Saturday, November 29, 2008

Welcome to the Virtual Kitchen!

To celebrate the upcoming Christmas holiday, I'd like to share one of my favorite holiday traditions - baking! When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time baking cookies and breads around the holidays. Various members of my family were part of this tradition and the baking has become a long-standing tradition that I hate to lose, especially because the sharing of the cookies was half the fun! However, in light of the tiny oven, lack of kitchen appliances, etc. that I am faced with this year, the baking will be kept to a minimum for sure, if it happens at all.

I was saddened by this prospect, especially as my Thanksgiving was less than stellar. Suddenly though, I was inspired. Why not create a "virtual kitchen" in which I could share my finds, ideas, and desires with whatever readers might stumble this way? Perhaps someone with an oven will execute one of these recipes and tell me how heavenly the end result tastes. Alternatively you might let me know if the recipe needs tweaking so that when I can bake more (hopefully next year!) I'll know what to do to improve the recipe.

Thus, in the spirit of the season then, I present you with the VIRTUAL KITCHEN.

Today I'm cooking up:
Egg Nog Sparkle Cookies
I'm a sucker for egg nog. I never drink a lot of egg nog, but I love that one glass each year. This sounds like a perfect way to use that excess egg nog.

In a word: Me

Eva tagged me for this meme and since we've got company today this is the quick and dirty version of the one-word meme:

Where is your cell phone? America
Where is your significant other? Kitchen
Your hair color? Brown
Your mother? Funny
Your father? Sweet
Your favorite thing? Family
Your dream last night? None
Your goal? Joy
The room you’re in? Bedroom
Your hobby? Reading
Your fear? Snakes
Where do you want to be in six years? Comfortable
Where were you last night? Home
What you’re not? Fighter
One of your wish-list items? Oven
Where you grew up? Schenectady
The last thing you did? Bath
What are you wearing? Pajamas
Your TV? Off
Your pet? Zeek
Your computer? Essential
Your mood? Upbeat
Missing someone? Everyone
Your car? None
Something you’re not wearing? Swimsuit
Favorite store? Bookstore
Your summer? Hot
Love someone? Absolutely
Your favorite color? Purple
When is the last time you laughed? Tonight
Last time you cried? Weekend

Friday, November 28, 2008

Is is the power of multi-tasking that I'm missing?

Seriously. How do they do it? How do work-at-home moms get ANY work done? My 10 month old is a crawler, climber, put-everything-in-her-mouth, touch-everything-that's-dangerous kind of kid. She is rarely content to sit in one place for longer than 5 minutes. 15 minutes is a marathon for her. And when you factor in that we live with our in-laws in a 1970's style home in Japan, the danger factor seems to be multiplied (watch her on the raised steps near the front door! no baby gates large enough to fit the staircase available locally! sliding doors to smoosh little fingers! ...and of course the fact that her grandparents continue to live life pretty much as they did before an infant joined the household so there are pens everywhere, small rubber bands on the floor, you name it - the list goes on) . We've tried to baby-proof as much as possible to limit the damage. Thankfully, the design of the house while a nightmare for actually using electronics (Where's the nearest outlet? Okay, never mind, just give me ANY electrical outlet!), is great for babies.

And yet. No matter what we do, the obstacles exist. I'm convinced Peanut will kill herself if I turn my back for more than a few moments at a time. Having to constantly watch her when she's awake makes it nearly impossible for me to get anything else done. The other challenge, as I mentioned, is her limited attention span when I'm around. According to my MIL, Peanut can and has entertained herself for long stretches of time on the few occasions we've gone out and left her in charge.

Hmmmm. So we have two problems. First off, when I'm around I feel terribly guilty if I'm not actively engaging with Peanut. The second problem is that even if I didn't have the guilt, her short-attention span and resulting fussiness or danger seeking behavior (I'm thrilled she can entertain herself but wish she wasn't such a daredevil) would probably curtail my time doing anything else regardless.

I can put her in a carrier and wear her while I do the laundry perhaps. But she gets squirmy fast and that doesn't seem to very viable for the long term. I'm amazed at how many stories I have read of women working from home while caring for infants. Do they all secretly (or not so secretly) have childcare support? Am I missing out on the legions of baby-sitters and nannies? Am I truly that inept at multi-tasking? Perhaps it will get slightly easier as Peanut moves into toddler-hood? Or is it just that I'm too paranoid and guilty????

