Archive for June, 2009

“Pressed Rose” By Any Other Name Would Just Be Pink

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

What’s in a name? A lot, when you’re looking at paint colors.

Every weekend since school ended, you can find my daughter, Valerie, and me at Lowe’s, pulling paint swatches from Valspar’s Martha Stewart collection. Our immersion in paint colors has been prompted by Valerie’s plan to repaint her older brother’s empty bedroom before she moves into it. “What do you think about “˜Waning Moon’ compared to “˜Snowy Egret’?”

Although Lowe’s also carries Laura Ashley, Eddie Bauer and Waverly paint collections, once we started reading the names on the Martha Stewart paint chips, the other designers didn’t stand a chance. Think of painting a room “Coffee” color and it might as well be Folgers. But the same color in Martha’s line is called “Iced Latte.” Sounds yummy. “Sand” sounds so boring; but looking at Martha’s paint chip and imagining painting a room “Zen Garden””¦Deep breath, I feel more relaxed already.

Martha brings her refined sensibility ““ and some really great copywriting ““ to the names her designers come up with to describe paint colors. “Pussy Willow Tip,” “Camisole,” “Otter,” “Apothecary Jar,” “Chardonnay Bottle. She can even make gray-brown sound like an intriguing color: “Pumpernickel Loaf.”

Just holding swatches called “Lavender Soap,” “Silk Gloves,” “Pressed Rose,” “Cameo Brooch,” and “Vintage Map” takes me to a more beautiful place. I picture sitting next to Martha on an antique settee in her former residence, Turkey Hill Farm. Everything around us is tasteful and elegant. “Oh, wouldn’t my embossed stationery be a lovely shade for a paint color?” she says. “Or how about the Lobster Bisque I’m serving for lunch. That’s such a beautiful shade of red.” I feel richer just thinking about these things. I wonder if she makes a color called “Microsoft Stock Certificate.”

That got Valerie and I started thinking about what names we would come up with if we looked around our surroundings for inspiration. We pretty quickly realized that they might not have the same positive connotations. In our world, what Martha calls “Tapenade” would be “Cat Barf.” Martha’s “Freshwater Aquarium””¦for us it’s more like “Ty-D-Bol Blue.” And in today’s economy, her “Scented Notepaper” would have to be renamed “Pink Slip.”

After bringing home a stack of paint chips the size of a deck of cards, Valerie began realizing that the names of the colors were influencing her opinion of them. How could she not like a paint color named after one of her favorite things, “Siamese Cat.” If the “Steamer Trunk” color she was considering instead was named “Evergreen” she wouldn’t have taken a second look at it. She even tried covering up the names on the chips so they wouldn’t affect her attraction to them but by that time it was too late. Even though she has eliminated “Paris Pink” as a potential color several times, it keeps making its way back into her favorites just because Paris conjures up such enticing images.

We finally moved on from paint chips to buying a few samples to actually try on the wall. On our orange-peel texture walls, “Kyoto Green” looks more like “Iguana Skin” so that one is out of the running. It looks like the strong contenders are “Sugar Egg Pink” and “Cocoon.”

But wait, Valerie’s back from Lowe’s with “Downspout” and “Jordan Almond.”

Lashing Out at Perfection

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Last week, I wrote about how taking eyelashes to extreme lengths and thicknesses seems to be an obsession for women these days. Mascara brands promise lashes so long and voluminous that it makes my eyelids heavy just blinking about it.

That led me to think about what makes a woman feel beautiful and why a particular physical feature can become so important to the way a woman feels about herself.

A recent episode of “What Not to Wear” also tied into these issues. On the show, a very attractive 50-something gal from Texas was made-over to bring her wardrobe out of the 1980’s and teach her how to start dressing in a more age-appropriate way. A part of the makeover process was also updating her hair from the Texas beauty queen, big blonde “do” to something softer and more modern.

At the end of the show, this already good-looking woman looked absolutely fantastic, yet she didn’t feel pretty because they had cut off her over-processed, long, blonde hair and given her a fresh, new hairstyle. In her mind, she couldn’t be pretty and attractive to men unless she had the big hair. Since she no longer had that, her hair was the “flaw” in her appearance that she focused on and she totally missed seeing how great she looked.

Like this woman, I think many of us dissect ourselves until we’re not the sum of our parts, we’re just bits and pieces. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time putting ourselves down for not meeting the ideal picture we have in our heads of what this feature should look like in order for it to be labeled as “pretty.”Â 

There are many women ““ and this includes me ““ who have one feature of their appearance that they are unhappy with. “I really hate my”¦fill in the blank.” We believe that as long as that stays the same, we can never feel truly beautiful. In fact, many women just plain give up even trying to look better because perfection is unattainable, so they believe that even small attempts at looking better are futile.

