Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Sleep-Over

Ken thinks I have "Lazy Brain."   He may be right.  Let me tell you the latest incident why.

Yumiko has been to two sleep-overs since we have been here in Japan.  A sleep-over, for those who may not know, is when you invite a bunch of kids over to your house for a party that lasts all night and into the next day.  Ken has been telling me for months it is our turn to do a sleep-over for Yumiko.  So about two weeks before we left for China, Yumiko and I planned a sleep-over.  She chose four friends to invite.  I sent out an e-mail invitation to the mothers of these four girls giving them the date - April 4 and the time (5:00 p.m.) and asking each kid to bring a sleeping bag.

Just before we left for China, we heard from one mother saying her daughter would not be able to come.  And a second mother wrote back and said her daughter - Emily would love to come. We didn't hear anything from the other two mothers.

So off we went to China.  We had a great time, but lurking in my "Lazy Brain" was the fact that we were going to have a sleep-over the Saturday night after we got back.  This meant I had to clean the apartment from top to bottom, figure out what to have for dinner and breakfast, and make sure Yumiko had good activities planned so the party would be fun.

We got back Thursday night and I went into high gear on Friday.  I did many loads of wash, changed all the sheets, cleaned and dusted, went to the grocery store to get good stuff for the kids to eat.  Yumiko and I trekked to the local department store and bought a scrabble game for the kids to play.  I sent out an e-mail to the two moms that we still had not heard from asking if their kids were coming.  On Saturday morning (yesterday) we still had not heard from the other moms, so we assumed they were not coming.  But that was O.K.  Even having one friend for a sleep-over would be great for Yumiko.  Finally 5:00 came.  Yumiko and I went out to wait on the main street for Emily as she may not know exactly where our apartment is.  5:15 and still no Emily.  5:25 - no Emily.  At 5:30 I told Yumiko we better go in and call and see what happened.  Maybe because of the Spring Break everybody forgot about the sleep-over.  So we went back in and gave Emily's mom a call.  She answered the phone and I asked if Emily was coming to the sleep-over.  Her mom sounded all in a fluster and said, "I thought it was next Saturday." I said "No, it's this Saturday."  Her mom was in more of a fluster and said Emily was at the movies, but she could go get her and bring her over a little later.  Then she said again that she was so sorry, but she really thought it was the next Saturday.  I assured her it was this Saturday, but as I assured her I began to have my doubts.  I told her to hold on for a minute because I just wanted to check the computer.  I brought the phone over to the computer and pulled up the e-mail that I had originally sent to all the mothers.  And there it was.  My original e-mail with the subject:  "Sleep-Over - Saturday April 4."  Ugh...Ken was sitting right across from me.  I apologized profusely over the phone to Emily's mom and told her I must have had a little brain freeze - as the party really was next Saturday.  Emily's mom is just a wonderfully gracious lady.  She said not to worry. Emily was not doing anything that night, so she would bring her over anyway.  I thanked her profusely and hung up the phone.  Ken knew exactly what happened and just shook his head.  My lazy brain struck again.

End of the story is Emily came over a little later and she and Yumiko had a great Saturday night sleep-over. (See photo) And to top it all off, we may just have another sleep-over next Saturday night too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Pictures From China

First Photo: Liu Fei and Son Zuyuan
Second Photo: From Left: Nancy Hu, Wonderful Wang Ping  and Mrs. Guo
Third Photo: Toasting with Mr. Zheng
Fourth Photo: Ken, Yumiko and Takae in Xian
Last Photo: Takae and Yumiko in Forbidden City

Wonderful Friends and a Great Trip

It's Saturday afternoon.  We got back from our whirl-wind tour of China late Thursday night.  We had a truly wonderful time.  Ken's sister Takae San had never been to China before and we wanted to introduce her to that wonderful country as well as our good friends from the ASTM days.  Our first stop was Beijing where our dear friend Liu Fei arranged everything from a fabulous foot massage to a wonderful dinner at the Lao She Tea House with old friends including Liu Fei's wife Hu and son Zuyuan, Zheng Weihua, President of CNIS and his wife and son Yao, Nancy Hu, Wonderful Wang Ping, and Mrs. Guo Dehua.  It was a joyful evening.  (See first photo for the dinner crew.)

Monday we visited the Forbidden City and had a chance to visit the ASTM office in Beijing.  Then we took off for Xian and a day and 1/2 visiting the Terra - Cotta Warriors, the provincial historical museum, and a grand dinner of 18 courses of one dumpling each.

