Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Hums of Pooh

I am confident everyone out there knows Winnie the Pooh. What bear from children's literature is more famous than Pooh? He's beloved all over the world. But I wonder if you've heard of The Hums of Pooh, the musical score renditions of Pooh's little songs sung mainly to himself, as his way of thinking outloud. We had this book of music (full of original illustrations and excerpts from A. A. Milne's wonderful series written for his son, Christopher Robin) when I was a child, and I know the melodies and comical Pooh phrasing in the lyrics practically by heart.

Here is an example of one Pooh sang to himself as he climbed way up high in a tree, in pursuit of a bees' nest of honey :

"Isn't it funny how a bear likes honey?
Buzz, buzz, buzz...I wonder why he does?
It's a very funny thought that if bears were bees,
They'd build their nests at the bottom of trees.
And that being so, if the bees were bears
We shouldn't have to climb up all these stairs!"

At least twenty years ago, my brother recorded a cassette tape of my parents reading and singing The Hums of Pooh, which we played often when my son was little. But I lost track of the tape and hadn't played it for at least ten or more years. After my father died last month, he decided to make a keepsake CD of the recording for everyone in our family, as a Christmas present. I received that gift two days ago and played it for the first time just now.

I found myself laughing and crying simultaneously, while waves of nostalgia washed over me. To hear those sweet (young!!) voices of my parents again! And be flung back in time when my son was still small and the reading of Winnie the Pooh, an important nighttime ritual! Or be flung back even further, when my parents read to me as a child, and remember the images those stories and lyrics conjured in my mind! There were only six short hums (songs). I wish there had been more!!

But the CD didn't stop there. My brother and his wife were wise enough to record my parents reminiscing one Christmas, 12 years ago, taking turns talking about their childhoods, how they met, their ethnic backgrounds and answering questions posed by grandchildren about "life in the good old days." I haven't listened to all of it yet, but I know I will enjoy this simple pleasure beyond words' ability to express such joy. It's a priceless gift, to hear again the voice of a loved one who has passed from this world into the next. My deepest thanks go to my brother and sister-in-law for this thoughtful and loving present.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reflecting on the Busiest Time of the Year

Despite my birthday falling in the summer, the end of the year was always my favorite time of year as a child. I loved the continuation of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's celebrations and benefits (candy, good food, presents and lots of vacation time listed among those) and the stimulation of the decorations, music, visits with relatives and friends and the many tastes of each holiday. Let's face it, children get all the perks without the headaches of extra shopping, cooking and cleaning, wondering how to pay for this and that, the juggling of who uses the car, when, and the frantic race against time to try to send out Christmas cards before Dec. 25th!

I moved to Japan fresh out of graduate school, and at the age of 24. I was married by 27 and had a baby 14 mos. later. I was thrust into the adult world of "creating the magic" at holiday time while simultaneously dealing with the culture shock of living in a country that didn't celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas much at all, and New Year's in a very different way than the US. There was very little celebratory support on the part of society, and my husband didn't have any sense of reverence for the traditions I was single-handedly trying to maintain within our home (for our family's sake). In Japan December 25th is a business day, like any other!

Very soon I realized how much work went into a Thanksgiving dinner, and how alone I felt in trying to stir up some holiday atmosphere in our home, because outside the front door there was absolutely none! Holidays lost their sense of magic and gratification. I was constantly battling the disappointment of my own expectations, brought into this time of year innocently, from my rich abundance of happy memories. I spent the majority of my son's growing-up years, knocking myself out without feeling like it was worth it.

For a few years I baked a big turkey dinner and we all enjoyed the meal, but not so much as to justify the days of preparation and expense it required. No one said, I can't wait to eat your sage stuffing, or, Golly I can't wait to have some turkey sandwiches! It was how I felt, but my pleasure wasn't big enough to balance the energy expenditure. By the time I decided to stop doing it, I resented my family's attitude and had a big chip on my shoulder.

I made an Advent calendar like my mom had made for us when I was a child, and dutifully hung up each day's ornament on the banner's felt tree, wondering why my son didn't show any interest in doing it himself. I played Christmas music at home and in the car for six weeks before the day itself, hung up Christmas lights all over our living room, a wreath on the door, holiday towels in our bathroom. We opened presents on Christmas morning, and I made a special pancake brunch each year. I tried REALLY HARD, and I kept on trying for more than a decade, but no fruit came of it. My son was willing to participate, but not overly enthusiastically. If I cut something out, he seemed as indifferent and uninterested as my husband always was. I fought a losing battle. And I'm sorry to say, it snuffed out my motivation to keep on trying (just for my own sake) completely.

Now, each of those holidays are the time of year when I am teaching my students about American culture. I pull out old photos from my childhood, where I'm dressed up for Halloween, my family is sitting around the table on Thanksgiving, or the presents are piled up under the tree. I pull out the Christmas music to play in the background for Christmas parties, where we all make holiday crafts, or sample goodies I've baked to share. It isn't the same, but it is in itself a way to celebrate the holidays. My church always has a special concert or service held on the Saturday evening before Dec. 25th, and I am busy helping the choir get ready for that, and baking treats to display for the refreshments afterwards.

December is my busiest month, by far. And that's without madly decorating my home, baking Christmas cookies to have on hand for when company drops in, or going shopping for loads of gifts. I bake for classes and church. I teach the nativity story to my students, and lead them in Jingle Bells or We Wish You a Merry Christmas with my guitar. I change my Christmas costume jewelry daily (as all who see it get such a kick out of it).

The atmosphere is more subdued, but it exists. Over the years, Japanese society has begun to embrace Halloween and Christmas with more energetic interest. So it's not as lonely as before. And I'm at peace about it, although I feel sort of guilty that an entire chest of drawers I have in storage (full to the brim with Christmas-related STUFF) is never touched, and a tree is never set up anymore. My husband and I never exchange any gifts, but I do try to prepare some for my son! I have faithfully kept up my tradition of sending out a Christmas letter to a large mailing list of friends all over the world, as well as my students and friends in Japan. And I look forward to the Skype call from my gathered family in the states.

My files of past Christmas letters sent...

Let me take this opportunity to wish all of you a most happy and gratifying holiday season! It will be challenging to maintain a happy tone this year, with the economic upheaval in the states, but count your blessings and pray with me for new winds of change to blow in the coming year!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thankful this Thanksgiving for Skype

I just got off the "phone" (conference call via Skype between my two brothers' homes and mine) with my American family. We had a lovely hour-plus talk including two nieces, two sisters-in-law, my mom, my brothers and me. In my mind's eye, I could see every one of their faces as though we were in the same room. I heard myself laughing here and there and swore it was my dad's presence, because I found myself acting like him in a typical family call, holding back and doing more listening than talking and chuckling in all the appropriate places. (That part was a little spooky, because at least three different times my own laughter sounded like Daddy's.)

I had been peevish and off-color for the past three or four days, miffed that I couldn't enjoy feasting with the family, or eating turkey in any capacity as it is still rare in Japan and not found on restaurant menus (and I can't afford to cook one just for ME, at home). I had had to initiate a lot of correspondence to coordinate the time of the call, which would be acceptable to the three different time zones we occupy. I spent a lot of time with Skype turned on, sitting in front of my computer, hoping someone would think of me and want to call. As time went on and everyone's Skype icon was still set to 'offline' I began to feel more and more sorry for myself, making me even more peevish when I broke down and called my son to complain of the holiday lonelies.

But today I was so happy to finally hear all their voices and laughter, descriptions of wonderful dishes added to the Thanksgiving Day feasts they shared, have questions asked and answered about Christmas gift ideas and other family-related issues we discussed...the hour flew by in a flash, and I was left happy and satisfied, as full of love and contentment as I would have been to share the holiday with them in person.

All that satisfaction, and it didn't cost a cent--thanks to the wonderful men who invented Skype in the first place and put it out there for all to use. This year I am indeed grateful to you, sirs! May God bless you richly, as your generous invention has blessed my family and me!

Taken at Thanksgiving, 2005, the last time we could spend it all together

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I just finished rewatching a video I have of the film, Spanglish. Directed by James L. Brooks (who directed As Good As It Gets), this movie stars Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega and Cloris Leachman, and all of them gave really excellent performances.

