Friday, 31 December 2010

FFILT - family, food, & things I love Thursday

- sunny Vancouver days (FINALLY!!)
- views of snow-capped mountains
- walks by the ocean
- walks through old growth forest
- roast pork and apple sauce
- apple pie and imperial cheese
- fresh hot Montreal-style bagels
- homemade turkey soup
- Christmas leftovers (a 24 lb bird for Christmas means LOTS of yummy leftovers!)
- "flunch" with 2 generations of female relatives (U and the other boys were sent off elsewhere)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Things I love Thursday

- making and decorating grandma's Christmas cookies with my cousin
- watching the hockey game with my uncle
- bickering with my dad
- playing with a dog
- roast lamb
- sharing all of the above with U

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Lights and Action!

U arrived in Vancouver this morning and we put him to work immediately - we put up the outdoor lights in the morning and then decorated the tree in the afternoon. Good fun!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

TILT eh!

With one day of work left before THREE WEEKS in Canada, there is PLENTY to love this Thursday!

- planning my first meals back in Canada (dim sum on Sunday morning and then the neighbourhood brick oven pizzeria for pesto and goat cheese pizza (no tomatoes!) )
- fun coworkers
- being needed at work
- the neighbourhood kushi place
- Christmas shopping with U
- finally casting off a scarf I've been working on for far too long
- seeing my dad in less than 3 days!!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Quote of the day...

In a letter dated February 1925, from an American businessman to a close and highly regarded Japanese friend:

"Peoples of different races generally do not live together with complete sympathy and understanding, and rarely succeed in creating social and economic conditions which easily blend. Neither do marriage and the mixing of bloods usually produce fortunate results."

Thursday, 9 December 2010

TILT

Some things I'm loving this Thursday:

- mid-week trips to Tsukuba
- mabo tofu
- playing 10 yen old lever type arcade games
- having the hotel onsen bath all to myself
- being looked after
- having finished the JLPT (whether I passed or not there isn't anything else I can do now)
- dinner plans with friends
- lookin forward to going to Canada in 10 days!!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hole in One

I made tonjiru for dinner tonight. A huge pot of it - lots of naganegi(long onion?), daikon, carrots, shirataki... but no tofu. Why? I love tofu. I love tofu in tonjru. I bought a pack of tofu to go in the tonjiru. I opened the packet and tilted it sideways to pour out the tofu water but apparently the tofu didn't want to be cooked and had visions of freedom - it jumped out of the packet, launching itself over my hand. It missed the dirty dishes in the sink and made a perfect no-splash olympic dive right down the sink drain.

A hole in one.

Nothing but net.

I automatically reached out to grab my fleeing tofu (that didn't get very far because I have the mesh bag thingy in my sink drain basket...) but when my hand came up with a small crumble of coffe ground covered tofu I suddenly decided my tonjiru didn't need tofu afterall...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Seeing green



My offering (the soup, not the bread) for this month's Washoku Warriors challenge. Head on over to La Fuji Mama's to check out the other offerings!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

myTunes

As I commute to work this morning (Tuesday's holiday meant the museum was closed Wednesday and I'm making up for it by working Saturday) I realized I missed #1 on my TILT the other day.

iTunes decided to spontaneously reinstall itself on my computer (perhaps just a new version but then it doesn't normally do the whole welcome to iTunes spiel) and in doing so discovered nearly all of the music it lost for no apparent reason months ago. (That was followed by me managing to wipe my iPod completely clear while only halfway through ripping my songs back to my computer) I had to redo all my playlists but apart from a few songs still missing, I have myTunes back! Am I going to try and figure out why they came back, or why they disappeared in the first place?

NOT A CHANCE!

I don't want to risk loosing them again! As I was standing waiting for my train this morning, foot tapping to my favourite group, I was smiling from ear to ear.... It is good to have music that does that to you!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

FOOOOOD and drink

What am I loving this Thursday? Well the title if this post sort of gives it away....

- LAMB!! - I was taken out for a FABULOUS Italian multicourse dinner at a lovely little bistro on Monday night. The dinner was to thank my friend and I for all we did for the GS 90th celebrations. For various reasons two of the women in charge were not able to be involved much and the load fell to my friend, with me helping out a bit. The women felt bad so treated us to dinner and... WOW! What with my tomato allergy I was a bit worried when we got there and I found it had been preordered, but the staff took it in stride and not a tomato was seen in any if the nearly a dozen courses. The grilled lamb was divine and the mushroom and bacon pasta delicious. I was in a delirium if food coma for my entire train ride home and beyond.

- Margaritas! - Unfortunately work on Tuesday was horrid and then when I thought it was over a smelly old guy fell soundly asleep (could not be woken by any of my shoves) on my shoulder with his buddy beside him letting out the occasional ten decibel snore beside him. Luckily U was awaiting me in Tsukuba and took me out for dinner. He chose a pseudo Mexican restaurant where I washed away my crappy day with fruity frozen margaritas - proven to solve just about everything or make you care a whole lot less!

- Oden - stewed fishpaste balls and veggies and tofu may not sound all that delicious when described in English but there is something comforting about a steaming bowl of oden. And the packs for sale at the supearket make it SUPER easy too! I "made" it for U and I for dinner this weekend and he kept raving about how happy he was that I like oden.

Must run, I'm meeting a friend for shabu-shabu tonight!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Translation Loving

What am I loving this Thursday?

This article.

Totally. Made. My. Day.

I realize getting my translations aren't quite a matter of life or death, but I'm always for quality in translation!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Sarah-chan 2



U bought me a little poinsetta when we were out on the weekend. I promised to let him take it home after Christmas...!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Traffic Jam

Heading home today I got to the station and saw a huge mass of people standing around just inside the gates. "Awww crap," I thought to myself. "The train line is delayed, I'm going to take for ever to get home!" I groaned and steeled myself for my 40 minute commute to take three times longer as I waited for a train...

But I was in luck.

The trains were not delayed. I trotted up the flight of stairs and a minute or two later a train pulled up.

The huge mass of people? Were a line... for the escalator. Yup. The escalator. They were all lining up very calmly to stand on only the left side of the escalator as it went up a short flight of stairs.

Did I mention I took the stairs? (after having to push my way through the line that was snaking its way in front of the gates)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Friday is the new Thursday

TGIF and TILT all in one!

As I took the train to work yesterday morning I was dreading my day. Thursdays are my least favourite workday for a range of reasons, all made worse by frustration over my current project in that department - difficult and terribly tedious translations from bad photocopies of bad photocopies of 150 year-old hand written originals in a range of European languages (mostly French but also some English, Italian, and Dutch thrown in) Since I have no Italian or Dutch abilities and no dictionaries either, this is obviously a frustrating exercise.

The workday lived up to my expectations and I was both in a foul mood and struggling with a faint but annoying headache by the end of it. I wanted to cancel my haircut and go straight home but my bangs were on my eyes and I was looking generally shaggy so I set off. No sooner had I left the museum that I got a phone call from a friend. My advisor was having a dinner party at his place, could I join them. I was not feeling sociable, but agreed. A relaxing haircut (rather shorter than I had been anticipating but loving it!) later I was feeling much refreshed - the hairdresser-induced light headed bouncy-ness put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

The ume-shu (bought especially for me by my advisor), fresh salmon nabe (hot pot), and crisp green apples replaced my light head with a very full (and VERY satisfied) stomach while spending a couple of hours with my advisor and friends cleared me of the last vestiges of my foul mood and reminded me of the importance of good friends!

(the four salmon steaks, two organic apples, and special chestnut desert (kuri mushi yokan) I was sent home with ensure that Thursday's loving will continue through the weekend!)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

E-i-e-i-o.... q!

This morning as I was racing out the door I went to close the open cupboard door and instead knocked my 100 yen store container of 300 q-tips. The container went flying, spraying q-tips everywhere. Since I was in danger of missing my morning train, however, I let them lie and raced off to the station. I realized quite quickly that something was odd with my left boot... but just catching my packed train I had no chance to actually do anything about it until I got to work.

Sure enough, there in the toe of my left boot was a q-tip.

Why do I get the feeling that q-tips are going to be showing up in the oddest of places for the next few months?

"Here a q-tip, there a q-tip, everywhere a q-tip...."

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Squeezing in a TILT

Its only just barely Thursday, so this is going to have to be quick to be done in time, and because it is past my bedtime!

Things I'm loving this Thursday:

- cake at work! On Tuesday there were chocolate covered slices of chocolate roll cake (chocolate roll cake good! dip it in a layer of chocolate?! double good!!) brought as an omiyage by one of my coworkers (I love it when my coworkers go to exciting, or rather yummy places!)

