Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Snow...a Lot More Snow

On the way back to the cabin from Homewood, we stopped at the ski rental store and turned in my skis for snowshoes. At that point, when I was feeling, oh-so-not-part-of-my-skiing-family, I really just needed the promise of doing something I would really enjoy, even if it was going to be a solo trek. It seemed like some snow hiking and a peaceful afternoon to myself might be just what I needed.

It was snowing when we got up on Thursday, making Daddy decide not to take our fledgling skiiers back out to the slopes. So, there would be no peace in the cabin. Daddy put the chains on the van and we had breakfast at my favorite little spot in Carnelian Bay. And we went back to the cabin. As soon as there was a sign of the snow letting up and with the rest of the family all zombiefied by one screen or another, I put on my snow gear, swiped Daddy's nice sunglasses and set out with my camera.

Ahhhh. There's nothing quite so beautiful and quiet as the woods in the snow.Walking in snowshoes can be hard work, but I was much more in my element than I'd been for the past couple of days. I took photos of the cool little things I saw along the way.One of my boots was giving me problems, but I managed to ignore it for the most part. That is, I ignored it until I suddenly realized I'd dropped Daddy's expensive sunglasses in the snow where I'd last stopped for photos and I really needed to go back for them. Fortunately, I hadn't gone too far, but by then, my boot was really killing me. I triapsed back up the hill, found a piece of the glasses sticking out, grabbed them and headed back the way I came. Now, I was really going to have to head back to the cabin. I couldn't keep my socks from slipping and the rubbing on my left heel. I got a little lost with all the trails in the snow, but fortunately not disoriented. I made it back within half an hour or so.I arrived back at the cabin to find Daddy creating a sled run on the hill across the street. I was relieved that the kids were finally back outside. And sled runs are fun!Until this happens...That doesn't even look so bad, but then this happens. and sledding is done for the day. Too bad. I missed most of it. But with my foot still hurting, I couldn't have made it up the hill anyway. And no wonder it hurt!Maybe I should learn to pay better attention when my body's trying to tell me there's a problem. Ouch!

We knew there was a storm blowing in later on Thursday and that it was supposed to last through Friday, but we stayed in our cabin because a) I'm cheap and we'd paid for it and b) I really wanted to visit some friends on the way back and Thursday was a school night for them so we really needed to swing by there on Friday. It retrospect, it probably wasn't our best choice. This was our driveway on Friday morning.I hurried to clean up the cabin and feed the kids breakfast while Daddy went out, excavated the van, reinstalled the chains he'd been able to remove the previous day and packed the car. Still, we weren't out of there until just after 9 o'clock. The road wasn't looking so good.But CalTrans' website said the highways were still open and we'd already been told the next renters would be coming regardless and we had to get out. So we left. The road up to the main freeway was dicey and by the time we actually reached the freeway, they were turning traffic around. We were stuck.Stuck in McDonalds. Turns out there are worse places to be. McDonalds has cheap coffee and free WiFi. We hung out for an hour or so. Daddy's iPhone went off with a Facebook update from one of his friends.

She wasn't going skiing because they'd closed Alpine Meadows. It was going to be a lazy day at the cabin for her. Oh, really? I thought. "Think she'd let us crash with her if we need to?" I asked?

I hastily composed a quick message asking if her cabin could be our emergency backup. She replied. "ABSOLUTELY!" They weren't far away either, so we readied to leave McDonalds, which was getting crowded, and head to her cabin. The storm was still pretty ferocious as we left.We ran into a long line of cars waiting for the freeway to open and couldn't get past to the road we needed, so we turned around and headed for another street that would connect us with where we wanted to go. Should have known better, of course.

The road to hell, I'm convinced, is paved with steep, snow-covered hairpin turns.

We reached the uphill hairpin, but had to slow too much for an oncoming car and couldn't make it. The van wouldn't move. We backed down the hill, so a four-wheel SUV could get past us. It had a hard time making it too, but cars kept coming and we had to keep moving back and back and finally into a snow bank where we couldn't get out.

Fortunately, people in the mountains seem to be pretty nice and very helpful. A good samaritan in a big red truck came by and offered to help. He also had a shovel. He and Daddy dug us out of the snowbank and having had enough of the hill, we turned around and went back to the main road.

