Archive for the 'Personal' Category

China is where she wants to be

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

A couple of Saturdays ago, when we were driving through the city from Hayes Valley to the Golden Gate Bridge, we happened to go past the Chinese Consulate on Laguna Street. I was pretty excited – not quite as excited as when we were driving through San Francisco and I saw a naked guy (except for cowboy boots) walking along Market Street – but excited nonetheless to have accidentally found the Consulate.

You see, visiting the Chinese Consulate has loomed large in our summer plans. Our daughter Jennifer Lynn will be studying abroad in Shanghai next year which requires a student Visa. She can only get her Visa by taking her passport and university documents to the Chinese Consulate for processing. It’s a little like going before the All Powerful Oz to find out if you can be admitted into the Emerald City of the Peoples Republic.

Finding the location of the Consulate was perfect timing because when we got home that afternoon, the paperwork for Jennifer’s Visa application was waiting in the mailbox. So Jennifer and I made plans for taking a day off work and heading back into San Francisco.

I’ve never traveled outside of the country so I had no idea what the process for getting a Visa would be like. But visiting a Consulate conjured up images of diplomats and protocol. I pictured Jennifer and me entering through the stately double doors into a sedately carpeted room where a beautiful Asian woman sits behind a mahogany desk greeting visitors and directing them to the appropriate office for Visa processing. People speak in hushed tones because important diplomatic work is going on.

So on Wednesday when we arrived at the Consulate, the sign on the door said that to get to the Visa office, we needed to walk up to Geary Street and turn right.

Okay, no problem. I was a little disappointed we weren’t going to enter the Consulate through the impressive entrance with the red Chinese emblem but at least we were within walking distance of where we need to be. When we got to the entrance, there were about 15 people waiting for security to check the contents of their bags and backpacks.

Once we were inside, my brain couldn’t make sense of what I saw. It was a noisy, crowed room with linoleum floors, metal chairs and white cinderblock walls punctuated with the sound of screaming kids. Where are the plush Oriental rugs, lacquered screens, carved Chinese dragons, and tea ceremonies? I kept blinking but nothing changed.

Then it hit me. Oh my gosh – the Consulate is the Chinese DMV! I was so disappointed. “Now serving 104 at Window 8” scrolled across the digital board in both English and Chinese characters. Jennifer had number 186.

Jennifer was totally amused at my naiveté. “You know, Mom, I’m just not that special.” I suppose that just because travelling to China is totally outside my realm of experience doesn’t mean that it is for lots of other people – especially in the Bay Area.

Visiting the Consulate wasn’t the experience I was expecting but it still was a memorable experience. Great people watching and good bonding time with Jennifer during the two hours that we waited until her number was called. And the good news?  We get to do it all again in a week when we go to pick up her Visa.

Time share

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

In about six weeks, our daughter Jennifer Lynn leaves for her year-long study abroad program. She will be spending her entire sophomore year in Shanghai; we’re excited for the adventure ahead of her but my stomach knots up when I think about not seeing for more than eight months.

I wish I could take the time that we’re spending with her this summer and “bank” it, so we could withdraw it over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and weekends – times that I anticipate that we will especially miss having her here. Since that’s just not possible, the best we can do is to take the opportunity to spend time together as a family when our schedules open up.

Saturday was one of those days – Jennifer had the day off from The Gap Outlet, and Steve and I were happy to procrastinate the shopping trips to Costco and Target, vacuuming and laundry, and bookkeeping that usually fills our Saturdays.

So what would be a diverting and gratifying way to spend our day together? We love going Into San Francisco with an objective but also staying flexible. We have found that it’s often best to let the availability of parking in San Francisco drive the day instead of driving to park.

So with that in mind, our first destination (and amazingly we got a parking space without even circling the block!) was . I know – I had never heard of it either until Jennifer came home from a trip to San Francisco raving about what a cool place this is to shop for frames…as in eyeglass frames.

My standard response to just about every shopping need is, “Why don’t you just get (fill in the blank) at Costco?” But for a fashion forward 19-year old who just got a super-cute rock star haircut (I know I sound old), getting your glasses prescription filled at Warby Parker in Hayes Valley is like a hipster holy grail. And it worked out just great; it was affordable and the verly attractive 20-something staff were helpful, friendly and super-efficient with their iPads and paperless transactions. Jennifer’s glasses will arrive in 7-10 days.

When a day starts out with finding parking in San Francisco you know you’ve got a blessed day ahead and that proved to be true for us as the day wore on. We found a great place to eat (only a 10 minute wait!) in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. With our tummies happy, we thought we would try for some window shopping along the trendy area of Fillmore Street but since we couldn’t find parking we continued onto Chestnut Street (again no parking) so we continued north across the bridge.

