Thursday, November 13, 2008

Smoothie Move

It all started with my first visit to Costco, which opened not long ago in Sapporo. Imagine, if you will, a store with spacious aisles, spacious shopping carts, and huge piles of cheaply-priced items that can't be found in one's local supermarket. Well, I suppose for most Americans, that doesn't take much imagination, but it's extremely rare in Sapporo.

I went with a friend who has a membership, and filled up his basket with cheese and corn bread mix and Perrier. (Of course, I paid.) I also found a huge bag of mixed frozen fruit (mangoes, papaya, pineapple, and strawberries) that I could barely squeeze into my freezer.

Of course, then I wanted to make smoothies. I’ve missed them so much, although they’ve just started getting popular in Japan. So I just had to buy a juicer. Juicers have also only recently gotten popular in Japan, so I was surprised at the variety I had to choose from, but got a fairly inexpensive, standard model, which is actually a simple blender.

I figured making a smoothie would be a cinch - just throw in some frozen fruit and a bit of low-fat yogurt, and mix. Well, it tasted all right, but it wasn't smooth!

Later I tried one that included a cup of vanilla soy milk, a cup and a half of the frozen fruit, and a half a banana. The texture and sweetness were for that were just about right.

Also, I figured out that it works better to put the milk in first and the pieces of fruit in one at a time. I knew there was some reason for the cylinder in the middle with the hole in the cover! I'm kind of a slow learner when it comes to anything involving ”cooking.“

There are some recipes in Japanese that came with the juicer, and I suppose I could check those out. I notice they have Chinese characters for something like “angle ice,” which I think means ice cubes, although frozen fruit seems to do quite well. Eventually I might add some sort of nutritious powder or the like so that the smoothie could even be considered a meal.

Advice or RECIPES for smoothies are welcome!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On Not Coming Full Circle

Today I was asked if I would teach a course for elementary school English teachers. I declined.

In my 30+ years of teaching, I've had students from the ages of 11 to 78, but I've never taught children. I have neither the experience nor the expertise to teach children, much less to teach others how to teach children. I could not, in good conscious, agree to teach such a course.

Ironically, my very first major in college was elementary education. That lasted a little over a year. As much as I love children, I couldn't get into the courses, which seemed rather petty to me. I easily got seduced (almost literally) by the Head of the English Department into majoring in English, a major that I later discovered (and was warned by my father) would get me nowhere when I started looking for jobs.

I toyed with majoring in Psychology - and would still like to get a degree in counseling, if I could - but the Psychology Department at my college was pathetic. I'm not sure, for example, that they were familiar with Carl Rogers and Client-Centered Therapy. It was all still Freud and Jung.

I would also have loved to major in Theatre, and took as many courses in the field that I could, but my tuition was being paid by my father, who considered Theatre an even less practical major than English. I defied him later by going on to graduate school and getting an M.A. in Theatre on my own (and with the help of a full-tuition scholarship). It turn out, of course, that my father was right. In fact, neither English nor theatre ever led directly to jobs.

I ended up taking courses in alternative education and finally getting licensed to teach English for senior high, then junior high. That eventually led to my teaching in Japan, where I wasn't able to teach in public junior or senior high schools, so ended up teaching adults, then university.

And, now, at one of the universities where I teach, I've been requested to teach elementary school education. It's so ironic that my earliest major would have been the one to prepare me the best for teaching such a course. But I never would have had the opportunity to teach such a course had I not ended up teaching university-level English.

What really bothers me is that, now that the Ministry of Education has decided English will be required for elementary school children in Japan, universities are scrambling to find instructors to teach courses for future elementary school teachers. Notice that I didn't say qualified instructors. I have been asked, and I'm far from qualified - even with over 30 years experience teaching English and at least 10 years teaching methodology.

No doubt someone will accept the position (and other such positions in universities all over Japan). Are most of those people going to have the qualifications? I have my doubts, and I have even stronger doubts that teaching English in elementary schools in Japan is going to improve the level of English in this country. Not when it's being implemented in such a haphazard way.

If I had continued as an elementary education major, I might have gone on to become an elementary school teacher and, possibly, supervisor. I might even have ended up teaching elementary education. However, I probably would never have come to Japan. So I would have been fully qualified to teach the class that I turned down today, but I wouldn't have been here to be asked!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

There's an Erection?

I wore a red, white, and blue scarf with stars and stripes to school today.  However, when I asked my students why I was wearing the scarf, with the hint that it was connected to something happening in the U.S., I had to wait a long time for their guesses.


"Independence Day?"

That I was also wearing my "Jed Bartlet for President" sweatshirt apparently didn't help.

At least none of my students answered Halloween!  They all know that was last week.

I wonder how many university students in Japan have no idea there's a presidential election going on in the U.S. today.  At least my students know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jokes My Cats Don't Get

I frequently tell my cats jokes. However, they don't seem to get them. I mean, they never laugh or even respond with a groan. Here are a couple of examples, which you may have heard in another context.

