Thursday, 31 December 2009


Both trains I took when going out today were late. The first is a small local line and was delayed by a minute or two when the driver left the station at a crawl to let a black and white cat leisurely cross the rails.

The second train is one of Tokyo's major lines and was about 30 minutes delayed when someone jumped in front of the train. The latter is sadly an all too common occurence in Japan. Makes me all the happier that the kitty made it away safely.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


The other day U and I were heading home from having brunch with friends. U hadn't been sure he wanted to go for some weird meal that he had never heard of, and had been worried about meeting my (non-Japanese) friends, but he had had a great time - loved the food and the company. I was teasing him for not believing me.

As we went down the escalator we both noticed another internationl couple coming up the escalator in the other direction. The foreign girl was wraped around her Japanese boyfriend, and U turned to me with a smile on his face. "Haggu!" he whispered at me - using one of his new favourite English words.

Looking at U's face, however, I realized he was reacting to more than just the very uncommon public display of affection, he was excited to see another foreign girl/Japanese guy couple. It may seem odd, but suddenly it hit me that I'm not the only one in an international relationship. U is too! I think it'd be good for both of us to have a few friends who are also in international relationships.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 6 - Cinnamon Buns

Christmas morning for my family would normally begin with one of my excited younger cousins dragging us all from our beds. We'd gather in the living room for stockings - all still in our pjs. We'd open the gifts Santa had left in our stockings, and the adults would sip champagne and bubbly.

About the time we finished opening the gifts (my grandmother ALWAYS being the last because she got distracted watching others open their gifts) the house would have filled with a delicious scent of cinnamon and our Christmas breakfast of freshly baked cinnamon buns would come out of the oven. A generational battle would be waged every year with my uncle and father arguing for raisins and me and my cousins staunchly anti-raisin. Since we had cuteness and youth on our side we won most years, and we'd gleefully inhale our sticky buns - still warm from the oven and oh so ooey gooey good.

I don't have an oven of my own, so I can't make my own cinny buns this year. I had to cheat and buy a Starbucks cinnamon roll. I enjoyed it with my morning coffee, however, as I opened gifts sent by friends and family.

(photograph from the Starbucks Japan website)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 5 - Stockings

I never met my maternal grandmother, the woman whom I'm named for. She died before I was born. In fact I don't know many people who did know her, which I think is a shame, for the little that I have heard about her makes me think we would have gotten along well. She was a craftswoman, her passion was weaving and she created some gorgeous things. She also made beautiful evening gowns and other clothing for my mother's dolls - dolls that I played with as a girl and I look forward to giving to my daughters some day. My family's Christmas stockings were also all made by my grandmother. My mother's older sister, husband and two daughters, my mum, dad, and me all have my grandmother's handiwork complete with their name on the top. Each one is slightly different - but the three granddaughters all have a reindeer on the toe. The third reindeered stocking was found, without a name, in my grandmother's things after she died. It may have simply been that she made an extra when making the two for my older cousins - it could have been expected that my mother would have at least one kid, after all. But I like to think that my grandmother made it especially for me, her namesake.

I love my stocking and have used it almost every year. This year in early December I suddenly realized I desperately wanted my stocking to hang in my room, even if Santa didn't come all the way to Japan to visit me. So I fired an email off to my dad to ask him to mail it to me. His reply? It was already in the mail to me!

Over the years when new members have joined our Christmas I've made them stockings. I haven't stuck with my grandmother's template, and each one has been unique. This year I decided to make one for U. I couldn't decide on the design - reindeer and snowmen just didn't seem right (in an aside - despite the fact that western snowmen are three snowballs, the snowman on my stocking is only two - like a Japanese snowman... I wonder why??). Then U told me how he used to put out a regular sock on the end of his bed for Christmas. So I decided to decorate his stocking with the same tartan-type pattern that decorates most of his socks. I'd like to think that my Scottish grandmother would have approved!

(and yes, U's stocking still has pins in it, it is not finished. A bad bout of something has flattened me for the past 10 days and my thesis is due in less than 3 weeks... I have promised U that it will be fully finished and pin-less by next Christmas! His stocking does have his name on it, but I decided to block it out, so you'll just have to trust me on the fact that it looks good!)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 4 - Gingerbread

As a little girl I remember trying to make a gingerbread house from scratch with my mum... and having our gingerbread bake up into odd shapes which then caused the A-frame house to collapse multiple times on us! We made a few attempts, but ended up deciding to just admire the incredible works of art on display at a nearby annual Christmas fair.

Years later I was looking for something festive to do with a young second cousin and found a gingerbread house kit. We hit the local candy store and loaded up on decorations, made some colourful icing and created a masterpiece that my cousin proudly took home with her at the end of the day. We continued making houses for a few years, including one that we covered entirely in bright blue icing. And every year my cousin took the house home with her. She grew up, however, and I started making gingerbread houses (still from a kit) with my young step-sister. We had to keep her very active younger brother from the kitchen as his "help" tended to end with the house flattened and candy-less...

A few weeks back I found fully baked gingerbread house kits for sale at Ikea and was very very tempted. I don't have a young friend to send the house home with, however, and would thus have to display it in my small apartment (and then eat it or chuck it or whatever people do with a gingerbread house after they've made it), so I decided to go for a packet of heart-shaped gingerbread cookies instead...

U and I took a break from studying last night and decorated the cookies. I had picked up four colours of little chocolate writers and only one mini-star sprinkles for topping - not nearly enough choice! Unfortunately he chocolate writers were much more difficult to use than icing as the chocolate would harden and need to be re-melted in warm water.

