Monday, May 28, 2012

Super Nova

Happy Memorial Day. It's been a big weekend. Mam's travel softball team played in their first tournament...after a whole five practices. And holy cow was Mam excited! She was jazzed to play with her new team, thrilled with her new uniform, even happy to have a ponytail put in her hair, now that she's got the official ribbons to match her uniform.
This is the first time she's had a shirt with her name on it, so that's pretty cool too. And there's something about having your sweet little girl, out there with her last name emblazoned across her back and the mean-looking black and red that's just...well...kinda cool. She never has been a girly girl and now it's official.
It was already obvious that travel softball is very different from travel baseball. But the differences become huge when you're in the middle of it all. First of all, you've got girls instead of boys, so you can do things like this before the game:
Boys don't really sit still for that sort of thing, but I've noticed that the Nova coaches pull the girls aside as a group for talks all the time...during practice, before games, after games, whenever.

And then there's this:

If you've only been to a baseball tournament, you'd never know what this is. This is the whole team, doing their customized Nova cheer, which they do before each game. It's got simple choreography and totally gets the girls fired up to play every time. They have lots of other cheers they do during the game too. During the season, I admit they kind of annoyed me. At tournaments, it's actually kinda fun.
Why yes. Yes, Mam is wearing mismatched red and one black. They were issued two pairs of socks to go with their uniforms and were asked to wear red socks for their first game Saturday. Once they had won their first tournament game, they were to wear one black and one red. The first game went well. The second game, at 6pm on Saturday, went well too. This picture is from the third game, where they'd changed to their black jerseys.

The third game was at 8am on Sunday...requiring Mam and me to leave the house at 6:45 to get there at 7:15 for warm-ups. They played a really challenging opponent to whom they lost by a single run. Mam played super well, getting two hits, one run, one RBI and an out at second base. I was so proud of her. As the youngest player on the team, it's nice to see her making some great plays, even if she's not the best player on the team.

The other thing about softball is that the coaches and manager care about building team spirit, about the girls forming friendships, about the parents getting to know each other. Novel. I know. In that vein, they arranged to have lunch for the girls between games. Since our games were far apart on Saturday, we all went home, but Sunday, they decided to put on 9:30 in the morning.

I didn't think much of it until the girls ate and started to play. They were all playing together like they were best of friends. Mam knew none of these girls before joining the Nova team, but didn't hesitate to put on a clinic in tree climbing...

and when it came to a rousing game of How-Many-Nova-Players-Fit-On-A-Tiny-Tire, Mam was right there in the mix with all the other girls.
These girls and their parents are great. They're nice, they play with heart, they speak all different languages and yet, they're a team...a team where the girls really enjoy each other.

So, when the Nova lost in the first round of bracket play...KO'd by some incredible 9-year-old fastpitch pitching, they were tired, but still enthusiastic.

I wasn't sure about this whole travel softball thing, but I'm sure now. This is going to be great.

Friday, May 25, 2012


We weren't in the perfect place for viewing...which I gather was closer to Mt. Shasta...but last weekend we were treated to a rare annular eclipse. Since Smunch was at baseball practice (as always), I went and hung out with Mam. I brought an index card with a hole punched in it...because I'm high tech that way.
Mam was thrilled to be able to see the light coming through the hole turn into a little glowing crescent on the ground.
It still paled in comparison, however, to her mommy-aided discovery that now all the places where the sun shone through the trees appeared as crescents too.
A lot of things excite this little girl, especially anything to do with science or nature. I'm not sure I've ever seen her so excited as she was, running all over the school grounds screaming "Crescents! Look Mommy, crescents!"
Smunch was less than thrilled with the whole event by the time practice was over, but he'd gotten to see it too.

Some things you just shouldn't miss doing with your children, certain children in particular.

Sunny Sunol

I don't always carry my camera on hikes, but it was a lovely day to head out to the East Bay and if I'm going to carry it, I'm darned well going to take some pictures. I've wanted to head over to this park for a while now, but with baseball and softball and everything else going on, it's hard to find the time. It gets pretty hot over there in the summer. I think I might've found one of the last best weekends to go.
Sunol Regional Wilderness has a lot going for it...lovely wooded areas along the creek, vast meadows of oaks, craggy outcroppings, cave-like rock formations to scramble around on and steep climbs to sweeping vista of the entire Bay Area from San Jose to Mt. Diablo.

I was so taken with it that I forgot about the areas I initially wanted to explore and headed for the hilltops instead. Gives me an excuse to go back.
And I didn't quite end up where I wanted to go there either. Despite having a map and trying to make it to the furthest reaches of the park, I ended up at Cave Rocks, which was also pretty cool...literally and figuratively.
I didn't stick around for too long though. I had other adventures to attend to!