It was still early in the afternoon and the sun was shining in Marin. My first reaction was to say “Let’s just head home” but Steve understands the value of cherishing the moment and suggested extending the nice time we were having by stopping at the Village in Corte Madera.

The affluence that envelopes that shopping center always makes me feel a little like I’m stepping aboard luxury cruise ship. But it makes for great people watching. Sitting under an umbrella outside of Starbucks watching the moms and daughters leave Nordstroms with their Anniversary Sale bags, I felt like I was on vacation.

But the great thing is that sitting there and taking in the view didn’t cost us more than gas and a Frappuccino.  If Jennifer has next Sunday off, let’s do it again and make another deposit into her “we’re going to miss you!” bank account.

Mommie dearest

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

It’s news to me, but according to the experts, the family relationship that is the most troubled is the one between mothers and their teenage daughters. Think of the door slamming, the silent treatment and the snarky comments hurled between Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (back when she was cute) in “Freaky Friday” – a movie which we have watched and enjoyed many, many times.

Psychologists say that the root of these conflicted relationships is the result of the mother seeing her daughter as an extension of herself at the same time that the teenage daughter is desperately seeking her own sense of self. The article that brought this to light described a mother and daughter who hung out together on Friday nights, eating their favorite candy and watching “Project Runway” in their jammies.

Everything was fine until high school, when the daughter wanted to hang out with her friends instead of mom. The mom reacted like she had been stood up for a date and became resentful that her daughter was choosing to spend time with her friends instead of with her. Her daughter felt conflicted about going out with her friends because she felt like she needed to take care of her mother’s feelings. After reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder: who was the adult in that relationship?

Having had two daughters – and I still have one who is a teenager – mother-daughter relationships is a topic that I can speak from experience on.  While I’m not out of the woods yet, I can say that the relationship between me and my daughters has been relatively free of conflict and was even described as “good” by Jennifer…high praise indeed when you’re talking to a teenager.

How have we managed to avoid the fights and drama that are often a part of mother-daughter relationships? When our oldest daughter was entering junior high, I got some very good advice from a gifted family therapist who we saw regularly. He said, “Don’t try to be your daughter’s best friend. That’s not what she wants from you. She wants boundaries because that will make her feel secure.” That’s advice I’ve tried to follow. You won’t see us in matching bikinis on Facebook.

Another reason why we get along (and for which I can take no credit) is that I happen to be blessed with girls who want to please.  There are many parents who do all the right things and relationships still are strained just because that’s just the personality their child was born with.

And…and this is a huge…I have a husband who is ready to step in to support me and reinforce the boundaries when the occasional snarky comment is flung my direction by one of the girls.

That’s not to say that our household is run like an impersonal boot camp. My daughters and I have enjoyed many evenings watching “So You Think You Can Dance” together, sharing Jelly Bellys and trading backrubs. But should their phone ring with an invitation from one of their friends to go get coffee, I’m happy to for them to join their friends and leave me on the couch. Thank goodness they have friends!  All I ask is that you text me with what time you’ll be home.

Get a job Sha na na na

Monday, July 6th, 2015

So here’s a statement that will make me sound like I’m 110 years old: life is very different for teenagers today than it was when I was growing up.

The latest evidence to support that? Only one third of American teenagers had a job last summer; down 40% from 2000.

I don’t have the statistics on the percentage of teenagers who had summer jobs back in the dark ages when I grew up, but unless your parents were super rich and could afford to take you with them on a month-long trip to Europe, you spent the early days of summer scouring the want ads, asking your parents’ friends for jobs, or making the rounds of the local mall filling out handwritten applications.

Of course we worked during the summer…what else was there to do? Nobody knew what an internship was unless you were talking about the path to becoming a doctor. No one traveled to exotic locations to build houses for needy people.  And the year-round sports that consume so many high schoolers’ summers didn’t exist.

An informal survey of how my daughter’s friends are spending the summer confirms what the newspaper reported.  Jennifer Lynn and one other classmate are the only girls of her group who aren’t building their resumes by volunteering in the Dominican Republic, taking summer school classes in Florence, or interning at a high tech firm.

Those experiences can certainly teach valuable skills. But I think there is also a lot to be gained – in addition to the added funds in their bank account – by working a minimum wage summer job. Skills such as learning to work with people who you wouldn’t choose as friends, taking direction, customer service, respecting authority.

