Dear Signa,

I know you don't think it's weird that you are a teenager now, but I do.  It's weird that you are 13 and it was just yesterday that you were scootching around on the floor with your happy face.  And now you are 13 and while you still have your happy face, it's more about Minecraft and YouTube than about the freedom of movement around the living room.
This past year you've matured so much.  You have cemented your confidence in liking what you like and shrugging about what you are "supposed" to like but don't.  You absolutely do not succumb to peer pressure; in fact, sometimes I think it's the opposite.
You got your brown belt in karate this year and I'm so super proud of that.  You also finished 7th grace and are hitting 8th at a run.
I'm actually proud of everything about you. You continue to be an amazing creature that I can't believe I helped create.

I love you, Magill!


All my life, I’ve stuck to the things I can easily master.  My brother made me read a book about this when our dad was dying, almost three years ago to the day.  We were in an airport waiting for our flight to or from our last visit with Dad—I’m not sure which, as it blurs now.  I told him how I liked playing Sudoku puzzles, but only if they were easy or medium: the hard sometimes stumped me and the expert always did.  He said he read a book and that I had to read it.  He then went on and on so much that I said, “Fine!  I’ll download the derned thing!”  I did and I read it and I was not happy.  With me.

But that was in 2012, before I knew how to be a failure.   I’ve failed so much since then, that I’ve decided it’s my new hobby. 

The book my brother made me read, Mindset,The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, talked about two mindsets: Fixed and Growth.  Reading this book in 2012, I realized that I was definitely of the Fixed Mindset.  I was good at what I was good at and didn’t try things I wasn’t already good at. If I accidentally got sucker punched into trying something I wasn’t magically a natural at, well, I quit.  Quickly.

After reading this book, I did only Hard and Expert Sudoku puzzles for a while.  Sometimes I didn’t complete them in one sitting and sometimes I had to start over.  But you know what?  Now I do only Expert, as I can do the Hard without a blink.  Sometimes I still fail and have to start over.  Newsflash: The world does not end.

Moving to a Growth mindset is a conscious effort with every step.  Instinctively, I gravitate to Fixed and don’t try things I’m not good at.  It’s just sorta my thing.  In work, relationships, hobbies, and the world in general, I gravitate towards the things that I think might get me praise.   “Wow, Debbie, you are a master at this.  You rock.  You are awesome.” Not that I ever actually hear those words, but at least when I try easy things I don’t hear, “You suck and should just quit.”  Not that I ever hear those words from anyone other than myself, although I fear them more than I crave the good ones.

But sometimes… sometimes, I force it.  I force myself to do hard things.  It is really forcing and I really am getting good at not excelling.  And failing over and over again is, I’m sure, going to pay off in the long run. I fail at relationships and it’s okay because I’m learning to not settle for what's easy.  I fail at Sudoku expert level and it’s okay because it was just really hard and this is just practice.  Like life.  I fail at work because oh my God seriously, Work?!?  You set me up for this shit. And I fail at being a mom, because isn’t that what Moms do?  Set such high expectations for ourselves that they are automatically un-achievable (see: Pinterest).

Because of my new-found success at failure, I decided a few years ago that I was going to learn some sort of music, even though I have no musical abilities.  I was told as a kid that I was a klutz and ungraceful, so I never tried any dance or music or anything requiring any elegance at all. Because I might suck.

But now with my new-found quest for failure, what better thing to do than music where I was sure to be a big fat crapola of shit.  I tried guitar with Signa the first summer she took lessons, but it wasn’t my thing.  I wasn’t bad enough to fail, but I was bored enough to just zone out.  I always thought piano would be my thing, but it just wasn’t right, either—too soothing and too... something.  Or maybe not enough something. Whatever.  Just not for me.

The only other thing I could think of was drums.  I saw my father-in-law playing his drums in his band a few times and he looked like he was having so much fun.  So I googled for a teacher.  There were two that I thought may fit my needs.  One was in San Jose and the other right in my town.  I bookmarked both a couple of years ago and then… life. 

Last year I emailed the guy in my town and we decided after the first of this year would be a good time to start lessons.  So earlier this year, I started my drum lessons with Joe Salles.

