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Friday, October 25, 2013

Mrs. Lo has a Dream for Newburgh ...

“MOMMY, DO WE LIVE IN THE CITY OF NEWBURGH?” No, we live in the Town of Newburgh, I answered my 9 yo, earlier this week. Why do you ask? “Somebody at school said to stay out of the City of Newburgh,” he replied with wide eyed innocence.Right. Well, your school is located in the City of Newburgh, I told him. “Do we go to the City of Newburgh a lot?,” he asked. Yes, we do. You go to school in the City. You go to the Newburgh Rowing Club at least 4 days a week, that’s in the City of Newburgh. We go to church in the City of Newburgh. We swim at Delano Hitch Pool in the City of Newburgh. Christian plays football in the City of Newburgh. We eat at Costigliolos and Capri in the City. And I am always driving kids home and picking them up for crew in the City of Newburgh.

“Is the City of Newburgh bad?” he asked. No, the City of Newburgh is not bad, I answered carefully. But when Mommy lived in New York City, we were always told to be careful when we walked the streets, to always have your guard up. And that is true in all cities, including Newburgh. “So what do you think I should be for Halloween?” he asked, and just like that the teachable moment was over.

The City of Newburgh might have a renaissance, it might not. I do not know the answer on that one. I do know one thing. Both my kids are way street savvier than I was when I was, having grown up in rural Fishkill and having moved to NYU at the age of 17. You could pretty much drop Christian in any urban area for 24 hours and he would survive. Possibly even thrive. Michael, well, you could leave him at Dylan’s Candy Bar or FAO Schwartz with money and it would be a long time before he’d call home.

There was one question Michael asked me which really nailed the entire issue: “Why would we go to the City of Newburgh?” We go there a lot, but we don’t really spend money there, other than to eat. The shopping isn’t there.

So many people, who couldn’t find the Activity Center without GPS, have dreams or visions for the City of Newburgh. Well, Mrs. Lo is a dreamer. So here’s my Dream for the City of Newburgh.

I dream of a Plaza Mayor (pronounced Plah-thah-My-Or) for the City of Newburgh. I lived for almost a year in Salamanca, Spain, during NYU. And I traveled all over Spain, as well as Italy, France, Portugal, and other neighboring countries. In Spain, all life revolves around a central “plaza.” The Plaza Mayor is not only the physical heart of the ancient Salamanca, which has the second oldest university in Europe, it is the heartbeat as well. Besides being ancient (try mideaval), the Plaza Mayor is the place to be. It is a super large, stone paved plaza, in the shape of a square. It is surrounded on all sides by small shops, restaurants, the post office, police station, barber. Basically, if you want to do or buy anything, you come to the plaza. There are tables and chairs all over the plaza. You can buy a cup of coffee and the paper and sit there all day if you want. Well, not all day, at some point, you have to go home and take your siesta. Then when you wake up, Ay, Muchacha, the plaza is hopping! It is lit up all over. There is always free entertainment, dancers, guitarists, sometimes plays and skits. Above the Shops and restaurants and government offices are apartments, artists lofts and studios. And in the center of it all is a beautiful, giant fountain.

I cannot tell you how much I savored every moment I spent in Salamanca’s beautiful Plaza Mayor, speaking Spanish with other students, and the old bird man. It was safe. Much safer than NYC. I could never, at age 19, sit around and talk to strangers in Washington Square in NYC, that was just asking for trouble.

Don’t worry, Mrs. Lo isn’t running for office, just sharing a Dream, that’s allowed. I’m sure anyone reading this would say, oh boy, that could never be done. But let me tell you a little story about how the Student Ambassador program of the Newburgh Rowing Club was started.

When I first came down to the rowing club almost 3 years ago, I said to Big Coach, this is a great program you have, and I love that you’re right in the City of Newburgh. But the program doesn’t really reflect the diverse population of the City of Newburgh. “Mrs. Lo,” said Big Coach. “I have been a public school teacher for 33 years. I have taken these ergometers (indoor rowing machines) into Newburgh city schools so many times and taught children to row, but the kids will never come out and take the US Rowing Swim test (required to row on open water), and they don’t know how to swim.”