This time, we made it to the turnoff we needed and slowly made our way to our friend's ski rental cabin. The snow was so high in her neighborhood, it was hard to find, but we made it sometime between noon and 1 o'clock. And there we stayed, learning that the friends I'd hoped to visit had stomach flu plaguing their house and keeping an eye on the highway webcams and the CalTrans road conditions pages for hours...partaking in our generous hostess's tea and hot chocolate and feeling thankful for saving our leftover pizza from a few nights before and bringing it with us...for just this occasion.

Right about 3:30, there were signs that the main highway was open again. Cars on the webcams appeared to move and as soon as the CalTrans page said 80 was open, we packed up our stuff and left, with Daddy's friend and her boyfriend blazing us a trail in their GMC Denali.Although it started snowing like crazy again by the time we made it to the highway, we got there without incident and started the slow trek through the mountains towards home. By now, it was 4 o'clock and we were just leaving Tahoe.

It was a long drive into Auburn, but it was nice to finally see the sun again, hitting the snow-covered trees. (If you look carefully, you also be able to tell that our drive probably wasn't nearly as long as the drive in the other direction.)We stopped for dinner around 6 and arrived home around 9:30, exhausted but happy to be here...where there was a reported chance of snow while we slept.

Ski Week

Ah, Winter Break. After the rush of Smunch's birthday and his big Jackie Robinson presentation, the break from school was most welcome. If you live around here, you've doubtlessly heard this week called "ski week". It starts with President's Day weekend and goes for the rest of the week.

Since I'm one of those inflexible kind of moms who don't believe in pulling my kids out of school for something like a ski trip, we go to the snow during ski week. I've figured out a way to make this work for us. We leave on President's Day and come back on Friday, missing the entirety of the weekend traffic. I'd booked our cabin back in October, I think, so we were set.

I love the little cabin we've found. It's old and shabby, but warm, incredibly well stocked and with enough bedrooms for the kids to each have their own. Oh, and it's cheap. Did I mention that?

So, we headed up on Monday. There was no traffic to speak of. We made it to the cabin before the cleaning crew was even finished. So, we sat outside for a minute or two and then moved right in. We went into Tahoe City and picked up all our ski rentals. The kids had reservations for a private lesson at Squaw on Tuesday and I was planning on a group lesson while Daddy cruised around the slopes freely. Although we were staying about half an hour away, we got there without incident, negotiated the rather huge resort and found all our lessons on time.The kids went off with Celeste, their very awesome instructor. I joined a Level 2 class and we took off up to High Camp where we had our skills assessed before learning anything. There were four women in my class. I enjoyed them all and Curtis, our instructor, seemed good, but the class wasn't really what I'd hoped for. Instead of learning anything new, we rehashed all the stuff I already knew how to do. It meant I got some instruction on how to refine the "skills" I arguably possess, but not much more.

And it was COLD up there at High Camp. I'd purchased nice ski pants and a new ski jacket before leaving. I was wearing four more layers of clothes under that, but I was freezing and traveling the lifts was particularly painful. Despite my nice new ski gloves, my fingernails felt like they just might pop right off. They hurt.

The kids arrived at High Camp shortly after I did. I saw them several times as I skiied down the beginner slopes.I didn't enjoy myself very much even though I was in good company, but I agreed to go back up with Daddy and the kids after lunch. It was windier and colder. I was with Mam and she'd been trying to tell me something about being bored, but truth be told, I'm scared to death of ski lifts and I was barely listening to her. I should have.

It turns out what she meant was that her lessons about making big S-turns were boring and she planned to take off like a shot from the top of the run. And she did. I sent Daddy after her, but she was already at the bottom.

I took a couple of runs and then left them all up there...while I went back down the mountain, grabbed my laptop and found myself a cushy chair and a $6 mocha at Starbucks.

Half an hour or so later, I got a call from Daddy. He'd overshot the Funitel that would have taken them down the mountain and ended up on an intermediate slope. The kids had done a good job negotiating it for a while, but finally gave out. Ski Patrol was coming to pick them up. They'd be late getting back. I laughed. I was so comfy at Starbucks that I didn't mind if they were late and obviously Daddy had it handled. He called me again when they were down.