- work! While there are still some issues in one of the departments I work in, things are going really well in one of the other departments. We're currently finishing up a big project, so this has me checking in with various coworkers on and off all day, scurrying about, and checking details and putting it all together - all of which I really enjoy. So much more fun than being stuck staring at a computer in a room all by myself for 6 hours!

- my hot carpet!! With the weather getting cold I love sitting on the hot carpet with a knitted blanket round my knees.

- making plans for Christmas in Canada - I'm slowly getting in touch with friends and family and making plans for our trip back. I'm getting really excited but I think U is just nervous.

- knitting mitts - the size means almost instant gratification and I am loving the fuzzy softness of the yarns I chose (a couple of different yarns combined in an attempt to match a woven shawl I was given last year) (don't worry Umebossy, little O's baby blanket is nearly half done and I will be back to it soon!!!)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rainbow round my shoulders

My year in India affected and changed me in many ways - one of those is my sense of colour. After a year in India fluorescent lime green and deep violet seem an obvious match, as do hot pink and bright orange. Japan is less known for it's use of colour (sure, kimono can have gorgeous colours of all shades, but one glance around the sea of black on my morning commute reminds me that modern Japan can be rather bland). I don't let that bother me, however, and although I'm a far cry from any type of fashionista, my coworkers often compliment my clothes - 9 times out of ten their compliment is colour-based.

So when I found balls of yarn online with gorgeous variegated colour from lime green through turquoise through royal blue, violet, pink, orange and gold, well I fell in love. I originally planned to just make a basic frilled shawl, but a few rows in I realized to my horror that the colours were mixing and it all looked horrible. So I ripped it all out and started again, this time trying out entrelac for the first time. I figured that knitting the entrelac squares would allow blocs of colour to develop and show of the gorgeous yarn... And I was right!






I found a lovely glowing gold to edge the whole thing, and inkjet admit I love it. I love throwing it around my shoulders on a chilly day, the warmth of the shawl is amplified by the warmth of the colours, and it makes me smile just to look at it!



Monday, 1 November 2010

A Pinch of Salt

I went to a funeral on Sunday - or rather I went to the wake. Some of my family and friends in Canada have asked what is involved in a Japanese funeral, so I thought I'd write a few thoughts on my blog... although apparently this particular funeral was a little "different."

My friend is the youngest of five, the only daughter born a number of years after her brothers. Her father was Taiwanese, growing up under Japanese occupation. He passed away nearly two years ago and, shortly after, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it nobly and didn't let it slow her down - she looked after her grandson, made niku-man and Chinese sausages from scratch, continued to write and illustrate kami-shibai (an old form of story-telling with pictures and text written on the back for the story-teller to read out), and, when hospitalized, kept busy making origami gifts (intricate masterpieces with multiple layers) for those around her. Right up until the day she died (rather suddenly but very calmly) she had been planning a special 20th anniversary party for her first kami-shibai story. In those two decades she has created numerous stories, all beautifully illustrated either by paintings or by collages of gorgeous Japanese textiles. She wrote about her family (four brothers welcoming a baby sister to their family, a grandson's special time with grandma, the magic in a mother's touch...), she wrote about the things around her and everyday things. That seems to be the appeal of her work - it resonated for so many young and old. She won many awards for her work, and had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances (the funeral hall was less than half the size need to accommodate all those who came to pay their respects). By all accounts she was an amazing person, and I am sad that I knew her only through her daughter, who is incredibly kind, unfailingly patient, and fiercely stubborn!

When we arrived at the funeral hall - U in a black suit with white shirt and black tie (not to be confused with the same black suit with white shirt and white tie he would wear to a wedding), and me in a black suit and black blouse (neck shockingly bare of the requisite pearl necklace!)... When we arrived at the funeral hall there were receipt-type forms for us to fill out with name and address, which we handed to the reception desk along with a special envelope (purchased from a stationary store or your local convenience store). The envelope (make sure to avoid the one with red writing and decoration used for weddings, and also make sure to chose the black/silver decorated envelope depending on whether the person has just passed away or for the Buddhist memorial ceremony some time after the death) is inscribed with the giver's name written in a special light ink (symbolizing the tears that were shed and mixed in with the ink - a multi-purpose two colour double-ended brush pen is also on sale at the convenience store). The inner envelope is inscribed with the giver's name and address along with the amount of money inside - ranging between 3000 and several million yen depending on the relationship with the deceased, social status, income, etc. The type of bills is also important - the crisp new bills used as a wedding gift are inappropriate at a funeral as it would suggest that you were prepared for, or even impatient for the funeral. Instead old bills are used, but this been clean-obsessed Japan, bills deemed too dirty/creased should be avoided.

Having handed over our envelopes we received a small slip of paper and, since the seats were all filled, were directed to stand in lines of four abreast to watch the ceremony. The ceremony started with the MC (a female employee of the funeral hall at a podium in the back corner of the room) reading a eulogy, then the eldest son rose to say a few words. This was followed by comments (tearful letters to the deceased) from friends, the second of whom performed one of my friend's mother's kami-shibai stories. At the average Buddhist funeral the family members would each light incense in front of the flower-bedecked altar with the photo of the deceased. Instead of incense, my friend's family had prepared white carnations and each person laid one at the table in front of the altar. Once the immediate family members had laid flowers then the important guests did so, bowing to the back-lit photograph and then the family in turn. After them it was our turn, two-by-two we approached the altar, white carnation in hand. What I hadn't realized, or been prepared for, was that the white marble "altar" was actually the casket - with a little window through which you could see the face of my friend's mother deep inside.

As we moved out of the room we were asked for the slips of paper we had presented earlier, and in exchange handed a thank-you gift (a gift box of instant coffee packets and a tin of cookies). We were ushered upstairs to a room of tables with drinks, sushi, and other food. Along one wall was displays of kami-shibai, with a sign encouraging us to pick them up and look at them. We had a few bites of food, admired the kami-shibai on display and then headed back downstairs. My friend and her brothers were standing by the door to thank people as they left. When we came down my friend hurried over, looking thin and drawn and very unlike herself. I let go of Japanese tradition completely to give her a big hug, which she half-returned. She is a very undemonstrative person, so I was rather surprised by this, but U says that when I gave her the hug she had, for a split second, a smile on her face. Evidence, I'd guess, of just how much she needed the hug. Before we either had the chance to break down, I told my friend to call me when things calmed down so we could get together, and U and I slipped away, climbing back into his car and driving home through the overcast night.



Oh, and the title of the post? Comes from the final tradition, one that U and I completely forgot about! Ooops...! Having attended a funeral, you have come in contact with the "pollution" or "uncleanliness" of death. To purify yourself you are supposed to have salt thrown at you before you enter your home - similar to the idea of the sumo wrestlers throwing salt about before a match, salt has purifying properties. That would be why the funeral hall had included a small packet of salt in with our thank-you gift.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Thursday Again

Every week, like clockwork, Thursday comes the day after Wednesday and it seems that every week I'm surprised by it - like Thursday snuck up on me. In related news, my coworkers laughed HYSTERICALLY when in response to a question about the day of the week I said "Its Tuesday all day today." While I remember saying this a lot as a child (yes, I was an annoying child!) but none of my coworkers had ever heard it before. Much to my befuddlement it has added to my reputation at work for being hilarious. I don't quite get it...

Anyways, the fact that it is Thursday means it's time for a TILT, so here are a few things I'm loving this week!

- the weather! I love the cooler weather. I love snuggling up in fleecy pjs under warm blankets to sleep. And the sun yesterday let me do two loads of laundry and make a dent in the mountain in my front hall (my tent and other camping things were covering all available indoor surfaces so I had to wait for a break in the rain).

- raspberry affogado donut at Andonand (upscale cousin of Misdo). Yum! Seriously sinful and yummy. A chocolatey donut drowning in a whip cream-y sauce then drizzles with a slightly tart raspberry sauce.... mmm!

- hearing from my advisor. I had been feeling bad about not being in touch with him for so long, and was wondering how best to go about getting in touch with him when I got a call from him yesterday evening - a friend of his sent some fresh venison so my advisor is calling all his old students for a venison party! Yay!

What are you loving today?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Warming Okaasan

I lost my knitting mojo for a while - not feeling motivated to work on my wip nor did I feel the urge to start something new. I think part of that was I had a finished project laying around without a neck to warm. It is a small light-weight lacy scarf made out of soft brown merino. Not much to look at...


