Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back again, at long last, with Christmas musing...

Hi Everyone, long time, no write!

I took a three-month break from blogging, while having a love affair with Facebook. I didn't have anything significant to say here, 'cause I was so busy reconnecting with old classmates and childhood friends there. I got hooked on a few game applications as well, and then turned all my friends on to them, and THEN took the plunge into challenging them to play against me. Great fun. So much so, that I didn't have any interest in coming back to this blog and trying to articulate anything. Thus, such a long gap between posts.

Fall is always a busy time of year for me. I teach my students about the American traditions of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I find myself extra busy with parties, baking, dressing up, pulling out old photos to show, searching around for cute stickers or new books about those subjects, or making my own visual aids. Fall has passed and winter is beginning to chill the air; and I must write our yearly family Christmas letter to send out (but haven't finished yet) and get presents into the mail (I'm so behind in that!).

At Thanksgiving time, my mom went to my brother's home for a week's stay and we were able to talk via Skype. A suggestion was made that we disband the tradition of giving presents to the main group of adults (which includes everyone now, as all the kids are grown). Many years ago we began the custom of drawing names so that we'd prepare a gift for just one of the eight-to-twelve adults making up our little family circle. This tradition was nice in that every year you'd get a different person to prepare something for, and it enabled us to shower some attention and thought onto a new target. It gave you a different person to thank each year, too, extending the close feeling you shared with each, in turn. Since my husband never does anything for the holiday himself, but is perfectly content to receive a gift from a member of my family, I prepared the gift for his yearly target as well, meaning that I'd shop &/or make something for two people and most years send off two packages. I also prepare a gift package for my son, who moved out on his own in late October, 2006.

When the suggestion was offered during that Skype call that we stop giving gifts, it was said in a way that sounded like the decision was already made, and everyone seemed glad to stop it; everyone but me. It made the little girl within my heart (who looks forward to the holiday, even now, despite not decorating my home, or having anyone I live with care one way or another) feel forlorn, somehow, to think that my family can't even go to the trouble of having one of them send me a gift anymore.

And I tried to explain my feeling to my brother in an e-mail, but all I sounded was whiny, and mercenary, as though getting a present was the only way I could feel Christmas had come. Ever since, I have been mulling this over and over in my mind. Why is getting a gift so important to me? It isn't so much that I have to have a big tree, all decked out with lights (although I loved having one when my son was young) and a million packages crammed underneath. I don't have to have a Christmas brunch like my mom used to make, with fancy egg and sausage casseroles and schtollen (sp?) fruit bread baked from her mother's recipe. I don't require a big turkey dinner later in the day, or even Christmas carols playing in the background. We keep things simple. And I'm not complaining about that. It's a compromise on all the hoopla which happened traditionally at home growing up, sure, but I can live with compromise (while simultaneously envying the family back home).

But no presents? I am loathe to this idea.

In Japan, Christmas is just another working day. My husband always went downstairs to his shop and opened it for business after we'd taken turns opening our few little gifts (my parents or I had prepared for us) and had pancakes for breakfast. I never accepted jobs on the 25th; I kept the day sacred (and forced my husband to keep the morning sacred, anyway). But this year, my co-worker finally forced me to work in the afternoon on Christmas day; I can't afford to turn down the money because December is a month with a lot of payments due. But to imagine the morning without any presents? It makes me want to cry!

But why?

I still do not understand this melancholy. 2009 is the last year to get a gift from a relative other than my mom (and possibly my son, if he remembers to send me something; I'm not holding my breath!). My dad is gone; he was the big Santa in our family, buying tons of useless junk as well as the occasional useful gift, too. But all his shopping and giftwrapping and hiding gifts here and there and all his generosity just made me feel loved. Maybe it's that presents somehow equals LOVE, to me. Which is why the absence of presents and the implied apathy that goes with it, feels like a lack of esteem, somehow. Oh, I don't know...

All I know is, I'm sorry to see the tradition end. It makes me envy everyone in the states for the holiday all the more.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Still Have a LONG Way to Go!

I got together with a class of housewives (roughly my own age) on Wednesday for an English lesson and we got on the subject of establishing a credit rating. I was citing my son's case in the states as an example of how the need to develop your own credit history is often how young people become dependent on using credit cards.

I am not a total stranger to the concept myself. I use credit cards to utilize my "speed pass" at the self-service gas station, to charge orders from a certain food co-op in Kobe, Japan, and to pay for my ETC charges. I use a debit card for ordering clothing online, although I am always nervous of potential identity theft, so keep a tight rein on how much I buy.

