Monday, December 22, 2008

A Merry Christmas Thank you to the Troops

I don't usually ask people to do things on my blog, but this one is simple and can send a much-needed message of thanks to our troops. Go to On that site, you pick a card and a message and then the magical elves from Xerox corporation (plus several other nonprofits and private companies) will ensure that a real, printed postcard with your message will be delivered to the troops, along with care packages. It's a great project and to date, they have already delivered millions of thank you postcards to our servicemen and women. Take a minute and go do it! You'll feel good and some fellow American sitting in the sands of Iraq or Afghanistan without their families will probably have a brighter day because of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Being a Parent, and a Daughter

Do we ever really grow up? The last day or so really makes me wonder.

Even though I'm a mother myself and have been for nearly 5 years, as soon as I get back to my Mom's house, I seem to morph into an older version of the prickly, difficult teenager I used to be. Why is that? Is it because my Mom is ever-helpful so I let my hair down and fall into a sulk? Or is it circumstance? Maybe I was just feeling cranky because my own house is currently torn up with at least a dozen plumbers plumbing (and a partridge in a pear tree). Plus the fact that the plumbing plumbers damaged a hose in the garage which leaked all night and soaked some of our boxes of memorabilia. Suddenly, I saw a radical shift in my weekend plans. Emptying out mucky, wet boxes and confronting waaaaayyy too many photos of the teenage and college years was not on my calendar. And the photos -- the weight gain! The weight loss! The big hair! Bottles of beer as accessories that we waved around boldly in every photo! Did the bad photos from the dusty yearbooks take me right back to my teenage angst? Seeing my Freshman Fifteen on display in picture after picture definitely rattled me.

But really, there is no excuse for bad behavior. Clearly I need to change my ways. I have no desire to impersonate a moody teenager while mothering two preschoolers. And if I want to be cranky at her house, then I really can't expect to rely on my kindly Mom to help me in so many ways.

All I can say is that hubby was dang lucky to be out of town this weekend (on a "mancation" in Vegas with his college buddies). His timing was perfect. Not only did he miss the broken gas cap on the van, the invasion of the plumbers and the flood in the garage, he missed the worst development of all: my metamorphosis into an overgrown teenager. Apparently I still have some growing up to do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving thanks for a true survivor

First, I have to admit I borrowed this title from one of my fellow writers on Silicon Valley Moms blog. She wrote about her 75-year old Mom with emphysema, who's on oxygen but still feisty, loving and full of life. Oh yeah, and still smoking. Well, that gives you food for thought about addiction, doesn't it? One more little thing to be thankful for this holiday season: an addiction-free life.

(We recently heard Martin Sheen give a lecture about life, activism, family, addiction and about a million other topics. His painfully honest tales of his own struggles with alcoholism and his son Charlie Sheen's battle with drug addiction were stirring. I still think of how Charlie Sheen thanked him for saving his life after intervening and getting him into rehab. His Dad insisted that all he did was help him wake up and see how bad he had gotten. He didn't want his son putting the responsibility for saving his life onto anyone else because he knew that if he fell off the wagon, he could also blame other people and not take responsibility. Good lesson. File that away under "Scary things I hope not to have to think about when my kids are older".)

The true survivor I'm thankful for right now is my Dad. He's 65 years old and almost totally disabled from Parkinson's Disease, which he has had since he was 30. You don't see many people who have had P.D. for 35 years. It just doesn't happen very often. So at 65, my Dad is a wreck. The medication he takes works against some other meds he takes for psychiatric problems. He only gets very brief windows now of relief from the "frozen-ness" of Parkinson's as well as the severe tremors. His mind is a chaos of confusion and dementia, with a large dose of paranoia thrown in for good measure. And yet, he still makes cute little one-liner jokes whenever he can. He still loves chocolate shakes and pumpkin muffins. He appreciates going to his weekly exercise class. He loves it when I bring my preschoolers to visit him at his nursing home and always calls them, affectionately, the "small bugs". And he's still just grateful to be alive.

Every time he needs a new medical procedure, I get scared for him. Scared that in as bad a shape as he is in, he might not make it this time. Yesterday, he had to have 5 teeth extracted and even though I knew he would be o.k., I still got scared. He seems so frail and helpless locked in his dopamine-deprived body, unable to move so much of the time. But he came through it with flying colors. He even asked my Mom if he looked "pretty" afterward with his new teeth. And you know what, he did. He looked good. He's a survivor. So there's one more thing to be grateful for at Thanksgiving. The survivors in our lives who amaze us with their resilience and will to live.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

48 Hours in Nevada Helping to Get Out the Vote on Election Day

I just arrived home bleary-eyed and hoarse-voiced from two days in Sin City (Las Vegas), Nevada. Did I go to gamble, party, hit the Strip, drink, smoke or make merry? Nope. Instead I rallied two friends and a friend-of-a-friend to volunteer on Election Day for the Obama campaign and we flew to Vegas to pound the pavement. Kudos to Swanner, Bean and Susan from Santa Monica for rallying with me!

