Saturday, November 20, 2010


You know it's been far too long since you've updated your blog when you need to go through iPhoto on your computer to remember what's happened since your last post. As far as I can tell, nothing photo-worthy happened in the week and a half after Halloween. It's quite possibly true, but it's hard to know.

Veteran's Day fell on a Thursday this year, so as a favor to...oh, I dunno...teachers, I guess (because it wasn't for stay-at-home parents) the kids had both Thursday and Friday off. Oh, what to do? They started fighting before I even rolled out of bed on Thursday morning. Fortunately, we were meeting up with some of my old mommy friends in our old stomping grounds where I was once in a mom's group. We met at the park. We had a picnic, then walked to frozen yogurt. It was great to catch up and it took most of the afternoon, so that little excursion was more than worthwhile. I didn't take my camera. I don't know why not.

A friend of mine who is far more organized and apparently far more motivated to keep her kids engaged in cool, outdoor, kid-friendly activites than I am, had made a reservation for a group of kids to play at Adventure Playground, a park at the Berkeley Marina. It's been featured in all sorts of magazines (including National Geographic) over the years as one of the best playgrounds around. It was an easy sell for me. Drive a bit to keep my kids occupied without TV or computers for the day? Sold.

I'd heard that they had materials so the kids could build things in the playground, but I couldn't quite grasp what they meant. Just as well. I'm not sure I would've trusted my kids had I known. And that would have been a shame. This was the view through the fence:Mam happily and very publicly declared that it looked like a junkyard. And so it did.

We arrived at the playground right on time and right at the same time as some of the other kids in our party. It was a suprisingly beautiful morning. The sun was shining and there was only a light breeze...not the stiff chilly wind I'd expected. Only one attendant was working in the playground that day and as soon as we'd all assembled, she went to work explaining the rules of the playground and for using their tools.Not surprisingly, once the kids had been told that they could ride the "trolley" (a modified zip-line-like ride) as often as they wanted, check out hammers and nails and saws and build whatever they wanted with any of the scrap wood available, they all ran through the gate...kindergartners through sixth graders.

The trolley was the first order of business:It was a short little ride, but it was a lot of fun until you hit the damp pile of sand at the end and had to shake it all out of your pants!
It took a while to get bored with that and finally get to picking up stray nails or shards of wood to earn the right to check out a real tool. Then they finally started to get a good look at the place. It's full of amazing old things, old playground bits like slides and swings, racks of scrap wood, old boats, old tires, cargo nets and the exposed innards of pianos.So many things to explore. And, of course, once Smunch and Mam had checked out some tools, neither kid knew what they wanted to do. I ended up helping Mam hammer a small plank onto the railing of a playstructure...for no really good reason. Smunch checked out some paint and started painting random pieces of the existing structures.While he appears to be taking this job very seriously, Mam had a much more artistic flair with her painting technique.Eventually, even I had to try out the trolley.But the sand in the pants made one ride enough.

Smunch and a friend tried their hand at reinforcing a catwalk.It didn't work out all that well, mostly serving to make the catwalk uneven. The attendant came and ripped off their additions, while suggesting they build a hand rail instead and helping them with that. Smunch's small contribution to the playground.

Meanwhile, Mam was sawing random things.Somehow, I doubt this is something they intend for the kids to do, but it's obvious it's been tried in thousands of places around the playground.

After two hours of just playing around...but having a whole lot of fun running amok in a "junkyard", our time was up and all the famlies had a picnic outside the playground and the kids went down to the "beach". I put that in quotations because this is a beach at the Berkeley Marina. There's nothing to suggest that it's particularly clean. I wasn't thrilled, but they were busy, happy and outdoors.

Fortunately, the webpage for Adventure Playground had mentioned the potential need for a change of clothes. The playground was no problem. But Ryder kids and water? Always a problem.This may look harmless enough, but if you click on that picture and look closely, you can tell that Mam's already been up to her butt in the water. She walked right in, shoes, socks and all. Smunch was jealous. He wanted to wade in the water too and started taking off his shoes. I stopped him, not knowing what kids of sharp rocks, shards of glass or needles might be under the surface (there was a rumor that hypodermic needles sometimes litter this beach). So, he too walked in with his shoes on.

