Saturday, November 5, 2011

Halloween 2011

No, it's not all about the crazy pumpkins I carve. All-in-all, I sometimes find the traditional ones more charming anyway. And really, the only things at our house more charming than the rest of the family's pumpkins were this creepy vampiress and her scurvy pirate pal.I didn't bother to take any pictures at the school Halloween parade. The kids never quite manage to get their costumes on quite right and I'd been told (errantly, it turns out) that makeup was not allowed at school. It made everything that much more fun to put together on Halloween night. The kids had no idea what I was about to turn them into.And maybe that's just as well because I don't think Mam really understood the purported demeanor of vampiresses.And although pirates are generally surly, Smunch was particularly surly on Halloween night. He didn't want to pose for pictures and he made that very clear. In fact, it was not at all clear that he'd be going trick or treating with his rotten behavior.Say what?But, of course, they both got to go after gamely posing for pictures in front of the house I'd painstakingly decorated just hours earlier.I'm not sure why I bother with this. On holidays like Halloween, our quiet little cul-de-sac is kind of a bummer. A whole bunch of effort and almost no one gets to see it. I took it all down today. Harumpf.

The kids had a grand time trick-or-treating while I took the guinea pig to the vet. They came home with WAY too much candy, much of which was donated at school to be sent to the troops overseas. Yes, I'm that mean.

I wonder what it looks like by the time it gets out to the desert. That's an awful lot of chocolate to melt along the way!

Ryan Vogelsong, the Squash

It isn't really Halloween if I don't do something crazy with a pumpkin, right?

For the past couple of All Hallows Eves, I carved two of the San Francisco Giants' more colorful players, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson. I had a lot of different thoughts about who to carve this year. An ode to Buster Posey seemed like it might have been in order after his season-ending injury, but his clean-cut, boyish face just didn't seem like it'd make that great a pumpkin. I thought Pablo Sandoval might be a good option, but couldn't find a picture I wanted to emulate. But I liked the idea of carving Ryan Vogelsong on a pumpkin. He's got that interesting goatee and the intense pitcher's eyes. And he had a great backstory...having been around the block several times and having been traded to the Pirates from the Giants about 10 years ago. Most, recently, he was playing in Japan. Then, he came back and earned a job in the Giants' starting rotation. It was super impressive and fun to watch. I wish I'd made it to one of his games, but I never did.

I started my latest pumpkin-carving adventure with this photo:
photo courtesy of Charles LeClaire, US Presswire

I enlarged it, altered it in Photoshop a bit and used it as a template, which I painstakingly transferred onto a rather large pumpkin. Then I started in with some of your standard carving tools that you can pick up at the supermarket...and a plain ol' kitchen knife.

This particular pumpkin, it turns out, was pretty dry and hard to carve. In the end, I needed to use a Dremel tool to get the not-cut-entirely-through parts deep enough for plenty of light to shine through.All told, I worked on it for two days, over 6-8 hours, I figure.The final product looked like this: It's always fun to light it up and realize that it really kicks some serious butt, even though it doesn't look like much when it's unlit on the kitchen table. I decided it needed the SF logo and added that at the last minute.

You may recall I won the Giants' pumpkin carving contest in 2009 with my Tim Lincecum pumpkin. I think this one turned out even better and I entered it as well. I haven't heard anything, so I'm going to assume I didn't win this time around, but I'm always ready to be surprised!

Friday, November 4, 2011

My New Gig

Uh, no, there will be no more babies. At least not mine!

The title is sort of ambiguous here because it seems like I have multiple gigs at any given time. Mid-mid-life crisis, I'm trying to cut down on them and really figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I don't know that I'm making much progress on that.

In the meantime, a fantastic part-time job fell out of the sky and into my lap. It uses my genetics degree and all that writing training. And it pays well. And I can work at home most of the time. Or I can go into the office and interact with human beings, rather than sharing some passing words with the guinea pigs and having a very large cat sit on my keyboard. I'm excited...and completely daunted. I haven't worked in an office with any regularity in almost 10 years. And when I took this job, I'd conveniently forgotten that my kids have full weeks off school...including one at Thanksgiving and two weeks around Christmas. Those times are coming right up. Well, best to set the bar low early on, right?

But that wasn't really what I wanted to write about, because although it's a great job and it'll be a nice change for me, I know it's not going to be something that scratches whatever itch I've got going on. It won't be wildly fulfilling. It won't fill that unnamed void in my life. It's a fun new challenge, but it won't be challenging forever. And let's face it, tech writing will never be exciting.

