Tuesday, 27 December 2011
Monday, 26 December 2011
So food-wise Christmas in Japan was a huge success... right up until half-way through Christmas dinner when U gave me what he somehow thinks is the ultimate compliment a meal can be given - "This dinner needs some rice."
Luckily for him my fork was loaded with turkey with gravy and cranberry so he didn't find it embedded in any soft parts. But after two days of being up til 3 am preparing and nearly two straight days of cooking (with some help from the two men) funny how I didn't see the suggestion of rice as a compliment. I suppose it has to do with all the strong flavours and wanting to savour them properly, but seriously, white rice with Christmas turkey?
There are plenty of leftovers, and even some bones, so we'll have plenty of chances for left overs, maybe one night I'll do a turkey stir-fry to serve with rice?
Saturday, 24 December 2011
I started yesterday with a half-batch of shortbread cookies (without the jam) in white, red, and green; and a half batch of what turned out to be hazelnut brownie bites.
Today (after loading up with butter and flour and sugar) I made a batch of florentines that ended up sticking to the baking sheet and falling apart so they got a chocolate cookie bottom and melted chocolate (half of which was ruined when I melted the plastic spatula too) to pour on top to hold them together and I ended up with chocolate florentines. Then a batch of my grandma's icing cookies (all baked and ready to be iced tomorrow) and a second batch of shortbread (minus the cherries and sprinkles) - half plain and half with cocoa added. But nearly the entire batch have crumbled into nothingness when I tried to take them off the cookie sheet.
Thank goodness the butter shortage here seems to have ended, as I seem to be going through an awful lot of the stuff!
Tomorrow I want to make brownies (or maybe bites again?) and the yule log for Christmas and, if I have time, maybe a nanaiamo bar too? Wheee...!
Friday, 16 December 2011
How many times have I flown from Vancouver to Japan? Too many to count. I've flown direct, I've flown through Seattle, LA, and San Francisco. I've flown by Air Canada, Northwest Airlines, JAL...
One thing that never changes is that I cross the dateline. I arrive in Japan The day AFTER I leave Vancouver.
And that is the point. The very important one point I forgot last night. My dad had been talking about the 15th and I got stuck on that. I didn't go back to check the flight info he had sent me in September.
As we set out to the big station 40 min away to meet the limousine bus, I checked the Narita arrivals info and discovered his flight was 90 min delayed so we ate dinner and then headed to the bus waiting room one bus came and went without dad. I wasn't too worried, it would have been a tight connection. The second bus came and went. I was worried but not overly so. But when the final bus came and went, and my dad had not appeared, I got worried. His plane had arrived more than three hours earlier and I hadn't heard from him.
I posted frantic updates on Facebook and tried calling him at home just in case (it was just after 5 am) but no answer. U decided dad had gotten on the wrong bus to a similar sounding station and started calling hotels in the area. I was checking email and hoping dad would email in response to my frantic "where are you??????" message to say he was at a Narita hotel.
I tried calling my aunt (I really really hope I didn't wake her up!!).
It was past midnight and both U and I were mentally and physically exhausted. I had given myself a bad stomachache.
And then came the email from my dad.
"I'm at home, getting ready to go to the airport in a few hours - see you tomorrow!"
It is now the 16th, my dad's flight arrived 5 minutes late and U and I are en route to the station. Hopefully we won't spend as much time bonding with the bus company clerk. Hopefully we'll meet my dad.
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Somedays I am frustrated and bored with work and despair of improving or ever having a "career" as opposed just doing a job. But most days recently I have been loving work. I've been editing the proofs for the book (a Japanese translation of a collection of essays in English) we are publishing in the new year. It turns out that being anal has its positives too, and means that I enjoy and am actually pretty good at editing, even in Japanese! I'm not looking for or catching grammatical errors but have been checking for overall consistency (use of Arabic versus Chinese numbers, etc).
Somedays I regret that we won't be going back to Canada for Christmas this year. I'm going to miss seeing family and friends, the Christmasy atmosphere, buying clothes that fit at the Boxing day sales (this year I have to work Boxing day!!)... Most days, however, I'm excited about all the new traditions we will be creating and the Christmasy things we've been up to - like going to see the Tokyo International Players' production of "A Kabuki Christmas Carol" - which was actually really really good and U enjoyed it too!
Somedays I get to have a good nap during my morning commute. Most days recently, however, I've had the elbow of a puffy-coated old guy (never the same guy) in my side. I've discovered I really dislike being touched on my side. It isn't that I'm ticklish, but somehow it just seems way too intimate a place for a random stranger to be in contact with me. Since it happens all too often I should be used to it, but apparently not!
Somedays I go home after work and U and I have dinner together. We've been enjoying the cold weather and having plenty of nabe, stews, curry, etc. Most days this week, however, between end-of-year parties (Mon and Fri for me, Thurs for him) and his students suddenly realizing the year is coming to an end and they don't have the experiment results they need and thus wanting to stay late (Tues, and perhaps Wed too) one of us is late and we're eating on our own.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Height - We knew we wanted something big enough to be a focal point in the room and that could be surrounded by gifts - so at least 150 cm but ideally 180.
Shape - After turning down all the options available at Tokyu Hands we finally realized they were all "slim" trees. They just didn't seem right. I guess the slender trees take up less space and thus are better in small Japanese homes, but they just looked spindly - not in a pathetic Charlie Brown tree type way, just... wrong... But since your average Westerner is wider than their Japanese counterpart I suppose it makes sense? ;)
Fashion - Not only could we choose between ones with pine cones, or brown artfully mixed in among the green on the branches, but there was a "Great Canadian Pine" and little ones with glowing branches. Then there was the choice between a set or a "nude" tree. The idea of a tree that comes with all the decorations seems wrong to me as I remember my mum buying me a decoration every year and we still have the dry pasta angel I made in second grade and the baked clay wreath I made years before that! So nude it is.
And the verdict?
After tramping around the shopping mall for a few hours and looking at a couple dozen trees we couldn't make up our mind and decided we didn't like anything we saw. So we put it off until next week... but did buy a bunch of decorations and a few more Christmas gifts!
