Saturday, December 25, 2010

All I Needed Was Time

Mac usage update:

It is now about 12 weeks since I began using my new Mac laptop computer. I LOVE it, and have become a firm believer in my son's Gospel According to Apple. I have since downloaded Word into its memory and am happily doing just about everything I used to do on my PC, as well as a myriad of new things learned on the Mac.

I don't feel like an old dog anymore. I feel like a brand new dog!! It appears that all I needed was a bit of time to get used to the higher technology. Maybe my menopause is ending, too, 'cause I have a new lease on life!

Thanks, son! I'm so happy with my Macintosh computer! Woof!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Trying to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Bow wow.

Yes, I am the old dog. The new trick my son is trying to teach me is how to use a Macintosh laptop computer. This computer was his gift to me, promised a year ago, when my old Compaq PC was giving me fits and moved so slowly he could hardly stand to see me use it. He urged me to use his Mac laptop (brought with him from LA for his visit home) and convinced me my life would be much happier and easier if I also left Windows behind and got on the Mac bandwagon.

Since I could never in a million years afford to get one for myself, he graciously worked hard, saved a lot and generously spent a cool grand on his old lady by getting her the latest model, the Snow Leopard. He is teaching me how to use it on this year's visit. We are now finishing up Day Two in his quest to reprogram my computer-related know-how and equip me with enough instruction to cover the bases.

I am limping along, tail between my legs, whimpering. But I have learned:

* how to access the internet and visit all my usual haunts online.

* how to download all my favorite CDs into my music library. (Eventually I will learn how to burn my own original compilation CDs on my Mac. Neat, huh?)

* how to search for movies and dramas online to watch.

* how to do email in either the Mac's mail software or online through gmail, like I used to.

* how to send someone a song via email (couldn't do that on my PC).

* how to access the external hard drive and its content that was a gift from my son's girlfriend.

* how to "share" content from my son's Mac to mine and back again.

That's all in two days! I have taken copious notes, and done certain procedures over and over again, till I remembered finally how to follow the steps without prompting. (If only I can recall it again a few days from now--that'll be the true test!!)

My biggest regret is not having Microsoft Word installed, which means I can't transfer my MANY files from the old PC into the Mac. This alone is the one argument for keeping my old PC set up somewhere in the house so I can continue using Word. I use Word for creating all my documentation as an editor for newsletters in both English and Japanese. Can't imagine life without it!

Such musing, though, is unwelcome to my son's ears. He wants me to be a diehard Mac person now, and no looking back!! I think he feels his money wasn't well spent unless he converts me hook, line and sinker. I hate disappointing him...but...

this old dog appears unwilling to comply. Ah, what to do?

Bow wow!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

East or West, Flute is Best

This summer is a scorcher, and the heat is gradually getting to me, I'm afraid. But last night I had a rare treat that transported me from the sweaty grind of my daily life to a beautiful musical experience: I attended a flute concert.

I am a pianist (third rate at best), a guitarist (good enough to strum along on the camp songs used in my classes), a former vocalist (before I developed asthma in 1994), and am the daughter of a woman with perfect pitch (which means I have a pretty sharp ear, despite not sharing my mother's gift). I've had a lot of musical experience and training, so I tend to be critical of musicians in general, and performers I get to see with my own eyes in particular. I also LOVE the flute, which both my brother and his wife play, delighting the family with their talents through the many years.

So when a former student (a Chinese woman who's lived in Japan almost as long as I have) invited me to this concert, I was eager to go. Well, to be honest here, I really wanted to attend, but was afraid I might not be able to. I haven't been out to a concert in YEARS. I usually refuse invitations like this. The main reason is my size; I simply can't get my fanny into the seat!! So I never go to the movie theater, or to see a play or lecture. And I rarely can attend a concert, either.

