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.