Nor did it take me long to knit up. It was originally a stash-busting project and it wasn't until long after I finished it that I finally decided on who to give it to...


U's mother! She was thrilled with it when I gave it to her on Saturday when we made a very quick stop for U's sleeping bag. It was nice to have something to give her as she, per usual, had lots of gifts for us - sushi dor lunch, a bottle of high quality soy sauce, and a few slices of home-made cheesecake. Happy all-round!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Camping!

U and I went camping last night. My trusty little night had it's Japan debut and U and I tried something new as a couple. We both love camping but had never actually gone together. We started off easy - car camping in a site with full amenities - and I do mean full amenities, the "outhouses!" (A far cry from the sites I camped at in Jasper National Park with their "green thrones" - green plastic seats with lids, open to the sky and beautiful scenery as the local wildlife enjoy chewing painted wood so hut-type outhouses tend not to last.)

Annnnnyways... The site, in Chichibu in Saitama prefecture was great. In addition to drive-up tent sites they have cottages and all sorts of animals (rabbits, ducks, chickens...) and a chatty older guy who lives on-site with his family as managers. He gave us a couple of freshly laid eggs and we got to chatting. A very interesting fellow... He had built the main building and all the animal huts out of... out of empty drink cans and cement! All that is showing of the cans is the circular silver end shining from the grey cement - making for rather unique buildings to say the least. The manager proudly told us about all the TV stations that have featured the site, about all the foreigners who have cone all the way to see the buildings. When he heard my answer to the question "what do you do" he invited us in fir tea by the wood stove and introduced is to his wife, who is descended from one of the important ladies in the Tokugawa ooku (shogun's women's quarters).

Annnnnyways... good site. Good food too. U picked out a packet of "cheese fondue." (No, Cath, nothing like the real thing, the poor boy is in desperate need of a REAL cheese fondue experience) and I had pre-steamed potatoes and broccoli to go along with the crusty French bread. We also grilled thin slices of Spam over the fire and then finished it all of with U's first smores! Yum!!

The only trouble was that poor U forgot how cold it gets nowadays at night so which I was cozy in my trusty long underwear and three-season sleeping bag (that's a CANADIAN three-seasons, meaning the tag declares it handles down to -5), he was wearing a couple of long sleeved shirts and a light sweatshirt with his hiking pants and had only his light sleeping bag. The poor guy was cold and awake for most of the night. I was blissfully unaware and after a week troubled by insomnia slept over 11 hours!

This morning as we sipped hot chocolate and roasted mochi over the fire we excitedly discussed our next camping trip - after a stop at the camping store for a sleeping bag liner for U and a couple if camp chairs (sites in Japan don't tend have picnic tables like sites often do in Canada). It was just the escape we both needed after stressful work weeks. And the rain? It waited until after we visited a couple of shrines and were driving home!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Tis the Season to be Jolly

A while back Umebossy posted on the arrival of fall by alerting us to the fact that toilet seat warmers were on. That's a pretty good indication of the end of summer, but I just saw indication that winter is not far away - the special winter chocolates are in stores.

Yes folks, it's that time of year again, it's Melty Kiss season!!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Short week TILT

With the event running through the long weekend and me taking Tuesday off to recuperate, my work week is only two days old and already it's Thursday. What's not to love?!

As for the event... it was exhausting - I got a normal amount of sleep each night but was so busy during the day that I had to miss a few meals and just generally stay on full "go" for the entire day. But, exhaustion aside, it was a lot of fun! An amazing event to be a part of. Official sources say we had over 6000 people over the course of the three days, and I'm pretty sure that just about every one of them came into the World Centre room we were running. Our photocopied handouts had to be strictly rationed but we still ran out. We sold out of some of our goods (with our very cute elephant logo - still a few tote bags and badges, get yours while they last!). I saw old friends. I networked. I made new friends. I missed an opportunity to meet the Empress. But mostly it was just a very powerful reminder of the incredibeness that is the movement Lord Baden Powell started 100 years ago.

Besides that, well I love U who came all the way out to pick us and all our luggage at the end of the event, to drive us to another event , a final reception we had to run. He then dropped my exhausted fellow organizer at her place and took me home, telling me to go to bed because I had "dead fish eyes." (just what every girl wants to hear, eh?!).

I'm loving the cooler weather and having weekend plans for the next few weeks, and honestly I'm just nerd enough that I am starting to love the challenge I've set for myself over the next few months!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Quickie TILT

Girl Scouts Japan's big 90th event starts Saturday and runs through the long weekend and since I'm staying on-site for the entire event I check in tomorrow night. I still need to pack and should try to get a good night of sleep as something makes me think that it might just be in short supply over the weekend! So my TILT this week will have to be short and sweet.

- mid-week escapes to Tsukuba!! The just seeing U on weekends thing doesn't make either of us very happy, but with U hoping to find a new job, moving just isn't a possiblity right now, so we have to live with it. And one way we do so is by me going up to see him mid-week. Since he lives in a company dorm I can't stay with him so we get a hotel. The area has been developping in leaps and bounds over the past year or so and new hotels have been popping up. We stayed at a brand new place that was your average business hotel except for the onset piped into a big bath and a very nice complementary breakfast. A relaxing evening together and a soak in a big tub were just what we both needed.

- seeing kindness - the surest way to piss me off is to insult my friends, and when I see kindness to someone important to me it makes me doubly happy as not only is something nice being done but also I anticipate my friend's happiness. A few of my friends are going through hard spots right now, and I've mentioned them to U. He has taken to asking me how they are, and is clearly worried. This makes me happy because it shows he likes and cares about my friends and also shows just how good a guy he is.

- The GS event!! A friend (and her two-year old who I have yet to meet) is coming from Kansai, other GS friends will be gathering too, and while Iikely won't have a restful weekend, I am really looking forward to it!!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Monday Vocabulary

When I was little I, like many others I'm sure, loved Sesame Street. My dad would probably tell you that I preferred Mr. Rogers or Mr. Dress-up, and while he'd be right, I'll always have a soft spot on my heart for Snuffleupagus. Looking back I also like the idea of a letter and a number for the day - the "today's program brought to you by the letter 'C' and the number '3.' It makes sense paedeologically - breaks down a big lesson (all the letters of the alphabet and all numbers) into manageable bits, you learn a little more each day, and lessons are reinforced with examples (lots of 'c' words and groups of three). I'm doing the very same thing studying for the JLPT, thanks to a handy kanji and vocal application for my iPhone I've even been doing it just about daily too.

Yesterday, however the universe (or at least a couple of train companies) ganged up to impose a word on me. My word for yesterday? Chien-shomeisho (or chien-sho). It's the slip of paper handed out by train companies to passengers when a train is delayed - like the notes parents write to excuse a child's absence from school. A sort of get-out-of-being-late-for-free card. And my number? Three - as in three out of three of my morning trains were late and handing out chiensho.

I dutifully collected my chiensho and tried not to run over too many obachan as I raced for my transfers. I was at my desk only 15 minutes late.

Happy Monday - what way to start the week!

What letter and number was your day brought to you by?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Jumping off the bridge...

Just because it seems as though all the blogs I read are doing it, here's a meme...


1. What’s your middle name?
Ann – my mother’s middle name (and the name she went by), and my maternal grandmother’s name, who I was named after.

2. What’s your favorite magazine?
I have subscriptions to Being A Broad and the Canadian Museum Studies Association magazine, but don’t actually read either as often as I would like to…

3. What are you wearing right now?
My pjs – a pair of U’s boxers and a ‘I am Canadian’ Molson beer t-shirt.

4. What color are your bed sheets?
Futon covers are pale green, sheet is white. But I also have pale blue and bright orange… none matching…

5. Who was your third grade teacher?
Grade three? Umm… Grade 4 was Mrs. Kay, grade 5 was Ms. Bender… but no recollection of any names before that.

6. What is the weather like right now?
LOVELY! Today was warm and sunny with a nice breeze, right now it is chilly enough that I’m going to want a blanket but not too cold.

7. Do you know how to ski?
In theory? Yes. In practice… not so much. I took skiing lessons in high school with a friend. They were supposed to be beginner lessons but everybody else but me turned out to not actually be beginners and so our teacher jumped ahead and took us on harder hills when all I wanted was to stay on the bunny hill.

8. What was the last thing you drank?
Green apple chuhai!

9. Dream vacation?
Lots of them! Easter Island, Macchu Picchu, Thailand, Italy, France, Mexico, go back to India…

10. Favorite article of clothing?
ummm??

11. Do you prefer baking or cooking?
Baking. Am looking VERY forward to moving to a place with enough kitchen space for an oven!