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Reason 1, of course is the translation I finally finished it off and sent the last bits from Haneda Airport as I waited to check in to my flight to Belgium. (thanks to the free wifi and computer charge stations!)
Reason 2 was having a week of vacation in the middle of November. It was an amazing trip (and I will write about it, promise!) but I came back and had to be right back at things with a full week of work followed by Girl Scouts and a busy social schedule. Then I had a few very busy days of looking after two British guests for my advisor, and then work has gotten... not exactly busy but definitely exhausting.
And suddenly it is nearly December and Christmas needs to be thought about...! But things are going well. I finally have time to relax and have a social life, I'm loving the project I'm currently doing at work, my dad will be coming for a long visit soon as U and I will be hosting Christmas at our place for the first time, and... and I have finally decided what I want to do next. I still need to actually get there so I'm not quite ready to spill the beans, but everybody I've talked to about it has been super supportive and I'm really excited.
So there we go. Hopefully this all means I get my blogging mojo back.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
- Belgian (and British!!) chocolates filling the fridge and cupboard
- starting on a new project at work and being given the freedom to plan it from the start (sure I'll have to get my boss's okay before I actually do anything, but being given the freedom to plan it out on my own is exciting (and I'm sure good for my boss too, as it frees her up to do other things!)
- cuddling up in bed on cold nights
- having the time to cook dinner! (spicy meat and noodles on Monday, shoga-yaki on Tuesday, pumpkin pasta on Wednesday... nothing super fancy but just yummy and healthy meals with fresh ingredients)
- seeing friends happy (babies!)
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Most days for the past two months have been all about work - either the major project nearing completion at my day job or the largesse gallery translation contract I've been working on in my "off" hours. Since I sent off the last major section on Saturday (actually a good number of hours into Sunday), however, hopefully the work-life balance should improve!
Most days I have a morning coffee when I get to work - I drink it as I read through my email inbox and get started in the day's projects. Somedays, however, given the late nights spent working on the translation, I've needed another coffee in the afternoon, or even a "health drink." Unfortunately there have been too many of those "somedays" recently and my body has gotten used to the second dose of caffeine. That means caffeine withdrawal headaches that hit around 4 pm every afternoon. I'm trying to bear through them as I know from the past I can ween myself off, but it sure hasn't been making the evening commute much fun.
Most days the view out of my window at work is crows playing on the roof of the building next door, or perhaps a cleaning or drinks delivery truck. Somedays, however, I see people walking by and they do a double take at the white face looking out the window at them. Or, like today, a lost would-be visitor raps at the window and asks to be let in...!
Somedays U and I eat dinner together, but most days recently U has been kept at work late and had to drive his boss home, meaning he comes home nearly two hours later than normal and we have dinner separately. This too should change soon, however, as U's boss' house renovations (clogging up the driveway and meaning he has to leave his car at work) are set to end this week. In the meantime, however, I'm enjoying the yummy sweets he sent U home with yesterday nicer than the usual I went somewhere gift - sort of a peace offering I think!
Most days I no longer mind my long commute but somedays, like yesterday, when the line was stopped for a while and theb PACKED due to an "accident," I still wish I lived closer to work.
Most days recently I haven't written anything on my blog, but here's to hoping that now, somedays will be different!
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Like this baby blanket - backed and edged with a soft cotton flannel so it will keep its shape even after being tossed into the washing machine. Sewn up as I experimented with the embroidery feature on the sewing machine I "borrowed" from U's mother...
Over the past few years I've knit a number of baby blankets and one baby sweater for friends but after finishing (and photographing) them I wrapped them up and sent them off, never getting a baby cuddle in return.
Six months ago, however, I finally got my baby cuddle! Umebossy's Little S was very very little when I visited them at the hospital. She slept peacefully in my arms as I held her, then wrinkled her little face into a mask of anger before breaking into an angelic half-smile that was nearly as adorable as the musical tooooooot that emanated from her opposite end.
It was the text message that Umebossy sent me to tell me little S was on her way that convinced me she'd be a very good mother. It was only weeks after the earthquake and there was widespread panic among foreign communities in and out of Japan about the possibility of nuclear disaster. Amid it all Umebossy's text was a voice of well-needed calm and reason. Then there was the added excitement of knowing little S would be on the outside soon, the joy of having good news amidst all the bad.
With one thing and another I haven't been able to see little S (and her mum too!) nearly as much as I'd like in the six months since she was born, but she's growing bigger and doing wonderfully - just as gorgeous as she was the very first day I met her. I love seeing her get bigger, grow more aware of her surroundings, and, of course, I love me my baby cuddles!
Happy Six Month Birthday little S! May you never ever have to experience the destruction, heartache, and fear that so many did only weeks before you were born. Instead may you be surrounded by love and happiness and grow big and strong and healthy.
Oh, and why don't you give your mum a break and sleep through the night?!
Monday, 19 September 2011
This past week, however, I have been treated to an amazing lesson in community and just how not-lonely it can be being a foreigner in Japan. It was an amazing experience to watch a wonderful group of women come together in an outpouring of love to support one of "their own." I was honoured to be able to take part, although in only a small way, and am ever so impressed with the women who took time out of their already busy lives to organize something like this for a very deserving friend going through some tough times.
Friday, 16 September 2011
Of a cake, a cake I was given in the lunchroom by one of the curators.
Apparently it is an eggplant.
When offered it, however, I started laughing so hard I started to choke. Please tell me I'm not the only one who saw... something else!? (one of the other curators, the only guy in the room, turned red, and giggled, but the other two made no comment...)
Thursday, 15 September 2011
- Mow cappuccino ice cream
- falling fast fast asleep on my morning commute... and waking up the stop before I need to get off
- hearing from family members I don't hear from often
- people listening to and then even adopting my suggestions despite being the youngest and least experienced person in the room
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Then U came home last night and demanded I edit his paper (his boss knows about me and, in a completely unrelated decision said there wasn't enough in the budget to cover sending the article to a professional scientific editor).
