Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday is over-rated.

I did not host Thanksgiving this year and that meant I did not stay up until midnight with Mr. Clean the Magic Eraser.

This enabled me, Eldest Daughter and Thing 1 to leave the house at 5:40a Friday to participate in a holiday tradition that somehow we'd thus far avoided: Black Friday Shopping.

Eh. Not worth doing again. Something is broken with retail shopping.

We headed to Hacienda Crossing, the location of our closest Old Navy, Ulta, and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The parking lot was about 10% full. This translated to very few shoppers even though there is a Best Buy there, too. It took us less than an hour to ransack those three shops and hit Starbucks.

It was too early to go home so we made one last stop: Toys R Us. It wasn't empty but it wasn't crowded, either. I offered The Pinks a trip to the big mall and they declined, citing sleepiness. By 8:45a we were home and I crawled back into bed.

Total damage: less than $300 and that included all new towels for Tahoe.

There is a beautiful, recently remodeled shopping center near our house: Blackhawk Plaza. Yet the retail turnover there is constant and has been for the 18 years I have lived in this town. I shop there only occasionally and that's because I like Anthropologie. A chain accessories shop just went in and I hope the management company sees that even the CEOs and cougars who live inside the gates like good value. Put in a Sephora or a Cheesecake Factory to draw in the masses. It's a great place for the under 7s to go with the playground and ducks. But that's it.

I'll be curious to see the retail numbers post-holidays this year. And there will be no dearth of news on it I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mountain High - Thanksgiving Week Edition

We've just come back from a quick trip to Tahoe. We've not been up since summer and my body was begging for the scent of pine trees in the most unrelenting of ways. This trip was really just to get the house ready for winter. Provisioning. Cleaning. Organizing.

Squaw merged with Alpine Meadows this year and KSL, the owner of both properties, is halfway through a $30M renovation of Squaw. There have been lots of changes.

Here are some highlights:
  1. There is signage everywhere.
  2. The ticket kiosks and ski school office were demolished and a new skier service center was added to the Olympic House. The site of the former kiosks is wide open now and it's not an icy hike up to the Funitel.
  3. The filthy, dingy lower level of the Olympic House was gutted. All the restaurants and shops are gone, and all that remains of the original space is the fireplace and stairs. There is a gorgeous new locker room and a lot of dust as the construction continues. Fire pits are being installed on the KT deck along with private cabanas.
  4. The Blue Coyote is gone and the space is in the process of being converted to a new restaurant. That's number three in the spot if my memory serves correctly.
  5. The North Face has moved into The Village.
  6. The Rainbow Bridge (aka that weird spiritual shop) has closed, as has All Fired Up and the ice cream shop, which was much better during its first iteration as Ben & Jerry's.
  7. Chamois, the pizza place, appears to have lost its liquor license for two weeks. At least that's what the notice hanging in its window says.
  8. Starbucks has remodeled. The service is still mediocre.
Very little was open during our stay, just Starbucks, Mamasake and Mountain Nectar. Winter operations begin tomorrow. Thing 1 broke into tears when she saw Exhibition running Sunday morning, knowing we'd left all our ski gear down in the Bay. Fortunately or unfortunately it was for Squaw ski team members only to get a leg up on the other local race teams.

The drive up was tougher than usual. It was raining in the Bay and we saw four car accidents in the first 15 miles of our drive. It was snowing over the pass and Caltrans was hauling a few cars out of ditches in the Sierras, too. Not optimal but we arrived. And were rewarded with three days of falling snow and the area mostly to ourselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Next stop: Singapore!

My Badger friend Hillary moved from NYC to Singapore this year. Her husband is the chair of NYU's Tisch Asia School of the Arts.

Coincidentally, my mother-in-law is doing a four-month Crystal Cruise and will have two days in Shanghai this spring.

These two facts mean one clear thing: a road trip is in my future!

I've just done my airline ticket to visit Hil, Jean-Marc and Sophia then meet up with my MIL and Dave in Shanghai.

Am I the only one who gets a panic attack when they push the "purchase" button on an international airline transaction? This panic attack is accompanied by a buzz, too, the buzz of solidifying my next adventure. But it really and truly means I will spend 20+ hours in the air, 40+ hours over a week's time, and leave my kids on the other side of the world.

