Friday, September 29, 2006

Dead Teddy (warning - explicit, icky photos below)

Are you getting a theme here?

Today is the final day of my vacation (weekends don't count). I have spent the week doing those annoying little tasks that are so hard for me to get to on my weekends and so easy to put off in lieu of other things. Mostly I've continued to list and give away a lot of stuff on freecycle, and cleaned/organized things like the laundry room which are largely ignored.

Today I put a pillowcase full of dusty stuffed animals into the washer. Most of them will be donated and I wanted them to be clean but there are a couple that have too much sentimental value and I just wanted them clean for me. Among my keepers are the weird cross-eyed cat with a zipper compartment for "valuables" that Dad gave me many Christmasses ago. And of course, Teddy.

Teddy is the Teddy bear I got when I was born so Teddy is a true antique now. He has had eyeball and nose replacements and many surgeries, including a vasectomy and heart valve replacement and one of those jugular thingies. Also some back surgery. He was so well loved all my life. So thoughtless of me to put him in the washer, although what else would I have done? When I opened the washer his guts were all over the others and he was in pretty poor shape:

He's pretty wet now but I'm going to put him in the sun and let him dry and then I will stuff his guts back into him and stitch up his dry-rotted parts and maybe even give him some new eye-buttons. There aren't many things that would cause me to make such an effort for something so far gone but Ted was an icon of my childhood and he is worth it. He'll be a bit lopsided but will still be my Teddy.

I suppose like me my Teddy has been through a lot. Doesn't make us any better or worse than the normal human or stuffed animal. There are scars and some stuffing has fallen out and certainly he isn't perfect. He's moved more times than I care to think, been stuffed into drawers, slept on by cats, and generally suffered bad times along with the good. Maybe some would think it is time to throw him away in this condition. But in the end I think scars, both internal and external, are a sign of a life well lived, and of a life well worth continuing to live fully. We are both survivors and I will fix him as best I can so that once again the cats can sleep on him and he can get dusty and fall apart and get fixed back up for a few more decades. Unconditional love is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dead Kitten

Yeah, I know, weird topic but follow me on this one people.

In Japan, since space is at a premium and since it is the traditional way to sleep, most everyone sleeps on a thin futon mattress on the floor that can be folded up in the morning and stored in a special cabinet to provide extra daytime space. As such they do not use the traditional bed linens that we know here in the west. The futon is usually covered with a removable, launderable, zippered case and of course it would be silly to try to put a flat sheet on every night so the (usually down) comforter also has a removeable and launderable cover. There are no sheets and none are necessary. Just the covered futon mattress and the covered down comforter. Even for people who have a bed this is the way they make it up (so easy in the morning!)

I really got used to sleeping like this. OK, the floor part I embraced as part of my experience but I never really got used to it. It was good to get back to my US mattress and box springs raised well off the floor. But I held on to the idea of only the covered duvet and a fitted sheet and until the summer this is how I slept. Once the heat of summer came it was more comfortable to have a flat sheet and light blanket as the down was simply too hot.

Follow me here.

Phoebe kitten came in May, and every night she has slept pressed against me. If I toss and turn she tosses and turns so the physical contact is not broken. When I wake briefly during the night I pet her and she purrs and we gently drift back to sleep together in our little shared night world.

Yesterday I decided the nights are cool enough now that it is once again time to lose the flat top sheet and light blanket and so I put the cover on the down comforter and when I went to bed it was sheer heaven.

During the night last night I woke up and as usual reached down to pet my sweet and rapidly growing kitten. What I felt was a non-breathing, non-purring, non-responsive body. In a panic I sat up and began shaking her and calling her name loudly. I lifted her up and she was just dead and so limp she flopped around in my hands. In the split second before I began feline CPR she shook her head and looked at me like I was crazy! She was so totally into the down comforter - so warm and happy - that she literally was sleeping like the dead.

So I do highly recommend that you get rid of your feet-flattening, body-confining top sheet and invest in a simple down comforter and duvet cover (available on the cheap at If it can temporarily kill a trouble-making kitten for a few hours I guarantee you will get a good night's rest.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fish and more fish!

