Archive for November, 2010

All Together for Thanksgiving 2010

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Thanksgiving this year had special meaning for us because two out of our three kids were coming home from college. And since we are planning to put our house on the market shortly after the first of the year and”¦fingers crossed”¦sell it, this might be the last time we share Thanksgiving together in the house that they grew up in.

Our son, Ethan who is 22, has been living away from home for more than two years now. Once he made it clear to us that he had moved out for good, his souvenirs got packed up and his sister relocated into his room. So now, when he comes home, he really isn’t coming home at all. He is just coming back to a house in which he knows the cupboard where the Triscuits are stashed.

There have been a lot of changes for him in the last year.  Because he didn’t like the person he was when he was in high school and at the JC, Ethan reinvented himself. He has worked hard to present himself differently both in appearance and demeanor. No more t-shirts and baggy pants. Now he only wears button down shirts, often with a tie, and slim black jeans. And he is proud that he can hold his own in conversation with anyone from a classmate to a Ph.D. candidate.

So for him, coming back to Petaluma is like taking a step backwards. And after two days, he was itching to get back to his new and improved life in San Francisco.

However, for our 18-year-old daughter Valerie, who has only been away at college for three months, coming back for Thanksgiving was still like coming home for her. Although she has gotten over her homesickness, she still has not totally bonded with the college experience. Because she has not changed dramatically in appearance or attitude, having her here felt like she had never left.

As she said at the airport, “college hasn’t started being fun yet,” so she had a much harder time saying goodbye to us and returning to school.

For our youngest daughter, Jennifer, having her older siblings back in the house was a mixed blessing. Now that she is in high school, the four year age difference between her and her older sister, and eight years between her and her older brother, doesn’t seem so big. They like many of the same websites and all take enjoyment in educating mom and dad in the short attention span trends that sweep through the Internet. However, Jennifer had gotten very used to not having to share the bathroom or the TV.

As the kids get older, their experiences may take them farther afield, so they may not come back to Petaluma for Thanksgiving.  For Steve and me, having them all home this year, in this house, was a moment in time to be thankful for.

Banding Together

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

One of the aspects of being a parent that I enjoy is that my child’s interests and abilities broaden my world. This was the case with our daughter, Jennifer, who plays clarinet in the Petaluma High band. On Saturday, Steve and I accompanied her to the Tournament of Champions Band Review in Fairfield. As a side note, I’m using “accompanied” very loosely; Jennifer who is 14 tries to disavow any relation to us when we are out in public together.

Previously, my only exposure to marching bands was watching the local high school bands in the Butter & Egg Days Parade and occasionally catching a band marching in a parade on TV. But attending the Fairfield competition opened my eyes to a whole subculture devoted to supporting students in high school bands. It was one of those “Who knew?” kind of experiences.

The day started very early for everybody. The PHS Wind Ensemble was first on the schedule in the Concert Competition which meant that the kids were on the bus in front of Petaluma High at 5:00am and in their seats in the Fairfield High School gym with their uniforms on ready for Mr. Eveland’s downbeat at 7:10.

Following the concert performance, which by the way, I can proudly say that PHS won first place, the kids headed back to the bus area to get ready for the marching competition. It was as the moms were helping the kids take care of last minute details ““ such as no hair hanging down from under their hat, any remnants of black nail polish removed, and ear studs covered up with Band-Aids ““ that it started pouring rain. In a matter of minutes, the canopies that the parents had set up to protect the instruments had inches of water in them.

While chatting with Mr. Eveland, we learned that normally the kids would be out warming up prior to the time they were schedule to march at 9:45. But why have everybody get colder and wetter than was absolutely necessary? Soon the decision was made to bring out the ponchos; the inspection portion of the competition would be dropped. Forget crisp uniforms; the kids would be lucky if they didn’t finish the competition looking like drowned rats.