My son is an Adam Sandler fan, so we have seen just about all that man has ever made. His comedies, which span the continuum from graphically gross to side-splittingly hilarious, are not well known for being subtle or overly sensitive. But his performance in Spanglish is top rate, and totally believable. My respect for him as an actor deepened significantly after seeing this film.

Another surprise was Téa Leoni's contribution as Sandler's wife, who borders on psychotic at times, she is so driven. I've seen Leoni in a lot of films in the past, too, and have never seen her own a role more than this one. Her character was absolutely pitiful, which of course, was the whole point.

As I grew up on Mary Tyler Moore sitcoms, I saw a lot of Cloris Leachman on TV as a child. But she was usually in one kind of role, and not a very lovable one, I'm afraid. But in Spanglish (as Leoni's mom), you feel for her character while simultaneously admiring her. She's topnotch in this film.

The Spanish actress, Paz Vega, was the greatest discovery for me in this movie. She's a beauty along the lines of Penelope Cruz (I checked her biography and there wasn't any mention of them being relatives, although they could be cousins as far as I'm concerned), and hers was a very compelling performance.

The basic story is Paz and daughter emigrate from Mexico to LA and she begins to work for Adam and Téa's family. The wife is always interfering with Paz's daughter, undermining the strong values being taught by Paz. Téa's character is also alienating to her own daughter, particularly, despite her everpresent "good intentions." Adam's character is a top chef with a celebrated restaurant of his own, devoted to his kids and wife, in spite of her dysfunctional quirks, but a sense of discontent is increasing around the time Paz joins the family as household "help." Her inability to speak English doesn't distance her from the family; rather, her warmth and vitality as a person breaks the language barrier. Adam grows steadily attracted to her, and she to his sensitivity as a man (in direct contrast to the typical Mexican macho type). But this movie isn't as much about growing romantic feelings as it is about family relationships, and the boundaries set by responsibity to them.

This movie was meaningful to me on a personal note, as well. While raising my son in Japan, I often felt as though the trends of pop culture and crumbling family values evident in Japanese society were competing with the basic tenets of morality, faith and common sense I was trying to instill to my son. Just as Paz and her daughter spoke Spanish between them, my son and I spoke English at home and in public, to keep a sense of privacy. Whenever we went to the states, we spoke in Japanese, for the same purpose. Classmates had exorbitant allowances and the latest game software or gadgets frequently bought for them, which I had no intention of imitating with my son. People tend to indulge and spoil kids here, and I felt I was always fighting that. So I identified with Paz's character's position.

The film was made in 2004 and came out in theaters that December. The critics' response ran the gambit, but it made 46 million in the box office. As it didn't turn out to be Oscar-winning material, Spanglish didn't make as big a wave as it deserved, but this is a must-see, in my opinion, just the same. It's available on DVD, and I highly recommend you checking it out at your neighborhood rental shop.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Papa

My mom called tonight with the news that my father has passed away. He died the night of his 86th birthday, after fighting Alzheimer's Disease for over ten years (though it is difficult to pin down exactly when that affliction began). He was the greatest man I ever knew, and with his death an era has ended.

I was a shameless Daddy's Girl. My pop made me feel special and worthy of spoiling. I have two older brothers who always shared a room. From their perspective, I must have seemed the lucky one, getting a room to myself. But I often felt lonely and wished for a sister or a playmate. Thanks to my dad's attention and affection (liberally bestowed upon me, despite the restrictions of a college professor's busy schedule) I had a built-in comrade at home; someone to harmonize with when singing old standards in the car, a fellow Cubs fan to watch televised games and drink bottled Tab with on hot summer afternoons, a diehard supporter of my musical and artistic efforts, my own personal Candyman, generous to a fault.

My dad was bigger than life. A tireless volunteer, he selflessly gave his heart, soul, sweat and time to the YMCA; he served them first as a camp counselor and then as a Y executive, later as a professor in a university training Y staff people and as an International Y's Man. He organized countless fund raisers for Y World Service, and annually helped organize and walk in "Miles For Mankind" sponsored walkathons. He worked hard in our church, too. Both he and my mom were always on this committee or that, and his was one of the loudest voices urging us to support foreign missions.

My father always used to say he would rather wear out than rust out. He would never have chosen Alzheimer's as the way to die. He liked to feel useful, to help others. This was always his motivation behind the zillions of volunteer activities I saw him commit his time to through the years. Even in his retirement village, he was constantly lending a hand, visiting shut-ins, pushing a broom in the Alzheimer's Ward -- even after becoming a patient there! It was hard to just sit still. He wanted to earn his keep in life.

He had his share of quirks, Lord knows. And he passed on to his kids many of them: I'm a bundle of them, myself! But when all is said and done, I'm so very proud he was my dad. I'm grateful to God that he passed rather peacefully in the end. Mom said she could visit him daily at the end there...each time saying her goodbyes as though they were the last. Someone once called Alzheimer's Disease "the long goodbye" or something like that. Mom found that to be true. She's been gradually saying goodbye for the past year or more. And I have, too, I guess.

My dad will be remembered by many, I know. Rest in peace, Papa. I love you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Joys of Reading

I am a big fan of reading book series. I got hooked on this concept as a girl, reading stories about the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables; the Little House books, Perry Mason mysteries, Agatha Christie mysteries (starring both Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple), the Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, etc. I read all of the Boxcar Children books to my son. And in adult years I've read all of James Clavell's works, Jan Karon's Mitford series, the Left Behind books, the Harry Potter series, all of James Herriot's tales, and have reread countless times most of the beloved series of my youth.

I love getting to know the characters and hearing how they grow and change over an extended period of time. They become friends with whom I am eager to continue a relationship. I'm a sucker for sequels in the movies, too, although I'm often disappointed in the long run with cinematic Part Twos and Threes.

In the summer of 2007, while visiting my folks back in the states, my mom gave me a paperback she had finished reading called The Cat Who Went into the Closet by Lilian Jackson Braun. Presto! I was hooked on yet another wonderful series of stories, all about one Chicago journalist, his pet Siamese cats and the mysteries they solve first in Chicagoland, and later while living up in a forested area "400 miles north of everywhere" in the boondocks (probably of Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan--it is never entirely clear which state).

The story my mother had was smack dab in the middle of the series, so I decided to slowly order all the rest from, and have spent the last 15 mos. reading them all in chronological order. They're wonderful; comical, intriguing, and very entertaining! L.J.Braun cranks out a new one every few months and I've enjoyed them all. If you love cats and/or mysteries, I heartily recommend The Cat Who... series!

Does anyone out there have a book series they recommend??

Monday, November 3, 2008

Correspondence, Simplified

My folks and I have always shared a wonderful relationship via the postal system. My dad was a great one for supporting the local post office by taking out a post box annually and having most of his business and personal correspondence go to that address. He always wanted me to write him via his post box number.

Then I would write my mom separate letters to their street address, and I would write letters to the two of them to that address, too, which meant I always needed to lay in a supply of postage stamps. When a branch PO opened a few doors up the street, I was thrilled! It made keeping in touch via snailmail all that much easier.

My dad has Alzheimer's Disease, so for years his letters (which bless his heart, still came in the mail pretty often) were often written clearly showing by their content he had no idea who I was, or continued to say the same basic thing over and over. Every once in a while the letter would be lucid and obviously written when he had a grasp of who I was and could remember the jist of his (once extensive) vocabulary. These letters are now like treasures to me, never to be discarded. Because my father can not write me a letter anymore. He is in a wheel chair, slowly slipping away from this life, caught in the snare of a disease that has locked away his cognitive ability.

Now I write to my mom a couple of times a week, or once every five days or so. My letters are only reporting what my days have been like, or throwing in commentary on the weather or my students, etc. Nothing too earth shattering, I can tell you. But my mom is so happy to hear from me, it inspires me to pull out my stationery and airmail envelopes at the drop of a hat! I think of her so often, I might as well tell her so!

My parents used to call every three weeks or so, and although my mom and I did most of the talking, with my dad a silent listener in the background, he frequently would remind us of his presence by saying in a low, comical voice, "This call is being monitored!" or "Let's not rake up the national debt on this call, ladies." These days my mom calls me once a week and talks as long as an hour or an hour and a half. Though she often tells me something I've heard before, I am glad to be an audience for her detailed reports of visits to my dad at his nursing care facility, or to help brainstorm ideas for things to do with him. She always seems relieved to have heard my voice, so I'm glad it is therapeutic for her. And I'm always happy to hear her say how much she loves my letters!