12. Is your hair above or below your shoulders?
Above.

13. What drink do you order when out?
That depends on where! If it’s a coffee type place then a caramel latte with non-fat milk. If a drinking type place then ume-shu and soda. Last week a friend took me to a vinegar restaurant and I had mango vinegar soda – wow it was AMAZING! So that is the drink I’d most like to order next time I’m out.

14. What book are you reading?
A study guide/practice book for the JLPT exam… terribly exciting!

15. What did you dream about last night?
Ummmm… Don’t remember! It wasn’t the dream I had a couple of times last week, however, the one where I dreamed U dumped me and went off into the sunset!

16. What was the last movie you went to?
The new Ghibli movie based on ‘The Borrowers,” a book (or rather a series of books) that I LOVED as a child. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and was quite impressed by how much they “got right” despite everything they changed!

17. Any injuries at the moment?
None besides self-inflicted stomach issues… (see #48 about allergies – I love okonomiyaki, my stomach, on the other hand, is not so happy about okonomiyaki sauce)

18. What color is your bathroom?
White.

19. What’s the state of your laundry right now?
One half-dry load is on the line outside and another load (*cough* or two *cough*) of dry is on the sofa awaiting to be folded and put away.

20. Do you take vitamins?
Not now.

21. Where do you love to shop?
Stationary stores make me very happy. Book stores make my hands itch… in a good way! Craft stores too! As for clothing stores… in Japan I admit to being a Uniqlo-er if for no other reason than the stuff actually fits (or at least the tops do… I have enough trouble finding pants long enough for me in Canada, there is no way I’m going to find anything here!)

22. How often do you buy groceries?
Pretty much every other day I pick up something, especially since my local grocery store stopped carrying 1L containers of non-fat milk and I am stuck buying the half-litre packs that hold just about enough for two days worth of lattes.

23. Do you have a pet/pets?
No

24. If you are married, when is your next anniversary?
N/A

25. How do you take your coffee and/or tea?
Milk and sugar – although if its coffee I prefer caramel syrup to sugar. If its herbal tea then no milk and honey instead of sugar.

26. Mac or PC? Desktop or Laptop?
Dell laptop as my “desktop” and an itty bitty Vaio-p that I LOVE!!

27. Favorite month of the year?
Probably October – Thanksgiving (TURKEY!), the beginning of fall...

28. Do you have a hobby?
Knitting! Kayaking (when I have access to my kayak, which is currently hanging in my father’s garage)

29. What salad dressing do you prefer?
I’m going to go with what seems to be a popular favourite and say balsamic vinaigrette.

30. Live or fake Christmas tree?
Live, although the fake tree U and I decorated last year was pretty cute.

31. Did you walk or take a bus to school?
I walked for the first five years, then two years of getting driven in the AM and busing home, then half a year of bright yellow school bus (with a transfer to a second bus to go to the middle school), then a year and a half of public transit bus, then two years of walking, and finally a year of being driven in the AM and busing it home combined with the occasional drive myself once I got my license. (phew! yes, I moved and changed schools A LOT growing up)

32. Do you have any phobias?
Non food-related ones? (see #48 re allergies)

33. What’s your favorite snack food?
Sweet or savoury? Sweet I’d have to go with chocolate, savoury would probably be cheese flavoured nachos… or the sour cream and onion ripple chips they used to sell when I was a kid…

34. When do you take your shower/bath?
In the morning when I wake up.

35. What time did you get up this morning?
9:30

36. What’s your favorite animal?
Every single person who has ever seen my apartment can answer that question… PENGUINS!

37. Have you ever broken a bone?
Nope. I’m quite amazed, actually. I am a klutz and very good at giving myself huge purple bruises, but (KNOCK WOOD) nothing broken yet!

38. Do you wear makeup?
Definitely to work, and yes for just about everything else, although increasingly not on weekends.

39. Do you speak any foreign languages?
Define “foreign” language! I live in Japan so that would make Japanese not really a “foreign” language, right? Canada is officially bilingual so neither French nor English are “foreign.” And I’ve forgotten just about all the German I ever learned…

40. Have you ever played a sport?
Played soccer through elementary school, one season of softball (that I DESPISED)

41. Your last UPS package contained …
After a horribly bad experience with UPS I prefer not to use them… shudder! But, my last parcel was from the Girl Scout Centre in Mexico – they were kind enough to send us a uniform for us to use as a display at the upcoming GS event!

42. What’s on your desktop?
Who, not what. Trevor Linden (SWOON!)

43. What is your home page?
CBC

44. Extrovert or introvert?
Definitely an extrovert when I know the people I’m with. When I don’t? Not so much!

45. Favorite board game?
Haven’t played a board game in far too long! When I was little I LOVED Sleeping Grump – a great collaborative board game.

46. What class did you like best in high school? In college?
In high school I was a math nerd – I was one of the few students who took all of the available math classes and I loved it. In undergrad my favourite classes were my Japanese history classes.

47. What would you do with an extra hour each day?
Hopefully try and tick a few more things off my to do list - especially using the Wii Fit more regularly.

48. Do you have allergies?
Tomatoes (and, to some extent peppers, eggplant, and lately my stomach seems to be unhappy with large amounts of garlic… sigh) Oh, and sulfa drugs. (thankfully the latter are less likely to be hiding in a bowl of curry or under a leaf of lettuce)

49. Are your nails painted?
Nope. One of the women at my hairdresser’s is always trying to convince me to get them done and I can’t be bothered. I did for a while but having to keep them short to help with the hands-on curatorial class at school put an end to that.

50. Where are you right now?
Ummmmm, sitting in front of the computer?!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

TILTing on the train

With the big Girl Scout event happening in just over a week I've been kept more than busy lately and a busy Sarah is a happy Sarah! I've been meaning to do a 'Things I love Thursday' post for a few weeks now, so this'll be a round-up.

- the reason for the title and the reason for my smile since I picked it up last night - I'm now the owner of a brand new iPhone 4! Emailing during my morning commute makes being squashed into some sweaty businessman slightly bearable!

- meals with friends - good food and conversation, how can you go wrong? Especially when one of those meal partners is an 'old' friend back in Japan for a month?!

- using my long unused French! One of my projects right now at work is translating 150 year old French newspaper articles into Japanese. It is a challenge and I love it!

- planning our Christmas trip to Canada! U decided he had to take advantage of the strong yen and has already changed his money!

- knitting! Thanks to a friend and her recent announcement I have a very good reason to be knitting. I've put aside a scarf that was boring me and being ignored (and thereby not getting knit). Baby knitting is fun!! With the cooler weather I've also started using some of my hand knits, wrapping myself in something I made myself is incredibly rewarding.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Weekend Why...

Why is it that U, who lives in a company dorm with no regular access to a kitchen, who is always suggesting we go out for meals, who had never really cooked before he met me, why does he have a thing for kitchen gadgets?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! Not complaining at all! U buying kitchen gadgets = Sarah getting a fun new toy to play with, after all! But it does amuse me!

A while back he became obsessed with the Lekue steam case and I have been enjoying steaming food (veggies, banana bread, chocolate cake...). It is never something I would have bought myself, but I am really happy to have it in my kitchen now, as I love how super quick and easy it is to use.

Today we went to the Indian Festival at Yoyogi park and found a mini farmer's market type group of stalls nearby. U stopped at a handmade bamboo goods stall and became entranced by the daikon grater. (me, I was off fondling handspun yarn...) I convinced U that I did not need the full-size daikon grater (it would have taken up my entire counter space when set out and would not fit in the limited cupboard space... well at least not unless I continue on breaking dishes at the same pace I have the past few days, at this rate I'll be out of dishes by late next week!) The mini-sized grater, however, found its way home with us and I guess I'm going to have to go buy a daikon now!

I wonder what will be next...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Garam Chai!

One of my favourite memories of travelling around India was the chai wallahs – the men who would come around selling paper cups of hot milky sweet spiced tea. Sometimes there would sell a coffee version, and sometimes one or the other would be without spices or even sugar, but every morning I woke up on the train I awoke to the call of the chai wallah yelling “chai! Garam chai! Garam chai!”

Trains definitely weren't the only place I could get chai, however, and they weren't the best either. When I visited the home of a friend or acquaintance, when I went to the hairdresser or was waiting in a shop, a cup of chai would often be offered. It seemed that each and every time was different, each person seemed to have their own ingredients and amounts. One friend’s chai was thick and sweet – made with extra sugar and more milk that water, another friend’s was more strongly tea flavoured – she boiled the teabag for longer and put the spices in near the end, my hairdresser’s was light and aromatic – she used lemongrass and no cardamon… Most of my Indian friends used the same type of tea – a loose semi-powdered strong black tea, but since leaving India I've seen chai made from decaf black tea, herbal teas, green teas, red roiboos teas, and, then there was La Fuji Mama:s barley tea chai with mugi-cha! When you think about all the different methods, spices, teas, and the variations thereof… well the variations of chai are endless!