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Remedial Japanese

Yesterday Gboy and I went to the YMCA where I took an assessment test in order to determine where I best fit in their Japanese language classes. The program has six levels. Step 1 is for beginners with zero Japanese language skills while step 6 is supposed to be advanced enough that after completion one could attain a Level 1 or 2 on the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. I'm not looking for that kind of proficiency - just some day-to-day survival skills!

We walked in and inquired at the front desk or I should say, my husband inquired. The nice lady asked me if I had studied Japanese before, and although I was pretty sure I knew what she was asking of me, I suddenly started to panic. I think the testing anxiety had already started to affect me. As much as I would have liked to think my skills were still fairly close to an intermediate level, the inquiry at the front desk should have been a red flag.

Nevertheless, onward we went. The administrator gave me my test materials along with several pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener. How thorough! She asked if I could read hiragana and katakana since the test is written in a combination of both. I confidently assured her I could. She escorted me to a testing room and explained the test to me. I had one hour to work on the test. After she left I started reading the first question.

I was stumped right from the start. The farther into the test I went the more comical it became. Do they have remedial Japanese? I struggled through the test for an hour. At the end of the hour I had finished only half of the exam; I began to think we had wasted an hour and I could simply have told them to start me at Step 1 as I clearly need a LOT of help! And as I looked at the test I realized THIS is why I'm struggling - everyone around me is speaking THIS Japanese and I have something else entirely worked out in my brain!! I walked out laughing and thinking I could slink away while they scored my test. Maybe they'd just call me on the phone to tell me how pathetic I am.

I wasn't to get off that easy though. The administrator planned to score my test right away. Gboy and I went to the lobby and sat down to wait. I laughed as I explained to him how difficult the exam had been. After the administrator scored my test she told me that I'm actually somewhere around a Step 2. Since they're in the middle of a term right now. I'm all set up to attend next week's Step 2 class to see if that is a good fit for me; if it's not I can always enter the Step 1 class and ramp up more gradually. And if that doesn't work, I'm sure there's remedial help somewhere right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sushi for Thanksgiving anyone?

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and I just haven't been able to get my act together. This means we'll probably be skipping the traditional Thanksgiving dinner while we're in Japan. I'm not sure that it's worth it to try to prepare a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Instead, I'm contemplating ways in which to share the holiday with my in-laws. How can I inform them about what the holiday means in the U.S. and more specifically what it means to me? And this isn't just for the benefit of my in-laws. Having a daughter has made me re-think holidays and family traditions. What holidays do we observe and what traditions do we honor?

Coming from different backgrounds and cultures, it's no surprise that my husband and I have different opinions about how (or if) to celebrate various holidays. Up until now, we've operated under the philosophy that if it's important to one of us, it's worth having the both of us honor the holiday. For example, I never particularly celebrated New Year's Eve or New Year's Day until my husband shared some of the Japanese traditions with me. After several years of celebrating this holiday with his family, I decided it was worthwhile for us to find a way to celebrate it in our own way when we couldn't travel to Japan a couple of years ago. I ordered the お節料理 (osechi-ryôri). We purchased a pre-made version of the traditional Japanese New Year's breakfast and celebrated in style at home. My husband appreciated that I initiated this idea and that we started our own family tradition of sorts.

Now that we're in Japan, I'm struggling with how to institute or maintain the family traditions that I have often associated with holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not only do I long for the familiarity of traditions when I'm away from home, but I think that lasting impact of sharing traditions with our daughter will be significant. And frankly, I think that once we grow up and move away from our families of origin, it's harder to maintain that sense of continuity and tradition no matter where we go whether it's 20 miles from home, or 2,000. Even when we lived in Seattle, I struggled with how much to do and what to do to make the holidays come alive. Having started a family gives new life and importance to this mission. I have some ideas of what I'd like to do to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas (I'm focused on the immediate future for now!), but I'd love to hear from others. What kind of old family traditions have you carried over and instituted in your own families? Are there new traditions that you've started, especially once you've moved away from your families of origin? Have you found any creative ways to maintain a tradition despite the challenges posed by living in a new location (i.e. difficulties finding foods or supplies/resources in your new home)?