I am so thankful for her letters to me, too, as now they are often the only ones I ever get in my mailbox anymore (save the occasional card from my son or brother's family). E-mail is a wonderful invention, but knowing it is always there does mean the art of sitting down and composing a letter by hand and mailing it through the postal system is gradually being lost from our society. My mom and her mother also wrote weekly letters to each other in the final decades of my grandmother's life. I'm happy to continue on with this tradition!

Friday, October 24, 2008

I Love Fall

Last year I received my first digital camera for my birthday in the summertime, and enjoyed taking a LOT of pictures with it for months afterwards. I ended up snapping tons of nature shots, and the autumn landscape was completely cooperative! The following photos are bi-products of that delightful time:

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Logic Does Not Compute

I cannot stand forwarded mail. I get my share of it, although it is at a minimum because I always ask people not to send it to me. My sister-in-law sends me only things that are related to health or safety that she thinks I really should look at. I don't mind this kind of forwarded mail. One woman I know sends me a bunch of stuff, most of which I throw away. But once in a while she sends really interesting and intriguing photo collections. These I also appreciate, and usually save.
There are others who ONLY send me forwarded stuff (and even that, rarely) and never a note or personal message. EVER. To my mind, this means they have discarded my affections and are not interested in remaining friends. After all, people, language is the human way to communicate... give that up and unless you're meeting face to face and doing some other activity together, you have nothing to show for your relationship, past or present, except maybe a photo or two.

Anything that comes with the request that I send it on to others I automatically resent (and refuse to comply). I don't care how warm and fuzzy it's designed to make people feel...I just think it is inappropriate to try and coerce people into sending email chain letters. We gave that up when we got to junior high age, don't you remember?? It's juvenile behavior. I refuse to participate.
Then there was person who thought up this nonjustification for forwarding messages.

This comic is inane, in my opinion. It's trying to convince me to interpret forwarded mailings as someone's way to maintain my friendship. Well, I'm not going to be duped by this mentality, so if you are out there, thinking that this is an automatic plus to your friendship with someone...
guess what!? It just might not be, in fact, to my mind it reeks of lazy and irresponsible promotion of surface and insignificant relationships, AND junk mail!!

Okay, okay, I know, I'm raving. I'll get off my soap box now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three Months

It has been three months since I began this blog. At first I was constantly bugging my friend Jeana (who inspired me to start it by showing me her own) for advice and help in setting things up. The need for her guidance faded in time as I got more and more comfortable with Blogger and the ins and outs of adding gadgets in my sidebar, etc. Thanks again, Jeana, for all the support you've shown in the past and continue to give me! I love how blogs have given our relationship a new leg to stand on! ;-)

One of the gadgets Jeana introduced to me was Sitemeter, a free service that keeps track of the people accessing one's blog. You can't see their names, of course, but you can see where they're located, through what means they accessed your site, how many minutes they stayed there while reading your posts, and get a feel for how often they visit. I have regulars in a number of places in Japan who access frequently and stay for 20 minutes or more at a shot. I feel rather grateful for their loyalty, and wish they'd comment sometime (in Japanese is okay, you guys! I can read it and answer you back in it, if you want).

But Sitemeter also shows the people who access my site and stay less than a second, because the "duration" of their visit is 00:00, according to Sitemeter's record. The majority of these ghost visitors are in countries other than Japan or the US. I've been visited by the Ukraine, Israel, Turkey, China, France, Canada, The Czech Republic, India, Malaysia, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain. There have been more; but these are the ones I could see in the past 100 visitors (Sitemeter only keeps the most recent 100 visitors on file). The person in Spain stayed 8 seconds, but all the rest only bopped in and bopped out immediately after. What are they searching for, I wonder? How do they happen to find me and by what criteria do they instantaneously decide my blog is not worth more than a second or two's consideration on their part? It is mysterious and confusing to me...what am I missing?

For those of you who DO visit regularly, and who spend many minutes (thank you, thank you!) studying my posts, please consider becoming official "Followers" of my blog. You have to click on the sidebar marked Followers (on the part that says FOLLOW THIS BLOG) and it will guide you through the simple procedure to register your nick name, chosen photo (optional), &/or blog address so I can come and visit you, too. This isn't some plot to exploit you or invade your privacy. It's more a way to say "Hi, Sal!" openly and give me the opportunity to say hello back. Please think about it and if you're willing to come out and be counted, please do. Whoever it is in Fuchu, Tokyo--thanks for visiting! Same goes for my Okazaki, Ichinomiya, and Nagoya, Aichi followers! I was thrilled to see someone in Naperville, Illinois (where I grew up) stopped to visit a while recently. Please don't be shy! Stop and say hello!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cooking From Scratch

When I moved to Japan in 1982, I felt like everything was 30 years behind the states--the trust level of strangers, the low statistics in crime, the moral fiber of society, the sexism of TV and the work place, not to mention the average home and family. It all reminded me of the era in which I was born--the 1950's! And in 1982, the majority of Japanese cooks were dyed-in-the-wool believers of cooking from scratch.

The average housewife I met in the English conversation classes I taught were in their 40's and 50's, with children grown enough for them to feel free to pursue a hobby (such as mastering English). But I was amazed by their discipline in managing household chores each day, while cooking full breakfasts and dinners for their families without the use of convenience foods (or appliances, like microwave ovens). Those (microwaves, and the wave of processed foods to nuke in them) didn't come for another ten years after that.

I had been raised in a home where my mom had cooked most everything from scratch, but she also liked to use a crock pot, casserole recipes (which are often just the combination of any number of canned or frozen ingredients before baking in an oven) and a number of packaged and prepared seasonings, baking mixes and bottled sauces to prepare our family meals. I learned how to cook and bake utilizing these short cuts and was satisfied with the results.

I came to Japan and was shocked to learn that no one used frozen vegetables, and canned veggies were also available in abundance only at the international store. Most of the cookbooks I had in possession were recipes requiring 'short cut ingredients' I couldn't find in the neighborhood Japanese market. All the cooks I knew here could de-scale and gut whole fish, for heaven's sake--something I have never aspired to master. It's considered no big deal-- a basic cooking skill in this country; and still is one of the components in most beginner cooking classes! Of course, fish (and other fresh seafood) is a major fare here, and I grew up in the Midwest, where "Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks" and canned "Chicken of the Sea" tunafish was the most fish I ever wanted as a kid.

So I had to become reconditioned as a cook from the ground up, once I began living in Japan. I was insecure and unsure how to proceed. I'd be invited over to someone's house for a home-cooked meal and ask the cook how she'd made a dish, and she wouldn't have a recipe to copy down for me, per was all sort of in her head and heart. She'd learned by watching her own mom or gramma cook, and could imitate their repertoire till it became her own.

I was constantly discouraged by the tekito method of cooking in Japan (a little of this, a dash of that)--it all seemed so random! I felt I was being set up for sure-fire failure in the kitchen. But in time I, too, have developed a kind of instinct and confidence as a cook in Japan, and now am the first to encourage others in the tekito culinary arts. You aren't chained to a set of measuring cups and spoons anymore! Instead you pour in a little or a little more, and taste as you go. It is a freedom to improve a basic recipe with whatever inspiration you may feel at the time. Of course, there were failures along the way. It took time to develop my instinct as a cook unchained to a cookbook. I still write down the instructions of friends' descriptions of how they cooked a new dish I'd like to master. But after a few tries, I don't need the notes anymore. That's freeing.

In the 26 and a half years I've lived in Japan, the average younger housewife (in her 20's and 30's) has grown completely dependent on convenience foods and processed ingredients. Many young women today cannot cook to save their souls, and are hunting for a man who can afford to take them out to dinner each night OR able to cook decently himself, for the two of them. The housewives I used to teach are all grammas now, and many, widows. They shake their heads at the younger generation... who aren't quite so savvy in the kitchen anymore. Cooking from scratch is an art that may be nearing extinction, if we aren't careful to pass it on to future cooks. I am truly grateful I was converted before it was too late!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All Settled In

Today was momentous. First off, my husband dedicated the entire morning to cleaning around the house and getting ready for the delivery of the new fridge. I had a class and had to be out from 10am to 12pm. When I got back, I hardly recognized our front hall and living room. My husband outdid himself!