“You're funny, but looks don't count.”

“You make a better door than window.”

“Mommy's going to the store, and she'll be back before you can say, 'Jack Robinson'.”

“Mommy has to go to work.  Somebody in this family has to put food on the floor.”

“It's good for you.  It'll put hair on your chest!”

“Did you ever hear about the cat that cried 'Wolf!'?”

Feel free to let me know of any other jokes you think my cats might not enjoy!

Saturday, September 06, 2008


About 3 hours ago, I learned that another of my private students passed away. I have lost two students in less than a month to cancer.

Michiko Nakamura was two years younger than I and so full of life. She was always cheerful and optimistic, brightening the classroom with her wit and vitality. As I write this, I can hear her voice entertaining us with one of her delightful stories. It's so hard to believe that I'll never see or hear her again.

A few months ago, Michiko began complaining of asthma and wore a face mask to class every week. Her voice was becoming hoarse, and she didn't seem to be improving. Suddenly I got a package from her returning a DVD she had borrowed (she loved movies and had seen just about every movie that I mentioned). Attached was a note saying that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I thought I must be reading it wrong.

She went to Tokyo where she was receiving treatment at most likely one of the best hospitals in the country. Only a few weeks ago, she was showing signs of improvement and fully expected to return to Sapporo this month. We were all looking forward to being reunited. Then her condition worsened, her lungs filling with fluid.

The birthday ecard I sent her last week was never opened.

Unlike the student who passed away last month, Michiko's wake and funeral will be held in Tokyo where her daughter lives, so I won't be able to attend. However, our class will be having its own memorial time for her during our regular class time on Thursday. Because she and the other three students have been together for so long, the only way I can describe it is that it's going to feel out of balance without her.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who Is Sarah Palin?

Polar bears are in trouble if McCain gets elected president. His choice for a running mate, Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska for a year and a half (and, before that, mayor of a town of 9,000 people - not exactly the greatest experience for running a country) sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species because she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska. Read the article, “Who Is Sarah Palin?” by Move On.

Is this the person Americans want to be one heartbeat away from the presidency?

Friday, August 29, 2008

When I'm 64 . . .

. . . exactly one month from today. Hardly seems possible.

Life is nothing like what I expected when McCartney and Lennon first wrote the song. No knitting by the fireside, no digging in the garden, hardly any postcards any more (unless they're the “e” kind), and certainly no bottles of wine.

No grandchildren. Not even any great nephews or nieces. I do have cats (something that was, I'm sure inadvertently, left out of the song since “cat” rhymes with so many other words), and I'm hoping someone will send me a valentine!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peter Grimes Is Coming!

Peter Grimes will be in Sapporo in less than a month. More information to follow.
The 511th Sapporo Symphony Subscription Concert
Benjamin Britten/opera, “Peter Grimes” op. 33 (concert-style)
Tadaaki OTAKA, Conductor
Peter Grimes: Kei FUKUI (Tenor)
Ellen Orford: Yuko KAMAHORA (Soprano)
Captain Balstrode: Satoru AOTO (Baritone)
Hobson: Tsuyoshi MIHARA (Bass)
Swallow: Kazunori KUBO (Bass)
Auntie: Akiko OGAWA (Alto)
Two Nieces: Eri UNOKI (Soprano), Kaori HIRAI (Soprano)
Bob Boles: Keiro OHARA (Tenor)
Rev. Horace Adams: Akira Yukawa (Tenor)
Mrs. Sedley: Misato IWAMORI (Mezzo Soprano)
Ned Keene: Ken-ichi YOSHIKAWA (Baritone)
Sapporo Symphony Chorus, Sapporo Academy Chorus, Sapporo Broadcasting Chorus (Chorusmaster: Isao OSANAI)
Assistant Conductor: Hidehiro SHINDORI
Assistant Conductor: Masahito OSADA

Anyone who wants information about the opera in Japanese can read an article here.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Setsumaro_YokoyamaThis morning when I went to radio exercises, a student in one of my classes came running over to tell me stunning news. Setsumaro Yokoyama passed away Saturday evening from pancreatic cancer. He had been in the hospital recently diagnosed with gallstones, and we were concerned because we hadn't heard from him for a few weeks, but I never thought that it was life-threatening.

He was only 75 and still full of energy. In fact, I wish that my university students had his enthusiasm for learning! Although he was always humble about expressing his opinion, he often showed great insight, such as when we were reading the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” together.

Setsumaro also had great respect for others. At our class last week, I joked to the other students that, with his being absent, no one bowed when I came into the classroom.

He has attended nearly all my concerts in the past few years and had already bought tickets for the one in September. I will be thinking of him at that time.

