Sunday, March 29, 2009

Villanova Wins! The Road to the Final Four Continues!

This is What I Miss: Villanova students mob Lancaster Avenue (in the middle of the campus) to celebrate Villanova's last-second victory over Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament. The win meant that Villanova will be in the Final Four, the first time since its championship year in 1985. (Photo courtesy of the Inquirer, because obviously I couldn't get to Philly from London in time).

Villanova did it! In the last second of a pretty exciting second half, Villanova conquered Pittsburgh to win the East Regional and move on to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. (Editor's note: I know many of my British friends have no idea what I'm talking about here. I apologize). At some points during the game, I worried that I might wake up the rest of my family, given that it was 1 a.m. here in London.

As I watched the game's conclusion thousands of miles away, wearing my Villanova sweatshirt purchased in my freshman year in 1987, my first thought was, "Man, I wish I was in the Quad right now." Because this sweatshirt witnessed the last great victory of Villanova in the tournament, when it unexpectedly qualified for the Great Eight in 1988. When the game was over that year, we all rushed to the Quad and celebrated our unlikely victory.

But I also think, like many things in life, I didn't appreciate the experience in 1988. With all the bravado that immaturity brings, I thought it would be like that every year at Villanova during March Madness. It wasn't. Only in retrospect did I appreciate what a magical night of triumph and happiness that was. But now I do, and I'm sure many of my fellow 'Nova alums from that year know what I'm talking about.

This is why I suspect the Alumni Office knows it can charge more than $1,500 per ticket (after they have made a $500 obligatory donation to the Villanova Athletic Department) for Final Four tickets to its alums. Students won't pay that, because they'll think there will be other opportunities. But the alumni know how long 24 years feels, since that's how long it's been since 'Nova has been to the Final Four.

Go Nova!

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Nova Wins! We're off to the Great Eight, Baby!

March Madness continues, with Villanova University (my alma mater) rolling through Duke University last night to reach the Great Eight* of the NCAA Tournament. We now face Pittsburgh, one of our Big East rivals, and also the alma mater of my father-in-law.
* I know they call it the "Elite Eight" now, but when I went to school in the late 80s-early 90s, we called it the Great Eight. So Great Eight it will be.

Thanks to the combined glories of the Internet, broadband and Wi-Fi, we all got to watch Villanova beat UCLA (or Uck-La, as Thing One kept saying) on Saturday night in our dining room in London. Thanks CBS-March Madness on Demand! The exercise was an interesting one, not least because Thing One kept using English sports terminology to query or comment on the game. Some examples: 
• "I bet their manager is really proud of them." (Said near the end, when Villanova was winning decisively. I pointed out that the manager in basketball is called a coach.)
• "When is the match over?" (Matches are football contests, games are for basketball and other sports.)
• "How many free kicks do they get?" (No free kicks in basketball, my friend.) 

While I do love my Villanova Wildcats, my love has limits. This was evidenced last night at 1:57 a.m. when my mobile phone alarm rang to wake me up for the game. I thought to myself, "Just one more minute, then I'll get up," and then I rolled over and went back to sleep. But again, thanks to the combined glories of the Internet, broadband and Wi-Fi, the first thing I did this morning, from the comfort of my bed, was fire up my iPhone to see the results of the game. 

This is a far cry from my first NCAA Tournament as an expat in 1999, when I had to spend an ungodly amount of money to buy a day-old USA Today in the Rome airport, just so I could see the brackets. Even just three years ago, I could "watch" a text play-by-play of the games, but couldn't see the actual action. Last year was the first time in nine years that I was able to actually SEE a college basketball game, and I was euphoric. This year the games are broadcast in HD, so it's EVEN BETTER. 

I will be glued to my laptop on Saturday night at 11:05 p.m. GMT (literally Greenwich Meridian Time, since I live in Greenwich) to watch the Widlcats play the Panthers. Lucky for me, it does not conflict with Earth Hour, which we will be celebrating earlier in the night, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Unfortunately for me, I did not fill out a bracket this year. If I had, I would have had Villanova in the Final Four. Unfortunately for President Barack Obama, he had Villanova losing to Duke last night in his bracket. At least I'm not saddled with the quandary of having to sell a budget and yet another bank rescue plan.

Let the March Madness continue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day: A Play About Nationality

Who: A mother and two sons
What: Walking home from weekly swim lesson
Where: Walking past a pub in London fully decorated with shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day
When: St. Patrick's Day Eve

Thing Two (age 5): Why is the pub decorated?

Mom: Because tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. We have to wear green.

Thing One (age 9): Why do we have to wear green?

Mom: Because we're Irish.

Thing One: But we're not Irish, we're American.

Mom: Yes, I see what you mean. We are American. But your great-grandpa was from Ireland, so that makes us part Irish.

Thing Two (quite confused): But we're American, not Irish.

Mom: Yes, it is a little confusing. We're American. But in America, it's also about where you're from before as well as where you live now. So we're American, but your great-great-grandparents were from Ireland, Germany and Poland. So for tomorrow, we're Irish. Your great-grandpa LOVED St. Patrick's Day. He even had a special calendar for it.

Thing One and Thing Two say nothing, mulling over the explanation.

Thing One: I think I'm mostly English, with a little bit of American.

Mom: Well, actually, I know this is confusing. But you're not English at all. Except you were born here. And you live here. And you have an English accent. (She pauses, thinking about what she's saying, as it doesn't seem to make sense. Is he actually English? No, not possible. No English passport. Yet.). You are American (she says with less certainty).

