Monthly Archives: December 2015

16 Rulin’s for 2016

Today I take my inspiration from Woody Guthrie, which is not something I’d normally say.

A few days ago I stumbled across a list of his new year’s “rulin’s”, which was his way, at least in that notebook, of doing new year’s resolutions. Each rulin’ was accompanied by a small doodle illustrating the concept.

I liked this idea enough that I thought I’d try it for 2016. I therefore offer my list of 16 Rulin’s for 2016. I hope you enjoy them and hope you hold me accountable for them:

Not as specific as some experts recommend...

Not as specific as some experts recommend… 


2015–Long Term Review

2015 started with me feeling stressed—at least that’s what I wrote in my log. However, it says a lot that I don’t remember why I was stressed.

I think it’s because I had just stopped going to karate classes and was, at least at the time, feeling confused about if I was doing the right thing for the right reasons. A year later, I’m sure I did. I haven’t missed karate class at all and haven’t felt compelled to find a replacement class. I miss the people, sometimes, but not enough to go back.

I seem to have eventually calmed down and settled into a new Sunday pace. I also didn’t have my usual October stress, which was a very pleasant surprise. There have been other stresses (I have teen and tween daughters) and we have some family decisions to make and some things to organize, but those haven’t been overwhelming. (Knock on wood.)

There’s also been a change in my work conditions.

Reviewing the log, I can’t say I accomplished a lot in 2015.

I got some stuff done. I finished the first draft of novel number three and then did very little with it except scribble a few ideas for changes. I started typing the text of novel number two from the handwritten “assembled” draft but got sidetracked.

I had a lot of ideas for other websites and for monetizing the ones I have, but this has also been a year with a profound lack of follow-through. There’s a strong streak of fear disguised as perfectionism involved with that. That fear also frequently translates as “Ooh, let’s try this, too!” distraction and old fashioned time wasting. There’s also a strong streak of being uncomfortable reaching out to others for help in doing things. This leads me to not only reinvent the wheel, but to try to carve them from stone.

Sitting in piles are unfinished–and in a couple cases unsubmitted articles–and a finished novel I’ve trunked for a while after a lukewarm reception. There’s also the pieces of a business I never started except on paper.

I mostly kept the log going and kept up the daily entries on this blog. It is interesting to see how the log slowly developed a format: Date and weather; summary of the morning; summary of the day, with weather and lunch; summary of the evening including a sketch of some key theme from the day. Quite frankly, it became more of a diary than I’d intended, but I did make entries at different times of the day rather than all at once in the evening.

I’ll keep writing the log, although I’ve got a new journal that’s going to change the format a bit.

The blog as it approaches its two year anniversary has yet to settle into a format. That failure stems from a mix of laziness and indecision. I’d still like to make it more hobby based, but also include random personal entries. The theme for 2016 will be “pens, paper, life”.

2016 will be a big year for a lot of personal reasons. My goal is to make the entries in the log more interesting and make the year more productive. (More on that tomorrow.)

Decadent Minimalist One Aluminum Wallet—Long Term Review

A little over a year ago my old leather wallet died and I backed a Kickstarter for a new-fangled wallet.

The wallet seemed to be designed to carry cards and not money which was no problem because 1) my old wallet was used to carry cards and not money and 2) I was spending all my money to get the wallet and would have no money to put in it. (That’s totally like Gift of the Magi or my rewrite: I Gift of the Magi Myself.)

The wallet is from Decadent Minimalist and is designated as the Decadent Minimalist One. It is CNC machined aluminum and weighs barely more than couple credit cards. It is shaped like a U and the cards slide in and out over small bumps inside ends of the U. It holds the cards securely and even when I’ve tried to shake them out I’ve been unable to.

