Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Serve

After eight days of watching top level tennis from the front row, I've developed an injury. My neck is sore. The balls go so fast. You can't help but track them with your head. Back and forth. Back and forth. I'm not complaining. Due to my job searching status, I've had plenty of free time to take in the sights at the men's Tiburon Peninsula Club Challenger. The one day I had to go to San Francisco for an interview it rained and the matches were cancelled. After the rain blew over it was warm and gorgeous all week. We housed one of the tournament officials so we got VIP treatment. Lucky me. 

The theme of this year's tourney was tall and more tall. It was truly a battle of the big guys. The singles final pitted Ivo Karlovic (6'10") against shorty Sam Querrey. Sam, who is a mere six foot six, beat Ryan Sweeting (6'5") in the semis. Steve Johnson, a shrimp at six foot two, teamed up with Querrey and went against lefties Cartsen Ball (6'6") and Chris Guccione (6'7") in the doubles finals. Both matches went the distance and were won by inches. At a combined thirteen feet, one inch, Ball and Guccione prevailed over the vertically challenged team of Querrey/Johnson who added up to only twelve feet eight inches. Dr. Ivo squeaked it out over Querrey, although Sam has local connections and we were all rooting for him.  

At five two I don't know why I even bother.  Some of these players are ranked around 400 in the world and they'd blow the best players we know off the courts. We all use racquets and yellow balls. That's where the similarities end. I could relate to Sam because in September I got to the finals in singles and doubles of the club championships and lost both in the same day. Just like Sam. At least we have that in common. 

Last year I wrote about the brat attack (Backhand Fronthand - November 2010) and how sportsmanlike Ryan Harrison was, even when he lost.  This year there was an ugly scene when Bobby Reynolds went on a tirade against an official in the earlier rounds. He didn't make it to the finals. Obviously too short. The rest of the guys were all so smiley and easy-going, even during their matches. Querrey signed autographs after he lost his singles and before he played the doubles. Ryan Sweeting is so cute with huge dimples and a twinkle in his eye. He was even unruffled when the guy staying at our house called him for a foot fault. We were so close you could hear the players chatting on the changeover, usually about food. It made me think of the first year TPC hosted the Challenger. Justin Gimelstob was playing and he kept talking to me in between points. Finally, I had to get a little motherly. I told him to concentrate on his tennis.   

This tall tournament was, obviously, all about the serve. It was practically impossible to break Karlovic. When he'd get down in a service game he'd unleash the hounds (Teke's expression) or as Eric would say, bring the big eraser. The serves were clocking in around one thirty-five, but seemed faster. Down love forty? Bring the heater. Get a high one? Splash ball. Over the fence and into the pool.  
Club play is a bit different. We think it's such an advantage to serve, but all this talk about holding serve is over-rated. Have you ever noticed that when the score favors an opponent the players with the lower score will say, "on serve" at the changeover? It's never the players who are up 3-2 and about to serve. It's the ones who are down. They may be down, but they're not down a break. And we all know it's not a break until you hold. In women's tennis it's often "on break" more than "on serve". Once you've neglected to ace your opponent, being the server loses its advantage. Anyway, in 3.5 women's tennis there is no such thing as an ace. A ball right down the tee - the most perfect serve ever? That'll be called out. Guaranteed. 

In mixed doubles it's a little easier to win cheap points on the serve. Men don't care for my serve that's low to the backhand. Women dislike that my doubles partner is looming at the net ready to take anything within ten feet of him. Everyone hates returning Eric's serve with its lefty kick. To be extra devious I like to throw in a soft serve when my opponent (especially the guys) least expects it. Watch that sucker hit the fence. Talk about a cheap point. 

I'm a very average, club level player, but I could use some work. I need to perfect my "divorce shot" which is hitting down the middle in doubles. Then I have to learn to keep the ball out of the triples alley. Playing singles, if it goes wide you end up in the doubles alley. In doubles, if the ball is wide it's in the triples alley. That's one big alley. After that I'll work on my overhead so I can hit a splash ball. That is, when my neck gets better and I grow eighteen inches. Until then, I'll keep enjoying from the sidelines.      