What's far more exciting is that a while back, my friend, K, asked me who takes my Christmas photographs for my holiday cards. Well, that was flattering. If you've been around my blog a while, you know I take them all myself most years. And I have fun doing it too. A few weeks later, K e-mailed and asked if she could pay me to take some photos of her daughters. Pay me? To take photos? You've got to be kidding! But I was thrilled to have the opportunity.

So, last weekend, I showed up at her house bright and early. Her younger daughter, R, was just getting up when I arrived. Fortunately, she's a happy morning baby, so she was fun to photograph.R's big sister, M, was asleep during most of this photo shoot and wasn't altogether thrilled about getting dressed up all pretty just to have her picture taken. She wasn't about to sit still for it either, but that's just as well, I suppose. And in a way, it made for some more interesting photos.It was a little challenging and I can't claim to have much knowledge of what I was doing, but I liked the results and I think K did too (unless she was just being nice!). I'm pretty sure M was more than a little relieved when I left!Now, I've got a whole host of fun little activities to turn into little side businesses! Tech writer by day, photographer in the early morning and cake decorator at night. And don't forget pumpkin carver in October. No clue who's going to pay me for that yet!

And for the record, I didn't actually charge K for my time. Since I neglected to successfully get her a gift to celebrate the birth of R, this is it. I think this'll last a whole lot longer and be more appreciated than those flowers Teleflora failed to deliver anyway!

The Great Guinea Pig Adventure

There will come a time when my children no longer remember how we came to own a couple of guinea pigs. So, it seems only right that I should write a little something about it so it's not forgotten...although it's hardly the kind of story you pass down from generation to generation.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at one of Smunch's baseball games, trying to stay out of the blaring sun, when Gram arrived and told me that her friend, Mary, had found a guinea pig in her backyard. In fact, this guinea pig was so brazen that it wandered right into her house. But Mary and her husband didn't know what to do with a guinea pig and weren't williing to try picking it up. My mom had taken them a cat carrier with which to try to trap it. But, as far as I can tell, they didn't really try that either. I told my mom that if they caught it and couldn't find the owners that I'd take it before they gave it to Animal Services. Somehow that turned into the suggestion that I go over to Mary's and catch the rodent myself.

Now, I'll admit that as I drove over there I sort of wondered if it was actually a guinea pig at all. After all, people are forever misidentifying animals "in the wild"...or in the backyard. This critter was supposed to be living in the bush under their living room window. By the time I showed up, it had been there for three days.

Mam went with me and we camped out outside the bush. We peered in where we could, but couldn't see a thing in there. I put a little pile of carrots out in hopes of spotting the critter and we sat on the lawn and waited. Before too long, there was a suspicious rustling in the bush and moments later, a furry little face peered out. It was a guinea pig and it was cute, but skittish, with long, multi-colored hair.

In a long series of events, we managed to get the guinea pig in the carrier after about 45 minutes...using the classic trick of leaving a trail of carrots into the carrier and a string on the door with which to close it from a distance.

So, now we had a guinea pig and we took it home with us. I quickly posted a query on our elementary school e-bulletin board asking if someone had a guinea pig cage I could take off their hands. And I was fortunate enough to find a great big cage...for free. The guinea pig, who we eventually named Roamer, was very, very happy to be back in a cage where someone would feed him hay, lettuce and oranges.

It took a couple days before we managed to put up signs in Mary's neighborhood (which is not our neighborhood). And a couple more days went by before we finally got a call from a family over there who'd been missing their guinea pig, Rooster, for two or three weeks. And they weren't particularly close to Mary's house either. Rooster must've had a grand adventure before being returned to his family.

Although we all got a little attached to the furry fellow, it was nice to see he had a good home with people who were thrilled to have him back. They even gave us some pictures of him to remember him by. Nice folks.

We sped off to Mam's soccer game, lunch and then straight to the pet look at guinea pigs.

The first place we went had a number of guinea pigs. They were all part of a group of about 150 that were rescued from the home of a hoarder. They were mostly adults and all extremely skittish. It was hard to tell if a feral guinea pig or two would ever warm up to a couple of kids. Although both of the kids already had their hearts set on one of the piggies there, we headed to a more traditional pet store to see what they had.

They had little, young guinea pigs. They had cool markings. Mam picked out a very calm one with brown, orange and white. She seemed like a very sweet little piggy.Smunch had a pale calico one picked out, but the sales person couldn't catch her...a sign that maybe she wasn't going to be very calm at home either. We thought we'd check elsewhere, but the sales clerk said she was going to get a few more from the back. And oh, were they cute! Gavin picked one out right away and we took them both home with us.

