Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Teacher Thanking and Me-he-HEM-RIES...

Maybe it is only because it is the first testing season of the year (there are five here in Japan, conveniently every two months or so), I don't know-- I just seem to be in a reminiscent mood about my own school days. So, I will continue my earlier writing where I thanked some of the teachers I had. Today I'll write about THE DARK AGES (more commonly known as "Junior High School"!). Oh, and before I go on, I DID remember that the dog which so kindly scarfed up my left overs in the 4th grade was named Cuddles! I have the feeling it was David Denny's dog that just sort of followed him to school one day though it was against the rules...Mrs. Duffy had more sympathy for that dog that us students!

Onward, ever onward. My introduction to "Canyon Park Junior High" began with one Donald Halazon. He was my homeroom teacher, my social studies teacher, my language arts teacher (I think), and later the man I T.A'ed for in 9th grade. Is T.A. a verb?! His first words to me were "Hansen?! Jennifer? Uh...are you by any chance related to Margaret and Amy?!" Labeled! The first day! Still, it turned out all right. He was essentially a very fair man who loved teaching. Loving his work did not stop him from making his favorite quote every other day though: "Do you know that teachers earn LESS than GARBAGE MEN?!" When he wasn't teaching or ranting, chances were you could find him imitating Donald Duck. He not only was head of the "Traffic Safety" club (?! We helped guide cars into parking spots for school events! I can't believe it but it was actually a cool club at the time!!), he introduced the people in that club to Greek food. He told us his name was actually Halazonetheopolis, or something close to that. He married a lovely woman who had a younger sister not much older than us. I thought at the time that she had enough hair for three people. I hope they are still happy and healthy together. Thank you, Mr. Halazon.

Other Junior High teachers: Mrs. Patricia Legget, who had great red hair, a constant smile, and knew how to teach math despite the near-perfect inattention of her charges. Priscilla Hickey (I SWEAR I am not making these names up!!), P.E. teach and gymnastics coach extraordinaire, all 4.5 feet of her! Barbara Brodniak, another P.E. teacher/coach who I have thanked many times for coaching me in basketball and "life" in general. We went to see the Sonics play at the Key Arena and that was my first professional sporting event of any kind. Mr. Estes, an English teacher and counselor that, by some magic, actually got through to a lot of junior high students. Mrs. Kunkle, the strict but elderly and forgetful English teacher who we fooled by putting an afro wig on Mike Battista and telling her a new "girl" called "Michelle" had joined the class. "Michelle" had her head down on her desk and started "crying"...causing Mrs. Kunkle to try to figure out how to deal with a crying new girl delicately. We got a TON of homework that day when she finally realized she had been had! It was worth it. Mrs. Peck, the art teacher, with thick black hair nearly down to her knees. Ms. Cohee, English/French/Drama/Dance teacher and cheer leading to spare and sincere to the end. We loved her and were lucky enough to attend her beautiful wedding to Dennis. Oh! Mr. Ted Freemantle, who WAS as cool as his name sounds! He was like a modern-day Shakespeare, physically: tall, balding on top but longish black hair curling under on the sides and a beard and moustache too. He used to wear what can only be called "smocks" with V-necks and geometric designs on them. And his PENDANTS! He had a few- all large and all very hippy-cool. He would play Cat Stevens for us as we wrote. He was an English teacher. We wrote a lot and I can still sing all of the lyrics to most Cat Stevens songs!

Let's see....digging a little further in to the memories...who can forget Lwanga Lwanga! I didn't even HAVE him as a math teacher, but I had enough interactions with him (YOU! No run! WALK!) that I can never forget him. He was from somewhere in Africa, had a thick accent, an unsmiling face (most of the time), and a talent for scaring kids straight. He made my brother WALK home once to retrieve the math book he had forgotten. We lived 5 miles from the school! Ms. Wright, a cool art teacher. Mrs. Shoemeyer, a slightly ditsy home-ec teacher who had a co-hort called Ms. Heinzen. She taught us sewing, supposedly. A friend and I, inspired by an outfit she wore to school, gave her a prank call and sang "She wore BLUE VELVET!" to her at the tops of our lungs. I refuse to admit exactly how many times we did this. I don't think she ever suspected us because she took us to lunch at the Ranch Drive in at the end of the school year! Thank you, Junior High School Teachers, one and all. I know my list is not finished yet, but my energy is. For those of you tired of reading about these long ago memories, well, I will try to mix it up a little for a while.
P.S. The pic included in this post is an original drawing of yours truly from a friend in my local pub...I think it is a dead ringer!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sexy Chart

