Archive for the 'Personal' Category

The parent trap

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

With the holidays fast receding the rear view mirror Steve and I looking at the New Year with mixed emotions.

This last Christmas, the first without all three kids around the tree on Christmas morning opening presents, seemed to herald a future where Steve and I are finally done with our nearly three-decade long career of raising children and onto the next chapter of our lives, once again as a couple. Last time this was the case Reagan was in office.

As I write this, Jennifer is winding up her nearly four-week trek through South East Asia. Though we had regular calls and texts, she was effectively on her own handling the many challenges of third-world travel with a maturity that belies her age. Odds are she won’t be moving back into the yellow bedroom with the framed picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Her siblings are off building careers and relationships well outside the shadow of mom and dad, so I guess you could say that we did our job as parents. Steve and I should be trading high-fives and booking a Princess cruise on the Rhine.

The truth is we liked the parenting roller-coaster ride, the sense of mission, the on-going soap opera of kid relationships, grade point averages, after-school activities and semester projects. Our calendar was check-marked for nearly 30 years with fund-raisers, parent conferences, chauffeuring kids to and fro, talent shows, graduations, college applications, school visits, summer jobs. I wrote grants to raise funds for the elementary school and participated on the site council. Steve sat on the school board for 12 years.

You could say we’re going through parenting withdrawal. Recovery is a bear.

Here to stay

Monday, November 16th, 2015

I am celebrating the start of a new chapter in my life…actually, it’s probably less of a new chapter and more of a sequel.

Because on Monday, after working in a totally different industry for the past two years in Marin, I’m going back to work at the Petaluma Visitors Program – and I couldn’t be happier.

That’s not to say that I’m not grateful for what I gained in the time I was away from the PVP. I’m coming back with skills I didn’t have before. I thought I understood multitasking but now my game has really been upped. My recent  job could was like being a Chinese circus performer that that has to keep a dozen plates spinning at once; lose focus and in a matter of minutes, it all comes come crashing to the floor. Except in my case, instead of plates, we were spinning logo’d mugs, branded tote bags or embroidered jackets.

I also learned how to press forward – in a gracious but determined way – until you get the answer you need. And because the company differentiated itself by providing outstanding customer service, I’ve learned how to always communicate a smile over the phone.

But what I didn’t have in my job in Marin was relationships and a community…where the people are more important than the bottom line. When I left the PVP in 2013, I was choking back tears as I said goodbye to the staff and volunteers. That’s how much these people meant to me.

But when I said my goodbyes on Friday, it just wasn’t that hard because I didn’t have the same kind of emotional connection. Now I understand how wonderful it is to develop a community within the workplace. It adds so much fulfillment and gratification to work with people who you really care about. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to reconnecting and rebuilding relationships with the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Visitors Center.

And, it’s going to be an exciting time to be promoting Petaluma as a destination. There are new hotels in the works, the SMART train will start running in 2016 with a ticketing station right at the Visitors Center, Lagunitas is expanding, and winery tasting rooms are starting to pop up downtown. And we know how much Petaluma loves events. You’d be hard pressed to find a weekend on the calendar that doesn’t have a festival or fair happening in Petaluma…so there will be plenty to talk about.

If this wasn’t reason enough to be rejoicing, I won’t have to commute! Sure, it’s been fascinating to watch the amazing “Bigge” cranes that always remind me of a book I used to read to our son when he was little; it was titled “Machines as Big as Monsters.” But adding two hours a day to my life because I won’t be sitting in traffic on 101? I will be much less cranky. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Counting my blessings

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

God has been so good to us.

Four years ago at this time, we were in the final stages of packing up our house in Petaluma in preparation for moving. The Great Recession – which at the time didn’t seem all that great – had reduced our income by two-thirds which meant a two-thirds reduction in our living space.  We had gotten to a point where trying to make our bloated mortgage payment to Wells Fargo was like trying to “get blood from a turnip”…as my mother used to say. We couldn’t give what we didn’t have. And since we couldn’t offer up our firstborn as payment on our HELOC, like millions of others, we took the hit on our credit rating and sold our house in a short sale.

