People from all over the world were there and she chose to sit right next to me, a few feet away.
We had made eye contact a few times, but I looked away every time. I'm one of those people who doesn't try to socialize at events. I came to watch and not bother (I may kind of run away when I see someone I know at a public event, don't judge me)... I guess I think the same goes for other people.
But not her.
She scooted over and held up her name tag.
"Hi my name's Jess," She stuck out her hand, nails covered in maroon sparkles.
Her face was tan, sporting awesome purple frames and she had cropped fluffy brown hair. She had a button nose and was wearing a jumpsuit that was shiny and blue and looked super comfortable. I was a fan.
"Hi Jess," I shook her hand, surprised by her candor, said hello and my name.
"Hi Robyn," she repeated. She wasn't going to leave just yet. She stared at me so I filled the silence with:
"So what are you here for?" I asked.
She pointed to her name tag again.
I looked confused.
"Bocce Ball." She said quickly.
She was from Montana, not used to our humidity or heat (I think it was only 85 that day but still) and asked, "Want to know how I got chosen to be here?"
"They picked my name out of a hat. They just picked it and I said yes. My partner is from Montana too but we don't know each other. We've only been able to practice together 5 times."
She held up her hand showing me the number of times with her fingers spread out.
"That's not very many times." I said
"No it's not." She agreed.
"But still," I said, "that's so cool that you got chosen and get to be here. I bet you're really good!"
She laughed, "Yeah, kinda. We'll see what place we get. I'm waiting to hear our rank while a few other people finish their matches. Hopefully it's good."
For a few minutes we talked about rice, how terrible the food was and her boyfriend, and then suddenly just as quickly as she'd came, she was gone, scooting back down the metal bleachers, saying good bye.
It was my first time at the Special Olympics. I wish I could say it was my idea to be there but it wasn't. My dad signed me and my husband up to volunteer as audience members - because they were looking for more people to attend and cheer. I took work off to be there and I have to say I was a little "drag my feel about it", it just didn't seem like the best use of time when I felt I had so much to do.
I was so wrong.
Some of those players were amazing (like, whoa) and some were endearingly terrible but none of that mattered.
Yes, they got very frustrated with themselves and you could see their discouragement when they didn't quite hit the birdie right or missed the ball, but they never gave up.
Skilled or mediocre, they hugged and shook hands with their opponent after every single match... and gave the thumbs up and shared congratulations when taking their final picture, winner or loser. There was no name calling. Not a smidge of poor sportsmanship, just genuine love.
Their childlike qualities made an impression on all there privileged enough to watch.
It's either my crazy hormones (I cried describing the movie "The American Sniper" to my parents over dinner the other day) or real emotion but I was so touched by their behavior I got teary.
And I was especially touched by my new friend Jess, who had no room for shyness or judgement. Just a friendly conversation that reminded me we're all just people - no matter what we're challenged with or going through - so why don't we stop to say hello to each other more often?
Because sometimes the simplest act of kindness can whack things into perspective, like saying, "Hi, my name is Jess."
Summer Pasta (aka Heirloom Tomato Pasta with Fresh Red Corn and Goat Cheese)
I shared a quick snippet of this pasta on instagram a few weeks ago and a few of you wonderful friends suggested that I should really "put it up on your blog", so here it is, slightly improved. It's more of an organized chop than real cooking, as it should be in this summer heat. This is a nod to you, my dear encouragers, you help me in every way. You make my heart full just like Jess did, and for that, I cannot thank you enough. xo
Baker's note: To make this gluten-free (besides using gluten-free pasta) replace the pasta with zucchini ribbons.
Please note all of these measurements are rough. It's very much a throw it together and don't fuss over it kind of meal, the best kind if you ask me. ;)
3 pints organic heirloom cherry tomatoes
5 handfuls fresh loose organic spinach
5 cloves fresh garlic minced (add a few more if you want it more garlicky)
1 large shallot, chopped finely
4 ears red corn, kernels (if you can't find red corn, regular fresh corn is awesome too)
4-ish tablespoons of olive oil (more or less depending on your preference)
8 ounces / 225g goat cheese, very cold, crumbled
1 ½ cups / 60g fresh basil and parsley combined (¼ reserved)
1 pound / 455g pasta (any kind, but I used spaghetti)
½ cup / 118ml reserved pasta water
kosher salt to taste
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until just under a la dente while you chop all ingredients.
Once pasta is done cooking, drain and toss with 2 tablespoon olive oil, set aside, covered. Cook shallots for 2 minutes with remaining olive oil over medium high heat, then add corn, until just heated through. Salt to taste.
Remove pot from heat and add tomatoes and garlic and toss to combine. Add reserved pasta water. The point here is to preserve that freshness so as not to overcook the produce.
Next add the pasta, chopped spinach and herbs. Toss to combine. This may take some effort but it's all worth it I promise.
Salt to taste.
Serve pasta in a big bowl and top with more goat cheese fresh herbs. The goat cheese should melt slightly coating each noodle and making for a creamy accompaniment for all those veggies. I adore the sweetness of the fresh corn with the herbs, tomatoes, garlic and goat cheese... I know I literally just mentioned every ingredient but seriously guys, it's all made-for-each-other-good.
This makes a lot, so it's a great one to share or it keeps great for a 2-3 days in the fridge.
I enjoy this cold just as much as I do slightly warm. :)