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Memories of the Hawaiian Room and Outer Space

23 Nov
Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

My uncle Barney Barnes just passed away. He was 82 years old, extremely intelligent, and a unique individual. I know that his widow and my Dad’s eldest sister, Aunt June, misses him greatly, as does my cousin Greg Ratcliff, who was greatly inspired by Barney in scientific ways.

I did not know Uncle Barney all that well into his later years, which I regret. But I do have vivid memories of time spent with him and my dad’s eldest sister, my Aunt June, when I was young. Here are some of them:

THE HAWAIIAN ROOM

When it came to visiting relatives’ houses, Aunt June and Uncle Barney’s mid-century modern home in east Columbus, Ohio was hands-down THE BEST. I’m confident that my brother Kirk and many cousins would agree.

June and Barney did not have any kids, so they were extraordinarily patient with their many nieces and nephews, but the key attraction in visiting them was their back room. One step down from the kitchen, this room was decorated entirely in a Hawaiian theme: tiki hut bar, palm tree, waterfall, and a lot of plants. I don’t remember whether or not the plants were real, but the palm tree was not. It didn’t matter.

For a young child, this room was 100% fascination and playground for me and my cousins. We served each other “drinks” from the tiki hut, rearranged the water flow in the waterfall (which I don’t think we were supposed to do), and pretended to be in, of course, Hawaii. I wish I could see that room today, but the house was sold long ago.

PROFESSIONAL ROLE MODELS

Both June and Barney were professionals–rare role models for me as a youngster.  They worked in engineering at North American Aviation/Rockwell International, and June went on to pursue a creative career as a photographer (my brother and I appeared as child models in many Christian Sunday school collateral).

Uncle Barney, notably, designed many missiles for Rockwell and then Boeing. I remember going to company parties at the Rockwell Park and receiving models of the Space Shuttle that they helped to architect. This was exciting–to have a relative playing a role in the company making the next generation of space exploration in the 1970s and 1980s. It made an early impression on me seeing my uncle’s use of his mind to create things, and this exposure in part inspired my desire  go to college and have a professional career. Uncle Barney was curious–and I absorbed a small part of his considerable spark.

THE INTERNET

In 1990, I went to Atlanta to visit Aunt June and Uncle Barney when I was a senior in college. They relocated there in the early 1980s when Rockwell was bought by Boeing. I remember sitting with Uncle Barney at his desk while he showed me a unique new thing: the Internet.

Barney demonstrated how he and his defense contractor colleagues shared “instantaneous”  messages through this new technology. It took longer to push things through the tubes then, but this was my very first look at the Internet, introduced by my technologically advanced Uncle Barney. I thought it was pretty cool, and since then I’ve sent and received about a million emails.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Barney. Your star is still shining brightly in our memories.

French Lesson

10 Aug
Image

Image courtesy of num_skyman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I sit here on the back porch on a beautiful morning, enjoying my tankard of strong coffee and yogurt with fruit and granola, I’m appreciating the simpler things in life. Less is more in most cases, especially when it comes to food.

Some of this I learned while living with a family in southwestern France as an au pair, back in the Pleistocene Age (1989). Here’s why my breakfast made me think of this:

Plain yogurt is better than any other yogurt. Why?

There are no extra ingredients.

It is tart, has a lovely texture, and 100% real. The flavor is even better if left to sit close to room temperature. (Most Americans find this gross, but in France it is quite normal.)

Mountain High, Fage, or Stonyfield are my personal preferences. We buy the giant containers and use them up. Because it’s an Ohio company and because the milk is extraordinary, I want to also try Snowville Creamery’s plain yogurt.

And forget the 0% fat. For a dessert yogurt or a special treat, go for full fat…it’s the good kind so nothing to feel bad about. And for everyday use, 2% is fine unless you really need to shed pounds.

I always substitute plain yogurt for anytime sour cream is required (with burritos or tacos, gazpacho, baked potatoes). The flavor is better, and you get more goodness out of the experience because of the live and active cultures, or probiotics.

Especially interesting to point out that I learned this NOT while in the notoriously liberal Paris, but while living in an area of France well-known for its political, cultural, and culinary traditionalism. The family I lived with supported Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ultra-conservative politician whose daughter is following in his footsteps. (Note that I did not share the family’s positive opinion of Le Pen!)

My family in France earned their living through veal farming (the famous black and white “Limousin” cows named for the region) and a small factory that made animal food. But unlike many American farmers, they did not support the use of small pens or antibiotics. They never used them and would not consider it because they found both practices fundamentally wrong, in keeping with their traditional views on farming practice and healthy eating. I received regular lectures from my family about the negatives of antibiotics and why eating such tainted meat was unthinkable “en France.”

So that’s my take on being simple, brought to you by my breakfast and my memories of simple living in France.

Bottle Patrol

28 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone has their thing.

