Sunday, February 22, 2009

Backyard Wildlife

I'm always taking pictures of the flowers and fruits in my yard. It never ceases to amaze me the despite my somewhat black thumb, these things keep coming back just to cheer me up.

Late in the afternoon yesterday, I decided to try and get some ranunculus bulbs (or are they corms?) into pots before the rain started. That meant scrounging around the yard for some empty pots. Given the black thumb thing, it's not a big challenge.

But when I moved one likely candidate for a pot, I found that I'd disturbed one of our neighbors, this tiny little guy...And he's not exactly what you might expect from this photograph. This is just the only one that came out in focus. I was delighted to find him, knowing that amphibians are particularly sensitive to anything toxic in the water or soil. I take that to mean that while I may kill some of our plants, the yard is, on the whole quite healthy.

I felt a little guilty having ruined this little guy's home...and then bringing him inside for the whole family to see. It always makes me happy when the kids are interested in my weird little creatures. They even stopped watching whatever it was on the Discovery Channel to come meet this fella.

Unfortunately, I really did need to use the pot I'd found him under, so I let him go in the leaves around a different pot. Hopefully, that's good enough. Mam's supposed to take something that starts with 's' to school in a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll have to dig him or his friends up again...

Super Sled

Since I have my own deep-seeded fear of skiing, I'm not particularly anxious to have the kids learn. And, honestly, it was just so nice to kick back and be in no hurry to get anywhere during our whole trip, that I'm inclined to keep it that way. Of course, that almost certainly isn't going to happen. Daddy did go up for a half day of skiing at Squaw Valley. He had a blast.

I had a blast reading my book while Daddy skiied...interrupted at intervals by one or another kid-related incident in the snow outside the cabin. There was some significant screaming and crying and a memorable moment of Mam banging on the cabin door screaming "EMERGENCY, EMERGENCY!!!".

The emergency...which, in truth, was indeed a minor emergency, turned out to be that Smunch had fallen down a hole in the snow next to the cabin and couldn't get himself out. It was even a little bit of an effort for me to drag him out. Sometimes it's nice to have two kids who have an interest in taking care of each other...even as they beat each other up.

Mam managed to give me her cold right before we left for the mountains, so my enthusiasm for snow play was a bit limited. I was glad I'd thought to bring all the ingredients for homemade chicken soup...and a bunch of tea bags for sitting by the fire, reading and sipping.

Daddy was there for much of our time around the cabin, of course and he orchestrated two really killer sled runs for the whole family. The first was right across the street, on a rather steep hill that was several feet deep in snow. We all went out and had a lot of fun sledding down, even though we had more than our share of wipeouts.Well, O.K., maybe that was just me.

Mam seemed to have a great time sledding, squealing all the way down the hill, but she wasn't nearly as interested walking back up the hill and repeating the exercise over and over again as her brother was. She preferred just to sit happily in the snow in her snow bib.By my last sled run of the second day, also on this steep hill, the snow on the trees had melted enough to turn the snow below to ice and one leap into the air and crash to the ice took my tailbone out of commission for the rest of the trip. Ouch! I still haven't quite recovered. From time to time, you can see me go to sit down and pop back up like I've sat on a tack. But no, it's just that bruised rear end of mine.

While Daddy was skiing, I introduced the kids to a far simpler form of sledding, since I wasn't about to chaperone a sled trip on my own...especially as the wipeout queen. Instead, I showed them how to sled down the ramp of snow that the plow left at the end of the driveway.Even though it made for a short sled run, it also meant they could do it by themselves, they could go down head first if they wanted and it wasn't much of a hike to get back to the top.

One of the other things we never got the opportunity to do on our trip back in December was build a snowman. The kids had really wanted to do that. This time, I didn't let them miss out. We started this one on our first day, but the snow was so powdery that it really didn't stick together well...hence the lumpy appearance of this guy. But we had fun putting this one together and my soup ingredients came in handy yet again.S/he does have arms, but Mam insisted on using sticks for arms and they just don't show up with the background.

I don't think we'll make it back up to the snow again this year. I've got plans for camping come spring break, assuming it's not too cold. But I have a new appreciation for vacationing in the winter. We had a great time and really did everything we wanted to do. Next time, though, Smunch says he's going skiing.

Breakfast Nostalgia

As you might've guessed, I grew up in a family that wasn't big on snow or winter sports. By the time I tried to learn to ski at the age of 21, it was far too late. Perhaps it was always too late and I've always had a good portion of stodgy, thrill-averse old lady in me.