By nature I am as far opposite to a gambler as you can get; I am not willing to risk A SINGLE PENNY or ONE YEN COIN!!! So I tend to only go for "sure things" and "dyed-in-the-wool authenticity" for everything in my life. Typically I assumed most everyone was like me in that class of housewives, too. But I had a real surprise in store that day.

When I first came to Japan 27 1/2 years ago, EVERYONE used cash for EVERYTHING. There wasn't any checking system here (still isn't, except for traveler's checks), and people were suspicious and wary of impulsive shopping with credit cards. Then department stores began offering store cards (that incorporated a 5% discount to all purchases) to encourage sales, and many affluent housewives I knew began using such cards automatically. The 5% discount was inconsequential, in my opinion, because prices in dept. stores are marked way up to begin with, but anyway, the custom became less repugnant to the average consumer. Gradually credit card companies began their seductive campaigns to get people to use them, offering free memberships, and other perks for joining. My husband got many cards, despite my lack of interest in using them, and it wasn't until a couple of years later that we discovered some charged as much as 25,000 yen for a year's membership to continue using them. To me, even now, it's like throwing good money after bad, but my husband sees things differently and we continue on using three or four major cards at his insistence. (Oh, brother!)

When I assumed that these housewives would also be loathe to use credit in their daily lifestyles, I was shocked to find that one uses her cell phone to "beep in" the bar code of what she wants to buy at convenience stores, another uses store cards exclusively for grocery shopping and trips to the AEON-related stores, all of them were very aware of the point collecting systems (still a mystery to me) and conscientiously chose to pay bills via credit card in order to collect as many points as possible. The accrued points allowed them to buy train passes, or beer coupons, among other useful things.

Huh? What did you say??

I was flabbergasted and suddenly the odd man out. I knew young people were lulled into living on credit by the "don't bother to think it through" mentality of credit shopping, but these were women who were very industriously thinking things through!! And I hadn't even begun to learn about what had become second nature to them. It certainly gave me pause and forced me to realize I still have a lot to learn in the world of penny-pinching and beating the system at its own game.

Friday, July 3, 2009

One Year Anniversary

Well, it's been a year since I started this blog. A lot of growth has occurred in that time, regarding my understanding of blogging and what it entails. But one thing cannot be denied: I have definitely lost my passion for "talking outloud" on the web. I'm lucky if I write something once a month, these days. For those kind souls out there who were following my blog with interest and checking in often, I feel like my current pace is doing you a very grave disservice! Yet, I am less introspective and definitely less articulate; I just don't have anything to say that's worth typing. I'm afraid my honeymoon with blogging is irrefutably over.

I joined Facebook, and that's been more interesting to me lately; I've been enjoying reconnecting with childhood friends and many people I haven't seen in over 35 years. It's been a little strange--getting in touch with my far distant past. After moving to Japan, I really strove to maintain relationships with people, but in the end, I was too far away and my visits back home were stretched too far apart. The majority of friends couldn't be bothered beyond enduring receiving my Christmas newsletter. I ended up sort of choosing to leave my American past in America and move on with my life.

The birth of E-mail helped me remind people of my existance to some degree, but Facebook has been more rewarding because we can show photos, leave our comments on others' pages, join groups, research stuff, get organized with the help of many applications, and feel closer to MANY folk I used to have a really strong bond with B.J. (before Japan). The only catch is they have to be on Facebook, too!

An interesting phenomenon has occurred, though, in the midst of "speaking" to old pals in junior high and such...I find myself going right back into my little insecure psyche again. At the ripe old age of 51 I'm chewing my fingernails anxiously wondering if this or that person has decided I'm too weird or straight or religious or verbose to continue a correspondence with me. I'm a tangle of insecure knots. Very distasteful. NOT something I want to be a part of my adult existance!! I paid my dues from 1965-1979. Enough of that, already!

I want to be happy with myself!

Monday, June 8, 2009

A New Adventure in Cyberspace

Recently I'm exploring the SNS called Facebook. I recently joined without even meaning to, just by checking out my son's url link shared in Mixi, a Japanese SNS. It was all in Japanese, and since I can't read kanji perfectly, wasn't even sure what I was clicking "yes" to, half the time. Before I knew it, I had my own page and the computer was automatically sending out invitations to all the people in my email address to add me to their list of FB friends. It was kind of daunting, frankly, but having already navigated Mixi three years ago, I didn't immediately panic, and have been able to roll with the punches as they've come. (It also helped when I changed the language to English!)

