Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dinner guests

Last weekend, just as I started cooking dinner, this beautiful male mallard and his mate landed on our lawn. Handsome fellow, isn't he?

Baseball Smunch

I've been more than a little remiss in posting photos of Smunch playing baseball. After all, he's played lots of baseball already this season, even though he's only had three games. And all those games have been for his recreational team, the Giants. But he's also been practicing with the "club team", the Thunder...the one he tried out for a couple of months ago. Tomorrow is their first game and I can't wait to see it!When it comes to my kid playing baseball, I'm not über competitive. He really wanted to try out for the club team. Although it's another time sink in the week, I'm really glad he made the Thunder.

The Giants team is a bunch of 2nd and 3rd grade boys from his elementary school. That's always fun. There's only one other kid on the Thunder from his school. But the big difference is really in the experience and enthusiasm of the boys. The Giants' kids run the gammut. There are several who have never played baseball before. Some of them are catching on quickly. Some? Not so much. Some have been playing for the last 3 years, like Smunch has. But even among them, there are some huge differences. You can tell which ones really hate baseball, but their parents think they should play. And you can tell which ones are potentially losing interest. You can also tell which's just not gonna be their game.And then there's Smunch. I'm not sure any of his Giants teammates are quite like him. He may not have quite as many skills as some of his teammates on the Thunder, but holy cow is he starting to stand out among his Giants teammates. It's not that he always catches the ball or hits tremendous fly balls to the outfield. He doesn't do either of those, but the difference, at least today, is that he really, really cares. When his teammates watch the ball roll by them, he's sprinting to get it and to tag a runner out.He doesn't just get it, he really wants to play. I'm so glad he's got a team of boys to play with who are more like him in that respect. He doesn't stand out in the least on the club team...except that he's #1...which really only serves to indicate that he's the shortest kid on the team, although perhaps he's #1 in enthusiasm too!

New Glasses

It's been just over a year since Mam picked out these pointy little purple number with the heart cutouts in the corners.Honestly, I never really liked them a whole lot, although I got used to them. Mam fell in love with them at the optic shop and I figured that she was really the one who had to wear them. She might as well get her choice. She loved the purple. She loved the hearts. And for a change, a year out, they're not particularly trashed. They're still in pretty good shape.

But when I had to have the lenses changed in these glasses during the Christmas holidays, she had to wear her electric blue Rec Specs to school for a couple of weeks. I could live with that, but they sure aren't pretty. Now that our insurance would pay for a new pair, I decided it was time that she got to pick out something different..and we'd have the purple ones as a backup.

The process was so similar to the last time we picked out glasses, that it's almost comical. Yet again, she fell in love with one pair of frames. And again, I wasn't that thrilled with them. In ways, I like them better than the old ones.I like the color of the frames themselves and the shape is good on her, but the white ear pieces are more stand-outish than I'd like. I'm just about used to them. And really, who could deny the little girl the flowers she loved?

Thank You Celery

Despite my obsession with cake decorating, I don't consider myself one of the more crafty moms around. And when it came time for Mam to write the Thank You cards for her birthday gifts, I didn't have any creative ideas. She'd been given a set of stamps with some ink, so that seemed like a logical choice. She made one or two cards with some cardstock I had lying around. They weren't...uh...pretty. Really.

And I had a hard time getting her to make any more of them. Until I randomly came up with this...

A couple of days after the initial cards were made, I was cutting up some celery in the kitchen. First, I cut off the bottom of the bunch. Huh, funny how it kind of looks like a rose when all the stalks are gone. I showed it to Mam and immediately realized this was the perfect least when combined with some red paint.And eight Thank You cards were stamped out just like that. Somehow, writing on the back of them even came easier once Mam decided she loved this project. Of course, that means I love it too!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keeping Score

For the last couple of years, I've been "bench mom" for Smunch's baseball team. With a bunch of squirrely boys under the age of 8, this takes a lot of organizational skill and an inordinate amount of patience that I didn't always have. This year, I'm managing Mam's softball team, so I'm not even going to make it to all of the Saturday baseball games. And, although I have enough experience to handle the bench job, I don't really want to do it again. So, I volunteered myself and Daddy to be the official scorekeepers of the team. Sound easy enough? Think again.I thought this would be an easy, if important, job. I mean, how hard can it be to keep track of the score, right? But, of course, it's a lot more involved than just keeping track of the number of runs. It's also the number of balls, strikes, pitches, singles, doubles, triples. There's so much writing to do that it's hard to keep track of the game and write at the same time.

Of course, most of these statistics are completely meaningless at this level. The kids get 5 balls pitched to them. Most are not called balls or strikes. It's just a pitch...and honestly, when it comes to our team and our coach pitcher, many, many of them are balls. The kids were batting at some of the pitches as though they were playing tennis rather than baseball. To be fair, the other team's players sometimes looked like they were playing golf.