Part of my preparations for the big Girl Scout event next month was to make a “chai recipe sheet” for us to include with the logo-ed mugs we are selling. I decided that just one recipe wasn't going to cut it, so ended up making a multiple-page little booklet with information about the spices, various chai spice mixtures, and then some info about Indian desserts as well. But to be able to write about various flavours of chai I had to try them myself first, and try out the basic recipe too. So I hosted a planning meeting at my place where we also made 8 (yes, EIGHT) batches of chai. Each batch was slightly different from the other and, for the most part I was the only one who knew what was in each. We numbered paper cups and each got 1/4 of a cup of each batch, which we tasted one by one, sort of like a wine tasting – discussing the spice mixture and flavour. In the end we came up with five mixtures that we liked, and I used those for the recipe book.

Hearing all about the chai-tasting, U demanded that I make him chai sometime, so I went out and bought all the spices for my own kitchen. I was worried when I did that I might end up making chai once and then having all the spices cluttering up my cupboard and gathering dust. I needn't have worried, however, as I've found myself making chai a number of times a week now. Sure it takes more effort than just brewing a cup of regular tea, but it is ever so worth the extra effort. Ever so worth it!

And while I would love to have everybody who reads my blog come out to the event and buy their own tea goods to get my chai recipes, I'm guessing it'd be just a liiiitle too far for some of you! So, here goes...

1 cup water
enough tea for one cup (bag or loose)
spices
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tbsp sugar (more or less to taste)

(I use skim milk instead of the 3.7% that is more common in Japan, so I switch my water and milk amounts)

1)Heat water in pan over low heat. When it starts to boil add tea and continue to simmer for 1 minute.
2)Add spices. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes.
3)Add sugar and milk. Stir occasionally and heat for 3-5 minutes (should be light brown in colour).
4)Strain and pour into mug.
5)ENJOY!


Spice suggestions:
-basic chai: cinnamon (stick) 6 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves
-fragrant chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1 tbsp lemongrass
-sweet chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
-warming chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 4 cloves, 1/2 tbsp ginger powder
-spicy chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/4 tsp black pepper

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

(mostly) Wordless Wednesday - Prambanan

After starting our day very early with the pre-dawn climb up the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, U and I relaxed for the rest of the morning before heading out to the Hindu temples of Prambanan on our way back to Yogyakarta. The temples have been badly damaged numerous times by earthquakes and other disasters, and the pile of orderly rubble around the temples shows just how much still is left to be done despite their beauty.





U and I wandered around the temples and the park, only to catch sight of something that was so odd and out of place, and yet so perfect, given where U used to live...



Only these deer were behind a fence and thus didn't try to eat our map - unlike their cousins in Nara!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Eating (a) Head

If I learned anything from TV when I was little (besides developing a crush on the CBC's anchorman Nolton Nash) it was that there was a proper order for eating things.



I mean, I've never really been a fan of Smarties, but I feel the need to save red-coloured candies for last, even now more than twenty years after that commercial ran in Canada!

So when presented with a rather cute frog-shaped souvenir sweet by a coworker today, I knew there had to be a proper order for eating said adorable bug-eyed little guy.

I debated the issue with my bemused coworkers (they are used to odd conversations at lunch with me by now), first coming up with the example of chocolate Easter bunnies - I would unwrap the top and nibble off the ears slowly before chomping the head and gradually moving down the body. The head had to be eaten first - it was the only humane thing to do for the poor bunny (never mind that it may have taken me a while to get past the ears).

Not used to chocolate rabbits, my Japanese coworker countered with the example of tai-yaki, a fish-shaped sweet filled with red bean paste. One of the two women breaks her fish in half and then eats it, while the other woman admitted to eating from the tail - leaving the face for last.

What about you? Are you a head first or tail/toes first person?



More to the point, perhaps, when the sweet in question, however, is ALL head, with especially cute bug-eyes, how do you go about eating it? (and no, shoving it all in your mouth at once is NOT an option!)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Death of Sarah-chan

Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t much enjoy the heat we’ve had this summer. There is another Sarah-chan who has fared even worse. I even have before and after pics to prove the point.

But first let me go back, to when I first met Sarah-chan. It was mid-December and she was healthy and happy – she likes the cold weather. Of course, I didn’t call her Sarah-chan then, that was a name given to her many months later by U, but I digress. Sarah-chan and I met in the train station near school, she was gorgeous and caught my eye from where she sat at the front of the florist’s display. Her bright red leaves made me smile and remember my mother’s Christmas tradition of buying the reddest poinsettia she could find for my grandmother every year. While my grandmother’s annual gift tended to be quite large, I was attracted to Sarah-chan because of her diminutive size. I knew she would fit perfectly on my desk beside my computer and give me a little bit of Christmas spirit as I worked on my thesis through the holidays. And that she did, I loved having her there beside my computer almost seeming to cheer me on.

I finished my thesis a few weeks after Christmas and began spending less time at my computer. Sarah-chan became somewhat neglected, no longer did she get asked for advice on which word sounded better in a certain sentence, but perhaps more importantly, her waterings became rather more irregular. By the time I left for Canada in early February her red leaves had all fallen off, and she was looking rather scrawny. I was going to toss her – who keeps poinsettias after Christmas anyways? I’m sure grandma chucked hers a few weeks after New Years every year!

But U came to little Sarah-chan’s rescue. Perhaps he was lonely wanted something to look after while I was away for 3 whole weeks. I happily gave her to him, however, figuring that she’d die on him in a week or two anyways.

Much to my surprise, however, when I came back to Tokyo, U proudly announced Sarah-chan was healthy and green. It took me a while to figure out who or what he was talking about (it was his first use of the nickname for the plant, and I spent the longest time trying to figure out if it was a good thing that I had turned green or not…), but once I did figure it out I told a very happy U that he was welcome to keep her. He was full of plans to lavish her with care and love and bring her back to my apartment the following Christmas. I’m not sure if Sarah-chan will be able to become a redhead again after going green, but I wasn’t about to rain on his dream. He was taking it all so seriously after all – opening the curtains every morning and leaving them open so little Sarah-chan could get her daily dose of sunlight, watering her regularly, and meticulously watching her leaves for any sign of wilting.


Fast forward to the middle of summer. Poor Sarah-chan didn’t much like a week alone in the very warm confines of U’s dorm room. She looked very wilted when he got back, but regular waterings and the use of the AC at night (I convinced U he didn’t need to leave the AC on in his empty dorm room all day for the sake of a plant), and she started perking up.

It was then that poor Sarah was poisoned. U came back from Indonesia to discover his dorm room had been taken over by a horde of dust mites. No amount of sheet washing or dusting or vacuuming was getting rid of them so he went and bought a bug bomb. The first one didn’t get the suckers and he was still getting covered in little welts every night, so he bought a second stronger bug bomb, letting it off as he left to come to my place for the weekend.

When he got back Sarah-chan was looking wilted again. He turned on the AC and gave her some water as he cleaned up the residue from the bug bomb, figuring she was just over-heated and thirsty. A few days went by, however, and she continued to sicken, getting more and more wilted as she gradually lost the strength to hold her leaves up tall. Having realized what he did, U tried rinsing off her leaves and planned to buy special plant food for her. Long days at work, however, meant he wasn’t able to buy the plant food and poor Sarah-chan continued to sicken.


Her once green leaves are now brown and crinkly and still U refuses to get rid of her. He is heart broken that he let down poor Sarah-chan. I think he feels he let me down in letting her die and I can’t seem to convince him that he actually saved her and gave her an extra half year of life.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Forget Forrest and his box of chocolates...

Pearls of wisdom from NHK's morning soap opera:

Life is like a cloud blown by the wind, you never know where you'll end up... No, no, no, thats not right... Life is like a fart. Yes, a fart! You make a lot of noise and attract a lot of attention when entering the world, you annoy some and amuse others, but all too soon its all over and you disappear into nothing.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Getting back on the TILT wagon

I know things haven't been nearly as crappy as they seem lately, but everything got tainted with the same negativity so I wanted to get back to doing Things-I-love-Thursdays. So here goes...