I've made a memorial page with photos of him and the rest of the class. I'll be going to the wake for him this evening.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Germ Warfare

If there's any destruction during the G8 summit in Hokkaido, it's obviously going to be done through germ warfare.

I've been suffering from a terrible cold, going through several tissues per hour. I wanted to discard a bunch of tissues at my local subway station when I realized that the trash bins had all been confiscated. Anyone who wants to plant a bomb is just going to have to find another location.

Meanwhile, I'm carrying these germ-infested tissues around and probably spreading my cold all over school today. Not that anyone's likely to die from my germs, but it could put them out of commission for a while.

It's come to this - carrying our own trash bags around. That's actually not such a bad idea, if it acts as an incentive for people to cut down on their trash. If they discard trash just anywhere, though, the effect from contamination - especially of snot-ridden tissues - could be worse!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Gee, Ate

Check out the pre-G8 summit Oxfam demonstration in downtown Sapporo at the Oxfam International Blog. Because of a bad cold, I was too sick to participate, but my neighbor, Amanda, volunteered and met the head of George Bush!

According to the blog, “Oxfam will be calling on the G8 to make poverty issues central to their discussions. . . . The message [they wanted] to get across [on Saturday, July 8th] is that the G8 leaders shouldn’t come to the Hokkaidō summit and treat their visit as a holiday.”

Personally, I'm wondering how much can be accomplished in 3 days by world leaders flying in from various parts of the globe. “Flying in.” How seriously can they be taking the rising cost of fuel, to say nothing of its effect on the environment. Among the 20,000-40,000 extra police that have been mobilized for the event, most are not able to stay at the venue of the summit, so buses are transporting them back and forth to their hotels, as far as an hour away. That's an enormous use of fuel!

I heard from one friend that a woman living in Toya was going out to cut vegetables with a scythe. Security forces confiscated her scythe. Apparently this is to protect those who will be involved in discussions on alleviating world poverty. Gee, I wonder what they ate during their breaks from focusing on the poor. Locally-grown vegetables?

[I later learned that, indeed, fresh green asparagus from Biei, a town in Hokkaido, was served. See the Times Online article, G8 leaders feast on 13 courses after discussing world food shortages.]

See photos of Lake Toya that I took on a visit there in 2000.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

American Classical Idol

Imagine a competition such as American Idol for classical singers. How would the contestants be judged? To mention just a few of the criteria, they would have to:
  • show an extensive repertoire, including lieder and “art songs” as well as arias and excerpts from operas, oratorios, or cantatas, contemporary as well as pieces from previous centuries.
  • be able to sing in a variety of languages - Italian, of course, German, French, and so on - and be judged on pronunciation.
  • have a range of at least two octaves.
  • know how to select pieces that are most appropriate for one's own vocal type (coloratura, contralto, baritone, etc.) and range.
  • use the body appropriately to control breath, including vibrato, and pitch.
  • project vocally according to the piece, being able to go from pianissimo to fortissimo, and the acoustics of the performance hall.
There might be weeks based on a particular composer (Brahms, Puccini, Shumann, and so on), weeks from various classical music periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century, and contemporary), perhaps a week of jazz or songs from musicals . . . it's exciting to think of all the possibilities. What can you add?

Naturally, “showmanship” would be taken into consideration. Whenever I sing for the Sapporo Academy Chorus in-house rehearsals, I always wear clothing that fits the piece - for example, a bright red dress with big, black polka dots for a Gershwin medley; a loose-sleeved blouse, long vest, knee pants, and tights for a Cherubino aria from Mozart's “Marriage of Figaro.”

Interpretation of the piece is, of course, essential. Does the singer use the right volume, degree of vibrato or nasality, “color” or degree of warmth, and other factors that match the piece?

In an interesting article entitledThe Voice that Charms,” Wah Keung Chan states, “A good singing competition is every bit as exciting as a figure skating meet; both competitions are judged on technical and artistic merit. 'Voice, musicality and presence are the criteria,' said André Bourbeau, president of the jury [of the First Jeunesses Musicales Montreal International Competition in Voice]. Technically, the characteristics of a great voice are timbre (colour and ability to project in a large hall), legato, flexibility (coloratura), dynamic range, and diction. The hallmarks of a great singer are the ability to make a good voice communicate the message and emotion carried by the text and the music.” (La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 9, June 1, 2002; accessed May 4, 2008)

Diana Yampolsky divides the performance into physical sound and emotional style, saying, states, Physical sound is what is achieved by proper utilization of the technical aspects of singing, i.e. breathing (support), structure, placement and projection. Emotional style is essentially how the singer relates to the song and anticipates and complements the style of music....” (See another interesting analogy to a skating performance in “The Technical Elements of Vocal Style”,, January 13, 2002; accessed May 4, 2008.)

