Archive for March, 2011

Black Friday

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I appreciate that my two teenage daughters attempt to educate me on the latest internet phenomena so that I don’t wake up one day and find that I no longer speak the same language as they do. Memes, lolcats, and hipsters are just a few of the vocab words that Jennifer and Valerie have taught me through links to YouTube and “i can has cheezburger.”

So of course, Jennifer had to fill me in about “Friday,” the Rebecca Black music video that has had more than 35 million hits on YouTube. Rebecca is an eighth grader whose mother paid a music production company in LA $2,000 for the song and video production.

As Jennifer pointed out to me, the lyrics of the song sound like some kind of rhythmic ditty to help children learn the days of the week in the same way that “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” helps toddlers learn the parts of the body. Rebecca sings “Yesterday was Thursday, Today is Friday, Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards,” with a bunch of “partyin'” mixed in between.

Yes, the song is awful. Being forced to listen to it more than two times back-to-back probably violates the Geneva Convention. I had to have Jennifer turn it off before it got to the end for fear that it would plant an ear worm.

And what kind of “Partyin'” an eighth grader is doing and how her 14-year-old school buddies are able to drive raises some questions. But my guess is that her mother saw it as a home movie with better production values and hoped it would show off the slightly above average musical talents of her cute daughter. And if in the process, Rebecca just happened to become the next Justin Bieber, who’s complaining? Everybody has a mortgage to pay”¦

By the time Jennifer showed me the video, it had been circulating around the internet for weeks, giving it plenty of time for parody and comments. Jennifer showed me a few of them, and some were funny. In the video, Rebecca is stumped about where she should sit in the car so a primary refrain in the lyric is “Which seat can I take?” So of course, an internet pundit posted that a movie theater with rows and rows of empty seats would be hell for Rebecca.

But apparently that type of comment was atypically mild and a great many more were downright vicious. Of course, since it’s on the internet, anything can be posted with impunity. Meghan Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commented that “whereas it used to be that the forum for anonymous public opinion was the high school bathroom wall, now the whole world is essentially a bathroom wall.”

Rebecca’s mom was probably naïve in putting the video on YouTube and then being shocked by the nasty comments that came back from such an innocent effort at promotion. Let that be a lesson to all of us; the internet is not your friend.

We’re Drained

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Last night as the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in torrents, I could sleep in peace because I knew I wasn’t going to wake up to find that our back yard was now our front yard because of the force of the water moving downhill.

That’s because since Petaluma had its last heavy rain on New Year’s Eve in 2005, we had concrete drains installed that look more like an Olympic luge track than your typical suburban gutter.

Let me explain a little about the topography of our house. It backs up to a sloping, open field. Being the naïve homeowners that we were when we bought the house, we saw this as an asset to the house. “Isn’t that great, we won’t have any neighbors behind us.”

We did in fact have neighbors in the field behind us, just not of the human variety. The field is probably populated with about a zillion gophers and moles who happily tunnel back and forth across the property line into our yard to partake of the “all you can eat buffet” that we call landscaping.

And unlike the adobe soil that is found in so much of Petaluma, our soil looks like it was trucked in from Dillon Beach. It is so sandy that we wondered if our house was indeed build on shifting sand. Not in a spiritual sense, but literally.

So in 2005 when it started raining and kept on raining, all the tunnels that the gophers had made turned into pipelines for the rushing water. And when the tunnels curved up to the surface, the water shot up several feet into the air with the same amount of pressure that you would see from a fountain. A little more organization amongst the gophers, add some music and lights and we could have had our own poor man’s Bellagio water show.

As all this water traveled downhill, it took a lot of the soil with it, under the gate and out into the front yard so the grass in the front ended up covered in about two inches of silt.

Not wanting to repeat that experience the following year, we called a landscaping company for their best thoughts on how to control the run-off. Their solution was about $40,000 worth of French drains even though we told them French drains didn’t work in this kind of soil. We had experimented with them and knew that they immediately clogged up with the fine, sandy soil.

Then we got smart and called our neighbor who is a water engineer. He confirmed what Steve knew all along. We needed concrete swales that ran parallel to the house and then made a “T” into swales on each side of the house. These would then drain into underground pipes taking the water out to the street. A friend recommended someone who had done a similar job for them and for $5,000 we had our drains that could handle the perfect storm. Not an especially graceful solution but darn effective.