- the weather today! I know reports say Tokyo will be melting again soon (over 35 on Saturday) but today was cool and sunny and lovely.

- random care packages! (thanks Cath!!) I opened my mailbox yesterday to find a thick brown envelope with a fun kids book and a bar of Swiss chocolate (that had completely liquefied in the heat and needed a time-out in the fridge).

- SWISS CHOCOLATE! After a day in the fridge the liquefied bar showed absolutely no bad side effects - if anything being even more creamy and melt in your mouth delicious. I had planned to use it as an award for having finished the translation I am currently working on... but my will power apparently isn't that good... oops.

Speaking of translations... I had thought I was almost done with this particular contract, only to open my inbox and discover a frantic email from the same art gallery - they just realized that a few images in the exhibit opening next week are actually new ones and don't have English titles yet... could I translate their titles in the next few days? Right then... enough procrastinating from me!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sort of Wordless Wednesday - Taman Mini

One of the most fun days I had in Indonesia was the one U and I and our friends spend at Taman Mini, a theme park / museum of Indonesian culture outside of Jakarta. It is a crazy mix of traditional type houses with cultural displays and B-rank theme park (no big rides but there was a gondola going back and forth above the park, a monorail going around it, swan boats on the central lake, bikes for four for rent, and a range of other "rides").

I spent a lot of my time giggling - until the heat and lack of food got to me and the rest of us and we all just about collapsed en mass!

So here's Taman Mini:

the "traditional" houses and the gondola


the castle (because all good theme parks need a castle)


the fake animals (only seconds after taking this picture I had my head between the jaws of the tiger... tee hee!)


and the characters off-duty



(The characters, with their heads on, would run up to you, pose for a photo, and then ask for money... it kind of freaked me out when I saw them all later without their heads to find out they were this dodgy looking middle aged guy and a couple of toothless women in their sixties...)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Yay for September!

I am pretty happy to see the end of August - it started of really with an amazing week in Indonesia - but went downwards immediately upon our return and didn't get much better. Getting sick, then some stuff at work, worries about a Japanese friend and her adventures in the less-than-stellar Japanese mental health system...

But September is here and a long-awaited break to the never-ending higher than average disgusting summer heat has to be just around the corner, right? Right???

Either way I have an art gallery translation contract to translate and a huge Girl Scout event to plan for - that should keep me busy! I've also decided to finally take level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I passed level 2 over a decade ago and have kept on putting off taking the next step. I don't think my kanji or esoteric grammar skills are good enough to pass but I'm not worried as the real reason I'm taking the test is to make me study Japanese with the hopes of passing a different exam in January.

Also, I discovered a silver lining to getting sick and loosing my appetite - when I pulled out the much-neglected Wii yesterday it told me I had lost more than 2 kilos! I don't recommend it as a diet technique but I'll happily accept the results! especially since as U's been working late a lot the past few months and that means late night dinners of ramen or fast food - the only places open when he heads back to his dorm late, and that means weight gain, so I actually weigh less than him now - tee hee!!

So there's plenty to look forward to, here's to the promise of fall!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

One year

It has been a year since Rachel first launched the Washoku Warriors on La Fuji Mama, and I'm rather proud to say that with just one exception (when my thesis was due only days later and sleep had been all but eliminated as a luxury), I've participated in every challege. I've enjoyed learning some of the basics of a cuisine that I eat (and cook) on a regular basis, and I've actually loved forcing myself to follow a recipe once in a while.

But the past year has another significance for me, it has been a year since U and I started dating. It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that this most recent challenge was cooked entirely by him. We didn't plan it this way, but one thing (a week in Indonesia) led to another (stomach troubles and a summer cold or perhaps a case of Dengue Fever???) led to another (taking time off work and spending long periods of time in bed) and I didn't have much appetite nor desire to cook. When U asked me what I wanted to eat one night my sore throat and weak stomach wanted nothing more than a plain broth, but I knew I needed something that would give me a bit of energy. I didn't feel like rice gruel, which would be what is eaten when sick in Japan. U seemed wary when I suggested chicken noodle soup and I honestly didn't have the energy to find a good recipe for him to follow, so I started wracking my brains for a Japanese equivalent.

Suddenly it occurred to me that Andoh had a tonjiru (miso-based pork soup with veggies and tofu) recipe that would be both good for my stomach and easy for U to make... and it would satisfy this month's challege too! (That's three birds with a single stone... or rather a big batch of delicious soup!!) So U pulled out Andoh's book and I wrote him a shopping list before I curled up for a nap. When I awoke the apartment was filled with smells that were tempting even my nonexistent tastebuds.

Tonjiru is a soup that appears often in Japan, especially in winter. It appears at just about every Girl Scout camp as it is simple enough to make and yet requires the girls to chop up lots of different veggies and thus feel like they've done something. I've eaten many bowls of tonjiru out of doors, in cold weather, and appreciated the warmth and simple goodness of the soup. Despite the hot summer weather, and despite my lack of appetite, I appreciated the bowl U put in front of me too. I finished it off and curled up for another nap, feeling cared for and loved.

I'd say that's one pretty darn good bowl of soup... although you'll have to trust me on that as my photography skills were rather lacking!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Tadaima

We're home. We got back yesterday and I had a blog post written (complete with a video to upload) in my head. But then a few hours after we got back to my apartment... well... I was struck with a bad case of traveller's tummy. Suffice to say that I was VERY glad my stomach had decided to wait until I was safely home and had easy access to a nice toilet but it did mean I got nothing done yesterday and although things had settled down by morning I was was still so weak that I had to call in sick and take the day off work.

But annnnyways... Indonesia was amazing. Incredible. We had a FABULOUS time. U did better than I would have imagined and LOVED it. He's started dreaming about our next trip together. While I doubt we'll be quitting our jobs to travel the world for months on end any time soon, it is exciting that he's caught the travel bug and I'm looking forward to many many adventures to come.

I will be sharing some photos and stories from Indonesia soon, but for the time being I'll just post this one (rather poor quality) video as I want to go to work tomorrow and feel the need to crawl into bed early. The video is of a mama orangutan and her 2-ish year old baby that we saw wild in the Sumatran jungle... pretty darn cool if I do say so myself!!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ittekimasu!

We've gotten our shots, our bags are (mostly) packed, and we have to be at Narita early early early in the morning. U and I are off to Indonesia for just over a week - visiting good friends who are there for a year on research. I'm excited and a little nervous, U's nervous and a little excited. Its only his second real overseas trip (a few days in South Korea for a conference don't count as he didn't even leave the conference hotel!), and the last time he went to the Grand Canyon so Indonesia will be.... a little different! We'll be visiting a world heritage site temple complex, hitting up a few museums, but most excitingly going on an overnight jungle hike!

Ittekimasu!!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cooling addiction

My name is Sarah and I am an addict.

It all started last year with one simple purchase at the discount grocery store. It was an impulse purchase - it was hot and muggy out and I was equally hot and sweaty. I would have bought a popsicle if the store had a frozen section but they didn't, so instead I bought a package of freeze-yourself freezies. I couldn't wait until they were fully frozen to try one, and they rest disappeared a few at a time over the next few days - one or two to cool down each time I came home. I tried to cut back, but I found myself addicted to the frozen coloured sugar and unable to stop until the weather cooled down.

This summer I decided I wanted to do something about my addiction, and not just give in to the temptation. But a cool frozen snack is so perfect after having arrived home that I just didn't have the heart to go cold turkey... or rather hot turkey!

After reading la Fuji Mama's post last fall about her yogurt pops, I tried a few variations of my own but was not quite satisfied with the result. Then I read Bakerella's post about the King of Pops and thought.. hey! That sounds DELICIOUS!

I made my first batch with canned mangoes with a bit of my home-made yogurt. They disappeared quickly. Batch two was blueberries with kiwi and while I love the tart/sweet combo I admit it would have been better with more blueberries and less kiwi. My latest batch was peach and tart plum - sweet and a little tart, but lighter than the others. I'm already planning blueberries with raspberries next time, and I want to try the blueberry/kiwi again to improve it... U has requested (VERY STRONGLY) that I make the mango for him next time he's down... And I'd love to figure out someway of using oranges/grapefruit/citrus as frozen mikan are a great summer treat!

Any ideas?

Puja

When I was in India one of the Canadian girls I lived/worked with had a problem with ants. The Centre's Indian staff decided that what was needed was a puja, a Hindu ritual. The puja was sure to rid the room of ants. The only trouble was that the puja involved leaving an offering in the room for a certain amount of time, an offering of part of a coconut and sugar.