Monday, November 24, 2008


The germs have now affected Peanut in such a way that she spent an hour vomiting and evacuating her system of most food and fluid. Fun times here. This is the culmination of a crappy week with all 3 of us being sick. It's comical really. Just when you think things couldn't get worse...they do. Last night after two days of her not really wanting to eat or nap (or least not doing those things without a lot of fussing first), I put Peanut to bed early because she had fallen asleep an hour before her usual bedtime. And after days of the creeping crud, rivers of snot, etc. I figured that was a good thing; she could sleep it off. That's what I thought until 40 minutes later when I heard the cough which I know, from one prior and very unfortunate incident, heralds her puking in bed. Ugh. Thankfully, after an hour, her system seemed to have purged whatever it needed to be rid of and she was able to sleep for the rest of the night.

She's been a really healthy kid for 10 months. Other than the one prior vomiting incident, this is the only illness she's ever had, but it's been a whopper for sure.

In closing, I guess you know you're a mom when you've been projectile-vomited upon and you don't even care because all you want is for your baby to feel better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Little slice of life

Gboy decided to do some work on the wireless router here in the house. Anyone who has ever lived with a techie or computer geek knows what this means. He has spent several hours over the course of the last couple of days checking the router software, moving LAN cables around, plugging things in, unplugging things and generally wreaking havoc on those of us who are unsuspecting internet users. He seems to think the issue is resolved satisfactorily, however, it is not optimal and we'll likely be headed to the store later today for more equipment that could, in theory, fix things to his liking.

Peanut seems quite unwilling to take her morning nap today. And she was awake and crying for an hour very early this morning (i.e. 4am). Yesterday she napped pretty well, but didn't seem to want to eat anything we had to offer her. Her top two teeth have broken through the skin but I wonder if this general fussiness is related to her cold or some ongoing teething issues. This behavior is not like her at all. She's currently crying in her crib (terrible mom that I am) because I need 5 minutes to myself this morning.

Shiritori is quite a fun game and I have a humorous anecdote to share, but it will have to wait as the crying is now escalating to inconsolable screaming....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lifelong learning

When I was younger, learning languages seemed to come pretty naturally to me. I picked up French in middle and high school without a problem. Then I added Spanish to my course load while I was in high school, and continued with it in college. I'd say I achieved proficiency if not fluency in Spanish and still had quite a bit of the French rattling around in the brain even a number of years post college. Then, when I was about 26, I was inspired by my boyfriend at the time (now my husband), to tackle Japanese. We had recently relocated to Seattle and I was unemployed. I figured I could take some classes while looking for a job. I attended for 6 sessions (each 6 weeks long). It went really well. I enjoyed the lessons and learned a lot. Ultimately, I reached the point where there weren't enough students at the intermediate level to continue with the lessons unless it was strictly on a private instruction basis. Naturally, this became costly and I decided I'd achieved enough at the time; I could get by when alone with my mother-in-law for example. I could do some shopping on my own. I didn't always have to have Gboy with me.

Now things are different. Living in Japan means I need a much more extensive knowledge base. Also, I learned a lot of Tokyo and textbook Japanese, but that seems to differ (quite often!) from the dialect in Osaka where we live. And frankly, it's been a number of years since I took those lessons. I've lost some of my language skills since then. Furthermore, it's been hard to brush up and do self-study when I've got childcare duties. Inevitably, my daughter's needs come first and the Japanese falls by the wayside.

This past weekend I decided it was time to make a change. I'm going to look into enrolling in lessons. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law, an elementary school teacher, has offered to help me study at night. We started the other night. She recruited my husband and father-in-law too. We played shiritori. I couldn't believe even my FIL joined in, but I'm glad he did because we had a blast. My MIL's English is pretty good - probably quite good. My FIL has little to no English skills. Not only did the game give me a chance to learn a bunch of Japanese words, but they got to learn a bunch of words in English (this makes Gboy very happy - he likes the reciprocation). All in all, I'd say my language skills are about to take off again and I'm thrilled!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Down but not quite out

I hate this time of year - when the germs creep in and everyone gets sick. Gboy came down with something at the end of last week. This is the 3rd illness he's had since Peanut was born. I think he's probably had 5 illnesses in the 8 years that I knew him prior to our daughter's birth. I'm not sure if he's just exhausted, but he seems far more susceptible since we've had her. And who is in charge of childcare while he's laid up? Yours truly. Because he doesn't want to expose Peanut to any sickness, he refuses to touch her and avoids her at all costs when he's sick.

