Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Reasons to Bid 2008 a Joyful Farewell

I've been dreaming up ways to celebrate the passing of 2008. Ideally, I'd like to hold a huge bon fire and throw every single thing we no longer need, don't use or have broken and can't repair onto it. This would result in a mega bon fire, nearly bigger than but at least equal to the square footage of our house. I would like to then proceed to dance around that bon fire, ipod cranked up and a bottle of tequilla in hand. There would ideally be a pail of lime slices and sea salt nearby. My children would be in the hands of a responsible adult somewhere remote from me and my bon fire. In fact, me and my bon fire would be remote from everyone, thus enabling me to dance with abandon and scream and sing till my lungs burn as hot as the flames. I would swallow that tequilla and spit out all the bad karma that has descended on me this year. I would sing at the top of my lungs songs about betrayal and broken hearts and hatred. I would sing them into the fire and out of my mind. I would end by calmly sitting and sweeping the ashes of my spent fire into a pail to haul home. The next morning I would wake up and listen to Tub Thumping (I Get Knocked Down). I would drink a huge glass of water. I would hug my children, who would be back home after their evening with the responsible adult who was not me. I would carefully store my bucket of the ashes of 2008 in the shed out back. I'd probably forget, but if I didn't, in the spring I would take it with me to the ocean or up into the mountains where I would spread it in the wind, watch it float and settle and disappear while listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter's rendition of "Why Walk When You Can Fly?"

Top Ten Reasons to Bid 2008 a Joyful Farewell

1. I will never have to relive the past 12 months of my life.
2. I lost 30 kilos on the stress diet; thinner now and healthier. No, it wasn't cancer (thank you concerned doctor at the Red Cross hospital who ran me through every test possible--that one where you crammed a fiber optic camera down my throat while I earnestly tried to vomit it up for the duration of the test, in particular was fun.) it was stress. I tried to point out that possibility, "Couldn't stress, insomnia and no appetite cause a low grade fever and weight loss?" 2008 answered that one with a resounding, "Yes."
3. I discovered that inexplicably, it is true that apparently, no matter what happens to me, I won't shatter and cease to be. Which sucks a bit--am I the only one envious of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' lyrics, "I've had the chance to be insane, asylum from the falling rain, I've had a chance to break."? ? ? (from the song "Slow Cheetah")
4. Statistically, the terrible, unimaginable horrors that could happen to me that would be worse than what I endured in 2008, aren't very likely to happen.
5. I am no longer afraid of sudden death, which leaves me impervious to fear of earthquakes, plane crashes, car wrecks, home intrusions, in flight syndrome, etc.
6. I finally grew up.
7. My youngest will finish up pre school and start at elementary school this spring. (no more mother and me field trips, pre school sales, parades, or recitals to attend packed like a foreign over sized fish among hundreds of homogeneous sardines.)
8. I got back in the classroom after a five year break.
9. I learned that although I often feel isolated here, there are, across Japan and scattered throughout the world, friends who are there for me ready to talk, listen and support me. I also rediscovered the healing power of reaching out to help others who need a helping hand.
10. I discovered four new foreigners (women married to Japanese) living here in my little Northern Japanese city.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Couldn't Resist

I couldn't resist this. Saw it over at

(which is a fantastic blog by the way--her photos are AMAZING.) I love nature and I wish I had her talent at capturing it on film! Not to mention I think life in Hokkaido is fascinating and she does a great job of describing daily life there.

anyway. There are very few lists which I get interested in of this type as I invariably end up not being able to check off . . . anything and go away feeling very dowdy and unworldly. But I noticed immediately on this list--I could check off a few!

So, the things I have done are in bold. How about you? Obviously, from my answers I am one of those annoying Americans who has never been to Europe.

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii

5. Watched a meteor shower

6. Given more than you can afford to charity

7. Been to Disneyland (in Tokyo and LA)

8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped

12. Visited Paris

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (knitting, photography, many others)

15. Adopted a child

16. Had food poisoning

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty

18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb

26. Gone skinny dipping

27. Run a Marathon

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice

29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors

35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing

40. Seen Michelangelo’s David

41. Sung karaoke

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had your portrait painted

48. Gone deep sea fishing

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling

52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie

56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia

60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies

62. Gone whale watching

63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp

67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt

73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London

77. Broken a bone

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican

82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem

84. Had your picture in the newspaper

85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited the White House

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating

88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life

90. Sat on a jury (no, but I got called for jury duty many times, just never selected. If I remember correctly, I was always the person just after the last person selected.)

91. Met someone famous.

92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been involved in a law suit

98. Owned a cell phone

99. Been stung by a bee

and I'm adding one of my own for an even hundred

100. Taken the Japanese Shinkansen

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bears Begging in Paradise

I'm so tired right now I probably shouldn't be blogging. Today is my fourth day off in a row and I am exhausted. I can tell I am getting old because these days I think about the great relaxing holidays I'll be able to take in the future when my kids are older. . .

My kids get so excited about having a day off of school that they pop awake about 2 hours earlier than usual on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays. Sigh. Daddy is allowed to sleep in, because basically you could re-enact the American Civil War on top of him and it wouldn't wake him up.

The girls have long ago given up on 2 things: 1. trying to wake up Daddy, 2. any pretense of being quiet in order not to "disturb" Daddy. This means that I, the world's lightest sleeper (did a down feather in the comforter shift? the ear splitting clamour of it all!) get the joy of being awoken early most mornings. My one chance at sleeping in usually comes with flu season when they are so exhausted from vomiting all night long that they sleep past the dawn.

So this weekend saw me stubbornly trying to indulge my adult appetites every evening(watching non kid suitable T.V. shows, reading, drinking red wine, trying to stay up for some time alone with Masa) and then having my puffy, sleep deprived face rubbed in it the following morning when I was forcibly evicted from my futon by my robust, extremely vocal and energetic offspring.

Yesterday we took them on a road trip to view the fall foliage. Before setting off Masa had called the local tourist center there and inquired into "kid-friendly" activities in the area. They recommended a "Bear Park." Okay. So we drove up and took in the amazing scenery--glorious fall foliage--brilliant oranges, reds, golds, greens splashed across mountain valleys. We kept the kids under control by reminding them of the end destination (at the end of the afternoon): Bear Park.

Now, up in what can not be called anything other than "Nature", I expected this Bear Park to be a kind of reserve. I mean, look to the left--a cascading waterfall, look up to the right--snow pack just above a brilliant splash of crimson. Look down at your feet--a daddy long legs making a dash for it, over across the top of your Nike and off to the mushroom the size of your hand by the side of the path. Crystal clear blue rivers flowing down into an emerald green lake. How could anyone keep a bear up here and not put it in a "natural" environment?

We got to the Bear Park and saw a small concrete entrance gate/booth. Two old Japanese women were inside. They looked like they were fighting off frostbite, wrapped in several layers of different ponchos/blankets. (Up on the mountain it was about 10 degrees Celsius). Nothing looked. . . very. . . .good. The one window on their booth was cracked and broken. All the exposed metal was rusted. Uh oh. I instantly pictured forking over our money only to pass by the concrete box and find one poor bear locked up on one small cage.

That would have been a good thing it turns out.

What we found on the other side of their cement outpost still disturbs me. It will always disturb me.

In three small outdoor concrete pits were bears. Maybe 60? 70? There was also another small series of cages in which were crowded more bears. In these concrete enclosures the bears had: each other, concrete and some pools of water that looked like they were filled at the mercy of the skies overhead rather than any hose or pump. No trees or logs to climb/play with. NOTHING green anywhere. Basically: nothing. No feeding troughs, no toys, nothing to climb. . .

As soon as the bears saw us they started to stand up on their rear legs and clap or pray. They had obviously learned what humans think is "cute" in order to get food. The two elderly ladies at the entrance had sold us two bags of apples just for this purpose and my family began to desperately huck apple after apple into the bears enclosures. I think even the girls felt a bit like they were in the middle of a starving crowd dispensing Red Cross supplies.

My usually stoic husband looked panic stricken. He hurried back up the hill to buy more apples. In fact, during our short time at the Bear Park, he went back up the hill about 4 times to buy more apples. In fact, we bought ALL the bags of apples.

When we left the bears were still clapping, praying and holding onto their toes (another cute pose that they had learned).

On our way out Masa asked the ladies at the gate a few questions. They seemed very, very defensive. He wanted to know where the bears slept? What did they eat? (other than the over priced apples tourists bought to throw to them) What happened to them when the winter snows came? Where were they from originally? What kind of bears were they?

Their caregivers didn't give many answers: they are bears. We got the first two from Hokkaido. They sleep in their cages. Rain? Snow? They are bears.

When we left Masa noted that the two elderly ladies were locking the gate and leaving with us. "I guess no one stays with the bears." he said. Then, "I guess no one is going to take care of them tonight, you know feed them, check their water. . . "

I reckon not.

Maybe their caregivers were thrilled when we bought the last bags of apples to disperse among the bears--their feeding duties for the day were over.

Just outside the Bear Park there was a beautiful outdoor vista area. In the middle of it was a natural hot springs foot bath. Before going into the park we had made plans to stop and take in the sun setting on all the foliage with our feet in the hot steaming mineral water. . . but after saying goodbye to all those bears, all those bears packed together, begging together from their concrete cages. . . we decided we didn't need a foot bath.

