Archive for January, 2013

My two cents about Target

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

I’ve spoken with lots of other people who have had the same reaction as me when they’re driving east on East Washington. It is startling to see the monolithic walls of the Target store rising up from what used to be flat, open fields. Every time I go past there, the thought that always comes to my mind is that that is one heck of a big concrete box…with a little tiny sign that identifies it as a Target store.

Okay, so watching the construction at Regency Center has made it very obvious why these are called big box stores. But I think there is a more positive way to look at what’s happening on the former site of Kenilworth Junior High. The way I see it…and I know there are plenty who disagree with me…property that once was only of benefit to the gopher population, is now going to be providing jobs to the unemployed millennial generation in Petaluma – the high school, JC and college students who are finding it so difficult to find work.

According to an article on, only 55 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have a job — the lowest percentage since World War II. And the average college student graduates with $24,000 in student debt.

I can hear what you’re thinking. “Getting a job at Target or Dick’s Sporting Goods or Sprouts or any of the other retailers at the shopping center is hardly the answer to underemployed college graduates with crushing student debt.”

Let me speak from experience. We watched our 24 year-old son, Ethan, struggle for a year trying to crack the job market and find full time work after he graduated from San Francisco State with a degree in Cinema. Sure, things probably would have been different if he had gotten an engineering degree but his affinity for math stopped when he was a high school freshman in Algebra II.

During that year, he applied for everything that was even remotely a possibility including short-term gigs, admin, retail, and marketing. The only job he said he absolutely wouldn’t do was going back to Starbucks for a third stint – he had already worked there during high school and his junior year of college. Just before he enlisted in the army, he got an interview with Teavana. Had he not been heading off to Basic Training, he would have gratefully taken a job with them if it was offered. Although working at Teavana has a slightly better cachet than working at Target, it was a low-paying job, but a job nonetheless that would have allowed him to retain his independence and at least make some payments on his student loans.

In a perfect world, we would all work at places that pay us what we’re worth, give us health benefits and paid time off, recognize and nurture our potential, and appreciate us as individuals. Since that’s not the world we live in, let’s start appreciating the opportunities we do have. Because to me, working at Target is better option than not working at all.

Hot & Cold Cats

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Ever since the weather turned cold, our orange tabby cat, Nigel, has spent the evenings curled up in a box that didn’t make it into the recycling after Christmas, in front of our faux (you know, the kind with molded concrete logs) fireplace. We keep joking that we should get a giant spatula and flip him over; he’s already a nice golden brown on one side.

This cat – he’s actually a free-loading bum wearing a furry striped suit whose tender paws haven’t ever touched anything rougher than freshly-vacuumed carpet – definitely landed in a good spot when the Rustad Family choose him over his siblings to bring into their house. We are constantly pondering why we have this useless creature that does nothing except consume expensive “ProActive Health Adult Indoor Weight & Hairball Care Food for Active Cats” – there’s an oxymoron – and then in turn, produces poop for us to scoop.

I guess a bazillion views of cat videos on the internet can’t be wrong; we have him because he entertains us even when he’s not doing anything but being a cat.

We never miss an opportunity to remind Nigel – as if he cares – that life could have turned out very differently for him. Every day on our way home we drive past by a field that is home to a group of at least eight cats. Life isn’t so easy for these kitties; while Nigel is literally warming his toes by the fireplace, these cats are freezing their little feline butts off in some cat-igloos that a sweet lady has put on the property. This nice lady, who has also made sure that they are neutered and spayed, also drives over to feed them every day. So now, if we stop in front of the field, they all run over to see if we’re the Kitty Meals on Wheels delivery for them.

Thinking about the life of the field cats versus Nigel’s can get pretty deep pretty quickly. Nigel was born into poverty – abandoned by his mother in a cold garage in Petaluma. Through some fortunate circumstances, when he was a kitten, he was plucked from what was certain to a hardscrabble life foraging for mice and scraps. He escaped his destiny of being like the cats in our neighboring field (or Kitties of the Corn as we have come to call them) to come live like a king in our house.