In the auditions, sight reading and a pitch matching test might be included, much like the technical aspect of a skating competition. I've had to sightread for most of serious auditions, and I once had to sing an atonal scale backwards as well as be able to sing various intervals on sight (3rd, 4th, 5th, and so on, in both major and minor keys).

As you can see, I got so intrigued by this topic that I did some Internet searches. As I did so, I was disturbed by the fact that ageism is rampant in classical music singing competitions (as in American Idol), often limiting entry to contestants under 35. This is particularly dismaying to me since I didn't really “find” my true voice until I was in my 50s, and had a successful audition for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus when I was over 60. I was please to discover that Contralto Karen Mercedes has put together a list of competitions with no upper age restrictions. Time to start working on my repertoire!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Don't Feed Your Car Corn!

“Grain is good for bread, not ... cars.” So says Marcos Jank, President of Unica (Sugar Cane Industry Union, SP in Brazil).

Does that mean switching to sugar for fueling vehicles? Will sugar have the same effect on cars as it does on humans, making them hyperactive?

A Time magazine article entitled The Clean Energy Scam, by Michael Grunwald, asserts that biofuels are part of the problem, not the solution, to global warming. Has the American public been taken in by a hoax (started, undoubtedly, by Iowan farmers) that using soybeans or corn to fuel their cars is a way of contributing to the saving of our planet?

Common sense says that it takes space to grow corn and soybeans. If that space is used for plants that will be turned into fuel, where's the space to grow the plants that will be used for human consumption? Is farming in Iowa having an effect how many trees are slaughtered in the rain forests of the Amazon? If so, why are all the presidential candidates supporting the use of ethanol? (Answer to that last one is a nobrainer: They want the votes of those conspiring Iowan farmers.)

For an interesting discussion on this, including a response to the article by Time, check out Dilbert's (Scott Adams') blog, “Minimum Requirement for President.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Showcasing My Work

Mayu & CAI could spend hours and hours using some of the Apple software included in iWorks and iLife. In fact I do! I've made several slideshows for use in the classroom (of trips I've made or of pictures on the topic we're discussing). I also enjoy making Keynote presentations (far simpler than using Microsoft's PowerPoint and with much better effects).

Some of it is self-taught, but I've also been taking lessons from Mayu Aoki at the Apple Store in Sapporo. (See her with me in the photo on the right.)

Today there was a Showcase for those who have been taking similar one-on-one lessons, and I showed the slideshow I made of the Beppu onsen (hot springs) from my trip to Kyushu. Imagine the following photo dissolving into the devil's hot springs and others to Stravinsky's Le “Sacre du printemps” (or “Rite of Spring”).
Beppu Hot SpringsThe other work I showcased was a Keynote presentation on how to use Keynote (or PowerPoint) effectively. It was made with the help of Mac & Tippy (as you can see in the example).
There were 7 people (pictured below with the Apple store staff), including me, who showcased their work. One was an older man who composed a short symphony using GarageBand! Another was a graphic artist who illustrates posters. I had been expecting somewhat childish, amateurish uses of the software, but the ones shown today were all topnotch. Perhaps it's that Apple software can turn anyone into a professional!
One-on-One Showcase Presenters

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scrabble at CA's Academy

Scrabble at CA's Academy
I’ve been enjoying playing Scrabulous so much on (currently have at least 5 games going) that I told my private classes about it. One of the students had brought back a Scrabble board from the U.S., so we (the 4 students in the photo above and I) played a game. The final scores were really close. I think I taught them the game a little too well!

Completed Scrabble Game

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Scrabulous Help!

I have about 5 Scrabulous games going on Facebook. I'm winning some, very close in one, but sorely losing one by. In fact, I've already lost by about 60 points, but I have such great letters I want to play them if it's in any way possible.

I've tried every move I can come up with, but none of the words are accepted. I need help! If you see a way to use any of my letters, please let me know!

Scrabulous Game

Scrabulous Letters

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tippy Speaks English!

My cats are both bilingual - well, make that trilingual. However, their listening - in English and Japanese - far exceeds their speaking.

Probably the first word they learned was “No!” They quickly understood that “no” meant stopping whatever they were doing. If I say, “Watch out” or “Abunai,” they're a bit more confused by what to do or not to do, so there's still a bit of learning to take place there.

Occasionally I'll teach them some big words, such as “rambunctious” (when I was explaining their behavior to them). However, those words don't stick as well.

Their favorite word is “din din,” which stands not just for “dinner” but for any meal. Just hearing “din din” is enough to get them excited, and they immediately head for their bowls in the kitchen.

Recently Tippy's speaking has gotten almost as good as his listening. (I can't say the same for Mac, who has only 2 sounds in his vocabulary - a whine or a bark, the latter saved for crows outside the window.)

Quite some time ago, Tippy could say “Ma” when he saw me. Now he's added 2 more words. He was pushing against the handle of the front door the other day (and probably would have opened it if it hadn't been locked). I asked him where he was going, and he replied, “Out.” Later I asked him when he wanted his “din din,” and he replied, “Now.”

