in the walk Roxie turned around and placed a big slobbery lick on the camera! The remaining stroll around the field was uneventful (unlike last year’s with someone’s dog getting loose and pooping in center field!). I guess it was just too hot for getting in trouble.

Before the game started, Roxie and Rex sprawled under a picnic table watching other dogs splash in inflatable water pools near the concession stands. Meanwhile I hiked to the media elevator to meet up with Susannah, wife of Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. I was glad Rick had to stay with the dogs as there was no doubt why the striking blonde was a former Miss Alabama beauty contestant. She and Mitch had met when they were thirteen and fourteen while on vacation. How romantic can you get — he was on the beach throwing a football to his dad. When their vacations ended, he went back to life in Mississippi while she stayed in Alabama. As in all good fairy tales, they dated others and went to different colleges before linking up again on Facebook several years later. They had a storybook outdoor wedding at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort in Hoover, Alabama — complete with a wedding party of twenty-six!

The Morelands have a two-year old son. Mitch wanted him to have a baseball name with a unique spelling so he came up with the name “Crue.” The couple also has two labs. The fox-red named “Sage” is a couch potato. “Judd,” a black lab, is a “duck dog in training” since Mitch’s other sport is Bow Hunting. Mitch has tradition at each game — he nods to the stands — that’s his “hi” to Susannah. Her favorite baseball cities when the wives get to tag along? Chicago and Tampa. Our chat then got cut short as player introductions were streaming over the PA system.

Again, a hike back to an impatiently waiting Roxie and Rex. Once at our seats in left field, I was immediately pleased when I spotted Rex’s favorite hot dog vendor working our section. (Last year Rex howled as the guy ignored his request for a wiener. The vendor had chanted, “Ain’t no dogs for you, bud!” Ironically, Rick’s nickname for Rex is “Bud.)   This year was another story — it was too hot to bark for the team, much less a hot dog. It was better to just lay on the pavement panting and save the effort for when the crowd cheered. In the bottom of the first, the Rangers struck fast with two runs including a Mitch Moreland RBI. The second inning, we were again on our feet when a homerun was hit just a few feet away from us. It sure got all of our attention and had us deciding who would go after the ball and who would protect the dogs should it happen again. There was a cute brown and white Cocker Spaniel named Cooper to the right of us, two Scotties behind us and a huge Weimaraner a row in front of us that sat in the chair most of the time when he wasn’t rubbing noses with Roxie. We left after the 7th inning stretch with the game tied 5 – 5. By the time we got to the car, the Rangers had erupted with three more runs.

The following night we watched the Rangers Insider to view Rex’s work. Although his name was never mentioned in the piece, we knew that the wearer of the cam was Rex. Did he do a good job? He sure did! Among the classic shots — the up-close view of Roxie’s tongue and the flying slobber. A shot only a proud Boxer Mom would cherish!

 

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‘Lotta Wildlife – Like a Magnet

We always seems to attract wildlife without really trying.  In the Hill Country we had the deer and in now in North Texas, we have ducks and geese.

Cripple was a disabled deer who hung around several years.  Each year she would disappear and show up several weeks later with two fawns in tow.  This was the last year (2008) we saw her — but this time she only had one.  Click here to see Cripple’s addition.   Here’s another video in 2007 of me feeding her in 2007 —fawns and dad too.   We were sad the day Cripple never returned.

Fast forward to 2014.  We’re here in North Texas with more mothers and their offspring!  Here’s when we first saw the ducklings.  Oopsie!  Wrong Exit here!!   What a difference a month or two makes!!  Houston, we have a problem!!!  Click here!!  All is in control — kind of!  Click here.

 

 

 

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‘Lotta Happenings — Love of Speed

This is my July column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

June brought me another birthday and the NASCAR trucks and Indycars back to North Texas. Texas Motor Speedway dodged this year’s weekly NASCAR rain curse and instead steamy, hot temperatures and George Strait’s last hurrah in Dallas beleaguered the event numbers. Those choosing to battle the desert-like temperatures were an interesting combination of true diehard NASCAR devotees and the fast Indycar aficionados. The common denominator was a love of speed and racing.