I found this poster in my local train station several months ago but have neglected to share it until now. When I took the photo I thought the girl at the bottom looked a little like the Japanese version of "Ugly Betty" (of TV fame). It is advertising an optical shop. If you can't read it very well, "Sexiness" is measured from bottom to top and "months" across the bottom. I recently got a pair of prescription sunglasses that are rectangular and gray. I don't know, but when I wear them I definitely feel like I am higher on the sexy chart! My own sexiness aside...if you look closely at the girl, you will notice that not only do her glasses change, but her expression does too. She seems to be smirking a little at her sexiest. She also seems to be wearing eye make-up at the top of the chart. The thing that really makes me laugh though, is that the sides of her nose and even her NOSTRILS seem to change shape, too! Now that is asking a LOT of a pair of glasses. I hope you are wearing your sexiest glasses...and if you don't wear glasses I suggest you run out and get some.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Things I Fall For

The meaning of the term "shopping therapy" has changed for me: living in the States it was mostly just a way to spend time with friends and reward myself with something tangible for my real or perceived hard work. It was never empowering. Living in Japan, however, I have come to realize that shopping is one of the only arenas in my life where I don't have to rely upon anyone else. Not that it is my goal never to rely upon others, but being a foreigner in a place like Japan which is so vastly different culturally from my country means that my self-confidence can sometimes take a beating. There are infinite words to mispronounce or use incorrectly; there are cultural faux pas to avoid or to learn lessons about when they cannot be avoided (I have been given lessons on things like "how to peel an orange properly", "how to tie shoes", and even "how to hold your hands for a photo", amongst others); and there are people/situations you come across where just looking non-Japanese adds...stress. In short, the frequent state of being wrong, being perceived as "wrong" and/or not being perceived at all takes a toll on a person. Shopping is a nice antidote for this feeling. Maybe it's just less likely that store clerks will correct my glaring language mistakes or tell me the proper way to hold my bag when I have the money right in front of them, but I definitely get a sense of accomplishment when I leave a shop with a little bag and a feeling that I belong. The knowledge that anyone with money "belongs" in a shop never seems to dampen my spirits! Of course, sometimes this means I buy something that I later regret.

That was a very long introduction for telling you about the fun thing I just bought (and don't regret at all!). They are pictured and are called "eco nation" speakers, "for all pods". I use mine for my I-phone and Shuffle. If you haven't seen them before, they are sold in a flat box. You can get either brown or white and you use the six little pencils provided to draw your own design on them. I fell for them immediately. As you can see though, I haven't yet begun to decorate them...I am thinking of going the cover-with-pretty-paper route instead of the pencils (or go with the pencils first and THEN the pretty paper when it is clear to me that the pencil decoration looks too cheesy...), but either way, I'll update you with the finished product.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy Neighbors, Lady Gaga, and the Heat

Just a quick update tonight, as I still have a long to-do list before friends of friends visit tomorrow. New neighbors recently moved in. They seem young, and they laugh an awful lot...they also seem to be an international couple: I hear tidbits of English, Japanese, and something that may be Tagalog. Usually these tidbits come wafting across the two-foot gulf of space between my house and their apartment late in the evening. Oh, and usually the tidbits are in song form...I never heard anyone sing so much. I haven't actually seen them yet, as the entrance to their apartment is on the street behind mine, and we have vastly different schedules to boot. They live below the chanting woman. Every day between 7 and 9 a.m. she chants. It is always something I am compelled to listen to for a few moments every time I hear it. It is calming. It doesn't inspire ME to do it, but it is calming to hear someone else doing it! The new neighbors' singing, well, they only sang one song I recognized and that was Lady Gaga's Paparazzi. Lady G has not hit as big in Japan as other places yet, but she is making progress. I have to confess, I can't turn away when I see her on a screen. Maybe it is just so refreshing to see someone doing something other than tattoos and piercings...I don't know.

