Friday, November 13, 2009

"No Solicitors"

The holiday season of a post-recession economy seems to have boosted solicitors' confidence.

A recent spate of door-to-door solicitations in my neighborhood has me thinking of new ways to say "No" to solicitors' offerings, on the rare occasions that I open the door. Last week the second of the slew of solicitors arrived, this one selling carpet cleaning services. When he told me about his service, I responded, "No thanks. I don't have carpets," expecting the conversation to end.

He said, "We clean rugs, too."
I replied, "I don't have rugs."
He pressed, "We clean floors, too."
I countered, "Actually, I don't even have floors."
Proving his IQ to be no more than 32, he responded, "OK. But what is that you're standing on?"
"Implants," I replied, feigning an embarrassed expression. "They're fake."

Later that afternoon on a break from work, I took the dog for a walk and saw two tall young white guys dressed in sharp-looking, baggy hip-hop style clothes. White gloves hung out of their back pockets and bounced with each step of the mens' matching hip-hop gaits. An hour earlier, they'd come to my house; I didn't answer the door.

Spotting me on the sidewalk across the street from the house they were soliciting, one of the men stepped of the home's front porch, turned around, stepped down the home's front lawn and called out, "Well! Hello, Miss! How are you today?"

I kept walking, smiled breifly in their direction and replied definitively.

"Hi! I'm doing great, thanks," I said cheerily, then turned and continued walking away adding, "Have a great day!"

Instant conversation-stopper.

I can't wait for the window-washers to arrive. I'll respond, in a tone that indicates paranoid superstitions, "No! Not window washing! I don't believe in cleaning my windows. When the glass is clean, the evil spirits get in!"


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TVM's Bracken and Sullivan rock San Mateo

With only two swimmers representing Tri Valley Masters at the San Mateo Master Marlins Swim & Eat Classic, Sept. 20, 2009, Tri Valley Masters placed 8th out of 20 teams competing. The meet and post-race BBQ, which was held in the relaxed environment of a short-course-meters pool in San Mateo, Calif., featured sprint races and relays.

Of the 47 points scored by Tri Valley Masters, Judy Bracken earned 27 for her four, First-Place swims in the 50 Fly, 50 Free, 50 Back and 100 IM. Cameron Sullivan contributed the remaining 19 points from her four races, the 50 Breast (1st), 50 Free (2nd), 100 IM (3rd) and 50 Back (4th).

Bracken and Sullivan considered swimming one of the relay events but feared meet disqualification for blatant disregard of the rules. Swimming more than one leg of a four-leg relay is prohibited by United States Masters Swimming and FINA rules.

Bracken provided some sound advice for her teammate, Sullivan, a distance swimmer who watched in awe as Bracken demonstrated how to sprint.

“Your freestyle looks really pretty,” Bracken said after one of Sullivan’s races, “but your arms just don’t move very fast.”

Sullivan, who only enjoys sprints after warming up in mile-long races, laughed. “I think I’ve heard that from Coach Daniel once or twice,” she said.

“Oh, well. I guess you’re just not a sprinter,” replied Bracken, who earlier lapped Sullivan in the 50 Fly. “But it’s always good to try new things!”

Sullivan agreed. Setting limits, athletically speaking, is for wimps.

Friday, September 18, 2009

From the Office for Intellectual Freedom

Is it fortune or misfortune that several of the books I use for research on my novel-in-progress have held spots on a list of banned books? The lists are compiled annually by the American Library Association’s (ALA) division of the Office for Intellectual Freedom to demonstrate that many books are either threatened or censored from suggested reading lists at various levels.

ALA’s annual “Banned Books Week” celebration begins soon. From the ALA:

“Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read” is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where the freedom to express oneself and the freedom to choose what opinions and viewpoints to consume are both met. As the Intellectual Freedom Manual (ALA, 7th edition) states:

Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled."

What is the fate of my work-in-progress if its research is based on several “banned” or challenged books? What author would want her book banned? On the contrary, while painstakingly composing and revising my novel, I can only hope that audiences would find my work so compelling, so provocative, so inspiring and so bold that the work might spawn controversy. Alas, in my dream state I'm getting a bit ahead of myself...

