Friday, 30 December 2011

Smoothie, or Another Attempt at Eating Healthy

While Mom and Gary were living here in the fall, before their Magic Bullet kicked the bucket, mom and I were trying out smoothies for breakfast as a way to cut back on the calories of breakfast foods which, in my case, totaled roughly half of my daily calorie budget.  I'm not one to "diet" in the traditional way of cutting out food if I break my calorie limit and all that, but since I've been back in the US I've gained around 25 pounds, none of my clothes fit, and I feel awful.  So I'm trying to eat healthy and exercise daily.  I've gotten the exercise part down pretty well.  Just about every day I do strength training; lifting small dumbbells, crunches, kneeling push-ups, lunges, squats, jumping jacks, all that good stuff.  I also make an effort to play Wii Fit at least a little bit, and sometimes it intersects with my strength training.  I like the yoga games for stretching, and the balance games are just fun.  Or I'll play DDR for cardio and push myself to either make a calorie count on the "diet" portion of the game or just go for 30+ minutes.  Once I'm back at school I'll have access to their gym again, and I'll get back to running/rowing. I'm also on, and I'm now 3/4 the way through level 7.  It's just a nice little incentive, and they have "quests" and a community of support.  If you're interested and want an invite, please let me know!

So that was a bit of a diversion from my main topic, which was smoothies.  My family knows this, I think... at least my mom does, because I HATE yogurt (even with strawberries, hehe, narf).  In Japan, twice I tried to get myself to eat it every day, and both tries lasted over a month.  I know it's healthy, and it is a good little snack, but I hate it.  The Aloe was okay (yes, I know that's weird here in America), and the fruit medley with white peach was passable, only because I love white peach just as much as I hate yogurt, but both times I just got sick of trying to force the nasty stuff down.  So, needless to say, when mom and I started making breakfast smoothies, with a cup of yogurt in each smoothie, despite the yum of the fruit, I kinda choked them down cause of the yarg yogurt.  Well, long story short, grandma and grandpa got a new blender... I think for Christmas, and lately I've been collecting household items since I either left mine in Japan or didn't bother with them in Japan due to space constraints (though I did bring back my rice cooker and kettle... loved those too much to leave behind).  I think the blender came up because I was asking to borrow one, mistaking the name for mixer when I was getting ready to make my Christmas presents (marshmallows).  I ended up buying a mixer for 50% off ($10) at Meijer, so that was nice.  So grandma was getting rid of her old blender and gave it to me.  Today I went to the store for groceries and decided to pick up some stuff to try to make a smoothie.!!!!

Here's the recipe if you're interested:

2 cups of frozen fruit - I used the fruit medley with nectarines, grapes, strawberries, and all that
1/4 cup of low fat, organic yogurt - to thicken it
2 tbsp of plain oatmeal
1 cup of orange juice - I had the Simply Orange kind with high pulp

And that's it.  I had the honey out in case I wanted to sweeten it, but I'm glad I waited because it doesn't need it at all.  The orange juice, something I can't usually drink on its own because of the acidity, completely drowns out the yogurt, and it just tastes like frozen fruity yum.  I put the oatmeal in there to have something somewhat substantial in my stomach (and I got the idea from a couple smoothie recipes online, same with the orange juice).  I'm still drinking this lovely concoction, and I keep giving myself the starts of brain freezes because I want to drink it faster than I should.  I may cut back a little on the orange juice next time, so I can taste more of the other fruits, but I'm overall incredibly pleased, considering I guessed at what measurements would be good.  I added up all the calories, and according to my calculation one serving, which is about a 16 ounce cup full, is 366 calories, and 290 of those are from 100% fruit, so that's not bad.  The yogurt was 38 and oatmeal was the same. 

And I can officially say, my stomach is satisfied at the "almost finished" point, though knowing me I'll be hungry in about an hour.  Still, yummy and I figured worth sharing. :)  Maybe at some point I'll get around to sharing the marshmallow recipes Fay and I came up with.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


Apparently once a month is about all I can handle, and this will likely be brief since I'm actually procrastinating quite a bit and should get going on school stuff.

Life update: It's been turned on its head again.  School is great though.  I love my classes, especially my research class.  I just wish I had more time/energy to devote to it.  I got "fired" from my job for going to doctors' appointments, so we reached an agreement where they replaced me when they find someone new and I can look for a new job... so I found a new job instead of get replaced, and now I'm a substitute teacher and working on a couple of other PT leads.  It'll work out, I know.  I'm actually pretty calm about the whole thing.  I was shocked when it happened, and angry over the reasons and the BS around it, but hey, the doctor found out what's wrong with me and we're treating it, so that's the most important part.  Still in some pain, but it'll just take time, and thank God it's nothing serious, just over-worked muscles in an area I did not even know had muscles.  Go figure.  And teaching is... well, magical is a gentle word for it, but I've already found one school I'm not going back to (bloody lips and noses from fists and 40 completely out of control kids who don't even listen when the vice principal yells at them... yeah, no).  It's good though.  It's much lower stress than the office (go figure that one out, I'm going to put it as the office had too many triggers in it), which is something I need right now, and it's flexible, which is also needed with school and all.

So I guess that encompassed life and job updates... and school even.  So onto "future goals update" I had my TFA phone interview today.  I think it went well.  I rambled a bit at the end, but I can only do what I can do, and if it's God's will, He'll do the rest.  I have the online activity to do this weekend, and I'm far too exhausted to do it today, but I really should.... I don't really want to work on stuff on my birthday, but I have that (2 hours) plus two assignments and a lot of readings... and mostly today has been grappling with life, finances, and finding my brain, plus that hour long phone interview.  I was thinking of going to Ren Fest tomorrow, but I think I'll just be stressed and not enjoy it all that much if I do.

That's pretty much it.  I can't believe I'm turning 26.  It was a year ago already that I saw Metallica on my birthday.  I guess not much can top that huh?  That was pretty awesome.

Final note: I moved to google+ if any of you guys has it and wants to add me.  I don't know who all is on there yet, so either add me or shoot me an email. :)

Off to try to make a dent in the work load.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pray for me!