But as this episode of “What Not to Wear” demonstrated ““ and we’ve seen it numerous other times on the show ““ we (and I’m talking to myself here too) need to wipe away the image of perfection we have in our heads, accept who we are, and work with it. The show has shown me over and over again that every woman, no matter her size or shape, can look better with clothes that fit well, a good haircut and artfully-applied makeup. The good features of each woman are accentuated and her less than perfect features minimized. And when we see each of them as a complete picture at the end of the show, they look beautiful.

So back to where I started with why we are obsessed with lashes”¦when you compare yourself to a “Victoria’s Secret” model ““ and it’s pretty hard not to do when a TV commercial comes on and the camera is about three inches away from her taut, 19-year-old abs ““ it’s very easy to feel inadequate in pretty much every way.

But makeup companies want us to believe ““ and I don’t fault them for this ““ that if we use enough Intense XXL Extreme mascara, you can compare your lashes to those on a model and even if you’re five-foot-two, you won’t come up short.

You may hate everything else about your body, but your lashes will be perfect.

Forty Lashes

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

If I were to make an assumption about what issue consumes the minds of women based on the TV commercials during “Dancing with the Stars,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and “What Not to Wear,” that issue would have to be: how can I get my eyelashes longer, thicker, and fuller than ever before?

I suppose ever since the first cave woman smudged some charcoal on her lashes and realized that it drew attention away from her uni-brow and really made her eyes pop, that mascara ““ or some form of it ““ has been a very popular item of makeup.

But the focus on eyelashes has gotten so extreme recently, that it has gone into some unexpected territory. Check out some of the names of Maybelline’s line of mascara: Curl Power, Unstoppable, Volum’ Express Turbo Boost, Sky High Curves, and XXL Extensions. Are we talking about makeup or jet engines? And the scariest one of all, Lash Stiletto. I wonder if it comes with a warning. Careful, you’ll put your eye out with that.

My daughter recently came home from the drugstore with Revlon 3D Extreme Mascara that promises 17X fuller, 70% curvier and 50% visibly longer lashes. Wow”¦that’s really going to give her eyelids a workout.

As further proof of our obsession with eyelashes, I began seeing TV and newspaper ads for a prescription drug that enhances eyelash growth. Drug manufacturer Allergan discovered that one of the side effects of their glaucoma eye drops was thicker lashes. So they re-purposed the drug and this spring began marketing it under the name of Latisse. Brooke Shields who is already a celebrity spokesperson for Colgate, Coppertone, VW Routan, and milk, can now be seen batting her baby blues promoting Latisse.

Allergan wouldn’t be spending millions of dollars marketing Latisse if they didn’t believe that in spite of a recession there are a lot of women who are willing to pick up the phone and schedule a doctor’s appointment, pay the insurance co-pay, and then spend $120 dollars a month to have “longer, fuller and darker lashes.” And women who love the results they get with Latisse, better build that expense into their retirement budget because as soon as you quit using the product, your lashes will revert to the nubs they were before.

I love my mascara and it’s worth every penny of the whopping $8.99 I spend on it. But if I had any extra money, it wouldn’t be spent on a prescription to enhance my eyelashes. So why does Allergan predict that global sales of Latisse could exceed $500 million a year?

As I’ve been struggling with some of my perceptions about what makes a woman pretty, I have some thoughts about why we fixate on a particular feature of our appearance. I’ll pick up from there next week.

Celebrating the Transition from Childhood to Young Adult

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

 As a school board member, Steve was asked to give the sixth grade promotion speech. He asked if I would write it for him and I was delighted to. What follows is the speech he read last Thursday at Cinnabar Elementary School:


Thank you all for joining us today.

As you are probably aware, we make a point of calling this ceremony a promotion ““ not a graduation.
The students will receive a certificate this afternoon”¦but even if they left Cinnabar without it, I’m certain that they wouldn’t be turned away on their first day of school as a seventh grader.

So why are we making such a big to-do over leaving sixth grade? Why did the girls get to go shopping for a new dress, why did the boys have to go shopping for a better shirt, and why did your parents, extended family and friends decide that it was worth missing work”¦or Oprah”¦to watch you shake my hand?

It is because although this isn’t a graduation, it does signify a one of the biggest transitions in your life”¦from childhood into a young adult.

Let’s think for a moment about who you were when you started kindergarten. Maybe you knew your alphabet, but you certainly didn’t know how to read. You probably couldn’t even zip up your jacket or tie your shoes without help. You probably could write your name”¦backwards. Yes, you were adorable, but you were a little kid who really didn’t know anything.