But this woman was part of a group hosting the event, and she had some pull in making arrangements for people who need some "special attention" in their seating. Bless her heart, she went all out for me: arranging a parking space right near the door, making sure there was an ample chair (without armrests) available to sit in along the outer aisle (I was totally comfortable!) with a good view of the stage. She even brought me a cold drink for the intermission! What a dear friend! I didn't have to worry about a thing, and had a VERY easy time of it!

And I am SO grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this particular concert, because it was wonderful! The flutist was Junichiro Taku, a VERY accomplished and entertaining musician. He wore formal attire [with one costume change midway, into very cool Chinese garb to compliment a Chinese piece he played], and used four different flutes for the international program entitled, EAST x WEST. But his interesting banter between songs, and the tricks he used to transform a classical flute into a Chinese recorder, or some other ethnic instrument along similar lines, were nothing short of genius. I cannot praise his ability enough. [As I tend to be critical of professional musicians (especially in Japan, where the least able singer can become a top idol, due to their looks, dancing abilities, and/or fashion trends), Mr. Taku can take these words as high praise, in fact.]

I know I sound stuck up. Forgive me this tendency I have to sound arrogantly superior. Living in Japan, in a culture that has bred a nation of modest, humbly-minded gentlefolk, my way of speaking is glaringly the opposite, despite my own feelings of humility born of a major lack of self-esteem. But I once had a musical gift that defined my identity among my peers, and out of habit I have retained that critical ear and mindset which came with the talent. No one is sadder about having lost it than myself, believe me! But although I am no longer able to carry much of a tune, the asthma hasn't had the power to diminish my appreciation for great entertainment.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend Junichiro Taku's flute recital, by all means go, go, GO! You will not regret it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Menopause, midway

I am in the throes of menopause.

It isn't a simple case of one day realizing you haven't gotten a menstrual period in a few months, and lah-di-dah, I think I'll go out and take a new class at the neighborhood culture center! Although, in discussing menopause with my many friends and students, some women have a very lightweight experience and hardly noticed it was happening at the time. Unfortunately, I do not fall into that category!

Menopause is defined in the dictionary as: the permanent cessation of menstruation, normally between the ages of 40 and 50, or the period during which this occurs; female climacteric, or change of life.

Interestingly enough, the dictionary doesn't list all the symptoms of menopause, which are like a myriad of "side dishes" to the main event. Let's see...what all have I experienced to date?

There's the sleeplessness. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an insomniac; but I struggle with not being able to fall off to sleep for three or four hours at least twice a week. This creates a fatigue that makes me vulnerable to any contagious bug in the air. I've had pneumonia twice in a span of three months this year! It's a drag.

There are the hot flashes. (Or maybe they should be spelled hot flushes!) These are completely unrelated to the season, weather, temperature, and humidity. Suddenly you feel so hot you've just got to fan yourself. In my case, the sweat just pours off the top of my head and down my back. Women experiencing hot flashes turn pink and moist-skinned. These happened to me also in the winter. People were sitting with shawls thrown over their knees and heavy sweaters on, and I was sitting there madly fanning myself! I had these frequently during my forties, and they were one of the first symptoms of menopause I encountered.

There are the headaches. I have to take a bunch of asthma medication every day, so I don't take aspirin or pain relievers as a rule. Therefore, when the headaches come, they simply have to be endured. I also get these occasionally from high blood pressure or constipation, to be totally honest.

There is a sense of hopelessness that comes with the hormonal imbalance of menopause. I find myself trying to escape my life, because if feels intolerable, as is. Work is a saving grace through these shadowy periods. But I rarely feel I have any other value, as a mother, wife, neighbor, or friend, even. Only my relationship with my mom has helped me endure these periods. She has been showering love upon me and that's the only thing that makes me feel better. Gosh, I'm thankful for my mom!

There are irratic periods. All normalcy and predictability of the 28-day cycle goes out the window. Recently I go about two months without a period, and then get one for ten to 14 days! Last year, beginning in July, I had 90 days of menstrual bleeding over three and a half months! Not every day was ultra heavy, but many, many days were. Fortunately I did not get anemic through this patch, but I got mighty tired!! It was impossible to go and aquawalk in our local pool, which is my only source of exercise. So I gained weight during this period as an additional kick in the shins!