I met him and a couple of hysterically sobbing kids on the way to the parking lot. They were totally fine, but Daddy had had to ski down the mountain while Ski Patrol whisked them away on a snowmobile for a lonely trip to the bottom on the Funitel. Daddy met them there, but their little hands were so cold that they really hurt. And the sobbing went on and on for at least 15 minutes. Given my general love for skiing (which, for the record is still non-existant) I tried really hard not to laugh as they sobbed.

Despite the slighly traumatic end to our day on Tuesday, the kids were rarin' to go again on Wednesday and I was game to take another stab at enjoying skiing. We headed to Homewood...which is smaller, shabbier and a whole lot cheaper. It also happens to have beautiful views and some nice, long beginner runs, all the way from the top of the mountain.As expected, Mam has become a fearless little skiier while her brother, so much more like his mom, is ever-so-cautious. But Daddy helped them along. And I followed them around the mountain. I think we hit every beginner run there was. The kids seemed to have fun. But I most certainly didn't. I'm clearly not cut out for this stuff. I don't like being cold, I don't like going fast, I hate ski lifts, I don't like people coming up behind me at 50mph. Oh, and I'm not a fan of wiping out.

My overdeveloped sense of self-preservation, I'm afraid, will forever keep me from enjoying skiing. I quit at lunchtime and spent a couple of hours reading in the car...because Homewood is too shabby to have decent indoor places for those who aren't skiing and certainly no Starbucks! The van was comfier. And after skiing for the morning, I was pretty convinced that this is going to be my last ski trip. Daddy can take the kids, but this is such a monumental waste of money for me...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jackie Robinson...only shorter and paler

It was a big day in the life of our dysfluent little baseball lover today. Third grade at our school includes a big Famous Americans unit. The culmination of this unit is for each student to pick a "famous American", then research that person and do a five-minute presentation for the class and parents. It's a VERY. BIG. DEAL. The kids come in costume, their presentation must be memorized and it has to include props.So, it's a very big deal for most kids. But you have to understand that this is my kid. The one who stutters...sometimes severely. When we started this project, his ability to speak was so poor that he struggled just to read the words from the page, even though his reading skills are just fine. His teacher wasn't initially so willing to cut him any slack with the time limit. So, I've been kinda stressed.

Generally speaking, I don't consider my kid disabled. I don't consider him "differently abled". He's just a kid who happens to stutter. And until now, it didn't seem to make a whole lot of difference to him.

I talked to his stuttering specialist and she's been seeing him twice as often since we started this project. I talked to the speech therapist at school who got the teacher to cave just a little...tell him he had no time limit and put him last in the day so she'd have more leeway on that.

We worked on memorizing places to use his "speech tools" in addition to memorizing all those words. We all worked hard. Smunch wasn't always thrilled with all the practicing. I wasn't thrilled either. We practiced while I worked out, we practiced in the car, we practiced with sound effects, with props, with projection, with a nice slow pace. We practiced and practiced. I think I had it almost as well memorized as he did.Today was the big day. And #42? He may have left out a line here and a word there, but he never needed prompting, he was one of the few kids you could understand. He was engaging and the kids laughed at his singing coffee can. Not once did they laugh at the way he spoke.I didn't cry. But it's not because he wasn't awesome.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the Meantime

The title of this post suggests there has actually been a "meantime" in the past couple of weeks. Sometimes there is only time when you make the time. I wanted to create some of that time on Smunch's birthday to do something he really wanted to do. I picked him up directly from school that day, dropped Mam off with a friend and headed to a somewhat nearby city to...well...stand in line with a bunch of other orange-and-black-clad people. Why not, right? Apparently, that's how Smunch and I roll these days.

Of course, our initial spot in line was nowhere near where I took that picture. It was all the way down the street...and around the corner. After standing in line for five on ten minutes, Smunch said, "Maybe we should go." To which I said, "You wanted to come and I drove you all the way here, so we're going to stay here for half an hour and see how fast this line moves." It was roughly 3:30 in the afternoon...time for the line to start moving.

