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Goodbye, La Canada!


My daughter’s Girl Scout troop posed at the end of Senior year after opening the time capsules they’d sealed many years earlier.

When I moved to La Cañada 16 years ago, I told people that I’d move back to Pasadena after my kids graduated from high school. Little did I realize how prescient I was.

Tonight will be my last night here. Tomorrow I move back to Pasadena. (Actually, Altadena but with a Pasadena zipcode.) I haven’t blogged in months because life’s demands didn’t leave time for much else, but I want to express how much living here has meant to me. I’ve lived in 10 different towns, all of which were wonderful, but this has been my favorite.

Last year I listed my top 40 reasons for loving La Cañada. It’s no mistake that the first reason I listed was the people. LCPC pastor Gary Dennis is right: it’s about relationships. All of the other reasons on the list pale in comparison to the great people I’ve met here. I made more friends here in seven months than I did in seven years in Pasadena. I was involved in my church and local government there, and was a member of several play groups for my kids, but it has been much easier to make friends here via Newcomers Club, LCPC, schools, Parent Ed., the YMCA, Curves, LCJBSA, LCFEF, PTA, etc. These friendships have endured, and I’ve made many more along the way. Thankfully, I’ll still be close enough to nurture these relationships.

If you’re lucky enough to live in LCF, be thankful that the principal kicking a cat out of the high school and a family wanting to keep its treehouse can be big news here. Keep working hard to improve this wonderful town and its great schools, but take a step back sometimes and remember that you’re incredibly fortunate to live in such a safe, friendly, and beautiful community.

Thank you so much to everyone who has blessed my life here. You know who you are. I love you and I can’t wait until you see my new home with its 10 different types of fruit trees. (I promise that will be another blog post once the dust settles.)

I’m grateful to have lived in this wonderful community for so long, and to have been able to provide my children with the stability of attending one great public school district, but now it’s time for my next big adventure.

I’m looking forward to writing adoring blog posts about my new community.

We’re opening for Dana Gioia at the USC Writers Conference this Friday


USC Doheny LibraryCalling all writers! Learn about the business and craft of storytelling at this Friday’s USC Writers Conference. Featured speakers include:

I’m speaking on a panel with Zach Behrens, editor-in-chief of, and Nathan Masters, social media writer for USC Libraries, on the topic of “Social Media Strategies for Building an Audience.” We’ll warm up the crowd for Dana Gioia, who will speak about “The Writer as Entrepreneur” right after us.

Click here to rsvp. I’ve scanned the flyer below.

See you there!!

USC Writers Conference

Why we should consider changing the drinking age to 18


lower drinking age to 18As the mother of two college students, I figure that the stories I hear about campus parties are just the tip of the iceberg. But if what I’m hearing is any indicator, that’s one heck of an iceberg.

Until I read Jeff Mandell’s Stanford Daily article titled, “Modern Manners: The national pastime,” I had assumed that the stories I was hearing were symptomatic of the schools my children attend or their participation in the Greek system. I’m sad to discover that I was wrong. The same stupid stuff is happening at Stanford. Kids are drinking to excess more than ever, and it’s often leading to further poor choices, or even worse, emergency medical intervention.

What first struck me about Jeff’s article were the words, “I lived in Arroyo freshman year.” I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in Soto, the dorm next to Jeff’s, for two years in the mid-’80’s. My room faced the street that is now the main conduit for the emergency vehicles Jeff says are now a frequent occurrence. In all my time as an RA, I don’t remember a single emergency vehicle on that street. Not for our dorm or any other. The only alcohol-related emergency I remember from all my years at Stanford was a rumor that someone wound up in the hospital after drinking Everclear-laced punch at our class orientation party.

