Monday, December 31, 2012

Lessons Learned and Re-Learned in 2012

Lesson One: You Can't Take it With You, and You Sure Can Leave a Mess Behind

I'm at the age where many of the previous generation, and even members of my own, are heading to the great beyond. The good news is that happy memories and interesting collections live on, and the less good news is that piles of stuff and conversations that should have been had, become time-consuming problems to solve.

This year we've made great strides to leave clarity behind, and it feels good! As for the stuff, it's a work in progress, but at least there's forward motion.



Lesson Two: There Will Always be More Where That Came From

If I don't bring it in to the house, I won't have to store it, clean it, or feel guilty about not using or wearing it. And, better yet, I won't leave it behind for other people to deal with (see Lesson One).





Lesson Three: Do Not Check Work Email While Not At Work 

Nine times out of ten there's something in that in-box that will irritate the stuffing out of me, and I didn't have to look in the first place.

I'm trying to stop, and I'm getting better at it.




Lesson Four: Listen To Your Kids or Others Who Will Tell the Unvarnished Truth

"Mom, you don't need any more cookbooks." True.

 "Mom, you say you're trying to be helpful, but you're criticizing me." Ouch. 


Lesson Five: Time is the Only Finite Resource

If I have one resolution for 2013, it's to focus on the good stuff, and to spend time doing what I enjoy.

I love being with my family, laughing, going outside, cooking, eating, reading, and making stuff, and in 2013 I want it all!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


It's easy to overlook what's right in front of you, whether it's love, choices, happiness, or something beautiful. As a kid I loved "The Wizard of Oz," which showed up on television once a year. I think I had the whole thing memorized, but every time I saw the last bit, the bit where Dorothy tells the farmhands that she went looking for something that was right there all along, it was as fresh as the first time I glued myself to the television to watch it.

As a jaded adult with lots of $%&# on my mind and the misguided sense that "if only" something would happen, or someone would change their mind, or some of my wrinkles would miraculously smooth out overnight, or whatever, "if only," then my life would be perfect.

But it is perfect. What's really fun is to realize, as Dorothy did, so much is right there for the taking, and all you have to do is take the time to reach out and grab it.

I'm sure the merchant who posted this sign in his window wasn't thinking philosophically, but more practically. Yet it struck me as a good reminder. Much of what makes me happy is so local that I don't have to leave my own mind to find it.

One recent working Tuesday I went for a brief lunchtime walk, taking the elevator down from my office on the 30th floor and heading out toward the San Francisco Embarcadero. Tuesdays are the perfect day for walking by the Ferry Building -- it's Farmers' Market day, and there are always treats for tasting and buying. My particular favorite is the almond brittle sold by one of the nut farmers. So delicious.

Better than the brittle, though, were the views from the pier nearby -- I believe it's Pier 14, which extends out toward the Bay Bridge. Here's a picture -- I don't have any idea who that woman in the picture is, but I hope she was enjoying the beautiful sight as much as I was.

There was Oakland across the bay to the right, and Treasure Island straight ahead.  When I got to the end of the pier and looked back toward the city, I could see why several tourists were snapping pictures of themselves with the same view. Local. How lucky am I.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Leaves Are in the Air

Sometime in early September you have to start watching where you're walking, or you can end up with one of these in your hair.

My pal, Virginia, swatted me on the back the other day while we were ambling and gabbing.


"Yup," she said. "I wanted to squeal but I didn't want to scare you."

"Yeah, I probably would have jumped a mile high," I said, contorting my hand around my back to make sure she had really gotten it. Maybe it was crawling under my shirt. Ugh. Think Charlotte so as not to lose it. Good spider.

Along with fat spiders come the Day of the Dead,  angled sunlight,
pumpkins, and transitional weather.

Soon it will be cooler. A view from my office window gives a sneak preview.

And cooler weather  allows favorite clothes: sweaters, boots, and scarves, all of which are a great friend to women of a certain age, whose necks may be getting crepier by the nanosecond. I am not posting a picture here.

Sometimes I look at the skin on my neck and I wonder what on earth happened. But I think Nora Ephron already wrote about that, and she did it really well. Recently I went to the dermatologist and she actually said, "it's a good thing your face doesn't look like your forearms." I think she was trying to give me a compliment, but if my face looked like my forearms, we would be in the middle of an unspeakable horror movie.