A couple of days ago I posted about my plan to buy a couple of koi at Japanfest for my small backyard pond. My pond was filthy at the time - it has been a bad summer for algae and it was due for a thorough cleaning. I was not about to bring home new koi and put them in a murky pond so Saturday when I got home at 5:30 I started cleaning.

While I was in Japan last year I just let the pond go. I didn't arrange for anyone to feed the fish because I figured they needed to be fed every day anyway and who could I possibly get to do that. I had 3 goldfish that were five years old anyway so I figured they would just expire. Turns out they thrived during my absence! This spring when I cleaned the pond I decided to remove them so I could clean more thoroughly. I took out the 3 big goldfish and started draining. Lo and behold I came across a baby goldfish! Not only had my goldfish thrived they had reproduced.

Saturday night I did the same thing - I removed the goldfish and put them in a big bucket while I cleaned. And this time there were another two baby fish - one a tiny goldfish and one a bit bigger and totally black! So I have 3 adults and 3 babies.

Yesterday when I left the festival I went to pick up the 3 for $5.00 koi I had purchased before the gates opened. The really nice man from the koi farm allowed me to pick out the ones I wanted and then he put them in another tank until I was finished for the day. Turns out his brother inadvertently sold one of the ones that were mine so when I picked up I was given a replacement plus another one because he was sorry! So I now have 10 fish in my tiny pond . . . and I'm feeling like I will spend some time this vacation week cleaning up the plantings around it so it is as beautiful as these lovely creatures inside it.

They are so interesting to watch as they get to know each other. When I first put the new fish in last night the goldfish were swimming in one school and the koi kept to themselves in another. Today they are beginning to integrate.

Last week I posted a wanted message on freecycle for a fish aquarium and almost immediately got a response. I picked up the aquarium Thursday, along with some accessories (heater, pump/filter, nets, thermometers). I need to clean it out and figure out where to set it up. I'm so excited! It has been 20 years since I last had an aquarium and I look forward to being able to enjoy fish inside as well as outside. I would love to do a salt water aquarium someday and have seahorses but for now I will get this thing set up and buy a few freshwater fish and enjoy them. Nothing as relaxing as watching fish.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ojisan got me back!

It was a long day. I was at the festival at 8 and was put to work immediately. I ended up in the ticket booth and felt so proud to be able to greet people in Japanese and English! It really was a hard day of work - I had about sum total of an hour to walk around and even then I was monitoring as a volunteer. I was stinky and sweaty an hour before the gates opened and am now washing my whites so I have a fresh volunteer t-shirt to wear tomorrow morning.

I have a new found Japanese boyfriend! Hiro is the man in charge of the logistics of this event and yesterday we laughed together and joked around. Today we finally exchanged names and in our downtimes we had a chance to talk just a bit. Hiro is maybe 60. He is retired from JAL (oh, the serendipity) and though we were busy we had several opportunities to exchange pleasant small conversation. He is my buddy now. He asked me if there were any Japanese foods I did not like and I told him no - I even like natto (natto is a smelly, disgusting, slimey fermented soybean and it's delicious but all westerners and even some Japanese detest it). He told me I am cute. This is terribly funny because if you know me you would describe me as big, strong, stubborn, task-oriented, terminally independant and a bit off the wall. My hair is cute, especially when it's humid and I sweat, but other than that the best you could say is I am statuesque and vaguely memorable. Hiro thinks I'm cute. Hiro is my hero today.

The most fun I have had so far is making the Japanese people laugh. For instance with the ojisan (grandfather) thing from last night. Now this guy watches every step I take and if I so much as falter when I bend over he calls me obaasan (grandmother). And I will sit with the Japanese staff and hear them speaking crazy rapid Japanese and then compliment them on their ability ("Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne?). Late this afternoon I was doing a ticket audit with a man who spoke very little english and after the 1800th count I asked him if he would like to go drink beer at my place. This is one of those really useful phrases I learned from my language CD. I think he peed his pants. My Japanese language CDs rule!

My english comedy is becoming stale. My comedy as a gaijn grows.