And then I got an email from the art gallery with their "questions" on my translation and the reminder they'd be sending the next step of the translation next week...
And of course, work at the museum is busy as we rush to pull together all the little ends of a major project due all too soon...
So much for the end of the tunnel... If you haven't heard from me in a few weeks send in the rescue team with plenty of chocolate!
Saturday, 10 September 2011
"Pull your skirt down, you're showing your underwear!!"
Because U was being conscientious and had pulled the car alllllll the way to the curb, I'm standing waist deep in bushes with about an inch between me and the car, but I attempt to check my skirt. Not seeing it caught up anywhere I make a move to get past the car and out if the bush. But U repeats his yell, with a touch more panic.
"Pull your skirt down!!"
I am confused because I can't find the source of U's complaint and annoyed that I have to stand in the bushes. I glare at him and ask him what the #%£¥ he is talking about. He half reaches out across the passenger seat and mumbles:
"Your t-shirt... shorts..."
Turns out my t-shirt got pulled up a bit and you could see the waistband of the shorts I was wearing under my skirt.
I'm glad I wasn't flashing the entire neighbourhood and it is nice to know U has my back, but wouldn't pulling DOWN my skirt actually have made it worse?!
Thursday, 8 September 2011
- planning a fall get-away to meet my dad in Brussels! (raspberry beer, chocolate, raspberry beer, yummy food... RASPBERRY BEER!)
- international festivals in Yoyogi koen (just in September there are Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Nepal, and India!!)
- busy work days and knowing I'm needed!
- papico (coffee and chocolate ice cream)
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Saturday, 27 August 2011
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
So this evening, as we were rating dinner I switched to English. I asked him about his day, ranted about the blatantly sexist news, and we talked about the food. As dinner came to a close he patted his stomach happily and said "FULL!"
I didn't immediately notice the sly grin that spread across his face as he cocked his head to the side and questioned: "you fuuuuuullll?"
I assented, and patted my stomach but he shook his head and repeated again "you fuuuuuuuulll!"
A giggle escaped him as I noticed the sly grin - the little bugger, he was making fun of me! He wasn't saying "full" but "fool"!!!
I playfully mimed cuffing him upside the head as he laughed, quite proud of himself.
The problem with helping him improve his English? Giving him another language to make fun of me in!
Early in the morning of August 22, Jack Layton, the Leader of the Opposition, lost his battle with Cancer. Canada lost a great man and a great politician. Even those who did not agree with his politics admired the man and recognize the loss. But I just couldn't explain it all to U. He just didn't understand. It is at times like these that I get homesick...
You will be missed Jack, across Canada and around the world.
For those of you who don't know who Jack was, here is just a sampling of what is being said:
And in his own words:
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Somedays I end up taking the train with a coworker. Somedays that means a fun chat with a really funny coworker I am close to or interesting conversations with my boss. Most days, however it means I have to dodge the coworker who will not be named (a year later and we're still ignoring each other - yay!).
Somedays I enjoy my commute but most days I have to stand most of the way home or have a biiiiig sweaty guy sleep on my shoulder or the person who makes everybody on the train silently pray "don'tsitnexttomedon'tsitnexttomedon'tsitnexttome!!" will sit next to me (where is the gaijin buffer when you want it?!)
Somedays I don't mind the heat and humidity but most days I find myself exhausted and headachy by the end of the day.
Somedays I am completely at a loss over what to make for dinner but most days I have ideas or recipes I want to try and coworkers and friends with lots of ideas to help.
Somedays I feel very self-conscious about my lack of "fashion" but most days I shake my head over the horrid suit/shirt/tie combinations of the average Japanese salaryman (narrow black and white striped slacks with a black and white check shirt?? My eyes started watering and I couldn't see straight after just a glance!)
Somedays I feel bored and frustrated with where I am and where I am going but most days I am able to step back and enjoy what I do and daydream about what is to come.
Sunday, 14 August 2011
Friday, 12 August 2011
Not quite the weekend yet, as I'm working Tues-Sat as part of work's energy saving measures (all departments are joining the museum and closing on Mondays so we don't run seven days a week anymore). Buuuut!! One more day of work and then I'm off for a week! I decided to take time off while U has his summer vacation, so we're going to go away for a few days and then will spend a bit of time relaxing at home together... Hold on, nope, scratch that... We'll be going away for a few days and then will spend the rest of the time working on non work work (a translation contract for me and non-work related articles for publication for U).
No rest for the wicked, as they say!
I've been a bit of a mess recently, what with the heat and humidity melting my brain and leaving me with absolutely zero motivation and work being mind-numbing - a week spent mostly editing the English papers to be presented by coworkers at various international conferences over the next month or so. One of the papers was a slightly edited version of am online translation program translation so varies between almost making sense to being a random jumble of words. It would have been easier if I had been allowed to translate it myself from the start but.... myargh... Ah well.
And then I have a contract translation for an art gallery hanging over my head and demanding to be worked on every waking moment. Not that it is getting done, but...
All this editing and translating has me getting antsy to actually write something myself... Now if the heat would let up so that I was able to string together a few coherent thoughts!
Friday, 5 August 2011
Things I'm loving this Friday:
- haircuts and being spoiled at the hairdressers
- my Beatles "Let it Be" music box
- starting to sew the squares together for my afghan
- cooking with U
- cooling gel patches
- travel daydreams
Thursday, 4 August 2011
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Sunday was the seventh anniversary of the deaths of U's paternal grandparents. (I'm not sure about the specifics, but special Buddhist rites are held at certain times after a death - particularly 1, 7, 13 years after) Although the rites can be held in the home (at the family alter) or in a temple, U's family chose to hold them at one of the special halls at the cemetery.
Bright and early Sunday morning three generations of U's family met at the cemetery. We sat in a nondescript waiting room with a few other black-clad families, supping tea from the automated tea machine. The screen on the wall indicated which family was in which hall when. Each family was attended by a Buddhist priest, whose robes were the only spots of colour in the room. Our priest knows the family well and didn't even blink when he saw me sitting beside U. He greeted U's father (the eldest son) and the two disappeared behind a partition for a few minutes to sort out the sordid financial details.