A real motivation in this effort, of course, is getting connected to a variety of old friends...or distant friends; or making new friends, and getting to correspond with this palette of people who weren't accessible two weeks ago! I'm always hungry for correspondents...I can't get enough human contact EVER, so social-networking sites are one form of technology I consider user-friendly!

I was reading an old Entertainment Weekly magazine the other day and happened upon an article written about how Facebook had undergone a "face lift" in March of this year (news to me!), and how awful everyone was finding it, as a result. Having nothing to compare the newly designed format to, I am relatively satisfied. Ignornace is bliss, as they say.

I got very excited today when an influx of messages appeared in my email inbox, all reporting on lots of Facebook activity. Since I use the computer as a stress-diffuser most of the time, having a new "toy" to play with in cyberspace has been awfully nice. Since an old high school friend had tracked me down, and another pal had just gotten married and shared his wedding/honeymoon photos in an album, I had fun today reconnecting with two more fellow c-space explorers!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Technology: Friend or Foe?

We live in a technological age. Everyone is used to having a cell phone or two and many households out there own laptops as well as desktop computers. A great number of shoppers get a navigational system automatically when they buy a new car and most businesses rely on security systems with extensive technological do-dads, wiring and a fleet of guard men in patrol cars ready to rush over when there's a crack in the armor.

Despite all this, the baby boom generation grew up with one phone in the house (and well-to-do people had an extension!), the importance of sending handwritten thank you notes drilled into them by their moms, and family conversation around the dinner table as the central way to maintain communication channels. We looked people in the eye to 'chat,' and no one was allowed to read something simultaneously (like an text message) while having a conversation.

It was a more polite world, with more considerate and genteel behavior.

When I first moved to Japan, owning a computer was NOT a given yet, and email was still only a theory in some techno-whiz's mind. The terms "windows" and "apple" still only referred to glass squares placed in the wall of a house and a fruit as old as Eden, period. I was dragged kicking and screaming to the computer keyboard by a friend who was as determined to teach me how to use it as I was to avoid touching it at all costs. You can imagine how grateful to her I am, now, thirteen years later! But I can remember when television commercials started showing urls of homepages and thinking, "What about people who don't own a computer???" quickly followed by, "Oh right, I'm really going to be able to jot down that in 15 seconds!"

So how did we get to where we are today, with our Blackberries, Sidekicks, iphones and who knows what else? (I refuse to own a cell phone, so I'm not up-to-the-minute on the latest key equipment.) What is the slowpoke to do, if they haven't gotten on the technological bandwagon and/or jumped on with both feet?

There are a lot of people out there in that kind of pickle...they can't afford to run out and get the latest this and that; they can't afford it even when it's become obsolete and has been replaced by something else hot off the factory lines' press. I'm struggling even with a computer I rely on every day, simply because I haven't updated to Windows XP yet... I'm shut out of much of the latest downloadable software. Sure, I'd like to buy something new, but how in the world do I hope to master using it, if I still haven't got everything on THIS one figured out yet. I know I am so far behind the flow of progression that once I can afford to buy something newer, it'll also be a relic by that time.

The expression "user-friendly" is such an ironic joke! Technology, in general, is NOT user-friendly, even to a fraction of an ounce. User-friendly would be built to last for one thing. It would be timeless for another. I'm left to feel once again, that technology has it in for me... and there's not much hope for change in my situation. sigh

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Celebrating a Life VS Mourning a Death

On March 21st, our family held a memorial service to honor my father, who passed away last November. My mother spent much of the four months between the time of his death till then, planning with great care how best to honor his memory through the memorial service. Anyone who attended it can attest to how lovingly and faithfully she designed every facet; from the musical selections played by the recorder choir my dad loved listening to once a month when they played at church & by the organist in the prelude, to the ones performed by my brother (on guitar) and my nieces (on violin and viola, and again vocally). All the songs the congregation sang were also favorites of my dad.

The best part of the service for me, though, were the words of remembrance given by my brother and my nephew (representing the kids and grandkids), followed by a random and spontaneous selection of comments offered by the guests in attendance, that the pastor went around capturing with a cordless microphone. Although I knew many of the folk reminiscing and could even remember firsthand some of the anecdotes they shared, it was very interesting hearing how my dad had touched their lives and it was gratifying they wanted us to know what he had meant to them.