I just hit submit on my application for Teach for America.  I really, really, really cannot tell you how much I want this.  Please pray for me.  It's super competitive.

I'm going to go spaz out now.... a lot.... gah!!!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Summer is more than half over!!

This summer has felt like a year by itself - a very long, trying, hot year.  I'm sure that feeling won't so much let up when the hot goes away being that I work in a climate controlled office building.  If anything I'm sure it'll drag even more.  But hey, it's better than life flying by while you blink.

I'm going to ignore the hugely crappy parts of this summer and just say that I'm damn proud of myself for hanging in like I have and actually having some fun when April 11th all I really wanted to do was curl into a ball and cry until I fell asleep and never wake up.  I've kept myself busy, it's helped.

So first thing, I got a job for a Japanese sales office.  I hate it, but it pays for now.  It's no where even near the career path I want to be on, and I know how to get where I want to be, so I'm okay until I find something better... unless it's 6:40 AM when I have to convince myself that, yes, I do actually have to get in my car and drive to a job I hate, again.  Hour at a time, it goes by eventually.  I don't know how people manage to live happy lives doing nothing but pushing paperwork and emailing people about products and money neither party ever touches because that's the accounting team's job and the parts don't actually go to America, they go to Brazil or Mexico (yeah, I really don't get it...), but whatever.  If I keep telling myself it's a job, it pays better than no job, and it's just a stepping stone with an end in sight, maybe at some point the mantra will stick and I won't have to work so hard to convince myself that it's okay.

Other than that I'm almost finished with my summer night class.  Two days a week, four hours (which means two days a week I'm sitting 2+ hours in the car, 7 at work, and 4 at school, no wonder none of my pants fit me... T__T but I will not say I hate my job.... even though I really want to).  It's remedial US history.  I haven't learned much new in class, but the papers have been interesting to write and I learned a lot with them.  And I need the credits.  In the fall I'm taking pre-1877 US history, historical research and writing, and Africa in the 20th century, the second two down in Ypsi again.  The goal with this?  If I take all of these and four in the winter semester (yeah, I know I'm nuts) I'll have enough credits for a second major on my bachelor's degree.  And it will get me a step towards teaching again.

Which brings me to my next thing, I'm applying for Americorps this month.  I'm completely geeked about it.  I can't really describe how excited I get when I think about the program.  It's like God said "Here you go, here's how you get to where you want to go."  Makes me excited, makes me cry, makes me really wish the applications were over and I knew if I got in or not.  I know I have a good background for it at least.  That doesn't come until November though, at the latest.  If I don't... I'll bawl like a baby and apply for grad school (and probably try again next year).

That's all future stuff though.  I think about it a lot when I have, you know, time to breathe.  It doesn't happen much unless I'm supposed to be sleeping, but what with being a chronic insomniac and all, there is plenty of that. :P

So what else have I been up to this summer?  Over memorial day I visited Fay in Northport.  I spent most of the time outside reading since she had to work all weekend.  Still had a great time though.  Almost didn't come home...

The shoreline of Lake Michigan.  This was from Peterson Park.  I spent hours there reading Once and Future King (which reminds me, I've added four books to my list of read since spring).  It was my congratulations on getting a job gift to me.

Fox kit on the side of the road.  There were two of them.  I think there was a den in the ditch right there, because this little guy disappeared into it when a car came from the other direction.

Oh! And I'm not sure how I could possibly have even almost forgotten this!! I saw a bald eagle!!!!!! Not in flight though.  But I was driving on I-75, north of West Branch.  I left at like 4AM on Saturday morning, so there was nobody in sight for hours up there.  Suddenly I see this giant white head on top of a brown lump poking out of a ditch off the shoulder.  Holy crap was that thing huge!!  I was sorely tempted to stop and gawk, but uh... dead or not, I-75, plus it looked like it could break my window with its beak if it wanted to.  It was enormous.  It was amazing!  I didn't even know we had bald eagles in Michigan.  It was I think about 7AM... I totally called and woke my mom up to tell her.  I had to tell somebody, I was busting with "kyaaaaaaa!!!"  Also that night I saw a really bright shooting star.  It was a good day.

I went up again over the 4th of July.  Fay and I went to Leeland and saw fireworks on the 3rd, watched the sunset over Lake Michigan again on the 2nd (we've watched it at least once every time I've gone up there), and it was pretty epic because you can really see the sun moving when it's near the horizon.  It was pretty hazy that day, so it looked like there was space between the sun and the horizon, so it looked like this hazy nothing just gobbled up the sun.  Once it set, like as soon as the ball was completely below the water/haze, a really cold wind gusted up off the water.  It was cool.  I've read about those winds, but never felt one.

On the 4th I had to leave early, so we got up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise at Northport Marina.... only then we realized we weren't far enough north to not have another part of the peninsula blocking us to the east.  Unfortunately I won't be able to go back up there again this summer, but we were going to try to watch it from the lighthouse next time.  Still got some cool pictures though.

