Living With Disability

Disability (n): 1. a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities; 2. the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way : the condition of being disabled.

-Merriam Webster, 2016

It’s about time that we as a society re-evaluate how we think about disability. No able-bodied person expects to be judged on the same level as an Olympic athlete. Or to constantly prove just how able-bodied they are to the world around them. So why in the world should we thrust those same expectation in reverse upon the disabled?

And yet for those living with disability (invisible and otherwise), the social scrutiny is very real and almost unparalleled. “If you’re so disabled, why are you tagging along on your friends’ holiday?” or “If you’re so disabled, why are you at the supermarket? I thought you couldn’t move the other day.”

This happens because people generally think that their eyesight is the only qualification necessary to determine signs of able-bodiedness. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to have caught on to what magicians discovered a couple thousand years ago and that is that the human mind is surprisingly easy to trick for all it’s reasoning capabilities. That and a disability is not just an injury that results in complete inability to walk, it includes illness. There are also a number of apparatuses that can be hidden by clothes alone (i.e.: waist supporters). Relying heavily on visuals alone renders an incomplete portraiture of the disabled community.

And I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I’ve lived on three sides of the issue: as a fully functional individual who lived a good 24 years without disability, as a wheelchair-walker-cane wielding invalid, and as the kind of person who can pass as looking functional… until the nerves in my spine start acting up again.

When I was fully functional, it did not personally behoove me to think about the struggles of the disabled in any great depth. As in, until I was personally affected, I wasn’t particularly keen on counting the number of handicap spaces at the local grocery or if the hand rails were up to code. During the time I had to use the wheelchair and eventually a walker/cane to get around, most people could lump an apparatus to a body and not ask twice about the wherefores of my activities. There were no angry “Did you just see her push that automatic door button? Lazy-ass millennial!” following me around. More often than not they were religiously and awkwardly inclined to offer unhelpful advice about my condition. Also known as: If I hear another “God bless you, child, the Lord has plans for you” speech in my life I will scream. And finally, as someone who schleps about with back/nerve pain (plus a torn plantar fascia muscle), but who doesn’t “look” disabled, it still amazes me how people  who don’t know anything about my life and hold zero doctoral or medical degrees can still say things like, “You’re not actually hurt. Go see a therapist.” Seriously.

It seems as if every week that passes there’s some new story on the internet about some busy body writing out a letter shaming a seemingly non-disabled person for parking in a handicap spot. While I’m sure there are numerous politic or scientifically appropriate words available to describe the psychology behind the people who do this kind of thing, my personal view is that it’s rather telling of individuals lacking in critical thinking skills.

And if that sounds harsh, keep in mind that until you’ve had to live with an invisible disability (or ANY disability at all), you don’t know how awful or how good people can be… unless you’ve witnessed someone receiving this kind of treatment first hand. It’s that strange dichotomy you may have heard of before and it’s called “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

So, we do try (because we’ll be damned anyways). Trying leads to finding new ways to accomplish old tasks. Life doesn’t get easier, we just get better at it. As if that weren’t enough, we get to find out first hand who our real friends are, who was only there for the good times, and who wants to put us down simply for not fitting into a narrow box of stereotypes about the disabled. Living life to the fullest takes on a new urgency and meaning, especially in terms of trying to find joy and distraction from the pain/challenges. Simple day to day things for a disabled person can range anywhere from mildly daunting to feeling like an event straight out of the able-bodied Olympics. Gravity, we learn, is not just a force of physics but also a heartless bitch (to paraphrase one Sheldon Cooper).

Oh, and that humanity comes in two flavors: awesome forces of good and awesome forces of awful.

The simple fact of the matter is: If you don’t know whether that person is actually disabled or not, don’t assume. It’s one thing if you hear them boasting about how they use their grandmother’s car to defraud the public, it’s something completely different if you have an unsubstantiated opinion.

You don’t know what medication this person has had to swallow just to get out of bed. You don’t know the sacrifices they’ve made to get to the point where they can finally venture out from solely living between the doctor’s office and their own four walls. You don’t know how much energy it takes to smile even though the last thing they want to do is pretend to be happy. But we do it for our friends and family, more importantly we do it for ourselves because you gotta fake it till you make it.

When you tell someone that they can’t possibly in too much pain because they’re doing something painful but that makes them happy, what you’re essentially saying is that people living with disability have no right to find a reason to live. That they must shut themselves away in a world of depression, that it’s better for them not to try, and that their only worth to society is as a stereotypical confirmation of everything you think is true about disability.

I can’t imagine what kind of misery these people are living that they feel they must leave notes on stranger’s cars or to be enraged by the fact that someone doesn’t want to be alone and trapped in a house for three days when instead they could spend it with friends one last time.