Soon enough it was our turn and we went into the hall. There was a flurry of activity as U and his uncle brought out the large framed photographs and U's mother and youngest sister unwrapped the tablets inscribed with the posthumous Buddhist names. These were all arranged properly, the janitor popped in new candle tops and lit them, and the Buddhist priest started chanting as we took our seats. Partway through the ceremony we all went up one by one and placed three pinches of incense chips onto a pile if cinders.
Being the partner of the eldest son of the eldest son (eeek!) there weren't many family members in front of me for me to watch, but I managed to get my bows and incense pinching done properly, apparently. But there was more still to come.
We were rushed out of the hall, the next family waiting and the janitor bustling about with new candle tops and more incense. We clambered back into our cars and drove through the cemetery. U's mother and youngest sister collected a bucket of water and ladle, and we went to the grave. The grave had already been cleared of weeds, so we placed bouquets in the holders and ladled water onto the stone monument. The priest (with a different colour over-robe) arrived with new name boards, which were placed into the back of the monument, and the smaller name tablets (from the family alter at home) were unwrapped and placed at the front. More chanting was followed by all family members placing a few sticks of incense in front of the monument. The priest bowed and left, and the rest if us posed for a picture in front of the grave (no peace fingers!)
Then back to the cars and off to the restaurant near U's parents' place. The restaurant had readied a basin of water and bowls of salt. We threw pinches of salt over ourselves and washed our hands (to "cleanse" ourselves) and then went into a private room within the restaurant. The framed photos of grandpa and grandma were set up and presented with food and sake. After the men in the family (except for U, who had to drive us home) had had their fill of beer and we had all stuffed ourselves, we walked through the parking lot and back to U's parents' place.
As soon as we walked through the door everybody disappeared off to change, and U's mother set out tea, coffee, and even more food. We relaxed and chatted, and U's mother and I began discussing cremation and funeral rites. She couldn't understand the concept of total cremation - how would you then recognize your loved one's bones? I tried to refrain from shuddering as I told her that for me the idea of passing around the bones of a dearly departed family member (part of a Japanese funeral) was a rather gruesome prospect.
But, despite how strongly different the whole experience felt for me, U's family never once made me feel uncomfortable (well, except for both of his aunts and their cousin all grilling him about when he is going to propose!) I dressed the part - black skirt and top, pearl necklace. It was U who didn't quite fit in - for some strange reason when packing for the weekend he grabbed a blue shirt instead of the necessary white one. His entire family enjoyed ribbing him about that! When asked he said simply that it was his favourite shirt... Um?! So he and his mother had to go through his old clothes and find an old white shirt that he had outgrown (the collar button wouldn't close but better than one of his father's shirts where the arms were too short!) And he also left his jacket at home - when asked about that one he tried to use the "cool-biz" excuse, but he was the only non black jacketed guy in the entire cemetery! Who's the furriner now?!
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Somedays I wake up well in the morning, but most days I'm still tired and crabby.
(ummm, I think its supposed to be the other way around, but unfortunately that is not the case... Let's try this again)
Somedays I am overwhelmed by all that I have on my plate, but most days I think of a couple other things I'm tempted to add.
Somedays I despearely want to jump to the next (or rather the next-next) step, but most days I am totally content with where U and I are.
Somedays I question what I am doing and wonder about my professional future but most days I love my job and feel valued.
U lead the way downstairs - he hadn't heard the noise so I think he was expecting armed robbers it something. No robbers, but there were fragments of broken china scattered across the entire room. The drying rack had collapsed (no earthquake apparently can be blamed), sending its contents to the floor. Luckily most of the plates (including the gilt edged Wedgewood) that his parents gave us on Sunday were already safely put away, so the carnage was cheap, if not small.
What has me most upset, however isn't the plates. It is the fact that I now have to give ib and buy a new drying rack. The one we had been using we bought at Ikea. It is the same as my dad has in his kitchen, the same as I had in my kitchen in Boston. I was surprised by how emotionally attached I was to the drying rack, until I had to justify it to U and found myself blurting "it is the one thing in this kitchen that reminds me of the kitchen I grew up with! You have lots of things, but in this foreign kitchen this is the one thing that is the same for me!"
Huh... Kinda took me by surprise too.
But the problem was the rack didn't quite fit on the counter. I hacked off on of the supports so that it half rested on the ledge behind, but U (and our house guests a few weeks back) would knock it over and complain it was dangerous.
The more they complained, however, the more attached I became to the blasted rickety rack. I knew it wasn't the best option, I knew it would likely collapse some day and cause an avalanche of dishes. But I wasn't willing to let it go, wasn't willing to get rid of what I had apparently decided was my link to home.
But as U, half asleep, pulled out the vacuum cleaner and began picking up shards of china, I realized that sometimes you have to admit defeat. Sometimes that is just the way the... plate... shatters.
Time to go shopping. We need a new drying rack. I don't suppose Nittori sells any covered in red maple leaves?
Thursday, 21 July 2011
Saturday, 16 July 2011
The poor man turned to me with an overly-exaggerated pained expression on his face and said "I don't think my brain likes the heat!" We both laughed and he continued. "I just can't seem to think straight these days. takes so much more mental effort and I just don't have it in me…"
I know how he feels.
The heat (and lack of over-airconditioned spaces due to electricity shortages) has sapped me mentally and physically. Not only do I not feel like doing anything, but concentrating on anything for more than a few seconds seems to take a huge amount of effort. I'm hoping that at least a part of it is just that I am tired – we had visitors staying with us for a week and between working and having late nights out with them I haven't been sleeping much. But I have a three day weekend starting tomorrow and U and I are planning a mini-getaway. Hopefully that will recharge my batteries a bit and I'll be better able to battle the Tokyo summer.
In the meantime ice packs slipped into my folded hankerchief and self-medication with mandarin orange popsicles will have to suffice…
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Monday, 4 July 2011
Yeah, I don't like the heat so much. Not that I've ever been a fan of the overuse of the AC that used to happen in Japanese trains and department stores (going in and out would give me a headache as I went from one extreme to another) but with temperatures in the high 30s last week and the AC staying off at work, well I haven't been a happy camper. By the time I get home in the evenings and throw some food together I haven't been able to think much past collapsing on the couch.
