Friday, December 31, 2010

It *is* what it looks like

There's this hotel close to my house called the Schengen. It has the most unusual sculpture out front.

Every time I drive by it I think, "That can't be what it looks like..."

The other day I had the chance to go inside the hotel and if I had any doubt about the sculpture out front, the lobby decor makes everything perfectly clear.


Post Script: After seeing this post my Mom sent the following mail to the Schengen Hotel: "As an artist I'm interested in the sculpture outside your hotel and in the lobby. Could you tell me the name of the artist? I would like to know what his/her vision is for his/her work. I also would like his/her name, address and social security number."

As always, dear Readers, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Traffic Jams and CDs

Traffic in Beijing is a nightmare.

The government estimates that 2,000 new cars hit the road every DAY. That means about 800,000 new cars joined the roads in 2010. That means I spend a lot of time at traffic lights looking at other people's license plates. Lately I've noticed a new phenomenon - the CD over the license plate trick.

Why would anyone do that, you might ask?

To avoid the traffic controls. The controls are based on the last digit of your license plate, so if your last digit is a 1 or a 6, you can't drive in the city on Wednesdays. 2s and 7s can't drive on Thursdays, and so on.

The idea is to take 20% of the cars off the roads every day of the week but guess what? It didn't work out that way. Lots of people like to have a license plate with the number 8 in it because they think it's lucky. So on the day the Lucky 8s are banned from the roads there is considerably less traffic for the rest of us.

File that under "To Talk About At Next Cocktail Party".

Some people find these traffic controls cramp their style so they simply cover the last digit of their license plate on the day they're not supposed to drive. A CD has apparently become the preferred medium. I have no idea why. If you do please leave me a comment.

I would think the police would pull over anyone who attempts this trick but based on the number of CDs I see every day, they don't.

On Dec. 24th the government instituted new measures that will reduce the number of new cars to 400,000 in 2011.

They should institute a crackdown on the people who cover their plates with CDs too. I would be happy to help out. If they would just give me a police woman hat and a note pad I could catch ten of these guys every day.

That's what I will be fantasizing about next time I'm stuck behind one of them at a red light.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Most Irresistible Dish at Thanksgiving Dinner

I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner at my house on Friday night. Check out the fruits of my labor.

Appetizers. Yes like a true Southern Belle I have a deviled egg plate, and the goldfish crackers are homemade.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Turkey and Ham (both of which I outsourced this year)

Mac and cheese

Cauliflower au gratin

But this juicy little morsel stole the whole show:

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Grandparents Make Newbie Mistakes


My Dad is in over his head.

I mean, he’s 75. He has four daughters and four grandchildren. How could such a veteran make a newbie mistake?

It all started when he sent us an email with lots of cute dog pictures in it.

That prompted Grant to reply:
“Dear Popo, I want this dog and this dog and this dog and this dog and this dog and this dog and this dog. I really like all these dogs and I wish I had some.”

Afraid that Dad might not recognize the obvious trap, I sent this follow-up:
“Dad I know this goes without saying but please don't buy us a dog.”

But he fell right in to that trap:
“Tell the kids I’m going to rent a dog for them for Christmas. love, Popo”

A few weeks later Grant double-checks:
“Popo. Are you still going to rent a dog for us when we come to Alabama at Christmas?”

Popo begins backpedaling:
“Grantmeister would you consider a parrot that could learn Chinese?”

Grant remains polite but firm:
“Actually I want a dog more. With a parrot, you can't play with it. It's just not cute. You can't cuddle with it."

One last feeble attempt from Popo:
"How about a rented gerbil?"

Grant is less polite and more firm:
"Popo it needs to be a dog. A gerbil is too small."

Popo gives in:
“I will contact a dog rental service and Grant and I will go down and select one.”

Already victorious, Grant delivers a surprising coup de grace:
“Dear Popo, is it a big dog or a small one? I want a small one. But not like a baby one. Babies aren't cute, they're all white. “

At peace with his role as beta male, Popo replies:
“It will be a small dog and he likes small people. love, Popo”

So basically I see two possibilities for this Christmas:

1. Popo rents a dog. The chaos that we normally enjoy at my parents’ house at Christmas gets whipped into an outright frenzy. Someone will be hospitalized.

2. Popo doesn’t rent a dog. My children spend the holiday wailing and gnashing their teeth at the injustice. Someone will be hospitalized.

Dec. 31 update: My brother-in-law Jeff came up with a brilliant idea that saved the day. He has a beautiful, sweet dog named Brunnen and instead of kenneling Brunnen in Nashville he brought him to Alabama for the holiday. Brunnen was happy to be on a chain in my parents' backyard for the week and Grant was able to play with him any time. It really was a win-win and I don't know if my Dad appreciates how his newest son-in-law saved him! I do Jeff - thank you!!!


p.s. We would never call our grandparents "grandma" or "grandpa" in the South. We are more creative than other Americans.
p.p.s. I have never heard of a dog rental service. In Alabama or anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Sister Asking Obama a Question

Last week I went to visit my sister Christi in Japan. She was there to cover Obama's participation in the APEC Summit in Yokohama and had a few days free afterwards, so I went to hang out with her.

BTW this is Christi asking the President a question in India.

Here's Obama answering.

Cool, huh? I know, I totally know.

Since I was going to Japan I decided to take Grant so he could spend some time with Buddy's parents also live in Yokohama. They're Chinese but they live in Japan.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe this is really my life.

Grant had to miss school but we figured loving attention from his grandma and grandpa would more than make up for it.

Plus they did homework with him every day.

This is only tangentially relevant but I want to insert here that I adore my in-laws. I think I'm the luckiest wife in the world because they love me like their own daughter. And I'm grateful to them for raising their son to be the man he is.

Here are some reasons I love Japan.

You can go into any random sushi shop on any corner and be assured that it will be reasonably priced and will taste FABULOUS.

Sometimes you're walking in the city and you stumble upon an absolutely serene temple in the middle of all the urban chaos. You walk through the stone gate and suddenly - welcome to Heaven!

There are lots of doughnut shops where you can sit and have a coffee and a pastry and watch the world go by. This pictures captures one of the best moments of my life.

