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Cheers to Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

As I’m writing this, I can hear in the background “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…” Some families have a tradition of watching football over the Thanksgiving holiday but in our house, “Cheers” is the go-to television entertainment.

I’m sure it’s true for most people that certain shows evoke memories of a specific place and time in their lives. “Mary Tyler Moore” is the show that I associate with my high school and college years, but “Cheers” spans the 11 years from 1982 to 1993 when I moved to San Francisco, worked in advertising, met Steve, got married, bought a house and started our family.

The characters were so well written and seemed so real that watching it was like eating comfort food. I always looked forward to it and it never failed to satisfy. I can still remember being in the coffee room at J. Walter Thompson on a Friday morning where a bunch of us were huddled together discussing the latest developments in Sam and Diane’s relationship from the episode the night before. “Do you think that they really won’t end up together?”

But back to the present day: how did we happen to introduce another generation to “Cheers?” Jennifer Lynn, our youngest daughter loves analyzing what works and what doesn’t work in popular media. She is a big fan of “30 Rock” and “Parks & Rec.” I don’t think I would embarrass her too much by saying that she aspires to be the next Tina Fey.

So one time, as we were discussing popular sitcoms with her, I started talking about TV series that I grew  up with; shows like “I Love Lucy,” (those were in reruns; I’m old but not that old) “That Girl,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Taxi” and “Cheers.” Since she appreciates good writing, I told her she would love these shows. She had come across “Cheers” while scrolling through Netflix.

Except for the shoulder pads in Kirstie Alley’s suit jackets, “Cheers” seems as fresh as it did the first time we watched it. It’s so refreshing to watch a show that isn’t filled with the snarky comebacks that are a staple of today’s sitcoms. There’s poignancy along with the humor so that we really care about the characters.

I’m hoping Netflix will expand its selection of old TV series so that we can share some of those other favorite shows with Jennifer. But in the meantime, I’m thankful that Netflix makes it possible for us to binge on “Cheers” and Thanksgiving leftovers at the same time.

Seoul: News from the Front

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

It had been more than two months since we had heard from Ethan. When we last we spoke to him in early September, he had just arrived at the army base in Korea where he will spend the next year of his military duty. He was so fresh off the plane that he hadn’t had a chance to figure out the one thing that he considers absolutely essential for survival: a high speed internet connection.

As the weeks passed and our emails to him went unanswered, Steve and I wondered if Kim Jong Un’s broken ankles and the talk of a coup followed by the release of the two captives from North Korea had caused the army base to suspend communication. We pictured Ethan working in an environment where high ranking officers met behind closed doors, the atmosphere was hushed and tense, and people rushed through corridors carrying folders stamped “Top Secret.” Yes, we’ve probably been watching too many “Black List” episodes.

So when the phone rang at 8:00 on Saturday morning and the caller ID showed a string of 13 numbers, we were excited to answer the phone and hear his voice – sounding very perky considering that it was 1:00 am Korean time. We couldn’t wait to ask him, “How’s life in Military Intelligence? If your answer is that you could tell us, but then you’d have to kill us, you can just say ‘fine’ and we’ll leave it at that.”

It turns out that the reason we hadn’t heard from Ethan had absolutely nothing to do with a communications lockdown due to North Korea’s political instability. It was purely that there is a 15 hour time difference and he’s been busy…but not with the kind of clandestine activity that we imagined. Ethan works in operations which as he describes it, is “show up every day and put out whatever fire is waiting.”

Recently, there was a “big” fire that needed to be extinguished. As he explained it, there was an email from a high ranking officer that was overlooked requesting representation of some soldiers from his battalion at a fancy Thanksgiving dinner at a five star hotel in Seoul. Many, many apologies had to be sent up the chain of command and there was much scrambling to decide who would attend the dinner. Ethan happened to be standing in the right place with the right answer when his commanding officer asked if he had his ASUs (dress uniform) with him in Korea. “Son, you’re going to a party.”

He called us just after getting home and told us that he had had a great time; bottles of wine, pitchers of beer, gift bags with swag, and a buffet overflowing with smoked salmon – one of his most favorite foods.

