Archive for December, 2009

Christmas Presents

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

This Christmas I really enjoyed seeing what our children bought for their siblings and Steve and me now that they can do their own shopping. Each gift showed that they thought about what the person likes and then combined it with their own interests.

Some highlights: Ethan, our 21-year-old son who is a film production major at San Francisco State, went next door to State to shop at Stonestown Galleria. Ethan and his dad share a love of movies, so it’s no surprise that Steve unwrapped a DVD from Ethan. We don’t take it personally that he chose “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” after all, it’s the classic spaghetti western that according to Ethan, should be in the collection of any serious film aficionado.

For me, Ethan bought a book called Inventory by people who write the A.V. Club for The Onion. It’s a book of lists such as “7 terrible movies on the top 100 all-time box-office hits list” and “15 really good bands with really bad names.” He’s hoping it will give me a crash course in the pop culture world that he inhabits.

Valerie, 17, avoids malls (unless it’s the gleaming, upscale San Francisco Centre) but loves antique stores. Fortunately, Petaluma has plenty of them so that’s where she headed for her Christmas shopping. She bought Steve a 1950’s 35 mm Argus range-finder camera. Although still functional, she brought it because she knows it would make her dad happy to look up from his computer and see this well-crafted old piece of technology.

Jennifer is the only one of the three who isn’t old enough to drive so she put her creativity to use in making hand-crafted gifts. I got an embroidered felt key chain and Steve got a polar bear and penguin vignette (think Hallmark Card store) that she had crafted out of Scupley ““ a brand of bake-able clay.

Barbies and Legos are great but Christmas is a lot more fun when personalities shine through.

The Christmas Letter

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

It was our yearly Christmas letter that got me started writing a blog. One year when I was late getting the cards out, several friends wrote back to me saying that they missed getting our Christmas letter and they hoped they were still on our list. Their reaction, with added encouragement from Steve, prompted me to start writing a Christmas letter every week”¦or in other words, to start writing a weekly blog.

I was hoping that writing a blog for three years would have gotten my writing muscles into such good shape that when it comes time to write the yearly Christmas letter that it would just roll off my fingertips. However, that is not the case, and I find myself procrastinating starting it.

One reason I struggle with the Christmas letter is because I want to represent the year with the right tone. I want to balance the reality of what we have struggled with in business this year”¦”it sucked””¦with the greater truth that we are still very blessed to be in excellent health, have great kids who are growing into vibrant adults, and the hope that each day holds something wonderful. After all, that’s why we celebrate Christmas.

And while I think our kids are pretty special”¦what parent doesn’t”¦I don’t want to go overboard when it comes to listing their accomplishments. I always smile when I think of the Christmas letter we got from some friends. The news of their six-year-old son winning second place in his class’s coloring contest was worthy of three exclamation points. Shouldn’t they allow a little room for growth? In 12 years from now, when their Christmas letter tells us he has been accepted to Stanford, I suppose it will be followed by a page of exclamation points.

Sometimes I think I’ll just go with a half page of bullet points about the year. “Ethan is at college in San Francisco, Valerie wants to go away to college, and Jennifer just wants to have us quit talking about college.” There, I’m done.

Nah, I can’t take the easy way out. So with that said, I had better get back to the letter so I can get them in the mail tomorrow if there is any hope of them arriving before Christmas.

Thanks for reading my blog. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Taking Time for King Tut

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Our family really enjoys outings into San Francisco to take a break from our intense”¦with the emphasis on “tense” when the stress starts getting to us”¦focus on work and school. So when I saw that Costco was selling tickets for the King Tut exhibit at the de Young, I thought that would give us the opportunity to plan another day-cation into the City. Plus, I had fond memories of the Tut exhibit because it was one of the first events Steve and I went to as a couple more than 25 years ago.

After buying the tickets at Costco, I went online and chose Sunday at 10am for the day and time; I remember how popular the exhibit had been last time around so I was hoping that a Sunday morning wouldn’t be peak hours. That strategy worked; when we arrived at the de Young we there were only about 20 other people in line. The group of us was ushered quickly into a small room and the doors closed behind us.

Then the room went dark and the video screen lit up; it felt exactly like we were getting on the “Tower of Terror” ride at Disneyland. I was expecting lightening flashes and Rod Serling on the video screen welcoming us to a continuum of time and space. Instead, we heard Omar Sharif’s voice as he narrated a brief history of the boy king. Just like a thrill ride, they wanted to add some drama and build up our sense of anticipation before we entered the mysterious world of mummies and golden sun gods.