So what happened in the seven years since then? With the nurturing and commitment of some excellent teachers you learned to read books that didn’t have any pictures, how to write a coherent research report with a bibliography. You mastered the fundamentals of math and even some algebra and geometry. You learned how to do internet research, use a keyboard and put together a multi-media presentation. And you took trips to the Gold Country and Walker Creek and discovered that there was a whole lot more world out there beyond Skillman Lane and North Petaluma Boulevard.

OK, so you’ve learned a lot but you’re probably still not quite ready to take your SATs. After all, we want to leave a little material for your junior high and high school teachers to cover.

So let’s also take a look at what you learned at Cinnabar that can’t be measured on a Star Test. You know those annoying life skills that your teachers are always harping on? They may just be the most important lessons you’ll take with you. Because your teachers insisted that you show respect for other people’s opinions, that you patiently wait your turn, and that you learn how to cooperate with others to achieve a common goal, they tamed you from a wild thing (ok, with a little help from your parents) into the poised and confident ladies and gentlemen that sit in front of us today.

And all these good things you learned in a very unique place; there are not very many school environments that are as personal and caring as Cinnabar. At the schools you attend in the future, if the principal is on a first name basis with you, that may not be a good thing. Here at Cinnabar, Mr. Ecker and Mrs. Lorenz know each of you individually just because they like to and they know it makes a difference in the way you feel about coming to school. Your teachers cared about you as a person, not only as a student. They invested six hours”¦and sometimes a lot more hours”¦of their day, 180 days a year in helping you succeed. They often knew some of your brothers and sisters. If your family was going through a difficult time, they knew about it worked with you with compassion yet structure. You were never just a name on an attendance sheet.

As Colleen and I can tell you from having our three children grow and mature as students at Cinnabar you come from a special school. One thing that I’ve heard over and over from the teachers at Petaluma Junior High, where all of my children went and where many of you will begin seventh grade, is that the students that come from Cinnabar are some of the best-prepared ““ both academically and socially ““ young men and women they meet each year.

So parents and students, savor the sweetness of this day. And celebrate the transition as your student steps into a new phase of their life. They’re ready for it.

University of Uncertainty

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

College was a no-brainer for me”¦or at least the decision-making process about where I was going to go to college was; it so simple that it didn’t require any special effort. My brothers and sisters and I grew up with the expectation that we would attend the university that was about 15 minutes from our house, that we would live at home for the four years until we graduated, and that our parents would pay for our education. That was the plan laid out by our mother and father and my four siblings and I stuck to it.

However, as the parent of a 20-year-old son who’s going to be transferring from the JC to a four-year college and a daughter who’s a high school senior, where our children go to school and how it will be paid for isn’t pre-determined like it was for me. The uncertainties of our kids’ college educations present a challenge for me; I’m someone who feels a lot more comfortable when everything can predictably be tied up in a neat package.

A lot of the reason that my college experience and that of my kids is so different is because we live in a different place and time. I certainly wasn’t the only student who didn’t consider any other options than the nearby university. The vast majority of my high school classmates conformed to the same plan as I did; they continued living at home and automatically attended the “U.” And from what my sister who still lives in my hometown tells me, that is still the case.

But the mindset of students here is much broader. There aren’t any assumptions that you’re going to choose a particular college. It could be starting at the JC, applying to a UC or a State school or hoping to go to school outside of California. I think it’s wonderful that kids have lots of options about where to go to school so they can find the one that is the best fit for them. But having a lot of choices also means a lot of variables which adds to the stress of the process.

And just because you like a school doesn’t mean you’ll get accepted”¦or be able to pay for it. Our son got in at the college that was his first choice and the following week we got an invoice for $25,000 for the first semester. As if.  Fortunately, he says he is going to be just as happy going to a State school. But even though the tuition there is reasonable in comparison, how he pays for it and his living expenses is yet to be determined since we’re not in a position to foot the bill.

And then there’s the current dismal economic situation. The newspaper says that Cal Grants may be axed in the Governor’s budget cuts. Plus, credit is tight so student loans are harder to get. Hand me another Pepto-Bismol.

What this all is pointing out to me is that I need to have some flexibility and creativity in the way we approach college with our kids. Gone are the days of assumptions and expectations about starting at Point A as an 18-year-old freshman and following a straight line to Point B at graduation four years later.

Perhaps in 2018 ““ that is the earliest that our eighth grade daughter could graduate from college ““ I’ll look back with the perspective of experience and wonder why I ever thought sending your kids to college was a challenge. At least that’s my hope.