Back to the wardrobe. This weekend I'll pull out and polish my boots, including a pair of old Dehners, made for me when I was an enthusiastic teenaged horseback rider. Money to pay for them came from mucking stalls during horse shows. Twenty-five dollars a day minus expenses, which included my share of the room at Motel 6.

Remarkably those boots used to slip on -- well, maybe not "slip on," but they would end up on my legs after a great deal of pulling and tugging. Getting them off was a two-person vaudeville act, and amazingly not one bone was broken in the process.

In the late 80s I had a cobbler install zippers so I could wear those boots with an army green pleated wool gabardine maxi skirt. There was a snarky administrative secretary named Sandy, who commented that they were "quite a statement."  I didn't care what Sandy thought, since she used enough hairspray to singlehandedly puncture the ozone layer. In retrospect maybe I did care a little, since I can still remember her comment all these years later.

And then last year I took them to the Kensington shoe guy for a once over, and he topped his know-it-all self by arguing that "those boots could never have been used for riding -- the zippers would have been against the saddle." I said, "I know, I had the zippers installed." And then I took my boots off the counter, headed out the door, and said,"I'll find somewhere else to take them, thank you very much."

If you're familiar with the Kensington cobbler, you understand that there is just so much one can put up with before he isn't amusing any more.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Things I Never Want to Take for Granted

I had planned to write here regularly, using this blog as a way to find a voice I may have lost, or perhaps using it to develop a voice I never had in the first place. In any case,  I haven't written for months. Since my last post, life has taken several unexpected turns, all of which have required large investments of time and energy, as well as a high degree of discretion. Late at night awhile back, unable to sleep, I counted sheep and decided to spend more time thinking about all the good stuff. For instance.....

Last week, during a girls-only cabin getaway, my daughter and I gathered two weekend meals at the Mendocino Farmer's Market. We puttered up and down the block-long double row and found locally-raised pork, beets, baby summer squashes, green beans, wild salmon, rhubarb and strawberries.

That night we enjoyed pan-seared pork chops, balsamic-dressed roasted beets and greens, and home-baked focaccia. The following evening we cooked ginger-glazed wild salmon, rice pilaf, and the variety of Lilliputian garden squashes, some with blossoms still intact.

And blackberry pie! After Friday's market we rode our bikes for miles out the old logging road above Big River , where we picked two quarts of blackberries along the way.

This took some focus, since the berries are slow to ripen this year. If you happen to take that trail in a couple of weeks, pack containers for the later-season berry bonanza.

Out this road, coniferous forests frame misty vistas, helping an infrequent bike rider to forget her sore butt and increasingly unyielding bicycle seat.
Surprisingly few bicyclists were out that day, but those who were commented longingly.

"Did you bring ice cream?" a guy hollered as he sped down the path.

"Berry picking," one teenage boy said to another as they passed within earshot alongside an especially fruitful bramble, "I love berry picking."

And why wouldn't you love berry picking, when these can be the results?

We nearly ate the entire berry pie ourselves so we needed to make another for the boys when we got home. Second pie? Strawberry-rhubarb, which my son helped me assemble -- he wove the lattice with bravado, a job I anxiously approach. Homey fruit pies always remind me of my grandmother, who taught me much of what I know about pies. I hope I'm passing that along.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Little Birds Must Fly

My beautiful daughter is graduating from high school in June, and then she'll head to college.  From among several wonderful options, she's narrowed her choices to two, which she will analyze with a pro-con list. Her wisdom astounds me, especially when I remember the way I made my college selection. At 18 years old I wouldn't have known a pro-con list if it hit me over the head, but years before I had set my sights on the University of California while visiting my Berkeley cousins at the heights of free speech, long hair, and bare feet. College was an acceptable way to simultaneously escape Pasadena and head to my own version of the promised land.

My friend, Virginia, has noticed how nostalgic I've become, given many wistful comments about the random kids we encounter on our walks. "Wow, I can't believe my kids were ever that small;" "That little boy with the soccer ball reminds me of Aidan;" "Oh, Brooks loved a Pippi Longstocking look when she was that age, too."

Yup, I have turned into that woman who can't believe how fast the time goes.