The first time he was sick for half a week, Peanut was one and half months old. My husband had to make a 5 day trip to Japan for his grandmother's funeral and I was alone with the baby. My mother had stayed with us for the first 5 or 6 six weeks of my daughter's life (thank you Mom!) so this was a rude awakening for me. I wasn't used to being on my own and suddenly I was entirely alone for 5 days, (his sudden departure came approximately one week after my mom left). Even when Gboy returned he left me to tend to Peanut by myself for another 4 days or so because he came back with a cold. It was brutal. The next time he got sick, I ended up getting sick right after he did. But his recovery time was much more prolonged, so even when he started helping out it again, it was on a part-time basis and more out of necessity because I was beyond standing up for a couple of days.

Now, he's been sick again. And I've been unable to post or do much else besides trying to keep Peanut from killing herself while she climbs on EVERYTHING in sight. I am convinced she is a future Olympic athlete - gymnast, rock climber, you name it. I've battled vertigo and nasty cold of some kind for the last several days, but as I see it, mothers don't get a day off. (Personally I don't really think fathers do either, but I can't quite convince him of that since he's certain he's doing Peanut a favor by not giving her germs.) I love my husband and he is uber-helpful when he's well. But when he's it's tough.

Although we're staying with my in-laws, they're rarely around and I don't get much childcare support from them, so once again, it's all on me. And tonight they're having friends over for dinner and somehow this involves Gboy cooking. He's a great cook and normally I'm very thankful for his talents in the kitchen, but right now, I'm wishing he didn't have to dedicate several hours to cooking; I'd so much rather he take on childcare so that I could rest. *sigh* How do people with more than one child do it? Most days I feel like I'm barely able to manage my one!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What are the sounds in your neighborhood?

With Mr. Rogers echoing in my brain, I've been thinking lately about where we live now. Daily, I'm reminded that I live in a new place. Each time the town plays the five o'clock song (I'm told it's to call the kids home). Or when the satsuma imo man drives by with the megaphone on his truck singing Satsumaaaa IIIImo, not unlike the American ice cream man. Then there's the trucks that drive around announcing their collection of old appliances and electronics for garbage haul-away. And periodically someone drives by with announcements about politicians or political issues. These are all constant reminders to me that I'm in a new place. Before living here, I had become accustomed to living in a city near the ocean and lakes and we could hear hydroplanes all the time, an occasional tugboat or barge. Since we lived in a big city there were always plenty of helicopters (both medical, news crews and law enforcement). My parents visited once and my mother mistook the choppers for snow plows because although we'd never get snow in that city, she was used to snow plows all the time where she lived. Needless to say, each time I hear a new sound, I'm reminded that we're in a new place and while the sounds may be different, they create a symphony to which I'll become accustomed and will soon be a part of everyday life. What sounds do you miss when you're in a new place?

Finding your foods

I've noticed a trend in many expatriate blogs. Food. For those of us who have left our familiar homes behind, finding "our food" becomes critical. Not only do we seem to experiment with everything local to find new favorites, but we long for the old foods too. Inevitably it seems that what emerges is a blend; foods that have been created or modified to suit the old palate with the new environment. In my own experience, this has manifested itself as kabocha pumpkin muffins rather than the standard American variety of pumpkin. I've also found that using ham in pasta sauce tastes great and given the ready availability of ham in Japan, I've switched from ground beef and bolognese sauce to ham sauce. The additional challenge with which I'm faced, is that I'm not a proficient reader in Japan yet. I can generally read hiragana and katakana, but my kanji reading is limited. This means that reading websites or Japanese cookbooks is still a stretch for me. Thus, while I can read and then tweak recipes originally in English, the reverse isn't true for Japanese recipes. Which just means that my foods and cooking are works in progress.

Favorite recipes you'd like to share? Or sources of favorite recipes?

Book clubs

I've never really been in a formal book club. I did try an online book group once but it felt very disjointed and not particularly interesting. It basically entailed a lot of people saying they liked or didn't like a book/character/plot. While I was a library science student, I learned a little about book clubs and why many of them fail. I understand now that most successful book clubs have a good facilitator and guidelines for the group; open-ended questions are what prompt the group to keep digging into the book and help the discussion thrive. In the future, these are things I'll bear in mind should I decide to join or start a book group.

