Yesterday, I dripped ink from a printer cartridge on my pants. Actually, it wasn’t my fault. I was under the assumption that the cartridges are drip-proof. Alas, this was incorrect. I had 3 bright pink splotches on my tan pants to prove it. Since I was at work, I had no choice but to go through the entire work day with these pink spots glaring at everyone from my thigh (note to self: get a pair of emergency pants to keep at the office). I tried blotting with a tissue, but it accomplished so little that I found myself thinking snarky thoughts at everyone I’ve ever heard say, “You’re supposed to blot, not rub.”

Fear not, however, because I have discovered the secret method of how to remove ink cartridge stains from pants. I will now generously share my new knowledge with you.

Step 1. Ask Facebook what you should do.

Step 2. As per the best suggestion, dig out the old can of hairspray from the back of your cabinet and spray it on the affected area.

Step 3. Watch the affected area closely to see the stains magically disappear.

Step 4. Be extremely disappointed when the stains do not magically disappear.

Step 5. Wet the area thoroughly with warm water, pour laundry detergent on the area, and scrub desperately with an old toothbrush.

Step 6. Become dismayed at the lack of results and as a last resort, dejectedly fill the sink with hot water and submerge the stained portion of the clothing.

Step 7. Completely forget about the clothing soaking in the sink as you binge watch House of Cards.

Step 8. Be surprised when you go to wash your face and brush your teeth before bed and you see the clothing that you forgot about is still soaking in the sink.

Step 9. Warily check the clothing and…success! The stains will be gone and the only reminder will be a sink full of pinkish water.

I hope my expertise will be helpful to you. Happy washing!

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I don’t usually swear.

I just don’t feel that it’s necessary in daily life. In fact, I think it sounds pretty crass when you curse all the time. I have friends who do it, it’s fine, no judgment. I just usually don’t. I do, however, get that there are situations in which a swear word is actually the best option to perfectly describe what is going on. Like when you flip your half-cooked grilled cheese sandwich onto the lit burner instead of into the fry pan.

Then a few f-bombs actually feel pretty good.

Everyone has what I call “Sliding Door Moments.” If you’ve seen the movie Sliding Doors, you probably get what I mean. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about a woman’s (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) life shown in 2 parallel timelines. I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, but just in case, SPOILER ALERT. In one timeline, the woman catches a subway train just before the doors slide shut and gets home in time to see her boyfriend cheating on her. She breaks up with him and falls in love with someone else. In the other timeline, she misses the train and doesn’t catch him. She stays with him, even though neither one of them seems to be getting much out of the relationship, and he continues to cheat on her. END SPOILER ALERT.

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, a Sliding Door Moment is a moment in our lives when something occurs or a choice we have to make radically changes the course of our life. For example, one of my Moments was January 8, 2008 in the early morning. At that moment, I seriously, SERIOUSLY considered not going to the airport and not getting on the plane that would take me to Japan. I clearly remember thinking, “I don’t HAVE to go.” That’s an example of a choice that I made in a Moment. An example of a seemingly serendipitous Moment would be when the representative at Chase Visa gave me the advice that eventually helped me out of debt.

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

Both of those moments profoundly changed my life. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, all of it was difficult. But at the end of the day, I am here because of those moments, and they helped make me who I am now.

Even though I like my life and who I am now, it’s tempting to think, “What if?” Of course it’s not tempting to wonder about the Moments that obviously led to good things. I have never once tried to imagine what my life would be like if I still had all that debt. But what if I hadn’t gotten on the plane? I had a really good life in the U.S. I had lots of friends, I liked my job, I was very involved in my church. There was absolutely nothing that I wanted to run away from. There are also lots of events I wouldn’t have missed if I had stayed: marriages, births, concerts, parties. Another Moment I often wonder about occurred back in 1987. It was the moment I forgave my high school boyfriend for cheating on me. Forgiving him led to 7 more years in a totally unhealthy relationship, a devastating breakup, and depression. What if I hadn’t forgiven him and instead broken up with him? Wouldn’t my life have been better?