The ants in India could find their way into a sealed plastic container. In the staff room the sugar for our tea was kept in a metal container in the freezer. A pile of sugar on the floor in the middle of the room? The ants found it in no time. And they called their friends, and their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends. The room was crawling with more ants than it ever had been.

Judicious use of anti-ant spray and much clean-up later, the room was ant free. It even stayed that way for a significant amount of time - meaning that the Indian staff INSISTED on the efficacy of the puja. Afterall the puja had been performed and now there were no ants, right?

Well I'm wishing I could have them perform a puja in my room. Not an anti-ant puja, mind you, but an anti-roach one. Just about every time I go to the toilet I find an itty bitty roach baby scuttling about (fairly easy to squish and flush but still I'd rather not have to do so every time I need to pee!) and I'm finding the odd bigger (but still not all that big really) one elsewhere - running across the kitchen wall, or scuttling into the shoe rack, or escaping into the folds of the curtain.

Roaches where a problem before I moved in, but besides the odd one last summer, they haven't been a problem since. But this year it seems they've decided to invade. I've laid traps and roach killer all over, and have spray at the ready, but it doesn't seem to be doing any good. Definately time for some divine intervention. I just need to dig out my diyaa and find a fresh coconut...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Public Clipping

I’ve see Japanese students clip their fingernails in class. My nextdoor neighbour often stands out in the outdoor hallway to our rooms and cuts his nails into the flower bed. A couple of weeks ago U bought a little nail clipper at the 100 yen shop and, when I came out of the bathroom, I found him sitting on a bench in corner of the mall by the toilets, clipping his nails (ignoring the clippings that were falling to the ground). Recently a co-worker has started doing it at work – he’ll get up from his seat at the computer and either go to the garbage can behind my desk or, if he’s feeling generous, into the small kitchenette down the hall.


Given my reaction to both the public nail cutting and the littering of nail clippings, I doubt U will cut his nails in public again - at least when i'm around... but my friendly elderly neighbour is less easily influenced... sigh...

Has anybody else seen this happen? Am I the only one who finds this odd and/or disgusting?

Although really, I suppose I could be witnessing worse things - like the student plucking his nose hairs in class, or my next-next-door neighbour who likes saying goodnight and good morning to the entire neighbourhood with an enthusiastic long hacking up of lung on his balcony, or random old men peeing in public!

I just always thought that triming your nails was something you did in the privacy of your own home. But then again with all the girls putting on their make-up on the trains I guess the guys want to get in on the public grooming action? (and yes, all of the examples I mentioned ARE guys, but is that just because most of the girls are wearing fake nails and sparkly nail art?)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Noodle Chill'n

This month's Washoku Warriors challenge was chilled noodles - either thin somen noodles or hiyashi chuka (chilled chinese noodle salad). Since I made hiyashi chuka last summer as part of the miso challenge I decided to make somen. U wasn't impressed - he couldn't figure out what there was to make as somen are a super quick and easy meal that takes almost no effort to as the dipping sauce for the chilled noodles tends to come from a bottle. When I explained that no, I'd actually be making the sauce from scratch he was very surprised! I was equally surprised by how easy it was to make the sauce and by how much better it is than the store bought bottled stuff.


I loved having lots of fresh toppings - grated ginger, chopped green onions, shiso, and roasted seaweed - and the dipping sauce was a perfect balance of salty/sweet/flavourful... mmmm!

A few nights later, after one night of somen salad (lettuce and other veggies thrown on top of the somen and tossed with a sesame dressing) as I was wondering what to do with the rest of my package of noodles, I happened to turn on the tv to a prime-time cooking game show. The show has tv personalities come up with yummy easy recipes that are super fast (some recipes are under a minute in prep time, whereas others or entire meals can take up to 10 minutes). These aren't gourmet meals, nor are they using ingredients from scratch most of the time (like the gratin made with left-over rice, ketchup, potato croquette, and shredded processed cheese), but the recipes are easy and fun. The theme the night I was watching happened to be somen, and the contestants had to mix up a fresh take on the dipping sauce and deliver it to the taste-testers before the noodles found their way down the bamboo water-slide and past the testers. Some of the mixtures the contestants came up with were downright odd and despite the rapturous claims of "DELICIOUS!!" squeeled by the testers, I wasn't so sure... (I mean come on, my tomato allergy aside, throwing salsa and ground parmesan into the soy sauce-based dipping sauce?! urrrrmmm....) But there was one recipe that caught my interest, for a spicy tantan somen - made by adding only three ingredients to the usual dipping sauce!

So I gave it a try...


and it was DELICIOUS! Sweet and spicy and creamy... and spicy! Obviously not as good as if I had spent hours slaving over a real tantan noodle soup, but amazing for something that took me less than 2 minutes to mix up with things that were already in my cupboard. Any guesses? (a hint - one's very Japanese, one's very North American, and the third is not originally Japanese but is currently a super popular item here)

Monday, 12 July 2010

HmmMonday

Walking to the train station in the rain this morning I saw an older lady ride by on her bike. She had eschewed an umbrella but was clutching a clear plastic garbage bag containing her brand-name pursed in a plastic bag. Wouldn't want Louis Vuitton to get wet, right?! Makes sense.

What didn't make so much sense, however, was the message on the bag - "eco-bag."

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Guiding across language barriers

I've been involved with Girl Guides/Scouts on and off since I was about 6 years old and I wanted to be cool like all the other little girls in my grade 1 class and wear the beeeeeautiful brown dress to school on Wednesdays and sell cookies (thankfully my fashion sense, although not terribly good has improved since then, just wish I could say the same for my taste buds... mmm Girl Guide cookies! mmmmm....) My mother balked, as she thought Guiding was a para-military movement. But I joined, and had great fun including my first camp - a one night sleep-over where, much to the amusement of my leader, the four of us in my tent ended up rolling about so much in our sleep that we used each other as pillows!

I became a leader first in Canada as an undergrad, found a troop to join while on exchange in Osaka, then started my own troop in the US as a grad student, visited a troop on a semi-regular basis in India, and now the troop in Tokyo that I've been with for four years. It has been an incredible experience to learn about Guiding/Scouting in so many different countries, but it has also had a drawback, having to get used to Guiding/Scouting in so many countries means having to learn a new set of rules, a new set of customs, and a new set of songs each and every time. Sure the handshake is the same, and many of formal songs have been translated or are the same, but the little things are different.

Or at least they normally are.

I just got back from a one-night camp that managed to tie in just about everywhere I've been in my Guiding career. There was the Brownie sleeping next to me who kicked off her blanket when she was hot and then got cold and thought my sleeping bag was hers, so tried to steal it and ended up using my feet as a pillow, much to the amusement of one of the other leaders. One of the other leaders had decided to teach the girls a whole bunch of new songs, two of which turned out to be my FAVOURITE Japanese camp songs - one from Osaka and one from the Japanese girl I worked with in India. And then, when we had finished other tasks early and were waiting for dinner, I suddenly had a brainwave and came up with a song from my days as a Brownie that my Japanese brownie could also sing! Aie Oonie. They weren't too sure about it at first - it sounds pretty silly and the hand motions can be confusing, but the next morning they asked to sing it again as we were waiting for their parents to pick them up, and after a dozen or so times they had all the words and actions down and were BEGGING to PLEEEEEEEEEASE sing it just ONNNNE MOOOOOORE TIME!

Sure I got less than 4 hours of sleep on a hard church building floor in a room that alternated between freezingly way over-air conditioned to stiflingly warm and humid, but I honestly can't think of a better way to spend my Saturday night.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Omiai and omimai.

Two very similar-sounding words with VERY different meanings.

Omiai means a set-up or arranged meeting (as in arranged marriage). Omimai is going to visit a sick person. I know the difference but, much to the amusement of friends and coworkers, my tongue seems to always want to say the wrong one!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Long time no TILT

So I'd like to say that I've been neglecting my blog because I've been crazy busy, but it is more like after a couple of weeks of being crazy busy I've been relaxing and largely avoiding my computer. It doesn't help that I've also been away for the past few weekends, spending them with U as his car is in the process of dying and he doesn't trust it for the drive down to Tokyo. The good news, however, is that one of the things we did the weekend before last was to go car shopping! While the plastic wrap covering the seats and just about everywhere else in the cars we test drove was somewhat disconcerting, the whole process was actually much less painful than I had worried and I was pleasantly surprised with the guy at the dealership who spoke to both me and U equally and never once treated me differently or made me feel like a foreigner.

So, besides the new car that will be arriving in two weeks, what am I loving this Thursday?

