Archive for March, 2013

Creating a memory

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Yesterday on the way home from picking up our daughter, Valerie, at the Oakland Airport for her spring break week at home, Steve had an inspiration. Valerie had taken a very early morning flight so it was only 8:30 am on Saturday. Instead of making a beeline for our condo in Cotati and the chores that awaited us there or just stopping at a Starbucks off the freeway for a snack, why don’t we have more of a vacation frame of mind and come home through San Francisco – we could enjoy the beautiful morning and have coffee in North Beach.

I’m about as spontaneous as a rock but when everyone else in the car thought that was a great idea, I put aside the to-do list that was waiting for me at home, and my Debbie-downer attitude of “we’ll never find a place to park” attitude and “if I had known we were going to end up in SF I would have worn my cute skinny jeans tucked into my fashionable boots and not crappy running shoes and the jeans that I wear to clean the bathrooms.”

We enjoyed the spectacular view coming across the Bay Bridge and found that amazingly, if you do arrive early enough in the city there actually are parking places available on the street even on upper Grant Ave even if it costs $2 an hour with a maximum of four hours. That’s a lot of quarters. But after digging to the bottom of my purse and Steve looking under the seats, we came up with enough change to buy us an hour-and-a-half; certainly enough to locate a good spot for coffee and snacks.

Café Trieste was too crowded so we headed up Columbus Avenue and happened upon Café Puccini. It was busy but not packed and the aroma of lattes and waffles drew us in. We found a table for the four of us, placed our order and congratulated ourselves on finding the ideal spot.

When they brought out the drinks, we let out a collective “Awwww, that is so cute!” We all took pictures of the cappuccino and latte that looked like something from a rom-com movie.

On the way home, we commented about what a good time we had and that we should take a minute to really savor it; our daughters even teased us that Steve and I were sounding very sentimental about a moment that wasn’t really even in the past yet. I don’t mind; it was the kind of blessed morning that refueled me for whatever the upcoming week may hold. What a sweet memory.

Downsizing: Part 2

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since we downsized from our house in Petaluma to our condo in Cotati. The move reduced our living space by half and the size of our yard went from a third of an acre to a single potted plant by our front door. Do I miss it the house and the maintenance that went with it? Not at all, especially at this time of the year when I can breeze past the aisles of Round-Up, Preen, deck stain, fertilizer, hoses, clippers, gloves, and all other sorts of garden necessities at Costco and know that I’m not going to have to spend time or money on any of it.

When we moved in 2011, we got rid of literally a ton of books, sold off a couple of rooms of furniture and emptied out a three-car garage. And now we are in the process of getting even leaner and meaner when it comes to the amount of stuff we have because in a little more than a month, we’re going to be moving again.

This move isn’t going to be as traumatic or dramatic as moving out of a house that we lived in for 18 years and raised our three children in. Also, this is a move that we’re very happy about because unlike selling our house, the move isn’t being forced by circumstances.

We’re going to move to the condo directly across the driveway from us. The owner is moving back to her home country of New Zealand; she’s happy to have renters who she knows are nose-to-the-grindstone types and we’re delighted because we’re going to lighten up, in several ways.

The condo that we live in now is cave-like because it only has windows on the west-facing walls similar to a hotel room that only has windows on one side. It’s no wonder Steve says it feels like we live at “Extended Stay Cotati.” I really didn’t notice the darkness when we first considered renting it; probably because it was a cloudy day in November and with the faux fireplace on, it seemed cozy rather and claustrophobic. But as we’ve lived here, I’ve really missed the light that came streaming through the banks of windows in our old house. All those arched windows were a pain to buy window coverings for, but they certainly prevented Seasonal Affective Disorder from setting in.

The condo that we’re moving to has a sliding glass door out to a little patio area and a window over the kitchen sink. The whole place seems bright and cheery. In contrast, our 16 year-old daughter says our current condo seems like a place where people have given up…she stopped short of saying “where they go to die.” But she’s right, it does feel very dark and heavy.

Our upcoming move is another chance for a new beginning and a fresher, lighter outlook. I can’t wait.

Back to the Defense Language Institute

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Our son, Ethan, has  been in the army a little over five months now. Where I last left off was that after spending some time with us for the holidays, he  headed back to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey to study Korean for the next 64 weeks.

We hadn’t heard from him much until a week or so ago when he said he was making a quick trip home to pick up an adjunct to his studies: his Play Station.  And on the way back, he was going to stop at Best Buy and purchase a TV to use with it.

Play Stations and TVs in the army? Sort of blows the image of my son, the soldier, roughing it in a tent, eating a cold MRE with nothing more than a deck of cards for entertainment. That was an accurate picture of life for him during Basic Training when he was training to be an infantryman. But now, he’s in a totally different sort of military environment; albeit, one that’s a lot looser but still military nevertheless.

He says being at the DLI is like being in college; if he had gone to college and actually had to study. There were a couple of semesters at San Francisco State where I’m sure he didn’t buy any textbooks yet managed to pass his classes with decent grades. That scenario won’t fly at the DLI; he is in a class with six other students so sitting at the back of the class with a hangover and hoping that the professor doesn’t call on you isn’t an option. They have almost weekly tests and if I understand it correctly, if the student doesn’t score 85% or above, he is required to attend mandatory study hall.

Ethan says he is so happy that he went to college before coming to the DLI because going to any college – except perhaps the most rigorous school – would be a huge letdown after the level of commitment and focus that is required at the DLI. He describes the experience of Basic Combat Training as being under a lot of duress, what with being yelled at all the time and trying to stick to the rules; but that duress in BCT has been replaced by stress at the DLI because if a soldier fails to perform, the army has no problem finding him or her a specialty more suited to their abilities.

This has given Ethan a healthy fear of the consequences if he slacks off on his studying. It would be a long and painful fall from cryptographic linguist to the army equivalent of gas station attendant. Not that I know that this is exactly what would happen, but apparently a significant percentage of students don’t make the grade.

What does all this have to do with Ethan getting his Play Station? He says that having access to video games – a pastime that he loves – will test his ability to stay disciplined and not slack off on his studies. I know he can do it; if there is one thing the army is teaching him, it’s discipline.