Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Letter from Lucy - sono 2

Dear Mom,

How are you? Sarah says that dad is on his way home now? I'm excited to see him. It'll be good to have him back here where I can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble.

But you know, I'm kinda worried about Sarah. When she left this morning she took her stuff with her and said she was going home. Is she going to be alright all on her own without a dog to look after her and protect her home from the evil doorbell-wringers?

I've been thinking about it, and I think I kinda over-reacted the other day when I got angry at her for sending me to the groomers. Don't tell her, but just between you and me, it does seem a little more comfortable going for walks now, and I can even keep up with Sarah's long strides most of the time! Now that I've gotten used to it it is good fun to get a bit of a run - and I like coming back to the house for a big drink and a short nap afterwards.

Besides, it has been fun having her sleepover. The first night she was here she tried sleeping upstairs but she says it was too hot. I don't blame her! I like my nice cool basement! She figured out pretty soon that my room was the best one in the house, and has been sleeping on the couch near me. She says it is really comfortable. The thing I like though, is that she's right there, so if she tries to sleep-in then I can give her a friendly reminder or two that it is time for breakfast and my morning walk.

She still won't give me a midnight or mid-day snack... but I'm going to keep on working on that one, I'm sure eventually she'll come around!

The other night she had a friend over for dinner. She spent most of the day in the kitchen preparing, and her friend said the food was really good, but I'm not so sure. They started with fresh corn, slathered in butter and salt. It looked really messy so I thought I might get to try some, but unfortunately they didn't drop any for me. Then they had cucumber salad and something they called "pizza," but I'm not so sure about the last one - isn't the stuff you usually have red?? This one was GREEN! Weird! Anyways. Then Sarah made a big deal about a chocolate cake she had baked. (I'll let you in on a secret - it was the second one she made! The first one she not only mis-read the super easy instructions, but also wasn't used to the oven and so way over-cooked the mini-loaves she was trying to make). The second one though, looked pretty good. It had three layers and some really yummy looking double chocolate icing and green tea flavoured icing too. But again, Sarah wouldn't let me try any. Sigh. I wasn't so sure about her friend at first, I had to bark at him a lot. He did a good job trying to win me over - gave me lots of treats and petted me, but I didn't let my guard down though, and would bark at him occasionally just to keep him on his toes... speaking of which, he had very nice hairy feet for me to curl up on for a nap - what more can a girl ask for?

Maybe I don't have to worry about Sarah, though, because she was telling her friend about her date on Sunday. So who knows, maybe she'll have somebody to protect her from evil doorbell-wringers after all. Although I bet that whoever this guy is he's not nearly as cute or as good at barking at random noises as I am!!

Anyways, mom, I'm looking forward to seeing dad soon, and then you'll be home not too long after, right? But maybe Sarah can come over to play sometime even after you guys have come home?


PS - Since I know you worry about your kitchen and the rest of the house, I thought I should tell you that from what I can tell Sarah's been fine in that area too. Unfortunately she hasn't let me go upstairs (did you HAVE to go and tell her not to give me free reign of the garbage baskets house? She's kept the kitchen far too clean for my liking - not dropping enough interesting stuff on the floor for me to munch on! But she was kind enough to wait to vacuum until I was out of the house at the dreaded groomers. Silly girl though, forgot to put out the recycling! I had to remind her it was garbage day yesterday, and so she got the burnables out in time.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Letter from Lucy

Dear Mom,

Are you having fun in the US? I hope you are all okay there on your own, what without me there to look after you and keep you safe from dangers such as random people walking by the house, salesmen ringing the doorbell, and all the other things that my barking protects you from.

I appreciate you sending me somebody else for me to look after while you guys are gone. Sarah's good fun. She gives a good ear-scratch. She plays a mean game of blanket tug-of-war and is also good at toss-the-chew-toy. But she has some serious faults. For starters she's smart, she never falls for my I-haven't-eaten-yet dance, always remembering that you said I only get two meals a day (whydja have to go and tell her something like that?! I'd much prefer three or four meals!) She also has an annoying habit of not letting me chew her socks. I don't know why she won't let me do it, they are quite yummy! When we go for walks sometimes she walks too fast, forgetting that my legs are so little. I like to go slowly and stop to smell the roses er... the asphalt.