Back in June we made plans for Fay to take a day off and I would come up and we'd go kayaking.  Well that happened two weekends ago.  I didn't get any pictures, but I did lose my moderately offensive non-PC Mickey cowboy hat T___T.  Fay lost a sandal.  If it hadn't been so much fun, I may actually have cried, because I'm still homesick for Tokyo and I really loved that hat.  But it was amazing.  We went on the Upper Platte river.  My kayak was terrible.  We ended up switching at some point and Fay suddenly realized that, no, it wasn't my fault I was having so much trouble steering.  The first two times I flipped were pretty stupid and entirely my fault.  Shallow though, but fast.  There were a lot of trees and dams (I saw three beavers!!! and a bunch of Kingfishers... not related to dams though), and with the non-steerable kayak I kept running into them.  I was stupid and attempted to push myself off of one.  Under I went.  The second time I was trying to rescue my paddle, which had gotten caught in a giant tangle of dead tree, quite literally in the middle of the river.  I was trying to avoid a huge spider web or I wouldn't have flipped.  Fay flipped around the same time - I don't remember which of us was going after whose paddle first.... but we were both chasing paddles and flipped.  Fay lost her shoe then.  The third time was really bad, because the river was really fast and clogged.  That was when I lost my hat.  This canoe with a little kid and her parents in it was right smack in the middle of the river going really slow.  We'd given it a lot of space in front of us, but kayaks are way faster than canoes, especially a canoe not really rowing.  This one bend was really fast and I caught the current.  I tried to back paddle, but the back paddling against the current pushed me right to the edge, smack into the lower branches of a tree, completely sideways.  I tried to push myself to the side of it, but I was still on the current.  I flipped really fast and got pinned under the kayak, kayak pinned under the tree.  When it finally made it past the tree I was able to hold myself up just by standing on my knees, it wasn't deep at all, but it freaked both Fay and me out a bit.  A bit after that the river got deeper and there were less trees blocking the way, and the canoe got off at some point.  We kept passing and getting passed by a bunch of other kayakers.  They were fun.  They rescued my water bottle after the third flip.  I got it back about an hour and a half later. :P  We were out there about four or so hours, and of course, the last stretch was entirely against the current.  Neither of us was in the shape to do that, but oooh boy I'd do it all again... maybe minus getting pinned under the kayak.  We went to look at the dunes, but with the whole Fay missing a sandal and wearing the extra pair of mine that were too small and us both being fried from the knee down (we very intelligently put sun screen everywhere.. but our legs... I was wearing capris and Fay rolled her pants up at some point... we fried), we weren't going to try to climb.  Plus it looked like rain by evening.  So we went to the historic town there (Empire, maybe?  I don't remember its name) and watched the blacksmith and Fay asked fun questions and the guy was going to let me play with the toys but there were younger kids there so I felt bad and deferred - totally wanted to play though!!  And by toys I mean 19th century tools that drilled holes in iron.

And tomorrow we're going camping!!  It's kind of our last hurrah for the summer because she starts school in, I think, two weeks (?).  So she's going back to the UP.  Probably won't see her until Thanksgiving after this weekend, WAH!!!! T_________T  But it should be fun, even if it rains.  We're going up somewhere in the thumb to see the petraglyphs.  And write, because neither of us has had the time to write in weeks.  And attempt to see the sunrise over Lake Huron. XD  And wear plenty of sunscreen on exposed legs.

So yeah, that's been my summer.  Apologies for the radio silence.  Lack of internet access kinda makes it a pain to keep up a blog even when you have epic kayak trips to write about.  I have decided though, once I have my credit cards paid off and a steady income again, I'm getting a kayak.  This time was only my second time - I've done canoes and row boats before, but not much kayaking.  I'll fully admit I probably wasn't ready for that river, and I won't go on one any faster than that, but I really want one.  They're so fun and so relaxing, even when you do flip and have to lift a giant chunk of plastic full of water over a log.... repeatedly. :P  I miss the water though.

And I really have to end this.  Food time then study time because I have a dentist appointment Monday right after work, school right after that, then Tuesday is a meeting for substitute teaching, and I haven't finished all of the lectures for that yet (...yeah, I haven't even started them), and another dentist appointment, then Wednesday is my final exam..... Off I go!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

What is wrong with people here?

I know that sounds harsh, but seriously, I just got off the phone with two different doctors offices and both treated me like crap.  Receptionists, phone manners, kinda go hand in hand.  Accross the street from Beaumont Troy, um... okay, that's on both sides of the road... in the new building?  "I don't know ma'am, we're across the street from Beaumont."  Those are directions??  What's wrong with people here???  I'm just trying to make an appointment.  I'm a new patient.  I don't have a doctor there, I just said I was recommended to call, don't get snippy with me and act like I should know exactly what to say to you people.

Yesterday when I bought my phone the sales guys were in the back talking (quite loudly) and goofing around.  At Kroger there were three baggers standing at the end of the aisle I was in, and talk about crowded, and the cashier had to go get the application for their card.  All three handed me my bags at once, like I have six hands to take them all when the cart is behind me.  At Meijer I got lifted eyebrows and a snotty attitude from the greeter when I asked where the Red Box return place was, cause I'm obviously supposed to know something that obvious.  At least she gave me the directions though.

Why does it seem like everyone in customer service is either goofing off, asking a question for every sentence, or talking to me like I'm a moron?  Is it just me?  I'm not 100% for Japanese customer service either, cause that fake smile is pretty darn creepy to be honest, but am I carrying over expectations from that?  I don't remember noticing it this much before, or was it different three years ago?  I'm confused, really, really confused.  It makes me want to go somewhere else, but everywhere I go is like that.  Verizon, Kroger, Meijer, CVS, Wallgreen, Target, Subway, gas station, Taco Bell, family restaurant, airport, bank, currency exchange, doctor's office, everywhere.  How am I supposed to respond to that?  I'm not necessarily annoyed unless three people are handing me bags at once or I'm getting ignored or talked down to, but it's really confusing.

Okay, yeah, I'll figure it out in a few weeks/months/whatever.  Still, it's clashing with what's in my memory, which is making the whole adjusting to what I'm supposed to already know even more confusing.  And I really, really don't want to hear the phrase "You're an American, what's there to get used to?" or anything like it ever again.  I try to respond with grace, but it never gets through, and grace is something that I tend to lack.

In other news, today's job application tally is up to two phone calls, four applications, and one rejection.  I also finished Ceremony, which puts my book count up to 11/50 I believe.  I'm currently halfway through Candide.  It's very abrupt, but considering the man wrote it with a quill pen in three days, what can you expect?  Cats are good, I'm healthy and survived the doctor's prodding for my physical yesterday (OW!!!).  I might scream at somebody if they tell me I'm not looking hard enough for a job as I can no longer count the applications and resumes I've put out.  It's really frustrating.  I've only heard back from one for a phone interview so far, and I get to wait another month to hear yay or nay on an in-person interview on that one.  I'm appalled at the price of gas, but I'm sure everybody else is too.  I'd take lower gas prices over health insurance that's kinda sorta working right now, but that might just be because my priorities are funky and I'm opinionated about things which I am expected to have no opinions on.  Or something.

