Category Archives: General

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

whoops!

While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)

Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.

Remember when Apple being innovative and progressive meant coming up with technology and functions that benefitted the consumer?
I know I’ve repeatedly “lost” files on my iPhone, and I assumed it was just dumping off files to make space for new photos or updates.
But I never joined Apple Music… and I’m sure glad I didn’t.

Author & Book Promotions

From Dave – many of you on WordPress know the Opinionated Man, Jason Cushman. He has often made his blog available to help those with smaller followings gain some free exposure. He is now using his large following as an opportunity to promote indie and self-published authors, myself included. 

My experience with Jason has been very positive. He’s shown himself to be dedicated and eager to help others pursue success. 

Please share this on! I am offering contracts to promote authors and their books. I know there are many indie authors and writers that struggle to get their books noticed! It is a tough and competitive business right now and everyone wants to write a book these days. There are very few opportunities to get […]

https://aopinionatedman.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/please-share-this-on-author-book-promotions/

Beat the Snow

Yesterday was among the coldest days on record for Okinawa, Japan, to include a light bit of snow (barely noticeable and only on the highest part of the island, to be fair–nothing like what some of you see on the regular in the States).

We will try to rebuild and recover. 

Still, a chilly day inspires me to enjoy a nice warm soup and sandwich, something to beat the snow and fill me with joy. And my favorite combination is a bowl of robust and flavorful tomato soup, with what Panera Bread calls a “Big Kids’ Grilled Cheese.”

The sandwich is a thick toast triple-cheese parmesan-crusted taste of awesomeness with bacon in the middle. The soup that I’m making has been kicked up a notch with italian seasonings, extra garlic powder, and a sprinkle of southwest chipotle. 

 

The start of a satisfied smile on my face
 
Since I have a swarm of hungry kids, there’s a pan of tortellini boiling to ensure everyone eats their fill. (Confession time: I want tortellini and the rest is pure justification.)

Yes, this is going to happen today. 

The herbs count as a vegetable, right?

Bacon of course, plus some 5-cheese Italian sprinkled between two slices of cheesy Texas toast, then the top of the sandwich is dusted with parmesan and it all goes back in the oven to melt into delicious crispiness.

And since it wouldn’t be a reasonable facsimile of Panera without coffee… I’ve got a special pot of cherry chocolate coffee brewed up for me and the wifey. 

Suck it, “cold” mid-40s Okinawa weather!

2015 in review

As 2015 comes to a close, and we all look forward to what next year holds, I want to thank the few hundred who follow this and the few thousand who visited. You make it worthwhile.

Happy New Year and may you achieve the visions and dreams in your heart.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Diffraction Chapter 4: Stormclouds Brewing

Then Diligence in work that wells up from a heart kept still.

4.   
Patrols on the Woodwall around Northridge glanced up at the cloaked Devoted perched in an oak at the town’s edge. Most said nothing. Some murmured snide comments to their partners. Lyllithe paid them no mind.

 Thick storm clouds slid across the night sky, obscuring the stars. In the west above the Snowtips, wisps and clusters of clouds flashed, their bolts of lightning shrouded in shadow. Each spark revealed hidden layers and depths within the storm. No thunder reached Lyllithe’s ears, which made the display even more captivating.

 A short rain at dusk brought damp leaves and cold, humid air. Strands of aera tangled with ripples of aqua floating in Lyllithe’s vision, but she ignored the elemental energies.

 Pebbles and pinpricks of light hung in the air around her, like tiny stars fallen to the earth. Combined, the brightness compared to two or three candles. But in the overcast night, an eerie glow filled the tree and cast long shadows on the ground.

Her heavy fur-lined cloak kept most of the chill at bay. Still, she shivered whenever she stopped straining to produce light.

 Lyllithe considered the inadequate cloak and welcomed some misery. One more thing that’s not quite good enough.

 Two of the seven twinkles faded, and Lyllithe sighed. She looked down at the Gracemark on her right hand. It gave no glow of its own.