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ana and her Sisters

Every two weeks something amazing happens at our house. A blue van pulls up in front and people tumble out. Wonderful people who clean our house in a way we could NEVER do ourselves. They make it shine. I've seen it happen many times and I still don't know how they do it. To me, it really is magic. Obviously, we could clean the house ourselves and of course, we have. It's just not the same. No matter how hard I try, I can't get the whole place cleaned at once. I can scrub a bathroom or mop the kitchen floor and then I get distracted or interrupted. To have everything dusted, mopped and vacuumed plus all the sheets changed at one time is amazing. We've talked about it frequently and always come to the same conclusion. These people are consummate professionals and very good at what they do. They make it seem so easy. 

Ana is the brains of the operation. She speaks excellent English and has a wonderful sense of humor. I enjoy talking to her almost as much as I love having the house cleaned. Ana's attention to detail is so great that the first thing she does when she comes in is peel the extra, flaky parts off the garlic heads and throw them out. She Feng Shui's the garlic! And that's only the beginning.  

I have been keeping house since I moved out at seventeen. No moving back home. No dormitory. No leaving a mess for someone else. That's thirty-six years of dropped Cheerios and sticky maple syrup and dog hair in dust bunnies the size of tumbleweed. I've lived with musicians and I've lived with children. I'm here to tell you- there's not much difference. And there's something else I've learned. Children create garbage. Heavy recyclers, the two of us make virtually no trash. We empty our kitchen garbage on principal, not because it's full. In a week we don't fill half a trash can. When the kids were little we could barely squeeze it all in to one garbage can. 

We never had housecleaners when I was growing up. Not once. We kids took turns doing chores, but I'm sure my mother did most of it. The only domestic duty she couldn't master was the ironing. We had a huge ironing basket but it never really got done. In the sixties everything was cotton and wrinkled. I would outgrow clothes while they were waiting in the ironing basket. Once in a while we'd take a load to the "ironing lady". What a treat for my mother. I remember it being a big, old house with piles of laundry everywhere. 

Over the years I've had spurts of domestic help. One woman was sweet but she didn't like to use harsh chemicals so nothing got very clean. Another had immigration problems. I would always go back to thinking the expense wasn't justified and we could do it ourselves. After all, with three daughters to pitch in, how hard could it be? Suffice to say, it was almost always easier to do it myself than enlist the "help". The dishwasher could be unloaded in less time than it took for them to argue over whose turn it was. Calgon, take me away.  

Once I got so fed up with Lana and Allie and their messy room that I threatened to stop giving them an allowance until they cleaned it up. Stupid threat on my part. I stopped paying the allowance but they didn't care and they didn't clean up their room. Eventually they got little jobs and made their own pocket change. That was the end of allowance forever at our house. I have to admit I wasn't very different. Once, when Laura and I shared a room, it was such a pigsty that my mother left a note on my closet door that said, "Shame on you". I don't think that worked, either.

During one of the self-cleaning periods I decided to have a Christmas party. I knew I needed help and tried to hire my neighbor's cleaners. They refused the job. Said the house was too dirty. Talk about depressing! Too dirty for the housecleaners! We did not have the holiday party. A month later Eric had his accident. One of my friends from the tennis club gave us the greatest gift. She got the ladies to kick in and they hired someone to clean the whole house for us. It was incredible. Eric came home from the hospital with multiple open wounds and there was great risk for infection. Not to worry. The house was pristine. That's how we found Ana and her sisters, the miracle workers.    

I have taken care of people for so long. These people take care of me. They always do something extra like organize the linen closet or clean the microwave. Eric loves that they clean the grounds out of the coffee pot. When real estate slowed down I suggested we let them go. Eric wouldn't hear of it. He didn't want to add yet another layer to the economic misery. They still have the job and we get to benefit from it. Now that's a stimulus plan.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Squirrel Nutkin

There's been a lot of interesting action in the animal kingdom recently. That is, our backyard. I don't know whether it's because the plantings have attracted the birds and the bees to the flowers and the trees, or if it's the moon up above or a thing called love. I may be thinking in song lyrics, but there's been a whole lot of fluttering in and out. I'm pretty sure there's been some bee sex. I'm all for nature, but let's not get too wild. 