I have a raging headache, and I've been on this computer for pushing three hours now, so here I end my rant.  And no, I don't expect any answers.  It's a rant, and I'm attempting to process a should-be familiar world through completely changed eyes.  It's been three days since I've broken down crying though, so I suppose that's progress, and I had a really yummy turkey and cheese wrap for lunch, which I'm still excited about.  Yay pickles!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

10/50 books

Yay, I finally finished my book.  Actually, I finally resumed reading my book.  I stopped reading after the 11th and my book sat forlornly on my desk until Friday.  I stayed up last night reading, and it was nice.

So, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is done.  I don't have the energy to write a full-on review of it, but I'd like to bring up a couple of things.  First, I barely remember that book from when I read it as a kid, and now I think I know why.  It's boring!  I don't know if it's supposed to be satire or Twain's personal opinions.  I've read that it was supposed to be satire, and I'd like to keep my opinion of Twain as pretty much awesome and someone I'd invite to my dead-people-I'd-like-to-meet tea party... so I'm going to really really hope that all of the obnoxious, white 19th century superiority bits of it were intended as satire... cause they were annoying and filled most of the book.  Secondly, if I ever meet a person who likes that book/narrator or agrees with pretty much anything he has to say and doesn't think it's satire I get the strong impression that I'm really going to dislike that particular individual.  So I'm just going to keep my own little world and pretend everybody thinks the book is a satire and go with it. :D

As far as connection with King Arthur is concerned, Twain used Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as a base reference, even pulled whole chunks and stuck it in his dialogue now and again.  As much as the mental image of a guy in a nude gymnast suit lassoing Lancelot and dragging him about makes me grin, the characterizations of all of the knights were mostly lacking.  I think that was part necessity for what he was going for though.  All of the nobility and chivalry were worthless, lacking individual personality, and, well, the enemy.  King Arthur got some personality in the second half of the book, but he wasn't much more than a pawn for the entire thing.  I started enjoying it as a story after the skip-three-years bit toward the very end.

So I have a couple of options I'm thinking about reading next.  One is a book on Robin Hood legends and history, Voltaire's Candide, The Alliterative Morte d'Arthur, or re-read/finish Malory's Morte d'Arthur.  That's if I get around to reading at all today.  My goal is to finish packing all of these boxes and my suitcases and not go stark raving mad.  First I think a trip to the grocery store for caffeine and a giant box is due.  I have three boxes unpacked (and several partially packed), but I need a really big one for my fan.  I love that fan.  It has a remote and a timer.  I'm bringing it with me!  It collapses down and comes apart, and the box I need isn't too big, just a few inches wider than the ones I have now.  Unfortunately, it's freezing out and I think it's going to rain later.... >.>  Which means I should shower and get out of my pajamas now, huh?

Friday, 1 April 2011

The nightmare that is this month

So, three weeks ago we had an apocalyptic sized earthquake and massive tsunami here.  It was my last day of work, and I got stuck walking home eight hours across Tokyo and part of Kanagawa.  That wasn't really the bad part.  At that point I was in survival mode and making an adventure of it.  I was also completely unaware of the actual damage, and I kept myself that way because as soon as I started paying attention, as soon as I saw videos of moms looking for their kids and a woman asking if a hospital somewhere was taking care of her missing daughter-in-law who was too pregnant to run fast and went missing, I broke.  There are still over 5,000 people missing, presumed dead.  There are thousands more in schools and temples trying to get by.  They interviewed a group of moms a couple of weeks ago asking what the shelters needed, and they described how all the kids had colds and diaper rashes, they wanted to be able to at least bathe the babies in warm water, and that there were a lot of people who had lost their contacts or glasses and couldn't see to take care of the kids.  Just to note - almost every Japanese person I know has terrible eye sight and wears really strong contacts.

Today at the vet I almost started crying again with the news on.  I avoid watching it.  I know it's hard for people back home to know how real all this has been here.  To everyone back home, Fukushima is just a name that's hard to pronounce, Sendai is some city across a giant ocean, and they have no idea what Tohoku is.  For most of the people I know will be forgotten when the next disaster hits somewhere or filed away as "I'm glad Chris got out of there okay," but it never will for me.  All those people who died, the towns that just ceased to exist, they were closer to me than the people who died in New York on 9-11.  For me, Fukushima is 150 miles away.  Sendai is one of the five major cities all of my favorite bands tour.  I'm not reading interviews in subtitles or hearing them voiced over, I'm hearing pain in the words as they are said.  Apparently there was a fire in Tokyo caused by the quake... it was on the other side of the city from me, but I went there today.  I could see the NHK building in Odaiba from a bridge.  I passed through Tamachi on my way there then found out tonight that a ramp to the roof of the Costco there had collapsed on the 11th.  Bottled water is still hard to find because after the 11th everyone panicked and bought it out.  The same with any instant or easy foods.  Bread was sold out everywhere for over a week and is still the first thing to sell out.  My local stores are just now getting rice in.  Since they found radiation in some of the tap water on the east side of the city, even juice and soda has been hard to find.  The vending machines are all sold out.  Everything is dark - stores, office buildings, signs, trains - in an effort to conserve energy and make up for the lack of output. 

I'm not putting this up here for sympathy.  When it comes down to it, the effects of the Tohoku earthquake were and are an inconvenience for me.  I chose to walk home because I was afraid my window was busted open and I didn't want to leave the cats in the cold to possibly escape.  (My windows had, actually, shaken all the way open, and my apartment was freezing inside.  The cats were fine, but very cold and hungry since it'd been almost 24 hours since they'd eaten.)  I walked on no food because I was a flake that morning and forgot to bring myself a lunch and all they had at the store was a tiny salad.  I was out of food and water in my apartment, but I was still able to find enough to eat and juice to drink.  The weeks of tremors have been aggravating and distracting, but nothing is broken, and I have no legitimate reason to complain about them.  I've had it easy compared to many.  I'm writing this because next week, barring any disaster at or getting to the airport I will be back in Michigan, and to be completely honest, I'm terrified of facing the people I love.  I know what is said is meant in love, but no, I am not happy to be getting out of here.  I'm terribly sad and stressed and don't know what to do with myself.  Even before this I was sad and torn, and a few times, angry about the reactions and things going on here, I've said I'll be glad to be gone, but that's not true.  This place, it infuriates me to no end, but it's been home for four years.  That's almost all of my adult life.  I'm sure, in time, I'll be happy to be back in Michigan, but it's going to take time to adjust, to get used to being among Americans, to driving on the right side of the road, eating a salad with a fork, responding to people in English, all those little things that you really take for granted until they're either gone or completely different.

