Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mostly selfish Saturday.

On Saturday Neeracha and I drove to Sausalito to see the Floating Homes Tour. It was a Spare the Air Day, one of not too many we've had this year, so I took BART into the city and we drove to Marin together.

It must have been National Walk the Golden Gate Bridge Day! I've never seen so many camera-happy pedestrians on the bridge before. You couldn't blame them. There was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature easily reached 80F. There were hundreds of white-sailed boats on the Bay made it look like a tricky day to be out there. This view makes me catch my breath every time -- another perfect moment.

A few months ago I read an article on human egg trade in Cypress. It was both fascinating and horrifying. Since I read it I have mentioned it to a few people, who were appropriately horrified but not to the extent I was nor had they seen the article. And then in the car to Marin Neeracha mentioned this article! Apparently she'd read it in the same obscure business magazine I had. This is why we are friends.

The Floating Homes Tour was not what I expected. There are 400 floating homes on Richardson Bay, 17 were open this year. I was looking for two things: designer showcases and/or cleverly designed homes to make use of the unusual space. Nope. They are narrow houses on barges. Some were airy and Lichtenstein-filled. Others were dumpy and needed a good cleaning. Most had optimized the view; a few hadn't. One had a Gaudi-style guest bath. A few had decks at the water line so the owners could kayak. One had an entire upper level of Japanese minimalism. We saw a lot of Ethan Allen traditional furniture and many variations on the spiral staircase. Most are occupied by artists or retirees. There were many for sale and the range was $350,000 to $975,000.

After the tour we had a late sushi lunch and stopped at an off-the-beaten-path travel book store to see what we could find for next summer's adventure. The small shop had a surprising number of interesting books and our Italy collection grew some more.

Neeracha dropped me off at the 16th and Mission BART station. I sat outside of it for a few minutes, taking in swirling tongues of a language I don't understand, the smells and the look of a place I don't usually go. Those ten minutes felt like a very short vacation.

And then I hopped on a train and went back to the Burbs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Renata

I had lunch with Renata last week.

I close my eyes and still see her as the Renata of 1980. The Renata who didn't yet speak English. The Renata with husband Mark and adorable 5-year-old Ilona. The family my parents and their Chavurah adopted and helped ease the transition of from life in the former Soviet Union to life in San Francisco. The Renata with the red kitchen because here she could have a red kitchen.

She is older than me but not as old as my mother. She and Mark successfully moved their parents and siblings to San Francisco. She retired from her IT job at Levi Strauss, where she spent her whole American career. Her children are grown now. Sweet little Ilona is married with two children and practices Obstetrics while also teaching at Harvard Med School. The twins she and Mark subsequently had are now in law school and med school. They are stunningly beautiful. The whole family. And smart, of course, too.

It was such fun having lunch with Renata. It is amazing how the years just evaporate. I think we can learn a lot from each other and I am so fortunate that we have been back in touch.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Treehouse

I don't know what inspired me to drive past the Orinda house. It's the house I lived in from ages 8-15. It's still there. The mailbox my father built is not. The road to it is still dangerously windy, with a steep drop off into Lake Cascade to the left and homes up steep driveways with blind entries to the right.

A few of the homes have been replaced by mega mansions. Most have been updated with new facades and landscaping. A few are eyesores, exactly the way I remember them. There was a man wearing khakis and a red polo shirt walking his Golden Retriever. Very Orinda.

During my tenth year my father built my brother and I a two-story treehouse in the ginormous Oak tree in the front yard. The tree is still impressive. And the treehouse is still there, although it's just a few moss-covered boards now barely visible from the street.

Around the corner is a multi-acre gated estate, the former home of Ed Daly. Daly is best known for his time as president of World Airways and the company's subsequent rescue of Vietnamese orphans after the war. It's not clear if it's being torn down or remodeled right now.

I spent a fair amount of time in St. Louis before my grandfather passed away. My father always insisted on driving through The Old Country when we were there. Ditto the house my mother grew up in in Memphis. I've been there, too.

What is it that ties us to our childhood homes?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

192 miles.

This is the distance between our Bay Area house and Tahoe.

The first hundred miles are flat and boring freeway driving. Benicia Bridge. Vacaville. Dixon. Sacramento. Roseville. The second hundred miles are more and more interesting as we drive into the mountains: Auburn, Colfax, Nyack, Emigrant Gap, Donner Summit, Donner Lake.