Well, you’re a swim coach, I said, teach them. “Mrs. Lo,” said Coach, “that would be a dream come true but we don’t have that kind of money.” How much are we talking? “To rent a pool and equipment, to hire extra coaches and get the equipment for rowing, we’re talking $10,000.00,” he said. If I can get a grant for $10,000.00, will you volunteer your time, I said? “Of course,” he said, “but that’s a very big dream and I don’t see it happening.” I wrote the grant application to the Hudson River Improvement Fund. I did not get the $10,000.00. I got $11,000.00. And we started the Student Ambassador Program. That was 2011. In 2012, we got another $10,000.00 from the DEC and $12,500.00 from the HRIF. I am now applying for the grant for 2013, it’s due soon. Since then, with the help of our our rowers, we have taught over 72 children to swim. Of those, 60 have passed the US Rowing Swim Test. We have taught all of them to row. Our Nora Cronin girls are now moving up to Competitive Rowing, and some of them are sculling in tomorrow’s meet. Mrs. Lo will be rowing in the “Team Mom Quad” with 3 Student Ambassadors, who are now in high school. We use the Team Mom Quad to build awareness for the sport and to raise money for other charities, like the American Cancer Society.

The spirit of rowing also lives in the City of Newburgh. Yes, Newburgh is the birthplace of rowing, and hundreds of thousands of spectators used to coming here to watching rowing races. It took 22 years to build the Newburgh Rowing Boathouse on the waterfront, and it sits at the Ward Brothers Memorial Park, named after Newburgh rowers and brothers Ellis, Henry, Josh and Gilbert Ward, who raced together as a crew. Their many wins included the 1865 professional four-oared championship of America and a world title. Newspapers from the 1860s and 1870s contained numerous accounts of races rowed by the Ward brothers in Newburgh. All four brothers are in the Rowing Hall of Fame.

The Newburgh Rowing Club carries on that tradition but brings rowing to a wider group of children. We went from about 20 or so kids when Christian first joined to almost 100 right now and more joining every day. See, the spirit of Newburgh Rowing is: go ahead and tell us we can’t do it. We’re just going to hold our heads up and row even harder. We believe in us, and that’s more than enough.

Off to the Head of the Zombie Regatta at the Newburgh Rowing Club. Have a great day, everyone!  Mrs. Lo (Photo of the Plaza Mayor in Sara Sara Salamaca, circa 1985)
 — withJuliana Muyot at Plaza Mayor de Salamanca.

Which Type of Sports Parent Are You?

WHICH TYPE OF “SPORTS PARENT” ARE YOU? - As a longtime Family Law Attorney, I have been trained to understand the different types of Parenting: Good, Bad, and Indifferent. JK, of course, they’re called Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative. In my many years as Team Mom for the Newburgh Rowing Club, and my short time as a Football Mom, I have found there are two types of sports parents: Crew Parents, and Everyone Else.

Let me explain how confusing it is for a Crew Mom to show up at a Football Stadium. First of all, the stadium is already built and there are people whose job it is to maintain the stadium and field. Not so with the Boathouse. Parents, rowers, and volunteers all came together and built the 6,000 square foot, two story Newburgh Rowing Club Boathouse. It took 12 years to clear all the garbage down there and put in the docks. The football coaches are very patient with me: “Thanks, Mrs. Lo, but no, the parents don’t need to chalk to the field or clean the bathrooms.”

At the Newburgh Rowing Club, Big Coach doesn’t need 100% parent involvement, he needs 200% involvement. I have always been in charge of fundraising, writing the press releases, the grants, and the Student Ambassador Program. I probably spend 20 – plus hours a week on the Newburgh Rowing Club, including water time and meets, on average. And of course, we go all year long. During practice, I typically either go in the motorboat with Big Coach to talk about all the things we need to do, or keep office hours and answer questions, take in money, sell stuff, or run a Parent Meeting so we can all stay on the same page. We have the world’s best parents at the Newburgh Rowing Club, everyone is super involved. Our kids love the sport and the place would not exist without every parent putting their heart and soul into it. We are invested.

When the Team Mom Mobile rolls up to the Boathouse, little Student Ambassadors run over the hug me and I get a high five from all the rowers. I hear my name everywhere I go from the kids, “Mrs. Lo, Mrs. Lo can I …. Could you … do you know how to … where is the …” and I couldn’t be happier.

I will be honest, I initially did feel a bit disenfranchised when I got to the Football field. Yes, I have gone around and picked up the garbage. Even at away meets. (“What the heck are you doing pickup up garbage for Cornwall?). Since that’s not really needed, I do the other thing I do best: take pictures.

Big Coach is more than happy to have my help on everything, and don’t think I haven’t weighed in on those boat lineups (“You’ve got to take Soup and Kelvin out of that sweep boat and put them in the Men’s Open 4x, they can scull and they’ve got a better chance of medaling in an Open.” Yes, they got Silver). And when we split the team recently to go to two meets, I accompanied Little Michael and some NRC rowers down to Rockland while the rest of the team went to Hartford. I took a bunch of rowers and met two of our newly minted NRC coaches there. The problem is, the older coaches want to talk to someone their age. They kept calling me Coach and I kept saying I’m the Team Mom, so they just called me “Mom.”