My real beef with this Sarah person, however, is what she did to me today. Would you believe she sent me off to the groomers?! I mean COME ON! What did I do to deserve that? So there were a few little tangles on my legs, but I had the situation under control - I was detangling them myself! Sarah tried to tell me that that was only making it worse and that I'd hurt myself, but really! The groomers?! And the way she sprung it on me too - I had no warning! One minute I was barking and trying to protect the house from the evil doorbell-ringers, and the next minute Sarah was handing me over to the groomer who had come to pick me up. So the car ride over to the shop wasn't bad, but... For barking out loud, they put sunflower clips on my ears... SUNFLOWERS. ON. MY. EARS! And my paws are all shorn now! But at least I still have my mohawk hairdo. I couldn't have forgiven her if the groomers did away with that one.

As soon as I got home I glared at Sarah and told her I wasn't ever going to forgive her. She bribed me with some treats and we cuddled on the couch before she took me on a nice long walk though, so I had to play nice and pretend to forgive her. But I'm going to keep my eye on her to make sure she doesn't pull a stunt like that again.

So come home soon, I miss you guys!



PS - just look at these sunflowers - disgraceful! Luckily none of the other dogs saw me wearing them!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Dog Days of Summer

The rainy season officially ended in Tokyo last week and now its just hot. Ugh. This Canuck is definitely a cold weather girl. Sigh. The other day a friend commented on how hot it was my reply was that I was looking forward to the fall. She laughed and told me summer had just started. To which I replied, "I know! THAT'S why I'm looking forward to the fall!!" She just laughed. Sigh.

I'm currently house sitting for a friend as her and her husband and daughter are in the US for their vacation. When she asked me to help out my friend started by telling me she had a dog (an adorable dachshund who is curled up asleep on my feet as I type), and then went on to try and sell the place - telling me about the huge TV, the quiet neighbourhood, the large spaces... She had me at "dog" as I was pretty excited to be able to have a four-legged friend around to keep me from getting lonely. But then my friend mentioned she had an oven - oooh! I was torn trying to decide which I was more excited about - the dog or the oven!

I've made pesto pizzas a couple of times, did baked macaroni and broccoli one night, and made a three-layer chocolate and green tea cake for a friend's birthday!

Lucy wasn't quite sure what to make of me for the first few days, but pretty soon she was curled at my feet while I was at the computer, or on my lap as I sat reading on the couch. She keeps trying to con me into feeding her extra meals (to no avail) but her big brown eyes have gotten a few treats out of me... I mean how can I resist these eyes??

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Rice Bowl with Three-Coloured Topping

A month ago, when La Fuji Mama announced her Washoku Warriors challenge, I knew immediately it was something I wanted to do. I thought it would get me cooking more (something I love but don't do enough of). Once the gorgeous cookbook arrived, however, I got to thinking about what I had gotten myself into...

I was rather apprehensive about agreeing to cook alongside la Fuji Mama, and my initial reaction upon receiving Elizabeth Andoh's gorgeous cookbook from Amazon didn't do anything to relieve that anxiety. Not wanting to judge the book by its cover or weight, however, I opened it up and thumbed through to find the chosen recipe. As I read through it and made my shopping list I though - "Okay, maybe I can do this!"

Getting the ingredients proved the easy part - finding a free evening between classes and talks and general busy-ness was much more difficult. Happily once I did find the time, however, the actual cooking proved really easy. The hardest thing was doing the math to translate between the ounces called for in the recipe and the grams listed on the package I bought!

Given my penchant for not following recipes, I added more ginger juice to the chicken and also used a special sugar instead of regular white sugar. A friend of a friend of mine is married to a traditional Japanese sweet-maker and I was given a large bag of wasanbon sugar. It comes from sugarcane and is finer than regular white sugar, with a light golden-brown colour. It has a distinctive almost maple-y flavour and I thought it would go nicely with the ginger. I'm not sure it made a huge difference, however, and I'm probably going to save the wasanbon sugar for things where its flavour shines through - like my morning coffee.

All in all this was a delicious and super easy dish.

Since making it the first time for the challenge I've already followed Andoh's suggestion by making up a big batch of the chicken and putting it in the freezer for quick and easy reheat dinners. It is so nice to set my rice cooker before I leave in the morning, and then to come home and throw a packet of the chicken into the fry pan with the veggies to heat up. 10 minutes after walking in the door I've got a good meal on the table for dinner.

(Be sure to check out La Fuji Mama's blog with the round up of all of the warriors and their take on our first battle.)

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Oreo yumminess

A few more pictures of Oreo and chocolate yumminess...

I decided that since I love Oreo cookie crumb crusts on pies, I'd dip the chocolates in crumbled cookies before the chocolate coating had hardened...

