“I like this one”

"I like this one"
"I like this one",
originally uploaded by inky.

While shopping for plants, Julia found this one tucked in the back. It was kind of lonely & sad and didn’t have a price so they gave it to us for free. We don’t have a dog, we have an avocado plant.

Other activities include Aikido lessons for Tyler and his weekly soccer game. We placed him in a league with kids a year older than he is to challenge him a bit and I think the extra competition is good for him. He’s a bit more focused at practice and he’s got a great coach who’s working really well with the kids. They won their game handily and Tyler really mixed it up despite being the smallest on the field.

My little experiment with internet classifieds worked like a charm and we sold off our old refridgerator Saturday morning. I listed on craigslist, edgeio, and an internal Yahoo list. A toss up between craigslist and the Yahoo list for the number of leads but in the end it was an Alameda buyer that found us on craigslist that settled with us just 48 hours after listing the fridge for sale.

Sunday was spiff up the house day. After picking up plants (above), I painted the bathroom, patched up some holes in the toy room ceiling left over from an old light fixture that I had replaced a few weeks back, and painted some exposed wood. Oh, I also got up early and went for a nice long run which may be why my legs are so sore right now!

Izumi’s Excellent Day

Izumi just told me three stories that were just too funny not to share:

The Afghans in the Locker Room

We’ve been going to this gym on the other end of the island and Zoomer’s told me a few times about these two rather Rubenesque women in the sauna that always seem to be drying their laundry or something. She could never figure it out and didn’t even recognize the language they were speaking – they always sounded angry and one of them would give her dirty stairs. Today she was at the gym and again, they were in the sauna, taking up most of the space with all their clothes again.

But today, one of them reached out to Izumi. She smiled and tried, in broken and rough sounding English, to communicate. She explained that she was from Afghanistan where, at 14 she married and proceeded to give birth to six children. "Boom, Boom, Boom" she said slapping her palms demonstratively. Pounding her chest she proclaimed, "Now, am 55 – it’s over! No more children! Zvittt!" she said while demonstrating that she got her tubes tied to shut down the factory.

Tyler and the Autistics

Tyler seems to gravitate towards autistic kids. He’s compelled by how much they can teach him. This year there is one child who is just mildly autistic and Tyler has been hanging out with him learning all sorts of things. Today, Tyler came up to Izumi and was kind of in awe of this kid. "J. knows so much! He knows about the weather and stuff, he’s going to be a scientist for sure!" Neither Izumi nor I knew that J. was autistic so Izumi shared this compliment with J.’s mother who was so happy to hear that a classmate of her child could see past his handicap and find what’s special in her child. Funny thing is, it seems like all the mothers know that J. was autistic and I guess the kids clued in on it too and kind of gave J. a wide bearth. Tyler was just fascinated and would hang out with him and J.’s mother really was touched. It’s nice to know that your kid doesn’t even have a negative bone in his body and can seek out the good and special in someone and hold it up and celebrate it.

Julia 4 a Day

Yesterday was Julia’s 4th birthday. It was really special for her as I think she actually soaked in the significance of it and basked in the little extra things that were showered on her all day. She came home from school proudly wearing a paper crown her pre-school teacher had made for her – she was on Cloud Nine and went to bed happy. When she woke up this morning, longing for happiness of the day before, she asked when she could be four again. When Izumi told her that she’s going to be four for the next 12 months and flipped though the calendar to show her how long that is, Julia’s eyes popped open, "Wow! I get to be four for the whole year!"

Thanksgivings

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This year we decided to stay close to home for the holidays. Partially out of necessity as we’re going to be shelling out big bucks for a kitchen remodeling in the next month or so and need to keep our costs down but also out of a need just to relax a little and catch a breather before the Christmas Holidays hit us with full force.

We weren’t even going to have a Thanksgiving dinner but Tyler insisted so Izumi went out and got a small turkey and gave it a whirl to great success. The bird was excellent and with sides of stuffing, brussell sprouts, and cranberry sauce, it was a real treat. We popped a bottle of this year’s Beaujolais (warning: tacky flash site) and had a feast.

On Friday, just because we had never seen it in person, we decided to join the hoards at the mall for the annual running of the bulls bargin hunters. While we didn’t make it by the 5 AM openings of some of the stores (we didn’t wake up until 6:30 and there was a mix-up when Izumi navigated us to Pleasant Hill instead of Pleasanton) we did get a sense of the madness at a local toystore. We saw a mad dash for the last box of 100 piece Lego sets for $9.99 – little chipped, “That’s ok, I’ll take it!” says the crazed lady.

