Friday, June 20, 2014

Elementary No More

It was just three blog posts ago that I wrote about Smunch's first day of 6th grade. Although, I've been terribly remiss in updating my blog, it really does feel like that was about two blog posts ago. How is it then, that he was "promoted" from 6th grade last week?

Fresh off the baseball win, Smunch attended the school's traditional 6th grade pool party on Monday. I admit, I hadn't given this event a whole lot of thought. There was a pool, there was swimming, Smunch would love it.
But I forgot to consider that he's in 6th grade and while he's still kind of a little kid in his own way, girls in 6th grade are tall, developing and...holy bikinis Batman! I did not photograph those cute skinny girls in their cute little bikinis. Smunch hung out with his happily geeky friends and pretended not to notice.
Maybe he didn't notice. But I'm skeptical that he's quite that naive with all the media consumption he does.

I didn't stick around. It no longer seems particularly appropriate. It would be like hanging out at one of his friends' birthday parties.

Wednesday, the 6th graders had their traditional jump rope performance.
I'd seen similar perfomances from past 6th grade classes. In the olden days, I walked my kids to school and hung out until they went into their classrooms. I admit my internal thoughts about this performance were along the lines of, "Hmmm...I don't think Smunch can do jump rope. I guess we'll see."
So, uh, yeah. That's pretty much the case.

They also did a little line dance. I have a feeling Smunch was a little more comfortable with that one, but really, getting a bunch of pre-teens to do such a thing is a small miracle. Many of them looked tortured.

And that just left Thursday, or "Promotion Day". I did the legwork. Got the kid a decent haircut, bought him some acceptable duds for the occasion. Of course, he wouldn't go shopping with me, so that really meant being his personal concierge, but alls well that ends well, I guess.
That's one good-looking kid, if I do say so myself...and I do.

He hasn't been so certain about graduating from elementary school. He's been at the same school for seven years now, after all. Change is not his favorite item on the menu. He still didn't look so sure as he toted his chair to the front...
not so sure as he resolutely marched out to Pomp and Circumstance either.
He didn't even look up. I wondered if he was afraid to catch my eye in case he was teary...or I was. I'd already warned him I would cry through the whole ceremony. He didn't look any more sure of his future as he sat and waited for his turn on the stage.
His class was promoted last and with a name at the end of the alphabet, 80 kids were promoted before he finally got to stand near the edge of the stage. (Just five were promoted after him.)
Finally, he had his turn on the stage.
His teacher said some kind words about him...
the principal handed him his "portfolio", including his Certificate of Promotion and a Presidential award and letter for his high GPA...
and then he was back in his seat, looking really no more certain than he did before,looking at the white envelope he'd been given.
And then it was over. And so was his elementary school career. I'm sure it seemed like an eternity to Smunch, after all he has spent more than half his life there to date. But it seemed like such a whirlwind to me! I still remember how sad and scared my little guy was when I left him at kindergarten and the near panic attack he had on his second day of 1st grade. Relatively speaking, he's so grown up now. So smart, so responsible, so well-established in his little world.

All the 6th graders were represented by a star on the "Star Wall".
Smunch was there too.
No hint whatsoever that he isn't ready to go. I know that he is.
I'm pretty sure his 6th grade teacher feels he's very well prepared, although she said she would miss him. I believe her. This was her first class...ever. She will miss many of them, I'd guess.
I just hope that he believes he is ready. Because he is. He really is.

And what did we do to celebrate? I suppose some kids would ask to go to Disneyland. For a few kids, however, THIS is Disneyland.
So, before Mam was done, Smunch and I went home and found some tickets to purchase. Then we picked up his sister who had just finished 4th grade (although he probably would have preferred not to)
and headed out to the ballpark. I told him I would buy him a sundae to celebrate. And at $10.50 each, I thought I'd also paid for the privilege to take Smunch's picture.
He was a much happier camper than he might appear. Special thanks to this guy...
Michael Morse, who had quite a day. So the Giants won...which was perhaps far more exciting to a 12-year-old baseball fan than any elementary school promotion could ever be.

