Saturday, March 28, 2009

The new ride

Thank you, Ron, for your exhaustive SUV review. Many of you asked about my short list. I write "my" very intentionally. My husband abhors the car-selection process as much as I abhor the house-selection process therefore I choose what I want and turn procurement over to him. This he enjoys and is sooooo good at after many years on the other side of the table.

We ended up getting our new SUV this weekend. It was good timing as California sales tax goes up April 1 and the dealers were dealing even more than they were previously.

So, in review:

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Loved the look, the do-good-for-the-earthiness, the features. Hated the drive. Gutless. And as the former owner of two BMWs, this was a deal breaker.

The Acura MDX. Didn't want to look at it. Didn't want to drive it. Didn't listen to all those people who told me how much they loved theirs. It's what I've driven the last seven years and it doesn't seem like getting a new car when you're just upgrading. However, Dave insisted I see it. Wow! I really liked it. It drives like a fantasy and had the nicest interior of the three I considered. It has been completely redesigned since we bought our last one and it is another Japanese engineering marvel.

In the end we bought a Volvo XC90, which cost 20% less than the Acura. It has all the bells and whistles we need, and it drives beautifully. I'm happy!

The only teeny tiny problem with the Volvo is that my parents are laughing themselves silly because that's what I learned to drive on. And it's likely what Eldest Daughter learns to drive on. C'est la vie. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dan The Man and The Crosses of Lafayette


I worked in the city today. While I waited for my train, I looked long and hard at The Crosses of Lafayette, which have increasingly covered the hillside next to the train station since 2006. The crosses memorialize the American soldiers who have died in the ongoing Iraqi war. A cross has been put up for each of the 4000+ troops who have died. During the last three years the memorial has rallied awareness of the cost of the Iraqi war and garnered wide media coverage. However, it has also evoked anger, controversy, legal threats, at least two acts of vandalism and more recently, counter protests.


It’s ironic that I contemplated the crosses today because I read an email from Dan The Man just before I left the house. Our forty-something friend Dan has been in Bagdad for a week now, having decided to serve our country in active duty again. He emailed us these pictures, which made me feel a little better.


Although Dan works 16 hours a day, six days a week, he did manage to find an underground cyclocrossers club and buy a Motobecane from someone who was heading back to the states. He lives in one of Saddam's palace complexes, so there's plenty of interesting things to see on a ride. It is a compound, though, so they had to make a complicated loop to get in a long ride, which was flat but made more challenging by headwinds and dust.


This first picture was taken near the "Flintstone Village" Saddam built for his grandchildren and Dan commented that it’s amazing to see all the excesses of his regime - built while his countrymen suffered. The second picture was taken in front of Al Faw Palace, where Dan works for the commanding general.


Here’s Dan’s address for the rest of the year, in case you or your children want to write or send cards:


MAJ Dan Streetman

HSC, MNC-I (Command Group)

I Corps

APO AE 09342


Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's all downhill from here.

This was supposed to be a great ski weekend. Thing 1, who does not ski because it might mess up her hair, had a "stayover" with her friends and their very gracious mom. This would enable Thing 2 to ski with her team and Eldest Daughter, Dave and I to ski together all weekend.

The weather did not cooperate. Yes, we're a little particular about the conditions since we're in the mountains a lot. But snowing blowing sideways does not constitute a good shared ski experience. By noon Saturday the storm was in full force and on Sunday Thing 2's race was canceled. You know how I just love watching the snow fall? How I think there's nothing more beautiful than trees looking like they were dipped in frosting? With the amount of time we've spent at Tahoe this year, I'm so over it.

This picture is of Thing 2 on her way in from ski team. It may look like she's not happy but really, she's thrilled. First, she loves skiing so no matter what the weather, she's happier on the hill. Second, she left her Nintendo DS on a plane en route to Atlantis and thus does not have one. This would not be such a big deal if she didn't have six hours in the car each weekend back and forth to the mountains. We told her that if she skied with team 15 days this winter we'd buy her a new one. Today was Day 15. A new DS was well deserved.

Frankly, I have mixed emotions about Spring skiing. I like the idea of warm days and sunshine. But I dislike wet, heavy snow and prefer winter powder. So while I was sad that the weekend didn't turn out as planned, I did enjoy the nap I took Saturday and the long run I went for this morning.

The usual suspects were around, though, and we celebrated some birthdays. But mostly we hung out and watched the snow fall then drove home in a storm to retrieve Thing 1 before she wore out her welcome. I was also a little afraid that Thing 1 would not want to come home. Paige has four children and a large extended family so it's always a party at her house.

Our other motivation for racing home was that Twilight was in our mailbox and Eldest Daughter was dying to see it again. We combed the Squaw Valley shops for it Saturday, the day it came out on DVD, and came up empty. This is Tahoe after all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blanket Statement

In our house, blankets hold a place of honor.