It could be he's so literate because, nearly every night when I'm reading before going to sleep, he comes over to my futon for his bedtime story. He likes to curl up on my tummy, with his butt in my face, so he can look at the book - even though it has no pictures. Of course, my stroking him may have something to do with his enjoying reading with me. If I read more material in Japanese, I wonder if Tippy's spoken Japanese would get better.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Organizing from the Inside Out

In my continuing efforts at “clutterbusting” and creating more space in my life, a book suggested by a friend, Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, has gotten me well on my way to at least the first of the 3 steps she advises: analyze, strategize, and attack.

Morgenstern suggests that the actual causes of clutter occur on 3 levels:
LEVEL 1: Technical Errors
LEVEL 2: External Realities
LEVEL 3: Psychological Obstacles

She lists the six most common Technical Errors (pp. 16-17) as being:
Error #1: Items Have No Home
Error #2: Inconvenient Storage
Error #3: More Stuff than Storage Space
Error #4: Complex, Confusing System
Error #5: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
Error #6: Organizing Is Boring

In that final area, “the problem is, very few people put much thought into the aesthetics of their organizing system. They view storage as purely utilitarian, and buy any old container whether it appeals to them or not, saying, 'Gee, no one will see this stuff but me. Who cares what it looks like?' As a result, their organizing system is boring, uninspiring, and ugly to use. . . . Don't underestimate the power of pizzazz!” (pp. 17-18)

The areas of External Realities (pp. 19-22) to consider are:
#1: Unrealistic Workload
#2: Speed of Life/Technology
#3: In Transition (including such areas as moving, marriage, new baby, starting school, graduating from school, retirement, illness or death of a loved one, job search, business merger, business growth spurt, career change – and if you’re going through one or more of these, “it may be best to wait until you have a clearer picture of your new priorities and needs before starting to organize . . . or set up a temporary system.” p. 21)
#4: Uncooperative Partners
#5: Limited Space [a serious problem for those of us who live in Japan]

In the area on Psychological Obstacles, Morgenstern has a set of yes/no questions “to find out if you have some hidden investment in staying disorganized,” (p. 23) as follows:

1. Does the idea of a spare, clutter-free environment make you feel anxious or uncomfortable?
2. Are you a highly visual person?
3. Do you habitually buy things in large quantities?
4. Does the prospect of getting rid of anything disturb you?
5. Do you love displaying everything you collect so you can look at it?
6. Are you constantly buying more and more cubbies, containers, and baskets to hold everything?
7. Do you harass yourself all day long with the mantra, “I’ve got to get organized, I’ve got to get organized?”
8. Do you spend more time organizing and reorganizing than working or having fun?
9. Do you frequently turn down social activities to stay home and get organized?
10. Are you constantly rearranging your stuff, never satisfied with the system you set up?
11. Are you afraid getting organized might squelch your activity?
12. Does the prospect of being truly organized fill you with simultaneous feelings of excitement and an accompanying dread?
13. Do you think disorganization has always been your primary obstacle to reaching your full potential?
14. Were you more organized at an earlier time in your life?
15. Does your disorganization keep you from delegating work to others?
16. Does the cluttered state of your home or office keep you from letting people visit?
17. Did you grow up in extremely chaotic household?
18. Did you grow up in an extremely orderly household?
19. Did you have a traumatic childhood?
20. Does your accumulated clutter go back fifteen years or more?
21. Are you a high achiever who must do everything perfectly?

Morgenstern suggested that “If you answered ”yes“ to three or more questions, a psychological obstacle is likely working against you.” (p. 24) [Yikes! I answered “Yes” to EIGHT of these!]

Here are what she lists as major Psychological Obstacles (pp. 24-33):

#1: Need for Abundance
#2: Conquistador of Chaos
#3: Unclear Goals and Priorities
#4: Fear of Success/Fear of Failure
#5: Need to Retreat
#6: Fear of Losing Creativity
#7: Need for Distraction
#8: Dislike the Space
#9: Sentimental Attachment
#10: Need for Perfection

As I embark on my year of decluttering and creating space in my life, I'm ready for a serious look at some of the psychological obstacles I've been facing. In my “need for perfection” (#10), at the moment I'm experiencing a foreboding “fear of failure” (#4). However, I have no fear of losing creativity, but rather expect that changing how I use my time and space will open the way for even more creativity that now lies buried under clutter (in both my head and my apartment).

Anyone wanna become my (de)Clutter Buddy?