The afternoon of the truck race, I met up with Jennifer Jo Cobb, the auburn-haired owner/driver of the #10 truck. She grew up watching her dad Joe race and found herself racing at Kansas’s Lakeside Speedway by the age of eighteen. Being owner in addition to driving puts more responsibility on the forty-one year old. It takes money to operate the car, get crews and equipment so on non-racing weeks, she works hard at getting sponsorships for her truck. If I wanted to sponsor her truck one race, the costs ran from $1,000 – $15,000 depending on extras like appearances. Perhaps if I win the Powerball…. As we talked, I learned that Jen is not in racing to be a “token” female. Instead she is in it because she loves it and wants to be respected as an equal. Her favorite track other than her home track Kansas Speedway? She laughed as she explained it would have to be Las Vegas because of South Point Hotel Casino’s full infield spa offering pedicures! At that point I spotted a pink chandelier hanging over her as she filed, then blew on her nails. She looked more like a model than a racecar driver and it was hard to visualize a helmet would be smashing the auburn locks in just a few hours. This is the fourth year that Steve Kuykendall has been her Crew Chief. She shook her head as she explained that he was currently using a crutch due to twisting his knee. Sure enough, we later spotted him hobbling on one foot as he pushed the #10 truck through inspection. Later that night, Jen finished twentieth.

The following day Rick was working so I gave my brother, Craig, his ticket for the Indycars. Poor Craig experienced the “Lotta Sports obsession with sports.” As usual, I was like a kid in a candy-store visiting with other fans, TMS workers, car crews and of course, driving the simulator. After losing me twice in the Indycar garage alley, Craig said “I’m putting you on a five-minute limit and no wandering!” I can’t help myself. With my flight attendant background, talking to strangers was my way of life. While in the garage alley, I met a father/son duo, Mike and Zach Jankelson from the state of Washington. Mike (dad) flies to North Texas every year for the three NASCAR race weekends. He is a diehard stock car follower. Last April, because of the rain one-day postponement, he found himself watching the race on an airport TV. Son Zach was a college student and a huge Indycar fan. Will Power was “his driver.” The Indycar organization offered an open garage to all those holding pit passes. It was thrilling to many of us to actually get feet away from the cars and their parts. The only drawback I noticed was because some fans were so zealous; it was pulling some of the garage team from their duties. At one car, the gal next to me was shouting, “Cameron! Cameron! One more picture! Let’s do a selfie!” Poor ruddy faced Cameron couldn’t say no and found himself posing repeatedly as she clicked away. I couldn’t help but laugh when his garage boss gave him “the eyebrow.” There’s a fine line between customer service and getting the job done. Adding to the excitement of the day was the last leg of the Triple Crown so at five pm, Craig found us with front-row stools at Fuzzy’s Taco Bar in the pit. There were two local radio guys doing their show and my brother watched nervously as I asked them if they would mind breaking away during the race. Fortunately, they wanted to see the race too. It was an exciting few minutes when the Belmont Stakes ran and we almost saw history made. Sadly, California Chrome was literally out of gas having raced the Derby and Preakness while some of his competition rested. A collective groan filled Fuzzy’s as we watched him come up short.

For every person who purchased a pit pass, we were allowed at the start-finish line for pre-race introductions. Waiting for the festivities to start were the Great American Sweethearts who would be announcing the drivers. I approached them and asked, “Is one of you friends with Donnave Abt?” (Donnave worked at Delta with me) A tall blonde named Katie, in a definitive Texas drawl proclaimed, “I am! My daddy works with her husband Jim!” (I wondered if she knew she made Rick’s day when he posed with her at Big Hoss’s debut.) During the ceremonies, it was great as we found ourselves standing by a guy with a loud voice. As each driver came out, he would shout their name and say something personable. The driver would look our way and wave back so it was as if they were posing for us. Except for Marco Andretti ‘s crash on the third lap, the race itself was rather boring — until the final twelve laps. Crowd favorite Will Power had a miscommunication and exited to pit row to find his crew not ready for his arrival. A collective gasp radiated from the crowd as he passed through without stopping. He tanked to eighth, however a caution and restart gave Power one final chance to win. The crowd stayed on their feet as Power sped his way back to the front. After dominating the entire race, Power finished second to #20’s Ed Carpenter. It was not a good weekend for ANY of my favorites!

