Graciela’s Weblog

Summer milestones of childhood

I have loved watching my three kiddos gain confidence in the swimming pool again this summer. The staff at Roberts Park pool in the Oakland hills is terrific; they teach so much in short, high-fun 25 minute sessions. For my oldest child who is blind, getting the referral to teacher Angela has proven to be a godsend. This little girl now confidently goes underwater and stays for up to ten seconds, retrieving heavy objects from the bottom of the pool. My favorite memory was watching her jump into the deep end (“It’s nine-feet deep Angela”) with two lifeguards. They each held one of her hands and jumped as I shot pictures.

into the deep

In the absence of sight, a student must have first-hand experience feeling how deep the deep end is to enable appreciation of the subsequent safety talk. I’m so happy she has achieved this breath-holding skill, confidence and understanding of different parts of the pool.

Middle daughter has officially joined the ranks of swimmers, has a powerful stroke/kick combo and is super proud of her discovery that she can do underwater somersaults like her mama. She too was taught to jump into the deep end holding a lifeguard floatation device and got the safety talk.

future junior lifeguard?

Youngest child can now stand on his tippy toes in the three-foot depth, with his nose out of water so he spends a lot of time with a life jacket on practicing his ice-cream scoops swimming stroke.

His milestone is confidently jumping into the water on his own, surfacing and swimming to me.

mastering the jump

Of course, our favorite pictures are those crazy underwater ones where we laugh our heads off at what faces look like underwater. Our au pair Nansin has especially enjoyed these silly moments.

Nansin with K kids

underwater with my girls

me and my boy


Pre-Mommy Military Life Meets My Children

My pre-mommy military life finally intersected with my current life as a mother in the most wonderful way. Over the Christmas holiday, we traveled up to Spokane, Washington where I was stationed in the ‘90s.  My parents still live there, having followed me up there after visiting. Hoping to get to fulfill a wish I’d had for a while, we went onto the air base on our third vacation day. Prior to this day, our children had never been to a military base. They had only heard stories and seen pictures of “the airplane that Mommy used to fly on” before they were born.

We found the building I used to work in, the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS). A young female captain who is a pilot there now was in the parking lot chatting with a friend. I introduced myself and asked if there was someone in the building who could do a huge favor for me and my family and get us access to a jet out on the flight line. She made a few phone calls and then Captain Gilmer escorted us to a hangar where a KC-135R was waiting for us to explore!

I went first up the ladder into the cockpit. From there, I was able to take a picture of each of my kids coming up the ladder – very cool.

My brother and our au pair also enjoyed the adventure.

Au pair Nansin doing something she never envisioned

Brother Ben enjoying a moment in the cockpit


My kids took turns sitting in the pilot seats. I showed them where I used to sit and what I used to do. We toured the back of the airplane and talked about the refueling process.

When we had taken our fill of photos, including one of all 3 kids in the two pilot seats, we exited down the crew ladder where we’d entered and took this group picture with our gracious escort.

Sato kids meet lady Air Force pilot and my "office" from a previous life

This was a wonderful day for me, to finally share my previous career and work place with my children. Kotomi said, “Mommy, I didn’t know the plane you used to work in was so huge!” Kiyoshi said, “I loved pretending to fly it!” and Milagro said, “I’m flying a REAL airplane!” What a truly fantastic vacation memory and a real “Captain Mama” moment!

“We’re Having Dinner with Firemen?”

Dinner at the firehouse

Firemen Brian, Kiyoshi and Nick

Kiyoshi can't believe he's riding in a real fire truck!

Because our elementary school had an online auction earlier in the year, I was able to give my son Kiyoshi an amazing, surprise, belated birthday experience last night: dinner with three firemen high above my beloved Berkeley campus at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab fire station. We were fed pasta with meatballs, salad, bread and cookie dough ice cream…every four year-old’s dream dinner. But then Brian, our host, offered us a ride in the fire truck! What I will always remember is my son’s voice on the in-truck communication system. While wearing a radio headset for the first time in his life, he kept alternating between “I can’t believe I’m riding in a real fire truck!” and “I love you Mama.”

Aloha! and Happy Birthday to our September Babies

Thank God for having two babies born in late September! The fall equinox is a particularly great time for outdoor birthday celebrations and yesterday was no exception. On one of the hottest days of the year, we celebrated that Kiyoshi turned four and that Milagro is now nine.