With the Bear Park about two kilometers behind us, I reached for a package of crackers and started to unenthusiastically (my mind was still trapped on hard concrete back with the bears) offer them to the girls. Reno looked at it and then looked carefully at my face, "Mommy. After seeing the bears, it makes you kinda not hungry, huh?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

blogging just to blat.

blat is a form of "blog and chat" combined.

Friday---now that I am working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Friday has redeemed itself in my eyes as the most glorious wonderful day of the week. I celebrated today by buying 2 new drinks on the way home. The first was a Tomato/vodka drink in a can. It was a disappointment. I added it to my all veggie lunch (you know, as my liquid veggie) but it barely tasted like a tomato at all. In the future, I will just buy myself an extraordinarily big juicy tomato (no matter what the cost, even out of season) slice it up and pour vodka on top. Then I will throw on a splash of Tabasco. It would be a HUGE improvement on the icky, too sweet, weird cocktail in a can I experienced this afternoon. Next I moved on to drink number two--well, I am on drink number two right now with the plan of completely sobering up prior to Saki's arrival home on the youchien bus. It is a winner. Kuro Cocktail, grapefruit tonic. Veeeryyy smooooooth and bitter. Love it.

I also celebrated today because my husband is back on the island! He has been abroad on business for the past 11 days. (that is 10 nights, 11 days). I don't know why, but just knowing that we are in the same country again seems to have freed up my breathing and made me want to. . . sing? (I never sing. Must be this incredibly delish cocktail in a can) Although even when Masa is here I pretty much single parent--it still feels fantastic to know that there is a "second string" back in town. Great. I can now get run over by a truck and no longer worry over who would look after the kids while I was being scraped off the pavement!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blogging without a Purpose

I am blogging without a purpose here at the moment. Just because I started to feel like the blog was, well, suffering. Like the fish do when the kids loose all interest in them and start forgetting to fed them and don't even contemplate cleaning their tank.

Maybe a comparison to a virtual pet would be better: My Blog--the Adult Tamagochi.

My kids had those tamagochi things for a while and guess who became obsessed with making sure that the tamagochi went to school, ate regularly, went to the toilet, etc.? ? ? ? Good lord, I even discovered "Tamagochi Town" on line and started taking them on virtual vacations!

Standing next to another mum at Saki's preschool my daughter's tamagochi and her daughter's tamagochi's alarm went off at the same time. So we confided our addiction to each other and laughing about becoming a slave to a virtual pet helped liberate me.

Standing there and commiserating about how embarrassing it was to be constantly chained to an electronic toy and swapping stories about the trials and tribulations of tamagochi transformations--how you have to try so hard in order to get them to transform into the tamagochi you want them to be (example: send it to charm school a zillion times a day and it'll turn into a cute little strawberry looking creature. Forget to send it to school, or send it too infrequently and it'll turn out looking like a little nasty onion creature.) I realized: Oh my God, I have turned into an idiot.

So after that, I let them die off, one by one.

It's a sad ordeal too--those people who design those things know how to pull emotional strings--but die they did and then I refused to get replacement batteries when MONTHS later the girls noticed that their virtual pets had gone feet up in the air.

Any way. . . back to blogging with out a purpose. I have been READING blogs with a purpose. A lot going on out there--people making significant life choices (marriage, moves, job changes) and people celebrating important events (arrival of baby, announcement of pregnancy, the divorce finally came through. . . etc.) and I have been sitting here feeling a bit like a cicada must feel during those years in the dirt. I am going through a lot but no one around me can see it. I am working hard on transformation but it is still all in the dark.

However, I am feeling very. . . content sitting here in the dark focusing on all these inward changes. And honestly, when I poke my head out (to go to work, to go to school events, to go buy milk at the grocery store) I come back rather fatigued and ready to refocus again, on me: in the dark.

Dark does not equal (=) depression. Dark equals me tuning out everything that I feel I can safely tune out for the moment--chatter, bustle, much ado about nothing. If it is not going to do grievous damage to a friendship of great importance, if it is not going to affect my professional career, if it is not going to end up fodder for the psychologist's couch in my children's' futures. . . then I probably am not all that caught up in it at the moment. I am very focused inward and then in graduating degrees on that around me--starting with the closest moving slowly and deliberately to the outer areas of life.

Spontaneous is obviously an adjective that I have rarely met with. If I did it most likely shocked me and sent me scurrying back home.

So the seasonal change suits me quite well this year. Summer is on its way out. Our evenings are finally cool and even chilly towards the early morning hours. The leaves on the trees haven't started to turn yet, but the rice fields are now swollen ponds of gold. This morning, standing on campus looking out at the trees and lawns surrounding the building I teach in, I was delighted to find dragon flies (both blue and red) hovering above the chestnut trees. Fall is coming.

I can't wait until the trees explode in yellow, brown, red and orange and I wake up realizing that I need mittens and a scarf.

And then there will be the snow, the ice, the chill northern winds of Japan. Snow festivals. Hot nabe. Waking up at 5 a.m. to turn on the furnace.

And eventually spring will come, when cicadas dig their way out of the dirt, new creatures, transformed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

August 7th, 2008

7:00 a.m.

I wake up because Reno has set an alarm clock--on a summer break morning! The real offense is that it is going off NOW. I had intended to sleep until 8:00 a.m. when I need to wake up Masa. Damn. I get up off of Saki's futon and gingerly step over Reno who is sleeping blissfully through the assortment of wild bird songs (alarm clock). I look over at Saki who is sleeping on my futon. I got shoved off of it at about 5 a.m. when she decided (as is her habit these days) that she wanted to use me as a human pillow.

I don't enjoy being used as a human pillow, especially when it involves being rhythmically kicked and kneaded.

I decide to give up on sleep and head downstairs to brew some coffee to make iced coffee. It is already quite hot inside the house and the Japanese summer sun is shinning down in samurai ferocity. Today the predicted high is 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees F). Which shouldn't be such a hardship for a girl raised in California but it's the 66% humidity index that does me in.

Today is trash collection day so I need to wake up and get the trash to the trash collection point by 8 a.m. anyway.

We are by the way, completely thumbing our nose at the traditional natsu yasumi taiso regime. We have not even "thought" about getting up at 6 a.m. and down to the local neighborhood park to line up and perform early morning stretches and exercises to the nation wide broadcast summer taiso program.

Saki comes down the stairs about 5 minutes after me and sidles up to the computer where I am checking my e-mail and reading the U.S. news. She doesn't say anything but looks meaningfully at me.

"Good morning! What would you like for breakfast?"

Saki nods her head.

"Banana with sprinkles?"

"Yes. And milk. In a baby cup."

I go chop up a banana, sprinkle it liberally with the trans fat free cake decoration sprinkles that my sister-in-law sent from the States and fill a Playtex toddler cup with milk.

Saki will be 6 this October but still insists on the "baby cup." Mostly so that she can break the eating/drinking rule of "stay at the table" and wander the house drinking milk/apple juice/water/tea to her heart's content and my consternation.

When Reno awakes and descends the stairs I take her breakfast order. While I am frying up her bacon and scrambled eggs I help myself to a bowl of kabochya, tofu miso shiru. I offer her some and she predictably refuses it--she hates Japanese pumpkin (kabochya). She also hates Japanese style breakfast which has always puzzled me as I love it. Grilled fish, Japanese pickles, natto, rice and miso shiru is my favorite breakfast. But since I am the only one in the family who will eat it I usually only get it on vacations when we stay at Japanese style inns (ryokan).

Masa simply doesn't eat breakfast, unless it is served at 11:30 a.m.

While I am standing in the kitchen doing the dishes (which involves, emptying the drying rack of last night's dishes, washing up the morning's dishes and then setting them in the drying rack--like most Japanese households, we have no dish washer) I mentally flip through today's dinner options.

Shyogayaki pork with a nice chilled shredded cabbage, cucumber and tomato salad and some fresh shishito. Wiping a bead of sweat from my nose, before it drops on its own onto the dishes I'm cleaning, I decide to add chilled tofu to the menu. Today is going to be just too damn hot. Rice of course, for the girls and Masa. . . and miso shiru with. . . daikon and wakame in it.

I look at the time on the gas heater on the wall (gas stove, gas heated hot water) and realize that it is nearly 9:00 a.m. If I want to beat the trash collection guys (who actually hop off the truck and manually dump garbage bags into the back of a truck that to my eyes doesn't appear to have any trash compacting abilities) I had better get the trash taken out.

Outside it is HOT. Not as hot as inside though. And although we do have two air conditioning units, they are Japanese wall mounted ones, that work just fine as long as you stand directly underneath them and don't move a muscle, they will keep you rather refreshed. The furnace effect inside is more because of our cats. We live in a rented house and the screens aren't normal. They pull down out of the window frames. . . hence, if our cats tear the window screen I can't fix it. I have searched all over and I can't find out how or where to fix screens like ours that have been damaged. The first summer here the cats damaged all but four of the screens (out of 10 or so). So now, unless I bother to drag out the cat cage and stuff the felines in, we stay indoors with the windows closed all year long.

Every morning I vow to set up the cat cage and stuff them in. Then the heat sets in and I lose all desire to drag out and assemble anything. Plus they just look at me accusingly when they are in the cage.

