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Rent – Not the Musical

Monday, September 26th, 2011

One of the first questions people would ask us when we told them we were putting our house on the market was “Where are you moving to?”

My answer was always that we want to stay as much in town as possible because our youngest daughter, Jennifer, who is a very social sophomore at Petaluma High would never speak to us for the rest of our lives if we moved somewhere that meant she had to change schools.

Thinking about where we would move has been a theoretical exercise because selling house is such a protracted process. But the news from our lawyer is that there may be positive movement by the bank to approve the buyer’s offer in the next 10 days.  So we are hopeful that means that we have actually sold the house and consequently we need to get serious about finding a place to rent.

If it was only Steve and me who needed to find a place to live, we would have absolutely no problem living in a nice double-wide at one ofPetaluma’s senior mobile home parks. In fact, in the many years that we’ve been driving Meals-on-Wheels, we’ve had an opportunity to scope out all the various mobile home towns, villas, parks, woods, lakes, and estates and choose which one would be top of our list.

But the problem is that we still have a teenager still living with us. We even came up with a plan. Jennifer could wear her Halloween costume from a few years ago when she dressed-up as an old lady. And so she could pretend to be my mother every time she comes home. She just wouldn’t be able to ever invite any friends over for her remaining three years in high school. Can you believe it? She wouldn’t go along with the plan.

Since the mobile home park isn’t an option, it’s back to searching Craigslist and sorting it by “Petaluma” and “cats” and then “High to Low” prices so all the rentals with only one bathroom go to the bottom of the list. For Jennifer, sharing a bathroom with her parents is only slightly less horrible than changing schools.

What are my criteria for our new place? if I could, I would sort the list by “No yard,” “Freshly-painted,” “Wood floors,” and “Not depressing.”

Our Year in Review

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

After writing our annual Christmas letter for several years and getting some nice comments on it from family and friends, Steve encouraged me to write more frequently than once a year. So at the end of 2006, I started writing a blog.

So this week, I’m returning to my roots and using our Christmas letter as my blog. (Plus, I ran out of energy to come up with another blog topic this week so I took the easy way out.) For anyone who is on our Christmas card list, they can stop reading here. A hard copy is in the mail. Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends,

We hope this letter finds you enjoying a happy, healthy, and not too crazy holiday season.

The school year got off to a great start for Ethan when he moved into an apartment complex next to San Francisco State with two buddies. He loves life as a film production major but not so much that he isn’t looking forward to graduating in the spring. To fill in the gaps in his student loans, he did a repeat performance as a barista at a Starbucks close to Union Square until making Frappuccinos for German tourists started to get in the way of participating in film production gigs that could build his resume on IMDb (that’s a website that is an encyclopedia of movie facts). His already awesome year got even better when he met a cute (I just can’t bring myself to say “hot”) art major who shares his sense of humor and love of movies.

2010 was an intense year for Valerie between finishing up her senior year at high school, the college selection process, and the transition to living away from home. I am proud to say she was one of the top 10 students in her graduating class. After applying to eight colleges, Chapman University in Orange, CA clearly emerged as the best choice for her because of their strong graphic design department and their “we’re serious about wanting you here” scholarship award. Adjusting to college life proved to be a little more difficult than choosing where to go. Without her usual jam-packed schedule, friends, and cats, the first few weeks of dorm life were pretty gloomy for her. However, as she has started to make friendships and gotten plugged into the design department, life in The O.C. is looking a lot sunnier.

The good news for Jennifer in 2010 was that she got to have the bathroom all to herself now that Ethan and Valerie are out of the house. The bad news was that she also got her old parents all to herself. To minimize the effects of this, she has fully embraced the social opportunities available in high school and seems to always have an outing scheduled with some of her classmates or band buddies. Jennifer continues to be an excellent student and faithful volunteer once a week at church shepherding 4-year-olds through Bible verses and craft projects. She also has an entrepreneurial spirit and has raised money for a band trip to Disneyland with her artistic gifts by painting friends tennis shoes and designing greeting cards; this year’s card is a Jennifer original.