For two months, there had been a growing pile of empty boxes and bags of recyclables cluttering up the entryway of our home. He was too busy to deal with it, so the pile just kept growing, and I kept waiting for him to deal with it, rather than just haul the stuff down our 18 front steps myself. I guess he was imagining the delivery guys, trying to manuever through all that clutter, carrying a heavy piece of electrical equipment, and decided to finally tackle cleaning out the entry. That, in itself, was a major tangent blessing of this situation.

Then, he must have been inspired to do some cleaning in the living room - - the like we haven't seen for six months (since our son came for a ten-day visit in March)! You are getting the picture, right? It's true: I am not the world's most enthusiastic housekeeper...I freely admit it! We usually don't clean unless there is a major event or guest due to arrive. Otherwise, we just make do, & vacuum or dust occasionally, but not regularly. Well, some stuff was moved off surfaces they've been sitting on so long we forgot what was underneath, and any number of "situations" were finally dealt with and resolved. And just in time! I had some friends over to play Dominoes in the afternoon, and the house looked very nice for it. Phew!!

Here are the photos I've been promising for a while:

The old fridge, sitting in the room off the kitchen.
The mini shop fridge is on the left, and on the right, the new present from my son. Not much difference in size (the shop fridge was 82 liters in size, and the new fridge has 112 liters, but as you can see, it is a similar kettle of fish). We finally decided to just keep the shop fridge in the spare room off the kitchen and use them both in our daily lives. The new fridge is just spiffy! We are very happy with it! Thank you, dear son!

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's Official

Okay, my husband has given the go-ahead: we're exchanging the old fridge for the new one on Wednesday morning, this week. I*can*hardly*wait!!! I'll post photos soon...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Did I Speak Too Soon?

Well, that last post's announcement that the old fridge can still be used may be a false alarm. My husband (in his infinite mechanical wisdom) said, "We have to unplug it once, let it warm up again and then try plugging it in again. If it gets cold again without any problems, we're in the clear!"

So that's what we did. But after plugging it in the second time, it didn't chill, and the ominous cracking noises began again. Get me off this stupid polar cap! I want my new refrigerator, and I want to stop this ridiculous reporting back and forth about how we can or cannot keep our food from perishing! Please tell me a resolution is imminent!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Refrigerator Resurrection!

My husband came home from a week long business trip in Kyushu, and finally had a chance to look over the old refrigerator this morning. He took some of the motor apart and put it back together again. When he plugged it in, immediately there was life in the old girl and within an hour the entire inner fridge was cold again. Go figure! I guess some connections had loosened and the usual vibrations (and jostling from slamming the door shut or earthquakes, etc) had caused the breakdown.

We ran it all day and the freezer produced ice within an hour or two. The vegetable bin was fine, the meat drawer's temperature, perfect. (We tested each section with a thermometer!) We can still use it. We will! But what a shock, after all this angst!

My initial thought was dismay--what are we going to say to our son??? But of course, I was glad to have the old fridge able to work again. And even if it means using his gift fridge as a spare (very handy when chilling a large pan of jello for a church pot luck), or replacing the decrepit little fridge with the gift one for use in the shop, it'll be utilized--no worries there. Still, I am sorry to have to let our boy know his rescue offered in love and the best of intentions was just a tad premature.

"The Lord works all things for good." How true this is! I realized from this entire episode a number of lessons. One is, we buy too much in the first place; more than we honestly need. When forced to limit purchases to fit a much tighter space, I could and did, slashing away the excess mercilessly. This resulted in a natural diet, as the freezer had no place in which to store ice cream! Downsizing is economically advantageous! Especially since we're always struggling to pay the bills, having a smaller fridge helped me stay within our budget.

Another lesson was in the clearing out of well over 50 partially opened jars & containers of pickles, curry sauce, jam, pesto, kimchi, mustard, tartar sauce, salad dressing, crystalized honey, marmalade, apple sauce, yogurt starter, chocolate sauce...well, the list goes on and on. They were largely untouched for days, months, even years in some cases. Many foods well past their expiration dates were saved from a vague guilty conviction that waste is a sin...but I've come to see that hanging on to stuff forever, and filling up your fridge with these space hoggers that can never be disposed of (but will never be eaten either) is just as sinful, if not downright stupid! It took the temporary breakdown of our fridge to help me finally clean it out, and start fresh, after 16 years! Talk about a life lesson!

It'll be interesting to see how the next couple of days go. The new fridge is supposed to come sometime tomorrow. We won't be having them take the old fridge away, so I hope my son will be refunded the 5,000 yen they were going to charge him for its removal. My poor son! How in the world will I break this news to him?

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Continuing Saga of Our Refrigerator

Yesterday my son called me on Skype. It was good to talk, and I was surprised when he announced that on Sunday our new refrigerator would be delivered. "Merry Christmas, Mom!" I spluttered, "I b-b-beg your pardon?" He blithely went on to say he'd gone ahead and ordered us a new fridge online and asked them to deliver it on Sunday.

I guess when I'd told him about the freezer in the old fridge finally conking out, he took it as an S.O.S. ! That sure wasn't my intention, but he's a nice fellow and wanted to help us out--especially after having offered to do so before. (See post from Sept. 20th) I hadn't meant to pressure him into going ahead at this time, and if I'd realized his intentions, would have stopped him from picking out a fridge without my husband's input (knowing how much he'd want to offer input into such a decision). But anyway, it's already bought and will be coming in another 48 hours!

Wow! What a wonderful surprise! I've been released from the hardship of downsizing one household's perishables into a mini fridge suitably sized for a tree house! I wonder how big it'll be, and how the inside will look. It's sort of a weird experience, to have someone buy you a major electrical appliance, without having the chance to see it beforehand. How often does that sort of thing happen!?!

All I know is, it's gotta be an improvement on the current fridge and for that I'm eternally grateful! I'll post the photo of it after it's installed. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Sound of the Polar Cap Melting...

I've explained about my current refrigerator situation: our 16 year old fridge began to break down, forcing us to bring up the dinky two door fridge from our shop, and downsize our perishables pronto! But we could still use the freezer in the old fridge as a partial freezer / refrigerator. It would still make ice cubes once in a while, although they seemed to be very slowly melting.

But in the past two days, there has been an ominous cracking noise coming from the old fridge. It kept making me think of the Polar Cap, cracking in spring as the warm air begins to blow. I wondered if it was the freezer...and felt a sense of foreboding.

This morning I went to get an ice cube, and found only an inch of cold water in the ice cube drawer. Ah, so it's true...even the freezer section has decided to conk on us now. The jars of half-used jam, pickles, and other condiments are going to have to be tossed at last. The partially frozen blueberries (now completely thawed) will need to be eaten with yogurt forthwith!! My husband just left on a weeklong business trip, so I must deal with this by myself. And still the cracking continues--about one snap every minute or two.

Should I pull the plug on the old fridge??? I hate having to deal with stuff like this alone, sigh.

UPDATE 9/28/08: Last night I double-checked again and everything was growing warm in the freezer compartment. I went ahead and unplugged it. Now I have until Friday evening to slowly and methodically dispose of everything that was still in the old fridge before my husband comes back from his business trip. Go, Sal, go!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Living Alone...?

There are many different stages in marriage; my husband and I have shared a lot of trials and triumphs, mountains and valleys, highs and lows, times of light and times of shadow. But in the past ten years we have experienced the greatest success so far in our life together, and have found a kind of balance that minimizes stress and increases our sense of cooperation toward the greater good. I'm proud of us, frankly. We have stuck it out and we have survived.

This summer was difficult for us, though. It was so hot, for one thing. And my husband was very, very busy with all his many endeavors (working three or four jobs to make ends meet) and seldom home. I had to get used to being alone most of the time. He would leave the house at a very early hour and not come home again till late at night, or be away on business for days at a stretch. The notations on the family calendar was our only "conversation"--where was he today? I couldn't ask him personally, so I'd check his chicken scratch notes and say a prayer for his safety.