I have to walk about four blocks hauling the trash. Today I see a tear in one bag and do my best to hold it far away from me. We have a steel bowl like thing in our sink that is for "nama gomi" which roughly translates as "raw garbage." Into which goes fish bones, left over eggs, fish heads, tofu, vegetable peelings, fish guts, chicken skin and fat, etc. Living in Northern Japan it isn't so disgusting most of the time--but in the months of July and August here, in the summer heat of our area it is DISGUSTING. I empty it frequently and double bag the contents that I empty out of it before I put them in the trash but MY GOD DO THEY REEK.

I even bought some handy "orange oil" spray to hose them down with but it just smells like oranges in a rotting heap of food.

I manage to get to the trash collection point without any disgusting-gomi-juices getting on me and I unlatch the metal cage door (we have 2 threats to the trash: crows (the biggest threat) and bears, who I have never seen and hopefully never will see in our neighborhood.) and deposit my family's garbage among the garbage of our neighbor's. I carefully shove the metal door up as I slide the bolt across it to close it. The first year here I didn't know that trick and I scrapped about two inches of flesh off of a finger one morning. "Gaijin certainly do have blood curdling beast like yells don't they?" was probably said casually over many a breakfast table in the neighborhood that morning.

Heading home I hope that my torn garbage bag doesn't rip further and spill. I was on garbage duty the past two weeks and luckily nothing like that ever happened on my watch. I just passed off the tongs, the dust pan, the broom and other "minder of the trash" things to my neighbor last night. If my bag rips open she's the one who will have to clean it up. I like her so I hope it doesn't rip. Plus, there are nearly always tell tale signs of whose garbage is whose and I'd hate to have her start looking at me with ". . .and I suppose you honestly couldn't spare the extra 200 yen to buy the heavy duty garbage bags? The one's that don't rip like wet tissue?"eyes of accusation. . .

I open the door intending to wake up Masa straight off, it's 9 a.m. so he's overslept already by about an hour, but I find him downstairs mumbling good morning to the girls, who are fighting with each other over something significant like space on the sofa. I suggest to my bickering brood that perhaps they should get outside and start filling the pool.

Masa is out the door and off to work long before the bickering brood has settled the sofa dispute much less begun to take any action towards filling their pool. I finish up the breakfast dishes and start on the laundry. First I have to bring in all the laundry off the line from yesterday and fold it and put it away. Then I have to start hanging up the load of wet clothing and towels that I did this morning. Half way through taking in the first load of clothing to fold and put away I realize that I am dripping with sweat. No, not figuratively, literally. I swipe a hand towel out of the fresh laundry and drape it around my neck and swab my face off with it. It's 10 a.m.

I finish off the pot of iced coffee that I made earlier. I was up until about 2 a.m. as Reno has dedicated every bone in her body to staying up as late as possible during summer vacation and last night Masa came home about 10:00 p.m. He usually gets in later, anywhere between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., but after seeing the results of Reno's 5th grade kanji test on Monday evening he has been trying to get home earlier in order to help her with homework.

Just after he came through the door I put his dinner on the table. His last blood test showed that he is dangerously close to becoming officially diabetic so he is being force fed healthy fare. Last night was grilled fish, a side dish of long onions with fish flakes, soy sauce and sesame oil dressing, grated daikon, the kabochya and tofu miso that Reno spurned this a.m. and rice. I keep intending to switch him over to brown rice but the girls protest it so vigorously that I'm beginning to think I'll have to buy a second rice cooker--one for the simple carb crowd and one for the health conscious procreaters of the simple carb addicts.

Although Masa kept begging me to go on up and sleep with Saki (who BLESS her little soul collapsed and passed out at about 10:45) the American in me wouldn't succumb. I was going to stay up later than my 10-year-old even if it killed me. Masa and Reno worked on math and kanji at the kitchen table till about midnight when I did finally fall asleep on the floor downstairs. I woke up at 1:00 a.m. and enjoyed some adult only time with my husband before going up to bed at about 1:40 a.m.

Japan's work practices seem diametrically opposed to family life and specifically, they seem designed to extinguish any "adult time" that couples might have after having children. Take my two chores this a.m.: the laundry and the trash. The trash is supposed to officially be out by 8 a.m. Without clothing driers (most Japanese household still don't have a clothes dryer) the Japanese housewife needs to get up early and get her washing done in order to get the clothes out on the line to dry before the MIND MELTING heat of the day sets in.

I, by the way, am about 2-3 hours behind all good housewives. A good housewife has the laundry done and out by say 6:30 a.m. so that she can focus on making her husband a bento and creating a six dish breakfast for her children. I cheerfully offer my kids toast and hard boiled eggs and bananas and Masa doesn't take a bento to work with him. I always feel victorious when I succeed in hanging out the laundry without fainting from sun stroke.

But you can see that basically a Japanese housewife's daily chores demand that she be an early riser. Work practices demand that husbands work late or if not working in the office that they go out drinking (the social/business drinking that is part and parcel of the Japanese workplace/way of doing business). Either way they come home far later than their European or American counterparts.

I used to not wait up for Masa and it meant that we had nearly no time together, alone, as adults. When we were both awake and together it was always in the role of mother and father. Rediscovering time with my husband as just him and me has been so rewarding that I am sporting a permanent living dead sort of appearance.

Besides, if I didn't stay up to see him in the evenings two things would happen. A) he'd revert to an all ramen diet thus hastening the onset of diabetes. B) I'd end up living in a world where my conversations would be dominated by themes appealing to only 10 and 5 year-olds.

I have a few local friends but no one that can pop in for a visit on the spur of the moment and no one that I can just call up to chat. The local friends I do have are like me, juggling a career and child care and that basically makes owning a phone nearly purposeless. Unless you find a friend who stays up past 10 p.m. and wants to talk late at night when the kids are asleep.

Part of the reason I can't really have decent phone conversations is that even if I get the kids out the room, that doesn't mean that they can't hear what I am saying. So there again, all the conversations I can have while they are awake are child censored ones. Our house has four bedrooms and pick one, any one, and you can hear whatever is going on anywhere else in the house. When I escape with the cordless out the front door it invariably ends with two children frantically calling out "Mommy! Okaasan! LAURA!" until I am found.

At noon I make tuna fish sandwiches for the girls. Reno's has cucumber mixed in: Saki's only has tuna and mayonnaise. I hope she thanks me when she accepts her Oscar. The child can look ill, peeked, swoon and if need be, vomit on command. She can also detect even the most finely diced and concealed piece of vegetable--any vegetable--in her food. If it wasn't for vegetable fruit juice mixes she would be a complete anti-vegetarian.

I have to skip any lunch today as I am off for a CT scan at the local Red Cross hospital (my mother naively asked, "Are all the doctor's American? Do they all speak English?" isn't that cute?). My doctor is trying to discover why I have been running a low grade fever since February. I keep looking at her and cheerfully suggesting, "Stress?" But so far she isn't buying it. She's shoved a camera down my throat (I tried violently to vomit it up for the duration of the procedure but failed) to check out my stomach, ordered lung x-rays and a multitude of blood tests. All the tests have come back negative so far--I am one healthy, low grade fever sporting poser. At least that is how all these tests make me feel--no answers except, "you're a poser."

After today's CT scan maybe I should fess up to my chronic sleep deprivation. Actually, the real reason she is so test happy is my recent weight loss. I have lost 24 kilos in less than 5 months. But, honestly, the reason, as I told her, is STRESS. I stopped eating, because I had no appetite due to STRESS.

Anyway. I haven't lost anymore weight since I saw her a month ago. Maybe that will settle her down some. She's threatening me with a camera up the bum next. I am so excited to be 24 kilos lighter than I was in February/March but to escape the camera up the bum test I have even consumed several Snickers this week.

And so, at 1:35 I cheerful wrap up my blog post and head off to the hospital. I already pity all the other patients as I have to take my incredibly LOUD and ACTIVE offspring with me. I pray to God that while I am in the CT scan machine they don't burst into surgery in process, knock any frail elderly people down or drive patients waiting in the cardiology department to have, well, a heart attack.

Speaking of which, I better go hunt down their DS games and soft ware. The irritating noises and tunes of the software will drive people near them batty, but the games themselves will keep my two stationary at least.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's Tough to be a tadpole: or The Circle of Life our Family's Style

It's really tough to be a tad pole at our house. Reno and Saki have been marauding through the local rice fields and have taken captive a dozen or so poor little wanna be amphibians. Those that have now succeeded in sprouting legs are currently being rounding up in a Barbie house in the drive way. I just gracefully exited the scene saying, "When they stop moving, they're dead."

Not that I am a callous cold woman--I was trying to shock Saki and her friend into listening to me. I had just spent a good three minutes trying to explain that today is very hot and sunny and that these are just little bitty baby frogs with soft wet skin. I was cautioning that they really shouldn't be handled too much or forced to jump for say over a minute or so. But Saki and her little friend Yuki went right on screaming at the little green blobs that were desperately trying to escape Barbie's dream house.

