Monthly Archives: August 2015

You Will Work and/or I Will Work

I’ve got our girls washing dishes and hanging laundry. This has left me bored enough that I find myself looking for work to do.

While She Who Must Be Obeyed is away at her job a few days a week sorting clothes for Laura Ashley and other companies, our oldest is suddenly without a club and has been spending time at home “doing homework” and “studying”. (Translation: Arguing with daddy about the appropriate amount of time that should be allocated to using her tablet and the internet.)

Because of this, I’ve taken the opportunity to teach the girls how to do stuff around the house. My technique involves merely telling them to do things. For example, I say “Youngest wash the dishes.” or “Oldest hang the laundry.” and then deal with short question and answer period that follows the instructions (Why? Because. End of Q and A.) I then field technical and procedural questions and, on occasion, demonstrate how to do something.

The problem is that leaves me with little to do which takes away any excuses I have not to do things I’ve been meaning to do. This is a variation of the issue I’ve talked about before. This time, though, I’ve found useful distractions that are worth spending time doing but then given them away to other people to do.

With those distractions gone I now find myself looking for other things to do. Yeah, I could write more and start a small side business that’s been nagging at me for a couple years but that would require a mental leap to get past fear and denial. (I’ve planned the latter a few times but always manage to distract myself.)

It’s easier to find something else to do. Our kitchen knives are nice and sharp now. But they need some cleaning and straightening. I’ll take care of that tomorrow. I may even check the knives we don’t use much. They probably need some work, too.

The girls will keep doing housework, though. It’s for their own good, even if it leaves me kind of bored.

This One Time, On the Band Trip

Several hundred years ago I took part in a band trip from Hayden, Colorado to San Diego, California. My job was to play trumpet and buy the dirty magazines.

Much of what I remember about the lead up to the trip involved selling pizzas to fund it. Then I vaguely remember a bus ride with a stop in Las Vegas which is arguably, when you are 15 and it is the early ’80s before Las Vegas became a family resort, the worse possible place to be a teenager. You can’t even look inside the casinos and the circus at Circus Circus Las Vegas is, well, just a circus in Las Vegas.

Eventually we got to California and may or may not have performed at Knott’s Berry Farm. I also remember our performance at Sea World San Diego being cancelled but us getting to have fun there anyway. I also remember a trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and hearing from our guide the legend that the “Wgasa” in the Wgasa Bush Line stood for “Who gives a shit anyhow?” (Yeah, and there were some animals there too, but that’s not as cool as the Wgasa story.)

In San Diego, after a trip to Tijuana where several people smuggled back OTF knives and switch blades, we went “deep sea” fishing where we caught a lot of Benito and several fellow band members threw up over the front of the boat. (I’m pleased to say I didn’t, which is odd as I had a bad habit of throwing up on long car rides, but that’s another post.) After we returned to shore we cooked and ate the tuna.

Our rooms were a series of bungalows on the beach. This may have been my first view of an ocean, and we may have gone swimming, but that wasn’t as important as my job.

For some reason (boredom) during our stay at the bungalows someone decided it was necessary for us to acquire “adult” magazines. Because I was the tallest in our bungalow and looked older than I was (more on that in another post) it became my job to take the collected money to a convenience store and buy a copy of Hustler Magazine with the scratch and sniff centerfold. (No, really. Look it up.)

The actual purchase was clumsy as I felt compelled to embellish the purchase by saying it was for my dad earning me a suspicious look as I was so un-California it was pathetic. (Note to criminals: Don’t embellish; just be confident in your lies.) In the end the magazine was purchased and passed around.

Eventually we got home, but I don’t remember anything about that part of the trip at all except that, despite all my work, I didn’t get to keep the magazine.


Cardboard and Duct Tape

We used to own a washing machine that only worked with cardboard. Now we have a fan that only works with cardboard.

The washing machine in our house gets a serious workout. Our apartment is small and we don’t have a dryer (which is why we are able to afford the things like the apartment and clothes) which means we have to hang dry our clothes which subjects us to the perils of rain, snow, wind and yellow dust and pollution from China. This means She Who Must Be Obeyed does laundry almost every day.

(Note: I do not think this is necessary but refer you to She Who Must Be Obeyed’s name.)

(Second Note: As to why our daughters have not been taught how to do this task, well, that’s another post.)

Eventually, as a result of constant wear and tear, the on/off button on our old washing machine broke. If you depressed it, nothing happened. For a while we were able to force it into place but eventually even that stopped working.

Somehow, and I still don’t understand how or why, SWMBO figured out a way to insert a thin piece of cardboard alongside and under the button to make it work. The problem is, if it failed, you had to insert a new piece of cardboard. Getting it set correctly could take a lot of time (prompting me to go to the laundromat a couple times instead).