The kids' menu has sushi on it. Which Grant LOVED. Go figure. A 7-year-old loved sushi. That's how good sushi is in Japan.

As you can see I'm so feeling the love right now. I love my in-laws, I love sushi, I love my sister, I love my son, I love coffee, I love Obama. It was a good trip.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Would you have stayed or left?

Last week Buddy and I went to lunch together, which is something I would never have done back in my days of full-time employment but now that I'm free as a bird I can meet my husband for lunch and watch movies in the afternoon and go for jogs whenever I want.

Employment is so seriously over-rated.

Except when the time comes to pay the bills, then it seems like a pretty good idea.

This is me right now, at 10:40 on a Thursday morning in Starbucks.

Anyway at lunch two interesting things happened.

1. A mouse scampered across the dining room floor. We debated for a few seconds about whether we should leave or not but I had ordered this Cajun shrimp wrap and I really wanted to eat it so we stayed. Which just goes to show that although I got married and changed my last name, deep down I am still a Parsons.

The wrap wasn't actually that great.

2. Just outside the window there was this 2-story building with something like a 2,000 square foot footprint. There was a bulldozer next to it. As we ate lunch the bulldozer started to tear down the building. By the time I finished my Cajun shrimp wrap the building was gone. GONE. In the time it took us to order, debate the wisdom of eating in a restaurant that clearly had a rodent problem, and eat our lunch - that building just disappeared.

Things can change so fast. Yes in China, to be sure, change comes quickly. But lately I've been noticing changes in general and appreciating them. I don't know if it's the fall and the turn of the seasons, or the fact that I'm transitioning between careers now. But for some reason I'm in awe right now of how dramatically things can change.

And how quickly.

And how nice the new can be.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beijing Marathon!

We finished the "mini-marathon" (迷你马拉松) 4.2k in 30 minutes and 8 seconds. Buddy and I crossed the finish line together, hand in hand. Isn't that sweet?

Just so you know, that means Buddy waited for me just in front of the finish line for something like 10 minutes. That act, and the "all we have to do is run" quote sums him up pretty well.

You might remember I was stressing about finishing within 25 minutes because I thought all runners were going to get picked up by the van after that but somehow that rule was not enforced. However the pick-up van did drive right alongside me for much of the route. Taunting me.

This race was my first and I had so much fun. I felt GREAT the whole time. Everyone was in a good mood, the runners smiled and waved and high-fived each other along the route. It was raining and we got soaked but that helped keep us cool while we were running.

Once we stopped running and our bodies cooled off, that soaking wet clothing was awful. And we had to take the subway back home so we shivered for a good hour.

Buddy thinks he's getting sick.

Here are a few observations from the race.
- The AQI was over 300 today, which is "hazardous". And yet there was no discussion of canceling the race.

- Is it strange that there was not even an attempt to record our time? I'm not sure the race officials even know I ran.

- All of the foreigners I saw were listening to music and almost none of the Chinese were.

- Did you know it's possible to run while holding an umbrella? Possible, yet oh so inadvisable.

- Getting up at 4:45am, getting the kids to Xin's sister by 5:45, and getting to the race venue by 7:00am was a mini-marathon of its own.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"All we have to do is run"

It all started one sunny day last month when Buddy called me and said that we should run the 5K leg of the Beijing Marathon. His company would pay for our registration, all we have to do is run.

All we have to do is run.

That statement right there sums my husband up so well.

If I had to choose between registering for an event and running 5K, I would easily choose the former. But not Buddy Gao. He has the energy of 12 cheetas pent up in one human body.

"Sure, let's do the marathon," I said.


"We will never run in that marathon," I thought as I hung up the phone.

Something always comes up when Buddy and I attempt things like this. I can see it now - sick kid, flat tire, sprained ankle, broken garbage disposal. Something will happen that prevents us from running in the marathon.

I checked the website to get some details on the event, because Mr. "All We Have To Do Is Run" couldn't even tell me the date. The website says our event is actually 4.2K and there's a time limit, a fairly aggressive one if you ask me - 25 minutes. After 25 minutes all 4.2K runners will be asked to get in the pick-up van.

How humiliating would that be? To cross the finish line on my first race in the back of the pick-up van?

So basically I'm fixated on one goal, which is to finish the race before that damn van. And I think this is a smart move on the part of the Marathon organizers. If it weren't for this time constraint I would probably be stressing over whether I can complete the race at all. Now I've moved my anxiety to a whole new level.

So I'm running laps around my complex this week like crazy, trying to get my time down.

And as a back up plan I am grinding corn cobs down my garbage disposal.

I love your comments. I shout out there into the internet and you all shout back. It warms my heart so comment, please. Even if you don't think you have anything important to say. Come on, it's a diner.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Clearing up some rumors about me

Number one I'm thrilled - THRILLED - that there are rumors about me. I mean, this means someone is talking about me and that there is presumably something interesting to say. This is big for me, really big.

I'm considering putting a small dog in my purse and seeing if the papparazzi will follow me around.

If that happens I'll learn how to spell "papparazzi".

So by all means please continue talking about me, I'm flattered beyond belief.

(For the record, I know no one is talking about me anymore but humor me.)

Now let me clear up these rumors.

Rumor #1: Melanie is going back to the U.S.
Nope, we're staying in China at least until Grant finishes 6th grade and he's in 2nd grade now. Most likely we'll stay until both kids finish high school.

Rumor #2: Melanie is going to Africa.
I'm not sure where this one came from. I think I said once that I want to go to Africa and I do but I meant to visit.

Rumor #3: Melanie is going to work for Adobe.
Although scores of Sun employees, especially those from the G11n department, have gone to Adobe I don't plan to.

Rumor #4: Melanie is dating George Clooney.
Not true, but you can see where the confusion is coming from.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turn the Page

You can probably tell from the nostalgic nature of my recent posts but I'll go ahead and make it official -

After 11 years with Sun, my last day with the company was August 31, 2010.

It feels weird, really weird. I adored my job. I loved the company. I had the best manager a person could ever hope for. I worked on a wildly successful product. My co-workers were like family. My whole management chain, all the way to Larry Ellison, was rock solid. Sun trained me to be a corporate trainer for the company and they let me deliver classes once or twice a quarter.