While I can’t exactly say that the clouds parted and the sun broke through just as they were about to march, thankfully it did stop raining. We walked along side the band as the marched through a residential neighborhood adjacent to Fairfield High which had been closed off to traffic. About mid-way through the route, the band passed the judges stand where they were scored for a variety of skills such as their musicianship, marching and color guard. It’s a lot of preparation for a very short time of competition.

The kids completed the loop and headed back to the staging area for a group photo.

Because we had arrived in the pre-dawn, it wasn’t until later in the morning that I realized what a huge event the Fairfield competition is. There were 38 bands slated to perform. And where you have bands, you have a lot of instruments and uniforms that need to be hauled to the event. Every square foot of a parking lot that was as big as a football field was filled with buses, trailers, awnings and swarms of students in various styles of military-inspired band uniforms.

Given the economic downturn and the way most schools these days are struggling to fund their music programs, Steve and I were surprised at how prosperous many of the school groups looked. Plenty of them had trucks or trailers emblazoned with the name and logo of their school band.

But regardless of how much money any particular school has, none of those students got there on their own steam. And that’s what I really liked about Saturday’s competition. I got an opportunity to see that it takes a village to raise a band”¦so to speak.  Events like this happen because of the band directors, parents and volunteers who are passionate about the good things that students get from participating in band so they work unselfishly behind the scenes. They willingly give of their time, energy and sleep.

Thanks to yesterday’s experience, I will be watching the marching bands in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a new level of appreciation.

Drawn and Quartered

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

As you may have seen in the Press Democrat, my husband, Steve, was suspended from his freelance position as Argus Courier editorial cartoonist. The New York Times which owns the Argus decided that Steve needed to be punished for doing the illustrations for four mailers created by an independent expenditure committee opposing Pam Torliatt. And to further appease those who initiated the action, his blog was pulled from the Petaluma360 website.

This whole situation has been a major topic of conversation in our household. I believe there are some major inconsistencies in the way this was handled and since Steve has been silenced, I am going to address them.

Let me start by saying that in the six years that Steve has drawn the editorial cartoons for the Argus, he has had a great working relationship with the publisher and editor. He is grateful for the opportunity to bring the newspaper’s editorial perspective to life while injecting some humor into the subject matter.

And I think the staff at the Argus would agree that Steve adds value to the paper. While not exactly quantifiable research, people consistently say to me, “Tell Steve we loved the cartoon this week.”

But this wasn’t enough to save him when some sore losers who are having trouble coming to grips with Rabbitt’s win discovered an “ethics violation.” They are furious at the Press Democrat and Argus for endorsing Rabbitt and now that Rabbitt won, they believe somebody has to pay. So in order to placate the vocal liberal faction, the New York Times threw the cartoonist under the bus.

Did Steve violate the newspaper’s ethics policy? First of all, Steve is not a staffer of the Argus Courier, he is a freelancer and like all writers, artists or photographers who work on a freelance basis for the newspaper, he signed an agreement that prohibits him from accepting assignments from current or potential news sources.

What is a “current or potential news source?” That could be absolutely anything because who can predict when the most benign subject matter suddenly becomes a news source? So the agreement is actually useless ““ unless of course, someone wants to use it to suit their own purposes as they did invoking it to have Steve suspended.

Also, I doubt that Steve is the only freelancer for the newspaper who has done political work, it’s just that because he is a cartoonist, his particular style of work is more easily recognizable than that of a writer or photographer.

And why was he suspended for drawing cartoons consistent with the position of the newspaper? Steve draws the editorial cartoons based on the subject and direction that the Argus editorial staff gives him. He is not drawing cartoons that promote his own agenda. The Argus endorsed Rabbitt, yet doing work on the independent expenditure committee supporting Rabbitt gets him suspended. It would make more sense if he got suspended for working at cross purposes to the newspaper.