So, my youngest, who is currently torturing frogs in the drive way, surprised me last week by locking herself in the bathroom to weep over the death of one of our goldfish. (All the gold fish have by now departed this planet--some kind of deadly fish fungus.) What surprised me was her completely sincere solemness about it. She cradled the dead fish in a piece of tissue, holding it gingerly to her chest. She moved in a slow stately march to the bathroom. She took a deep breath. "I am going to close the door now and I want to be alone."

Hmmmm. I stood outside wondering what exactly she was up to. When the door opened a good five minutes later I asked, "What were you doing? Did you flush the fish?" She nodded quickly and left to go play at a friend's house.

When she came home I found her standing in the genkan staring at the empty fish tank. She looked up at me. "I was crying in the toilet. For the fish. For the poor fish." And I could see her eyes glistening and threatening to fill with tears again.

Now, why was I surprised? Because I have gotten used to pets being unceremoniously chucked once they have given up the ghost. I remember gearing up and readying myself to break the news of the death of Reno's first pet to her. I was so worried and tense. It's such a blow to lose a beloved pet--so senseless, so raw so, well, emotional.

But Reno at the age of three, when told that her hamster Hannah chyan had died, blinked at me intently and responded with, "so can we get 'nother one?" No tears. No remorse. No singing songs in honor of the dear departed little fuzzy companion.

Me? I would have been gathering flowers and elaborating laying them on my pet's grave for MONTHS. In fact, that is what I did when I was three. I was in the fourth grade when I started bringing flattened snakes (road kill) home to bury in our backyard. I had a plot for all the poor departed creatures that I happened across. I wept for them. I prayed for them. I loved them beyond their life spans.

Now, when an actual REAL family pet died--I was inconsolable for LOOOOONG periods.

So when Reno greeted the demise of her first pet with a quick, "can we get 'nother one?" I was flabbergasted. Then I got disturbed.

Fish came and went and no matter how pleased she seemed with them at the time, still, death raised only one question in her mind, "Can we get another one?"

Her ojiichyan (Japanese grandfather) died and thankfully, she was content to just sit quietly through the funeral without posing the dreaded question. I expected her to be upset about losing a grandfather but she seemed a little more intrigued with gaining a portrait at the butsudan to light incense for, to put out little ceremonial cups of sake and leave tiny bowls of rice for. She was only five-year-old at the time, so perhaps I just expected too much. She was just still too young to wail and beat her chest yet like her dramatic mother.

Reassurance came on an attempted flight back home from the States later that same year. We had to de-board the flight home due to Saki suddenly spiking a fever just before take off. In the airport, clutching a screaming and feverish Saki to my chest I looked down to see Reno sobbing uncontrollably. "Oh honey, what's the matter?"

"Melon. Melon is waiting for us, but we aren't going to be coming home to her!"

Melon was a one-year-old American short hair cat, our current (and happy to say still currently alive and well) family pet.

Reno continued to sob--tears welling up in her eyes and pouring down her cheeks while her chest heaved. Saki wailed, although for a completely different reason--Otis media in both ears.

All the way to the local ER Reno continued her mournful monologue about Melon the abandoned cat. She had been missing her the whole three months in America but had always told herself to be strong, she would see Melon soon. She missed petting her; she missed watching her eat. Now she wasn't going to get to see Melon soon.

Normally a crying five-year-old and a shrieking one-year-old in the back of a taxi that was taking a good 45 minutes to get us to the ER that was supposed to be just 15 minutes from the airport would have pushed me over the edge. However, this time I was happy. My eldest daughter had a soft spot for her pet cat. The universe was back in alignment.

If there is one thing I want my daughters to learn from me it is a respect for life--for all life. I get upset when I see little boys pulling the leaves off of trees-stripping branch after branch nude. I want to take in each and every stray cat and kitten that I see, I want to save the whales, the harbor seals and rain forests and everything in them. I'm a bit of a bleeding heart really. But it is one weakness that I am not ashamed of. Seeing connections between all the living organisms in my life--from the towering dandelion weed in the front yard to the soft grey cat curled up at the foot of my futon, to my daughters, our neighbors, the world--makes me feel safe and whole. We are all in this together. Albeit my beloved daughters may spend half their time together locked in near mortal combat, and that weed at the front of the house really needs to be whacked down and ripped out by the roots--still, we are all on the same ride.

So I want my kids to learn to respect that and to learn that when someone gets off this ride it doesn't take anything away from you to pause and recognize and mark the loss. In fact, learning to mark the connections between the universal "you" in all it's varied forms strengths the individual you. You are part of something bigger than yourself.

Of course, those poor little tadpoles stewing in their portable interrogation box, I mean bug catching cage, are probably wishing that they could be disconnected from my family. But last year, I remember taking the fully developed frogs back to the rice fields with the girls and watching my girls' faces as they let each bright green frog hop off a finger tip into the tall rice--I celebrated that connection present on their faces. And don't worry, the seige on Barbie's Dream house ended before the little guys "stopped moving."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I Wish I Were a Fiction Writer

I have never been very talented at writing fiction. I took a seminar in it once at university and while I passed the class, I found it to be exceedingly difficult to weed out my life and my experiences and perceptions and use them to infuse a sense of reality into my fictional stories and still keep the stories fictional. I tried my hand at writing fiction again in graduate school and encountered the same problem. My stories that were best received by the professor and my peers were inevitably those in which my name and the name of others had been changed, the location modified and events fiddled with.

But now I find myself in a weird ethical bind. I want to continue writing creative non-fiction prose. And I know that creative non-fiction prose isn't necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth but . . . Why do I feel this insane urge to go public with all my deepest innermost thoughts and turmoils? Why do I feel like to write from any position but the one in which I find myself mired in is a lie?

Obviously when I write, now and in the past, I choose what to omit and what to include. Omission isn't lying, at least not outright lying and many times you have to decide what to omit to help strengthen the emotional or artistic impact of a piece of writing. Just as what you decide to include is important, to me what you leave out is of nearly equal importance.

I always think of Virginia Woolf and her struggle in her quest to write a true stream of consciousness. Trying to represent reality in all its complexity is beyond our reach. Even now, sitting here at the computer typing I am not aware of everything going on at this exact moment. Yes, I am listening to my ipod (to Gwen Stefani). Yes, I am drinking a Starbucks Ice Latte (venti size--I have young children so I need the caffeine). Yes, I am trying to decide what word to write next and what word should come after that word and mostly I am struggling to repress the urge to just delete it all. And I just left out at least 20 other things going on in my mind and in my environment and they have all changed or been modified in some way in a 100 different ways already so I have already lost the ability to transmit them exactly as they occurred to me.

I guess the gist of it is that not only did a profound life changing event happen to me but it has changed the ground from which I experience my life. When I walk down the street now, I have different impressions of people, different thoughts flit through my mind than previously. If I were a telescope either someone has swung me round and pointed me at a new star field or they have tampered with my lens and my whole outlook has changed.

And that leaves me puzzled about how to write. I always just wrote from here, from me. While I always had to consider what to omit, what to reveal, what to elaborate on, what to hint at. . . I never had to consider where to write from. I knew the center of myself and I knew which perspective I was writing from. My filters were established and fixed.

It's silly really. If I write, "I took off my youngest daughter's training wheels yesterday. It felt like releasing a hawk--off she sped down the street, pedalling frantically and triumphantly away from me, her mother." You still read it the same, don't you? But the person saying it has changed dramatically. The insecurities that watching my five-year-old speeding away from me stirred up in my maternal chest were augmented by the other insecurities incubating there.

I define myself as a mother. I define myself as a wife. I define myself as a foreigner. I define myself as a woman. I define myself as a teacher. I define myself through my experiences. I'm a big believer in life shaping and molding us. If we choose to react to an event or if we choose not to react to an event we have been changed by that event. It forced us to make a decision and that decision leads us along our individual path of life to the next event awaiting us.

So I used to be strolling along, narrating bits of my experiences and observations about what I saw along the way, when suddenly my path disappeared. I'm still finding my way, testing the ground at it were, looking for my footing, watching each step. And writing on this hill side of broken rock just seems foolish. I miss the solid ground. I miss the safety of knowing where I stood, knowing exactly where I was positioned in life.

Of course that was probably just an illusion. But like a night light left on in a child's bedroom it gave me the peace and the illusion of security. No monster dares enter a room where a night light is on.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just can't blog/write

Well, I constantly think that the ability to write will return to me so I put off admitting that it has left. However, I feel guilty when I get those reports from the site meter telling me that people are still dropping by--probably expecting to find something to read.

What can I say? Write? Obviously nothing.

I basically have gone through a life changing event and it has left me changed. Unfortunately, it has left me wordless, unable to put any of myself on paper.

However, it hasn't left me hopeless. So I'm keepin the blog for a bit longer. Hoping that maybe, just maybe, a new writer will emerge from the mess that is me.


Monday, April 7, 2008


I'm sorry, but WTF is up with the Japanese criminal courts? After reading this I'm still sitting here. . . wondering. . . WHY? They got him in 2000 for killing and "mutilating the corpse" of one Filipina and now he's gone and done it again? WHY was this guy let out in the first place? How long was his previous jail term and since when did murder and twisted, warped, seriously sick behavior(corpse mutilation/body dismemberment) merit just a turn in the slammer?