My friend (who takes medication for clinical depression) told me I sound clinically depressed, too. She said she had similar feelings of hopelessness and an intolerance for her life, as is, before she was diagnosed. For all I know, this could be true but I am hoping it is only menopause, and therefore a passing inconvenience, to be endured for a few more years, or months... God only knows.

Women have the great privilege and blessing of being able to give birth to children. But the other side to that coin is menopause, and I find I'm paying my dues for that privilege now!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Love the Mariners

One of my hobbies is watching MLB on TV. NHK broadcasts one or two games a day, but only those that have teams with Japanese players on them. Due to this trend, very naturally I have grown to love the Japanese players, and tend to root for them tirelessly. The most popular players' daily activity is covered on the sports coverage of the evening news , too.

Of course, my favorite is Ichiro. He grew up outside of Nagoya, and I live about 30-45 min. from that area. So over the years, I've begun to feel a personal pride in his accomplishments; he's one of our own, as it were. Why he chose to play with the Mariners, I've never heard an explanation of, but he's been with them for ten years now. The Mariners have one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game on their team, yet they are unable to make it to the playoffs, and instead come in last place in their division more often than not. This has given them a somewhat underdog status and image. I'm an old Cubs fan, so rooting for the underdogs comes natural to me! (LOL)

For the 2010 season, the Mariners' active roster has some great names on it. Long time Mariner fans were very happy when Ken Griffey Jr came back to the team a year or two ago, but we are all quite grateful he decided to put off his retirement till after this season. He and Ichiro have a great friendship and at the end of their daily batting practice, regularly slug a bunch of homers into the stands, I've heard. Ken loves to tickle Ichiro, who is constantly on his guard, but to no avail. Supposedly he came up with a new type of tickle for this year, which I have yet to see, but hope to catch a glimpse of eventually.

A great addition this season is Chone Figgins, who came from the LA Angels, I believe. He is a great base stealer, which will put him in good company with Ichiro. Already we have seen the fruit come from him joining the team, and I look forward to getting to know him better in the weeks ahead.

Last Saturday the Mariners were able to win four in a row, and put their average at .500. We'll see if they can change their image as the West Coast Underdogs this year, or not. Either way, I'll be rooting with great gusto. Go Mariners!!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Scratching the Surface

I mentioned how I have been having fun on Facebook...reconnecting with old classmates and people from my past. But there is also a downside I've discovered lately that's been disappointing.

Americans are friendly and act interested when they meet you (or meet you again after a long absence) but it's not really a genuine interest--it's superficial. And FB is really superficial...totally surface, without depth.

I can't tell you the number of people who've asked me to write and explain how and why I've ended up in Japan, and I laboriously write it all down and send it off but no one responds to the story. Or someone will insist they are interested to hear how I met my husband and decided to marry him, and I oblige and then no reply is forthcoming. Time and again I try to continue corresponding with someone and they put me off and then NEVER come back to me as they promise to. I wait, maybe send a little reminder a month later after their big event or school obligation (or whatever it is that got in the way before) has long passed. But they aren't interested in continuing. The initial spark is gone (except somehow, I have kept it alive in me) and all I can do is feel abandoned yet one more time, wishing someone would be willing to be a more active friend.

It's like email and cyber communication has corrupted the very basis of good manners and common sense in relationship maintenance. People are so busy keeping everything superficial and NOT face-to-face anymore, that they have no idea how to act politely or exert a little effort in honing their online friendships.

One example of this happened to me just this past week on Facebook. My association with one old high school friend was erased (by her, not me), when she decided she'd had enough of me. Had we lived near each other, or worked in the same office, she wouldn't have been able to just clean me off of her slate with one swipe (and no official goodbye or opportunity offered to work on or repair whatever mishap was the last straw as far as she was concerned), but the cyberworld allowed her to do so: "Slap, whack and don't come back!"