As easy as it is to dwell on those Moments, to convince yourself that life could have been better or easier, it’s so wrong to do it. Most people will tell you that you shouldn’t regret those episodes in your life because they made you stronger and wiser. That may be true, but that is not the only reason I like to leave the past in the past. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for each one of us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And as if that’s not enough, He also says He will go with us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He never once promises His way is easy or painless, but He does promise we won’t face our challenges alone. If we trust this, then we know that those Moments were meant to be. There is no point in wondering “What if?’ because there is only what is.

So the next time you find yourself dwelling on a decision that you should or shouldn’t have made, remember that you are right where you are supposed to be.

This morning I led our staff devotion time and I shared a very personal story about debt. I’ve shared this story maybe only 2 or 3 times, though I have let others use it in financial counseling situations. At the time that it was going on, I felt extremely ashamed and kept it a secret from my friends. But now I am happy to share it if it helps someone understand the crushing weight of being in debt. Anyway, the reason I shared this particular story this morning was because I was talking about..love.

Perhaps I don’t highlight this part of the story enough, but the person who recommended the debt consolidation service to me, which helped me get control of my debt, changed my life merely by being kind. When I tell my story, I usually focus on the stress of receiving (and avoiding) phone calls from debt collectors. So stressful! They are not nice people. I mean, I know they have to do their job and all, but it’s very clear that they usually look at people like me as “losers” and “deadbeats.” I can understand it. From their little cubicle where they work every day to bring home a paycheck, it seems very simple: if you use a credit card, you have to pay the bill. If these people have never experienced debt themselves, it’s easy for them to think that a lack of payment comes from a lack of willingness to pay. To them, we are just people who are trying to get something (or a lot of things) for free. And that just is not fair; everything has a price.

I was not shocked by this attitude when I was met with it. Defensive and embarrassed, but not shocked. It’s extremely difficult to think outside our personal experience, and it’s very easy to apply our own situation to everyone. I think this is a common way of thinking for most of the world, and it’s not limited to this particular situation. That whole “walk a mile in my shoes” thing? Way easier said than done. It takes time and effort to try to understand where someone is coming from when their situation is so different from our own.

These people who are on the phone all day making the same kind of calls over and over again? I bet they’re tired. I bet they’re disheartened. I bet they’re cynical. I would be. I’m sure I would find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude all day every day, to be kind and understanding with every person that says they can’t pay what they owe. It’s so much easier to put everyone in the same box, the same mold. After all, whether a person answers with tears or with threats, isn’t everyone essentially saying the same thing?

To be fair, I was definitely saying the same thing as everyone else. I was avoiding the phone calls, making minimum payments, making excuses. In no way did I stand out from the crowd. There was no way for anyone to know that I was losing sleep or that I was paralyzed with fear. I had no idea how to get help because I was too embarrassed to ask for it. What made all the difference was the way that one woman on the other end of the phone chose to treat me. I made the phone call expecting it to go like all the others: get scolded for making a late payment, be sternly advised to pay more, and be told thank you in a manner that suggested I didn’t deserve to be thanked. But instead, this call changed the course of my life. This woman told me gently (but very plainly) that, according to my payment history, I was never going to pay off this debt without help. Then she offered to connect me with a debt consolidation service. I was so stunned by her effort to help me that I began to cry. I tried to tell her through the tears how grateful I was and how she was the first person to help my by suggesting this, but she just waved it off. The whole call was over in less than 5 minutes.

I don’t know anything about this woman. I don’t even remember her name. Maybe she gave everyone this same information. All I know is that it was this one simple act of kindness that led me to get control of, and eventually pay off, my crushing financial debt. My entire life was changed (for the better) by just a few kind words. She chose to treat me differently not because she knew me and knew what I needed, but because she chose love. It’s so easy to judge others, to compare them to ourselves. I do this every day! It is a constant challenge to remember that love starts with ourselves. If we love others the way God loves us, it can change someone’s life forever.