Okay, someone out there more up to date with the criminal system in Japan please answer the following question: If he had killed and dismembered a young Japanese bar hostess the first time around, would he have been let out to do it again?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Of Doctor Fish and Ika

Our family seems to have a personal goal of visiting as many aquariums as possible through out the world. We've been to aquariums in America. We went to aquariums in Australia. We went to the aquarium in Singapore. We went to the aquarium in Osaka. Several times. We have been to the aquarium in Masa's home town now several times too. In February we went again.

I am really sick and tired of looking at fish, sharks, octopus, sea anemones, brine shrimp, sea stars, anything with gills that lives in the water. Otters I still like. They are like the ocean's cats: frisky, cute, playful. Seals stink and penguins are overrated. Dolphins are cool but I am bored watching the dolphin shows--you'll have to slap me in a wet suit and dump me in the actual tank with them before they regain my interest.

My youngest daughter, Saki however is fascinated and thrilled by the sight of a dolphin. Which is why on our recent visit to the Kagoshima City Aquarium she kept rushing into the otter viewing room and tugging at her older sister's, Reno's sleeve and shrieking in her extremely I'm-so-excited voice, "IKA! IKA! IKA show! COME ON!"

Now "ika" in Japanese means "squid." While I find them tasty, I don't particularly fancy looking at them alive and swimming around with their large eyes perched next to their tentacles. . . Disney knew what it was doing when it made that bad guy in Pirates of the Caribbean II look like a squid face. I prefer otters to palatable monsters of the deep.

Saki however would not give up. She continued to race back and forth between the "IKA SHOW" and the otter viewing room until suddenly it dawned on me what she was saying. Ika SHOW? What the hell kind of SHOW can ika put on? My interest aroused I directed Reno to follow her agitated sister to the show pool of the aquarium. As soon as we entered it I realized what was going on. There were no trainers holding up hoops with squid jumping through them. No one was standing next to the pool blowing a whistle and directing two lines of squid to dance on the surface of the water with their tentacles.

It was a dolphin show. In Japanese, dolphin is "iruka". Saka had mixed up squid for dolphin. We stayed and the kids were overjoyed to leave dripping wet from the fabulous full belly flops that the dolphins performed with the express purpose of dousing the crowd--or at least those silly enough to sit in the front rows.

We then proceeded to look and gawk at every other sea creature that the aquarium had to offer. None of them particularly interested me and I was letting my thoughts wander to how much more interesting the afternoon would have been if we had just wandered around the downtown streets of Kagoshima when something in the lobby on our way out snapped me out of it.

First it was a display that you can touch. I may be 41 years old, but things that you can touch rather than just look at still get me kind of shrieky excited. I rushed over. It was a tank of tiny little fish, they looked like minnows, with holes in the lid so that you could stick your finger in. I stuck my finger in. Suddenly, at least 40 of the fish swam eagerly over to my finger and started, well, sucking on it. It tickled. The girls shrieked with joy. Reno stuck her finger in another hole. Saki wailed in distress until I picked her up so she could stick her finger in and have the fish suck on it too.

We stood there and stuck our digits in the tank for about 20 minutes at which point Masa approached us to say in a quiet disgruntled voice, "What are you doing? You're embarrassing me." Startled, I thought he meant that we were hogging the sucking fish and should give other people a chance at them so I corralled the girls over to a rest bench across from their tank. While we sat there Masa pointed to the tank of sucking fish and said, "Watch what normal people do."

I watched for about 15 minutes and it appeared that normal people approached the tank, apprehensively stuck in a finger, squealed in fright when the 40 or so fish began to eagerly suck on their digits and then quickly withdrew their fingers and proceeded to a sink to wash their hands with soap and water. It didn't mater what age they were, young couples, grandparents, mothers and fathers, high school children, grade school children, they all pretty much proceeded in the same way. Babies cried.

There was a lull in traffic past the sucking fish tank and Reno and Saki immediately raced over to thrust their fingers back in. Masa sighed. "You guys haven't even thought to wash your hands, have you?"

I left Masa to his canned coffee and cigarette and went back over to the tank of sucking fish. This time I paused and tried to read the sign above it. Apparently these minnows were called "Doctor fish " and they are actually used to treat people with skin problems and diseases. The "sucking" sensation" is actually their little teeny mouths feeding off of old skin. There are onsens (hot springs) in Japan that have imported them and cater especially to eczema suffers. I immediately wanted to whip off my shoes and socks and stick my feet in the tank. The tank was about three feet off the ground though so I had to admit defeat. It was impossible not to mention against all propriety to stick my winter calloused feet into that tank.

On the drive home the kids and I touched each other's fingers and marveled at how smooth and soft they were.

Next vacation I want to hunt up one of the onsens in Japan that boasts of having "Dr. Fish" in their hot springs.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This is not a post

This is not a post. It is a note about why I am not posting. I am not posting because life is very difficult at the moment and my mind is consumed in a fire of thoughts that have to do with things "not of the blogging world". The good news is that my family and I are all okay. So, it is not a death or serious injury or anything. No one got fired. No one got hit by a freak meteorite. No strange and poisonous snake made it through the toilet pipes to bite any one's ass. I'm just preoccupied with a personal matter.

And I am reading everyone else's blogs. . . but can't find the stamina to read and actually comment. Forgive my silence here and there!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

S is for "Sucks"

Well this totally sucks. I was going to use my "s" post to talk about sex. . . and then our home computer goes and DIES on me. Well. It was my fault. I took the battery out of it and apparently, laptops need the batteries in them, even when running on the outlet. . . something about overloading the networks inside and basically frying the poor little things inside out. Oops. But here I am, using a computer with a Japanese operating system and all the manuals in Japanese and me illiterate in Japanese. . . I panicked over the news earlier this year (last year?--stalwart little computer, I apparently applied nasty torture devices to it for quite a while before it gave up the ghost) about laptop batteries spontaneously bursting into flames.

So I whisked our laptop's battery right out.

Now, it's broken little shell has been whisked out of the house off to the electronics store. Where they sternly lectured us on our stupidity for quite a while. It was really embarrassing and completely sucked.

But that wasn't nearly as funny as the cable t.v. man this afternoon who responded to our desperate "something-is-wrong-with-the-cable-t.v.-come-as-soon-as-possible" call to discover that we had. . . unplugged the cable booster. So he plugged it back in and charged us about 13 U.S. dollars.

Our technological abilities suck.

Hopefully we will get another laptop or they will do some sort of transplant on the old one.

Right now I am using a laptop from Masa's work place. It will have to go off to work with him tomorrow. What keeps a mother of young children up past midnight on a weeknight? Internet addiction. I feel like a 16 year old with a cooler full of beer and parents gone for the weekend! Too bad it will all be over tomorrow at about 8 a.m. Which just sucks.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Answer to the Language Question

A couple of people in their comments were asking about what language we use in our family/household.

We use English. Masa and I met in the U.S. and so our first language was English. Well, first spoken language was English. We communicated heavily in body language that first year. . . (insert happy happy sigh of remembered bliss). But I felt then, that as he was studying in the U.S. to improve his English, I should use only English with him.

How I got trapped into using only English? Well, by the time I made my way to Japan after graduating from university his English level had surpassed my Japanese language ability to such an extent that I stupidly let our relationship continue in all English. Why do I say stupidly? Because well, look at me. I live in Japan but I'm not fluent in Japanese! I have a Japanese spouse but have had no conversation partner in Japanese!

Masa just flat out says that it is too "weird" to use Japanese with me and he also gets really easily frustrated with my level of Japanese. I guess it would be something like walking into a session of the Senate and telling all the Senators, "Okay, just for fun, let's all speak like first graders today, Okay?"

Now, when we had our first child we were in the U.S. for the first two months of her life. Then we were in Queensland, Australia for the next two years. Ironically, Reno heard a lot of Japanese during those two years, but not from Masa. My best friend in Australia was a Japanese woman whose husband worked at the same company as my husband. Her husband was also Japanese. While my friend and I spoke a mix of English/Japanese with each other she made a point of speaking only in Japanese to Reno--for which I was very grateful. Especially when we were living in an English speaking country I wanted Reno to hear and learn Japanese as well as English. My friend lived in the apartment across the hall from ours and so Reno actually spent more time per week exposed to her than she did exposed to her own Daddy.

When we moved to Osaka I realized rather quickly, "uh-oh." cause Daddy was still speaking all English with his baby girl who was a toddler by then. But we popped Reno into Japanese day care and hoped for the best scenario that so many people told us would come effortlessly--that she would be bilingual before we knew it.

It is much too long of a story to get into here but no, Reno did not fall into the "she's already talking in complicated sentences--chattering away in Japanese and English alternatively!" category of bi cultural children in Japan. Her first language, her native language is English. She is now fluent in Japanese as well.

Her little sister, Saki, appears to have stronger linguistic gifts/abilities and has been aware of the two languages (Japanese & English) since she was first speaking. Reno didn't quite catch on to the "two languages=one object=two different words=same object" concept until she was in elementary school! Saki has been able to smile sweetly at the Japanese obaasan (old lady)in the park and gurgle "wan wan!" (Japanese noise for a dog barking, a baby word for dog) and then beam back at me and chirp "doggie!"

