Saturday Raves

Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2011

Over at the Women's Colony, Mrs. G offers up a regular feature called "Fuck a Duck Friday."  I have to admit, I read the comments there religiously. I experience many of the same gripes, and I enjoy feeling the empathy, even if it is anonymous and probably artificial. It's a guilty pleasure--the equivalent of rubber-necking at the scene of an accident.

That being said, I won't be participating. Yes, I certainly post my share of whining and complaining here, but I'm self-consciously going to try to take a higher road, at least for today. There is something to be said for the idea that focusing your energy on a given situation tends to magnify and attract more of the same. I do believe that. I do believe in gratitude.

Therefore, I'm going to post some raves here today, starting with the older generation.

First, my in-laws. You should read some of the in-law-based comments over at Mrs. G's place--yikes! It truly does make me appreciate how good I have things on the in-law score. My in-laws have always been note-perfect, artistically walking the fine line between being supportive and being interfering. They are patient, generous, and loving to both my kids, even as they've entered the sullen teen years and are no longer cute cuddly toddler. They have always been respectful of me and treated me as a fellow adult. The never offer unsolicited advice, and always maintain a healthy sense of humor in all things. I've been very blessed.

Just after in-laws, mothers seem to get the most bad reviews. My mother, now 87, is one of the most generous and supportive people I've ever known. She still lives on her own and continues to play golf every day that weather permits. She set an awesome example in her working years of being an independent, career-minded woman. She served in the Navy in WWII, was the first in her family to graduate college, was a single-female homeowner in the 1950's (unheard of!), and didn't marry until she was damn good and ready. Now, if only we could get her to realize that she can stop worrying about us and enjoy the fruits of her own life herself. That would be perfect!

And speaking of mothers, my little Hopey's mother dc reads here sometimes, and never fails to jump in with encouraging words on whatever topic I might be rambling on about. And I know from Facebook that she does the same for her friends and family there. And I know from Hope that she is one of the most unique and irreplacable humans that we will ever know. So thanks to her too for being such a positive force in so many lives. You're awesome!

January Bullets

Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2011

* Was offered--and accepted--a permanent status part-time position with a company that initially hired me as a seasonal employee last August.

* Went to Oregon for a two-day visit with my Mom and both sisters. Amtrak points accumulated.

* Transcribed my first cemetery: Oregon's Chemawa cemetery. Published same on internet.

* Bought a new car! 2010 Honda Element with the "dog-friendly package." Pretty color: Tango Red Pearl.

* Completed training at now-permanent employer and began new schedule as a core employee.

* Was contacted by a former attorney-employer about possibility of working for him again. We'll meet. I'm keeping my options open.

* Paid remainder of trip cost for daughter to go to Disney with her high school band. She'll go in April.

* Restarted driving lessons with said daughter. Pray for us.

* Updated our cemetery website with a new Japanese family story, including two historic family photos provided by that family. Score.

* Discovered that daughter's long-term Japanese sub has ancestors buried in our cemetery. Awesome. A new contact!

* Semester grades arrived. Daughter achieves her usual excellent results. The son? That's a different matter. Certain Amish consequences will be instituted for continued bad grades.

Vacuum the Halls. Deck them Later.

Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2010

I was talking on the phone to a client a few weeks ago, a fellow German Shephard owner, as it turned out. I'm not sure how the topic of our dogs came into the conversation, but it did, and he asked if I was coping with the same magnitude of dog hair as he was. Absolutely. Had he tried the Furminator comb? Yes, he replied, but he had also purchased a new vacuum cleaner that had changed his life. Changed his life. A man said this. I've never known of a man's life being changed by a household appliance.

I had to know more.

He gave me the model name. And then he said, "It's the best $700 I ever spent!"

**blink** **blink blink** **blink**

$700 dollars? Yikes. So much for that fantasy. I can tolerate a lot of dog hair for $700.