I bought the 12 card version—perhaps by accident, long story—and have found that to be an excellent choice. I carry my train pass, a couple credit cards, my bank card, my health card, my residence card, and a few store cards with little trouble. Even with 11 cards, I can still insert a few folded yen notes. At the Decadent Minimalist website you can buy, when they are available, money clips that insert like cards and hold money outside the case. If I’d bought the 8 card version, I’d have probably bought one of those, but they make the 12 card version much too thick. Right now it’s only slightly thicker than my old leather wallet and holds more stuff.

The DM1 with 3,000 yen sticking out. The card, for Pen Addicts, is my Kingdom Note point card.

The DM1 with yen sticking out. The card, for Pen Addicts, is my Kingdom Note point card. You can see the scratches.

The wallet from the end.

The wallet from the end.

The cards are extracted by pushing them all out slightly and then quickly sifting through them to find the one I want. This takes a little practice, but I found that once I mastered the technique, it was no worse than sorting through the crap I used to carry in my old wallet. The cards I use the most are at the ends of the stack.

The black anodizing has held up incredibly well. In fact, after several months of use I can’t find a chip or deep scratch on it. The wallet also doesn’t seem to have sprung and lost its grip on the cards. They fit as securely as they did on the first day of use.

The only complaints I have are that cards can get scratched up, even inside, as they get rubbed around. I also have to be aware of which cards are on the outside in order to protect credit card numbers and security codes. Decadent Minimalist does offer inserts that offer some privacy from wandering eyes, and others that protect against RFID scanning, but those take more space from usable cards and I was aware of these risks when I bought the wallet.

The other complaint, at least from those around me, is that I’ve developed a habit of sliding all the cards out slightly and then snapping them back into place. This creates a satisfying pop, but attracts attention as it sounds like the people that walk around snapping sticks together to warn of fire.

Maybe that means I not only have a nice wallet, but am preventing fires.

The New, the Old, and the Newly Old

Today we all managed to get out the door and to the in-laws. As always, this was a bit of an adventure involving tension, anger and laundry. However, we got out the door only 15 minutes later than planned, which is 15 minutes earlier than usual and managed to catch every train with little trouble.

For this trip we opted for the new bullet train that passes through She Who Must Be Obeyed’s hometown on the way to Itoigawa station. (Surprisingly, my suggestion we jump out as we passed through Nou was met with silence but not derision.)

The train was new and the seats seemed roomier than most bullet train seats. It had adjustable headrests and a pair of electrical outlets in each seat block for recharging all peripheral devices. It saved us a lot of time and stress as it was no longer necessary for us to change trains, which typically involved me rushing ahead and reserving/fighting for seats.

In Itoigawa we got our first visit to the new bullet train station which is a couple floors tall and towers over the old station.

We also got, for the first time in a long time, to ride from Itoigawa Station to Nou Station. In fact, we realized it was the first time our girls had ever done so.

The big change with this part of the trip is that Japan Rail had replaced the usual, old three car trains with single car “wanman” trains. According to the schedule on the wall, this seemed to be the new normal (with a few random exceptions). There also seemed to be more trains than there used to be as I seem to remember having to wait days to catch the next train if I’d missed the one I wanted, but that might be me misremembering.

The train was surprisingly roomy compared to the old trains and had wood arm rests. Instead of giving our tickets to a guy at the station, we gave then to the train driver as we walked off the train.

The only disappointment was there was no momentary blackout when the train passed from West Japan’s electric grid to East Japan’s. I was hoping to scare the girls when that happened. If that’s gone, then so is part of the fun of riding the train.

That Which You Will Do and Probably Not

Right now I’m in gooder intentions.

The day before a trip to the in-laws involves a number of phases: good intentions, denial, acceptance, gooder intentions, greater denial. All these phases involve packing.

I’ve traveled enough that I have the clothes part of packing down to a science: lay out what you think you’ll need, then put half of it back where it came from. This is especially true when we are traveling by train and are only staying a few days. Once we get to the in-laws, we break out the house clothes we’ve left there and become part of the furniture. More than a couple changes of clothes are not necessary.

