A Year In Mill Valley

Archive for September, 2007

Movies: After the Wedding

Saw After the Wedding the other night.

From IMDB: “A manager of an orphanage in India is sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he discovers a life-altering family secret.”

Real. Emotional. Heart breaking in places. Fantastic acting that never felt like acting. Plot twists that kept us glued to the sofa with tears coursing down our cheeks.

5 stars. 10 out of 10.

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Why Don’t Kids Walk To School Anymore? Part 1


Nathaniel is in 3rd grade this year, and I’ve been riding with him to school in the mornings. Our commute is just a little bit safer because Marin County upgraded a crosswalk near our house. But the process of making that happen got me to thinking about why more kids don’t walk to school, and whether there’s anything I can do about it.

The problem is particularly acute at Nathaniel’s school where there’s one narrow road in and out of campus, the curb in front of the school is crowded, and the number of people who insist on driving right up the door is large (80% or more would be my guess).

When I was in 3rd grade we lived on the last street in north Chicago. (My father had been brought to Chicago by O.W. Wilson to be the Budget Director for the Chicago Police Department in the wake of the Summerdale scandals in 1960, and as such he had to live inside the city limits…but I digress). The street was a dead end, and I vividly remember getting to Wildwood Elementary School by cutting through two yards, then walking several blocks to the school. (Part of the reason it’s so vivid is that I remember getting picked on by one of the 5th grade crossing guards for a while).

The distance wasn’t far — just 1/2 a mile or so — but I’m pretty sure I walked to school every day, rain or shine, warm or cold, sleet or snow. The idea that I would be driven to school wasn’t an option. Why was that? What’s different about today?

I think there are at least five issues at Nathaniel’s school:

1) No local schools. One of the things the Mill Valley School District does not guarantee is that your child will attend the school closest to you. Anyone can request attendance at any school, and there appears to be no mechanism for prioritizing proximity to the school. (Reminder to self to write an entry about how to deal with the Mill Valley School District waiting list…)

2) There are more cars today…and they’re bigger, a lot bigger. We had a Falcon station wagon when I was in 3rd grade, and it was smaller than just about anything on the road today…especially the Land Rovers, Blazers, Tahoes and other behemoths that are used to ferry children to Nathaniel’s school.

3) People use their cars more. There are more activities after school. There are more dual income parents who need to drive to work. There are more divorced parents, and fewer Moms at home who can get the child ready for school without rushing, or available to walk to school with their children.

4) The sidewalks are narrow, the streets are narrow, most sidewalks have no curbs, and parking is allowed on both sides of most streets at all times. This means that walking is less safe…at corners (can’t see around the cars parked at the corners), and on the sidewalks.

5) There are no student crossing guards. When I was in elementary school the cool 5th graders got to be student crossing guards (someone reminded me today that they used to be called the safety patrol). They had an orange belt that went across their chest and around their waist, and they’d get to their designated corner about 20 minutes before the first bell, helping the smaller kids to cross the streets.

Ok, that’s enough about the problems, tomorrow I’ll write up some thoughts about possible solutions.

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Scroogle Camp Out 2007 Edition

For the second year in a row our friends Pam and Tim hosted three families at their house for a camp out.

Well, ok, it’s not real camping, it’s just an excuse to get the families together to enjoy a great afternoon, evening and morning together.

Can’t wait to do it again next year!

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Getting Things Done In Marin County

Nathaniel and I have been biking to school in the mornings…he on his 5 speed, me on my mountain bike. I drop him at school, then continue on to work in Sausalito. It’s one of those simple pleasures that means a lot to him, and even more to me.

We ride down the hill until we reach Almonte Avenue, cross the street at Rosemont, then head back towards Mill Valley for a little ways to get on the bike path. The mornings have been lovely lately — fresh, cool, sun glinting off the water, herons in the mud flats, the seemingly infinite greens of the marshland on either side of us — as we peddle where the train used to chug between Sausalito and Mill Valley.

Just before school started I noticed that the crossing at Rosemont was not well marked. Several times I counted more than 20 cars going by as I stood in the cross-walk, half-way into the lane, trying to cross with my bicycle. I began to worry about what would happen when school started…when kids who are a lot shorter and harder to see than me, tried to cross there. So I thought I’d see if I couldn’t do something about it.

I started by Googling for “marin county traffic department”, then “marin country transportation department”, then “marin county streets”, and after a little digging around I found the County of Marin: Public Works – Road Maintenance website. Very promising.

Figuring that it never hurts to have a couple of people on the receiving end of an email, I looked up the Board of Supervisors, and saw that Charles McGlashan is the supervisor for Mill Valley.

