Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bedtime conversation

One thing that hasn't changed as Smunch has grown up is that he loves to have me come talk to him before he goes to sleep at night. So, I come in and snuggle in next to him. The conversation always starts out the same:

Smunch: What are we doing tomorrow?

Me: Well...

This goes on and on through each day of the week. He'll go through two weeks at a time if I let him. Tonight, he got bored at Tuesday. That meant we stopped at Mercedes and the conversation turned to stuttering because she is his stuttering specialist.

About a week and a half ago, Smunch had a bad experience where he went to ask the older sister of one of his baseball teammates for a drink. He had trouble asking. Both she and her friend laughed at him. It was hard to tell if it got to him or not, but over time, it's become clear that it did.

Smunch: Why did she laugh at me?

Me: Well, she probably just doesn't understand what it's like to stutter and how hard you were working to talk to her.

Smunch: Yeah, she doesn't know what it's like.

Me: But, you know, there are like 5 million people who stutter in the United States.

Smunch: 5 MILLION???!

Me: (oops, I haven't really done my homework) Something like that. Definitely more than a million.

Smunch: How many are there in China?

Me: I have no idea, Smunch. I'm not really sure how many there are, but I'll go look it up after I go talk to Mam.

Smunch: Will you come back and tell me?

Me: Yes...(leaving)

Fortunately, Mam had already passed out, so I went right to the National Stuttering Association website and returned to report to Smunch.

Me: O.K. So, 3 million people in the United States stutter. And guess what? Fifty million people in the whole world stutter.

Smunch: Cool. (big smile)

Me: So you're NOT alone, right? Lots and lots of people out there stutter.

Smunch: Yeah. And I bet they wouldn't laugh at me, huh? (still smiling)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The laws of physics and unleashing a hitchhiker

Guess where we went today? Give up already? Yeah. I know. So many people in the world recognize this photo that it's almost ridiculous to ask, huh?

Last month, Daddy and I felt compelled to go to one of Smunch's school fundraisers...the school auction. We didn't "win" much. (Do you really win at auctions?), but we did come home with a pair of tickets to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Despite the fact that it was cold and windy here, we decided to go today. 'Cause face it. Is it going to be nicer in The City? No.

I haven't been to the Exploratorium since I was a kid, but I kinda know the jist of the place. It's largely about the wonders of physics. See? Here's Smunch catching sparks with his bare hand.And this? This is Mam getting to understand the physics of acoustics, the science of musical composition and possibly the meaning of "cacophony".Oooh! And this. Here they are learning how to generate electricity with their grubby little hands. I wonder if I could just put together a giant hamster wheel. Who needs solar? And here, Mam discovers that there must be something that makes a rainbow. Maybe. Or maybe she thinks she's mysteriously turned into a rainbow herself. Not sure.I majored in genetics and then journalism. Tell you anything? The truth is, I took a year of physics in college. I appreciate the everyday practicality of physics...that there's friction to ensure I can walk, there's potential energy when I'm sitting like a couch potato, or standing, say, on the Golden Gate Bridge. I like that there are rainbows. I like that I can hear my kids when they're strangling each other. Yes. I like physics. But the sad fact is...I don't care how it all works. I just need it to work, O.K.?

So...let's see. We're going to a place where I'm going to be somewhat bored (although Daddy and the kids were very happy, particularly Mam, surprisingly). And, I've got this new hobby that I've claimed one can do ANYWHERE. I'm not even gonna say the word because I know what you're thinking. I'm at this great museum and I'm going to abandon my family to hunt for rubber stamps? And lady, are you crazy? You're in a friggin' museum! Do you really think there's a letterbox in there?? Hell, yeah! And there isn't just one of them either.

Unfortunately, the museum updates its exhibits with some regularity and the boxes were hidden almost three years ago. The clues were impossible to follow...they involved counting items in pictures that were no longer on the wall and things like that. But, you know what? I found them anyway...even the one that had had a wall constructed around it! That and the tiny little life sciences exhibit totally made my day. Well, this was kinda cool too. In this photo, Mam and I were sitting in a similar structure to the one pictured, talking to Daddy and Smunch from across the cavernous museum, in just a regular talking voice. Cool.This would come in handy if it worked in my house, I think.