It doesn't help that our bedroom, on the second floor and with lovely east-facing windows, gets very warm in the morning. It has no AC unit and even two fans is just not cutting it. We were both being woken up early all last week and sleeping very poorly. So we went out yesterday and bought reflecting film for the windows ans a little window AC unit. The latter isn't up and running yet, but this morning was a bit better and I felt much more rested.
Part of power-saving attempts at work mean I am now working Tues - Sat (instead of Mon - Fri) and although working a six day last week was tiring I'm enjoying having today off - coffee and a translation project at the local coffee shop before I head back home to hem the rest of the curtains.
Here's to beating the summer blahs!
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Sunday, 19 June 2011
I can guarantee that it does to every Canadian. He was voted number two on the CBC's "Greatest Canadians" list. Those of us who went through the Canadian school system participated in annual Terry Fox runs. Most probably know his trademark hop-jump running style and have heard about the foundation his mother and brother set up after his death. Many may have even seen the movie about his life or can still sing the refrain to the earwormingly catchy song.
I was only two years old when Terry lost his battle with Cancer, but family lore says that I saw him - apparently we drove by him running along the highway one overcast and rainy day.
Years later I suddenly announced at breakfast that I wanted my mother, fighting her own battle with Cancer, to come to school with me that day, to attend a school-wide assembly. My mother questioned me about it, but I was embarrassed about explaining why. I couldn't put it into words but I remained firm in my desire to have her there. Amazingly patient, my mother believed her daughter and rearranged her schedule for the day so that she could attend the assembly.
My mother wasn't the only mother there that day. The guest of honour was Betty Fox, Terry's mother. She was there on behalf of the Foundation to personally accept a cheque for the large amount my school had raised in our annual Terry Fox run. She spoke briefly about Terry and his battle but I'm rather embarrassed to admit I don't remember much of what she said.
After the assembly ended I gave my mother a hug to than her for coming before I had to head back to class and she had to go back to work. I don't remember talking to her about it afterwards, again I was probably embarrassed to actually discuss the big 'C.' But over a decade later, after she too had lost her battle with Cancer, I found a letter she had written me after she went home from the assembly. In it she grumbled gently a bit that I had sprung my request on her, but thanked me for insisting she be there. She said that as somebody battling that horrible disease it meant a lot to her to be there, and she thanked me for sharing it with her. Hearing Betty Fox speak meant a lot to my mother, she was honored to be there.
It was that incident that I thought of yesterday when I heard that Betty Fox had passed away. She continued to be an advocate for Cancer funding right into her 70s - she was one of the flag bearers at the 2010 Olympics and she and her husband carried the torch into the stadium in the lighting ceremony for the Paralympics that followed. Although her son's dream of erradicating Cancer has yet to be realized, Betty did so much to raise awareness of the disease and funds for research. She, like her son, was a great Canadian.
Saturday, 18 June 2011
Then I walked back to downtown, stopping at the big London Drugs to pick up snacks, and met a high school friend to watch game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. She had camp chairs and we set them up right in front of her office building, in the huge crowd gathering in the middle of the street in front of one of the huge screens. As we got closer to game time more and more fans streamed into the area, and it was an AMAZING atmosphere. Everybody was in Canucks blue and green. We regularly got wiffs that proved BC weed was being consumed but there were no displays of public drunkenness or violence. There were families with young children, high school students, older couples, I could hear conversations around me in nearly half a dozen languages. It really seemed like the entire city had turned out to celebrate together. Just like I did during the olympics, I felt so lucky to be able to be in Vancouver to witness it.
While I enjoyed the atmosphere and the moment in general I didn't enjoy the game so much. Our boys lost, and lost badly. But the fans were good natured. A group of guys behind us started good-naturedly heckling those who were leaving early - ribbing them for being fair weather fans - but everybody was laughing and smiling. We had lost two games badly but in a few days the team would be back on home ice and we had confidence that our team could do it.
A week later and it was the final game of the series, winner takes all. An even bigger crowd is in the downtown area, near the arena where the game is underway. Tens of thousands of miles away a nagging fever has kept me home from work for much of the week and so I'm able to watch the game on a much smaller screen, all by myself.
Unfortunately, the hometown team disappoints once again. A record-breaking season ends in disappointment and the hopes of a city, of an entire country, dashed. It has been 17 years since my team has gotten this far, and I (along with much of the city of the Vancouver) was sure that this was our year.
But my tears of disappointment quickly turned to those of shame and shock as the TV coverage moved from that of the Boston Bruins celebrating on the ice to car fires and throngs of thugs rampaging through the streets. The live coverage was raw and shocking and I couldn't believe it was actually happening, not in the city that I love so much. But there it was.
Rioters smashing the big show windows of the Bay and making off with expensive bags and jewelry. Police cars being flipped and set on fire. Clouds of pepper spray filling the air and plumes of smoke rising to the sky. The tv announcer says in shock "Vancouver is burning!" The rioters move down the street and the windows of the London Drugs are smashed in as the rioters make off with armfuls of potato chips and electronics. I was sickened but I couldn't stop watching, disparing as a city I love was ransacked. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2011/06/15/bc-stanley-cup-fans-post-game-7.html)
I almost couldn't watch my regular Canadian news the next day - ashamed at what the Toronto-based program would have to say about Vancouver. But that was when my tears turned to those of pride as I learned about hundreds of volunteers - regular people from all walks of life and all ages - who turned out with brooms and dustpans, garbage bags and plastic gloves. They began to clean up the city and in doing so attempting to reclaim it as their own, not willing to let it be claimed by the thugs who had rioted the night before.
This outpouring has continued and grown. The windows of the Bay were boarded up and then the boards were covered - in handwritten messages. Messages expressing shame, shock, support for the team, and support for the city. Police cars parked nearby and throughout the downtown area were covered too - in post-it note messages of support and thanks.