Join me, however, at an event next week to celebrate the written word: Thursday, Sep. 24, my good friend Grace Navalta hosts her monthly literary gathering at Me & My Friends CafĂ© in Pleasanton (6-8 p.m., 4713 First St., Pleasanton). Literary types from across the area will gather for a nosh and an opportunity to share their own written works (published or not). I may read a selection from my novel in progress. Alternatively, I may read from one of the notable, but challenged, books on the ALA’s list that helped inspire my novel in progress.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seeking a colorblind world

Here is the August, 2009, issue of Bay Area Parent Magazine where you'll find my latest article; the article appears in both the East Bay edition as well as the San Francisco/Peninsula edition. After you open the link, "flip" to page 8 of the magazine where you'll find my story, "Seeking a Colorblind World," in the editor's note section (a high honor from spectacular Parenthood editor, Peggy Spear who took July off to travel Europe with her family and asked me to fill her award-winning space!).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finding opportunity in "Transition Time"

I’m usually good at making transitions. As a child, my family moved seven times between my first year of life and my 19th, usually across time zones and into different metropolitan areas.

As a parent, I’ve fared well, also. When my kids moved from Kindergarten to First Grade, the transitions were easy. When my oldest graduated to Middle school, we were ready for that transition, too. School year to Summer Break is always an easy transition. Summer break back to the school year is an even easier transition. But I’m not so adept at handling friends’ transitions, unless such changes involve elaborate housewarming bashes after major kitchen remodels.

I’ve subconsciously been avoiding the reality of a dear friend's upcoming transition, busying myself instead with things like my kids' birthday parties (89 meals served or purchased in 4 days time), writing, kitchen remodel planning, working, sleeping, managing the summer household, and chasing after the dog (who, incidentally loves my friend’s dog like a brother – because they are brothers).

In a few days, my good friend Kathy Cordova is moving to a new city with her family. Kathy and I have known each other for eight years, since my twins were one year old. We met while Kathy was on assignment for an article about twins for the Pleasanton Weekly.

Within a few weeks of meeting Kathy, she helped me develop three additional new friendships with Amy Moellering, Grace Navalta and Keely Parrack. What began as a set of parallel friendships evolved, quickly, into a special bond: Five women, all from the same town and all who are passionate writers and lovers of fine wine.

Such was the birth of the Literary Lushes. Each of us – with our individual backgrounds, sets of talents, passions and personal lives – was discovered and placed together by our one common friend, Kathy. Each of us provides unique strength to the wheel that, with one spoke missing, is glaringly off-balance.

Kathy helped us form a group that, eight years later, is better described as a “telekinetic team” of literary friends than a group of gals who write. Between us, in eight years we have published or been published in at least a half-dozen books, hundreds (nay, thousands?) of newspaper articles, magazine articles, columns, editorials, blogs, anthologies and TV programs. Meanwhile, we’ve supported each other through personal and medical challenges, individual and professional triumphs, glorious celebrations and frustrating hurdles. These women are among the handful friends I know I can always count on. If I were to call one of these women in a moment of urgent need, she would be there for me as quickly as humanly possible, as I would be for her.

Now one of us is leaving. What to do? Perhaps I just need to look to the horizon. The horizon of the other side of the Bay, that is. You see, Kathy is only moving to Palo Alto. (My apologies, readers, for the melodrama leading up to this moment). It feels like she’s moving to a new time zone.

Perhaps I just need to realize it may not be so awful that Kathy is leaving. Sure, she won’t be a seven-minute drive from me, and weekly walks at the Sports Park on mornings off won’t be as easy to arrange. But maybe our comfort level over the past eight years could use a jump start. Perhaps a change of scenery and a regular drive Kathy’s new house will provide just the creative inspiration each of us always craves.

Plus, I know of some fine boutiques and restaurants in Palo Alto. The city conceivably may even have some fine kitchen design shops I could patronize for my own kitchen remodel. Then, barring major financial hardships, it will be I who’ll undergo the kind of transition that is easiest to handle: Dear friends, keep an eye out for that elaborate housewarming invitation some time this fall. I now have new reason to stop procrastinating on the remodel.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On Novel Writing and Love

A recent blog post from lit agency, BookEnds, LLC put me in analogy mode, thinking about the relationship between novel writing and enduring relationships. Don't worry, I'm not writing a romance novel; I'm uniquely unqualified for such a task. Rather, my response to the blog's June 19 topic sparked the idea that writing a novel to the publishing stage shares much in common with maintaining a lasting, loving relationship:

  • The first draft is the "lust" stage of a new relationship.

  • The second draft is the first year of the relationship (but hopefully doesn't take a year to write).

  • The third draft is the "are we in this forever together?" stage.