Eventually, even that stopped working and we broke down and bought a new washing machine.

Everything was fine until this week when our floor fan, which is at least 12 years old, finally started to break. (Actually, this was the second thing to break: the neck stopped extending last year.) This year, the joint holding the fan at the proper angle gave up prompting the fan to point its face toward the floor like a little kid getting a stern scolding.

It still works and it still oscillates and I planned on taking it apart today and seeing if it could be patched with duct tape. (Or, barring that, I planned to ruin it enough to force the purchase of a new one.)

However, She Who Must Be Obeyed instinctively went for the cardboard and figured out a way to wedge the face up a little higher. (Now it looks like a teenager taking a scolding and/or rolling her eyes.)

When SWMBO realized this was her second cardboard repair, she started laughing.

I still plan on “fixing” the fan well enough to require a new one. The cardboard wedges hold it up higher, but they fall out if you move the fan. (I might be able to fix that with duct tape, though.)

It’s our new washing machine that worries me the most. If something goes wrong, there’s no way to insert cardboard under the power button.

A Zombie Wishing He Didn’t Have a Brain

Today was reasonably productive for a zombie. At least it was in the morning.

Usually, the first day after a long trip is spent cleaning and doing laundry and resetting immediate goals and plans. I had intended to ignore most of that and go to the bank today because last Friday was pay day. Unfortunately, a nasty storm hit and that kept me inside (because I’m totally sugar and will totally melt in the rain).

Then I got the brilliant idea of contacting a friend via the magic of the internet and talking his ear off because “English”. I did manage to finish my daily 10 ideas. Eventually. I also roughed out a review schedule for stuff I got at the ISOT and stuff I’ve just acquired.

I also scheduled time to take photos of stuff and update my old site. (Notice I didn’t actually do any of this, just planned it.)

Somewhere in there I fed the girls and myself and managed to exercise some (more on that in another post).

The weather never broke and I never went out but the weather did break me. In the early evening I got my migraine spot. I popped couple aspirin and am now hurrying to get this done so I can go to bed.

Of course, right after I got the spot I played a few games and did surprisingly well for someone who couldn’t see clearly out of the center of his eyes for several minutes. I did so well that I played longer than I’d planned and finished with a much more positive attitude than I usually have when I finish playing the game.

Now, I’m rushing to finish this so I can head off to bed. I hope the worst of the weather changes are over. Even if it’s raining tomorrow I might go out, but that might just be the migraine talking.


Storms and Traffic and Mild Disappointment

The only thing I have to report about today’s trip is that there is nothing to report. The Japanese press must be kind of upset, too. The most exciting part happened at the end, and that was more weird than exciting.

We planned to start our journey home at 7:00 a.m. which means the girls were loaded and ready and we departed at 7:40.

We made good time but were worried that we encountered a lot of traffic early. It wasn’t a traffic jam, just busy. Since we’d left early to avoid such things we were worried. There were also illuminated signs explaining that near a couple interchanges traffic was moving at less than 10 km per hour (6.3 miles per hour).

I had my smart phone charged and had a map open with “real time” traffic status updates, but all the roads appeared to be green. Luckily, the big delay was in a different direction.

Then, when we got  into the mountains, we hit the rain which was annoying but didn’t slow us down much.

At one point we stopped for a coffee and restroom break that went surprisingly smoothly except for our oldest deciding she didn’t need to go. An argument ensued until she went. We kept emphasizing we didn’t know what traffic was like up ahead.

Finally, about 50 miles from home we hit a red zone in the six lane section and had to stop a few times. As I was getting ready to tell our oldest “see I told you so”, the traffic suddenly disappeared and we made good time all the way home.

The only glitch happened when our NaviBitch led us through the most crowded street and intersection in town. (I suspect this was the NaviBitch’s revenge for me becoming Mr. Positive and complimenting She Who Must Be Obeyed for successfully following NaviBitch’s orders. NaviBitch seems to consider this interference.)

As we were waiting for a light a car passed us on the right to try to get to a right hand turn lane. As he did so his mirror clipped our mirror. He turned on his hazard lights and waited. Sort of. As we came in behind him to “discuss” his being an idiot, he suddenly pulled away and we couldn’t follow. We’re still not sure if he cared or if he was even aware something had happened.

Luckily, there was no damage and we got home in record time–it took 4 hours to go 300 kilometers (186ish miles) through the mountains and the traffic. Did the NaviBitch compliment us for that? No, but I taught She Who Must Be Obeyed a few words she could use during future trips.