And even the “couple” part might be extreme. I usually have what I’m wearing plus one change of clothes. There is an instinct in the women in She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family to treat dirty laundry like my mother treats bugs: they are all bad until made good. And the sooner they are made good the better. This means that bugs are killed quickly and laundry is done frequently. It is possible, depending on how quickly things dry, to wear the same outfit every day and have it be freshly cleaned and folded each time.

The other part of packing involves good intentions about what I’m actually going to accomplish while I’m there. For various complicated reasons, I often end up being left by myself whilst the others run off on various errands. My goal is to always fill this time with something productive: writing, editing, Japanese study, reading, meditation, etc.

With that in mind, I take a few things to do and, because I’m in denial, add a few other things to do because the pile of things to do looks small. Then acceptance hits and I take a few things out and feel a sense of accomplishment and grown-upedness (a technical term).  But then gooder intentions hits followed quickly by greater denial and I put stuff back in my travel bag.,

Once I’m at the in-laws, for the first day or so I actually take the stuff out and look at them. What usually happens after that is I carry the stuff around and do very little with it.

However, part of the greater denial phase is the overwhelming sense that this time things will be different.

I’m sure they will be, so I’m taking a few extra things to do.

Sitting Back and Supervising

Truth be told, there’s a thin line between teaching your kids to fend for themselves and sitting around being lazy. I’m not sure if today crossed that line, but it may have.

In my defense, because our oldest was/is on the naughty list, I had little trouble assigning her the job of hanging the laundry out to dry. There was a bit of huffing and puffing but I helped her out by taking everything out of the washing machine and putting it in a basket on the table. Her job was to take it out of the countless mesh bags She Who Must Be Obeyed likes to use–giving us the very rare “individually wrapped” laundry–put it on drying racks or hangers and put it all outside so the sun could do the rest of the work.

After that, I shaved and took a shower (which for me, when I’m on vacation is a major accomplishment) and settled down to do some sorting and winter cleaning and print our new year’s cards and play some games. (Yeah, I know, one of these things is not like the other, but so what?)

Because I’d had the better part of an apple after I got up, I didn’t actually decide to eat breakfast until around noon. That’s when the first dilemma hit: should I cook for the girls, or leave them to fend for themselves? Was that the responsible thing to do, especially as our oldest is also responsible for doing dishes until she’s 20 (give or take a few years), or was I shirking my responsibilities as a father to make sure they were 1) fed and 2) fed properly.

That dilemma lasted a few seconds as I’m of the school that if our oldest doesn’t wash her school eating utensils then she can just take them the school dirty the next day. It’s not my lunch, it’s hers. I, therefore, went ahead and made myself breakfast for lunch.

After that, I kept reminding the girls that they had to make their own lunch and received the usual noncommittal grunts of “yes, there is a voice speaking to me” but no one actually moved until much later.

Eventually they managed to make lunch, and even tracked down and heated some items from the freezer. After that, our oldest washed and put away the dishes. I was impressed and proud.

I feel that’s what I’m supposed to do to help teach the girls some responsibility and I did feel a sense of accomplishment when they were working and I wasn’t. Of course, I also enjoyed being able to do nothing, so perhaps my motives weren’t as pure as they could have been.

I’ll have to ponder that more when they do dishes and hang the laundry tomorrow.

Ain’t No Lifestyle Changes On Christmas Day, Just Work

It’s probably not the wine that will get me. It will be the cake. Even then it’s probably not the cake itself that will get me, it’s the eating it at 10:30 at night that will.

Apparently my alarm went off at the usual time this morning, but I don’t remember it at all. (I went to bed after 2 a.m. Long story.) Instead, she who must be obeyed mentioned at around 6:00 a.m. that our youngest had already risen and my response was something like “why is that my problem?” and then “Oh, Merry Christmas. Love you.”

