Sunday, March 31, 2013

Play Ball!

Holy moly, if it isn't baseball season again already! Truth be told, I hardly had a chance to miss it with the San Francisco Giants playing all the way through October again. They don't start their regular season until tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that I'm not blessed with my full complement of softball and baseball games and practices.

This weekend started with Smunch's first "real" baseball game...inasmuch as it was the first one that would count in the season standings. Smunch is now playing for the PONY Bronco divison Giants (as opposed to the San Francisco Giants.) While he looks mighty spiffy in his new uniform...
he is also the smallest player on the far. The kid next to him, in the catcher gear isn't exactly a monster either, but Smunch is noticeably smaller in real life. 
At the game, a mom I'd never met before asked me if the really big kid in the photo was my kid. I laughed and said "No, the little one is mine." "Oh, Smunch?" she said. "He's my favorite! He's not very big, but he sure can play baseball." She's my new best friend.

Smunch was supposed to pitch during the third inning, so I was hoping they'd get there before Mam and I had to hightail it out of there to her softball game. The game was going a little slowly. I only had about an hour and 15 minutes to stick around. 

Although one of the Giants hit a home run (the biggest one in that picture, two to the left of Smunch), which is a feat I may have to get used to, the game was tied, the the bases were loaded and the Mets were up, with only one out. The coach intended to use the first pitcher for two innings, but he decided he'd better get someone new in there and he called his diminutive center fielder in to the mound for relief.
Yes. In case you're wondering. You do get to be #1 when you're the shortest. Smunch is not fond of this number. He's probably an entire foot shorter than the kid he replaced.

And there he was, this tiny little 11-year-old, who promptly induced a weak grounder for the second out and struck out the next batter. Mission accomplished.

I got to stick around for the third inning too. Smunch trotted right back out to the mound, faced three batters, got the first on a pop fly, the second flew out and the third struck out. It's weird...and undeniably cool that these boys are finally old enough to field plays cleanly and support their pitchers. They look awesome...sometimes.
That's one happy pitcher! And the last batter was a kid he's played with before, one of the best kids from his previous division. You can bet he was proud of himself! 

And I was so proud of him that I prattled on and on about it as I drove Mam to her game. I couldn't see her back there, but I imagine she was rolling her eyes at me. That would be like her.
She's not really all attitude. Really. She didn't say a word about my pride in her brother. She just made sure I was going to be equally proud of her when the day was done. 

8U girl's fastpitch softball almost couldn't be more different from 11 to 13-year-old boys' baseball. A few of the girls can pitch. A few of the girls (not necessarily the same girls) can throw. A few can hit the ball. Very few can catch a ball if a miracle occurs and they get a decent throw in their direction. The boys were just like this at their age, I should add.

On Saturday, Mam didn't get to pitch and she didn't get many fielding opportunities since the girls on the Killer Penguins didn't hit a lot of balls her direction. She did make a nice play at first base to get an out with the aid of a teammate...who not only came in to cover first base (which Mam was playing) from right field, but caught the ball Mam threw to her. 

But really, Mam's greatest chance to make a difference came when she was up to bat. The first time she was up, two girls were already on base and she hit a hard grounder into the outfield. The outfield is a little like outer space to some of these girls. It got past all of them. So, there Mam stood, on second base, having hit the ball hard enough that both her teammates scored. The next girl struck out and the inning was over. 
It was a long time before Mam made it to bat again and by then the Vipers were down 6-3. It was the third inning. They only play four.

The bases were loaded when Mam took her place at the plate. And she smacked the ball again. Again the ball got past the outfielders (who play on the edge of the infield anyway) and again Mam had cleared the bases of everyone but herself. And once a team scores three runs, the inning is over. So, Mam shut the inning down That's kind of like her, now that I think about it. 

Neither team scored in the fourth and the game ended in a 6-6 tie. Mam had driven five of the Vipers' 6 runs herself 8 RBIs in the 4 games her team has played so far. They are still undefeated at 2-0-2.

Turns out that over at the baseball diamond, Smunch had also driven in the tying run. That was before their homerun hitter smashed a grand slam and then took the mound and struck out seven in three innings, locking up the Giants' first win of the season (14-8) in the first game that counted.