Everyone wants to know about Japan, and everybody has their own ideas about what it's like here.  Most people haven't got a clue.  The stereotypes of Japan are all wrong, but even Japanese people will go about saying things like "Japan is mysterious and difficult to understand."  Students of Japanese culture will often flat out ignore the reality and believe what they want to believe about Japan.  Western media shows a Japan that isn't real, it's a superficial image interpreted how people want it to be interpreted.  A really good discussion on Orientalism is here (click on "Legacy of Orientalism" on the left), on the Penn State University website.  I wish I could make everybody read that before they ask me questions because even when I answer, whether they do it intentionally or not, most people don't hear what I say.  They hear what they want to hear and interpret it to match what they believe Japan should be.  For non-scholars it's an innocent mistake, and if the person I'm talking to is willing to listen, really listen, it's a topic I'm more than happy to discuss. I've lived here four years, and apart from that I spent six years studying Japanese and Japan.  It's something I've loved for a decade, and when you've only lived through two of those, that's a long time.  The thing is, I need time.  I need to process my life before I can talk about it.  I've been crying the whole time I've been writing this, sobbing sometimes even.  This is hard for me.  This month has been draining.  My best friend left seven months ago, and I've been alone almost every day since.  The job that I thought I loved turned into a nightmare.  It's been a hard year.  Even leaving my school here and returning to America after having the best three months of my life with Lindsey and Chieko, adapting to life in America was hard.  I don't honestly think I managed completely before I left again.  I started bawling in the middle of Hudson's after encountering something counter to what I had gotten used to here.  I couldn't eat most American foods.  I went to an anime convention with my friends and couldn't understand why I was surrounded by Japanese things but everyone was speaking English.  No one understood me when my English failed and Japanese popped out.

Being in Michigan is going to be difficult.  Even though my family loves me and I have friends there, it's going to be difficult.  I'm going to need time to adjust, and I'm going to need the space to adjust in.  I'm partly writing this for my family to read, since they're the main people who follow this blog.  I won't be able to explain in person any of what I said here because it'll upset me and it won't all come out in English which will just frustrated me more and it'll all just become an incoherent string of babbling and crying.  In time, when I'm ready, I would love to talk about Japan.  It will take me longer to talk about what has happened since the Tohoku earthquake.  If you think of it like talking to someone in upstate New York about 9-11 in October of 2001 you might get something of an idea of what this is to me.  And I'm putting this on the internet, rather than emailing it, because this earthquake has not only effected Japanese people, it's effected the entire ex-pat community here as well.  We're also the ones who have to deal with reverse culture shock and friends and relatives who don't really understand what this is to us no matter how much they love us and care about us.  I don't know if anybody will actually read this, and I know I'm incredibly long winded, but if what I've managed to articulate about my feelings and experiences in writing here helps somebody else describe theirs then it's worth it.

Thank you for reading this far, and I hope what I've written makes sense because right now, I'm not sure I can say it any better.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Of books and cats

For starters, my book tally so far is 9/50.  I just finished The Prince, and I also read Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Flies.  I also finished Lancelot, Knight of the Cart, though I'm not going to comment specifically on that one right now.

I guess I'll go in read-them-order and start with Mists of Avalon.  I read it once back in Jr. high.  My friend lent it to me, and I was probably 30 pages from the end (it's over 1,000) when I gave it back.  I got bored with it I think.  This time around, well, I've read parts of The Mabinogion, four of Chretien's five romances, half of Le Morte D'Arthur, Tennyson's Idylls of the King (why is that a classic??), and for the last three months have been discussing Arthurian stories with other lit nerds, so I know a bit more about the legends and stories than I did when I was 12.  That was interesting, seeing what Bradley did with the characters, though some of them seemed pretty forced, like Gareth's adventure, which is sad cause it's a fun adventure and he starts off like he could be a useful character for her plot.  I appreciated that Merlin's utter stupidity wasn't the cause of his death in this one as it usually is.

I have two major beefs with the book though... well, maybe three.  One, according to her own intro, her aim was to show how Britain might have been prior to Christianity taking hold there.  To that end she made a good bit of headway, but then she filled it with Eastern ideas of reincarnation and enlightenment which just aren't native to Western religions.  If it was just briefly in there it might have been easy to ignore, but there were whole sections explaining basically what any introduction to Asian philosophy would say.  This leads me to  my second beef.  There was far too much emphasis on religion, and the clash of religions.  At first it was fine, and it even enriched the plot, but as the book moved on it became a fanatical voice narrating a story whose antagonist was another fanatic.  I'd like to think it wasn't trying to make a point out of that, because I hate pointed literature and if it was pointed the point was badly made.  My third beef with the book is mostly that I love Arthurian stories because of the knights and the adventures and the battles and even the epic fail of characters like Tristan and later versions of Gawain.  Bradley skipped over almost all of that (including the entire fight between Arthur and Mordred!!!) for the sake of keeping to her narrators which were all female.  That itself was actually pretty cool.  A+ for idea on that one.  It showed an interesting perspective, but it deteriorated quickly, and really, to me, the meat of the stories of Arthur and his knights are just that, Arthur and his knights.  To completely push them to the side and leap over most of the major adventures and battles was really disappointing.  I would rather her have allowed some of the male voices to narrate instead of sticking strictly to the females, or had a female in the camps or something.

It's not a book I'll read again any time soon, but those beefs aside, I really enjoyed the first half.  Up until Accalon's part was over (*sad face!!*), I thought it was really good.  Then Morgaine just went completely nuts and passed passionate into fanatical.  The story started to take really long leaps around there too.  I don't know, one of those books where the end is just really disappointing, and not because Arthur dies.  Everyone knows Arthur dies in the end (if you didn't, now you do).  Arthur always dies in the end.