On Wednesday morning we flew to Shanghai and that afternoon we visited Li Hong Zheng and her husband Sun.  They brought us to their beautiful apartment located close to our hotel.  Li Hong was a guest of ASTM's for two months about five years ago.  We have kept in close contact all these years and it was just so great to be able to visit her in her own home.  Afterwards we had the best meal of all in a wonderful old restaurant close to our hotel.   

On Thursday morning after a walk in the park right across from our hotel, another great friend - Ma Na - from the Shanghai Institute for Standardization came by and picked us up and took us to yet another fabulous restaurant where we were joined by Grace.  Ma Na and Grace were both standards experts who were the guests of ASTM for one month also a few years ago.  They are two fabulously smart, funny, accomplished women.  Again, it was such a pleasure to see them again.  Ken, Yumiko and I feel so lucky to be so welcomed and to feel so at home with these dear friends.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

We're Back

We are back from a wonderful trip to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai.  There are many stories to tell, but it is late Friday night and we need to recharge the old, old batteries.  I'll be back tomorrow with more photos and hopefully some good stories.  Here's one picture of the Wall in Xian at night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Beijing Tomorrow - Harikari Today

The three of us Kono's are getting up tomorrow morning at 4:30 a.m. and will fly to Beijing with Ken's sister Takae San.  We'll be back next Thursday.  In the meantime, here's a photo of Yumiko for this week's class on "No Color - Color" photos.

Oh yeah, for those of you who read the earlier post about the Grand Canyon Slide Show, I need to commit Harikari.  Those stinkin slides would not work for Tokyua either...  Oh boy......

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Grand Canyon Slide Show

I said in a recent blog that Mr. Takada at the City Hall was probably the nicest person on earth.  I may have been too quick in that judgement as Ken's brother Tokuya San is either tied for first or maybe a close second.  Ken's brother has been so kind to us ever since we got here.  First and foremost, he has graciously allowed all three of us Kono's to live here in his second home in downtown Tokyo for all these months.  It is a wonderful apartment - right in the middle of everything.  
I would do anything to repay Tokuya for his kindness and earlier this week, I had a chance.  Tokyua went on a rafting trip with me and my Hollins College girlfriends last summer.  It was a fabulous trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  Tokuya who is friends with everyone in Tokyo was asked to give a talk to a group of representatives of the Japan "Mass Media" about his rafting trip experience.  He asked me if I could put together 30 slides or so from the pictures I took on our trip.  He would like to use those slides for his talk.

I thought this was my chance to at least do a good job for him.  But as often happens with me, it was not as simple as just putting a little slide show together.  Here's what happened:

I have a wonderful little MacBook computer that I purchased the day after I retired.  This little marvel has been my salvation for almost two years as I use it everyday to download all of my photos.  The problem is, I have downloaded way too many photos.  A few weeks ago I noticed that my photo files that are stored in electronic albums in my computer were disappearing.  One of the albums that disappeared contained close to 500 photos I took during the rafting trip.  Well, I couldn't tell Tokua San that I lost all the photos and would not be able to make him a slide show.  No way....  Instead, I took my little MacBook back to the Genius Bar at the Apple Computer Store and a young Japanese genius was able to help me.  He couldn't refile all those 500 rafting trip photos, but he at least located them.  I would have to go through them electronically and put them back in a file and then sort out those for the slide show. I could do that.  It may take me days, but I could do that.

I came home yesterday from the Apple store and began sorting through the lost photos and finding the best ones to put a nice little 50 slide - slide show together for Tokyua.  It took me all day, but I got it done before he came home last night and was just putting the slides on a memory stick when he walked in the door.  Tokya San is a very busy, very active man.  He didn't have much time to look at the slide show last night because he was running back out the door to play tennis, so he said he would look at the slide show today just before he would leave to do his presentation to the "Mass Media."