If there is a silver lining to the effect the recession has had on our marketing business, it is that Steve has been able to devote time to improving his drawing, cartooning and storyboarding skills which led to some good illustration projects in 2010 and hopefully more in the coming year. I often remind Steve that lots of people can make a computer program work. But with only a pencil, can most of us draw anything except a stick figure? He has a unique gift.

Fall was very busy for me working for a political consultant. Our office produced a lot of the campaign literature that filled mailboxes in a several Bay Area counties leading up to the November election. After that job wound down, I have been for hovering over Craigslist, ready to pounce on any job that comes close to matching my skill set. News Flash! I just accepted a marketing/PR position in town…details to follow. The New Year is off to a great start.

Reviewing our year in the annual Christmas letter always reminds me how much I have to be thankful for now and in the future. I should write one of these more often than once a year!

Blessings to you and your family in 2011.

The Rustads

Exposition Park: The Other Disneyland

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

A trip to Disneyland has been our default summer vacation for many years. Our familiarity with the Magic Kingdom takes away the stress that goes along with figuring out the drill in a new place. As soon as we’re through security, we’re off to get Fast Passes for Indiana Jones so we can squeeze as much fun as possible out of our two-day Park Hopper passes.

However this year, we decided we would make a trip to Southern California to help Valerie get a little more familiar with Chapman University in Orange but skip going to Disneyland. Chapman is so close to the Magic Kingdom that you can almost hear the screams from the Tower of Terror when you are on campus quad, so we figured we will have plenty of opportunities to do Disneyland over the next four years.

So if you’re not going to Disneyland, what do you do in Southern California ““ besides sit in stop-and-go traffic on the 405 Freeway?

I would highly recommend going to Exposition Park, a collection of museums and exhibits that sits on 160 acres on the west side of town. Who knew there was a chunk of land in LA that didn’t have cars on it?

It also is where the LA Memorial Coliseum, home to the USC Trojans is located. A fun fact: the Coliseum It is the only facility in the world to play host to two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII) and one World Series (1959).

Although the west coast’s largest hands-on science center is in the park, our reason for heading to Exposition Park was to visit the Natural History Museum. Steve had fond memories of visiting the museum on elementary school field trips when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. And hard as it was for us to believe, our daughters said that after spending the previous day at an antique mall, an upscale mall and an outlet mall, that even they had had their fill of shopping. Looking at always-in-style dinosaur bones sounded pretty good to them.

Exposition Park has to be one of the best entertainment values anywhere. Tickets for the four of us was a total of $28.50 which paid for admission to both the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Gallery at the Science Center.

The Natural History Museum opened in 1913 and is certainly reflective of a different age of museum design. Forget the interactive exhibits that are the norm of museums today; this museum was meant to be a place of reverence ““ very dark with lots of marble and wood. And definitely, a hands-off experience.

But the cavernous rooms with glassed-in dioramas of taxidermied California mammals are part of the reason for going. There is probably some of the same dust on the bobcat’s fur that was there when Steve saw the exhibit more than 50 years ago, but that’s part of its charm. It’s easy to forget how much smaller the world seems to us now than it did when these exhibits were originally installed.

However, recent additions to the museum and renovations keep the museum from seeming like it is frozen in time. The beautiful rotunda with its stained glass dome was just restored and reopened last year and they have added an “Age of Mammals” exhibit that has so much light flooding the gallery that it’s almost blinding after the dioramas.

I could go on describing lots more cool stuff we saw; I especially liked the space capsule that Ham, the chimpanzee, rode in for the Mercury space program and Steve liked the A-12 Blackbird that was on display.

Looking at a T-Rex skull will never be as thrilling as going on Space Mountain but the oldest exhibit in Los Angeles never gets old.

Upbeat Petaluma Pete

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to interview John Maher, aka Petaluma Pete. When I left after chatting with him for about an hour, the thought that popped into my mind was how much fun talking to him had been. (That’s the truth, even if there wasn’t a chance that Petaluma Pete would read this.)

So I thought I would share some thoughts and information about Petaluma Pete that I didn’t have room for in the article.

Interviewing Petaluma Pete was fun because John is such a positive guy. You would have to be a “I can take whatever comes my way” kind of person to be willing to be as out there as he is when he is playing as Petaluma Pete. While playing a piano in downtown Petaluma is certainly safer than playing in downtown Oakland, Petaluma Pete is still very exposed to all types of reactions, some nice and some not so nice but he takes it with a smile and keeps on playing.

