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Have you heard the term ‘slackivism’? Coined in the era of Stop Kony and #BringBackOurGirls, it’s a negative-leaning term used to describe political or philanthropic actions some suspect provide more comfort and utility to the giver than to the intended recipient. It encompasses everything from temporarily filtering your Facebook profile photo to demonstrate your solidarity with marriage equality or Paris, to those websites my mom finds where you can click to send a daily bowl of rice to an impoverished child.

But here’s the thing. As Nicholas Kristof famously pointed out, armchair slactivism is a whole lot better than armchair apathy. And some of the initiatives dubbed ‘feel good’ by the cynics have produced tangible results on the exact issue they were intended to impact.



Charlie Brown

For most families, listening to an older relative opine on the good old days is as much a part of Thanksgiving as pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. This year, NPR’s StoryCorps has seized upon what’s already happening to unveil an audaciously ambitious goal: to preserve the voices and stories of an entire generation of Americans over one holiday weekend. And we can all help.

If you’re not already a fan of Story Corps, some day when you have a few minutes, visit their webpage and browse through the stories of ordinary peoples’ lives, dreams, and experiences. From the mother who hugged her son’s murderer, to the 85-year-old lox slicer, to the man who tracked down the third grade teacher who comforted him 50 years earlier at his mother’s funeral, it’s a far more satisfying procrastination break than Facebook. Or even, dare I say it, Amy Schumer videos.


ducks underwater

At boot camp this Monday, it was clearly a banner day for the ducks. We campers spent the whole rainy morning watching them frolic in Lake Merritt. But even if they were the species most visibly enjoying the downpour, I daresay every creature on earth was pretty damn happy about it.

The sight of the delighted ducks reminded me of an insightful college list from this season. But first – do we all agree that the list thing has gotten completely out of control? It used to be that US News & World Report (does it still even exist as a magazine?) had the lock on the ridiculous rankings. Their longstanding, tyrannical “Best of” list is the one all the cool kids try to climb, despite the fact that it might as well be calculated by multiplying the number of volumes in the library by the liters of frozen yogurt dispensed at the main campus café, divided by the difference in membership between the marching band and the intercollegiate croquet team. Or something equally meaningless to true educational quality.



This one is an oldie from way back in September 2010. I barely recognize my tender young self, shuttling a nervous kindergartener off to school and conquering PMS for the first time. Remember the days pre-online registration, when the kids would come home the first day with a thick packet of forms to fill out? With a top-of-the-world senior in the house, the dwindling number of First Days is feeling all too real for me.  I’m trying hard not to dwell on the ‘lasts’ too much. I was even sentimental about our final, sweaty walk-through registration. But I’m sure you’ll excuse me if I draw the line on waxing romantically about the emergency forms.   

What is it about a new school year?  The air crackles with excitement for students and non-students alike.   Not-so-deeply buried memories of new crayon boxes, new possibilities, and wondering who you’ll sit with at lunch.

 Or maybe not.  I saw a friend at Mulberry’s last Wednesday who sends her youngest off to college this year.  For her, the week of back-to-school was bittersweet. She’s already seen two kids’ rooms go dark, and she’s about to see the final one fade away.  She said she was a little numb about the whole thing, confused about what to do.

 For the rest of us, the start of school brings maybe too much to do.  Too much to think about.  And too many forms to fill out.  Danea Adams told me she takes an annual first-day photo with her kids on her front steps.  She recently noticed that she looks bleary-eyed and weary in every first-day photo she has, because she doesn’t sleep well the night before.  I’m in that club, too. 

 Last year I was reeling from two kids starting new schools (a kindergartener at Havens-at-Beach & a first time PMS’er) and one climbing aboard the much-anticipated buses.  I didn’t sleep well for a week before school started.  I thought this year would be better.  But I woke up at 2:30am Wednesday morning panicked because I forgot to tell my friend Liz about Piedmont’s first-day etiquette.  Luckily, she was put together enough to realize that 1) her husband was required to take the morning off work and 2) she needed a dazzling outfit for the “coffee” that first morning.

 I wish someone had told me my first year, when I squandered all my energy on my reluctant kindergartener and slippery toddler, and don’t recall even washing my face.  I’m also pretty sure I wore sweatpants.   

 However challenging your first week turned out to be, it’s good perspective to remember that everyone has a finite number of first days. Some day you’ll be walking past strangely empty bedrooms, wistfully recalling the struggles to get teeth brushed and backpacks loaded. Perhaps then, in a quiet moment, you’ll even be nostalgic for those duplicate registration forms.


Is anyone else curious about those Hampton Creek ads that have been showing up every Sunday in the New York Times? They’re full page announcements with sweeping proclamations like “when you create a path that makes it easy for good people to do good things – they will do it” and they started at the beginning of the summer. Some are addressed to ‘Food Company Executives’, some to ‘CEO’s’ and some just to ‘You.’ Hampton Creek’s CEO, Josh Tetrick, seems to be a man not especially blessed with hubris. The folksy, first-person ads are written directly from Tetrick, and he lists an email address and cell phone number on each one, inviting people to contact him directly with feedback or questions.