Happy Summer!

More Winners

You might be familiar with a little trend on Facebook called "100 Happy Days". I don't know much about it, but I gather that the point is to post something that makes you happy for 100 days in a row. It's a nice idea. I don't post on Facebook every day and I don't want to, so I'm not joining in, but it does make me think about how I might shift my outlook just a little and feel a lot luckier than I do. Despite everything that has gone wildly wrong, so many things are going right these days.

So here are some happy thoughts for today. This year, Smunch spent a second baseball season (as is customary) playing in the Bronco division of our local PONY baseball league. Last year, as you may recall, was a stunning success. It would be hard to measure up to that.
This year, Smunch played for the Pirates. And he was on the older side on this team. In fact, he wasn't even the shortest kid on the team. There were THREE players shorter than he was...which is kind of a big deal when you've been the shortest for so long. Admittedly, this was a pretty darned short team in general.
The coach was a good guy. He had a short major league career with the Atlanta Braves, or say they say. Smunch got to play a lot and got to pitch, even though he was far from the most menacing pitcher on the team.
Geez. He looks intense.
As with last year, I managed Mam's softball team. And as with last year, I missed much of baseball because I was a a softball game or a softball practice. By the end of the season, Smunch had lost a lot of patience with that, so I started finding other moms to sub for me at practice when Smunch was playing in the days leading up to the playoffs.
That's the only reason there are any pictures, really.

The Bronco divison included 10 teams. The playoffs include four games of "pool" play (two pools of five teams each) and then single-elimination bracket play. It meant a lot of baseball between May 29th and June 4th for the Pirates. Nevertheless, at the end of pool play, they were the only team with a 4-0 record. They went on to the semi-finals Friday night where they played a tense game against the Nationals, who they had mysteriously not played against the entire season. The Pirates won 4-3. So, Saturday was the big day of the Championship Game...again. And again, Smunch's team faced the Rangers...who were again, "the dreaded Rangers".

But these weren't the same kids, or even the same coach as the team from a year ago. One of their players, having been warned about he propensity to "truck the catcher" at homeplate, had left the team since the last time the Pirates played them. Another of their players was tragically undergoing treatment for cancer. It almost made you want to root for them...almost.

Last year, I'd had to juggle Mam's travel softball tournament with the championships. This year, I was lucky. The championship fell on a weekend with no softball tournament. So I was there for the entire game. Smunch initiated a wicked-good double play from his knees at second base, but that was the most memorable part of his performance.

These games make me tense. I decided that I would pay attention rather than take pictures. I'm not sure that was a good plan. I need the distraction. The game see-sawed back and forth and it seemed like an eternity before the final out was recorded...the out that gave the Pirates a 5-4 victory.
This was not the Giants team of last year either. There was none of the same celebrating on the field that that team did. There wasn't quite the same joy, but perhaps it's because the game was so tight that there was mostly just relief at the end.
Two of his former teammates from last year's Giants were on the Rangers team this year. Smunch was the only former Giant in Pirates uniform...the only kid in the whole league with consecutive 2013 and 2014 first place trophies.
He took it all in stride. Apparently, it's less of a big deal to win the championship if you just did it the previous year. Spoiled any?
And what did I do to celebrate? Well, the kids went home with their dad and I did the kind of thing you'd expect me to do when there's a team party the next day. I made a cake. And I had a lot of fun doing it too.
We had a wonderful picnic in the park late Sunday afternoon. The kids, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, played wiffle ball while the adults chatted and snacked. It was roasting hot, which made the cake a tad melty, but nobody seemed to care.
And there it was. Another successful season in the bag. No big deal. Looking forward to doing it all again next year!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


This photo was the winner for the Wildlife division of the Mid-peninsula Regional Open Space District photo contest.
You might recognize it. I posted it here months ago...long before I submitted it to this contest.