The line moved quite a bit and although I was sensitive to making my newly minted nine-year-old stand in line for his birthday, I knew this was something he really wanted to do...and O.K., I kinda wanted to do it with him. Oddly, I spotted the guy I sat next to at the World Series ahead of us in line. I wish I'd said 'hi', but it seemed weird. We stayed in line and took little trips up to the front to catch a glimpse of our ultimate goal.The line was going to close at 5:30 and it was starting to get late. It was right about 5:25 when we finally reached the front. Yay!In approximately 10 seconds, we were shuffled along, out of the line and headed home.

Was this worth it? You bet!

On the way home, we stopped off by Kara's Cupcakes and Smunch got to choose his festive dessert for the evening. Then we zipped over to his favorite restaurant, where we met Daddy and Mam for a birthday dinner...which was cut short by the ill-considered need to get to a Mavericks team meeting...which ran totally late.

We got home around 8:30 (half an hour past Smunch's bedtime). He'd been gone from the house since he left for school that morning. He scarfed a cupcake, brushed his teeth and went to bed.

I'm not sure that made for the most fabulous birthday ever. I'll have to see what he thinks when the photo of us with the World Series trophy arrives in the mail!


Today, my little boy is nine years old. Gosh. Nine.

I'd love to try and describe Smunch at nine, but he defies explanation in so many ways that I'm not sure I can do him justice. He's so well behaved at school, that I think he spends a lot of time "under the radar". He's smart and cute. That gets him a long way. At home, he's impatient and often grouchy after school. He can't stay up late on any night of the week or we all pay dearly for it.

He still loves sports, although he's lost some of his patience for watching them on TV. I guess we've spoiled him by taking him to too many live games. Obviously, he loves baseball...and the San Francisco Giants. The love was nurtured long before the Giants won the World Series. He went to his first game in 2008 and even though the Giants lost, he's been hooked ever since. He wants to be a Major League ball player when he grows up and when it comes to baseball, he's at his very most competitive. He's a little guy and he's not out there hitting home runs, but I think the coaches like his genuine interest and enthusiasm for the game.

He still likes me to come in and say goodnight before he falls asleep. He'll come out and remind me if I'm remiss in my duties.

Although speaking is a real challenge, he has yet to let it faze him. Tomorrow, he has a five-minute presentation that he'll be giving from memory, in character as Jackie Robinson. When he started practicing it, he could barely read it off the page. I don't think anyone except us will appreciate how hard he's had to work on this thing...memorizing not only the words, but the strategies he needs to get through the words that are hard for him to say. He's going to be great. I hope I don't cry.

Last weekend, the day after my birthday party, we threw Smunch a birthday party. He wanted to play laser tag.He's not the kind of kid who has tons of friends, so there were only six other boys there. But he said he had a lot of fun...and secretly, when I was in there playing with them, I did too!And, of course, I went all out to make him a cake he would love. He's becoming appreciative of these things, which makes it more fun. And this wasn't one of the most labor intensive ones.Smunch's teacher asks the kids to bring in mementos of the day they were born on their birthday. They're to tell the class where they were born, how much they weighed, how long they were...that stuff. I guess she couldn't be expected to understand that some parents find this information traumatic to dig up. Fortunately, the reality of a baby weighing just three pounds is lost on him. The fact that he's taking a picture of his hand, so much smaller than Daddy's wedding ring. Well, that's lost on him too. And the fact that his birth announcement has both his birthdate (and statistics) and the same information for the day we brought him home...97 days later...I think that's all lost on him too. Good.

And, if someday, he begins to realize what all of those things really meant to us, I hope he'll be super proud of how far he's come since he was a frail little preemie with meningitis. Goodness knows I already am.


Last week, I turned 40. I'm not one of those people who spends a lot of time dwelling on my age, but something about 40 in particular makes you stop and take stock of your life. Am I who I wanted to be? Am I where I hoped to be? Because all of a sudden, it's abundantly clear that there's no going back.

I know there are plenty of people still molding their lives at 40, but there is also so much water under the bridge. I have few regrets and those I do have, I've managed to set aside for the most part. There's too much to do to be worried about those things I can't change.