The line to pay snaked around to the back of the store but we were there just for a Transformer which we had promised to pick up for him the day before. He had lent it to a “friend” of his that is also in the middle of moving away. His “friend” then “misplaced it” and it looks like the Razorclaw is in a box somewhere on the way to Ohio. Tyler was devistated and there was a valuable lesson in there somewhere about giving up your material goods to the great karma God in the sky but there we were, back at KB Toys for another fix. Anyway, because our Christmas shopping is out of the way (thank you Amazon!) we could afford to be laid back about the hunt and just enjoyed the conversation.

There was a running narrative from the lady behind us who was giving us the lowdown on all the toys we passed in the aisle. Did you know that Mattel has updated the classic card game Uno with a new variant called Uno Attack that shoots out cards at you from a machine? Seems like a thinly veiled way of getting a toy shooter into households that don’t approve of toy guns for their kids, “Look mom, can I have this? It’s just a card game.” Kid later mods it to shoot out poker chips or something and has some real fun. Lesson to teach basic math skills through card game, out the window.

Also overheard was the conversation from the stock room. Inside piece of market data. The Darth Vader Voice-Changer Helmets are not selling well. Maybe for the kids they aren’t. I just read a review on Amazon and it looks like this might be a runaway hit for insecure middle managers:

The mask arrived at the perfect time. Morale was low, and my employees were starting to undermine everything I told them. I found their lack of faith disturbing, so I scheduled an emergency meeting for my team. Showing up five minutes late — waiting until the tension was thick — I made my dramatic entrance into the room. Wearing all black and my Darth Vader Voice Changer Helmet, I could literally see beads of sweat instantly form on their foreheads. My imposing visage made my statement clear — I was the boss.

Sounds like a scene out of The Office.

We finished up our morning with some well-deserved caffinated drinks and headed home. A couple more stops where we picked up an industrial-sized dustpan (don’t ask), some handmade soap, and some other knick-knacks and we were done for the day.

Later I’ll post about the rest of the weekend which included a trip to the Mystery Spot and Santa Cruz.

Scraphouse

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In the grand tradition of the DIY spirit and in celebration of World Environment Day, a group of designers, builders, and professional “obtainers” are building a house on the lawn in front of San Francisco city hall out of things they scrounged over the past six weeks. The house opened to the public today and will be taken down on June 6th and recycled.

Scraphouse website

Slideshow

The Bed’s Too Big Without You

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On Friday morning I packed up the wife & kids for a two month trip where the plan is to put Tyler & Julia into public school in Japan. The Japanese school year goes through to mid-July so the idea is that the kids can get some real immersion into Japanese culture and language while living with their grandparents in Tokyo. Since I can’t work out of Japan, I’ll stay behind until the last week of their trip living in the house on my own. This is the second year in a row that we’ve done this. Tyler’s time in Japanese school last year was a resounding success – he learned quite a bit, about Japan and himself. The hope is we can further Tyler’s learning (he’s going into 1st grade this year) and replicate the experience for Julia who will go to pre-school.

While Izumi and I know this is a good experience for the kids, it’s always hard to say goodbye, even if it’s only going to be for eight weekends. I count the weekends because the pace of work makes the weeks slip by relatively quickly compared to the weekends when time without family distraction slows time to a crawl. Today I awoke to my first day without them to go for an extended run, then folded the last load of laundry that we did before the kids left. Folding the tiny shirts and sweaters seemed so bittersweet – like putting away a collection of childhood memories and keepsakes.

My cousin arrived in the late morning with his family which was a welcome distraction. We took a drive around the neighborhood, stopping by to see the kite surfers and USS Hornet on the north end of the island then headed up to Tilden park to ride the steam trains. Later, after walking Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, we headed back to Alameda to eat at Hinn Tha, the Burmese restaurant on Park Street that I’ve been meaning to try. I’m happy to report it was delicious and will be taking Izumi and the kids there as soon as they return.

Now I’m back home alone, listening to Jack Johnson, feeling blue, and streaming words into the blog entry page as a way to pass the time until it’s late enough to call Izumi and the kids and hear how their day went. I usually get to pull news out of them bit by bit at a more natural pace over the course of the day. Now my time with them will be limited to the short exchanges left to us on the phone calls during the period that our waking timezones overlap. The house is so devoid of life – it’s just me, the fish, and the fading in and out of family photos on the iMac screensaver in the corner, a reminder of a much more spirited time. This is going to take some getting used to – I miss my family.

Projects around the house

dsc03263.jpgWe didn’t get up to much this weekend (short trip out to Japantown for their Cherry Blossom festival, another trip out to Walnut Creek so the kids could pick out materials to construct their own stuffed animal) which meant that Izumi and I got into our own projects.