And there’s one more good reason for teens to have a summer job: you have to have some bad jobs so that you know when you’ve gotten a better job.

My first summer job was at Baskin Robbins. We had to wear white dresses that the manager had purchased at a medical supply store – hard to look cool when you’re wearing a reject from the nurse’s clearance rack. While the other soda jerks and I were earning $1.75 an hour scooping Jamoca Almond Fudge into cones (sugar or regular), the manager was in the back, reading romance novels.  Our closing time routine included scraping the floor with a putty knife, thanks to the popularity that summer of Bubble Gum ice cream.

That’s by no means the worst summer job ever; I have a friend who spent her summers in North Carolina picking tobacco.

But by the next summer, I was able to land a better job at a teen clothing store in a mall, working with girls I liked and a hard-working manager. While I didn’t want to make a career out of folding t-shirts, I had gained some perspective; at least I wasn’t scraping up gum. Learning appreciation? That’s wonderful on-the-job training for life.


Family ties

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

There are lots of different activities that families do together to promote family bonding. Things like playing sports together or having family game nights, or camping, hiking. But our family’s favorite bonding experience? The bunch of us plopped on the couch with a cat or two strewn amongst us, watching TV.

I’ve always felt a little guilty that something so inert and seemingly non-interactive has been one of the most memorable and enjoyable ways that our family has spent time together. There’s a voice inside of me that says when our kids were growing up, we should have dressed them in their matching overalls (which of course of I have sewed out of the curtains), strapped on their little backpacks filled with granola bars and water and set out on a trekking adventure – ala the Sound of Music.

Instead, we’re sitting on our butts staring fish-mouthed at the TV.

But thanks to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, I now have some data that proves that watching TV together is actually a great way to bond.  According to the study in the Journal of Adolescent Research, shared media viewing led to more positive functioning for adolescent boys and girls and “greater parental  involvement” for both.

No need for me to feel guilty any more. The experts have quantified what I already felt was true – that when we watched TV together and laughed, and commented about what we were watching, and talked about it afterwards, we were developing – in research parlance – “positive social skills” in our children.

I remember when our kids were between the ages of 6 and 14 in the late 1990s. Every Saturday night, we looked forward to the line-up of our favorite TV shows. “Mr. Bean,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and “Iron Chef,” back when it was the authentic Japanese series with English subtitles.

Now, when our kids are visiting during college breaks or are on army leave and they are in the mood for the TV equivalent of comfort food, they’ll suggest popping in a MST3K DVD for family viewing. “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” from Season 10, especially because it was partially filmed in Petaluma, is a perennial favorite.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we can (partially) credit Jennifer’s college scholarship to our family spending a day during Christmas break, binge watching “Cheers.” When her college application required her to write an essay about “If you could teach a course about anything, what would it be and why,” Jennifer, who aspires to be the next Amy Poehler, was ready with a full rationale about why she could fill a semester guiding students through why “Cheers” is “the best TV show that’s ever been,” as Amy says.

Jennifer is home from college for the summer. So what are the three of us bonding over? “Foyle’s War,” the British detective drama that takes place during WWII. Jennifer would never watch this on her own but sharing the experience as a family? You bet. She even surprised herself by saying, “I’m leaving my friend’s house a little early so I can come home and watch ‘Foyle’ with you.” When a teenager actually wants to spend time with their parents, you know something special is going on.

Happy Anniversary

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Thirty-one. If you’re talking about a person’s age, a 31 year-old is a young person. But in the context of marriage, 31 years seems like a really long time for two people to be together. I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to believe that Steve and I have been married that long. Time has gone so fast…we can’t be that old! But there’s no denying the math; we were married on June 16, 1984 on a breathtakingly beautiful Saturday in San Francisco.

So this year, in honor of our 31st wedding anniversary, we did something really unusual for us: we celebrated it. It’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve let the prior 30 anniversaries – except our first anniversary when we went through the ritual of eating the freezer-burned wedding cake that we had saved  – pass by unacknowledged. Our 26 year-old son had no clue what our anniversary date is until we told him yesterday.

What’s our lame excuse for ignoring the Wood (5th) anniversary, the Tin (10th), Crystal (15th), China (20th), Silver (25th), Pearl (30th) and all the anniversaries in between? “We’ve been busy,” she said sheepishly.

Once we had children, that’s where all our focus went…probably too much so. I’m sure our kids would not have suffered if we had taken a night away from them to honor our anniversary date. It might have even been a little shocking to them – in a good way – and demonstrated to them that the world didn’t begin when they were born…that their mom and dad were a couple with interests and activities and even some fun(!) before they arrived on the scene.