Have you all seen this new Pantene commercial that tells women to stop apologizing? I just came across it the other day and I’m really confused by it. I get that the point is to help women feel empowered. And some of the examples are really valid. For example, the scene where the guy sits down and takes over the whole armrest. The woman who was already sitting there is the one who moves her arm and says, “Sorry”. The guy doesn’t even glance at her. Clearly, he’s a rude jerk who should have apologized to her. And yes, the scene with the multiple women apologizing to the guy who comes in late and wants to sit down was ridiculous. But what about some of the others? Was it really wrong that the woman said, “Sorry,“ when she walked into the person’s office? We have no idea what the person was doing in the office before she walked in, but the door was clearly closed. It would not be unheard of to think that a closed door means the person is busy. I don’t know what they’re teaching the kids these days, but I was taught to use words like “sorry” and “excuse me” when you interrupt someone. Was it such a terrible thing for the woman to apologize when she and the man started talking at the same time? Yes, I know, the man didn’t bother to apologize, but that doesn’t mean she has to be rude as well. It was polite of her to say, “Sorry, you go first.”  Is the commercial saying that women don’t have to be polite because men aren’t? Is it saying that everyone should just be rude and selfish no matter what your gender? Being empowered does not mean being rude. A little common courtesy never killed anyone. Perhaps if we all exhibited a little more polite behavior no one would need to be empowered by shampoo commercials.

Here’s a better ad, in my opinion:

 

I have lived most of my life in the Chicago area, and I suppose I have a love-hate relationships with the seasons. Especially winter. About 20 years ago, I moved to Los Angeles for a while. While I absolutely loved the year-round mild weather at first, I began to long for the seasons that I was used to in the Midwest. Now that I live in and experience the seasons of Osaka, I realize you need to be careful what you wish for. While the winter in Osaka is far milder than in Chicago, the rainy season here is the worst. So I have compiled a list of why 梅雨 (tsuyu – the rainy season) is the worst.

1) It’s hot. Now, I am no fan of the cold rains that we get in Chicago in April. But the rainy season in Osaka takes place in June and July. The hottest part of the summer actually occurs right after the rainy season (in July and August), so it’s pretty much building up to that. Plus, you have the added effect of point number 2, which is…

2) It’s sticky. Humid. Muggy. Sultry, stifling, mushiatsui. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty miserable. You know how in the Midwest we look forward to a good rain because it will cool things off? Not the case in Osaka. In fact, it gets worse. Now, instead of just having moisture in the air, it’s also steaming up from the ground. The second you walk outside, your clothes begin to stick to you. You learn to bring a fresh shirt with you everywhere. And your apartment? Fuggedaboutit. No longer able to open the windows because of all that rain, you are probably stuck with an air conditioner in only one room and/or a fan. Those of you who have experienced a power outage during a summer storm may have a clue what I’m talking about. But Japanese homes don’t have central air conditioning, so it never gets all that cool to begin with. Your home begins to feel a bit like you are living inside a bowl of warm gelatin. May God help you if you need to be in the tiny bathroom for more than 30 seconds.

3) It’s wet. This seems like a no-brainer. I mean, it’s raining, so duh. But what I’m talking about here is the complete inability of any person to stay dry. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, it’s not bad. But definitely don’t wear good shoes, because even driving can’t save them. Many places don’t have parking lots, so you can’t make a quick dash from the car to the door. You’ll probably have to walk a bit. Riding a bike? Yeah, that’ll be covered in #5 below.

4) It’s dirty. I always liked the clean, fresh smell after a storm. The rain always seemed to refresh things, make them greener and cleaner. Here the garbage just stands out more clearly. I don’t even like to think about it. And it’s not like Osaka is filthy on a fine day. The rain just somehow makes it worse. We don’t have puddles; we have tiny cesspools. I rarely wear sandals on rainy days here for fear of what I might step in.

