Kids, voting, and citizenship

•November 7, 2006 • Leave a Comment

I remember the day my parents were sworn in as citizens of the
United States – it was a proud moment for all of us and I vividly recall going with them the first time they were able to cast their vote.

It’s a precious, this right of ours, to have a say in who will govern and how we will be governed. Yet, it’s shocking that only 61% of eligible voters turned out for the presidential election in 2004. And in 2002, the last mid-term election, only 39.5% of eligible voters turned out to vote.

Why is this? The California Voter Foundation conducted a study in the summer of 2005 to understand why people didn’t vote and found that “Among infrequent voters, the two most important reasons for not voting were “I’m too busy to vote” (28 percent) and “There are no candidates that I believe in” (20 percent).” The CVF has several recommended strategies on how to increase voter turnout, ranging from greater awareness of absentee ballots to encouraging friends and family to vote.

I have one other to add: Take your kids to the polls. I’ve been taking my kids to the polls, having them help me make sure that I transfer the right votes from my sample ballot cheat sheet (available from to the official ballot. They even help my put the ballot into the machine that “eats” it. I also discuss issues I think they can understand, such as Measure A in San Mateo County which enacts a sales tax to support parks and recreation services.

But there’s one thing I won’t let them help me with – and that’s filling out the ballot (they think it’s actually fun drawing thick black lines on the ballot!). That’s a privilege and right which I want them to look forward to, the day when they become voting members of their community. Until then, they’ll have to settle for the gratification of “I voted” stickers and I’ll know that I have done my part – for the time being – of raising the next generation of citizens.


Rethinking music lessons

•September 19, 2006 • Leave a Comment

I am frequently asked how to select a music teacher for a child, primarily because my husband and I are classically trained musicians and have enrolled our kids in lessons for years. Daughter K. took to piano at a VERY early age — she started private lessons at 3.5 years and has been going strong since. Son B. started on piano also early, at age 5, but struggled — surprise surprise, it turns out that boys don’t develop finger dexterity until much later than girls.

So we decided to try violin with B. — probably the hardest instrument you could ever play! Why? Two reasons: 1) it would be hard for sister K to pick up and 2) both mom and dad know how to play it (although neither of us really enjoyed it that much). While B. took to it at first, it became evident that he really didn’t like the sound of the violin — which is understandable, since who would like a high, out-of-tune screech?

We returned the rental violin and having learned from the previous experiences, let him decide what instrument he wanted to play. We were adament that he play **something** musical and after thinking about it, he decided on the electric guitar.

Now, mind you, my classically trained ear and mind rebelled initially at the thought of my son playing the electric guitar. But then I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so close-minded about the type of music he should learn. After all, music is music isn’t it? So I put my plan into action with the goal of o getting my son totally excited about his new instrument instead of dreading it.

We trotted off to B Street Music in San Mateo and picked up a starter guitar set. B. has been strumming on the guitar for the past three weeks and got to the point where he was **begging** to have a lesson. He couldn’t get the guitar to sound the way it did on the songs he liked and was eager to learn to play chords. Ha, Ha! Part one of my plan was going pretty well!

He went to his first lesson with his dad last week and I was thrilled to learn that he came back not only knowing how to tune his guitar but also now knew three chords, enabling him to play actual songs! He’s been diligently practicing the chords every night — we’ll see how long this keeps up.

Part Two of my plan is this — I want my son to really love music, and to understand what a great gift it can be. But not at the cost of making him suffer through tortuous lessons. I have a guitar-playing colleague at work who had some great words of wisdom — that there is no one right way to play the guitar, and if we didn’t end up liking our current teacher, that we should keep looking until we find one that worked well with my son’s style.

Bear with me through one other anecdote about my daughter. Her teacher suggested that she participate in the piano competition at the San Mateo County Fair this summer, especially since K. enjoyed performing so much. She played her pieces well, but it was clear that the other students were much more accomplished and spent a LOT of time practicing every day. Afterwards she commented that she “was the baddest” and I could see that she was disappointed. I took her in my arms, told her how incredibly proud that she got up there and played, and that she did her best, which was all anybody could ask her to do. I also said that she had other things in her life that she enjoyed doing, like swimming, biking, singing, and gymnastics, that meant she didn’t practice as much as they other kids. I emphasized that if she wanted to play the piano better, we could practice more. She hasn’t taken me up on the proposition and remains to this day a very balanced, happy girl that plays the piano well (if not always perfectly).