So I sent the following letter to both the Road Maintenance Department as well as Supervisor McGlashan:


I live in Mill Valley, and regularly cross the road at the bottom of Rosemont, where it crosses Almonte Blvd, (just before Tam Junction if you’re heading out of Mill Valley). There is a cross-walk there, but the markings in the traffic lanes are in dire need of remarking.

More importantly though, I have stood there many many times counting over 20 cars going by and no one stopping, even though I am half way into the lane.

The road curves as you come out of Mill Valley heading towards Tam Junction, and while there is a single day glow green “Crossing” sign about 50 yards before the cross walk, the angle it presents to drivers does not make it obvious where the cross walk actually is. On top of that the markings in the traffic lane are gone, making it a very dangerous proposition for anyone to cross the street, to or from the bus stop on the other side.

Three things need to happen:

1) The cross walk needs repainting.

2) A second “Crossing” sign needs to be put up with an arrow indicating the crosswalk…I would recommend putting this up right next to the bus shelter (traveling south bound), and a similar one on the other side traveling north bound.

3) A center standup marker with “California law states that pedestrians have the right of way…” needs to be put in the center of the street (like there is at the bike crossing where Miller and Almonte junction by the end of the Tam High School fields).

Please let me know if you’re the right person to talk to about this, and if not, who is. As school starts tomorrow, and my son (and others) will be crossing there regularly, it would be great if this could be looked at immediately.

Many thanks,
— Frank Leahy

And I waited.

Well, I didn’t have to wait long, as I got a call from Charles McGlashan’s office the very next day. A very nice woman named Maureen Parton told me that she’d forwarded my email to the right person (the email on the website was that of the previous head of department), and I should be hearing something soon.

So I waited again. And on the September 13th I received this email:

Mr. Leahy:
As per your request we have added an enhanced pedestrian warning signs for vehicles traveling along Almonte Blvd. We will continue to monitor this location as scheduling permits. Thanks for your inquiry regarding traffic safety.

Amanuel Haile
Assistant Traffic Engineer
DPW -Marin County

with a followup from Maureen

Mr Leahy,

Thanks for your suggestion!


Thanks for your follow through!


Aide to Supervisor Charles McGlashan
County of Marin

Wow. 1 down (signage), 1 to go (new crosswalk striping).

I sent another email to Amanuel:

Hi Amanuel,

Thank you, I will look for that today.

Any chance of getting the crossing re-striped? It is fine in the middle (where no cars hit it), but quite faded in the traffic lanes.

— Frank

and he responded with

There might be a chance depending on budget, there is discussion to either repave or slurry seal Almonte and that will be a good opportunity to repaint it. I will keep you posted.

Amanuel Haile
Assistant Traffic Engineer
DPW -Marin County

And once more I waited.

And do you know what happened? This morning, when I turned the corner from Rosemont onto Almonte (no, we didn’t bike this morning), what did I see? A striping crew, adding a big X-ING to the northbound lane. And when I returned home, I found a beautiful new crosswalk.

Thank you Amanuel and the Traffic Engineering Department. Thank you Maureen and Charles. Thank you all for making Nathaniel’s ride to school just a little bit safer.


Dad, I Really Like My Life

I went to bed at 9:30 last night — it was a big day at work, and I could barely keep my eyes awake after reading to Nathaniel (we’re on book eight, “These Happy Golden Years”, of the Little House on the Prairie series). Rachel and I were going to watch a video which I’d picked up on the way home, but it was all I could do to keep my eyes open long enough to brush my teeth and fall into bed.

The boys woke us early this morning, excited about Nathaniel’s first soccer game later this afternoon. They wanted to go to Toast (in Mill Valley) for breakfast, so the boys and I headed to breakfast while Rachel headed to the gym.

We got there early enough that we had a table in the front next to the windows (definitely the nicest place to sit). We all had our usuals…Mickey Mouse pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon for the boys, scrambled eggs, fruit and bacon for me.

While we were waiting, Nathaniel drew one of his little cartoon characters. It’s a pretty cute little guy, and I asked whether he could draw a comic strip around him. We talked about what kinds of things make up a comic strip, things like funny or goofy characters, unexpected situations, silly endings. After a little bit he added a surfboard and some waves. We tried to come up with a name, Stermon was the best we could do (the syllables of Monster reversed), and then I asked him what was happening. “Well, he just got thrown off a ship and landed safely on a surfboard.” “What would make it funny?” I asked. “What if there was a shark in the water in front of him, while he was looking back at the ship?”, said Nathaniel. And there you have it, the very first Stermon cartoon strip.

After breakfast we wandered down to the Depot to see if there was anyone we knew. The fog was in, and it was cold, so we didn’t stay long. On the walk back up the hill Nathaniel said to me “Dad, I really like my life!”. I was going to ask him why, but watching Sebastian skip up the hill ahead of us, looking at Nathaniel on his heelies next to me, passing a giant redwood tree, and breathing the early morning air in Mill Valley, I knew exactly what he meant.