It's 6 AM on Election Day, and we're lost in Henderson, Nevada. We're looking for our staging location to pick up Election materials and maps of the precinct to walk. So we call our designated local campaign volunteer, who, it turns out, has food poisoning. He points us to a nearby volunteer's house and we get our assignment. Time to hit the subdivision perched on the bleak desert hills where we are supposed to hang door hangers reminding people to vote and telling them where their polling place is.

We pound the pavement all day, making 4 trips to the same precinct knocking on doors to be sure people were able to vote. No one is happy to see us. At best, they sullenly admit they voted before slamming their doors. In fact, I'm not sure anyone in Henderson, Nevada is happy, period. One house (with two registered Democrats listed as the residents) has two different signs on the windows with pictures of guns on them warning that if you steal from them, you will be shot. I make a note never to trick-or-treat here.

Mid-morning, we take a break from canvassing to go do "visibility". This means standing on a busy street corner waving our "Vote for Change" signs. We get many honks and waves and one middle finger. The woman who gives us the bird is first of all, a woman and second of all, driving a semi. We decide Henderson could be nominated for "least hospitable town in Nevada".

By 7 PM, the polls are closed. We hit the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay for a well-earned meal and watch through tears as Barack Obama makes his historic speech. No one else at the Burger Bar seems happy. No one is celebrating. We know we should go to the Rio for the big Democratic victory party but we're too exhausted. Something about the desert wind, the long walks through the near-empty sub-division and the surliness of the residents has taken it right out of us. But we are, of course, elated. We feel great. We helped make history. Barack Obama will be our next president. And that's all that really matters.

When we board our flight home to San Francisco, we realize most of the plane is filled with fellow Obama volunteers. Cheers go up in the plane when CNN announces the big win in Nevada for Obama. It's good to be going home.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My two latest blogs are on

To read my latest blogs on the battle over same-sex marriage in California (Proposition 8) and on why Halloween is our default setting, check out Silicon Valley Moms Blog ( The site has published my two latest efforts, and each time I publish with them, there is a chance my work will get picked up by a newspaper syndication group and published nationwide.

My two most recent blogs are "Halloween is our Default Setting" and "The Debate Over Gay Marriage Makes me Wonder: Do Bigots Live Here?" The controversial one on the "bigot" debate in my neighborhood generated 25+ comments from readers, many of whom agreed with me and many of whom clearly thought I was crazy. (They might be onto me there!)

I got so fired up and indignant about all the "Yes on 8" signs in our neighborhood (note to non-Californians -- Yes on 8 means you are voting to change our state constitution to take away the right of same-sex couples to marry) that I also called in to "Talk of the Nation" on NPR last week. And I got on! It was surreal to hear Neil Conan, the host, say "Erica, from San Jose, you're on the air" and realize that whatever came out of my mouth would be broadcast to several million people. I talked about how Proposition 8 has really divided our neighborhood and how many "Yes on 8" supporters there are, even in supposedly "liberal" Silicon Valley. I mentioned that my Mormon neighbors all have "Yes on 8" signs on their lawns, since their church passed them out one Sunday. I also said that there are other religious people in California, like me, who believe that God created all people equally and that we should all have equal rights.

I'll keep blogging on my own space here at and occasionally writing unique content for Silicon Valley Moms Blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Greatest Girl's Weekend Ever

Since I told everyone I know (and some who I didn’t) that I was going to the Democratic Women’s Leadership conference in Chicago last weekend to see the Obamas, quite a few of you have asked me how it was. In a word, incredible. Inspirational. Possibly life-changing. (Ok, I know that’s more than one word). These are powerful emotions that are hard to capture.

There is a certain joy and power that a woman feels from being in a room – even if it is only a Sheraton Hotel ballroom – with 1500 women (and a few intrepid men). Add to that the fact that all the women there share one goal, which is to change our country for the better, and you get really, really excited. Once you’re in that ballroom, a series of remarkable people come out on stage and make inspirational speeches. They praise you for the money you have raised, the phone calls you have made, the neighbors you have talked to and for being part of a unique grassroots movement in our country. They tell you what inspires them about this candidate, and they share stories from the field that bring tears to your eyes thinking about how much kindness and goodness is still out there in ordinary Americans.

So what did we do at this conference anyway? We laughed, we cried, we listened, we learned, and we basked in the feelings of camaraderie and belonging that came from being part of a gathering of women from every corner of the country (even Utah!) who are working to elect Obama and change our future.

First, Oprah came and made a funny and heartfelt speech about what women can do when we put our minds to it. She ought to know. Just thinking about all of her accomplishments makes me feel like a slacker. She talked about the campaign as a marathon and likened it to the one she ran a few years back. She talked about how you hit mile 18 and you need every woman, every friend, every family member, even Jesus Christ himself to help you finish. And that’s where we are now in this campaign -- at that tough part where everyone feels a little bit tired and spent and we have to call on every angel we can think of to help get Obama across the finish line.

After Oprah, there were speeches and panels by Jill and Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Gayle King, David Plouffe (the Obama campaign strategist who sends some of us MANY emails), personal finance guru Suze Ormon, Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the hilarious and wickedly smart Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Michelle Obama, former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Laura D’Andrea Tyson, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, David Axelrod of the Obama campaign, the woman who founded the group “Republicans for Obama”, and many others who are all a blur to me right now.