This got me to thinking even more about why we push our kids to be musical. Is the goal of lessons to become a world-class musicians? Or was the goal of the practicing and lessons to develop a deep love for music? In discussions with K.’s music teacher, we’re beginning to emphasize a balance of perfecting pieces with understanding the meaning behind the music, and also, composing creative songs built on a solid theoretical understanding of music. The process has helped me completely rethink the purpose of music education in our lives.

This has been our scattered journey into the world of music lessons.

And oh, I’m getting my son earphones for his birthday next week — even though he’ll get better, I’m not sure I’ll always appreciate his form of musical expression!

Cross-posted on

If I had a million dollars…

•September 9, 2006 • Leave a Comment

When I moved to Silicon Valley five years ago, I sang this song over and over again — and it usually went “If I had a million dollars….I’d buy a house”. Well, I’ve bought my house and so now, the question is what would I do if I had *another* million dollars?

Let me put this post in context — I’m sitting in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, banging out this post, while drinking a beer, noshing on nachos, and hoping that my flight doesn’t get any more delayed so that I can put my kids to sleep on a Friday night. So the first thought comes to mind is that if I ever lottery jackpot (which I guiltily play every time I pick up groceries), I would quit my job so that I could stay home with the kids.

But would I?  My kids are in school so I’d have to find something else to do during the day. Maybe I’d work on a political campaign or help out a non-profit. Maybe I’d pull my kids out of school, travel around the world and homeschool them along the way. But then again, I probably wouldn’t, which pulls me back to why would I want to “make it big” in the first place?

I find Silicon Valley warped in so many ways, and none more so than the drive to strike it rich. But there’s something else — it’s the drive to make a difference. In my line of work, I see many repeat entrepreneurs who have made their riches, but are back in it again, working outrageous hours — for what? There’s something driving us here, something more than the profit motive.

It’s part of the reason why I love living here — the passion with which people pursue their hopes and dreams. And before I get any mushier (the effect of the beer, week of work, or just plain sentiment), let me put down what I would do with a million dollars:

– I’d give half of it away to support my favorite causes
– I’d invest a quarter in new businesses that could multiple the money for even more future investment in good causes
– And I’d spend the rest on family vacations to far flung locales.

So what would you do with your cool millions?

Cross-posted on

My Google Bag

•August 13, 2006 • Leave a Comment

My first grade daughter has been bringing a swim bag to camp most days this summer — it was one of those tchotchkes that I got at an industry event. So last weekend she was getting ready to go to a swim birthday party and asked, “Mom, where’s my Google bag?”

I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Honey, it’s a Yahoo! bag.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Well, do you know where it is?”

My daughter is your typical Silicon Valley kid who knows how to use the Internet, can type in URLs, and has heard me and my husband talk endlessly about companies like Google and Yahoo!. What struck me dumb was that even though she was carrying around this large purple swim bag emblazoned with Yahoo!’s name on it all summer, she thought it was her Google bag. It’s incredible to me that the Google brand carries such weight that it became top of mind for my six year old.

Just to double check, I asked her later if she knew what the difference was between Google and Yahoo. “Yahoo! is the place where you go to play games (she uses Yahooligans),” while “Google is what shows up on your screen when something doesn’t work.” (Google is the default search engine on the kids’ computer so it appears to the side of the Web browser when a page can’t be found). My son (a second grader) chimed in that Google was good for finding stuff you needed to know about, while Yahoo! was the place you go to find pictures, play games, and check your email.

So while Yahoo! doesn’t appear to be top of mind for my daughter, she definitely has a more positive opinion of Yahoo! than of Google. There’s hope yet for Yahoo! to win the mind as well as the heart of my daughter.