 Lyllithe raised her fist and squeezed. Her teeth gritted and her muscles clenched. Ten seconds passed. A new pebble of light sprang from her palm.

 The sudden absence of crickets chirping followed by soft footsteps in the grass alerted Lyllithe to a new arrival.

 “Neat trick,” a woman’s voice called up from below.

 Josephine, fantastic. Lyllithe avoided looking down. The perfect Soulforged daughter of the Light-Shield himself. She’ll probably instruct me in what I’m doing wrong as a Devoted.

 “The stars are beauty enough, Lyl,” Josephine said with a chuckle. “You don’t need to make your own.”

 “Everyone needs to practice,” Lyllithe said. Another light faded. “I heard you had a bit today.” She concentrated again and created a new speck.

 “Some ne’er-do-wells from the Militia picked a fight,” Josephine said. “I picked back. If you come down, I’ll tell you all the bloody parts.”

 Lyllithe laughed but remained still. She studied the largest light-pebble with a frown. “Not sure I’m up for hearing about it tonight, Jo.”

 “Another fight with your Dad?”

 Lyllithe shrugged. “We don’t do much else anymore.” She heard Josephine’s feet shuffle in the grass below. “I’m not devoted enough to be a Devoted, according to him.”

 “But your Gracemark must—” Josephine stammered. “I mean, it’s not a mere Brand etched by the Abbey, it’s a blessing direct from Aulis. Light Himself. An Aspect of the Divine. Your devotion is obvious.”

 “Well, it’s obvious my father knows the mind of our Aspect better than I do,” Lyllithe said. “And what good is a Gracemark with no power?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Nothing I do works, Jo,” Lyllithe cried out. Her self-control broke, like a person holding her breath as long as possible then finally gasping for air.

 “I try to heal, and I can’t. I know how to summon Light, how to mend wounds. But I cannot make it happen. Not when I have to perform and prove myself.

 “I tried to pass the Test. Five times, Jo.” Lyllithe stared at Josephine and ticked off fingers. “Couldn’t do it. Perfect marks on the academics every time, but I can’t demonstrate power except in a crisis. Then I tried to save my mother in a crisis, and I wasn’t strong enough.”

 Lyllithe waved her hand at the rest of the town. “I’ve tried to fit in, to make friends. No one’s interested in ‘the Ghostskin.’ But everyone thinks the world of Marten for taking me in as an infant. Yet he can’t find time to be a father because he’s so busy being the Eldest to the rest of the town.”

 She flipped her hand around to show Josephine the Gracemark. “Oh, but I got this, for all the good it’s done. It’s not only spontaneous, which sets me apart from all the other Devoted in Northridge, it’s also a double Mark, which I don’t even know what that means. The very thing that should mean I’m accepted is another barrier keeping me apart from everyone else. Twice.”

 Lyllithe pointed at Josephine. “You saw those soldiers making sport of Dabry today, and you intervened. Because you Glimpsed, right? Your Gracemark told you what was happening was wrong, or however that works for Soulforged. Am I right?”

 Josephine nodded, and fumbled for a response. “I did. I mean, yes, it’s like seeing a shadow, or a flash of a daydream that—”

 “Mine doesn’t do that,” Lyllithe said. “I can’t Glimpse. I should sense purity in others, but I never do . And I can’t Strain either. I should be able to heal through the Gracemark, drawing on my strength of devotion. But there’s no power.”

 Josephine tried to speak, but Lyllithe continued. “I would love to be in your position. To use the strength of the Divine to protect the weak, to prevent harm instead of merely healing the wounded. To fight for those—”

 She choked back tears at a memory of her mother’s caress. “To fight for those I love. But I have to remain pure, or I will be cut off from the Light.”

 Lyllithe clenched her fist again and struggled until a new pebble formed. “The Light that I can barely summon.”

 A gust of wind whipped through the tree branches, rustling the leaves. Lyllithe fell silent. Two more lights winked out.

 Josephine sat down next to the tree. “Lyl, I had no idea.”