I was pretty excited to get any kind of recognition for my photography. I saw the runners up. They were really nice photos. Perhaps someone should have told those fantastic photographers of birds and snakes that cute furry critters always win the day.

The irony here, of course, is that I'm feeling a whole lot more like a loser these days. Can't find a job, can't save a failing marriage, sometimes it doesn't seem like I can raise a couple of kids right either.

So, it comes down to this. I take some nice photos. I decorate some impressive cakes. I carve some killer pumpkins. I can even do a great job of managing a dugout of 12 girls and dealing with their parents. What is wrong with this picture. How is it that I have all these things I enjoy and have some talent for and yet...I can't find a job?

And this is the point where I'd tell one of my kids to quit their whining already!

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Long Trip Home

Sometime before dinner on Wednesday, I realized that everywhere we could stop overnight on our way home was going to be HOT. And having taken a shower, rinsed off all the caked sweat and dirt, I wasn't feeling so inclined to camp in the desert again. The North Rim isn't anywhere near as hot as everything we needed to drive through on the way back.

So, I pulled out my secret plan, devised just for this eventuality. And using the very iffy internet connection at the campground general store, I booked a hotel room in Las Vegas. Smunch was ridiculously excited. He couldn't wait to see The Strip. Somewhere along the line, he'd heard about the Luxor and was dying to see the beam of light shooting from the top. Um. O.K.

Smunch also wanted to see the Hoover Dam. And you know what? We don't just drive out to Vegas all the time, so I decided we'd make time for that. It involved driving through Las Vegas, driving to the dam and then driving back to Vegas. We arrived at Hoover Dam around 3:30 in the afternoon, which was just enough time to take a tour. And when it's 110 outside, a tour is really kinda nice. There's a lot of security at the dam and most of the tour revolves around taking a big, gold elevator up and down. Ooh, a big tube!

The generator room:
And after learning a lot about how the dam was built and what it does, we were thrust back out into the heat, where the kids whined mercilessly as I took a few photos.
And because I'm a mean mommy, I bought them ice cream, but then I also stopped the van and made them walk across the bridge in the previous picture with me so I could take one last photo.
I admit that feats of engineering don't impress me as much as feats of nature. But this was something my son was totally psyched about. Mam complained a lot that she didn't want to go visit a dam, but even she seemed pretty fascinated with the whole thing. Turned out to be a good choice.

Of course, Mam really just wanted to get to the hotel and play in the pool. And we did that too. As soon as we checked in, the kids changed into their suits (Mam had packed only half of mine and I didn't think anyone would appreciate my showing up in half a suit) and we found the one pool that was open until 8pm. I let the kids play as I dangled my feet in until 7:45 and then made them get dressed so we could eat some dinner and they could see what they wanted to see before we all crashed for the night. There were lots of "neat" things we didn't see. But they saw one end of the strip at least. Fortunately, we stayed at the same end as the Luxor.

It was hard to tell because we were all very tired, but Vegas seemed to overwhelm the kids pretty quickly. As soon as I asked, they were ready to go back to the hotel room...where Mam quickly asked if she could get in bed (of course!). I turned around to ask if she had brushed her teeth, but she was already fast asleep.

I learned that while Vegas is an interesting curiousity and a convenient place to stop, it's not my kind of place. I do not belong there. I may go back, but I'll just be passing through.

Anxious to get home before dinnertime, we got up early Friday morning, ate a quick breakfast at the most expensive Starbucks on the planet and hit the road.

Back in California, we were all getting bored with the driving and Smunch needed a bathroom. We pulled off where there was a sign advertising the Calico ghost town and although I'd read some things about this place, I made the critical error of asking the kids if they were interested in going to see it. Of course they were! And I wasn't about the dampen their enthusiasm, even though it rapidly became clear that this was going to be the most expensive bathroom stop EVER.