It was a good day and when the games were over, it was time to think about Easter...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nature Nerd

I haven't gotten out much lately. A combination of iron-deficiency anemia and general blahs has kept me indoors doing laundry, filling out paperwork, somehow not actually making my house any tidier. It was a big weekend...three baseball games, a softball game, a basketball game...but it was all over before noon on Sunday.

I had plans to go for a nice long hike, but I was instantly hit with more blahs and a moutain of stuff that needed doing at home. Thank goodness my neighbor called and asked if I wanted to join her while she walked her dog. The invitation was just what I needed. She suggested we might go somewhere else, other than the nearby neighborhoods, so I did some quick research and found all the dog-friendly open space preserves nearby. We chose one and set off.

It turned out to be a great choice of parks. It was beautiful, intermittantly shady, lots of flowers, lots of friendly dogs (apparently a few ticks too). My friend, L., commented on one of the plants. "That's neat," she said.
Photo shamelessly stolen from
"Yeah," I said without thinking. "That's trillium." And I suddenly realized that it's no great wonder I feel out of place here in Silicon Valley. Not only did I know what kind of plant it was, but I was pretty pleased with myself for knowing as well. I'm such a nerd...but the completely WRONG kind of nerd to live around here.

It was a short hike. L. needed to get back and that was fine. I puttered around the house a little, did a little gardening, filled out some paperwork, washed some dishes, then put on my hiking boots and left...again. By then, it was 5 o'clock. I figured people would be leaving my favorite little hiking spot (which as become very, very crowded over the last 30 years) for dinner and I'd be able to park. Twilight is a lovely time to be there. Animals are out the views across the Bay are lovely and there are fewer people around.
Photo courtesy of a different day and time when I had a camera on me

On a lovely day, "fewer" is all relative, however. There were still a lot of people there.

I left my camera at home, which generally guarantees I'll see something cool.

I was immediately greeted by some male wild turkeys, showing off their magnificent breeding plumage to anyone who'd pay attention. I didn't see any hens around, so maybe they were just showing off for each other. Most of the year, turkeys are just kind of around, but I really enjoy watching them at this time of year. I swear one of them had the brightest blue head I've ever seen and a long, bright red waddle attached.
Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
I ran into a curious Western Gray Squirrel. There are always squirrels in my backyard and honestly, there's nothing terribly impressive about squirrels. I even came to dislike them when I worked with orphaned squirrels at Wildlife Rescue years ago. But backyard squirrels are generally Eastern Gray Squirrels. They're little and scraggly, compared to their Western cousins.
photo courtesy of the Methow Conservancy

The squirrel that hopped off the trail and then sat and watched as I passed was magnificent as squirrels go. He was big with a giant plume of a tail. We had a little chat and I went on my way.

There were more turkeys, herds of deer, views, hikers, joggers, and still a significant amount of peace to be had.

I reached the end of my loop and, having landed in the wrong parking lot, took the long gravel path past more gobbling turkeys, to the one where I parked. I was almost too lost in thought...or maybe I was still laughing at the turkey on the hillside above notice this guy.
Photo courtesy of my absurdly obsolete cell phone
That would've been a pity.

I put this photo up on Facebook because I was so excited to have seen this snake...a California King Snake. I'd never seen one before and I know enough about snakes to know this one wasn't poisonous, even if I didn't know what he was at first.

After all, this is a viper:

This sweet little snake is not one of those. (Eek!)

Last time I found an unknown snake on the trail, I'd taken pictures and mailed them off to a herpetologiest who was interested in sightings of rubber boas on the San Francisco Peninsula. He was very excited that I'd found him a rubber boa and asked if I'd let the kids handle it. Handle it? Are you kidding me? I didn't know what it was!  Of course, it was obviously non-venomous as well, but it seemed a poor example to set. It made me a little tempted to pick up this king snake though. It was really long though...and now I'm glad I thought better of it. Apparently, they're known to bite people if they're not used to being handled...and to dump their "cloacal contents" (aka: crap) all over you in defense.

I have to say the Facebook reaction was kind of disappointing. A lot of my "friends" said they would have been totally freaked out, or grossed out, or just said "ewwwwww!". I get that not everyone is a big fan of snakes. I don't consider myself a "snake person" either. After all, not even I was about to pick this one up, but it was so cool! And I was so very impressed with his five feet of black and white stripes. The snake was not nearly so impressed with me, after I got down in his face and took his photo. He turned around and went back the way he'd come.