5) Riding your bike becomes treacherous. And ridiculous. There are a couple ways to attempt to stay dry while on a bike. Neither of them are good options. #1, which few people do, is wear a full-length rain suit. A rain suit is pretty much a pullover plastic coat with hood and a pair of plastic pants. While this sounds like it will keep you dry, it actually has the opposite effect by causing you to sweat profusely. I mean, you’ve encased yourself in plastic, so what did you expect? The other option is to carry an umbrella. Believe it or not, this is actually illegal. Yet, almost everyone does it. I have yet to hear of someone who was ticketed for carry an umbrella while biking, though it’s probably a good rule. The problem with doing this is twofold (I guess threefold if you count the whole breaking the law thing). First, it only covers your head and torso. Your legs will still get soaked, so you’d better have an extra pair of pants with you. Secondly, it makes a slightly dangerous mode of travel extremely dangerous. I’m pretty good on my bike, but even I don’t feel like I have complete control when I’ve got only one hand on the handlebars. Biking is already dangerous because so many people do it and nobody ever looks where they’re going. Add to that umbrellas that could smack you in the head and loss of balance and you’ve got several accidents waiting to happen.

Really, if there’s any way you can hole up in your house or leave the country during tsuyu, do it. You won’t miss anything, trust me.

Veggie ice cream 2

Today’s bizarre snack outing comes to us courtesy of none other than Haagen-Dazs.  Haagen-Dazs is fairly expensive here in Japan.  In fact, a 120 ml. (4 oz.) cup will run you 257 yen ($2.50) at the local 7-11.  Usually, the cost is worth it.  Today, however, not so much.  Haagen-Dazs frequently creates new and interesting flavors for Japan.  Recently, to celebrate an anniversary, they sold limited edition Rose as well as Sakura (cherry blossom) flavors.  You can also find purple sweet potato, azuki (red bean), royal milk tea, and green tea, all fairly standard Japanese flavors.  But the latest set of flavors is the strangest I have heard so far: Carrot/orange and Tomato/cherry.  They go by the series name “スプーンベジ (Spoon Veggie) and are supposedly healthier.  Unfortunately, the Carrot/Orange one tastes about as good as it sounds.

Veggie ice cream

I admit, it’s difficult to describe the exact flavor.  The first taste is just…weird.  Not really carrot or orange, but a kind of earthy, milky flavor.  Then the orange sherbet taste hits you.  This is a delicious surprise for as long as it lasts, which is sadly about 2 seconds.  But for those 2 seconds, I was carried back to my childhood days of eating Push-ups on the front stoop.  Finally, that taste is replaced by a sort of bitter after taste, as if they used only the peels of the carrot and orange.

The co-workers I tried this with had much the same reaction, and I noticed we all made similar faces as our brains frantically tried to identify the flavors.  All in all, not a horrible experience.  But we did not finish the tiny cup, and there were 5 of us who tried it.  I usually try these things out at work (it makes it so much more fun), and there is always someone who likes the snack and will finish it.  Alas, not today.  But on a positive note, everyone now wants to try the Tomato/Cherry one.  So not a win, but not a total failure.  Not bad for an ice cream made of veggies.

Update: The staff members who missed out on trying this the first day were able to partake of the leftovers the next day.  They LOVED it.  Go figure.

Oh, the horror! The horror!

OK, I admit I sort of chose an easy snack for my first Snack Japan post. It was a strange combo, yes, but bacon always makes everything better. Overall, the bacon-wrapped asparagus potato sticks could have been tougher. So to make up for it, I chose a true challenge this time. It was a difficult decision, and I almost put it back, but ultimately, I realized I owe it to all of you who are counting on me to help you make good snack choices. So tonight I ate my first Spaghetti Popsicle. To be more exact, it was a Spaghetti Napolitan-flavored popsicle with bits of tomato jelly thrown in to get that real, tomato taste that everyone loves in their popsicles.

Imagine a big plate of spaghetti noodles sitting in front of you. It’s cooked to a perfect al dente, you’ve got fresh parmesan ready to sprinkle over it. And here comes a ladle full of the delicious sauce, about to be poured out over your perfect spaghetti noodles. But instead of being poured over your noodles, some idiot pours it into some plastic popsicle molds and sticks it in the freezer. 2 hours later, open the freezer and you’ve got this Japanese delight. Except there’s an added surprise, because when you stormed off to the nearest Taco Bell because your delicious spaghetti dinner had been ruined, that same idiot went and snuck a bunch of little chunks of tomato-flavored Jell-O into the popsicles, so that when you bite into them, you also get globs of tomato goo. Spaghetti sauce gone horribly, horribly wrong.