“Listen, Mom, we are so sorry but we are going to have to scratch your 4+, the water is too rough, we’ve got boats sinking all over. Have a good trip back.” I knew exactly what Big Coach would do and just channeled my “Inner Big Coach.” Are you canceling the meet, I asked? “No, Mom, we’re just scratching the 4’s, we’re only sending out 8’s.” There was no way in heck we had missed Hartford, gotten up at 4 in the morning, and gotten down here at 6 am, with fully packed coolers, and stood around in the pouring rain all morning so that we could turn around and go home. Then let me put together a Mixed 8, I said. I took stock of who was there and who could row, including myself, and said, “Actually, let’s make it a Mixed Open 8+.”

“OK, Mom, you won’t be in medal contention but you can row your race and take your pictures.” And that was good enough. We scrambled and put together an 8. “Good News, Mom, we’re sending out the 4’s!” We scrambled again. Before each boy got in, I said to each of them, including my 9 year old son, you remember your training, right? “Right, Mrs. Lo”. Listen, boys, 6 boats sank, you have a 50/50 chance that you will sink. You don’t have to do this. Do you understand what I'm saying? “We know what to do if we sink, we’re fine, it’s part of the sport, we just want to row.”

The Head Coach of North Rockland said it was the worst he has ever seen the Hudson River. We, the parents and coaches, ran alongside the 4+ on shore for as long as we could. When the boat went out of sight, we parents all bowed our heads and prayed. I won’t lie, I was more scared than I have ever been at a crew meet. Partly because Big Coach wasn’t there, this Meet was on me. There were 3 boats left in our race. Then, one of the teams pulled their boat, because they were worried about sinking, and there were two boats, including us. When our boat rounded the bend, we cheered like crazy because they were alive, and rowing hard. Michael was literally floating in the bucket (where the coxswain sits is lower than where the rowers sit). They boys were rowing with power but their stroke rate was perfect, not too high not too low, they looked relaxed and relieved. They said it was because I was so calm.

We cheered and we wept when our kids crossed the finish line. We didn’t care what place they got we were so happy they were alive. Next to them, a mighty 8+ crossed the finish line, then sank. This is almost the equivalent of the Titanic sinking, 8-mans simply don’t sink. That’s how bad it was out there though.
Yes, we took Gold and we took it by a commanding several minutes. The thing with Crew is, when the team takes a medal, we all take it. Every person that came down, from the parents, to the coaches, to the rowers who helped out and were ready to hotseat an 8-man, to the Team Mom, we all felt like we took Gold. We are invested.

My son’s football team, the Goldbacks YFL D3, is 7-0 in an 8 game season. I could give you his stats, they’re good, but he wouldn’t want me to. I’ll say this, he plays both offense and defense and therefore plays the entire game. They’re going to the playoffs, maybe the SuperBowl. I am proud of him but, of course, I had nothing to do with it, other than paying and driving. Maybe he needed that: someplace where he's not known as Mrs. Lo's son.

You can take the Crew Mom out of the Boathouse but you’ll never take the Team Mom out of Mrs. Lo. And you can take my son out of the Newburgh Rowing club for football season but you can’t take the spirit of Newburgh Rowing out of him. One of the big differences about the Newburgh Rowing Club is we are more than a sports team, we are a community organization and we give back to the community more than any other sports organization I know of. Christian volunteers at Head Start through our school, Bishop Dunn. I asked him what he did with the kids, did he teach them anything, like how to throw a football. “No,” he said, “but that would be a really good project for the Goldbacks YFL.” It would, I said, it really would. The fact that he’s thinking that sports teams should be doing community service is good enough for me.

I don’t think I’ll be changing my Sport Parent style anytime soon. But then again, why would I want to? Have a great Sunday and a great 3-day weekend, everyone! Remember to count your blessings, I am sending you all Lots of Love  Mrs. Lo (Thanks to Mrs. Tompkins, Football Mom for the photo on the left, Photo on the right is the Boys 4+ at Brickyard after they brough the boat overhead)
 — with Juliana Muyot andNewburgh Rowing.