I've had my share of tragedy, of marriage counseling, of uncertainty. I can't say that there haven't been hysterical tears, pain (both physical and mental), screaming and yelling or that the 'D' word was never thrown around in my house...but I can say that was a long time ago and things were so very difficult and different then. These things pass. So many things pass...

When my husband asked if I wanted to have a party for the big birthday, I said 'yes' and provided him with a short list of some of my oldest and dearest friends. Most of them, I went to high school with. Some, I went to elementary school with. One, I went to preschool with.

I was glad that it was scheduled after my actual birthday. I admit I dreaded the day itself. But it was just another day. Another day of school, speech therapy, basketball practice and a not-so-celebratory dinner at Chili's. And once it was over, it was just that. Another day.

But as the party approached, I wasn't so sure I'd made the right choice. Now I'm 40. Why celebrate that?I bought myself a new dress...the first really nice dress I've bought in many years...and new shoes. I was overdressed, but I figured it was my birthday, so why not? And, it turned out, a party was the perfect thing for me to do for my birthday. Many things may have passed me by the in last 40 years, but the best of friends are always there. And it was so nice to see them all...all except the one who had a baby the previous day...and know we were hosting them for dinner.Honestly, I don't love being photographed with these girls that much. Talk about a bunch who are aging well!

The food was good, the cake was awesome and the party was fun. It lasted much longer than anticipated...which I took as a good sign.

In the end, most of what I learned from turning 40 was that I may not be enamored of all the paths I took to get where I am, but it's good to be here. My parents may have given me life, but there's only so much they could do beyond raising me to the best of their abilities. I made a few mistakes as soon as I was out of their grasp. The rest, I owe to one person to whom I'm forever grateful.Thank you, husband. I could not have asked for more.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lots of Fans, Not so Much Fest

For two or three years now, Daddy has taken Smunch to visit the San Francisco Giants at their annual FanFest event. This year it was a bigger deal for him since it meant bailing on his team for basketball, but he really wanted to go. And Daddy delegated the responsibility to me for the first time.

I've rarely made a worse parenting decision than choosing to go up there. I suppose, in some way, it was a nice bonding experience for Smunch and me, but mostly, it was a lesson in misery. I packed up some brand new baseballs for autographs and Smunch's World Series baseball cards. We got there an hour before the gates were to open. This was the line to get in.This is at least a quarter of a mile to the entrance. See how the people are walking away from the park? They aren't leaving, they're looking for the end of the line...and they've got at least a quarter mile to go.

When we got to the end of the line, we were misinformed that this wasn't a line at all and that we should go across the a well-meaning traffic director who probably hadn't realized that the line had gone all the way around his very large parking lot and come back his direction. We ended up at the park and in the line to see the World Series trophy. It wasn't that long, so I thought it might be a good way to get in.I was wrong. We waited and waited in full sun in near 80-degree February weather. We got in line at 10:30. Around noon, I scored Smunch a Sprite for $5. There was no food. He was hot, grouchy and hungry. I was sympathetic. I was all of those things too. And the line wasn't moving. So at 12:30, we left to find a line to get into the park. I made Smunch wait there until 1 o'clock, on the off-chance that the line would move enough to give him hope of getting food inside.

But at 1, he said he wanted to go home. Realizing that we'd have to wait at least another half hour or more to get into the park and that we'd be in line for at least another hour after that (and probably more) if we wanted autographs, I decided to grant Smunch's wish and we left. FanFest was going to end at 3 o'clock anyway.

Three hours waiting in line and we left with my broken camera lens, that refused to focus, and a fuzzy picture of the back of this guy. The best moment of the day was when a woman saw this guy and said "Wow, there's Willie Mays!" Smunch scoffed under his breath. "That's not Willie Mays. That's Willie McCovey..." I love that kid. (The number 23 actually belongs to Ron Wotus, the bench coach. This doesn't look like him, so I dunno what was up in this picture. I doubt it was really Willie McCovey, somehow.)

There was still a line all the way out to the mommymobile and then some as we left.

So, thanks Giants, for the wonderful World Series memories, but geez, I think you're going to have to find a better way to thank your fans for their support. We'll be back at FanFest when you stop winning so much and your fair-weather fans are gone.