Note: Oprah's site on Home Organizing Tips contains links to discussions and articles by Julie Morgenstern and numerous other authors/broadcasters. More advice from Julie Morgenstern can be found at: Get Organized Now with Julie Morgenstern.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

iTunes Won't Let Me Buy “Imagine”

Perhaps the best performance on this season's American Idol (in Japan) so far has been “Imagine” by David Archuleto, who will most likely go right to the top (especially now with Michael Johns out of the running - sob!). I've favorited it on my YouTube list:

Then I wanted to buy the performance on iTunes. (I already have Melinda Doolittle's amazing rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”) The only problem is, David's “Imagine” not available on the Japanese iTunes store. Can you imagine?!

Since I have an American credit card, I bopped over to the American iTunes store. However, it wouldn't accept my credit card because it's billed to a Japanese address. (;_;)

Hey, iTunes in Japan, how long is it gonna take for you to get up to date?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hashika Outbreak!

I ended up with more time than I expected this morning. My first 2 classes at Hokkaido University of Education were canceled because of an outbreak of measles (hashika in Japanese). It had already hit another university earlier this year, but just after my classes had ended.

I still had to go in for my afternoon classes, which had 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students. How the measles epidemic ended up confining itself to 1st year students is something of a mystery to me. I also wonder how many students were actually infected.

The poor freshmen - their first week of college, an exciting time in anyone's life - and they're not allowed on campus! Well, we'll have a lot to talk about next week plus a new word to add to our vocabulary. (Hashika got added to mine!)

Is It Really ADD?

So many people these days are being diagnosed, or are self-diagnosing themselves, with Attention Deficit Disorder. While there are some who truly suffer from the disorder and need to develop special coping skills, I have a hunch that most of us are simply being overwhelmed by environmental overload.

In the November 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, there's an excellent article by Martha Beck entitled “Wait! Stop! It's All Too Much! Her premise is that, “For the vast majority of world history, human life—both culture and biology—was shaped by scarcity.” Yet these days, the opposite is true and we're faced with a surfeit of attention-grabbing information, activity, and even friends. What this can result in is what Beck calls “attentional blindness.”

Think about how many people you are in contact with in one day, especially via email and cyberspace networks. Compare that with the number of people your grandparents may have encountered in a single day, particularly if they lived in a small town or rural area. I probably interact with more people the first hour of my day (which is when I generally check my email) than my grandparents did in a week!

Beck continues, “Handling overwhelm . . . is not for the fainthearted. It means resisting deep instinctive and cultural tendencies.” We need to learn how to focus on what is truly important for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and to weed out the unnecessary and the unwanted from our lives. As I embark on my year of decluttering, the first and perhaps biggest step will be
most likely be merely learning to identify what is truly important as opposed to unnecessary and unwanted in my life.

The next biggie will be some serious prioritizing and honing my skills of saying “NO” and pushing the “REJECT” button. Those terms have such a negative ring to them that it will help to remind myself of Beck's admonition: “The reality of the 21st century is that you simply can't fit in every social obligation you think [my emphasis] you absolutely have to.”

With all the demands on our attention in our daily lives, it's no wonder that so many people (most people?) have deficits in their ability to pay attention. Once more, in Beck's words, “Guarding against surfeit is as essential for us as guarding against scarcity was for our ancestors.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Year for Decluttering

As many of you know, the year for schools, businesses and, often, life in general begins in the spring in April in Japan, and spring is here! (In fact, crocuses are already in bloom, around 2 weeks earlier than usual.) That being the case, it is also the beginning of this year's annual project, which is DECLUTTERING.

Decluttering is a word that is so new, it still isn't accepted by my spell checker. However, a Google search of the word turns up over 500,000 sites, which indicates it's become part of the vernacular.

Actually, my international women's group is also focusing on decluttering this year - clearing out mentally and spiritually as well as physically. We're starting with our homes. As moderator of our discussion this month, I have compiled a list of websites as places to start, which I share here.

Clutterbusting - I love this term. Although clutterbusting is a commercial site by Vicky White, it spells out areas in our lives that may be dragging us down (and then offers consulting for a fee).

At the same site are a few freebies, including a Feng Shui makeover questionnaire. You can also sign up for a free ebook - “The 5 Biggest Attraction Mistakes: and how to avoid them” - and a weekly “Design Your Life Newsletter” which focuses on how to incorporate Feng Shui, intention and law of attraction strategies to create a life of passion, purpose and meaning.

If you want a FREE online "coach, cheerleader, and fairy-godmother for decluttering and organizing your home and life," then Fly Lady is the person you're looking for. She has changed the lives of thousands of women with her advice about hot spots, starting with a sparkling kitchen sink, the 27 Fling Boogie and other tricks for developing clutter-free habits. Lots to explore on this website. A good place to start is with the Beginner Baby Steps. The only warning is that, if you sign up for the free newsletter, you may find your mailbox cluttered with messages initially.

Another place to check out is 10 Tips for Getting Rid of Excess Clutter by Holly Tashian.

Do you have disposophobia? For a good laugh, see rather tongue-in-cheek (I hope) before and after photos, and a video of people with serious disposophobia. Warning, if you are a pack rat, it could be rather painful to watch.