I told my husband about this phone conversation during dinner. While I had been merely taken aback by the price of this miracle vacuum, my husband nearly choked on his beans. As I suspected. This is the usual male response to good money being spent on prosaic household appliances when there are still homeless wide screen TVs and computer equipment in the world.

Nevertheless, he must have filed the model name away somewhere in his convoluted memory because several weeks later, he forwarded me an email. One of his online deal shopping sites was advertising this particular model of vacuum for less than half price. In other words, much closer to our price range. In the meantime, one of my two working vacuums (the better one, of course) had choked and died, perhaps in an act of Hoover hari-kari, after injesting a particularly meaty wad of nastiness during an intense cleaning session. Spilled cat litter was involved. Enough said.

Long story short? My new miracle vacuum arrived Friday. And will it be as orgasmic as its reputation implies? The jury is still out. But I did have to empty the canister a half dozen times on Friday night alone. And that was from vacuuming just the downstairs.

My13-year-old son declared it "sexy." Either men are changing. Or vacuum cleaners are.

The Sato Family

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My daughter and I have been renewing our research efforts for our Japanese Cemetery website. Here is the latest article that will appear there--hopefully in the near future!

When Yoshiko Kato visited the cemetery to translate the kanji stones, I was particularly excited when she reached the fourth marker in the first row. Although the family surnames had been previously translated from most of the stones, this particular stone was marked on our transcript with only a mysterious, black question mark. We had, at that time, not even the least idea who might be buried in that grave.

Yoshiko kneeled in front of the marker, leaning forward and backward alternately in order to make sense of the nearly illegible marks. She resorted to using a finger to attempt to trace the kanji, gleaning by feel information that proved to be too faint to read by eye. At this fourth stone she almost immediately announced that “Sato” was the family name, but the given name seemed to puzzle her. She was expecting a traditional Japanese name, but after studying the writing for some time, she reached a different conclusion. “Teddy,” she said, rocking back on her heels. “You know, like a teddy bear? It says Teddy. Teddy Goro.” The image that “Teddy” brought to mind was that of a child, perhaps even a baby, who tragically passed away early in life (as was too often the case for the children of Auburn’s Japanese families).

A few steps away from Teddy Goro’s grave was another Sato marker. From this gravestone Yoshiko was able to read “Junko” as the given name and October 9, 1931 as the date of death. Were Junko Sato and Teddy Goro Sato related? On that sunny afternoon when Yoshiko visited the cemetery, there was no way to know.

Subsequent research answered our questions about the Sato Family. We discovered that Komakichi Sato arrived in the United States in about 1907. He first settled in Tacoma and established himself there as a businessman—he operated a laundry in the city’s downtown district. His early days were otherwise shrouded in mystery. There is some indication that he may have had a family when he lived in Japan, and that some of his relatives may have come with him to the United States. He was perhaps even widowed by the time he came to Tacoma. Nevertheless, we do know that he married Sayo Naikaido sometime around 1921. Their first child together was a son named Buell Kazuro Sato. Just over a year after Buell’s birth, Sayo gave birth to a second son, Crayton Akira Sato.

Sometime after Crayton’s birth, Komakichi turned the laundry business over to a young relative, Tatsuo Sato. Komakichi and Sayo then moved on, eventually landing in Auburn, Washington, where the family made their living by farming. They can be found there in the 1930 Federal Census with their older boys and two younger children, daughter Lena and son Yoshi. Sayo must have been pregnant at the time the census-taker visited the family. She gave birth to a daughter, Junko, on June 4, 1930.

As we learned at the cemetery, Junko passed away on October 9, 1931. She would have been a 16-month-old toddler. She was probably walking by that age and learning to talk too. She was certainly developing her own personality and learning, as toddlers do, to charm both beloved adults and total strangers. Her loss at such a young, enchanting age must have been a tragic blow to the family.

Unfortunately, losing children early in life wasn’t unusual in those years, and, no matter what, life went on for the surviving family.