In any case, it’s not our job to prove just how awful a disability is by shutting ourselves in. We shouldn’t be shamed into constantly looking as ill as we feel or to become depressed to prove that we are in fact struggling with everyday life. And it’s time we shed light on this, because even though the able-bodied may outnumber the disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the able-bodied will remain so for the rest of their lives.

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Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad. The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…

1. WE DO NOT QUIT!!!

“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous 😉

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though 😀

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Happy 2016 And The Great Disappearance Act

Spent a blissful two and a half weeks with my family in California and close friend in Texas (shout out to Kimmy dearest for taking me to NASA and feeding me brisket!) for the first time since moving to Japan. In the spirit of the holidays, my technology was turned off in order to properly revel in family and friend time. Needless to say, I ate EVERYTHING (the trespass of which I was already admonished for during Wednesday’s ballet class #YOLO #ITWASWORTHEVERYCALORIE #MYTUTUSTILLFITSIFISUCKITIN), but even better than food was the quality time I spent among the people who love and support me most in the world: my parents.

My dad took a significant amount of time off of work to take me to all manner of doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, drive me around, play games well past both our bedtimes, and watch all the movies and TV shows that we needed to catch up on. Mum’s schedule, being what it was, allowed for mostly afternoon jaunts but I’m grateful for every precious second I spent in their company. Oh, yes, and my sister 😉 She and I put up with each other marvelously well, all things considered.

So that brings me to the month before I was in the States, when the internet pulled a great disappearing act. What happens when you’ve been paying your bills on time, when your router set isn’t broken, and the only problem showing up is “Check with your provider”?

Something I learned about Japanese internet: you will be dealing with three separate companies (Finance, Internet Provider’s Provider, and said Internet Provider) none of which have any helpful English lines in place (NTT claims it does; does not; and only NTT Finance had anyone remotely fluent enough to provide the assistance I needed via the Finance side).

I dedicate this post to Mari from NTT Finance, who not only bullied NTT into releasing my information to me (thus saving me an extra seven business days per interaction, a total of 21 once totaled), but generally got S*** done. I have never met anyone with such a go-getter attitude this side of the Pacific. Where everyone else was like, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that and I’m not going to ask my superior because this is the one way things have always been done”, Mari’s response was very Disney “Let’s see what we CAN do about this problem”. Sadly this only got me as far as: Well, it’s not NTT’s fault. It’s your provider’s.

To which my brilliant response was: I thought NTT was my provider.

And a witty repartee ensued.

NTT: No. We take care of the finance side and NTT East provides the service to a provider who then has you pay for the glory of signing a contract with them.

ME: So you haven’t choked my internet and it’s not a financial issue?

NTT: That’s about right, Ms. Customer.

ME: So who’s my provider?! I only ever received information from NTT!

NTT: Uh, we can’t disclose that information.

ME: Whaaaaa…. How am I supposed to solve anything?

NTT: …

So while I keep receiving bills for internet I’m theoretically supposed to be able to use… I don’t actually have internet and I am now currently leaching off my workplace.

I hope to update with all manner of Foreign Film Friday posts that never got published and photos from the holidays and travel information I amassed over said holidays… all of which are stuck on my American phone, but I can’t until my WIFI is back. Work doesn’t have WIFI, we just have the LAN connection chord of doom.

Hopefully this is resolved. Soon. >.>”

Resolved as of 11:40 am. Three cheers for being taught how to hack into your router and resetting the damn thing. YAY! \O/

Apple Pie Recipe <3

  
Japan is not known for its baking culture. Houses and apartments are not fitted with ovens. The ovens that are sold in tech stores across the country come in the following specifications: small and more for microwaving functions than anything else. You can warm up a can of beer. You can roast some veg. Frozen personal pizza sizes are okay. But you can’t make anything bigger than cookies, cupcakes, or really tiny pies.

Something else to keep in mind: the flour sold at most supermarkets will be of the cake making variety. For those who don’t have enough experience with different types of flour, most of you will have become accustomed to utilizing all-purpose. It’s like the middle ground between the moist and crumbly type used for cakes and the ‘sturdier’ kind that is the base for most breads. In Japan, all-purpose means cake flour or something akin to a midpoint between all-purpose and the cake variety.

So now that the peak of apple season is waning, sour apples go on sale – the last of the last, the unwanted of the least desirable. And they are the best for baking. This recipe calls for pate brisee (the all buttery, all fattening, all delicious French version of pie crust) and as many apples as you can lay your hands on.

For about 800 yen, you can tabehoudai (all you can eat) and take as many apples as you can carry. But that’s in Hirosaki. In Aomori City, where we conducted our yearly apple picking ritual (or, as ritualistic as the second year running can be), the nearest apple farm we could find charged 300 yen for taking home 3 apples of your choice (a bargain considering they sell one for almost that same amount at the supermarkets) and 500 yen for on-site tabehoudai. There would be no omochikaerihoudai this year. We coughed up the equivalent of $15-20 for apples that they sold on-site.