Our cookies were definitely not works of art, but after solving one rather impressive mistake by sticking the cookie in my mouth I realized that while maybe decorating gingerbread cookies is not a tradition I want to continue, EATING them sure is!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 3 - Cookies

One of the mainstays of my family's Christmas was making - or rather icing - Grandma's Christmas cookies.

Someone, usually my Grandmother (my father has taken over the tradition in recent years), would make up a couple of batches of dough and leave it in the fridge. When the kids (and kids at heart) had been gathered we'd pull out the Christmas cookie cutters and bake sheets of bells, ornaments, Santas, trees, and snowmen. The icing, often upon my insistence and to my grandmother's disgust, would be made with too much food colouring, creating violent shades of magenta (never quite red), bright blue, lemon yellow, electric green, and vibrant purple.

Over the years various family and friends of all ages have tried their hand and created works of art...

(these two cookies iced as a surprise present for me from my young step-siblings)

This year my dad sent me the recipe and suggested I try making them to give to friends here. Since I don't have access to an oven, however, I decided instead to share them virtually. Then, when La Fuji Mama posted about the 12 Days of Sharing Virtual Cookie Jar (hosted by In Jennie's Kitchen to help raise awareness about childhood hunger in America) I knew just how to share my grandmother's recipe in a way that she would have supported fully.



Christmas Rolled Cookies

1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cream of tartar

Cream margarine with sugars, add egg and vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Form into logs and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours or up to a few days, then roll and cut into shapes.

Bake 8-10 min 350 oven until golden. Cool then ice and decorate.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


U is an intelligent guy. He has a PhD in the sciences and works as a researcher. He's also a really fast learner. He picks things up FAST.

He's watched me knit and complimented me on my ability to make pretty things out of wool. Since I've been making a lot of scarves for female friends I think he had the impression that knitted goods were "girly." So when I let it slip that I was making him a scarf and he caught a glimpse of the suitably "manly" cabled scarf - well he got rather excited.

We were talking one evening and it became obvious to me that he had never actually worn a scarf before. Having spent part of the winter for the past decade in Northern BC, the idea of somebody who does not own warm winter gear just does not compute! Scarves, mitts, and toques are all necessities of life in cold climates. I teased U about the rude shock he'd have when he visited Canada with me and he calmly says "I don't have gloves either..." He trails off into a meaningful silence but when I didn't reply immediately he continues "and it'd be nice to have a matching set!"

Yup, he's a fast learner! Luckily I'm not too slow myself, as I whipped up a pair of mitts with a pattern I've done once before, but altered them to include the cable pattern from his scarf...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 2 - Tree

In the comments to my last post, Cathy asked if I was going to have a Christmas tree this year. I wasn't planning on it... I really wasn't. But... well... I was shopping at the local mega-100 yen store and they had little fake trees for 300 yen... and suddenly there was one in my shopping basket! I couldn't help myself!

After being spoiled having grown up in an area of Canada with plenty of beautiful bushy and wonderfully pine-y real trees, and especially over the past few years when my father and I have gone out to a local tree farm and clambered through snow banks to pick and then cut down our very own tree... well, I thought that a fake tree just wouldn't cut it. But I pulled it out of the box and set it up anyways...

And while it didn't have a pine-y smell, it did litter little "needles" everywhere!

I still wasn't convinced, however...

And neither was the angel when she was placed atop the tree!

Hold on, what's that??

a baby penguin?

What are penguins doing on the tree???

The lights and most of the decorations (my penguin paper-clips aside) were bought at the 100 yen store along with the tree, so it is a rather simple affair, but with U's help...

I think it turned out alright after all.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 1 - Traditions

Over the past few months, as my relationship has developed with U, and a number of my Japanese friends have remarked - either jokingly or with relief - that this likely means I'll be here for the long run, I have started reading the blogs of a number of foreign women married to Japanese men and raising bi-cultural kids in Japan. I'm certainly not anywhere ready to take any vows, but it has got me to thinking about the possibility of that future for me. Reading through past posts (can you tell I'm procrastinating from the thesis?!) written by these women I've realized just how difficult it can be to celebrate occasions and continue traditions important to only one parent.

Since I'll be spending my first Christmas in Japan (thesis is due January 13, not conducive to trans-Pacific travel!), and U, who has never celebrated Christmas before, and I will be spending our first Christmas together, I began to think about the traditions I want to hold on to, and some new ones I want to start.

Growing up, Christmas was a day of family. When I was very young my parents and I would fly to Vancouver to spend the holidays with my father's family. We moved to Vancouver the summer before I started grade one, and I still remember my excitement of living permanently in a city that for me was full of good food, presents, and grandparents and other relatives (I was the first grandchild) spoiling me rotten. We continued to spend Christmas with my dad's family, which grew to include my two younger cousins as well as aunts, an uncle, and my grandparents. Every year we'd gather at my grandparents, then in later years at my aunt and uncle's place. After my grandmother passed away, however, and my cousins and I grew up, getting all of us together for Christmas began to happen less and less. The past few years its been just my dad and I - with family friends joining us for dinner. This year will be only my second one away from Canada and my dad, my first being 5 years ago when I was volunteering in India.

This year, with my thesis hanging over me, I don't have a lot of time, but I don't want the holiday to slip by without recognition, so I'm plotting to include as many traditions as I can. With the cultural collision that is bound to happen, if they end up coming out looking nothing like what I'm used to, that will only make it all the more memorable - like door-to-door caroling at the homes of Hindu friends in the warmth of an Indian evening dressed in a red and green sari and reindeer antlers! So, stay tuned - while there may not be 12 days of Christmas for me this year, there will at least be a few, and who knows what will happen!

my usual Christmas dinner role - making gravy
Only this time it accompanied fried chicken, had to be enough to feed 40 people,
and I had to try not to stain my festive sari!