Thursday, November 21, 2019

Hello, Ski Season

Winter arrives in a rush for my family this weekend. Never mind that we haven’t reached Thanksgiving yet, or that we’re still a month away from the Solstice, or that it has felt and looked like winter for the past two weeks.

The Ski Season part of our Winter starts in earnest Saturday morning, and there’s no way, really, to ease into that – no matter how much I love Winter.

While others lamented the early arrival of cold and snow last week, I was thrilled to see the landscape covered in white. I am happy when Winter comes suddenly, putting a quick end to Stick Season – that time post-fall-foliage and pre-snowfall – which is my least favorite.

The kids were ecstatic to wake up to their first snow day of the school year, tacked onto the end of what was already a long weekend. They rolled out of bed with more enthusiasm than on any school day and were soon outside. By the end of the day, there was a snowman in the yard, a hodgepodge of sleds cluttering the front porch, and a pile of winter boots crowding the shoe tray by the radiator.

Ski Season, though, feels like a different (albeit related) entity from Winter.

As ski racers (the kids) and coach (me), Ski Season occupies our weekends and vacation days fully for the next four and a half months. And while I love to ski, and I love to coach, and I love to watch my kids and their friends at ski races, sometimes this season – with its early mornings, challenging weather, and the constant need to tune skis – seems all-encompassing.

This winter lifestyle is what my kids have always known. They love to ski, too. But we all realized last weekend that it was our final chance for a long while to sleep past dawn, linger over breakfast, and chill out in PJs well into the day.

Come Saturday, we’ll be up and at ’em and out of the house before I’ve made it through my first cup of coffee.

While this will be the official start of Ski Season for my family, I’ve already put in some time on skis. I’ve donned the old cross-country gear to glide through the woods on November snow with the dog. Last Wednesday I sprang two of the kids from school early to take a few runs at Bretton Woods on opening day. I returned a few days ago to check out the new gondola and sneak in a some ski time with my dad.

We’ve picked up our season passes from Cannon, the skis are waxed and ready for the weekend, and I feel confident that the kids all know where their boots and helmets and various warm layers are. That doesn’t mean getting out of the house Saturday won’t be a cluster. It just means we’re as ready as we can be for Ski Season to start.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the November 22, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Friday, November 8, 2019

November Winds

The wind whipped up with November’s arrival last week, knocking out the power to our house before this new month was a few hours old. That November wind brought the chill of the season to come, a chill that seems to have settled in now for the long months ahead, where just last week there remained the hope, at least, of a bit more fleeting warmth.

November is not my favorite month. The trees are bare. Daylight is sparse. With hardly any color left in the landscape – and before winter’s sparkle of frost and snow – it seems just, well, dreary.

But I’ve seen enough Novembers to know it’s just one month. Thirty days. I don’t dread November like I used to. But the winds have reminded me of some of the fall things still left undone, things that should really happen before winter.

The black plastic from the back vegetable garden blew away to who-knows-where. I’ll have to find it, of course, and roll it up to store away for the next growing season. But I should also finish cleaning out the garden, pull the weeds lying there withered and messy. Cover the bare dirt with leaves we’ve raked from the yard. Finish putting away the stakes that held the pea trellis back when the bright green tendrils first poked up from the freshly-turned soil and grew in uneven spirals around the wire fencing.

During that storm in the early hours of November, the winds blew open the upstairs porch door, jarring me from an uneasy sleep – and reminding me it’s time to put the storm door on. And to close all the storm windows, find the draft stoppers for the mudroom door, pull out the heavy comforter for the bed.

Those winds from the earliest moments of November have faded, but the gusts come and go, rattling the piece of siding that is loose at one corner of the house. I know it needs fixing, but think of it only when I hear it banging in the breeze. Then I forget again, as I move on to other things.

And as the sky spits cold rain and wet snow, we’ve scrambled to locate last year’s snow boots, hats, mittens, and warm coats – and remembered it’s probably time to roll out the snow tires and get those on the car.

The November winds tell me winter will be here soon, whether I am ready or not. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the November 8, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Soccer & Community

The population of Franconia swelled to about three times its normal number last Saturday as several hundred young soccer players – and their entourages of family and fans – from towns throughout northern New Hampshire and Vermont descended on the Dow fields for the Halloween Cup.

This annual tournament has become a traditional end to the soccer season for kids in grades 3 through 6. It’s one last chance to show off skills, play with friends, and hang around eating tournament food and goofing off on the playground between games. For the Lafayette communities of Franconia, Easton, and Sugar Hill, it’s also a big fundraiser for the local recreation department.

Although the focus of the day is soccer, the underlying theme is community. Pulling off an event this big truly takes a village – or, in this case, three villages. Each year, at the end of that third Saturday in October, I find myself feeling proud of and thankful for our community, which is small in number but big in heart.

It was still dark when I arrived at the soccer field with two of my kids in tow Saturday morning – and dark again when we left, more than 12 hours later. The lights of the new pavilion – built in part with past Halloween Cup funds – shone through the dimness of pre-dawn, revealing a crew of friends and neighbors already at work.

Throughout the day, I saw an array of people filling shifting roles: parent-food server-coach, teacher-fan-referee, sibling-grill master-former player. Among the volunteers were a multitude of soccer moms and dads, selectmen, retired teachers, the local elementary school principal, and coaches and teachers from the high school. At least one first-year college student came home for the weekend to help out, and there were others on the sidelines.

My son, after his own four years of Halloween Cup competition, became a timekeeper, score runner, and trash collector for this year’s event. He also made his first foray into refereeing, sharing officiating duties for a handful of 3rd and 4th grade games with the principal of his elementary school.

He marveled at how small the Halloween Cup players seemed, even though he was playing on that same 3rd and 4th grade field only three years ago. And he seemed as happy – or happier, even – as a Halloween Cup worker as he’d been as a player. His highlights of the day were filling the Halloween Cup trophies with candy before most people had arrived at the fields, and blowing the shrill airhorn to mark the beginning and end of several games.

For me, the best parts of the day were varied, broken down by time and responsibility.

I spent the morning with the 5th and 6th grade girls team I’d helped coach through the season and was proud to see them play their best soccer of the year. These girls built their own sort of community through the season – coming together from two different rec programs (Bethlehem and Lafayette) to form one team. They are an awesome bunch, and they earned a spot in the Halloween Cup finals Saturday, where they narrowly missed winning the candy-filled trophy.

That afternoon, my focus shifted to the 3rd and 4th grade fields, where I joined the ranks of volunteer referees to call handballs and offsides and remind these younger players to keep their feet down during throw-ins. As my focus has turned gradually toward middle school and high school soccer, it was fun to see these smaller, newer-to-the-game kids – including a few I coached last year – play their hearts out on the field.

Later, as the sun sank below the trees, we watched the Lafayette team play in the boys’ finals, on a field lit by temporary lights and emergency vehicles. Around us was a crowd of others who’d been there for hours, watching, coaching, working, cheering.

Among the spectators was a group of high school boys who had reffed games earlier in the day. Not so long ago, these boys were the ones on the Halloween Cup field. On this night, they celebrated the home team’s winning goal as if the younger players had just won a high school championship.

Somewhere along the way – whether in 3rd grade or high school or beyond – I hope these kids recognize the sense of community that encompasses these events and this place. Because after the trophy is presented and the victory candy shared, after the lights are turned off and the fields are cleared, that community remains. We help each other, cheer each other on, pick each other up after the tough games, and celebrate the victories. Together. Because there are many times, far beyond the soccer field, when it really does take a village – or three. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the October 25, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.