Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Days with Dad

My dad has Alzheimer's Disease. Though his body keeps hanging on, his mind has gone to the mysterious 'unknown' that usurped his memory. I am thinking a lot about my dad these days and I thought it might be nice to share some of the photos I have of him, taken through the years.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Basic Blog Training At SNS Boot Camp

I began this blog after 19 months participation in Mixi, the Japanese counterpart of In Mixi, you write a diary entry, post it, and within hours or days someone leaves a comment, which you can answer and post below theirs. Everyone frequently reads their "My Mixi" (the special group of close friends to the member) friends' diaries and if someone 'comes to call' at your top page, a "footprint" is left telling you who came. You can click on their footprint and check out their top page as well. Sometimes new friendships are born, though often not.

But I got my basic training in "blogging" on Mixi, a social networking system, so when my friend Jeana sent me her updated google blog, and it inspired me to make my own, I came into it fully expecting a similar experience. I sent out notices to all the people on my email mailing list, and eagerly waited to hear comments from tons of people I usually only exchange Christmas cards with. Happily there were a couple of emails from people acknowledging my having written them, but nothing tangible to look at on the blog.

Well it finally dawned on me that, of course, it's not nearly the same system, is it? On a blog, you write your diary, post it, and almost no one comments, ever. I guess they haven't attended Basic Blog Training at a SNS Boot Camp, like me. They may come and visit, even often, but they leave no footprints.

With Jeana's help, I joined Sitemeter, which is a company that helps you keep track of how many people come to call at your blogsite. We can even see who their providers are, and what town in which they are located, but we can't uncover their identities. After Mixi, I am dying to know who has visited. Who is it in Anjo, Aichi that accesses my blog very frequently? Who is it who lives in Sugar Grove, this an old friend? Is this a new, potential friend? Or will this person, and all the others like them, just be a wisp of a ghostly presence I'll never be privileged to meet or exchange a word with?

My sinking heart seems to say, "The latter, Sally; they're only evaporating drops of moisture on a hot sidewalk." If you have come and are reading this now, please leave a comment once in a while, won't you? If you have a blog as well, I'll come to visit yours. Let's take a lesson from Mixi and mix it up socially, shall we?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Living Halfway Around the World

Although I had no inkling before it happened, I was meant to live halfway around the world from my roots. The relationship my parents and I have shared in these past 26 ½ years has been better, thanks to the distance. We appreciate each other more because we don't take visits or communication for granted.

In dealing with deaths in the family, too, the distance has been a blessing. It is harder to reach a sense of closure when you can't attend funerals and memorial services, but you also have less to process; your memories of that person and the times you've shared are not spoiled by witnessing their physical and/or mental demise. You remember them as they were the last time you were together.

These are all photos taken at my last visit to see the folks, Summer, 2007 (My brother, his wife and youngest daughter also visited)
I am not able to get back to Naperville, IL (where I lived from the age of 5 till I left for Japan when I was 24) very often. In fact, after my parents moved back to Ohio (my birthstate) I've only been back once. This is a blessing, too, because the way it has changed in this quarter of a century is upsetting to me. One day I Google-mapped Naperville and was surprised to find that almost every street was accessible by 360˚ camera shots. I could visit my old neighborhood and elementary school, church and friends' homes. I barely recognized anything; homes originally built in the 50's and 60's with spacious front and back yards had been torn down and replaced by "mega mansions"--1-3 million dollar monstrosities that took up the whole lot, with barely a patch of grass or shrub left in sight. Had Naperville been invaded by a group of celebrity wannabes???? What madness was behind the this obscene, overblown cosmetic surgery done to my modest, comfortable town?

Living halfway around the world is VERY inconvenient when family crises occur, and the expensive airfare prevents me from being able to visit my aging parents and siblings (and now my son, too) , as well as many old and dear friends. But modern technology makes keeping in touch easy and affordable (after all, SKYPE is free!) and blogs like this give us the chance to take a peek into the author's life and times.

I'm here to attest the old adage is true: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Retiring An Old Computer

Japanese people as a rule love the newest thing. A new piece of technology comes on the market and they line up in front of the electronics store before the doors open, eager to get in and buy one for themselves a.s.a.p.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but it IS true that many Japanese people are in love with the newest, shiniest, most sophisticated and technologically advanced hard- and software. Just look at my son. He no sooner masters the Mac he buys and he wants another version within a year. He has plans to buy an iphone any minute now. It doesn't matter to him if it costs an arm and a leg--if he has the funds on hand, he justifies using them to get the latest thing.

I, on the other hand, am the type of person who wants to use something till it has completely given up the ghost. The first computer I ever had was one that my husband had used for a time, and decided to replace with a newer model. It was programmed with Windows 3.1, the very first version, or close to it, anyway. This model had the hard disk and memory built in below the monitor's screen, so no separate tower to set up nearby. All you did was push a little round button to start and turn it off again.

Because it was an early model, it was very simple to use. There weren't so many options as we have now; it was perfect for my analog-style brain that was dragged kicking and screaming into the cyber world. A friend showed me the basics of computer use on the PC in her office, and with great effort and support by other computer-saavy friends, I slowly mastered using my Compaq Presario CDS 524. I got it in 1996 when it was three years old. I used it till 2006. (Admittedly, we programmed in Windows 95 in the late 90's.)