Gradation #3

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

The interesting thing about graduation season, unlike other seasons of the year such as the holiday season or allergy season, is that passes by unnoticed by most of the population. Unless of course, you have a student graduating. Then, it becomes a date on the calendar that all other plans revolve around. I found myself thinking in terms of tasks that I wanted to take care of as B.G. (Before Graduation) or A.G. (After Graduation). JenniferHappy2-72

Shivering through Jennifer Lynn’s graduation from Montgomery High on Friday night marked the end of a very significant graduation season for us. Hers was the third graduation for our family in as many weeks. Earlier in the month, Ethan graduated from the Defense Language Institute, then we went to Valerie’s college graduation in Southern California, and lastly Jennifer’s. One graduation is pretty big deal; did I feel special because we had three? You betcha.

Now, I’m suffering from a little bit of post-graduation let down. I’m looking at her red cap and gown in a heap on the floor of her room and it reminds me of the way I feel about the Christmas tree the day after Christmas. What looked so festive on December 25th looks so sad and droopy on December 26th.

But as I’m thinking about indulging myself and wallowing in this pit of depression, I’m also thinking about the photos that Steve took of the kids after each of their graduation ceremonies. Smiling, downright radiant, celebrating overcoming the challenges and energized by the promise of the future.

That is the look of hope. I’m going to embrace it.

 

Bypass surgery behind us

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Friday, April 18th was a good Friday for our family. Steve went through five hours of bypass surgery and 24 hours later, he was sitting in a chair – albeit tethered to more monitors than on the deck of the Starship Enterprise – chatting with the nurse and experiencing very little pain from the 12 inch incision running down the front of his chest.IMAG0561

The whole concept of bypass surgery is mind-boggling to me. The doctors who developed the procedure definitely thought outside the chest cavity. How did a doctor make the leap to come up with a technique that harvests (love the use of that verb in this context) veins from the legs and grafts them to the heart? It sounds incredibly far-fetched yet somehow and thankfully (!) it works.

The only anomaly that the surgeon encountered during Steve’s surgery is that he has unusually small arteries; I think “spindly” was the word the doctor used to describe them; our daughter thought it was more fun to tease Steve about his “dainty ladylike” arteries. The doctor said that arteries the size of Steve’s are generally only found in very small women or certain ethnic populations. If Steve has Filipino blood somewhere in his heritage, it’s going to come as a big surprise to his Norwegian relatives in North Dakota.

The doctor wanted to bypass five arteries but because of the size issue with Steve’s pipes, he was only able to do three. A triple bypass versus a quintuple bypass? Unless Steve is competing for points in the Bypass Olympics, he is fine with just three.

Steve came out of the anesthesia somewhere between three and four hours after surgery. Because Steve was a surgical tech in the army, he has had a lot of experience with the various and sometimes wacky ways that people react when the anesthesia wears off.

I think it took every fiber of his being to do this, but he was determined to stay rational and calm as he came to. If he hadn’t just gotten through such a serious operation, it would have been downright cute. He spoke each word separately and deliberately…and sort of gravel-ly because of the breathing tube that was just taken out. The result was that he sounded a lot like Peter Boyle in “Young Frankenstein.”

“Want…to…move….leg…please.”

Hmm…maybe grafting body parts onto other body parts, does bring out the Frankenstein in us. Onward to recovery!

Snack sense?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

To pass the time while I creep through the Novato Narrows on the way home from work, I often listen to Podcasts. One of my favorites is Freakonomics. Although the topic of Friday’s Podcast – “Why Marry?” – was interesting, it was the commercial that aired during it that was really thought provoking.

The ad was for a service that delivers a box of snacks to your house…sort of a snack-of-the-month club. But when you sign up for this service, you don’t get bags of Jacked Ranch-Dipped Hot Wings-Flavored Doritos and dozens of Rockin’ Nut Road Snickers cocooned in bubble wrap and delivered by UPS to your doorstep. No, this service is sends precious little bags of healthy snacks like Orange Crush Granola and Honeycomb Sunflower Kernals. Ahhh, how sweet.

This concept of home-delivered snacks makes no sense to me; did the investors in this online company eat a few too many hemp and chia seed coin crackers? What unmet need does this service provide?