This morning Ken and I needed to go to the doctor's office, but we promised Tokuya San that we would be back in time to show him how to put the "Memory Stick" in the computer so his slide show would go off without a hitch.  We got back from the doctor's office at noon.  Tokya had to leave at 1:00.  When we got back we asked Tokya to pull up a chair to my computer and I would show him how to put the Memory Stick in and how to pull up each of the photographs for his slide show.  I put the Memory Stick in my computer.  The little icon came on the desk top letting us know the computer recognized the Memory Stick.  I clicked on the memory stick icon and there was the "Rafting" file.  All was going well.  I opened the rafting file and there were the 50 slides.  But when I tried to open the first slide it only opened in a "preview" mode.  It was just a tiny picture on my big screen.  I could not get it to go full screen.  So I pulled out the memory stick and put it back in again.  Ken was breathing hard.  Tokyua was just smiling and I was beginning to perspire.  Again, I opened the icon, then tried to open the photo files and still it wouldn't work.  Tried again.  Tried something else.  Began pushing buttons like a crazy person.  Ken finally said he was getting hungry and maybe I should just go ahead and make some lunch.  Tokuya said not to worry.  He was sure somebody at the "Mass Media" event should be able to help him open those photos.  Ugh.....  I was completely mortified, but didn't know what else to do.  Tokuya showed me that he was taking a copy of the book of photos that I made for him, so if there was a problem he could show the book.  Ugh....  Still mortified.  

Well, he left at 1:00 and should be back sometime later this evening.  I will let you know if the slide show went on, or if I need to commit harakari.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Five Visits to the City Hall

It's just about 11:00 a.m. on Monday.  Ken and I left the house early this morning to go back to the City Hall to meet with Mr. Takada, our case manager.  Mr. Takada is the nicest person on earth.  He is a small, well built Japanese man.  He is balding on the top and greying on the sides, always wears a white shirt and a grey vest and has nice hairy arms.  This is our 5th trip to see Mr. Takada in the past month.  Ken has wanted to register Yumiko as an official "Japanese" member of our family for a long, long time - almost since we adopted her ten years ago.  In order to "make her official" we needed to change his family registration to include Yumiko.  But it is not as easy as just adding her name.  Because Yumiko is adopted, we needed to prove that she is truly our legal daughter.  We thought we brought all the right papers with us from the U.S. to do this, but the first time we went to City Hall, we found we were quite wrong.  

Mr. Takada, who could have turned us away because it was all too complicated, told us he would help us through the process, but be aware, he, like all Japanese, is a true stickler for details.  First we had to produce the original Chinese documents that indicate that we adopted Yumiko.  Which we did.  Then we had to provide notarized translations of the Chinese documents into Japanese. Again done. Then we had to produce Yumiko's original Chinese passport.  We didn't bring that with us.  We had to go home and call the person staying in our house (Suzi) in St. Davids and have her do a search of Ken's office to find that passport and send it to us in a fast mail delivery service.  We got it and brought it back to Mr. Takada.  That was good, but now we had to produce my passport that was valid at the time we adopted Yumiko - May 1998.  This was needed to guarantee that I was a U.S. citizen at the time.  Well, knowing me, I could not quite remember where I stored that old passport.  (Ken loves when I can't find these things.)   So again, we went home and again had to call Suzi in St. Davids to do a search of the attic.  She searched high and low, but could only find a copy of the passport pages and a copy of my birth certificate in Yumiko's adoption file.  Suzi sent those to us in a second fast mail delivery service. 

 We realized when we got the copy of the passport and birth certificate that Mr. Takada, as nice as he is, probably would not accept them unless they too were notarized.  So, I took the copies to the U.S. Embassy along with a letter I wrote saying that I was -in fact- a U.S. citizen at the time of our adoption of Yumiko.  A nice person in the U.S. Embassy notarized my letter and a copy of my old passport and birth certificate.  We then took all of these documents back to Mr. Takada who again was so kind and nice, but said we would need to translate the letter and my passport pages and my birth certificate.  So again, we came home empty handed.  

Ken spent a good part of the weekend carefully translating all of this information into Japanese and today we took all of this stuff back to Mr. Takada.  He took a look at the translation of my notarized letter stating I was a U.S. Citizen.  He said he was not sure if that would fly. I should have had the Embassy write the letter.  But, I told him, they are unwilling to do that, they would only notarize a letter I wrote.  Ken's eyes were weary.  Mr. Takada said he would give his boss a call to see if the letter would be O.K.  I watched as he made the call from another part of the office.  He hung up the phone and I thought by the way he sort of skipped to the copy machine, that we were in the clear.

He came back to us and sat down and for another agonizing 15 minutes or so checked every single document again.  Then he looked at Ken and looked at me and said we had passed the test.  Yumiko can officially become a "Japanese" member of the Kono family.  Ken got teary.  I was beyond that at this point.  We should get the official documents in about 10 days.  Yehaaaaaa!!!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Warm and Cool

This week's photo assignment is to find subjects to photograph that have both warm and cool colors.  If a subject is predominantly warm, the photograph should not have more than 25% of the cool color.  And vice versa.