We hosted a “Let’s Pretend We’re in Hawaii” luau party on the shores of our local swimming lagoon.

family looking quite Hawaiian

With 30 of our closest friends, we enjoyed kalua pork, chicken katsu, macaroni salad, rice and Genro’s home-made spam masubis! We enjoyed the beat of our “Drums of the Pacific” CD (purchased on the island of Oahu in a prior life), played in the water to escape the heat, ate up our chocolate Aloha beach cake and of course, smashed a piñata with American, Mexican and German candy inside. It was a colorful, beautiful day…a true celebration of the birth of our two September babies.

Koko and Tiki Man

My Summer Surprises

When your child care provider leaves your family the day after school ends, a momentrepreneur’s summer suddenly takes on a different tone—sheer chaos. Besides rescheduling my book publishing timeline, juggling a summer calendar I didn’t know I was going to put together, and coordinating our two German lifelong friends (and former au pairs) who flew out to help us for a few week each, there were some very awesome positives.

Out of the chaos has come a whole series of wonderful moments. Like two weeks of swimming lessons for all three kids that you never saw coming but suddenly have time to make happen. Like the opportunity to figure out how to safely be in the pool with a 3:1 kid:adult ratio. Like the joy of watching your kids become confident and safe in the pool, all three going underwater on their own and loving it. Like your three year-old finally opening his eyes underwater with goggles and squealing, “I see the underwater world!” Like watching your oldest bob up and down in the water, rhythmically holding her breath to go under, then coming up for air, over and over again, enjoying the motion and feeling so happy to do it.  Like watching your soon-to-be-first-grader learning to hold her breath, move her arms, kick her legs and really, truly swim AWAY from the wall. And like spending hot afternoons in the cool redwood forest next to the swimming pool, hiking, discovering, reading, eating and just enjoying down time with my kiddoes. Yep, I didn’t see any of that coming this summer, but I’m always open to life’s surprises.

The Tooth and the Garlic Fries

The first week of August, all three of my kids attended a local vacation bible school camp. On the third day, Milagro’s counselor greeted me with a Ziploc bag containing a tooth Milagro had lost that morning. This is the fifth or sixth tooth she’s lost so it wasn’t a major milestone or anything. I left the plastic bag with the tooth in the orange tote I had packed for the kids’ camp day items.

The following week, we drove down to Gilroy to spend the day with friends. On the way out the door, I grabbed the still-not-unpacked orange tote. In Gilroy, we enjoyed a local-style lunch, complete with a ridiculously huge order of yummy garlic fries, with large chunks of garlic on top. As we filled our bellies and had half the order of fries left, I looked around for the best way to transport the fries home. I felt lucky when I found an empty Ziploc bag in the tote and put the fries in there to carry around. When we arrived home that night, I unpacked the tote and the cooler of food items and put them in the fridge. I thought that the fries might make a yummy breakfast with scrambled eggs in the morning and looked forward to it.

The next morning we indeed enjoyed our eggs and garlic potato breakfast, eating up every bit of the leftover fries.

The very next day I suddenly remembered that I had Milagro’s tooth to deal with, that the tooth fairy couldn’t possibly find the tooth if it wasn’t under her pillow. I set out to find the tooth in the Ziploc bag. As I searched and searched various tote bags, forgetting exactly where the tooth bag was, I suddenly remembered I had placed it into the orange tote that day at camp. But when I found the orange tote, it was fully unpacked. Did I already take the bag with the tooth out? No. Did I put it in my purse? No, it wasn’t there. Then the bonus question hit me–did I put the garlic fries in the bag with the tooth and serve it to my family for breakfast yesterday? I think that’s what happened but will I ever really know? I’m still hoping I’ll come across the bag with the tooth in it but it hasn’t happened yet……

Milagro’s “Summer of Swimming”

It finally became a priority in our family–get Milagro safer in the water.

We found an awesome adaptive swimming instructor at Oakland’s Robert’s Park pool. Her name is Angela. In just 4 lessons, Milagro is going underwater completely on her own while holding her breath, floating on her back with minimal support, and learning frog kicks. Wow! Kotomi has become a confident kid underwater too, swimming underwater, holding onto the wall, for five to ten seconds at a time, because we’ve found a way to get to the pool three times a week. Not to be left out, Kiyoshi now jumps from the edge into Mama’s arms, goes underwater up to his forehead holding his breath, then explains excitedly, “I learned! I learned it! I did it!”

“I See a Beach Full of New Friends for Me to Make” –Kotomi Sato

Thanks to an incredible crew of organizers and volunteers at Shared Adventures, Milagro and I got our first outrigger canoe ride on the ocean on July 17th this year. She paddled many times. It was one of the highlights at our first “A Day at the Beach” Event at Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz. The other highlight was the quote that is the title of this post, uttered by my six year-old Kotomi as she arrived on scene. It pretty much sums up her effervescent personality!