Sometimes I forget what a nerd I really am because I don't fit the nerd-mold around here. It's nice to be reminded that there are some things I get really jazzed about (that don't relate to my children). It's kind of a lonely business though...being a biology nerd.

Monday, March 11, 2013


I ran across this photograph of Mam the other day...
Gosh, I miss that teeny little girl. It's hard for me to fathom that this is the same little girl who sang at the spring concert at school last nine-year-old. Could that really be her?
Well, the dimple matches.

She's such a funny girl. There she is, all smiles in her cute pink dress with swirls on it. She's very proud to be up on stage and thrilled that her family is there to watch her. And then there's this:
This is the little girl who went from being a Red Unicorn, to being a Pink Butterfly, to being a Fuchsia Firework. She's now a Neon Green Viper...obviously.

She's every bit of that and more. She loves her dresses, but it doesn't make her less of a fierce competitor. And last weekend was the Vipers' first game. She was ready to show them her stuff too.
She's a little rusty on the pitching, but she'll get there.
She's ready. She's paying attention. She's got the batting stance...
She threw a couple of strikes, got two good hits and scored a run. And then there's this:
She may be a fierce competitor, but she's really just a goofy girl at heart. 

Slip Sliding into Nine

This is a photograph from Mam's actual birthday. As is tradition in our house, I let her go pick out nine cupcakes at Sprinkles for the big day. Unfortunately, it was a really big day for her, with a new running program starting after school and overlapping with one of her first softball practices of the season. We had a late dinner out. She chose Afghan the same restaurant where we'd eaten for my birthday just a month earlier. I was pretty sure she despised anything that didn't look like cheese pizza, quesadillas or macaroni and cheese. Perhaps she really is growing up.

But I digress. Thankfully, I'd planned Mam's birthday party for the weekend before her actual birthday and her cake was done in plenty of time. None of the midnight cake decorating that has gone on in more ambitious years.

The cute little local ice rink doesn't open for parties or public skating until 3pm. It's a great little spot with an outdoor rink. It's been there at least since I was a kid. I remember thinking it was a pretty magical place back then.

 It's not quite as magical when you're throwing a party and doing less of the skating. I made hot chocolate (and brought marshmallows, of course), brought the extra strawberries (which disappeared in minutes), some emergency cheese sticks and the cake. I figured that would be plenty for a two hour party. And it was...except that I should've brought more strawberries and less hot chocolate! The kids all drank hot chocolate, of course, but I probably brought enough to fill a swimming pool.Thankfully, I did get in a little skating with the birthday girl. 
She had a great time and only came off the ice for cake. All her best friends were there. She even invited a few boys...beause they're friends, not because she likes them...of course!

Sometimes, the parties I've had at home have felt interminable, but parties somewhere else always feel too short and like I didn't have to work hard enough to make it terrific. Funny that these are the ones they generally like the best! At least a few of them made sure I didn't get to be too much of a slacker!

Another Post About Cake

Ta da! One last ridiculous cake for the season. And it was rather sane, if I do say so myself. I mean...sane for me...which I guess isn't saying much.

This year, Mam wanted to have an ice skating party. Turns out, ice skating parties are far more economical than trampoline parties, so I wasn't about to refuse. Besides, I like ice skating.  And since I'd delved into the world of fondant penguins before, creating fondant penguins on ice skates seemed like something I could handle.

Mam insisted that she wanted a white cake...
with whipped cream and strawberry filling. 
I don't particularly love that combination myself, but I do as I'm instructed. Seriously though, how could this be better than chocolate?
I spent an evening crafting funny little penguins to skate on top of this cake. I had fun with it.
And never one to leave good enough alone, I decided these little guys were far too naked and dressed them in assorted winter ice skating attire.
As much as fondant-covered cakes look amazing, I'm not thrilled with how fondant tastes, so I got Mam to opt for frosting and created just a frozen pond out of fondant with some shiny glaze.
I don't know why, but I was oddly underwhelmed by this cake. Thankfully, a gaggle of little girls and a few boys thought it was pretty spectacular, gushing over how cute the penguins were and exclaiming in disbelief that it was homemade. 
And one little ice skater in particular with thrilled with her cake. And really, what else matters?