In conclusion, if you like the taste of frozen tomato sauce alternated with sugar and biting into bits of goo, then this is definitely the snack for you.  If not, then do yourself a favor and heat up a can of Spaghetti-Os instead.

The Namba area has no shortage of interesting places to visit in your free time. There are plenty of stores ranging from designer to discount. It’s an area well-known for its food, and just about any street will offer up plenty of choices. If it’s culture you’re after, there’s the National Bunraku Theater or the Ukiyo-e museum. All the best electronics deals can be found in Nipponbashi, also known for its manga shops and cosplay cafes. So with all these possibilities at our fingertips, my friend Jung A and I decided to visit…a cat café.

Welcome to the cat cafe! Prepare to be ignored.

Welcome to the cat cafe! Prepare to be ignored.

A cat café is pretty much what you guess – a café that has cats. Lots of cats. While stray cats are plentiful in the Osaka area (especially around my old apartment building that always smelled like cat pee and featured nightly “serenades” in the parking lot just below my window), not many people have them as pets. This is in large part due to the number of people who live in apartments where pets are (supposedly) not allowed (again, old apartment building where at least one person kept a pet rooster I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING).  Cat cafes have started becoming a popular alternative to actually having a cat of your own.

I found the café by looking on the website nekonojikan.com (“cat time”). The website gave lots of useful information such as the rules, the drink menu, and the names and pictures of all the cats you might see on a given day. The website also claimed (falsely) that all the cats are friendly and will probably even seek out your attention once they get used to you. Being a cat-lover, I was pretty excited about this. Being a former cat-owner, I was skeptical. But I figured if nothing else, it would give me a good blog post.

After washing our hands at the sink in the lobby as instructed, we entered the café. We paid our 1000 yen for one hour of cat time, prepaid 200 yen for a drink we could order at any time during that hour, and prepared to be greeted by hordes of affectionate cats. There was a family of four already there, as well as a guy probably in his 30s. The mom and dad were cheerfully watching their 2 daughters walk around petting the various cats. They were kind of noisy, so I wasn’t too surprised the cats hadn’t seemed to warm up to them. The guy, however, was surrounded by cats. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor and had 2 cats in his lap. He also had the good sense to sit right in the middle of 3 cat beds, each of which contained 1 or 2 cats. The cats were completely disinterested in me and Jung A. But I thought if we could just bide our time until the other people left, then we could have all the cats to ourselves.

IMG_2113

Unfortunately, we never had a chance. Most of the cats were sleeping, and the ones that were awake definitely did NOT seek out our attention as the website had claimed. In fact, we were lucky if they even let us pet them while they slept. Mostly we were swatted by their little paws and snarled at, but in a few cases the cats actually ran away. And since we were strictly forbidden from scaring or chasing the cats, all we could do was just stand there forlornly and watch them flee, much like our hope.  Perhaps if I rub some catnip on my socks before my next visit…

Japan has interesting tastes. I’m not just referring to the raw fish, the sweet beans, and the many green tea-flavored things. I’m talking about their habit of making snack flavor combinations that no one in their right mind would ever think of. Some examples from the last 6 years here are red bean Pepsi, Mountain Dew Cheetos, and sour plum potato chips. So I’ve decided to make a new feature in which I will sample a weird-flavored snack and give you an honest opinion. Today’s item is: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Jagariko (potato sticks, think potato chip meets French fry). IMG_2152

I like bacon, I like asparagus, I even like bacon-wrapped asparagus. So I figured going into this that this was definitely going to be one of my better outings. Not surprisingly, they were not bad at all. They definitely tasted like asparagus and potato, and they had a smoky flavor which I suppose was the bacon. It was pretty much the perfect way to make bacon-wrapped asparagus even unhealthier. However, it was a bit difficult to get over the mental hurdle that I was basically eating chips that tasted like an appetizer. It wasn’t that they tasted bad, or even strange. But who thought that there would be a reasonable market for this particular flavor? In all the time I have been here, I have never seen bacon and asparagus even on the same plate. I’d really love to know the thought process that resulted in creating these.