Now this post’s title is FAILURE, but Joe is not one of those.  He’s a great guy, a great drummer, and his teaching is perfect for me.  He has this odd intuition to know when something is too hard, just hard enough, or too easy.  He pauses, moves ahead, or switches it up accordingly.  This occurred to me a few months ago when I was trying to get something, couldn’t, and he started telling a story.  It wasn’t our normal chat cycle that we do in lessons; it was timed differently.  Noticeably different. Then he stopped talking a few minutes later and said, “Try again.”  I was able to do whatever it was just fine.  I just needed a mental break and he knew it, even though I didn’t have a clue other than, “I suck and should just quit.”

We work on rudiments and syncopation and stick control and we both know I will never be a rock star or in a band or a famous drummer.  But you know what?  I can’t remember ever having this much fun learning to do something I’m not all that great at.

Sometimes failure is just what the doctor ordered.

I was thumbing through a magazine recently and came across a short article titled, “The Pan Am Experience.”  Next to it was a picture of what appeared to be the internal organs of a glamorous 1970s passenger airplane, complete with smiling flight attendants dressed to the nines.  From the gist of the headline, I gathered that it was an advertisement to eat how you did on Pan Am in the 1970s. 

For only $295 ($355 if you want the fancier upper dining deck) you can board a replica Pan Am 747 and never actually go anywhere.   At the check-in desk, instead of getting strip-searched and herded like cattle, you get a ‘70s boarding pass complete with ticket jacket and carry-on tags.  Using your boarding pass, you now have a chance to enjoy the lounge without having to sign up for the airlines’ outrageously heavy interest Mastercard program.  In the lounge, with drink in hand, you can visit the authentic Pan Am "memorabilia". 

Now, when I was growing up, my father was a graveyard airline mechanic for Pan-Am at San Francisco Airport.  Without implicating my family in the demise and eventual bankruptcy of Pan-Am, I believe it’s okay to mention that at one time or another we lived on much of the Pan Am memorabilia that you will see in your Clipper Club lounge.  Our coats and luggage all featured the logo, having been “borrowed” from the airline.  My childhood art masterpieces were done on the Pan Am computer punch cards of the 1970s. Many of our food items, including the Chateaubriand served on special family occasions, were “leftovers” from Pan Am.  Just seeing the logo for me is like many of you might feel seeing the wallpaper that adorned your childhood home. But back to the tour.

After you peruse the items of my childhood, you will board the Air Hollywood replica of Pan Am’s first Boeing 747.  Having not actually experienced the Air Hollywood version, I can only imagine that you get to board this without the person behind you crashing your heels with his luggage or the woman in front of you taking the last spot in the overhead compartment while yelling into her cell phone. 

Once boarded, your Stewardess (not flight attendant) will be wearing the original tightly fitted uniform and you will be offered another cocktail while soothing music fills the cabin of the fake airplane.  While they perform a safety demonstration, you get to sit back in comfortable, roomy seats, rather than being shoe-horned into the spot between the smelly bible salesman and the extremely large woman who may or may not be a circus performer. Rather than having peanut packets thrown at you, you are served a gourmet four-course meal on fancy China (that may or may not have been used with the Chateaubriand during my special family dinners).  And instead of having plastic cups thrown at you with 6 precise cubes of ice and four exact fingers of cola, you are served your choice of beverage in crystal glasses that may or may not have been my childhood everyday glasses.

During his decade at Pan Am, my father made lifelong friends.  It wasn’t until Dad’s funeral that I learned that some of these friends had only worked with him for a couple of months before moving on from Pan Am, but they never moved on from one another.  There are many stories I cannot share that I learned about Dad during the after-funeral party, and most also featured Pan Am in some way or another.  Maybe.  I'm not implicating anyone.

Pan Am was a pioneer airline, in both its early routes through continents and in its fostering of a family-like atmosphere for the employees.  The Kelly Act of 1925 authorized government mail contracts to private carriers.  As a result, many aircraft owners began air carrier services, including Pan American World Airways in 1927, when it won a contract to deliver mail to and from Cuba and the United States.  By 1930, it expanded to include mail between Mexico and Latin America and the United States. At this same time, air carriers were forced to carry passengers not just cargo to remain competitive.  In 1939, Pan Am was the first United States passenger service to Europe and then provided military transport to Europe, Africa, and Asia.  By the middle of the 1970s, Pan Am had become one of the world’s largest air carriers.  Deregulation, recession, turmoil in world politics, airline airfare wars, and high gas prices, caused Pan Am to lose ground in the mid-1980s.