My husband’s thing is to be OCD about windows and doors in the house, specifically windows and doors being open or closed at certain times of day. And fans being on or off at corresponding times of day, to maximize air flow in our “naturally” air-conditioned home.

And my thing is bottles. That’s right: bottles.

Specifically, it drives me crazy when people (i.e., my husband, and following in his footsteps my son) open a new bottle of something when there is already an available bottle that is not yet empty.

This is a significant issue in the refrigerator and in our bathroom. It happens with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and personal care products. I have come to believe that this issue is associated with the regular requests from my husband and son that go something like:

Where is my ___________?

Note that I get this question on a daily basis, in person, via text and voice mail. I can guarantee that if I have an early morning flight, as soon as I arrive at my destination I will hear this question from either my husband or my son.

Another variation on this same theme:

I can’t find the milk (I just bought) in the refrigerator. Where did you put it?

My response:

If you just bought it and put it in there, why can you not find it yourself? Do you still have eyes?

And,

Why do I have to know where all of your stuff is?

If I am not around to answer these questions, then a new bottle of (fill in the blank) gets opened.

I have dubbed myself “Bottle Patrol” in order to keep this problem in check. This is a real-life story about the hell I go through to keep this house organized in terms of bottles.

Two weeks ago, I had to consolidate body wash, dandruff shampoo, and conditioner in the bathroom because there were so many opened bottles of the same thing. It took me an hour to do this, upending bottles and draining them into corresponding already open bottles, rinsing out the empty ones, and putting empty and washed bottles into the recycling.

This morning, Bottle Patrol was on duty yet again. This is often the case after my husband makes the bi-weekly trip to Costco. He grew up Mormon and therefore has a natural instinct for stockpiling large amounts of supplies. The man has strong survivalist tendencies. His philosophy of “More is better” gets him in trouble with the Bottle Patrol.

Upon entering the bathroom this morning, I noticed that the problem I’d cleaned up two weeks ago had reappeared:

Three bottles of dandruff shampoo (two as of yet unopened) and two bottles of body wash (one still unopened) were overpopulating the shelf in the shower.

My response (he was not here to hear me say it):

No, no, and NO! Why do you keep doing this! We have tons of storage space for all your extra supplies. Why do you have to put the new bottles into rotation when the old one is not yet empty? Why, why, WHY?

I often go on to ask myself:

What does he think will happen that he puts so many flipping bottles of stuff in the shower? Will he for some reason be taking a shower and finish off the opened bottle of dandruff shampoo, and then have to be forced to open BOTH of the new bottles? The man has no hair. I cannot imagine this happening!

My son, as mentioned, has these same tendencies. Being a newly minted pre-teen, he is all of a sudden uber-hygiene-aware. He is stuck on Dove Men’s Body Wash EXTRA FRESH with Cooling Agent and Micro-Moisture. Promptly upon opening a new bottle, he announces:

Mom, I need more of the Dove Men’s Body Wash, THE GREEN EXTRA FRESH KIND. Can you get me three bottles?

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to bottle accumulation.

I will train that kid, but my husband is beyond help.

Like Riding a Motorcycle

9 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About halfway back during our return trip to Columbus from the Outer Banks, the AC died in our car. I think this was karmic payback. Since we missed all the power outages while we were playing on the beach and enjoying air-conditioned goodness in our our vacation manse, we had to pay the price.

While simultaneously being deafened, windburned, and sunburned due to open windows all through the Blue Ridge mountains, I tried to imagine myself on a motorcycle. (It worked out pretty well unless the complaining from my kids in the back seat interrupted the flow of my imagination.)

In my motorcycle dream, I looked like Penelope Cruz in a Pedro Almodovar movie, gracefully accelerating my motorcycle across the Spanish flatlands with wind turbines in the background. (To keep the dream alive, there had to be many wind metaphors, along with me looking like Penelope Cruz with windblown hair.)

The reality is that I looked more like the crazy lady riding the moped in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. My hair achieved a variety of full-volume not even possible with repeated blow-drying. I accentuated this look with a Starbuck’s coffee frappuccino serving as a functional air conditioner in the old school “before we had cup-holders” position.

Ah, the sophisticated look of a mid-40s lady. Yep, that’s me.

Family Time

4 Jul

I am currently at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, on vacation with my extended family. There are 18 of us in a four-story house, with five branches of the Edwards clan. Eleven of the group are under the age of 25. Man, this house is loud.