  • The fourth draft (where I am now on my YA historical sci-fi) is the "holy cr*p, this relationship is hard work to maintain, but it means so much to me that I need to keep working on it. But first, let me take a week off and drink a few Mai Tais in Maui."
Simply put, neither art nor love is the result only of passion; both are the results of HARD work and persistence.

Now, enough blogging. Time to Focus and get back to that 4th draft. Thanks, Amy (my first reader) for your honest, poignant, encouraging comments on the 3rd draft.

Note to family members: If anyone needs clean clothes, there's a pile of them on the sofa in the office.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It must be summer break if...

It must be summer break if...

  1. I am woken up by a mockingbird at 4:55 a.m. because we left open the window the night before. The Flip Side: Deciding to go to 5 a.m. swim practice to spite the darn bird.
  2. The street is blocked off for our kids’ co-ed baseball games at least three nights a week. The players set up right-field-bleacher seats for the adults in the garage. I love this game: High quality entertainment with free tickets and much lower priced beer.
  3. The toilet overflows for the first time in years. Too many kids in the house.
  4. I attempt to swim laps during a 15-minute adult swim but am interrupted five times – once when a child swatted my feet with a floatation noodle. Warning to Kids: If I only get 15 minutes of adult time a day, you’d better not interrupt me.
  5. I have a hard time figuring out when to get in all my work/writing hours, but don’t care too much about that, this first week. Novel progress: Third draft was read and critiqued this week. Fourth draft due July 14.
  6. My daughter has written more of her books this week than I have of mine. This is OK. Her writing is quite entertaining, with freakishly imaginative characters.
  7. 20% increase in grocery bill. Eat. Sleep. Swim. Eat. Sleep. Swim.
  8. 120% increase in towel-load laundry. Warning to Kids: Unless visibly soiled, if you throw a bath or pool towel in the hamper after only one use, it’ll be hung back up on the racks and you’ll have to figure out whose is whose.

Friday, May 1, 2009

21st Century Sex Ed

When I was growing up, the lesson had one-part, two-word name. Now, the same essential lesson has a two-part, ten-word moniker:

1979: Sex Ed

2009: Human Growth and Development, and Male and Female Reproductive Systems (hereafter referred to as HGaDaMaFRS).

Is this progress? Possibly, as it appears there are more issues covered in the late-elementary and early middle-school lessons offered in California schools today than 30 years ago. Still, there’s something to be said for using straight talk, getting to the point.

Let’s face it: It’s Sex Ed, folks. It’s OK to call it by its proper name. Honesty removes taboos.

In 1979 I lived in Potomac, Maryland, where the schools didn’t introduce Sex Ed until Sixth grade. We moved from Maryland to the suburbs of Chicago in June, 1979, just after I finished Fifth grade. In Illinois, students’ first introduction to Sex Ed took place in Fifth grade – the year before my arrival. Unbeknownst to me, I had missed the formal teachings.

Factor in my husband’s 13 years of Parochial school (Catholics didn’t talk about sex), and you might wonder how, four years after we were married, we managed to have three children in the span of 24 months.

I just signed the permission slip for my fifth grader to take the HGaDaMaFRS classes this month. I’ve done my research and I am not worried about the lessons. If I did have questions, however, the school district offers a parents-only meeting prior to the start of HGaDaMaFRS.

HGaDaMaFRS is going to be an interesting experience. Around our house, we’ve already had a series of conversations related to the topics of HGaDaMaFRS, including the social, emotional and physical changes of puberty and adolescence. Our ongoing discussion commenced last August when the addition of a puppy to our family sparked endless questions from the kids about reproduction. (My favorite was, “What does the dad have to do with it?”).

Our version of HGaDaMaFRS takes place largely at the kitchen table, often during snack time or homework time. No “session” is planned; spontaneity rocks. Conversations don’t include lectures and never last longer than five minutes. We answer all questions with honesty; when the questions stop, the conversation ends.

Quite frankly, I’m enjoying the openness of the subject around our house. Nothing is taboo. If one of our children asks about the subject, he or she likely is ready to know the truth, and we do our best to provide age-appropriate answers.

The conversations can flow freely. But when it comes to Sex Ed (or the more delicately put “HGaDaMaFRS”) we have an agreement in our family: “Mom and Dad will always answer your questions with the truth. No question is too silly to ask. Please don't start conversations with your friends about this yet, because we don't know what everyone else knows (or thinks they know) at this point. If you hear anything from other kids, please tell us what people are saying, especially if you’re confused – or amused. You don’t need to name names. We only want to be sure you’re getting the truth.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Venus, meet Moon; Moon, meet Venus

The thin, bright crescent moon was beautiful enough. But moments after arriving at the pool for Masters swim practice this morning, my teammates and I rubbed our bleary eyes, doubting that what we witnessed in the sky was really happening. With the blessing of a clear, dark sky at 5 a.m. this morning, some of us saw a rare, romantic, astronomical encounter, visible in the dark only from the Western U.S. As the moon slowly descended in the sky, it appeared to "kiss" Venus, which was behind it. I later learned that the event is called the "Moon's Occultation of Venus."