Here’s why I think things are different now:

  1. The drinking age is 21. This became a federal law in the summer of 1984. For most of my time in college, my fellow students and I were either legal or “grandfathered in.”
  2. Dorm parties don’t provide alcohol. Today’s college students would probably be shocked to learn that in my day not only did RA’s not bust kids for alcohol consumption, but they actually provided the alcohol at parties. Students could drink alcohol in the open and close to home, so if things started getting out of hand, there was more likely to be someone with their best interests at heart who could take care of them before things got too bad.
  3. Hard liquor is more readily available. The main drink I remember on campus was beer. It was all people could usually afford. It takes a lot more beers to get drunk than it does hard liquor. Also, girls weren’t afraid to drink beer. I think today’s girls are more concerned that it’ll make them fat.
  4. A lack of EANABS (Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages). When we held dorm parties, RA’s were required to provide tempting non-alcoholic alternatives for people who didn’t want to drink or who wanted to pace themselves. We actually took this seriously. I doubt this occurs behind closed doors or at non-university-sanctioned events.

Years ago, I read that many university presidents want a national discussion to consider changing the legal drinking age to 18 again. At the time, I didn’t understand why. After all, raising the drinking age has lowered the number of drunk driving fatalities, and why would you want to make it easier for college students to drink?

Now I agree with them. I think that we should seriously consider lowering the drinking age to 18.

I don’t say this lightly. I am not much of a drinker myself (1-2 glasses of wine a month, have never been drunk) and I’ve seen the effects of alcoholism on people I care about.

I think that if the law changed, there wouldn’t be a need to be as covert about alcohol consumption. I think that this would reduce the temptation to binge drink, and would allow drinking to occur in safer venues, under more watchful eyes. It would also allow schools to hold events where students could emulate safe drinking practices. And as a side note, I think it’s illogical that we will send someone off to war but not allow them the freedom to have a glass of beer. I’m not going so far as to say for sure that we should change the drinking age because I am not an expert on what actually occurs on campus and I haven’t thoroughly studied the relevant statistics. But if I had to vote today, I’d change the law. It wouldn’t solve the problem of college binge drinking and the effects if has, but I think it would help.

The stories I’ve heard would break your heart. Let’s do what we can to keep our young people safe, and teach them responsible habits they can carry throughout their lives.

UPDATE: The Pro-Con website recently posted pros and cons to changing the drinking age at

The blessings of field trips


I think that “The Garden State” should be renamed “Land of Field Trips.” Here’s a small sampling of the field trips I took as a student and a Girl Scout in New Jersey:

  • “Grease” on Broadway
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Places where George Washington slept
  • A chocolate factory
  • The Colorforms factory
  • The Bergen Record (where we saw them placing metal type!!)
  • Prentice Hall
  • Bell Labs (punch cards!!)
  • The Clearwater (Pete Seeger’s boat on the Hudson River)
  • Tenafly Nature Center
  • Stokes State Forest
  • Hunting for fossils along streambeds
  • Sandy Hook National Recreation Area
  • The Statue of Liberty

The schools I was blessed to attend had enough money to pay for regular field trips, and there was a nearly endless supply of natural, cultural, and industrial venues we could visit. When I was in high school, our band took bus trips to Montreal and Orlando, and my church handbell choir visited California and Tennessee.

Field trips expanded my world. Visiting California introduced me to the state where I chose to attend college and decided to live, and visiting factories influenced me to major in industrial engineering.

Late August, 2001: Atop the Empire State Building

My Mom was the great Girl Scout leader who organized all of the factory tours and some of the more obscure outings. Her energy and enthusiasm for new adventures inspired me to create “field trip” experiences for my own children and for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. When my daughter posted a picture of herself viewing a painting at the Getty Museum this weekend on her Facebook profile, I was pleased to see that all those trips to museums resulted in a young woman who appreciates art. Besides museums, I took my kids to restaurants, grocery stores, and even language and music classes in different cultures. Even though they’re in college now, we took a few hours over winter break to walk around Little Tokyo. Like New Jersey and neighboring New York, Los Angeles provides many great field trip opportunities.

When my kids got to school, their field trips included not only traditional locales such as the California Science Center and the Chumash Indian Museum, but when they were younger they toured a grocery store, a pet shop, and the post office.