With their fleet aging and no money to purchase new aircraft, Pan Am was spending too much money on keeping their flights in the air-- over $800 an hour for maintenance costs for every hour an aircraft was in flight.  I'm pretty sure my family didn't borrow enough items to contribute to much of that $800 an hour, but just in case, we GAVE IT ALL BACK. That is what I will say if I'm ever asked.  WE GAVE IT ALL BACK.  Even the Chateaubriand.  

It also should be well noted here that my mechanic father was not earning a cent of this $800 an hour per aircraft, as he was no longer working at Pan Am.  He was in the lay-off program of years before.  But if he had been among the mechanics left, he would have used his Macgyver-like skills to use spit, glue, and duct tape to keep those planes in the air for far less than $800 per hour.  We should all be thankful for that lay-off...  Pan Am filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and, while they tried to reopen in 1997, they had to shut their doors once again when they couldn’t pay their creditors.

While they may not have been the best of business people, I will forever be grateful to Pan Am for my “uncles,” for my winter-wear, and for giving this poor child from a poor family the taste of Chateaubriand, which I found at the time tastes best with just a hint of catsup.

Dear Bubba,

Today you turn nine years old.  I remember 9 years ago so clearly.  It was a wonderful day, the day you were born.  We went to the hospital in the morning, as you were trying to escape.  You were brought out that afternoon and were the sweetest cutest baby I'd ever seen and you've been my big bub ever since.

I am so proud of how loving and smart you are.  You are also braver than the rest of us, willing to try any and all new things.  Not a week goes by where I don't hear how polite you are and how nice and refreshing you are to be around.  You say please and thank you, even when you don't need to, and that is very nice to hear.  I am honored to have you call me Momma.

I think you will face some challenges this year, but I know you will handle them with grace and smiles.  And you will be just fine, because you are a wonderful person, inside and out.

I love you, my little baby man.
I hate to sound like I'm 100, but kids these days have it so easy. In my day, the Internet didn't answer our every trivial question. And in my day, there was a dad who wouldn't take, "I don't know- Let's move on," for an answer. If I asked a question and he didn't know the answer, by God, he'd find it. Not only would he find the answer, but he'd show me how to find the answer. In detail. Great detail.

One time, we were in the car on Highway 101. We had to take 380 to get over to 280 to get home. "Where did the highways get their numbers?" I asked to make conversation. I was 11.


"Well, Shorty. I don't know." At that moment, I realized that my weekend was over. We’d spend it researching how highways got their numbers.

When we got home, we sat at the table and went through the Ma Bell Phone Book. DMV? No. They do motor vehicles. Department of Transportation. Yes, they handle the roads. Dad helped me write a letter (several of them until it was right— no backspaces or Control X/Control V available). We then went and got stamps and mailed the letter.

A few weeks later, we got a letter back telling us that North-South highways are odd numbered and East-West highways are even numbered. It went on with more detail, but I didn't really care by then.

Just now, I googled this question. I got 28,500,000 results. The first is Wikipedia (, “United States Numbered Highways," which explains it in great detail without having to use the Ma Bell Phone Book, pen, paper, draft letters, final letters, envelopes or stamps.

But Googling isn’t nearly as memorable, either. Nor as endearing, like the sleeping bags.

When I was nine, I'd saved up $50 and I wanted us to have sleeping bags so that we could go camping. Dad said that he'd buy his and Mom's and that I could buy mine and Todd's, but I had to research different sleeping bags to find the best for what we had to spend. I was nine; I didn't know anything thing about sleeping bags. But not to worry-- Dad was to teach me how to research. At age nine.

This process would have been a lot different today. Today, I could teach my kids to open their Internet browser on their iPods and search, "best sleeping bag." Done.

But back then, there was no internet, internet browser, or Google. What did we have? The library and store clerks. Dad explained that we couldn't just go to the store and trust the clerk. Sometimes they are stupid and sometimes they just try to sell you the most expensive. So you have to know before you go.

Dad took me to the library and we we were there for hours. We first asked the librarian where the best place to find this information would be. She directed us to the issues of a magazine called, “Consumer Reports”. Dad had me look through them and I found an old issue about camping equipment that including sleeping bags.

I read the article and made notes. It outlined the different outer and inner materials with pros and cons. We talked through it and decided we wouldn't be camping in snow so crossed those off the list. Rain wouldn't be on purpose, but dew could happen, so while water-PROOF wasn't imperative, water-RESISTANT was.