Of course she has all the advantages that a younger sibling gets. We made mistakes; we have tried to rectify them. For instance, my second child will start elementary school here having already learned all her hiragana and katakana and if I have my way all her ichinensei kanji (first year kanji) as well! Like most of the other Japanese children. With Reno, I didn't know that the ichinensei year (first grade year) is supposed to basically just be a "review and boost their confidence year". So she went in hiragana-less, katakana-clueless and kanji--what the f*@k and her ichinensei year turned into a "stamp all the self-confidence out of this kid" kind of year. We are still recouping from that experience.

And since Saki's birth and Reno's first very difficult years in elementary school Masa now makes an effort to speak to the girls in Japanese. He still tends to use English with them when we are all together as a family, but if I am out of the conversation--say I am in the kitchen or at the computer--he speaks to them in his native language. They will automatically use Japanese with him if I am not present.

Why do I have this "speak in English" effect on my offspring and mate? Well, I have offered to play clueless Jane and have them all speak in Japanese around me (in fact I have begged for them to do this.) but now, not only does Masa feel "weird" speaking to me in Japanese but my kids think it feels "weird" too. I'm the English mama.

When I am particularly irritated with my children I will scold them harshly in Japanese. . . maybe that has something to do with their aversion to my speaking in Japanese but the little smart Alec's know that they can back talk in English and no one around us knows what we're/they're saying. So when I bark out, "Mou, shinai de to yutta deshou? Nani o kangaetteru no?" (Hey, I said cut it out. What are you thinking?) they not only get to hear my best guttural mean-Japanese-mommy imitation but they know that everyone around us KNOWS that they are being scolded. Shame can work wonders in a crowded public space.

For Masa's part he has confessed that it is simply too difficult to flip flop languages. He can't talk to me in English and switch to Japanese for the kids and flop back into English for me all at the same dinner table at the same time.

Plus he just honestly HATES helping me with the language. Honestly. If I ask him, "how do you say book case in Japanese?" (for example, you know a common noun? a common household object?) He will often look thoughtful for a second and then look at me and with a completely sincere and focused face say, "we haven't got a word for that in Japanese." Of course I used to call him on it. Now I just sigh and mutter nasty words under my breath and colorful little curses and linguistic hexes--you know, like "May you end up living in an Arabic country, unable to communicate and illiterate."

Although to be fair--he is now working hard with Reno on her fourth grade kanji and kokugo (reading/writing). They write a diary back and forth to each other. He also recently has been supportive of my efforts to learn Japanese by bringing home an English to Japanese, Japanese to English, Japanese to Japanese and English to English electronic dictionary for me. And when I went out and purchased a bunch of kanji software for the DSlite he just commented that it was good that I was getting into studying kanji again.

As of recent, he has even been known to answer specific pointed questions regarding Japanese usage and grammar.

To recap briefly, our home language, our dominant family language is English. When I am with the girls I use only English with them. We watch predominantly English language channels on Cable and I prefer to watch most of our rental DVDs in English. However, Reno and Saki both have a few Japanese anime shows that they watch that are, of course, in Japanese. On weekends they enjoy the dreaded Japanese variety shows (hell for the typical foreigner) with their Daddy. Daddy does try to speak Japanese with them but when we are all together we tend to all use English. While the road to being bilingual has been difficult for my first born, it so far seems to be paved and smooth from my second born. Whether or not this is just inherent in their make ups or a quirk of birth order I can't say for sure. Although I would tend to think it a bit of both.

One thing I have never experienced, that I know other foreign English speaking mothers and fathers here have at times, is neither of my children have ever asked me to NOT speak in English to them in public. In fact, the only language they ever beg me NOT to speak to them in in public is Japanese! Neither of my daughters has ever gone on a language strike, refusing to speak one language or the other.

You know what I am really curious about these days? I wander what kind of guy my Masa is in Japanese. Because I know that my personality changes a bit when I am speaking Japanese versus English. Hard to explain but it's like I turn from one pane of glass to another and look out on the same landscape with the same world view but everything slightly tinged in a different hue. The longer I know him now the curiouser and curiouser I am becoming about what kind of guy he would seem to me were we to communicate only in Japanese with one another.

How about those of you out there who are also involved in an international relationship? What language do you and your significant other communicate in?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He Who Laughs Last

You know, for the first decade or so of my relationship with Masa I have to fess up to, well, playing word jokes on him. I used to knowingly use English words that I knew were beyond his vocabulary. Mostly my jokes were little sarcastic or ironic commentaries on things that amused me no end and seemed harmless enough. If he had ever paused and said, "hey, does that mean ----?" I would have given him truthful answers.

Well, it looks like I have entered "pay back" territory and honestly, although I'm a little peeved I have to say I'm proud of him! He got me good.

The other day after dinner, Masa looked up from the dinner table and called across to me in the kitchen (which is about two feet away from our dinning room, which is to say, our dinner table, this being Japan and us living in an honest to God typical Japanese house) "Can you get me a toothpick?" Since I looked blankly back at him (being in a bad mood because I had just finished cooking dinner and was now preparing to clean up from dinner) he switched tactics and asked Reno instead. But when he asked her, he used Japanese, "Tsumayouji kashite kudasai."

My ears pricked right up. I even took off my i-pod ear phones. "TSUMA what?"

And this is where my guy shines. He did such a good job on me. He didn't smile, he didn't sneer, he just said, in a distracted tone, "yeah?" and then asked Reno again, "tsumayouji kashite kudasai!" a bit louder as she was simply staring blankly back at him (being a tween and entirely moody and uncooperative even over the simplest things, like getting someone a toothpick).

Now, I studied Japanese three years in college, went on a semester exchange to Japan in 1988 and lived and worked in Yokohama for two and a half years after graduation. In 2000 we moved to Osaka, Japan and we have been here in Japan ever since. My second daughter (Saki) was born here in Japan.

Am I fluent? Hardly. Apparently English language schools, or at least the one for which I taught in Yokohama, want their foreign teachers to speak only English so badly that they threaten to fire you if they find out that you are speaking any Japanese on their premises. The university I worked at in Osaka didn't threaten to fire me for speaking Japanese but since I was teaching English language immersion courses, well, I spoke very little Japanese. I want my daughters to grow up bilingual, so our home/family language is English.

I speak Japanese regularly to sales people. It consists of the following:
Kore wa ikura desu ka? (How much is this?)
Kore onegaishimasu. (This please.)
Arigatougozaimasu. (Thank you.)

Maybe a couple of other words. If I am feeling linguistically extravagant.

They don't do small talk here.

So my Japanese, while I have enrolled in the odd Kumon course here and there and have amassed an extensive library of Japanese language texts and currently study using my daughters DSLite with some excellent kanji software, has not really improved much. In fact, when I was an exchange student, I think my language skills were more advanced in Japanese than they are now. I've not only failed to learn more kanji, I've forgotten kanji that I used to know!

So, when Masa said "tsumayouji" I immediately thought of the two words I do know that sound like that. Tsuma which means "wife" and youji which means "task or thing to do." Now, thinking of "toothpick=wife task" I asked him hotly if indeed the kanji used for tsumayouji was the kanji for "wifely task".

He is so good.

He even acted like he was impressed with my language ability--that I could guess the kanji like that.

So all week long I have been fuming and seething about "stupid dumb worthless sexist language--grrrrrr----dumb Japanese!" However, this evening as I was sulking in the kitchen, I mean, cooking in the kitchen, it occurred to me, "no. . . . . he didn't. ? ? ? ? " So directly after doing the washing up I headed in to the tatami to the computer to look into the Japanese word for "toothpick".

It turns out that the kanji for "tsuma" in "tsumayouji" is the kanji for "claw, nail or talon" and the kanji for "you" is the kanji for "Willow". The remaining kanji, "ji" is for "bough, branch, twig or limb."

I can't wait to give my man a great big hug tonight when he gets home. I am so proud of him. And he kept it up for two days--even working in a lecture to the girls last night on how in the old days, women used to ceremoniously pick their husband's teeth for them as a sign of respect.

And here I was thinking that my man was a purely slap stick toilet humor guy! He got me with a word trick! Oh, will I never stop falling for this guy?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

8 Things Meme

I got tagged for a meme by Cherry Blossom Adventures! I like these things--reminds me of getting writing prompts in writing workshops at uni. I'm such a geek. I also adored essay tests through out high school and college.
So here goes:

8 Things I am Passionate About

1. Humor--especially wit. But anything or anyone who makes me laugh makes me happy to be alive. It is actually one of the few things that amazes me to this day, the fact that my husband Masa is a typical slapstick, toilet humor kind of guy (this humor does not amuse me) and I am more a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead/Monty Python/The Daily Show/David Letterman kind of gal and yet we do find things that make each other laugh and things at which to laugh over together. For the record, no one, and I mean NO ONE on Earth will ever or has ever made me laugh as long, as hard and as whole heartedly (until my soul was about to burst with joy) as my life long best friend from high school and university, the creator of "le poison".

2. My Friends--need to have good senses of humor and sharp intellects (which enable them to be extremely witty) as well as wide hearts and accepting minds. This in turn earns them fierce loyalty and devotion, even boarding on outdoing the devotion of a faithful lab or golden retriever.

3. Music--is emotion that you can hear and dance to.

4. Finger Printing--oh you unwitting fools. Now I know how grass root campaigns get started and how small groups of people can become determined enough to actually bring about changes in the larger arenas of their lives. I don't appreciate Japan treating me as a potential criminal/terrorist/human germ sponge. In fact, I passionately dislike this new policy of finger printing and photographing every foreigner coming into Japan, be they the first time tourist or the seventy-year-old permanent resident.