Not surprisingly, we have quite a few quilts. My favorite is a double nine patch in cream and apricot, one of the first I made. It's the quilt I spent six months under with each of my pregnancies, and the one I pull out when I feel under the weather. It is worn and soft and the quilting is intricate, done by the ultra talented and now retired Kathy Sandbach.

The most used blankets in the house are the tied fleece ones that Wendy made for the kids. Thing 2 sleeps under them every night. Wendy has no idea how much love those blankets have provided and received over the last seven years.

Occasionally we pull out an old yellow plaid blanket, one that is still in great shape. Dave and I got it in Tijuana during his college days in San Diego, 20+ years ago. It is utilitarian and very warm.

Aunt Janice, who wins the prize for giving the best handmade gifts in the history of gift giving, crocheted The Pinks afghans and another year, made them quillows -- quilted blankets that fold into a pillow for use and storage. Brilliant.

I've made baby blankets for a special few over the years. There's no greater compliment to a quilter than when their creation is worn to shreds. Caryl's son did just that then left his in a hotel somewhere around his fifth year. After the housekeeping staff scoured the property with no luck, Caryl's husband drove back, over 100 miles, to do it himself. Again, nada. Because I love Caryl like a sister, and because her poor son was wreaking havoc on their sleep, I dug up all my scraps and put together a second, similar quilt. Caryl cried like a baby when her son opened it. To this day I'm not sure if it was because of the sleep deprivation or because she couldn't believe I did it.

Although this next one isn't a blanket, it's worth a mention because it is spectacular. I found out I was pregnant with twins on a Wednesday. On Saturday, by FedEx, arrived a quilt from my cousin Judge Jodi in Rhode Island. It's called Great Expectations. The quilt has eight appliqued women on it, each pregnant and showing their belly. The are all different ethnicities. The African-American woman is carrying quads. The Asian woman is carrying a singleton. Only Jodi is smart enough to know that African Americans have the highest rate of multiples and Asians the least. The other six are somewhere in between. They have doll-like hair and the whole quilt is a work of art, true textile art. Jodi must have gotten off the bench each night and then pulled consecutive all-nighters to get this done in time for FedEx Friday.

This quilt deserves a much better viewing spot than in our house. If you know of a hospital or OBGYN's office that would like an extended loan of it, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Penguins, turtles and jellyfish anyone?

The Pinks have minimum days this week so I took the afternoon off and hauled them into the city to see the newish California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Paige, always up for dosing the kids up with culture, brought her entourage, too. The picture at left is five of the eight kids we had with us, and additional proof that twins can look nothing alike.

Renzo Piano designed the museum, which was ten years in the works and cost $500 million to build. It includes an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and a 4-story rainforest plus a 3D theater, a lecture hall, a Naturalist Center, two restaurants, an adjacent garden and aviary, a roof terrace, and the requisite gift shop. It is striking architecturally. However, the feature I most appreciated was the huge underground parking lot with very clear directional signage.

The Greenie in me feels compelled to tell you that it's also the largest public Platinum-rated building in the world, and also the world’s greenest museum. The Academy earned the platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This extends from the bike racks and rechargeable vehicle stations outside the building to the radiant sub-floor heating inside the building to the energy-generating solar panels on the roof. It's a stellar example of sustainability.

Fortunately or unfortunately it was the third Wednesday of the month, also known as Wachovia Wednesday, so the museum was free. It was crowded but it didn't stop us from having fun watching the penguins, petting the star fish in the tide pool exhibit and evaluating our carbon footprint in the conservation exhibit. I am completely entranced by jellyfish. I could have spent all day watching them. However, I could have lived my whole life without seeing the live Hissing Cockroaches. Still, a good time was had by all and The Pinks are eager to return.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Milking It

I moved to San Francisco in 1990, twelve years after Harvey Milk's murder. I never gave much thought to battles the gay community fought to establish their right to just co-exist with heterosexuals. I simply enjoyed the gay friends I made at my job in publishing, the sexual diversity of the city and its celebrations like the Gay Freedom Day Parade.

This weekend I watched Milk. Sean Penn, for all his arrogance, is just brilliant. He's one of the most gifted actors of our generation and he truly deserved his Oscar for Best Actor this year. James Franco is worth a shout out as Milk's long-time lover Scott Smith and Lucas Grabeel, well, let's just say that I personally think his talents are better spent dancing and singing.

There are quite a few readers of this blog outside of the Bay Area so here's the recap: Harvey Milk was a neighborhood activist elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and murdered, along with the city’s mayor, by a former supervisor named Dan White the next year. Milk, among the first openly gay elected officials in the country, had a profound impact on national politics, and his rich afterlife in American culture has affirmed his status as pioneer and martyr.