Preparing for and Reporting on the Mess

After a few days at the in-laws, we are getting ready to return home. This means we are doing everything we can to avoid packing. I’m working on meditation and breathing exercises and trying to teach She Who Must Be Obeyed the proper swear words to use for the drive home.

I’ve mentioned before how one of the traditions of Japanese news is to report on the vacation rush and the U-Turn rush every time there’s a major holiday.

Part of the purpose of this seems to be to find a use for the dozens of tower and traffic cameras that have been set up around the country. This means we are subjected to dozens of images of expressways with one half packed and the other barren. The news reports include details about how many kilometers long the traffic jam is and how long it will take to get from Interchange A to Interchange B (not their real names). The reports are usually along the lines of “The line to Interchange B is 42 kilometers long. If you leave now you will reach Interchange B in four days and will have to eat one of your children or find a child to eat. If you are traveling the opposite direction, from Interchange B to Interchange A you will reach Interchange A in 17 minutes.”

(Note to the uninitiated: Probably 98% of Japanese expressways are toll roads. The interchanges are the only places to enter and exit the toll roads.)

The networks also send reporters in cars into the heart of the mess as if we won’t believe the traffic jam is bad unless we see the traffic jam from the inside. It never occurs to them that by doing so they are contributing to the mess. It also never occurs to them they could get the same effect by carefully filming in a parking lot. (This is the same mentality that convinces reporters to don expensive rain gear and stand along the coast in the middle of hurricanes so they can tell us not to go near the coast during a hurricane.)

I also suspect the news programs are struggling to stay relevant. In the smart phone age we can get up to date traffic information as we drive. We don’t really need the news reports. We can see the red lines on Google maps and get our swear words ready. We can also pick which child we love the least and prepare her for cooking. (Something like that.)

Getting the Grilling Wrong

Today would have been a perfect day for a barbecue except for the random rain and the fact that the Japanese don’t quite know how to do a proper barbecue.

It was 80 degrees with a nice breeze and it was cool enough for us to leave the windows open and the air conditioner off. It rained in the morning but by lunch time it was partly sunny and we didn’t get a rush of humidity.

I imagined, mostly because I was bored (long story) breaking out a grill and introducing a couple steaks to it and then starting the coals to cook the hamburger patties, the chicken and the sausages. (The introduction to the grill counts as properly cooking the steaks. Actually, just stabbing the animal counts as properly cooking the steak. But I’m weird that way.)

Then we got the torrential rain which washed away the last hope for a proper barbecue.

The real problem is that although the Japanese love to have “barbecues” near the river and on the beach, one of the first things they cook is noodles. That’s followed by vegetables. More specifically, they make yakisoba (fried noodles with cabbage, green peppers and pork). That is followed by other vegetables and the occasional hot dogs and bits of steak.

At no point do they ever grill a proper hamburger. (This, I feel, is one of the things keeping Japan from being truly great rather than just awesome.

For supper, though, we did come close to proper barbecue by stealing, sort of from Korea. My in-laws set a large electric griddle in the middle of the table and we fried various forms a meat and random vegetables in a fried interpretation of Korean barbecue. (For those who may not know: Imagine an indoor table with a flaming pot of coals on it and you grill your meal yourself.)

The meal, though, ended with egg fried rice stir-fried on the griddle. Awesome, but not truly great.

The Festival of the Dead

I spent part of the day visiting dead people in the forest, which is kind of odd since most them are already in the house.

Today I joined the in-laws and She Who Must Be Obeyed to celebrate Obon, or the Festival of the Dead. Obon is an ancient Bhuddist tradition that’s been celebrated in Japan for 500 years. Over time it has grown into a traditional family reunion time which isn’t that unusual–including departed ancestors, though, is a little unusual, at least to someone from the West.

We drove about five minutes away to a small, old cemetery in the woods. My father-in-law and mother-in-law cleaned the family tombstone, put fresh flowers and lit candles and incense. Several tombstones representing other families had already been visited and had fresh flowers and lit candles.

After the cleaning we said a short prayer and then departed.

Every house I’ve visited in Japan also has a shrine where the ashes of the departed are held for a while before being deposited in the family plot.  Portraits of ancestors are kept nearby. One ancient tradition is that during Obon the spirits of the ancestors return to the shrines to take part in the reunion which is why the shrines always have a cup of sake and, in some cases, a box of sweets and a pack of cigarettes. (Whatever you may or may not believe, I think it’s awesome the spirits of the dead expect booze and smokes when they visit.)

Other than that, there’s not many other traditions in Obon (well, there are the crowded trains and highways but that happens before and after the reunion, not during).

