Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A summer holiday Tuesday

Can't believe a week's gone by already!

Well, with the double modeling day last Monday, then two days of camp, then up to Kitakyushu hospital for Erica on Thursday, then Gion and the Gion party, last week just flew by!

Today was silly busy - up for rajio taiso, then I set myself a two-hour cleaning bee, which went overtime to 10am, when I jumped in the shower, thinking I had enough time to shower, prepare my lesson and get the kids' lunch before leaving at 11:30 - only to get a phone call from work while in the shower. I didn't take it, being all wet and all, and was just sitting there musing on what the possible reason could be for the call, when I suddenly remembered I had a lesson that morning at 10! EEEK! Cue panic, motor-speed shower, throw clothes on, stuff work bag, and fly out the door, telling Amy as I left that her babysitting job was starting a little earlier, and please make noodles for lunch!

Amy and I got the carpet up and cleaned the living room and returned it to the usual non-party configuration. Then Amy decided we needed to move the stack of wedding albums on the genkan cabinet, and by the time I got back from that rushed morning class, she had completely cleared the genkan out and cleaned everything! She is a very thorough and complete cleaner, when she decides the time is right!

It's been pretty much on the go since then, I was home long enough to throw some cheese rolls in the oven for the kids' lunch, then rush off the catch the train. Home at 5:30 (lovely hubby waiting to pick me up at the station again - he wasn't there when I came out, so I thought he didn't have time and was just forlornly checking the car park again when I saw him pull up), then to Keio to pick up Erica, back home to clear kitchen table while K cooked dinner (eel and cold noodles - better than my effort last week when I served only egg and ham with the noodles - tonight we had cucumber, tomato, carrot, sprouts and alfalafa, spring onions, ginger shoots, shredded shiso leaves, ham, egg and two types of fish sausage! At the same time he was preparing sansho pepper corns for a future effort. He's turning into a right gourmet, even if it's only once a week.

Then it was off to my private lesson at Joyfull, and home again to send in reports by email. Things are finally settling down from tomorrow. One class tomorrow and one on Thursday, then nothing until next Tuesday. Plans include beach and pool trips, movies and an art gallery and shopping for summer dresses. Fingers are tightly crossed that a house for loan on an island off Nagasaki comes to be, and I'm forming plans for a trip to Beppu staying at a company hotel, and the kids first trip to Honshu, with a train museum and a possible look at a ship lined up. Summer is looking up! I just hope the kids are on board with it all, and their crazy schedules don't conflict with my plans!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tour, No Tour

Feeling a bit disappointed, but also a bit relieved, that my tour seems to be coming apart.

Relieved because I was starting to worry about the cost - my goal to pay my visa back in full is proving elusive, partly because of the exchange rate but also just because of stuff, life - things that keep coming up. When I conceived of the tour back in February, I had the extra pay from Daihatsu and the extra classes I was doing, so I was certain it would have been payed back by now.

But also disappointed on a larger scale, since I, silly or not I don't know, kind of conceived of this as the start of something new, a permanent part of my work life, even a new career! Tired of never getting to travel anywhere (the only thing that really interests me longterm) I thought maybe I could recapture lost opportunities by bringing this group, or others, to different places every year. I thought they'd appreciate the chance to travel off-package, with more control or independence, less expense, and with their own private translator to boot.

Ahhh.... Japanese. They like their package tours, they really do!

I at least thought the NZ tour was special - it's the sort of tour *I* would like to take, visiting someone's hometown with them, with a festival going on, personalised invitation-only tours to special places, visiting a family home and attending a family party, a good quality but inexpensive motel, a personal guide who knows the area and can introduce the special, secret places...

The first hitch was K, who brought along a travel agency brochure and said she wanted to also visit Christchurch, Queenstown and Mt. Cook. After I had presented the details of my tour, she had emailed her friend in Christchurch to ask about it, and ask what were the best places to go in NZ. Of course the friend, who lives in Christchurch and probably hasn't even been to the North Island, said Christchurch, Mt. Cook, Queenstown. Typical toursity answer, and not untrue I suppose. K presented it as why would you want to miss out on the best a country had to offer, since this was probably going to be her only chance to go there. I get that in a way, I don't know if I would be happy to go to a small town in New York state for a family birthday party and not get the chance to visit the city! At first I thought I could add a few days, but I miscalculated and realised I couldn't, nor can I afford it. So it was back to plan A.

Then today T showed me a tour she had found. She said her husband said he didn't want to cause me any inconvenience (meiwaku) by having me do all the driving. My protests landed on deaf ears so I can only assume that the truth is that he doesn't trust me, and would prefer the security of a package tour. And actually I have to admit that it's a good one - seven days for 250,000 including hotels, transport and most meals. I have the itinerary beside me, and part of me wants to go too! I would enjoy seeing all those places at least, and being the Kiwi on a Japanese tour of New Zealand would be good for a laugh. But a) it costs too much. My tour worked for me because I could stay at Mum's, get them to cover the car hire, and could expect to charge a gratuity for tour guiding that would pay half my ticket; b) I can't go for a whole week because I have to work on Tuesdays; and c) I would cringe at the waste of money and feel bad that I was paying out so much when I was supposed to be making money out of this and forging a new career!

