Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The FebMoms

Eleven years ago I became pregnant with Eldest Daughter. And at that time I joined a listserv of women due in February 1998.

Since then, our list has dwindled from more than 200 women to a core group of 30 who live on three continents and in four countries.

We've seen each other through subsequent pregnancies and miscarriages, divorces, moves, career changes and major lifecycle events like sending one's firstborn to college. We've agreed to disagree on politics and religion, and child rearing philosophies. Many of us were fortunate to take our relationships from cyberspace to real life.

Four of us are here in the Bay Area. After a few years, Jen and I discovered that we lived close to each other and shared mutual friends. We have participated in three Nike (Half) Marathons with other FebMoms. The picture above is of Jen, Deb, Adri and me at dinner the night before the 2006 race. Whenever I see a picture of Deb I am reminded of one of Jen's better quips: we have to enjoy our facetime with Deb because she's so fast that during races, we only see her a$$.

We saw Kathy this summer in Boston. Kim and I do similar things professionally and even though our politics are polar opposite, I love her and understand why she votes the way she does. Tory and her family showed us a great time in Hong Kong several years back. Abby, our founding list mama, spun me the most incredible wool that I am knitting a sweater of.

It's hard to articulate what this group of women has meant to me over the past decade. I know them better than I know most of you. They are quite privvy to the sick innerworkings of this brain. (Please, sisters, be kind and take it all to the grave.) There is always someone online to discuss a school situation, global warming or a new use for avocados.

My heart shattered in a million pieces when one of us lost her second pregnancy in month 5 then shattered all over again when she and her husband split up because of his violent demons. I cheered when another became reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption. I pray for one as she parents the children of her own teenagers.

Paula was a FebMom. Jen called me and broke the horrific news. I then phoned Kim, although it was close to midnight in Georgia. I called her cell, just in case she was blissfully ignorant and asleep. She answered on the first ring and said, "I knew you were going to call."

You would have liked Paula. Born in Massachusetts, living in Connecticut, and supporting her family through her work as the assistant provost at a major university, she had this clear-cut, take-no-prisoners way about her. She didn't couch her opinions; you knew what she thought and you knew where you stood. But she was never rude; she spoke with ease and grace. I respected that about her. Like me, she was a liberal Jew. I miss her.

The FebMoms list has been especially active this week. We're sharing stories about Paula, and making plans to help Rich and Jack, her surviving husband and son. I think about Paula even more today, Rosh Hashana, as Rich and Jack go to the synagogue without her. At least they will be surrounded by friends and family.

I am sad, so sad that she is gone. But I am a better person for having known her.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An open letter to my short-lived colorist

Dear Karen,

I really enjoyed the time we spent together Wednesday morning. You are a perfectly lovely conversationalist and my hair looks fabulous. Transcendent. Alex gave me yet another brilliant cut and the color you artfully applied really completes the look. Thank you.

However, I was totally appalled when I discovered that said color, applied over a two-hour period, cost me $360 not including the tip. My bad. I should have asked before I underwent the magic treatment. I am not the kind of girl who can justify spending over $500 for a cut and color every eight weeks. It just seems socially irresponsible. And it also seems rather high for services rendered in Walnut Creek. After all, you are a twenty-something early in your career, not a celebrity stylist in LA.

So again, thank you. I hope you understand. I really did enjoy the VIP treatment. I just wish I'd known I was getting it while it was happening. I have to go back to work now.



P/S The gal walking around the salon offering strawberries and Brie at lunchtime was a nice touch. The Brie was flown in on its own Lear from France, oui?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And on a lighter note

Paige just did a great post on her definition of successful spousal gift giving. This is something I've been meaning to blog on for a while.

Let's review some of the things Dave has selected all by himself as gifts for me:
  • An ice cream maker with cookie cutters to make ice cream sandwiches
  • A trip to Las Vegas to see Elton John
  • An iPhone
  • A diamond solitaire necklace
  • A larger stone for my wedding ring (I didn't know I needed one but it was a great surprise.)
  • Diamond earrings, presented in Venice on our 10th anniversary. Why did we go to Venice for a long weekend? Because Dave asked me if I'd had any regrets during our marriage and I said that I wished we'd been on a gondola ride when we were in Venice the first time, even though the downpour was torrential that trip.
  • A gold M-shaped pin, presented on the thousandth day we were married
I've got it good. The man can shop. I love appliances and electronics as well as jewelry and he knows it.