This is not a feel good movie. It left me with an uneasy feeling. The director did a good job of using both old footage and new filming to tell the story. As sad as the story is, it's a part of San Francisco history, our gay rights history, and one that I truly enjoyed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You need this / Part 2

Paige wrote Part 1 a year ago. She found a great skirt at The Gap, such a versatile skirt that she could wear it with t-shirts and flip flops six days of the week, and heels and a blouse for church on the seventh. She started a revolution in our fair 'burb.

Today this year's version of the skirt appeared at Old Navy. It's the Voile Drawstring Skirt and it retails for $24.95. I bought one. But it gets better. This weekend is the 30% off promo at Old Navy, Banana Republic, and The Gap. So said skirt was $17.47. (BTW, did you notice that the sales tax in our county is going up to 9.25% April 1?! Let's hope it goes to the schools.)

Those of you who know me know that my everyday wardrobe is incredibly basic. I do not enjoy shopping for clothes for myself. In fact, I have even used the services of a stylist / personal shopper on occasion. My clothes are not utilitarian but classic: jeans, white shirts in every shape and form, and fabulous shoes. My shoes are killer, the kind of shoes that people ask me where I bought every single time I leave the house. But today was not about shoes. Today was about pajamas work clothes.

One of the great things about my work is that about half the time I'm in my home office on the phone or on video conference. So as long as my hair and makeup are done, and I'm wearing one of my wardrobe staples, the cashmere sweater, crisp white shirt or both (with appropriate foundations, thank you Nordstrom and Tim Gunn), no one is any wiser. Let's face it, my colleagues are doing this, too.

They had cute kids' clothes, too, and The Pinks got some things to tide them over until school's out and they can put on their summer uniforms: flip flops, skorts and tank tops with shoulder straps of less than 1".

I counsel you dear friends: print out your Old Navy coupon and head on over. The skirt does not disappoint.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why is good customer service so surprising?

On Monday afternoon my cell phone rang. It was the Emergency Room doctor I'd seen 14 hours earlier. He called to see if I was feeling better. I was shocked.

The last time I was in the ER I did not even see a doctor yet I got billed for it. When I called to debate the bill ($650 out of pocket - ouch!) I was told that he had reviewed my case while I was in the ER and had prescribed the medicine, which the nurse administered. I did not like this response. And yes, this was the same ER. (On Sunday night I had a reaction to something I ate, one I could not get under control at home using my usual meds, thanks all of you who asked and were concerned.)

When Nordstrom opened, their level of service set the standard. People still talk about the Nordstrom level of service. It's a nice place to shop. Their merchandise is beautifully displayed, the sales people are helpful and they have a no-questions-asked return policy.

I like shopping in France because the shopkeepers greet you upon entering the store. This is so courteous and thoughtful. In the US, it's rare that someone even looks your way when you enter a store.

Last summer we stopped at Ikeda's en route to Tahoe. I bought The Pinks soft-serve ice cream cones. Thing 1 promptly dropped hers. Before she could even start to cry, one of the people working there got down on his knees at her eye level and said: let's get you another one. I love Ikeda's.

Thom tells a great story about how his wife fired their pediatrician. She got tired of routinely waiting more than an hour past their appointment time to get past the waiting room. Better yet is Thom's description of how shocked the front office staff was when Sara marched up to the glass partition, demanded Jackie's chart and said, "I'm firing you. I will not be treated like this." Why is it okay to wait for more than an hour past our appointment time to see a doctor? Is our time not as valuable as theirs? Hour for hour, I'd bet many of us outearn them.

My birthday was last week. Dave went to a lot of work to see that we could have dinner at the new Cheesecake Factory. The day before, he spoke with the manager about their system for providing tables for large groups. He then followed the manager's instructions to the letter and still, after an hour past the time they said we'd be seated, there was no table for us. We left and had a good meal elsewhere.

It bugs me that good service is an exception now, and not part of everyday life. Am I the only one who has noticed the state of the economy? Shouldn't these bozos go out of their way to be helpful lest their employer shutter its windows and they find themselves in the unemployment office, like so many others?!

Today, though, my confidence in the courtesy of our medical professionals, at least one, was restored. Thank you Dr. Mills.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekend Warrior

What a weekend!