At my suggestion, Smunch decided to name his guinea pig Rita.I thought it was funny that he accepted that suggestion...which came from the name on a random e-mail in my inbox. I didn't even know the Rita who sent the e-mail. Mam temporarily named her guinea pig Mocha, although the next day, her name was Butterscotch. I liked the idea that they'd be named after two of my favorite drinks, but I figured having one named something purely kid-like was really more appropriate. Butterscotch remained sweet and calm while Rita was a total spaz who sprinted laps around the cage at unpredictable moments.Now, what we learned a couple of days later is that you don't want to pick out the super calm, sweet guinea pig. Because it means she's not healthy. And I found myself taking our new guinea pig to the VET on Halloween night, where she was promptly diagnosed with Bordetella...otherwise known as kennel cough...and given a prescription for Baytril. She really wasn't very well, her sides heaving and looking pretty depressed. The vet warned me that she might not survive. Bordetella can be really hard on guinea pigs. And, of course, it's very contagious.So, Rita made her own trip to the vet last night as soon as we spotted symptoms. Her eyes were a little crusty and she'd stopped sprinting around the cage. She seemed a little bummed, herself.

These have become very expensive little rodents. But Butterscotch appears for all the world to be on the mend and after a day of medication, Rita's pretty much back to her old self. Mam is smitten.Smunch likes them but the novelty seems to be wearing off already. They're funny, squeaky little critters and I'm kinda looking forward to having them around...

Blue Sox

Creative name, huh? Despite his love of baseball, Smunch is new to playing in the Fall. This is the first year he's tried it and, at least from my perspective, it's been a lot of fun. It's much, MUCH more laid back than PONY baseball in the spring. He has some of the same rather intense coaches, but even they seem more relaxed. More than anything, it's about developing skills. It's not about winning. They don't even keep score.And that's a good thing because Smunch's team is full of boys who are the youngest in the division. Given that Smunch is a little guy himself, that means he barely reaches the shoulder of some of the boys out there. He's still nine. Some of them are 12. And some of them are BIG 12-year-olds! Of course, that doesn't make him less serious about the whole thing.He's still no power hitter, but he's impressive in other ways. He knows how to back up a play better than a lot of the kids out there. And even when he flubs a play, he's likely to recover. His head is in the game, even if his body isn't necessarily big enough to cooperate. His strike zone is so small that he gets a lot of walks. And at this level, there's a lot of stealing, so as long as he's on base, he's got a good chance to score. Here he is, safe at second. He just wants to make sure you know.These games are kinda fun, even though it's obvious the Blue Sox are usually getting obliterated by their opponents. But they're still long. It gives me pause to know I really encouraged Smunch's passion in baseball. I encouraged it and now he loves it...and now we spend hours and hours a the baseball the sun, the cold, the wind...whatever. I think even Smunch, who has thoroughly enjoyed the game, is relieved when it's time to go home.

After the Rain

Something about the rain makes me want to go out and take pictures as soon as I know my camera might survive. Prior to that, sitting in a coffee shop sounds awfully nice.And October rain is especially cool around our house because October is spider season and every web in the yard is suddenly gleaming.Perhaps autumn has come at last...


Our remaining cat, Skimble, is a monster feline. When I took him to the vet the other day, she agreed that he needed to lose some weight, but said that given his frame, she'd expect him to be 14 or 15 pounds regardless (he's more like 17 or 18 pounds). So, although he's sort of oozy, he's pretty magnificent. He's got great markings and terrific orange stripes. And he's got fantastic whiskers. I set about trying to capture them in the sunshine the other day.Doesn't he look regal? Well, he looks sort of noble at least until he rolls over on his back and then he's just kinda cute...and oozy.He's not the brightest cat we've ever had, but he's awfully sweet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Remembering Oliver

We lost our cat, Oliver, to cancer early Saturday morning. I don't usually make a big point of blogging about our pets. And you'd be pretty annoyed if I blogged about every guppy or goldfish we'd killed. But the cats are different. Both of our cats had been members of our family since Smunch was just six months old. So, they're his contemporaries, in a way. As much as the kids have taken over my life, it still hard to believe how difficult it is to lose a pet.

When we got them as kittens, Oliver was the little one. He was quickly nicknamed "Smalliver". He was such an adorable little kitty.He had a neat little patterned nose...part tabby, just like his coat. And on one of his first nights with us, he declared his love for Scott by crawling up on his shoulder and falling asleep.To some extent, he was Scott's cat from that moment on. But as Smunch got older, he also became Smunch's cat. I guess sometime more recently, he became Mam's cat too.He had a magnificently expressive, long tail that always waved around to greet us. And he was the cat who was always on my office chair or in my face while I tried to work. His claws have pulled loops out of the thighs of many pairs of pants. He talked a lot, but was very sweet. He also liked to run from window to window when he spotted another cat roaming the backyard. And although he was always an indoor cat, he took every possible opportunity to slip out an open door, sometimes not turning up again until morning.

