Last first day of school

First day of school photo

Yesterday I took my last “first day of school” photo. I have thirty-nine such photos, thirteen of each child. I’ve stashed them in various places around my house or on the hard drive of my computer. But yesterday’s was the last one. The final picture I would take of my child on his or her way to another year — a year of growing up, of learning in the classroom, of learning about himself.

 

 

With my last one leaving home next year, I will have completed my task of raising my children. It seems as though this is all I’ve ever done, all I was ever meant to do. At the same time, it also seems they were here for just an instant.

It’s strange to reflect that my greatest achievement is essentially done. I’m 50 years old, and I’m done.

I don’t feel “done.” As their first-grade teacher had our older kids chant, “Cakes are done, pies are done, people are finished.” I don’t feel “finished” either, though.

 

First Day of School Kindergarten.jpg

 

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My daughter turns 20 today

Today my incomparable daughter turns twenty. It sounds trite to say, “I was there when you were born.”  But I was, actually.

 

 

Where did two decades go? I can see the passage of time in the wrinkles on my own face, but it seems like such a short while ago that I was pushing a double stroller, doling out Cheerios and wondering how I’d make it to the end of the day.

I loved parenting young children, and in my memory those years take on a rosy glow.  But truth be told, it wasn’t always so delightful, so feel-good, arts-‘n-crafts-sy. Baby #2 (Sarah) challenged me with her strength of voice, of will, of personality.  I think she was one of those “spirited children.” But since my first two kids were born seventeen months apart, there were a number of years when I didn’t get past the first chapter of my books — so I never benefited from much of Mary Sheedy Kurchina’s advice. I did, however, enjoy re-visiting classics from my own childhood: Goodnight Moon, Ferdinand the Bull and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

 

 

Now she’s nearly grown.  Not much left for me to do but be her friend, occasional mentor and guide, and forever biggest fan. Happy Birthday, Sarah!  I love you!

 

 

Forcing myself to unplug in Yosemite

Despite magnificent weather, gorgeous scenery and the company of three of my four favorite people (our daughter wasn’t there), I still struggled over “unplugging” from the Internet in order to enjoy our family’s trip to Yosemite last weekend.

I knew from past trips that cellular coverage was spotty at best, and wifi would likely be available only in our motel’s common areas.  No problem – I had worked furiously on Internet-related projects before leaving town, so I figured things would be fine.

But I didn’t consider how pulling out my iPhone to check messages, get a weather report, or do a quick Google search has become a habit – something I do to fill a spare moment without even realizing it.  I knew from observing the 2011 National Day of Unplugging that I might have some “issues” – but this weekend brought me face to face with them, again.

When the front desk receptionist informed me that Yosemite Lodge now provides free wifi in the rooms, I thought, “How great — our national parks are joining the digital age.”  Then she added, “It’s been kind of touch and go lately.  What can I say?  I.T. is working on it.”

Sure enough, we got to our rooms and found that, while our sons were able to get random, weak wifi, my husband and I found ourselves sitting side by side, staring at blank browser screens and watching our “loading” wheels spin.  Also, our TV was tiny — you needed birding binoculars to check the Giants’ score unless you sat right next to it.  Which was kind of a problem, since there was only one chair in the room, and it was more of a desk chair, not a TV chair.  But what was I expecting, the Four Seasons?  That wasn’t the point, I reminded myself — we were here to enjoy Yosemite’s grandeur.

 

Mirror Lake 2012, by Micah Rosales

 

The next day was sunny and warm, not too hot.  Blue cloudless sky.  In other words, perfect.  We chose to hike up past Mirror Lake, a ideal route because, since a rock slide had closed off the trail higher up, few people bothered to go past the Mirror Lake destination. But at the same time as I was enjoying our journey, I knew the Prince of Smooth was playing Lord Valdemort in the French Open semi’s, and my iPhone wouldn’t even give me a score update, due to the lack of cellular data coverage.

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It’s my last SAT too, you know

Today my last child takes his last SAT. He took it earlier this year, and conventional wisdom suggests taking it a second time can help you improve your scores, but you need to be careful about giving the appearance on your college applications that you’ve taken it “too many” times.