I'm not sure when exactly it starts. Maybe by second grade the kids know that in fourth grade, they get to go on this really special field trip. It's hyped beyond reasonable expectation, from the first day in the fourth grade classroom. In the spring, the entire grade will board buses at 6 a.m., drive three hours to Gold Rush Country and spend the day at Columbia, an old mining town that is now a museum of sorts. They won't get back until AFTER NINE. Ooooh. Past bedtime.

Parents around here are so gung-ho (or freakish about their kids' whereabouts) that they have to hold a lottery to pick the chaperones for this trip. I didn't particularly want to enter, but Smunch wanted me to and I couldn't tell him 'no'. And, of course, I was one of the "lucky" ones. 

Does that photo look blurry? Yeah. It felt blurry in front of the school at 6 a.m. too.

A number of the chaperones decided to drive on their own instead of taking the bus with the kids. I think they'd heard horror stories about riding on the bus. But it wasn't very eventful. We stopped in Tracy, where the kids ate their breakfasts outside Macdonalds. They weren't allowed to buy anything there. They brought their breakfasts with them.

We drove past Manteca, where Smunch played baseball last summer. And we drove through the cute little town of Sonora, where I've heard the Diamondback Grill serves a mean burger, but we didn't get to stop. Finally, we arrived in Columbia.
Naturally, the first order of business was the learn to pan for gold. Smunch's whole class listened carefully, then got to work.
Many of the kids in his class probably could have done this all day. Fortunately, the gravel was seeded with little flecks of real gold, so I think everyone had some success. Also fortunately, the kids were scheduled for a stagecoach ride, so we couldn't actually stay there all day.
It was fun and bumpy. The stagecoach got held up by a rogue bandit. The kids seemed fairly nonplussed.

My four charges (all boys) and I wandered around the stores quite a bit since the kids were allowed to bring up to $10 to spend. I was somehow supposed to ensure that they each spent no more than $3 on candy. Not sure if that worked out or not. You can buy a heck of a lot of candy for $3 though!

They'd ordered hot dogs and sandwiches from a local shop for lunch, so we all planted ourselves in the gazebo shade for a little bit before heading up the hill to the grammar school to learn about school in the West in the 1860s.
Smunch didn't fare so well. I'm happy to say he wasn't up there in the dunce cap because he was really behaving poorly. He was just a willing volunteer. I wish I'd gotten a decent picture, but the teacher was pretty strict and I wasn't as willing to don the dunce cap! Next up, they had a great little tour with one of the rangers, culminating in a lesson on how the townsfolk put our fires using a bucket brigade.
The kids had a blast and it was fun to watch. No one stayed dry. We all had coupons for a "free" ice cream cone. After all that candy, it didn't seem like such a good idea, but it was hot and the kids had been great. We all deserved one. The day was winding to a close, so I took the boys for one more trip to pan for gold (and several separate, but equally desperate, trips to the bathroom) before we all had dinner, loaded the buses and headed for home.

 Smunch would probably never forgive me if I left this last part out because I'm fairly sure he thought it was the most exciting part of the trip. It was particularly windy that evening and part of our trip was over the Altamont Pass, known for it's huge wind farms...because it's usually windy right there. That night, it was exceptionally windy and it blew open the emergency escape hatch of the top of the second bus (we were on the first bus).

Smunch was sitting with me, up near the driver and right behind his teacher, so he got the whole scoop as she talked on her cell phone and the driver radioed headquarters. Apparently, a dad on the other bus strapped his belt to the hatch and held it down himself for the rest of the way home.

High drama, that.

Junior Olympics 2012

Smunch is in fourth grade this year. That means a lot of different things, but one of the things that means is that this was the first year he could participate in the Junior Olympics. Junior Olympics is held at the local high school and includes all of the elementary schools in the district. It's primarily a track and field kind of thing, which means running. Smunch does not like running.

In fact, when I asked him if he was going to take part in Junior Olympics his answer was an emphatic 'no'. And then on of the mom's running the even called me to ask why I hadn't ordered Smunch a T-shirt yet. Uh...'cause he doesn't want to do it? She explained that the kids didn't really know what the whole thing was about just yet. So, I caved and bought the shirt. I figured Mam could use it in a couple of years if Smunch didn't change his mind.

 It wasn't more than a week later when Smunch cautiously asked on the way home from school, "Mom, do you think I could still do the Junior Olympics?" I was awfully proud of myself for sensing this eventuality...and thrilled to give an emphatic "Yes".

 Of course, Smunch still didn't want to run. The only thing he wanted to do was the softball throw. But he had to sign up for three things. So his day started with the basketball throw.
I missed this event because I was off managing Mam's softball team. Based on the report I got, he didn't do so well. I believe he hit one shot out of 10. He continued with hurdles, his one running event.
I got to witness that and I was pretty proud of him for coming second in his heat. It wasn't fast enough to make the finals, but I felt like he did well and I hope he did too. Finally, it was on to the softball throw.
He sure looks serious, doesn't he? I suspect he did O.K. in this event, but I they only posted the winners and he wasn't among them. For a competitive little guy who wasn't going to win any awards for his athletic prowess, he had a really good time that day. And it was fun to watch such a big event with so many kids.

