Archive for August, 2013

College bound

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

School started on August 15 for my daughter who is a high school senior in Santa Rosa, making summer vacation more a concept than a reality. Especially because during those few weeks between when school ended in May and started again in mid-August, Jennifer always had “homework” – the homework of her college applications.

As anyone who has gone through this process with their teenager knows, it’s overwhelming and tedious, plus there is a lot at stake because how well they represent themselves in the application can mean thousands of dollars in scholarships to a private four-year college. For Jennifer, that money represents her ticket out of a condo in Cotati. When she thinks about the alternative – i.e. living here for four more years with her senior citizen parents and going to the JC or Sonoma State – her expression looks like she just ate some bad seafood.

So in about mid-July, with some nagging from me, Jennifer pulled up the Common Application online to launch into it. But guess what? A new version of it was in the works and it wasn’t going to be available until August 1. Yippee! I was almost as happy as she was that for a few more weeks, she could procrastinate the many hours of work – with me sitting next to her – while she filled in the seemingly endless and highly detailed questionnaire. “Don’t forget to include the award you got in fifth grade for winning the pumpkin carving contest!”

But even though the question portion of the Common App couldn’t be started until August 1, the essay prompts were listed on the website. “Aha! You can still start on your essay during the summer!” I told Jennifer. No danger of me losing my reputation as a fun-sucker. To her credit, at midnight one night, Jennifer had a burst of creative energy – or maybe just a delayed caffeine rush from her job at Starbucks – and she cranked out a first draft.

But in addition to the completing the Common App and writing all the essays required by each college, Jennifer’s SAT scores will be a big factor in her acceptance and financial award package. She has taken the SAT once and is going to take it again in October. Based on her older sister’s experience, with some online SAT prep and a study guide, she could significantly raise her score.

We know that higher SATS will mean being accepted at more schools and again, more financial awards. In theory, she knows this too, but now that school has started, spending time studying for the SAT has a lower priority than her immediate and real homework load and her part-time job. So Jennifer floated the idea of incorporating some motivation into studying for the SAT. “How about a kitten if I get 2200 on the SAT?” This isn’t a plan I jumped at since we already have two cats. And once the kitten grows into a cat, she’ll be off at college and we’ll be left with another freeloading feline.

So this motivation/reward plan is still being negotiated between Jennifer, Steve and me. However, I have agreed that if she gets a perfect 2400 on the SAT she can have a kitten. Heck, if she gets a perfect score, she can have two kittens.

Welcoming visitors for 25 years

Monday, August 19th, 2013

To retire after 25 years is on the job is certainly something to be celebrated; to have that retirement happen when you’re 95 years-old…that’s a category of accomplishment that is way beyond noteworthy. That’s downright amazing.  Last Friday, we had the opportunity to honor my friend and co-worker, Sybil Sullivan, for her 25 years of service to the Petaluma Visitors Program.

A mayoral declaration naming August 16 as Sybil Sullivan day in Petaluma? I think that just might be in order.

We would have loved it if Sybil had continued working at the Visitors Center until she was 100 because the knowledge, graciousness and wisdom that is packed into her small frame is a delight to everyone who comes in contact with her. And her physicality puts many of the rest of us who are decades younger to shame. An ice skater and dancer in her younger years in addition to having been a school teacher, Sybil remains determined not to let her age get in the way of any task that she sees needs to be done. Lifting heavy boxes of brochures, dragging in the Visitors Center sandwich board sign out to Lakeville Street, or crouching down to restock the lowest cabinets – she does it all without hesitation.

Planning last Friday’s party was a joy because Sybil is so beloved – people were eager to be able to show their affection and appreciation for her by contributing to a gift and bringing food for the party. If you’ve ever been to a potluck party where the food looks rather haphazard, like they just picked something up at Safeway on the way over, that wasn’t the case for Sybil’s party. The food that everyone brought was carefully and beautifully presented. I know they did this because Sybil never gives less than her best in anything she does and bringing a gorgeous cheesecake or magazine-worthy tomato tart was a way for Sybil’s friends to reflect the attitude they see in her.