I had fun this afternoon in the Aoyama Cemetery scouting out warm and cool.  Here's what I found:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Foot on Head and other Stretchy Moves

It's been a long day.  Yumiko had her play at school last night and tonight. I sat through both performances and loved it all.  They were great. Her middle school principal was an actor in a former life and he put his heart and soul into creating and directing a 90 minute show that all kids from the 6th to the 9th grade would appear in - a LOT of kids.  Yumiko had a small part in a circus scene where she did cartwheels and backbends and some other stretchy thing where she put her foot on her head (see photo).  It was all good, but I am dead tired and going to hit the sack.  Hopefully more to report tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Computer Adventure

Oh, what a time we had on Sunday.  It was about 10:30 a.m.  Yumiko and I were both working on our computers.  Yumiko asked me to take a look at her screen.  She had been experimenting by taking the software icons off her "docking station" and putting them somewhere else on her computer so her screen looked completely empty.  She thought it looked so cool and wanted to show me.  I thought that might not be such a good idea and suggested that she put the icons back where they were.  In the process she mistakenly put the "PowerPoint" icon into the "iPhoto" icon and that's when the trouble began.  

The "iPhoto" started extracting the images in "PowerPoint" and wouldn't stop.  Yumiko was panicking.  How could she stop it!  I suggested she cancel out and turn off the computer.  My way of fixing computer problems is to shut down and start up.  Well she cancelled out, turned the computer off and on again.  But when she turned it back on and tried to access "PowerPoint" it said "not working" or something like that.  She continued to try, but no luck.  She was distraught.  Yumiko has made many PowerPoint presentations - not for school - but for fun - using her own animation.  And if she could not get the PowerPoint to work, it would be a tragedy.  Life as we know it would be over.  Yumiko never cries, but she was crying now.

It was about 11:00.  Ballet practice begins at 1:00.  I knew where the Apple Computer store was - about a two mile walk from our apartment.  I figured if we high tailed it, we could make it there and maybe they could fix it quickly and the problem would be solved.  So, we grabbed our coats and told Ken we would be back by 12:45 in time for a quick bite and then off to ballet.  We walked fast and got to the Apple Store around 11:45.  I didn't realize, but you have to take a number to get technical service at the Apple Store.  The attendant told us it was a busy day and we would not be waited on until 6:20 p.m.  Well, that was an eye opener.  We put our name on the list to come back at 6:20 and high tailed it home, stopping to pick up some rice cakes stuffed with tuna and sour cherry for lunch.

Yumiko had ballet practice from 1:00 - 2:30.  Then she had a special play practice at school from 3:30 - 5:00.  It was going to be a long day.  She got home from play practice about 5:30 and said she wanted to go back to the Apple Store with me to see if they could fix her computer. 

We get to the Apple Store at 6:15 and they call our name at the "Genius Bar" about 6:30.  I love those guys at the Genius Bar.  They all look so smart and wear blue t-shirts with the words, "Don't Panic, I'm on it!" emblazoned on the front.  Our genius guy asked us in perfect English what the problem was.  We explained and he began typing all kinds of things into the computer He tried over and over and over again, but nothing worked.  Then he called over an even smarter guy who also tried over and over and over again.  No luck.  Finally the second guy said he thought we would need to reinstall our Microsoft Office Package.  That was the only way.  I told him our disc with the software was at home in the U.S. of A and we would not be going there until July.  He told me there is a thing called intellectual property, and he could not install the store's copy of Microsoft Office.  I would have to buy a new copy.  Well, frugal me asked how much that would cost and he said something like $200.  I could not fathom such a thing at that point and said we would think about it.  

Yumiko looked totally spent, depressed and ready to cry again.  Then she asked in a shy voice if they might just take off one of the extra PowerPoint programs that she had created when she was playing with her computer earlier in the day.  An extra PowerPoint?  The second genius guy's eyes lit up and he went back into action.  He turned her computer back on, searched a whole bunch of pages and  found the second PowerPoint.  Then he did a whole bunch more typing and finally - voila - PowerPoint opened!!!  And within power point were all of Yumiko's creations.  Life was good again. We could all breath again.  Happiness rules again.  We were so relieved that I splurged and we took a taxi all the way home.

Orange, Pastel and Pink

Another day, another couple of photos.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shin Zen Bi

Well I'm back from the Ballet Parent Teacher Conference.  I got there just in time at 3:30. There was a long line of Japanese women winding their way upstairs to the second floor.  I got in line with everybody else and finally got to my seat.  There were easily 2oo women in the room.  