That is the city I love. That is Vancouver. And I'm still crying.
Friday, 3 June 2011
- watching game one of the Stanley Cup finals with my dad and aunt (and of course the home team scoring the winning goal with 14 seconds left in the game!!!!)
- grilled zucchini
- fresh cherries
- making plans to see good friends (one from far away who just happens to be here on a research trip this week)
- packing up my mum's good china (and knowing that U will honestly be thrilled and touched when I unpack them in our kitchen)
I wasn't keen about another meal of bad Chinese, but gave in as he seemed so excited. My apprehension deepened when we got to the neighbourhood and parked in a game center - walking between rows of pachinko machines to get back out to the street. I was about ready to turn around and leave when we walked into the restaurant. It was full of older drunk men - the restaurant featured course menus and all-you-can drink sets.
When we walked in a middle-aged woman bustled up to us and then dashed to the back of the restaurant and began clearing off a table in a frenzy. Given the half-drunk glasses of pop and piles of pokemon cards I guessed it was normally where the woman's son sat while his parents worked (a glimpse into the kitchen proved there was a single middle-aged man hard at work).
We ordered our usual - mapo tofu, boiled dumplings, and chicken with cashew nuts. The mapo tofu came out first - in a bowl that would have looked at home in a kitchen just about anywhere. And the contents? Tasted Luke a home cooked meal too. A GOOD home cooked meal. I took one bite and looked at U with a big grin. It was good. Nothing fancy, nothing special, just good (non-Japanese-ized) Chinese food. The chicken with cashews was similarly good, and the dumplings had a meaty skin that screamed hand-made.
Definitely not the place to have a fancy meal, and MILES away from the uber fancy hotel top Chinese restaurants so common here, but finally we had food somewhere for a good Chinese meal.
All of the groups of drunken men had staggered off by the time we finished and the son had reappeared and looked rather annoyed to find his piles of pokemon cards disturbed. The waitress gave us a big smile when she came to gather our plates, however, and I thanked her for such a delicious meal, commenting that we had been having trouble finding good Chinese. She positively beamed at me, and called through to her husband in the kitchen, relaying my comment in rapid-fire Chinese. He poked his head out through the curtain and nodded at me with a smile.
We went back to the game centre and U beat me in a game of table hockey before we, and our very satisfied tummies, headed home.
Friday, 27 May 2011
Discovering, and slowly beginning to join the online community of foreign wives in Japan has been somewhat of a surprise, but a good surprise in so many ways. I've virtually gotten to know an amazing group of women who are strong, intelligent, friendly, and super funny.
A number of months ago, when one of my bloggy friends was struggling with pregnancy stress, I watched as another blogger reached out virtually and physically across the kilometres that divided them, and sent a surprise care package that lifted the spirits of the mum-to-be.
Ever since then, in a combination of pay-it forward and karmic balancing, I've wanted to send that blogger a parcel. I don't (yet) have an oven, and she doesn't need me making her baked goods anyways, so I went with my usual, I knit her a scarf. I spent HOURS pouring over online patterns trying to find one that featured a certain type of tree. Plenty of oak leaves and maples too, but not what I was looking for. Then I remembered a post she wrote, about her garden finally showing the signs of spring. There was a picture of beautiful little white flowers... kinda like these ones:
With all the stresses of the earthquake and moving and everything else I often found it tough to gather the mental focus to knit lace, and the scarf didn't get to her for the chill spring days... But I hope she enjoys it just the same, a reminder that the flowers of friendship bloom all year round!
Thursday, 26 May 2011
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
U tried to make peace with me by suggesting that we have dinner out - and suggested the Chinese restaurant across the street.
I was a little nervous at first as the interior was very stark and severe, and the waiter was almost aggressive in his recommendation of the all-you-can-drink course menu. The large extended family beside us proved that wasn't the only menu option and the antics of their youngest members kept us entertained as it turned out service was slooooow. The first dish to finally arrive was mapo eggplant, which would have been fine except for the fact that eggplant doesn't always agree with my stomach and we had ordered mapo tofu. So, despite how hungry we were, we sent it back.
Next came the boiled dumplings - thick chewy skins, juicy and flavourful fillings - definitely two thumbs up!
Next up was U's favourite - chicken and cashew nuts. Unfortunately there was little flavour, and what flavour there was was oddly similar to the dumplings despite totally different ingredients.
Finally the mapo tofu came, and perhaps it was because they had been rushing due to the mixup over the order, but the dish was burnt. Hidden under the flavour of burnt oil and chilis was what seemed to be a nice dish, but we could barely choke it down.
Unfortunately one excellent dish could not make up for the cold atmosphere, poor service, and expensive prices. So, although we are willing to go back and pig out on dumplings, our search continues...
Monday, 23 May 2011
The first place to come up was located above the train station and had pretty bad reviews (bad food, no atmosphere, rude service...) so we quickly continued our search.
Next up was a place that had decently rated food but seemed to have a wide fan base. We knew the area it was in and had no trouble finding the restaurant. The atmosphere was great and we were both very excited about the possibility of having found such a fun place. We ordered our standbys - mapo tofu and hui guo rou (pork and cabbage stir fry).
The mapo tofu came and neither of us knew what to say. The dish had no meat or veggies, just chunks of tofu in a brownish clear sauce that could really only be described as "gloop." It was nearly as bland tasting as it was bland looking. Instead of being rich and spicy it was cloyingly sweet.
The hui guo rou proved to be similarly weakly seasoned - this time the strongest flavor was burnt cabbage and sauce.
The jasmine tea was lovely but at 300 yen each for the pot, that was to be expected!
If the same restaurant listing site hadn't recommended a fabulous little Thai place we now frequent regularly, we'd have given up on Mr. Google. As it was, we were very disappointed to discover the food nowhere measured up to the atmosphere.
The search continues...
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Sunday, 8 May 2011
One such night, after not finding anything that was up to U's standards, he pulled into the parking lot of a three-story Itoyokado shopping mall (attached to a similar three-story Aeon across the street). Dinner, he announced, would be eaten in the food court. I wasn't terribly impressed that we had driven past loads of restaurants to end up at the food court, but by that point I just wanted dinner. We walked into the mall and the first thing we saw was a Chinese restaurant - with a display case of bowls of plastic ramen and... MAPO TOFU! I walked into the restaurant without looking back at U to see if he was following me.