An Award…then Martinis on the 36th Floor

May 17, 2010

A best friend…the person at your side on your happiest days. Last week, I was honored as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” by LATINA Style Magazine at the Business Series event at San Francisco’s Grand Hyatt hotel. My husband, children, au pair, parents, editor were there to witness the moment. Also there were my two best friends from my Cal Marching Band days at Berkeley: Arnold and Sonya. After my acceptance speech, after the flowers, after photos, my family, editor and Arnold returned to their afternoon schedule. My best friend Sonya remained with me and said, “Let’s go get some lipstick,” something I never do. So we did, enjoying a full color palette on our hands at the Non-Smear Lipstick booth, laughing at my total ignorance on the topic and just having fun after a whirlwind day…just a couple of silly girls playing with cosmetics. Then she suggested we grab a drink in the hotel. As we began to look for the hotel bar, we realized it was up on the 36th floor. And so began one of the key moments of the day for me. After meeting dozens of people, receiving their business cards, getting congratulated and hugged over and over again, what I’ll remember most about this day was the quiet hour with my best friend.

view from Grand Hyatt floor 36

We drank in the spectacular views of this city I love so much, watched sailboats move about on the bay, told stories, laughed and sipped martinis. Mine…a tasty treat with a pair of blue-cheese-stuffed olives….Sonya’s a colorful sample trio in mini martini glasses. And we got this pic with our glamourous non-smear lipstick—a picture that likely will never happen again! I love you friend…thanks for being there today!

“Conference Head!”

April 30, 2010

A year ago, Kotomi called me “Conference Head!” When I asked why, she replied with, “Because you’re always at conferences.” So I decided this time to take her with me so that she could understand exactly what I do when I speak at conferences. Turns out she’s a little conference head too.

We flew up on Wednesday to the Seattle/Tacoma area. Upon landing she met Tracy, the lady pilot who invited her to sit in the captain’s chair.

pilot Kotomi

My fellow AFROTC cadet from Berkeley, Mike Marcelli, was coincidentally coming aboard in Seattle to fly the plane back to Oakland. What a wonderful surprise reunion that was!

Conference heads!

We checked into the Marriott across the street from the Tacoma Convention Center. This was the site of the Infant and Early Childhood Conference [link]. We went down for a nap since we’d started out so early. We woke up and walked across the street. We received our “conference head” badges together and I loved that moment.

We then met Nancy, Mary Ellen at the preconference session for parents and early intervention professionals working with the youngest children who are visually impaired. After the session, we met at the Hotel Murano and drove to the Lobster Shop, a posh waterfront restaurant with fabulous garlic potatoes and lobster bisque.

Kotomi and I at the Lobster Shop waterfront restaurant

We returned to the hotel, jumped into our swimming clothes and enjoyed the indoor swimming pool and whirlpool, two happy conference heads the night before the conference!

The next morning we enjoyed omelets and waffles in the hotel and a two-hour walk to work it off! We visited Union Station, enjoyed Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures there, then continue to the Bridge of Glass that showcase’s his work. Loved the Crystal Towers, the Venetian Wall and the gorgeousness of everything over our heads as we stood over the I-705 freeway on the pedestrian bridge.

Tacoma's Glass bridge - beauty overhead

We loved the outdoor plazas everywhere and the art displayed in them. We peeked into the Museum of Glass Hot Shop and returned to the hotel to begin our conference adventure.

I set up for my first presentation and Kotomi watched me. Before I ever started, she created this awesome little note that read, “Good Job Mama! Presetashin” and showed it to me. The moment I saw it, I was ready to start! I did “Letting Your Child’s Wild Side Out” and fielded many questions. A young lady named Lauren took Kotomi out of the room 30 minutes after I started so that she could visit the exhibition hall. I wrapped up, then had to do a take down and set up next door for the second session. Crazy. The second session was “You Gotta Know the Rules if You’re Gonna Play the Game,” my advocacy skills workshop for educators and parents. I got so many great questions that I went 20 minutes over the end time of the session!

Then, I became a tourist. Kotomi and I did a Mosaic Art with Tumbled Glass project at the conference, delaying dinner to do so, and enjoyed the process very much.

Kotomi's tumbled glass art-"a heart with so much love"

It was a fabulous, creative experience with my daughter that I’lll never forget! Then finally, off to Twokoi Sushi, Kotomi’s request. We ate very well, she put down ridiculous amounts of red ahi tuna, then we cuddled on the couch to relax together after a very, very full day.