 Lyllithe huffed. “Why should you? No one does.”

 They sat for a few minutes, watching clouds roll by in silence. All the light-pebbles faded. Lightning flashes continued in the west, inevitably drawing their gaze.

 “You can do nothing wrong,” Josephine mumbled, “and still end up doing nothing right.”

 “What was that?”

 “Oh, sorry.” Josephine looked up at Lyllithe and repeated the phrase. “It’s something my father said once when I asked about the Abbey.”

 Lyllithe let the words play in her mind. “I’ve been so worried all my life about losing the Light that I never learned to use it. Everything I’ve done has come to ruin, exactly as I feared.” She looked down at Josephine. “Maybe because of my fear?”

Josephine said nothing, and Lyllithe pieced together more thoughts. “The order is so focused on purity, so worried about avoiding any stain. We preach the power of Aulis and the strength of the Light. But we act like the only safe place in all the world is hiding in the Abbey.”

 “Strength is meant to be used,” Josephine said. “Used wisely, yes. But not hidden away.”

 Lyllithe looked back up at the flashing clouds in the distance. So much power there. So much light. Why couldn’t the Light of Aulis be used to fight evil?

 Her father’s voice echoed dire warnings in her mind, but she silenced them. I’ve heard them all my life, lived for so long to avoid any hint of darkness. Maybe it’s time to do something different, to see and embrace the Light instead of cowering from the darkness.

 I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find a way. I may not have a plan for my life, but I won’t be caught up in someone else’s.

 Lyllithe smiled and watched the clouds. “A better light-show than an Arcanist’s display.”

 Josephine sprang to her feet. “Lyl, you just reminded me, come down quick. There’s something you’ve got to see.”

 “Jo, I need some time to think through all of this.”

 “Oh, I hope we’re not too late,” Josephine said, looking toward the town’s meeting hall. “Come on, let’s go. This is just what you need.”

 Lyllithe shook her head. “Tonight’s really not the best time. I appreciate you coming out to talk with me, but I want—“

 “Me to climb up there and drag you down, apparently. Moping all night in a tree isn’t going to make you feel any better.”

 Lyllithe opened her mouth to protest, then saw the stubborn glimmer in Josephine’s eyes.

 “You know I’ll do it.” Josephine threatened. “I know a Devoted who can heal you if you fall and break something.”

 With a heavy sigh, Lyllithe gradually worked her way down from branch to branch. “What in the Seven Hells are you so excited about?”

 An explosion of blue flames erupted over the village, illuminating the night with a soft glow akin to Lyllithe’s Gracemark. While she watched the display in awe, the spiraling energies swept through the air into a vortex of hues and colors.

 Her heritage opened her eyes to the interplay of elements that created the spectacle. Is that a touch of earth combined with fire, then Refocused into magelight?

 Soft cheers and applause reached Lyllithe’s ears across the short distance from the town’s central street.

“Race you there,” Josephine shouted, already three strides ahead and sprinting.

 Lyllithe yelped and took off. The weight of frustration vanished, and she chased Josephine into the maze of wooden buildings.

 Laughter filled her lungs and she stumbled as she ran. She turned a corner and saw Josephine ahead rushing toward a crowd. I’m so going to lose.

 Another burst of blue flame sprayed into the air above the crowd. Lyllithe stopped and stared. Actual magic. Refocused energy. I’ve only read about this.

 Snowflakes fell onto the heads below. Some landed on tongues of children on their fathers’ shoulders, to gasps and resounding applause.

 Aqua, Lyllithe realized, not chilled with aera like I would’ve expected, but slowed in motion until it solidified.

 Josephine jogged back to grab Lyllithe’s arm. “Why are you standing here?”

 Another spray of magic flew into the air, scattering embers high above the heads of the audience. Lyllithe grinned and fought the urge to analyze the spellcast.

 Josephine yanked on Lyllithe’s sleeve. “I want to get a better look.”

 A wild hope blossomed in Lyllithe’s heart. So do I, Jo.