And let’s get practical about what being a freelancer means. The amount of money Steve gets paid per cartoon divided by the number of hours that he spends drawing it, works out to less than minimum wage. So he is certainly not doing it for the money; he draws them because he enjoys the connection with the community. Yet when a job comes along that could actually help us meet our mortgage payment, he is supposed to turn it down, saying, “I can’t take the job; I do the editorial cartoons.” Sorry, but we’re just not that righteous.

Ok, I can accept that the New York Times had to throw a bone to our liberal friends in order to appease them and Steve was the bone that got thrown. But removing his blog from Petaluma360?

That sounds like censorship to me. So much for that website being a forum for all points of view. That part really hurts.

Our Japanese Exchange Student

Monday, November 8th, 2010

A few weeks ago, when a friend from church called to say that she was looking for families to host Japanese exchange students for a weekend in November, Steve encouraged me to do it so I somewhat reluctantly agreed. I’m not a natural hostess, especially when it comes to having overnight guests. Any relatives who pass through town get pointed to the closest Best Western.

But we had nothing scheduled for that weekend and we have not just one, but two empty bedrooms with our two oldest kids away at college.  Plus we thought it would be a good opportunity for Jennifer to broaden her perspective on life beyond what she experiences at Petaluma High School.

So Erika from Miyakonojo Nishi High School spent this past weekend with us. And much to my surprise, it was refreshing, diverting, and harder to say goodbye than I ever would have imagined.

When we arrived at Petaluma Valley Baptist Church on Friday afternoon to pick up Erika, the fellowship hall was almost vibrating from the excitement of about 50 Japanese students, all in their school uniforms, waiting to meet the families who they were assigned to for the weekend.

The students all had name tags and within a few moments we found Erika. She had accessorized her very conservative navy blue, below-the-knee skirt and blazer uniform with a pair of high-top Converse printed with an American flag theme. We came to find out during the course of the weekend that she loves clothes with stars and stripes ““ the louder, the better.

After taking many pictures, she found her suitcase and we piled into the car. We started to make conversation on the way home. Sometimes her English was absolutely perfect with hardly a trace of an accent, and other times, conversing was more like a “Who’s on first” routine. We found out that she loves American musicals and her favorite ones are “Grease” and “Hairspray.” And she knows the lyrics to many Taylor Swift songs. There were some awkward silences but she was positively determined to communicate with us.

So what kind of activities do you plan when you have a Japanese student from Friday night through Monday morning and the point of having them stay with you is to give them a snapshot of American life?

People Link, the organization which matches the students with their American families, encouraged everyone to do whatever they would normally do. For us, that meant going to the Impressionist exhibit at the DeYoung Museum, followed by window-shopping at San Francisco Centre, hamburgers at In-N-Out, going to church on Sunday, a trip to Costco and checking out some consignment stores in downtown Petaluma, all interspersed with eating and watching DVDs.

That’s a lot to fit into a weekend for someone who just arrived from Japan the day before, and given a few minutes of down time, Erika dozed off. But throughout it all, she was an absolute delight ““ documenting everything in pictures and enthusiastically trying everything, starting with the lasagna that we had for dinner Friday night. “Ohhhh, lasagna, like Garfield!” And she took a photo of it on her plate.

There was a kind of childlike innocence in the discoveries she made about America. She was constantly amazed at how big everything in America is, from shopping carts, to houses, to sodas at McDonalds. And while our daughter turns her nose up at trendy clothing store Hot Topic, Erika loved the merchandise and bought a Justin Bieber t-shirt which she proudly wore to church the next day. When Steve bought her the new Taylor Swift CD, she literally jumped up and down.

We knew that she had become part of the family because by Sunday evening, all three cats had spent time on her lap. As a last gesture of appreciation for us, she cooked dinner, miso soup and a vacuum packed chicken dish that she had brought from Japan.

When we took her to the bus on Monday morning, there were many hugs goodbye and promises of staying in touch through emails, FaceBook messages and Skype. We know she felt the same way too, because she just before she got on the bus she ran back over to us to say, “I want to stay!”

We’ll miss you, Erika. And we hope that we enriched your life and much as you did ours.