Surviving amusement parks with kids

•August 7, 2006 • Leave a Comment

Coaster graphicI love roller coasters and for the past four years, my family has gotten season passes for the local amusement park, Great America, and we end up going at least four times a year. And yes, I actually enjoy it with the kids! My husband took the kids (ages 6 and 7) while I was at BlogHer and we just went again this Sunday with other family members.

I thought I’d pass along some tips and tricks we’ve developed to not only survive but actually enjoy and look forward to a trip to amusement parks with kids, and specifically, Great America. I’d welcome any other tips as well!

Go early, leave early. Plan to arrive at the gates as close to opening time as possible. You’ll have the run of the park until around lunch time when the not-as-organized families and teenagers arrive. The park typically gets really crowded after 3pm, which is exactly when we head for the exits. Don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth? Be sure to use the online ticketing options which can cut almost half off the price of an adult ticket, and think also about how much happier you’ll all be if you get out while everyone is still in a good mood.

Give the kids a budget for spending. One of the worst things about amusement parks is the whining. Opportunities to spend money are everywhere you turn — from games to cotton candy to tempting merchandise. Our solution: give the kids a set budget and allow them to spend it anyway that they want. We typically give them $5, which allows them to play a game, blow it at the candy store, or buy a coveted necklace or car. Our only rule — they can’t buy/eat candy before lunch.

By doing this, we’ve pretty much eliminated all whining that surrounds spending money. It’s also a nice way to teach them the value of money and have them do math as well. But when the money is gone, it’s gone. It’s hard the first the child realizes they are out of money and can’t do anything, but the next time we go, they really budget their money.

Eat an early lunch. Beat the crowds, avoid grumpy hungry kids, and hit the rides again as everyone else is heading to the cafes. At Great America, the NickToons Cafe is great if you don’t mind your kids becoming video zombies. The cafeteria-style lines can be very long, so this is our trick – seat the kids at a table (they will zombie-out), then grab a fruit salad, a few slices of pizza, and make a stop at the drink fountain. I don’t wait in the line as it’s the people waiting for hot meals like burgers and chicken nuggest. We also invest in two refillable drink bottles that keeps us hydrated all day — I usually fill one with Sprite and dilute it with lots of ice and also some water for the kids. The other I fill with Diet Coke to keep give us the energy to keep up with the kids wired on Sprite. One extra benefit of the bottles — you can use them year after year after year.

– Plan down time. One of our favorite attractions is Scooby Doo’s Haunted River, where kids can float boats down a mountain river. There’s only one entrance and exit, and you can sit on a nearby patio or benches and watch all of the proceedings. Our kids know when they need to take a break and will ask specifically to go there to unwind! We also see shows, go on the SkyTower for great views, and take the cable car to slow everything down.

New knitting store in San Mateo – Nine Rubies

•January 18, 2006 • 1 Comment

I was out house shopping with my realtor when she mentioned that a friend of hers had opened a knitting store in downtown San Mateo. Nine Rubies Knitting is owned and run by a mother (Sudha Sarin) and daughter (Saloni Howard-Sarin) team that created the place.

I had to get some needles for a scarf I’m making my mother, so I stopped there – they have great hours, open late every evening until 7pm (to catch the dinner traffic — very smart!).

The space is drop-dead gorgeous with plenty of room, unlike most knitting shops where yarns are crammed into every square inch of space. Extra high ceilings and a living room-like sitting are makes you want to stay and knit for hours.

Saloni was working the shop and was extremely friendly and helpful. They will be holding classes in the future and, yes, they even have a blog.

Nine Rubies Knitting (right next to Selix Tuxedos, near El Camino Real)
28 East 3rd Ave., #100
San Mateo, CA 94401-4063

Google Maps link

Renewing my driver’s license online – wow!

•December 26, 2005 • Leave a Comment

I just got a notification to renew my California driver’s license and this year, there was the option of renewing it online. The key criteria are that you can’t have changed your address. So I figured, it sure beat standing in line, or even mailing in my renewal with a check. In all, it took about 3 minutes to do from start to finish. Wow. I’ve been a pessimist of government’s adoption of technology, but no longer — this is just too cool. The added benefit is that I can keep my old photo and stay “forever young”.