Some highlights:

  • Overhearing my 11-year-old son and his two similarly aged cousins having a discussion about “Monk” while hot tubbing. “Did you see the one where….?” About 100 times.
  • Grocery shopping with my husband, making quiches one afternoon in an empty kitchen while everyone was at the beach…and other fairly routine activities that are made all the better by having ZERO competing obligations or distractions.
  • There are more bathrooms in this house than I can precisely remember. I think there are eight. A real necessity with so many people. I could go on…
  • This house has fabulous AC, powered by the wonders of electricity. Back at my house in Columbus, the power has been out several times, and it has consistently been 100 degrees. Here, it is only in the upper 80s. Cue the “ha-ha” sound effect.
  • There are several children among the contingent of cousins with behaviors reminiscent of my own children’s when they were younger. I find them endearing, and at the same time am quite pleased to be beyond having to police my kids.

Probably the best part of the trip has been seeing my kids get to catch up with all of their cousins, who live in Maine, Florida, and California. It must be a very instinctive behavior to get goosebumps as a parent when all of the kids are together. Something tribal or clannish about this. I wish we all lived closer–but it’s impressive that everyone stays caught up via Facebook, Skype, and texting.

With this very large extended family of my husband’s, I often find myself being an observer. There are so many big, loud, lovable personalities to just sit back and watch. I’m thankful to experience the rollicking fun (and occasional insanity) of being in a big family. Good times.

 

Permission to Zumba

14 Jun

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have discovered that embarrassing my teenaged daughter is a relative thing.

A few weeks ago, she decided to take a Zumba class. This is a new fitness approach developed by a Colombian man and involves a vast menu of dance moves, including belly-dancing, hip-hop, and meringue–interspersed with squats, martial arts, and the occasional Bollywood move.

I offered to join her and was quickly rebuffed. “Please don’t.”

It’s true that I have been accused of being a great embarrassment to her. Sad, I know.

Well then. So much for bonding with my daughter before she becomes a fully licensed driver in October and I never see her again. (This is what will happen if she follows in my pattern as a teenager. Luckily, so far she has not followed in my footsteps except in a few good ways, so she’ll probably stick around.)

But tonight, she went to the class and came back to report: “Um, it’s okay if you want to come with me. There’s no one my age there. It’s all older ladies like you.”

And so, just like that, I have been granted permission to Zumba.

Apparently my attendance is only a problem if other teens are present. I probably would have felt the same way at her age. I’ll take this opportunity to spend some time with my firstborn.

Whetstone Rec Older Ladies, watch out for me and my daughter. We are ready to Zumba like nobody’s business.

An Optimistic Start?

28 Dec

Speeches have been on my mind. I have a few lined up this week, and they do get my blood going. The build-up, the thrill of the unexpected (hopefully not something embarrassing) and the fun of sharing information with a group that is actually interested in learning something. For all of these reasons, I have come to seek out opportunities to present. This was not always the case.

imagesMy first experience with public speaking was with the Reynoldsburg, Ohio Optimists’ Club. I was in fourth grade (I think?). My memory is not so good here, probably because this was not a positive experience. Sorry, Optimists!

There were lots of other kids lined up to speak. Probably 25 or so, several from each grade level in the school district. We were somewhat on home turf for me as the event was held at the church I grew up in. Methodist. (This was before my brother and I transferred over to St. Pius X, which led to my later becoming Catholic.) All of us waited in a hallway outside a very small, hot and stuffy library where each orator had his or her brief shining moment. The judges chose the best orator from each grade level and presented awards to each at the end.

I was more than a little intimidated while waiting in the hallway for my moment. I was nerdy, like everyone else there, so I had no reason to feel self-conscious. but I was probably more obsessive-compulsive than the rest and had an amazing ability to worry about every possible worst-case scenario. Here’s what was going through my head:

  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?
  • What if I pee my pants?
  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I sweat so much that a puddle starts forming underneath me?
  • What if I pee my pants and sweat so much…..and so forth?

I had a good hour of running through these questions in my mind, visualizing each one of them happening, over and over. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was on adrenalin overload. I could have accomplished a major athletic feat, but instead I walked into a very hot little room with lots of serious-looking grown-ups who’d likely had their fill of kids giving speeches. I felt like I was free-falling.

Here’s what happened:

  • I did not get the notecards out of order, clam up or pee my pants.
  • I DID sweat a lot, have a very shaky voice, almost drop the notecards because my hands were shaking so much and talk so fast thatIgotthroughmyspeechinabout30seconds.
  • I did not win an award, nor did I deserve one.
  • My poor dad. He was there in the audience and probably wondered what the hell happened to me out in that hallway with the other kids. (He once defended my honor when I dropped a ball I should’ve caught while playing left-field with my third-grade softball team. Another parent made a critical comment in the stands and he nearly created a scene. Will write more about this another time. Go, Blue Blazers!) Mom was not there as she was stuck at home with severe agoraphobia. Afterward, Dad congratulated me and told me I did a really great job, and he was proud of me.

I am really grateful to my dad for his hopeful attitude about my future. I don’t think I gave him a very good glimpse of it that night, but he believed in me anyway. And I am happy that I don’t get nerves before speaking anymore.

To date, the Optimists remain my most difficult audience.