I wasn't able to contribute anything for the service personally, but I also had the opportunity to pay tribute to my dad by preparing a number of small visual exhibits (for the reception afterwards), celebrating various facets of his life:
1. his artistic talents,

2. his hard work for the International YMCA organization throughout his entire life,

3. his dedication as an editor to many newsletters through the years,

4. his work as a college professor, advisor to foreign students and as the director of Continuing Education at his school and later Assistant to the President (of the college).

5. I had a poster of a world map on the wall, with strings glued from many countries where he worked as consultant and trainer for the Y, to photos from those experiences arranged on the outer border.

6. There was a collage of photos celebrating his life as family man and friend to so many.

My biggest regret was that I never took a proper photo of the exhibit before dismantling it. But I was glad many who attended the reception got to see it. My son was able to catch this one shot of part of it, anyway.

A dear friend wrote me just before I left for the states to attend the service that this was my father's last gift to all of us: the opportunity to gather together and celebrate his life. I felt his presence there, without having him physically present.

I felt him in my eldest brother, who is so like him in character (despite his great efforts to the contrary), it was a little spooky.

I felt him in my cousin, whom I hadn't met in 40 years so it hit me like a ton of bricks when he reminded me of my uncle (who was Dad's younger brother).

I felt him in my son, who dutifully took it upon himself to be the cameraman of the event, bless his heart. I had the same familiar sense of security, knowing I didn't need to use my camera at all and he would "cover" things for all of us (just like my dad used to do).

I felt him in my nephew, who has the same friendly people skills imbedded in his genes!

Daddy was everywhere -- in the Y's Men and Women who loved him enough to come all the way from my hometown in Illinois to attend.

And I felt him in the people of the retirement community where he lived for nearly 13 years, touching lives in a significant way.

The entire day was a joyous celebration of HIS LIFE, beyond any argument. And it proved what I have believed all along: that there is much more value in holding a big party to honor the one that has "gone before" us, rather than have a funeral to mourn their passing, and our loss. In the case of my dad, there wasn't anything lost. He added life everywhere he was and through everyone he touched. Even through his death, LIFE is what remains for us and LIFE is beckoning us to follow in his footsteps!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Men

I love this photo. It was taken at the reception for my father's memorial service on March 21st. Can you decipher the relationship between these men? They are the men in my family (minus my husband, who wasn't able to attend the event); all very important to me.

The two on the left are brothers. Probably anyone could guess that; they have looked similarly most of their lives, due to a fondness for facial hair. The second and third from the left are father and son. Their similarity is also striking, probably also due to the shape of their beards, among other shared qualities.

The next fellow, second from the right, is a dead ringer for his father, my deceased uncle. I'm sorry to say I don't have any photos of him to show you; just take my word for it. He's my brothers' and my only first cousin; we got to see him for the first time in 40 years!!

The fellow on the end to the right is my son, of course. He takes after both my husband and I; so there is some likeness shared between he and his American first cousins, shown in the following photo.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The ABCs of Culture Shock

You know how when a person goes to live in another country everybody talks about culture shock? That's referring to how a person leaves the very familiar and comfortable home country's environment ("A") and discovers how strange and different the new ("B") country's customs seem in comparison to 'home.'

If you live in B long enough (and especially if you have no plan to return to A to live), it becomes less alien and B's culture becomes the more familiar, so that when you go back to visit A again, you experience reverse culture shock. With that, you get to see with much more clarity the quirks or charm points of your original culture, and you can appreciate that it isn't the only way to live anymore. You have an expanded field of reference. You are a stretched, more globally aware individual. The blinders have been dismantled and you will never again see A as A, but rather, as C, a revised version.

The experience of culture shock, and/or reverse culture shock is a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the way you tick as an individual. You can discover a lot about yourself: why you are the way you are, and why you relate to others the way you do. I tend to be rather self-analytical to begin with, so such an opportunity is a pleasant and welcome one.

That said, I am left wondering what to call the experience I am having right now, upon returning to Japan after three lovely weeks with my mom in her Ohio home. Is there a reverse-reverse culture shock??? My Japanese home (I called "B" up to this point), is being seen in a new light during the period of adjustment back to Japanese time/space/climate, etc. I'm tempted to call it "D" in fact. "D" for dirty (ha ha), or disorganized (and how!), or disturbingly silent.

This trip back to my mom's house was the very first time I got to spend twenty-two days talking to just my mom (for the most part). Twenty-two days of being cared for and cared about by the one person in my life who has the most invested in me; more than husband, son, brothers, other relatives, students or friends. I was immersed in her love 24/7.