Summer is so close I can hear it it gave us all a little preview by enveloping this area in humidity. Still, I shouldn't complain, as there is the rainy season to get through and it is approaching very quickly! I hope you are cool and dry wherever you are.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

5:41 Update, a new Faux Pas, and two films

So, if you haven't read the previous post, "5:41", you should do so now...because here is the update: After two stretches of waking up at exactly 5:41 a.m. and then hearing the same time quoted on a podcast moments after waking up at that time, I went to school and told my tale to my friend, Colin. He laughed and said, "You should look it up on the Internet to see if it has any special meaning." I did, and here is what the first result (of "about 18,600,000" that Google took 26 seconds to report)said:

It is a verse from the bible: Mark, 5:41: He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). (!!!)

I nearly fell off the chair laughing! Though I would describe myself as more spiritual (it's about time to find a new word for that, I think) than religious, I decided to take the advice of yet another co-worker and be open to any divine messages that might be headed my way if I should wake up at that time again!

In other news...I thought I had just about broken every social rule and committed every faux pas there IS here in Japan, but today I managed to pull off yet another. I wore a blouse today that has two ties in the back, and at lunch time a woman in the staff room let me know that I was wearing my shirt "like a dead person." Allowing for my less-than-perfect Japanese and the often choppy language Japanese people sometimes use with me, I still had no idea what she was talking about. Finally, she spun me around, untied the ties, and re-tied them so they would be horizontal. She explained that only dead people wear ties that "stand up" vertically. Now I know. If that were the worst of my fashion worries I would be thrilled!
As in most places, there are lots of taboos here for the living associated with the dead: You shouldn't place your chopsticks "straight up" in rice because that is the way they are placed in the rice put on the family altar for ancestors; you shouldn't say the word "shi" (four) at times or give gifts which come in sets of four because one meaning of "shi" is "death"; dead people are dressed in white kimono but have a black border around their photo for the family altar, etc.

Just to end on a happy note, if you haven't seen the 1984 movie "The Funeral" (Ososhiki in Japanese)by Itami Juzo you will LOVE it. It is a very Japanese yet very universal farce. Another one you should see if you haven't already is the 2008 "Departures" (Okuribito in Japanese)by Yojiro Takita. It won an Oscar in 2009 for best foreign film and manages to be funny, sad, touching, educational and beautiful all at once.

Friday, May 7, 2010


It bothers me greatly when people say there is no such thing as "coincidence." Of course there is such a thing! This short post today is about a very strange one. Some of you know that I had been waking up at 5:41 - exactly - for several days in a row. Then it stopped, then it started again. One morning I deliberately did not look at the clock when I woke up to make sure it would NOT be 5:41, but when I looked at the clock, it was 5:41! I thought for sure it must be something outside waking me up, but none of the usual culprits (nesting pigeons, or one of the many motorcycles who drive the countryside here delivering local newspapers, milk, junk mail, etc.)were anywhere to be seen (heard). Well, I thought it was all finished but this morning I woke up at the magic time AGAIN. Shaking my head (well, kind of rolling my head back and forth on my pillows), I grabbed my I-phone to listen to a podcast while I tried to fall back to sleep. I often listen to A Prairie Home Companion but I had heard them all, so I chose something new (to me) called "Sarah and Vinnie Full Show." A woman came on and started joking about something with a man and replied to something with this line: ..."Yeah, like I would do that at (she paused as she glanced at her watch)5:41 in the morning!" I SAT STRAIGHT UP IN BED with my jaw HANGING open! What is going on?! I decided I had better listen to the entire podcast in case there was some message for me in it...there wasn't.

The only thing I can come up with to explain the weirdness of waking up at that time for so many days is that I must be thinking about my mother's birthday, 5/14, transposed to 5/41--->5:41.