On Saturday evening (9/20) we actually ate supper together. This was our first shared meal (just the two of us) since July 27th, when we went out for lunch to celebrate my birthday a day early. Over 50 days we couldn't enjoy the luxury of sharing conversation over a meal! And we aren't big talkers, either. He almost always has the TV on while we're eating. But still, it is nice to have the chance to exchange info, news, tidbits of stories of what's happened that day/ week/ month...etc. Without a meal together, it is almost impossible to nab his attention long enough to have him actually hear what I say. So I was mighty grateful for that meal. I think we both felt happy to have some time together again.

We have to make sacrifices in order to pay some bills; we have to bear difficult circumstances in order to appreciate the simplest pleasures in life. But living alone...? I think I've had more than my share of that lately!! May October be a little better...please, God.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

And Finally Comes...Calm Acceptance

This is an update for all of you out there just dying to know what's going on with my defunct refrigerator. Actually, I'm much calmer now, and able to live with this situation a while longer.

What happened to help bring this about?? I talked with my son on Skype the other day and he immediately (upon hearing my refrigerator woes) goes online and finds a new full size two door that can be shipped to my house for free for only 29,000 yen! He offered to buy it for us and send it off right then and there. But I told him, "Let's wait till Christmas and see if Dad can fix the old one like he wants to. If it doesn't happen, please get it for us for Christmas. OK?" And he understood.

Just having an escape hatch made the whole thing much more bearable. Just knowing my son was willing and eager to row up in a life raft, helped strengthen me to keep on treading water a little longer.

And I had a chance to talk to my husband a little this morning, and asked him if he could rig some sort of stand upon which we might set the tiny fridge, to make it easier to use. The main door opens around my knees. I literally cannot see what the heck is even in there! So he said he would, and now I am even calmer and more able to cope.

Yes, I'm calmer now. And thankful, to boot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Think What 100 Years Can Accomplish

This was forwarded to me in a typical mass emailing (which I generally hate). But I found it interesting and thought you might, too, if you hadn't already received it in your Inbox.

Some statistics from the year 1908, one hundred years ago:

The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads in all America.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower!

The average wage in 1908 was 22 cents per hour.

The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year!

A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, A dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME. (Now, that didn't surprise me.)

Ninety percent of all doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION! (But that did!)

Instead, they either 'apprenticed' under a practicing doctor (who had done the same) or they attended unaccredited medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and the government as 'substandard. '

Sugar cost four cents a pound.

Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.

Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. (Gak!)

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

Five leading causes of death were:

1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

Now, the #1 overall leading cause of death (statistically) is medical care, which includes hospital mistakes, doctor's mistakes/malpractice and adverse drug events (side effects from prescriptions), followed by Heart Disease and Cancer.

In 1908 the American flag had only 45 stars.

The total population of Las Vegas , Nevada was 30 people! (This one is a hoot!)

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea hadn't been invented yet. (As an ardent puzzle fan, this was unexpected.)

There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day. (I wonder when those began??)

Two out of every 10 adult Americans couldn't read or write. (Sobering. What are the current statistics, anyone know?)

Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school (94% had less than a high school education)!

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, 'Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind,regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.' (Whoa, Nelly!)

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help, usually a black person.

There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A. (not just in one square mile of Washington, DC) !

Imagine what life will be like a hundred years from now!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Living Tombstones

With the recent release of a Japanese film, "Okuribito," that's been acknowledged by many countries (about an undertaker and his wife), many of my students and I have been discussing death, funerals, undertakers and burial customs lately.

My husband and I are not sentimental about our own deaths and have only the desire that no one go to any expense (beyond cremation costs) in dealing with the disposal of our dead bodies. I used to think if my friends wanted to gather to have a party celebrating my life, that'd be cool, but even that notion has gradually faded in recent years. In Japan ashes and bone fragments are given to the surviving family members, who store them in family graveyard plots. As we have no intention of participating in such a custom, we hope our son will scatter our ashes in the earth of a forest, or mountainside; as the saying goes: ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

My parents want to donate their bodies to science and have already made arrangements to that end. My middle brother is the family genealogist and has a very different view. He doesn't want to be cremated, but rather favors burial, believing in the importance of grave markers--as I understand it--leaving a tangible and traceable testimony of one's life for future generations.

I believe in leaving evidence of the impact of my life in the people around me; my students, my son, my friends, my church and my extended family.

Perhaps I feel this way because I take after my dad so much. I got his coloring, bone structure, ear for harmony and schnozz (nose). He passed on his addictions to me: cold soft drinks & ice cream, ratpacking, editing newsletters and handwriting letters. I was always Daddy's Girl and he was my hero, comrade, playmate and refuge from older brothers who picked on me. He influenced me musically, artistically, socially and professionally; his example in charity, community service, and international tolerance and understanding are the foundation blocks of my life in Japan.

I am my father's living tombstone. And some of you out there are mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Non-Refrigerated Update

It has been one week since we began living with our refrigerated goods spread out between two fridges, neither very well equipped to handle our dietary lifestyle.

You would be surprised how much the refrigerator influences one's desire to:
1. eat
2. cook
3. stay abreast of what food you have on hand
4. shop for food
5. open new packages of food.

I'm not talking about a positive influence, in our case. Quite the opposite.

I can't just open one door & survey what there is on hand in order to plan dinner. I have to run back and forth between two rooms, and can't remember which thing is in which freezer, and does that mean it's frozen, partially frozen, or only chilled? How distracting! It definitely dampens one's appetite.

Cooking even a simple cheese omelet has become a pain. Forget trying to make a meat and veggie sauté...I hate having to paw through piles of stuff crammed into the bottom of the little fridge to try and locate vegetables. My motivation to cook is weak at best; the current situation strangles it to death.

Opening the little fridge requires sitting down in front of it, and even then I can't see what's on the shelves. (The shelves are about the size of a shoebox. I am NOT exaggerating!) This thing needs to be hoisted up on stilts to be convenient to use!

I used to love sitting and filling out my co-op order for our weekly food delivery. It was relaxing. I could plan menus and buy things on sale, because I had plenty of freezer space in which to store frozen meat, etc. Now it is a cause of great anxiety and frustration. I'm afraid to buy a package of eggs, as there is only space for 6 to fit in the current fridge door, and we have to put the other 4 into a bowl, which takes up too much space. I can't buy any ice cream; no space in that inefficient mini freezer. Arrrrggggghhhh!!!! (Those who know me can well understand the withdrawal symptoms I'm experiencing by not having a daily fix of ice cream!)

There aren't ice cubes anymore. There isn't an unlimited supply of water bottles chilled or frozen, ready to take with us in our cars on hot days. Did you know I drink six 500ml bottles of chilled water a day, on average? Sometimes more. I can't open a big bottle of juice (even to transfer part of it to a smaller bottle--where would I store the big, opened bottle in the meantime? I feel like I'm in a straitjacket...... no...... freedom........ grrrggghhhhuulllll.....

Seven days and no light at the end of the tunnel. My husband is working hard (and late) every day and can't try messing around searching for that burned out fuse yet...I'm afraid to even suggest it. (Last time I did, he bit my head off and took a two-hour nap...sigh.)

I'd better start adjusting to this soon. 'Cause I'm not going to last till Christmas at this rate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I just finished watching an old film, "The Next Karate Kid." I taped it off the movie channel and made myself a copy to keep, and was waiting around to hear if my son wanted a copy made for him, too, before erasing it from the HDD. This film was made in 1994 and starred Hilary Swank, who was a young-looking 20 yr. old, playing a rebellious high schooler. In the film, Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita) teaches her to respect every living thing, including cockroaches.

I thought it ironic that point would be made in the film because I had just talked about cockroaches with my friends last Saturday, when one was found in her home while I was visiting. I remember saying I didn't know what purpose they fulfilled in God's plan; why would He create such a loathsome insect??

But after watching that film, I remembered how in my childhood, I had been deathly afraid of spiders. If one was discovered in my room, I wouldn't be able to sleep until my dad had come in and killed it for me, as I was too terrified to get anywhere near it! Once when my dad wasn't home, I asked my eldest brother to kill a spider in my room instead. He flatly refused, saying he didn't believe in killing (with a much larger meaning--he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, too). I don't remember what I did after he wouldn't help me; maybe I forced myself to kill it.