  

::For the buttery PATE BRISEE::

Ingredients

Also known as, le pie crust. Makes one crust. Double the ingredients for the pie covering, or leave as is to make apple crumble.

~1 cup of flour (and some extra for rolling out)

1 tsp of salt

1.5 to 2 tsp of sugar

1 stick of unsalted butter, diced (butter should be as cold as possible)

2-4 tsp of ice cold water (add on tsp at a time and use your common sense to gauge if it needs more)

 Directions

1. Cut your stick of butter into cubes, then stick in fridge or freezer. The colder the butter, the better the outcome. Although it’s quite difficult to blend completely frozen through butter, so make sure to take it out before it grows icicles.

2. Mix flour, salt, and sugar together. Spatula or hands, either is fine! Personally, if I can feel the flour, I am better able to tell if the ingredients are mixed in. I am not a visual person.

3. Take butter cubes out. Toss in about half. Work the dough as lightly as you can with your fingers. You want the butter and the flour mixture to crumble together. Once all the butter has been incorporated (don’t forget the other half), add a tablespoon of cold as the Arctic Sea water at a time. Continue mixing with your fingers until the crumble turns into something resembling dough.

4. Lightly dust your work space with flour. Don’t over knead the dough but, you know, give it a good old shaping until it looks like a circular blob. Pat said blob down. Roll out from the middle outwards in equidistant directions around the starting point. If you work with clay, basically what you do to clay to flatten it out.

5. Should be about a quarter inch thick or so. Or maybe about the width of a quarter. I forget but in any case once it’s as flat as either one of those measurements, lay it out over the pie or quiche pan that you will use, pat it down a bit, and cut off the overhanging parts.

6. On to the apple mixture!!!

::For the APPLE FILLING::

Get ready to have your apartment smell like a spice merchant’s ship on its way to Europe.

Tart baking apples (if like me, you have no idea what this means when you read these words in fancy food blogging recipes… it means use your favorite apples if you don’t like Fuji or the sour variety)

Apples, as many as you like, sliced

2-3 tbs of flour (ours was a small pie so two sufficed)

1/2 cup of sugar

1/4 tsp of the following ground spices: nutmeg and allspice

1/2 to 1 tbs of cinnamon

About 1 tsp of vanilla extract

1. Toss all ingredients by hand. Make sure to evenly coat all the apples.

2. Pour mixture into your waiting pie crust, also make sure the liquid at the bottom makes it into the pie dish.

3. Cover mixture with the second rolled out pie crust. Cut out four to five fancy leaf looking openings on the top. Or stab with fork, which is also the height of class and style.

4. Pinch the edges and cut the excess.

5. Bake on 350F for the next 55 minutes as you enjoy the scent of the holidays flooding your living space. Chill before serving.

Serves about 3 people if it is a small pie baked in a small Japanese oven. About 5-8 people if baked in an American-sized oven.

Bon appetit!

DIY 03: Do you want to make a snow globe?

 
::MATERIALS::

1 jar

Christmas decoration that can be submerged in water

Glitter

Glycerine

Distilled water

Hot glue gun

Miscellaneous outer decorative stickers/fabric/ribbons/etc (optional)

::DIRECTIONS::

1. Center your Christmas decoration on the inner side of the lid and mark the spot with a marker. You want to make sure that the jar will be able to go around it without problems.

2. Take your hot glue gun and coat the bottom of your decorative piece of choice. Set aside.

3. Pour distilled water into the jar, leaving a bit empty at the top.

4. Add a couple drops of glycerine. Keep in mind that more glycerine creates viscosity (resistance to flow); the glitter will swirl and fall slower with more glycerine. Too much glycerine and the glitter will clump.

5. Sprinkle some glitter. Seal the lid to the jar and voila! You now have a snow globe!

Great craft for kids and holiday lessons.

Destination X

Wednesday’s are always a fun day. Everything from three-second rule gaffes during home economics to messy self portraits in art and, of course, English lessons. If there’s an opportunity for me to attend a workshop with the kids, I know within five minutes of entering the office. As far as JET experiences go, I wish more schools were like this. Especially since all the down time with the kids makes for greater trust once they graduate to the middle school, where I teach all levels.

So it was with a mixture of anticipation and amusement that I stood before my favorite sixth years. I’ve come to trust them in many ways: asking them to help me research local dialects spoken by their grandparents, taste testing food they’ve prepared solo, water balloon fights, recommendations for places to visit within the prefecture. Now, I was about to integrate a lesson with real world application…

“So we’ve learned a lot about other countries in this unit.”

