Archive for October, 2010

Eye to Eye on Skype

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

When Valerie went away to college, I thought we had plenty of ways to stay in touch with her; we could send text messages, chat on FaceBook, send emails, call on the phone or send the occasional care package and note through the mail.

Although I had heard other parents talk about using Skype which is a free video and voice communication system, the service seemed like one more layer of technology that we really didn’t need. After all, she’s only in Southern California and not on the moon.

But Valerie loved using Skype to talk to her friends and pretty much insisted that we also sign up. We did, and now that we are regular Skype users, I have to admit that it is a much more satisfying way to communicate than any of the other options.

Being able to see her face while we are talking really closes the distance gap. Since Steve was the one who moved her into her dorm, I hadn’t seen her room or met her roommates. But because of Skype, I have been introduced to her roomies and given a tour of her dorm room, albeit a dizzying one, as she swung her computer around to show me how she had arranged her living space.

Talking on Skype is much more of a shared experience. One of the things I missed most when Valerie went away was not being able to see any of the art projects she was working on. But the cool thing with Skype is that she can hold up the book that she made for her Book Arts class or the illustration she did for an assignment in Visual Literacy and we can oooh and aaah over it. And I think doing that gives her encouragement too because she is still enough of a kid that she likes having mom and dad appreciate her work.

During other conversations she has modeled the $8 jacket she bought at a thrift store or showed us the prop she made for her Halloween costume. While we’re talking, she sends us links to videos and then all of us can watch them at the same time. We feel like we’re in the same room watching TV together.

And it’s great because Skype is like using a speaker phone with the addition of video, so the whole family can be a part of the experience. Steve, Jennifer, the cats and I all crowd around the computer screen and chime in on the conversation. It’s nice to get all her news first-hand.

It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have Skype right from the beginning when she was in the depths of being homesick. Watching her tears hit the keyboard would have been tough on all of us. At that time, the distance that a text message provided was helped keep the emotion out of the communication and prevented us from getting sucked into her fears.

But now that life is looking a lot sunnier to her, being able to see her bright, beautiful face on the screen is the best.

Boo to Halloween

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

There was an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal about Halloween that was a little scary to me. It said that the percentage of Americans who buy Halloween decorations is larger than the percentage who buys Christmas decorations, 68% versus 66%.

And Halloween spending this year is expected to rise 22%. I can certainly understand buying an extra bag of M&M’s; with the newspaper full of headlines about the slow economic recovery and pre-election sniping, scarfing down a bag of snack-size Snickers for some mood-boosting serotonin sounds like a good idea.

Beyond laying away a chocolate stash as coping mechanism until the economy turns around and the election is over, the fact that people are spending more to celebrate Halloween is shocking to me.

And aside from making any judgments about whether buying a zombie with glowing eyes and screeching sound effects is a good use of $79, I have personal reasons why I have absolutely no desire to spend any money on Halloween decorations.

I associate Halloween with the some of the biggest tantrums and meltdowns that my kids ever had and I suppose it has left me a little traumatized about the holiday. If there is a silver lining to having teenagers, it’s that I no longer have to deal with Halloween costumes, class parties and trick-or-treating.

Our oldest son always seemed to have some kind of costume malfunction that left him devastated. For instance, when he was in 5th grade, he worked very hard to make his own costume based on a fierce character from a video game, complete with a helmet that had horn-like weapons on it. And although he thought he had succeeded in achieving the effect of this awesome warrior with felt, cardboard and a hot glue gun, when he put on the costume at school, the first classmate who saw him in it, asked him, “What are you, a dead bunny?”

And I think Valerie had the biggest tantrum of her life when she was three years old and there weren’t enough cupcakes at her older brother’s class party for her to have one. And every year we always faced anxiety about trick-or-treating, “This friend already has made plans with another friend, and I’m not sure they will invite me, but I won’t know until it’s too late to invite this other friend”¦” And on and on.

So call me a fun-sucker, but I’d rather skip over Halloween and move right on to November 2 to see who wins the elections. Based on what I’ve seen in the polls, the outcome might be plenty frightening.

Trekking Petaluma’s ARTrails

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Oftentimes your children’s activities take you into places that you would otherwise not be drawn to”¦especially if you’re not someone who can draw.

This was the case today when we visited some of the artists’ open studios on the ARTrails tour. Our daughter’s art teacher at Petaluma High requires her students to participate in ARTrails. This was my first year to go; in previous years when we had students in Ms. Tillinghast’s class, Steve as the designated “art parent” had taken the kids to visit the artists’ studios.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the blue ARTrails signs that pop up around Sonoma County on two weekends in October. I learned from the printed program, that ARTrails, sponsored by the Arts Council of Sonoma County, has been around a lot longer than I’ve had kids in high school. It’s celebrating its 25th anniversary, and this year, there were almost 150 artists throughout the county who gave visitors a peek into their world and a chance to appreciate their talents over the last two weekends.

When we were deciding which studios to visit, it was no problem to find plenty of artists to choose from who are close to home. We headed to the old hatchery building on 7th Street near downtown Petaluma where seven artists have their studios. The exposed brick walls of the building make a wonderful gallery for the artists’ work.

Although I liked all the artists’ work, I was particularly intrigued by the striking florals and still lifes painted in oil by Joanne Tepper. Steve, who was a fine arts major and knows about such things, appreciated her skill with the medium. I just liked her work because she brought out the exquisite beauty of an ordinary pansy. My favorite painting of hers was of a sprouting red onion that was dramatic because of its simplicity. It was fun to fantasize for a minute or two about where I would hang it.