I was reminded of this today when I read the New York Times article, “A Field Trip to a Strange New Place: Second Grade Visits the Parking Garage.” It features a fabulous teacher who introduces poor children to places that may seem commonplace to us, but are exotic to children whose parents don’t have the resources to get out much. I chuckled when the article pointed out that some of the kids hadn’t even been to New Jersey. Imagine! The teacher then ties what the kids learn on the field trip into her lesson plans.

I bet that these trips will have a huge impact on these kids. I remember more about the field trips that I took than all the other days of school combined. I wish that all kids could go to cool places like the Museum of Natural History or experience a multi-day camping trip, but I hope that schools and parents realize that if they find the beauty and learning potential in the places around them, they can create lasting memories for kids that might influence them for a lifetime.


What’s a meme?


What do a black cat, a confident baby and Willy Wonka have in common? They’ve all gone viral as memes! If you’re not sure what a meme is, you’re in good company: a quick survey of my adult friends showed that most had no idea what a meme is. By the end of this post you’ll not only understand memes, but your creative juices will be flowing so quickly you’ll be ready to create them yourself.

“Meme” is pronounced like “meem.” A sophisticated person might assume its origin is in the French word “même,” which means “same,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if its roots are more narcissistic: “Me! Me!” I say this because back in the internet Dark Ages, memes consisted of lists of questions that would be emailed from person to person, and each recipient would add his or her answers to the list. (e.g., What kind of ice cream do you like? Where would you most like to travel?)

A modern meme consists of text placed on top of an image, like a one-frame cartoon. The image is usually an isolated image on top of a pinwheel-patterned background. The “same” aspect comes from the fact that the same images are used over and over again, but with different text. Here are some examples of the same picture used with different text:

cat meme fireman cat cabinets cat meme dot

Many memes consist of text at the top and the bottom of a picture. The point is often to lead the reader in one direction with the top text, and then take it in a surprising direction with the bottom text.

The memes at the most popular meme-generating site,, often have names and descriptions. The cat above is known as Business Cat, and is described as follows:

Because so many people work in cubicle-filled offices and have to deal with upper management in the form of bosses, this meme and others like it has struck a chord in office workers everywhere. The fact that boss-like advice is coming out of a well-dressed, professional-looking cat, makes it all the more funny.

Before you create a meme and post it on a Facebook wall, be sure you’ve captured the “personality” of that meme. It’ll be funnier that way, and people will be less likely to complain that you’re doing it wrong.

Here are more popular meme images:

Success Kid Starbucks Success Kid Foul Bachelor Frog Willy Wonka


Some of my favorite memes are from You can place your witty saying atop hundreds of vintage vector art images on the site. Here are some of my recent faves:


There are many more funny memes, but some are a little (or a lot) too edgy to include on this family-friendly blog. There are also many that require knowledge of a particular college campus, a television show or a movie. After exploring various meme sites, perhaps you’ll feel inspired enough to make your own meme. Maybe it’ll even go viral!

Now that I’ve taught you about memes, that probably means they’ve jumped the shark. So get on board quickly!

Facebook meme pages I “like”:

Lessons from my grandparents


My paternal grandparents

When I was born, I was lucky enough to have not only four living grandparents, but two great-grandmothers. They all lived within 30 miles of us in New Jersey, so I got to see them every few months. I’m still blessed to have my maternal grandfather in my life, as well as his wonderful wife.

Here are some tidbits of wisdom my grandparents imparted to me:

  • My paternal grandmother told me to fear the sun. Like me, she was very fair-skinned, and spent a lot of time in the sun playing golf. It’s no surprise that she got skin cancer. I took her advice to heart, and sit at my indoor computer instead of playing golf.
  • My paternal grandfather gave me a bound ledger and taught me how to balance my checkbook. I used it throughout college, and have it stored away somewhere. I think he would have loved today’s finance programs and spreadsheets.
  • My maternal grandfather told me to be sure to learn how to communicate well. He ran his own ad agency, so he valued printed words and images. I used to love reading his books about graphic art and advertising. After 1,500 blog posts, it’s safe to say I took his advice to heart.
  • I never knew my mother’s mother, since she died when my mom was a little girl. She was a math major in college, and I wonder if I inherited her interest in numbers.
  • Although I never knew my maternal grandmother, my grandfather remarried, and then remarried again when his second wife also died. Neither of my step-grandmothers sat me down and told me specific advice, but I’ve learned from both. From Ruth I learned the value of manners and hard work. She was a wonderful cook, and would set the Christmas table with so much silverware that each person had a salt spoon and a pepper spoon. We were expected to know what to do with everything in front of us. From Janet I’ve learned the value of loving life. She’s one of the most optimistic people I know, and everyone loves her.
  • When my parents remarried, I gained two step-grandparents via my stepfather. They didn’t teach me anything specific either, but both modeled strong family relationships and a long-lasting marriage.

Count your blessings and appreciate and learn from your elders. And as you age, remember that what you say to the next generation might just stick.

For your viewing pleasure, my paternal grandparent’s wedding video:

Get the word out: teachers are paid well


Did you know that people in the private sector with comparable SAT and GRE scores to teachers are paid less? The recent NY Times Room for Debate feature titled, “Are Teachers Overpaid?” asked whether this means that teachers are overpaid or if public schools should pay more to attract top applicants.

I propose a third solution: let people know how much teachers are paid, so they can regard teaching as an economically prudent choice.

The prevailing consensus in this country is that teachers are underpaid. This is why hardly any of my college classmates considered a career in teaching. Fortunately, it’s not true, and there are numbers to prove it.

The Sacramento Bee recently published a tool called, “See how well your district pays its teachers, superintendent.” It allows you to search an online database by California region, county and school district to see average teacher salaries. When you combine that with the NY Times “What percent are you?” tool, which allows you to see what percentile an income represents for a given geographic region, it becomes clear that teacher salaries are well within the top half for our state.

The chart below shows where teacher salaries for some California districts place teachers compared to all households. I’ve included two columns for the percentiles, since many households have dual incomes. For rough comparison purposes, I’m doubling the teacher salary to be the household income. I know some teachers who are sole wage earners, and some who are married to people who make quite a bit more than they do, so this is just a rough estimate.

District Average
Percentile if
Household Income
is Twice as High
La Cañada Unified $70,964 Los Angeles Top 39% Top 13%
Pasadena Unified $65,714 Los Angeles Top 43% Top 15%
South Pasadena Unified $74,956 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
San Marino $70,574 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Los Angeles Unified $67,084 Los Angeles Top 41% Top 15%
Glendale Unified $70,145 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Arcadia $79,664 Los Angeles Top 34% Top 10%
Monrovia Unified $70,287 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Baldwin Park Unified $75,020 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
Glendora Unified $74,056 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
Highest paying school districts in California:
Montecito Union Elementary $101,066 Santa Barbara Top 27% Top 7%
Mountain View-Los Altos Union $100,530 Santa Clara Top 40% Top 14%


Bear in mind that these figures do not reflect that teachers enjoy far more vacation than most workers and get far more generous benefits than most private sector employees.

I don’t believe that teachers should be paid any less. Children are our future, and we need to value the people who teach them. However, we also need to be sure that our teachers are of the highest caliber.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently gave figures showing the vast difference in caliber between people entering the teaching profession in Finland compared to those who enter in the U.S.:

At the University of Helsinki, a mere 6.7% of those who applied to be primary school teachers were admitted this year to the education school.

That’s a lower acceptance rate than the 10% of applicants admitted to the University of Helsinki’s schools of law and medicine.

By comparison, the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee accepted 96% of undergraduate students who applied for the 2011 year, and 88% of post-baccalaureate applicants.

Perhaps if people realized how well teachers are paid, more higher-qualified applicants, particularly those in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) would enter the profession.

12 most important lessons learned over 20 years of parenting

12 most important parenting lessons learned

My daughter at one week old

Twenty years ago today, I gave birth to my first child. She was followed less than two years later by my son.