Inside the exhibit, we thought that the craftsmanship and sculptural shapes of the pieces were amazing. Valerie particularly liked Tut’s bling; a huge necklace that had a beautiful yellow-green stone scarab as the centerpiece. Jennifer liked that Tut’s tomb contained the 1322 BC version of a Nintendo DS in the form of a two-sided carved game board. Steve’s favorite part of the exhibit was some large photos documenting Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb.

Looking at one of the display cases that contained an embellished dog collar, I couldn’t help but think how prosperous the Egyptians must have been. If you’re living at subsistence level, you’re probably not spending a lot of time thinking about dressing up your dog.

Although there are more than 130 pieces in the exhibit, it didn’t have some of the really large items that I remember seeing when the Tut exhibit came through San Francisco in the late 1970’s. For example, the iconic blue and gold Tut coffin is there, but it’s not the full size piece, it’s a canopic coffinette which is only about 18 inches high. And just when you think that they have led you through all the chambers for a big reveal, the exhibit ends. “Please place your audio tours on the rack by the exit.” Darn, over so soon.

It probably took us about an hour to move through the exhibit and then we spent another hour perusing the de Young museum store. We extended our time in the City with a trip to Haight Street to find a clothing store that Jennifer had found online and we had a great time window shopping in several funky stores along the street. Should I ever need vintage glass taxidermy eyes, I now know where I can get them.

Was the Tut exhibit worth the $26.99 that I paid for each ticket? Probably not, if we went there solely to be blown away by the art and history. For me, going to the exhibit was really about setting aside time to do something together as a family and take a break from college applications and work demands. And that was worth the price of admission.

Recapping the College Apps: Part II

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

I am quite sure that there are 609,000 teenagers who are in a better mood this week. That’s the number of high school seniors who submitted their applications to the California State University system by the November 30 deadline, and if they are like my daughter, Valerie, they are relieved that at least one of their applications is done.

Valerie is especially happy because she submitted her applications to the other schools by the Early Action deadline so she is completely and totally done. We celebrated this achievement with a trip to Nordstrom Rack last weekend.

So besides starting early which I wrote about last week, what did we learn from the college application process?

One thing we learned is that applying to college is a family effort. The amount of work required to apply to the recommended six to 10 schools can be overwhelming. Although I had heard the process was more streamlined now that it is done online, that is really not the case. Each of the private schools required different essays and supplemental applications. Valerie needed support in sorting through the details, and at times, a little prodding from us to keep focused.

There were times it took all three of us, Steve, Valerie and me, to decipher the application requirements from a particular school’s website. And it certainly took Steve’s skills with PhotoShop to put Valerie’s portfolio on a CD that met the school’s criteria for dpi, size, files, etc.

I realize that some of what we encountered is specific to applying as an art major and might not be necessary for students going into engineering or business. But they are still going to need your encouragement when they need some additional information in order to complete the application, and like many teenagers, they are reluctant to pick up the phone and call the admission department for help.

If nothing else, your kid is going to want you close by when it’s time to take out a credit card and pay the $60 application fee per school.

But most importantly, get organized as soon as you can. When you’re applying to several types of schools, such as state schools, UCs, and private schools, keeping track of the various requirements and deadlines is challenging. Valerie made a grid in Excel and it proved to be very helpful because as she began researching the school’s websites, she had a place to record the information Down the left hand side of her grid, she listed the schools she was applying to, and then across the top, a column for application due date, if they required a supplemental app, essay requirements, portfolio requirements, etc. And as she completed each application, it gave her a lot of satisfaction to draw a big, fat line through that school on her chart.

The one column that she didn’t have and that I would recommend adding, is for your major. We had to look at the academic programs offered at each school in order to determine if at a particular school, she should apply as a Graphic Design major, or an Art Major in the Design / Media Arts Department. Perhaps if you’re planning to major in biology, the choice of majors among schools might be more consistent. However, I would certainly recommend researching the websites in advance. It really speeds up the process when you sit down to actually do the application, if you don’t have to stop and go back to the website.

Valerie also made a Pendaflex folder for each school so that she had a place to file any mail she received from a school she was applying to. And once she had paid the application fee and printed out a receipt, it gave her a place to file it. This was a good thing because by the end of the process it was all such a blur that without going back to the file, I had totally forgotten that we had submitted and paid for applications for two schools.

College will start her on the road to independence but her, and probably most high school students, need some help to get started.