I love that it was inspiration, partly from watching his son busk in the subway stations in Boston and partly from seeing Petaluma as a perfect fit for his favorite type of music, that led John to start playing in Petaluma. And because John is a performer at heart, when he wanted to see if he still had his piano playing skills, he brought his piano to the streets pretty much ensuring that he would always have an audience.

Being  Petaluma Pete is very physically demanding. Even though the piano is on a cart, pushing and pulling 600 pounds across Petaluma’s less than even streets and sidewalks is back-breaking work. And the honky-tonk music that Petaluma Pete plays isn’t meant to be played pianissimo. He is pounding the keyboard sometimes for four straight hours. Petaluma Pete wears gloves to protect his hands although he still has plenty of calluses to show for it.

It was interesting to learn that all the moving and playing on less than level surfaces takes its toll on the piano too. The first piano John purchased as Petaluma Pete didn’t last 90 days. John jokes that its replacement, a 100-year-old Palmer, can’t be killed. It’s made out of rock-hard Canadian maple. The hinges work loose so about once a month, John takes the piano apart and puts the pins back in. Also, he breaks a string about every week which a local piano tuner (who asks to remain nameless lest people think that Petaluma Pete’s upright is representative of his quality of work) has taught him how to replace.

What strikes me most about Petaluma Pete is how he is such a perfect fit for this town. He is the personification of Petaluma’s 19th century heritage and he is such a natural addition to the downtown scene that it surprises me to remember that he has only been here less than three years”¦and not for generations.

John Maher has embraced Petaluma in a special way. Lucky for us, John and his wife hope to stay in here for the rest of their lives.

Petaluma Educational Foundation Scholarship Reception

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

When our family received an invitation to attend the Petaluma Educational Foundation 2010 Scholarship Reception, we were certainly pleased because it meant that our daughter, Valerie, had been selected to receive one of the scholarships.

However, I really didn’t have any expectations about the amount of money that a PEF scholarship could mean to her. I was just happy to get the news that she had been awarded anything based on the application she submitted. Even if she got a small award, it would still reduce her student loans for the first year.

So when we arrived at the Sheraton on Sunday for the award reception I was shocked when I opened the program. There were over 250 awards to be given out that day. The program had long lists of names of students followed by amounts such as $500, $1,000, and $1,500.

Given my skeptical nature, I still had my doubts that each of these kids was receiving the amount next to their name. I was thinking to myself, “Perhaps the students listed under each donor organization are all the nominees, and they are only going to choose one out of the list to actually receive the money.”

But it is with much appreciation to PEF that I can say that I was wrong. The amount listed by each name was in fact the scholarship amount that the student would be receiving.

And here’s the amazing part, the total amount of scholarship money that was distributed by PEF on Sunday was $194,300. That is an astounding amount of financial support that our community gives to these motivated high school seniors.

Where did this money come from? In this economy, is PEF spinning gold from straw to be able to award almost $200,000 in scholarships in a town that only has a population of 50,000?

No, there isn’t any magic involved. It is because of generous families who created a memorial fund to honor a loved one who has passed. Or children who want to continue their parents’ legacy so they started a scholarship fund. Or businesses who see the value of encouraging students in a specific area of study such as nursing or veterinary sciences, so they give. Or service organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Masons that can always be counted on for a donation to encourage the best and brightest in our community. The list goes on and on…

Thank you to PEF for the huge amount of work that goes into administering, organizing and hosting these awards for 21 years.

And a personal thank you; my daughter left with a generous award to put towards her college expenses.

A Cool Safari in the North Bay; No Lion

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

I had the opportunity last week ““ thanks to the generosity of my boss ““ to visit Safari West in Santa Rosa. He had some relatives visiting and after researching the North Bay, the place that was at the top of their “must see” list was Safari West, a 400 acre wildlife preserve located between Santa Rosa and Calistoga.