And, here's a shocker for you...although it came as no surprise at all to me. Mam and Smunch can whip up a tornado all by themselves. It's abundantly obvious that this happens daily in the back of my house, but this is the first time its been caught on film.When we were finally done with the museum, Smunch really, really, really wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Well...what he really wanted to do was drive across it, but that seemed a little ridiculous since we had nowhere to go over there and there's a $5 toll. So, we went to a park by the beach. And it was WINDY! I've never seen so many windsurfers in one place in my life.The kids didn't really seem to care about the wind except that Mam was wearing a dress and kept complaining that something was hurting her legs. Judging by the sand flying around, it was hardly surprising. They still made a great show of running around on the beach. Although Mam finally conceded that she was too cold.Smunch still wanted to go across the bridge. So, in my addict-like manipulative way, I told him that we'd drive across the bridge if he'd let me find just one more letterbox. Because, of course, I'd brought clues to a few more. I was satisfied with just one though...especially when we were faced with just what this one was going to entail. Not a long hike, but...Well, it is San Francisco, after all. There were about 250 stairs like this, literally. Surprisingly, the kids did really, really well. I didn't hear a single whine. My own calves hadn't quite forgiven me for the Pacifica trip, so they'll doubtlessly punish me tomorrow. It was a clear day and the fog was out, so the views from the stairs were fantastic.Another place I never would have gone without my insane new hobby. We got to walk right through Dianne Feinstein's front yard too!

It turned out this box was a little more roomy...and more accessible than the ones at the Exploratorium. It also so happens that I recently carved a little hitchhiker stamp for myself. So today, I launched our first hitchhiker out into the world. Happy trails, little pinwheel stamp!And that should certainly be the closing line of this post. Goodness knows it's long enough, but I wanted to make sure you knew I made good on my promise. After descending all those stairs, we packed ourselves back in the mommymobile for a trip across the bridge...and you know what? It was worth every bit of that $5.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

First Finders

In the world of letterboxing, it's fun to find any new stamp, but it's something to be especially proud of if you find one before anyone else. You don't get a lot of opportunities do actually be the "first finder". And I think I'd argue that we didn't have the opportunity. But we did make the opportunity. Because we're sort of insane that way.

So, as soon as our babysitter left this afternoon, I piled the kids in the car for a trip to...uh...Pacifica. Right. Mam, making the tacit announcement that she's achieved letterboxing royalty, made sure she brought all the appropriate acoutrements for our hiking trip.There's no way I'd ever go out of my way to go to this particular park outside of the whole letterboxing deal, but I've gotta say, it was one of the prettiest places I've ever been on the Peninsula. Now that I've been there, I'd even be tempted to go back sometime.Of course, it's spring, so lots of things are beautiful, green and covered in flowers. All the trails were lined with "Don't Forget Mes" (according to Smuch). There was a babbling creek, sunlight. Oh and the place was empty!Oh, and the best know, besides succeeding in becoming the first finders of the "Up-side Down Tree" letterbox...was getting to see this guy......who after some research, I'm fairly certain is a Northern Rubber Boa. Cool. I actually stepped right over him and didn't notice until one of the kids said, "Hey, Mom! What's that???" Oh, gee, honey. That's a snake. DON'T TOUCH!!! I don't think that command works with any item in my house, but apparently, it works O.K. with slithery reptiles.

Yet again, my ambition to collect letterboxes (which, I realize, defies logic) got the better of me today. Mam saw the BEACH! through the fog on the way to the park and kept demanding that we go back. Instead of taking that relatively easy step, I convinced both kids to go look for another letterbox further up the coast. There was a beach there too, I said.

