Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Engineering Love

We went accessory shopping yesterday. I needed something to go with that white skirt from last year. Now I need cowboy boots.

Henry is our new F-150, FX4, off-road, extended bed, 4-door crew cab, plaything with a huge engine and whole lot of haul. The wheel well is higher than my waist. Don’t be fooled by that pretty white exterior. He isn’t sporting fancy, girlie, high-polish wood-grain inside that cab.

Oh, no, not any fancy wood-grain for Henry. This truck has high durability fabrics and a plethora of deeply grooved rubber.

Henry seeks adventure.

Once he knows me better, he’ll ask to be called Hank. I can tell these things.

I remember the first time I drove a truck. I was out in the Arizona desert with these guys. I had flown in from Japan to learn the hot weather test process. We were there for work, but it was after work, and a few of the engineers had decided to take some trucks off-road.

The lead engineer on the trip took me in his Ford truck, still equipped with all the monitoring devices. The only lights beyond the truck headlights were the desert stars. The various gauges taped on the dashboard told us more than the view through our windshield, often obscured by the Arizona dust.

After driving for quite some time down a rough, dirt road, he asked me if I wanted a turn.

Me? A turn? I didn’t hesitate. My heart raced. I slid the seat forward as far as it could go, and still pulled on the wheel to bring my feet closer to the pedals. The sweat poured down my back. We had had perfect test weather that day – nearly 120 degrees. Heat radiated off the dirt.

“Put your tire on the rocks,” he called out.

We went. I went fast. I drove country roads in high school in a Pontiac. I drove too fast then, and wasn’t much older. The girl desk jockey from the Japan office wouldn’t be outdone.

“Don’t miss! Tires on the rocks!” I heard him again.

“Okay, okay, okay.”

I hit the rocks. I hit them one by one, I was on a roll. Until all of the sudden, the truck cut out.


A mild panic enveloped me. Driving back roads was not frowned upon. Breaking trucks wasn’t cool.

I knew the lead engineer well enough to know he had rebuilt a Bronco for fun. He had a patent. He could fix the truck. He could even fix a truck in the dark, dusty, Arizona desert.

He looked around. He checked quite a few things. He probably wanted to yell at me, but he didn’t. Finally, he fixed the truck.

We let out a deep breath, and drove back to the hotel.

Fifteen years later, we bought Henry.

And, here is a picture of our junior engineer meeting Henry for the first time. He's in love too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

An American Welcome

There is always room at our table. Especially for family - even if the family isn't technically ours.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a dear and long-time friend in Japan. The best description I can give you for Kawa-san is to call him a host father.

Perhaps that is too vague.

In 1990, I worked for him in Japan as an engineering intern. Although I lived alone in an apartment in downtown Kyoto, he and his family adopted me. I went with them on family vacations. I played junken (rock-paper-scissors) with his children. I bathed in their family tub.

He and his wife danced at our wedding, during their first trip to America together.

As an adult in Japan, my husband and I spent many nights at their home on weekend visits. Gifts from their family still decorate our home.

Last weekend, Kawa-san’s nephew’s family stayed at our home.

I was a little anxious, quite excited, and very honored. In a very small way I opened my home in a way that doors had been so graciously opened for me, unconditionally, so many years ago.

Kawa-san sent me several emails, including basic information about their family. But, most of all, he very specifically asked me to show them “American BBQ.” The emails I received from his nephew and his wife (they have a 3yr old and 6 mos old) requested a ‘nature walk.’

We did our best to provide the best bbq and nature walk available in NE Ohio. This was their first visit to an American home since moving to the U.S.

Lunch: Homemade burgers (hand mixed by my hubby), all the toppings, grilled dogs, potato salad, and cole slaw.

Snack: Jumbo, homemade chocolate chip cookies

Dinner: Smoked pork ribs, smoked pork shoulder (the smoker was on all day during our nature walk below), six homemade sauces, baked beans, sides from lunch, fresh strawberries, blueberries & pineapple, and corn on the cob.

Dessert: Ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles
Sunday Breakfast: Belgian waffles, eggs to order, bacon, sausage gravy, fruit, coffee and orange juice

While our bbq dinner was caressed by smokey goodness in our smoker, we went for a nature walk.

They said their daughter didn't speak English well and was very shy.