Now that our youngest daughter is in college, those years of intense parenting are behind us. We’ve entered the next phase of our lives when it really is all about us as a couple. It’s about time that we begin celebrating us!

So here’s a toast to another 31 years. Steve will be 101 (but because he’s blessed with such good genes he’ll only look like he’s 80) and I’ll be a youthful 89. God willing…if we make it to 2046, I’m sure we’ll still be wondering how it can seem like we blinked, and 62 years flew by.

Permanent ink

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

I guess you could say that our daughter’s first year away at college left an indelible impression on her…because she came home with a tattoo.

Long gone are the days when getting a tattoo cast judgement upon the wearer. Maybe you have the same impression that I had yesterday as I surveyed the checkout line at Costco. It’s more like who doesn’t have a tattoo? My forearms looked so plain and boring compared to the tribal patterns, Chinese characters, wolf head and anime characters that I saw on other people’s arms.

And then there was the heavily tatted couple pushing their toddler in a stroller. They had so much ink on their arms that it looked like they had changed ethnicities. You know how when you see an African American couple, you generally expect to see their children with the same skin color? I found myself immediately thinking how odd it was that their blond son hadn’t inherited the same colorful skin as his parents.

But back to our daughter…. Jennifer Lynn had prepared us about a year ago that she was planning to get a tattoo when she turned 18 so when she arrived home with a tattoo, it certainly didn’t cause a “YOU WENT AND DID WHAT?” kind of reaction from us. She is just one of the 22% of 18- to 24-year-olds who have at least one tattoo, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. That’s compared with 9% in 2008.

One of the reasons Jennifer Lynn waited to get a tattoo was because when she was working at Starbucks, visible tattoos weren’t allowed. You could have them; they just couldn’t be seen. But as another example that that tattoos have moved into the mainstream, Starbucks changed their policy last November. Their dress code guidelines now have a big thumbs up for tattoos as long as they aren’t on the face or neck and are not offensive.

If you squint, you can see it.
If you squint, you can see it.

So, what did Jennifer Lynn have tattooed and where? It is almost anti-climactic. Her tattoo is about the size of a quarter and is of her own design; a sweet little bird that she drew based on the silhouette of a favorite necklace. And any shirt – even a tank top – would cover it up.

For this bug-bite sized piece of body art, she paid $80 of her hard-earned money to a tattoo artist in Venice Beach.  Which makes me wonder about the thousands of dollars that people are spending to get big, museum-quality tattoos on large portions of their bodies. That sounds painful on many levels.

Furiosa in the Family – Part 2

Sunday, June 7th, 2015
Valerie's fan art of Furiosa

Valerie’s fan art of Furiosa

A couple of weeks ago, after seeing the new Mad Max movie, I wrote about Furiosa, the character played by Charlize Theron and the similarities to our 22 year-old daughter Valerie. They are both missing their left arm and both have warrior-like determination. That character trait in Valerie was obvious from the moment she was born – unexpectedly in our bathroom – but that’s a story for another time. When I pulled her little four pound body onto my lap, her dark blue eyes met mine with steely intensity. As a youngster, when she decided that she wanted to learn to ride a two-wheel bike, she went into the garage and taught herself to ride a two-wheel bike. Done. Without any help from Steve or me.

Lest I start sounding too much in awe of the wonderfulness of my own child, I would like to add that determination is a double-edge sword. And the flip side is stubbornness. Some of her tantrums almost left me with PTSD.  I still can’t go to Coddingtown Mall without a flashback to the absolutely ear-piercing tantrum that she had in the courtyard over not getting a toy that she wanted.

That said, I am very proud of the way that Valerie approaches life. I am also proud of her talent as an artist. So this week, I get to share with you a glimpse of both. Here are Valerie’s thoughts on the Mad Max movie and her illustration of Furisoa.

Mad max really was so darn good, objectively and to me personally; I was born with one arm, congenital below elbow amputee like in the movie and though I have prosthetic arms I wear I tend to go commando, fake-limb wise. And it was so so awesome that that part of Furiosa’s character was never mentioned or acknowledged; it was just something that she deals with and owns, like legitimately disabled people do every day. She didn’t need lauding from able-bodied people to prove how badass she was: she just WAS badass. As an amputee seeing this was awesome, and such a welcome change from the tired trend of being inspirational footage in life insurance commercials. Now I just have to find a sweet metal arm like she has. 

Overcoming obstacles on TV

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

If the networks all stopped broadcasting sporting events – from major TV draws such as NFL football to more obscure sports like archery – the only way our family would know about this huge black hole in the TV schedule was if we read about it in the newspaper – but it would have to be on the front page because we don’t read the sports section either.

