Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nature or Nurture?

What makes some people think of others' well-being while some people appear oblivious to it? Is this behavior innate or learned?

This is yet another topic I've had on my mind.

My family has a long history of volunteering. My parents have served long stints on boards for causes aligned with their interests. They have given their time and money to many other causes. My parents also go out of their way to help others, even when it inconveniences them. My husband also comes from a family of givers, both of time and money.

I think it's innate.

It's the same thing in networking. You're a natural networker if you make connections without regard for what you will get out of it. You're a selfish networker if you do it one-sided, which is not networking at all, it's taking.

I recently had an extended conversation with a woman who works in the office at Children's Hospital Family House. She was raised in a single parent household by a mother who worked two jobs. Her mother did not have the time or energy to volunteer or do for others. Yet this woman told me that she just knew she'd work with people in crisis, that it was instinct for her to serve others, and to give.

Some people have every advantage and it's just not in their DNA to give. I know a woman who is an exceptional wife and mother and she would never think of volunteering or making matzoh ball soup for a sick neighbor. It's not because she's an inconsiderate person; it's just because she has a full plate managing her family's home life. Another woman I know is moderately philanthropic but would never take your child home with her own after school if you were running late at a doctor's appointment. She is happy to ask for the occasional favor but rarely will she help you unless the benefit to her is crystal clear.

And yet others give selflessly for years on end without knowing or caring if it will come back to them in the grander scheme of things. One of my co-workers has served a non-profit for the better part of two decades; he refers to it as his second full-time job. What an inspiration he is!

I posed this question on Facebook. Most people responded that they thought it was a combination of nature and nurture. I liked Ron's response: "I'd venture to say you're going to see four groups: predisposed with reinforced breeding; predisposed but raised during 'The Narcissism Epidemic'; not predisposed but raised 'well' anyway, and sadly, the bottom of the barrel and who didn't have it and never got it."

My father thinks it's bred. But then again he has a master's degree in sociology and thinks all behavior is learned.

Devout Christian and Pastor Chris, my high school classmate, strongly believes it's bred. He writes, "For those who think the altruism gene is evident sans nurture, just take a look at any two-year-old playing with toys."

Deidre Lingenfelter, who along with her husband Loren, is incredibly philanthropic, writes, "Being a good citizen of the world and being philanthropic go hand-in-hand. And if you are lucky enough to have parents that guide you in this direction then it is the gift that keeps on giving through the generations." How thoughtful is that response?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tahoe Tip #1

I wonder how many times I've driven back and forth to Tahoe in the ten years we've been regulars. One hundred is a good guess. Maybe that's why I can name every freeway exit in order in those 192 miles.

On our drive up Wednesday night we attempted to provision at Ikeda's in Auburn. Apparently it closes before 9pm on Wednesday nights. Or it was slow that particular Wednesday night and they powered down the joint early. As much of a disappointment as this was, it led to an amazing find: Raley's!

The Raley's a block down from Ikeda's is one gorgeous grocery store. It's much nicer than the Safeway at Blackhawk and even some of the new Safeways, like the one in Windemere. It was clean and well lit and had high shelves stocked with house and gourmet brands.

My father came up with the brilliant idea of provisioning there rather than in Truckee at 10pm, when it would be too cold for him and the gemelli to stay in the car while I power shopped. Very smart, Dad.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One hundred inches.

That's what those in the know say this storm will bring to Tahoe. Bring it on! But give us a break tomorrow night so we can drive home.

My dad, the twins and I drove up here late Wednesday night for our annual Three Generation Ski Trip. (Sorry Green Valley Elementary School, we can't let school stand in the way of their education!) Last year's trip was a fiasco. It stormed so hard the whole week that we did not get in a single day. This year has made up for it.

Thursday was beautiful -- blue skies and a few inches of fresh snow. Bonus: spending St. Patrick's Day on the slopes means you're off the hook on adding food coloring to the toilet, looking for green clothes and eating corned beef for dinner. We convinced Paige, her sister Celia and six assorted kids in their clan to come with us. Mid afternoon we stopped for snacks at the fire pit on the deck at Squaw Creek. Tori thanked me for skiing faster. She told me that she worries when I get so far behind. That would be a backhanded compliment if she were older than nine. A trip to the hot tub, big bowls of pasta and a soft bed topped with a down comforter finished off the day.

Friday was a great day of skiing, too, in a different way. The storm was on its way so we got in three hours of skiing, the last run of which was in the storm. Falling snow is not bad; it's the wind and the lack of visibility that get you. We watched a bit of the USSA Junior Championships on Red Dog. I am in awe of kids who ski up the black diamonds faster than I ski down them. The mountain has been uncrowded and it's a dream to ski without the fear of being being nailed from the rear by a snowboarder. My brother and his family joined us today. I had a Perfect Moment.