So at this point in time it looks like it might be squeezed down to just a day or two in the naki, with them after they arrive after doing their South Island tour (if they can finagle the flights, that is, but they probably can't, package tours being generally inflexible). And I wouldn't be able to charge for tour guiding fees since they really would be guests then, so I'd be back to paying for my own ticket. I could take the chance to go back for Mum's birthday but then I'd feel guilty about the fact that it's becoming clear that I won't be able to afford to take the girls for Christmas - my original optimistic plan included all of us going in December - so it's looking more and more like it won't be happening at all. K said today she's not sure if she can go at all. T will go on this tour with her husband and his brother. I will save my cash, go to the mini convention in Huis ten Bosch instead and save my cash to bring my family back to NZ.

That part makes me happy. I was worried about getting too emotional in front of the tour group, returning home after such a long time. I was also afraid I'd feel horribly guilty for not bringing the girls, when they SO want to go. Maybe it's better this way.

A Dream Friday

My dream is to one day, on a sunny Friday afternoon, return home from work and have a glass of wine. 

That sounds very simple, but is in fact very elusive with three hungry, messy children (and one messy, hungry husband) at home waiting for you. 

So... dessert and pie cooked, one laundry load brought in, another folded, another put in the machine, the cat litter changed (and the realisation made that I have some DIY to do in their toilet closet), two kids despatched to Gion gong practice and a third set up at the kitchen table with real, not play, doh and a bunch of cutter (she's decorating our chicken pie) and I finally get a chance to sit down with that drink!

I know that the day will come when I can do just that - come in, sit down, not think of anything else. And I already know that when that day comes, as much as I'll enjoy it, I'll also miss the little darlings, and will probably sit straight down and call them or check their status on whatever social media is the thing then.

I bust my gut to do it now though. I know I've posted about this before, the preparation it takes, going back to menu planning on Thursday morning to get all the shopping done on Thursday afternoon so everything is cooked Friday morning, the running around Friday morning to make things just so at home... and the constant threat of things coming up that stand in your way, an appointment you forgot, a sudden need to buy something, an emergency of some kind.

Well it's done for this week, and I have nothing else to add. Maybe I'll go add to the other blog. I think I did this last week, wrote a post after a few wines. Oh well, maybe one day I'll add some photos to the other days, and it'll be one drunken weekly post and bunch of photos. Sounds good to me.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwing Things Out


5. Books
4. Skinny Clothes
3. Dead People's Stuff
2. Photographs
1. Stuff That Might Be Useful

This article really resonated with me as I've become significantly more aggressive about my decluttering efforts recently, fuelled partly by sheer frustration at the level of junk we've accumulated in this small house, and partly by the older girls' ideas about going to high school in New Zealand - the realisation that I may only 'have' them for 1.5 to 2.5 years more makes the saving of things they might need, that they use, the just-in-case stuff seem infinitely more useless. The future seems shorter somehow.

4. I can't agree about skinny clothes. Nope. Gonna keep them, dammit, cos I'm going to LOSE IT, dammit! I am! Okay, just the favourites then. Actually I'll probably enjoy getting rid of a lot of it. I haven't done my summer wardrobe overhaul yet this year (I usually go through my clothes twice a year) but I just have a feeling that this year, I'll be more ruthless than usual. I usually like to remove at least one garbage bag, I have a feeling it might be two or three this year...

3. I don't really know about dead people's stuff. Nana had already downgraded a lot in her shift from her home to Mum's, and was never a hoarder anyway. She liked things clean, neat and new. Dad didn't have much stuff to start with, and Mum was not overly sentimental about keeping pointless items like clothes. She wasn't ruthless either, the clothes stayed in the closet for some time. She couldn't understand her friend getting rid of everything the weekend after her husband died. It all went eventually, she just took her time and let it go gently.

As for me, I'd like to think my family would know what to keep and what to lose. You don't need my clothes or shoes or towels or kitchen things (unless you find them convenient or they have nostalgia value to you). Or most of my books and certainly not my papers (not even I want those, but life in modern civilisation forces you to keep a drawer-full of that crap). I'd like to think they'd keep my old treasures and my better jewellery (eek! I'd better sort that out, I would be happy to chuck most of it, but there are a few pieces that either cost more or have more history that I'd like them to keep). I'm already sorting out my treasures by writing a blog about them so the kids always have a record of what they are and what they mean to me, and am starting to put them out around the house so they have actual memories of them, instead of them being just random mysterious junk they found in a cupboard after I died.