Stop me!! I’m talking about cats that given the chance would just as soon eat us as sit with us…not Jean Valjean. Cat philosophy; it’s a thin book.

Winter Lite

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

For the last several weeks, our 16 year-old daughter’s hand-me-down Honda has been parked in the garage and I’ve been parking on the street.  Once I realized how much time it takes to scrape the ice off a car in the morning and how frosty windows can hamper your visibility, I was very willing to give her my parking place in the garage.

You see, she has had her driver’s license for about five minutes and the last thing I want her doing is dashing out the door at 6:30 am for her zero hour class, hopping in the car, and because she’s running late, not taking the time to thoroughly scrape the windshield, windows and mirrors so that she can see beyond the short hood of the Honda. It’s worrisome enough sending her out into the aggressive commute traffic with 2-ton pickup trucks bearing down on her 4 cylinder compact without the added concern that she’s trying to navigate by using eco-location like a bat.

The thought of sending her out on the road in the winter – although winter in California barely qualifies to even be called winter – makes me think back to when I was a teenager growing up in Utah.  How did my parents survive watching their five kids pull out of the driveway with six inches of snow on the ground? It’s hard enough having a new driver but a new driver in a blizzard? The thought sends shivers up my spine.

In spite of everyone’s complaints about how cold it has been, we really have it very easy here. Scraping some frost off of the windshield is nothing compared to having to shovel your car out of a snow bank before leaving for work. Boots in California are more of a fashion accessory than a necessity. Except for the unusually heavy rain, we can be sure that our tire treads are going to maintain contact with the asphalt.  Kids don’t have mittens to lose. And ever since I’ve lived in California, I’ve never once had to park my car at the bottom of the hill and walk home because it was snowing so hard that the roads were too slippery to make it up the hill.

The only time I have a twinge of missing the snow is when I talk to my sister in Salt Lake and she describes how it snowed the night before and all the trees are covered in a perfect blanket of white powder like a scene from a Christmas card. And then she tells me that when she gets off the phone she has to go out in sub-freezing temperatures and shovel her driveway. Once again, I’m grateful that it only snows every 50 years in Sonoma County.

When you’ve got worries, you can always go…Downton

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

The Sunday before the first day back to school after a two week break that has included Christmas, trips into San Francisco and lots of fudge and caramel, can look pretty bleak. But for our 16 year-old daughter Jennifer, there is one bright spot in what could otherwise be a pretty depressing day: the third season of Downton Abbey starts tonight. Thank goodness, reason to live!

Not surprisingly, PBS is capitalizing on the huge success of the series by running an all day Downton Abbey marathon peppered with numerous pledge breaks and Jennifer is glued to the TV watching it. I guess that explains why she has started calling me “mum.” I’m just glad that she doesn’t have $200 in her checking account or we would probably be the owners of the full series on DVD with 45 minutes of bonus footage.

Our family all agrees that Downton is really just a soap opera dressed up with British accents and tea sandwiches. But that’s what makes it so much fun to watch. We can enjoy the beautiful production values and make fun of it at the same time. Illicit love affairs, back-stabbing, eaves dropping, melodramatic illnesses, miraculous recoveries – it’s got it all, and it all happens with such angst-filled music playing in the background that it could be the soundtrack to “PMS: The Miniseries.”

I also have a fondness for the series because it reminds me of when I was exactly Jennifer’s age and I looked forward to Sunday nights so I could watch “Upstairs Downstairs.” Instead of Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, it was Mrs. Bridges and Ruby but the fun of watching much ado about nothing when disaster befalls the kitchen staff – “How will we ever recover from the shame of a failed pudding?” – hasn’t changed since I was watching 40 years ago.

So you’ll find us Sunday night at 9:00, huddled around the TV to find out what new highs and lows will befall the Crawleys and their staff. It will get us through the dark days of winter. By the time we’ve watched all seven episodes of Season 3, it will almost be spring!