I had it all. Truly.

But I wanted more.

I want to be a free-lance corporate trainer. I want to do what I love all the time. I want to make a difference in people's lives, a real difference. I want to be able to say I don't work in the summers when my kids are on vacation. I want to take them to the US so they can fish and swim and eat grits and sing along with Miley Cyrus and shop at Target and drive-thru at McDonald's.

I could go on and on. But suffice it to say that corporate training, and especially being a free-lance trainer, is the right thing for me right now. I know it. I just know it.

And just in case I was considering not heeding His calling, God made Sun give me this amazing severance package which gives me some padding in case I need some time to build up my business. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

And by the way things are looking good. I've already got 2 jobs lined up for November. Maybe I won't have to touch that package.

On a parting note I give you a picture of Melanie Gao in November 1999 on her first day at Sun Microsystems. Wasn't she cute?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thank you Sun for the great managers

They say the #1 reason employees leave a company is because of their direct manager.

I worked for Sun for 11 years, and the main reason I lasted that long was because I had great managers the whole time. There were 14 of them: Render, Michele, Dilshad, Francis, Brian, David, Austin, Pat, Wendy, Mike, Mimi, Shripad, Jessica and Peter. These folks were honest and hard-working professionals and they all cared about me and the company, often in that order.

I could tell you tons of stories about how wonderful they were but I'll pick just one.

It was the spring of 2001 and I had just screwed up a project schedule. We had this translation vendor who was supposed to send a translation to my team's project alias but instead they sent it just to me. And it took me a while to open that mail and realize that the delivery hadn't gone to the whole team. Once I did realize it I forwarded the translated files to the right person but this caused a delay which made us slip our schedule.

I felt awful.

I decided that my manager Francis should hear about it from me instead of from someone else so I took the Walk of Shame into his office and gave him the full report. I told him I had learned from this mistake and it wouldn't happen again. I told him I felt really bad about it. He was very understanding.

I left his office and went back to my own, still feeling like shit.

And just at that moment Francis popped his head into my office. He said, "Hey, don't beat yourself up about this. We all make mistakes sometimes."

If it had been appropriate to hug him I would have.

You know why that comment meant to much to me? Because at that moment I knew that Francis knew me. He knew that I was in fact beating myself to a pulp over this mistake. And he knew just what to say.

To boil it all down - he knew me. Isn't that what we all want, really? We want someone to recognize us as individuals. To know what's different about us. What's special about us. What makes us tick. What ticks us off. We don't want to be a face in a crowd or a number.

And although I was employee #100840, my managers at Sun always knew who I really was.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thank you Sun for that visitor badge

In October 1999 I interviewed with Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley. It was a program management position in the Sun-Netscape Alliance. Do you remember that alliance and iPlanet? Good times.

Buddy had offered to drive me to the interview because he knows I get nervous before interviews and he didn't want me on the roads in my condition.

I was dressed in my best, and only, suit. It was a navy Jones New York suit and I loved it. In fact I still have it. Is it crazy to wear a suit for over 10 years? I think the style is classic but maybe I'm deluded.

Anyway, in the car I was having a drink yogurt for breakfast. And Buddy went over a speed bump and my yogurt spilled on my jacket lapel. Yikes!

(P.S. don't you love the way I wrote that last paragraph, making it look as if Buddy were partially if not fully to blame for the accident? It's an art that you all should aspire to.)

There was no time to go back home and change. And anyway I didn't have another suit, so going home would be kinda pointless.

I tried my best to clean off my suit using old parking receipts and hand sanitizer.

Surprisingly, the yogurt was still obvious.

And all I had underneath the jacket was a silk tank top. I couldn't show up for the interview wearing just that.

So I resigned myself to showing up with a faint yogurt stain on my lapel.

When I got to the reception desk the attendant asked me to fill out a visitor card. It was about 2" x 3".

She took the card back from me, fiddled around with it and did something I couldn't see, and then she handed the card back to me. Except now it was in a plastic holder with a clip on it. And she said, "You can just clip this to your lapel."

Folks did you hear that?!?!

She said, "YOU CAN JUST CLIP THIS TO YOUR LAPEL." Except she didn't yell. But I was yelling inside my head, let me tell you.

I was yelling - HALLELUJAH!

I heard angels sing. Clouds parted. A beam of sunlight came through the window and shone directly on me. It gave the receptionist a halo.

And at that moment I knew that Sun and I were meant for each other.

We were like yin and yang. Fred and Ginger. Peaches and cream. Hall and Oates. Yogurt stain and a visitor badge.

Thank you Sun for the babies

In the summer of 1999 I was at my wits' end. I was working for a start-up localization company in Monterey, California and the overtime was killing me.

It wasn't just normal overtime, it was unexpected unplanned "honey-i-don't-know-when-I'll-be-home-go-ahead-and-go-to-bed" overtime.

For example a client would call me at 4pm and complain about a delivery and suddenly the whole team had to stay in the office until we fixed it, which could sometimes be 10pm or midnight or 1am or God knows how many times I saw the sun rise through the windows of our conference room.

Now I'll admit that I might have been able to manage our clients' expectations a little bit better and spared myself and our team some of that over time but I was a green project manager and these nuances were beyond me at the time.

When I say green, I mean really green. This localization company took me in with absolutely no experience in project management and they taught me a LOT in 18 months. Seriously, when I walked through the doors on my first day there, I didn't understand how a computer's file system worked. I didn't know how to save things to disks. I didn't know the difference between Microsoft Office and Windows. It was bad. But they took me in and they taught me and for that, I will be forever grateful.

In exchange for everything they gave me I managed $1.6 million dollars worth of projects for them in 18 months. Not bad for a green project manager.

But in the summer of 1999 I turned 30 and my biological clock was ticking. Buddy and I had been married for two years and we wanted a family. But my job was so demanding that I could not imagine how a baby would fit into the picture.

When this sudden overtime would rear its ugly head I would often wonder, "What if I needed to pick a baby up at daycare right now?" I had heard of daycares that charged a dollar for every minute you were late picking your kid up and I calculated what it would cost if I picked my baby up at 2am.