After ordering I finally looked about the restaurant and noticed that out of the 8 tables occupied five had couples or families, and all but one (us included, of course) were racially mixed couples. I pointed this fact out to U, and smooth character that he is, he immediately craned his neck to look around and stare at all the other customers... Nice...
We ordered hoikoro (my Japanese dictionary is telling me it is "twice cooked pork (Szechuan dish) (chi: hui guo rou)) and mapo tofu. For food that was only a step up from fast food, it was surprisingly good. Although the hoikoro was rather oily, the mapo was flavourful and spicy.
The menu is rather limited, however, so although it offers a good quick hit of mapo, the restaurant is far from becoming our favourite Chinese eatery... Our search would have to continue...
Thursday, 5 May 2011
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Monday, 2 May 2011
Whatever her reasoning for befriending me, however, that particular friend became a very special person to me. She is amazingly friendly and kind, and VERY outgoing. An example was her regular bar wear - a revealing shirt and short skirt over BRIGHT red full body long underwear (we were, afterall in the mountains and evenings, even in mid-summer, could be co-old!) My favourite outfit of hers, however, was her butterfly wings - purple and turquoise and just as bright and sparkly as my friend. She would wear them while running errands around town, just because! And the sight of her in those wings always made me smile.
We stayed in touch through 3 summers in Jasper (especially the summer she worked at the chocolate store with a good staff discount... mmm!!) and through all the moves of the subsequent decade (yay for Facebook!). She even spent the night on the bus to show up at my dad's for Thanksgiving one year - invited but TOTALLY unexpected! When she announced her engagement I knew I wouldn't make it back for the wedding but wanted to do something. I remembered an afternoon we had spent in a fabric store looking at wedding dress patterns. Both of us were single at the time but that didn't stop us from picking out a pattern for my wedding dress, she had promised to make me my wedding dress afterall! Nowhere near the seamstress she is, I turned to what I know I can do, bought a half dozen balls of a gorgeous white yarn and began searching for the perfect shawl pattern. I got a couple dozen rows (top down!) into one before deciding it wasn't quite right and ripping out weeks worth of work. I did eventually find the perfect pattern but realized as soon as I read it that it wasn't a straightforward pattern. I blessed the wise friend who had steered me away from the laceweight mohair I had originally contemplated and cast on. Now that I'm long done I can easily say this particular shawl was the most difficult and most annoying thing I have ever knit. Luckily, however, the end product was gorgeous, although not anywhere near as gorgeous as my friend in her wedding dress.
(photographs shamelessly pilfered from the flicker stream of a talented photographer at my friend's wedding)
Looking through the wedding photos posted on Flicker I was thrilled to see her wearing the shawl in a few of them. Not being there on her big day was hard, but at least part of me was close at hand. I wish her much love and happiness in her marriage and, when things get rough all she needs to remember is that she knows how to make mayonaise from scratch! (the totally unrelated words of wisdom she once gave me after I had poured out all my troubles to her)
Friday, 29 April 2011
Its Colonel Sanders outside the local KFC - dressed in his traditional Boy's Day finery... with the addition of an eye patch(?!?) and a KFC "Ganbare Nihon" (a lets pull together and overcome the earthquake/tsunami damage) sign.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
- compliments on my cooking (last night's triple mushroom cream pasta sauce got rave revues AND there's three lunches worth left in the freezer!)
- improving my skills at the guess-who's-getting-off-the-train-next game (a seat ALLLLLL the way home - wahooooo!)
- being a hockey fan during the playoffs, even from afar
- both U and I having a three day weekend! (unfortunately I have to work through much of the rest of Golden Week, but hopefully I'll get a few dinners cooked for me??)
Monday, 25 April 2011
We went to his parents place for the weekend. U came home from work early on Saturday and after a late lunch we headed out there, arriving in time for dinner. A weekend at the inlaws may not seem the most relaxing of times, but we had good fun. It was nice being cooked for, we were taken out for a delicious lunch at a historical microbrewery, and we came home laden down with gifts (plates, glasses, le creuset baking dishes, bowls, and a SEWING MACHINE... wahooooo!)
I spent most of my time there laughing - U is sooooo much like his father in so many ways and it cracks me up to see especially when his mother and I commiserate over certain habits and the two men vehemently deny that either of them do that particular thing...
But now it's Monday again and, I'm beginning to run trough my mental lists of everything that needs to be done at work - it promises to be a busy week!
Friday, 22 April 2011
Commuting has also been extra tiring - three mornings in a row I nabbed a coveted corner seat but the first two I was robbed of a nap when a salary man decided to nap standing up and shove his ass in my shoulder and his elbow in my ear through the bars on the end of the seat. Not quite the most comfortable of situations, to say the least! I tried elbowing him a few times but to no avail. The third morning I was hit in the head when a very polite but obnoxiously exhausted goth couldn't stay awake or stand upright and swung into me while holding onto the handle above me. He only grazed the top of my head but my annoyed ojisan growl scared him enough that he shoved through the mass of commuters to run to the other end of the train car!
By Thursday I was no longer tempted by the corner seat and ended up having a better nap - albeit punctuated by the guttural back of the throat honk-sniffle of the salaryman beside me. Allergy season brings out the most disgusting of noises despite (because of?) lingering cultural disapproval of blowing your nose in public - at least for some. The elderly man sitting beside me this morning demonstrated his modern sensibilities and the healthiness of his lungs by blowing his nose evenly and continuously for a good few minutes, pausing only to take a breath and blow again. Lovely.
Last night I ended up passing out on the couch while U was watching TV (something I very rarely do) and woke up in a start at 3 am to an apartment ablaze of lights and U sound asleep in our bed upstairs. He insists he woke me when he went to bed to tell me to follow him, but I have no recognition of anything of the sort!
Bring on the weekend!! (with a few glasses of ume-shu to welcome it in, I think!)