I dearly love the Japanese.

Friday, September 22, 2006

JapanFest Atlanta!

JapanFest is an annual event in Stone Mountain Park, just about a mile and a half from my front door (the festival, that is. The park entrance is only about 4 blocks away). Of course I never had an interest in it because who cares about Japan, right? But early in the spring I looked it up, figuring I would only get some good takoyaki (octopus fritters if you will) at a good japanese festival. Turns out they were looking for volunteers and I signed up.

Today I reported to the festival set up at 1 pm. It started out a bit weird as the volunteer coordinator could not be bothered to be on time. But soon we had our information and "assignments" and we all talked and bonded a bit as we worked hanging paper lanterns and banners and moving heavy tables and stacks of chairs. We volunteers were a funny mix - me, two college age girls who were studying Japanese in college, one guy, married to a Japanese woman, who was totally into sumo (we had a grand discussion about it and my honey sweetie sumo-babe Koto Oshu), one lady in her late 60s who had just returned from an elder hostel trip to Japan (her first), and a big, hugely obese New Yorker-type woman who did nothing but complain and talk about how she was a "planner", not a "doer." Oh yeah, and this 20-something african american guy who didn't know a step ladder from a hole in the ground! He kept trying to step up on the side opposite of where the steps were and didn't know how to brace the ladder!

The staff, mostly the Japan Chamber of Commerce people, were wonderful. They all had walkie talkies and were spewing out Japanese all day mixed with english. Language abilities varied on both sides but as always seems to happen we communicated on a level beyond language. It was a bit hot, the work was physically demanding, and we all managed to laugh all afternoon except for obese yankee complaining woman who was just a total pain in the butt. One Japanese man asked me to pick up a box and carry it to a table nearby. He told me he was old and had a bad back so the rest of the day I called him ojisan (grandfather) and he laughed and laughed.

The volunteer coordinator (American man, maybe mid sixties) really got under my skin. He sat on a table all day drinking water and watched us work. There were maybe 9 of us but he didn't bother to learn our names. In fact, in all prior correspondence with him (we all exchanged notes) he never bothered to say thank you for volunteering and all in all it seemed a poorly put together plan of how to use willing free help. About 3 pm I was working with an American guy, staff with the COC, and he thanked me for being there as a volunteer. I told him it was my pleasure and I signed up and looked forward to it for several months. He told me maybe I should be the volunteer coordinator next year. I told him I would be honored to do so. That would be pretty cool. In defense of the current volunteer coordinator I overheard him telling someone how he and his wife started doing it in 1992 when the festival was still very young and very small and he thought they asked him back this year because of that. After 14 years I would imagine one could get pretty sick of it.

On the bright side (????) I have a feeling I will spend money this weekend. Today I saw much of the set up and there will be Japanese koi at varying sizes priced from $1.00 to $2.00 to $3.00 to $5.00 to $30.00. I want at least a couple of small koi for my pond. Also bonsai. I have not yet killed mine purchased 2 months ago. I hope there are some affordable ones. And I saw the most beautiful kimono and silk scarves being set out! And of course octopus fritters!

Maybe I will take my camera and catch some photos this weekend. Certainly I will post more about it. We (the volunteers) will get a t-shirt tomorrow to wear officially but I'm thinking I will show up tomorrow in my kanji "Gaijin" ("foreigner") t-shirt before I change. Maybe I can get ojisan to laugh some more!

I do love the Japanese. I was reminded today that efficiency is not a part of the culture but laughter is. It warmed my heart. It's kind of a different perspective to have these experiences on my turf this time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - awesome site

After my rant last night I need to give something positive to the world so want to introduce you to this very new website. It was tested in beta in July and only went live in early August. You sign up, enter books you have available to send to people, and earn points. You can request books that are available and even import an wishlist. Today I added about 20 books and already one has been requested. I've already wrapped it up. It will cost me about $1.50 to send it media mail but I know I will get books I have requested for free so it's a bit pricier than the library but you can keep what you get if you want! When you send a book you get more points. Yes, postage is involved but what goes around comes around. It sounds to me like a fun way to connect with other readers. It's in that infancy stage now and I am sure there will be enhancements (for instance I would love to have the option of random browsing and now you have to enter a title or author to browse specifically). In other words you have to know what you want to do a search but in that way it's not unlike any online bookstore.