When we drive to Tahoe I start to breathe slower around the 2,000 ft elevation mark. The big trees start appearing. There are train tracks and the occasional train spotting. There are fewer towns. Less concrete and more forest. We see animals. The foothills become bona fide mountains.

I love when we reach Donner Summit because Donner Lake, so gorgeous with cabins clustered around it, is next. The last 30 miles on I-80 are beautiful. It's snowy in the winter and if I'm lucky, there's fresh snow and it's clinging to the trees. The mountains are majestic. The last 10 miles are along the Truckee River and then we spot the Olympic Rings at the entrance to Squaw Valley and we've arrived. The air is pine scented and crisp. Ties are replaced with Teva's. Prada gives way to Patagonia.

Labor Day weekend we saw Hayley and Gordon and we talked about the drive. Until they mentioned it, I hadn't thought that other people shared the drive phenomena.

I'm sad when we leave Tahoe. The trees give way to the flatlands and my mood plummets as we pass Auburn, knowing that just ahead are 100 miles of uninteresting freeway peppered with the occasional McDonald's. My chest tightens a bit and I start thinking about the mail waiting at home.

More of you must feel this way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On a bicycle built for two.

Dave got us a tandem bike! A friend counseled us: Wherever your relationship is going, you'll get there faster on a tandem.

We went for a short ride today. I was pretty scared. But after getting over my fear of public speaking Monday this was small potatoes.

When you're on the back of a tandem bike you have no control. You can't see where you're going. You can't steer. You can't shift gears. And you can't break. You just peddle and look at the back of the person in front of you, to the sides or close your eyes.

After a bit I enjoyed it. And Dave and I got to talk about random things without The Pinks interrupting or the distractions of things to do at home.

Don't go looking on craigslist for the sale of our bike anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Curse of the Good Girl

I was the very proud event organizer last night of 900 community members at our middle school. This event, hosting Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, was the next step in my plan to rid the world of Mean Girls.

Rachel, who also founded the Girls Leadership Institute, spoke for about an hour then signed books. She is an engaging, funny speaker with great content. I guess you refine those skills when you've been on Oprah and the Today Show a few times! The interactive talk covered what a Good Girl looks like, No Joke Zones, I Statements, Emotions, The Sweet Life of Zack and Cody and My Little Pony. The picture at left is of me, Rachel Simmons and Simone Marean.

I was blown away by all the familiar faces in the audience -- people from as far south as Pleasanton, as far west as Moraga, as far east as Brentwood. This message resonates with us all.
One of the things I enjoy most about these events is watching the dots connect. I'd forgotten that Amy and Lori were college sorority sisters, and that Lori's cousin is friends with Bridgit. I didn't know that Amy and Ellen's daughters played softball together two years ago and so on.

We could not have pulled of an event of this magnitude without an army of volunteers from the middle school PTA and my own posse: Ellen, Sarah, Coleen and Megan, MelissaS and Hannah, Andrea and Nina, MelissaB. I enjoyed working with our school principal, whose support was invaluable, and the vice principal, who is a great logistics front man and whose daughter, it turns out, goes to preschool with my niece. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And because I am a Real Girl, I have a confession to make: when Simone, GLI's Executive Director, asked me to speak for a few minutes on our experience with the GLI workshops, I lost it. I don't do public speaking. I write. I edit. I plan. I do behind the scenes. But of course I agreed then practiced my two-minute talk for the better part of an hour before going on. I have to admit, I was quite proud of myself. And they called me a force! This stuff is hard for introverts. I have to admit, though, that once I got up there I just ran with it and spoke from my heart. It really is easier to do this when you are passionate about the cause. One less thing to fear in life.

The funniest part of the evening took place at the very end as Rachel was signing my book. Thing 1 had an extended conversation with her about her own personal drama in elementary school with her friend and her friend's boyfriend. Yes, the kids are eight. I had to walk away before I peed my pants. Not surprisingly, Rachel handled it very well.

In a fantasy world, this event will have generated enough attention for the workshops to roll out at other local schools, and for the message to be spread even further. I look forward to helping make that reality. Please leave a comment on my blog if you would like me to help facilitate that at your school or in your community.

