Monday, December 29, 2008

More Isabella

Scolded again by my old friend LT, I am prompted to put up a few more pictures of Baby Bella.

The Happy Family








Daddy and Bella

















Sweet...
















Poppy and Bella











Good lungs...











Chubby Cheeked Cutie







Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Humiliations


"Why do you do this to me? I'm going to bite you now."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our newest little bundle of joy

Please welcome to the world little Isabella Rose. She arrived as a bit of a surprise Sunday, 7 December at 6:05 AM. We're glad to have her, as she's been expected for about 9 months now. Isn't she cute?

We'll be bringing her home soon...will update more later; we've been kind of busy of late!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Post-Election Oji

I think this picture says it all...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oji, who are you voting for?

Oji makes his choice. Of course, as a Republican, ACORN wouldn't let him register. So, he expresses his opinion of their discrimination.

If he could vote, tomorrow he'd pull the lever for McCain. But, we're not in Chicago, he's not a Democrat, and once again...he has no thumbs...Zannen, desu-yo?



Oji is sad because he can't vote for McCain...

Happy Halloween

"Dude, what ARE you?!?"














"I am Rohan, a valiant Knight of the Rohirrim."
















"Oh no...Please don't make me wear this..."















Waiting for the Trick or Treatsters.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Redecorations by the Relocator

Melody and I came home this evening to find that the Relocator had sneaked into our house and done his mischief. We spent much of the day away, with Mass this morning followed by brunch followed by some grocery shopping. A brief stop at the house, and we were off again to Home Depot where we're working on some kitchen remodeling plans. By the time we grabbed a quick bite of supper it was nearly 7 PM, plenty of time for the Relocator to visit.

The first thing we noticed when we came in was a black furry dog with a big smile on his face. The next things we noticed were Melody's slippers, one Teva sandal, and a bra deposited at various points in the living room. And a prancing, smiling dog, obviously proud of his interior decorating skills.

Then, we moved back through the kitchen to the bedroom finding another shoe, and the wooden valet where we keep some frequently used clothes and where Melody lets her delicates dry upended on the floor. And more unmentionables spread around the bedroom. And again, the smiling interior decorator, grinning up at us and full of himself.

While we appreciated his efforts, we think we're doing ok without his assistance. To his credit, he's very gentle. None of the items relocated were in the least harmed. Just kind of moist and drooly.

As a reward for his efforts we went for an almost four mile walk to try to refocus his enthusiasm. Once we got back, he took a drink, ate his supper, and proceeded to get into one of his frenzies, running around the house like a crazy dog. Trying to get over to the back door to let him out, he smacked his head right into my shin. Didn't even phase him. He bolted out the door and ran around the back yard for a few laps, and then dug up one of his old hextras that he takes out there to marinade or something. Mmmm...old half chewed piece of dried cow skin. How appetizing.

That settled him down, though, and after munching through a new hextra, he's snoozing comfortably on his blanket. I look at him, laying there, and there's no way to get mad at him. He is a fine, fine beast.

We've regarded Oji as something of a "Practice Baby." Some days, we marvel at his ability to sleep for most of the entire day. Other days, like today, we learn the hazards of leaving him for too long. It is never dull, though...that's for sure. And we're really glad he doesn't have thumbs.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Runaway Dog

Nothing to worry about...we just got used to Oji being so obedient to the command, "Stay" that we got a bit complacent.

About two weeks ago, on our usual Wednesday night with the Cousins, the doorbell rang. It was Lisa from across the street, coming to let us know that Micki's car alarm was going off. While I was distracted, Oji darted out into the night. I swear, I'm going to get a blinking light permanently affixed to that dog.

He ran past Lisa, and up toward one of his favorite corners. Being in my stocking feet (picked up while living in Japan where our lease stipulated no shoes in the house), I had to waste valuable time putting on shoes before taking off after him. Of course, he thought this was fun, and as I called him, ran right past me and down toward the other corner. There, he hung a left and was gone.

Lisa and I ran down the street and tried to catch up with him. We had gone about two blocks when I finally saw him in the distance. I called to him, and he came running back...and past me once again. This time, though, he did circle back and trot back to me. I grabbed his collar, and Lisa and I led him back to the house. Hoping that his little excursion tired him out, we adjourned back inside and ate our supper, now somewhat colder after the detour.

However, he wasn't done. He was a complete pill that night. He got quite rough playing with Rohan, insisted on nibbling on our feet while we were trying to eat, and was just acting out much more than usual.

We figure that it was probably because neither Melody nor I had come home at lunchtime,
like we normally do to let him out and give him a bit of loving. So, that was his way of showing his disapproval of our neglect. We had to put him in time out three different times. Finally, he settled down and behaved, but not until Rohan had gone home. It was an interesting evening, with the stubborn terrier side emerging in full force.

Other than that, he continues to be a great dog. We finally had our yard sale last weekend, which was a partial success. We didn't get rid of everything, but we did make a bit of a dent. Salvation Army came out today to pick up the rest of it, but since we were one of the last stops, they didn't have room to take it. They'll be back on Tuesday. It's nice to have the workshop cleared out a bit. I put the extra couch in there, and it's now become a place for Oji and I to hang out. After working for about 3 hours organizing the stuff for donation, and cleaning the place out, I grabbed my book, my iPod, my dog, a beer and a cigar, and just relaxed. Nothing like an ice cold beer after some honest sweat.

At the beginning of the month, we headed to Houston to attend some of the festivities for Melody's 20 Year High School Reunion. It's strange to think that we've been out of high school for so long. I'm not sure we even had our reunion. Never heard anything about it.

It was good to meet some of Melody's friends. I've known a couple of them, Jerry and Stephanie, for several years now, and we had a nice time catching up with them. Back in August, Jerry and some friends from work (a major airline) hopped on a flight to Japan on a Friday, climbed Mt. Fuji on Saturday, and returned on Sunday so they could be back at work on Monday. Insane. But man, was I envious...

Oji was on his best behavior, and we were happy to see that he was very tolerant of Jerry and Stephanie's kids as they walked him, and patted his head and generally messed with him. He made no escape attempts, and just enjoyed being in Lola's back yard and the surrounding neighborhood with all the new smells.

Incidentally, Melody's mom came through Hurricane Ike mostly unscathed. There was a bit of damage, but nothing that wasn't repaired quickly. She was back at work within a day or so of the storm. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hurricanes close Wal-Mart. They were even compensating employees who had damage with extra cash to get them through the initial days post storm.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Personal Quest: The perfect backpack

For years now, I've been searching for the perfect backpack. If there are any vices that Melody and I share, it would have to be bags. We have far too many backpacks, carry-on bags, suitcases, drag bags...you name it. Part of it is our job...the military means that you travel a lot. And, you tend to have specialized luggage such as duffel bags, rucksacks, helmet bags, aviator kit bags, smaller "assault packs", among others. I have at least one one of each, and own pretty much all of the requisite equipment to go to the field, including a helmet. In fact, I really don't have to go to get anything issued, as I have everything I need. Of course, since the last time I spent any time in the field, a lot of the equipment has changed...so, maybe I do need new stuff. Hmmm...something to think about.

I also have several different civilian models of backpack. Big ones for camping, medium ones that I used for traveling, specialized travel backpacks, smaller day-packs, and "in-between" sizes that barely fit in the overhead compartment.

For me, the ultimate pack is one that I could use as a carry on that is large enough to travel for several weeks. Much of that comes from just paring down to the essentials, and using what Tim Ferriss calls the "buy it there" mentality.

