Thursday, April 30, 2009

Joy!

As you may have guessed, this post is all about me.

...


Okay, just kidding. It may be a tiny bit about that baby, the baby who, as you can see, is toddling now. Can you believe it's been seven months since this was taken?

Joy, of course, refers to a happy almost-one-year-old wearing a new dress, lovingly knitted by her Aren'ty Em. (I'm like an Aunt, but I Aren't.) And did you notice the band around the bottom of the dress?! The band that is knitted with TWO COLORS?

Yes, I have learned stranded knitting, and I am rather pleased. Who wants a lesson?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not even close!

The breadth of their guesses is a testament to my friends' creativity - and I think it is a testament to my lack of gardening skills that it didn't occur to anyone as a possibility! Here are my wee bebes one week ago:
Wee seeds are hiding in that earth, waiting to turn into FOOD for me to EAT! Right there from the dirt!

A couple weeks ago Nadine and I took a short gardening class on the base, taught by a woman of many talents. If you have a baby or know someone who does, click on this link and buy some of her homemade kimono bibs - you won't regret it. Tara gave us a handout and walked us through planting herb seeds, repotting, watering and sun practices, and where to plant what. Nadine brought some basil seedlings she'd bought, so we got to repot those with Tara and learn the ropes - and Nadine sent me home with two of my own.

And it's a good thing! Do you know how LONG a week feels when you're obsessively checking little pots of dirt for signs of life? Egad! Luckily, my seeds are special, and with my TLC they now look like this:Haha, just kidding! But that tomato plant was only 100 yen, and it is HARD to wait for seeds to grow! So Big Betty there is planted in the blue pot and, along with the basil seedlings, is going to have to tide me over until harvest time. (What's up, caprese salad?)

I do have some signs of life from the seeds though! If you look in the lower right quadrant of this basil pot - yes, I want six basil plants - you can see a wee green nub...
and the spinach is teacher's pet at the moment, showing off and sprouting up like a champ.
FOOD FROM THE GROUND. It's like a miracle.

As for the prize, I guess it will have to wait until the next poll is released...maybe it'll be a basket of vegetables and herbs!

That is, of course, if I can resist pulling them all up right now to see if spinach sprouts taste like spinach. Only time will tell.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New project

In light of the hurry-up-and-wait non-news from the doctor this week, I've discovered that I have two choices during the day: remain incredibly busy, or lay around and cry. I'm going with busy, for now, so I've started a new project! Whoever guesses it right in the comments gets a prize - and sorry, Mom and Nadine, you can't vote because I told you already.

Good luck! Polls close sometime over the weekend, whenever the mood strikes me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Am I okay?

Well, it serves me right, I guess. Yesterday I say that I'm all trained and need someone in crisis, and today my world goes to shit. I had a followup appointment with the gynecologist who took about a quart of my blood two weeks ago, an appointment in which she was supposed to tell us why we keep having "recurrent pregnancy loss," also known as three goddamn painful awful heart-wrenching miscarriages in less than eighteen months.

There is no answer. The blood tests were all negative or normal, and there's nothing they can do to help us at this point, other than prescribing a daily baby aspirin for me (I always thought that meant it was FOR babies, not that it helped MAKE them) and suggesting we start ovulation monitoring.

I can't tell you how frustrating, and sad, this is.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you okay? and driving

I did it! I managed to drive to and from Yokota Air Base this weekend, without having been there before, by myself, with no Mapquest and no interstate. Whew! Yokota is 73km or about 45 miles away - anybody want to guess how long it takes to drive there?

Anyone?

TWO HOURS. or more. Two hours or more, to go roughly the distance to Marathon, if you're in Key Largo, or up to Rockpoaaahhhtt for the lobstah festival from Baaath, Mainers. Technically there's no interstate in that part of Maine either, but you get the idea.