The cemetery. She Who Must Be Obeyed's family shrine is above the concrete slab on the left.

The cemetery. She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family shrine is above the concrete slab on the left.

This was my second visit to the family memorial as it is also a tradition to introduce new family members to the spirits of the ancestors. Both our girls were taken to the shrine, too.

To this day I feel lucky that no ancestral spirits at either shrine started yelling “NOOOO! NOOOO! NOOOO!” while the building shook and a more sinister voice said, in English “GET OUUUUT!”

The walls did start bleeding, though, but that may have more to do with humidity this time of year.

Note: Edited August 16, 2015 to provide clarity about the remains and the shrines in the house.

Family Travel Fun Time With Nagging Navigation

Anyone who’s ever traveled long distances with my family quickly discovers three things: our kids travel pretty well; She Who Must Be Obeyed is learning to drive the proper way; and our brand new navigation system is an annoying bitch.

The girls play computer games, watch scenery and sleep. They don’t battle for territory and wonder if we’re there yet. I’ve never had to threaten to “go back there” or threaten to have SWMBO “turn this car around” (Note: I have had to do the latter on short trips to restaurants.)

She Who Must Be Obeyed has learned to drive much faster and more aggressively than before and this has led her to complain about other drivers. Most of the time the complaints are of the polite “can you believe that person?” style. I’m happy with her progress but want to work on her language. She needs more profanity and more contempt for other drivers. “Can you believe this person?” is a good start but I’m trying to get her to the “Wake up, Moron” phase which will eventually lead to the black belt level of “Move, asshole, move, move, move.” and other more appropriate phrases.

(Note: I don’t have a Japanese driver’s license yet because it’s a complicated process and I am lazy. Also, it’s probably best our girls don’t yet learn the phrases I’d use while driving.)

I bought the navigation system because, at the time, She Must Be Obeyed but was afraid to drive by herself. My helpful advice “follow the expressway until you hit Nagaoka then turn left” was not perceived as being helpful. Because she wouldn’t go without me as the navigation system, she either stayed home or spent several hundred dollars to take the train.

I thought the navigation system would be a step up from the days when I worked as the navigation system. (Let’s just say swearing and tossed maps was involved.) The Navi, however, has her own quirks. Her voice is polite but loud and she feels compelled to announce certain things, even helpful ones, with extra noises and a loud voice.

–digital trumpet fanfare—There’s an on-ramp ahead. Get in the right lane for your convenience.
–digital trumpet fanfare—There’s a service center on your left.
–digital trumpet fanfare—Turn left, moron.

That latter one is a bit of an exaggeration but after a couple hours of that even She Who Must Be Obeyed was saying “Yes, Mom” and “Okay, Mom” to the navigation system.

Also, if you don’t follow the navigation system’s advice she can be stubborn. “I won’t be ignored, Dwayne” (as if it’s my fault even though I’m not driving) and she’ll send us half way around town to get us back where she told us she wanted us.

Eventually, we got to the in-laws. The navigation system kept saying “Don’t I get a thank you? For all I do for you I don’t even get a thank you?”

I said “No” and unplugged her. We’ll see how angry she gets next time.

Finishing up Work Well After Work is Finished

Today I finally finished work and can enjoy the summer. The problem with this is that I no longer have an excuse to accomplish nothing  this summer.

Starting tomorrow, I enter a phase of paid holidays that are my choice and a second series of “planned” paid holidays that are my company’s choice. (Long story that.)

After a short trip to the in-laws I will find myself with lots of time and nothing to do but what I want to do (with the caveat that I will be babysitting at least three days a week).  In other words, I’ve suddenly got a “round tuit” and nothing messes up your denial than suddenly getting a round tuit.

The problem is that my plans tend to fade when faced with the actual time to do them. For example, several times in the past I’ve planned outings to Tokyo to visit Place A or Place B (not real places) and do Action A and Action B (not real actions) and in the end ended up staying home and doing nothing.

The same happens when I make plans. The planning takes a lot of energy and leaves a sense of accomplishment but then I need a break and will “just quickly” check my email or play one round of game A or game B (not real games). A few hours later I think “Hmmm, I should eat something”. A few hours after that I think “I have to do something that won’t easily fit in a bottle; I should get up and go to the toilet.” A few hours after that it’s time for bed.

But first I have to write an entry for this blog.

This summer I’ve been playing around with different schedules and have had moderate success. The main thing throwing me off schedule is the bad habit of putting of these posts until right before bed. This means I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like which throws off my energy the next day.

But at least that gives me something to write about. If I actually started writing during the day, I might have nothing to write about.

I’ll think about that later, though. It’s time for bed.