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On The Bright Side

Happy Birthday Aria!

When she was brought home as a foster kitten from the shelter, she was one in a litter of six and definitely the most outspoken of the group. Trying to get her out of the carrier provoked hissing and growling. Once the group got settled in, she was a bit more friendly. She morphed into the first kitten at the door and the one most eager for food and also affection. She spent many evenings curled up on my legs as I sat with my iPad or laptop on the couch.

Aria is the one on the left. The Tabby with the Jaguar-like markings. Her nickname became “Jag”

That was Aria’s favorite spot to hang out.

Working from home, I would close my door during the day so that I could have privacy and not be distracted by kittens. But she would find her way to my door and cry. She wanted to be with me. And so I fashioned a sling out of an old scarf, a spot that became her favorite, the one where she spent most of her day cuddled against me.

When she and another runt-sized kitten were found to have eye goop, the shelter’s kitty coordinator, Kim, told me that they both might be too congested to give back. I looked at little Jag – her original name – and her tabby swirl markings, her adorable little face, and said to Kim, “I don’t care what happens to the black one, but Jag has got to be OK.” That was the moment I knew that this little kitty had worked her way into my life in the most unexpected way.

Her constant need to be near me and with me, the way she’d look up at me and stare at me, it was as if she was saying, “You’re my buddy. I choose you.”

That’s Aria’s “Hi, Mom!” look.

 My first task was to find a name that suited the little songstress and finally decided on Aria (Phoebe will be reserved for a future dog).  Her name has grown (literally) to represent her character and so her full name is now Aria, Jagalicious, Smarty McTarty, Rolly Polly, Spastastic Bright. The Smarty McTarty was originally Farty McTarty, as it took months to find the right food for her and her sensitive stomach. I never understood how a small creature could make such big smells. I can’t tell you enough how glad I am that the Farty McTarty phase is behind us!

Aria is pretty unaware that she is a cat, I believe. She spends her day only a few feet away from me. She’s so attached, she even sleeps at my feet. She absolutely loves hair ties and has learned to fetch them. Aria initiates these games throughout the day by picking one of the colorful hair ties out of her toy box and dropping it at my feet with a hearty, “MEOW,” and the touch of her paw on my shin.   Sometimes I find hair ties dropped on my pillow on weekend mornings when I just want to sleep a bit longer.

Here’s Aria, with one of her hair ties, ready to play.

She’s got a bit of huntress qualities, as she amazingly spots the smallest of moving objects. Any spider or insect who comes in the house doesn’t stand a chance. When she is on the hunt, she chirps. When she wakes up and wants breakfast, she also chirps. She chirps to get my attention and chirps when she’s fetching hair ties. Chirps usually turn into meows if you don’t take notice. Her chirps are a quick trill and very melodic. They can sound inquisitive, uncertain, disturbed or satisfied. If you speak to her, she usually answers back.

When I’m brewing my second cup of coffee in the morning, I take her outside and just sit for a few moments. She relaxes in my arms and watches birds fly over, chirps at ants on the ground, tries to keep up with the zoom of a humming bird and gazes at the bumble bees. She doesn’t lunge or wiggle or get set to pounce. We just sit there together and enjoy the moment. It’s a favorite of the day.

Aria’s black scarf/sling is now her small throw at the foot of my bed. After she fills her belly, she likes to jump on the bed and uses the scarf to kneed. She takes one little piece into her mouth and by the look on her face, goes into the zone of complete comfort and pleasure. She purrs and kneeds and eventually lays on the scarf with her nose deep in the material, relaxed and sleepy. She often exposes her belly when she sleeps. What a great belly of spots! She greets me by rolling on her back and from side to side, paws up, belly exposed. Complete trust.

There’s Aria with her frog and her scarf. Such a cuddle bug.

Of all of the things that I envisioned for my return to the US, a pet, and certainly a cat, was never in my mind. But I’m glad the outspoken little furball insisted on being a part of my life. It’s been several years since the family dog passed and I forgot how much joy and love a pet can bring into your life. I’m reminded every day how full of love these creatures are. She’s my constant little companion, my dog-cat, my Aria. I adore her and love her so very much.

According to the Vet’s calculations, today is her birthday. Happy first birthday, Aria. Thank you for choosing me.

10 Year Anniversary

A random post on Facebook tonight reminded me that I’m due to celebrate a very special 10 year anniversary. July 28, 2002.