A younger version of myself would have been so upset by this I wouldn't have been able to sleep, and would have shed some tears. But the current me just feels sorry for this woman, who is done with a relationship that had provided both of us many happy conversations and relived memories in the past eight months or so. I would have introduced her to you as one of my dearest new FB friends made despite our being only sort of surface friends in the past.

But there's the rub. I was trying to scratch through the surface this time, while she wanted to keep it firmly in place and undisturbed.

I don't suppose we'll ever get a third chance to become real friends at last. Personally, I will continue to look for others who are willing to help scratch through the surface.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parental Pride

My son had a dream when he left home at the age of 21 and went to LA to live. He dreamed of breaking into the music industry and making his own record label. He is now 24 1/2 and the past three years or so have helped him grow up and change in countless ways. Every new step he has taken, and every new direction he has felt led to follow, have taught me to let go as a parent, and come to terms with the constantly changing dynamics of our relationship as parent/child.

I've thought over and over through the years, how ill-prepared we are as new parents, and I often feel that way looking at those younger than I, struggling with parenting issues even now. But I naively imagined all that awkward uncertainty would finally end with a child leaving the nest and flying off to live his own life apart from the Mama Bird. I thought I'd be able to let go and allow my fledgling the space to make his own mistakes and learn from them, without my needing to add my own two cents' worth. I imagined an easy transition from active and involved mom, to one who could step back and give her child the space and respect he deserved upon moving out and establishing his independence.

I think I've achieved this imagined end, ultimately. My son is sensible (most times) and dependable, hard-working like his folks and grandfolks on both sides of his family tree, and has earned my respect as an independent young person. But each step of his growth (and mine) has been painful for me, full of highs and lows, and each step has come as a big surprise. There hasn't been an easy transition EVER; it's all been difficult, full of confusion and shock, frequently leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Initially, having him leave and establish his own financial independence was an immense relief. I loved the silence in the house during the day; not having to listen to his latest favorite song played over and over (with his CD player set to "repeat") behind his closed door till I went crazy and yelled for him to change it. I admit I missed having someone appreciative to cook for, and I really missed our conversations, but I continued to worry about him and wonder about how things were going for him 24/7. He was so far away, and there was no easy way to check on him, to relieve my imagined 'worst case scenarios.'

I didn't have empty nest syndrome (which is where the mama can't function from the loneliness of having her precious child no longer at home), but I did have a big hole in the middle of my Life Purpose suddenly. I didn't know how to fill that hole with something else. It took a good year to allow the rest of my life to stretch and refit into normalcy again.

I have learned to let go of the ownership I felt for the choices he makes; it is his life, and a reflection of his choices. I'm finally comfortable with that. His choices continue to surprise me, perplex me, concern me and amaze me. But they are his, and he has every right to them, of course.

My most recent area of struggle has been with his making major level choices without consulting us at all. He talks things over with his good friends he's made, and we're not involved in the process one little bit. We get wind of the new direction he's headed after he's already packed his bag and left for the station! This is normal, and understandable...I'm just not used to it yet! So being the parent of an adult child is as much of a learning experience in my fifties as it was in my twenties through forties!

The latest new development in the unfolding drama of my son's life has pleased me to no end: he's taking classes at a nearby community college in LA!! He has a new dream and in order to pursue it, he is extending his education. Today I had the rare treat of hearing all about the registration, classes, teachers, classmates and homework. He's having a ball, and has discovered the joy of studying something he's actually interested in and eager to learn about. Today I'm bathed in Parental Pride, and thankful I had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to do this. It's all his, and all the sweeter because of it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Singing Sensation

On New Year's Eve, one of the most widely watched shows on Japanese television ("Koh Haku" literally Red, White), which is an annual competition between men and women singers divided into teams [women = red, men = white], hosted a special foreign guest, the new singing sensation, Scotland's Susan Boyle.