Essential Features

  • Lots of pockets (inside and out)
  • Compartmentalization (separate top and bottom sections)
  • External compression straps
  • Attachment points for additional straps
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Hip belt with pockets (for snacks, camera, iPod, etc)
  • "Security pocket" with key clip
  • Metal tab zippers that you can lock
  • Hydration bladder compatible
There were a couple of guys who traveled around the world for about 9 months with pretty much just one small-ish backpack each (a 28L Deuter if I recall). They cut their load by buying some pretty high quality and expensive things that were multi-use. They also culled their lives and sold everything they owned on EBay before they left to raise cash for the trip. A bit extreme perhaps for a family man to do...I'm pretty sure Melody would object. Still, it was interesting to see how they did it. Check them out at http://lifenomadic.com. They're back now, and have been for a couple of months, but their archives are there, and it's interesting to see how they went about preparing for the trip.

So, have I found the perfect pack? Sort of...it's a quest I really don't want to complete, as most of the fun is in the search itself. I have come pretty close. Here are my favorites (so far).

London Bridge Trading Company Medical Assault Pack:
Pros:
Lots of pockets
Rugged
Lockable tabs
Black color
Mesh back pocket
Zippered inside pockets (good security)
Cons:
Central compartment is somewhat small, especially if using all the pockets inside
Shoulder straps don't fit too well
No functional waist belt
Poor load distribution
Military styling not ideal for traveling in foreign lands (invites suspicion)

Mizuno Diamante 25L:
Pros:
Top Load
Two compartment
Good distribution of pockets (inside top flap, outside top flap, front, waist belt)
Excellent cushioning on straps
Excellent weight distribution

Cons:
Too small to be a "one bag" bag
Lower pocket difficult to access when fully loaded

Karrimor Trail 35L:
Pros:
Front load
Two compartment
Good pocket distribution including semi-concealed security pocket
Two pockets on waist belt
Decent cushioning on straps
Decent load distribution
Good size for carry-on
Karrimor (I've always wanted one, but hard to find in the US...)

Cons:
Green color looks quasi-military
Separator between compartments is closed with a drawstring (lacks support for heavy loads)
Velcro fasteners on waist belt pockets (zippers are more secure)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pregnancy

Melody is pregnant, but won't let me take any good pictures of her. So, here is one I took in Singapore at one of the Hindu temples in town. Imagine my surprise when I saw my very own wife portrayed as a goddess (I think). It looks just like her, though.

I keep asking her to put on a sari and carry some bananas on her head, and her only reply is to look at me like I have a lobster growing out of my forehead. I suppose I can understand that.

But, that's what Photoshop is for!

Decker Creek

We spent another weekend at our adopted getaway spot, the Decker Creek Bed and Breakfast and Biscuits. This was our second visit, and we took a couple of days of leave to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace this time.

It's just outside Austin, and about an hour and a half away. The proprietors, Pat and Byron Rathbun, have two cabins on over 50 acres of rolling Texas bottom land, complete with creek, woods, and fields. The comfortable cabins are nicely appointed, and have all the amenities for a weekend away, including gourmet, homemade dog biscuits, which Oji adores. We humans adore the huge, country breakfasts, sitting on the porch after waking up with a steaming cup of coffee and good book, and the opportunities to wander the woods on the several miles of trails that are available. We have yet to even set foot in Austin proper.

On Friday, we meandered our way up to Enchanted Rock, sort of the Texas equivalent of Stone Mountain, Georgia, but without the Confederate heroes carved into the side or the laser light show and fireworks. It has been kept deliberately as a semi-wild area, and, judging from all the different types of animal poop Oji and I saw, it's pretty wild.

To get there, you have to drive through an area that has multiple signs for "loose cattle." We figured that was because there were no fences around, rather than some commentary on the local cow morals. We did indeed see some out for a wander and some contented cud-munching.

We got to the rock around four PM, and since Melody is great with child, Oji and I went off to climb while she videoed us from down below. It was pretty steep, and left us winded, but we were able to get to the top in only about 15 minutes. Lest we leave Melody alone for too long in the gift shop, Oji and I didn't linger much at the summit. We stayed long enough to get our picture taken, and then headed on down. She only had time to buy two T-shirts.

The view was gorgeous from up there, with the Texas Hill Country spreading out as far as the eye could see. It was a great day for a climb, a pleasant high-80s kind of day, sunny with puffy clouds floating by, and just enough breeze to allow the sweat to cool you off from your exertions. I brought some water for both of us, and upon reaching the top, we spent a few minutes drinking and catching our breath before heading back down.

After we got back, we all piled into the Jeep, and headed back to Llano to grab some famous Cooper's Bar B Que, which we put in a cooler, and drove back to the B&B&B to eat it. "No Dogs," said the sign outside the restaurant.
We can tell when we're not welcome.

The chow was great, and was washed down with some Lone Star beer, the "National Beer of Texas." It was good. Very good.

Saturday, we just relaxed around the cabin and surrounding property. Oji and I saw an armadillo, a rabbit, and possibly a turkey while wandering the property, and overall, we had a wonderfully restful day.

If you're ever headed for Austin, be sure to check out the Decker Creek B&B&B as an option for your stay. You won't be disappointed. Just call ahead early, as it is booked nearly continuously months out. But, it's worth it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great Old Spice Slogan

"If your grandfather didn't wear it, you wouldn't exist."

How true...My Dad had some that I think he got from his Dad.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oji Tails

I got an email from my old friend LT, one of our regulars, calling for more stories about Oji. So, in an attempt to indulge her, here we go.

Oji Goes to the Country. We decided to take a weekend for ourselves about a month ago, and headed up the road toward Austin. Melody had Googled around for a while to find a dog-friendly getaway, so we were going to spend the weekend at the Decker Creek Bed and Breakfast and Biscuits. It's a nice little place run by Pat and Byron Rathbun who have 50 acres or so of woods, fields and creek as well as two cute cabins that they rent out.

We drove up there after work one Friday night, getting there at about 9 PM (it took us a while to get on the road...Heaven help us once we have a child in a couple of months. We'll never get anywhere). We met up with Pat and Byron, got the key to the cabin, and drove through the woods to get there. As soon as we'd moved everything inside, I took Oji out to the fenced in back yard, keeping him on the leash so I could make sure that the fence did indeed look secure. I walked the perimeter with him, and, satisfied, I let him off the leash and went back inside.

A few minutes later, I went out to call him back inside. I could hear him walking around up the hill, but couldn't see him. The jingle of his collar got louder as I could hear him coming down, but still, I couldn't pinpoint his location. Jingle jingle...jingle jingle...it sounded like it was off to the left, by the fence. Then, I saw a shadow walk by. Outside. The. Fence.

In my stocking feet, I ducked back inside, grabbed my shoes, a flashlight and the leash, and headed out the front door. Now, I couldn't see or hear him, and I thought to myself, "Great. Black dog. Dark, moonless night. 50 acres of unfamiliar woods. This is perfect." It took about 15 minutes before I was able to figure out where he was, and then another 10 to get close enough to get the leash on him. We still need to work a bit more on the "Come" command.

So, the next morning, we decided to take him with us to breakfast. Pat and Byron had encouraged us the night before, because they have a couple of dogs as well. So, we did. And not 10 seconds after having been let in to their beautiful house complete with antique breakfast table, Oji went and marked the table leg. I apologized profusely, and cleaned it up with paper towels. They were very understanding. This of course is not the first time Oji has introduced himself this way, as I'm sure loyal readers will remember our trip to the dog park. We're not trying to encourage such behavior.

Later on that afternoon, Oji and I went for a walk around the premises, and made a wrong turn, ending up on the neighbor's property where there were some horses. I'm pretty sure that Oji has never seen horses before, and he was fascinated by them, and they by him.

We had a nice walk, though, and were thoroughly pooped by the time we returned. We both had a big drink and a nap.