It feels good to have conquered one of our challenges as homeowners especially as we get ready to put our house on the market. Next up: the termites that we just saw evidence of. Their lip-smacking and crunching are keeping Steve awake at night.

The High Cost of College … Applications

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

As a parent of a future college applicant, I have been guilty at times of saying to her, “Why don’t you try out for (fill in the blank), or how about taking this (blank) class, or why don’t you join this (blank) club? It will look good on your college resume.”

In fact, Jennifer, the applicant in question, even teases me about this; she never misses an opportunity to say with more than a touch of irony, “Won’t this look great on my college application?” However, to her credit, she is firmly committed to doing the activities that truly interest her and not because being on the badminton team will make a good topic for her college essay.

So when Steve happened upon an article titled “How to get your kid into the Ivy League,” he knew it would strike a chord for me. We went through the college application process for the second time a year ago and this year, I am rejoicing that I don’t have to go through it for another three years. I still get a knot in my stomach when I remember how upset our daughter was the day she got the letter from the school she had her heart set on. She was expecting a lot of dough in scholarship money but instead, they tossed her a crumb.

BTW, her college selection story has a happy ending. She ended up going to a college that is actually a much better fit for her and that really wanted her there as demonstrated by the number of zeros on their Award Letter to her.

But back to the article, it was excerpted from a book called Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson. As part of researching his book, Ferguson attended a meeting in Connecticut led by a college planner who charges $40,000 to help parents get their kids into a college that will give them a bumper sticker that they will be proud to sport on the family’s Porsche Cayenne.

The article is really well written; it’s funny, self-deprecating and painful because I can see myself in the highly competitive moms that he describes. True, we’re not competing in the same league as these “high-net-worth individuals” who attended the meeting”¦after all, we’re in the 15% tax bracket and our kids go to public school in Petaluma, but the parental ambition isn’t that different.

I can’t wait to read the whole book. It got glowing reviews from people as diverse as Christopher Buckley, Tom Wolfe and William Bennett both for the way it’s written and his thorough research.

I want to read his book to find out what Mr. Ferguson learned after living through his son’s college application experience. I already know it’s a confusing, cryptic, sometimes unfair, and stressful process. I’m hoping he’s got some good news about it.

Volunteer and Put Your Best Foot Forward

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

How about spending a nice spring day getting some exercise and fresh air while enjoying a walking tour of Historic Downtown Petaluma? And you get do it with about 3,000 of your closest friends!

Yes, that experience can be yours if you sign up to be a volunteer for the Butter & Egg Days Parade on Saturday, April 16.

OK, I’ll come clean. Under the direction of the parade coordinator, I have taken on the task of recruiting volunteers for the parade and I’m self-servingly using my blog to get the word out.

Before you stop reading, we are not recruiting pooper scoopers for the parade units on horseback; they have to provide their own.

However, I am recruiting for about a half-dozen different volunteer jobs including “Safety/Route Monitor” ““ we don’t want any little ones running in front of an oncoming cow ““ and “Beer Garden Staff.” And by the way, for that job, you need to be 21 and free samples are not included.

One team that is really in need of volunteers is “Parade Banner Carrier.” You only need to be 14 years-old and students can receive community service hours for their time.

Marching down Kentucky Street holding a sponsor banner in front of a flatbed truck of chickens may not be as glamorous as leading a SpongeBob balloon down Fifth Avenue in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade but we promise that you won’t have to wear a goofy costume and you will get to waive to all your friends and neighbors lining the streets.

In fact, one of the perks of volunteering will be getting a cool Volunteer T-shirt. And you get to attend the Volunteer Thank You Party in May that has a drawing for lots of wild and crazy prizes.

Just so you have all the facts, volunteers are needed between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 pm. on the day of the parade and a typical shift is five to six hours. Volunteers need to plan to attend the Training session on Wednesday, April 6th from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

A Volunteer Sign-Up Form is available at . Click on the biplane then scroll down the page to download the 2011 Volunteer Application form.

So instead of sitting on the sidelines for the Butter & Egg Days Parade come join us and get in the thick of the action as Petaluma’s premiere event celebrates its 30th anniversary. You might even come away with a great story or two.