It gave me a lot of appreciation for how special the "real" olympics are and why they say it's an honor just to compete. I was proud of Smunch for representing his school, being a good sport and trying his best. In the end, what more can you really ask?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Quick Fix

It doesn't take a genius to see I haven't posted in more than six months now. There are myriad reasons for that. Maybe I'll get to those, but there's a lot to catch up on, so maybe not. Besides, the pictures are fun and life has been not-so-fun, so let's get on with the fun stuff...

Things happened after Halloween last year. For instance, Aunt Karen and her family (Spencer! and Lucas!) came to visit for Thanksgiving. Then I took our traditional Christmas Card photos.
Apparently, this tradition is somewhat fun, even if it involves getting dressed up and then being photographed for half an hour or so.
We got up at some ungodly crazy hour to see a lunar eclipse that went down behind the clouds before the moon began to peak out again.

There were truffles made for teachers...
and cookies made for neighbors.
The day itself didn't disappoint, apparently.

There was a monumental haircut.

Who would have known I would like the short hair so much better? The long hair was awfully pretty...for the 30 seconds after it was brushed, anyway.

There was a momentous trip to the tide pools on a beautiful day in January...

where we got to see our first octopus, scurrying for the water in its native habitat.

Later that month, the braces?
They came off. They're still off. Now if only I could remember to remind him about that darned retainer thingy!

Smunch once again tried out for his baseball league's "club team", the Mavericks.
For the first time, he didn't make it. He's now playing on a travel team called The Blues. He really enjoys it. I'm sure he'd enjoy it more if they had enough boys to actually field a team for tournaments! He's played in a single tournament so far and the team lost every game...just like the Mavericks did last year.

Mam, once again showed her skills in basketball, playing YBL with a team of girls very similar to the one she played with each of the previous two years. They called themselves "The Party Rockers" (Ick!!!) and won every game (or at least the vast majority of them.)

It's impossible to take good pictures of action in a gymnasium, it turns out.

In mid-February, Smunch turned 10. He had a laser tag party and I did my best impression of a laser-tag cake.

Since his party was before his actual birthday, we also indulged in our tradition of Sprinkles cupcakes on his actual birthday.

Later that month, Aunt Karen came for a visit with Spencer! and Lucas! We took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where they had a grand ol' time.
Then, in early March, Mam turned 8..with more cupcakes.
And she become a Fuchsia Firework.
She also learned the ins and outs (well, a few of them) of fastpitch softball pitching.
I'm still managing her team, and working on my posture.
Some time after her actual birthday, she had her first sleepover birthday party...with funny hats (oh yeah, it was on March 17th!)

She insisted she wanted to have make-your-own sundaes instead of a fancy cake. So, I was denied another crazy-making cake extravaganza and treated to the easy purchase of ice cream, fudge sauce, caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles and, of course, maraschino cherries.

The girls had a blast. Fortunately (for me), only two girls spent the night. They were treated to homemade buttermilk pancakes the next morning.

Meanwhile, Smunch became an Angel.

About time.

Easter came...

and went in a blur of plastic candy-filled eggs, cinnamon rolls and scrambled eggs.

The day after Easter, I took the kids to Uvas Canyon County Park for a two-day camping trip. I was joined by another mom...and her FOUR kids. The creek was fun.
The rain was less fun.
But the waterfalls were lovely if you were up for a hike in the rain.
We left a night early, filled the garage with dripping camping gear and had our spaghetti and s'mores camp dinner right in the living room...complete with "campfire".
There has been, and continues to be much baseball playing.
And much softball playing. Two games a week for each of them this year, with a practice for good measure.
This picture was taken during tryouts for the league's Nova team. It's a summer travel team. She was awesome and did all kinds of things I didn't know she could do, including hitting every ball pitched to her from a pitching machine. I was told later, after Mam didn't make the team, that the team selection strongly favors third graders.(Mam is still in second grade.) More than 20 girls tried out for the team. Only 12 girls made it. I imagine most of them are third graders. Since the tryouts, one of the girls on the Nova team has broken her wrist and Mam has been asked to play with them. She is over the moon. My summer calendar weeps at the prospect of five softball tournaments before the end of June.

And there we are. Mam just made the Nova team earlier this week. There are three more baseball games and two more softball games in the regular season. There are camps and trips planned for the summer...including a weeklong trip just for Wyoming.

And to prove that I really am nuts, here's a nice little photo I took while I was out hiking last weekend...

Please pray for my sanity.