All of these speakers shared their expertise and insights. We learned about the perils facing us in the international community and how best to tackle them from Madeleine Albright, and we learned about the inside story of the global financial crisis and the bailout from Bob Rubin and Laura Tyson. We learned about how the campaign plans to win 270 votes in the Electoral College (at least!) and elect Barack Obama to the presidency from a number of the campaign’s top dogs.

And then there was one more speaker. Barack Obama. Some of you have asked me what he’s like in person. He is charming, funny, and eloquent. He has that 1000-watt smile and an aura of calm that radiates dignity, grace and intelligence that a lot of us find so compelling on television. I will admit right now that I burst into tears when he walked out on stage. The combination of excitement, anxiety and hope – above all hope – just made me have to sob for a few minutes as I watched this man who is so different from any politician I have ever supported come out to speak to ME and 1499 of my new friends. I hope that everyone who reads this has the opportunity to see Senator Obama in person some day. Even if you disagree with his policy proposals, I think you will respect the man that he is and find that he offers many people in this country who have lost hope a chance to believe that our country can do well again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Just one of many...

If you've talked to me in the past two months, chances are I've told you that I'm going to a Democratic Women's Leadership Conference in Chicago this weekend. It's a chance to see the Obamas (both of 'em) as well as many of the bright lights of the policy world who I revere: Madeleine Albright, Robert Rubin and Laura D'Andrea Tyson. Since I'm a policy wonk, these are my stars. When I'm at the hairdresser and I try to read People or Us magazine, I only know who about half the celebrities are so I quickly get bored. (Don't even get me started on trying to watch "Dancing with the Stars". That show makes me feel like I've been on a deserted island for the last 20 years.) But give me the line-up for a policy conference that includes experts like Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice, and I'm all atwitter.

Apart from seeing Barack Obama speak in person, I plan to relax and enjoy being among the like-minded. Thousands of Democrats and others who support Obama all in one room, talking about what policies this country needs and what we can expect from an Obama administration.

Lately I feel like our country is so polarized that it's hard to believe we share any goals in common anymore. For the third time in recent weeks this morning, I listened to a random voter in a Red state on the radio saying that Obama "scares the bejeezus out of 'em" and "I just don't trust him." Those are tough interviews to listen to. I understand disagreeing with the policies he is promoting but I can't even imagine why anyone would be scared of Senator Obama. Is it his race? Do they not know any mixed race or black people? Are they believing the crazy talk radio and Internet rumors that the senator is secretly a Muslim who plans to somehow convert us all and give aid al Qaida?

What reasons are there for being scared of a politician? It is understandable to be scared of one who is threatening to take away cherished rights. One example: Governor Palin, who wants to take away a woman's right to choose, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. But which rights is Senator Obama threatening to take away exactly? He had to make a campaign appearance in rural Virginia recently where he reassured voters that he would not do anything to take away their guns.

All this makes me wonder what the fear-mongers are saying and doing to scare voters? Or what is it about an African-American man that so scares some people? I look at Senator Obama and all I hear is clear logic and common-sense proposals to solve our country's problems. At times it's such hard-core policy talk that I could see the average person being bored by it, but not scared. Other times, I watch him and see bright bursts of a huge, infectious grin accompanied by passionate speeches about how great this country is for giving him this opportunity.

Meanwhile, I've got to pack my bags and figure out what to wear. They've just added Oprah to the line-up at this conference. Now there's a star that even I've heard of.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Advice for our daughters

Since my daughter is not yet 2, it's a little weird that I am thinking about what I want to teach her about men and relationships when she's older but that is where my wandering mind is right now. Perhaps it's escapism from the fact that the economy -- and perhaps our personal finances -- are swirling the drain right now.

I just finished reading "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. As I'm sure everyone knows, he was a well-known (in his field) computer science professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when his three children were all under the age of 6. With only months to live, he poured some of his remaining time and energy into a last lecture to give at Carnegie Mellon, where he had taught. The larger point of the lecture was to impart some wisdom and life lessons to his kids.

The part that really got my attention was something he wrote about for his one-year old daughter. Thinking of her and having her father die so young was especially hard. Of all his kids, she was the one who would have no memories of her father. His advice for her was something he learned from a woman friend, and it makes so much sense:

"When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it's really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do."

I found myself sharing this very simple advice with a heart-broken friend recently. I also wished for a time machine so I could go back to my roller-coaster dating days of long ago and take this good advice to heart. If there is any way to save my daughter all the wasted hours of analyzing the nonsense that a guy has said or not said to her and just cut to the chase, I'll take it.

There are a lot of little pearls of wisdom in Pausch's book. Most of them are not original. As he admits, he is a big fan of cliches. But finding that very clear bit of advice that might help my girl some day cut through all the b.s. of dating was worth the hour or two of my time that it took to read the book.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Alternative to the $700,000,000 Bailout

Everyone is worried about the economy, including me. What really worries me though is the speed with which things are happening and how quickly we seem to be on the verge of spending a staggering amount of money to prop up private companies.