There is something special about being out on the mountain with your kids: there is no whining, no arguing, just happy children debating which run to take next and yelling things like, "Awesome!" and "Let's do it again!" On days like these I praise my father for forcing me to learn to ski at age 12.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And more Bat Mitzvah Pictures ...

These first pictures are of two of my absolute favorite material things: tulips and cheesecake. Jill did some simple arrangements of tulips for the table where our guests wrote thank you letters to the troops and for the table with the guest book.

Except that the guest book wasn't a traditional guest book. It was a hardcover art sketchbook with archival-quality markers and a list of ten ideas for contributions such as: write down your favorite recipe, make a prediction about Paris, draw a picture. No one provided a recipe but several penned thoughtful notes and showed artistic talent we'd not previously seen. In time we will frame some of these masterpieces.

Paris learned massive amounts about Judaism and Hebrew during her Bat Mitzvah preparations; I am halfway to a PhD in ribbonry.

We served decadent cheesecakes to the adults. Each table had a different kind: Snickers, Key Lime, Chocolate Mousse, Classic Vanilla, Dulce du Leche, Strawberry-filled, etc. I dragged Neeracha along to taste as many as we could. She was a good sport. Note the ribbons on the cake stands.

Denae Harlow shot this picture of Paris before the guests arrived. It's her favorite picture of herself from the party.

The final picture here is of a very old and dear friend, Bryan Denman, and his youngest daughter. Bryan's daughter is enamored with Paris in the sweetest of ways. Bryan and Dave became fast friends in kindergarten. Bryan and I became met in third grade, when my family moved to Orinda. My favorite holiday of the year used to be Bryan's birthday, which is in the summer. His mom would throw a big family dinner on the patio at the family compound. Such happy times!

The other thing about Bryan is that he's great with kids. My plan was to have Bryan be our manny. I write this only partially in jest. And then Bryan met Sara, they married, and now they have two daughters of their own.

If I were to be honest, though, which I try very hard to do while blogging, I'd have to admit that there is something unsettling about your child reaching a milestone like this. I much prefer to think of my daughter as she looks when she get out of bed: innocent, no makeup lining her big eyes, a little confused and disheveled. While I'm proud of her, it's bittersweet because those reaches back into childhood are fewer and fewer.

We went to a Bar Mitzvah this weekend. The thoughtful young man in coat and tie on the bimah was a very different young man than I'd seen previously, both physically and spiritually. At school they seem so old; in the synagogue amongst their Jewish community and extended family they seem so young, truly on the cusp of adulthood. I enjoy people watching at B'nai Mitzvot. Tween and teen watching, really. The young men don't want to be dressed up and the young women are thrilled for the opportunity. If there's an evening event, this is the first chance many of them have to buy party dresses, wear high, high heels and go big with the hair and makeup. It's a blast to watch the dynamics.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"And we had so much fun at that wine tasting ..."

I just hate it when children talk about the fun birthday party they went to over the weekend in front of children who weren't invited.

Dave and I have spent numerous hours coaching our children not to do that. Growing up is hard enough; fortunately Dave and I are on the same page here and we do this to protect other children from unnecessary hurt feelings and also to teach our children to consider others before they speak. It's not a foolproof system by any means and it becomes trickier as the kids get older. Birthday parties turn into sleepovers with pictures that turn up on Facebook.

Does this courtesy apply to adults? Or, do we assume that adults are mature enough to handle it? I don't have the answer. My inclination is to not discuss things that don't involve all present. Yet I know that not all adults feel the same. They are not trying to be Mean Girls in the same way that some of the girls at sleepovers are; I think it just does not occur to them that they may be making the others uncomfortable.

We are going to Italy this summer with the usual clan plus a few newbies. I'm excited, as I always am before these trips, and this one will be even sweeter because my last trip to the continent was cancelled.

This week I had breakfast with two friends, one whose family is going with us and one whose family is not. Two of us are involved in National Charity League and although I would have liked to talk about that, I did not as the third would have felt left out. Likewise, when the subject of Italy came up, I glossed over it and changed the subject.

Lest you think I'm declaring myself an angel here, that's not the case: I've inserted my foot in my mouth countless times. I just try to catch myself.

A year ago Dave and I went to a party. Most of the guests, ourselves included, had been to another party the night prior. I watched with horror as the couple who did not attend the first party heard all about the antics of the previous evening. How comfortable was that for them?! Heck, it was uncomfortable for me, the innocent bystander.