There IS no explanation for the coincidence of hearing that same time on the podcast MOMENTS ater I really DID wake up at that there? Enjoy your coincidences everyone, they ARE out there.

Monday, May 3, 2010


By Jennifer A. Hansen

If you haven't ordered your copy yet, do it now! It's a great book!

National Teachers' Day

May 4th is National Teachers' Day in the United States (and possibly elsewhere). No, I didn't know that either until I read the blurb from a Teachers' Calendar someone gave me. It said something snappy at the end like, "If you can read this, then thank a teacher!" After cringing at that old chestnut, I took it to heart. I decided that for my first blog post I would thank all of the elementary school teachers I can remember (it isn't that I don't feel grateful to later teachers...I simply think the earlier ones tend to get the short end of the memory stick, which is a shame). The odd, entertaining comment will be thrown in for those of you who are already rolling your eyes at the thought of reading a long list of people you probably don't know...

Pre-school: *This, in my large family, does not mean a colorful place you take toddlers in an effort to socialize/teach them like the stupendous Goddard schools of today...
(that's a plug for my friends Jim and Roni who have a stupendous school in Snohomish...check it out! ).

For my family, "pre-school" just meant "home." Any education I received before going to Kindergarten happened at home. So, thanks to my very first (unpaid) teachers: Mom, Dad, and all of my sisters and brothers. Truly, I wouldn't be the same without you.

Crystal Springs Elementary School, Bothell, Washington:

Kindergarten: Mrs. Belknap (or Mrs. Seifert...I get Kindergarten and 1st Grade mixed up...). thanks for having Show and Tell and for wearing cat-eye glasses. I distinctly remember coveting a white dress you wore with tiny pink flowers all over it.

1st Grade: Mrs. Seifert (or Mrs. Belknap...see above). Thanks for looking the other way when we climbed the forbidden cherry tree in our "quad". Trees were my natural habitat at home, and that tree was a good transition for me.

2nd Grade: Mrs. Judith (?) Frymeyer (sp?). Thanks for being the Hippiest Hippy teacher I ever had. I remember your ponchos, your sandals, your enormous glasses, and your kindness when I lost a tooth (or five) in your class.

3rd Grade: Mrs. Diane King. Easily the tallest, coolest, most beautiful teacher on EARTH-- at least to my 3rd grade mind. Thanks for taking me to Seattle Center as pay-back for me having to miss a school field trip because of a dentist appointment. Thanks for having your class to your house for hot cocoa after Christmas caroling. Thanks for your pale pink lipstick and polyester suits--if anyone ever looked good in that era, you did. Thanks for not sending me to the Principal when I fought with Steve Manson. Thank you also, for keeping in touch with me for so many years after you moved away. Thank you for not laughing when I wrote about the "kegger" we had for my brother when he returned from Vietnam.

***Also 3rd Grade: Mrs. Hamasaki. We changed classes for music, and Mrs. Hamasaki could play the piano and sing soprano like no other, so it was off to her class we went. "Here Come the Brides" was on TV at the time, and she sported the same 'do that the character "Biddy" had: ringlets piled up behind a big poof of hair. Except Mrs. Hamasaki's hair was blond, very, very blond. Thank you, Mrs. Hamasaki, for your music and for bringing your Sumo-sized husband to one of our picnics. If he didn't do Sumo wrestling for a living, I can't imagine what he did do!

4th Grade: Mrs. Dorothy Duffy. From Heaven straight to the deepest pit of Hell...or so I thought, when I first read that name on my report card at the end of 3rd Grade. She looked to be over 100 years old, had a jet-black, helmet-shaped hair style which framed her overly-powdered face, and thin lips that were permanently pursed. She had rules galore, and made us keep a handkerchief, nail clippers, and a fingernail file in our desks at all times. She loved spelling, and made us kiss her on the cheek if we missed a word on our weekly test. We ALL learned to be very good spellers in Mrs. Duffy's class! Within months I was a very good student, and I do give her credit for shaping up my study habits and for showing me the power of books. The only thing I couldn't ever get used to in her class was her rule about "cleaning your plate" at lunch. I was a supremely picky eater as a child and missed many a recess because I could not pass her end-of-lunch inspection. She would glare at me with eyes that had seen the Great Depression, lecture me for a while, and watch while I guiltily gave my food scraps to "Ruffles," (Waddles? I forget...)the dog we allowed in to the classroom sometimes as a mascot. If she could see me eating sashimi today she would no doubt faint! Thank you for making me read aloud for a very long time (as punishment) from "Our Washington" this day, reading aloud helps me focus! Thank you for everything, Mrs. Duffy.

