Friday, January 18, 2013


You know those parents who just can't help bragging about their brilliant, good-looking kids? They're kind of obnoxious. And honestly, I don't know many of them.

On the whole, it seems like most kids are remarkable primarily to the people who are genetically related to them. If you bother to get to know any child, however, you'll find that they're all pretty darned remarkable in their own ways. Sometimes it just takes something special to bring it out.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you'll recognize this picture as my firstborn, Smunch. Of course, you might not recognize him without a baseball uniform on.

He loves baseball. He enjoys school. He's pretty good at math. He likes science. He's got a great group of friends. He plays football or wall ball every recess. Kids like him. Teachers like him. He's pretty bright. He's got a great sense of humor. He's also a stereotypical elder sibling. He's responsible, organized and on top of his own work. He's also responsible for beating on his little sister. At home, he probably watches too much TV. He likes the History Channel, the Weather Channel and the Discovery Channel. Admittedly, his favorite shows are still probably America's Funniest Home Videos and Wipeout!. He's almost 11, but he still smiles when I show up at school, wants to walk next to me on the way to the library and occasionally wants to hold my hand. I'm painfully aware that these sweet little gestures of affection are dwindling and I appreciate them as they're offered.

Despite all I know about my son, I didn't know he had any special knowledge of world geography. But every year, his elementary school hosts a school-level National Geographic Bee for the 4th, 5th and 6th graders. It's affectionately known as the GeoBee.

Before the holidays, all the upper graders were treated to seven geography questions that might qualify them for the GeoBee finals. In Smunch's class, he was the only one to get all seven questions correct...because he knows stuff and because he got lucky with the questions. Only ten students made it to the GeoBee finals, but he was a shoo-in. Anyone who got six questions right was subjected to a tie-breaker round. The ten finalists are pictured above. Smunch is the one with the white shirt.

I was not there. Another mom who, uh, didn't have a hard-to-reschedule hair appointment, was kind enough to send me the photo.

Smunch apparently came second in this round. His friend, C must have come first. That meant the two of them faced off in the championship round yesterday. I had to work and I don't work close by, but I wasn't going to miss it, especially once Smunch said he'd like me to be there.

The rest of the crowd consisted of 20 or so other students, mostly girls, Smunch's teacher and his grandparents. (His dad was traveling on business.) Smunch completely ignored us when he walked in the room. I didn't think he looked nervous, but he later told me he was and I'm thinking this picture suggests that too.
...or he was just really stiff and alert after coming in from the crisp morning air or something.

The GeoBee is a big deal, so I was surprised to learn that the championship round would be only three questions. The boys would listen to each question, write the answer on a piece of paper on a clipboard and then tell the moderator (a sixth grade teacher) what they had written.

The first question was pretty easy, I thought. Bozeman, is a town 140 miles North of Yellowstone Park. In what state is Bozeman? I realized quickly, however, that Smunch was going to say "Wyoming"...because I'd just been on a trip to Yellowstone Park and my trip was to Wyoming. C. also happened to know that Yellowstone is Wyoming and they both answered incorrectly.

The second question: What is the name of the chain of volcanic islands that extends 1,200 miles off the West coast of Alaska? I knew that one, but I was sure that Smunch didn't. And I had no clue what C. knew about Alaska. He's a smart kid. So, when the moderator asked Smunch what he'd written, you can imagine how blown away I was when he said "the Aleutians". Dang. C. made an educated guess and said "the Alaskan Islands".

This was Smunch's look of relief at being right.

The last question was about South America. The island of Tierra del Fuego is shared by Argentina and what other country? I've heard of Tierra del Fuego, but I didn't know anything about it. I never would have gotten that question right. Smunch said Brazil. C. said Peru. At least they both chose countries on the right continent! (The answer is Chile, in case you had a burning need to know.)

And just like that, the contest was over.

Perhaps my proudest moment came next. It wasn't when the teacher put a medal around my son's neck. It was when my little boy reached out to shake his friend's hand. C. wasn't looking for it and didn't notice at first. But Smunch tried again. They're such nice boys and such good sports. I don't think C. will begrudge Smunch anything.
And with that, he was out the door, with nary a look at his mom. Off to stash his medal in his backpack and go play football with his friends.

Apart from a nice certificate and his name on a plaque in the school office (if they ever update's already missing the last two years),

Smunch's other reward as GeoBee Champion is to take a written test next week.

The written test will determine if he qualifies to go to the state GeoBee contest in Sacramento in April. Not sure he'll make it to that level, but it sure would be a fun experience!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Packing it in

The holidays are mercifully over.

I've always liked Christmas. I like finding just the perfect present for people. I don't always succeed, but I enjoy trying. And sometimes I'm surprised when something I was excited about goes over like a lead balloon or something I gave little thought to is the giftee's favorite thing. I like the cookies. I like our big family breakfast. I like having a sparkly tree in my living room. I love having all the kids here, cousins and all.

I'm so glad it's all done. The holidays were difficult and awkward this year, despite all the things I still loved about them. I never got the icicle lights on the house. I'm too scared of the high peak above the garage. I didn't make truffles. But I did just about everything else, and then some. I didn't make it to yoga. I didn't make it to pilates. I made it out for one very short hike. I didn't fare too well.

I got a lot of sleep after the holidays. Then I finally made it to a pilates class and hired babysitters so I could spend some time at work. Things started looking up enough that I managed to make a fun last day of vacation with the kids. Starting with...

pancakes, of course. There's nothing my kids like better for breakfast. They won't even go out for pancakes if Mom's pancakes are an option. I'm very flattered. And now that I have a griddle built right into my range, I'm totally loving it.
Mam does not, however, like to be photographed while eating said pancakes.

After breakfast, I promised to take the kids ice skating. We have a really cute little outdoor rink that's pretty local, but it's open for only two hours in the afternoon for people who aren't taking lessons. I opted instead for the seasonal rink in our nearby "big city".

It's sponsored by Kristi Yamaguchi and Hawaiian Airlines, so I guess it's required that the rink be under the palm trees.
Friday was "Aloha Friday" and we got in cheap for wearing Hawaiian clothes. I'm so darned cheap, I actually went by Diddams and bought the kids leis to wear. We looked pretty silly out there ice skating in our "Hawaiian" duds and long underwear, but we had fun anyway.

Smunch may have complained bitterly about his skates being hard to skate in. He said he'd never had hockey skates before. But it's amazing how long children can be entertained by skating around in circles. It's California. It got kind of warm, the rink got pretty watery and Mam ended up very wet, but she still didn't want to stop. We stayed for an hour and a half and then I announced it was time for lunch.

I don't know a lot about places to eat downtown, but I knew one restaurant that would get them there, just with its name.

And it was a short walk from the ice rink. So they both had spaghetti and I treated them to Oreo shakes afterwards.

Somehow, our little adventure seemed to take up the entire day. I was so thankful that they had fun...and that I'd gotten to have fun with them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Baseball Player

In baseball, sometimes you get the ball...
and sometimes the ball gets you.
Despite what his coach referred to as "more blood than I've ever seen" coming from Smunch's nose after being hit by an errant one-hopper, Smunch still ended the week looking better than his little cousin, I think.
It's tough being two.