Monday, April 28, 2008

Cameron Sullivan: Come To Think of It -- Swimmer takes to bocce ball

Cameron Sullivan

Swimmer takes to bocce ball
Article Created: 04/28/2008 02:32:57 AM PDT
(originally published for Bay Area Newsgroup papers and online)

Upon discovering a burgeoning subculture of bocce enthusiasts last week, I have a new theme song. It goes, "I'm a bocce girl, in a bocce world."

Bocce ball may not immediately come to mind as a logical sport for a masters swimmer to add to her athletic endeavors. Running or cycling might make more sense. But despite the fact that I've been a competitive swimmer for the past seven years, I'm forging a divergent path.

Instead of triathlons, I'm taking up bocce ball.

Last week was my first encounter with a bocce ball. Now I’m hooked. I even learned that between Sunol on the west and Manteca on the east, every city is home to at least one bocce ball league; some have six or seven leagues. In other words, I should have no problem finding a team.

Trouble is, my wardrobe is all wrong.

When the members of my writers group surprised me with a birthday gathering at Campo di Bocce in Livermore last week, I arrived wearing conspicuously inappropriate attire. As our carpools unloaded in the parking lot, I noticed that the other four women among us wore slacks and flat shoes or stylish wide-heeled boots.

But my pals hadn’t told me where we were headed for the night.

Feeling spunky, I chose to dress up a bit more than usual and opted for a short skirt with three-inch-high stacked heels. High heels are about as proper on a bocce court as stilettos on a beach volleyball court.

It quickly became apparent that I would need a couple of glasses of valley wine to pull off this one. True bocce, after all, is played with a ball in one hand and a glass of wine in one the other. Or so I’m told.

My writers group consists of five dear friends, including Amy Moellering, the schools columnist for some BANG-East Bay papers, and Kathy Cordova, a Pleasanton-based author who co-hosts the “In a Word” book program on TV-30 with Herald columnist Jim Ott. Also among us are novelist Keely Parrack and gifted story teller Grace Navalta.

In the first few moments of our match, a surprisingly intense competition brewed, led by the normally mild-mannered Amy.

“Bocce is serious sport!” Amy informed us, adding that reunions with the Italian side of her family are filled with intense bocce ball matches. She even learned from the manager at Campo di Bocce that the surface of our bocce ball court was imported from Italy and that members of a USA Bocce team were in attendance at Campo di Bocce that night.

So while the rest of us were laughing and falling about all over the courts during our match, Amy nitpicked over the rules and took meticulous measurements of the distances between bocce balls and the pallino (a small metal ball that resembles a wingless version of the “snitch” in Harry Potter’s quidditch matches).

Soon I feared not so much the embarrassment of a wardrobe malfunction but that heels and a short skirt would hinder any deftness I could summon on the court, especially in the shadow of Amy’s expertise. Fortunately, it was not long before Amy acquiesced to her rules-averse friends. Measurements were approximated, balls were overthrown and a continuous crescendo of laughter erupted from our court.

When I ran into Kathy the next day, she proclaimed me the victor of our game. After humbly disagreeing with her, I soon began fantasizing that the members of the USA Bocce team may have noticed. Were there scouts among them? I wondered.

Now all I have to do is decide which of the dozens of leagues in the area to join. My only requirement is that they permit me to wear my lucky heels at the competitive level.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Come To Think of It: Plenty to do at home in these valleys

Cameron Sullivan

Plenty for family to do in Area
Cameron Sullivan
Article Created: 04/21/2008 02:32:28 AM PDT

WHEN YOU live in the most beautiful place on Earth, it doesn't matter if you're a lousy hostess. People still visit. In fact, they don't even care if you're home. They come anyway. Just leave a key under the mat and they're happy.

I'm gambling that the family members who are visiting us this month won't notice my shortcomings in housekeeping, gardening and cooking as readily as they would if we lived in, say, Wausau, Wis., and had to stay indoors more often during an April visit. Not that there's anything wrong with Wausau; I've spent time there and it's a lovely place.

But I’m sure glad we live here instead. These valleys do a lot of good for my reputation.
In spite of the fact that I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head chopped off in preparation for a two-week onslaught of relatives coming to town from both Boston and Chicago, several tasks around the home will remain undone.

For instance, the master bedroom is now home to all the clutter I couldn’t find time or place to put away before the impending, overlapping visits from family members. The home office is even relocated into the bedroom. I keep the door closed.

In addition, rather than spraying weed killer on the tall grasses that recently sprouted in a flowerbed, I instead clipped down the grasses and buried them under some ivy overgrowth. With another heat wave, the grasses shouldn’t grow above the height of ivy until the relatives head back east. At that point, who cares?

We don’t plan to spend much time at home, anyway. When my three kids are in school, the adults will hop on BART and head into the city or visit the many charming downtowns in the area.

My two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law from Chicago said they want to visit “the shore” while they’re here. I smiled at the expression, explained that it’s awfully chilly on the Pacific Ocean these days and added that with a few extra hours of driving they could reach warmer shores. I’ll even lend them the minivan.

Alternatively, with gas approaching $4 a gallon, staying local sounds better. If a spring day out in nature is all they crave, we could simply visit the shores of Lake del Valle and Shadow Cliffs, hike the Las Trampas Ridge and Mt. Diablo, or take a cruise on the San Joaquin Delta from Stockton. Some tours head to San Francisco for the day.

You can’t beat having natural beauty right in your own backyard.

My dad is happy so long as he’s got a driver in his hand and spikes on his feet. Given that these valleys have at least as many acres of golf courses as soccer fields, I’ll be lucky if I see much of Dad during the 10 days that he and Mom are here from Boston.

After the kids get out of school each day, we’ll spend our time shuttling between soccer practices at the beautiful Emerald Glen Park in Dublin, swim team practices in Pleasanton, baseball games in Livermore, and dance competitions across the Bay Area.

When we’re home, we’ll stay outdoors. The house is really only a docking station for luggage anyway. As a happy result, I’m not stressing out about the dust; we’ll just keep the lights dim at night.

Playing tour guide is much easier and a great deal more fun than having to keep my house tidy, cook gourmet meals and pretend I’m a domestic goddess.

After all, I’m no expert when it comes to hospitality. But whenever the relatives come to visit us in this beautiful place we’ve called home since 1997, we spend wonderful days together building special memories.

And in the end they always go home happy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Newsflash - Now in 2 newspapers

Newsflash - One month after cancellation of the Pleasanton Times, beginning Monday, April 21, 2008, my column, entitled COME TO THINK OF IT, will appear in two Bay Area/N. California newspapers and on the Web. More details on April 21.