Saturday, January 26, 2008

Family Entertainment: Saturday Afternoons in the Winter

We were only about ten minutes into this walk when we were driven back inside by a small blizzard. There, we struggled to find ways to entertain ourselves in order to combat cabin fever.

We've been practicing this one since Grace was about six months old.

Oops!

I'm not sure if this falls under "entertainment" . . .

. . . or "work." I suppose it's a matter of perspective.

This is work. Every now-and-then our rice bin runs low and I have to brave the freezing cold storeroom to refill it.

Family Tech: How To Have a New Laptop Shipped from the United States to Japan

Yuko and I spend quite a bit of time in front of our laptops, and this is the result . . . well, one result, anyway. Lately, we've been doing all of our "computing" (if that isn't too lofty a term for what we actually do with our computers) when Grace is asleep, since the alternative is to become embroiled in asymmetrical warfare for control of the keyboard. The degree of digital destruction a toddler can accomplish with just a few keystrokes is truly amazing. Today Grace somehow opened my gmail account and almost sent an email to ". / /" (fortunately she didn't find the @ key . . . this time).

Cellphones. Sure it's cute when she's pretending to talk into an electronic dictionary, but she is all to often successful in gaining access to the real thing.

Today, after managing to "liberate" my cellphone (none other than the world famous Mobileman II) from the middle of the dining room table, she somehow ended up taking her first picture ever--a partial self-portrait. Usually, though, she inadvertently selects random entries in my "phone book," most commonly those of the elementary schools I work at. Once, she actually called my ex-mechanic at seven in the morning, which could have potentially been quite embarrassing if he had answered.

And now, for something completely different. This is the new laptop I have ordered, the ultra portable Everex CloudBook that comes pre-installed with a new Linux operating system called gOS (based on Ubuntu). It was supposed to become available at Walmart yesterday (January 25), but sadly its release has suddenly been delayed by about a month. I do not expect anyone to understand just how sad this makes me feel. I have spent weeks plotting the best way to import one of these things to Japan. At first I was going to purchase one online from Walmart.com because Walmart was the only listed distributor. Walmart doesn't ship outside the United States, so I was going to have them send my CloudBook to FBC (Foreign Buyers' Club) in California, and pay FBC to ship it to my doorstep in Kazamaura. My probable expenses were going to look something like this:

$399---------price of CloudBook
$29~$34----California sales tax (7.25~8.25%)
$24~$28----probable duty to be charged by Japanese customs (based on an informal estimate of 6~7% provided by an FBC employee)
$5------------approximate cost for shipping from Walmart to FBC
$29~$36----approximate cost for shipping from FBC to me, based on an arbitrary estimate that the package containing my 2lb CloudBook will weigh 3~8 pounds
$486~$502--grand total in U.S. currency (unless I got away without paying California's sales tax, in which case the total would be . . . , well . . . , $29~$34 less).

Based on today's exchange rate, that would be about ¥51'832~¥53'538

However, for the past couple of weeks I have been checking the Everex homepage several times per day, and yesterday I noticed that there was a new distributor listed--ZaReason.com. It turns out that ZaReason's slogan is: "building Linux hardware so you don't have to." Wow, and I thought I was going to have to do business with Walmart (grimace). Anyway, ZaReason was taking pre-orders (unlike Walmart) so I ordered right away:

Subtotal: $399.00
Shipping cost: $63.20
Total: $462.20
including California Sales Tax 0.000%: $0.00

Oh yeah, plus $24~$28----probable duty to be charged by Japanese customs (based on an informal estimate of 6~7% provided by an FBC employee)

$486~$490--probable grand total

So, based on today's exchange rate, that comes out to ¥51'832~¥52'258

Just in case Everex's delay in releasing the CloudBook was causing me to have second thoughts (it was), ZaReason kindly posted this encouraging note in the sidebar of their homepage:

---quote---
01/25/2008
The new anticipated delivery date for the Cloudbooks is mid to late February. Feel free to preorder and you'll be in the first shipment. As always, feel free to ask questions through our Contact form.

Why is the Cloudbook worth waiting for? Reason #1: Because it meets that delightful cross-section of extreme portability (the size of a paperback novel), extreme affordability, and great specs.
---end quote---

And now, for something completely different. Here is the answer to last week's Puzzle of the Day.