The ads refer to the movement being built by Hampton Creek, which self-identifies as the fastest growing food company on earth. But they don’t really explain what Hampton Creek does. Luckily you can look it up. You’ll find that all this talk of revolution stems from a company focused on developing alternatives to animal protein, starting with the humble egg.



Summertime Posts are always full of letters from kids at Camp Augusta; I thought I’d turn the tables with a letter to a kid for a change. Here’s mine to Sadie. She, and all the other Session 2 campers, will return home on July 3rd to a markedly different world than they left on June 20th.

Dear Sadie:

Whoa Nellie, you picked quite a couple of weeks to be off the grid! I don’t know how much those superstar Camp A. counselors fill you in on the happenings of the world while you’re out in the wilderness, but just in case you’re entirely cut off, you should know there’s been a lot going on.

You already knew about the vicious shooting at the church in Charleston – that was right before you left and I know how horrified you were. It has caused lots of terrible repercussions since you’ve been gone – arguments over whether or not the shooter should be called a ‘terrorist’, glimpses into his racist website, and explanations of his despicable doctrine of white supremacy.



july 4th kids parade

We’re laying down the tarp in our driveway to begin the annual ritual of float building. We took a few years off, but this year, for the 50th anniversary of Dick Johnson’s wacky patriotic brainstorm we decided to enter one more time. No matter what your neighborhood, you should, too. You’ll make friends and memories to last a lifetime.

Say what you will about Halloween, Gold Rush weekends, and all those soccer games. I truly believe that years from now, when my kids close their eyes and remember growing up in Piedmont, they’ll picture building our trademark 4th of July Parade floats in our old neighborhood.

Shockingly, though we Mesa-Monte-Park-Pala’ers were obsessed with winning, our floats never got the respect they deserved. We never won Best in Show. Sure, the glorious chicken-wire-state-capitol building was named “most creative”. And we were awarded “best theme” for the little red schoolhouse Chad pulled wearing a graduation gown. Or was that the year he was a horse? I get confused. It doesn’t really matter. It was the journey, not the destination. And the journey was tremendous fun.


good kid bad kid

Everyone says that columnists are notoriously thin-skinned. Personally, I get lots of comments along the lines of ‘I really like your columns, except for the ones I hate.’ This never bothers me since I assume the hated columns are the quasi-political ones, and I’m not exactly shy about my political leanings. Trigger warning: this is probably going to be one of the columns that many of you hate.

It all stems from an op ed last weekend by Nicholas Kristof that gave me a golden nugget in my quest to differentiate Democrats and Republicans for my kids. Over the years they’ve been subject to plenty of lively family ‘debates’ that have left them wondering ‘what’s the difference?’ They understand where my loyalties lie and they know how strongly their grandparents, uncles and aunts disagree. They know which candidates each side supports. But I’ve never been able to explain the philosophical distinctions well enough to justify all the family drama.


lake merritt


Oakland is en fuego. And I don’t mean just because the Warriors are currently tearing it up on the court and in Riley-fueled press conferences. Or because Sunset Magazine recently announced it’s relocating their iconic Menlo Park campus to Jack London Square. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s almost too much good news to capture.

Piedmont’s own Mr. Ghielmetti is leading the charge for Brooklyn Basin, a 65 acre waterfront development with exciting retail, residential and public park spaces that will reshape the city’s skyline. The old dumpy Safeway on College Avenue has been transformed to the anchor of a hip new shopping center (can you say ‘Cream’?), and the jumbo one on Pleasant Valley is soon to follow. Nevermind First Fridays, all manners of neighborhood festivals and farmer’s markets, and enough cutting-edge restaurants to fill a city 10 times its size. Did I mention the upcoming foodie-bait of Water Street Market (Jack London Square), Newberry Market (the old Sears building in Uptown) and Grand Fare (where the strange Monkey Bar place was on Grand Avenue)?


peter finch

There’s really no other way to say it: we’re sick of the shoplifting. Mulberry’s employees are tired of assuming every kid is about to snatch a soda. Chad is sick of devoting most of his evenings to parental conferences and come-to-Jesus meetings with kids we catch. And our friends must be sick of listening to us complain. We knew that shoplifting would be an issue when we opened the store.  But we thought that as we gained experience and our kids grew up, we’d feel even more of a connection to our pint-sized customers and that infamous Piedmont Upstander ethos would keep things in line.

Instead, we find ourselves engaged in disheartening, depressingly familiar confrontations with kids who we’ve known since they were in preschool. Kids who we’ve coached or driven on field trips. Kids whose siblings play on teams with our own children, kids our kids have babysat, kids whose parents we adore.