I was prepared, but not the least bit thrilled. Stripping Mam to naked in the puddle/pot-hole filled dirt parking lot was a pain. I wasted the two towels I brought by having her stand on one (so she wouldn't get the new clothes muddy) and using the other to throw sopping wet clothes on. I hadn't prepared for needing to dry Mam off after that as well. So, I was grumpy and read Mam the riot act about how I really hate it when she does things like that after I ask her not to. But it was so predictable that I probably should have been better mentally prepared than that.

In retrospect, that was kind of a bad end to a fun morning. But the drive home was eventless and peaceful. I suspect they remember the fun a lot more than the trouble they got in for getting soaked! At least I hope so...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Epic Win

After their Halloween game, the San Francisco Giants were up 3-1 in the World Series. Game 5 was on Monday. It was a rematch between Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee...the two aces (although I'd argue the Giants have more than one). You can bet that our family watched or heard ever single minute of it.

It ended up being just what the pundits said the first game was going to be...a killer pitcher's duel. And it lasted into the seventh inning...which was not all that long really. When two pitchers throw that many strikes, the innings just fly by. Not a single batter made it past first base. And then? Then Buster Posey hit a single, Cody Ross hit a single and Aubrey Huff, the Giants' red-rally-thong-wearing first baseman, bunted for the first time in his major league career. He was out, but Posey and Ross were on second and third. Pat "the bat" Burrell struck out, just like mighty Casey. And finally, Edgar Renteria came to the plate. He's one of the elder statesman of the Giants. His biceps muscle is completely torn, such that it has actually rolled down inside his arm. In his rookie season with the Florida Marlins, he drove in the game winning run in game 7 of the World Series. He was rumored to be talking about retirement. He took a couple of balls from Cliff Lee and swung at the third. It looked so much like a fly ball. And the outfielders ran back and back until the ball slipped over the wall in the left center field.

Three runs. Any Giants fan knows that's all Tim Lincecum needs. He gave up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the inning, but blew through the 8th and despite looking like he could finish it out, he gave it up to The Beard, who made his job look easy...not something he's known for.

And it was over. I took no pictures, but there was plenty of jumping around in our family room. And a happy, happy little boy went to sleep that night.

I'm having a hard time detoxing from my overexposure to Giants baseball. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up in downtown San Francisco yesterday to welcome their team back home with a "ticker tape" (aka confetti) parade. I was not among them. I wanted to be badly. But I just couldn't convince myself that it was reason enough to pull Smunch out of school seemed like the wrong message to send. And I couldn't fathom going without my little baseball buddy. I watched on TV, tears streaming down my face more often that not. And yes, I realize how silly that sounds. It just got to the point this year that I felt like I kinda knew these guys just a little bit. And this is what they live for. In many ways, it's a silly, shallow thing that they do...going out there and hitting a ball with a stick. But great sports teams have a way of galvanizing people. And it's so much nicer to have that kind of connection with someone than connecting through some kind of disaster.

It's been a fantastic baseball season. I'm going to be so sad to see some of the players leave before next always happens. But the older I get, the more I understand how nothing lasts forever. All I can say is that I'm glad I was there to see these guys play while they were here.

1, 2, 3 Strikes You're Out...Trick or Treating

Halloween Day was crazy. A while back, I skipped out on my final day of cake decorating class to take the kids up to meet Aubrey Huff and Pablo Sandoval up at the ballpark. Although the teacher of the class is almost comically mean to most of the students. She seemed to like me (as much as you could say she liked anybody) and offered to let me join the last class of her next session. It happened to be in the middle of the afternoon on Halloween.

And since it was the last class, that meant I had to bring a fully baked, filled and frosted cake to cover in fondant and decorate in class. Now, had I known when I started this project back in September, that I'd being making this cake on Halloween, I would have made the base orange or black or something, not yellow. And if I'd known it would be the first ever Halloween where the San Francisco Giants were playing in the World Series, I would have decorated this cake in a more appropriately festive way. But, here you go.I zipped right home after class, thankful not to have to face that particular teacher ever again, but happy to have learned a few things.