It would be $480.

I looked around me and wondered how my colleagues managed to care for a family and work in this environment.

And it hit me.

None of them had families. Seriously, not one single person had children under the age of 18. Except for Stayce and she was a wonder woman. And I wouldn't even write about her except one of my colleagues from that localization company will read this post and leave me a comment reminding me about Stayce. And I would feel bad if she thought I had forgotten her.

Anyway, that's when I realized that if we were going to start a family, I needed to get out of this job.

Because there is no Wonder Woman hiding inside of me.

I applied for a job with one of our clients, whose office was an hour north in Silicon Valley. I went for an interview one Monday and asked the hiring manager to be sure not to tell my current employer that I was interviewing with him because I hadn't let my current employer know that I was interviewing outside.

He assured me that he and his team would keep it confidential.

On Tuesday I walked into work at 7:00am. 7:00am. That's early, right? Well, the news about my interview had made it to the office before I did. One of my co-workers stopped me before I even got to my desk.

"I hear someone's been interviewing at (an unscrupulous company that can't keep their word when it comes to confidentiality)."

I thought maybe playing dumb would work for me.

"Oh really? Who?" I asked.

"You!" he said.

Playing dumb has never worked for me. Which is too bad because I often do really dumb things.

Naturally, things were a little uncomfortable for me from that point on. One night I was crying on Buddy's shoulder and he said, "Why don't you just quit?"

"Quit? Without knowing where I'll go next?!" I asked. I have never been a risk-taker when it comes to this sort of thing.

I mean, I put a snake around my neck in Thailand. I rode on a motorcycle with no helmet in India. I stood on the left side of an escalator in Germany. But it would not be like me to quit a job without knowing where I'm going next.

"Sure!" he said.

Buddy is a very "sure" kind of guy. Things always work out for him and I'm sure it's because he expects them to. "They're hiring like crazy in Silicon Valley. You can get a new job. Don't worry."

I looked deep into his brown eyes and realized he was right. So I took a deep breath, stopped crying, and turned in my resignation the next day.

Naturally as my last day approached I had to tell my clients that I was leaving the company. One of my clients was Sun so during our weekly progress con-call I told my contact, Michele, that I was leaving the company. As soon as the call was over my phone rang. It was Michele and she wanted to know where I was going next. When I told her I didn't know yet she invited me to come in and interview for a program management job at Sun.

And that was a monumental event in my life.

One week later I accepted an offer from Sun.

Two weeks later I was working for Sun and their wonderful health insurance kicked in.

Four weeks later I was pregnant.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What phrases drive you crazy at work?

I'm working on a project (more on that later) and I need to compile a list of all the terms you hate to hear in the workplace.

You know, things like:

1. Man hours

This is my all-time most-hated phrase ever! Sometimes I pipe up in a meeting and say, "Is everybody working on this project a man?"

People love that.

Why can't we just say "staff hours" and make everyone happy?

By everyone, I mean me.

2. Bodies

As in, "We need more bodies on this project." This term gives no respect to the people who will be working on the project. I mean, if all you need is bodies I'm sure there are plenty of unclaimed ones at the morgue.

What we need are engineers, we need soldiers, we need help, we need more resources.

We don't really need more bodies.

3. Please tell me what you would put here.
What are the phrases you hate to hear in the workplace? And what do you wish people would say instead?

You're also welcome to disagree with me about my pet peeve words. Leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A billion channels and nothing's on

Sometimes I feel like the internet has a billion channels and nothing's on. But not lately. Lately I've been getting so much goodness from the internet.

So first I'd like to say thank you to the bloggers out there. You are the ones producing the interesting content out there.

Here are some of my favorites lately:

1. The Well Grounded Life

Lisa's mission is to "help busy moms take great care of themselves."

I know, she had you at hello, didn't she?

Here's the best part - Lisa is doing a free online seminar for busy moms. I've signed up and it would be so cool if some of you were there too. There are conference calls and stuff so we would actually get to talk to each other! I think! Let's all sign up and find out!

2. Sweet Lily Tutus

Cherimarie moved me to tears with this post. Why? Because we all have days like this when we realize how hard this parenting thing is. And how hard life can be sometimes. But few of us have the courage to write about it honestly the way Cherimarie did. I think we should do it more so we can encourage each other through the rough times.

BTW she wraps up the post with a note of gratitude. This is very typical of her.

3. Consulting Adult

This post cracked me up. Nancy is a former HR person and she makes the point that HR people aren't funny. Yet this post made me laugh so hard I cried.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Open Letter to my Wii Fit

Dear Wii Fit,

I think we should take a break. Lately I've been feeling smothered by you.

When I bought you and installed you in my living room I didn't think I was making a commitment to visit with you every day. In fact I'm sure that was never part of the setup or configuration. I did share some intimate details with you like my weight, my age and my fitness goals but we never agreed on how often I would visit you.

But somehow you had that expectation well-programmed onto your hard disk. You expected so much more than I could give and I couldn't find a user setting where I could re-set your expectation.

And now it's like every time I go to see you you say, "Oh! It's been a long time since I've seen you!"

A week is not a long time! You see me more than my own mom.

Let's not be bitter as we part ways. Let's focus on the good times we had together. Remember the time you told me my Wii fit age was 28? That was so sweet. Or the time you remembered my birthday.

Okay that was about it as far as happy memories with you.

Anyway, just remember - it's not me, it's you.

I'm keeping the cat.

- melanie

Friday, June 11, 2010

I am probably not Stage Mom Material

I don't like to blog about how great my kids are. I think they're great but I don't expect you guys to understand so I don't waste space on the internet trying.

But today I just have to. Because Audrey played the lead in a play called "鸡婆花" last week. I knew she was going to be in a play, I mean I'd been dragging her across town for rehearsals for a couple of weeks and all. And Buddy had told me she had a significant role.

But I didn't realize how big her role was, or how professional the play was, or how many people would be in the audience.

