Archive for May, 2010

A Thank You to Petaluma Junior High

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Is there a time in a person’s life that is anymore awkward than the years in junior high?

The hormones firing inside the bodies of kids in junior high must look like the finale at a Fourth of July fireworks show, their individuality hasn’t emerged yet so the pressure to conform is huge, and they all want to act like seventeen and eighteen year-olds when they are only twelve and thirteen.

My high school senior loves to tease her eighth grade sister, Jennifer, about how all the girls in junior high look exactly alike: skinny jeans on 115 pound bodies, Aeropostale logo hoodies and long straight hair parted on the side.

And if you’ve ever picked up a kid at the junior high, you’re certain to see the girls posing with their cell phones, air-kissing their friends goodbye and the “I hate you, pay attention to me” drama between the girls and boys.

So later this week, when Jennifer moves from eighth grade to high school and we say goodbye to Petaluma Junior High for the last time, I want to thank the teachers and administration who did such a great job shepherding our kids through the challenging “wonder years.”

We have had three kids go through Petaluma Junior High and I think Mr. Lehmann did an excellent job of creating an environment in which the expectations are well established and the kids understood the boundaries. This always made the school feel very safe to me.

I know there are parents who will disagree, but I always appreciated that the school had a dress code that was actually enforced. The administration clearly explained what was appropriate to wear to school during a “fashion show” at student orientation in the fall: no tank tops, straps must be two inches wide and skirts or shorts must reach the bottom of your fingertips.

I always felt this set a high standard for the type of behavior that was expected. From what I have seen from years of picking up kids at the high school, girls will have plenty of opportunity to go to school dressed like a Pussy Cat Doll once they leave junior high.

Steve and I used to joke that the junior high had a lock-down feel to it because of the miles of chain link fence surrounding the campus; there’s only one way in and one way out. But as a parent, I’m glad that’s the way the school is run. There was never any doubt in my mind that the school administration knew the whereabouts of every one of the students.

I don’t recall any time that Jennifer participated in a school sponsored event that teachers and either the principal or vice-principal weren’t there to make sure that every student was accounted for. That’s a huge responsibility when you’re talking about a taking a couple of busloads of band students to perform at a San Francisco Giants game. When the buses pulled into the circle in front of PJHS well after midnight, there was Ms. Dunnagan, walkie-talkie in hand, helping Mr. Bailey unload buses and get every student matched up with a parent.

Junior high isn’t really a time in anybody’s life that they look back on with a great deal of nostalgia; instead it’s more just go through that awkward period and then move on to the more important high school experience. That may be the case, but next Friday, when we attend the eighth grade promotion ceremony, I will certainly be looking back with fondness and appreciation for the time my kids were at PJHS.

More than We Bargained for at Our Garage Sale

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

I love that our house seems a little bit bigger this morning because there aren’t sacks of books, old curtain rods, and other household castoffs taking up floor space around the edges of the hall, garage and bedroom. That’s where most of the stuff that we had cleaned out of the kids’ rooms last summer ended up. But thanks to yesterday’s garage sale, the house is less cluttered and all that’s left in the corners is a year’s worth of dust.

For stuff that is too random and not worth the hassle of describing and posting it on Craig’s List, an old-school garage sale is still a great way to recycle Barbies and Polly Pockets. I’m quite sure our daughter won’t be taking those with her when she goes away to college in the fall.

And even though our proceeds from the sale are only enough to buy one college textbook for her, the garage sale had some unexpected benefits.

We were one of six houses on our block that participated in the garage sale. Our neighbor had set the date and then got the word out along the street. So after the 8 a.m. rush of early-bird shoppers had come and gone, what did all of us do instead of staring at our tables of baskets, picture frames, and books and getting depressed thinking about all the stuff we would have to pack up and take to Goodwill?

We went over and talked to one another. And it was the best thing about the day.

There is one neighbor who had lived on the street for at least five years because I remember watching the mom come and go when she was pregnant. That child is now in kindergarten. And it was just at yesterday’s garage sale that I introduced myself and now know their names, ages, and where they go to school.

We met and had a chance to chat with the family who is going to be moving into the house next to us. Steve had a long conversation with an older gentleman who he met after years of passing walking his dog. I got to hear about the successes of our next door neighbor’s children; for years now we’ve done little more than wave as we fly past one another at 7:50 each morning.

We’ve lived in our house 15 years, yet we’re still learning the names of neighbors who’ve lived on the street even longer than we have. I don’t think we’re all that uncommon; everybody is so busy and focused on what they need to get done in the next hour, that no one takes the time to reach out to their neighbors.

I know for sure, that after Saturday’s garage sale, my wave as we pass won’t just be cursory, it will be a genuine “I’m glad to see you,” because I have a renewed connection with these neighbors.

I don’t know if there will be another garage sale on the block next spring. But now that the ice has been broken, I’m not going to wait 12 more months before I talk to my neighbors to find out.

The Walt Disney Family Museum and more

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

One of the advantages to living in Petaluma is being able to make regular trips into San Francisco. Whether we are there to shop for bargains at Nordstrom Rack or taking in some culture at a museum, it’s a great mini-vacation.

On our most recent trip into the city on Sunday, we combined two very disparate experiences: a very sedate and family-friendly visit to The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio followed by a PG-13 shopping stop on Haight Street. You see, with the senior prom coming up next weekend, Valerie wanted to take advantage of being in the city to make a return visit to a vintage clothing store in the Haight in hopes of scoring a unique headpiece to go with her prom dress.

The people you encounter on Haight Street on any given day tend to be somewhat unusual; how often do you see pedestrians with cats on their backs like we saw last time we were there?