When I started making plans for our group to visit Safari West, I wondered why our family had not ever gone there. Especially when our kids were younger, we made a point of taking advantage of all the educational experiences that are within driving distance of Petaluma”¦ the Francisco Zoo, Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium, Lawrence Hall of Science, just to name a few”¦so how did we miss Safari West? I vaguely remembered looking it up but couldn’t remember why didn’t we ever go there.

Then I went to their website to order tickets and I understood why. It’s not a cheap outing for a half-day of entertainment. Adult tickets are $68 and children 3 through 12 are $30. In comparison, adult tickets to the SF Zoo are $15; Safari West tickets are almost in the same price range as Disneyland tickets.

However, what you are paying for isn’t just the chance to look at some animals but a totally very unique experience. It’s the way you see the zebras, antelope and wildebeests at Safari West that makes the price of admission seem reasonable.

Instead of standing in front of a cage and reading a little plaque that describes the habitat and behavior of the animal in front of you like at a zoo, visitors are put into groups of about 15 and everyone gets a guided tour. I can never retain any of what I read on the zoo do-it-yourself tours, but I remember almost all of what our personable guide had to say about the difference between cheetahs and leopards. (Cheetahs aren’t able to retract their claws which gives them more traction while running, they are about half the size of leopards, cheetahs catch their prey by outrunning them, leopards stalk their prey, and on and on”¦)

After a 45 minute walking tour that takes you past the cheetahs, monkeys and through an aviary, each group boards an open-air safari jeep for a two-hour ride through the Sonoma hills. It felt just like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland but this was the real thing, very bumpy and a little bit thrilling but still totally safe.

On the jeep ride we saw some really cool herds of animals. My favorite was the Watusi cattle, some of which had horns that are so huge that they resemble goal posts. Jennifer’s favorite”¦and how could it not be”¦was the one-day-old zebra standing next to his mom across the road from the dazzle of zebra. Yes, I learned that is what a group of zebras is called.

Because the animals have huge enclosures, visitors see things that they would never see at a zoo. It was so cool to see a playful five-week-old giraffe running at full speed just because he could.

And while the price of admission may be close to Disneyland, the atmosphere is totally different. You aren’t herded into zig-zagging lines and it’s not survival of the fittest when it comes to buying a bottle of water. Although like Disneyland, I did appreciate the well-maintained grounds and friendly staff.

There’s no getting around the fact that Safari West is a pricey outing, but where else in this part of the world can you come eye to eye with a giraffe?

The Learning Channel?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

For the last couple of weeks, TLC has been heavily promoting their new show: “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” We always see the ads for it while we’re watching our favorite show, “What Not to Wear,” on Friday nights. After seeing yet another ad for the hoarding show, Jennifer asked, “Who would want to watch that?”

That’s a good question. Who would watch a show knowing that the point of the program is to be dragged through another person’s emotional pain?

But if watching someone who hasn’t thrown out a Styrofoam container for years isn’t painful enough, then tune back into TLC on Wednesday night for “Addicted,” a documentary-style series that takes us into the lives of people who are no longer able to function because of their drug and alcohol addictions. If that doesn’t take you close enough to death, there’s “One Big Happy Family” about a morbidly obese family of four. Compared to “Addicted,” this show seems like a sit-com.

TLC fills out its schedule with “19 Kids and Counting,” the head-to-toe tattooed group on “LA Ink,” creepy exploitation of little girls on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and three different shows about little people.

Given that TLC is an acronym for “The Learning Channel,” I’m sure that they would defend their programming as educational. I’m all for gaining a greater understanding about people who are different than me but the subject matter on TLC seems to have more in common with the freak shows of PT Barnum than performing a public service. In different terms, the titles of their shows could read just like a sideshow marquis: “See the Tattooed Woman, the Fat Lady and the World’s Smallest Man.”

When do these programs cease to treat the people in them with compassion and cross the line into exploitation? Perhaps TLC no longer stands for “The Learning Channel,” but instead, “The Leering Channel.”

Sew What?

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Does anyone make their own clothes anymore? I’m talking about the kind of sewing that involves choosing a pattern, buying fabric and constructing an entire piece of clothing at home. And the women wearing the very homemade-looking shirtwaist dresses in that weird polygamist Mormon cult don’t count. They obviously know how to make a sewing machine work.