If you are the kind of rabid reader that I am I urge you to check this out. It just makes sense to me. How cool is it to share good books with strangers around the world?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dear Pope/Dear Islam:

Would you guys just get the fuck over it already?

Hey Pope - if you would just raise your head for a second you would realize a few of the reality things that real people have to deal with every day. If you would live one day outside of your bubble you would see some of the ills of the world that your reality cannot deal with in the old ways. You need to change. Now.

Hey Islam - have a freakin' sense of humor already. Here in the US we intelligent people can listen to George Bush and laugh and know he will get his day and he does not define what we are as a people. As a people we have far more class and intelligence and humanity. Yeah, it makes a whole lot of sense to protest the freakin' Pope reading a quote by someone hundreds of years ago that refers to your violence and then answer to it with violence. Oh yeah. That's really fucking level-headed. Surely I will follow only Islam now.

It's all just hate and ignorance and I am so sick of it I can't stand it. I will sit tonight and try to breathe and my own hope for myself is that I will never expect anyone to believe what I do or do not believe.

Why is this all such a mess?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My Last Yard Sale!

I will never do it again. Today was a bust. I'll bet I didn't clear $20 total. I've only had maybe 4 yard sales in my adult life and this by far was the least successful. So tomorrow I will take a truckload for donation at Goodwill and then will methodically make sure everything finds a good new home. I'm taking the last week of September as a vacation week to do some fall yard and house maintenance so by October 1 things should be back to normal around here.

Wow. I'm in a bad mood tonight and I can't remember the last time I was in a bad mood!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why do I do this to myself?

Except for a couple of tiny things which can be taken care of in the morning I am ready to do this yard sale. I guess. I detest yard sales. I detest going to them and I detest having them. But this one is a necessity. I started preparing for it in the spring of 2004 and planned to have it about this time 2 years ago but of course I ruptured those pesky achilles and just about the time I recovered it was off to Japan. So this has been delayed a long time.

My BNU Money Management for Women class back in the spring suggested having a yard sale to get a little nest egg to put in savings or invest. Then my BNU Feng Shui class this summer got me positively rabid about decluttering all the useless junk. So I'm kind of finishing my assignments for two classes this weekend.

You know how there are hurdles in life where you think "When I get through this it's gonna be smooth sailing"? (Or maybe that's just me) Well, this is one of those things for me. This junk has been taking up valuable space for so long, not just physically but spiritually and emotionally. I will be selling off some of my ex's stuff that he forgot to include in the 5 pages of things he wanted when we divorced. I'm tired of looking at it and no longer get that smug satisfied feeling when I see it. (I will however get a smug satisfied feeling when I sell it on the cheap!) And when it is finally gone I will be able to focus on the painting and scraping and other home improvements that are nearly impossible when one lives in an 1100 sf house that is crammed with crap.

Everything to be sold has now been moved out to the front screened porch and already the house feels cleaner and lighter. Most will be donated immediately if not sold. There are a couple of things where the price is firm because if it doesn't sell that's OK - a chair that needs a little repair, a dirt devil hand vac, etc. But everything else is OUTTA HERE BABY!

One funny thing. This little historic town I live in thinks quite highly of itself for some reason. I live on a street where the speed limit is 25 MPH and for almost 8 years I have written letters and emails, made phone calls, and complained at city council meetings because NOBODY except me goes 25 on this street. I have been told point blank that the city doesn't have the resources to help. Last year however the city council voted to make ALL the streets in the town 25 MPH. Like everything else here it is a show. So last night after dark I posted the yard sale signs. They were discreet and although handmade I spent time making them neat. I posted one at each end of the street. Today while I was at work they were removed. I guess they were not in keeping with the town's view of itself. But it's OK to keep political candidate signage up. Where is the logic? So I'm hoping I get some traffic. On weekdays hundreds of vehicles use my street as a cut through to avoid the main street which gets backed up. On weekends not so much.