Thing Two: I'm American!


Monday, March 16, 2009

We're Doing it for the Polar Bears: WWF Earth Hour

We're doing it for the polar bears, but you can do it for any endangered species you like. The World Wildlife Federation is sponsoring an "Earth Hour" on Saturday, 28 March from 8:30 p.m. in whatever time zone you live in. As this seems a somewhat flexible time, I say that parents can use whatever time zone the whole family can participate in, so for us, we'll be using European time (one hour earlier than London, making our Earth Hour from 7:30 p.m.

The idea is that we all switch off our lights for one hour to show that you care about people, wildlife and the planet.

Some 1180 cities from 80 countries across the globe have already signed up. In addition, a great number of iconic landmarks will be plunged into darkness, including Nelson’s Column, the Forth Bridge, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Eiffel Tower, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Table Mountain in Cape Town and Sydney Opera House. The London Eye, too, will be dimmed for the hour.

For more information about Earth Hour, go here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Say Hello to Our Paper Airplane Champion!

Happy Science Week, everyone. At our school, that means it's time for the annual Family Science Night Competition, which is always hotly contested.

The first year, the Spaghetti Challenge, I nearly had a nervous breakdown because Thing Two just wanted to eat all the marshmallows and I couldn't figure out how to do it. (Important Note: the point of the evening is that CHILDREN learn about science, not that adults do it for them. However, sometimes it's hard to not jump in.) Needless to say, we lost.

The second year, the Egg Challenge, went much better for us. When I say "much better" I mean we won it, which was awesome. The challenge was to create a container that would protect an egg when it was dropped from different heights. We did a parachute/double-cup with shock insulation contraption, which helped the egg survive the first drop, from 10 feet, the second drop, from 15 feet, and the third drop, from the school's first-story window. The competition ended there because the school doesn't have another floor. The winner was chosen by lottery from all of those that survived the third drop. So you might say that our victory was not a pure one, but a victory is a victory, I say. 

Last year, the Car Challenge, was a disaster for us. You had to make a car out of the materials provided. For a family whose favourite show is Top Gear the fact that we couldn't construct a car that would win, let alone get across the start line, is a cruel irony. The less said about the competition, the better.

Finally, this year, we had the Paper Airplane Challenge. Again, you had to use the materials provided to make a paper airplane that flew the farthest. But Thing One knows the value of preparation, and he had spent the previous day reading our book about paper airplanes to figure out which design would be the best. We tested several models, and then he reached his decision. "The Professional" is the one that works best. Thing Two then memorized the instructions, so he could do it for the challenge. We were ready, but I kept telling the boys we had already won once, so we didn't have to win again. 

We got to school, gave our team the name, "The Empire Strikes Back," Thing Two's contribution, and Thing One got to work. We had 20 minutes to get the plane done, but he had it all folded and ready to go in under five. (Here's a tip for future Paper Airplane Contestants: Good Folding means Good Flying). There were several heats and our little Professional kept on winning.

At last, it was time for the final three: Our Little Professional, a huge Concorde-resembling plane, and another that resembled a 747. The whistle blew, and off they flew. But the Professional and the Concorde seemed to flown an equal distance, so we replayed the final. I could barely take the suspense. Again, the whistle blew and off they flew, and when all the dust had settled, the winner was US! Whoo-hoo!

But I have to say the thing I loved most about this victory was the fact that the work and the victory was completely down to Thing One. He did the research, he memorized the design, and he flew the plane. He is very proud of himself, and I am even more proud of him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is the Third Time the Charm? (In our annual 2K race, anyway)

It was one of our favourite events of the year: the Greenwich Park 2K Fun Run. This marked our third year of doing it, and I'm thrilled to report some vast improvement on our performances.

In 2007, our first year, Thing One burst off the starting line, but later realized he couldn't sustain the pace. Given that we were in Greenwich Park, were there are numerous benches to be found, he decided to stop and have a quick rest. Thing Two, who was then 3 1/2, put in a valiant effort after doing a face scrape across the pavement at the start, but finished after a promise of a trip to McDonald's. (Yes, I know. It's counterintuitive to promise fast food to finish a healthy activity, but that was the only way he was going to finish.) I was very proud of him, as it was a pretty bad fall. Thing One finished in 12:40 (118th) and Thing Two finished in 18:15 (159th and not last!).

In 2008, our second attempt, it was a beautiful Mothering Sunday and we accomplished much: Thing One didn't stop and rest at any benches, and Thing Two managed to get through the race without tripping and falling. No times are available for that year, but I know they improved.

Finally, this year, it was that time of year again. I emphasized to Thing One the family motto of, "No Sitting on Benches". Thing Two, now nearly six, was pumped and ready to go. He kept wanting to sprint ahead, but I told him to conserve his energy. That was probably good advice, particularly since he was clutching his chest and had a very red face about half-way around. At that point, we stopped for a bit. But then he wanted to race ahead again. Since we were holding hands, and obviously I was holding him back, he kept saying, "Mom, if you hold my hand really tightly, we can go faster!" Sadly, I think this will probably be the last year that Thing Two and I run it together, because I'm quite certain he will sprint ahead with his friends next year, like Thing One.

Both put in superlative performances. Thing One finished in the top 100 (99th, but it still counts) with a time of 10:22 (an improvement of 2:28 from two years ago), and Thing Two finished 206th in 14:14, a vast improvement of 4:01 from his time in 2007. Well done, boys.