Last week, while we were on our family vacation in Disneyland, it felt as if we’d dropped into an alternate universe, where up was down and down was up. We were, of course, having a ball and wandering around in “the happiest place on earth,” which was the perfect antidote to the news of the day. One morning that news was of plummeting stocks (meaning our 401Ks were rapidly halving in value); then it was huge companies filing for bankruptcy or being bought by other huge companies (did Bank of America really buy Merril Lynch?). Finally, it seemed that global credit markets had simply ground to a halt and were on the brink of collapse. Every day the news seemed more and more unbelievable.

And to cap it all off on the last day of our trip, the government rolled out the idea of the bailout. Seven hundred BILLION dollars. I’ve been trying to get my head around how much money that is. The Iraq War so far has cost $2 trillion so this bailout would cost roughly 1/3 as much. But the Iraq War has been going on for five and a half years! The government is now proposing to give the Treasury Secretary the authority to spend these hundreds of billions as fast as he can.

In all the questioning of the bailout that I’m hearing on the news and radio, what I haven’t been hearing is alternatives. Surely there is some alternative to spending an ungodly amount of taxpayer money to prop up the economy?

It turns out there is. Two of the countries leading economists, writing in an online economics journal I subscribe to called “The Economists Voice,” recommend a plan that sounds much more sensible. It’s called debt for equity swaps and it is what normally happens when big companies file for bankruptcy. The idea comes from an article written by Luigi Zingales, who is a professor of economics and entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago School of Business. He has won all kinds of awards for his work. Interestingly, he wrote a book called Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists. He is now proposing a way to do just that since his fear is that greedy capitalists (my words, not his) will destroy capitalism with this bailout. The heart of the matter is that people who work at the big banks and investment firms – and more importantly their shareholders -- have all profited over the years while this crisis was brewing. But the losses they would now suffer if the full meltdown occurs won’t be borne just by them. Under the bailout plan those losses will be suffered by all taxpayers since we’ll be paying for it. So they get the profits and we get the losses? Not only does that seem morally wrong, it is also wrong in terms of how capitalism is supposed to function. If you profit, you take risks in order to do so. But surely it should be those who profit who also stand to lose or else how will they ever adjust the risks they take?

Back to Zingales’ idea. He explains that normally, when companies have a huge liability to pay, they file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and they basically get debt forgiveness in exchange for equity. He explains how it works:

In Chapter 11, companies with a solid underlying
business generally swap debt for equity: the
old equity holders are wiped out and the old
debt claims are transformed into equity claims
in the new entity which continues operating
with a new capital structure. Alternatively, the
debtholders can agree to cut down the face
value of debt, in exchange for some warrants.
Even before Chapter 11, these procedures were
the solutions adopted to deal with the large
railroad bankruptcies at the turn of the twentieth

Zingales goes on to explain that the reason this “normal” way of dealing with the current situation is not being talked about much is time. It takes time to negotiate Chapter 11 arrangements. And U.S. credit markets don’t have time anymore. But our existing bankruptcy system has a way of dealing with this already. Bankruptcy judges just cram a restructuring deal down the throats of shareholders when they’re out of time or when the proceedings are too large or contentious for a negotiated settlement.

He also gives an example of how a similar situation happened during the Great Depression – when the government and courts forced a debt forgiveness plan onto firms -- and how both stock and bond prices soared afterwards. In other words, markets ended up liking this solution because it had benefits for everyone and it restored confidence in our finance system. That sounds like exactly what we need right now. It is certainly an idea worth exploring before we give away $700,000,000 of taxpayer money.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

It's not rocket science

I couldn't have said it better myself! Look what appeared in Frank Rich's New York Times Op-Ed piece today. A journalist with The Washington Independent went and read old newspapers in Alaska and uncovered this revealing quote from Sara Palin:

As for her “executive experience” as mayor, she told her hometown paper in Wasilla, Alaska, in 1996, the year of her election: “It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.”

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Governor, Shmovernor

I’m already sick of the Palin nomination, and sicker still of John McCain and the pundits who scream at each other on T.V. Yet like someone in a crowd of gawkers unable to turn away from a train wreck, I can’t tear myself away. But I promise, this is my last post on this one.

We really need to put the experience issue to rest. Barack Obama is a United States Senator. John McCain is a United States Senator. They’ve both had fascinating and unique life stories prior to becoming senators, yet they are each running from the same position now. And McCain was never in an executive leadership position and never “ran” anything either.

But the nomination of Sarah Palin has raised the debate over “experience” to a fever pitch. Palin’s experience is having been governor of Alaska for less than two years. Being elected governor of any state is an accomplishment, I’ll give you that. But we need to keep it in context. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alaska has a grand total of 670,000 people. The city of San Jose, where I live, has roughly a million people. So the mayor of San Jose (America’s 10th largest city) governs one-third more people than the governor Alaska. And, unlike Alaskans, we are a diverse bunch. Our last big political brouhaha was when two different factions of Vietnamese San Joseans took on City Hall and staged hunger strikes over the naming of a Vietnamese Business District. Three-quarters of Alaskans are white. Their political dust-ups seem generally to revolve around how corrupt their politicians are.