My parents took my sister and me up to the snow only once during our entire childhood (although we later moved to England where it snowed with some regularity and we did plenty of sledding around the house). I suppose they wanted to make sure we knew what snow was, at least.

That doesn't mean my family didn't like Tahoe though. As one of the premier vacation destinations from the San Francisco Bay Area, we did make a yearly trip up there. We always went during the summer when we could swim in the very cold lake, fish for crawdads, rent jet skis and hang out by the pool, playing bingo with the other vacationing kids.

I have a lot of fond memories of the little traditions our family had on our Tahoe vacations...bringing bacon fat as crayfish bait, getting ice cream at the pool snack shop, my dad's morning trip to the 7-11, when he never failed to bring back donuts. But one of my fondest memories is of the place in the picture above.

This is the Old Post Office Coffee Shop in Carnelian Bay. As the name suggests, it was once a post office. But by the time my family was spending a week each summer in Carnelian Bay, it was already a cute little breakfast spot and we went there at least once each trip.

During our last Tahoe trip, I learned that this place was indeed still open, but we didn't have the chance to go. I was way more disappointed than I should have been. It's not really a secret that this trip was, in part, just because I had to eat there again. It's not that the food is so amazing, although it was yummy. I also felt an inexplicable, urgent need to share that part of my childhood with my own kids.We went on our first morning out and I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint. It was just as I remembered, right down to the cute little dining room with the old-fashioned postage stamp wallpaper.That's the waitress there with the red hair and the black "Go Postal" T-shirt. All the staff had these shirts. It's funny to think that slogan would have been totally meaningless when I first went there.

The kids devoured their pancakes and I savored my blueberry pancakes...something I discovered for the very first time at the Old Post Office and have loved ever since.

Although our summer is already full of vacation plans, I'm already plotting a summer trip back to Tahoe. I'll drag my sister and SPENCER! with us too. This nostalgia was too good not to share!

Tahoe Take Two

It seems like it's been an eternity since we were really able to go on vacation. When I say "vacation", I don't mean the kind where we spend our days trying to placate whiney kids or doing kid-friendly activities that we really aren't excited about. Those seem like necessary excursions, but I'm really talking about the kind where we get to unwind, at least a little, and spend some time doing things we really enjoy.

So, during "ski week" this year, we decided to go back to family obligations, no one to coordinate meals with, no one with expectations that our kids must learn to ski. No free cabin either, but we found a great cabin that was everything we needed and we were smart and lucky enough to leave on Tuesday and come back on Friday. No blizzards. No traffic...although we did have to use chains over the summit to the lake.

The kids really wanted to see snow falling and fall it did. Except there was a lot of snow falling as we approached the lake and virtually none after we got to the cabin. But I was proud of myself for having Daddy open the windows in back so the kids could have snow fall on them...and for pointing out to Smunch when there was a dainty little snowflake in all its crystalline glory sitting on his sleeve as Daddy removed the snow cables from the car. He was amazed that snowflakes really look like...well, snowflakes. Next time. I'm bringing the magnifying glass.

By Wednesday morning, the neighborhood around the cabin was a true winter wonderland. The trees were all still coated and the road around the cabin still covered. I took some time to take some scenic photos after we trekked down to get breakfast (worthy of its own blog post) and came away with some shots that show just how pretty everything was when the clouds parted...There were a lot of impressive and beautiful icicles to be seen hanging from the local cabins, but these ones caught my eye. Must be windy down there by the lake!It was the perfect way to start our little mini-vacation in the snow...already promising to be beautiful and serene. And what do you know? I read a BOOK while we were there! I still can't quite get over how amazing I think that is!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SAHB - Stay At Home Birthday

Aside from the startling realization that my firstborn is now seven years old, I learned a few choice little things this week. Chief among those things was that having Smunch's birthday party two weeks before his actual birthday was totally inspired. Of course, I had no clue at the time, but when Smunch's real birthday rolled around on President's Day, it was mellow and so much fun!

All weekend, I'd been looking forward to Monday. I had some great birthday surprises planned that I knew Smunch would love. On the downside, President's Day was closely preceded by Valentine's Day (aka: another sugar overload) and also marked the beginning of Winter Break (aka: ski week). That meant we had two kids with horrendous behavior ALL weekend long. It took some of the joy out of my plans, but by Sunday night, I was looking forward to Monday morning again.