Unlike the park, which was maybe a mile inland, the entire coast was socked in with fog. It was cold and the dramatic coastline was barely visible. I hadn't done my homework. If I had, I would have known about the dozen or so people who'd tried to find this box before. It's never been found. Although we walked up and down and around on the cliffs, we didn't have any more success. And by the time I was ready to give up (because it was already 5 o'clock and we still had a long drive ahead of us), Mam was hysterical about a little scratch on her arm and whining mercilessly about going to the beach. So, I called Daddy and asked him to start dinner (which was all prepared and just needed to be cooked) and we headed down from the cliffs.And I helped the whiney, now snotty, Mam down to the beach. Which was lovely and sunny and beautiful. Or not.You may notice that this beach is deserted. There's a reason for that. It was a fine beach, but it was foggy. It was cold and it was littered with crab carcasses. I really don't want to know just how many of them made it home with us in the pockets of Mam's coat.

The kids still seemed to be happy about their day. My legs are tired, so I must've gotten a bit of a workout on all those stairs. Oh, and we're officially FIRST FINDERS!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Boys will be boys...and girls will giggle

Because I'm sorta slow this way, I recently figured out that although it sounds daunting, having four kids around is much less painful than having three. I had a playdate for Mam set for this afternoon. She was all excited to see her favorite buddy from school. I meant to do something for Smunch, but I put it off, so at the last minute I started doing something I haven't done since high school. I called around looking for a playdate. It was lunchtime. No one was home 'til I got to the fourth or fifth call and finally secured a playdate with one of Smunch's classmates who we'd never had over before.

Mam's friend arrived first. The two of them were immediately holding hands and giggling up a storm. The worst trouble they got into was hiding under the covers of Smunch's bed. It's unreal just how easy her playdates usually are. And her buddy is a terrific little kid. There was giggling in Mam's room, giggling in the play room, giggling on the swings. It was pretty cute. I was a little more concerned about Smunch's playdate. I've never seen him show a whole lot of interest in Smunch. Seemed like a nice enough kid, but not really "friend-material" for my kid, if you know what I mean. But I was surprised. The two totally hit it off playing basketball for half an hour or so. His friend even loudly declared that Smunch was beating him at one though it was kinda cool.The civility wore off after an hour and a half or so. Not that they didn't get along with each other so much as they stopped getting along with me. Turns out, Smunch's friend is a championship tree climber. He's got an older brother, so I'm sure that accounts for some of his skill. Smunch has never been that much of a climber and I don't encourage it. His friend reached such a height in our fig tree that I started resorting to idle threats. Smunch got worked up. He punched his sister, he started "shooting" me with a tree branch. I revoked his privileges. It made him madder. His behavior deteriorated from there. His friend wasn't much better...refusing to get down because he'd worked so hard to get up. Yikes.I tried not to be a big wuss Mommy, but truth is, my stomach was churning. After all, I had no idea just how much tree climbing this kid does or what his mom is comfortable letting him do. I hurt my back weeks ago and I knew there was no way I could really help him down without re-injuring myself. Of course, he was fine. And Smunch found it all very entertaining.Mam and her friend tried going up in the tree house, but the boys and their antics just freaked her friend out a little too much. She plays the role of cautious oldest sister very well (she has two little sisters), unlike her friend, Mam, who is never to be outdone by her big brother.Not surprisingly, Mam did fine when her playdate left first...unlike Smunch did when her playdate arrived first. She hung out with the boys and held her own just fine. Happy as a clam.

When Smunch's friend finally left, I realized I was much more exhausted than I'd expected to be. It may be easier to have four just so there's no third wheel, but I'm clearly going to have to work on a new concept...getting other people to invite one of my kids over. Better yet, both of them!

Happy Daze

On the day just before the great panic attack, which has now subsided into a dull depression, we had a really fantastic time with friends from school out at Happy Hollow. I need to remember just how much difference it makes to take a day off and do something relaxing that the kids really love.

Our trip to the park was the result of a cancelled playdate the prior week, so we met the moms and kids of two other families there. Smunch is big buddies with one of the other little boys and hopefully, he's now feeling friendlier with the other one too. Mam is on friendly terms with one of the younger brothers, who is her age. The other little boy has a big sister and she was all over that. It was a lot like herding cats. It was hard to keep track of all six kids at any one time. But it was so much fun! In so many ways, the rigamarole of school, speech therapy and occupational therapy every week, with the addition of PONY baseball and a little gymnastics has been really draining. This one little trip was more rejuvenating than I could have imagined.It was a day when no one cared if Gavin stuttered. There was no homework to do, no shopping trips to be cajoled into, no rooms to clean up or things more important than having fun.