The social norms must be different for adults than for children. Clearly I am more sensitive to this than most.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Candle Lighting

I wanted to post just a few more pictures from the Bat Mitzvah. However, there are so many gorgeous images that it's going to take me a few posts to get through them.

Paris wanted a candle lighting so she wrote 13 short poems and invited some of her favorite people up to light a candle. She did one for Dave's dad, who passed away far too young, for her friend Cayman Sophie, for our travel friends, for her grandparents, for her first cousins and aunts and uncles and on and on.

I love the abstractness of this first picture. You can also see the mink teddy bear we gave her that night. Dave's grandma was an exceptionally fashionable woman and, in fact, had a women's dress shop in Napa for 52 years. When she passed away, my mother-in-law had the brilliant idea of turning two of her fur coats into teddy bears as keepsakes for her great grand-daughters. Apparently a furrier in New York makes a good living at this! Paris spent a lot of time with her great grandmother so this was an incredibly meaningful gesture and gift to her. I love how at ease she is with public speaking. You can see the mike in her hand here. That's a gift from Dave!

This second shot is of Paris and my parents. For some reason my mom does not often smile in pictures. I had my hair done this week and my colorist, who my mother also sees, told me how much my mom enjoyed Dave's toast at the party, and how she was brought to tears. This must have been taken before the crying.

This last picture here is of Dave's sister and brother-in-law, and two daughters. Everyone should have an aunt like my SIL; Paris just adores her and goes to sleep away camp with her cousins, who are 6 months and 2 years older than her.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This picture gives me the chills.

We live in the foothills at elevation 600 feet and don't often get snow on Mt. Diablo, which is 3,400 feet tall. In the 30+ years I've lived in the Bay Area I've only seen snow down here perhaps five times. But this was the storm that hit while we were last up at Tahoe and it was a biggie. I am in awe.

As beautifully bleak as this picture is, there are many signs of spring around. The tulips are beginning to bloom in our yard. I love tulips -- yellow ones and light pink especially. The ones coming up now are different shades of purple and the contrast with the still-green hills is gorgeous.

We've also got that citrus thing going on. The orange trees and lemon trees are going wild and this makes me elated. One night a week ago Dave and I covered our Meyer lemon tree in sheets to protect it from the freeze. He thought I was nuts. Our neighbors were on vacation for three weeks and we harvested from their yard. Their yard is lush and I never noticed how many citrus they had until the leaves were off most of the other plants. Let's just say we've had a lot of Vitamin C these last few weeks. We also discovered a great lemonade recipe.

As an aside, Tori accidentally broke off a branch on one of the neighbor's lemon trees. Of course it's the tree center stage in the front yard. I know I'm a little bit crazy because I feel for the poor lemon tree. I love lemon trees (see lemon-tree-pajama-exercise in previous paragraph). Not as much as the kids and Dave but really, I've given that injured tree a lot of thought. I may need therapy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mountain High - 2011 School Version

I have this bad habit of taking on elementary school class auction projects. I just love doing them. Creativity is a good release for me and it benefits our school, too.

This year I just signed up to do the class auction basket for Liberty's class. My idea was Mountain High, things you'd use for a trip to the mountains, set atop a custom snowboard bench. Her classmates contributed generously and for the benefit of the school, I ended up separating the bench from the rest of the goodies.

My brother Barry founded Chairs4Charity in 2009. He is a testicular cancer survivor and a mensch. This is his way of giving back to the community. The bench he made for our auction is especially beautiful - bright green and blue. Heck, I want it for our ski place!

In our basket were Amex, Any Mountain, iTunes and Bass Pro Shops gift cards, s'mores supplies, 3 books, sand toys, a fancy snow saucer, a thermos and French hot chocolate mix, sunscreen, snowball makers, a snowman making kit and hand warmers. I even managed to wrap it up cute after all the bow-tying and cellophane lessons in preparation for the BatM.

The baskets are on display this week and there are some fabulous ones. Here are my three favorites:

1. Game Basket. It looked like someone went to the game aisle at Target and filled a cart with all the best things. You buy it and then Family House at Children's Hospital is the recipient. What a win! Family House is the residential facility next to the hospital where the families of ill children get to stay when they live too far to commute. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

2. Emergency Preparedness Basket. All the things you're supposed to have in storage in case of a natural or unnatural disaster. Not so sexy but oh so useful.

3. Middle School Basket. Another sharp idea. Included were the ugly PE clothes and gym locker lock, which every 6th grader has to buy, the special calculator required for math class, and a whole lot of other things that mom and dad have to search for come August. A+.

Let the bidding begin!