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!