This appliance thing is worth a true shout out. Appliances was supposed to be the focus of this post until I made a list and realized how good I have it in the bling department, too. I really like appliances. And I like being given appliances. I don't like doing the research on said appliances so this makes me even more grateful to receive them. KitchenAid Mixer. Hello Kitty Waffle Maker. Crepe Maker. Rice Cooker. Roomba. They are my friends.

I got him a trash compactor one year and I think he liked it. We needed it and I also had the cabinet retrofitted in our kitchen so there would be a place for it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RIP Paula Sossen Lawson

I can't breathe.

One of my friends died Sunday night. Leaving behind a husband and a son the same age as Eldest Daughter.

How could this be? Forty-somethings don't die of heart attacks and leave behind friends and family who expected to grow old with them.

I have to pull myself together.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Walking in Memphis

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy -- won't you look down over me
Cause I got a first class ticket

But I'm as blue as a boy can be
Walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of the Beale
Walking in Memphis
Do I really feel the way I feel

Mark Cohn recorded Walking in Memphis. This song has always made me teary-eyed.

My mom grew up in Memphis and left when she went to college. She then married my father and they kept moving West. My mom had and still has a huge extended family in Memphis; I've been to Memphis more times than I can count.

Not long after Dave and I were married we went to visit my grandma there and my Uncle Irvin took us out on the town. My mom's older brother is a colorful character, a criminal attorney and the only of my mom's siblings who stayed in Memphis. That night was memorable. My uncle seemed to know everyone and we enjoyed Rendezvous' special dry rubbed ribs then went to BB King's place on Beale. Although the club was packed, we were shown into BB's private lounge above the stage, where we watched the blues quite comfortably.

My grandmother passed away in Eldest Daughter's second year and at the funeral someone asked me if I came to Memphis often. It was then that I realized that I'd visited five times in the previous eighteen months.

Memphis has a lot going for it. Mud Island has a half-mile riverwalk that's a tribute to and model of the Mississippi River. The Peabody Hotel has its famed Walk of the Ducks. Every day at 11a, five mallards are led by the Duckmaster down the elevator to the Italian travertine marble fountain in the Peabody Grand Lobby. A red carpet is unrolled and the ducks march through crowds of admiring spectators to the tune of John Philip Sousa's King Cotton March. The Memphis in May Festival features the Beale Street Musical Festival one week and the World Championship Barbecue Competition another week. The Elvis Presley Birthday Celebration is an annual four-day event. Oh yes, and we've done it all. I'm not sure why my mom ever left, actually. Memphis is one happening place.

I've been thinking about Memphis a lot this week. My uncle Irvin was just diagnosed with lung cancer. I know a fair amount about lung cancer, thanks to the unfortunate situation of a close friend, whose brother-in-law, father and cousin are all fighting it. Wendy's brother-in-law spent part of last summer as the physician-in-residence at the summer camp Eldest Daughter attended.

And so another day ends and I watch the pinks sleep, counting my blessings.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Who are our soldiers?

They are the sons and daughters of people like you and me. They may even be you and me.

One of Eldest Daughter's classmates has a father in the military. I saw him in Safeway last week. I really wanted to thank him for helping keep our country safe but I couldn't get the words out of my mouth. Instead I went back to my car and felt bad about it.

In the last year I've met three people through work who have sons deployed. We've sent them care packages. It's a very small thing to do.

It seems we run into soldiers when we stop at 7-11 or McDonalds en route to Tahoe. The pinks have no problem talking to them. And I'm grateful for that. I just try to pay for whatever they're eating or drinking and hope that they understand our appreciation. How pathetic is that?!

Two years ago I spent a long weekend in Savannah with my girlfriends, celebrating my 40th birthday. At a piano bar we came across a group of boys who were shipping out in a few days. They were drinking and chain smoking and singing at the top of their lungs. I knew that in a few days I'd be home with the pinks and they'd be thrust into a world beyond their wildest dreams, and not in a fantasy sort of way. We bought a round for them that night.

The thing is, we didn't used to know anyone in the armed forces. Sure, Doug went through college on the Navy and then served seven years, most of them in San Diego, unlucky guy. He missed our wedding because he was on tour. But he was really the exception.

Not anymore.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dan the Man

Dan could easily be your forty-something next door neighbor. The father of your child's best friend. He's a clean cut family man. With a wife and two kids. Who lives in the suburbs. And has a Golden Retriever. He goes to church on Sundays. And is athletic. He coaches soccer. And works in tech. Mr. All American. Living the American Dream.