That lasted about 12.5 seconds.

Come splash with me!

Okay, Gladys!

It's okay to get a little wet.

That's what daddy's are for anyway. (I think he is enjoying it even more than his daughter, what do you think?)

It isn't easy to skip stones in Kawasaki City, Japan. But, I suppose some things just come naturally.

I think they had a really good time.

I know we did.

Thank you, again, Kawabayashi-san.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let Them Play

Perhaps we don’t give our children enough credit. I certainly know that allowing our children to work out their own difficulties will sharpen their social skills. I never take sides. I require them to use their words, to make good choices, or to try again. There have to be consequences.

And yet, idiotic phrases dribble across my lips like an instinct that should have been phased out with the appendix.

“Be nice.”

“Stop it.”

These useless, idiotic phrases hover around my children like gnats. Except, they have come so accustomed to these gnats that they are barely an annoyance.

“Use your words,” I say. A little better, I think. That was more specific.

I look in my rearview mirror. I take another sip of my lukewarm coffee, knowing full well that no amount of caffeine will clear my head of the occasional mind-numbing job of parenthood. We are four hours into a six-hour car ride.

“Gladys, do not grab your brother’s ear.” That was direct, specific, and actionable.

Very good. I mutter to myself, quickly laughing having used the most tired and worn out of all parental phrases. Yes, ‘very good’ indeed!

Before I finish my internal dialogue, Andrew begins a game of rock-paper-scissors with Gladys.

After some argument over the exact rules, they play nicely for a few moments. Then, Andrew changes the game to rock-paper-anything.

Huh? Rock-paper-anything? I listen.


“What are you Gladys?”

“A mailbox.”

“I’m a 4x4 off-road Landrover and I smash you!”


“What are you Gladys?


“I’m a laser and I burn you up!”

This went on. I sipped my coffee. I listened. I am the youngest of three and recalled the frustration of being caught on the wrong end of a game with my older brother.

I survived, I thought. I often did even better than that. I am very good at (nasty) games.
It was hard to listen to it. It wasn’t fair. She continued to play. I bit my tongue.


“What are you Gladys?”


Very good. Yes, very good indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

They are Only Young Once

I say it so often, I expect the expression to be old and tired by now. But, it is not.

On certain days when 4pm rolls around I feel old and tired myself. I am not either.

We go bouncing along. The children should see their mother on a pogo stick. Perhaps they should see their mother on a pogo stick more often. But, that might be a little hard on mother’s back.

When my sister chastised me for not owning one, she felt pleased that she would now have an appropriate gift for my 40th birthday. My first thought was that I must certainly plan to wear it out before my 80th. Yes, by then I ought to need a new one.

In the meantime, I must remember that they are only young once.

And, they should sit along a country road with their aunt, waiting for their cousin's school bus.

They should pick out a brand new and incredibly awesome bike that they will have to grow into, only to show off that they don't need to grow into it, and later scrape their knee and not even cry, because the bike is not even slightly too big for them.

They should try something new and go faster than their mother prefers.

They should investigate a cat, up close.

Go on, crawl after it.

They should make rediculously large cookies with their aunt who uses a 1/4 cup scoop when Mom only makes them tablespoon size. Well, at least she USED to.

They should play outside.

They should stay up past bedtime to watch their Mom and Uncle and Grandma dissect a 4 1/2 pound lobster in a buttery orgy of culinary goodness. On second thought, they shouldn't watch that, but it sure made Mom very happy.

They should explore an old playhouse.

They should see animals without paying admission.

They should keep that honest-to-goodness smile on their faces.

They should take a stroll with Grandma through the historic district, if they can keep up with her. After all, they are only young once.

Some of them make it last a lifetime.

Yes, that is a rare picture of Mr. MIT Mommy. He borrowed Andrew's bicycle. He is sleeping and doesn't know that I took this picture. Shhhhh.

This is what it looks like when the pogo stick wins. With a little more practice, I will be better than my niece. (Please don't tell her I'm practicing. I think the element of surprise is my only hope).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pasta for the Insane

Craft. Activity. Lesson. Entertainment. Dinner.

Check here for the recipes for the kid's spinach tortellini and the walnut cream sauce.

I had better go clean my kitchen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Burning Memory

Gladys got burned this evening on the tortilla press.