Unfortunately, the ride I like to refer to as "the snail-go-round" was closed, supposedly for repairs. But I know they'll be auctioning it off in July when they close the park for renovations. I'm bummed that after multiple measurements and a lot of wishful thinking, a carousel just won't fit in our backyard and the snail-go-round probably isn't set up in such a way that we could power it with solar panels, huh? I took one of my first favorite photos of Smunch on this ride. I included it in my last Happy Hollow post. Hard to believe that was almost a year ago already.

The kids were also thrilled to get to see this guy up close. Here begins their interest in entomology. They love telling everyone how they saw a Tiger Swallower. Uh. yeah.

We rounded out our super fun day with some fun for Mommy. Because wouldn't you know it? There's a letterbox within easy walking distance of the park entrance. Ha! Even the kids seemed to think that was pretty cool!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm totally going to have a panic attack

Um. I should be working. But I can't work because my heart is racing and I'm all jittery. Maybe I just had too much tea at Hobee's, but I'm also really, really freaked out about the tree trimming job that's going on in my front yard. You can't even imagine how ridiculously stressed out this thing makes me. We have (or at least had) a beautiful, old oak tree to one side of our house. It had some really long limbs that reach over our roof. They looked beautiful, but on second look, a little dangerous.

We had the tree trimmed about 6 months ago. But the trimmers did a lousy job. You couldn't tell they did anything and our neighbors specifically requested that we have the tree trimmed away from their chimney. The tree was in the same place in regards to their house when the job was done. It was embarrassing...and a total waste of our money. We wouldn't even have had it trimmed if not for their request.

This time, the neighbors called the tree trimmers themselves. I'm not thrilled about that since it's our tree. But I respect the fact that it overhangs their house quite a bit too and it's a problem. And we failed to solve it. (Now, if they'd only get rid of the freakin' rat-infested ivy they're so in love with that has totally invaded our yard.)

The kids are naturally thrilled. What's cooler than big saws and a wood chipper? They've been out there watching since early this morning.

The current trimmers said they're going to take 30% of the canopy from the tree. I'm not comfortable with it, but the argument made sense. I wish I'd said 'no'. But we don't want to be on bad terms with our neighbors. I can't even look at it. That's how freaked out I am. It seems like way more than 30%. The one glimpse I've had so far turned my stomach.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The pool comes out

It's HOT! I mean, it's not hot like August, but it's April for goodness sake. The temperature should not be flirting with 90. It's a welcome break from the very cold spring we were having a week ago though.

Mam is likely to ask if she can "play in the water" at any ol' time of year, particularly, but not necessarily, if she's sitting in the sun in the car. Today was the first time in months that she actually got her way on this matter. Not that she doesn't get her way in almost every other area, of course.

Today, Daddy dragged out the pool and I helped the kids into their swimsuits for the first time of the season. They splashed while we gardened. And so it begins...

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Like the new look? I thought it was time for a change and somehow the previous template didn't feel so much like me. The photos look prettier on this dark background too.

So, it's spring, which means we were due for a massive gardening weekend. It turned out to be this weekend. Daddy repaired the raised beds in the garden a couple of weeks ago, so it was obviously time for me to make a trip to the nursery. I spared Daddy the torture of watching me impulsively buy as many little seedlings as I can possibly squeeze into the garden...and a few more just for fun. The fact that I spent less than $100 on plants was considered a major success.
I love this time of year. And it's not just because I get to go crazy the plant store. I love planting all those little seedlings and seeing all the new color in the garden. It's so fun to envision everything growing into a crazy, beautiful mass of colorful veggies and great big flowers.
It rarely turns out that way, of course! All the promise of the season has yet to meet my black thumb at this point. I think the snails could hear all that digging and their slimey little mouths started watering. I've created a virtual gastropod buffet. I love them that much.

