Friday, September 29, 2006

The Ryan White Story.

Tonight, Ryan and I watched the TV movie about the kid who gave Ryan his name. My old VHS tape of The Ryan White Story, recorded from the 1990 broadcast while I was still living in Austin, isn't in the best shape. The sound is a little garbled at times, and the picture isn't exactly HD. But the story? Wow.

Four months before our Ryan was born, we learned of his hemophilia. Soon after that, B and I decided that our son should carry the names of two heroes with that blood disorder. For years we've told Ryan the story. My dad's first name is Ryan's middle name, and there's not enough bandwidth in all the internet for me to explain what Daddy meant (and still means) to me. But I can try to explain why we chose to name our son after Ryan White, and from time to time, I need to retell his story.

Ryan White was a kid with hemophilia, which means his frequent bleeds required frequent factor infusions. (Sound familiar?) Then, in the mid-'80s, the factor that stopped his bleeds gave him HIV, thanks to the tainted blood products used to create clotting factor in those days. (Our factor now is recombinant, so it's infinitely safer. It isn't derived from human blood.) That's when Ryan's story becomes almost super-human. Watching the movie again tonight, I was reminded of just how much Ryan had to face. Already overwhelmed with the devastating diagnosis, Ryan, his mom, Jeanne, and his sister, Andrea, had to deal with thinly veiled fear and, in some cases, outright hatred from their neighbors. When the school district barred him from attending school, he fought the system and the townspeople's discrimination. And he won.

Ryan and his family eventually ended up in another Indiana community, one that welcomed them to their town and supported Ryan's wish to go to school. Ryan's fighting spirit drew the attention of many famous people, and he was invited to speak before Congress and countless AIDS organizations. By the time he died at 18, he had done more than almost anyone to educate the public about AIDS and how it is--and isn't--transmitted. And he had shown so many people the honorable and graceful way to face adversity.

So tonight, for the first time, my Ryan watched the famous Ryan's story on TV. Parts of the movie are tough to watch because the White family endured some devastating events, but through it all, Ryan is portrayed as a caring, gentle boy. My Ryan couldn't help but notice this. "He's just so sweet," he said.

And there it is. There's the resemblance. I can see that my Ryan is not just a namesake. In his thin frame he carries more strength than many grown men. Even when he's dealt the most unfair hand, he continues to put others first. Anyone who's met him knows how sweet he is, but beneath that gentle personality is a fighter who is TOUGH.

Just like Ryan White.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Appropriate for the Cyclones.

The weather gave us plenty of excitement the night the Horns played Iowa State. We began the day with pleasant weather, and the showers that arrived mid-morning were a welcome relief from the heat. The rain couldn't stop the tailgating, but it did move us under the canopy for a while.
Fortunately, we were still able to have some amazing sausage and shrimp wraps, grilled to perfection. Later in the day, we were also thrilled to spend time with K&D, our friends from L.A. By the time they arrived, the oppressive heat had returned. We kept glancing to the north, though, and could tell the hot weather wouldn't be lasting too long.

At halftime the Longhorn Alumni Band took the field. It was great to see the former band members marching again. I've always loved seeing the variety of ages and outfits on the twirlers.

And then there's the baton guy who throws his baton a zillion feet in the air.

Both the alumni and current bands took the field for the grand finale. Now THAT was a wall of sound!

The game was a fun one, with the Horns winning 37-14. Colt & Co. had another great game.

Our jubilant mood took a hit when Brian Robison was leg-whipped and went down with what we thought was a severe injury. As he lay on the field in obvious pain, the packed stands grew very quiet. We all watched as B-Rob was loaded onto a cart, but we went nuts when he raised a "Hook 'Em"!
He also pointed and shouted at his defensive teammates, and we could tell that this guy's a real leader. (Later we found out that his injury was not season-ending, and Robison would be able to play in two weeks against OU.)

Throughout the game, we couldn't keep from glancing over our left shoulders toward the coming storm. By the third quarter, this is what we saw to the north:The PA announcer kept giving updates about the thunderstorm warning, I think in hopes of getting people to leave! Right around the end of the third quarter, the first flashes of lightning appeared, and all of us still in the stands were ordered to evacuate. We headed under the stands to wait for the game to resume.

When it did resume, 70 minutes later, only a smattering of the original 85,000+ crowd remained. About 2,000 people were left to watch the fourth quarter, which even ABC didn't even air.No one can accuse us of being fair weather fans!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Top ten reasons to drive all the way to Houston to watch a blowout.

10. The lopsided win helps to alleviate the bitter taste left by the previous week's loss. (OK, it doesn't help that much, but it helps a little.)

9. The 287 bypass is pretty sweet. No more railroad crossings in Midlothian!

8. Because the game's never close, you can enjoy your Nachos Grande without risk of an upset stomach.

7. Reliant Stadium is a lovely place to spend a Saturday evening this time of year.

6. Just being in Reliant reminds you of last year's Big 12 championship game there, and you can still picture Mack and Vince and all those roses down on the field. Ah, the anticipation of the Rose Bowl!

5. Your seats in the corner of the endzone give you a great view of touchdown after touchdown (like this one from Jamaal Charles).
4. These seats also let you see the team and Mack Brown up-close-and-personal as they enter and leave the field.
3. And you get to see Colt McCoy (#12).
2. Because you're smart enough to attend with two college football uber-fans, you get to hear the play-by-play of OU's loss to Oregon (without the pesky reality of the horrible officiating that cost the Sooners the game).