While visiting the Sonoma State campus a couple of weeks ago, I saw this nest and I couldn't pull myself away from it.
At the time I didn't know why I needed to take pictures but now it's clear. For so many years I have guarded my little birds with an instinct not unlike this little hummingbird's, who sat in the tree watching me, occasionally fluffing itself up to look menacing.

The tiny nest in the campus tree, now feels like my house in our town, from where my little birds will fly. That bird and I want to protect our babies, but we have no choice but to let them go.
What a relief to head to the sewing machine and put all that maternal angst into something warm and colorful.

All the bright colors will look great in her dorm room --  cozy and imperfect, to remind her of home.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

You Were Warned About Monkey Mind and Email Runs Amok

From the time my kids were little I've been involved in our public schools and our public school district. I'm most productive when there's something concrete to do, and my brain turns to overcooked pasta when I get sucked in to endless discussions resulting in everyone pulling out their calendars to make dates for more  discussions. Here are examples of what I have loved:
  • working in classrooms to support the teachers;
  • coordinating and sewing the Kensington Hilltop Carnival Quilt (annual revenue $5000 - $6000);
  • selling pizza to raise money for sixth grade activities;
  • writing grant requests and getting money (whee!!!) for music programs;
  • under a prior district administration, helping to maintain the district elementary school music program by raising public awareness through various means, including newspaper articles (resulting in at least one huge donation from an anonymous donor);
  • working with the elementary music teacher to have her fourth grade students write thank-you notes to the anonymous donor (through the San Francisco Foundation);
  • coaching emerging high school writers;
  • working with the Technical Academy kids as they designed a new school website;
  • developing plans for and staffing fundraising events too numerous to mention.
I will spare you my list of ungratifying projects. Let's just say that these activities usually involve infighting, misunderstandings, power struggles, and much show and no go. I always learn something in these situations, and I always wish I had conducted myself in a classier manner.

In the last couple of days I've been involved in an email thread about school safety and culture, which began after a friend expressed concerns to three of our five school board members over public comments made by one of the three. My friend's email was forwarded to an assortment of recipients, and the entire discussion caved in on itself.

My friend raised valid points and then pulled back with concerns about appearing to be critical of our high school staff. Unfortunately when I  responded again today, I resent my initial reply and came off like a doddering loony. Here's what I meant to send, if I'd been on my game and not half-undercaffeinated:

Hello again,

Yes. The El Cerrito High School principal and his team do an amazing job, despite numerous obstacles. My comments earlier had to do with our community focus. Each of us might  consider our participation in a system that perpetuates varying student expectations. Until we make sure every student develops the skills which will allow him/her to participate fully in society, we have collectively failed. I believe we can make progress, but not if we back away from the difficult conversations.

What if we spent less time in meetings and more time meeting with individual students? What if we launched an "each one reach one" campaign where adult volunteers met with students, one-on-one, just to talk for ten or fifteen minutes to find out what the kid might want to accomplish that year and one small concrete thing they need help with. Then develop an action plan and work with the student to help him/her make it happen. I know many of us are struggling to do this with our own kids, but sometimes it's easier with someone else's.

At the moment I am floating on a cloud of inspiration from this TED talk about a virtual choir symphony. Our principal has pulled together a team to strengthen the way our performing arts theater functions in our community. It's time for a student choir -- how do we attract students who love music but who have never had a chance to participate? Perhaps a non sequitur, but not really.

 And here was what I had originally responded when my friend raised his safety concerns.

Hello all:

I know you will remember the January day  El Cerrito High School student Gene Grisby was shot. Here's an excellent story, with video interviews. Earlier that afternoon I was meeting with the principal when he was summoned, via walkie-talkie, to deal with several vicious fights that were erupting in the courtyard. Not knowing what was going on, I remained in his office, and I watched more than half a dozen ECPD squad cars pull up in front of the school. When it became obvious that our meeting would have to be rescheduled, I left and walked through the hallways toward Eureka Avenue where my car was parked.

At that point ECHS was locked down, and all the kids were forced to remain in classrooms. Obviously they can follow orders, and I passed the principal shooing the few stragglers into their rooms as I left the school. On my way past  I asked if the situation was "worse than usual." The principal looked puzzled and I added, "was there blood?"

I had a terrible feeling in my gut that day, and that feeling was borne out later on when I got the news about Gene. There is no doubt in my mind that his murder could have happened on campus. We are helpless to prevent it and if we think otherwise, we are deluded.