Only a week before, I had sold nearly all of my possessions and prepared two and a half suitcases for a move to a country I had never stepped foot in. The yard sale was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. And it set the tone for a more simplistic life. One where the layers of complexity were peeled away with each new cultural experience and every moment I settled into a completely new way of life.

My first year was a whirlwind of memories. There were a seas of new faces in not only my students and co-workers, but in all the other foreign teachers who came to the tiny country seeking new adventures, work experience, fun, perhaps even a delay of reality. I easily adapted to my new surroundings and loved my little apartment with the fabulous view of a very handsome mountain. Teaching high school students was often more challenging than any job I had ever held. But warm friendships were formed and I remain in touch with a good handful of the, then seniors who are now 28… some married, some with children.

I was apprehensive to transfer to my new job, but it turned out to be the best decision. It required some effort to get settled in all over again, but the pay off was a new office full of supportive co-workers and the chance to teach the tiniest and cutest kids imaginable.  For four years, I danced, sang and gestured to get the English meaning across. I played dodgeball almost every day at lunch. Lunchtime with teachers helped me better understand their language. I made so many new friends, big and small, old and young. I traveled. I listened. I absorbed. I laughed, cried, ate, drank and embraced that amazing culture. Along the way, I shared all the highlights with you.

When the time came for me to leave, I wasn’t ready for the journey to end. But it was clear that this was a chapter in my life and that turning the page would begin a different, yet also exciting adventure. A new story was ready for me. The goodbyes were bitter sweet, the sentiments genuine and special. The friendships were real and celebrated.

There are countless moments that are so easily recalled with great fondness and affection. A word might pop into my head, a photo will catch my eye as the cover of a digital album, or a craving for any number of specialty foods creeps into my belly. In those moments, I pause to honor the memory, remember a face, hear a voice or a laugh. I miss it. I miss that life, that work, those people, that version of me.

Ten years ago on July 28, 2002, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight to Japan. And it changed me forever. Surely, that’s something worth celebrating.


True convenience

While on the phone today, I was speaking with my friend about utility bills and the process for payment. I was reminded that in Japan, you could take all of your utility bills to the local convenience store and pay them at the store.

In fact, on more than one occasion, I went on a vacation and came back to no house phone or no electricity. I simply took my bill over the the Family Mart near my house, paid the bill, and by the time I walked back to the house, my electricity would be on again.  That’s true convenience!

I don’t know why we can’t do something similar here in the U.S. I realize we can pay bills online, but if you are late, normally your services are not turned back on again immediately after payment.  Just a little something I loved from my Japanese life.  Woo hoo for paying bills at the “konbini!”


I posted this quote on the On The Bright Side Facebook Page earlier today. Since it received lots of likes and comments, I thought I would share this here too.

— USE YOUR EXPERIENCE – In a world obsessed with youth, experience is often undervalued. But your unique experiences are priceless. They give you many advantages. Cherish them. Use them wisely: at work, with your family, in relationships, in planning ahead.


What’s been interesting for me is that since I have returned from an 8 year stint abroad, I find it increasingly difficult to actually talk about the experiences I cherish, the moments that have changed my life forever and made me the person I am today. All that international travel experience is unique and it is priceless… to me. Very few people in the US can relate to living overseas, and in such places like Japan and Vietnam. It’s a shame, really. It’s those experiences I value the most and have made my life full of value.

Father’s Office means business

When I’m in L.A. for business, I do my best to squeeze in a few social visits. Last night, I enjoyed the chance to catch up with my friend Tony. We were both at a loss of where to go. We decided we could both stand a good burger. And so we agreed on  Father’s Office in Century City, out there by the old Helm’s Bakery. I had never been there and it had been a good long while for Tony.

For a Wednesday night, the place seemed overly packed, but we managed to get a seat at the bar and eager to eat, quickly got the bartender’s attention. There is only one burger on the menu and much to my dislike, it came with bacon. So I ordered, “The Father’s Office burger, but with no bacon please.”  The response was a little surprising, “I’m sorry, we don’t make any modifications to our menu items.”  I looked at the girl with confusion and said, “I’m sorry? What?”  And she repeated, “We make no modifications to our menu items.”

Was “no bacon” a modification? I would think that it was just a simple “leave off” request. I didn’t ask to change the recipe or use elk meat or something elaborate. So I kind of shook my head in disbelief that there was like, zero accommodation, and ordered the sweet potato fries with my burger.  Tony ordered the “No modifications Father’s Office Burger with unmodified fries.”