Everyone seems to have an exciting animal story. If you tell someone about the time a mysterious creature made thumping noises in your bedroom, your friend Eliza will one-up you with her gruesome tale of sticking a bare foot into Uggs that were full of dead, baby mice. If you go on to explain that said animal was jammed between some furniture and the wall, and your extremely intelligent husband (who seems to know everything) was unable to identify it, Stacey will talk about the time she was at her friend's country house and there was a bird nest in the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan that they unwittingly turned on and feathers started flying. It kind of takes away from my story of jumping naked on the bed begging Eric to call the police about the creature.

After explaining that the thing had claws and feathers and looked prehistoric, Eric finally determined it was actually a very stupid (is there any other kind) dove who must have flown in earlier, hit the wall and fallen down a narrow space where it was then upside down. By then I'd had enough excitement for one night. I insisted we sleep downstairs and deal with the bird in the morning. The next day the dove appeared to be toes up, but when the bird rescuer got him into a plastic bag he started to flap his wings. By the time he was released outside he didn't look too bad and actually flew away. I guess he didn't get very far, because later on I noticed a lot of feathers on the driveway. I'm afraid a neighbor cat got him in the end. 

You really don't want to have the best animal story, because you most likely wouldn't be here to tell it. If you are eaten by a bear, it becomes someone else's story. We know a guy who had a massive chomp taken out of his leg by a shark while surfing. He lived to tell the tale and he's been riding that wave ever since. Even his mother wrote a book about it. I guess the moral is, get close, but not too close.
I don't understand why we're seeing such different species now. In twenty-seven years in this house I have never seen or heard a coyote. Now you can hear them howl in the distance every night. In the last couple years we've had a massive influx of nasty, black crows. Is there any other kind? They come around in flocks of fifty at a time. We have always had a wonderful mix of birds including shorebirds. Snowy egrets, seagulls, honking canada geese all fly over. Sweet, little hummingbirds feast on the lavender while I water in the evenings. And then, there are the blue jays. Territorial and striking, they're the same as ever. All this talk of birds- I've turned into my grandparents. 

What I didn't expect in the garden was the rodent-bird intersection. I can deal with a harmless, little snake, but I can't handle rats. Even outside rats. I recently saw one run behind the fountain near the back step. Time for somebody to get out the traps. Somebody who is not me. This is where I truly see the benefit of marriage. Some jobs take a real man. One rat quickly succumbed to our evil plan. The rat killer got rid of him and slyly placed another trap under the back step. He kept checking and every time he looked there was still no rat. Then there was no rat trap. Eric accused me of moving it. As if. So what DID happen to the rat trap? I have an image of a raccoon running around with it stuck to its snout.

Then came the mice. I was watering the tomatoes and a little mouse scurried out. Acch. I jumped a foot. Next time it happened again. That little sucker was fearless, sauntering all over in broad daylight. What to do now? Go play tennis - the answer to everything. When we returned our resident blue jay was under the chaise lounge. Eating a mouse. That answers that. Or so we thought. Then we saw another mouse. They say they're never really alone. Apparently so. The next afternoon I was reading in the garden when the jay swooped in right by the tomatoes and flew off with the mouse in its mouth. A carnivorous blue jay? The garden was becoming a killing field. One more eviscerated mouse carcass later and all was quiet on the rodent front. Until Squirrel Nutkin. 

Yet another new species to our garden, we now have a squirrel. I thought rats were taking all the bites out of the dropped pears, but I caught Squirrel Nutkin in the act. I know he's really a rat with a tail, but this guy is quite cute. I left the old sunflower heads for the birds to eat and who was out there, filling his little pouches? Like a character straight out of a Beatrix Potter children's story, he's a classic with his curly tail and bright, shiny eyes. I give up on the yard. Winter is coming. The critters can have it, but in spring, it's mine again