1. You get to spend time with the sweetest and happiest kids in all of Houston. The H family's three children are so precious! One hug and you know it was worth the trip.

The agony of defeat and the thrill of barbecue.

It had to happen sometime.

The Horns had won 21 in a row, but the streak ended there with the loss to Ohio State. I was disappointed because I could see how we could've and should've won, but I just didn't have it in me to get too worked up about this loss. I think I'm still too full of that good Rose Bowl mojo to fret over this one. Or maybe I was just too full of barbecue!

In spite of the game's disappointing outcome, we still had a great day. The tailgating was out of control! The people and tents were EVERYWHERE. At our tailgate, the food was everywhere! We had plenty of Salt Lick barbecue, which was a good thing considering the number of folks who dropped by.

Throughout the day, we watched the throngs of Buckeye fans parade past our tent. We also got to visit with some old friends from our college days and new friends from our seats in the stadium. We took advantage of our neighbors' satellite hook-ups to catch some of the other games, and when the F-18s flew over us during the ESPN Gameday broadcast (and later during pregame), I got goosebumps.

DKR was packed with a record-setting crowd (89,422, which they announced as the largest to ever see a football game in Texas), and it was a gorgeous day for football.

At halftime we were treated to two great college marching bands, and both did their script drills. It was cool to see tOSU's band dot the "i," but I'm still partial to Script Texas.

After the game, Texas fans heaped good wishes on the Buckeye fans. "Good game" and "have a safe trip home" were the most common refrains shouted at those dressed in scarlet and gray, a nice change of pace from the downright ugly treatment many Texas fans experienced last year in Columbus. Last year's game was followed with stories of fans changing clothes to avoid getting attacked while walking back to their hotel. And then there were the accounts of F-word-spewing grandmas hurling insults at the burnt orange faithful. I was afraid some of our fans would try to repay the hostility, but the Ohio State fans were overwhelmed with the classy response from their Texas hosts. I heard one coed say that we were treating them so well, the Buckeye fans would head home thinking they'd lost! Several tOSU message boards gave Texas fans credit for being the classiest fans they'd ever encountered. Now that may be a pretty weak moral victory, but I'll take it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In memory of Deepa K. Pakkala.

We will never forget September 11, 2001. On the fifth anniversary of that horrible day, I honor Deepa K. Pakkala.

From researching her name online, I have learned that she was a devoted wife to her husband, Sampath, and a loving mother to her infant daughter, Trish. A perfectionist, she was an Oracle consultant who worked long hours. Because of those long hours, she and her husband had hoped to start their own consulting firm from their New Jersey home. They wanted to be able to spend more time with their daughter, who was born on their ninth anniversary in January 2001. The day she died, Deepa arrived early for her job on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower. She was 31.

I never knew Mrs. Pakkala, but in the short time I've been reading the tributes written by her loved ones, I can tell she was a wonderful woman. Over and over again, I read about her smile, her compassion, her drive to make the world a better place.

For instance, you can read the beautiful eulogy here. For more comments, you can go to this site to see the memorial page sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies, where Deepa was working as a consultant. The New York Times' "Portraits of Grief" profile on Deepa is part of the tribute page found here. The guestbook there includes a tribute from her husband, too.

When I think about the 2,996 people who died in the attacks, I'm overwhelmed. It's hard to grasp such a big number. When I scroll through the unbearably long list of victims at the 2996 site, the names begin to blur. The pain represented by those names is enormous. It's too much for me to process--even five years later.

But today I can pause to feel the enormity of this loss. I can picture a man holding his baby girl, desperately missing his sweet wife. By reading online tributes, I can listen in as Deepa's friends recall her giving spirit. I can imagine the tears of those who loved her. And I can cry right along with them.

I pray that her loved ones have found comfort and peace, and I especially pray that Trish will feel her mother's love every day.

I will never forget September 11, 2001, and I pledge to always remember Deepa K. Pakkala.

(Edited to add: The original 2996 has had some server issues, so you can find the list of victims here.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bowling for (just a few) dollars.

All summer, B, R and K took advantage of the free bowling passes the kids received at school. Every day through August, the kids could bowl a free game, so many afternoons, B would take them to the alley not far from our house. The passes have expired, but B used a coupon for 99-cent games to turn our rainy holiday into a family bowling outing!

K decided Flat Stanley needed to go with us.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

'Tis the season to be jolly.

No, it's not Christmas yet. It's football season!

Even though it's been the BEST OFF-SEASON EVER, I'm still thrilled to see the college football season get underway. And with it, we began a new tradition:

Our tailgate! We made breakfast burritos with HOT-HOT-HOT salsa. For our first venture, I think we did pretty well--even if we're not quite as fancy as these folks:

Inside the stadium, we got our first view of Godzillatron, our new, ginormous video board:

(Those bleachers in the south endzone are new, too.) Most of the time, the screen was cluttered with ads (leading some to call it Adzillatron), but a few times we got to see the 'Zilla in all of its widescreen glory, like during "The Eyes of Texas":

The game itself wasn't exactly a nailbiter. Here we're scoring our 56th point:

But I'm the last one in the world to gripe about a blowout, as long as we're on the winning end. If it hadn't been so HOT (I still don't believe it was "only" 96!), the game would've been more enjoyable, but it's hard to complain about any day that begins with a tailgate, includes Longhorn football, and ends with Salt Lick BBQ! HOOK 'EM!