The Annual Kazamaura-Doshisha University Exchange Student Experience

Every year, four exchange students from Doshisha University visit Kazamaura, and every year Kazamaura treats them to the "North Pole of Honshu" tour . . .

. . . so that young whipper snappers like these from the balmy south of Germany can get a taste of what life is like on the outer fringes of their planet. (Note: the gentleman on the left has his two month-old daughter tucked inside his jacket. The shocked locals were either awakened to the fact that human infants are actually much hardier than they had previously been aware of or, more likely, confirmed in their conviction that all foreigners are utterly insane).

Other than the North Pole of Honshu (which is actually in Oma, not Kazamaura), the awabi hatchery (awabi being Japanese for "abalone") is pretty much the only other stop on the official tour of Kazamaura. I get mixed up in this official village tour at least once a year, but I still learned something new this time.

These farm raised awabi are green (instead of reddish brown) because they are fed solely on something that looks like green dog food. Apparently the stuff is manufactured from kelp growing in regions inhabited by sea otters . . . .

As a special treat, the workers at the hatchery chopped up some of the more lively awabi so that the exchange students could put pieces of them into their mouths with disposable chopsticks . . . which they did with stoic determination. Predictably, one of the girls gagged, but I thought it would be rude to take a picture so instead I told her not to worry and that in all honesty I wasn't feeling that great either (I had to eat some, too, just to save face).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Oh Yeah, Birthday Day 1

Something Has Come Up That Requires a Great Deal of Study on Grace's Part

I'm Not Sure If She Understands Yet the Full Implications of This Ultrasound

Birthday Day1 didn't make it into my birthday post because it was a Saturday and we had scheduled one of Yuko's regular maternity check-ups at St. Cecelia Ladies' Clinic for that day. It's a six hour round trip, so we postponed my birthday. It's still to early to know if we are expecting a boy or a girl, but we have a plan A and plan B in place for either eventuality.

Boy Plan A
English Name: Motoi Judah Elliot (will be known as Jude Elliot)
Japanese Name: エリオット基
Motoi means "foundation," and it is the first of two characters used to write "Christ" in kanji.

Boy Plan B
English Name: Hikari Josiah Elliot (will be known as Josiah Elliot)
Japanese Name: エリオット光
Hikari means "light." This name is more commonly read as Hikaru when used for boys, but we like Hikari better.

Girl Plan A
English Name: Mia Faith Elliot (will be known as Faith Elliot)
Japanese Name: エリオット美信(みあ--meaning "beautiful faith")

Girl Plan B
English Name: Lina Maria Elliot (will be known as Maria Elliot)
Japanese Name: エリオット凛愛(りな--meaning "dignified love")

Truth be told, none of these names have been very popular in any of the focus groups we have subjected them to, and the kanji readings for the two girls names are innovative and therefore wide open to criticism (though technically possible and backed by obscure historical precedence). Nevertheless, whichever three we don't use this time around will be back on the table for next time. We are stubborn with a sense of purpose.

Anyhoo, the tentative due date is 15 July, so if we're lucky maybe #2 will be born on Grace's birthday (12 July).

Grace gets bored easily during the daytime, and we've found (as no doubt countless other parents have before us) that having her assist Yuko in the kitchen helps to counter this whine-inducing tendency. The other day they made cookies together.

Which Cookie Do You Suppose Grace Made All by Herself?

"That's Mine, Thank You Very Much"

Interestingly, having helped mommy make the cookies, Grace has been extremely conscious of their presence in the house. (In case you were wondering what happened to our prejudice against refined cane sugar, these are bran cookies made with a modest quantity of raw sugar.)

Note: Grace has demonstrated a tendency to eat lumps of raw sugar when she thinks her mother isn't looking.

Grace's Birthday Present from Grandpa


My father made this rocking chair for Grace based on the design of a little rocking chair my Great Grandfather Pearson made for my grandmother. Grace actually tested out the original in Canada last spring (see our trip to Canada), and now she has her own. The outfit Grace is wearing in this slide show is from Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Elliot.