Dan spent his childhood years in Florida and from there went to West Point. After that he served as an Army Ranger who earned a MacArthur Leadership Award and was deployed in nine countries. Post-Army he went to HBS. And got into tech. Where we all became friends.

On October 12 Dan leaves for Iraq. Where he will serve our country again. For 13 months. By choice.

When my husband asked Dan why a forty-something like himself was returning to the active military Dan replied, "It's my duty. When I left the Army I made a conscious decision not to resign my commission in case something like this happened."

You are our hero, Dan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pin cushion

I was the proud recipient of a flu shot today. Mid-September seems a little early to get one but there I was in the doctor's office and they were available so I indulged. I don't go out of my way to get a flu shot but if I happen to be at the doctor and they're there, I go for it. Anyone who has lost two weeks of their life to the flu understands. You're completely useless for Week 1 and Week 2 you're building your strength back up and trying to get back into your groove. It sucks. If you're one of those people who can keep up appearances while you're sick, I applaud you. I am not: I retreat to the bedroom and my husband keeps the proverbial balls in the air. One year he missed a work-sponsored program with Jack Welch because I had the flu. The saint didn't give me any grief for it either. I married well.

Two years ago my primary care physician left private practice and returned to his first love, research. Dr. Chuck was an amazing doctor, one of those MDs who never rushed you in and out of his office. My father found him first and by the time I'd discovered him, his practice was long since closed. I begged him to take me on and surprisingly, it worked. When I was pregnant with our our twins and in the hospital for the long haul, doped up to stop those pesky contractions, my father happened to be in his office. Dr. Chuck logged in to the hospital's computer system and explained to my father exactly what was going on with me. We all thought that rather cool.

When Dr. Chuck retired, I gave a lot of thought to who to replace him with. In the end, I chose the family practitioner I'd been seeing off and on at the local urgent care center. Dr. Hollander's hours suit me, noon - 8p Tuesday through Saturday, his bedside manner is friendly but not too friendly, and he seems to know his stuff. As a mother, taking care of my own needs comes last so I especially dig the odd office hours and the fact that there's an on-call doctor one additional day of the week. As a business person, I think this is very customer centric and I appreciate that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sharing the love!

Today was one of those days that I got up early and ran. I showered then hopped on a 7a conference call with people named Rebel and Tweedy. (I am not making this up.) After that I dolled up and drove an hour to the South Bay for a meeting. And then I drove home.

When I walked in the door at 1p I was starving! As I dashed from the car to the fridge, I stumbled over a box sitting next to the front door. It was from Lynn, a sorority sister, who lives in Milwaukee. I was really hungry, though. So I debated leaving it on the porch until I stuffed my face. But then my curiosity got the best of me and I hauled it inside and ripped it open. Boy was I glad I did!

Godiva Chocolates! Lunch!

Next to the signature gold box was a sweet note, written in her perfect architectural script, congratulating me on Some Assembly for Women and for letting her be a part of it. (You did me the favor by providing a quote for it, sister!)

This unexpected gesture made me think of two things.

First, during the very first days of Eldest Daughter's life, someone sent us a Cookies by Design bouquet. It was beautiful and it tasted great. Poor Dave never got to see it in its full glory because by the time he came home from mailing the baby announcements or doing a Target run or wherever he was, I'd eaten half of it. Again, it was lunch when I really needed it.

Second, this completely unexpected and wholly appreciated gesture makes me want to pay it forward.

If I inspire you to do this, too, comment here so we can all share in it!

Thanks Lynn! I love you!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We shall never forget

Seven years ago today the al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed commercial jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

I was pregnant with our twins at the time, and on bedrest. Like most Americans, I watched the life-changing events unfold on TV and watched and watched and watched, becoming increasingly agitated as the details came out. I will never, as long as I live, forget the footage of people jumping out windows of hundred story buildings. What must they have seen to cause them to choose death that way?

When I flipped on my laptop this morning I quickly realized what day it was. My first conference call was with a woman in Arlington, Virginia. I thought to mention it to her but did not since it was our first meeting, and I'm sure she was confronted with reminders all over Washington today. I wonder if she thought about it, too, while we were on the phone. After that call I met my brother for coffee. He mentioned it.

In a few hours I'll pick the pinks up at school. And my husband and I will give them extra big hugs.

We shall never forget.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ten things I love about Fall

1. Seasonally appropriate accessory shopping.

2. It's still warm during the day but it cools off at night so you don't have to run the dreaded air conditioning and get a horrible night's sleep because you wake up every time it goes on and off.