The city of San Jose has had two women mayors in my lifetime. My Mom worked for the first one, Mayor Janet Gray Hayes. The second one, Susan Hammer, is a family friend. These women are smart, glass-ceiling busters who did great jobs governing a growing, redeveloping, diverse, economically thriving city. Yet no one would have ever thought to pluck them from their Executive Leadership positions in San Jose and put them on the ticket as Vice President. Why? Because running a city of between half a million and a million people is just not seen as VP-level experience. Yet that is essentially the path Palin took to the VP slot on McCain’s ticket. She ran a state that is much smaller (population-wise) than any major U.S. city. And now we have to hear ad nauseum about all her “executive experience”. In my book, governor or not, she definitely comes up short.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Superwoman? I don't think so.

There was a great post on Silicon Valley Moms Blog from one of the co-founders about how much Sarah Palin scares her. I totally agree, but we’re just a couple of Californians who would be unlikely to vote for McCain-Palin anyway. I’m a coastal Democrat who has lived in places like Silicon Valley, New York, Washington, D.C., etc. Clearly, I don’t have a lot of first-hand red state experience. So I decided to see what Fox News was saying about her. Apparently, First Lady Laura Bush “electrified” the crowd at the Republican Convention when she introduced Palin and said “Every woman in this room knows that she is truly a superwoman.”

OK, so the red-meat, red-state conservatives are excited about her. No surprise there. I’m not sure why anyone would call her a superwoman though. Is it because she has a lot of children and works? So do most American women. Is it because she is governor of Alaska -- a state with a tiny population where she did not have strong opponents in the race? Is it because she decided (or more likely accidentally decided) to have a fifth child at age 44? None of these are decisions or achievements that I find especially impressive.

Sarah Palin is totally unqualified to be Vice President and her political views are so extreme as to be frightening. In addition to being anti-choice, she wants to drill for more oil, denies that global warming is man-made and thinks we should teach Creationism in school. Her Dad was supposedly a science teacher. Where does a college-educated person get such insane ideas about education? Is this how we will ensure that our country continues to excel in science and technology?

She is also an insulting choice to women on so many levels. The idea that Hilary supporters will blindly flock to vote for McCain because he nominated a (totally unqualified and extreme right-wing) woman is despicable. Are all women candidates supposed to be the same to us female voters? By that standard, how would men ever choose between 2 men to vote for? (Obama, McCain? Who cares? They're both guys.)

And what to say about her total lack of foreign policy experience or even foreign experience? Barack Obama has had to take positions and vote on nearly every major foreign policy issue as a senator, plus he is a global citizen who has spent time in Africa with his father’s family and lived in Indonesia. He is also smarter than smart, having graduated from Harvard Law School where he was editor of the Law Review. He is almost certainly more qualified in the area of foreign policy than either President Clinton or Bush was when they took office. And on the important matter of judgement – he chose one of the country’s top foreign policy practitioners to be his runningmate: Joe Biden, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I was a staffer on foreign policy issues for a United States Senator, and I clearly recall how much we respected Senator Biden’s work on that committee. He has only gained more foreign policy experience and influence in the fifteen years since. Choosing him as a runningmate was a great choice by Obama and reflects his sound judgement. McCain’s choice on the other hand reflects raw political calculation and a fundamental belief that we soft-headed women will vote for a woman regardless of her qualifications. Let’s prove him wrong.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rock of Ages

Listening to snippets of John McCain’s Top 10 favorite songs on the radio yesterday, I laughed out loud. The Beach Boys? (I am pretty sure my flesh actually crawls when I hear “Good Vibrations”) The Platters? How old are you?

Abba was seriously over-represented on his Top 10, with two songs making the cut. I like dancing to Abba at weddings as much as the next gal, but the image of John McCain sweating to these oldies makes me very uncomfortable. And since he doesn’t know how to use a computer, does he listen to these faves on a hand-crank gramophone? Paris Hilton’s recent spoof video came to mind several times as I listened to the Top 10, especially the part where she refers to McCain as “old white-haired dude” ( Normally, I’m not a fan of dumb celebrities who are famous for being shameless, but her video is clever and even funny. I wonder how much she had to do with it though.

And Barack Obama’s favorite songs? Not surprisingly, I loved them. Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is my all-time favorite song and gets more play on my ITunes than almost any other. It’s hard for me to believe that someone with such great taste might actually be our president. He also had a song by The Fugees that I love but didn’t know the name of or who sang it. He totally out-hipped me on musical taste (admittedly this is not hard to do since I have little kids and don’t get out much), but still. I pretty much loved all his Top 10 songs: Louis Armstrong, U2, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin.

I pick my presidential candidate based on their public policy positions, but I’ve never understood how most voters decide whom to support. Paper, rock, scissors perhaps? There’s no other explanation for George Bush’s second term. This year, they could do worse than to pick based on musical taste. Maybe if a lot of young people with good musical taste decide to get out and vote, we’ll end up with a president we can be proud of. One who won’t bring The Beach Boys to the White House.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Achieving a Goal

Two weekends ago, I achieved a goal. Let’s call it one small step for Cosmo, one giant leap on my life-list of things to do. More likely it was about 6,000 small steps because I ran my first-ever 10K race.

