Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graham Crackers

The big plastic bag of graham crackers sat in the bottom of my pantry for over two months. Like every other year, I bought way too many when I’d done the comprehensive shopping trip for the annual gingerbread house party. It’s okay to run out of candy canes when building gingerbread houses. To run out of household siding is not forgivable.

After all the colorful scraps of candy and sticky smudges of white frosting had been cleaned up I was left with a lot of crackers - eight packages still sealed, the rest gathered into Ziploc bags. They were banished to the bottom of the pantry until I could figure out what to do with them.

By mid February I was ready to have them gone, so I could have the floor space for cases of juice boxes and stock piled kitchen supplies. I work at a Rec Center with an active kid’s program.  I decided to haul the plastic bag of crackers into work, to see if I could pawn them off on the director of our children’s’ programs.

I got to work and immediately forgot about the donation crackers that filled out the bottom of my work bag. By the time I remembered them, the director had gone home. I considered just leaving them in the break room, with a note for the director to find the next day. Then I remembered something.

Every Thursday night at our Rec Center, the lobby is filled with kids getting out of swim practice. They huddle in packs around the front doors, the girls with their wet hair swept up into loose buns and the boys with their damp towels draped around their necks, as they wait for parents to come retrieve them. They are always hungry.

When they are not scavenging from the vending machines, they are digging into the bottom of backpacks, looking for any morsel to calm the ravaging hunger that was stirred up by too many laps in the pool. Most have not had dinner yet, even as the clock says it’s past seven. I wondered if these foragers might be interested in my old graham crackers.

I dug an old paper plate covered in a Christmas scene out of the back of our break room cabinet. I ripped open a few packages of crackers and stacked them high on the plate. The plate went onto the center of my front counter. Within minutes there were teenagers sniffing around.

“Are these free?”

Once I said the magic ‘yes’, you would have thought I’d opened up a large box of hot pizza. The crowd moved as a unit, from the couches and front lobby tables, to come hover over the front desk and a single plate of stale crackers.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. I instantly thought about the days when my kids were in elementary school and we’d ski on the weekends, back when we lived in Utah. I knew that a long day of skiing did things to kids’ bodies that were much like the effects of a long day of swimming. A special deep kind of hunger set in and on the drive home my kids would eat just about anything. In those years I used to save every last stray cracker, every heel from the loaf of bread, every snack in the cabinet that was rejected on a regular day of after-school hunger. I collected them all in one big Ziploc, which was brought out on the drive home from skiing. And it never failed that the kids would practically fight over who got that last heel of bread or last scrape of peanut butter out of the jar. That hunger made everything taste good.

I was witnessing that same hunger in the water logged swimmers in my Rec Center lobby. The first plate of crackers was gone in two minutes. I dug into my bag and opened two more. Then two more. As round one of swimmers headed out the front door to waiting parents, dribbling crumbs in their path, the next round headed out of the locker rooms. “Are these for anyone?”

The most surprising reaction came from the parents who walked by the desk. As they saw the kids taking crackers, they gave me the questioning look, I shook my head, and they quickly grabbed one for themselves. More than one looked over their shoulder and said, “You forget how good a basic graham cracker is!”

Graham crackers. That box on the snack shelf of the pantry that is rejected over and over, as more exciting options like Ritz Bitz and Chips Ahoy get all the glory. Unless someone takes the time to spread some chocolate frosting in the middle, no one thinks about a graham cracker being the perfect snack.

But at the end of a long day, a day of school and swimming, or office jobs and work meetings, in the pocket of time before the real food makes its way to the dinner table, sometimes what you need is something simple. Something basic and plain. Something as delectable as a single graham cracker.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Louie Vito - Nicest Guy at X Games.

If you've followed my writing on, you already know that I'm a huge fan of the Winter X Games. With four kids, three of them risk seeking males, we have religiously watched the X Games for most of their childhood. We never dreamed we'd ever live close enough to go in person.

Immediately after we moved to Colorado, we looked up the dates and made plans to attend. I was able to go with a media pass, because of my connection with GeekMom, and it was an incredible four day weekend, full of great new memories.

We've now attended three years in a row, and I hope to be a regular for many years to come. There are many reasons why I love the X Games (which I've written about many times for and one of the big ones is the accessibility of the athletes. The path from the end of the Super Pipe, back to the snowmobile that takes athletes up the mountain, weaves through the crowd of excited fans. There is a lot of high fiving, a lot of selfies snapped. This even happens during the competition.

On the drive home this year I was formulating all the articles I'd be writing about X Games this year. And the one I was most excited about was this one: Why Louie Vito May Be The Nicest Guy at X Games.

Louie Vito is a rock star in the snowboarding world. He has earned just under 45 medals in major events, from as far back as 2006. The things he can do in that Super Pipe are no less than amazing. Like many of the professional athletes, Louie looks forward to X Games because of its relaxed mood. He competes just as hard, but he also spends a lot of energy hanging out with the crowds.

I first noticed it in 2013. Most of the athletes are willing to high five, or bump knuckles with the fans who line the fences, but Louie took it a step further. Anyone who asked (or hollered at him) was given the picture, signature, or even hug that they wanted. Watching the guy, you'd never know he was in the middle of a world class competition, just waiting for his next run.

Last year I had my son Sam with me. In the midst of Louie's schmoozing, I asked for a picture. Of course he obliged. We came home with this gem.

And again this year, Louie was in full hospitality mode. He chatted with fans, he took selfies, and he signed his name over and over. When an older gentleman handed him a cell phone, and asked him to talk to his wife, Louie didn't bat an eye. He chatted with her for a few minutes, and ended up asking her why she hadn't come to Aspen.  All in good fun.

This year I got a series of pictures, of Louie doing what he does best. I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes and told him I was going to write this article. He wasn't looking for the press. His answer was, "This is why we're here. If you don't love this part, there's no reason to be here." This is a guy who appreciates his fans and recognizes how they play into his career.

And finally I snapped a picture with Louie and me, and then Louie and my daughter. He flashed that genuine, huge Louie smile, then turned around and got back to 'his crowd.'

If I had the authority to hand out medals at the end of X Games, the first one I'd present would be a shiny gold one. It would be just one of many in Louie's collection, but I think it would be one of his most important ones. Engraved on it would be the words "Louie Vito - Nicest Guy At X Games".

See ya next year Louie. And hopefully many, many years after that.

Side Note: I'm keeping my eye on a young man named Scottie James, a boarder from Australia. He's talented, he's young, and he's good with the crowds. Watch out Louie, you might have a stiff competition for the Nicest Guy medal next year. 

Here are a few more gems, of Louie, doing his thing, working the crowd, and even taking a picture of one of the other athletes with fans, graciously playing photographer. And in the end, signing my artificial leg for me. Nothing surprises this guy.