Archive for April, 2010

Reporting on the Butter & Egg Days Parade

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

I was surprised when Chris Samson, editor of the Argus Courier, called to ask if I could cover the Butter and Egg Days Parade for the newspaper.

Wow, I’m being asked to write about what is possibly the most important annual event in Petaluma. That’s like covering the inauguration for the Washington Post or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the New York Times.

But before I get too full of myself, it’s also possible Chris called me because he couldn’t find anyone else in his stable of writers who was willing to spend six hours on their feet in the sun on a Saturday when they could be taking care of numerous chores at home.

But whatever the reason, I was happy to take on the assignment. As I heard over and over again from people I talked to on Saturday, the parade is one of the events that makes Petaluma unique. As parade coordinator Toni Bodenhamer so aptly said, the parade makes Petaluma a hometown and not just a town. And I feel the same way.

People talk a lot these days about making things interactive. And I think that’s why the Butter and Egg Days Parade is such a success. It is totally interactive. You can shout out to your friend riding on a float and they wave back to you. You can show up to watch the parade and end up being in it; yesterday, all you needed to do was buy a $5 “We Love Our Parade” button and you could be on the last float in the parade.

How many other parades can you be the drum major with no training or experience? That happened to my daughter, Jennifer. She came home last Thursday with the drum major baton because there was a sudden need to fill the drum major slot in the Petaluma Junior High band and based on a brief in-class audition, she was chosen. She spent the next two days practicing twirling the baton around the house with me periodically shouting “Don’t chip the paint on the walls!”

Although she was a little nervous leading the band in the parade, she did just fine. That’s because Jennifer, like the other parade participants, wasn’t there to show off her skills, she was there to show spirit. And that infectious community spirit permeates the day.

I certainly hope the Petaluma Downtown Association never becomes so successful that they have the budget to call in professional float designers and organizers because then it would no longer belong to the community. It’s the novice drum majors and homemade floats crafted out of hay bails, tinsel and duct tape, that make it a great parade.

Herold Mahoney Family Community Achievement Awards

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

It’s a great night when you leave an event proud of your child and proud of your community. That’s the way I felt last Thursday, after attending the Herold Mahoney Family Community Achievement Awards.

For 51 years, the Community Achievement Awards have honored the top 10 students in the sophomore, junior and senior classes at Petaluma High, Casa Grande, and St. Vincent high schools based on their academic ranking.

The awards were created because Herold Mahoney ““ who was serving on the school board at the time ““ and his wife, Connie, saw a need and took action to fill that need. They wanted students who were at the top of their class academically to be recognized in the same way that students were honored for their achievements in sports or other school organizations.

How great is it when someone like the Mahoney’s don’t just say “Wouldn’t it be nice if” and leave it at that. But instead, they take on the work of creating a solution. And then that solution develops a life of its own and is carried on by the community for 50 more years.

Although it’s the students being honored, everyone who attends the awards feels gratified because they played a part in the students’ success. At a time when school administrators have to do more with less, they can look with pride that they produced students who have been accepted at schools like Stanford and Princeton.

The standing-room-only banquet room at the Sheraton was practically bursting at the seams with parental pride. And if I do say so myself, why not? These kids didn’t raise themselves. It’s because mom and dad were there to get them out of bed for zero hour, drop off forgotten assignments at school, or drive them to Staples at 8:45 pm when the ink cartridge on the printer runs out.

And the community shows its support for the students by awarding the top seniors with a $500 check. More than 25 individuals, businesses and community organizations have consistently supported the Community Awards with their financial donations. But the really cool thing is that these groups don’t just write the check and then drop it off. They demonstrate that they really value the students by giving up their evening to be there to personally hand the check to the recipient.

And it’s a night for the seniors who are receiving the $500 award to shine. They get called up individually by a representative of the donor organization, have a short bio read about all their amazing achievements ““ 5.0 GPAs, talented athletes, gifted musicians, hundreds of hours of community service, and on and on”¦and then each student gets to talk briefly about their plans for college.

It’s a moment when everyone in the room celebrates that in spite of whatever struggles and uncertainty there was along the way ““ and when it comes to teenagers there are plenty ““ that it was all worth it. Thank you Herold and Connie Mahoney for creating something that leaves everyone feeling such hope.

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?

A Lesson in Gratitude

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Our household can certainly relate to the article in last Monday’s Press Democrat about how high school seniors are lowering their expectations about where they go to college because competition has gotten so tough. After receiving another rejection letter from one of his top pick schools, a Healdsburg High senior is quoted as saying, “It’s been a horrible week.”

I think those were the very words our daughter said when she got the letter from USC that said that she wasn’t going to receive the Trustee Scholarship that she had interviewed for. Not only wasn’t she going to get the big bucks, the amount they were going to give her would barely cover the parking fees. And without receiving a major award, she knew that she wouldn’t be going to USC.

To say that Valerie was disappointed over the news would be a huge understatement; she had gotten her heart set on going to USC. When she and Steve visited the campus for her interview, the school put on an exceptional show to woo the prospective students. She stayed overnight in the dorms with a girl from New York who Valerie thought was just the coolest person. To get everybody pumped up, the administration brought out the USC Marching Band to play “Tusk,” her tour guide said that celebrities frequent the campus”¦in fact Will Smith was just recently there”¦and because of the film school’s connection to Hollywood, students get to see movies even before they were released.

In other words, she left with stars in her eyes. But now her dreams had been crushed. At least that’s the way she felt last Monday night. We heard a lot of the same feelings from her that the students in the Press Democrat article expressed. “I worked so hard”¦what more could I have done.”

Welcome to some of life’s big lessons: even if you are the exceptionally qualified and hard working, there are factors that influence decisions that are outside of your control. There are no guarantees in life, no matter how hard you work or how deserving you are. And this won’t be the only time that you don’t get what you want. The important thing, is what you do with what you’ve been given.

Although it may take some time for Valerie to see it this way, Steve and I believe that Valerie not getting the USC scholarship is actually a gift. We were looking for clear direction about where she should go to school and this gave it to us. Going forward, she can either stay angry about it or embrace the fact that God has a different plan for her and appreciate what she has been given.

And in her case, she has a lot to be grateful for; her second choice college offered her enough money to make it possible for her to go there. Valerie has the opportunity to go away to an excellent school that Steve and I think will be a perfect fit for her.

Yes, it was a rough week but an important week.