I don't know that I've ever felt it this intensely before, because I was always a Daddy's girl, and my relationship with my mom was like sloppy seconds, or something. Never intentionally that of course, but simply as a result of the dynamics at work with my dad; he was possessive of my affection and his attention defined my value as a daughter. When he forgot who I was due to the Alzheimer's, it was a blow to my identity as a daughter.

Having my existence fulfill a big need in my mom after his death was the beginning of healing that gash in my identity and laid the foundation of the wonderful relationship we are now privileged to share. I have never been happier as her daughter. Talking together as much as we did during those twenty-two days was so stress-free. I didn't need the computer, or TV, or a Game Boy, or movies (all coping methods vitally important for stress-diffusion in Japan). I did miss snacking after a couple of weeks (because we tend to eat three meals a day in her world), and found myself doing that more the last week, so that stress-diffuser was still necessary on some level. I need a little more introspection to figure that one out, I guess.

But all the other ways I battle my loneliness in living in a land where I am more misunderstood than not, and have to work so hard to communicate with others (particularly my husband), were completely unnecessary while in the presence of my mom. She listened when I needed to talk, almost compulsively, after the family reunion (in which my elderly aunt and one sister-in-law did talk compulsively to any and everyone for much of the time), and I listened, too, although not as patiently, I'm afraid. It really meant a lot to me to have her love for me reaffirmed. When Daddy was alive, he hogged the Loving Parent Limelight, and I was just foolish enough not to look beyond him much. I can see now I did her a great disservice. I wish she were here to hug in apology!

Hmmm, I can see my culture shock-related musings have veered off into another reflective direction...which I'll take as my cue to stop for today.

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's Been A Privilege

As my father's memorial service nears, I've been enjoying putting together a collection of friends' and family members' memories and episodes about their relationship with my dad and shared activities of the past. My brother scanned a number of old photos my mom dug out and sent them to me to help me illustrate the words with past images, too.

While typing and laying out the pages for the planned memory book, I've been gradually visualizing the poster collage I will create after arriving at my mom's later this week. I hope to hang the collage in the room where the reception will be held following the service. I bought the file folder book to house the pages I've finished so far on the computer; it is fun to see it all come together after planning this for so long (since a couple of weeks after my dad's passing in mid-November). And it has been a real joy to relive so many memories, and glimpse into ones of my father's friends and associates as well.

In Japan there is a way to describe a man like my dad: they would say, "his face was wide" (顔が広かったです。). This means he really knew a lot of people from all different walks of life, all over the world. He had a large influence on so many, and I've been blessed to hear their accounts of what a great man he was. Thank you to any of you reading this today. It's been a privilege!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Gathering of the Clan

My father's memorial service will be held three weeks from today. I have eleven days to get my act together before my plane takes off, and I arrive in Ohio, at my mom's. I finally got my international driver's license the other day, and I have my re-entry permit already in my passport. I'll get out my suitcase soon and begin to make lists of things to take and what I need to buy while in the states. Thus start the pre-travel jitters that promise to rob me of sleep and peace of mind for the remainder of my preparation time!

The one glowing reward factor--the carrot dangling in front of this old pack mule, as it were--is the thought of the entire family gathered together for the first time in nine long years! This time we'll also welcome to the reunion my first cousin and his wife, someone I haven't seen in over forty years! (We've completely missed out on each others' best years! ha!) So that is an additional 'carrot!'

I am really going to enjoy this opportunity to reunite! My oldest friend from childhood is coming, as well as my oldest friend from my life in Japan. Such blessings to sweeten and refresh this time of grief's closure. May all go smoothly and may my mom's heart be blessed by the gathering of the clan!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bloomin' Pretty

A friend gave me a potted amaryllis bulb in December and assured me all I had to do was water it regularly and I would be rewarded with lovely blooms. Well, she was right. It was oh-so simple. As soon as I gave it water the first time, the shoot began to push upward, and seek light. I kept it near the sunny spot on my kitchen counter and regularly rotated it so the stems would grow straight. My friend had told me to water it daily, but the instructions in the box said once a week. I compromised and watered it every three days or so. Just look at how pretty it is!


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Foundational Friendship

Yesterday I was blessed by a friend's visit to my home. She lives in Nagoya, 30 kilos away, and made the long drive out to my place in the countryside. She and I have known each other since the very start of my life here in Japan. She was working part-time at the Nagoya YWCA, when I began teaching there back in April of 1982. It turned out that she lived only one subway stop away from mine, and we both attended the same gathering for Christian foreigners in Nagoya, to boot. She had already lived in Japan ten years by the time I came, and was married to the boy from her host family (with whom she lived as a foreign exchange student). Upon sharing our stories we discovered that she was raised in the town nextdoor to my own hometown, back in Illinois! We felt like kindred spirits from the first.