Relocatables. We just moved into some new office space in what they call "Relocatables." Basically, that's a fancy (and according to my spell checker a made-up) word for "Trailer Park." We have ninetuplewide that is definitely something you'll want to stay away from during tornadoes. Especially since we have no chickens to hang on to (obscure David Brenner comedy act reference - "Did you ever notice that after some tornado out in the midwest, you can have an entire town destroyed, but the chickens are still wandering around as if nothing ever happened? You can just hear the cows saying, 'Tornado's coming!! Hang on to a chicken!!' ").

Anyhow, before I discovered the relocatable that I work in, I took the term to mean that which we find upon coming home has been relocated from its original location, like Melody's slippers which usually live in the bathroom, and we find under the television. Or, Oji's bed, which usually stays right by the foot of ours, but sometimes is found in the kitchen. We've also found our dog likes to relocate himself.

Like for instance just last night, while I was brushing my teeth. Normally, he is fascinated by bathroom activities. If you leave the door open, you get a spectator watching your every brush, floss, scrub or other type of body maintenance. It's a little bit weird. Last night, though, I looked down to where he normally sits in the doorway, and he was gone. I figured he'd gone out to see his Mom, still watching TV. When I came out, I saw a black bundle curled up on the bed, right next to my John McCain book and a load of clean laundry. It was our beloved beast, making himself comfortable. It was so cute, I couldn't be angry...instead, I took a photo with my cell phone.

Friday after work, I found him on the couch, and on our blue chair today. My previously non-dog-fan mother-in-law said, "Oh, just let him get up there. He's just trying to see what it's like!" This from a woman who was none to pleased that we were even getting a dog. Now, though, she's like the doting grandmother. Quite the transformation!

Oji's New Friend. Recently, Melody's cousin moved into town. It turns out that she was hired by our Veterinarian's office to be a third doctor there. We had no idea that she was coming, and she didn't know we were in town until her mom told her. It's been fun having some family nearby, though.

Along with Vicki came Rohan, her 2.5 lb Yorkie. The first time she came to our house, she brought him along. I took Oji outside to meet him in the street to try to minimize any Alpha Dog Syndrome...it seemed to work pretty well, just like on that Cesar Milan's show. So now, Oji's got a little cousin. They get along fine so far. Oji at first didn't know what to make of this squirrel sized creature who was nibbling on his dinner, drinking his water, and sniffing his junk. After a time, they both loosened up a bit, and began playing chase around the house. Oji will paw at his smaller buddy, and Rohan will jump up and try to bite Oji's face. Friday night as we were eating, they were chasing each other around the dinner table. Rohan would hide beneath chairs where Oji had a hard time reaching him...they had us in stitches. We're glad that Oji's got a little friends to hang out with, as the only other doggy interaction is on walks or at school, and that mostly is him barking at the other students. We're so proud.

Actually, though, he has been doing pretty well at school. He was one of only 2 dogs (Fred the Puggle is the other) who were asked to continue their schooling at the intermediate level. So, we're going to continue for another 8 weeks. He's not perfect, and I don't dare let him off leash just yet, but we're getting better.

Craxtra. Routine dental care is difficult for dogs. To clean their teeth, they actually have to get put to sleep (anesthesia, not the Big Sleep...). So, lots of products are out there to try to minimize tartar buildup, ranging from toothpaste that tastes like meat, to chew toys, to "greenies" and our personal favorite, Hextra. Hextra is a rawhide-like substance that is impregnated with an antibiotic called CET. It's tough, and the chewing plus the CET stuff apparently works wonders to keep the dog's teeth nice and clean.

The way Oji reacts to his daily Hextra is really funny, and has made me call it "Craxtra" because it seems to be addicting. Oji gets a big doggy smile, and his tail starts wagging in excitement. Once he gets it, he savors it for a moment, and then runs into every room of the house tossing it up into the air and catching it in his teeth before settling in one place to gnaw away at it. Depending on the thickness, it can take him up to half an hour of ecstatic chewing before it's gone.

Oji is kind of like our "practice baby." Having a dog is definitely like having a kid with training wheels. You learn a lot when you have responsibility for another being that requires food, and potty breaks, and naps...even if that being has four legs and a fuzzy face. When you look down to see that fuzzy face staring up at you with the look that says "I love you! Take me out so I can pee all over the neighborhood!", your heart just melts with love. When he gets so excited because he recognizes that me putting on my walking shorts and socks, it's just too cute. He starts running back and forth before leading me to the door, looking over his shoulder with every step to make sure that I'm right behind. Adorable.

You also learn patience, as you stand in the rain with him trying to find just the right place to pee or make a poop.

But, it's all worth it. I just wonder though, if I'm this bad with a dog, how will I be with the fruits of my own loins? We'll find out in December...Do they make Hextra pacifiers?

Close Encounter with Steven Tyler

I forgot to mention that, while I was waiting to board my flight from Rapid City to Denver when heading home, I watched some poor guy getting the "special" TSA treatment with the full bag search and body wand. He looked vaguely familiar, and must have had quite a lot of metal in various places on his body, as it took a long time for him to get finished. He was sort of scruffy looking, and I initially just chalked it up to him being another Sturgis attendee. Then, as he was walking out of security, having quite patiently endured the scrutiny, I realized who he was. It was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. Pretty neat to see a real celebrity, especially in such a small town (though much, much larger at Sturgis time).

Behold. The Humble Toilet Seat as Art!

More than just a place to perch your toilet kit while fishing for your razor, the toilet seat has been elevated to an art form right here in San Antonio, TX.

I put up an article on the Everywhere site...check it out here.

Rapid City South Dakota

Last month, we had the unfortunate need to travel for a funeral. My paternal Grandfather died at age 95. He was an accomplished PhD Biochemist and a pretty incredible guy. While the occasion was sad, it was a good chance to catch up with some family I'd not seen in a long, long time.

My Father and Sister and I all made our way to Rapid City, South Dakota on the 5th of August. While in Chicago, my Sister ran into my Aunt Carolyn and Cousin Jeff. Within 30 minutes of them arriving to Rapid City, my Father joined us, and we all headed into town to check into the hotel.

Just after we checked in, my Aunt Marylin came to lead us over to the hospice home where Grandpa was staying, just barely hanging on. He looked very weak, and with three of his four kids there, was able to rouse himself a little bit. We aren't sure if he really was aware of our presence, but he seemed to be.

The next morning, we went back to the home to find that he had passed away about a half-hour earlier. We're grateful that we'd seen him one last time the day before.

During funeral preparations, we learned a lot about our Grandfather, and my Dad and Aunts had a good time reminiscing about growing up during the 1950s. Stuff like how, when my Grandfather decided that he wanted to modernize the house, he and my Dad went up on the roof, and, using hand saws, sawed off the overhanging eaves. At one point, my Pop was filling his arms with boards to bring back to the top of the roof, when he began to lose his balance and teeter two stories above the backyard. Grandpa was too far away to grab him, and watched terrified as he almost fell. At the last second, Dad was able to fling himself forward and stay on the roof. Grandpa told him, "We won't tell your Mother about that."

After this was completed, Grandpa decided that the garage wasn't in the right place and that it really ought to be a two car garage. So, he detached it from the foundation, made a new foundation closer to the house, and hooked up a block and tackle to the old Packard, and hauled it on rollers, "Hebrew slaves building the Pyramids"-style, onto the new site. Then, back up on the roof with a hand saw to saw the entire building in half along the apex, pull the two halves apart to make it two-car sized, and then use the pieces formerly known as eaves to fill in the gap. There was pretty much nothing that he didn't think he could do, and he got a lot of satisfaction from creating something functional (though perhaps not always something aesthetic).