At the time, leaving the house that we had lived in for 17 years and downsizing to a rental in Cotati was painful. We take our commitments and our promissory notes very seriously so when we couldn’t keep up with the payments, we felt like we had failed. Also, the maintenance – or lack thereof – on the house constantly wore at us.  There were mysterious water spots appearing on the ceiling and termite holes big enough to drive a car through. Everywhere we looked we saw something that needed attention. Having a 2700 square foot albatross around your neck can really weigh you down.

So now, four years later, we have gotten some perspective on the transition. Being freed from the burden of the house was the best thing to ever happen to us. It lightened our load both financially and emotionally.  It’s a relief living in our very manageable condo. We’ve been able to get out of credit card hell. I am absolutely rejoicing when I look at the line on the Visa, MasterCard and American Express statements and instead of triple digits, I see a zero.

Add to that, that our kids seem to be on good paths and God has provided steady work and good health for Steve after his triple bypass surgery 18 months ago.

So for this moment in time, everything is okay. Then we get a call from the owner saying that she wants to visit us. There had been rumblings when we first moved in that she might need to sell the property for tax purposes. Okay, this is it. She’s going to drop the news on us that she’s putting our place on the market. After all, housing prices are up and she lives out of the country.  My guess is we’ve got until the spring and then we’re getting the boot.

Expect the worst? Yep, that’s my MO. There’s a passage in Luke that says if a son asks his father for a fish, will he give him a snake instead? If us sinners wouldn’t disappoint someone we love, how much better will a perfect God be to us? In my backward thinking, I’m sure I’m going to get handed the snake.

But almost unbelievably to me, our landlord gave us a fish. She is very happy with the arrangement and has no plans to sell anytime soon. Steve and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I relayed this story to a friend. “I can’t believe how good God continues to be to us.” I suppose I sounded like we had used up all the blessings allotted to us. Her response?  “He’s not done.”

Like the hymn says, “I stand amazed.”

Drawn to Halloween

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Starting back on October 1st, just as I was plugging in my phone and crawling into bed, I would see a notification pop up on my phone that our daughter Valerie had posted another illustration on Tumblr.

The illustrations that she is posting are part of “Drawlloween” which is a month-long, online gallery for Halloween-inspired art. I’m not sure which rabbit hole of the internet you would have to dive down to find out how Drawlloween started, but every day of October is assigned a subject such as ghost, pumpkin, raven, amulet, skull, werewolf…you get the idea.

Valerie's Drawlloween #7: Pumpkin
Valerie’s Drawlloween #7: Pumpkin

Creating an illustration every day or almost every day – Valerie combined alien, eyeball, and zombie in one illustration – is a lot of work. So why is she doing it? Drawlloween isn’t a competition and there really aren’t even bragging rights unless you count the “notes” (the equivalent of “Likes” on Tumblr) that each drawing receives.

For Valerie, it’s another opportunity to explore and refine her illustration style. And because the goal is to post one illustration a day, she can’t agonize over her work. She knows that if she wants to be a professional animator or illustrator, speed – in addition to skill and style – is going to be a required.

But participating in Drawlloween is more than that – Valerie just can’t help but do art. Until I had her and watched how she was compelled to draw at every stage of her life, I didn’t understand what it meant to have creative drive. Starting with when she was a toddler and would sit at her Little Tikes table imitating the drawings in “Angelina Ballerina” books right up to today as a 23 year-old woman, she is always creating. Sometimes it takes the form of doing an original embroidery design, or a mobile or a gif, but usually, it’s an illustration. So Drawlloween is just the current creative outlet for Valerie.

It makes me appreciate what a true artist is and how different they are from most of us – whether their art form is music, writing, visual arts, or even cooking – constantly expressing themselves through their art form is as necessary as breathing.

So with a little more than half of October behind us, I hope that you enjoy Valerie’s Drawlloween drawings to date.

Toto, we’re not in Korea anymore

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

In an unusual happenstance, at the same time that our daughter Jennifer is struggling to adjust to life in Asia, our son Ethan is dealing with re-acclimating to life in the US after spending the past year in Asia…Korea to be specific.

For 12 months, Ethan was stationed at Yongsan Army base in Seoul. He was very fortunate to be assigned to headquarters where he worked with (as he described them), a very unique mix of personalities and experience that made it a great place to be. He totally respected his superior officers and over time, felt gratified that his talents were recognized by them. On weekends, he and his friends could grab a cab and venture out into one of the world’s biggest cities – Seoul was literally feet from the gate of the army base – and do whatever soldiers do on a night on the town.  As his mother, I appreciate that he was vague on the details.