She has been an invaluable help and resource to me in my life here. Initially she answered a miriad of questions I was constantly asking about the Japanese language, culture and way of life. She was a wonderful "big sister" (she's four years my senior). She counseled me when I was unsure about marrying my husband. After I did marry, she and her husband were warm hosts & restaurant dinner companions. This same friend gave birth to her only son the month I conceived my own! So all during my pregnancy and raising my boy she was an experienced advisor and help. I have no doubt whatsoever that God brought us together to be bosom friends for the rest of our lives.

Through the years, we've both had our set of challenges with international marriage, motherhood, teaching English and more recently in combatting disease. Our faith is our one true force for good in all situations, despite the enormous stress that we both encounter in our lives here. We aren't able to meet often, but are so refreshed and blessed whenever we can! And like onions, we continue to reveal inner layers of our most honest hearts so that we can support the other in prayer.

There is an expression in Japanese: kokoro no sasae (emotional support to the heart). This dear old friend is the personification of my heart's sasae, and hers is a foundational friendship, sustaining my life in Japan.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A New Year Has Come

When I was a girl, my parents always got together with a certain group of friends on New Year's Eve, made up of five or six sets of couples. Each couple hosted the gathering in turn, by rotation. They'd have a potluck (the hosts were responsible for the main dish) and a couple of activities were repeated year after year, such as The White Elephant Present Exchange. [For those of you in Japan who have never heard of a while elephant, this refers to a gag gift, made up of silly, unwanted items.] I remember there was one purple and white frog-shaped coin bank that kept getting wrapped up each year and resubmitted into the White Elephant exchange. They'd all hoot with laughter when the new recipient would unwrap it.

Although I didn't have many personal experiences of memorable New Year's Eve parties, my usual routine was to sit in front of the TV, watching old movies and eating mint chocolate chip ice cream, straight from the pack, enjoying the silence of the empty house. I'd watch the countdown in New York, or Chicago, or wherever, and go to bed by 1 or 2 am, when my parents would gradually make it home after their outing.

When I came to Japan, New Year's was all about the annual Singing Competition on TV called "Kohaku" which means Red/White. The colors (which represent the Japanese flag), are assigned to the two teams, made up mainly of women (red) and men (white) professional singers, groups &/or bands. Watching Kohaku is like a national pastime (in fact, 42.1% of the population tuned in on 12/31/08!!). People look at you weirdly if you admit you have no interest in it. Many people go to the local shrine at midnight, to either pray for the new year, burn something from the ending year in the bonfire there, or greet neighbors and drink sake to stay warm in the brisk night air. Most shrines have a huge bell they hit with a large wooden pole (traditionally rung 108 times) beginning at midnight. There aren't any kisses exchanged, like in America. It feels more low-key to me than it did growing up, yet New Year's is very important to the average Japanese person.

This year my husband worked the night shift on New Year's Eve, so I was alone that evening. I was busy watching the catch-up broadcast of the first six episodes of "Dirty, Sexy Money" on cable (I hate the title, but am a fan of Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh), and didn't even notice when the new year tick-tocked in. New Year's Day was also spent alone, as my husband went directly to another job elsewhere and didn't return home until quite late that evening. Talk about low key! It passed in a blink of an eye and a yawning gape of the mouth!

But the one thing I like about New Year's is the feeling of a fresh start. I usually make a resolution or two, which are stirring around in my heart and head by the end of December and are ready to be articulated by January 1st or 2nd! This year was no different and I could readily make my resolution for 2009: to become more savvy on the computer. This was my resolution in 2007, too, and thanks to the help of one particular friend, I did become much more computer able within the first six months of that year. But this year, specifically, I want to figure out how to download music, burn my own personal favorite musical mix CDs, watch videos or movies online, and save data on back-up disks, without someone leading me by the hand in the seat beside me. Surely I am grown up enough to be able to master these simple tasks!

We wish each other a Happy New Year automatically, but I would like 2009 to be a year with less financial collapse and insecurity; a year where America's Iraqi involvement finally ends and the middle East can find tolerance among warring sides; a time of reunion and joy in celebrating my father's life at his memorial service on March 21st, and year in which I begin to feel healthier and stronger physically. If these things happen, it will indeed be a happy new year for me.