When I got home, I went back to work on that pumpkin I mentioned a few posts ago. This was the finished product...done long before the trick-or-treaters showed up this time.I zipped back out when I realized I had nothing quick for the kids to eat, came back, baked a freezer pizza and warmed up some chili from the freezer (for the grown ups). Got the kids all dressed, made up and looking...well...creepy.But, but, but...the Giants game was already on. They'd had a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Rangers the previous night. For some reason, the promise of a truckload of candy was more interesting to the kids than the fourth game of the World Series. Nevermind that their 21-year-old rookie pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, was on the mound. So, Daddy left with the kids while I finished off my dinner, then joined them down the street...where Daddy's iPhone was broadcasting the game from the end of various driveways.On my way out, I left a bowl of candy at our doorstep and as I walked down the street, some kids came up to the doorstep. From my vantage point on the road, I could hear the boys saying, "Wow! It's a Giants pumpkin. Mom, Mom, come look at this! It's Brian Wilson!" Coolest overheard comment. EVER.Unfortunately, we were joined by one of Mam's more obnoxious classmates, who screamed TRICK OR TREAT at the top of her lungs before each door was opened. Smunch complained bitterly about the rude little girl, but I didn't know how to extract ourselves, so we tolerated it. Worse yet, I didn't get to listen to as much of the game as I would have liked because I had to be polite and chat with her mother...who is actually a very nice lady.

We made it home in time for the kids to eat some candy before bed and to finish watching Bumgarner's masterful 4-0 shutout of the Rangers. After all, how could the team in orange and black lose a World Series game on Halloween?


I was pretty jazzed after our World Series experience and I had a hard time going to sleep that night, but that didn't mean I wasn't expected at school bright and early the next morning...not just dropping the kids off, but leading an entire group of third graders in reading. And I hadn't done my homework beforehand...because Smunch hadn't done his the night before. Fortunately he had earned a "Ready Freddy" award that week. It allows him to skip a night of homework. I don't get Ready Freddy awards.

Thursday afternoon, I was slated to go in and help the first graders and their fouth grade buddies carve pumpkins. It was cute and Mam enjoyed herself a lot, despite her not-so-helpful buddy.I was back again on Friday morning, helping the third graders with "pumpkin math". I couldn't believe the group of kids Smunch's teacher gave me. I had Smunch, but the other three...all boys...are some of the least motivated goofballs around. It was challenging, but ultimately, it was fun...estimating weight and size, guessing how many seeds were inside, seeing if it would float.Naturally, Friday afternoon was the big Halloween shindig. I got both kids into their costumes, then helped set up the third grade party. I watched the school-wide Halooween parade, but didn't take any decent pictures. I don't love the kids' costumes this year and Mam's wig was sitting on the side of her head. Both costumes really required makeup, but no time to do that at school. They looked ridiculous. Really.

I made my now-famous cheese bugs for the first grade party (third graders were limited to apple juice and sugar cookies)Of course, the first grade parties always have the cutest stuff!Thankfully, there was no baseball on Friday, so we got a little break. Thursday evening, Matt Cain threw a 9-0 shutout in the Giants victory. Giants were up 2-0 and headed to Arlington, TX.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Memory Made

Major League Baseball's 2010 World Series started on October 27th. It became a series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, who had beaten the New York Yankees in six games to earn their spot on the big stage.

The deception started the previous day, October 26th, when I casually mentioned to Smunch that I was going to pick him up early from school so we could go have his bottom braces installed.

He refused to wear his Giants gear to school to celebrate the Giants' first World Series in eight years, despite my admonishments. The first thing I did when I picked him up was hand him his Giants jersey. He was confused. I confessed...Although you can't tell, the moment of realization involves the cameraman (Daddy) holding up two pieces of paper.

Daddy had gotten a bonus from work a week or so earlier. He decided that he'd like nothing better than to spend it on sending his wife and son to create the memory of a lifetime together. I wasn't about to refuse.