Us not having been awakened meant that our youngest was pouting at the small pile of presents, none of which resembled a game for a Nintendo 3DS. Instead she found a print of the cover to indicate it was coming and some stocking stuffers (even though there were no stockings). Those included annoyingly cute masking tape, Pentone sticky notes, and a form of gateway drug, er, a Pilot Kakuno fountain pen set. Our oldest had the similar items, although she’d already received her Christmas present (long story involving the naughty list).

The stocking stuffers. Kakuno pens, Pentone notes and annoyingly cute masking tape.

The stocking stuffers. Kakuno pen and ink sets, Pentone notes and annoyingly cute masking tape.

I showed them how to get the pens ready to use and showed them how to use them. I’m not sure how impressed they are, but I got Pilot pink ink for our youngest and purple in for your oldest. They seemed to like that.

The game arrived later in the day, and I had fun torturing our youngest by pointing out the package had my name on it, not hers. She pointed out I didn’t own a 3DS and I pointed I’d just use hers.

After that, I actually had to do some work. Well, eventually I did. I revised a couple lessons for next terms and then waited until the appropriate time to send them in.

I then had to balance my diet/lifestyle changes with “Chocolate, Mother! Chocolate!” and the knowledge there would eventually be cake.

For complicated reasons we ate late. Supper consisted of chicken, salad, lots of cheese and bread, a solid cheap Bordeaux, and a few steak fries.

After that, the girls all collaborated to decorate the cake and we finally sat down to eat it at 10:30 at night. It busted my usual low carb fare. It was also perfect so I ate more than I should have (but not as much I would have in the past).

Almost too cute to eat. Almost.

Almost too cute to eat. Almost. (Our youngest insisted on the candles.)

Now I’m waiting for the carb sleep. I’ve lost 15.5 kilograms (about 34 pounds) in the past 138 days and have reached the weight I plan to maintain. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Especially as there’s more chocolate and a lot more cake left.

Shopping at the Last Minute Ain’t for Chickens

In Japan, putting off your Christmas shopping until the last minute isn’t that big of a deal unless you want something popular or you want chicken. Then things get kind of complicated.

Our youngest chose a game for her 3DS and, since I was already most of the way to Tokyo, I decided to head to one of my favorite stores and see if they had the game. They didn’t and neither did another store so we had to order it on-line. The problem was the deliver was guaranteed “from the 25th to the 29th” because, apparently, the store selling the game learned customer service from a phone company and/or large cable company.

The item is currently “on its way” but won’t arrive for Christmas morning. Instead our youngest will get an IOU.

Our oldest is on the naughty list. Long story.

While I was out doing our last minute Christmas shopping (which technically, is our actual Christmas shopping) I stopped by KFC to get fried fish. (Yes, really.)

The small restaurant had been cut in half with a few seats available for customers and the rest taken up by a table full of cooked chicken. One Christmas tradition a lot of Japanese families have is they order some sort of chicken for Christmas lunch or dinner. KFC provides the pieces for entire banquet, but they have to be ordered well in advance and the slots to get them tend to fill up fast. (That’s a long story involving calendars and red markers.)

Apparently I walked into pick up time, although no one actually picked up an order when I was there which made what happened next especially annoying.

While I was in line, the few remaining seats filled up with the bags and jackets of the people behind me in line. I was left standing and glaring at a woman who’d clearly finished a long time before but was engrossed in her smart phone and her selfishness.

I, of course, responded with a calm, quite and Christmassy “F@#k you. And f@#k you. And f@#k you.” before being directed to a seat that was little more than a stool on the far side of the line of people who just taken all the seats.

I calmed down and enjoyed my lunch and resisted the urge to leave my trash for someone else to clean up. Instead, I disposed of everything properly.

I do, however, kind of wish I tried to buy a chicken.  (More on that in another post.)

Cleaning Out the Year at the End of it

One of my favorite Japanese traditions is that people do their spring cleaning in winter rather than in the spring. It has something to do with cleaning out the crap of the old year and leaving the space clean for the new year. Some of them even burn their old calendars in ritual bonfires. (More on that later.)