Until I was sitting in the audience watching my baby perform in front of 900 people, a packed theater. Singing and dancing and saying lots of words. In Chinese. And looking so incredibly cute. I snapped this picture with my iPhone so it doesn't give you the full effect, but if you squint your eyes you get the picture.

Please note my baby is standing on the stage all by herself! She was up there by herself talking to the audience. Of 900 people! Did I say that? It was 900 people.

I wanted to stand up and tell everyone in the theater that five years ago she couldn't say a word in Chinese. And here she was, performing in Chinese! And on top of remembering all her lines she remembered all her songs and dance moves too.

She had a mom in the play and it hurt me to hear her call, "Mommy!" and another woman comes dancing across the stage to hug her. I saw her Other Mom backstage and I shot her all kinds of nasty looks. But I don't think she noticed. Anyway I'm the one she spends Sundays and holidays with.

I am probably not Stage Mom Material.

I asked Audrey if she gets stage fright at all and she said she's usually a little bit nervous for the first few seconds on stage but then she's fine. This composure is going to serve her well no matter what she does in life, I think.

This is Audrey and me backstage after the play.

Alright, I will stop now. Thank you for tolerating this brief rant.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Happy Birthday White Chocolate!

I missed my friend Aaron's birthday last week. So I'm going to make up for it by wishing him a happy birthday on my blog.

Because don't you think there's an inverse correlation between the timeliness of birthday greetings and the public nature of the greetings?

Thank you, this is why I love you guys, because of your unwavering support.

When I look back on my long and illustrious career, the Years I Worked With Aaron stand out in two ways. They were the FUN years. And they were the low-stress years because I knew someone had my back.

First, let's start with fun. Once our co-worker Cindy took a group order for these frozen Chinese pork buns. When they arrived she sent an email to our team alias saying, "Your buns are in the freezer."

Aaron replied with, "I thought I felt cold."

And he used to call me a lot. That's normal, right? Except that he worked in the office next door to me. Yes, he would call me from 5 feet away. I could hear his voice through the wall. This from a man who runs marathons.

Aaron had my back. I was never late for meetings when Aaron was around because he would always always always come get me. When I was on vacation I knew Aaron would cover for me. There were so many times when he saved me, and when I thanked him he would just wink and say, "Hey, I got your back."

Do you have any idea how good it feels to know someone has your back? Studies show that it reduces your stress level by 65%.

Those would be my studies, thank you.

Does someone have your back at work? If not I encourage to go out and get someone's back. And let them know you're doing it. Let them know that from now on, you are looking out for them and will do your best to make sure no harm comes to them. They are naturally going to return the favor. And a virtuous cycle is born.

All thanks to Aaron.

Happy birthday White Chocolate!

Monday, June 7, 2010

How to Walk from Brazil to Vietnam in One Day

Saturday 10:00am - Grant and his cousin singing a little song before getting in the cab and heading to the Expo.

Six hours later, somewhere in the Pacific Islands -

The Expo is a distant cousin of the World's Fair - countries form around the world come together, erect immense structures called "pavilions" and promote how great they are.

I know, it is their loss that the Expo Committee rejected my application for their Chief Marketing Officer position.

The best thing about the Expo is that it shrinks the whole world down into one square mile. You can literally walk from Tunisia to Australia to Chile in one day. (See, now don't you think that sentence would have looked great in the brochures?)

The worst thing is the lines. The queues! Whatever you want to call them, they are ridiculous. You have to wait in line for at least 3 hours for any of the decent pavilions.

Alternatively, you can go to the pavilions that have a shorter queue, but there is a reason for those short queues. Because there is nothing interesting inside that pavilion.

Around 4:30pm we were walking past the Japan Pavilion. An Expo staff member told us the wait was 4.5 hours.

Four point five hours!

I said to Buddy, "If we get in line now, we'll get into the pavilion at ... 9:00 pm!"

Buddy said, "If we got in a plane now, we could get to Japan sooner than that!"

Which made us both laugh so hard we cried.

Seriously, we could have gotten to Japan sooner than we could have gotten into that pavilion. Who in their right mind would stand in the line?

Well, obviously about 4.5 hours worth of people.

My verdict on the Expo 2010 is that you should go if you're in the area but don't plan on going into the pavilions. Just walk around and take in the atmosphere and look at the pavilions from the outside.

And if you're taking young boys with you, bring along a couple of gurneys.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

“I have a chicken eye on my foot”

Grant is wearing a band-aid on the bottom of his foot that has to be replaced twice a day. It's the weirdest-looking band-aid I've ever seen.

He said his tutor found something on his foot and thought it was probably a [something in Chinese that I don't understand].

Then Buddy took Grant to the doctor, who said it probably was [something I don't understand] and gave him the band-aids and said it would probably go away in a few days.

I asked Buddy for some details but he gave me the same story Grant had given me.

Normally I'm okay with not understanding all the Chinese words that my kids and husband throw into a conversation. But since this was a medical issue and I was so out of the loop, I did what any mom would do.

I broke down.

Today when I was changing Grant's band-aid for the fourth time because he keeps picking at it I said, I don't understand why your tutor was looking at the bottom of your foot! And I don't understand what he thinks he's found. And I don't understand why the doctor couldn't confirm it, or why he would give you medication for something that doesn't have a confirmed diagnosis!”

Ever calm, Grant said, “Look, I'll tell you. I have a chicken eye on my foot.”

Oh thank you, that clears EVERYTHING up for me! My son has a chicken eye on his foot. Beautiful.

{Let's insert a pause here for me to regain my composure.}

{And to try to that image out of my head. I mean seriously, a chicken eye? That is so gross! Yet I wonder if Chinese people are grossed out when they hear our vocabulary like "shingles" and "Adam's apple" and kidney stone".}

After a few minutes of reverse engineering on, I figured out what Grant has on his foot is a corn and the band-aids are salicylic acid. And salicylic acid is a common, benign treatment and the corn probably will go away in a couple of days.

I still don't know why his tutor was looking at his foot though.

Monday, May 24, 2010

This guy broke my heart this morning

He had way too many boxes piled on his scooter and they had fallen off. He was sitting on the sidewalk next to his useless scooter and all the boxes with his head in his hands.