As I was accumulating this list, the newsletter from my yoga center in Massachusetts, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, happened to include some thoughts on spring cleaning for the body and the soul.

Well, it's time for me to check around my apartment for my next 15-minute decluttering task. If you have suggestions or other websites to recommend, please let me know!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

American Idol Fans in Japan

Only one of my friends in Japan is as nuts as I am about American Idol. In fact, when the first show for the top 12 was broadcast, we got together for an A.I. evening, complete with American popcorn and homemade scorecards.

Amanda, my British neighbor, and I sometimes Skype each other during the show with our predictions. Since she's the only person I can talk to about the program in Japan (there is at least a 2-week delay from the American broadcast), it's sometimes rather frustrating. We want to expand our network of fans so have created American Idol Fans in Japan on Facebook.

If you're an American Idol fan in Japan, please join us! The only stipulation is that you must vow never to give the smallest hint about what is happening stateside, or you are voted off the group!

Meanwhile, enjoy Jason Castro singing, “Hallelujah!”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brushing Up on My British Pronunciation

Now that Sapporo Symphony Chorus is aware of my amazing credentials (since I made sure they did!), I was asked to make a CD of pronunciation for "Peter Grimes," the opera we're performing in September.

After the absurdity (and agony) of sitting through an English pronunciation lesson by a Japanese professor (selected, apparently, because his area of expertise is Shakespeare), I simply couldn't sit back and be quiet any longer (which is one reason I make a terrible Japanese person). One reason they may have been reluctant to ask me for more help with pronunciation may be that, because I'm American, they assumed I would only teach so-called American pronunciation. What I decided to do is write to the contact person for the Symphony Chorus letting him know about my background in theatre, including acting in, directing, and teaching British drama.

In composing my message, I was fortunate to have an American friend advise me in the tone of the message and how to convey a sense of wanting to cooperate, in the best Japanese spirit. She made sure I understood how important it was not to undermine the Japanese professor, and to say how valuable the lesson was, even though I actually thought it barely adequate. Most importantly, I let them know that my services would be free!

The contact person responded to my email (which was almost like a resume, including all the universities where I've taught and the fact that I've taught pronunciation as well as other aspects of English to students from over 60 countries), with the following:

Thank you very much for your sincere proposal.
I will convey your mind and career to the chorus members, Osanai sensei and Oshima sensei.
I think your help will be valuable for us to advance our English pronunciation.
And I hope the comunication around you will develop fellowship and friendship between the chorus members.

Not only that, but he asked if he might forward the message to the contact person for the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, to which I immediately responded that it was fine. A few days later I got a message from her including the following:

I'd like to express to you my deepest gratitude for thinking about Sapporo Symphony Chorus. Since we started singing P.G. I've been thinking that I want to learn English pronunciation from CA-san. Actually, Prof. H________' lesson was a lucid, so we understood the basis. I think he is excellent,and I enjoyed his lesson.But,there is a limit to everything… . Nobody pronunces English like you.So we have to learn real English pronunciation from you. Fortunately,you are in our chorus. Please contrivute to our concert's success. I really hope so!! I want you to help the conductors and us as a professional teacher of ESL.

I was ecstatic because it was the first time my expertise had been openly acknowledged. I was so glad I had sent an email because I feel that it has opened up a line of communication for the first time. It was also interesting that, although hardly anyone speaks to me in English at rehearsals, except for a friend who lived in England for a year, both contact people are able to use English. I guess they just needed a bit of a nudge.

Now everyone has a copy of the CD, with my best approximation of British pronunciation. Although the Sapporo Academy Chorus conductor has been asking me to check pronunciation during rehearsals, it remains to be seen how much the Sapporo Symphony Chorus conductors will acknowledge the presence of a native speaker of English in their midst. At least other members of both choruses have already started feeling more comfortable asking me questions about pronunciation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Minimal Pairs

Ha! I just came across the abstract of an article which reinforces my opinion of the use of minimal pairs in teaching pronunciation.

According to Adam Brown in his essay, “Minimal pairs: minimal importance?”,

Minimal pairs spring to many teachers' minds when the topic of pronunciation teaching is raised. They also form the focus of many course-books on pronunciation. This article [in the ELT Journal] argues that minimal pairs do not merit this attention. There are other aspects of pronunciation which are of greater importance, and there are other ways of teaching vowel and consonant pronunciation.

ELT Journal 1995 49(2):169-175
Retrieved March 12, 2008, from

Unfortunately the entire article is not available to those without a subscription to the ELT Journal. I, for one, plan to do further research into this area.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CA Learns English Pronunciation (Part II)

“She sells sea shells by the seashore.” Oh, yeah, repeating that nonsensical tongue twister is going to be really valuable in helping members of the chorus improve their pronunciation for the opera “Peter Grimes” that we're doing in September.