Singapore is a long way from here. It's even further from New York, where most of Hil's family and friends live. I'm very excited to see her for a few days. There is no easy way to do this triangle and Dave and I spent way too much time playing with the variables: low cost and milk run vs airline we've never heard of and direct route vs high cost and miserable departure and arrival times.

During the course of putting this trip together I discovered a fabulous travel site, Hipmunk. It's visual interface is easy on the eyes and it's really cute, too. It also satisfies my emerging monkey fetish. I'm a big fan of MailChimp, which I use for work.

If you've got any Singapore or Shanghai recs, I'm ready for them!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why do we read sad stories?

I just finished reading My Own Country, Abraham Verghese's first book. Verghese is best known for his recent New York Times bestseller Cutting for Stone.

It's another exceptional read. Dr. Verghese chronicles his early years practicing medicine in Johnson City, Tennessee. His specialty is infectious diseases and this is 1985, when AIDS was just reaching from big cities to small towns. Verghese, a newly married, Ethiopian-raised Indian doctor, struggles to fit in and the parallel is easily drawn to his patients, who find themselves shunned by other physicians and the community as a whole as they've come home to die. The great empathy he has for his patients, as well as his diagnostic skills and brilliance at putting words on the page, makes this a memoir I didn't want to end.

You'd think that the subject matter would make the book a downer. But, even though we know upfront that all these people will die, Verghese manages to weave a beautiful, poignant story of the people, the culture, the beauty of the region and his quest to save lives and ease pain.

Why do we read books such as these? A Thousand Splendid Sons and The Kite Runner were horrific. Tweak and Beautiful Boy were scary in the "Lord, please don't let my kid ever get near meth sort of way". Unbroken takes gruesome suffering to a new level. It's easily been two decades since I read The Prince of Tides yet one disturbing scene remains with me, still.

Is this akin to watching a train wreck?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bravo Belles!

My kid plays goalie. I hate it. It's dang stressful. But she loves it and Dave and I support her in things she's passionate about, especially when they're good for her.

Today all that stress paid off. Her team won its age and division championship. I'm hoarse from all that screaming on the sidelines. My hands are raw from clapping.

One week until the indoor soccer season begins. Oy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back away, people.

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm having a great day. I've done some good work. I went to a professional group meeting over lunch. The speaker was engaging and relevant. Caryl is going to join my gym, which means we can spend more time together. Vanity Fair came in the mail. It's a perfect fall day in Northern California. I have lots to be happy about.

However, sometimes we need to put our big girl panties on and deal.

One of our neighbors drives very fast, much faster than one should drive in a neighborhood where children ride their bikes and walk to the bus stop. This morning she nearly ran over one of our kids and didn't even slow down; I think she didn't notice. Tonight I must confront her.

The youngest Pinks had an assembly yesterday. And something happened during the first five minutes of it which led the principal to cancel it. My children came home and told me that the principal yelled at them so that leads me to believe it was a behavior issue. Where is the communication to parents on this, showing the administration's side of the story? If there is no such message then I will just have to take my children's version of the story as the gospel. I sent off a note to her today, too. Surprise!

No, I do not have PMS.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SOS - Save our Schools!

Yesterday was Mike Cannon's last day as vice principal at our middle school. Monday he starts his new job as principal at a much larger middle school two towns north of here. I am happy for him professionally and personally, and I am also saddened at our school district's loss of this talented administrator.

From the outside, it does not seem like being a middle school vice principal would be fun. All those hormones. Discipline. Logistics. Clearly I work in the private sector and don't get the thrill of it all. I'm glad someone does.

I met Mike about a year ago when he helped me with logistics for the Rachel Simmons Curse of the Good Girl lecture. As it turns out, he lives in the same neighborhood as my brother and they're friendly. I've gotten to know his family and they're just good stock, the kind of people you want around.

We have a new principal at our elementary school this year and she appears to be doing as little as possible to get by. I've spoken with our PTA president, other parents and the school district about this and am hopeful the district will address those in time for her to make an impact. She's got a tough job -- her two predecessors were both strong, opinionated women who didn't back away from a challenge. Fortunately the youngest Pinks have good teachers this year and that will affect them far more than the principal.

We intentionally live in a community with stellar schools. Yet I'm disappointed in these two recent turn of events. We could private school our children but we don't want to. Dave and I are products of public schooling, all the way through college, and are advocates of it. Even if we did want to go the private school route, the only ones within 15 miles of here are parochial. This is what keeps me awake at night.