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End of Summer Fun at Lake Tahoe

A good friend of mine from Intel days — way back in the early 80’s — invited us up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. We debated about whether we should go this year, as Rachel and the boys were just recently back from the UK (and they’d been a little teary when we first mentioned it, worrying that Rosie and Kitty would miss them if they went away again). But realizing that we wouldn’t have the chance to get away again until after the soccer season, we found a house sitter, packed up the car, and started off on Saturday morning.

The drive up was easy — we left at 9:30 and made it to this side of Donner Summit in just under 3 1/2 hours (including a 1/2 hour supermarket stop in Davis).

There were four families there, Steve and Wendy plus their two, Tara and Michael and their two, Aaron and Julia and their two, and the four of us (I see a pattern here…). The kids ranged from Sebastian at 4 to Marcus at 11, with a lot of overlap in between. (They got along pretty well, though there was a little too much playing pool and watching TV around dinner time. It’s a tough balancing act though, with so many other children, each of whom has different rules around TV and video games — how strict should you be, how much do you insist on imposing your own values on other kids and parents — all those interesting parental questions.)

We had a really nice time. We spent most of the time at Serene Lakes, with kayaks, canoes and various inner tubes. We put life jackets on the kids, and they paddled around the lake, in pairs, or at times all tied together. The wind came up at one point and a teenager in a kayak had to rescue them, paddling them upwind for a 1/4 mile or so…nothing worrisome (we did have a canoe we could have gotten them with), but after it happened they stopped asking why they couldn’t go out any further than the diving platform.

Sunday morning Steve, Aaron and I went for a 2 1/2 hour mountain bike ride, off-road in and around Royal Gorge(*) cross-country ski area. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera with me, because the views were stunning. We met the wives and kids at the lake at noon time, and the gals spent the afternoon hiking up the ridge.

Dinners were fun. We fed the kids first, had cocktails while the kids watched a movie, put them to all to bed, and then shared food, cooking and cleanup.

The only slightly-less-than-fantastic experience we had was a fishing trip on Sunday afternoon. Aaron had promised Marcus that he would take him fishing, and of course all the other kids shouted “me!” when asked who else wanted to go. I’ve never been much of a fisherman — when I was a kid and we’d go fishing I’d always ask if I could drive the boat instead of fish — but at 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon fishing I joined the other Dads in bundling 8 kids into 2 cars, and heading for Jackson Meadow Reservoir. Not knowing where the good fishing places were, Aaron had called the local Ace Hardware store for a recommendation. I have no idea if the guy he spoke with was trying to send us on a wild goose chase, or really thought that he was making a good recommendation, but you the reader should learn from our mistake. The water level was at least 50 feet down, the shores were very rocky, the kids kept snagging their lines on the bottom (I don’t know how many hooks, bobbers and weights we lost), and it took almost an hour to get there. We stuck it out for an hour — though if we got 20 minutes of fishing in I’d be surprised — then herded everyone back in the car and headed home. Looking back we should have tried to find something a little closer to home…heck, the Truckee River had enough water to make it interesting for the kids, and with a 5 minute drive we would have been waaaay ahead. Oh well, live and learn.

We left mid-morning on Monday, and played “which cars have been at Burning Man”, all the way back as we passed cars, trucks, campers and buses coated with dust, loaded with bicycles, piled with tents, and stuffed with furniture. Hey, maybe we’ll try that next year!

We stopped once near Vacaville for lunch, and pulled into our driveway before 2 o’clock. It was a very fun trip. Thanks Steve and Wendy!

(* Royal Gorge has been purchased by Foster-Syme (that’s Foster as in Foster City), who are trying to get permission to build 3000(!) units. If you ski there, you might want to get involved with the Save Donner Summit group.)

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Credit Card Fraud

I was paying bills online tonight, and went to pay my credit card bill— usually a quick and, except for the amount, painless experience. Tonight though I was greeted with this screen. I called them right away to see what the problem was. They said a store had had their credit card database stolen. I asked for the name of the store…they said they couldn’t tell me because it was still under investigation.

Now that I think about it I should have insisted because if it was an online store I need to know if I’ve used that login and password anywhere else that might be obvious. I’m calling them back right now.

What a pain in the ass.

12:30 AM: called Citibank and asked which store had been compromised. They wouldn’t tell me…two different people said they didn’t have the information and I’d have to call MasterCard (1-800-826-2181) to find out. I called Mastercard. The guy there said he couldn’t see anything about my account and I’d have to talk to Citibank. I asked to speak with a supervisor. He said there were only four people on the floor and there was no supervisor. Aaarrrggghhh.

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