Friday night
  • Dinner with the neighbors at Esin. Lots of laughs. Had new babysitter who did great with the kids.
Saturday
  • First day of softball practice for the littlest pinks.
  • Took Eldest Daughter, her friend and my Mom to see Confessions of a Shopaholic. Trite. I should have known better. I read the book, after all. All of them actually. My bad.
  • Post movie went to Container Store. Highlight of outing as Eldest Daughter appears to have some of my organizational tendencies and needed things for her room.
  • Worked for four hours.
  • Read nine-tenth's of New Moon.
Sunday
  • Resented clocks moving forward as I ...
  • Took Eldest Daughter to Hebrew at 8:15a, which felt like an hour earlier.
  • Ran into former client at Noah's. Fortunately I was wearing makeup. Gave interview for an article she's doing for the Pleasanton Weekly.
  • Went to brunch with Eldest Daughter, her friend and her mom.
  • Worked for three hours.
  • Made dinner and hosted friends for early dinner.
  • Got very sick and went to ER, fortunately after guests left.
Monday
Bring on the workweek ...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Meet Fred

Dave has wanted a Terracotta Warrior for a long time. Every now and then we'd see some in a museum, or while traveling, and he'd look long and hard at them. And although we've have the perfect spot for one since we moved into this house seven years ago, the spot has sat empty, just waiting.

After many moons Dave gave in and ordered a reproduction from China. (Real ones are antiquities.) It arrived by sea to the Port of Oakland in a crate. The crate and its pallet were then forklifted into my Dad's truck and the two of them brought it here. It took the two of them plus a neighbor to unload and uncrate it.

And that's how Fred came to live with us.

Fred sat in the stairwell nook for a few weeks and the kids took turns dressing him up. Cheerleader Fred. Golf Fred. Chef Fred. The problem was, Fred was the same color as the wall behind him and unless he was all gussied up, he blended right in. This hardly seemed fair for something so important to Dave.

So last weekend Fred temporarily moved into the foyer and I painted the wall behind him red. It's the same red as our office, down the hall. He looks gooooood!

P/S If I come downstairs in the middle of the night for a snack or to get a cup of water for one of the kids, he freaks me out. If you want to see originals, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta has an exhibit running until April.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

T minus two years ...

We've been stalking the postman for the last month eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Letter. What letter? The letter that lets us know the date of Eldest Daughter's Bat Mitzvah.

The 24 of us with children to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah'd two years from now sat through a long meeting at the synagogue on how dates are assigned and what else was required of our offspring other than four years of Hebrew and Religious School. We consulted our calendars and friends and family for schedule conflicts, and meticulously filled out the form requesting our first, second and third choice of dates.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. I began checking my email hourly, thinking The Letter might be electronic.

I drove Eldest Daughter to Hebrew today and discovered that everyone else had received their dates weeks ago. Before the Rabbi left on an extended vacation. We were still in the dark. Finally the Religious School Administrator emerged from a classroom and I cornered her. Sure enough, The Letter got lost in the mail. Or the Rabbi snubbed us but I really doubt it was that, the cousin-thing and all.

Eldest Daughter is ecstatic. She has the date she wanted: February 5, 2011, the day after her 13th birthday.

Now my mission begins in earnest: to convince her that an educational family vacation to the location of her choice is much more desirable than a four-hour party. Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Monte Carlo Night

For some bizarre reason, California schools receive the least amount of money per student than does any other state. And so, for The Pinks to have a full-time librarian with an attitude, a computer lab and music our school does an annual auction. While the recession has hit some hard, it was not obvious in our 'burb last night. In past years it has raised more than $250K. Only the Catholic School in our area raises more at its annual fete.

We hadn't planned on going this year. Dave does drop off and pick up so my contact with the school families is limited to when we see them socially, at organized activities like soccer or when I volunteer in the classroom a few times a month.

But Dave really wanted to go and so, after I looked in my closet and determined that I had suitable pair of drop-dead shoes to wear with the bling I bought in Bangkok, I queried the some mommies to see if anyone else was thinking about it. Sure enough, two other families were kinda sorta debating it. And so the formation of our table began. Our next door neighbors ended up joining us and that made it a really fun, diverse group. It was a Monte Carlo theme and Dave loves craps.

We hadn't been to this auction since Eldest Daughter was in kindergarten. The players had changed a bit but the end result was the same: get lit then bid way too much for things you don't really need. The parking spot was a bargain this year: $2K. The black lab puppy was not: $5K. A cake, consumed by your tablemates after dinner, went for $1,200. A weekend for six at Pelican Hill with transportation by Dave Duffield's private jet went for $16K. We wanted it but not to the tune of $16K.

I was on a mission to find out who the winning bidder was on Thing 2's quilt. Several people told me they bid on it. I will find out eventually as the quilt is here and someone will come forward to claim it. I've narrowed it down to two families.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I bought a few things: a family photo shoot with the talented Sherman Chu and the upper grade book basket. Yes, I'm a book nerd. One of the things I'm really enjoying about parenthood is reading the books Eldest Daughter is reading, the Newbery Award winners that have come out since I was in grade school, and some of the classics that I missed, such as Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Here's a picture of me, Kelly and Paige at the auction. I'm glad we went. It was great to catch up with some of the people we hadn't seen in a long time. And of course the school benefited from it.