Meaning you have to guard against looking as though you’re spending time on marginal score improvement when you could be doing something more worthwhile. You know, like applying your knowledge of computer programming to organize carpools in your town that would save individuals gas money, help people get to know their neighbors, and reduce CO2 emissions — thus in your own small way, help save to our planet.

But seriously, I got up early this morning to prepare one of my son’s favorite breakfasts — fried eggs, bacon and chocolate chip coffee cake I had baked yesterday. Earlier in the week I had purchased a box of Ticonderoga #2 pencils for what would probably be the last time. When I woke up, I offered a prayer that all would go well for him today — and I thought about the old saying that, as long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools. But mainly, I reflected on the fact that this was “my” last SAT.

Our family has acquired a lot of logistical knowledge about preparing for and taking the SAT. Based on the experiences of three children, we now try to avoid Gunn High School for standardized tests due to the long wait for a left turn from the route we take from our house, its single driveway that backs up easily when everyone arrives at once, and overall, Gunn’s poor parking situation.  Palo Alto High School functions better on these factors, in my kids’ opinion — plus it is located close to excellent après-test restaurants for lunch. However, the last time Micah went there, his test was canceled due to someone setting off the fire alarm — the culprits were never found, but it was assumed to be  a senior prank. Today he went to his favorite location, Los Altos High School. Although a bit farther away from our house, LAHS has easy parking, even some covered spaces, and it’s small enough that they take less time to organize students into classrooms. Thus they tend to start (and finish) their tests on time.

But enough about my children and their SATs — back to me.

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All-inclusive resorts: the good, the bad and the ugly

Greetings from Puerto Vallarta! I came here for the long weekend with my college kids and my son’s girlfriend. We’re staying at a property we used to enjoy when it was operated by Hoteles Camino Real, a high-end Mexican chain similar to Westin. But several years back the property changed hands and now is owned by AMResort’s Dreams. We have resisted returning to this location because Dreams resorts are all-inclusive properties — but since this was a short vacation, it seemed like a good chance to check things out.

Anne’s verdict: the location is as fabulous as ever, but the all-inclusive vacation model does not work for me.

The beauty of this location is that it lies about fifteen minutes south of the town of Puerto Vallarta on its own beach. Although Mexican beaches are public property, this one is inaccessible to outsiders to due to rocks on either side, and the road into the hotel is gated, so only hotel guests are allowed to enter. Thus the beach is clean, not crowded, and souvenir vendors are kept to a minimum. The surf is gentle enough to swim in. And yet, the shops and restaurants of PV are only a five-dollar cab ride away.

 

Saturday 26 May 2012

 

We were fortunate that Hurricane Bud brushed by us during the night and brought only heavy rain our first day and a half here. Today was partly cloudy, but much better than I had expected when checking the forecast before departing the Bay Area last week.

 

 

Sunday 27 May 2012

 

 

At the same time, this is my first experience with any type of all-inclusive vacation, where my room rate includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus all the drinks and snacks I want. The facilities are lovely, and in general the service is excellent. But they maximize profit margins by offering limited dining options, over-pricing pedestrian wines, and charging for “extra” services such as more than one wifi connection per room. (Sorry, when you’re from Silicon Valley, one Internet connection per room, even when on vacation, is not going to cut it.)

I would imagine the all-inclusive arrangement works well for larger groups, or for people who want to lock in their vacation expenses before leaving home. Also for folks who prefer to spend their vacations consuming alcohol throughout the day, and/or for those who prefer quantity over quality of food. We have witnessed both types of guests here.

Never mind: the breakfast buffet is perfect, we’ve  identified the best restaurant on property for lunch, and after one mediocre dinner on a rainy night when we couldn’t face going out, we committed to sampling the best of what Puerto Vallarta has to offer. Last night we went to an old favorite, the classic Daiquiri Dick’s, owned by a chef who moved down from Los Angeles years ago, and a sumptuous meal (with daiquiris and flaming coffee) cost only fifty dollars each.  Tonight we had what my son the foodie proclaimed our best meal yet at a place favored by locals, La Langosta Feliz, the Happy Lobster.

Here’s to living large — Salud!