We did have some time to do a bit of sightseeing, and got up to Dinosaur Park, on a hill overlooking the small city. This is what I remember from my visits as a young boy...huge prehistoric beasts menacing the town. South Dakota is known for its preponderance of fossils, so I guess it makes sense. The beasts were also good for some classic photos. The impalement. The panicked "Oh No! It's going to eat me!!" shot. And of course, my body builder cousin about to take care of business with the recalcitrant Apatasaurus. Good stuff. Award winning photos, for certain. I will say, though, the Tyranosaurus rex was not terribly intimidating. Something about his goofy grin just makes it difficult to take him very seriously.

The last day, just before we had to go to the airport, we drove about 30 minutes outside of town to Mt. Rushmore for breakfast. The food was mediocre (the Park Service should stick to servicing parks), but you couldn't beat the view outside the window. And, no one fell off a bench and cracked their head this time, like my little brother did some 20+ years ago (the last time we were there).

We also had the chance to peripherally take part in the huge Sturgis Rally going on simultaneous to our visit. We seemed to be the only visitors in town that weren't decked out in leather pants and T-shirts sporting Harley Davidson logos. Though, it did give me the idea that if we ever have a son, we should name him Harley, so he would be "Harley, David's son." Surprisingly, that got vetoed.

So, while the reason for the trip was sad, it was overall a good opportunity. We got to see Grandpa one last time, say our goodbyes, and spend some quality, though difficult, time with family.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Everywhere Magazine

I got an unfortunate email the other day...Everywhere Magazine, the contributer supported travel magazine, is no longer printing after their next issue (No. 4). That's too bad, as I had been uploading some pictures and stories about Vietnam, and some Weird Travels that I hoped would get picked up. Oh well. I'll post them here, and see if I can get them up over at Bootsn'all or some other places.

For those interested in our page there, with photos, stories, etc., surf on over...

Here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oji the Killer Dog

I arrived home as I usually do, and came inside to greet my loyal, wag-tailed beast. Oji was excited to see me, and there's nothing like seeing the unconditional love in your dog's eyes..."You came back! I knew you wouldn't leave forever!! Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!!" I can only imagine what it will be like when I'm a parent...just a few more months for that part...but I digress.

So, after some pets and hugs and licks (Oji can't hold his licker), we went to the back door to go run around in the backyard. Oji burst out onto the porch, and surprised a small group of doves. I watched as they flew up, but only one actually left the yard. The other two, startled, seemed unable to get away, and I watched as Oji pounced on one.

I grabbed him by the collar and led him away as I tried to figure out why they hadn't flown off. Surely he's not that fast to catch a bird...As it turns out, they were just fledglings, who's mom brought them out for a flying lesson.

So, I took Oji inside, and went to corral the one bird that still seemed to be in the yard. I scooped it up with a box, and brought it to the front porch. I then let Oji back into the yard while I ran across the street to our neighbor's house. Tom's a smart guy, and his kids are all animal lovers; the oldest girl works at the pet shop near our Vet's office, and I figured she might know something. Well, they weren't home. So, returning back to the house, I left the bird on the front porch again.

Heading back into the backyard, I found Oji happily mouthing something that looked at first like a small chunk of wood. As I got closer, I saw that it was actually the other little bird. So, I grabbed him again and brought him back into the house while I disposed of the now deceased bird.

I noticed that Tom's wife and their oldest daughter were outside their house at that point, and headed across the street with the box and the stunned bird. Its tailfeathers had been ripped out, and it was bleeding a little bit. The daughter, who had once rehabilitated another dove, brought out a cage, and gently put the little guy inside. She said she'd keep an eye on it, and nurse it back to a point where it could survive on its own.

So, another clue drops into place regarding Oji's parentage. He apparently is definitely Schnauzer, and the Vet mentioned that she knew of a litter of Schnauzer and German Shorthaired Pointer puppies that Oji resembles. He does have a tendancy to point when he's interested in something, and the way he took off after those birds I think just about confirms it.

We're still not going to encourage his hobby of killing birds, though.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Have it your way, or not...

A conversation I had a couple of weeks ago at the Burger King drive-thru...

BK: Welcome to Burger King. May I take your order?

Me: Yes...I'd like a Number Seven please.

BK: What kind of drink?

Me: I'd like a large, Iced Black Coffee.

BK: I'm sorry...we don't have that.

Me: I see you have the "BK Joe" which is iced coffee with milk and sugar...can you just make it black?

BK: I'm sorry. We can't do that.

Me: Do you have ice?

BK: Yes.

Me: Do you have a large cup?

BK: Yes.

Me: Do you have hot coffee?

BK: Yes.

Me: Can you put that ice in the cup and put the black coffee on top of the ice?

BK: No sir. We can't do that.

Me: Really? You can't? You have all the parts...can't you just put them together?

BK: No sir.

Me: *sigh* OK...a large unsweet iced tea, I guess...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Aromatic Evening or, Adventures of Oji the Varmint Hunter

One of my oldest friends was in town last night, so we got together for some supper and a long overdue reunion. It's been about 3 years since we last got together, and ironically, that meeting was also here in San Antonio. Andre just got back from Saudi Arabia, and we had a good time comparing notes about our respective times there. Melody had had a long, hot day at a unit barbeque, and was a bit too tired to join us for supper, so after Andre and I finished eating, we came back to the house to visit for a while.

After a short tour, we adjourned to the back deck with a cigar and a beer, and we all just chatted for an hour or so. Oji alternated between wandering between us all for love and wandering around the back yard.

At one point, Andre said, "Do you smell a skunk?" Sure enough, there was a faint odor of burning rubber skunkiness. I took a look around, but saw nothing. The smell seemed to be fading, so we thought that maybe it was in the neighbor's yard or just passing by. We relaxed a bit, and continued our visit.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Andre saw what looked like a little cat. A little black and white cat with a fluffy tail. Only, it wasn't a cat at all...the skunk came to visit, and was just poking around the flower beds. At first, Oji didn't see it, and I tried desperately to get his attention. That only brought him to a place where he did see it, and he went into "Hi! Welcome to our yard! Can I sniff your butt?" This is appropriate behavior among dogs, but not so among skunks, apparently.

At this point, it was becoming pandemonium. Melody and Andre were yelling, "There it is! There it is!" I'm hollering at Oji, "Oji!! COME!! Leave it alone!!" Oji is curiously following the skunk around, trying for a sniff...My main fear was twofold. First, we just got Oji a bath, and it cost us about $25...we weren't going to get our money's worth at all! Secondly, skunks carry rabies, and I was more afraid Oji would get bitten or scratched.

I tried desperately to distract Oji by grabbing his tail, but it barely got his attention. He was fixated on the cute, furry little visitor. At one point, the skunk turned to face him, and started advancing toward him, and that's when I really got scared for our dog. I grabbed his collar, and then the skunk turned, and let loose. It got Oji in the face, and he stopped being so curious. I lunged back up the steps to the deck level, stumbling, skinning my elbow, and finally getting my footing. Oji jumped up right behind me. I don't know where the skunk went.

We made our way inside, and I grabbed the towel we've been using to wipe his feet, and wiped his face with it. The pungent skunk smell got pretty thick in the house. After I wiped his face, we worked our way to the front door, got Oji on the leash, and took him outside for an immediate bath. He kept trying to rub his face on the carpet...not something we really wanted him to do.

Once we got him outside, I got the hose ready, and Melody grabbed the shampoo. Oji kept rubbing his face in the leaves and wood chips, still trying to get rid of the smell. Skunk juice is pretty oily, and I'd gotten it on my hands as well trying to clean Oji up. It took a bunch of scrubbing to get him cleaned up.