1. Stuff that might be useful, hear hear! But... it's a tricky one. The things the article mentions you can't argue about, especially the pertinent point that these things would have been much more use to the world recycled fresh than kept musty and dusty until they are no use to anyone. But living day to day, there are a few things you need to keep around to use. Plastic bags, paper bags, paper clips, rubber bands, bag ties, envelopes and note paper, pencils, erasers, tacs, thread, needles, buttons... I've always been pretty good at keeping a lid on it though - I need newspaper to wrap broken items, but I never have more than six, and usually one or two, not stacks of them. I have a set of 12 tiny drawers (10 x 5 x 5cm) for things like tacs and rubber bands, which is tidy and easy to access and designed so you always have enough and never too much. Sewing things in a sewing box, stationery in a stationery box, pencils etc in a drawer in my desk. I think if you create a space for it, and only use that space, you're doing okay.

But what really got me thinking was the books and photographs. These are two things that, as the article correctly points out, have enormous social value. We've been taught since birth to treasure them. Books are the greatest treasure known to humans. Photos are the first thing we save when the house is on fire, as they are so irreplaceable. How can anyone brought up in modern society view these things as anything other than sacred, and the idea of trashing them as anything other than sacrilege?

5. Life in Japan exacerbated the book maniac in me. It's easy enough to be a bookworm when you have several stores and a LIBRARY always at hand to feed your addiction. Coming to Japan meant facing a sudden and horrifying drought of reading material, begging for hand-me-downs, paying exorbitant postal fees for supplies from home, paying top dollar for new books on rare trips to the big city, and learning to seek out reading material in any place a gaijin was or had been or might be!

Only a few years ago, any AFWJ event or any other occasion when foreigners got together would include a book and magazine exchange, where people would swarm over the new offerings, and snatch up their choices. I would always come home with more than I brought, glorying in my new treasures. Now you're lucky if anyone bothers to look at the pile.

I can trace my changed attitude to books (and magazines, which I also used to treasure inordinately) to late October 2010 when I won the ipad at Tropicoco's Halloween party. It was a first generation ipad, so I was early adopter, and I got an iphone too that year. It didn't take me long to discover the world of electronic books - the endless universe rather, because over those few short years, the provision of digital books has skyrocketed into the ether, to the point now that theoretically, I don't ever have to buy another book ever. With dozens already downloaded to my devices, and hundreds - thousands even - available free or for a few dollars, and endless online magazines and blogs, I know I will never run out of reading material, never run out of choices. I used to keep a book and a magazine in the car, the kitchen, the toilet even, I used to travel with at least two different types of magazines and one or two books so that I'd have different reading choices to suit different moods, but all I need now is to ensure I have a device (and a charger).

This has put the contents of my bookcases in a slightly more tenuous position. I've always loved having bookcases, and the idea of having a house with rooms lined with them. It feels enormously comfortable and glorious to me to have that resource always at hand, to know I can always stroll into a room or up my corridor and choose something I love to read. I don't think that's going to change soon. I keep novels I loved and think I might like to read again, non-fiction that I think I might refer to, and beautiful books I just love to look at or hold in my hands.

And while I've never kept novels that, once read, I know I'm not going to read again (I would sell them or give them away), life in book-starved Japan has inspired me to keep piles of unread hand-me-downs and giveaways and 'hmm, I might like to read that one day' books around in piles, to guard against the threat of  literally having nothing to read - a very real scenario for me in my early days in Japan.

That day is not ever going to come now, which means those piles of already-read, and might-read, and just-took-anyway piles of books really have started to become a liability. They have almost no re-sale value - books are being sold for 100 yen these days, barely worth the effort of selling them. Staff where I work have stopped taking used books (they were once like gold to new staff!). So, do I toss them? Cut them up into book art (really fond of this idea, actually, though it means keeping piles of unwanted books hanging around!)? Try to pass them on? Either way, the article makes a really good point. Books just aren't the treasure they used to be!

2. Photos too. For me it feels almost sinful to say that, as I've always valued my photos, even more than my books (which are theoretically replaceable at least). But I realised two things recently. First, a photo has so much more value if there is only ONE. It really is quite boring to view a folder full of twenty views of the same thing. I'm even getting tired of collages, though I completely understand the impulse to gather a few of the best that you can't choose from into one 'thing' to look at. I've realised *I* value a photo more if it's unique.

This shouldn't be a surprise really. I've always known that professional photographers take a whole roll, or several rolls of film and choose just one for the Vogue or National Geographic magazine article. And as I take them, the dozens of shots of one thing, I always have it in my mind that I'm going to trim them, just choose the best shot. I just have to actually DO it.

A realisation I came to in a different way, is that I just have way. too. many. I have so many that my computer has slowed down, and that's not even all of them - I have stacks of CDs of photos that still aren't on this computer! I have THOUSANDS of photos. Of course, like everyone, I want to 'sort them out', 'someday'.

I'm beginning to realise that 'someday' has to be sooner rather than later, and I have a few ideas about how I'm going to do that, but... what I know is, that if I'm going to get any pleasure out of my photos in the future, and for my children to find any value in them, I'm going to have to be massively selective about what I keep, and delete most of them. I've started, I've gone through iphoto once and destroyed obvious double-ups. Next task on my list is to start with recent albums (I'm less sentimental about recent photos) and try to reduce them by at least half, though my ultimate goal is to reduce them by 75-90% -wish me luck!