Last Spring, faced with not having a part-time paid job for the first time since having my two kids, I felt like a needed a goal. It had to be something to anchor me more firmly in the real world. Of course, there is the challenge of the meta-goal of keeping the 2 small humans alive and happy. But I wanted to do something that was just for me and something a little different than child-rearing. So I started running. Fortunately the running bug hit 3 of my friends at the same time. I now have “training partners” who live in New York, Marin and just down the road in Los Gatos. They each played a role in helping to keep me going, whether it was a quick phone call to see how we were all progressing or a much-needed 6 a.m. trail run to be sure we could do six miles.

When the race came, I had two of my running buddies with me. But since we got separated immediately in the mosh-pit of 15,000 runners, what really fueled me that day was probably the music. We ran the Wharf to Wharf race in Santa Cruz. The course included 52 bands along the way. They ranged from Insecto Man -- a guy in a green sparkly bodysuit playing a matching green-sparkly accordion -- to teenagers playing death metal, and everything in between. I never had time to think about being tired or how my nearly-40-something year old knees ached. As soon as I’d run by one group of Taiko Drummers, it was on to the aging hippies playing their recorders or to a lone Scot tooting his bagpipes. If the music didn’t do it for me, the people-watching did. A cute guy in a full-body banana costume ran next to me for a while. A woman with shockingly large breast implants bobbed near me for a while which led me to ponder why she did that and if a sport other than jogging might suit her better.

I doubt I’ll become a serial 10K racer, but I’m still working on my next goal: the half-marathon. After that, I’ll probably hang up my running shoes and take up something else. Maybe I’ll get a sparkly bodysuit and learn the accordion.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Odd English-isms

The little girl at the swimming pool yesterday was very cute – maybe 3 years old with lots of baby chub and white-blonde hair. She had on the typical toddler uniform at our pool: reusable swim diaper and UV protective swimming shirt. I happened to glance up as she padded by me and read the word on her shirt. It said “Execute”. What the …?!?@!

Ever the politically-minded person, my first thought was that this was someone’s way of making a pro-death penalty statement that we should fire up the old electric chair and take care of that pesky waiting list on Death Row. Intrigued, I watched her to see what other interesting political swimwear the rest of the family might be sporting. Then I noticed her Mom speaking German to her, and a light bulb went off. They must have bought the shirt (cheap, I hope) in some non-English speaking country where they put odd English phrases on clothes.

I’ve always been drawn to nonsensical English on clothes or in marketing campaigns. Japan is the world master at this sport, but I used to see some good ones in my travels in Eastern Europe too. There are even websites (really funny if you have the time) dedicated to posting English manglings seen in Japan. Two of my favorites: “Poccari Sweat”, the name of a sports drink in Japan, and a phrase seen on a pencil case there, “Spanking! By thhe Sea!”

I wonder if whoever made the “Execute” swim shirt thought it would be clever to use a word that had “cute” in it on kids clothing. Maybe there’s a whole line of clothes like this that say things like “Electrocute” and "Accute”. If there isn’t, maybe I just got my first idea for my very own business.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Becoming President Some Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about paths not taken. I used to think I would be president. Seriously. When I worked in the Senate, it seemed like that path might still be open to me some day. When I decided to do a Ph.D., I kind of felt like that door was closing. Then I had two kids and I feel like the door slammed shut. Sure, there are some women who have raised their kids and gone on to have careers in politics. I like to cite Nancy Pelosi, who did just that and is now Speaker (Speaker! That’s amazing actually). But still. Reality intervenes.

Not that being president seems like such a great job anymore anyway. It feels like the apocalypse is upon us, especially here in smoky Northern California, where the sky looks pretty much like Beijing’s (from what I gather) and where the threat of global warming seems palpable by the black haze that hangs over us as the mercury climbs. The stock market is melting down, the polar ice caps are literally melting and glaciers the size of Rhode Island seem to be regularly splintering off and falling into the sea. Floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, famine, earthquakes…

As much as I love Barack Obama, I really wouldn’t want the job he’s fighting to get. Imagine your first day in office as you try to decide which horrendous policy disaster to attack first. Global warming? Ending the war in Iraq? Health care reform? Energy independence? The mortgage crisis? Reining in our out-of-control budget deficits? Trying to fix any of these would be really, really difficult. Trying to fix all of them while not significantly raising taxes will be impossible. There just aren’t a lot of good options, or maybe I’m just not seeing them. It’s hard to see anything from here, what with the smoke and all.

A cat and two rats, in their new running hats!

Today I bought some new running hats ( just like the rats in the Sandra Boynton book although, sadly, neither of mine came with little wings on the side). After a quick trip to the bank with my 18-month old in tow, I boldly decided it was time to get a hat or two to wear in my upcoming races. I've been needing some kind of hat you can do sports in for a long time and today was the day. I was also secretly hoping that having a hat to run in would magically result in my stamina approximately doubling between now and my first-ever 10 K in two weeks.