The sweet potato fries arrived as an appetizer with blue cheese aioli. And that was great. The aioli complimented the fries well. When our burgers came, I handed over my bacon to Tony and stole a few regular fries, which are served with garlic parsley aioli.  When the bartender asked us if we needed anything else, Tony asked for ketchup.  The bartender said, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t serve ketchup.”  We looked at each other, looked at the bartender (who must have this conversation often, I would suspect) before Tony leaned in and said, “You don’t serve ketchup? I can’t put some ketchup on my fries?”  The bartender said, “No, sir. We don’t serve ketchup.” Tony leaned in a little closer and said, “You don’t have any ketchup anywhere in this establishment?”  “No we don’t,” was the response.  Tony came back with, “Really. Dude, between you and me, is that reasonable? What kind of restaurant doesn’t serve ketchup with fries?”  All the bartender had to say was, “Sorry.”

As someone who works to build brands and positive, purposeful brand communications, this little episode really stuck with me. Tony and I laughed it off, but only after we made a few loud comments to each other, “What kind of restaurant doesn’t serve ketchup?” “Well, aren’t we all super strict here in Father’s Office? No modifications and no ketchup, gosh darn it!” I mean, really. How can any restaurant take themselves that seriously? Why do people in LA like to go to restaurants where they’re treated like crap? Because that’s what “no modifications” and “no ketchup” say to me.

I took a peek at their website. Not only is it one of the only restaurant’s I’ve seen that doesn’t have a menu on their website, but Father’s Office is for certain the only restaurant which has a “Menu Policy.”  It reads:

Please be aware of our menu policy.  We do not permit any substitutions or modifications to any of our menu items.  Outside food and beverages are not permitted.  Dessert items including birthday cakes are not permitted. 

Father’s Office may have a great beer menu, but this ridiculous Menu Policy spoils all the fun. I won’t be doing business at Father’s Office again. I’m not able to make any modifications to my schedule.

Words of Wisdom

As I continue to settle into a life in the US, I have taken the time here and there to go through my boxes.  I’ve got just a “few” in my parents’ storage shed.  My dad would looove for me to take all of them, but I don’t really have the space yet for my high school and college photo albums, those four boxes of books and another handful of what I know are house decor items and treasures from my life of travel.

I do, however, have a couple of boxes which are labeled “office stuffs” by the Vietnamese crew packing my things in Hanoi. I opened one of them last night in search of by zip-lock bag full of markers, highlighters and a wide variety of pens and pencils.  In that box happened to be my old calendars.  Yes, I still keep a physical, paper, written calendar. Probably always will. Do you save your calendars?  I do because I tend to write a lot of notes in margins, write down birthdays and events, sometimes I’ve even use my calendars as daily diaries and have gone through spurts where I write what the day entailed every day.  What I love about saving them is that I can be instantly transported to that moment, that time and capture every memory of that day.  I love it.

So in one of my calendars, I found this daily mantra that I made up when I lived in Japan.  I re-wrote it at the front of my 2008 calendar, in anticipation of my travel adventures that spring.  Here’s the mantra:

Today will be a great day. I will listen, speak and act from the goodness of my heart. I will accept others as they are and treat everyone with kindness and compassion.

I think that’s a pretty good daily goal, and so I’m re-writing this on my current calendar, and on my dandy red notebook so that I may express this sentiment everyday.  I’m curious what other words of wisdom and delightful memories my calendars will lend me!

What are your daily mantras, affirmations or goals?

I’m a little bit artsy craftsy

A bit of free time, a little make-up and some adjustments on the effects and such and…whoa-la!  I made an Andy Warhol version of myself!  What I can’t believe is that I actually changed the main picture to my website.  Since I first compiled this website in February 2007, the picture of me with Kiyomizudera behind me has been the photo for my header.  I was a bit sad to change it today, but did so because:

  1. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t live in Japan anymore.
  2. My hair is much shorter and I am growing my bangs out (a very painful process, might I state for the record).
  3. I feel like a website named “On The Bright Side” needed a much more pop-out main photo thingy going on.

The only reason I remain sad for changing that photo is because:

  1. There are still days when I miss Japan and Kiyomizudera is one of my favorite places.
  2. When you have a favorite photo of yourself which makes you happy, you should look at it often!
  3. I really don’t think anyone other than me is going to notice or even remember what that photo looked like! Oh well!

Ha!  Anyway – hope you like the new artsy version.  Comments welcome!

On the Bright Side,



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