Mmm mmmm! They turned out even yummier than I had imagined... I think... let me see, must try juuust one more for quality control...

Mmmm... yummy... I think, but more quality control needs to be done...!

This was the last one - I had run out of cookie crumbles and had to be speedy with my improvisation.

That's the last batch for the season though - for the sake of the wasitlines of myself and my friends!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A new sort of education Thursday

After the undergrad Intro to Education course I took on Thursday mornings in spring term of last year, I had a break from education in the fall term. This school year, however, (the Japanese school year starts in April and runs to March, with breaks in both summer and late winter/early spring) I've got another ed class, this time at the grad level, but still on Thursdays.

This term I'm taking a grad course on the history of Japanese education. It doesn't have much bearing on my thesis, but I knew as soon as I read the syllabus that I had to take it because of the assigned text. We are reading the Japanese translation of Andrew Gordon's A Modern History of Japan. Why would I want to read the Japanese translation of an overview of Japanese history written by a well-known American scholar of Japanese history? Well, Gordon was my advisor for my first thesis. He wrote a message and signed my copy of the English original, which I used when I was one of the TAs for the intro-level overview of Japanese history course that he co-taught. The book was written out of his lecture notes for that class, and the year I TAed was the first one after the book had been published and was being used as a text.

It has been a truly odd experience to read the book for a grad-level Japanese course. (I'll admit that most weeks I cheat and read the English original and only glance through the Japanese translation) I'll find myself suddenly remembering discussing a certain section with my students, or listening to Gordon's lecture on a different section, or marking the exam questions, or climbing the rickety little stairway to my discussion section's classroom - overlooking Annenberg Hall , high in the eaves of the historic and stunning Memorial Hall . But really I'm sitting in a windowless classroom in the upper floors of a modern skyscraper in downtown Tokyo.

The class itself has its moments. I've had a number of frustrating weeks, sitting through seemingly endless comments of "wow - for a foreigner he really knows a lot about Japanese history! It's so impressive!!" The fact that this is a typical Japanese response to any knowledge of Japan by a foreigner is annoying. Given that the professor of the course I'm currently taking and the other two students have freely admitted they are education/sociology majors and NOT history majors and thus the only (one-time) Japanese history major in the room is the one with the white skin and big nose, makes it somewhat more annoying. But given that the comments are about a scholar who is both very well-known and extremely highly regarded in the field (both in the US AND in Japan), the condescension is particularly annoying.

In class this evening, however, we got off topic waiting for one student who never actually showed up. We got into discussing and comparing higher education in Japan and the US/Canada. The prof, who's area is Education and who is involved in the teaching certification program at my university, was blunt and direct in his criticism of many Japanese practices. In particular he blasted the Japanese system of double standards for athletes, the lack of expectation that students actually study, the practice of students working part-time jobs til the early hours of the morning, and a host of other issues. My beef is the glaring lack of feedback given to students. They submit papers and write tests and all they get out of it is a grade on their report card. 99% of professors provide absolutely no feedback to students, giving them no idea of WHAT was good or bad about what they did and where/how they could improve. The only time many students get any type of response from professors is on their graduation thesis, in their final year. In addition, the vast majority of undergrads, and some grad students even, have a difficulty in expressing their own opinion or engaging in critical thought. With issues like grade inflation and babying of students, however, the US/Canadian system is far from perfect...

It was a lively and interesting discussion, but I'm still looking forward to next week (the last for this term) and then another term of a new sort of education Thursdays...

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Green with...

On Grey's Anatomy, Izzy Stevens goes into a baking frenzy when she is stressed or upset about something. I'm not nearly that bad, but I do find that baking calms me down. I like baking muffins on a regular basis, and love making cookies or other treats to share with friends. Making up a batch of something I know a certain person will like is my way of saying I'm thinking about them. Not having access to an oven (the Japanese concept of "kitchen," especially in small apartments, does not much resemble that which I grew up baking and cooking in), my ability to bake is severely limited.

A number of years ago, when I lived out in the boonies of Chiba and had a fairly big one-room apartment I had a toaster oven. I decided to try using my toaster (which was a oven-type toaster, not one of those ones with two bread slits in the top) to bake cookies, and made up a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. I discovered the cookies had to be quite small to bake properly in the oven, and I could only bake two or three at a time... it ended up taking me about three days straight to bake the darn things, jumping up every 20 minutes to take out three cookies and spoon three more onto the pan... The sad thing was that I took the cookies to work and they were inhaled immediately - disappearing in under 30 minutes!