So, I made Smuch put on his gear and we zipped over to the train station.The scene at the park was like nothing I'd quite experienced before. It was crowded outside. It was "smushy" getting in.The NLDS game was crowded, but we'd had seats in the somewhat (although not terribly) exclusive club section, where there are fewer crowds when it comes to getting food and such. This time, we had better seats, but getting there was no picnic. I'm sure the people in the seats next to ours thought I was moving in with all the jackets and blankets I'd brought. I shouldn't have. We never needed them.

John Legend sang the national anthem.And once that was over, this guy started his first World Series game...our first World Series game...against the Rangers' ace, Cliff Lee...who had never lost a postseason game in his illustrious career and had won the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies just a year earlier.During the first inning, this guy... second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, hit his first double of the night...a night when he would hit a historic three doubles in his first three World Series at bats. And in a huge surprise, that Smunch failed to appreciate, when the first inning was over (and the Giants were down 1-0, so Smunch was failing to appreciate a lot of things), this man stepped out onto the field...and began to sing. I left my San Francisco.... I couldn't believe our luck. Tony Bennett, aged, but still in full voice, sang his most famous song and we were there to hear it!

The people who sat around us were fabulous. One waved a big flag, that may have hit me in the head a few times...but someday, when I get around to watching the television coverage, I'll know just where to find us. [Update: Smunch just started watching that game again this morning and found us in the crowd right away. Oh my gosh, we really were there!]

One of the reasons the Giants/Rangers matchup was so interesting (aside from the Lincecum/Lee matchup) was because of these two guys.The guy catching for the Rangers is Bengie Molina, a beloved former catcher for the Giants. He got an enthusiastic welcome back when they introduced him that night. The guy at the plate? That's Buster Posey, the Giants' rookie catcher. They traded Molina to the Rangers to bring this guy up from the minors and get him behind the plate. Turns out, as much as I truly miss Bengie, it was a good tactical move. Posey has been awesome and is favored (at least in some circles) to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. Bengie taught him well, when he arrived in San Francisco.

Although this game was billed as a super duper pitching duel between two unquestionable aces, it turned out to be a slugfest instead. After the second inning, the score was 2-0 Rangers and I had a grumpy little boy on my hands. I didn't dare ask Daddy how much he spent on these tickets, but I know it was more than Smuch could appreciate. And much more than I'd have been willing to spend on a noisy evening with a grouchy kid. No, I wasn't thrilled either, but it was O.K.

In the third inning, something funny happened. The Giants scored, the game was tied and my happy Smunch returned. All our neighbors were thrilled to be high-fiving the happy little boy bouncing around in his seat. He was totally into it once the Giants dug out of their hole.And the high fives kept coming too. The Giants scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 5th, including a towering 3-run homer by Juan Uribe. It was loud, it was happy. Smunch and I were happy too.The score was 8-2. And then it was 8-4. It certainly wasn't Timmy's performance from his game against the Braves, but he hung in there for 5-2/3 innings. It was something to behold. Tony Bennett came back out for a lovely rendition of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, followed by the crowd lustily singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. So much fun tradition around baseball...and so much more fun when you're at the World Series...and winning.

Somewhere in there, Smunch announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Having already gone on a hotdog run, I knew it was going to be a slog through the crowd. And I knew there were crazy long lines for the bathrooms. We ended up trekking halfway around the park...and then I ended up making him go in the women's room with me. The upside of all that was that we got to take a good look at this:That's McCovey Cove, so full of kayakers and boats that you could nearly walk from the park to the other side. And there's the sidewalk crammed with people...outside the ballpark in the middle of the game. I suppose they were hoping to catch a peek through the windows down there. I doubt they succeeded.

Brian "The Beard" Wilson, the Giants closer came out to warm up in the bottom of the 8th, but the Giants scored three more runs and his services rendered unnecessary, he returned to the dugout. In the top of the 9th, however, it seemed like the Giants went through every reliever they had while giving up three more runs. Finally, The Beard reappeared...and shut the game down. World Series win #1 for Tim Lincecum.It may not have been pretty, but it counted just the same. And Smunch and I? Well, I dunno how pretty we were, but we had one of the best mommy/son date nights ever!