Archive for September, 2014

College incommunicado

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

It’s a good thing that I follow our freshman daughter on Instagram so that can I get some insight into what she’s been doing in the six weeks that have passed since we helped her move into her dorm at Pepperdine in Malibu. I have yet to see any Instagram posts of her in the library with her current “Great Books” reading assignment – Plato’s The Republic – spread open in front of her or any snapshots of her typing away at her laptop even if she’s just feigning writing an essay for her psychology class.

Maybe she'll send us a message in a bottle
Maybe she’ll send us a message in a bottle

However, I have seen Instagram posts of her and her new friends eating cupcakes in Beverly Hills, shopping at the Urban Outfitters in Sherman Oaks, and watching street performers in Santa Monica. If she had her car with her and didn’t have to rely on her classmates for transportation off campus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a photo of her negotiating with a street vendor in Ensenada, “Just wanted to find out if I remembered anything from Spanish class!”

Assuming that in between all this socializing and exploring , she is occasionally cracking open a text book or two, we are actually very relieved that she is exerting her independence and figuring things out on her own. In one of the few phone conversations we’ve had with her, she told me that she needed to write cover letters for the on-campus jobs she was applying to but she didn’t know what a cover letter was. Did she call me or Steve to ask? Of course not! Why would she want to call us, when from her perspective, she could find out how to write a cover letter faster, clearer and a without a whiff of parental judgment by Googling it.

However, when it came time to fill out a W-4 for her new job as a theater usher and she needed to know how many exemptions she should claim, she did call me – while I was at work, mind you, so she knew I wouldn’t be able to talk for more than a couple of minutes. No danger of mom really starting to pry with a laundry list of questions starting with “Have you washed your sheets and written your thank you notes?”

Jennifer Lynn’s primary reason for wanting to go to college was to get way-the-heck out of Dodge. For her, the only thing that would make Pepperdine better was if it overlooked the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Pacific. So by not communicating with us, she can make the distance between Cotati and Malibu seem like the other side of the world. Her next goal is to literally be on the other side of the world. Last week, she told us she applied to the study abroad program – and where does she want to go? Shanghai. Oh my.

Heart and Seoul

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

When the phone rang at 7:30 on Saturday morning and the caller ID showed a number with 13 digits, I almost didn’t answer it. Good thing that I did, because it was our son, Ethan, calling from Korea to tell us he had arrived safely.

Ethan arrives in Korea
Ethan arrives in Korea

To bring you up to date, it was two years ago – almost to the day – that Ethan enlisted in the Army. In the year after he graduated from SF State, he had not been able to nail down a full-time job with any kind of a future. And he refused to do a third hitch as a Starbucks barista.

Through some circumstances that we can only attribute to “God has a Plan,” Ethan got introduced to the military. He enlisted, did his Basic Training in South Carolina, spent 18 months learning Korean at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey followed by Intelligence training in Texas. For the last couple of weeks, he was at home with us, on leave before flying to Korea last Tuesday.

While he was here, he told us that wished he had been assigned to learn Arabic or Farsi so that his post-training assignment would have sent him to the part of the world where the action is happening. Needless to say that as his mom, I am very glad there is a very large continent between him and the craziness in the Middle East.

As I said to him in the last text we exchanged while he was still stateside, let the adventure begin! What an opportunity he has to experience a new (and relatively safe) culture.  The Army base is located in Seoul which according to Wikipedia, is the world’s second largest metropolitan area. During college, Ethan never would have been the kind of kid to bum around another country – he didn’t have the kind of confident, adventurous spirit that doing something like that requires. But now, the Army’s got his back and he’s excited to take it all in.

Although he had been in Korea for less than 72 hours when he called, his initial feeling is that he “lucked out” on his duty assignment.  The Army base is huge – 21,000 personnel with a PX that looks like a strip mall, two Starbucks, and an assortment of other American franchises. And when he describes the barracks, he’s not living in a Quonset hut like I imagined but an apartment that he says is nicer than some of his rentals in San Francisco.

Until he shows up shaved and in uniform on Monday morning, he doesn’t know what his actual job will be. Sure, he’s spent two years training to be a Cryptologic Linguist but according to Steve, there’s what the Army trains you for and then there’s what they actually have you do. Whatever it is, it will be better because it’s in Korea.


It’s not in the bag

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Given the environmental righteousness of Sonoma County, I’m going to say something that might be downright sacrilegious: I like plastic bags. You know, the ones that were ubiquitous at every store before the ban on plastic bags went into effect last Monday.

Now what am I going to use to line the garbage cans under the sinks? And what do we use to scoop the cat litter into? And how about dog owners – when we had our dog, if I forgot to bring a bag, I could always count on grabbing one from the container at the dog park that dispensed hot and cold running plastic bags.  Will those be empty now?

Over the years, I have become a connoisseur of plastic bags. The ones from Target were the best; not too huge but big enough to do the job and made from very durable plastic. My next favorite bags were the ones from Oliver’s; sturdy and an unobtrusive shade of green. Grocery Outlet bags were a close third in terms of useful size and durability but their egg-yolk yellow color made the garbage can seem to leap out from under the sink every time I opened the cabinet door.

The worst bags were the Safeway and Lucky bags; thin and easily torn. We’re sure our orange house cat invites German Shepherds into the house to use the litter box while we’re at work. So when the plastic bag filled with the contents of that litter box breaks on the way to the trash, we quickly discovered that the Safeway bags weren’t worth…well, let me just say that we learned to double bag them.

Not being very experienced in packing groceries and knowing the reusable bags would get yucky (how delightful to discover chicken juice at the bottom of a polypropylene bag), I have stocked up on reusable bags from every store I shop at. Now I would be so happy if I could only remember to pluck a couple of these reusable bags from the hundred that are filling up my back seat before I get to the checkout counter.

I wonder how far I have to travel to find a city in California that hasn’t banned plastic bags. I’m considering making a midnight run for contraband. I can’t be the only one in Northern California who craves plastic – 2 mils, smooth, white and perfectly sized.

Is there potential for an HBO series here? It would be a dark comedy-drama, in which a mild mannered mother of three whose husband doesn’t have a heart attack (because he has triple bypass surgery) begins selling black market plastic bags to pay off her kids’ student loans. I think I’ll call it “Bags.”