I do not spend nearly the amount of time on campus that some do, but I am there a lot. I am never asked for my ID, which I try to remember to wear, mainly to model the behavior for the kids.  I roam freely about the hallways, and I never get a second look from staff who don't know me. Is this because I am a middle-aged white woman? Who knows.

Will IDs and uniforms keep our kids safe? No. But a culture of respect and consistent expectations will go a long way toward that end. Programs such as Writer Coach Connection, where kids spend time with adults, one-on-one, will contribute toward that culture. We have Todd Groves and Mr. Reimann to thank for bringing that program to ECHS.

To sum up, I do not believe metal detectors and lock-downs will prevent violence. Mutual respect and a hopeful future will. Classroom behavior is a great place to focus -- in all classrooms, with all kids. Student TAs can provide boots-on-the-ground data about what's really happening, and perhaps they'd have some ideas for what could work? All of our kids want an education, even if they don't show it, and it's our job to help them learn the life skills that will enable them to become productive adults.


The bottom line is that we are all struggling to make sure no child, and I mean no child, is left behind. There is so much more to be said about this. I'm really interested in your thoughts, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Sewing Room and What We Were Searching For

Yesterday was strange, with a blustery buildup to an electrical hailstorm that knocked out our power for most of the night. But let's start with Chauncey, whom Aidan jointly purchased with his friend, Rebecca. While I was blissfully working on a sewing project with classical piano music in the background, Aidan brought Chauncey home and put him in the terrarium. Aidan then turned on a heatlamp, gave instructions to all of us not to touch him, and left to spend the afternoon with Rebecca, whose mother wisely liked the idea of Aidan having full custody.

I am not afraid of snakes, so having Chauncey in Aidan's room didn't bother me, but when John went to check him out and said, "where is he?" I had that bad feeling mothers get when things go wrong. Brooks, John, and I looked in all the obvious places in Aidan's room, and when Brooks called her brother to give him the news,  he responded in disbelief, with words I will not quote here.

While we were looking, Brooks confessed that she was very uncomfortable with having a snake at large in our house. This is a girl who had lab rats for pets and studies bugs and bones when hiking. She is not squeamish, but she is sensible.

By the time Aidan and Rebecca arrived to help with the search, we had dismantled his room and put many of his possessions in the hallway. I'm happy to report that the only undesireable items found were two Swisher Sweets and one Big Mac that had definitely gone off.  When queried later, Aidan claimed that the cigars were "hella old."

John, who loves looking things up on the web, reappeared with the news that Chauncey's species, Ball Pythons, like to roll up into a ball, and they also like to climb. I was thinking it was more likely Chauncey slithered into the heating grate, even though the kids were sure he was too big to fit. This last bit of information did not make Brooks feel any better, since she hadn't yet seen Chauncey and had been slightly mollified by her assumption that he was small.

With Aidan's room resembling tornado aftermath, we started looking beyond to my workroom, which is pretty tidy at the moment.

Tidy, that is, except for the Closet of Doom, which was conveniently open just enough to create an escaped snake's hiding place. Not to mention that my workroom also has another heating duct, into which a flexible python could easily slide.

The prospect of clearing out that closet made me desperate, so I went back into Aidan's room and stared at the corner formerly known as Chauncey's. At this point we had been snake searching for nearly two hours, and it was not looking hopeful. As an aside, I have to hand it to Rebecca for remaining cheerful and not blaming Aidan for losing the pet they had only just that afternoon acquired. He claimed to have put the top on the terrarium, but sometimes you just never know.

I can't tell you why I did what I did next, but I reached my fingers behind the Hamm's golfing bear on the wall. And then I squealed. Just a little. For when I put my fingers behind the frame I felt something cold, smooth, and fleshy. When I put my fingers back there I found Chauncey.

It took us a few minutes to disengage him from the picture wire at the back of the frame, but when we did Rebecca and Aidan took turns trying to warm him up. So much for not touching him. We also realized that he could easily have pushed the top of his terrarium off. Chauncey is very strong. He also could easily have slid down into the heating duct, if he had travelled that far. He is big, but he is flexible.

All in all it wasn't how I would have chosen to spend the rest of my afternoon, but I am glad I didn't have to deal with that closet. That will take at least two days and a lot of intestinal fortitude.