- meeting a bloggy friend in real life! She visited the museum and we went for lunch. It was great to meet her and I look forward to doing so again soon, but I couldn't get over the very odd feeling of having a conversation with somebody I'd only just met and yet already "knew."

- my microwave steamer! U heard about these steamer containers for microwaves. When we were shopping the weekend before last we passed a kitchen shop and he dragged me in to take a look. The entire recipe book caught my interest - with all sorts of super simple and delicious looking recipes - but U was taken by one particular recipe - for chocolate cake! Since he lives in a company dorm and has no cooking facilities he ended up buying the steamer for me, and I've been having fun steaming veggies (and then negating the healthiness by smothering them with cheese! mmmmm!!) I did make him a chocolate cake this past weekend, however, and even whipped up a matcha buttercream frosting to go with it... yummmm!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Check your knees!

The past two weekends I've helped out with various conferences and haven't had much time to relax or spend time with U. So the other night I went out to visit him (he lives just under an hour out of Tokyo). This makes my morning commute to work longer but actually easier as it has less transfers and if I get to the station with enough time to spare I can sit the entire way.

While many people sleep, the other day I got nearly an hour of work done on my current knitting project, an almost-finished colourful interlac shawl. The woman beside me was equally industrious – spending the entire time doing her make-up. For somebody who has a make-up routine that can be done in about 5 minutes, the length of the process unfolding beside me was boggling. She spent the first at least 20 minutes doing basework – putting various cremes and lotions onto her face. I lost count of just how many, and how many little bottles she used. While I’m fairly sure she didn’t have a rather large shawl-in-process taking up most of her purse, I’m still not sure how she managed to get everything into her purse. I think it was some sort of black hole or clown car for all the small pouches she kept on bringing out! Having finished the foundation of her face she went on to spend 5 minutes admiring her face in the mirror while smoothing and patting and twirling her hair with her fingers. Then came time for her to address her eyes – the eyelashes got crimped and curled before liner and colour were added. This was followed by another 5 minutes of mirror gazing and hair-patting.

She had just pulled out another little pouch and was about to start on the next step when my stop came, so I didn’t get to see the finished product. As I got off and dodged other passengers, however, I couldn’t help but think to myself that no matter how much attention and time she spent on her face, the overall affect would be ruined by the fact that she hadn't bothered to spend even a minute to check her outfit when she put it on in the morning. There was a glaringly large run in her stocking right at her knee...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Thursday already?!

Seriously, its Thursday already? wow. Its been a busy week for me. After attending a Girl Scout meeting most of Saturday and helping out with a museum studies conference all day Sunday, my work week started again and I worked a regular Monday and Tuesday, before meeting my advisor and the first international guest for his upcoming international symposium for a dinner meeting on Tuesday and then playing tour guide allllll day on Wednesday. Today I was back at the museum again and tomorrow I am tour guiding again before the symposium starts and I spend the entire weekend with that.

So this Thursday, while I'm loving being helpful and useful (my advisor and all the guests have been very appreciative to have a native English speaker/translator/local guide) I'm tired and looking forward to having a couple of days off - next weekend, when U has promised me a soak in an onsen (after I go car shopping with him - his old car started making worrying noises and will cost way more than it is worth to fix).

So plenty to look forward to!

Oh, and one more thing I'm loving this Thursday - dish soap! It turns out that pouring dish soap on a cockroach found in your sink will work just as well to immobilize and kill it as the leading roach-be-dead spray, with a lot less nasty chemicals all over your sink and dirty dishes!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

WordFUL Wednesday

A number of times over the past few weeks I've wanted to take pictures of a certain scene but for one reason or another I didn't or couldn't. So my descriptions will have to do instead. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but does that mean I have to write a thousand words to equal a picture?

.....................

One morning I left for work in the rain. I was cursing my choice of footwear as I could tell my feet would be soaked by the time I got to work. Across the street I could see a woman much better prepared for the weather - rainboots, waterproof pants, raincoat (with the hood pulled tight and only half of her face showing), large umbrella (a little overkill given her full-body getup), and hose...

Wait a second! HOSE?! whaa?!

It was pouring rain, this lady was all decked out in rain gear and yet she appeared to be randomly washing the sidewalk.

I didn't know whethei to worry that she might be cleaning up some toxic substance or be annoyed at her pointless waste of water!

.....................

Taking the train home after work I often find myself standing at the doors, looking through the glass at the city as it speeds by. Sort of like the movie 'Shall We Dance?' (I pass a dance studio too)

The otherday I saw a little old lady immaculately dressed in a kimono - sitting by herself in McDonalds.

Internationalism?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

No Ear-Whigs, but a whole lot of Lib-Ears

Another prime minister has stepped down in Japan, something like the 6th in 5 years?? His replacement, Kan, is gathering a fair bit of news attention. One day last week the lunch-time news was all about the new first lady. She seems to be a politically savvy and smart woman, deeply involved with her husband’s political career and a great improvement over her predecessor (although since Mrs. Hatoyama had no qualms telling international media she believed she had been abducted by aliens, there wasn’t much room for going anywhere but up!). Then another day was about Kan and his new cabinet. Since the actual announcement had come the previous day the lunch hour “news” program had to come up with a new angle to the story and brought in a panel of “talents” and a specialist. The talents were the usual mix of ditzy and serious but their specialist stole the show.

A popular political pundit? Nope.

A serious scholar? Nope.

A n eccentric ex-politician? Nope.

An ear-reader. Yup.

Hold on.... a wha??

Yeah... they had an ear-reader, like a palm-reader, only of ears. Their shape, the size and thickness of the lobe, any bumps or bulges, you name it, she gave it meaning.

There are apparently a dozen or so set ear shapes such as “inverted moon” and “diamond” and “half-moon” and the most common with 60% of the Japanese population having “triangle” ears.

Ex-prime minister Hatoyama’s ears apparently show him to be unable to accept responsibility for his actions, and the little bulge at the end of his very small lobes (denoting a lack of intelligence) means that he holds on tightly to money and uses it very selfishly on himself. Apparently overall his ears are well suited to a comedian. In contrast new prime minister Kan has much more promising ears, heralding better times ahead for Japan.

The ear shapes of the entire cabinet were unveiled, as were the shape of the ears of the half a dozen talents on the program’s panel. As usual one guy was completely blasted – he’s a lawyer and talent, but his ears apparently show him to be completely unreliable and always telling lies. The poor guy shakes his head and looks embarrassed while the rest of the panel laugh and tease. Then the woman sitting next to the lawyer is told that her ears show she has a big heart and is generous and kind. She clutches the flounce on her dress above her heart in rapture and gives what she thinks is a *generous* smile as the panel again laugh and tease.

Phew!

With news programs like these, is it any wonder that I tend to get my daily news fix with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation podcasts?!

(although I will admit to spending an embarrassing amount of time in the bathroom contorting in front of the mirror after lunch trying to figure out what shape my ears are and what that means about me)

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Quickie TILT

This week has been busy, I'm busy all weekend and next week and weekend too, so this is going to be a short Things I love Thursday list... here goes...

- ONSEN! I spent last weekend with my advisor, a group of school friends, and U at my advisor's weekend place in the onsen town of Ito. The building where my advisor has his apartment used to be partly a hotel, and has great big baths in the basement. No outdoor baths or anything terribly impressive, just good hot onsen - BLISS!

- friends - I hadn't seen most of this group of friends since I graduated. Most of them have already graduated and gone on to other things, so it was great to have everybody back together again (one girl came from Hiroshima!) and to be able to relax and have fun (without one of us having the pressure of a thesis to write hanging over our heads). U has met a couple of the girls in the group before, but it was his first time meeting my advisor and a few others. Since the rest of us are girls he got to share a room with my advisor. Despite all that, however, U had a great time and in the car on the way home told me how lucky I am to have such a great group of friends and an advisor - and how happy he was to have joined us.

- sashimi - when we weren't soaking in the onsen we were eating (and drinking...). Ito being on the coast has good seafood - really good seafood. Dinner on Saturday and lunch the next day were both amazing fresh sashimi and absolutely delicious.

- unexpected kindnesses - on the way home U and I stopped at a smallish temple we wanted to check out and got chatting with the wife of the priest as he stamped our books for us. She was so impressed that "young people" were visiting the temple that she brought out tea and sweets for us and chatted with us. I'm sure she was equally impressed that a foreigner was there, chatting with her in Japanese, but she never let on and didn't treat me any differently at all. It didn't even occur to me until afterwards, but when I realized I was very impressed. She made us both feel perfectly comfortable and we came away feeling as rested spiritually as we did physically after the onsen.