I’m wondering if one of their initial strategy meetings went something like this:

“There is really a scarcity of places to buy snacks. And I’m sure there are families who would love to pay double what they would at Target for a bag of trail mix, just to have the thrill of opening a box of goodies that they may not even like.”

Like I said, I don’t get it.

Unlike services that have monthly deliveries of craft beers or special wine, snacks can be bought at so many places that we frequent anyway, why would we need a service to deliver them? Buying snacks is just part of doing our regular shopping, whether it’s a bag of Cinnamon Almonds at Trader Joe’s or a 10 pound bag of chocolate-covered acai berries at Costco. Plus, isn’t half the fun of eating snacks, choosing them depending on if you’re craving crunchy or salty or sweet? The snacks in this service are pre-selected; I would feel a little like a toddler who is told to “eat this because it’s good for you.”

Given that one-third of the population is obese, there’s much more of a need for a service in which people show up at our houses to take snacks out of our cupboards, not bring us more. Goodness, with this service, even the hope of burning a few calories walking from your car to the store is gone. Calories just appear at your door.

Actually, I think this company has it backwards. Who would be embarrassed about pushing a shopping cart filled with dehydrated apple slices and Whole Wheat Fig Bars? It’s not the healthy snacks that should be ordered online where no one can see what you’re buying. It’s the Cheetos and Red Vines that should show up in a plain brown box and unwrapped in the privacy of your own home.

The GORUCK Challenge

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

When our son, Ethan, enlisted in the army a little more than a year ago, we were quite sure that a lot of positive things would come from his five years in the military – it would give him training, purpose, and skills, not to mention a steady paycheck, help with his student loans and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to help him schlep his stuff to a new apartment or back home – Uncle Sam would take care of the logistics for the foreseeable future.

But there has been another positive aspect that we really didn’t anticipate. Being surrounded by men and women who take their level of fitness very seriously has spurred him to develop his own physicality in a way that is a little surprising to us – given the determined lack of interest he showed in sports or any type of physical activity when he was growing up.

As a kid, Ethan studied karate for about eight years and was actually pretty good at it. But the minute we said that he could stop going, he took his last bow at the door of the dojo and never thought about martial arts again – unless it was in the context of the skills of a video game character. On our insistence, he joined the tennis team in high school. He loved the camaraderie but when the season ended, he set his racquet down in the corner of his room and it stayed there, untouched, until practice resumed the next spring.

However since joining the army, whenever he calls, he always gives us reports about his recent physical achievements – how fast he runs and for how many miles, how many pushups he can do, and so on. When Steve and I get off the phone we look at each other with a “Where is our son and what have you done with him?” kind of expression.

The revelation about what Ethan is made of continued for us when he told us a couple of months ago that he and a bunch of his army buddies had signed up for a  this weekend in Santa Cruz (ruck is short for rucksack; the army term for a backpack).  GORUCK, according to their website, is an event, not a race, patterned after Special Forces training. It starts at 1:00am, lasts 14 hours and involves various combinations of ocean water, sand, pushups, running, log carrying and team building challenges all while carrying 40 pounds of bricks in your ruck. We hoped that Ethan came out alive.

After eating a couple of pounds of barbeque on the way back to the army base in Monterey, sleeping for 16 hours and washing a pound of sand out of various crevices on his body, he called us to say that he had in fact survived. He described a few of his team members as “the five fittest guys on the planet” and certifiably so because they are CrossFit trainers; his team leader carried the “supreme confidence” that comes from being a Marine recon trainer. Would he do it again? His answer was absolutely “yes.”

I guess this is all just a reminder that our kids sometimes surprise us; and when the way that they surprise us is by pursuing something that’s constructive as opposed to destructive…well, that’s a gift.

College bound

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

School started on August 15 for my daughter who is a high school senior in Santa Rosa, making summer vacation more a concept than a reality. Especially because during those few weeks between when school ended in May and started again in mid-August, Jennifer always had “homework” – the homework of her college applications.

As anyone who has gone through this process with their teenager knows, it’s overwhelming and tedious, plus there is a lot at stake because how well they represent themselves in the application can mean thousands of dollars in scholarships to a private four-year college. For Jennifer, that money represents her ticket out of a condo in Cotati. When she thinks about the alternative – i.e. living here for four more years with her senior citizen parents and going to the JC or Sonoma State – her expression looks like she just ate some bad seafood.