My question about whether anyone still sews came to mind when I was in a JoAnn Fabric store last week shopping for buttons for a sweater that I had knit. On my way to the button aisle in the back of the store, I walked past the bolts of fabrics and a mannequin modeling a jacket and dress made from a Butterick pattern.

Did I stop for a moment to see if the outfit had any potential as something I might wear? Nope. The thought that ran through my mind was that I could probably find something more stylish for less than the cost of the fabric next door at Target. And I could wear it right away without investing hours of time to make it.

And over the years as I’ve chatted with other moms, I have never once met one who said they made any of their own clothes or their kids’ clothes. Is sewing an archaic skill that no body does anymore like changing your own oil?

I know how to sew so making something like I saw on the mannequin is fully within my skills. It was my sister who taught me how to sew although if she hadn’t, I would have learned the basics in my “home economics” class in junior high. Instead of a computer lab”¦because there was no such thing as a personal computer back then”¦my school had a classroom with 20 sewing machines and all girls were required to take basic sewing.

I actually loved the sewing class because it was a chance to show off my more advanced sewing skills. I clearly remember many of the fabrics I used and the outfits I made. I was very proud of wearing something I had made that fit well and showed no hint of being homemade. It didn’t get much better for me than perfectly straight rows of parallel topstitching on my pocket flaps.

But it’s been decades since I seriously considered making an item of clothing for myself. Who has the time and motivation when there are so many options for places to buy relatively well-made clothing that’s not expensive which I can try on so I know that it’s going to fit?

And young women these days don’t know how to sew. My own daughters are examples of that. Where I work, I’ve become the go-to person when a pair of pants needs to be hemmed. When I sewed on a button in about 30 seconds, everyone reacted as if I had performed magic.

Knowing that I was pondering sewing, Steve kept an eye out on Craig’s List for me. In the course of a week, he forwarded about 10 requests for people looking for sewing help of varying degrees.

So”¦since women like me who can follow a pattern to sew a skirt or dress choose not to, and girls of my daughters’ generation aren’t learning how to sew, I come back to my original question of who is buying the fabric and patterns?

In the next week, I’m going to do a little research to see if I can get an answer.

Appreciating Solid Ground

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

The horrific earthquake that devastated Haiti and the ““ by comparison ““ the seismic love tap that  Humboldt County recently experienced have renewed my appreciation for my situation. I experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor that at one point closed down both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges and I remember the feeling of shock and disbelief I felt at the time. Yes, these feelings hardly compare with what the Haitian survivors are going through. All the more reason for me to thank God that we are safe and warm, that my children are well and accounted for, and that Steve and I are healthy. I am truly blessed.

Preparing to Say Goodbye to a Good Friend

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Sometimes when were sitting on the couch and our three cats are happily snoozing on our laps and our dog is contently stretched out across her dog bed, we’ll comment on how amazing it is that people choose to invite animals into their house”¦and how much we love them in spite of the snags and spots in the carpet.

So it’s a sad day for us when it becomes apparent that one of them is coming to the end of its life.

On the way home from our walk on Saturday, our 11-year-old German shepherd, Xena,  tweaked her hips as she turned to greet another dog. Her right back leg gave out from under her and she couldn’t regain any strength in it. Taking a few steps at a time, she was able to wobble slowly back home.

We were lucky to be able to get an appointment with the vet later that morning and as the vet explained it, there is inflammation surround some nerves so basically, she doesn’t have feeling in her legs and that’s why she can’t get them underneath her. Also, as is common in shepherds, she has always had bad joints and there is degeneration because of her age. We left with some anti-inflammatory medication that might or might not improve her condition.

We are thankful that for now, her appetite is good and she doesn’t seem to be a pain. It’s just painful for us to watch her move with such extreme difficulty.

We’ve never been through this process with a pet who has been such an important part of our family. Tears were shed when my daughter’s two pet rats died, but we didn’t feel much of a loss when the numerous fish and fire-belly toad came to the end of their lives; I find it a lot harder to feel a connection with a creature that doesn’t have fur to stroke.

We want to do the right thing for Xena so I’ll be calling the vet tomorrow to get some advice. In the meantime, all we can do is look into her brown eyes and tell her the truth, “You’re a good dog.”