It was a long drive, especially since I didn't change the cds in my car and there is only one English radio station, but I was proud of myself for making it there and back with no problems. I was in Yokota for the weekend for an American Red Cross training, which went really well. I'm an official caseworker now! That means I'm authorized to deliver Emergency Communication Messages to Americans serving over here - if there's a death in the family, an illness, or a baby is born, the Red Cross verifies the info and passes it along to the servicemember or civilian, and frequently to their command too.

The bulk of the training was about intake and initiating new cases, providing service to whoever makes the initial call about the emergency. As you can imagine, that's pretty rare here - most of what we do is delivery. So now I've got all this information and enthusiasm to counsel people in crisis and refer them to services that can help - and no one to counsel! So, anybody got any problems? I'm here to help.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That class?

The one I mentioned earlier today, with the great instructor who was so supportive and encouraging and not at all aerobics-scary? Yeah, that did not go well.

That instructor was out of town today, so another filled in. She taught a great class - that is, a great intermediate, aerobic-ish, POWER class. And I discovered that I am a weak, flabby mass of goo and not even as flexible as I thought I was. I stuck with it for the hour, and my muscles feel good and worked, but I'm hoping it's a little less intense next week. There wasn't even any ab stuff! Just lots of repeated, difficult thigh exercises that I couldn't stick with, baby baby.

Oh, and can I mention a pet peeve? Classes and meetings that run over their allotted time for no reason. I had to rudely walk out in the midst of yet another series of tough poses, several minutes after the scheduled end time because I had, you know, scheduled things for after the class. Rrgh.

But enough complaining! I had a nice time working on lace with my friend/student, then got my hair cut and stopped in to see Beth for a bit. I finally used my stand mixer to make whole wheat bread which is a lot easier to knead by machine! The loaves didn't bloom like I'd like, but it's a start. Now I'm knitting away and kind of envying Josh's Master's work...do they make a Master's in knitting?

Self-care

I've got kind of an indulgent day today - a morning yoga/pilates class, teaching a knitting lesson to a student who has become a good friend, a haircut, and then I'm planning to spend the evening baking bread and knitting.

I'm a little nervous about the class, actually. I've never taken pilates, which is all about making your core stronger (read: burning your abs). But the instructor stood in for my regular teacher last week, and I was the only student who showed up, and she taught a great lesson. I've never been fit, but I gained about ten pounds when I was traveling on business all the time, and I've lost that weight and am working on getting into better shape.

The fact that the teacher kept telling me how fit I am definitely influenced my decision to take her class again, ha ha ha. Yes, I am that simple a creature. I hope this goes well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taiko in Narita

This morning I Googled Taiko drumming, intent on giving you at least a bare-bones history of the noble art of ensemble drums in Japan. I figured, ancient culture, people were probably playing these things and performing the same pieces thousands of years ago, right?

Wrong. Turns out the modern version of Japanese drumming (Taiko just means drum, y'all) is, well, modern. The taiko weren't played in groups until the 1950s, and the whole thing was started by a jazz musician. Strangely, that doesn't make it any less impressive!
video
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We got up early on Saturday and headed to base to catch a bus. We had also run out of coffee that morning and I, at least was Cranky McMeanwife. Luckily, we each had brought along a little marital aid(SFW). The ride to the city of Narita went pretty quickly, and we arrived hungry. The festival took place at Naritasan Shinshoji temple and along Omote-Sando Street, with eight stages set up along the way. Josh and I spent the early afternoon walking up and down a steep hill, stopping to see different drum ensembles and more - there was a lot more than just Japanese drumming. Some of my favorites were the African group,the Japanese harp ensemble, and of course anything with kids.The music was great, but the $30 tickets would have been worth it just to walk around a new town in a festival atmosphere. All the stores are open, everyone is smiling, and since Narita is where the airport is, there's a lot of written English available. I have my own pub there!We had to kill time before 5:00, when the holy fire ceremony and concert were to begin, so we naturally just kept eating. Fried chicken, dried fruit, sno-cones, beer, you name it, we had it. We even stopped into an Indian restaurant to get off our feet for a while and shared something called chicken bharta - a rich, creamy curry with garlic naan for dippin'. Holy majoley.