Last week, he flew to his new duty station – Fort Riley in Kansas – and based on his phone call to us yesterday, he’s suffering from some culture shock.

Fort Riley is the third largest army base in the nation and as is typical for these huge bases, it is located on 100,000 acres in the middle of nowhere. No matter which direction you head, it’s two hours to either Wichita or Kansas City. The army base itself is so spread out, that to be able to get to any kind of entertainment, as he said, he needed to buy a car yesterday. Thankfully, he ran into soldier he was friendly with in Korea who is willing to share.

He misses the sense of place and purpose he had at Yongsan. When he was in Korea, his rank didn’t change but he became an individual to the people he worked with. He’s been in the army for three years and at 27, he is older and liked being able to show more maturity to his commanding officers. He wasn’t just another “SPC 4” which is the rank of all soldiers who complete their AIT (Advanced Individual Training).  But at Fort Riley, for at least the next two weeks during “In Processing,” he is back to being one of the sea of enlisted soldiers – many of who are 19 and have only been in the army for a few months.

He knows he just has to make it through the next two weeks of “death by PowerPoint” and he’ll be able to join his unit, settle in, and start work. Sure, he’ll have to start over in the sense of building new friendships and developing new routines both for life on base and off, but that can all be very positive. It all contributes to the person he will ultimately become.

News from Nanjing

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Shortly after Jennifer arrived in Shanghai, the talk among the students turned to what they were going to do when they had a few days off from school in honor of National Day on October 1st. Jennifer texted that she and a couple of friends were going to take the train to Nanjing – “Don’t worry Mom when the first thing that pops up on Google is the Nanjing Massacre,” otherwise known as the “Rape of Nanking.” Thanks for the reassurance.

But that’s (almost) ancient history. My immediate concern was whether Jennifer and her friends could find their way around in China when their grasp of the language is such that they can only eat at places that have pictures of the food.  If I had my way, they should all wear badges around their necks that say in Chinese, “If found, return to Shanghai, c/o Pepperdine University.”

This is one of those times that as a parent, it’s much better to pray that she stays safe during the trip and hear about the details after the fact. And besides, what could I possibly do? She’s 15 hours and 6,000 miles away.

Jennifer and her friends, did in fact, make it to Nanjing and back safely to Shanghai (“Oh Mom – did I mention there was a typhoon?”) and thanks to a 90 minute internet call on WhatsApp, we got to hear about the weird moments of the trip. And that’s the fun of going; coming back with stories.

A few highlights from Jennifer’s call:12032831_991505694241025_9095128276873964463_o

In Shanghai, wai guo ren (white people) get stared at but in the less cosmopolitan city of Nanjing, people stare like you’re ET. Of course, this is only exacerbated by the fact that Jennifer’s two traveling companions are blonde.  The girls shared an elevator with a young Chinese family and the child’s jaw literally dropped open in complete awe at the sight of them. His mom tried to close his mouth, but nope, he had never seen anything like these Americans and it fell right open again.

Feeling like you’re one of five white people in a city of 3.6 million can be a little intimidating when it comes to calling a cab in a very crowded marketplace.  They were barraged with nonstop shouts from cabbies of “Hey, pretty girl! You want ride?” They were relieved when a female cab driver rescued them from the melee.

Jennifer and her friends got blind massages. What does that mean? Getting a massage from a blind person is a common experience in China. In fact, there is a government sponsored program to train blind people as masseuses. Jennifer and her friends paid about $10 for an hour and a half massage which included the masseuse performing a Van Halen drum solo on her fully clothed butt.  Okay, the song may have been open to interpretation, but it was percussive and it was loud. Good thing that she and her friends were face down because it took everything that she had not to start giggling uncontrollably.

They were exhausted from the stress of the trip and were so glad and relieved to get back to their Jia in Shanghai. It’s amazing how a place that seemed so foreign just a month ago, now feels like home.

The pumpkin spice of life

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, if you heard the word “pumpkin, ” you could be quite certain that the next word would be “pie.” Everyone bought a can of pumpkin once a year for their Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Or if you liked experimenting and wanted to make something “healthful,” you could make pumpkin bread and amaze your friends that pumpkin – a vegetable! – could be incorporated into a quick bread recipe.