Mrs. Lo's Team Mom Quad - Rowing for a Cure

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS - it takes on a whole new meaning when someone you know is affected. When a family member, or in my case, a dear friend, is diagnosed with breast cancer, all of the Pink facebook profiles and Pink football helmets finally make sense. It's real, it happens. It happens with or without family history. It happens to good people who live clean lives. Approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. alone will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. That's an estimated 232,340 moms, wives, daughters, sisters who will develop new cases of invasive breast cancer in the U.S. in 2013. The good news is that the survival rate is going up every year. The thought of not being here to raise your children and grow old with your husband and loved ones is a terrible thing for any woman to have to think about. Awareness in October is great, let's keep being aware the other 11 months. I would do anything I can to help my friend. I will be rowing for a cure on October 19th. I bought 10 T shirts that I'm selling to sponsors for $10 each. I think there are 5 left. Then my law firm will match the money raised. The money goes to the American Cancer Society, via the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk" on October 20th, at Woodbury Commons. I couldn't be more proud of everyone who is walking and donating to help out. It feels right to do SOMETHING. In the meantime, ladies, please schedule your annual Mammogram, with a baseline at 30, and perform monthly self examinations. For more info go to: main.acsevents.org
 — withNewburgh Rowing and 4 others.

THE SACRED RITUAL KNOWN AS “SUNDAYDINNER”

Once upon a time, there was a single girl who went to the gym 7 nights a week, avoided carbs, and ate salads for dinner. Then the she married an Italian-American man. Over time, she came to understand that dinner was not just putting food in your system, it was a ritual to be savored and enjoyed nightly. She learned that Pasta is an essential food group in and of itself, even if the USDA doesn’t know it yet, and that other than the Sabbath, the highest holiest moment of the week is what is known as “SundayDinner,” also known to non-Italians as Sunday Dinner, two words.

Yes, that single girl married her Handsome Prince, they had two sturdy boys, and she is now known as “Mrs. Lo”.
My, how times have changed. Now, when people suggest doing a fundraiser on a Sunday night, I look at them as if they have just asked me to sacrifice a goat in my living room. The Sacrilege! “Sunday night? Have you lost your mind? Sunday night is for SundayDinner.”

Mrs. Lo has come a long way from the barely stocked cupboard of Single Gal days, with Ramen noodles and Wishbone Salad dressing. Now, I have a deep freezer downstairs which always has several trays of “extras”: the Good Lasagna (also known as Mrs. Lo’s Lasagna); the Quick Lasagna (good but lots of shortcuts); Stuffed Shells; Manicotti; Baked Ziti; a few trays of Meatballs, and of course the high holiest of them all: Holiday Lasagna, with homemade noodles, three types of cheese, three types of meat, and homemade sauce. Because there’s never enough time to cook during the week. And because you never know who’s coming to dinner. And you can pretty much tell where a visitor ranks on the LoBiondo Friend and Family Scale by which Lasagna I defrost for your surprise visit. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen the Holiday Lasagna: unless you’re a member of the Clergy or Sister Frances, no offense, but you’re not going to see it.

Scientific studies have proven that eating together as a family will do everything from raise your kids’ SAT scores to improve their ability to bond and trust others. We just do it because we enjoy each other’s company and it brings us together once a day.

Our kids, who are in 4th and 8th grade, are required to do well in school. It is their “job.” As we have always said to them, you see Mom and Dad go to work every day. We have a job to do and we do it well. Your job is to get top grades and get yourselves accepted into good schools. Period. Sports? That’s a treat you get to go to if your grades are top tier. Their reward for good grades is never money or objects. Instead, we let them pick out their favorite meal and I make it for SundayDinner. The most complicated request I ever got was Zuppa di Pesce, from Christian in 4th grade. But generally speaking, Christian will choose Spaghetti and Meatballs and Michael will choose Meatloaf. (“Mommy, I know I can pick whatever I want but you make the world’s best meatloaf.” Who can say no to that?)
Could the dinners actually be helping with the grades?

According an article published in USA Today: “The more dinners a week the better. With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics.”

The idea behind the many studies is that families stay bonded when they have dinner together every night, children’s language skills are boosted by engaging in conversation with adults, and their self confidence and trust are cemented. Personally, I think it’s just as important for the parents, as it helps to keep up with what’s going on in your kids’ lives. Also, the structure and the tradition are what keep kids stable.

This semester is critical for Christian, our 8th grader, as he’s applying to some high schools with pretty high academic standards. He has consistently made the “Principal’s List”, our school’s equivalent of the High Honor Roll and we would like him to stay there. But I’m not upping the ante. If he makes it, his reward will still be getting to choose SundayDinner. He has been looking through my Giada cookbooks the way I have seen people look through BMW brochures, picking out his top choices. What will he be choosing for his reward should it come to pass? He’s really going outside the box on this one, the other day I saw him fold down the page for Eggplant Parm.

Have a great day, everyone, and remember to Count Your Blessings and enjoy Sunday Dinner!  Mrs. Lo