The tradition is called susuharai ( 煤払い)–literally “brushing off the soot”–and is done in temples and homes. This year, I’ve decided to brush the soot off the variety room by getting rid of old projects, hobbies and habits.

One of my hardest to break habits is a tendency to keep old projects long after I’ve lost interest in the project. I do well on a project until I reach a distraction (exam time; work; family trips, etc.) and then never get back to the project with the same energy and interest.

Because of this, I have
–several partly finished books (“partly finished” being a very loose term of a few to many pages)
–an abandoned notebook where I’d intended to copy down famous poems I liked because, well, I’m sure there was a reason at the time;
–several half filled notebooks full of brainstormed ideas with notes that no longer make any sense;
–several notebooks full of daily “10 Ideas”;
–a handmade notebook where I’d started to record the most interesting of the 10 ideas;
–random scraps of paper that must have had significance a couple years ago when I decided to save them.
–Several folders full of random scraps and notes.

This clutter tends to occupy both physical and mental space. Lately it’s been creeping out onto my desk and the piles there are getting taller and more precariously balanced.

To go through things, I’ve flipped the piles upside down and started with the oldest layers where the dinosaur bones are. I then ask a few questions:

What the hell is this?
Did I finish it?
Can I digitize it?
If I digitize it, am i really going to do something with it?
No, really, what am I going to do with it and when?

In most cases it’s the last two questions, especially “when?”, that get things sent to the trash bin. I have a smaller pile of things to digitize (the most interesting of the 10 Ideas) and then I’m trashing the old notebooks and notes.

I actually like the idea of getting rid of the old year in a bonfire. A lot of stuff might end up there.

But that would be another project that gets put in a pile (the “to be burned” pile) and put off until another day.

Instead, I’ll just shred and throw away. The Japanese burn their trash so it’s already going to a bonfire. It’s not as much fun as watching it burn in person, but at least the clutter’s off my desk and out of my head.

That Thing Which You Had to Do

I survived teaching at the elementary school with no injuries and it’s got me thinking about if enjoying something, more or less, and being good at it, is worth being forced to do it.

I was lucky to have good train connections and, much to my surprise, the trains I was on were not crowded even though they were major arteries to Tokyo. In fact, the platforms and stations were more crowded than the trains. That put me in a good mood as I expected to be quietly killing people in order to get air. (Not that I would ever do that but if you’ve ever been in a train crush, it does cross your mind…)

Getting to the school was also easy, even though I went out the wrong exit.

I discovered, once I got to the school, that all the materials I was expecting to have weren’t actually available so I had to improvise a few things on the spot.

I taught four classes in a row (with fourth graders and third graders) and the school has had enough regular English lessons that the students are reasonably well behaved (although my first class began with a teacher yelling at a student and escorting him out of class) and the homeroom teachers know how to help and, because of the nature of the contract, they are actually able to help. (Long story.) The students are also able to follow English instructions, within reason and do not attempt to harm the teacher by attempting to insert fingers in his rectum or testing the ability of his genitals to withstand blunt force trauma.

Students approached me to ask my name and only one expressed disappointment I wasn’t the guy who taught yesterday. One student played an impromptu game of red light-green light with me in the hallway while I was waiting for my next class. Whenever I tried to talk to him, he just stared and didn’t move and when I looked away, moved closer.

I also had fun eating the flavorless school lunch with the second graders. Two girls tried to avoid choking while the class clown put on a show.

Even though I had fun, I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that I should have been at home wasting time and making Christmas plans. I still feel as if I’ve lost a bonus. It doesn’t cost me money, just time and effort. I also can’t help but feel that today was some kind of compliance test. (How will DL react when he discovers that we’ve replaced his day off with a day at an elementary school?)

The vice principal let me go early, which was nice of him as I was scheduled to be there until 4:45 but only had classes until 12:30. That said, I’m also betting I catch a cold from being in trains full of people and shaking hands with lots of students.