But these days, the amount of pumpkin flavored products available is overwhelming.  And they start appearing on grocery store shelves as early as the end of August – even before Costco has their Halloween costumes in stock.

Especially at Trader Joes, the applications of the ubiquitous fall squash are very imaginative…even if they are a little questionable. There’s Pumpkin Salsa, Pumpkin Mochi, Pumpkin-spice tea, coffee and beer, Pumpkin Tortilla Chips, Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin Seeds (talk about redundant) and Pumpkin Body Butter, just to name a few. Slather on the Pumpkin Body Butter on a warm day and you might have your coworkers sniffing the air and asking where’s the turkey and mashed potatoes.

My favorite pumpkin product is one that has no reason for existing except to be the Nutella of the pumpkin-palooza at Trade Joes:  Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter.  Spread it on toast and consume three days worth of calories in one snack.

Then there are the truly horrible orange colored candies, cookies and chemicals such as Oreos, M&Ms, Pop-Tarts, coffee creamer, granola bars and marshmallows that were grown in a food science laboratory and not a pumpkin patch.

What prompted the plethora of pumpkin products to be produced? I blame Starbucks pumpkin spice latte for the trend.

Despite having its own Twitter account with more than 104,000 followers, a pumpkin spice latte is actually a pretty nasty drink – but it sounds so darn good. It brings to mind an association with something naturally authentic – a pumpkin – combined with the images of what Thanksgiving should be but in reality, rarely is – cozy times with family sharing warm memories and delicious food that smells wonderful while it’s being prepared. As I think about it, it’s actually amazing how on many levels Pumpkin Spice Latte speaks to us.

To tap into the sense of comfort that pumpkin spice generates, I’m going to get into the spirit of the season…starting with our cat. Instead of looking at him and seeing a lazy, annoyingly bossy orange cat, I’m going to think of him as a pumpkin spice cat. I feel better already.

Keep calm and carry on

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

So the first text message I got from Jennifer after she arrived in Shanghai on Thursday for her year-long study abroad program was “I finally have Internet” and “I’m not dead” – always reassuring information for a parent. The second text message was “Do you have a copy of my Fudan University application? Why didn’t I bring it! Aaargh! Please get back to me as soon as possible.”

Yes, I did have a copy of her application for the Chinese university where she will be studying while she’s in China so I immediately scanned and emailed it. If that wasn’t sufficient documentation, I texted her than we could FedEx to her (for a surprisingly low cost of about $50) and she would have it in two days.

So the mechanics of not having packed the application weren’t the issue because we quickly figured out a solution. The real problem is that I’ve never learned how to not have my children’s anxiety become my anxiety. All it took was receiving a text message with a few exclamation points conveying my daughter’s panicked state and my stomach started to knot up.

Because Jennifer knows that it doesn’t take much for me to go into a Code Blue – hair on fire – sound the air raid siren – kind of overreaction, she oftentimes takes care to soften a situation that she knows is likely to stress me out. For instance, a day later, when I got a text message from her at 11pm saying that her Wells Fargo ATM card wasn’t working at the Shanghai bank and she couldn’t withdraw money, she started the text message with, “When you have a chance, please call Wells Fargo….”

My chance to do that was RIGHT AWAY. Jennifer is in on the other side of the world and she can’t get to her money…this calls for immediate action! Wells Fargo says their customer service is open 24/7 and I’m not going to be able to sleep until it’s solved so I’m out of bed and changing into SuperMom mode.

BTW, you really can speak to a Wells Fargo customer service representative at midnight if you’re willing to hold for a half hour. I got the information I needed from the bank and passed it onto Jennifer.

So why did I rush to instantly solve the problem? It wasn’t an emergency; I could have waited to call the bank until Sunday or even Monday. I knew Jennifer had plenty of cash with her; the reason she wanted to withdraw more is because she is still figuring out the exchange rate and wanted to be sure she had enough for the coming week. We exchanged some more texts and it turned out that everything was fine with her ATM card. She was just trying to withdraw more than her $300 limit.

And that’s really the point – even when things – both big and little – haven’t gone exactly as planned, everything turned has still turned out fine.  It has for Steve and me and for our other two children every step of the way.

This is a lesson I best remember particularly as I celebrate another birthday today. Getting older can’t be changed but the furrowed brow that comes from stressing? That I can do without.