After touring the studios, the thought that stayed with me the most was that people who pursue art as a living are wired differently than me.

Whereas I go to a job and complete very clearly defined tasks and work to someone else’s expectations, an artist is really only working to please themselves. Sure, they hope that ultimately their work will have value to someone else, but they don’t know that at the time they are creating it.

If I were an artist, it would be hard for me not to wonder, “Am I wasting my time?” Yet perhaps in spite of some angst, an artist believes enough in what they are doing to complete a piece and go onto the next one.

So tomorrow, when I’m driving to work, I’ll have a new appreciation for the artists who are heading to their studios to spend eight hours working to bring their artistic vision to life.

Chris at Copperfields

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

One of the things that Steve and I look forward to on Sundays is breaking free from the computer and walking around downtown Petaluma, often stopping in Petaluma Art & Earth so Steve can buy a new sketch book or strolling through Heebe Jeebe looking for something fun to send Valerie at school.

So earlier in the week when we got a FaceBook invitation from Chris Samson telling us that he was going to be a Copperfield’s “Sundays @ 2,” we decided to make that our downtown outing today.

Because Steve does the editorial cartoons and I occasionally take on writing assignments for the Argus, we’ve gotten to know Chris as editor of the Argus Courier. And besides being a really nice guy, I really appreciate that Chris is a really excellent writer.

But Chris wasn’t appearing at Copperfields to do readings of his editorials; he was there to play music from his CD “In My Own Time.”

Before starting his program, Chris gave a brief introduction to tell us that Copperfields has been hosting “Sundays @ 2″ events since the summer. These free events are designed to give local authors or musicians the opportunity to gain some exposure and hopefully sell some of their self-published books or music.

During casual hour-long performance, Chris and Steve Della Maggiora performed songs that chronicled many phases of Chris’ life. Everyone in the room, many of whom seemed to be long-time friends and supporters of Chris, were especially touched by his songs about losing his wife and brother. Listening to these stories was made better by hearing them in an up close and personal way; no microphones or amplifiers, just pure tone of their instruments and voices.

What a great way to spend an afternoon. Listening to some good music and getting to know a friend better.

Do You Know the Way to UCLA?

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

As a parent, it’s rewarding to see your children become self sufficient and independent. But when you are watching them do it from a distance, it is also a little nerve-racking.

Like this weekend for example”¦our daughter, Valerie, who has been in school for a little more than a month at Chapman in Orange County, decided to go visit her friend UCLA.

The distance between the two schools is about 40 miles as the crow files. The trouble is that in LA, crows don’t fly; they get in their cars and get on the Golden State Freeway heading north. But Valerie didn’t take her car with her when she went away to school so this left public transportation as her only option for making the trip.

Yes, Virginia, there is a public transit system in Los Angeles County.

But figuring it out takes some work. So in the days leading up to the trip, Steve and Valerie spent many hours chatting on FaceBook while Steve sent her links to the train and bus schedules. The problem was that Valerie’s only previous experience with public transportation was getting on a bus for field trips in elementary school, so deciphering timetables and routes was pretty overwhelming for her.

With much patience, Steve helped her plan an itinerary for getting from Orange to Westwood. She could walk from campus to the Metrolink train station, take it to Union Station, from there take get on the Blue bus line until she reached Santa Monica and then transfer to another bus which would take her the rest of the way to UCLA. And hopefully this whole process would take less than a day.

Valerie’s plan was to leave on Friday night. But at about 6:00, I got a text from her younger sister, “Alert! Valerie drama!” When I called home, Steve told me that Valerie had gotten to the station late, didn’t know how to find the number on the train and had almost gotten on the train to Riverside. Of course, she was very upset and embarrassed that she had failed in her plan to go see her friend.

Steve and I tried to encourage her that things had actually worked out for the best. Thank goodness she didn’t get on the wrong train and end up in entirely the wrong county just as it’s starting to get dark. We told her that it would be much better if she tried it all again on Saturday morning when she was rested. We knew that she had to give it another try and succeed so that she could feel a sense of achievement in her ability to be independent.

Saturday morning, she called Steve to confirm the number on the train and the departure time. She was nervous and scared about failing again. We reassured her and told her to not be shy about asking people for help for directions.

When she called again to report that she was on the train and had just passed Fullerton, Steve and I felt a huge sense of relief. She was heading the right direction!

However, when she got to Union Station and asked for directions to the bus line she got some bad information. Apparently, the person she asked didn’t know the difference between USC and UCLA and just about had her getting on a bus to Watts.

Thankfully, she called to check in with Steve who pulled up Google maps and got her oriented in the right direction. But from that point on, she had to be on her own. As much as we wanted to we resisted the urge to call her for minute-by-minutes updates: “Do you see the bus? Are you on the bus? What streets are you passing?”

What we really wanted to do was jump in the car and make a six hour drive to downtown Los Angeles and rescue her from uncertainty so that we could know she got safely connected with her friend.

In the end, not only did she get to UCLA and have a great time with her friend, she made it back to Orange County seamlessly the next day without even one call home.

We are proud of her and we know she is proud of herself. When she happened to run into some old classmates in the UCLA cafeteria, she told us they were shocked to see her. “Aren’t you going to Chapman? How did you get here?” She answered them with the casualness of experience. “Oh, I took the train. It’s really not a big deal.”