So in about mid-July, with some nagging from me, Jennifer pulled up the Common Application online to launch into it. But guess what? A new version of it was in the works and it wasn’t going to be available until August 1. Yippee! I was almost as happy as she was that for a few more weeks, she could procrastinate the many hours of work – with me sitting next to her – while she filled in the seemingly endless and highly detailed questionnaire. “Don’t forget to include the award you got in fifth grade for winning the pumpkin carving contest!”

But even though the question portion of the Common App couldn’t be started until August 1, the essay prompts were listed on the website. “Aha! You can still start on your essay during the summer!” I told Jennifer. No danger of me losing my reputation as a fun-sucker. To her credit, at midnight one night, Jennifer had a burst of creative energy – or maybe just a delayed caffeine rush from her job at Starbucks – and she cranked out a first draft.

But in addition to the completing the Common App and writing all the essays required by each college, Jennifer’s SAT scores will be a big factor in her acceptance and financial award package. She has taken the SAT once and is going to take it again in October. Based on her older sister’s experience, with some online SAT prep and a study guide, she could significantly raise her score.

We know that higher SATS will mean being accepted at more schools and again, more financial awards. In theory, she knows this too, but now that school has started, spending time studying for the SAT has a lower priority than her immediate and real homework load and her part-time job. So Jennifer floated the idea of incorporating some motivation into studying for the SAT. “How about a kitten if I get 2200 on the SAT?” This isn’t a plan I jumped at since we already have two cats. And once the kitten grows into a cat, she’ll be off at college and we’ll be left with another freeloading feline.

So this motivation/reward plan is still being negotiated between Jennifer, Steve and me. However, I have agreed that if she gets a perfect 2400 on the SAT she can have a kitten. Heck, if she gets a perfect score, she can have two kittens.

Super Bowl is the new Thanksgiving

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Which is the more celebrated event – Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl? The energy and time that people put into planning their Super Bowl parties has begun to rival Thanksgiving. In fact, I’m beginning to think that for a lot of people, the first Sunday in February has a lot more going for it than the fourth Thursday in November.

The food. Anyone who tried to park at Safeway or Costco on Saturday knows that food is as much of a big deal – and maybe even a bigger deal – for the Super Bowl as it is for Thanksgiving. For one thing, as much as most people like turkey, it’s not exactly fun food. Whether you brine it, deep fry it, or barbeque it, it comes out tasting like turkey. Yawn. But for Super Bowl food, you can indulge, your food fantasy with saltiness, spicyness, chocolately-ness. Bring whatever strikes your fancy and I’m sure it will be okay with your host. And by the way, I’ll bet no one ever brings Green Bean Casserole to a Super Bowl party.

The company. Super Bowl isn’t obligatory so you can spend it with whomever you like, not just people you’re related to. Again, there’s a lot more freedom to Super Bowl. At Thanksgiving, people tend to go to Aunt So-and-so’s house just because that’s where they’ve always had Thanksgiving. But you can host a Super Bowl party one year and then never do it again; the day doesn’t have any burdensome expectations associated with it.

The conversation. The great thing about the Super Bowl is that no one has think of something to make small talk about. The game and the commercials are instantly a shared experience. Or if you don’t want to talk at all because you’re so into the game – or at least pretending to be so into the game – that’s okay too. Watching the Super Bowl with a room full of strangers isn’t all that uncomfortable but having Thanksgiving with people who you don’t know all that well, has awkward silences written all over it.

The day after. This may be the one place that Thanksgiving trumps the Super Bowl. While I’m not a Black Friday shopper, knowing that the next day is a day off of work is wonderful. However, a friend told me that she read that 6 percent of the American workforce doesn’t show up for work the day after the Super Bowl. My guess is that they’re home sleeping off the Buffalo wings and beer. Blackout Monday may yet turn out to be a national holiday.

New year, new school

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The end of the 2012 school year has a special significance for me because it means saying goodbye to the Petaluma school community. Our youngest daughter, Jennifer Lynn has decided to transfer from Petaluma High School to Montgomery High in Santa Rosa for her junior and senior years.