***Also 4th Grade: Mrs. Virginia Boyle, Reading teacher extraordinaire! Thank you for changing me from an avid reader in to a voracious one. Also, thanks for the Zot! candies you gave us. Thank you and rest in peace Miss Bligh (who became Mrs. difficult-name-I-couldn't-pronounce). You taught us music but gave us pure joy! I think you introduced us to every musical instrument ever made...and you could play them all! My nieces were also very lucky to have had you later in your career. The world is sadder without you. Thank you Ms. Judy Fawcett (sp?) for teaching us P.E., doing Square Dancing with a half-cast on your leg and for driving your bright yellow Porsche with the top down. You wore shorts and sunglasses almost every day (a difficult thing to pull off in Bothell, Washington!), and so were gloriously tan and healthy-looking. I say "looking" because even then I was wise to those lines around the mouth that mark smokers...I hope you gave them up!

5th Grade: Thank you Ms. Rosebaugh, for being my teacher all of two months or so. You were the first black teacher I had, the first woman who used "Ms." in front of her name, and the first one to make me think hard about what "race" meant when you asked us how many races of people there are in the world. Our dorky 5th grade minds guessed anywhere from 10 to 3 and I can still remember our brains absorbing your answer "ONE...the Human race." We loved you. We also loved the cool colored and patterned tights you wore with short seemed so modern after Mrs. Duffy! Alas, the class was too big and they brought in another teacher, Miss Janie Krueger. I was already taller than her and had serious doubts about leaving Ms. Rosebaugh's class...but Miss Krueger was awesome! I remember laughing a lot in her class but still learning because we seemed to go to the library constantly. Thank you!

6th Grade: Mr. Victor Lawrence. This man was made to be a teacher. Thank you, Mr. Lawrence, for allowing us to build a sailboat in class (how many did you make over your career, I wonder?), for keeping the card game "Authors" on hand at lunch, and for never embarassing us in front of other students if (when) we did something wrong. You were one of my favorites. You also looked better without your toupee...

**Also 6th Grade: Mrs. Klose, the music teacher we were all prepared to dislike because HOW could you possibly be as good as Miss Bligh?! We envied the younger students who still had Miss Bligh but very soon were won over by Mrs. Klose's bright personality, slight over-bite, and a beautiful singing voice. Physically, she reminded me of Dear Abby-- at least the picture that was in the paper at that time. She had Dear Abby's hair-do: dark curly hair flipped up on one side. Thank you for letting me be your assistant and giving me the mini Raggedy-Andy playing cards. They are the original pack in my playing card collection (I'll bet some of you didn't even know I have such a aren't you glad you kept reading this?!).

***Also Elementary School: Mrs. Marilyn Cook, Librarian. Thank you for many years of service-- whenever I hear/see "Charlotte's Web" I think of you. Thank you also for creating a reading club where we got to read new books before the other students. Thank you, Mr. Victor Ohls, our Principal, who used to judge and give out awards for our hand-writing samples. Thank you for your wisdom in discipline matters (he had a paddle hanging on his wall but never used it on me...even when I broke the glass door to the was an accident!). Thank you, too, for allowing "Movie Nights" and popcorn in the gym. Many of us had families who didn't often have money for real theaters. Thank you for carting us home in your sea-foam green station wagon when winters were bad and buses couldn't make it up and down hills. Thank you for having your wife, Dolores, substitute when teachers were away. She made us smile.

I was a lucky girl to have had you all in my life. Thank you for becoming educators. I can only hope that I am giving my students a fraction of all that you gave me.