A couple of shy yeses pop up like groundhogs in the spring. Mostly it’s quiet. I take a deep breath.

“Where should I go on my next vacation?”

“Eh?”

“Nani?”

Their teacher translates. They look back at me, half-amused and half shocked.

“I’ll go anywhere – except war zones – I’ll take pictures to show you and I’ll bring something back for everyone to see.”

Everyone reacts. “MAJI DE!”

This is the equivalent of NO WAY. Also sometimes translated as YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME and YOU’RE CRAZY.

“No, I’m 100% majiME (serious).” Luckily my lousy attempt at a pun goes unnoticed…

“France!”

“Egypt!”

“Brazil!”

“ISLAM!”

We do a 7 minute review on why Islam is not a country. And yet they’re still too enthusiastic, excited even, to pay attention.

“Okay, okay! How about next week we write down suggestions on a slip of paper and I’ll draw one from a box.”

“Maji.”

That seems to be the theme of this semester: crazy English, crazy adventures ;D

We’ll see how it goes but at the moment all we’ve decided is that this trip must take place by Silver Week 2016 and I must take many pictures with myself in front of famous places and bring something back.

An Abundance of Apples… And Then Some

The final chapter in the sixth years’ quest to grow the perfect apples and the fifth years’ rice farming experience. No matter how many times I participate, it’s always invigorating to see my kids learning something for the first time: the fumbled guesses, the hair raising stumbles, and the beautiful ‘A-HA!’ light bulb moments. It just never ever gets old.

Children are incredulously and incredibly, well, incredible. I know this explains nothing, but there are no better words for all the funny, candid moments I get with them. The things they say, the ways in which they problem solve. Every precious victory is cause for day long celebration, every failure a drama worthy of a season on HBO. Kids are so full of life, everything is so new to them. And it’s been a real privilege and an honor to be taken along for the ride.

I almost want to pitch a documentary series to NatGeo about kids and how they grow up around the world.

 

紅葉 – Kouyou

A wildfire of scarlet leaves has spread across Touhoku and the three day weekend offered the perfect opportunity to chase them across the beautiful, scenic landscape. We stayed at free campsites and accessible road stop stations along the way, paying only for toll roads, gas, onsen, and food. Total it cost about $200-300 between the two of us (approximately $150-200 per person for all three days). It’s a cheap and back roads method of travel for the more adventurous, although hotels and hostels are easy to find at each prefecture.

Towada-Hachimantai National Park is the remains of a shield volcano (the kind that forms over millennia of oozing lava) and has many lovely look out posts as you drive up and around it. It borders Aomori and Iwate, making it the perfect bridge between the two prefectures. For the shortest and easiest climb, drive the car to the last rest stop on the mountain and take a lovely hour and a half hike through trees and marshlands. The peak is dotted with curiously named marshes (Megane-numa, for example, is a duet of two very round ponds that supposedly look like glasses when viewed from above). The paths are paved for the most part, rendering proper hiking shoes with grips unnecessary.

You’re going to meet entire families or groups of friends/tourists hiking with you or passing you on their way down. Best thing to do is offer a friendly ‘Hello’ or if you can muster up the courage to do it in Japanese it will make them even happier. Advanced speakers can even through in a good old ‘Otsukare-sama desu’ for good measure; watch their eyes light up and laughter slip from their lips. Most of the time they’re going to want to strike up some conversation, to practice their English, and to ask where you’re from. It can take a couple minutes from your hike but worth the cultural exchange.

Our next stop took us to Mt. Kurikoma, a stratovolcano located between Akita and Yamagata. In its history, the volcano erupted twice, violently leaving two caldera scars as parting gifts for the amateur geologist to marvel over. The climb up and down lasts about three hours, if you have a set of good working knees, and features a gorgeous variety of volcanic activity : sulfur lakes and streams (harnessed by mankind for the popular mineral onsen), steaming fumaroles, fertile flat lands, and basalt deposits. Pro tip: pack Hokkairou (heat patches), check weather reports in advance, and don’t start your hike after 1pm if you have bad knees. We eventually made it out of the mountain with our quick wits and a cell phone flashlight but there were more than a couple times that we thought it would be a close call as the battery levels dropped ever lower and the storm grew from sprinkle to pelting rain to wind lashes and rain combined.

As you can see from the pictures below, there are very few truly bright red/orange trees left. There was a terribly strong wind in the days leading up to our departure. By the time we arrived we were only able to enjoy the remnants of what I’m sure had been a gloriously vibrant kouyou experience only days before. Still, even the burnished gold leaves made for a captivating climb. Also, the photos below were taken with an iPhone camera and no filters. I probably didn’t do the colors justice, but I tried my best!