Yesterday, Daddy and I both scored the game independently. It was an amusing little venture, since neither of us were very good at it. Daddy was using an iPhone app. I, being ever the paper-loving Luddite, was using pencil and paper. The cool thing about scoring is that the game goes a lot faster when you're scrambling to keep up with pitches and batters. On the downside, it's a little demoralizing to be recording how your team was done after 3 batters struck out/grounded out while the other team was done with their at-bat due to the 5-run rule.

I'm all over the sort of minutia, so I'm happy with this volunteer job, although it puts a serious crimp in my socializing baseball mom style!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trophy Day

Today was crazy. I hate those days when Daddy and I have to "divide and conquer" just to get to all the activities we need to get to, but today was definitely one of those days.

It began with the opening ceremonies for Mam's softball league. Although I knew this would be a dismal affair, as the team manager, I felt like I had to be there, so I was. It was cold and damp, but sunny.Although she was dry, Mam was cold and not nearly as sunny as she looked in this photo. She declared the proceedings "boring". And yeah, they kinda were. I could have saved myself some gas, but at least I felt like I did my duty.

Mam's basketball team was celebrating their last game today with a pizza party at 1:30, but that got nixed when we drew a 1:30 softball game for opening day. Mam was peeved, to say the least. She would rather have had pizza with her old team than played with her new team. But again, I'm the manager. I felt like I needed to be there. So, we were committed. Somewhere in all this scheduling craziness, Smunch decided (after I foolishly mentioned it to him) that he wanted to compete in his first chess tournament today. And Mam's last basketball game was at 3. *sigh* Yes. It can be done. But gosh, how silly it is that basketball and softball even overlap!

So, Daddy took off with the Smunch around 11. The tournament was in the nearest large city, so it was a little ways away. Daddy sent me updates from his iPhone until Mam and I had to go. At least I was reassured that neither of the scenarios I'd feared were going to happen. The first would have been that Smunch was so completely overmatched that he couldn't win a single game. He was winning his warm-up games, so I wasn't too worried that he wouldn't win any. My second fear was that it would be just a few kids and Smunch would beat them all and his tiny little ego would become unbearable. That didn't happen either. There were 23 kids in the "egg" (beginner) category with him. No chance he was going to steamroll them all. Still, Daddy conveyed that Smunch's first opponent, a little girl not much older than Mam, was reduced to tears when she lost. I'm told that Gavin was gracious in winning and even complimented her on playing well. Can't ask for much more than that.Back on the home front...Last Fall, Mam sported little ponytails for soccer. She's been wearing one big ponytail or a single tiny one for basketball. New sport? New hairdo.Cute, huh?

Mam and I went to softball, which was hysterical really. Our team, The Unicorns (naturally, since unicorns are often grey and red), had never actually played outdoors on a field. Our two practices to date have been rained out, so we played in the multipurpose room. It was nice to finally be out in the sun, but having to play another team at the same time may have been a bit much to ask!I have no doubt that in the coming weeks there will be a lot of work done on running after hitting the ball, throwing to first base, and not creating a dogpile of girls in the infield every time a ball is hit. Considering how much progress Mam's basketball team made this season, I'm sure there is hope here.

We accidentally cut our softball game short due to some misunderstandings about the rules of play, but that suited me just fine. We went back to the mommymobile and dressed Mam for her next game...getting to the Y just in time to appreciate the ice cream social in the courtyard. Mam appreciated it quite a lot, which accounted for her blue tongue and lips during the game.

When other members of her team arrived, Mam was given the trophy and certificate that all the other girls got at the pizza party. It made me a little sad, especially since there was no ceremony to go with it.Then again, another trophy is just what my house needs, right? Hey, but check this out...AirMam!The game today was kind of a bummer of an ending to a really great season. The girls on the opposing team were tall! I suspect they were mostly first graders, where our team was mostly kindergartners. In the last quarter, Mam (#8) was assigned to cover the other team's #8.I wish I could describe just how funny it was. I've never seen my little girl look quite so much like a gnat. Her opponent took it all in good stride. She seemed like a nice girl, who was slightly amused/slightly annoyed at the little munchkin guarding her with gusto.For Mam's part, she could barely reach the top of the girl's head with her fingertips, much less guard against her shooting.

The game ended with little fanfare, but somewhere near the beginning of the game, Smunch had called me with the results of his tournament. I couldn't hear him very well, between the bad connection and the noise of the basketball gym, but I heard him say he won second place and he had a trophy.Daddy and Smunch arrived at the game before halftime and Smunch was absolutely elated. He made Daddy show me the picture above right away. When we got home, he called his grandparents in San Diego and talked to Aunt Karen. If it weren't so darned pointy, I'm sure his trophy would be under his pillow right now.I may not need more trophies in the house, but this one is different. All the rest are for "participating". This one was truly earned. He won seven games, lost one and had one draw. Daddy said Smunch was polite, poised, worked hard and refused to give up, even when things weren't going his way. He found a way to turn things around more than once. He was as gracious in losing and coming to a draw as he was in winning. He earned this trophy...big time.