“Oh my. Oh my. You okay, Honey? Where’s the burn? Where does it hurt?”

I heard the scream. I grabbed her and ran to the sink to run her hands under the cool water.

That would have been the perfect thing to do, if she had burned her hand. But, she didn’t burn her hand.

“My belly, Mommy!” she screamed. I was, of course, holding her around the belly.

She burned her belly. My dear, sweet Gladys burned her belly. After the initial confusion, I (her idiot, albeit well-meaning, mother) managed to get cool rags on her and we all calmed down. I saw some blistering, so I called my sister. My sister is a pediatric nurse.

She walked me through the burn treatment. By then, Gladys giggled and smiled on her Dad’s lap. She seemed fine, in spite of how bad it all appeared.

“It sounds a lot like the burns you had on your legs,” my sister recalled. “Well, except that yours were on a much larger area. Small ones aren’t nearly as bad.”

My reaction was visceral. Yes, I remember.

I was six, I think, and it was summertime. I was over next-door talking to the neighbor kid in the driveway. During our conversation, his dad came home on his motorcycle. I don’t really remember why now, but for some reason I backed up. In my memory, it almost seems like I had planned to lean against the bike, but it was such a strange motion. Somehow, both of the backs of my legs were seared on that exhaust pipe.

I vaguely remember running and screaming. I must have.

I clearly remember lying on the floor in the den. My sister very slowly poured cool water on the backs of my legs. I can still feel the cool water. I can still feel the heat that returned and penetrated after the water dripped off the sides of my legs. The memory lasts for hours.

Only once do I recall anyone mentioning the scars beyond high school. It was another summer, when I was still young enough to ignore my DNA and attempt to tan in the sun. The backs of my legs don’t tan very well. The truth is that nothing about me tans very well. As soon as I came to my senses about that fact, the scars never bothered me again. I checked tonight to see if they are still there. My memory sees the faint outline, but I doubt anyone else could find it.

I doubt Gladys will remember this burn. This time, hopefully the only time, we were lucky. And, if we are injured again here I’ll know exactly what to do.

I’ll call my sister.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dance fabulously

The number 40 has become associated with this notion of “being over the hill.” Perhaps that is true for some. I believe the concept is more short-sighted than a woman over forty.

On Saturday, I celebrated the fortieth birthday of a very dear friend, Mrs. Debutante. Her friends flew in from all corners of her life. They surrounded her with so much love that I felt it pelting my shoulders. It could have been my own birthday. You might think that having so many women surrounding one would feel claustrophobic, even smothering, but in so many ways the event was just the opposite. We drew in tighter and as the group grew in mass, the increase in gravity only pulled in more.

Excellent karma allowed me to arrive at the party with two of my other girlfriends. The lights were low, the heels were high, the jeans a little too tight, and the hips a little too loose.

Girlfriends ready to rock.

My role in “the girlfriends” had become the master-of-all-trades. I could give each friend an easy nickname – the blonde, the instigator, the beautiful doll. I’ll leave that to Mrs. Debutante. But, somehow, I became a Renaissance woman. The truth is that I spent all week fussing over preparations for my friend. She knows all my usual tricks. I wanted to show her how much she means to me. The other women just simply aren’t used to my shenanigans. So, okay, for 24 hours I allowed myself to be ‘good at everything.’ I took the role with the honor it was given.

And then something funny happened. Because, you see, I’m not really that good at dancing. A stranger told me that I am a fabulous dancer.

“I’m good at everything,” I shamelessly replied. I’m sure it was taken the wrong way, which only deepened the humor in my eyes: delightfully sophomoric silliness.

I learned to dance watching my parents. They are love on the dance floor, even more than usual. Daddy’s little girl had her chance occasionally, but like so many girls before me, I stood in line.

In high school, I wore black and thought dancing meant posing and looking at the floor.

I learned far more than engineering and calculus at MIT. Beyond America’s shores, the art of dancing thrives. I celebrated diversity and my heart still dances from that chapter of my life.

In Japan, I leapt to my toes once more. A few sips of Scotch and the most reserved of Japanese managers will glide gracefully across the floor. I am sure they bought our products due to their efficiency rates, but good design engineering deserves celebration.