My husband was sitting on the sofa, using the TV remote liberally, per usual, and I was nearby playing games on the computer, not really listening with much concentration to the TV, when suddenly he says, "Susan Boyle! It's Susan Boyle!" and I said, "Who??" (not having read about her in the paper, as he had). He called me over to watch her sing on Koh Haku, so I did.

A simple woman, in a gorgeous designer gown, was standing in front of a mike, with simple make up, and not much expression on her face, singing the song "I Dreamed a Dream" (which I later learned had been the song she sang on the talent competition show in the UK, where she was first discovered). Frankly, she looked like she could be the neighbor grocer lady, or the school librarian, or an Aunt Trudy somewhere, good at baking gingersnaps. She was Anywhere Woman; she was Everyone Woman. I instantly liked her. Of course, her voice was very nice--not affected or enhanced with tricks or vocal manipulations--it was a pleasant voice, a voice you enjoyed listening to, and could listen to forever without complaint.

I used to be a singer myself, before asthma ravaged my pulmonary equipment and robbed me of the excellent breath control I used to possess. I have a sharp ear, the daughter of a woman with perfect pitch, so I tend to be critical of singers in general, and hold a rather high standard when it comes to judging the vocal talents of others. Although I do not have perfect pitch, I can tell when a voice is off, even a little fraction (sharp or flat), so I am not usually 100% satisfied with the vocal endeavors of the majority of recording artists out there. But Susan Boyle's performance that night, despite being live and in front of a foreign audience in a foreign land (for surely she was nervous!) , seemed flawless and blessed by heaven itself. I was impressed, not with "star quality" but with her excellence in simplicity.

Today the CD I ordered through my food co-op, SUSAN BOYLE I Dreamed A Dream, arrived and I'm sitting here listening to it as I type. Not every recording is perfect, but darn near close! And like a gentle hand soothing the brow of a troubled child, her voice caresses my heart and gives me peace. I feel sorry for the western world who can't hear the bonus track for Japan, "Wings to Fly," which is the best song (closely followed by "Silent Night") in my opinion.

Earlier today, during my co-op delivery, my friend told me she'd heard that Susan Boyle began shouting in a loud voice at the airport suddenly (supposedly from stress, I guess). It isn't an impossible thought, is it, for a quiet and gentle soul living with her elderly folks to suddenly have her world turn upside down by being discovered on that show, trussed up and stuck in the spotlight to sing on show after show, told where to go and when, ripped from her home and her quiet lifestyle, to reach a point where she just couldn't handle it anymore, and need to give a scream (of protest? of fatigue? from hormones, or what?). It's not an impossible thought to me, anyway, and I hope Susan Boyle is given a little more space, a little more control over what happens in her tomorrows, so that her precious drop of heaven (her voice) isn't squeezed right out of her by celebrity and all the false glitter that goes with it.

Go on and holler, Susan! Make them stop a minute and rethink what they're doing to you. Take good care of you, because you are Anywhere Woman, you are Everyone Woman. If you don't look out for yourself, no one else will do it for you, I'm afraid. Thank you for the wonderful songs on your album and this peaceful feeling in my soul which was born while listening to them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Relationship Maintenance

Along with the joys of reuniting with old friends on Facebook, I have been inspired to reach out to other friends (who aren't on Facebook) and try to rekindle our communication flow in an effort to maintain a present-tense relationship. This isn't an easy task, as people are busy with their lives and daily schedules, having left me long ago in their memories of high school.

One friend I have "recaptured" recently, and we are making an effort this week to see how much we can continue our ongoing conversation via email exchanges, now that the work week has begun. I have plenty of free time, so I must make the larger effort, and exert the most patience in waiting for replies. I'm not complaining; I have usually done this, even when we were active friends in school, so I'm accustomed to it. It is such a thrill for me to see my email inbox hold yet another entry...perhaps it is from her, and we can take our discussion on husbands, or health issues, or work, or movies, or whatever! one step further.

God made me a born communicator. I'm never happy unless I'm connecting with someone on a genuine, heartfelt level, pouring loving energy into relationship maintenance!!