It almost made me cry just looking at him.

You guys know I have delusions of saving the world from the driver's seat of my Honda Odyssey so I decided to go check on him.

Learning from my recent misadventures in roadside assistance, I took a minute to prepare what I was going to say to him in Mandarin. I was quite proud of what I came up with.

I sat down next to him on the curb and said, "Hi there. I saw you from the road. You poor thing, you have so many boxes. Is someone coming to help you?"

"Yes," he said, pointing to his cell phone. And just at that moment his friend pulled up. "He's here now."

I realized that what I thought was a moment of total despair was actually just him, sitting on the sidewalk waiting for his friend to come and help him.

Someone had his back.

(And I can be a little dramatic sometimes. I admit that.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Caution - Drive Safely

That's what this sign says.

I'm glad we were stopped at a redlight when Audrey and I spotted it because we both laughed until we cried.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thank you, Tea Kettles

We're grateful to you, little tea kettles.

Grateful for all the piping hot tea that you supplied to us on frosty winter nights.

Grateful to you for warming our babies' baths night after night, and letting them splash with delight while all the day's soil and germs were gently washed away.

Grateful to you for the relaxing foot baths that we gave to our parents and grandparents, soothing them after a day of hard walking and working.

Grateful that you never needed repairs or new batteries or re-charging or polishing. Grateful that you were simple and reliable.

And now here you are with so many of your brothers and sisters and you're going on to your next life.

I'm not sure if the person who loaded you onto this truck was going for an artistic effect but I think you all look spectacular. So random and yet so uniform, so massive and yet so intricate.

Maybe in your next life you'll come back as a flagpole and you'll get to preside over something grand and important for decades to come.

Maybe you'll come back as a hubcap and you're going to see the whole country.

Maybe you'll be a Coke can and that might not be that interesting. Sorry if it does turn out that way.

But whatever it is, I wish you well. And thank you again for all you did for us.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If you can't amaze them with your brilliance ...

Then stun them with your craziness. I decided this will be my new motto in life.

The other day I was waiting to turn left at a red light when I noticed some commotion on the sidewalk to my right. Apparently two high school boys, about 15 or 16 years old, were walking on the sidewalk and one of them somehow caused a guy to fall off his scooter. I don't know if it was intentional or not but my guess is that it was not.

The scooter guy was in his mid-40s, short and stocky. And he was mad. He had fallen on his face and his upper lip was bleeding a bit.

He started pushing the high school kid around and the kid pushed back.

This kind of road rage is very typical after an accident in Beijing. Usually the two parties lunge at each other and their friends or family restrain them, harsh words are exchanged, and then they calm down and go about the business of negotiating responsibility for the accident.

But this squabble was to be different.

Scooter Guy reeled back and punched High School Kid hard in the nose. His glasses went flying and his nose started bleeding profusely.

I realized this fight might be getting out of hand.

Scooter Guy shoved High School Kid, who fell backwards. Then he straddled High School Kid and started choking him.

I decided it was definitely out of hand and I should do something.

I quickly checked the three lanes to my right and thank goodness, no cars were approaching. So I pulled my car out of the turning lane and navigated my Honda Odyssey so I was perpendicular across the three lanes. If this sounds awkward, well ... it was, but fortunately it put me just about 10 feet away from the dueling couple on the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and it was at this moment I realized -

I had no idea what I was going to say. I needed to mediate a heated fight ... in Mandarin ...

Here's what I came up with after .75 seconds of contemplation -

"Do you need me to call ... 102?"

They both gave me this stunned look. I glared back at them, cell phone in hand, trying to look like I was crazy enough to call the police if needed.

And I probably did look plenty crazy right then, considering that the number for the police is 120, not 102.

Misguided as it might have been, my threat had the desired effect. They stopped fighting. I'm not sure if it was because:
a) they didn't want me to call the police.
b) they had no idea what I was saying but they figured a crazy foreign woman was more of a threat to them than they were to each other.
c) it gave them a chance to pause and realize they were over-reacting.
d) something else.

Anyway they stood up and Scooter Guy gave a tissue to High School Kid. Then they found his glasses hanging in the branches of a nearby bush.

Scooter Guy got on his bike and drove away. High School Kid started walking again. I pulled myself into the right direction in traffic.

And we will all live to fight another day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can you kill a rabbit with bok choy?

The movie was supposed to be a reward for studying hard.

Because Grant studied so well with his tutor on Saturday morning, I let them go to the movies in the afternoon. When I went to pick them up afterwards Grant looked so incredibly happy. "Wow, the movie was just the right thing," I thought.

Not quite.

He was happy because his tutor had bought 2 white rabbits for him. One for him and one for Audrey.

Now before you get all "awwww" on me, let me say he used my money to buy the rabbits.

The kids were thrilled.

I was not.

Because seriously - owning a pet is a big deal. It should be something you enter into after a great deal of thought and preparation. Not an impulse purchase.

Our family is sooooooo not ready to take care of another mammal. I could stretch that word "so" out from here to Ontario and it would still not convey how not ready we are.

I have trouble taking care of the 4 hearts that are already beating in this house. I can not handle any more. I love the way Kristen put it a few days ago - I have to avoid any activities "that would deplete my time, money, and sanity (three dangerously low resources right now)."

But anyway, we were proud pet owners. The kids adored them. I resigned myself to them. Buddy is on a business trip so he didn't care either way. Isn't it amazing sometimes how these things transpire while the partners are out of town?

The pet store gave Grant some strange advice when they sold him the rabbits. They said not to give them water. And make sure that any food we gave them was dried out.

Is that weird? I thought that was weird. I checked several pet care websites and none of them say that.

Last night I decided the rabbits needed some bok choy with a few drops of water on it. I mean, I think rabbits actually need water and even if they don't, surely it wouldn't kill them! Grant begged me not to do it. But I explained to him that all living things need water. It's a law of nature.

Both rabbits died overnight.

Guilt and relief, they are playing tug-of-war with my heartstrings today. Right now guilt is winning, as it always does.

At first I was sad that during our short time with the rabbits I never got to take pictures of the them. But then I realized.

I have kids.

I have an iPhone.