Thanks to one of my friends who knows about Smunch's love of sports, I was alerted to this awesome set of Major League Baseball bedding (thanks CSB!). I hatched a plan to surprise Smunch first thing by removing him from his bed in the middle of the night, hanging framed photos of his baseball heroes on his wall and changing all his bedding. The room went from this...The ribbon on the center picture is because this is the only brand new one of the three. He was given the other two earlier, but we'd never hung them up. Lest you think we were banging on the wall, I actually did all the work of putting the nails in the wall while Smunch was at school a few days earlier. Once we were done, we brought him back from our bed to his.It'd be an exaggeration to say he didn't wake up at all, but he certainly went right back to sleep. I left a pack of baseball cards on the throw pillow at the end of his bed and then went to sleep, trying to keep one ear open for whenever he got up.

We missed the moment when he figured out that he had a brand new baseball room. I'm not sure if he was onto us from the beginning or if he noticed when he got up to pee around 4am. He said he didn't want to come in and tell us because he knows we like to sleep. Nice kid.

When he got up in the morning, Daddy and I both thought he hadn't noticed the new decor, but a little while later, we overheard him giving Mam a tour of his new baseball room, ripping into his baseball cards and telling her which team each player was from. He read all the team names from his new quilt to her. He was pretty psyched and it was awesome to hear.

Not surprisingly, I really wasn't up for making Smunch a fancy new cake. After his birthday party and my birthday, we'd had an awful lot of cake around the house already. Instead, I decided to take him (just him and me) to this place...and let him pick out seven cupcakes. It was so cute!And then...well, then I dragged my poor little birthday boy to exchange some clothes at J.Jill...which meant he had to wait around while I tried stuff on. The saleslady was super nice and offered us the handicapped dressing room, where Smunch laid down on the bench while I tried on clothes. After all the horrible behavior of the previous few days, it was unexpected and a huge relief. I got some new clothes and indulged in my serious shopping vice, stopping in Gymboree to see if they had a particular line of baby girl clothes on sale. They did and I managed not to buy anything. But...on the way out, I spotted these boy's pajamas...on sale!OMG. Smunch loved these and it was so much fun to just say "Hey, buddy. It's your birthday and you can totally have those." Besides, after all the effort put into the baseball room, who could resist some baseball jammies??

I got out of the mall with no more damage done. We went home, Gram and Grandpa came over for some present opening.Smunch got a new remote-controlled dinosaur, a motor for his erector set, a old-fashioned game of Battleship and a kit for a solar powered car. He loved it all. He didn't love that he had to stop playing with his new toys and go to a swim least he didn't love it until he got there and found that you get a free cookie on your birthday!

As soon as we got home, we left again to meet Gram and Grandpa at Smunch's favorite Italian restaurant. Italian because Italian means noodles and he may never outgrow his ridiculous love of all things noodle.More than anything, though, he wanted the staff to make a big deal out of his birthday. It took some patient waiting, but I think he found it worth it. Don't you?Of course, he hardly needed a sundae with all those cupcakes at home. But it didn't stop him from digging into the chocolate marshmallow cupcake he'd picked out for himself.Before he went to bed, Daddy and I got an unsolicited big hug and "Thank you for my great birthday!" Couldn't ask for anything more than that.

There was no big party, no friends, not a lot of presents to unwrap, but I think this will go down as one of my favorite birthdays for my kids ever! Hopefully, Smunch will remember it that way too. Happy birthday, buddy!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

So close, and yet...

Continuing our theme of falling short of our goals, Daddy took Smunch to the San Francisco Giants FanFest yesterday. We did NOT play this up at all...because I sent them off with my fingers crossed that it wouldn't be too much of a disappointment. Because, Smunch's idol, Tim Lincecum was going to be there. And I already knew that the chances of meeting Timmy were going to be slim. But I was hopeful...'cause who doesn't want their little boy to meet his baseball idol in real life?

I didn't go, even though I would have liked to. But I had a birthday lunch and massage scheduled. I might've put it off if I didn't know that my birthday partier in crime was desperate for some pampering. And I wasn't feeling great, so I figured some pampering wouldn't hurt me either. So...I'm writing a blog post about stuff I didn't even see. Descriptions and photographs provided by Daddy.

The photo at the top was the scene at 9:40am or so from where Daddy and Smunch waited in line to get into the park. Everybody there no doubt wanted to see Tim Lincecum. They all wanted his autograph. They all wanted his photo. Daddy estimated there were 15-20,000 people there. Sounds about right.

Fortunately, there were other cool things to do, like walk around out on the field, that totally capture an almost-7-year-old's imagination.Then Smunch and Daddy went over to the kids' area where only kids could get autographs. This was a calculated play on Daddy's part, knowing that Lincecum really likes kids and might start off in the kid area. Once they were in the autograph line, they couldn't see who they'd be able to meet at the end. There was a sign with a list, but they couldn't see it until they were almost in. Turns out, Tim Lincecum was right there on the bottom of the sign. He was right there...until about 5 minutes before Smunch's turn at the autograph table.