5. AFWJ--the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese. Yes, the organization's name is a bit long and sounds sort of. . . remarkably like a Japanese group name, simplistic, direct in its naming but doesn't exactly leave one marveling at the beauty of the English language does it? In the early years of living in Japan as a wife and mother I once lamented to a fellow foreign wife, "I have no nakama. No group." and she laughed out loud, slapped me on the back and said, "but you do, you do. You are in AFWJ. We are your nakama." At the time it was a kind of break through for me. There I was still at some level wishing and yearning to be brought into Japanese society and treated as a member of it. Ha. Ha ha. Up until that minute I hadn't wanted to admit that maybe my life would not be remembered by a large number of the Japanese people in my community. Perhaps it would only be remembered by the Japanese students whom I taught, the neighbors with whom I had daily contact, the rare Japanese acquaintance turned friend. . . picturing your funeral attended by mostly obligatory visitors is not a fun day dream. But here I was a member of this fantastic group, able to forge and maintain friendships with some truly stellar and fantastic women and I wasn't "counting" them as "real" because they weren't Japanese. Ha. Ha ha. (It's all in the rhythm there, if you do it in the right rhythm you get that ironic laugh, if not, I probably seem like an idiot to you.)

Now, well into my life here in Japan, AFWJ has been an integral part of my life here. Contacts, advice, help in the form of verbal advice, a willing ear, laughter and practical things like a box of maternity clothes in MY SIZE during pregnancy. The benefits of belonging to this group never cease but only seem to increase as my involvement with this organization grows and deepens.

6. The written word--a perfectly formed sentence can make me swoon. A cleverly phrased insight leaves me exhilarated. I am, first and foremost, a word nerd. God, I even enjoy simply reading the dictionary!

7. Nature--Oh I was dying when we lived in the concrete jungle of Osaka. Never did I upon waking gaze up into the smog filled skies and bless the lord for letting me live another day. The day that I got excited and mistook some incredibly disgusting and honestly physical revolting insects in the local rice field for poly wogs. . . oh my. I bent down and eagerly scooped up a half dozen of them in the palm of my hand. That is when I realized that they looked like tiny pill bugs but flatter, sharper and with many, many more ever moving, never at rest disgusting little legs. I wanted to vomit. It was something like reaching out to pet a kitten and instead discovering that you're caressing the dying, hairless body of a skinned baby rabbit. It was really gross, but I don't know what the hell those repulsive little insects were so I can't give a picture of them.

In contrast--Oh the rapture of life in Northern Japan, smack in the inaka (country side). I do wake up every morning and feel flushed with gratitude to live amongst the marvel and beauty of clear skies, green grass, towering pine trees. The lakes and rivers are so clear I can stare at the fish meters and meters below. In the course of a typical spring walk I can see a snake, a few hawks, some Japanese cranes, fish, cray fish, poly wogs, frogs, turtles, and an abundance of wild birds whose calls I now recognize but whose names I still do not know. Damn! It is evening snowing tonight for the sixth day in a row and I LOVE shoveling the snow! I get to live in a snow globe! How lucky is that!

I grew up just below Yosemite National Park in California and my parents idea of summer vacations were to take us to every National Park in America that they could drive us to. I might have sat in some of those nature talks, wearing dark sunglasses, being a snide teenager, but I ended up IN LOVE with the natural world. Sky scrapers? Who needs them. They block my view of the sky.

8. Animals--Okay. I wanted desperately to be a veterinarian, until I found out that I would need math and chemistry to get into veterinary school. I worked at a local vets during high school and loved it. I even got to assist and watch surgeries and autopsies and never once felt anything but fascination with the proceedings. I even watched when my own beloved lab/golden retriever mix had an operation and was delighted to discover that my loyal companion was golden outside and pink inside! Even her organs were cute. My dog was so cool. She was remarkable--inside and out! My current animal obsession is our small feisty--you-can-live-or die-for-all-I- care-just-feed-me Russian Blue cat. I love the fact that she is willing to use me as a live hot water bottle to warm herself during winter nights. But I also have an inordinate amount of affection for my big fat gold fish. Out of 21 festival gold fish, only this one survived. And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger every day. And I was infatuated with a praying mantis that was living in the bush by our mailbox this spring.

Bottom line, I am so passionate about animals (extending to many insects with the exception of SPIDERS) I nearly crash on my bicycle whenever I spot a hawk circling or gliding overhead because--well they just flat out mesmerize me. Nature is such a show off--sunsets and hamsters that snuggle in little piles. Hard to beat.

8 Things I want to do before I die:

1. Travel all over Europe

2. Look back at my daughters' teenage years and think "they survived and so did I" (yes, I like to worry in advance, my eldest is only 9 now.)

3. Become fluent enough in Japanese to be able to follow the nightly news

4. Become functionally literate in Japanese

5. Get a Japanese Drivers License

6. Swim with dolphins

7. Publish a creative non-fiction essay and get paid money for it.

8. Go skiing here in Japan

8 Things I often Say

1. For the love of God (I like to be dramatic when I plead with the kids to listen to me)

2. Number one (this when listing reasons to the girls, usually reasons why they can't do or have something)

3. Just calm down (to the kids, to myself, you know, to whoever needs to hear it.)

4. Don't you dare (to Happy our cat when she is poised to sharpen her claws on the wall)

5. I swear to God (I like to be dramatic when I threaten the kids)

6. Just a second (usually said every three minutes or so when I am at the computer and the girls are asking for something or trying to get me to let them get on the computer.)

7. Uh-huh. (what I say every other three minutes or so when I am at the computer and the girls are asking for something or trying to get me to let them get on the computer. I am such a one task person. Multi-tasking hurts my head.)

8. Stop shrieking. (my youngest has a fondness for shrieking over speaking)

8 Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over

1. TubThumping I Get Knocked Down

2. Fast Car- Tracy Chapman

3. Hand-Jewel

4. Vaseline-Stone Temple Pilots

5. Everything-Michael Buble

6. Accidentally in Love--Counting Crows

7. Dani California--Red Hot Chili Peppers

8. Why Don't You and I--featuring Chad Kroeger (on the CD Santana Shaman)

8 Books I Have Recently Read (or am reading. . . I seem to be forever trying to read and never getting to. . . )

1. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

2. "Spontaneous Healing" by Andrew Weil, M.D.

3. "Because I Said So" 33 mothers write about children, sex, men, aging,faith, race & themselves. Edited by Camille Peri & Kate Moses

4. "Mothers Who Think" Tales of Real-life Parenthood, Edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses

5."Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver (Author), Camille Kingsolver (Author), Steven L. Hopp (Author).

6. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J. K. Rowling

7. "Kids are Worth It!" Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso

8. "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair" by Geneen Roth

And unfortunately, I haven't really got anyone I can tag for this. . . those I know of who enjoy doing memes have already done this one or been tagged to do this one. . . so I will leave it open as an invitation to any of the lurkers reading here--here's your chance to step in with the perfect introduction, do the 8 Things Meme! Just be sure to leave a comment directing me to your responses. Or if anyone else out there that I know and have pegged as a none meme type blogger is indeed NOT a non meme type of blogger--douzo (by all means)!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's all good news!

Quick update on the news fast. So far, in the year of 2008--nothing bad has happened. No one has hurt anyone else, for money, in anger, to make a political statement or to turn a buck. All parents that I have been in association with love their children and are trying their best to raise them as best they can. As far as I know there is no other nationality lurking in the shadows here in my neighborhood or even prefecture, waiting for the chance to blow me up. No one has attempted to break into my house and strangle me in my sleep.

But guess what? Turns out that I am so addicted to the news. It took two days to train myself not to even attempt to click on the various news sites that I have bookmarked on my computer. I really need to make a folder for them. Then there was the hurdle of training myself not to cheat by looking at the bits and pieces pulled from the news that Yahoo! puts up on their main page.

I have been indulging in researching the weather instead. I have always been a big fan of the weather channel anyway. But recently I am looking at the 15 day forecast. Tonight we might get more snow from midnight through morning. By afternoon the skies should be clear again. And I know the current weather conditions of every town I have ever lived in in America. That is sooooo useful, I know, I know. But it doesn't stress me out at all like say, being able to tell you what CNN led with tonight.

Last year I spent a lot of time quoting from the Bernstein Bears book "Fear of Strangers" in an effort to reassure my daughters over the unlikelihood that they would be the child that some bad man grabs and takes away forever. Admittedly, it is not only my news addiction that has made them nervous. The schools tell them about every incident of violence against a child perpetrated in this prefecture--in an attempt to make them "aware" of their surroundings and "prepared" to scream and yell out and escape from any weirdo that should try to get them. Then there is my preference for T.V. shows like Bones, CSI, and well, Bones and CSI. But then CSI has the three different ones, Miami, Las Vegas and New York so it is like three shows all about people doing bad to one another and how to catch them after they've done the bad.

But back to the Bernstein Bears, in that particular book Mama Bear tells Sister Bear that bad people are like bad apples: you can't tell that they are bad from the outside. But also, like apples there are only one or two in every barrel. I.e., most strangers are not potentially your murderer.