It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with watching sports or that not watching sports makes us more discerning viewers.  Anybody who has voluntarily watched Dance Moms like I have, has no place judging other people’s viewing habits. It’s just that sports aren’t our entertainment of choice.

But one night, after scrolling through Netflix to the point of utter despair – “Are Adam Sandler movies actually starting to clone themselves?!” We went back to network TV and happened upon a sports competition that has really captured my attention.

It’s the unfortunately named American Ninja Warrior. The title gives the impression that the show is geeky guys dressed in black competing against each other in some form of martial arts.  But that isn’t the case at all. It’s people (mostly men but there are a few women) who compete against the clock as they make their way through an obstacle course. There’s no goofy falls into the mud or crude humor. These are serious competitors.

What I like about American Ninja Warrior is that the competitors all have day jobs and they are from all walks of life – chiropractor, construction worker, surfer, teacher, doctor and so on. Around the edges of their lives, they have committed themselves to training for this competition that requires equal amounts agility, upper body strength, balance, and grip strength.  Many of them build their own versions of the courses out of plywood and found materials. One of the competitors from Alaska built a climbing wall out of driftwood.

It is fascinating to see which competitors do well; it’s often not the male model types who are posing and flashing their sculpted pecs and six-pack abs at the camera. Instead it’s wiry guys who don’t look especially fit or have beautiful bodies but are incredibly strong and have an excellent sense of where their bodies are in space – very important when you’re hanging on a spinning spoke and having to calculate when to release in order to land on the mat.

I also admire the courage of the competitors because they are taking on the challenge of doing the obstacles for the first time on TV; they don’t get a practice run at the course. So not only do they have to approach the course aggressively, they have to be smart and strategic. For instance, one of the obstacles is a mini-trampoline that bounces them up to grasp a swinging beam. If they miscalculate the trajectory, they end up splatting face first on the mat.

I find the show totally addictive. “The last competitor made it to the end but how’s this guy going to do?” I’ll probably never be an armchair quarterback but an armchair ninja warrior? You bet.


Presidential Visit

Monday, May 11th, 2015

As part of our trip last weekend to bring Jennifer Lynn home after her first year in college, we planned to rendezvous with Valerie, our 22 year-old daughter who is also lives in Southern California.  We would all meet in Ventura where Valerie’s boyfriend lives and then continue north, taking the coast route home and enjoy a much more scenic drive than the highway to hell – otherwise known as I-5.

So as tourists, what would be a fun way to spend a day with three millennials in Ventura?

Devin – the boyfriend – suggested visiting the Ronald Reagan Museum, officially known as the . That sounded fine; The Reagan Library is an easy half hour drive away in Simi Valley so we could spend a couple of hours there and still have the afternoon free to search for hidden treasures in the numerous thrift shops along Main Street in Ventura.

Until then Devin suggested it, I had never considered seeking out a presidential library as a tourist destination. We learned that there are 13 presidential libraries and because we brought an upgraded family membership…not sure why we did but the woman greeter in the red blazer was charming and the math for the tickets was confusing…we can now visit all 13 of them for free.  I can envision going to the Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, maybe even the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Museum in Ohio on a rainy day but the Jimmy Carter Museum in Atlanta?  It must be a very small museum.

But back to the Reagan Library…it was well worth the $16 admission. Would someone who didn’t already like Reagan have found the museum interesting? I think so because the museum can be appreciated for several reasons regardless of how you feel about Reagan as a political leader.

It is a very well planned museum that packs a lot of history into easily digested chunks. I’m not a great student of history so I appreciated having my memory refreshed with some short but information-packed videos on some of the highlights of his presidency –the energy crisis, Reaganomics, the Berlin Wall and the talks with Gorbachev.  There was also some lightweight information that the girls and I enjoyed such as Nancy’s clothing and White House China patterns and menus. And being a big fan of House of Cards, it was fun to see the recreation of the Oval Office.  I think Claire Underwood would have approved of Nancy’s style.

But the coolest exhibit is Air Force One. How amazing is that that they have the actual plan housed inside the building? Visitors get to walk through it and imagine every seat filled with staff, military personnel and Secret Service. Of course, they give you a chance to wave and smile when you get on the plane so that you can recreate the iconic presidential photo opp. (Pictures available for sale on the lower level.)

All in all, it was a really good way to spend a couple of hours. We joked on the way out, that the next time we visit Valerie in Orange County, we can go to the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. Of course, Steve wants to know if they have the 37 minutes of missing tape.