December 31, 2007

Twofer: Tentative First Steps & A Merry First Christmas

“One Small Step for Lady E, One Giant Leap for Babykind?”
This is my usual overzealous way of letting you all know our baby has taken her first tentative steps. As parents, it is a developmental milestone that absolutely must be celebrated and lauded in the Rising Daughter blog because our Lady E. -- almost one year old -- has really started her journey to toddlerhood.

Walking…OK, careening and stumbling…is just one part of the funny array of things she is doing these days. For a few weeks now, Elena has been crawling around the apartment with increasing velocity and sense of purpose. Like her Mom and Dad, she gets frustrated when she can’t do something NOW, RIGHT NOW…patience is not something we seem to have in abundance. We could tell she was eager to get upright as soon as possible. She quickly progressed from hyper-crawling to rocketing around the apartment with her Miffy walker, with its telltale ‘dingely-dongely’ milk truck sound. It was literally music to my ears.

Naomi informs me she really took her first step in the late afternoon of December 24th. So there you have it: Walking Woman on Christmas Eve!
Christmas 2007
The next day, we were lucky to have some friends over for Christmas dinner. Celebrating Christmas in Japan is both wonderful and somewhat hollow at the same time. Christmas decorations go up in stores nationwide in late November and everyone looks forward to it for the usual reasons. When Japanese society embraces something foreign, they do it with great panache and attention is paid to the smallest of details to make sure it is near perfect. So, the holiday season comes with beautiful packaging, but there is still something intangible that is missing. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein describing Oakland, “there is no there there.” Not being a Christian country, this atmosphere is completely understandable. You just have to make your own soul food for Christmas.

Which is what we did: we had our friends over for a traditional Christmas dinner. We invited longtime friends James, Yuko (and their boys) and Mike and his wife over for a feast, good cheer, plenty of booze, even a few presents. We also arranged for a visit from Santa’s Helper to drop off a few presents for the kids. Naomi and I had a great time in the company of friends. We plan to have others over soon, when they aren’t working…hinto..SDM-san.
Given this festive occasion and the number of gifts and blessings we’ve received in 2007, it seems we were all good boys and girls this year. Christmas was fantastic. While I miss all of you out there reading this, particularly this time of year, we were very fortunate to share this important day with people who are important to us. And we skyped the ones who couldn’t be here in person!

From Lady E. and us, to all of you, happy New Year. May 2008 bring you continued health, hilarity and happiness.

Since it is New Year’s Eve, I’ll close with a quote from P. J. O'Rourke, one of my favorite writers: It is better to spend money like there's no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there's no money.

December 14, 2007

Changing of the Appliances

It is mid-December here in Hiroshima, when autumn leaves have left the tree branches, baseball season is decidedly over and the sting of oncoming winter is acute at night and early morning. It's basically pretty damn bleak, and without the brief uplift in one's spirits that accompanies the first snowfall.

The annual Changing of the Appliances tradition also marks this time of year. It's an ancient Japanese custom that stretches back to the Gasheeter Era of Emperor Needmorecloze. Since I have been resident in Hiroshima for over a decade now, I have acclimated to local conditions and customs in order to fit in…well, as much as I can. The electric and kerosene heaters are now out, cleaned and made ready for action.
Za Electric Heater a.k.a. "Yen Eater"

Please bear in mind that most houses in Japan do not have central heating. Instead, gas, oil and electric heaters and air conditioners are used to heat single rooms. This makes it a little more challenging to keep a consistent room temperature throughout our apartment. It also adds a challenging element to make the whole place safe from Lady E.

Za Kerosene Heater --"Mr. Stinky"

I also got a nasty surprise the other day…we got a visit from a nice lady from the power company, who inquired as to why our electricity use seemed high. I’ve been using the electric heater more than usual this year because it has less residual smell than the kerosene one. But, we got a 20,000 yen (about $200) bill for one month of electricity use—about four times the usual.
...We are using the kerosene heater more now.