However, Sunday was the Bay-to-Breakers race which attracts tens of thousands of “runners” ““ costumed, clothed, or not ““ to SF. And after the race, a large number of the participants found their way back to Haight Street where they rehydrated after the 12k race with plenty of beer.

But back to the first stop on our SF itinerary: The Walt Disney Family Museum. When we read about its opening last year, it sounded like an ideal outing for us. Although we aren’t Disney fanatics, we are Disney fans. Steve is a cartoonist; so how could he not be an admirer of Disney and the Disney artists? He remembers the strong impression it made when he had the chance to shake Walt’s hand when he was a kid growing up in Southern California.

Our kids have been raised on Disney movies and plenty of summer vacations to Disneyland. And as artists and cartoonists in their own right, they have spent many hours pouring over some of the books we have that tell the story of the Disney movies from concept through production.

We didn’t really have a lot of expectations about the museum beyond guessing that we would probably see a lot of pencil drawings of Mickey and the numerous characters created in Disney movies. We certainly did see that, but we left feeling like we had gotten to know Walt Disney better. Of course you can’t talk about Walt Disney without talking about the movies, TV shows, and parks that he created, but the focus of the museum is really Walt’s life and how each event propelled him onto the next.

For example, there’s the bankruptcy statement from 1923 from Laugh-O-Gram films, Disney’s first animation studio. The failure of this company in Kansas City prompted him to get on a train for Hollywood to try his luck as a director. And the cool thing about the museum is that to take us to this next phase of his life, we got on an elevator car that was designed to look like the inside of a train.

That’s one of the best parts about the museum, we never felt like we were just going from room to room to see more stuff hung on walls. The spaces for each part of the exhibit are unexpected such as the spiral ramp that took us through Disney’s projects in the 1950’s and 60’s. We sat for several minutes and I reminisced about Sunday afternoons watching “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on our RCA TV.

We surprised ourselves by spending more than three hours at the museum so we definitely felt that we had gotten our money’s worth: tickets are $12 for children 6-17 and $20 for adults. And by the way, the gift shop isn’t just a small version of a World of Disney mall store but really has some nice artsy items.

Steve was a champ navigating his way from the Presidio to the Haight given the crowds and road closures because of the race. Unbelievably, we got a parking place two blocks from the store that we wanted to go to. Valerie found a 1950’s hat with veil that is going to look fabulous with her dress.

The Walt Disney Family Museum and Haight Street. Both were educational and entertaining in their own way.

A Brief Mother’s Day Tribute

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to thank my mom for the sacrifices she made and celebrate the  good qualities that she passed onto me.

My mom always supported me by showing up for every school activity that I was involved in. I thought of my mom just last week, when I was at our youngest daughter, Jennifer’s, back-to-school night. I was feeling a little jaded about going to yet another tour of the junior high campus. But then I thought about my mom. Because I was the youngest of five, by the time I was in eighth grade like Jennifer, my mom had already gone to 21 consecutive back-to-school nights. Yet she still went and acted interested in what I had to show her.

If something was important to me, my mom made it important to her. I remember numerous shopping trips so I could find just the right outfit for ninth grade promotion, my first real date or some other special occasion. I loved my ballet classes so mom always made sure I could go to class as often as I wanted, on time and fully outfitted. I used to enjoy sewing my own clothes so whenever I needed more material or supplies, mom would stop what she was doing and take me to the fabric store.

My mom and dad already had four children when she had me at age 43. It was very unusual for a woman in the 1950’s to have a baby that late in life. I know she struggled with feeling a lot older and more tired than most mothers of my classmates.

It used to drive me crazy when I would look over at her and she had fallen asleep in front of the TV by 9:30 at night. But now I completely understand. As an older and tired mom, I also often end up asleep on the couch minutes after I sit down. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. I am my mother after all.”

Petaluma Educational Foundation Scholarship Reception

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

When our family received an invitation to attend the Petaluma Educational Foundation 2010 Scholarship Reception, we were certainly pleased because it meant that our daughter, Valerie, had been selected to receive one of the scholarships.

However, I really didn’t have any expectations about the amount of money that a PEF scholarship could mean to her. I was just happy to get the news that she had been awarded anything based on the application she submitted. Even if she got a small award, it would still reduce her student loans for the first year.

So when we arrived at the Sheraton on Sunday for the award reception I was shocked when I opened the program. There were over 250 awards to be given out that day. The program had long lists of names of students followed by amounts such as $500, $1,000, and $1,500.

Given my skeptical nature, I still had my doubts that each of these kids was receiving the amount next to their name. I was thinking to myself, “Perhaps the students listed under each donor organization are all the nominees, and they are only going to choose one out of the list to actually receive the money.”

But it is with much appreciation to PEF that I can say that I was wrong. The amount listed by each name was in fact the scholarship amount that the student would be receiving.

And here’s the amazing part, the total amount of scholarship money that was distributed by PEF on Sunday was $194,300. That is an astounding amount of financial support that our community gives to these motivated high school seniors.

Where did this money come from? In this economy, is PEF spinning gold from straw to be able to award almost $200,000 in scholarships in a town that only has a population of 50,000?

No, there isn’t any magic involved. It is because of generous families who created a memorial fund to honor a loved one who has passed. Or children who want to continue their parents’ legacy so they started a scholarship fund. Or businesses who see the value of encouraging students in a specific area of study such as nursing or veterinary sciences, so they give. Or service organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Masons that can always be counted on for a donation to encourage the best and brightest in our community. The list goes on and on…

Thank you to PEF for the huge amount of work that goes into administering, organizing and hosting these awards for 21 years.

And a personal thank you; my daughter left with a generous award to put towards her college expenses.