I could keep rambling about that, but I'll move on to Lord of the Flies.  I've been wanting to read this book.  I don't know why I never did except that I never took Brit Lit in high school because of how I was bumped into the AP program my last year.  I don't know that they even read it at my school, either in AP (10th grade was Brit Lit) or regular (12th grade), but it seems to me something that would/should be on a high school reading list.  I wish I had read it when I was younger, when I didn't already know the world was messed up and humanity basically sucks.  I think it would have had more of an impact on me.  The writing style definitely felt geared for young adult.  It spelled out a bit more than I would have liked, and the Lord of the Flies part with the pig head was a little random.  Cool imagery, but random.  Simon was so in and out of the story up until that point that it really felt sudden, but it was a pretty pivotal point in the book so I also felt kinda cheated.  The ending was definitely a disappointment.  It made it feel almost like they were put on the island as a test or something Battle Royale style.  (I know the two have often compared, but I've only seen the movie.  I have the book, but I haven't read it yet.)  I didn't think the officer's reaction was appropriate either, though the children's was bang on.  Still, ending aside, it was an interesting book.  I liked the way the paint became a mask that hid shame.  The dynamics of the Tribe were really believable, though I wonder, had Jack not been so obsessed with the pig, would any of it happened?  Why was he so obsessed with the pig in the first place?  I've read too much and lived too much to not tear points like that apart anymore... I wish I had read it when I was younger.  I've read things that made me stop and reevaluate the world around me before, and I can imagine how that would have made me feel when I was 11, 12 years old, before I'd managed to work my way through things like A Tale of Two Cities.

Most recently I finished The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.  Yes, that evil manual for dictators... or something.  I don't get why it has such a bad reputation.  Personally, I think somebody (probably the Church as they were the first to edit parts for publication) called the book evil, associated it with dictators, and people, being exactly as Machiavelli calls them, "always taken by what a thing seems to be" and rarely looking for themselves, took up the cry and never bothered to actually read it.  Not that it is wholly wrong.  I can see where a dictator or a prince or the President of the United States for that matter could pick and choose bits of practical wisdom and put them to use.  It is better to be feared than to be loved so long as you are not hated (as a leader).  Fear can mean anything from stark terror (though I doubt that's what his intention was as that would lead to hate as soon as it abated) to respectful awe.  That tidbit has been pretty abused over time, but that makes it no less true.  Practically speaking, a leader who is feared, respected, or admired has an easier time getting people to follow him or her into danger than one who is simply loved or well liked.  "You like me, so come die for me," vs. "I have the power to make or break you, so come die for me."  That's putting it in incredibly simple terms, and those are expounded upon, but that's the gist of that section anyway.  Even the "controversial" chapter really was just stating the obvious.  It's not ideal for a leader to be dishonest, but human nature being as it is, find me one who isn't dishonest, then find a way to succeed in the political game against dishonest characters by being honest.  In this world it won't happen.  To quote a song I like, 「理想はただの理想」 "An ideal is just an ideal."  Basically Machiavelli wrote it as he saw it, practically speaking, not beating around ideals, not (completely) catering to the Church which, at the time, was an incredibly powerful political entity, and not making excuses for writing common sense.  I say common sense because that's how it read to me.  If you have enemies in a position to do you harm, destroy them before they can destroy you.  He never says how, though let's consider it was the beginning of the 16th century, basing most of his philosophy on wars and princes up to the 15th century, the most common way would have been execution if one could get their hands on their enemy.  He repeats multiple times that being hated by the people is the worst thing a prince could do - don't touch their property or women, don't make radical changes, don't raise the taxes.  He also says that, while a mask of virtue is necessary, it's also better if the prince has at least some of the virtues he shows the people.

I thought it was pretty vague.  I was actually disappointed, having believed the juicy rumors of it being the handbook for dictators.  It's not.  If a person has the intelligence to follow their ambition and succeed, they don't need Machiavelli's theories to help them.  Most of what he says could be applied to any politician in any type of government as well as most people in a leadership role.  His histories though were interesting, and Castruccio Castracani's was entertaining if not interspersed with pretty bits of fiction.  It read better than some of the contemporary romances.  It definitely beat Mallory.  The first bit though was really dry and not easy to read at 7 o'clock in the morning.  112 pages to me far longer than I wanted it to.  Once the histories started at about page 70 I breezed through it.  I read half of the book today when it took me all last week to read the first half.  It definitely would be an interesting conversation topic, except that it appears even the lit nerds on my forum are still mostly in the "Stalin's handbook" camp.

I'm not sure what to read next!  I'm partway through Ceremony, but that book can be so depressing.  I have a book on the history of Robin Hood, but I'd like something a bit less thinky.  I went from middle ages Arthur legends to epic-length book that was more religious conflict than I care to think about back to Renaissance political theory with a post-nuclear war island nightmare in between.  I need a break!  I've already read all of the palatable Jane Austin though! (/dig)

Oh, and I was going to write about the cats too.  Ophelia has a bladder infection... yay. >.>  I feel bad.  I thought she was just mad at me, so I let it go for almost two months.  She's on meds now, has been since Thursday, but twice again she's peed on my couch.  It's easy enough to clean up, but I need to correct the behavior.  The problem is, I don't know how.  Someone suggested getting her a new litter box and putting it where she's been peeing... which is a good idea except I don't have the space, and her current litter box is four feet from where she peed today.  I'll go to the store and see what's cheap though.  It makes sense.  She's been in pain for two months whenever she goes to the bathroom.  Of course she's not going to want to go in her litter box which has two months of pain associated with it.  I'm too tired and stressed to deal with this right now though.  I washed everything that I could, but some things just won't come clean.  Now it's no longer 50 degrees and sunny, it's pouring rain interspersed with snow.  What I really should do is just pack up a couple more boxes and get rid of the stuff in my apartment.  Getting the boxes is a huge pain though.  If it's not raining tomorrow I'm going to try the close grocery store again, see if they have anything.  I could always buy more boxes, but that gets expensive and the biggest boxes really aren't that big.  GAHH! I hate moving.  I hate living in this tiny hole even more though.  Even prior to Ophelia being sick, I could clean and clean and it's just not enough.  The bathroom moulds in a few days.  The kitchen smells like rat crap.  I just don't have the energy to deal with it all.  To top it off, I just spent $70 that I was planning on putting toward sending boxes on a vet trip.  I don't regret it, I'd do it in a heartbeat again if I needed to, but it adds to the whole "CRAP I HAVE NO MONEY!!" panic when I think about how to send boxes, what to throw away, what to try to sell, and all that stuff. 混乱  I have no idea how to translate that, but that's how I feel right now, like I'm running in circles and can't see or feel anything to find my way.