Two years later Sayo gave birth to another son, James. Daughters Reiko and Mitsuko followed in 1935 and 1936 respectively. Finally, on March 20, 1938 Sayo gave birth to her last child: a little boy named Teddy Goro. This little brother was, tragically, almost exactly the same magic age as Junko had been when he too died of unknown causes and was buried in the Auburn Cemetery.

Like all of Auburn’s Japanese, the Sato Family was sent to internment camps in 1942 after the outbreak of World War II just a few months earlier. The Satos were sent first to California’s Pinedale Assembly Center before being sent on to Tule Lake. After the war, the family did not return to Washington; perhaps they didn’t have the means to re-establish themselves there. Instead they put down roots in Hayward, California. They were there in the 1950’s when, after more than 40 years in their new country, Komakichi and Sayo Sato were finally able to petition for U.S. citizenship. Komakichi, regrettably, lived only a few years after this momentous event. He died in California in 1958; Sayo passed away there in 1974. Both are buried in Mt. Eden Cemetery in Hayward, California.

Although Junko and Teddy Goro’s family is no longer in Washington, it’s comforting to know that their family, including some of their siblings and many nieces and nephews, continues to live and thrive even today. I’m sure both Junko and Teddy hold special places in their memories.

It is largely through Yoskiko's translating efforts that we have been able to preserve the information on these unique and vulnerable markers. She has our profound thanks.

Teach for America—in Federal Way???

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

(Warning: Here there be strident, sustained whining)

As some of you know, I’ve recently made an attempt—a very concerted attempt actually—to re-enter the field of teaching. I taught high school in Oregon almost 100 years ago when I was first out of college. Upon relocating to Washington, I realized that a teacher with my sparse experience had little chance of being hired in the Puget Sound area, and I reluctantly accepted a position in the airline industry until I could decide what I wanted to do as a career.

Fifteen years, one marriage and two kids later, I was still at the airline, and a bit burned out with the flying and fare wars. After September 11, I had the perfect opportunity to bow out gracefully, and I spent the next several years staying home with my kids and pursuing volunteer work—work that always (with one memorable exception when I worked for a nearby police department; ahem) included teaching and interacting with kids. I realized that I was still good at it, and that there was no reason I shouldn’t dust off my neglected, tear-stained bachelor’s degree and attempt to resurrect my long-forgotten teaching career.

After so many years away, how was I going to accomplish this goal and prove that I was serious about teaching? Well, systematically to put it succinctly. The first step (in addition to all that volunteering) was to apply to have my Washington teaching certificate (long dead due to lack of use) re-issued. Once this was accomplished, I applied to become a substitute teacher with my local district and began teaching there regularly. I discovered that teachers are now required to prove themselves to be highly competent (in addition to being certified) in their field. This is accomplished by taking what are known as West Tests. I took five West tests over the course of a year: English/Language Arts, Social Studies, History, Mid-Level Humanities, and Mid-Level Mathematics. The fee for each test was over $100 and that doesn’t include the investment I made in used text books covering these subjects and the time I spent studying them.

Next, I realized that I would be much more employable if I obtained a second endorsement. As a result, last spring I cleared my calendar for three months (including all opportunities to earn any income), paid approximately $1500 in tuition and taught two sections of history at a local high school in order to obtain a Social Studies endorsement. During this time I also updated my letters of reference (since I had a program supervisor and two mentor teachers who had observed me) and confidential reference forms. These confidential forms, by the way, vary slightly from district to district, and no substitute forms are accepted, no matter how similar. This means a job-seeking teacher-candidate will have to ask the people providing their references to fill out as many forms as there are districts to apply for. In my case, I had narrowed my targeted districts down to the seven most local districts. I asked each reference, therefore, for a total of eight forms (when including a generic letter of reference) and I went about creating 24 pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes in which to mail them away. My reference providers were very gracious—just imagine if I had been in the position some new teachers are of being able to apply anywhere in the state. The paperwork for these kind souls would never end.