With all of that in mind, when a good friend of mine finally admitted (after about 20 minutes of beating around the bush) that she and her boyfriend of 2 years were in a very rocky patch and it seemed like they'd be breaking up, I immediately wanted to make her something. I settled first for taking her out for a couple of drinks and listening to her (I'm guessing she hasn't actually told anybody else, so this in itself was important). But when I got home I wanted to make her something, to cheer her up or at least make her feel cared for. I settled on Bakerella's Oreo truffles, and whipped up a batch that very night. They turned out really really really yummy, but it has been years since I made chocolates and I hadn't figured out how to make do with the limited supplies I had, so the end result didn't look all that impressive. They were yummy though, and my friends (including the intended recipient) gobbled them down happily.

I went out with the friend in question again this weekend and she's still in a pretty tough place - things are dragging out and both parties are getting hurt. So after I listened and offered some advice I got to thinking about making another batch of chocolates, this time incorporating one of my friend's favourites, matcha (green tea). I had a few problems with the centres of these ones - trying to balance matcha and chocolate flavours. They looked better than last week's bunch though and disappeared just as quickly.

The only trouble is, after taking in goodies two weeks in a row, one friend innocently asked me today "so what is next week's flavour?"


Over the past few weeks I've been in a bit of a funk. I've been homesick, which despite the fact that I consider myself fairly patriotic, after 7 years living outside of Canada happens pretty rarely. This all culminated with me watching the Canada Day celebrations on the CBC, but it is due to a number of discussions in class that have reminded me just how different Japan is from the society I grew up in.

I remember when I lived in Toronto as a very young girl we used to go all over the city during the annual international festival. I used to love visiting the community centres, to taste the various types of food, watch kids perform traditional dances, and admire traditional costumes. Once, after watching the performance at the Latvian Community Centre, where my best friend went every week for language and dance lessons, I turned to my mother and asked her why I didn't have an interesting culture. I wanted to be wearing one of the frilly dresses and dancing up on stage too!

A number of years later my grade two teacher had a system in class where parents were encouraged to come in on the day of a special festival in their culture/religion. The parents would bring in snacks and various items and tell us about their festival or country. We got a break from classes, instead eating, playing games, and listening to stories. I still remember the potato pancakes one Jewish family brought in to share with us for Hanukkah. I remember again complaining to my parents that we were sooo boooooring, not having any special culture to share with the class!

The family of one of my closest friends was from what was then Czechoslovakia. Her grandmother would often spend periods of time with the family and while she didn't speak much English she sure was a great cook - I looked forward to afternoon snack at my friend's house on those days, much more exciting than whatever was on offer at my home.

It took many years for me to realize that my family wasn't nearly as boring as I thought. First of all, since my mother was born in the UK I have dual citizenship. Second, since my father married a Chinese-Canadian woman when I was in high school I had many years of home-cooked Chinese food that means that to this day when I get upset or tired one of the first things I crave is good Chinese food - especially my favourite mapo tofu.

It took even more years, especially those spent outside of Canada, for me to realize just how special and unique the country really is. While I realize that racism and prejudice do exist there, as in any country, the fact that people from different cultural backgrounds and religions, speaking different mother-tongues, not only co-exist, but that children grow up feeling that this co-existence is normal, that different cultures are interesting, is a truly amazing thing. Which is why I proudly talk about the Canadian mosaic, the idea that just like the beauty of a mosaic coming from its myriad of coloured stones, the beauty and strength of Canada comes from all the different cultures/religions/languages/beliefs of its peoples.

Trying to actually make some of the other students (who come from a society that prides itself on its homogeneity, where individualism is NOT encouraged) in my sociology classes actually understand what this means in reality, however, can be more than a little frustrating. Recently its left me wanting to pack up and go back to Canada where I wouldn't have to explain things that seem so basic to me...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

July 2

Twas the morn after Canada Day
And along the train route
The locals were rushing
In their usual commute.

No maple leafs had been hung
From flagpoles with care.
No people had gathered
For barbecue to share.

The beer cans were nestled
All snug in fridges,
Not strewn about the lawn
And under the hedges.

No parades had been seen.
No fireworks set.
No red shirts worn proudly.
No friends had been met.

The night before had been simple,
Plain vanilla flavoured.
No maple syrup to be found
On the food being savoured.

Awoken this morning
At the usual hour,
I couldn't help but mourn
My lack of national fervour.

And so somewhat belated,
Though nonetheless sincere,
I send out a message
To the whole blogosphere.

All the way from Japan
And just one day too late,
Happy Canada Day to all -
Hope you celebrate!