OF COURSE I have pictures of the rabbits!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Do I need a breathalizer for playdates now?

One of Grant's friends came by today and wanted to play but Grant was studying so I asked him to come back at 5:00.

The kid was drinking something that looked like a beer.

I looked more closely and discovered that it was a Bacardi Breezer.

He's 8.

I asked him if he knew what he was drinking.

"Fruit juice," he said.

"Yeah, and rum. Do you know what rum is?" I wanted to check for understanding because depending on whether I got my Chinese tones right, I might have said "rum" and I might have said "spicy wood".

"Yeah, my mom lets me drink it all the time," he said.

I have a feeling his mom does not let him drink rum (or spicy wood) all the time. I'm interested to see what state he's in when he comes back at 5:00.

Update: He sat outside our building and drank the rest of his Bacardi Breezer, then came back with the empty bottle. I asked him how he felt and he said fine.

I give you the empty bottle, which he left in my front hallway, as evidence. Please also take a moment to appreciate the orange table runner that I bought at the Silk Market last week. Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, April 5, 2010

How Tough Is Your Love?

The other day I was explaining to my kids what tough love is.

I told them about my friend Steve, whose mom kicked him out of the house when he was sixteen for something so terrible he never would tell me what it was.

But anyway Steve called me from the YMCA one day and asked if I could bring him some groceries. Things that didn't need to be refrigerated because he didn't have a fridge.

Now as a mom I know that Steve's mom's heart was breaking.

My kids asked if I would ever kick them out of the house. "If you ever did drugs in here then yes, I would kick you out," I said.

Audrey looked shocked. She looked at my husband.

I looked at my husband.

He smiled.

So I said what all of us were thinking.

"But don't worry, Daddy would come pick you up from the YMCA a couple of hours later."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dear Singapore,

Hello you lush little island, it's been a while since I've written to you. How've you been? I'm good, it's been dry lately in Beijing.

You probably noticed your population increased by one this week and I want to make sure you recognize the significance here - for that one person who landed on your shores this week is none other than Dalton Dorne.

Here are four reasons you are going to love your newest inhabitant.

1. The name!
I mean really, Dalton Dorne (dor-nay) - could it get any more fabulous? When you say that name in your head does it not absolutely sparkle? And she is as brilliant as her name, let me tell you.

2. The accessories
This girl has her jewelry, scarves and bags working for her. And I am not alone in admiring her knack for accessorizing. Once she lost one of these earrings

and when she told us about it at dinner one night, I saw more than one girlfriend furtively wiping away a tear.

3. Her graciousness
We went for a girls' weekend at a hot springs resort a couple of weeks ago - it was our final hurrah before Dalton left Beijing. We arrived there and found that there was a grand total of ONE hot spring within a 100-meter radius of our hotel room.

I should clarify that there were in fact 20 springs right outside our room, however none of them had WATER.

You wouldn't think to clarify that point when you call up to make a reservation at a hot springs resort now, would you? (Now these hot springs - do they have water in them?)

Well you should.

Anyway you know what gracious Dalton Dorne did? She jumped into that one hot tub and did not leave until the very last girlfriend was shriveled up like a prune and ready to collapse in the bed.

Wait, she did leave the hot tub once. But it was only to get a cork screw.

4. Her story-telling abilities
She has the best stories. Remember when you were nine and you would call the local radio station and ask the deejay to play "Eye of the Tiger" 100 times?

Maybe islands didn't do that.

Well, I'm like that with Dalton and her stories. I love to hear her tell the story of the time she and Helen tried to get a receipt for the toilet they bought at B&Q. Or the time she and Dom stayed up the whole night and then went to meet a tour group for a cross-country bus trip. Or the time her she had to fire a housekeeper.

My only consolation is the fact that she blogs so I can still get her stories that way. But it won't be as fun without her gestures and tone of voice.

5. Her husband and kid

I know I said four things but I thought of one more. So cane me already.

Dalton is bringing her husband Dom and her daughter Niamh (pronounced "Neeve", please start practicing this now) to your luscious shores.

Niamh is going to tell it to you straight. She will call it like her 3-year-old self sees it. Get the durian out of the subway. Niamh has arrived.

Dom holds everything together so that Dalton can do the traveling that her job requires. He is one of the most supportive husbands and loving fathers you'll ever meet and if you're lucky he'll write some articles about you for the local magazines.

Please take good care of Dalton. Send her back to us every once in a while. Thanks in advance, Singapore.


Friday, March 5, 2010

These are some friends I have actually met

I talked about my blogosphere friends as if they were actually friends. Because they are!

The fact that we haven't met is irrelevant.

Nie Nie
is my friend who gave me the world's best pear-granola muffin recipe. (Just go preheat your ovens to 350 right now and then click on that link, you will thank me later.)

And I have a friend named Stretchmark Mama who sends me lists of the books she's reading and it always makes me want to read more. Like this book she recommended last week - "You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning."

Penelope is my friend who gives me things to talk about at parties. Did you know for example that we all make a choice in life to be either interesting or happy - but not both? And if you haven't read Penelope's blog, you're probably choosing the latter.

Christin and I met in Penelope's comments section. Her life is the life I would lead if I had taken that job offer in Chicago, instead of the one in Monterey. But sadly I would not have her hair.

Jocelyn is so much like me it's scary. We're both American women with Chinese husbands and we look alike! Seriously - look at her picture on this post and tell me if we are not twins.

I could go on and on.

Now I want to switch gears and introduce to you some blogosphere friends that I have actually met. Shocking, I know. I met the Fishs in the airport and we talked for about 10 minutes but it was long enough for me to get their blog URL. They were in China to adopt a little girl and they posted a picture she drew of her new family. This line brought tears to my eyes, "Two months ago she had no family. Now she has pages full of them!"

I hope you enjoy clicking around on these links, and that some of these bloggers become your friends that you have never met too. I'll introduce some others to you later.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

SPAM: nutritious and delicious (sometimes)

My dad sends me a ton of spam. I bet I have the entire contents of in my email archives. But I love it because it shows me that my dad is up and checking his email and thinking of me. I don't care if I get viruses every once in a while, it's important to know that gojoepro is plugged in.