We'd sometimes find him in unlikely places...on top of the armoire, on top of the kitchen cabinets, upside-down and stuck down behind the furnace. He was a great jumper...most of the time.

And he was the only cat I've ever known who was obsessed with access to the sock drawer. He managed to figure out how to open at least two of them, as the claw marks on Scott's dresser drawer will attest. He would open the drawers while we weren't around, so that there were often clean socks strewn about the house. At his most lovable, he would saunter into the family room in the evening, while we sat on the sofa, and deposit a sock at our feet. He was so proud to be able to deliver us his kill for the evening. And it was so, so funny.

He loved to hang out on the back of the sofa in the evening (or any other time, really) when we watched TV, too.Back in April, he was vomiting a lot and we took him to the vet. They ran some tests that looked like he might have lymphoma. But we changed his diet and his follow-up bloodwork, just two months ago, looked normal...or so they said. And although he lost some weight (which was a good thing, I thought), he seemed fine.

When Oliver stopped eating on Wednesday night, I didn't think much of it, but by Thursday night he still wasn't eating and he was getting lethargic. I took him to the vet first thing on Friday. Smunch was really nervous about it and asked a million questions as we walked to school.

Oliver was at the vet all day being poked and prodded, running up an astronomical bill. Each call from the vet sounded more dire...his white blood cells were through the roof, his bilirubin was high, it looked like he also had leukemia. But the vet was also very positive about the treatment options for lymphoma. I was secretly skeptical. We were looking at months of chemotherapy to extend his life for...months.

Scott was out of town. I asked plenty of questions, but under the pressure of losing our cat, I approved everything the vet suggested. When I picked Smunch up at school, the first words out of his mouth were, "How's the kitty?" I told him the truth...that Oliver was very sick and we'd need to make some really difficult decisions about him. And that he was going to die. It was awful.

The vet gave Oliver steroids, a first dose of chemo and some anti-nausea medication before I picked him up around 6 p.m. I brought him home. He stumbled out of the carrier and laid down on the floor. He still refused to eat. He drank a little water and laid back down on the kitchen floor.

By the time Scott arrived home around 9:30, he was sleeping in the laundry basket in our closet. And he looked bad. The night was miserable, Oliver was more lethargic, he cried in pain every half hour or so. I sobbed while he suffered. And by the time I realized he'd been quiet for a couple of hours, I already knew he had died in the night. At least he didn't have to suffer anymore.

I'm grateful that we were spared difficult decisions about chemotherapy and euthanasia, but it was such a hard, hard night and a harder day, watching my sweet little boy absorb the news that his favorite cat was gone. He was so sad and it made it so much more difficult.

So, now we are a one cat family. Although Skimble sniffed at Oliver's lifeless body before it was taken back to the vet, he appeared to search for him for the rest of the day...looking as though he expected to be pounced on every time he turned a corner. Since then, however, I think maybe he's realized that this means he's the only cat to bestow attention upon and that he's getting a LOT of it from his sad family members. I'm pretty sure he's going to embrace this new role with gusto.Rest in peace, Oliver. You were well loved and will be dearly missed.

Girls Getaway

I can't say that I'd ever spent a weekend away with just my girlfriends...not since high school anyway. But a couple of my high school buddies decided that since we're all turning 40 this year, we should celebrate by getting away from our families for a while and hanging out together somewhere...anywhere, really.

After much deliberation, we decided to take the cheaper option of staying at my friend K's father's house in Sausalito...and just for one night. When there are seven of you and there are nine young children under the age of 10 among you, it's hard to schedule anything where you can all make it for more than a single night. But you take what you can get.

I took off right after Mam's soccer game. It's easy to get to Sausalito from here, but it turned out the house was a little harder to locate. And no big surprise with a view like this:We hung out for the rest of the afternoon, then went out for a fun dinner on the water.And although we're no great partiers, we were still up 'til 2 a.m. yakking about one thing or another. When you've known each other as long as we have, it doesn't seem to matter much that we don't get to see each other all that often or that we've all taken different paths in life. There's always something to talk about.

We had a mellow morning around the house...before taking a nice walk down many, many stairs into town for brunch.

We'd prepared for a foggy, chilly time, but the weather couldn't have been more beautiful and the walk back up the hill was actually kinda hot!The whole trip was far too short. Fortunately, there were more birthdays and birthday parties to come. It's been a great year for getting together! We're hoping maybe we can make this an annual thing...Who wouldn't hope?