Mico Madness

It’s been a tough year for New York sports fans.  The teams we follow have had abysmal seasons.  The Yankees have struggled in recent years, first having to deal with ARod, then bidding farewell to Mariano and The Captain.  I attended one Yankee game last summer, mainly to say goodbye to Jeter, whom I (along with the rest of NY) will miss terribly.  The Yankees actually won that game, but their victories were few and far between.  Next up- the Giants, a team who has missed the playoffs for three consecutive years.  Their leading scorer, Victor Cruz, tore up his knee and missed the second half of the season. The one bright star was Odell Beckham Jr, but even he couldn’t fully take the sting out of the Giants’ lousy season.

And then there is the Knicks.  My husband and I both attended Knicks games as children, and we remember the team’s ’70 and ’73 championships, as well as their solid 90’s teams.  My husband has been a season ticket holder his entire adult life.  He holds onto those tickets for one reason only- so our children can experience the joy of a rooting for a truly great Knicks team.  When Phil Jackson joined the Knicks organization last spring, we were cautiously optimistic.  Now the Knicks have traded or shelved all their best players.  Melo is out for the season with knee surgery.  JR Smith and Iman Shumpert have teamed with Lebron in Cleveland and are top contenders in the East.  Meanwhile, though I remain a huge Knicks fan, I cannot bear to attend games and watch a “no-name” starting five take the court.  We have sold all of our season tickets on Stub Hub.  I cannot imagine who is buying them…

Fortunately, I have discovered an antidote to New York Sports Fan Depression: it’s called “Mico Madness.”  (A nod to my childhood nickname, “Mico.”)  For the past few years, I have entered a March Madness pool through my husband’s office.  I listen to a few of the pundits, make my picks and follow some of the action, mostly focusing during the Elite Eight, Final Four and championship games. But now, with basically no NY teams to root for (note: not to disparage the NY Rangers, but I am not a hockey fan,) March Madness has captured my full sports attention.  And, without personal affiliations to any of the teams playing this year, I could look to my picks with an unbiased eye and unemotional strategic plan for winning the pool (or at least avoiding the bottom.)

So, beginning last weekend when the teams were announced, I began my research.  I obsessively read sports articles and watched ESPN and other sports channels, listened to assessments of each team and absorbed all the advice offered by the so-called “experts.”  I checked out the brackets of some of my favorite sports announcers and analysts, and even looked at President Obama’s bracket.  I didn’t think much of Obama’s bracket- I felt he played it too safe.  And, unfortunately for Obama, he picked Villanova in his final four- sorry Mr. President.  I filled out my first bracket last Tuesday, then changed it again… and again… and yet again.  By 11 a.m. last Thursday, an hour before the bracket deadline, I was still changing my picks.  I wasn’t sure which upsets to choose.  (I have since realized that no one, not even the “experts,” knows which upsets to pick- because anything can happen!)  12 noon, deadline time, arrived, and my picks were locked in.  Time to watch and wait for the madness to set in.

The biggest change in my strategy this year is that I have taken more risks.  In the past, I have gone mostly with the favorites, choosing just one or two upsets.  It is tough to compile a lot of points that way.  And, to win (or just to do well) in our small office pool of 32 people in which the majority selected Kentucky to win it all, the only way to differentiate yourself is to pick some upsets that actually win!  I think I may have gone a little too far, picking too many upsets… and, unfortunately, most of them haven’t panned out.  But, I must confess that choosing upsets makes watching the tournament a lot more fun!  Every tournament day there are multiple games to watch, and I flip from channel to channel, following each one, cheering for whichever team I need for my bracket.  Currently, I am in 13th place, solidly in the thick of things, and closer to the top than the bottom.  I admit it feels good to see some who know far more than I do about basketball languishing at the bottom of the pool.  My big break may come if I can ride Northern Iowa to the final four, then to the championship game versus Kentucky.  I know this is a long shot and a major risk- but it’s fun, and it is certainly not a life-threatening gamble.  It’s all worth it for the joy I am experiencing.

My husband can hardly believe his good fortune.  His wife is watching more college basketball than he is… and, he is continually asking me for updates on the games.  I report in regularly on the status of his brackets.  He loves hearing me passionately shout out and scream at the TV.  Today is action-packed with multiple games.  I’ll be rooting for Wichita State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Duke and, of course, Northern Iowa.  Go teams!

I love Mico Madness!

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Cheering for the Knicks & Giants in happier times!

California Dreamin’

Like many people on the East coast, I always dreamed of living in California. The Golden State promised warmth and sunshine, beautiful beaches and a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle. We visited several times during my childhood, and I was always enamored with California. My parents never fully understood that deep seeded desire to move west. When I was applying to college, I desperately wanted to visit Pomona College, a small, liberal arts school in southern California. Instead, my college search was restricted to schools within driving distance of home, which included tours of New England and Pennsylvania colleges. I chose a small college in Massachusetts, managed to endure the long, cold winters, and had an excellent, college experience. Still, I fantasized about one day moving to California.

In my early twenties, I finally had that opportunity. I was offered a job in San Francisco and relocated from New York. At last, I would have the chance to live out my dream. Each morning, for five years, I literally pinched myself to ensure I was not dreaming… I really did live in this beautiful, soul-warming place. And, after pinching myself, I began my day with a four-mile run through Crissy Field, along the bay, towards the Golden Gate Bridge. This daily run filled me with a huge sense of pride and purpose. Afterwards, I treated myself to a steaming hot coffee and freshly baked raisin bran muffin from Babycakes in the Marina. Life was good.

Ultimately, I moved back to the East coast, married and raised my family there. But I remain a California girl at heart. So, when it was time for my own children to look at colleges, and both were considering California schools, I was fully prepared for them to head west. Fortunately, my husband and I agreed that four years of college provided an opportunity for our children to experience life in a different part of the country. We did not geographically restrict their search, and instead encouraged them to select the college that felt right. My daughter selected a university in the South, my son chose a school in Northern California.

Like me, my son clearly has the “California gene.” Not everyone has it. Some of my East coast friends have this special gift (it’s kind of like having dimples- which I do!), and feel California in their souls.  Others are surprised that we would allow our son to go to college so far from home.  They smile politely when I explain my relationship with California, but these friends don’t really understand. And that’s fine with me.

My son definitely gets it.  We just visited him for parents weekend, and could see that he is thriving in the healthy outdoors and sports/fitness-oriented lifestyle.  I, too, have recently had a “second chance” to live in California, this time for a month… and, fortunately, during one of the worst winters on record in New York.  But, just to be clear, the promise of California goes far beyond the weather.

To love California is to embrace a lifestyle of openness and friendliness.  To achieve an ideal balance between seriousness and fun. To naturally smile and greet those you pass on the street… and to strike up conversations with strangers everywhere you go.  To delight in the natural beauty surrounding you, from nightly beachside sunsets to mountainside hiking trails, just minutes from home. To feel healthy, fit, relaxed and stress-free. Every day. To marvel at the selection of fine wines available in the supermarket!  To be able to watch the entire Oscars broadcast on TV without falling asleep, because it ends by 9 p.m.! (Okay, I’m exaggerating… I still fell asleep before the broadcast ended…)

I may be dreaming… but, if so, promise not to wake me!

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