I'm tired. I'm probably a little sunburned despite slathering myself in sunblock. The driplines are in. The Sluggo is on. And yeah, I'll be out there tomorrow inspecting everything over again.

School Things

It was the week before spring break, so naturally, there were "school things" last week.

First, there was Smunch's first display in the district-wide art show. They didn't pick anything all that exciting from his collection, but he was pleased to see it there and then go off to look for his friends' artwork.

Then we had the kindergarten open house. It was a really big deal for the kids. They each had a checklist of all the things to show their parents. I spend enough time in the classroom that I'd seen most of it before. So, I spent more time chasing after Mam as she visited this friend and that. The room looked great though. They do a much better job of showing of their artwork than they can do at showing off the more academic stuff, but face it amateur handwriting just isn't as pretty as a bunch of watercolor flowers on the wall.
The week was capped off by Mam's "Spring Sing" at preschool. It was as adorable as always. It never ceases to amaze me how they can get 100 preschoolers to sing a dozen songs with hand movements and everything.
And, as usual after these sing events, we all went back to the classroom for refreshments. The siblings who attended were invited to sit at the snack tables with the students. I'm not sure exactly how Mam felt about that. You?

Monday, April 7, 2008

True confession: I love my house

At many times of year, including the winter we've just come from, I forget why in the world we moved here. I wonder what possessed us to spent a ridiculous amount of money on a house we were so convinced was our dream house.

It's got some crappy layout issues. I hate to admit that the kitchen that so many people have's really not our taste. Never was. And although the layout is great, the range is more of a beautiful kitchen decoration than a functional cooking unit. The windows leak because no one told us that they're "fake" double-paned windows, not real ones. It's cold, it's drafty, our PG&E bills are astronomical even though it's been insulated to the gills.

But then, round about now, spring comes. That day when we first saw our house was in May of 2005. It was spring. And it was the most beautiful house I'd ever seen in my life. Each year, when spring rolls around, I find myself pulling into the driveway and marveling that I live here. And then I whip out my camera and take the exact same pictures I took last year of all the same flowers and trees.

Well, this year, I planted some new flowers. Every year, the back yard is awash in forget-me-nots, so I decided to throw some tulips in there this year and see how it worked out. I need to plant more next year, but I'd call this experiment a success.
I'm looking forward to seeing this display again this year too, but we're not quite there yet...
Ah, Spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Brush with Fame

A little more than a week ago, I got a phone call one evening. The voice on the other end asked if it was me. I said 'yes'. "This is Andy," he said and then because my "Oh, hi!" must not have convinced him that I knew who I was talking to, he added, "...Z."

"Oh, hi Andy! How are you?" So embarrassing to be caught out when my kids' foremost musical idol, Andy Z calls me on the phone.

Anyway, he was calling to invite the kids to a special concert he was doing at a real, live sound stage not-so-close to here. He's making a DVD as a demo and to sell, presumably.

So, no, there's not much of a brush with fame here. The closest we really got to fame was a little boy exclaiming just before filming, "I'm gonna be famous!" And, no, it wasn't Smunch.

But it felt kind of like the kids would be famous. Bright lights, high-quality video cameras, takes and re-takes. This was my view for most of the performance.
Obviously, my chair didn't afford much of a view of the proceedings, but it was so much fun hearing about 40 of Andy's biggest fans singing along, chattering in the breaks, laughing and smiling. Smunch and Mam intially stuck together like sticky bubblegum, but Mam eventually made friends with another little girl, who was probably in kindergarten. They chatted and held hands during parts of the performance. Daddy got this more comprehensive photo of the event.
The kids had a great time...and while some of the other kids had meltdowns or were waaay to hyper by the end of the show, ours behaved like little angels. It's a weird side effect of being happy and having us mostly out of their line of sight. After hugs with Andy (and a hug for Mam from her new, nameless friend, also pictured), we were off to lunch and some unsuccessful letterboxing...made successful when a freight train went over the railroad bridge we had just walked under. A good day, all in all!