Living without daily doses of what the bad apples are up to has helped me refocus on the fact that I live in a community of many, many good apples. My neighbors are good apples. The girls' friends and their families are good apples.

Whew. It is amazingly relieving to be reminded of this.

And we went up into the mountains to an outdoor onsen. There is nothing better than sitting up to your neck in hot steaming water with big fluffy flakes of snow falling on your face. In fact, sitting in that onsen, watching Saki show us how she can do "the crawl" (although technically you're not supposed to actually swim in an onsen, but hardly anyone else was there) while Reno was timing how long it took snow balls to melt in the onsen (technically you're not supposed to put snow in the onsens but. . .) looking out over the snow coated mountains while Masa kept telling anyone of us that would listen "It looks just like a sumi-e!" I was completely happy to be here in Japan with my family greeting the new year. I felt--positive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"R" is for "Resolutions"

With New Year's Eve over and 2008 officially on the calander I'm behind in the holiday dance of greetings--as usual. No 2007 Christmas cards have gone out and in lieu of them the pile of 2008 New Years cards that I bought to address and send out to family and friends sits forlornly somewhere in my house waiting to surprise me come mid summer when I shift things about and "discover" them sitting there long forgotten.

Maybe when I am old and officially whimsical (boarding on being a kook) I will start to send out all the old new years cards that never got mailed out on time. I'll send people 1998 Year of the Tiger post cards on which I will simply chat about my latest visit to the doctor's. On the 2002 Year of the Horse post cards I'll moan about how my children never bother to call home anymore. If I am still living in Japan when I officially become a "character" and if I am sending these eccentric recycled new years post cards out to my Japanese descendants (gasp, imagine, I may one day have Japanese grandchildren!) they will be greeted with muffled exasperation and embarrassment, "ara. . .matta? obaachyan wa nani o kangaette no?" (what? Again? What is Grandmother thinking?)

But, bottom line, there will be no waste and like the toys from the island of misfit toys my pile of chronologically incorrect correspondence will finally settle into homes.

Of course I still have a window of opportunity here. I reckon that if I get the New Years cards sent out by the end of the week I should be okay. 2008 is the year of the Rat (imagine that!) and I have a cute little pile of post cards on which rodents cheerfully proclaim the opening of the New Year.

I like this year already because for some unfathomable reason nothing tickles me quite like saying, "The year of the rat, imagine that!" in my best pre-school story time voice. Honestly, it amuses me.

(You can see that I am practicing for my future as an old foreign crackpot.)

It's a long term resolution: to grow old and interesting.

Which brings me to the holiday dance step of today--New Years resolutions. In my teens they were always inspired by publications like "Seventeen Magazine" and dealt with profound aspects of life like losing 5 pounds or changing my handwriting so that it would look more elegantly loopy and less pathetically scrawly. In my twenties and thirties losing weight still usually topped the list but thanks to publications like "Mademoiselle" and "Elle" I added in things like vowing to remember to do my kegels daily, and I got more specific about the physical resolutions. I wasn't just going to lose 5 pounds, I was going to tone my thighs.

While there are a ton of habits that I would like to form and a HEAP of habits that I would like to break this year I feel a bit more mountain top than that. Mountain top meaning that at the age of 40 for the first time I honestly am not looking outside for influence on how I should change myself. I mean, it's still lovely to get ideas for change but I don't feel the need to look at what society/magazines/T.V. or other pop culture institutions are holding up as standards. Yes, Julia Roberts looks amazing at the age of 40 and Oprah has not only lost all her weight but she has spiritual stability. And you can read any parenting book and realize early on in the intro that I indeed could be a MUCH better mother.

I guess it is really more of a change in approach than anything else. My resolutions used to be goal orientated but this year I am aiming for things less tangible.

It was at my daughters' final piano lesson of 2007 when I decided to chuck out the idea of creating a concise list of goals for 2008. Saki always has her lesson first, so while the teacher was busy trying to convince Saki that indeed yes, she did want to play the piano and yes, indeed, playing the piano is fun I was sitting at the table with Reno playing my just-an-ignorant-foreign-mother-who-doesn't-understand-what-her-five-year-old-is-saying card. Saki was of course frequently peppering her conversations with the teacher with the following phrases, "iyada." (an expression of disgust/dislike) and her number one favorite phrase during piano lessons, "mo owari?" (are we finished yet?).

Seated at the table with me was Reno in all her tween glory striking a uniquely apathetic yet antagonistic stance. Her dialogue, conducted all in English so that I was sure to understand it all and the teacher wouldn't went something like:

"Oh great. These (colored pens found on the table) don't work. Don't you have better ones? (because all good mothers should carry with them a set of color ink pens and only stupid ones wouldn't, or so her tone implied.) Didn't Saki bring some? (again, because a good mother always makes sure that her youngest daughter also packs around a set of color ink pens.)

Next came her big finish--the ice cold delivery of the one word, "Whatever." (I HATE the way she perfectly mimics my tone and attitude when she belligerently says this. How did my mother refrain from slapping my little preteen face on a daily basis?)

Of course she was really frustrated with me because I was refusing to speak back to her. I was remaining silent and only gesturing answers at her because of the "Two Rules." Rule Number One is that "we do not talk in English in front of others who can not understand English". Rule #1 doesn't apply when we are out in public spaces like department stores or at the beach or in a restaurant but it does apply when we are in the company of someone who does not speak English--like the piano teacher. Rule Number Two is: "We sit quietly at the table during our sister's piano lesson."

The piano teacher had now resorted to reading Saki stories which she furnished with impromptu piano accompaniment in a bid to show Saki once and for all just how fun playing the piano can be!

So Reno said loudly and combatively, "Can you tell the teacher to stop reading those stupid books to her?" and when I replied with a cut throat gesture across my vocal chords meaning, "shut up!" she sighed dramatically, rolled her eyes at me and then proceeded to lay down on the floor behind the teacher's chair!

So I sat at the table wondering which would look worse to the piano teacher, me struggling with my nearly 10-year-old child in an attempt to haul her up off the floor, or the sight of that nearly 10-year-old child herself, spread out on the floor behind the teacher's chair. Next I mulled over what the chances were that the teacher might not notice the sulky tween laying on the floor behind her. . . when miraculously said sulky tween hefted herself up off the floor and came back to the table. This time she leaned across and whispered to me,
"Today at school our teacher told us that the lady who cleans the school died last night."

I broke rules number 1 and 2 simultaneously by saying, "Really? How?"

"I don't know. Suddenly. Everyone was very surprised."

"Oh. How old was she?"

Reno looked at me intently. She usually doesn't know specifics so I was a bit taken aback when she answered quickly, "She was 60. In March she was going to stop her job and start having fun."

But. . . she died on December 27th, two months and three days before retirement. I wondered for the rest of the evening what kind of an impact that cleaning lady's death was having. Did she have children? Did she have a husband? Did she manage to have some fun in the 60 years leading up to her death?

What was on her list of things to do after retiring that now she wouldn't be able to do?

And it was at that precise moment that I decided to toss the idea of making a list of resolutions for this year. What I want to do, I decided, is to change my perspective, shift the angle, change the filters, and above all, find some balance. I don't mean find a spot on which to perch my fat ass, sit back and watch life going on around me. I mean I want to get up, shift things around, figure out how far I can go to the right without falling, how far I can go to the left without wiping out. I want a center of balance from which I can experiment. Put simply, at the age of 40 I've already learned how to fall. I want to take on the big slopes, ski the moguls of life, maybe try a jump or two.

Of course all of that is incredibly abstract, but on a more practical level, instead of resolving to lose a certain number of kilos, I want to change the way I approach eating/hunger/nutrition/cooking. I want to change my relationship to food.

Instead of resolving to study Japanese for a set amount of time each day, I resolve to re-engage with Japanese culture and language. I've been floating along in a bubble of English and I need to get out, get wet, get misunderstood and be misunderstood but communicate!

Instead of resolving to walk/swim/dance a set number of times each week/month I resolve to find out what I am passionate about and do it.

I got an i-pod from Masa this Christmas so I have already reconnected to a passion--music. They'll have to pry my iPod buds from my dead little ears! I can once again listen to 9 Inch Nails without worrying over what kind of efffect songs like, "Closer" are having on my children! The first song I downloaded from iTunes was "Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down) " and in this year of the Rat I can't stop be bopping around the house.

Speaking of rats, I've always liked them. I may have been one of the only sixth grade girls in America who begged her parents for not a hamster, not a gerbil, not even a Guinea pig but for a rat. Rats are clean and smart. If you put a rat on newspaper they will eventually die of ink poisoning because they will lick their coats over and over to get any ink off that gets on them. A pet rat will sit happily on your shoulder or snuggle contentedly in the cuff of your shirt. I got a rat--whom I named Raspberry and who had alarmingly huge balls, being a male rat. I had aimed to get a female so I wasn't overly thrilled by his male endowments, but he was clever and he kept as tidy as he could although unfortunately dependent on the twelve-year-old me to clean his cage.

So, in 2008 let the girl who wanted a rat come back. Before teen magazines befuddled my mind. Before Mademoiselle ever compared me to my Hollywood contemporaries. Before I spent too much time inside my own head. I mean, 2008 has got to be a delightful year, it is after all, "The year of the Rat, imagine that!"