Ken had written a note to the school earlier in the week asking if someone might be able to interpret for me, but I didn't want to impose, so I just sat in my seat and waited for the program to begin.  No sooner had I sat down then a beautiful young woman dressed in one of the teacher's outfits knelt at my side and said "Kono San?"  I said yes and she said she would be happy to interpret for me, but said her english was not very good.  (Her english was great.)  A few minutes later, the program began.  The woman president of the school said a few welcoming words, then the famous dancer of the school, Yoko Morishita said a few words.  Then her husband, Tetsutaro Shimizu, also a ballet dancer and son of the founder of the school, got up to the microphone and spoke for the next forty-five minutes.  I couldn't understand a word he said, but he was dramatic and quite animated, banging his hand on the lectern a few times, pointing to various portraits of famous ballet dancers hung around the room, drawing figures of moms and dads and kids on the blackboard, taking his warm up jacket on and off a few times revealing his well toned, if not a bit aging body.  My interpreter listened intently and about once every fifteen minutes would just briefly tell me what he was saying.  The audience was totally enthralled.

The gist of the entire talk was that the Matsyama Ballet school wants to teach its young students to be honest, balanced, caring and full of goodness.  It does not matter if they are good dancers.  If they are good and loving inside, they will grow into strong, beautiful human beings.  His motto was Shin - Zen - Bi ----- Truth - Goodness - Beauty.  I loved it - and got a little tear in my eye.  
So Japanese - so good for Yumiko.

Parent Teacher Meeting in Japanese and a Few Flowers

It's Sunday afternoon.  Yumiko is back at ballet practice and then she has a play practice at school.  I am supposed to go to a parent teacher meeting at her ballet school at 3:30.  I am going to go, but it could be a little difficult as I speak no Japanese and the teachers at the ballet school speak no English.  I will fill you in later as to how that session goes.  Always a new challenge.

On the photo front, I got up early this morning and took some more flower shots in the Aoyama cemetery.  Some were overexposed (saturated) and some underexposed (pastel).  

Friday, March 6, 2009


I'm starting a new photo class today.  The next four weeks are all about color.  I think I'm going to love it.  It was raining hard again this morning when Yumiko and I took off for her school.  But again we bundled up and put on our raincoats and got our umbrellas and slogged off in the rain.  I doubled back and went into the Aoyma Cemetery to take some photos in the rain of colorful flowers either being over exposed (saturated) or underexposed (pastel).  Here are my first two tries for the class.  More to come....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Erratum

Today Ken and I had a great lunch in a Chinese restaurant with his old school mate Norio Mihira and his wife Slyvia.  Mr. Mihira was for many years the Japanese commercial service officer in the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.  He met his wife Sylvia while in Indonesia.  They are just a wonderful couple.  But what impressed me most is that Sylvia knows all the names of all the flowers and trees and plants here in Japan.   I mentioned to her that I had taken a few photos of some cherry trees blooming in YoYogi Park late last month.  And although they were beautiful, I thought it was another sign of global warming to have Cherry Trees blooming in February.  Well Sylvia set me straight.  They were not cherry trees, they were plum trees!  Cherry trees will bloom when they are supposed to - in late March and early April.  Sooo, this is an erratum to an earlier post.  And the photo attached is a picture of blooming plum trees.  So sorry for any confusion.  And I will not blame George Bush for my mistake.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Evening and the Little Bird

It's Monday evening.  Yumiko has just returned from ballet practice and she hit the sack early.  She is in the midst of taking the "ERB" tests at school.  She has a test every day this week. Ugh....  Ken just finished his exercising and is now working on his computer and I too am here at the kitchen table trying to think of something clever to talk about.  Tomorrow is "Girl's Day" in Japan.  Not sure what we will do tomorrow about that, but yesterday we celebrated all the girls in the Kono clan at a wonderful dinner at Ken's sister's house.  She had a big party for the three of us and her two son's, their wives and all their children.  She made Shabu Shabu.  Shabu Shabu is a "hot pot" dish where you dip many different Japanese vegetables and thin slices of beef into a steaming pot of broth.  Then you take the vegetables and beef out of the pot and dip them into either of two sauces - a soy like sauce only more citrusy or a sesame sauce.  It was so good and I ate too much as usual.  So good.  

On the photography front, this week our assignment is to take "emotional" landscapes.  I was out this morning looking for some emotion, but only came across a little baby bird who posed for me and let me take a lot of photos.  Here's one for your viewing pleasure.  If you click on it, you can see him a little better