Anyway, flash forward to my adulthood and discovering spiders in my home here in Japan. I don't know how it came about, but I wasn't afraid of them anymore. In fact, I had learned that spiders are a homeowner's friend, eating small insects around the house, so I began to address the spiders I'd find here and there with a salute and, "Yoroshiku!" (which roughly translated means, 'I leave it to you to take care of small insects in our home, please.') Gradually this sense of respect for the work of spiders (for my own benefit) has transferred to many insects or creepy crawlers found in nature. They have their own part in the Master Plan of life. Who am I to say they don't?

But somehow, I have had a hard time accepting the "part" of cockroaches in any plan that includes me. Yet, progress has been made, in the sense that now I can say to the cockroaches inevitably living under furniture, in the dark recesses of my home, "Okay, you guys; we can live in the same house on ONE condition. You come out only when I'm not around, or awake...OK??! You show your face, and I'll be forced to try to kill you. I'm just being honest, here; it's in your own best interest not to meet me in person."

Mr. Miyagi might not agree, but it is as close to respect as I can get regarding cockroaches.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Refrigerator Blues

Earlier this week our refrigerator decided to stop chilling the main compartment. The freezer dropped its power output a notch or two (despite having the dial turned to COLDEST) and the veggie drawer seemed warmer than usual (it's never all that cold to begin with), too.

The weather was hot and humid, and I felt panicky. I knew we didn't have any money with which to buy a new fridge, but you can't just let everything spoil, and live without one, either! Fortunately we have a small 2-door in our shop downstairs, so my husband brought it up to our apartment, and we are now making do, with everything spread out in either the little fridge or the freezer compartment of the old one. The big 3-door is in my son's room (which we use as a spare guest room now, or storeroom as the need arises). The dinky fridge is in the big space built into our system kitchen. It looks very funny there, almost level with the counter beside it!

Recently my husband is talking about going into the back of the big fridge and finding the blown fuse; if successful, he can try to buy a new fuse and replace it. Then, with some heavenly intervention (please, God!), perhaps this 3-door will revive and cool again! We've had the thing sixteen years now, but there is no reason to run out and get a new one if this one can be fixed.

My new friend (see last post for details) suggested going to a recycle shop and buying a used fridge for less. This is a real option if the fuse replacement doesn't work. One thing is for sure: life without a decent way to store food is one enormous hassle and worry. I ate a number of questionable items in the past few days that may have gone a little 'funny' during the period of time when we didn't even realize the fridge was on the blink. I know at least two days went by when I felt surprised that the water stored in the door was less than refreshingly chilled. Call me dense...that's fair. By Day Three it sunk in and we took action. So some foodstuff was a little worse for the wear...ugh.

How easy it is to take the conveniences of life for granted! I've had plenty of time to reflect on that this past week, while I've been singing the Refrigerator Blues.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A New Friend

I've mentioned Mixi, the Japanese social networking system (a little like Facebook...a lot safer than MySpace) before on this blog, and recently I was tickled when an Australian woman contacted me suddenly on Mixi and we began corresponding.

She lives in Kyushu, the southwestern island of Japan, whereas I am located in the middle of Honshu (the longest island), so we live quite far apart and have no hope of ever meeting face to face. But I have had such fun "talking" with her. She and I both write these Olympic-sized epistles to each other just about everyday. She is 13 years my junior and her kids are still at the stage where they can have fun as an entire family during summer vacation. She 'gets' my humor and she tickles my funny bone, too.

There is definitely a honeymoon stage in a new friendship. We breathlessly wait for the other's reply and can't answer it soon enough. I'm a sucker for that stage; it makes my heart sing and spirit soar! I feel important to someone new; it renews my faith in my worthiness as a person to get to know. Sometimes in this mad exchange of personal anecdotes and revealing one's secrets it's possible to go too far and learn something we don't like so much, something that puts just the slightest damper on the bloom of happiness. But this hasn't happened with my Aussie friend, I'm happy to say...not yet, anyway...

I'm going to believe the best and continue to share with her and I hope in time we can become the kind of friends that endure through time and space. I have a lot of relationships like that, and I'm blessed and grateful for them.

If you are one of those people, and you are reading my blog today, drop me a line. People just don't comment enough on this confounded blog!!!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just Call Me "Oya Baka" Again

[Oya= parent, baka= fool] Forewarning: Proud Mama is going to do some bragging here...

One of the things I've been so proud of while watching my son establish his independence from us and live on his own in LA, is how he has set certain goals for himself each year, and has managed to fulfill those goals within the set time limit.

In the beginning the goals were straightforward and relatively simple: get a cell phone, get an apartment, get a job. But they weren't simple to obtain. Without a California driver's license, it was next to impossible to get a phone; without a phone it was impossible to get an apartment; and without a place to live it was very hard to fill out job applications. Everyone treated him as though he were an illegal immigrant, despite having American citizenship. The average kid would've taken the last of his money and hightailed it home to Japan. But my son stuck it out. And got the phone, at long last, soon to be followed by a place to live and a job to boot. We know God was in his corner, and we're grateful. But I also know my son himself exhibited a lot of guts and determination and it's paid off.

His next goal was to get a job in Beverly Hills at a high-class restaurant, because he had heard that's where you get the good tips. He had been working in a less prestigious Japanese restaurant the first five months of 2007 and felt like he was only spinning his wheels there. He had a number of things he wanted to purchase eventually and needed a better income. So he set out to get a job in a fancy Japanese restaurant in Beverly Hills. He had to enter the staff as kitchen help, but has worked his way up to server, gradually excelling in each job he did on the way. I really have to take off my hat to him. He's proven to be a very hard worker. (His father's boy!!)

Recently his boss acknowledged his hard work by asking him to serve exclusively in the sushi bar corner (where sales are lagging) because his boss is hoping that having a bilingual, top-notch service provider will increase the popularity of that corner. This was an honor and my son was smart enough to recognize it! Since his tip income would initially decrease as a result of this change in his duties, his boss was willing to supplement his income with guaranteed salary, paid out of his boss' pocket! What greater compliment could an employee want?!

There have been a lot of small goals in between...especially in the purchasing of this and that on eBay or some other net auction service, and he has acquired a lot of the equipment he needs to begin producing music in his apartment (which is his ultimate goal and why he moved to LA in the first place). He's been there less than two years and has accomplished so much!

Keep it up, Honey! You can do it! And there's nothing foolish about my believing that, at all.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Foreign Buyers Club (FBC)

One of the reasons I have lived so happily in a foreign land for half of my life is the existance of a food import business based in Kobe, Japan called the Foreign Buyers Club. Originally a group of friends who wanted to order large chunks of cheese, wholesale (therefore less expensive) to divide up among themselves, the current FBC has evolved from that original group gradually growing to a membership in the tens of thousands. My member's ID no. is 217, which tells you how long I've been relying on them (almost 20 years)!

Many years ago, after FBC had expanded to include breakfast cereals in their selection of goods, I was a little hard pressed to order an entire case of Quaker Life cereal and I didn't have anyone living near me who wanted to divide up the case (usually 12 boxes) with me . I mentioned this to Chuck, the man who founded FBC and continues to run the company, and he generously offered to buy half the case with me, enabling us to enjoy Life Cereal for a few months one year. This kind of personal attention to members' problems or concerns has always attracted me to continue giving them my business. Despite enormous growth in the past fifteen years, the people who man the phones and computers are still as nice as pie and willing to go that extra mile for you.

They first had a mimeographed catalog they sent out to everyone, with only the names of the types of cheeses listed on a few pages. But today there are three colorful, photo-packed catalogs sent annually to each member: The General Store (where you can order cases of stuff as well as individual boxes or units from the states to be shipped to you within a month of ordering), The Deli (which hooks you up to items already imported into Japan that FBC gathers for you and delivers to your door within a week) and The Learning Center (filled with teaching materials and children's DVDs, box games, books and craft items as well as a number of magazines and books for 'grownups').

There is a reasonable shipping charge added to the total order, and a low annual members' fee guarantees you keep up-to-date with their newletters and special offers. Personally, I try to order only when there is a free shipping deal offered.

In addition to everything listed in the catalogs, you can find thousands more on their websites (one in English, the other in Japanese) and if you call the office, they have an even larger data base from which to order. All you have to do is give a bar code, or explain about a product you saw in a magazine, etc and the helpful staff will hunt the items down like bloodhounds. They have expanded over time and have an LA office now and an express service (in which you can order stuff from the states and get it delivered to your door within a week for a higher postage charge).