Dave, who is my biggest champion, had a little fete pulled together at home when we got back. Everything is better with chocolate cake and chocolate dipped strawberries. He is my angel.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Take me out to the ballgame

On September 11 I could have stayed home and rehashed the events of nine years ago. Certainly I was affected by it. I spent that particular day glued to the TV, intermittently running to the bathroom to do those things one does while in the midst of a pregnancy-from-hell.

On September 11 this year Eldest Daughter and I did something much better for our mental health, and for the mental and physical health of some others: we volunteered at the Special Olympics of Northern California Softball Tournament.

It was a treat to spend an afternoon at a local park and to score keep for three games, all the while cheering the athletes on. There is something equalizing about sports. As I often find with volunteer work, I gained far more than I gave. Eldest Daughter and I left in high spirits.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I am twelve.

Are you?

I just finished The Curse of the Good Girl in preparation for the author's talk here Monday. It was not as all-out scary as Odd Girl Out but it riled me up just the same.

The thing is, American girls are raised to keep the peace. We avoid conflict. We smooth things over. If we voice our opinions with candor and conviction we are called bitches. I am so done with this.

Have you ever heard a girl say something along the lines of, "No offense but that shirt doesn't match those shorts." No offense means that the recipient of this barb shouldn't be mad at the nasty girl whose mouth it came out of even though it clearly is an insult.

One Saturday night last fall I was at a party. The previous night many of the same people, myself included, were at another party. Of course the antics from the former came up at the latter. I should have spoken up and said, "Hey. Let's not relive this in front of people who weren't there." But I didn't. And I've regretted it ever since.

On my Febmom list this topic recently came up. Tory, so sage from her expat vantage point in Hong Kong, said it well: inside each of us is a 12-year-old girl.

I recently ran into a woman I have known since my teens. She is professionally successful and tall and blond and smart and thin and has lovely children and a nice husband. She is twelve, too. And she did the right thing in the situation she faced: she confronted the Mean Mommy in the most textbook perfect of ways. It didn't work and she is still hurt by it. Still she did the right thing and I applaud her for it. This stuff is hard.

I think about the friend I confronted a year ago over a Part-Time Friend Situation between our daughters. I would never have looked at the woman the same again had I not brought it up. I had nothing to lose: our relationship never would have recovered otherwise.

Today I met with Simone Marean and the team at our middle school who will welcome Rachel Simmons. During the course of the event walk through, which I took control of in my usual let's-be-efficient-and-decisive-style, I briefly paused and said, "Am I being too bossy?" Simone looked at me and said, "Curse of the Good Girl." I laughed. She was right.

Why does this 12-year-old emerge from time to time? Will putting on our big girl panties and doing hard things like speaking our minds with confidence banish her?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day Weekend at Tahoe

I've not blogged much recently; there are a lot of moving pieces in my life right now and I'm trying to figure out how to articulate it online without burning bridges. Stay tuned.

The kids are all back in school. Dave and I went to Back to School Night at the middle school last week; Eldest Daughter will do fine. My main observation is that her teachers seem to be dinosaurs. Back to School Night for the elementary school is next week; I always feel clueless until this takes place. Still, the kids seem to like school well enough thus far.

We're up at Tahoe for the long holiday weekend. I'm not sure I've ever been up here Labor Day weekend before. We tend to avoid holiday periods. It's not as zoo-like as I'd imagined. The kids had a furlough day Friday so we came up early enough in the day to get in a swim at The Resort at Squaw Creek with friends before heading to dinner at Jake's. For the record, the Hula Pie and lakeside location at Jake's are amazing; the food is just mediocre these days.The funniest part of the afternoon was Thing 1 asking if she could have a margarita poolside. Apparently Eldest Daughter had ordered a virgin one earlier and I thought it was a regular 'ole smoothie.

Today we spent at Dollar Point Beach and on the boat with my brother, his in-laws and their extended circle. The sky was perfectly blue, the kids had fun tubing and fishing for crawdads, and we just enjoyed the perfect weather. Tonight we had dinner with them at Lakeside Pizza, which was good enough, and satisfied our goal of trying one new restaurant every time we come up here. I think I irritated my SIL's friend by pointing out that she uses one voice to speak to adults and another one to speak to her daughter.

Tomorrow we will do the Alpen Wine Festival here at Squaw to benefit finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis and then head home. Burning Man wraps Monday and we want to beat the crowds down I-80 back to the Bay.