I remember deciding on an nylon exterior with a Dacron II interior. I remember this clearly almost forty years later. In my quick Google search just now, Dacron had is founding by Dupont in the 1950s and by the 1970s it was in it's second rendition. It's still used in pillows and, likely, sleeping bags.

So then it was time for the shopping. Did we just go to the store and buy them? No. We went home. To the telephone and back to the good ol’ Ma Bell Yellow Pages. Dad had me call Montgomery Wards, Best, Sears, and a local camping store. I asked if they had Dacron II filled nylon sleeping bags and the cost. I made a chart of each and then we chose Sears. The next day (yes, this took all weekend) we drove to Sears and I chose our sleeping bags and counted out my dollars to the clerk. I got green, Todd got orange, Mom got brown and Dad got blue. We used them for many years and my pride at having shopped for them never dwindled.

All of that said, I still just teach my kids to open their Internet browser and search. It’s a different world and they need to learn the skills of the new world, too. Not all old school skills are still necessary. That said, they did have to listen to this story about road numbers and sleeping bags. No sense in wasting a good story about how I had to walk 5 miles in the snow to get to school research all weekend to find answers.

For a few months now, Dad's my car has been overheating randomly in traffic.  It doesn't happen all the time and it never happens when I take it in to get fixed.  Just randomly have to turn the heater on full blast as I'm commuting to or from work in horrible traffic. 

Last week, I took it in for an overdue oil change.  Since they have to run the car idly, it happened to them!  And because they are all really nice, I had every mechanic there huddled around my car trying to figure it out.  They finally determined it was the fan but couldn't figure out why.  They had me come back the next day when the head mechanic would be there and it took him awhile to get the car to overheat, but then he quickly found the problem: not a bajillion dollars!  It was just the wire housing unit that the fan connected to and it was all corroded inside.  He replaced that and now... now it doesn't overheat AND I hadn't noticed, but sometimes it was hard to start.  It is no longer hard to start.  So YAY!  Not expensive AND fixed.

I really didn't realize how much this was wearing on me until it was fixed.  I feel this load of stress off my mind now when driving.  Huge load of stress just GONE! Love that!

Plus, today I had a new client meeting in Napa.  Not only did the car NOT overheat, but the new client happens to be a conglomeration of wineries and they let me shop in the employee store for 50% off.  My wine cabinet (also known as the dining room table...) is full of great wines.  Good thing we never eat in the dining room...

I'm going to post about the kids soon.  Signa sent me some pictures of things they did for school, but I can't figure out who did what, so I have to wait until I can discuss with her.  But they are both doing really well!

She shouldn’t have been working a call center for AAA and he shouldn't have been the driver called to assist me. But she was and he did.

Just before Christmas, I went out to my car and the rear right tire was flat as a pancake. It was raining and dark and I pay for AAA so I called, rather than tend to it in the dark rainy night on my own. Yvonne, my customer "service" rep didn't listen to a thing I said. She kept to her script ignoring me completely. "I need to have my tire changed."

"Where do you want to be towed to?"

"No, I just need the tire changed."

"Thank you, Ma'am. I'm happy to serve you. We have service guarantees at several locations close to you, for instance, Blah-blah-blah and Blah-blah-blah, which are mere miles. Would you like to be towed to either of these locations?"

On it went. Finally I said that if I needed towing for any reason, I would like it to be America's Tires so that we could move on.

Mike should not have been sent to me, as he isn't supposed to change tires. He had part of a lung removed four years ago and so they like him to just tow and not do heavy lifting. But he said he could do it; he'd just have to take it slow and I'd have to chat with him and hold the flashlight. Not a chore in the least, as despite his looking more like a 62-year-old hippie than my nearly 70-year-old republican dad was, he reminded me so much of him.

We chatted for nearly 45 minutes while he changed my tire into the tiny donut and filled the donut with air. He hates the donuts, too, and longs for the days when you held back the best tire for your spare when you got a whole new set. He works hard, loves his job and his family, and had that quiet all-knowingness about him like Dad did.

So Yvonne shouldn't be working the phones and Mike shouldn't be changing tires, but she was and he did and I got a lovely Christmas gift of spending 45 minutes with my dad just one more time.

Thank you, AAA, for being slightly incompetent.

So much in my life is still entirely still unresolved, but I have to say one thing that is comfortable is my memories of Dad. I smile when I think of him and sometimes shake my head while smiling, as he sure was something.