Changing schools – especially midway through high school – was something that I never anticipated doing. All of our three children stayed at the same elementary school  even when the school went through some difficult changes in the administration and many parents were jumping ship left and right. We always felt that if they had good teachers – which they did – that was what really mattered.

But when we moved from Petaluma to Cotati last November, which put us equidistant from both Petaluma and Santa Rosa, Jennifer became interested in checking out some of the specialized programs at Santa Rosa schools that she had heard about from friends. Programs such as ArtQuest at Santa Rosa High and the International Baccalaureate program at Montgomery High.

Jennifer has always been a child who likes to try things out and is more willing to put herself out there much more than her siblings ever would. And thankfully, her experimentation runs in the direction of social and academic outlets rather than risky behavior. She’s tried cheerleading, drama, badminton, public speaking – all just to see if they held any long-term interest for her.

So rather than being intimidated by the prospect of finding her way around a new school and making new friends, she’s excited about it. She feels like it’s a challenge that she would regret passing up.

I also think she wants to get out from under her older sister’s shadow and forge her own path. She’s not like me – I purposefully sought out the same teachers and professors that my older four siblings had had. They were all really good students and I’m sure many of the A’s on my report cards were given to me purely on the basis on my last name. They had set the standard; all I had to do was not screw it up.

But I have to respect Jennifer for not wanting to only be known as “Valerie’s sister” in her remaining time in high school. She wants to achieve something that is unique to her. Is there sibling rivalry in there? Sure, but again, I’m grateful it’s channeled in a positive direction. There are a lot of ways teenagers set themselves apart so if Jennifer is doing it by switching schools so she can take on an academically tough program, I’m ok with that.

As supportive as I am of Jennifer wanting to challenge herself socially and academically, there are many things I will miss about the wonderful Petaluma school community. The PHS Band (thank you, Mr. Eveland), the Herold Mahoney awards, the PEF awards, and Senior Recognition night are just a few of them.

For almost 20 years, one of our kids has been in a Petaluma City School. It’s been a great journey.

Downsizing

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Although by no means is it a done-deal, we are hopeful that we are inching closer to actually having sold our house. I’m counting on the message I got in the fortune cookie last week that I would experience “a change in my surroundings” as a good omen. So even though we have no idea was the timing on actually moving will be, it makes sense for us to familiarize ourselves with the rental options inPetaluma.

Steve and I looked at a couple of places over the weekend so we could get a sense of the amount of space we will most likely have. It’s certain that we are most likely looking at downsizing our square footage of living space by a third – or even half. That’s going to mean getting rid of a lot of stuff.

And storage space? That’s a whole other issue. In this house, we have had the luxury of a ton of extra space. It has a three-car garage that at various times has also been an art studio, photography studio, gym, work shop. And even after our son got his license and we actually parked three cars in it, there was still plenty of space for a workbench, lots of shelves, a big filing cabinet, and an eight-foot toucan kite that was an impulse purchase at Costco several springs ago.

Based on the couple of rentals that we looked at this weekend, we will be lucky in our future place if we have enough storage for an extra pack of gum.

So now, we are starting to evaluate everything in our house with an eye towards whether it’s going to make the cut for making the move with us. The two sets of couches – one in the living room and one in the family room – well, one of those can go, no problem. I always considered the living room wasted space anyway since we only used that room once a year when we opened presents on Christmas morning.

All the books…those can certainly be whittled down and given away. Old client files…shred ‘em. Girls’ bunk beds…sell ‘em. I’m looking at all our possessions through squinty eyes as if I were Clint Eastwood sizing up an outlaw. “Give me one good reason why you don’t deserve to go to Goodwill.”

That’s my fantasy but the truth is that after 17 years in this house it’s going to be tough to give away stuff with sentimental value. It is probably a good idea if I don’t watch “Toy Story 3” right now. I don’t think I could bare the thought of all those little Playmobil people that our son played with 18 years ago coming to life at night and fearing their fate. Ship them off to Sunnyside Daycare? Not so fast. I think we’ll find some way to squeeze them and the other boxes of favorite toys into our new place.