Fortunately, Andre was there. He's a pretty big guy, and was able to hold the leash up so that I could get in and scrub Oji up. And, fortunately, the only place that the skunk seemed to spray was just on the tip of Oji's snout. He didn't get a real dousing, didn't get it in his eyes, and best of all, didn't get any bites or scratches.

About 10 minutes of washing, and Oji was pretty much done. He still has a little bit of skunkiness if you get really close to him, but it could have been much, much worse.

We've ordered some skunk repellent, and I'll spread that around the house once we get it. Hopefully, that will send the little critters packing. They certainly are cute, but we've already got our own cute critter...don't need any others for now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm not sure what to say about this...

...but to echo the sentiments of my friend who sent it to me...

"And they say that we here in Alabama are Redneck!"

Couple Marries at Waffle House

Ensure that you check out the slide show at the bottom. It's priceless. The Blushing Bride...The Groomed Groom...The Proud Papa...The Fat Bridesmaid with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth...

Ahh, love.

Reminds me of when I lived in Leesville, Louisiana almost 10 years ago...

I was browsing at the Super Wal-Mart up the street from where I lived. It was the kind of place that was much more than just a store to get new shoes. It was the grocery store, the library (because of the 20 foot long book aisle), the car repair shop, the gun store, and even the zoo, since it had a lobster tank. It was THE place to see and be seen, and open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Heck, it even had a McDonald's clone.

As I walked along the main aisle, I passed a small, purple dais. I wondered, "What's this all about? Mardi Gras was over four months ago." Then I saw the sign.

The public is cordially invited to join Wal-Mart Associates **Billy Bob Jones and **Brandi-Sue Wilson, the proud winners of an all expenses paid wedding to be held here, on July 3rd, 1999. Please stay for free cake and punch following the ceremony.

Being the erudite, worldly, city slicker that I am, I was not sure what to think about it. First of all, who wants to get married at a Wal-Mart. I mean, my Mother in Law has worked there for nearly 23 years, and could have pulled some strings for us, but somehow, it just seemed more our style to do the regular, boring, Church wedding. Secondly, who enters a contest for a free wedding ceremony?

All that aside, I am a big fan of Wal-Mart, and actually like the fact that I could do all my shopping there. And see the Lobsters. Wal-Mart has done much to make the lives of Americans and others around the world better by providing quality products at great prices. I was proud to see several in China when we traveled there. Also, the addition of a Wal-Mart to a community provides jobs, tax revenue, and many other benefits to the community as a whole. While many may decry the demise of the Mom and Pop stores, how many people did Mom and Pop employ? And could Mom and Pop give their employees health insurance? A 401K? Stock Options? Or a chance to move up into Management (without the manager having to die)?

So, while I wouldn't get married there, it's a great place. And I'll keep shopping there. Maybe our child could get hitched there in the future though...we'll keep our eyes peeled for another contest!

** Names changed to protect the identity of the Wal-Mart Wedding Winners

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oji at the Dog Park

So today, we decided to take Oji to the dog park up by the airport. It was pretty exciting, and we were a bit nervous at how he would do...I don't think he's ever been around a bunch dogs before.

Well, it was mostly a success. He seemed to have a good time, and if the old adage that a tired dog is a happy dog, then he was pretty happy when we left.

It was funny, though, that the very first thing he did as he got into the park was promptly go over, sniff at a bench, and pee on some poor guy's leg. We were mortified, of course, and used up most of a bottle of water to rinse off the fellow's pants. Fortunately, he wasn't wearing shorts. He took it all in stride, as if one puts oneself in harm's way if you come to a park with a bunch of dogs running around. We offered to pay for his dry cleaning, but he said not to worry about it. While Melody helped him out, I chased Oji to have a talk about the finer parts of etiquette and not using people as convenient places to pee. In retrospect, it is kind of funny (at least for us).

The rest of the hour or so that we spent there was just following him around making sure he didn't get in any more trouble. He did pretty well, but was much more interested in sniffing the various pee-scented trees, rocks, bushes, and benches than he was playing with other dogs. He'd sniff them and they him, but he really didn't run around with them much until the end. There were two beagles who insisted on following him around and licking his nether regions in a most inappropriate manner...finally he got annoyed and snapped at them a little bit. No damage, and considering the attention he was receiving, I'm not sure I would blame him. Can you file sexual harassment lawsuits against animals?

Once we got him back to the car, he just flopped on the seat for the next thirty minutes...no interest in sticking his nose out the window or anything. Just drinking some water and panting.

As we left the park, which also has hiking trails (to be tackled later), we passed by an entire herd of deer, mostly bucks, just munching contentedly on their lunch by the side of the road.


We'll likely go back again, but probably earlier to avoid the heat (and the sexually harassing beagles).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Separated at Birth?

For the past few weeks I've been trying to pin down who exactly Oji reminds me of. After mulling over several options, it's either a muppet (Lips, from the Electric Mayhem), or Ted Kaczynski. Fortunately, only Oji's appearance is Unabomber-like. The gray in his beard, the tousled hair...

You be the judge.















(images attributed to http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Unabomber.jpg and http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Lips)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get it, Oji!



Oji has started to chase his tail...we're very proud.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Oji, King of All He Surveys

Is that a good looking dog, or what?!?

Oji continues to be the dream dog. He's now pretty consistently ringing the little bell we put at the back door to alert us that he wants to go out, and has transferred the same behavior to his leash when he wants to go for a walk. He picked that up on his own...we hang it on a hook on the front door, and he'll go over and bump it with his nose. Smart dog for figuring it out!

I was going to take him for a walk today, and stopped to get my sunglasses out of the car. He decided, hey! Why walk when you can ride, and hopped right in. So, we went for a drive instead.

Melody's Mom was with us this week, and she claims to be a non-dog-lover; Oji made an impact on her, though, and at the end, she wanted her picture taken with him. He did really well with her, and was just his loveable, sweet self.

We are so thankful for having him around...you absolutely can't be sad or in a foul mood when you're around his fuzzy, Muppet-like face. He just makes you feel good. And, we're getting in a few miles of walking each day with him as well, which doesn't hurt.

God bless Oji and the United States of America!

Photos Accompany Kotooshu Article

I was recently contacted by a website, NowPublic.com, requesting to use some of my photos from last year's Sumo tournament in an article they were doing on Kotooshu, the Bulgarian rikishi. Somewhat flattering, and of course, I agreed.

Follow the link in the Title to go to the article...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Hazards of Dog Ownership

Well, I just learned one of the hazards associated with having a dog around the house. No, it's not the one you're probably thinking of, either. You know...walking barefoot in the back yard, like you used to do. Something not quite so bad, but bad nonetheless.

As a guy, we're used to eating things off of the floor. You may have heard of the so-called "five-second rule." Any food that drops on the floor is still good if it's not been there longer than five seconds. This rule is modified, of course, depending on the floor upon which the food falls. I mean, you wouldn't have a five-second rule if you dropped a piece of popcorn at the movie theater. That's assuming that you could even get it unglued from the sticky residue of spilled sodas and dissolved ju-ju beads, which, according to the Discovery Channel's "When We Left Earth," was what they used to fix Apollo 13 and get it safely back to earth. Back in high school, my friend Jon F. ate a half eaten ice cream sandwich he found in a trash can at Six Flags. That was a flagrant violation of the rule, with its own consequences (that he discovered about an hour and a half into the three hour ride home).

Anyhow, I was just eating some kettle corn, and dropped a piece on the floor under my desk. Automatically, responding to sheer guy-instinct, I reached down, and popped it back into my mouth. Along with a small handful of Oji's hair. Mmmmm. At least we gave him a bath about a week ago.

I'm still a guy, and will still eat things off of the floor; someday, I'll even teach my child how to do the same. I will, though, be more observant and careful not to eat anything other than what I dropped.