Now, ten in the morning until five pm is a long time to walk around, especially if you've got to stand up for a two hour concert afterward. But the line for tickets to sit during the nighttime concert was over an hour long, and standby only - we didn't want to waste the whole day waiting for a maybe-seat at night. And when evening came, we regretted that decision. Around three we started touring the temple, which was impressive, of course.


Photos inside the temple are forbidden, but we lurked around the door and saw part of a Buddhist ceremony inside. I need a book about Japanese Buddhism and Shinto, if anybody's got one lying around.

Since we couldn't have a seat, we decided to stake out our spot in the standing area an hour early. Josh had the foresight to pack us pants, which turned out to be crucial. It had to be in the eighties in the sun that day, and it dipped into the fifties and windy once the sun started setting...eek. So we sat on the ground and played with our iPods while the evening ceremony was set up. Josh had an interesting snack - turd!(just kidding, I think it's tamarind) and at five o'clock the real music began. The video above is from that evening show, and there was much more - there had to be eight ensembles. Toward the end was a group of three men - one playing a huge taiko, one on a set of smaller drums, and the third was a virtuoso on the marimba. Unreal. videoI really wish I understood more about the religious significance of the ceremony and the music we witnessed. After the concert, shop owners on Omote-Sando street decorated the sidewalk with candles, which made for a lovely walk back to the bus. There are, of course, train stops in Narita - I might go back just for the food.

Who's up for a visit?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Joy!

Something really, really great happened today, something so phenomenally wonderful that I've been smiling all afternoon. And occasionally laughing when I remember that it happened, laughing from the sheer joy of it.

But the person it happened to is far across the world, and when we talked I forgot to ask if I could share it with the Internets. So just know that everything is a bit brighter today, a little more colorful, and I've got a bounce in my step.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ouch

I'd like to say as a public service announcement that one should not try a new exercise class the day before going to a big, sprawling festival. The class was great, the festival was too, and now I can't move my legs. Pics and the tale of drums, food, and fire tomorrow.

Oh, and happy Easter, everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One of these things is not like the others

So, where'd you get your shirt? Clifford? Hampstead?Wood & Pecker?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo

Well, it's a Wednesday, so I ran up to Tokyo for a couple hours. And can I just say that when I started college nine years ago, if someone told me that in 2009 I'd be a housewife who could head to Tokyo for an afternoon? I'd have probably just gone on with my day. But I would have found it unlikely.

Nadine and Justine had to be in Tokyo in the morning, and I taught a knitting lesson (which is really fun! I hope all my students become my friends) before jumping on the densha toward Ueno Koen - the lovely Ueno Park.

As you can see, there's a reason the cherry blossoms are so famous in Japan. The spring pollen is kind of a doozy, but everywhere you turn there's an incredible view of the most beautiful white and pink flowers popping out of every branch. Already, though, the petals are beginning to fall. Video just wouldn't capture it, sad to say.That strip of white is a little stream, completely covered with petals...
...and you can see them speckling the ground.

We walked to a small temple to Kannon, or Quan Yin in Chinese - the goddess of compassion. No photos allowed inside, but there was another gorgeous tree covered in sakura, the cherry blossoms.Oh! And each temple has a fountain in front, with metal cups on long wooden handles. Before you enter it is customary to wash your hands and mouth with water from the fountain, to cleanse them before you approach the gods. This one had an ornate dragon for a spout: Then we walked through a more crowded area where businesspeople sit on tarps at cardboard tables for lunch in a coveted spot in the park. There was a unicyclist, musicians, and one woman who rolled a ball and a ring atop a parasol. What an experience.

Now, that's just the fun part, the leisurely stroll through a beautiful park on a sunny spring day. I haven't mentioned what it was like trying to meet up with one another in Tokyo. Eee!