The other day I discovered a piece of wisdom in one of Dad's emails. It was something I needed to hear right at that moment.

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass. It's about learning to sing in the rain."

Have you ever seen SPAM that nailed it like that? I don't think so.

It's true - it's too easy to waste our days wishing that they were over. We wish it was Friday, long for Christmas, hang in there until the day the kids grow up and go to college. When in fact life is really about the Tuesdays and the March 2nds and the crazy days when the kids are tugging at your necklace.

If you're still not smiling yet then please look at this picture of a 25-foot crocodile carrying a 12-point deer in its mouth, compliments of gojoepro. This is spam at its very finest, folks.

We could be that deer. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

So it's not okay to give your kid's teacher a digital camera...?

While we were in the U.S. at Christmas Buddy bought a digital camera for Grant's teacher. Mrs. Wang was Audrey's homeroom teacher for two years and now she's Grant's homeroom teacher so we feel close to her. She's played a big role in our kids' education.

Now a digital camera is kind of extravagant and not something I would give a teacher in the States, however I tend to defer to Buddy on these sorts of things because he grew up here and I figure he knows what's acceptable.

We wrapped up the camera and sent it to school with Grant last week.

Today the camera came back with Grant, neatly wrapped back up in the wrapping paper.

When I asked Buddy why the teacher returned it he said it was probably too expensive.

You guys know I love this man more than life itself but he is useless when it comes to explaining any of life's mysteries.

Dear readers, can some of you shed some more light on this for me? Do students ever give their teachers gifts in China? If so, what is appropriate?

And for that matter, what do we do in the US? I don't remember ever giving a teacher a present. Is it done today? If so what's a typical gift?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wear This or That?

I don't know about you but when I was a teenager, any outfit I was going to wear to a significant event (a trip to the mall, a day at school, a Civinettes pancake breakfast) had to have a stamp of approval from at least two of the women in my family. The women in my family were my mom and my three sisters.

Then when I was 17 I moved to Germany for a year as an exchange student. I got dressed for the first day of school and modeled my outfit for my host family. Their reaction was a mixture of confusion and disapproval. You see it turns out I had landed in a place where academics were actually the reason people went to school. Not fashion!

(I had this one classmate in Germany who wore the same sweater every single day of the week. He just changed the shirt underneath the sweater. And that was okay!)

(With everyone else. Not really with me.)

Over the years life has taken me further and further away from the women in my family and today I am half a world away from them. But this morning my baby sister Amanda sent me a website that can bring them back into my circle of wardrobe consultants.

It's called and it's exactly what it sounds like.

People post pictures of themselves in a couple of outfits and you vote on which looks better.

If you go there please be on the lookout for said baby sister Amanda, who is asking for feedback on her wedding dress.

Please do not adjust your screen, one of the dresses is indeed orange.

Option #1

Option #2

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Sister Christi is Awesome - Part 2

One thing I never grow tired of is gushing about my sister Christi.

Christi Parsons, White House correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

She started her journalistic career as the editor for the Central High School Falcon Flyer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And look at her today! She covers the President of the United States.

She flies on Air Force One, you know.

I was perusing her bookshelf last summer and I found this one book that looked interesting. So I started flipping through it and I found the bookmark was a menu from Air Force One.

As a bookmark?!

In my house that menu would be framed and hanging above the mantle!!!

This is probably why they don't let me on Air Force One.

So anyway, Christi recently appears on the Gwen Ifill show. Please watch her here and leave me a comment telling me how smart and GORGEOUS she is.

I know, I totally know.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keeping My Day Job

I cut Grant's hair yesterday. I started with this -

And ended with this -

I know, he doesn't look very happy in that shot. Perhaps it's related to this -

Clippers, they just aren't as easy to use as you would think.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Baby - Still in Japan

Man 16 days is a LONG time!

Tonight I talked to Audrey and I asked her, "What's new?"

She said, "Everything!"

Duh, when you're in a foreign country everything is new.

Today she and her grandma took the train into Tokyo. Audrey said it was just a bunch of adults and her and they were all staring at her. I was trying to figure out why that would be but she quickly explained - it was because Japanese kids aren't on vacation right now so people are looking at Audrey and wondering why she isn't in school.

At least, this is her interpretation of things.

She also learned how to say the Japanese alphabet. With a darn good pronunciation.

Pretty soon Japanese is no longer going to be a secret language for Buddy and me.

Just for fun, this is one of my favorite pictures of Audrey. She was just 4 hours old but look at that smile!

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Baby in Japan

When Audrey was 2-1/2 years old her baby brother went in for a surgery on his spine and our friends Trisha and Kevin offered to let Audrey stay overnight with them, allowing Buddy and me to focus solely on Grant.

As we made our way from Stanford Children's Hospital to San Jose, where Trisha and Kevin and their two kids lived, I explained to Audrey that she was going to be there for "a long time" but I promised to come back and get her.

I was nervous about leaving her alone overnight, and I find when you're stressed about one kid going in for major surgery, it's always nice to stress about the emotional well-being of the other child as well. Don't you agree?

I went back the next day to get her and when she heard my voice she came out into the living room, one hand propped on her chubby little hip, and proclaimed, "Hmm! You said you were going to be gone a *long* time!"

Well, now at age nine Miss Priss is in Japan for 16 days visiting her grandma and grandpa.

We talk every night and she tells me about her adventures. Apparently her grandma told her that she should dress neat and clean every day because other people will judge you based on your appearance. Audrey told me that night on the phone, "I don't think that's right!" I reminded her that when she's staying with her grandma she should go along with what grandma wants her to do, and when she gets home we can go back to our ragtag ways.

But inside I was so proud that she has her own opinions, even about something as simple as whether people will judge you based on your appearance.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Search Engine Battles

Did you hear the news today that Google is considering pulling out of China?

Google's Beijing office happens to be right across from my office and this afternoon people had put flowers on the Google sign like it was a memorial.

Reporters from around the world were there.

I think it's cool that Google is taking a stand. But I'm afraid that if Google makes good on this threat to pull out of China, China will forget about them in the time it takes to say "baidu".