I spent time fiddling with a new website that I’m building for Dymag and in between got all muddy digging up and replacing broken fixtures on the built-in sprinker system. Izumi discovered and later documented (see photo) an expecting hummingbird that has taken up residence in the narrow space between our house and our neighbors.

I never owned a house with a sprinkler system. Our 1/3 acre lot in New Jersey was services by a long garden hose that I would hook up to one of those whirly-gig things that I would wheel out every few weeks when things looked a little brown and that was about it. Californians, especially those on small, semi-urban lots, take much better care of their lawns and almost every home in Alameda has a built-in sprinkler system. During the winter, when torrential rains seemed to come through every couple of days, I thought it overkill to water the lawn as well so I promptly unplugged the thing and never gave it a second thought.

Now that the days are growing a longer and with nothing better to do, I plugged the thing in and set to learning how it worked. The control panel in the garage has a number of dials and levers so it took some trial and error (with cooperation from the kids) to learn which switch controlled which sprinkler. I’d throw one switch and would wait a few seconds until I heard a yelp from Tyler where the latest spout had emerged from the ground and started spewing water (usually on his backside).

They’re called “pop-up” sprinklers because when you switch them on, the water pressure pushes up a thin, plastic stalk out of the ground that then sprays the water out in a pattern that’s determined by the shape of the sprinkler head and a fine adjustment of small screws that are embedded in the top of the spout. I learned more about these fixtures over the weekend as I discovered some of the spouts were broken and needed to be replaced.

There’s a whole sprinkler sub-culture that I somehow overlooked at the hardware store as there are different attachments and spray patterns that all have different purposes. Of course, it took several trips to the local store to work out what I needed to replace and with what exact pieces. Suffice to say that it’s all very advanced and I am loath to call what I have repaired a “sprinkler system.” It’s a goddam irrigation network and is now programmed to fire off it’s various fan sprays, rotating jets, and dribblers at 6:15 AM every other morning.

Izumi, on the other hand, looked on with greater concern with each successive trip to the hardware store and shook her head sadly and went back to her observations of the yet-unnamed avian visitor. It must be a sign of good luck that a creature as gentle as a hummingbird (the thing is about as big as a wine cork, it’s eggs must be the size of a pea) has chosen our house as a safe place to welcome its young into the world. The mother sits on the nest all day, shifting around from time to time to make sure the egg is warm on all sides and cocks its head every now and then when it hears a plane flying overhead. The kids press up to the window and look so at times, all four of us, and any guests that are visiting at the time, look on at our own private nature show.

The lawn is now watered automatically and the birds are coming home to roost. Somehow, this weekend marks some kind of milestone. We’re no longer in the process of moving in, we have settled.

My Grandfather Died Last Night

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My Japanese grandfather passed away last night. Oji-chan was of the generation that lived through the war and helped rebuild Japan. No matter how tough things got, this generation always managed to dig a little deeper and work a little harder. Employed by a concrete factory as an onsite mechanic, he was great with his hands and could fashion just about anything. A graceful metal swan scupture broke at my parent’s house and he fixed it with a big ol’ blob of solder. It wasn’t pretty but he fixed it. He loved his work and was called out of retirement three times because he was the only one that could figure out how to fix some of their aging machines.

My grandfather also taught me to put personal pain into perspective. I remember one time when one of my relatives, a cousin I think, fell down the steep wooden stairs at my grandparent’s house in Yokohama. My cousin was six or seven at the time so he was wailing in pain would but also in a way to garner some sympathy. Oji-chan started laughing at him because, well, it was kind of funny, and no one was really hurt, and, well, you need to laugh at yourself sometimes. At first I thought it was cruel of him to laugh at someone’s misfortune but then I realized he was trying to teach my cousin a lesson.

He would laugh at many things. Especially when telling stories of extreme hardship. The time the Imperial Army sent him into basic training towards the end of the war when they started conscripting the kids. They were out of all but the largest-sized boots and they sent him out on exercises in these huge boots and gave him a pointed bamboo stick for his weapon. He laughed at how ridiculous it was.

And then there was the time he went to play pachinko and, because it was so loud, he stuck pachinko balls in each ear to block out the racket. The pea-sized metal balls fit perfectly and completely blocked out all sound. He later discovered that he couldn’t pluck them out and had to come home to my grandmother, who is nearly deaf, and try and explain what happened and what he needed her to do. The image of the two of them yelling at each other and neither of them able to hear what the other one was saying still makes me smile.

He was old school. Didn’t say much, just surveyed the situation as the household fluttered around him. Didn’t want to cause any fuss, all things work themselves out eventually. When he did weigh in, he would cut to the chase and quickly put things in their place, no questions, no debate. He was alert up to the end and passed away while taking a bath – he would have wanted it that way.

I hope he’s smiling down at us. I am smiling up at him.