The PVP staff had a lot of fun choosing her retirement gifts. Like many seniors who are faced with the likelihood of moving soon, she doesn’t need more stuff even though it was tempting to give her a book because she is truly the definition of a lifelong learner. What we gave her instead was a small sterling silver bookmark engraved by Palmgren’s with her initials. Because she is such a promoter of Petaluma, we put together a gift basket filled local treats including Sonoma Valley Portworks port,  Marin French Cheese wedges, petite fours from Devine Delights, truffles from Viva Chocolat, chocolate covered nuts from Petaluma Market and just for kicks, a bottle of Benedictine, a liqueur that she happened to mention that she liked. It was great to find it in stock at Willibee’s – Sybil will have to live another 95 years to drink the huge bottle of it.

There’s more…we had a clean up party for her yard, we will be giving her a rose bush from the Visitors Center so she always has some of us with her, and so we always have her with us, there is now a small engraved plaque dedicating one of the benches outside of the Visitors Center to Sybil’s 25 years of service.

We thought that if there was a Sybil Sullivan brand, it would be “Small but Mighty.” Mighty intelligence, mighty knowledge and mighty strength in her petite size.  Sybil, thank you for sharing it with all of us – and with visitors from throughout the world – for 25 years.

Army anniversary

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Our son Ethan, who turned 25 at the end of last month, is home visiting us for a week. It happens that it was exactly a year ago this week that he signed papers to join the army. He was excited and energized, and more than a little nervous about what lay ahead for him in his five year commitment to become “Army Strong.”

So thinking back on that time a year ago and having him here now, has prompted us to think about the changes we see in him. Now that he has a year of military service under his belt, was joining the army a good decision for him?

Absolutely. I think that the army has…and I believe will continue to…develop his best qualities such as perseverance, focus, respect for authority, teamwork, and his physical capabilities. Steve and I often talk about how until now, Ethan really had never found out what he is made of. The army is guiding him towards uncovering his potential.

You know the how some kids in high school really make a strong impression –either positively or negatively – with their teachers, classmates and coaches? That wasn’t Ethan. He went to class regularly and got decent grades, but overall, I would describe his high school experience as “light.” He was just another one of the hundreds of kids who are carried on the wave that moves them through the public school system.

In college, once he transferred from the JC to San Francisco State, he started to find himself more as he participated in the clubs and productions in the cinema department. However when he looks back on his college days , he says a good chunk of it was spent drinking beer and playing video games – we are very happy that those activities didn’t interfere to the extent that they prevented him from earning his college degree.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression of him; he has never been lazy; he had his first job at Togo’s when he was 15 and has worked ever since. But he is the first to admit that he never took on the kinds of challenges academically, physically or emotionally that would really test his mettle.

Has he faced the kind of testing that happens when a soldier comes face-to-face with an IED or is caught in the middle of a desert firefight? No. And of obviously, we are thankful for that.

During the past year, he has discovered that he can meet the challenges of staying motivated and focused, first when he had to meet the demands of basic training and now, in his current assignment of eating, breathing and sleeping Korean – punctuated by plenty of physical training. It makes us proud to see his growth. How far he chooses to push himself in his next four years in the army? We look forward to finding out.

London calling

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

We just got off the phone with our daughter, Valerie, who returned to Orange County last night after spending three weeks in London.  She was there with about 20 other graphic design students and their department chair to work on a design project for an international engineering consulting firm…and taste their first Pimm’s Cup, shop for Harry Potter souvenirs at Harrods, and for Valerie, celebrate her 21stbirthday from the London Eye. (I now know that’s the name of the giant Ferris wheel on the Thames.)

The view
The birthday girl

Thank you Chapman University Professor Chimenti for managing the workload and personalities of these talented and sometimes temperamental students. And we especially thank you for making it possible for Valerie to celebrate her birthday in a way she will never forget.

Professor Chimenti chronicled their full London experience with wonderful descriptions and fabulous photos in his blog. It’s hard not to look at these and be a little nostalgic for a time in your life when you were young and fresh and the world lay at your feet!