But here's another approach. Some of my girlfriends and I formed a loose kind of book group and it was a lot of fun. We read and discussed a few books like The Lovely Bones and The Poisonwood Bible. We'd often share a meal while discussing the books, making the whole "meeting" even more convivial. I've even heard of book groups that incorporate foods from the books they're reading (perhaps more work than it's worth, but it could be fun!). However, our little book group faced it's own challenges since it was hard to keep everyone motivated to read the same book and naturally life would conspire to keep everyone from reading regularly. Still, it was fun while it lasted and I miss it. Now I find this. If you can put aside the commercial promotion aspect of this web series, this is the kind of book club I'd like to be join! Not only does this kind of club have good books and fun friends, but it's an mini- escape from those we love. Enough time away to appreciate going back to them and to reconnect with our inner selves. How refreshing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Personal space

Our daughter, Peanut, is pretty darn cute if you ask me. But apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this. When we go out, we often get swarmed by people, especially old ladies wanting to see her and very often, wanting to touch her. "Kawaii ne!" So cute. We hear this a lot. At first it didn't bother me very much, but as we approach cold and flu season, I'm less blase about having people touch her face and hands. And the fact that Gboy has noticed this and is feeling a little perturbed is an indication of how much it's happening (he tends to not be the most observant person about these things). I should also mention that we're currently combating a rash on her face - source indeterminate. Doctor's recommendation of Cortaid-like cream seems to be working, but I don't think having people pet Peanut's face will help matters.

As a result, my husband and I have been talking to a few people here in Osaka lately. We're trying to assess the source of problem. Do people find her especially cute because she's biracial? Many people do tell us this. But some people have told us that the touching thing (again especially from the old ladies) is prevalent in Osaka vs. other parts of Japan. So maybe it's just a local and cultural custom that we're up against. Either way, we're unsure of how to deal with it.

In the U.S. some old ladies (although fewer than we've encountered here) wanted to stop and admire Peanut, but they never touched her. I would have had a hard time asking people not to touch her, but I probably would have developed a backbone as winter approaches and the germ count seems to increase. For some reason though, I find it awkward to try to figure out how to tell people here to please not touch her. I get that she's something of a novelty around here (we're in a more rural, outlying part of Osaka) but don't know why that means everyone should feel entitled to touch her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A glimpse of Seattle

Lulu "tagged" me for a meme with photos. The idea is to share the 6th photo from the 6th folder. I had no idea what I'd find on this computer as I don't typically store that many photos on my laptop but instead keep most of them on an external hard-drive. I'm a scrapbooker at heart (although I haven't done a lick of scrapbooking since the birth of my daughter) and I'm terrified of losing any prints!
Still, I found some photos and this is the 6th photo from the 6th folder:

The view if from my friend's house in Seattle looking out over Lake Union (yes that's the Space the Needle). This was taken in August of 2007 and captures the feel of a typical summer day in Seattle. Blue skies and warm weather but it never gets humid and rarely gets too hot. It's perfect!

Monday, November 10, 2008


It's been raining and cold for the last couple of days and frankly that's my excuse for not posting yesterday - my fingers were frozen. Needless to say it seems like autumn is moving in to stay. When the weather turns like this, I usually want to put on old comfy clothes, soothing music and make chili. Instead, here in Japan at my in-laws' house where we have no central heating, I've hauled out the long underwear (silk thank you LLBean!), extra sweaters, thick socks and I'm wearing them all simultaneously. We also decided it was time to upgrade the comforter we use on the bed, meaning we needed something warmer. Yesterday we managed to find a goose-down comforter, a fleece comforter cover, and a winter jacket for the Peanut. I figured we all need to keep warm in as many ways as possible! Mission accomplished.

The irony here is that I hate the cold and one of the factors prompting me to move away from upstate NY years ago was the cold weather. Here in Osaka I don't anticipate snowstorms and blizzards like we used to have in NY which means I won't have to battle the elements outdoors. However, I'm still adapting to living in a house that has separate climates indoors and where I'm likely to need my gloves in several rooms in the house. Have I mentioned I don't like to be cold - at all?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'm red today

You Are a Red Crayon

Your world is colored with bright, vivid, wild colors.

You have a deep, complex personality - and you are always expressing something about yourself.