Late last week, the kids had their Spring Sing at school...or more precisely, the kindergartners through third graders at their school had a concert at the local junior high school. It's a big least parking and finding a seat in the big auditorium is a big deal. This shindig is always standing room only. Usually, that's painful for us. Because we never get there early enough, despite being early. And, in the past, we always had a very impatient Mam to tend during the performance. But wait!...Where is Mam? Isn't that her, up there...singing??What do you know? That is her. We have a kindergartner and life just got a tad bit easier. Well, at least this concert got easier, even if there's just one year left of that easiness.

As is always the case when reviewing one's own child in a performance, it was adorable. The kindergartners and the second graders were the best and the show wasn't too long at all. Even Smunch was looking pretty happy up there... And, as is also always the case, you do not want to see videos of this event if you were not there. You know you don't. So, I'm not posting any, although I've got plenty. If you've really got to see one of my kids perform on stage, I'd be happy to send you a video or two. But then, please do visit your psychologist first. You may have a problem.

Signs of Spring

My flowering plum trees are blooming, a sure sign that spring is right around the corner. My apricot tree is blooming too.Ooh. And some of the bulbs in my garden are blooming as well. Since I took these pictures there are even some tulips and daffodils.A friend even commented that my yard is looking like a fairyland. I might beg to differ...and my leggy, flowering ornamental cabbages would certainly give me away anyway. But the surest sign that Spring is almost here? That would have to be Mam in shorts and a visor...sporting a brand new softball glove.

Party Girl

When I look back at the photos from Mam's birthday party, I'm a little mystified as to why the whole thing was so exhausting. There was nothing complicated about it. It was all very simple, down-home birthday party-ish. Not really a lot to coordinate. Probably, again, something to do with cake...and my ability to worry about just about anything.

The girls...and it was all girls this year...showed up at 11:30. Girls are significantly different from boys. There was a whole lot of screaming and giggling surrounding each arrival. Somehow, it only added to the party atmosphere. I set them straight to work making mini pizzas, just like the boys did at Smunch's party.There were lots of options for toppings, but most of the girls stuck with cheese and maybe added a little pepperoni or pineapple. I wasn't particularly surprised to find a lot of leftover mushrooms and bell peppers. For some reason, I feel compelled to supply these even though I don't need them.

While my mom and I baked little pizzas, Daddy led the girls in a game of Twister. I'd carefully manufactured the rules for a slightly different game called Octopus, where the girls worked in teams with eight appendages. I don't think Daddy managed to pass all that theme-related information along, but I suspect the girls didn't care. They still had fun.Twister was followed closely by lunch of mini pizzas...with a side of fishing for goldfish and whales.The latter is a cute little idea I got from the kids' preschool a couple of years ago. The kids dip the big pretzel stick in blue frosting and then use the frosting to pick up fish. I'd also found some cheddar whales at Target, so I added them to the mix for a little variety.After lunch it was time of a somewhat disorganized, but entertaining, game of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Dolphin.Thanks to Daddy for finding a way to create a poster-size dolphin and creating all the tails for me. Note to self: Although it's cute, don't bother with the different colored tail. It just encourages the girls to argue over the purple and pink ones. No one won. It's better that way, I think.

Next on the agenda was a rousing game of piñata. I'm not a huge fan of piñatas and all the candy usually involved. I decided this particular fish had swallowed sunken treasure that needed to be freed...another idea that I don't think was ever communicated to the girls.So, the piñata was filled with chocolate coins, plastic coins, beaded necklaces and jewels. When it comes to girls, these things are even better than candy. We made them all put their loot in a big bowl to be distributed among the goodie bags. I know these girls and I know at least one of them is agressive enough to have far more than her share of the loot. There was some whining, but not much. The fish was surprisingly fragile. This wasn't one of those piñatas that the birthday girl's dad is forced to whack open. It barely made it past the first round of party guests.We let the girls run wild for a while after that. Running wild usually means they all end up in the tree house, which at least makes for some fun photo opportunities.And after the last game, but before cake is the perfect time to let them run around because nothing gets their attention faster than asking if anyone wants cake. EVERYONE wants cake, even if they don't necessarily want to eat it.This one was pretty darned yummy too, if I do say so myself.

In an unplanned turn, the girls really wanted to see Mam open her presents, so I let her do that before they all left. It was hard to see just what was going on, the throng of girls was so close to her that they were nearly clambering all over her. It made me claustrophobic, even though it didn't seem to faze Mam much.I was taking notes and didn't manage to take photos during present-opening, but we continued with family gifts, like this lovely little musical jewelry box from Gram, after the guests had left with little goody bags of graham cracker sand, chocolate shells, piñata goodies and a little battery powered fish that could be caught in a net.