Puzzle of the DayWhat is this a photo of? Answer to be posted in next blog entry.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Birthday (Long) Weekend

Birthday Day 2

Now that I am thirty-one I dispense with the pleasantries like candles, cutting, and sharing--I just dig in.

Just kidding. I share, because I have been blessed with a family to share with . . .

. . . not to mention my beautiful wife who made my birthday cake for me in the first place. (She says it is a double-chocolate fudge cake with Hershey's chocolate whip cream). This is a perfect time to reflect (as I do every birthday now) on all those cake-less, friendless, family-less birthdays that I spent homeless on the Alaska Highway or semi-frozen on winter army exercises, etc.

Birthday Day 3

Did I say I shared? Well, maybe a little with (my wife) Yuko. Hypocrite that I am, I don't let (our daughter) Grace eat food loaded with cane sugar, even though there is photographic evidence that I myself consumed inordinate amounts of chocolate cake on my very first birthday. I let her eat the strawberries, though, since my birthday is, after all, her half-birthday (and vise versa--January 12/July 12).

After my second go at my birthday cake, we went out for a walk so that Yuko could have some peace and quiet. Our house is the one on the left, and the shiny snowcapped mountains beyond the sea are part of the island of Hokkaido.

Upon returning to our front yard . . . .

Lately, Grace has taken to falling asleep in the sled. As one can see from the previous photo, it makes me look like I'm pulling around a dead body, which can be a little awkward when people drive by.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We Apologize for the Inconvenience

The Mushroom

As the reader may readily discover by scrolling down to the previous entry, I have not updated this blog since July 17 of last year. By that time my entries were already few and far between due to my heavy workload of online seminary courses. Then the whole poison mushroom episode transpired and I am just now beginning to catch up with life. It happened thus:

On July 30 our close friends, a dear middle-aged couple who shall remain--for the purposes of this post--anonymous invited us over for mushroom stew. My wife Yuko had already read on Mr. Anonymous' blog that he had received, from a close relative, a suspicious-looking mushroom which the said relative insisted was not "suspicious" since he had harvested it from his own mushroom patch or mushroom farm or mushroom bed or whatever you call a mushroom growing operation. The blog entry included a photo of the said mushroom, which I have pirated and reposted here for the reader's edification (on the odd chance that anyone is still checking in on Gaijin for Life).

Anyway, when we got to their house the mushroom no longer looked so suspicious as it was chopped up and hidden in a nabe of chicken stew. It tasted suspiciously bitter, though, and was in consequence discreetly avoided by all present, but less so by me than by others (I'm not sure if I was being extremely polite or just ridiculously rash). Anyway, we went home and took a bath and Yuko started throwing up and then I started throwing up and we kept on throwing up in violently dramatic ways until Grace started throwing up in bed, at which point I loaded everyone in the car and drove to Oma hospital where we continued to throw up for an audience of doctors and nurses working the late night shift. Fortunately none of us had imbibed enough of the poison mushroom for it to be fatal. Grace, who being the youngest (exactly one year old) and therefore the most vulnerable, had only eaten a couple of pieces of chicken from the stew since our hostess had insisted that mushrooms aren't an appropriate food for babies. She therefore recovered just fine after throwing up twice. Yuko, who ate a single mouthful, ended up with an IV needle stuck in her arm. As for myself, I ate two whole pieces, refused all medical treatment, and I'm still not sure if I've fully recovered yet.

Around five in the morning we excused ourselves from the emergency room and drove three hours to Aomori Airport where we picked up Nozomu (the seven-year-old son of family friends who stayed with us for two weeks) and then went to Moya Camp to help with the Living English Seminar. It was weeks before we caught up on sleep, and I still feel tired from it. However, this is a new year, and I have resolved to update this blog--in consultation with my wife--once a week. Perhaps I will be able to slip in a couple of catch up posts as well, to project some online light into the cyber-darkness of our past six months.

P.S. My trusty laptop died on November 12 and I have been using Mac OS X version 10.2.8 on my wife's ancient TiBook (i.e. PowerBook G4). This seriously impedes my ability to work with my image and video files, but I will do my best. And by next summer I hope to purchase either a 15.4" 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro ($1,999 Canadian with student discount) or Everex's proposed sub $300 laptop that runs gOS and is supposed come out sometime this year.