Summer makeover

Monday, September 7th, 2015

One of the wonderful things about being a college student is being able to reinvent yourself over the summer.  During the three months that you’re separated from your college friends, the opportunity for transformation exists – to return to school in the fall as a new and improved version of you.

We certainly saw this happen with Jennifer Lynn this summer as she did a “makeover” on herself during the three months she was home. Even though she and her friends Skyped regularly so any changes in appearance weren’t going to be a total surprise, I know she was looking forward to being greeted with shrieks of “You look amazing!!!” from her buddies.

It’s why makeover scenes are such a staple of rom-com movies. Who doesn’t love the confidence boost that comes from feeling…and being told by people whose opinion you value…that you look really, really good.

Thinking back on how the summer started, I don’t think Jennifer consciously set a goal of changing her appearance – it just evolved.

First, she began exercising. And I give her a lot of credit for her discipline to stick to with it. Though Jennifer grew up with a mother and an older sister who could fairly be described at gym-rats and in high school, she did stints in wrestling and cheerleading, she was never into ritual sweating. She would rather stay flopped on the couch, scrolling through Netflix.

But she didn’t. Instead, she faithfully squeezed in a run between her shifts at the Gap Outlet and her other part-time job as a social media videographer. Once she started seeing results – I would glance over to see her inspecting her new found abs in the mirror – motivation was a lot easier to come by.

As the summer progressed it became clear that Jennifer was intent on reshaping not just her physique but her whole “package.” A trip to a trendy eyeglass store in a hipster enclave in San Francisco yielded a pair of retro-chic spectacles and a visit to Kim, who’s been cutting the family hair for more than a decade, produced an adorable asymmetrical do. She knew she had found her look because strangers would spontaneously compliment her on her haircut.

While the young woman that Steve and I deposited at Pepperdine last Sunday was still our daughter, she was very much a creation of her own imagination – ready for her next adventure.

Watch out Shanghai.

Cat Cafe

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Our middle daughter Valerie loves cats; she gets teased by her siblings about turning into a crazy cat lady when she gets old. In the five years since she left to go away to college, we’ve never been sure who she misses more…us or the cats. Many, many photos of our obnoxious orange cat Nigel have been texted to her.

Since she can’t have a cat in the townhouse that she shares in Southern California, maximizing her facetime with cats when she visits is a top priority.

So prior to her arrival for a mini-vacation with us, Valerie sent us a link to a place that she had discovered in San Francisco called . It’s a cat lounge/tea house where you can pay to play with cats.

At first, I didn’t understand the concept. Cats sleep 18 hours a day so as much as I enjoy a trip into the city, I was wondering what made visiting the cats at KitTea so special that it required reservations plus a 50 mile drive when Valerie could pet our snoozing feline freeloaders – as well as a few random neighborhood cats – for free, any day at any time?

But it’s not just about petting cats, it’s the total experience, right? So I went online and made reservations for 30 minute sessions ($15 per person with unlimited tea) for Valerie and Jennifer Lynn in the cat lounge.  Like everything these days, liability is a consideration so there’s a waiver to sign in case a kitty goes rogue during your visit.

We arrived early (and were glad we did – more on that later) for our daughters’ 11:30 appointment at KitTea in Hayes Valley. The first impression when you walk in is how bright, clean, and sunny the space is. We were greeted and told the rules – place your tea order in the cat lounge and pick it up just outside the door; health restrictions permit serving it to you in the cat lounge.

I didn’t make reservations for Steve and me – I’m fine with only petting cats that I can pet for free – so we sipped our tea in a delightful café setting and watched the girls playing with the kitties from the other side of a big glass window.

And they really were kittens (not cats!) so at this time of the morning, they were playful and energetic instead of just being fuzzy slugs. The lounge is filled with cat toys that guests can use to entice the kittens to pounce and leap. We got our money’s worth in entertainment value; we might not have felt that way if our reservations had been for later in the day.  When we strolled past after having lunch, there were some very tired kitties; still cute but lacking on the interactive scale.

Providing entertainment for cat lovers is great but the best part about KitTea is that it is also an adoption center. Twenty-one cats have been adopted since it opened less than two months ago. As much as we would have loved to make it 22, Valerie did not get to bring home a kitten for a souvenir.

The experience exceeded expectations. A big round of ap-paws for KitTea!