See, we decided we'd meet near Ueno Station, which is right outside the park. I got there a little earlier than Nadine and I was hungry, so I found a nice little outdoor cafe and had a latte and a sandwich while I waited. She called from Ueno and the race began. See, it's big. There are at least seven exits on three or more levels, a complicated array of pedestrian bridges, and no easy way around the station once you've exited. Well, see for yourself.It was a bit of an ordeal. We eventually found each other and had a nice time before a long, kind of nauseous train ride home. I'd do it again tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kanamara Matsui

Penis. My Sunday was all about the penis.

This does not often happen to me. And it's not what you think. Seriously. Did you think this?If so, you have an active imagination and a wholly skewed idea of how exciting my life is. Except this Sunday!

Once a year for centuries, the people of Kawasaki have hosted the Kanamara Matsui or the phallus festival. I left at 8:00 am from base on a tour sponsored by Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, with my friend Anna. Josh couldn't go because the band had to work, which is just too bad.

This festival began when courtesans would carry phallus mikoshi (portable shrines) in a parade to pray to the gods for prosperity and not to get syphilis. Hey, can't hurt to pray, eh? Now of course the festival is a big tourist attraction for Japanese and foreigners - the crowds were insane. Here's what it looked like most of the time I was there:Which meant most of what I saw looked like this:Everyone knows the population is dense in Japan, but these were the worst crowds I've ever seen. Certain areas of the Wakamiya Shrine were like mosh pits, everyone throwing elbows and trying to get from booth to booth, shrine to photo op. And oh, the photo ops. There were artists carving Daikon radishes into big penises - I learned they were later auctioned off.There were Torii gates.
And of course, there were penis shrines, perfect for funny photos...

...with the whole family!That just cracked me up. The base-sponsored (not free, just offered) tour was for adults only - no kids or even babies allowed. To a fertility festival. But there were Japanese kids everywhere - riding the penis see-saw, on which I am furious to say I did NOT get a turn - getting their pictures taken, and enjoying penis lollipops. I wish I knew enough about Japanese culture to tell you whether this is some sacred rite for children or whether those parents are just like the ones who bring toddlers to midnight movies, but I guess you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

I will say that the whole thing was an interesting mix of all in good fun and sacred. Naturally, I lit some incense and said prayers for Josh's and my luck in starting our family this year, and I rubbed some of those kanamara for luck. (The statues!) But I also giggled at the men wearing short jackets and no pants - no underpants either in some cases, as Anna found out when one of them dropped his keys. Oh dear. Just before the parade began, a group of miko or female shamans, performed a ritual dance while music was piped in over loudspeakers. I caught a bit of it on video by holding the camera over my head - sorry it's so shaky.
The girls were all beautiful, and one in particular reminded me of my cousin Lizz. Maybe it's the nose?What a beautiful day. It would have been worth the $25 just to see the cherry blossoms, fish, turtles, and people that have come out of hiding for the spring.



Then there was the actual parade, when mikoshi are carried for nearly an hour through town. I wish the guide had provided more information about that part, because I was unaware that
a) my skull would be nearly crushed as the beams supporting the shrines were carried away,
and b) the pink phallus would be carried solely by transvestites.Not that there's anything wrong with that! It's just that I'd like to know why. And are they transgender? Or just in costume for the occasion? Because they looked really, really good.

All in all, I have to say it was a pretty exhausting day. See, I think I have seasonal allergies here or something, because when I try to go to sleep my sinuses fill with cement and I wake up hornking, since I hate mouth-breathing. If you don't know what hornking is, try to make the sound "HORNK" with your nose and throat. There you go, you've got it. So I hadn't slept the night before, and the crazy crowds and drunken tourists were a bit much. But Anna and I kept each other entertained, and had some really killer tempura and miso soup before the bus took us home. And stopped at McDonalds, because we knew they'd have a clean bathroom.

Kids playing on phalluses and spotlessly clean McDonalds: Japan, or Bizarro World? I guess it's kind of both.