Will check in later this weekend with news of the millions I have made and ideas about how I want to spend my early retirement. I'll take some pics too if I remember.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

TV and Yard Sales

I really am not a TV Freak. In fact I despise people who live their lives by the TV. I do however have a few shows I love and now we're in the middle of premiere season and so I'm drawn back to the couple of shows I love and also to some I got curious about through the commercials. All in all it will even out to about 5 hours a week during which I will knit and do other things because I can rarely sit still.

I will have a yard sale this weekend. I've gotten it together in the past 4 nights - pricing things, making and posting signs, etc. It's gonna happen finally and I will have a big part of my house back!

But I can't talk more now - I think tonight is the final episode of last year's Grey's again and I need to torture myself by watching Izzie lie in dead Denny Duquette's arms again - I need my weekly small weep to remind me I am, after all, a girl.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"The authorities don't want to stamp him as insane because that makes it impossible to execute him. I think the court deliberately avoided a mental evaluation that would lead to that possibility. " Hisataka Kogi, a psychiatrist hired by the defense for convicted Aum Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara. Asahara is said to suffer from delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech and disorganized behavior. (AP)

A quote from Crisscross News, a Japan Daily news in English. I though at first it was in reference to the US President.

Bold text added by gaga.

I am on a roll.

Tonight's "Presidential" Address

I want to vomit. All day he was stately and appropriate and kept his mouth shut and then he had to go and ruin it all by blowing his own 2" horn on primetime TV at 9 pm. How dare he. How dare he use this day to impose his limp, old, worn out and losing agenda on the very graves of people who had no agenda and only were victims of the same fundamentalism he spouts as hope against the threat. The same agenda that continues to kill our people in Iraq and Afganistan while inflaming not only the terrorists but the rest of the world to hate our country.

"Thank you. God bless you".

Yeah. You too. Asshole.

(Not feeling real Zen tonight)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

No End to Projects!

Today I'm working some more on the table. It's already September 9 and if I don't get this thing going big time it won't be in the house in time for the great Christmas Candy making!

I might just be in a position to begin sealing it in the upcoming week if I can keep myself going on it. I want to clean my porch and get my yard sale together before the end of the month.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Zen and the Art of Refinishing Family "Heirlooms"

I am taking a new class on BNU - this time in Zen Miracles. The class just started Tuesday and already I have learned so much and have even had my first zazen sitting, which typically for me, ended with a cat making me laugh!

What I have learned so far is the importance of allowing thoughts to enter my mind and then letting them go - letting go of control over them and not latching on to any one of them and turning them into a worry or anger or obsession or anything else disruptive to the natural flow of thought and being.

This afternoon after work I decided to make a bit more progress on a piece of furniture I inherited in June. This is a wonderful, excellent piece of furniture. It is the picnic-style kitchen table that sat in my paternal grandparent's kitchen for as long as I can remember and before. After my grandparents passed away the table went to my parents' house and very appropriately sat on the front porch. As a young adult I remember summer dinners eaten out there around it. A whole lot of iced tea has been consumed at this table! Because it is a bit heavy it ended up out on the front porch of that house for a few winters, unprotected from the elements, and when it finally made it inside it was banished to the damp basement.

When this albatross was loaded into the back of my truck in June for the drive back to Atlanta I privately wondered what in the hell I had gotten myself into. This bedraggled, bruised icon of my youth was nothing like the fine country kitchen table that lived in my memories. I knew for a fact that this thing could not enter my house until it had been thoroughly refinished. It went directly to my screened front porch as I have no other place for sanding, etc.

I did work on it quite a bit at first, doing the first round of rough sanding within the first 3 weeks. Then it got oppressively hot and I stopped. In the past few days it has cooled off - enough that I have been able to turn off the AC and open the windows, so today I decided to begin the fine sanding.