Here is the best YouTube VIDEO of the encounter I've found so far today; it was shot from Oregon, where the sky was a bit lighter than down here in Northern California:

More detail in this excerpt from

Moon Occults Venus:
This has nothing to do with the occult, but does involve darkness. If you live in western North America, then in the pre-dawn of April 22, you can witness a rare occultation of Venus by the crescent Moon -- that is, the Moon passes in front of Venus. Venus and the Moon will be very low to the horizon in the East, so you’ll need a clear view to the horizon, particularly for the beginning of the occultation. By the time Venus reappears, the Moon and Venus will be higher up in the East. The occultation (when the Moon will pass in front of Venus) will start a little after 5:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Exact timing depends on your location. Venus will reappear about an hour later, shortly before the Sun rises for most locations. But, since the Moon and Venus are both extremely bright, they’ll still be quite visible shortly before dawn. Even if you don’t live in the ideal spot for viewing, you still can check out Venus near the Moon before dawn. And, of course, check out other planets.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Going the Distance!

If the folks at United States Masters Swimming had known how much I like talking about myself, they may not have selected me for the latest "Meet the Go-The-Distance Swimmer" profile posted on the USMS website. "Go The Distance," incidentally, is a motivational swim program offered through USMS in which swimmers aim to achieve swimming mileage goals throughout the year. We receive regular encouragement and submit monthly totals of yards, meters, miles and time in the water. For many of us, "Go the Distance" is a form of forced, but fun, accountability.

In the following link, you'll meet four intrepid Masters
swimmers swimmers, from all over the U.S., whose stories were collected, edited and published by the very thoughtful - and talented - Greta Van Meeteren.

You'll find my write-up towards the end, along with a few swimming pictures, plus a few words about my beloved team,
Tri-Valley Masters.

Here's the USMS article:
Meet the Go-The-Distance Swimmers (note -- My story starts on page 7 and continues on page 8; it ends with a training plan for 'Dancing with the Stars')

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Screaming at the top of my Ridge

It was merely a suggestion. But on close examination of the idea, I realized that my dear friend Amy Moellering would not lead me astray. She would not intentionally walk me into an embarrassing situation - at least not unless the benefits would far outweigh the risk of looking completely insane.

After three days that have felt like an April-Fool’s Day joke turned sour, this morning I took Amy’s suggestion for letting loose.

At 8:30 a.m., with the sunlight reflecting off of a light haze and distant ribbons of fog lining the East Bay hills, my little dog and I briskly scaled the steepest path of the Pleasanton Ridge (the Oak Trail) - just a few miles from our house. We reached the summit in 20 minutes and I scanned the surrounding hills for signs of human life. When I was sure the coast was clear, I summoned some reckless abandon, sucked in a massive gasp of oxygen-rich fresh air -- and let it all back out again with a long, sharp shrill.

Fortunately, no one called out “Are you OK?” and no emergency vehicles arrived. Fueled by this absurdity, I decided that the first scream felt so good I needed another. This time I was smiling when I began, so the scream came out more like a high-pitched guffaw.

The dog looked a bit concerned, but the cattle on the hills didn’t seem to mind. But when the second scream trickled into a fit of laughter, my puppy began prancing about at my feet. Within minutes, we turned back and descended the long trail, the dog thrilled with a downhill hike and I with a new swing in my step and a grin on my face.

If you don't believe this story, just ask Amy. I called her just before the scream. When her voice mail answered, I said, "OK, Amy. It was your idea. You're doing this with me. Here we go. We're going to scream. Ready... Set... " and I included her as (hopefully) the only human witness to the screams.

"I screamed too!" Amy admitted later, "along with you on the voice recording--in my kitchen, in front of my dog. Did the neighbors react? Of course not. I guess they figured that it's just one new symptom of odd behavior from a family whose smoke alarm goes off at every meal and whose son regularly shucks lacrosse balls into their yards. It felt good! Let's do it again!"

Who cares if what we did might make some people think we're a bit off-balance. Even crazier would be not letting it out.

The best part? I’ve been smiling and laughing ever since.