P.S. Heh, of COURSE I got some souvenirs. The second photo is just for scale. That's a big willie sucker, a little pack of male and female genital lollipops, choco-peens, and a candle. I tried to get Josh to pose with them for a photo, but he said something about "having a career" and demurred.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Toys

I am tuckered out! We - that's Nadine, John, Josh, and me - spent about five hours walking around the gorgeous Shomyo-ji temple at Kanazawa-Bunko. Unfortunately we had a camera battery issue and I don't have pictures to share - yet! I'll show you the sakura (cherry blossoms) when I nab some pics from Nadine's camera.

But speaking of cameras and such, I'm trying to decide what new toy to buy for myself. (Haha! What a tough life!) I have lots of toys - Nintendo Wii, an iPod, a cell phone, that kind of thing. But I'm yearning for a bunch more. I want Wii Fit, and I'd like to have some kind of portable game device, like a Nintendo DS or iPod Touch.

I'm such a hypocrite! I think of myself as rather frugal, and kind of anti-junk, but there's some junk that I just waaaaant! Let's break down the rationalizations, shall we?

1.Wii Fit: I want to get in better shape, and I hate the gym. It's free, yes, but it's full of Navy people and is twenty minutes away. And no one is allowed to go anywhere in Japan while wearing workout clothes, so I have to either drive straight there and home or pack extra clothes, shoes, shower shoes, shower stuff, a towel...you see the problem. Plus I hate the gym - and Wii Fit would mean I could exercise at my own pace, and it's like a game, not a stupid repetitive machine like the elliptical.

2.DS: This is like an updated Gameboy: two small screens, one is touch-sensitive, plus buttons and a stylus. Nadine kindly lent me hers and I've been playing with it for two days. There's a game, and this is the crux of it, called My Japanese Coach, and it teaches Japanese writing, pronunciation, grammar...everything! With games! And a stylus so you can learn to write on the touchscreen! I haven't seen anything like it.

3.iPod Touch: Well, I don't really want one of these. But Josh told me I should get it instead of the DS because I could access my email almost anywhere and download applications to practice Japanese.

So there you have it: my American is showing. I want all this crap and I'm not sure which is worth it. So many toys, so little time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

And the winner is...

Barbecue tofu with slaw!

1 package extra-firm tofu
barbecue sauce (homemade is best!)

1/4 c clean dry parsley
little hunk of onion (1/8 large)
1/2 c mayonnaise (ish)
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 large carrot
1/2 head cabbage, cored and cut into wedges

1 Tbsp olive oil
the rest of that onion
4 slices whole wheat bread

Drain the tofu and wrap it in a couple layers of clean kitchen towel. Press gently to extract some of the moisture without smushing the block. Slice into 1/2" planks, rub all over with barbecue sauce, and place in an airtight container to marinate for 30 minutes or longer - in the fridge if it's going to be more than two hours.

Meanwhile, make the slaw. Put the parsley in your Bertha and run for 3 seconds. Add the wee hunk of onion and pulse a few times, then put in the mayo, vinegar, and a fair amount of salt and pepper. Run 5 seconds or so to combine and make sure all the parsley and onion are pulverized. Remove the metal blade, attach the grating blade and grate in the carrot. Replace with the slicing blade and slice in the cabbage. Dump the lot into a big bowl, mix it around, cover and set aside someplace cool. Resist the urge to add more liquid; the cabbage will contribute more as it rests.

When you're ready to roll, about twenty minutes before dinner time, preheat the broiler and slice the rest of that onion. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and add the onion slices; saute over medium heat until very soft and sweet.

Arrange the marinated tofu on a broiler pan and broil, about 3 inches from the heat source, until the top is dry and browning up. Flip the slices and repeat - this process should take 10-15 minutes, depending on the broiler.

Toast the bread, squirt on some more BBQ sauce, and add a couple slices tofu and a big scoop of coleslaw. Eat, preferably outdoors, dreaming of cool breezes on a South Carolina spring night.