In America, we have learned to leave our dancing shoes on the closet floor. We pride ourselves on being sassy, smart, sexy & sophisticated and yet the most social (and even sensual) of arts receives scoffs and shrugs: a shame of colossal proportion.

I am not a good dancer. I am an unapologetic, deliciously happy dancer. Every once in awhile my dancing heart sneaks out of the bottom of the closet to twirl shamelessly across the floor. But, truly fabulous dancing requires two people in love. The day my husband pulls me out to the dance floor, I’ll show you how to dance.

Mrs. Debutante was a fabulous dancer Saturday night.

At 40, she is not “over the hill.” She stands on top of it, inhaling the fresh air and enjoying the beautiful view. She is not staring at her toes – I saw her twirling her sexy, three-inch heels in her hands, celebrating her youth with symbols we all understand.

“Don’t look down,” her eyes implored. She raised her shoes and our eyes and hearts followed. “My arms are sexy. My shoes are scrumptious. I can see to the horizon, and I am in love. I am in love with all of it.”

Are you cresting your mountain? Inhale the fresh air. Enjoy the beautiful view.

Dance fabulously.

Small print: If you happen to get stepped on and your toenail falls off during dancing, throwing a shot of Vodka on it so you can continue dancing should not be considered proper medical care.

Friday, April 3, 2009

For the (my) record

There are weeks where you arrive at Friday and wonder exactly what happened to those other days. What exactly did I do? Blogging helps to remove that disconcerting feeling. Even if I had severe memory loss, I could certainly review my archives.
Of course, I don't really talk about all the boring details of my life. And, I won't here either.
However, just for the record, these are a few of the projects I started and completed this week. I do not have pictures of the fresh tortillas, playing catch with my kids, or winning at Pretty Pretty Princess (I looked divine, by the way, but not as cute as George). I don't have pictures of the passionfruit tart or the flourless chocolate cake with Kirch glaze and cherry sauce either. But, here are a few of the pictures I did take.
Just for the record.

A sweet jumper for a sweet little girl (who adored picking everything out at the fabric store).

A fresh, new skirt for a pretty nice big girl, who didn't want to fork over the money to buy one at Saks http://www.saksfifthavenue.com/main/ProductDetail.jsp?PRODUCT%3C%. I think mine is better anyway, but you can decide for yourself. I needed something to wear Saturday night with a black shirt. It will do.

This is a birthday cake for a dear friend, who will always be one year older than I am. And, by some twist of fate got terribly sick this week and was not able to make the desserts for her out of town guests as she had planned. So, here it is. I can't even imagine being THAT old. It must be hard.

I'm glad I'll never be as old as she is.

Next week, I will be one week older. And, for everyone's sake, I hope I'll be one week more interesting.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fooled

As my head hit the pillow last night, I wondered what I should do to fool my children on April Fool’s Day. We had not discussed the dubious holiday, but they should learn what it is before they are taught the hard way.

I thought about telling them that they needed a new vaccine for some sort of made up virus – and then taking them to the ice cream shop instead. But, I quickly realized that the psychotherapy would cost more than the ice cream. I needed a better plan.

This morning I made purple pancakes (food coloring) with chocolate chips. To my knowledge, my children have never had pancakes with chocolate chips. I decided long ago that it was a slippery slope. But, hey, if aliens put them in there, what is a poor mom to do?

Andrew walked in just as I put the first dollop in the pan.

“Mom, what are you making for breakfast?”

“Uh, well, I was just making pancakes, but then some aliens from Jupiter appeared and turned them purple. It was really weird.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah. You didn’t happen to see them, did you??”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did see one,” Andrew calmly acknowledged.

My husband and I exchanged glances.

“Really?” I asked, sincerely intrigued.

“Yes. There was one in my room. He looked human enough and was wearing a top hat. Then, all of the sudden, his head popped off and hung itself in my closet.”

There was a pause. My children leave me speechless all too often. Finally, my husband, under his breath, said “HAVE some, Mama.” Which, in a semi-macho football-esque sort of way translates into “touché.”

“Uh, April Fool’s!” I said lamely.

We both looked at Andrew, enjoying his purple chocolate chip pancakes.

“I think you won this one,” my husband said to him.

“Yes,” I agreed. Then, to my husband said, “But you are going to have to check his closet before you leave for work.”