Oji Update

Oji, our new dog, continues to be a wonderful addition to our family. He's just the perfect dog for us.

Over the past two weeks that we've had him, his personality has emerged as a laid back pup, with occasional outbursts of exuberance. We're still not encouraging those, as he's still working through the heartworm treatment. One more dose, and he's all done, though. We'll give him a couple of days afterward before we start getting too active with him, such as running or taking him on long walks. So far, we've been content to let him out in the backyard for short periods, and take him on a quick loop around the block.

When he gets excited, he gets down in the puppy pose, front legs outstretched, and his butt in the air. He's really cute when he gets like that, and if you start grabbing at his feet, he'll try to gently nip at you. We're working on disassociating biting with play, though.

He still sits and lays down on command, and we're working on shaking hands. He sometimes gets it, but most times doesn't. We've also put up some jingle bells by the back door, and are working with him to nudge them when he wants to go out. We think he's getting the hang of that, as he's jingled a few times, apparently on purpose. Maybe, though, he's just training us.

The only "bad' behavior, and I hesitate to call it truly "bad," is that he doesn't really enjoy going in his crate so much. We've been putting him in it while we go to work, and making a point to come home for lunch to let him out for a half hour or so. Well, he knows when it looks like we're getting ready to leave, and doesn't fall for the "Come here, Oji! I have a treat for you!" any more. He'll head for the front door, and when I try to lead him back to the crate, he'll sit, and dig in his heels to resist being moved. He has to be nudged at least a bit to get into the crate, and bribed with a treat or two. Once he's in, he's fine. And of course, he's happy to get out when we come home.

Friday after lunch, we were running a bit late, so we took a chance and left him out. Fearing the worst upon our arrival home, we were pleasantly surprised to find nothing amiss. He was waiting at the front door for us, and was super excited to see us, but there was no damage, poops, chewed shoes, or anything else wrong with the house.

He did get out the front door yesterday as we were checking the mail, and wandered next door for a sniff. He was waiting for me though, as I came up with his leash, and brought him back home.

His daily routine while we are home is to follow us around and just lay at our feet wherever we are. He's just under the desk as I type this now. He still doesn't bark much, though sometimes he does in his dreams. We'll wake up to quiet "Woof! Woof!" and look over to see him kicking and apparently chasing something in his sleep. It's cute. The other day, I did catch him barking at the neighbor dog (an annoying dalmatian) though; and I was so proud the day that he exerted his masculinity by peeing on the fence in the exact spot where the dalmatian was on the other side, and then kicking dirt at him. That's my boy!

Mostly, he sits in front of the window and watches the world go by. He'll whine a little bit when the neighbors' dogs (2 Yorkies, 1 Chihuahuas, a Vizsla, and a Lab) are out, but that's about it. We're looking forward to him being healthy enough to get out and play with them...they're nice dogs (well, the bigger ones anyway).

So, he's settling in, and feeling more and more at home every day. He's just the best dog...affectionate, obedient (mostly), quiet, calm, and absolutely adorable. Who couldn't love this face?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Everywhere Magazine (Updated based on comments)

Paul, one of our good friends directed me to a recently launched new travel magazine. It's called Everywhere, and it relies on content that is submitted to its website from regular folks. Contributions are submitted, voted on in a peer review process, reviewed by the staff, and, if selected, grace the pages of the print magazine. It's a pretty novel idea, frankly.

I signed up and have submitted a few photos. The nice thing is that you retain the rights to your creations, and if they choose something that you post, you get paid for it as well. Sort of like breaking into the big leagues.

Everwhere Magazine

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our Little Bundle of Joy

Well, the day we've been waiting for for many years finally arrived. We bravely entered the world of the dog owner. And not just an iDog like we had in Japan.

Say hello to Oji...

His origins are not exactly known, but the theory is that he is some sort of Terrier mix. We saw a picture of a Skye Terrier / Schnauzer mix that he resembles quite a bit, so that's what we're currently assuming for his parentage. He's pretty much all mutt.

We've been big dog fans for years, but until now haven't had the right schedule to have one of our own. So, we mooched off of OPP (Other People's Pets).

When we lived in Virginia, before moving overseas, one of the most enjoyable things to do in our neighborhood was to wander around and pet the neighbors' dogs. We knew more dogs names than those of their owners. There was Sal the Pug, Rhiannon the Fox Terrier, Kira the Basset Hound, Farley the Poodle mix, Lucky the ferocious Beagle / German Shepard mix (no joke...he hated my Army uniform and would try to kill me whenever he saw me in it...he ended up having to be put down because he bit a neighbor child), and our favorite, and God-Dog, Charlie. Charlie belonged to our friends' Colin and Melody, and he was lab/greyhound mix (we think). And just a sweetie until he'd jam his nose in your crotch.

Moving to Japan, we continued to mooch off of other people's dogs, and met John, the Chocolate Lab, who spoke English. Or rather, Engrish...His owner taught him to sit, but in order to get him to do it, you had to say it with a "SH" instead of "SI" since that sound doesn't exist naturally in the Japanese language (just sa, shi, su seh so) That made for some laughs, as what we told him to do had completely different meaning than what he actually did. Fortunately, for everyone involved.

Once we got here to San Antonio, and got settled in, we planned on getting a dog of our own. There are a lot of different shelters and rescue and fostering organizations. We actually had been surfing them online even while still in Japan to get a feel for what would be available. We visited the Humane Society shelter (a great place, by the way), and found a nice dog, but weren't ready to adopt at that time. So we just kept looking and chipping away at getting settled in.

Then, about a month ago, SNIPSA, the Spay, Neuter, Inject, Protect of San Antonio, which rescues dogs slated for euthanasia, had their monthly adoption day at the Starbucks down the street. We went to browse, but as soon as we saw Oji (then known as Noche), we made a beeline straight for him. We got ambushed by another dog first (who got adopted by a nice family), but finally got to meet. For me, it was love at first sight. There's something endearing about a scruffy mutt...probably why so many of them turn into movie-stars (Benji, et al). He was so sweet, and well mannered that we sort of made an impulse decision that this was the dog for us.

He was found by his foster mom (Katie - a SNIPSA volunteer) just running along the side of the road in her neighborhood. She stopped and opened the door, and he just hopped in. After making some inquiries as to his home, and coming up dry, she kept him with the intention of finding a family for him. When we met him, he had only been there for about a week. He was kind of scrawny, but otherwise in pretty good condition. He tested positive for heartworms and still needed to have his nerts removed (they euphemistically call it "altering"), so couldn't come home right away, which actually worked well for us, since we still had two shipments of household goods to arrive. We figured that that would be too disruptive.

So finally, yesterday he came to live with us. We can't believe how lucky we are to have him. He's (so far, and I hope I'm not jinxing anything by posting this) very well behaved. He doesn't bark or bite. He is really sweet and loving, and just likes to hang out wherever we are. He's house trained, and didn't even chase the skunk we saw yesterday. Or eat the cat we saw this morning. He's well-mannered with the other dogs he's met, but really we're just trying to keep him nice and calm while he's finishing the heartworm treatment. He's a great dog. He even knows "sit" and "down" (though his furry paws and hardwood floors usually mean that "sit" ends up as "down" within a few seconds.

Here he is. It's nice to have the pitter-patter of little feet around the house...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tokyo for Less Than New York?

Tim Ferris has two posts on how to travel in Tokyo for reasonable rates. Of all the things we did love about living in Japan, the cost of living was not one of them. We had it pretty easy, since we're DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) and had the benefit of the cost of living allowance (COLA) that we got through the military. Still, everything was more expensive there in Japan.