But all this was just preliminary to the real fun—applying for jobs! Friends, anytime a human resource department says it has initiated a procedure For Your Convenience, bless yourself Catholic style and pray for deliverance. In this case, my seven targeted districts had all recently implemented an electronic application process For My Convenience. What was this process like? Well, the most recent application I filled out included 25 separate screens of information that had to be filled out and saved. They wanted my personal information, my education and employment history, my non-education related employment history, military history, demographic profile, names of professional references, names of personal references, various release forms, etc., etc. But that’s not all! Then there are the uploads. Most districts want a resume and a cover letter. And a copy of your certificate. And at least three references letters. And those confidential evaluation forms we discussed earlier. And a college transcript (an official one can be sent later). And copies of your West Test Scores. Whew.

But, hey, you’re not finished yet. Then there may be writing samples to provide. Or sample lesson plans. Or, like the one I most recently filled out, a “teacher style profile”—a lovely little program featuring 32 timed multiple choice questions designed to uncover if your teaching style amounts to continually running to the principal, complaining to fellow teachers, bitching directly at students, or shifting problems onto parents (Right answer? There is no right answer! That’s the fun!).

But at least this is all professionally and reliably programmed, right? Oh, you poor innocent. How can you even ask such a naïve question? Of course not, silly! Anytime you return to your saved application file, you may or may not find gaping holes in the information that you laboriously filled in even just days before. But technical support is graciously provided, right? Tell you what, let’s not even go there.

And, assuming you vault all these hurdles and successfully apply for an open position? You may—may—receive a two-sentence robo-email thanking you for applying. After that, unless you qualify for an interview, you will never hear from the district again.

Twice this summer—late summer, after I accepted a seasonal sales position in desperation, I received last minute calls inviting me to school interviews. In both cases, the interview slot was during the training class for my only guaranteed employment for the remainder of the year. If I missed any of the training, I would have to forfeit the guaranteed job for an interview for a speculative job. In both cases I explained in desperation that, although I couldn’t be there at the suggested time, I could be there just one hour later. Please, please, could I be interviewed later that same afternoon?

Nope. Sorry!

After everything I’ve done and gone through to attempt to secure a teaching position, two districts declined to spot me even a single hour. That’s just the way it is.

And why is this the way school districts select candidates? For the same reason that dogs lick their own genitals—because they can. There is a glut of good, solid, qualified teachers out there seeking employment. And districts have decided that the best way to thin the herd is to set up a veritable obstacle course of hoops for them to jump through. And, as I’ve discovered, even successfully jumping through those hoops is no guarantee that you’ll even be considered for a job. Such is the reality of the teaching job market in the Puget Sound.

So here it is November, and I’m sitting in an in-bound call center, making just over minimum wage, and trying to feel good about my current sales job and my chances for becoming an official teacher next year. And it was actually going pretty well until just last week. That's when I heard a radio story about how Teach for America is coming to Seattle and FEDERAL WAY, Washington. Teach for America is an organization that takes recent college graduates from various fields of study and puts them into the at-risk schools as teachers. These 22-year-old graduates make a two-year (two-year!) commitment to teaching. But it’s not like they aren’t qualified to teach. They are given a five-week course that covers, evidently, everything they need to know to be a teacher. They are paid the same wage as any other teacher in the district. And the district pays Teach for America a $4000 fee per graduate hired in their district.

Federal Way is one of my seven targeted school districts. Federal Way declined to give me even an interview for any of their open positions this summer.

Tonight on the news a spokesman for the Seattle School District was defending the decision to bring the Teach for America program into Seattle. His claim was that, despite having some excellent teachers in the district, Seattle still has schools that lack high quality teachers. “Our recruitment efforts just aren’t bringing in the right teaching candidates,” he concluded.

My response? No fucking shit.

Hey, Blogger People

Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2010

I've been away from Blogger for so long that I missed some sort of "update" that they imposed on their reluctant users in the past few months. I know this because I almost need a magnifying glass to read my own blog at this point. Do any of you fine people know how to increase the point size so that I can make this thing actually readable? Help!