I can't say enough good things about it. Thanks to FBC, I can continue to bake cakes for my students' birthdays, take in jello desserts, brownies and a pot of chili to church potlucks, open a can of decent vegetable soup for lunch on a day I'm too tired to whip up anything else, and try foods from all over the world. I've enjoyed potpies from Australia as well as shortbread from England. We can buy chicken legs from Denmark or lamb chops from New Zealand. FBC was the source I turned to every time I baked a turkey for Thanksgiving, when my son was young, and I can honestly say I can no longer live without them!!

Thanks, Chuck, Ryohey and all the rest of you great folk on FBC's staff! I love y'all!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm a Communication Junkie

In high school I had the notion that I wanted to become a disc jockey for WGN Radio in Chicago, because I listened to the late night radio programs and loved the quiet, moody feel to the DJs' voices. When I went to college, I entered the Speech Communications department, because it contained the Mass Communications program, which my vocations counselor advised me to pursue. I blithely took Mass Communications 101 (or some such beginner's course) and had a rude awakening when every student was forced to read five newspapers and ten magazines a week, listen to tons of broadcasts and give massive reports about all this stuff I had no interest in whatsoever. I quickly changed to a Speech Communications major and thus, discovered my one great love: the art of communication.

I had no idea at the time that a speech communications major didn't really prepare a person for any sort of career, and I would be forced to attend graduate school in order to develop my own marketable specialty. But the good news is, studying speech communications helped prepare me for my life in Japan far more than almost any other major would have (except teaching English as a second language, of course). I have fallen back on the tenets of significant communication exchange time and again in my marriage (to a man who stopped using English to communicate with me the moment we got married). And I have used the basics of group communication in my classes over and over.

With the birth of cyberspace, communications developed yet another avenue in which to pursue relationships. I heard about chat rooms long before I ever ended up "chatting" with strangers on Skype, and email became more important to me when money for postage stamps was a luxury I couldn't often afford. But whatever the means to the end, that end is the same--the development and maintenance of relationships through communication exchange. My one great love in life.

I confess it here and now. I am a communication junkie. Nothing thrills me more than an email from family or friends. I'm delighted beyond belief when someone feels compelled to write a comment on my Mixi diary or this blog's post. Communication is the affirmation of our existence! We live! We love others! They love us back! Communication is a celebration of LIFE!

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Good Time Was Had By All

My inlaws held a family reunion yesterday so we could meet our nephew's new bride. She's a lovely person, and I was happy she was an excellent English speaker! That takes a lot of pressure off me, as I can be more myself with someone I am just getting to know.

We had an incredible spread of great food. Sushi, salad, tempura, veggie dishes my mother-in-law made, and lovely cut fruit for dessert. I provided the brownies and snacks for later; my husband brought the French champagne! We all pigged out and talked a mile a minute. I was glad I had brought the Dominoes, because we had a nice game of Mexican Train in the afternoon.

All told, a very enjoyable time with the people I love best in Japan.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Jealous Type

The Master's Lap is MINE

All tuckered out

Asia is the name of my son's cat. He adopted this cat when he was living with some housemates who didn't take the greatest care of her. He loves animals and was very drawn to caring for Asia. By the time he decided to move out and off on his own, the housemates had already gotten a new puppy and were rather relieved, I think, that he wanted to take her with him.

Looking is all she can do anymore

Asia is very territorial. Not just of the prime places to sleep in their apartment, or of her food dish, etc. but of my son! Whenever he is talking on the phone, she invariably tries to get in the way and disrupt the call. Since we are in very different time zones, we often end up talking in the wee hours of his morning, after he gets home from work and Asia is ready to settle down for a sleep after eating. She knows when the caller is a woman, and that is the time she makes the greatest effort to be naughty (to distract him from the call), or to hop up on the desk and walk back and forth in front of him, whipping her tail up in his face, to discourage him speaking into the receiver.

My son and I use Skype much of the time to communicate, so he sits in front of the camera/mike attached to the computer. It never fails that Asia will come and rub up against the mike, causing a loud eruption of feedback. He used to say, "Say hi to Asia, Mom" and I would knock myself out trying to sweet talk that cat, who would in turn just get more perturbed that her master was talking with another female. So I finally gave up.

Please let me out!
Ah, the Great Outdoors...

Asia used to live outside much of the time. She had my son trained to get up at five and let her out, or in, or feed her, or whatever, and when they moved, it was to an apartment on the fourth floor. No more going outside. This caused not a little stress for Asia, I'm sure. He was able to catch her peeping out the windows longingly more than once, and I'll share those shots with you here. She's a really fat cat, so the folds of her stomach hang down when she gets up on her hind legs; it's really funny and cute.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Next Generation

I enjoy family traditions. I had a number of them in my own childhood that defined a sense of security and order in the year's events. Family vacations in the station wagon. Thanksgiving dinners held up at Grammy's in Wauwatosa. Opening Christmas stockings after church and dessert on Christmas Eve. Playing games together as a family on Sunday afternoons.

After moving to Japan and marrying my husband, I had a new family to fit into, and new traditions to be maintained. The most consistent one has been The Gathering of the Clan at Gramma's house in Nagoya. My mother-in-law is Gramma, and she and Grampa have been wonderful hosts time and again for our family reunions.

This coming Sunday, there will be another such gathering at Gramma's in Nagoya. We are all getting together to meet my nephew's new bride. They live in Tokyo and aren't able to join these reunions very often (in the ten years they've known each other before tying the knot), so the entire gang will come (all except my son, who lives in LA). I am very psyched about this!

There will be my parents-in-law (2), their three children (the eldest son is my husband) and spouses (+6), and all their children (except my son, so +5) and spouses (+3, 'cause only three are still single) and the great-grandchildren, too (another 3)! The span in ages will be 6mos to 84yrs!! Nineteen people in all! (All in that tiny living/ diingroom????) Well, it should be an interesting experience.

I plan on taking my camera and snapping away, when we aren't eating sushi, my mother- and sister-in-law's great dishes, or playing games (which is MY contribution to the family's traditions through the years, along with a big pan of homebaked brownies). It has been nearly four years since I've seen my nephew. He's a successful adman in Tokyo and is too busy to travel to Nagoya much. He's the apple of everyone's eye, so we are all eager to meet his new wife, too. I hear she is able to speak English, so I hope she won't be too shy to try out her skills on me.

If any of the photos are blog worthy, I'll post them later on!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


My father is colorblind. He had trouble discerning the differences between red and green. As he was an artististic man, I would assume this condition was a cross to bear, but he never complained. He was a great sketcher, and did excellent charcoal or pencil drawings.

He gave me these sketches he made in later years.

His lettering was also the thing of legends. He was asked to make signs and posters galore in his prime. His color blindness was genetic, so as his daughter the carrier X chromosome was passed on to me, but fortunately, my son was unaffected.

I love color and have always loved rainbows, stained glass windows, flower gardens, gemstones, and the satisfaction a new box of 64 Crayolas gave me! But lately I am experiencing a kind of color blindness every time I sit in front of the computer. My monitor is rather old, and the color red looks black most of the time. Every once in a while the true colors come back on and I can even play a game of Solitaire again. But much of the time, I am learning how to tolerate a rather drab world, perhaps much akin to the one my father has lived in all his life.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Twenty-four years and counting...

Today is my husband's and my 24th wedding anniversary. As he is Japanese, and I am American, we are veterans in the world of international marriage. Considering how very different our native cultures are (opposite, in fact), it is more than a little amazing we have stayed together this long and are in as healthy a place as a couple as we are today.

Any marriage involves compromise, but international marriage requires an incredible amount of it--on both sides. My husband is a very tolerant person and puts up with a fussy, demanding wife, just as I am an extremely dedicated communicator with a spouse who rarely puts his thoughts into words. We both have to try very hard and we both go the extra mile. I could never continue on without my faith, just as my husband could never continue on without a beer at the end of the day!

Today, he was out of town, arriving home around 8 p.m. Today I was busy out all day; at church with worship, choir practice and a women's group mtg, and after that, at a class before heading home by 7 p.m. My husband said around 8:20, 'Oh today is our anniversary, isn't it?' and I said, 'Yes, that's right.' Neither one of us said, "Happy Anniversary!" but I don't mind. It's taken a lot of years of compromise for me to be able to say that honestly. My own parents celebrated their anniversary with great traditions eating out, always with a mystery couple my father arranged beforehand, and presents exchanged. My father inevitably bought flowers for her every year. I went into my marriage expecting my husband to act in a similar way. When he didn't I had a hard time accepting that. But I've changed a lot. And he has, too.

My Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts from my husband are a willingness to work hard to support our family 24/7, and to cook for me when I don't want to face my kitchen, even after a hard day's work. He does laundry (though far below my standards...) and even vacuums sometimes. I cannot complain. He shows me love in his actions every day, although never with fanfare or expecting thanks or praise.

You can't wrap that with a ribbon, now, can you??

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What a show!!

Since Japan is only about an hour ahead of China, the 29th Olympiad Opening Ceremony held last night was televised live in Japan, starting at around 9 p.m. It went till after 1 a.m., so I am a little sleepy today!

As opening ceremonies go, in which the host country treats the world to a taste of their culture, music and very essence, Beijing's entertainment was really breathtaking. You got a real sense of the rich and varied heritage represented in their many races, and developed through the history of civilization. The sheer numbers used in the mass demonstration of drums' grace and beauty in the first number was mind-boggling, not to mention a miraculous show of organization and preparation. And if you can believe it, all those hundreds of men had identical haircuts!

I didn't take notes, or I would comment on everything, but I enjoyed these particular highlights:

*The perfect formation of a filled-in circle (created by LED-covered-costumed adults), with the children in the center painting a green world to entice the birds back, and the birds responding to the call;

*the globe being circled by acrobatic runners, dangling on wires (attached to what, I have no idea!);

*the beautifully colorful, fairy-like flying individuals, also suspended on wires of no known origin, bobbing around like fireflies.

*I loved the Chinese characters for 'peace' (first ancient, then its more modern counterpart) formed by the individual keys of kanji (manned by one human each), again, miraculously timed and in sync with each other.

*They broke the bank in their use of fireworks; frankly it was a little overkill by the end, as I was distracted by how much pollution the fireworks' smoke was creating, and couldn't fully enjoy the beauty of it.

To say it was an elaborate show doesn't do the entertainment justice; there were traditional folk costumes and interesting modernistic costumes, too--all using a full palette of color. Traditional Chinese musical instruments played Chinese compositions as well as more familiar orchestral arrangements. You could sense the national pride of each participant, overjoyed to have this opportunity to shine for the world. I came away from the night's entertainment with a greater respect for The People's Republic of China, due to an elevated recognition of The People, themselves. Not a communistic government, clumped into a division of political systems, but rather a keener view of the faces of the largest national population in the world. It was a privilege to watch.

Thank you Beijing. What a show!!!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Asleep in the Stands

I'm a great baseball fan; always was, from elementary school days following the Cubbies, till now, with my current love affair with Ichiro. (It never fails to irk me that he plays on a team that generally ends up in last place in the American League; sigh.)

Some years I've been glued to the set most mornings, when the night games are televised in Japan, or have set the timer to the VCR, to enjoy a game later on, at my leisure. But in recent years, I haven't had as much fever when it comes to baseball...and I usually forget to even check the TV Guide to see who is playing whom and when the game'll be on. I feel like I'm asleep in the stands!

I root for the teams with Japanese players on them, as a rule; I am fiercely proud Ichiro hails from the area in which we live, only about three towns away. You can't blame me for this. I watch Japanese news, sports and weather every day, and people are always influenced by the media. I see interviews of prominent sports figures and learn to love them, just as the Japanese do. So it's totally natural for me to root for the Japanese Olympic athletes and have no sense of identification with American athletes I have never heard of or see very little of.

But in MLB, my favorite Japanese players are playing with American baseball players, so I have gotten to know and love a lot of the guys on the Mariners, Yankees, & Red Sox teams. I'm also familiar with a number of players on other American League teams they are constantly up against. (I haven't followed the National League since my youth cheering for the Cubs, so I tend to ignore even the NL teams with Japanese players on them.)

This morning I remembered to check the MLB channel rather late, and tuned in to the Yankees'/Rangers' game just after the 7th inning stretch. I thought I'd heard the announcer wrong when he referred to the Yankees' catcher as Pudge. That's the Tigers' catcher, I thought. Then, in the ninth inning, Pudge Rodriguez steps to the plate to bat for the Yankees...wait a minute...huh? When did he change uniforms???

The next batter gave me an even greater start...Richie Sexson (the no. 4 man on the Mariner's standard lineup), pitch hitting for the Yankees. Now, hold up... what is wrong with this picture??? When the heck did these guys get traded to the Yankees? And who got traded away in their places???

Sure enough, I've been asleep in the stands. It's time to start hanging out at again!!!

The Four Seasons

Growing up in Illinois, I experienced four fairly distinctly changing seasons. Winter was the most insistent, coming as early as late October and staying till April, but averaging five to six months of the year. Summer was next longest, solidly occupying the period from June to Labor Day, after which school began again. Spring and Fall were shorter, less predictable, and therefore very precious and desirable.

Which is why, when I moved to the central area of Honshu, Japan, I was so delighted to find that seasons changed rather predictably and evenly, spaced out about three months a piece, and each with its own characteristics that seemed very Japanese to me.

One reason for this is Japan's custom of NOT changing the clocks twice a year to create Daylight Savings Time. You feel the seasons more distinctly due to the changing hour of sunrise and sunset, of how early nature rises in the summer, along with the sun. For example, in summer, the song of the cicadas is really deafening in the early morning, growing more intrusive from dawn's light on, till it inevitably wakens me by 6 a.m. or so. Can you identify cicada song? If you live near any forests, you may know what I mean. I don't have a conscious memory of cicadas in Naperville, although my neighborhood had its share of trees. But maybe I've grown more sensitive to sound as an adult.

The Japanese word for cicada is semi. There is an imitation of their song in Japanese, too. It's like saying (do, re,) " mi, mi~, mi~~, mi, mi~, mi~~" although in my opinion it's awfully difficult to put into the words an accurate verbal representation of their song. (I use the phrase "song" rather loosely here; there isn't much of a melody because it is almost entirely percussion.) All I know is they are really noisy insects and will dominate the airwaves for nearly two months of summer. Only another five or six weeks to go...sigh.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Technological Parade

I live in Japan, the land of technology mania! There is almost always something new being advertised and promoted on TV and at your neighborhood electrical appliance store. The average Japanese person is acutely interested in whatever is the newest, fastest, sleekest, hippest, and most technologically advanced piece of equipment on the market.

My husband is no different, as far as interest goes, but he isn't willing to spend the kind of money needed to actually go out and buy it! So our home policy has always been, "Wait till the price goes way down before considering a purchase." This means that no matter what the equipment is, we wait a year or more before buying it. (Of course, by that time, a new model and a much more advanced version has been designed and is being promoted and sold, causing us to question if buying the older model is such a smart move at that point. Based on this repeating spiral, we end up eliminating 95% of the latest "must haves" on the market.)

So I simply do not get my expectations up at all. Period. I think, we'll never get it, so don't allow yourself to care. Digital cameras, wide-screen TVs, ADSL, a second computer for upstairs (the first one was for the shop, downstairs); you name it, EVERYONE else had one before we ever dreamed of getting one. We never bought a video camera. But I'd wager to bet that the family of nearly every single classmate of my son's had a video camera during the years of recitals, field day events, and all other memorable video-taking opportunities of his school days.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT interested in material consumption of all the latest technology. I'm just saying that it is all around us, and being promoted at a feverish pace, and new technology is constantly being developed and advertised to the point where you just want to scream, "ENOUGH, already!!"

You can never win, anyway. As soon as you go out and get the latest, coolest cell phone, the iphone is invented. As soon as you buy one of those and master its many complexities (all promoted as conveniences, one cannot live without), there'll be something else, cooler and more complicated, making yours obsolete. There is no end to this madness. We can never keep up with not only the Joneses, but also with the Sonys, the Apples, the Panasonics and all their whiz kids dreaming up even more technology.

Yet, if we don't at least attempt to join in the Technological Parade, it is a lonely, alienating road to walk, alone and confused, unable to decipher the latest byword or catch phrase. Once the Parade marches on beyond you, out of sight, it is a frighteningly still and lifeless space you are left in to inhabit.