Gas was upwards of $5 a gallon.
Bottle of beer: $6-8.00 (depending on type)
Rent: 190,00 Yen (anywhere from $1500 - $2000, depending on the yen rate)
Dinner out: Depends on the restaurant, but if we went out or up to Tokyo, we would usually spend upward of $120 for both of us.

Due to the safe nature of Japan, we regularly went out with 30,000 yen in our pockets. In fact, if going to Tokyo, we rarely left with less than that, because it was usually pretty inconvenient to find an ATM. Very few ATMs we found worked with US cards. A tip if you are traveling there, look for a post office, as they usually have a postal savings ATM, which for some reason works.

Take a look at the posts, especially if you are preparing to go for a visit, or if you are already living there (big ups to my peeps there at Zama!). Good stuff...

Hacking Japan

Monday, June 09, 2008

Japanese Tricks for a Better Life

Living overseas usually makes you appreciate all the uniquely American things that you take for granted or miss...usually, for us, that was Taco Cabana. Now that we're back in the US, we miss all the things that made life easy in Japan. Not a day went by when we didn't see something that made us say, "Hmm. Why didn't I think of that?"

While wasting some time surfing around one of my favorite productivity websites, Lifehacker.com, I found this post, dedicated to some of the time savers and general all-around good ideas that the Japanese have come up with.

Take a look...Also, check out her site, TokyoMango, all about the quirky side of life in Japan. One of the things we truly miss.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting used to it

We've been in the US now for over a month, and are getting used to being back. We still miss Japan, and reminisce on the good times we had there often, but life moves on, and so are we.

We got our last shipment from Japan on Monday, about 243 assorted boxes, crates, and pieces of furniture. Since we never really consolidated our two homes before we went overseas, we find ourselves doing so now.

A piece of advice...if you're not yet married, don't collect a lot of miscellaneous stuff. When you do get married, it doesn't just double. It quadruples. And then you find yourself in the laborious task of sorting through it all to make room to walk. We're having a yard sale, soon, but frankly, I'm not sure even our yard is big enough! We have way, way too much crap. Still, it feels good to be getting through it, and we'll soon have our house squared away.

I also had my first experience with "Cross-fit" exercise program. It's basically an all-over body workout that changes each time you go. I started with the beginning class today, and I haven't been this smoked from a workout in far too long. Our warm up was pretty much as challenging as a normal workout. For the actual workout, we did sets of medicine ball throws, and hung from pull up bars and pulled our knees up to our elbows (supposedly) in sets of 30-25-20-15-10-5 for time. It took me 19 min to get through it all. Ouch. There definitely seems to be a philosophy of "Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good."

This is a good way to get over the sedentary life I've been leading for the past few years with a staff job and a long commute. However, now that we live a much more reasonable distance from work, I'm getting back into the swing of things so I don't end up as one of the fat lieutenant colonels I used to laugh at when I was a strapping young captain. Crossfit will help, and they have classes that I can do before heading off to work in the morning. If this one workout is any indication, I'm going to love and hate it.

If you're interested in learning more about it, go here. If you want to check out videos of some of the exercises, check out their exercise page which shows a bunch of the different WODs (workout of the day). If you want to do more, just Google "Crossfit" and your city or postal code and you should get some options nearby.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sumo and Subaru - An Interesting Combination

Don't know how I missed this commercial (maybe because we've been out of the country for four years...). Hilarious!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Moshi moshi, Telemarketer-san desuka?

So the other day, while I was unpacking some boxes, I got our first telemarketer call. When I answered the phone, there was the telltale hesitation and faint sounds of other phone jockeys in the background. Thinking quickly, I said, "Moshi moshi."

Telemarketer Lady: "Hello?"

Me: "Hai...Moshi moshi!"

Telemarketer Lady: "Hello?"

Me: "Hai! Konnichiwa!"

Telemarketer Lady: "Hello?"

Me: "Gomenasai...eigo ga dekimasen. Nihongo ga dekimasuka?" ("I'm sorry, I don't speak English. Do you speak Japanese?")

Telemarketer Lady: *click*

That was the easiest time I've ever had getting off the phone with a telemarketer. We had them in Japan, and it was basically the reverse. They would call, ramble on for a while, and then I'd tell them that I was "jozu jarimasen" (not good at Japanese). I'd get a brief apology ("Sumimasen...") and they'd hang up.

I've now used the technique yet again, with the same results. You couldn't get away with that in Spanish, as you hear it around town almost as much as English.

It seems that our new phone number was once used by some sort of scofflaws. We get calls from bill collectors, and even a call from the Northeast Independent School District the past two days in a row telling us that "our kid" (we have none) is now 9 dollars and 45 cents in the hole with the lunch room. I'm tempted to call back and just tell them to refuse to give "my kid" any food if he can't pay for it. Maybe he'll learn to manage his allowance better.

So, if you call us, don't be surprised if you hear Japanese...if we want to talk to you, we will. If not, then "Gomenasai. Jozu jarimasen. Sayonara!"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Things I Miss Already

Being back in the US has been a bit of an adjustment. We spend a lot of time reminiscing on all the good things about Japan that we miss. Now it’s time to get it out of our system by telling you what we miss most now that we’re home. In no particular order, here they are. And check back again, as I will probably add to this list the longer we're here.

1. Public Transportation. It goes everywhere you want to be. Not like here where generally it mostly goes where you don’t want to be.

2. Vending machines that do everything but walk over to your house to bring you your drink. The humble vending machine has been perfected in Japan. They serve hot and cold drinks (until May when it all goes cold), will take all bills, no matter how ripped, crumpled or crinkled, and some of them even talk. Not only drinks are served, but I’ve seen vending machines for hot food, batteries, and even clothing in the capsule hotel (see the entry in Sand and Tsunamis v1.0). Need a new shirt? No problem! Just drop in a few coins, and select the right size, and press the button! There it is!

3. Tofu Man: In our neighborhood, every Saturday morning, the Tofu Man would drive down the street in his truck singing his tofu song. One morning, Melody was awakened from sleep by his song coming through the neighborhood, and was quite insistent that I get up and go out and get some. Don’t worry about the fact that it usually doesn’t get eaten before it expires, she had to have it. So, I got up, threw on some pants and a shirt, and tried to catch him. When I finally chased him down, running down the street past our neighbors (who stared at me with looks of “Crazy Gaijin…”), it turns out that it was the laundry pole guy. Not Tofu Man. I was a bit peeved.

4. Speaker Trucks: As alluded to above, there are a lot of speaker trucks that drive around pitching any number of things. Laundry Poles, the aforementioned tofu, sweet potatoes (“Yakimo! Yakitate!”), and political candidates during election season.

5. “Night Knockers.” In our neighborhood, shortly after the sun went down, a team of a 2 or 3 people would walk through the neighborhood with flashlights with orange cones and wooden sticks that they knock together. As we understood, this was to remind people to put out candles before going to bed, sort of a safety patrol.

6. Koto Woman. Sometimes, on summer evenings, as I walked back from the parking lot where I kept my car, I would hear haunting strains of the song Sakura floating through the street, played on the koto, sort of a Japanese harp instrument. That, almost more than anything, really brought home the fact that I was living in Japan.

7. Heated Toilet Seats. You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t have one of these. Especially in a poorly insulated Japanese home (it would get down to about 40degrees Fahrenheit in our genkan/foyer area in the winter).

8. Politeness and Customer Service. These are areas that Japanese culture has a distinct advantage over that in the US. People who are in customer service roles take their jobs very seriously and strive for excellence. There is no risk of getting your hamburger spat upon as there is in other places. Not that I begrudge the service industry at all. We couldn’t live without folks who do those jobs, and they are many times overworked and underloved. Still, sometimes customer service suffers. Especially in bureaucratic organizations like the DMV, etc. Not so in Japan. Everyone does their job well and to the best of their ability, whether they are swinging an orange stick waving you through a road construction area, or the kimono clad waitress at a high class Japanese restaurant. Excellence is the standard.