My goal has been only to sand off the badly weathered finish and preserve the history of the table, not to make it look new, and I think I have done this successfully. Scratches and marks from my father's childhood remain, and that is the way I wanted it. As I work thoughts enter and leave my mind about the history of this fine, simple piece of furniture. I think of my grandmother in her kitchen, preparing this shrimp/rice/black olive dinner - what was that called? We didn't have the best of relationships but I believe this was resolved before she died. At least it was for me. I think of my grandfather, who told wonderful stories and the more he told them the better they got. After Gran died Grandaddy would latch onto one food and eat it until he was sick and tired of it and then latch onto another. As I sand I see the pecan twirls and strawberry shortcake that sat on the table waiting to be consumed in his latest food kick. I remember the medications that sat there on a tray, and the small TV. I imagine my father and his sister and brother sitting there for supper as children and my memories take me back to all the stories I heard while growing up - stories like when Aunt Kitty would have a date and Dad and David would "rig" the front yard rope swing so when the date inevitably sat to swing he would fall on his ass! I remember sitting with Grandaddy on a trip while I was in graduate school and when it was time for me to get back on the road he would put a $20 bill in my hand and tell me it was to ensure that I got closer to my Dad than I was to him before I needed money again!

It is literally impossible for me to put a minute of work into this project without my mind meandering through my past. It is what it is. I breathe the fine sawdust of the sanding process and relive my childhood. I want to complete this project and have this wonderful table and benches in my own country kitchen and yet I want to continue working on it forever, just to have these moments of memories.

Truly this is a Zen project.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Katie Couric and George Meegan

Tonight was the big night! Katie - the first solo woman to anchor the evening news. It's been about 15 years since I last watched the CBS evening news but I went back tonight. Bad eye makeup - totally. Far too dramatic for her fresh clean look. And she was obviously a bit nervous at first but got into it by the end and was a joy! At the end she said she needed help coming up with a catchy sign off and you could submit ideas at so I logged own with my idea - "Thanks for watching America. I'm Katie Couric, stickin' it to the man!"

Honestly I am still nursing this jet lag thing. I know that sounds ridiculous after a week back but it's true. Air travel is such a convenient miracle but when you fly so far it depletes every bit of energy. No matter how early or late I make myself go to bed I wake up at 3 am. This too shall pass. I joke that I get jet lag flying from Atlanta to Pittsburgh (same time zone for those who don't know) but it's true. Despite the convenience the human body was not designed to traverse so far so quickly. I far prefer train travel. Unfortunately Amtrak doesn't go to Tokyo.

Which brings me to my second topic of the night.

Several posts back I posted the link to a google movie called Kintaro Walks Japan - the account of a young man who in 2004 spent 5 months walking from the southernmost tip to the northernmost tip of Japan. He made the most beautiful documentary of the trip and you can see the whole thing for free on Google Video. And then go to his own website and buy your own copy for CHEAP! Support this guy! He did this because he was trying to impress his girlfriend and his girlfriend's father just happens to hold 8 world's records for walking. From 1977 through 1983 this man, George Meegan, walked the entire Western hemisphere! 19,019 miles and over 3 million steps over 7 years. He started at the southernmost point in South America and spent 7 years walking to Alaska! I ordered and have just finished reading his book - The Longest Walk - and it is fascinating and moving and I am just living every day in awe of such an achievement. His sheer exuberance for life and complete love of the human race has inspired me beyond belief. We should all surround ourselves with people like this. A reminder of why we should never sit on our asses and become complacent, not even for a minute. Highly recommend the Kintaro movie and highly recommend George's book. Both will remind you of the resilience and sheer excellence of the human spirit that dares to imagine what if.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Love, Actually

This is one of my favorite movies. Oddly enough Dad has now adopted it as his favorite Christmas movie. I had seen it several times and last Christmas he had a formal screening Christmas Eve in honor of the holiday. I knew it was going to happen and kind of dreaded it because I tend to shed tears from the opening. But I held it together and only got sobby during the carolers/cue card scene (Dad did too - I heard him).

Watched it again tonight. This is a movie well worth seeing. Romantic and sentimental but a good reminder of what is important in life. Good to watch it alone where I can cry openly and with abandon without feeling like a silly jerk!

Would you please pass the kleenex?