My little one is sucking a lollipop that has recently become the obligatory candy-bowl treat she gets every time we go do my Dad's banking. For some reason I fail to notice that her hands are covered with congealing melted corn syrup and food coloring when we go into the sporting goods store. She decides it's hilarious to pick up as many hats as she can and reorganize them in the store. Finally, Sergio, the store owner, hands me two hats and says "Are these yours?". Confused, I am about to say that I was planning to buy a hat but not that super-un-cute light blue Nike one that he's holding. And then I see the sticky yellow fingerprints all over it. "Yes! That's just the one I wanted!" The chic black visor I am trying on also gets put back in the pile so I can buy a much less cute one that my girl has destroyed. I'm now the proud owner of 2 running hats, complete with 20 sticky little finger marks for added flair.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shiny Happy Parents?

Has anyone been reading about how unhappy we parents are lately? Newsweek just had a piece called “True or False: Having Kids Makes You Happy” and had an article on “How to be a Happier Mom”. Taken together, the second article helps provide some answers to the first, which mainly points out that we parents are reportedly less happy than our childless counterparts.

Apparently there are two factors at work here. The first is that it’s easy to quantify your average daily unhappiness, which is one of the statistics they point to. As a social scientist, I can see it now. Harried mothers and fathers – especially of the under-3 year olds – volunteering to rank once an hour or several times a day how “happy” they are. Never mind that your 4 year old has just vomited all over their car seat when you remember that you have to write down how happy you are. Or that your formerly sweet 18-month old girl has just hit you in the face for no apparent reason. (All of this occurred yesterday). I’d rank my happiness that afternoon as about a 1, but I’m not sure that it captures my happiness level very well.

The second factor, which the piece notes, is that our children bring us joy in surprising and often overwhelming bursts, which are hard to quantify. For me, and I suspect others, these little and big moments sustain us when we reflect on our lives. Even though I was sick yesterday with the stomach flu (definitely would give that day a “1”, Mr. Social Scientist!), I also had a moment of pure parenting joy. Lying in bed feeling ill, I heard the footsteps of my 18-month old girl approaching. She had found an envelope lying on the floor, picked it up and brought it to me in bed while saying (in her croaking frog little voice), “Happy, Mama”. It was so delightful and stood out as something unique to her and me that I still feel happy thinking about it. In a day that was definitely a "1", how do you add in those moments of "11", and make sense of it all?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

One Mother, Rescued (or Nirvana)

It sounds like the perfect ending to one of those espionage novels I read as one of my many guilty pleasures. A Colombian politician, held hostage in a jungle hideout by the FARC rebels for 6 long years is rescued, without a single shot being fired. The perfect operation. According to the Colombian military, it involved spies, deception, helicopters and Che Guevara T-shirts. The politician is Ingrid Betancourt, who was campaigning for President of Colombia in 2002 when she was nabbed by the FARC (Colombia’s main rebel group) and held hostage ever since. I’ve always been drawn to her story for its international dimensions and the fact that it involves a woman politician in a country that has long fascinated me.

Perhaps I think about this story more because I have friends who have been personally affected by the civil war in Colombia, including one whose husband was shot at point-blank range by someone he had angered with his political reporting. The shooter actually fired too close for the type of weapon he was using, and my friend’s husband survived. They fled Colombia with their young son and came to Princeton on an endangered scholars program.

It was only a few months ago when I heard an interview with Ingrid Betancourt’s husband that the story began to haunt me. At one point during her captivity, he dropped thousands of photos of her children from an airplane into the jungle where she was being held in the hopes that she would get one. After that, I found myself thinking about Ms. Betancourt, her captors and of course, her children a lot. I’m sure all parents experience this radical shifting of the lens through which you view and digest life’s events -- especially the news -- after having children. The same stories affect me very differently now than they did 5 years ago (B.C.). I tried to imagine my children being the ages of hers: 13 and 16, and having me disappear into the jungle, possibly to be killed by my captors. Unthinkable.

And how would a person mentally deal with the anguish of being held captive for six years? The rebels and other captives reported over the years that she was feisty and a fighter who tried to escape more than once. Of course she was. This is a woman whose first remarks after her rescue included the comment that she still wants to run for president! I like to think that her iron will also stems in part from the angry, desperate mother in her. The part of all of us that would claw, scratch and bite if we had to in order to get back to our kids. And I’m sure we can all identify with the other side of her, the side that describes her feelings at being reunited with her children after all these years: “Nirvana, paradise”.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

L.A. Fabulous

Friday morning, our taxi pulled up to the W hotel where we were staying in Westwood. I stepped out on to the curb and Adrian Grenier, the star of HBO’s hit series Entourage, walked by me. Welcome to Los Angeles! Before I could oh-so-subtly signal this star-spotting moment to my husband, we were inside the lobby and practically bumping into the whole cast of Entourage (Turtle, E and Drama). We were immediately whisked off to one side of the lobby by some young hipster working on the show. The director shouted “Cue models”, and several impossibly skinny, 6-plus foot tall creatures loped out from somewhere in very short dresses. They appeared to be from a different planet than the rest of us and definitely looked to be another species from the male stars of the show. You guessed it: the guys are predictably tiny.