Safe and Sound in San Antonio

Well, despite our best efforts to stay in Japan, we are now here in San Antonio. I do say that jokingly, as we are enjoying ourselves so far. Mostly, that revolves around hitting all the restaurants that we've missed over the past few years.

We're getting settled in to the new house, slowly but surely. We still have no furniture other than a puff up bed and a couple of trunks that we can sit on, but over the next few weeks will get some more of the essentials, including the household we put into storage before we left the country four years ago. That will be like Christmas, since we have most of our wedding gifts in there. The best part will be the reclamation of my big, brown leather chair. Oh, how I've missed that chair. It's like sitting in a baseball mitt, but doesn't smell like sweat.

We have a small house in the back dubbed the "Cat House" after the cat playground the previous occupants erected inside. That is coming out, as in addition to it being an eyesore, it's a nostril plugging, explosively allergenic experience to go inside. I've been airing the place out for the past few days.

Yesterday was the annual "Pooch Parade" and our neighborhood was briefly infested with dogs of all shapes and sizes. We headed over to watch a bit and then joined it down the street at Mr. Smith's house. Who's Mr. Smith, you ask? Mr. Smith is the world famous toilet seat artist, as featured on Montel Williams and The View. He's a retired master plumber, and a really interesting guy. His garage is lined with thousands of toilet seat lids, each individually decorated with a different theme. And yes, he does have one with a Japan theme, and he's asked us to contribute to it which we'll gladly do.

Hopefully within a month or so, all will settle into some semblance of a routine. We went dog browsing after the parade and found a sweet mutt at the shelter; we're going to wait until we're more established before jumping into pet ownership, and hope she'll still be available. If not, though, there are certainly hundreds of other pets that need adoption. We'll find our perfect pet.

Anyway, as we get more acclimated to our lives here, we'll add more. I've got a couple of posts in the works,

Monday, April 14, 2008

I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane

Well, I’m sitting on Flight 176 right now somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The in flight map has us approaching the Canadian coast, and another 5000 or so kilometers to get there.

It has been an emotional week to say the least. Most of the time at work was spent getting all the last minute kinks out of the preparations to leave, but there was a considerable amount of time spent trying to catch up one last time with good friends.

On Wednesday, I finally joined the Family Time Karaoke Club that has developed, taking advantage of the early let out from work to go to Shidax or another karaoke box place for some supper, beer, and songs. As a karaoke connoisseur, it was probably the best songfests I’ve been to yet. We initially signed up for the room for 3 hours, but extended for another two since we were having so much fun. Five hours of belting out tunes in varying degrees of proficiency was such a good time that I went back again on Friday night by myself. It wasn’t quite as much fun, but a good experience nonetheless.

On Saturday, Toshi set up an outing to Tokyo, and Ed, Kersten, Mike and I hopped on the train up to Tokyo Station to link up with him. After finding him, we headed first for the Tsukiji market area for some fresh sushi. After the best maguro don I’d had since being here, we spent a little while walking around the market before driving over to LaLaPort, a big mall constructed around an old ship berth. As I was looking at the map of the mall, I noticed that the main part of the mall was formed like a boat slip, with flanking sections shaped like ships containing more stores. Quite an interesting and unique design.

We took one of the tourist boats for a 45 minute ride around Tokyo Bay, passing several Maritime Self Defense Force ships including the main icebreaker used when the ships head toward Antarctica as part of the cetacean research program. That’s the one where they research whales by harvesting them. Interestingly enough, whale is still served in some places, usually farther north, and was at one time a staple of the school lunch program. I regret that I never had the chance to try it, but that’s a good reason to come back sometime.

Following the boat ride, we headed down to Kawasaki to Toshi’s house for supper. Toshi and his daughter Akane surprised me with two incredibly thoughtful gifts. Both of them are artists. We learned this at lunch one day when Akane was drawing cute anime type figures. She drew a portrait of Melody and me that is incredibly realistic. I don’t know if she did it freehand or had a photo to work from, but it was so sweet that it literally brought tears to my eyes.

Then Toshi brought out another small box. Opening it, I looked at a framed oil painting of the railway crossing down the street from our home in Kamakura. He captured the moment that the Enoden Line train crosses the street, framed by hanami or cherry blossoms. Several of the tears that had drifted up while looking at the previous drawing made their way down my cheeks at this point. It was one of the most special gifts we’ve ever received.

We enjoyed a great supper of meatballs, fried shrimp, onigiri, potato salad, and after a brief respite, Toshi ducked into the kitchen and sizzled up some Kobe beef and lamb chops. It was a great meal, topped off with some fine sake and wine. We eventually had to catch a train, so headed out about 10:00 PM. Toshi walked us to the train station, and it was an emotional parting. He’s been a great friend and professional colleague, and took such good care of Melody and me during our time in Japan. It gave us a glimpse of life in a typical Japanese family that we never would have gotten otherwise. Toshi, if you’re reading this, from the bottom of my and Melody’s heart, thank you. You, Masai, Akane, Yutaro, and Miri will be in our thoughts and prayers until we meet again (hopefully soon).

Sunday came and I spent the day organizing things and getting ready for the final packup. That evening, I took the train down to Fujisawa to meet Ginny and David at Jammin’ for one last meal together. We sat at the bar in the “new” Jammin’ (the one in our old neighborhood closed back in Janurary, we were there for the party), and ate a leisurely meal together while catching up on the latest news and gossip. They’ve been a great couple to hang out with, and fortunately have some ties to San Antonio, so we’ll get to see them somewhat regularly.

I got back at about 10:30 or so, puttered around a little bit and then went to bed to get some rest for my last full day in Japan.

Monday was my last day and was the busiest of the week. I spent the day cleaning out my email (Select all. Delete.), running around doing the final paperwork, and had lunch with my former co-workers Mike, Hiroko, and Ria. We went over to the Golf Course for a mediocre meal, and a fun last time to all hang out together. That afternoon, I took a couple of boxes down to the post office, and had to run out to cancel our mobile phones. That turned out to be the easiest part of the day, with filling out a couple of forms, and plugging in the phones to the computer to kill the numbers. After that and a quick trip to the mall to pick up a couple of things for Melody, I met up with Ed and Kersten, and Dennis, Hozumi and their daughters for ramen and gyoza. It was a great meal, and a fitting one to end my time here in Japan.

I woke up about 4 AM to finalize my packing and get ready for my 6 O’clock pickup. As it turns out, I went up to the airport with our friends the Felicianos who unfortunately are heading back to Puerto Rico due to a death in the family. We breezed through check-in pretty quickly and headed up to a cafĂ© for some breakfast. After some coffee and a pastrami sandwich, we headed through security and immigration.

I’ve now been on the plane for about seven hours. Looks like we have about three or so more before we get to Dallas, and we should be getting there slightly early. Good thing as I’ve got to catch a connection with only an hour or so to get through the reception formalities.

I’ve spent the past few hours ruminating on some of the experiences of the past four years. I’ve met lots of interesting people, and have had the chance to catch up with friends from long ago in far off places. I had the chance to travel from Saudi Arabia to Japan, hitting Bahrain, Oman, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Guam and Korea in between. It’s been an incredible experience, one that won’t ever be forgotten, and one that has affected my life forever.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been away for that long. It’s almost like time in the states has stood still, at least from my perspective. It will be an adjustment getting back into life in the US. But we’re up to it. After so long away, spending so much time in countries not our own, the United States will now be the place that feels foreign.