It was such a fun little party. I hope the girls all had a good time. They're all in the same kindergarten class and get along so well that it's hard to imagine that they didn't. One of the guests, who wasn't so sure about being dropped off, even sent her mom home after about half an hour. I consider that a major success.

Naturally, our day wasn't over there. Mam still had some work to do, turning from birthday princess to fiesty basketball player in the Hoop Stars highest scoring game yet. One more week of basketball and then it's all about batting and fielding for a few months. I don't always love basketball, but I think I just might miss it.And last, but not least, Mam decided where we would all eat dinner and chose...Fresh Choice. Now there's a dinner of champions!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


From now on, perhaps March should be labeled as the month I bite off far more than I can chew. With Smunch's birthday in February and Mam's in early March, I should probably eschew any other job that comes my way in early March, but of course that's not the case. I'm managing Mam's softball team, and volunteering for big new roles at school as well as agreeing to reprise my current roles. I watch other moms do much more and I can't help but wonder why I'm the one who's losing my mind. It could have something to do with cake.

Because of course, when March 1st rolls around, the first thought on my mind is what in the world I'm going to do for Mam's birthday cake. And this year, her birthday fell on a Saturday, so I couldn't fudge it by scheduling her party later than her actual birthday. In fairness, I'd already scheduled Smunch's party quite a bit earlier than his birthday, so I had more time in between at least. But then there was that whole trip to Tahoe.

Mam originally wanted to have a "pony party" this year. The idea made me cringe. I love ponies as much as the next girl, but I was worried about the expectations she would have. Would she expect to have pony rides in the backyard? Friends have done that. I wasn't up for it. I like simplicity. So, I was relieved when she changed her mind and wanted a "dolphin" party. Of course, that seemed a little narrow to me, so I expanded it to an Under-the-Sea party with a dolphin slant.

And originally, I'd envisioned a sleek, 3D, dolphin-shaped cake covered in grey fondant. That'd be cool, right? But I wistfully thought of a nice round cake that I wouldn't have to stress over. In the end, I asked the birthday girl herself and had her design the cake...carefully guided by the cake artist, of course! She chose a round cake with dolphin on the top. Totally do-able. Of course, even that, I had to take to extremes, right? At least I resisted putting a small 3D dolphin on the top! But I did start out with this:On the right is the very cute dolphin picture I found on the internet and sized for a 10" round cake. On the left, my carefully constructed fondant reproduction.As ordered, I baked a 10" round white cake. I split each layer into two, for a final cake that was four thin layers with whipped cream and strawberries as a filling. I frosted it and covered the cake (very inelegantly...I need some fondant lessons) with aqua blue new favorite food coloring. I should've taken a photo at that stage, but honestly, I need some help with how to make a fondant cake look pretty on the sides. I didn't and it looked a little Frankenstein-ish. Nothing a little seaweed couldn't cover up. I used food spray to color the bottom of the cake a deeper blue and make it look like deeper water. I'd bought a dolphin cookie cutter, cut out some additional dolphins in light grey fondant, which I painted with dilute black color paste. They looked cute, but nothing like the big dolphin on the top.I also made a bunch of brightly colored fondant to use for starfish and clams...the two other little cookie cutters I'd found online. The Cookie Cutter Shop rocks.

Mam got to help me add the starfish and shells. She was so thrilled that it made me a little sad to think about how little I normally let the kids partipate in their cakes. I had to give up a little artistic license, but she was so thrilled with the result that it was totally worth it!Finally, I added the big dolphin to the top.One thing you can't see is that my fondant was too dry and when I draped it over the cake, the corners all cracked. I'd intended to do a border of waves, so I wasn't too concerned. Of course, with this perfect-looking top, I was nervous. I added a pearly-looking border around the bottom, then got to work on the waves...It did a great job of disguising my cracked edges and looked pretty cool, I thought. Of course, no cake is complete without some writing. At that stage, I'm always concerned that one more thing is going to ruin it, but it turned out O.K.That funny smudgy area under the dolphin wasn't really smudgy. That's where her name was before I doctored the photo to be blog-worthy. Mam was absolutely thrilled with her cake, especially with her own role in the decorating.But in the immortal words of Ruff Ruffman "Is that all the points a dog can give??" Of course not. I wasn't done there. In addition to the cake, I'd been working on a collection of chocolate shells over the past week. Before the party itself, I added graham cracker "sand" to cover the cake board and added shells (interspersed with chocolate starfish, crabs, and lobsters) decoratively around the sides.I loved the look, even if it didn't last for long!Yummm. And the girls loved eating the shells too!