3. The Thanksgiving issues of all the cooking magazines will soon appear!

4. Halloween -- everyone's favorite holiday!

5. You can sleep with the windows open and hear the crickets.

6. My mom's apple pie. I'm not sharing the recipe because I still think about trying to launch a business with this recipe-to-end-all recipes.

7. You can begin to reduce the amount of time in between pedis.

8. Boots. High ones and low ones and suede and leather and rain boots (but not in California).

9. The leaves turn colors.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Red Rubies, Rainbow Unicorns and Ladybugs

You know those friends who are just amazing people? After you spend time with them you just feel better?

Kymi is one of those people. She started out as a client and then became a friend. The Pinks and I were fortunate enough to spend time with her, her husband and their French-speaking 5-year-old son this weekend. We've had playdates with them before. This little boy plays well with girls and boys and he's as fun to hang with as are his parents.

They invited us to swim at The Claremont, where they are members. It was well over 100F in our suburb so post soccer we were happy to head over the hills and enjoy their company and temps a few degrees cooler.

The Claremont has a sweet membership setup: food and beverage, including full bar, towel service, a great view of the Bay Area, valet parking, and three pools and a hot tub. This is Golden Bear territory so they even had the game on in a room with big, comfy sofas. Although I'm still hot and tired, I have a smile on my face, the smile of someone who experienced just a bit of magic.

Where do you find Rainbow Unicorns, Red Rubies, Shining Stars, Ladybugs, Pink Pansies, Flower Power? On the Girls U7 soccer circuit.

Thing 2 had her first games this weekend. She really got into it, in spite of the heat. I love watching her run around. She's in it for the camaraderie as much as her love of running. It's high fives at every opportunity.

Thing 2 wears her hair in a fairly short bob so we don't do a lot with it. However, there were some great soccer tresses being sported on the field -- pony tails with soccer ribbons, scrunchies, etc. Thing 2 wants to grow her hair out so this may be in our future.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Must teachers be warm and fuzzy?

As I mentioned in my last post, Back to School night took place this week.

I met Eldest Daughter's fifth grade teacher for the first time. She was just fine. She's the most senior fifth grade teacher at our elementary school and she seemed to know her stuff. My daughter happily goes to school each morning so I'm good with that.

However, as the parents were exiting the classroom that night I asked one, "So, what'd you think?" She responded, "She's not exactly warm."

This brings the question, do teachers need to be warm and fuzzy?

Here are the teachers I remember:
  • Mr. Zunich, the 7th grade math teacher who is now married to a friend of my mother-in-law's. The only reason I remember him is because I occasionally see him at social occasions.
  • Miss Tighe, the Spinster who taught 7th grade English and drilled sentence diagramming into our heads, a skill I've not used since 7th grade.
  • Miss Something-or-Other, another old maid, my AP English teacher who introduced me to Russian Lit, something I still enjoy today but would never admit to the Commie whose posts are set up to autodelete on my Febmom listserv.
  • Ms. Reeves, my magazine editing professor in college, not because the class was scintillating but because she was such a strong female figure and had done so many interesting things in her career.
Were any of these teachers warm? No. In fact, the first three were decidedly not warm. But they stuck with me.

Of course none of these were elementary school teachers. Each of my kids had a wonderful kindergarten teacher, but being a kindergarten teacher is a very special skill indeed. Eldest Daughter loved her second grade teacher and I did not. She ran hot and cold, and played favorites.

At what point are our children equipped to get their coddling solely from their adoring parents and grandparents, and no longer necessitate having it handed out in the classrooms?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Alaska Years

The frontier state is in the forefront of the news this week thanks to Senator John McCain's selection of Governor Sarah Palin for his vice presidential running mate.

Alaska. Been there, done that.

When my brother was nine and I was fifteen and leading a self-absorbed teenaged existence in California, my parents dropped The Bomb. They had just returned from a trip to Maui, one of very few trips they took without me and my brother during our childhood. Apparently they had made a stop in Anchorage on the way and in one short month, we were moving there. I remember the reveal just like it was yesterday. My father, being a smart man, told me at the same time that I would get a full new cold-weather wardrobe once we arrived. (He delivered on his promise. We spent several hours with the Nordstrom Personal Shopper upon arriving in Anchorage.)

My father was the adventurous sort and had always told us that the year he turned 40, we'd sell our California house and sail around the world. We moved to Alaska instead. You see, up until that point my father was a career IBMer and Anchorage was much more interesting than Armonk. I give him credit there.