It cost plenty of money to get in, so I figured we might as well make the most of it. But it turned out that making the most of it certainly wasn't the same thing as getting one's money's worth. The latter was pretty much impossible. Every "attraction" in the place cost more money. So the kids and I took a little walk in the old silver mine.
We explored old dwellings on the dusty, hot hillside for free. That was kinda cool, actually.
And after we took in some views of the town that Knotts Berry Farm rebuilt as a tourist trap, we waited in the scorching heat for a short little ride on the train.
I bought three overpriced sodas and we were back on the road again.

We arrived home just in time to meet the extended family for dinner, find out who the kids' teachers would be for 4th and 6th grade this year and who their classmates would be. They had just 4 days left before the first day of school...

At least they had something to write about!

Along the Edge

Wednesday was the last day of our stay at the Grand Canyon. Gosh, how sad. There are always more things to do than we accomplish, but I felt like we'd done pretty well. The only thing missing was a cool wildlife sighting. To be honest, the kids' favorite wildlife sighting was a pair of bald eagles. And they were very neat, perched in a tree...just an hour from home. Dangit. We saw a deer on the road as we came back fro our long downhill/uphill hike on Tuesday. But we've all seen lots of deer. It was pretty and all. We saw a kangaroo rat or two in the desert and a lot of pretty cool moths. But aside from a Kaibab squirrel in the campground, the Grand Canyon hadn't been a big animal-sighting experience.
photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So, we had pretty modest hopes when we set out on the Widforss Trail on Wednesday morning. I'd left this trail for the last day because it was a hike along the rim and relatively easy. After Tuesday's hike, maybe we all needed that. I would have loved to hike to the end of this trail. I'm sure there are some neat sunsets from there...but a 10-mile hike was out of the kids' range that day, for sure. Instead, we kept it to the 5-mile round trip on the nature trail.
This hike had lots of meadow-y areas full of wildflowers. And a lovely view of the Transept Canyon, that changed very little as we walked.
Turns out that Smunch was the wildlife spotter on this trip. Not only was he the one who spotted the bald eagles, but he saw this guy too:
I would have missed him. And that would have been a bummer. He was a very willing photo subject, this Mountain Short-horned Lizard. Cool.
After an hour or so, we passed the last marker on the nature trail and sat down at a rocky outcropping for a snack before heading back. I also tried to take a little timer photo of the three of us. Guess I should have tried to take it a little closer up!
And, naturally, in line with the grace I'd exhibited so far, I banged a knee on a rock as I tried to zip over to join the kids. It caused a great big bruise that was a nice addition to my still-painful impaled shin.

After a nice long rest at the outcropping, we headed back up the trail.
I had big plans for the cream and showers! There's nothing quite like the first shower after (or even during) a camping trip. I might not have bothered with the showers, but we had dinner reservations at the Grand Canyon Lodge and I thought they might appreiciate it if we didn't stink. That was probably good thinking since we also left a tad late for our reservations and then found the entire parking lot packed. We had to park down the road and walk the half mile the Lodge as fast as we could. They'd already written us off, but we had no problem getting a nice table. We cleaned up pretty well, I think.
It was fun to treat ourselves to a dinner with a great view, even if the food was nothing spectacular.
I even treated the kids to dessert, which I oh-so-generously mooched off them. Dinner took a little longer than I'd thought, so the sun started setting while we were still waiting for dessert. I had the kids take the cameras outside and take some more pretty pictures...pretty pictures that are nearly indistinguishable from many of the other pretty pictures we took from the lodge.

As soon as we paid the bill, we wandered back out to Bright Angel Point for the rest of the sunset. Mam took off to go climb rocks and I missed much of the sunset while trying to find her, but eventually, we all reconnected...
you know, after they figured out how to get down!

It would have been nice to stay at the lodge longer, but not anticipating trouble parking, we had no flashlight (actually, I think we did, but I didn't think it worked!) to use to get back to the mommymobile, way up the road. We walked back as fast as we could and it was still very near dark when we arrived.

And then we set about packing up, so we could leave first thing in the morning...