At 28, I was one of the first of my friends to have a baby. I attended a Lamaze class to prepare for childbirth and a Red Cross class to prepare for bringing our baby home. I read as many books as I could about parenting. But there were still many age-old lessons I needed to learn for myself.

  1. Parenting is difficult. From sleep-deprivation to not knowing if you’re setting the right rules to the pain of watching your children suffer physically or emotionally, parenting is tough not only when they’re infants, but clear on through the teenage years and probably forever.
  2. Parenting is rewarding. I’m purposely adding this right after the previous point. It’s amazing to see your children grow, learn, and become their own people. This far outweighs the difficulty. Or at least, thankfully it has for me.
  3. Mama Bear is real. Don’t intentionally hurt my children. Ever.
  4. You are not a puppeteer. Even when you teach kids what they should and shouldn’t do, they may still make bad decisions.
  5. Our children aren’t perfect. Neither are we. And that’s ok.
  6. Forgive. See previous two points.
  7. Your children are not you. They’re amazing in their own ways.
  8. Every child is different. And it’s not usually attributable to gender or birth order.
  9. Don’t judge other parents. We’re not in their shoes.
  10. Throw a lot of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. I introduced my kids to lots of different activities and sports and let them decide that they liked. Thankfully, they found what they liked.
  11. It’s ok if you become your parents. This was never an issue for me, since I think my parents are wonderful. It’s amazing how much of my parenting style comes from what I was exposed to.
  12. Appreciate every age. When I look back at photos from when my kids were little, it seems like a lifetime ago. What I’d give to return to those innocent days sometimes…but I guess that’s why God gives us grandchildren. But not soon, please!

Why I gave all my National Geographic magazines away

When I was in junior high, we got rid of many of our possessions in order to move into smaller accommodations when my parents divorced. What we didn’t sell at our big garage sale wound up out at the curb for the trash collector. I was horrified when I realized that we were discarding our collection of National Geographic magazines. I loved looking at the pictures and reading the articles, and decided that the best job in the world would be to be a photojournalist for National Geographic.

When I graduated from college in 1985, I used a portion of the cash gift from my grandparents to buy a subscription to National Geographic. I’ve subscribed ever since, and have kept every magazine and map I ever received. I thought that my kids would use them as resources for reports or just to satisfy their curiosity, but the internet quelched that. We love to read National Geographic when we receive it, but our attention is diverted by so many other magazines, newspapers, books and websites that the National Geographics tend to pile up, unread.

I considered canceling our subscription last year, but our family still appreciates National Geographic and I still wanted to support the National Geographic Society in their great work documenting our changing planet. But then I got the National Geographic app on my iPad. The photos are more vivid than in the print edition, and it’s easier to navigate from one story to the next. I’m hooked.

So this is it. This week, I got rid of our National Geographics. I asked my Facebook friends if anyone wanted them, and quickly found someone who was eager to take them off my hands. I figured he’d appreciate the old magazines from the 20’s and 40’s that I got at a neighbor’s garage sale, so I included them.

Here’s a short slideshow of some of the highlights of the magazines I said goodbye to:

My Ila screaming lady personal security alarm

ila personal security alarm screaming lady daily grommetWhen I took self-defense in college, the instructors made us practice screaming. They said that in an emergency situation, some people find it difficult to muster a scream loud enough and long enough to attract attention.

So when I saw the Ila Personal Alarm on Daily Grommet a few months ago, I immediately bought one for myself and one for my college-age daughter. As this video shows, when you pull the small pin out of the device, it screams for 10 minutes. I think it’s brilliant to replicate a scream, since I agree that it’s more likely to attract attention than another sound.

If I’m ever in a situation where I’m alone and feel vulnerable, I hang the Ila on the outside of my purse and hold the little chain. I’ve never had to pull it, thankfully, but I figure that if there’s ever a need I’ll appreciate any help I can get. I’ve demonstrated it to lots of people, and nearly all of them have been so impressed that they’ve asked for information on how to order it. That’s partly why I’m writing this post.

Hopefully my daughter and I won’t need this, but better safe than sorry.

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