I think I'll go back to thinking about the middle ages or made-up worlds... or beads.  It's less panic inducing.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Trying to relax this weekend

I've been really sick this whole week, so I made sure I had enough groceries to last me the weekend, and I don't plan on leaving the house until tomorrow evening.  I had to leave briefly because I dropped my Downy ball off the balcony when I was doing my laundry... but that aside.  I  kinda want to walk, but I don't think the cold is good for me right now, so I'm going to stay warm and try to relax.  Relaxing is a little difficult.  I would like to be packing or cleaning, but I can't pack without more boxes, and I can't really clean because there's so much junk in the way, not to mention a tower of already packed boxes.  le sigh.  I'm thinking I'm going to drag my stuff up into the loft and curl  up there for the afternoon, ignore the mess down here.

I finished two more books, A Long Way Gone and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, which puts me at 5/50.  I really liked Yvain.  It was a lot of fun to read, and the story was pretty good.  A Long Way Gone was really interesting in some ways, but it's so sad.  It's a memoir by Ishmael Beah about his childhood during the civil war in Sierra Leone.  I remember hearing news about that as a kid, and he's not much older than I am, so it was strange to read.  He spent a long time running from the war then got forced into fighting for the military.  Two years later he was pulled out by UNICEF and rehabilitated.  Some of his friends, though, weren't accepted by their family, and some ended up having to go back to the war, which was really really sad.  His uncle took him in, but not too long after the war reached the capital city and he was running again. 

I'm not going to lie, it made me cry.  It makes me cry just thinking about it.  It's bad enough that war involves civilians sometimes - that sometimes both sides attack them, sometimes they get caught in the crossfire, indirectly it always effects them.  But to take a child, give him or her a gun, then drug them to take away the need to cope with what they're doing and shove them into a battle... and continue to do that, it's just inexcusable.  I know this is something I've said before, but I don't understand how the U.S. can justify its military support of countries that are using child soldiers.  It's wrong, and yet we do it.  We make exceptions because it's in our interests, or some bullshit like that.  The United States has a lot to work out with their stance on the issue, I think, and it's sad that it's not even really a public issue.  We act like we're morally superior to the eastern world when we're really just a strong group of uninformed hypocrites.  Wars don't touch us.  We didn't see them as children, they don't threaten our heated and air conditioned homes, the misguided extremists who attacked us were punished (ignoring the fact that one of them was 15 when he committed his crime).  It's all just really, really sad, because the rest of the world is nothing like North America, and most people in North America, the ones with the money and the status to do something about it, don't know that.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

My face is going to explode

Gah, I'm so sick right now!  I was hoping I'd feel better by Monday, but I had to conduct speaking tests in a damp, cold, concrete room all day... that helped. >.>  It's hard to sleep at night when you have a cold, too.  I crashed this afternoon though, slept about three hours.  As soon as my tea is ready, I'm off to watch a movie, snuggle with my kitties, and hopefully sleep soon.

I finished Cliges, so I'm 3/50 now.  It was uh... pretty dumb, actually.  I was okay with the first half, his father and mother's story, but it seemed like somebody took the story of Tristan and Isolde and rewrote it so that it didn't involve an affair in which the woman is sleeping with two men, and moved it to Greece (which I found rather random, considering he was supposed to be one of Arthur's knights).  What also bugged me is that he beat Lancelot, who was supposed to be Tristan's equal (number one in some stories, number two after Gawain in others).  He equaled Gawain at fifteen (um... unlikely at best there, right up with beating Lancelot) but the fight was stopped to avoid them killing each other.  All that also smacked of Tristan.  So did being caught naked with his lover by a soldier of his uncle.  The only difference was he didn't leave her behind since she was supposed to be dead.  I don't know, it wasn't the worst I've read of the genre, but it was far from the best.  Too much romance, too many parallels to Tristan.  I know it's a classic, and you're not supposed to tear apart something that was written 800 years ago, but meh, whatever. :P

I'm currently on Yvain, which, being that he's a total idiot, is turning out to be quite interesting.  The love story was there, but uh... Yvain's an idiot so now his wife has banished him from her kingdom and he went nuts and ended up running around the forest naked.  That seems to happen to people fairly often.  I think they shouldn't be dumb and pledge undying love to people they don't even know and have only seen once, but that's just me. ^__^

Tea time!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Finished a book

My first finished book for this year is Idylls of the King by Lord Alfred Tennyson.  Yay!  It uh... definitely is my least favorite books among the classics relating to King Arthur, which is a very nice way of saying I didn't really like it at all.  Its only redeeming quality was the story which, being King Arthur related, was not his.  Most of the parts he changed were ones I didn't like.

This is my ranting review that I wrote for the literature forum I'm a part of, if you're interested.

Holy crap, Arthur, wow… just… wow. I never cheer for Lancelot, ever until this piece! The poor man!! Guinevere is a raging witch in this! She has absolutely no redeeming qualities, whatsoever. None. That said, what the heck gave Arthur the right for that holier than thou speech at the end? Did Tennyson really want his readership to feel that Arthur was being gracious and saint-like? Did anybody think that?? Ok, yeah, she cheated on you, but you’re the oaf who didn’t notice for how many years, and let’s not forget, you no more than saw her before deciding to marry her. How does that make for good measure of quality and loyalty in a queen? Seriously now.

His handling of the women in all of the idylls, Enid aside, made me want to scream. Make the women villains, that’s fine, but they’re completely demonized. The one that might have had a chance at being an actual powerful figure, Bellicent, didn’t even appear when the proverbial crap was hitting the fan.