Oddly, I’ve been to L.A. hundreds of times and never see anyone famous. This trip was the opposite extreme. We were there for the L.A. Film Festival, and it seemed we couldn’t turn around without seeing a recognizable actor. Sitting poolside at the W, we saw Philip Baker Hall, who starred in Magnolia and The Insider. Saturday night, while eating dinner at Craft (Tom Colicchio’s restaurant for all you Top Chef fans), we saw Patrick Fischler from Old School.

In between all our movie-star moments, we squeezed in a very fun and much-needed kidless weekend in L.A. We watched three movies, went to two parties, had many margaritas, worked out, ate out, swam in the pool and I got my toes and my hair done. It all added up to a great weekend of reconnecting with Reg, meeting a lot of his Netflix colleagues and occasionally bumping into extremely short actors.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The other Rush

The Other “Rush”
As a former sorority girl, the only “rush” that ever came to mind when I heard the word was the hectic week or two before Fall semester when we had to wear flowered dresses, meet hundreds of new people, and pass judgement upon them while smiling and singing modified lyrics to Queen songs to entertain them. Wait? Did I make that up? No, we really did that. In college. When we were sort of supposed to be adults.

But I digress. The point of this posting is that I’ve recently had a profound realization. No matter how much you say you hate all heavy metal and hard rock and consider your musical taste far superior to your husband’s because you like “good” music (like the Grateful Dead) you just might eventually change your tune. I even used to do a pretty mean ironic imitation of Geddy Lee singing “Tom Sawyer” to drive the point home about how much I did NOT like Rush. And now, it seems I do. Apparently, if you listen to it enough, and you go see them live as a huge favor to your hubby, and your 4-year old son sings them ALL THE TIME and says he wants to grow up to be Geddy Lee, you ever- so-slowly warm to this phenomenon that is Rush. Tonight I drove Reg’s car and I realized later that I had taken out a CD and purposely replaced it with a Rush one. This may have merely been a lesser-of-two-evils situation though. The CD that I took out was Iron Maiden. And here’s something you can take to the bank. I can say without a doubt, unequivocally, I will never, ever become an Iron Maiden fan. Probably.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Green Acres is the Place for Me

I am starting to feel a bit like Eva Gabor on that 1960’s TV show “Green Acres”. The show was about a former New York socialite who likes to drink martinis at cocktail parties but is whisked away to a farm where she stumbles around in high heels and sequined gowns while tripping over the pig, Wilbur.

On a small scale, I’m about to create my own little “green acre” by planting a vegetable garden in my yard. But I’m a little unsure of how this will go. I’ve lived in cities for the last 20 years and my gardening skills are nonexistent. Just ask the many plants I have killed – may they rest in peace. (Nickname from my husband: “The Orchid Killer”)

Since I insisted on laying out a garden in our backyard, doubts have started to creep in. Will I like growing food? Or will I feel like Eva Gabor, wishing I were back in my penthouse suite in New York and finding I’m not cut out for backyard farming?

Either way, I want to forge on with this project. For more inspiration, there was an article in today’s New York Times called “Banking on Gardening” that’s about the growing number of people like me who are planting vegetable gardens at home to support their organic dining habit and maybe even save the earth. A tall order for a 10 by 6 foot plot of land? Think again!  By growing food organically, we can reduce greenhouse gases since our traditionally-grown crops are essentially “bathed in petroleum” (to quote Bill McKibben) and the fertilizer used on most crops is all nitrogen-based and carbon-intensive. Only organic fertilizer in my little patch, and I’m even threatening to do worm composting. (Reg seemed slightly horrified when he caught me watching a video online about backyard composting.)

Maybe there will be a new Green Acres sitcom some day: one that features a city girl like me attempting organic gardening and worm composting while sipping a cocktail in her Manolo Blahniks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Old friends, amazing lives

In the past few weeks, I've gotten in touch with around 50 of my old friends from Berkeley through an email chain that my sorority sisters started to get back in touch. Except for about a dozen of the women, I had lost touch with the majority of the group over the past 20 years. I was amazed and impressed with the depth, breadth and passion of their lives. Since we went to Cal, it should not have been a surprise how many of us went into what I think of as "do-gooder" professions (i.e. social work, education, non-profits, public policy, politics, medicine, law). One woman even became a Member of Congress (How did I miss that?)! 

I love reading about what my old gal pals -- and we are getting old -- are up to, but it drives home this feeling that I'm sidelined right now while staying home with my baby and preschooler. On good days, I feel like I'm doing the best thing for me and my family right now, plus it's pretty fun. On bad days, I feel like the woman in those old Calgon commercials: "Calgon, take me away..." And I start imagining the career paths not chosen or the meaningful, exciting, well-paid jobs I think I could be doing. As my friend Shelley once pointed out to me though, "We have the rest of our lives to work." And I think she's right. After all, until I did this job (SAHM), I had been working since I was 15. A few years off to raise babies is a blip in the larger ocean of work, right?