And so another year has passed. At the speed of light, it seemed. And from all directions, too. Maybe this year your faithful correspondent will finally learn to duck, jump, curl into fetal position or otherwise get out of the way whenever 1999 jumps the curb and points the hood ornament in his direction.

Albert Einstein once said that time slows down as the speed of light is approached. He also said that nothing travels faster than light. Well, obviously, ol' Al was a sock sniffer who came up with THOSE theories while 'researching' the laundry hamper one wash day. Clearly, he never had young children scampering about the lab while he was fooling with the beakers and fabrics. Anyone older than forty could have told him that kids younger than eight can get under foot at speeds that leave light tied up in knots contemplating retirement. And when kids start moving, time -- especially the hours just before a job deadline -- flies.

Kids thumb their noses at other laws of physics as well. Like some of the more exotic subatomic particles, they have the remarkable ability of seeming to be in two and sometimes three places at the same time. Except, of course, at dinner time. Then they are nowhere to be found.

So for those of you who were 'charmed' by Up, Down, Quark and other pint-sized particles, meet three new flavors: Calvin, Brian, and Michelle.

The Calvin particle is characterized by a relatively low mass for its height. It is exceedingly slow in the morning on school days, but in the afternoon, accelerates to light speed and disappears. We spend the better part of our afternoons wondering what part of the universe he's now occupying and whether he'll make it back in time to do his homework.

The behavior of the Brian particle is completely unpredictable. It is sometimes Up, sometimes Down -- often both at the same time on the couch -- but always Goofy. Brian's other defining characteristic is Volume. He spends most of his days practicing his Up/Down/Goofy/Volume characteristics with other particles in the neighborhood. The effect is quite like those models of an atom we saw in high-school science class: little bits whirling about faster than the eye can follow, and every once in a while, one bit spins off and strikes a solid, generally breakable object. At which point, the Volume increases dramatically.

Michelle is absolutely convinced that she is the particle around which the rest of the universe revolves. For years, I've tried to get Calvin and Brian to ask "How high?" when I yelled 'Jump!' Now it's Michelle doing the yelling and me doing the jumping. And if I'm even the smallest fraction of a second late, it is the greatest tragedy of the world since the last time I was the smallest fraction of a second late. Which, if my still-ringing ears are any indication, was about an hour ago. Some of the neighbors affectionately call her "Rin-Hime" (Princess Lynn), never realizing just how near the truth it is. (She's actually 'Queen' of wherever she happens to be at the moment.)

Nope, even the merest hint of a possibility that, maybe, the universe was created for purposes that have nothing to do with making her happy has never once entered her head. Never will I'm afraid. And thanks, but no, I am not going to be the one to broach the subject with her. The royal bath hour with her highness is hard enough as it is.

As you can tell, kids again defined the year. In truth, 1998 was pretty much like 1997. (Which is a pretty good indication of what 1999 will be like, I suppose. Yikes!)

Calvin entered the second grade at Koyo Elementary School. Art continues to be his favorite subject, and math his least favorite, but he is doing well in all his subjects. Many of the students in his class attend the infamous 'juku' (cram school), but not Calvin. Instead, he attends Peter Pan twice a week for a special creative thinking program. He also continues to play soccer and swim. That leaves only a few hours a week for his beloved Nintendo games and Pokemon and Doraemon cartoon shows. Such is life at the tender age of 8.

Brian still attends yochien (kindergarten) every day, and also swims, takes a gym class, and goes to Peter Pan once a week. Unlike Calvin, Brian is often up at sunrise (to get in an hour of Nintendo). He beats even early-riser Yoko out of bed. (Those Kariya genes, again.)

Michelle began Peter Pan this year. Other than that, her days are spent making sure that no one else gets anything important done.

 All three kids take keyboard lessons once a week. Actually, only Calvin and Brian take the lessons -- Michelle being to young to 'take instruction' (ain't THAT the truth!) -- but Michelle insists on being part of the proceedings, sitting with the astoundingly patient teacher, making comments, and adjusting the keyboard's many knobs and switches for the boys, whether or not they want them adjusted. The keyboard sits in the living room, and the kids seldom pass it without stopping to play this week's tune. I've recorded several of their efforts in MIDI format for the family web site.

Was there a pattern to life in 1998? Well, if you can call periods of intense (frantic?) action followed by periods of mind-numbing (heavenly?) boredom a pattern, then yes, there was a pattern, at least in Yoko's and Steve's work. Yoko continued to work a manic schedule at P&G, but she did find time to continue her swimming lessons. According to the kids, now 'expert' swimmers, she has made great progress.

Steve managed to find a variety of computer projects to do and wrote a few magazine articles, but he is beginning to lose faith in the government's regular pronouncements of the end of the recession.

The year's highlight? Perhaps our trip to the Nagano Olympics. Well, ok, we actually went a month later, but at least we avoided the crowds. In fact we were just about the only ones on the mountain! You'll find the full story-and pictures-of THAT adventure on our web site.

Or perhaps it was the arboretum, several dozen acres of forest and meadows on the other side of Mt. Rokko. I've lived in Kobe for nearly 19 years and had never even heard of the place, but it is the perfect venue for kids to run wild, make noise, look for bugs, and bounce off trees without bothering anyone. It is also a soul-soothing retreat for city-weary country boys like Steve. We made several trips there this past autumn. That story is also on the family web site.

Or maybe it was the week spent in the mountains, beaches and rivers of Wakayama Prefecture, coming home to a fireworks show just off our balcony. Yep, it, too, is on the family web site.

And that's the way it was at the Porritt/Kariya household in 1998. We hope you have a very happy and prosperous 1999! (Now where did those kids go? They were here just a fraction of a light-second ago!)

Calvin Skiing

This year's printed nengaletter. Still impossible to recreate on the web.

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