Tennyson’s portrayal of women aside, and Tennyson fans please forgive me, I did not like his writing. It felt like it wanted to be a medieval narrative, but his use of more crude descriptions, Mark’s sword cleaving through Tristan’s brain, the lords and ladies eating flesh and drinking wine, to name a few examples off the top of my head, didn’t fit. They felt forced and out of place. It may also just be the fact that I have trouble with poetry any more recent than Keats, but there were also several sections that I just didn’t get. I had to go back and reread sections of The Holy Grail and The Last Tournament, and even then the writing was so inconsistent that it didn’t all make sense. Don’t get me wrong, some of the idylls I rather enjoyed for themselves, Geraint and Enid, Merlin and Vivien, Lancelot and Elaine, but as a whole, I really felt like Tennyson dropped the ball. His source material, primarily Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur was all that saved the poem, and really then only in pieces.

Taking into account that it’s twelve smaller idylls linked together, they still tell a story. They begin with Arthur’s ascent to power, even describing multiple accounts of his origins, they show Camelot at its peak, the splintering caused by the quest for the Grail, its further weakening through affairs and broken vows, to its war with Lancelot and then Mordred and Athur’s trip to Avalon. The problem I found with it is that, for a story written in the 19th century, it doesn’t meet the standards of a cohesive story of its day. Mordred is said to be a nasty antagonist at the beginning, there’s little mention of him in the middle, then suddenly he’s usurping Arthur’s throne. His mother disappears entirely. Tristan shows up at the end as a morally depraved character who’s taken his example from Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair just before he gets knocked off remarkably clumsily. The only constant themes, at least as far as characters go, are the breaking of vows and adultery, which I think made the characters really flat and, frankly, annoying. The only other possible one I can dig up, which may just be my unhappy reaction to his handling of his female characters, is the fickleness/weakness of women and the evils they bring to men. Even in Geraint and Enid, in which I think Enid is a fairly feisty female character, the damage done is not to her but to Geraint, and it’s blamed on Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot. Pelleas’ anger at Gawain and Ettarre is due to both of them, but he puts the sword over Ettarre’s throat, not Gawain’s. Tennyson brings up other themes throughout the different pieces, but if they connect I missed it.
 I needed a flailing rant, and that was after a day of calming down.  I don't know who reading this would be interested, but I posted it as a part of this discussion on Idylls of the King.  I'm excited.  We're discussing the first idyll right now, The Coming of ArthurIdylls of the King is a set of twelve idylls, or short poems.  I just had this discussion with Aunt Tracy on how we're counting our 50 (25?) books, and we decided that if it was a compilation than it's not necessarily the binding that makes it a book.  Somehow though, I don't think this counts as 12.... they weren't very long. :P

I'm currently reading Chretien de Troyes' four romances, and I recently finished Erec and Enide.  I'm on Cliges at the moment.  I absolutely adored Erec and Enide.  It's the story of Geraint and Enid - how Chretien came up with Erec I have no idea.  Tennyson did okay handling that story, but Chretien's is so much better!  It's beautifully written, and I don't really get why she's not allowed to speak, but yeah.  Cliges is a bit, I don't know, boring is the wrong word, more difficult to completely lose myself in might describe it better.  It's still pretty good though.

Erec/Geraint is a prince who is one of Arthur's knights.  On his way to avenge an insult to him and one of Queen Guenevere's maids he meets and falls in love with Enide who, after beating the crap out of the knight who insulted him, he marries.  They go back to his father's lands and he's so in love with her that he stops acting like a knight.  He stops going to tournaments and seems to have lost interest in anything related to "arms."  The people begin to talk, and Enide finally tells him her concerns and what people are saying, and so he takes her away to test her love (which I think is the point of what he puts her through....).  She is not to speak to him no matter what happens.  Well, when a group of knights approaches to attack him, she can't stay quiet and warns him, repeatedly.  They continue to wander until he nearly dies and she's captured by a count who tries to force her to marry him.  Erec, who they think is a corpse, wakes up and kills the count, and they escape and meet Guivret, who he narrowly beat on an earlier adventure and who has brought an army to rescue Enide after hearing that Erec had died.  There's a final adventure, the Joy of the Court, in which Erec fights in a magical garden with a knight who has so far remained undefeated.  He wins and frees the knight from a vow to stay inside the garden until he was defeated with the woman he loved.

I really enjoyed it, and honestly, so far I think it's my favorite medieval Arthurian story.  Even Cliges, which isn't as good (or maybe I'm just less interested in it since it's about characters I don't know), is still good.  Chretien spends a lot of time describing the battles, which I love but I also find fascinating because so far he's the only one who's done that.  The others will say things like "they exchanged blows," and describe battles in pretty vague terms, but he's gone straight down to how many, where, with what hand, really vivid descriptions.  I think it's probably the most accessible medieval piece I've read so far.  If you're at all interested in breaking into medieval literature, I would recommend Chretien de Troyes, even though I can't pronounce his whole name. ;)  (I asked, but I still can't figure out how to pronounce "trwa" o.O)

So, if I start my count on January first, and exclude the comic books (I think I've read three so far...), I'm 2/50, and I have 4 more to read this month to be on track.  Well there are three more romances left from Chretien, and I'm working on A Long Way Gone, which is, not surprisingly, really sad.  Actually, it's really lonely right now.  I'll let you know once I'm done.

Other than that, I've got six boxes of books, comic books, cd and dvd cases, and miscellaneous clothing packed.  I need to fill out the customs forms and weigh them before I call the post office.  I was going to do that this weekend, but then I wasn't sleeping during the week and, surprise surprise, got sick today, so that didn't happen.  I have a bunch of stuff for work that I have to do, but I'm planning on spending tomorrow either reading or playing video games because I am not going to let work bug me this weekend any more than it already has.  I need unwind time.  ...I also need another box.  I hope it's not too cold tomorrow, or that I have some energy to go to the store and paw through their cardboard boxes.  That was on today's list.

And that's the truth. pbhhhhh :P