Time to take on the world again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Recession-proofing the Tooth Fairy

I’m no economist, but from a purely elementary standpoint, the Tooth Fairy needs a more sound business plan. With no obvious income, her job requires her to dole out money nightly, presumably in various forms of currency. She likely has to pay quite a bit in bail, as well, with all that breaking and entering.

She also needs a professional organizer. Around the Sullivan house, she often forgets to deliver payments the first night my kids leave teeth out for her. Although she pays extra after forgetting a pickup, the kids still think she is cheap. With them, she seems to believe that $1 a tooth is enough (she does leave extra if a tooth extraction involved anesthesia or a fist fight).

By comparison, some of my children’s friends receive $1 for the first tooth, $2 for the second tooth, and so forth for a grand total of around $300, including wisdom teeth.

Until this year, I had never considered how the economy might impact the Tooth Fairy. But a spate of recession-time tooth loss in our house has me thinking that the Tooth Fairy may, indeed, be recession-proof.

When my 10-year-old son lost his first bicuspid, he woke up the next morning telling us that the "Tooth Fairy" (he mimed the quote marks) paid him an astounding $10. I fumed, wishing she’d return to her old ways.

At a time when I’m trying to teach my kids the value of money by showing them how to spend on needs, not wants, why does this squandering fairy have to provide such a poor example? Does she really need the teeth?

A few days later my son lost a second bicuspid. This time, the "Tooth Fairy" forgot to come.

In the morning I explained to my amused son that the "Tooth Fairy" might be feeling the recession. I suggested he write her a note. Maybe, I pleaded, he should write that he would appreciate whatever she could offer.

He played along and did just that. Trouble is, he printed the "Tooth Fairy’s" name in big italics with quotation marks around the words. When my husband saw the letter, he said, “Well! I guess it looks like we’re done with the Tooth Fairy!”

My son received another $10 for that tooth. Frustrated at my child's new spending power, I wondered if this was the Tooth Fairy's version of an economic stimulus package.

Five days later he lost a third bicuspid. Descending the stairs the morning after leaving out his tooth, he proclaimed, “Guess what? The Tooth Fairy (again miming quote marks) didn’t come again!”

A loud sucking sound filled my head as I jumped into emergency-action mode.

“Tell you what. I’ll front the 'Tooth Fairy' the money,” I said, pulling out my wallet (and miming quote marks). “But you have to write her a note saying she owes me.”

“OK...?” he said, grinning. “And $20 will be enough, because she didn’t leave extra the last time she forgot!”

“Twenty dollars? Not in this economy!” I laughed and handed him a fair amount.

With a glint in his eye and a raise of his brow, my son slowly slid the cash from my hand, said “Thanks, Mom,” and turned away with a smile.

I suppose the magicians of our youth give to each person what they think that person truly needs. If so, then receiving $1 for most teeth must be a positive indicator.

Likewise, if the "Tooth Fairy" never repays me, I’ll be reminded, yet again, how blessed I am.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Dozen Dedications: Why I Love Teachers

This “Thank you” is for Jessica Posson, who shows children how much fun school can be. This is for Denicia Erickson, Suzie Garcia and Kathy Greth who lovingly build confidence in their students. This is for Jennifer Heid whose sweetness and compassion make her classroom a loving environment. This is for Kim Kozuch who teaches her first graders how to speak Spanish and helps children embrace their individuality.

This “Thank you” is for Sara Martin who finds clever ways to bring out the best in her students. This is for Angela Serrano whose calm understanding and patience build children’s self esteem. This is for Tina Wise, who recognizes children’s potential. This is for Connie Weaver, who appreciates that free-spirited children have unique learning tools at their disposal.

This “Thank you” is for Eryn Neidle, who brings an understanding of technology into the classroom and helps children experience how education connects them to their world. This is for Kevin Mahoney, whose corporate background and whole-child approach to teaching prepare fifth graders not just for Middle School but for life.

My children have enjoyed instruction from all 12 of these Pleasanton teachers since 2003. This “Thank you” is for every teacher who makes unwavering efforts to get to know our children; for every teacher who inspires, motivates, encourages, and who cherishes his or her profession because of its countless existential rewards.

Let’s do everything we can to ensure that all of Pleasanton’s cherished teachers can continue to work their magic for many years to come.

Here's how to get involved:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

One reason to be optimistic

Besides the hope that all this rain will help get CA out of its drought, magnificent morning cloudscapes and a double rainbow in front of the foothills this morning offered a fresh dose of optimism.