Update: nevermind

Esperanto – Not Just for Cock-eyed Optimists Anymore

Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2010

One of the problems with Esperanto is that, when you get together with other Esperanto speakers, even those from the most distant and exotic lands, you tend to talk about—what? Esperanto. Of course. You’d better be prepared to break the ice by responding to any or all of the following questions:

Kiel vi eklernis Esperanton?
(How did you begin to learn Esperanto?)

Kiam vi unue Esperantiĝis?
(When did you first become an Esperantist? Or, a bit more literally, When did you first become Esperant-ized?)

Kial vi decidis lerni Esperanton?
(Why did you decide to learn Esperanto?)


No mystery here; it’s perfectly natural to kindle a conversation with common interests. Unfortunately, these openings tend to progress into discussions of all the minutia and trivia of “the movement.” And that translates into preaching to the choir, in this particular context. Until the language evolves into some sort of vehicle for more prosaic human discourse, it will always be seen as artificial and contrived. We “samideanoj” know this, but we just can’t seem to help ourselves. After all, you can talk about iPhones, hybrid cars, reality T.V., or the weather with pretty much anybody—but it’s not every day when you can break into a chorus of L’Espero (Esperantujo’s imaginary national anthem) with someone who not only knows the words, but who will maybe shed a sentimental tear or two with you as you finish the final verse.

After almost two years of study, I recently had my first opportunity to use Esperanto for a practical purpose. And, in the words of the T.V. carpet technician who once had the opportunity to clean up after an alpaca, “It was awesome!”

American Esperantist is a publication too beefy to be called a newsletter, but too modest to be called a magazine. Whatever you want to call it, I subscribe to it. I wouldn’t want to speculate as to its total circulation. Let’s just say your family Christmas letter probably reaches a broader audience. Nevertheless, a notice placed on one of the last pages of the most recent edition caught my eye. It was submitted by a Swedish Esperantist who was seeking help with a genealogy matter. She didn’t feel that her English was strong enough to accomplish the research herself, so she was hoping to make contact with an American Esperantist who could help her navigate the available records.

I contacted Soile by email to volunteer my services. It turned out that she was now in her 70’s, and most of her relatives, including her husband and only child, had already passed away. You could feel a lonely layer of melancholy just beneath her words. However, she knew that her grandmother was one of only two siblings who stayed behind in Sweden when the other five siblings departed for America in the very early days of the 20th Century. She knew the names and birthdates of these five ancestors and she knew that they had probably settled down in Minnesota initially (no surprise there!). She was hoping to contact their descendants—her American cousins—and perhaps establish a relationship with them. But she had no idea of the names or locations for the present generation. She wanted to know if, in a country as big as America, there was any way to track down her lost family. Did I think I could help?

What seemed like an insurmountable problem to Soile actually seemed pretty straightforward to me. In fact, if I couldn’t track down some of her family members, I would have to return my official secret decoder ring in shame. I assured Soile that I would give it my best shot. She provided me with the names and birthdates for the original generation and I began my research.

A week later, I initiated an email exchange with a woman in San Diego who, it turned out, was the great-granddaughter of one of the brothers. As you might expect, she was originally reluctant to share personal family information with a complete stranger. She asked for an explanation of who I was and why I was involved. I explained that Soile did not speak much English, but was a very fluent Esperantist and that, as both an Esperantist and genealogist, I had volunteered to help her make contact with her American relatives. My new San Diego contact responded to this explanation with a single word: “Fascinating,” she typed, and I imagined her delivering this line with a skeptical Dr. Spock-type expression, complete with arched eyebrow. Fortunately, she warmed up over this next few days. With her help, I was able to provide Soile with three email addresses for various American cousins. In addition to this woman in San Diego, we found descendants in southern Oregon and in Kansas. The whole exchange took about ten days.

As of today, Soile has “friended” several of her American relatives on Face Book. They use Google Translator to bridge the gap between her Swedish and their English. And I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something by using Esperanto that might not have otherwise happened.