Once we got over the initial shock and got all those inane questions out of our systems (Does the snow ever melt? Will we take dogsleds to school? Are we being punished?), it was a pretty sweet existence. We moved into an English Tudor style house in a subdivision, bought a 4-wheel-drive station wagon and learned to shovel snow. My mom, always the good sport, worked as a paralegal just as she had done in California.

We had a lot of visitors during those years. Pretty much everyone who had ever wanted to see Alaska came up during the summer. When Grandma Molly came to visit, she brought an entire suitcase of Kosher meat since there was no Kosher butcher in Alaska. Eldest Daughter recently found a picture of me, my father and Popa taken on a fishing trip during this time. Love that 80s hair.

I went to a regular 'ole high school, one of six in Anchorage, and made friends. About 25% of my high school classmates when on to college; the other 75% planned to stay in Alaska and make their livings there, where a college education was not necessary to live well. This easily put me at the top of the academic ranks, whereas I was closer to the middle back in California. This gave me a huge advantage when it came to college applications. Plus I had the geographic diversity factor going for me. Downhill skiing was much more accessible than it was in Northern California and, along with a pull toward chairlifts, I developed a love for the mountains and respect for the wild. Did you see the movie Into the Wild? That's really what rural Alaska looks like.

For kicks, let's review some basic Alaska facts:
  • The population of the entire state is roughly 600,000 people. That's the same as for the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • There are 14 men for every woman.
  • Alaska has 586,000 square miles of land. That means that it's 2.5 times larger than Texas and 488 times the size of Rhode Island.
The first year was a huge adjustment and I'm not just talking about the random moose walking down the streets. On June 21, the Summer Solstice, the sun sets at 2:30a and rises at 3a. This means it never gets dark enough to turn on your headlights. Conversely, on December 21, the run rises at noon and sets at 12:30p. You don't realize how much you live by the cycle of the sun until it's altered. We learned to pay close attention to time after that first summer when it was 9p before my mom started going through the motions of making dinner.

We learned to fly fish, dip net and eat game. We dipnetted up to our chests in hip waders to scoop running salmon. Reread that sentence. It's correct as written. We learned what things to ask my dad to bring back from his frequent business trips to the Lower 48. We learned that Honolulu is an unofficial suburb of Anchorage. We learned about the Permanent Fund and that no one goes to school or work on the first day of the Nordstrom Half Yearly Sale. The summer I turned sixteen I got my first real job, answering phones in the circulation department at The Anchorage Times. The hours were miserable but the schedule afforded me lots of time to hang out with my friends.

There are no pictures of my high school graduation. They sank to the bottom of a remote river, along with a whole bunch of other things, while my dad and brother were on a fishing trip the following week. There are, however, pelts from the Black and the Brown that my father took during those years. If you have to ask what a Black and Brown are then you're better off not knowing.

My parents made amazing friends during The Alaska Years, many that they keep in touch with today. Cheryl and Fran live not far from my parents in California. Donna and Bob died tragically in 2002. Sandy and Anita are still in Anchorage, as is one of their daughters, now a practicing OBGYN. We see a lot of Sandy and Anita; they love the Bay and my parents served on volunteer boards with them for nearly 20 years after they moved back below. Gary and Roxanne-With-The-Purple-Hair are still up there somewhere. Grace lost her battle to cancer during my 20th year but not before giving me the best cheesecake recipe ever.

I lived in Anchorage full-time for 2 1/2 years until I went to college down below. Then I returned for two summers. During the second summer my father's assignment ended and we moved back to California. Most people would have flown but in typical Malcolm fashion, we took our 28' Bayliner down the Inside Passage for six weeks. This was before the Exxon Valdez disaster so I'm grateful to have been places that no longer exist. When I think of Alaska I recall best the scenery - the snowcapped mountains against a blue, blue sky with Anchorage at the very base of them, the glaciers we saw and heard from our Zodiac off Prince William Sound, the doll sheep on the mountains en route to Girdwood.

Every now and then I come across another former or current Alaskan. My friend Denise, who I met in the hospital down here while we were both antepartum patients, used to live there. One of my clients has an office in Anchorage and I was shocked to discover that I knew one of the men there from my high school years.

I look forward to taking our kids there. Thing 2 will enjoy the wide open spaces. Thing 1 will be shocked at how small the Nordstrom is. And Eldest Daughter will be amused by my friend Birdman Brian, who wears more makeup than I do, even on the days I am dressed for client face time.