Click here to see Craig drive the Indycar simulator

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‘Lotta Pups — Fun at Bark at the Park

It was the Baltimore Orioles at the Texas Rangers.  770 dogs of all sizes and ages paraded around the perimeter of the field during pre-game.  Rex was pulled aside by a Ranger rep and asked to wear the dog cam.  Rex had some great footage on Rangers Insider on Fox Sports SW the following evening.  More of the excitement was with me having an exclusive with Susannah Moreland (hubby is Mitch, first baseman of the Rangers) for my ‘Lotta Sports monthly column in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

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‘Lotta Happenings – Playoff Mania

Why do the people who schedule athletic events make springtime such a challenge for sports fanatics like me? Somehow I found myself balancing NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL draft, the run for the Triple Crown, a Rangers pitcher flirting with a no-hitter and a former NASCAR champion making a lot of enemies. To further complicate my life, I gave into peer pressure and added The Voice to watching American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Castle and General Hospital. Thank goodness for two TVs and Internet capabilities or I would have lost my mind.

This was the year NBA record books were rewritten. For the first time ever, the Knicks, Celtics, and Lakers were all missing! As if the playoffs aren’t nail biting enough, a record eight of the first round games went into overtime! For my cousin Ann, her Memphis Grizzlies went into four straight overtimes with the Oklahoma Thunder, another NBA record! Another rarity was the first round of the NBA playoffs found all three Texas cities participating. I was thrilled as finally my Houston Rockets were showing signs of being champs again. I dug out my T-shirts from ’94 and ’95 and wore them for the games. I couldn’t find the shirt with an Interstate 10 decal for the Rockets and Spurs playoff series in the 90s. That should have been my “sign”. Game six was a “win or sit on the couch the rest of the playoffs”. The Rockets played with the look of rats lost in a maze, then looked like they had finally found the cheese. The Trail Blazers, Willard, who up until then had air balls, planted hit feet and hit his first three-pointer — on the buzzer! Rockets lost 99-98. There was no game seven. Coach Kevin Hale and I both buried our heads in our hands. I repacked the keepsakes and wondered what the heck happened to the Interstate 10 shirt. Cousin Ann’s torture was ended when her Grizzlies lost their game seven. Sadly for Dallas Mavericks fans, despite being four and one all-time in game sevens, the most Mavericks shots successfully made were during pre-game instead of during the blowout by the Spurs.

Rockets Relic

Things got interesting in the hockey playoffs too when I started a challenge email to some of my Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers fans with a cc: to a couple of friends in New England. I simply put, “Well, well, well….. It’s the NY Rangers vs. the Penguins. Now what I want to know is WHO will win in this series AND in how many games ——— and will then hopefully meet the Bruins.” Little did I know that the innocent email would have more impact than Putin’s advancement into Ukraine! Two of the New York gals got a little zealous with their trash talking about the Penguins. It was good stuff like: “The Rangers can hold their own against the Penguins if they show up to play. I think they beat them twice this season and lost one game in a shoot-out. Personally, can’t stand Crosby or Malkin so I hope the Rangers kick butt.” “I’m certainly not looking forward to watching Crosby whine because he hurt his widdle pinky finger or got a boo-boo when someone dared to touch him. But he does possess an extraordinary amount of talent, and has the potential to do a lot of damage on the scoreboard. Hopefully we can contain him.” One of my guy friends responded, “Really, you ask me this? You know I bleed Black and Gold and I always will….Nuff said.” However, another Pittsburgh fan got her feelings hurt with the written attacks at her team. I quickly wrote everyone else an apology and encouraged deleting future threads. It was a long series going seven games with the Rangers moving on to the next round and me making a mental note not to ever do that again.

I find it really is hard to be a fan. It is a huge emotional investment and a crap shoot on the outcome. The hardest part is accepting that your team may not always win and dealing with it when they don’t. One of my favorite NASCAR drivers still hasn’t won this year. The other day someone posted, “He should be winning by now. Three more races without a win and he loses a longtime fan.” I immediately responded, “You’ve got to be kidding… you would dump Matt just because he didn’t win??? Hate that mentality… a true fan stays for better or for worse… like a marriage.” I wish schools had a course on sportsmanship. Unfortunately, kids are impressionable and our professional athletes can be a terrible example of a good sport. What message do the kids get when they see players kicking over Gatorade barrels, putting fists into dugout walls, brawls on the field or ice and deliberately crashing a car into another car after the race? It’s time to put respectably back into sports and be reasonable in our expectations as fans — of all ages.

My parents taught me that winning or being the best isn’t the requirement. Yep, I was lucky they felt that way since I was the one who fell off the vault, missed the balls in outfield, hit tennis balls over the back fence, knocked a windmill off a miniature golf course, did face plants in the snow ……

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