Or how about, “Enter sir [sic] Ferdinand; his face is stern, his words are terse, his nerves are worse, he speak in verse.” How is that supposed to help with a line from the opera such as, “Yet only such contemptuous springtide can tickle the virile impotence of man.”?

Minimal Pairs - Certainly there's a place for minimal pairs, and I use them in my pronunciation classes. It's not exactly a new concept. But rather than perfectly useless pairs such as “easy/weasy” and “earl/whirl,” a much more effective use of minimal pair practice would have been to use words from the actual lyrics such as “ship/sheep,” “slip/sleep,” and so on.

And while explaining that the spelling of Japanese words using “si” is invariable mispronounced as “shi” (there being no “si” sound in Japanese), why not apply that to a word such as “gossip,” where the S's convey a sense of gossip, especially in the full sentence, “When women gossip, the result is someone doesn't sleep at night” (the first line sung by the chorus in the opera), which is full of sibilants.

OK, so once again, I'm fuming that, as a native speaker of English, I had to sit through a pronunciation lesson from a Japanese speaker. [See CA Learns English Pronunciation (Part I) for details on the first time.]

This time the sensei's credentials are that he teaches Shakespeare at Fuji Women's University. Well, how about someone who has a Master of Arts in Theatre, has performed Shakespeare, has an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and has been teaching pronunciation to non-native speakers for some 25 years. I suppose there's no comparison.

I hope you notice that my comments on this evening's pronunciation lesson are dripping with sarcasm. Once again, it was humiliating for me to sit through a lesson in English pronunciation, especially since I could have taught it just as well but in a more dynamic way than simply lecturing and having people parroting my words.

The point where I really felt the absurdity of it all is when someone was consulting a dictionary to help the “sensei” check on the pronunciation for the first vowel sound in “languishes” as I, as native speaker, sat there silently mouthing the word.

Let's reverse the situation. A native Japanese speaker is participating in an American chorus that is rehearsing a song in Japanese. An American who has studied in Japan in brought in to teach Japanese pronunciation. The Japanese person sits there with absolutely no one checking with him/her on how to pronounce the words. I simply can't fathom such a situation.

My biggest gripe is that anything I say doesn't seem to be taken seriously. The Sapporo Symphony Chorus conductor barely acknowledges that I speak English, and I feel dismissed whenever I attempt to bring up a point about pronunciation. People were crowding around the “sensei” after the lesson with all sorts of questions, whereas only a few people have asked me a question now and then. I feel as though my authority has been undermined. And if the conductor won't even acknowledge me as a professional in the field, who else is going to?

My rant will probably continue, but I'm going to publish this much. YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mother's 90th Birthday

From a card sent to me by my sister on February 27th:

Happy 90th Birthday!
Today is mother's 90th!
The good news is that this card is on time.
The bad news...well, never mind.

Note: My mother passed away on April 17, 2005.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Birth of Venus

Through The Birth of Venus, the 2003 novel by Sarah Dunant, I got the chance to view the Renaissance from a whole different perspective, that of a young would-be female artist, Alessandra Cecchi. The powerful Medicis, the fanatic Savonarola, and the bonfire of the vanities are no longer just distant historical names. I experienced their effect on the culture of the time.

Botticelli's Venus remained hidden from Allesandra and most of the world, to avoid destruction, but I now have a greater appreciation of what the art and artists of the times survived. Given the suppression of women in those days, depicted so effectively in the novel, it's also clear why there are no female Renaissance artists that are household names today.

When I have a chance to go to Florence some day, my visit will be all the richer for having read this novel.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Words for Rice

Study vocabulary and help end world hunger at the same time! Anyone interested in English, from a beginning level student to a professor in linguistics, can participate.

Check out the site called Free Rice. The way it works is, you are given a word with 4 possible synonyms. If you click on the correct definition, you donate 20 grains of rice - for free! The rice goes to the United Nations World Food Program.

From a database of thousands of words, the game automatically adjusts to your level of vocabulary. "If you get it right, you get a harder word. If wrong, you get an easier word." The highest level is 50. Mine was 43. What's yours?

Warning (posted on the site): This game may make you smarter! And you'll end up making a contribution to those in need.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008

Do you often wonder, as I do, what "news" we're not getting through the major mass media? What is they're not telling us and why? While people I've never heard of (and actually don't think I'm missing much by not knowing anything about them) are making headlines with DUIs and pregnancies out of wedlock, events that have an enormous effect on our lives are taking place and going on underreported or even unreported.

Fortunately, for people with free Internet access, there's a place to read the top 25 censored stories of the year. It's published by a media research group out of Sonoma State University that tracks that tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. Their long list of resources includes some that I once subscribed to, such as Mother Jones and the Village Voice, but now simply don't have the time to read.

However, I did read through the top censored stories of this year. If you have courage, read them for yourself at: Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008.