Thursday, 21 April 2011
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
When I, the lone white girl (and newbie to the group), stepped up and started to cook the guylan (and properly too!) the kitchen fell silent. The other girls suddenly focused their attention on me - and it wasn't friendly. I wondered if I was going to have to start watching my back in the halls at school.
But the hostess dissolved the animosity with a single sentence - "her stepmom is Chinese!" the other girls laughed. Suddenly I was accepted, it was as easy as that.
Nowadays I'll sometimes say that gastronomically I'm half-Chinese. From when I was 13 to my early twenties my father was married to a Chinese-Canadian woman who happens to ne an AMAZING cook (urm... of Chinese food that is... her tofu quiche was significantly less than amazing... less than edible really!!)
Anyways, C makes a mean mapo tofu. And a really good chicken and cashew nuts. And... And... And...
Annnyways. This means that now Chinese food is my comfort food. Whenever I feel over-tired or stressed I get a craving for mapo tofu.
There was a great Chinese food restaurant near where U used to live and we went often. We found a good little Thai restaurant near our new place right away but good Chinese is proving harder to find. We're both committed to finding a good go-to Chinese restaurant, however, so Operation Happy Belly was born.
Stage one to come...
Monday, 18 April 2011
Our last furniture delivery arrived yesterday, however, and although we still have a few piles of boxes left to be sorted, things are just about all put away. Our new place is finally feeling like home and I love it. (and yes, pics are on their way!)
My new commute was, as expected, a welcome change in many ways. Fewer transfers and the chance to sit most of the way. I was very optimistic about all I was going to accomplish... I was going to zoom through knitting projects!! Read a whole library of school-related books! Catch up on all the magazines I have stacked up as yet unread! I was going to be Productive with a capital P!!! The first morning I got on the train for my new commute I was practically humming with all the productive energy flowing through my veins!! Then I got on the train, settled into my seat (we're at the first stop on the line) and fell sound asleep.
As I discovered that very first morning, my body was not amused about suddenly being awoken an hour earlier than normal. The simple solution would be to go to bed an hour earlier, of course, but seeing as I get home an hour later than I used to...
So the morning nap remains. Ah well.
After an initial slightly rocky start, U and I have settled into a routine. In the morning I get up and head to the shower, turning on the washing machine if needed. By the time I'm out and dressed U has staggered downstairs, made coffee, and passed out in front of the TV. I'll make & eat breakfast, do my make up, and as I'm heading out the door he'll finally fully wake up. When I get home the morning's laundry is drying on the rack and the breakfast dishes are washed. (and the days when his pjs are in a pile by the sofa and the disposable contact cases are sitting on a wad of damp kleenex on the coffee table are slowly decreasing). I make dinner, put away yesterday's laundry, and hope he comes home before I fall asleep.
Given the stereotype Japanese guy who doesn't do anything round the house I am super thrilled with the fact that so far it really has been an even sharing of things. Perhaps that'll change in a few weeks or months, who knows. I make sure to make an effort to thank him for what he does, and he has been very keen on his praise over my home cooked dinners.
Sickening, I'm sure! Give us a few months and there'll likely be piles of dirty dishes in the sink, dust elephants roaming the halls, and not a clean piece of laundry to be found! ;)
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Monday, 4 April 2011
It has been over three weeks since the earthquake.
Yesterday my Girl Scout troop teamed up with the Boy Scout troop and went to the local train station with hand decorated posters and money boxes to collect for the Red Cross. It was cold. Me and my girls, in our skirts, were shivering in moments. But, to use a cliche, my heart was warmed time and time again.
The Japanese have the reputation of not donating to charity but a disaster of this scale so close has changed that. When we've collected money previously for other reasons we were lucky to collect maybe twenty thousand yen (really roughly $200). This time, however, even cutting out time by a third we raised nearly seventy thousand yen, and that doesn't even include what the Boy Scouts collected!
Whereas before primarily older women would stop and put a couple of coins in the box of each girl, this time people of all ages were giving, and most quietly folded a bill and slipped it in one box before thanking us and heading off to catch their train. There were seniors in wildly age inappropriate clothing (seriously do not need to see that much, or even ANY wrinkled cleavage!), couples with young children, young professionals, and even a group of junior high students in their soccer uniforms who teased each other as they opened their own wallets and gave us a few coins.
I don't know how long these types of donations will continue as there are boxes and baskets and bottles for donations in every store, restaurant, and business. But it does show that donations can and do happen here, and it is pretty impressive.
It has been a week since I handed in my keys and left the old apartment. The landlord's wife came by before I left and brought us a gift. She then asked when we were holding the ceremony... I paused for a second but gave in and just said we hadn't set a date yet, and thanked her for the gift.
The new place is still a mess of boxes since our new furniture has yet to be delivered. Our studies are covered in piles of books and papers, our bedroom has clean laundry piled everywhere, and the kitchen floor is being taken over by random stuff tossed aside as we search for something from one of the boxes.
On Sunday U picked me up from GS and we headed out to the newly reopened Ikea - us and everybody else, as it turned out! The parking lot was worse than the mall on Christmas Eve, we had to stalk a poor family to secure seats in the cafeteria restaurant, and there was a 10 minute line for carts in the warehouse. But we picked out a bed-frame and mattress, a dresser for me (no more plastic drawers!!), and various storage bits and bobs and then enjoyed super cheap soft ice cream to recharge.
We're learning how to live together too - U is (hopefully) learning how to be quieter when he goes to work on Saturday morning, and how to call or text so I have some idea of when he'll be home in the evening. I'm learning to give up nagging him to do something instead of "resting" (aka falling asleep in front of the TV) because as soon as I announce I'm going to bed he'll jump up and start doing whatever it is (and then wake me an hour later when he comes to bed).
I spent Friday night at home alone while U enjoyed himself at what I am sure was the first of many drinking parties, but on Sunday night it suddenly occurred to me that U wouldn't be heading back to Tsukuba, that he'd be coming home on Monday night after work, I was thrilled... until I realized that meant I was expected to cook dinner!