My middle older brother told me it was a grampa by computer standards, and it was living on borrowed time. It often froze in mid-use, ironically before I had been able to save a long, laboriously created file. Even so, I was loathe to retire it. As long as it still turned on when that little button was pushed, I felt I ought to use it.

And there was so much data stored in it! In fact, the last year or so, I had great problems trying to clear out enough space for the memory to even temporarily save something. There were virtually no kilobytes left to spare in the end. So recognizing it must be replaced, probably sooner than later, I began to save all the important data on floppy disks, never dreaming that FDs were headed for the computer graveyard within months, as well.

A friend with access to a lot of retired computers at her job rescued an IBM tower and monitor and gave them to me, stripped first of all the stuff they'd used in the company. My husband also offered another tower he had gotten from our nephew and used for a while before he went out and actually bought another model himself. I used these both for a while, but eventually asked a friend to help reprogram them, more for my own specific needs, which he did, bless his heart! I have the nephew's Compaq Presario connected to the IBM monitor and the other IBM tower in storage, in case I am suddenly hit by a virus that wipes out my hard disk, or something.

Meanwhile, my son will only use a Mac; he believes with all the passionate furvor of the cocky young that Macs are the superior choice and Windows is a stupid, antiquated system for people who don't know any better. Whenever we talk on Skype and something goes wrong with the mike or headphones, it is automatically my computer's fault, because after all, I am the jerk who hasn't joined the 21st century and gone out and bought a Mac. (As if I had money to do that...geesh!) The sad fact of the matter is, I don't want to throw away anything that still has life left in it. It feels morally wrong to me, somehow.

Yes, my first computer is still set up in my bedroom, although I rarely have cause to turn it on now. In fact, I think I am ready to retire it, and remove it from sight (to the computer parts' graveyard my hubby has down in our shop)...but I haven't yet. There is this nagging doubt--what if there is something on there I still need? It has ten years of my life trapped inside its memory. I don't want to destroy that.

Retiring an old computer is really hard for me!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Call Me "Oya Baka"

In Japan, there is an expression for the parent (oya) who is proud as punch of their child, to the point of sounding foolish (baka) to others (when bragging about their offspring, especially).

As for me, I only had one child, so in a sense all my eggs are in that one basket. All my worry, all my pride, all my advice and all my loving energy as a mom was poured into just one boy, my son Michael.

Growing up in an intercultural home in Japan, my son's language skills were basically Japanese, with bilingual hearing skills (he spoke rather broken English). Despite reading many American picture books together till he was 8 or 9, and my urging him to read and write English, he wasn't very motivated to master those skills as a boy. Upon discovering his ambition to live in the states, though, Michael decided to develop his English-speaking ability. Through his personal determination, he suddenly began speaking to me in mainly English from high school age on.

After moving to LA, and being immersed in English at every turn, his language ability has really improved-- just ask his gramma, who is happy to speak to him on the phone every couple of weeks.

But the main thing I wanted to share with you today, was one of his accomplishments as a musician, which is his greatest passion, and the reason why he chose LA as the place to live in the states. While working in a restaurant his first year there, he made friends with a fellow who produces electronic music for animation and commercial jingles. One day this friend offered Mike the opportunity to help co-write a jingle for the Coca Cola company, who had hired him to create the background music for a 15 second ad, slated to be shown in Australia (in 2007). Mike and Chris worked on it a few hours and came up with a demo tape the company immediately OKed and then used for the ad. If you'd like to hear it, please click on these urls:

There are two versions of the ad, though the music is the same. The guitar you hear is Michael's!!
Isn't that cool!?

That's all for today from your favorite Oya Baka! (o´c_,`o)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mahbo Doufu (A spicy Japanese tofu dish)

I can't eat spicy foods. If I eat red pepper flakes I get diarrhea almost immediately. So I avoid them at all costs. Therefore I have never enjoyed eating anything traditionally considered spicy, and tried to avoid Mahbo Doufu, too.

My husband, on the other hand, cannot eat a meal without shaking red pepper flakes into EVERY DISH on the table. He adds it liberally to soups, sauces, noodles, 冷奴 (a cold tofu dish), etc, often even before tasting something to see if it needs it first. Although his name is 茂樹, it really should be spelled 刺激. haha ( I just made a pun in Japanese. My husband's name, Shigeki, can be spelled another way [also shigeki], meaning 'stimulation'.)

One time, my friend Yuko made a very nice, non-spicy Mahbo Doufu for lunch at church and I really liked it. Instead of red pepper, it gets its flavor from ginger and garlic, negi (leeks) and soy sauce. Very delicious! She explained the recipe, but I haven't tried it at home, despite wanting to make it.

My husband cooks a couple of times a week and one day he said, "What would you like for supper?" I was thinking how yummy Yuko's dish was, so I answered, "How about Mahbo Doufu?" He went out and bought a packet of Mahbo Doufu instant flavoring that you just add to tofu and negi. But he was sure to get 'mild' or 'sweet' for my sake. After I ate my fill of it, he finished off the rest, after shaking half a bottle of red pepper flakes into it. Even though it wasn't Yuko's recipe, it was very good. And I didn't have any upset in my intestinal tract at all-- I am so relieved! I can eat mild Mahbo Doufu!! How liberating!