This just kills me because I've actively fostered Smunch's love of this guy and because I knew it would be something he'd always remember if he got to meet his baseball idol. But in the end, I wonder if it's not better that he didn't.

Smunch ended up having the guys at the table autograph his Giants jersey...which is cool, but when I think how much we spent on that jersey, I'm not sure it's that cool. I mean, a Tim Lincecum autograph would have been worthy of never wearing the jersey again, but instead, he got autographs from the first base coach and a hitting coach (neither or whom ever played for the Giants, although the hitting coach was Carney Lansford, who I used to watch playing 3rd base for the As), he has one from Pat Misch, a relief pitcher I'd never heard of...sorry, Pat!
and the highlight was an autograph from Fred Lewis, one of the Giants' starting outfielders, who looks pretty mean in his official team photo, but turns out to be a super nice guy.

Still, it kind of would have been a bummer to have Tim Lincecum's autograph on a jersey with a bunch of random people who may or may not play for the Giants. It really needs to have an item all of its own. Next year, we'll buy a baseball and hope for better luck.

Smunch didn't whine or cry when Timmy's name came off the autograph list while they were standing in line...unlike some of the other kids there. I think somehow he was prepared for that disappointment (unlike the Pinewood Derby loss).

And after he was finished with the autograph line, it turned out that inside the "Kids Zone", up on the stage there was the man. The Franchise. The Freak. Timmy in all his 24-year-old, skater-esque glory, live in the flesh taking questions from his fans up on stage. At least he got to see Tim Lincecum from about five feet away. There's something to be said for that.

When I got back, all nice and relaxed from my massage and a nice lunch with my friend, Smunch didn't really have a whole lot to say about FanFest. I think I was more disappointed for him than he was for himself. He says he's going again next year. When I asked if he was so excited about it that he couldn't wait, he said, "Yeah." Hmm. Guess we'll see how he feels about his favorite players next year!

Pinewood Derby Day

I'm still playing catch-up from last weekend. It was a busy, busy week. I'm hoping the coming week will feel a little more sane...even though I've got Mam's birthday party to get planned...

Just before the big Superbowl party last weekend, Smunch's Cub Scout pack had their annual Pinewood Derby. Smunch and Daddy had worked really hard on Smunch's car. It was carved, sanded and painted. A good blogger might've taken photos along the way, but no. All you're going to get is the finished product.It's too bad I didn't take "in-process" pictures, really. It's strange to think this thing came out of a plain ol' block of pine.

Daddy and Smunch went to a final tune-up on Friday where they added weights to get it close to (but not over) 5 ounces. Then Saturday was the big race day. Smunch was really excited to learn there were trophies for the winners. "I bet you'd be really proud of me if I won a trophy," he said. Thank goodness, the right answer was easy to come by at that moment. "I'm going to be proud of you no matter what," I replied. "You and Daddy worked really hard on your car and it looks great."

Of course, most of the cars looked great. And there were lots of them. Considering this was our first try at putting together a derby car, I didn't have high hopes. But it was obvious that Smunch did. He absolutely expected to win and he waited eagerly for his car's turn.The rules of the race are that your car gets to lose twice before you're out. The cars raced in groups of 3 or 4. Here's Smunch's car on the starting blocks.And at the finish line for the second time having come second in the first race.So, he came second again by a nose and the race was over for our Smunch and his silver car.

There was a lot of frustration and more than a few tears. I felt so bad for him and more than a little irritated with the whole event. The boys who lost went home with nothing but the car they worked so hard on. And, they weren't nearly as proud of it once it lost two races. It just seemed all wrong. At least they should've all gotten a cheesy little ribbon or something to reflect an accomplishment. In Cub Scouts, the boys get recognition for doing much less.

I was really pretty proud of how well Smunch's car did. Coming second twice is hardly shameful. But I could tell how much pride was wrapped up in that little car and it was so, so hard for him to see it lose. And it was hard for me to see how heartbroken he was. It's a good life lesson I suppose. Most of us probably lose more often than we win. (Except maybe one of the kids who won from the Tiger Cubs...he seems to win everything).

It's a little embarrassing to have your first grader dissolve in tears like that when the other boys seemed to take their losses in stride. But then, my kid is a fierce competitor. These next few years may be tough!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Signs of Spring?

I know. It's still February and it's only barely February at that! But I found some little beauties out in our yard last week that made for some good camera practice!At least the lemons don't seem out of season!