Bold and dominant, you are a natural leader. You have an energy that is intense... and sometimes overwhelming.

Your reaction to everything tends to be strong. You are the master of love-hate relationships.

Your color wheel opposite is green. Green people are way too mellow to understand what drives your energy.

What Color Crayon Are You?

Interesting although perhaps not all accurate. For example, I wouldn't say that I'm the "master of love-hate relationships". I see a lot of gray in the world, and the idea of such strong contrasts isn't really my style. I also can't think of too many people who would describe me as intense. I may have a complex personality, but have no way of judging that objectively as I suppose. Interestingly enough, this description reminds me of many of the descriptions of Aries personalities that I have read over the years. I've never felt that those descriptions accurately summed up my personality either. If you want to know what kind of person I am, the Myers-Briggs measure is probably closest; I'm an ISFJ.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dawn of a new day

I've been thinking about the election in the U.S. and what it means to me and more specifically to my daughter. Peanut is Asian-American. Her father is Japanese, her mother is a Caucasian American. I don't know how Peanut will identify herself as she grows older. We're hoping to give her lots of opportunities over the years to live in both Japan and the U.S. and to learn a lot about both cultures. We've even given her two names, one that is Japanese and one that is more Western. We really want her to be able to define herself. I understand that others will always label her in some way based on what they see when they look at her or what they think they know about her, but I like to believe that if she can define herself first, what others say to her (especially if it's ignorant) won't matter as much.

To me, the election of a man of color, a biracial person no less, creates a world of opportunities for young people in the U.S. and for that I am grateful. I confess I am a fan of Mr. Obama and perhaps that makes me more likely to see only the good and to be overly optimistic. But as a new mama, it's a wonderful feeling to be optimistic about the future of my country, and to think that there might be global implications as well. In fact, I can't help but think that Obama's election represents something even more important when viewed through the lens of Japan where the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation isn't really the strong suit. In some ways the uniformity within the culture can be seen as a strength resulting in more efficient and unified approaches to problem solving. However, I like to think that giving Peanut the opportunity to see two cultures and societies with such different compositions in terms of race and ethnicity will only make her a better global citizen.

Plenty of people will describe Election Day 2008 with far more thoughtful analysis I'm sure. Personally, I'm just glad my daughter is seeing the dawn of a new day.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sweets for the sweet

The other day Gboy and I were out and about doing some errands when he had a craving for some cheesecake. Specifically, he wanted cheesecake from Florence. My husband doesn't have a sweet tooth like I do, but he loves this particular patisserie and now that we're in Japan for a while it seems he's planning to take advantage of our close proximity to make numerous visits. Oh twist my arm already. On Saturday we headed to Florence with my mother-in-law and my daughter in tow. As we approached I could see quite a few people standing around outside and wondered if this was in fact the line for this little bakery which, while they do a steady business, never seems to have more than a handful of customers at one time. Here we were, looking at a line at least 20 people deep. Sure enough, it was their post-Halloween, November 1st clearance sale and all pastries and cakes were 50% off. We debated whether or not to stand in line for what was sure to be at least 30 minutes, and decided to take a stab at it. After we waited and waited and waited, we made it to the front of the line to order exorbitant amounts of goodies. I wish I had thought to take a picture of the many luscious desserts we purchased, but trust me when I say they looked amazing. I'm not sure I would claim this as my favorite pastry shop in the Osaka area; I'd need much more in-depth research before going that far. However, they make many wonderful and tasty treats and for 50% off the wait was worth it!

Anyone with suggestions of especially good pastry shops in Osaka? I'm also very interested in your ideas for delicious chocolate in Osaka - chocolate cake, cookies, sweets etc. I'm not such a fan of the low cocoa/cacao unsweetened (or differently sweetened?) chocolate that seems to be predominant here in Japan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sports day

On Monday I went to my first 運動会 (undoukai). For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a sports festival of sorts. My 2 1/2 year old nephew was participating in the "pull a donut off a string" event. The rules theoretically require you to use your mouth and teeth only - not your hands, but can you imagine a bunch of 2-year-olds doing this? Hysterics ensued. Actually, the hysterics started before the kids even made it to the donuts because they had to run the length of an admittedly small gym just to get to the bar with the suspended donuts. My nephew took about 3 steps before deciding he had no interest in going any further. This meant that my brother-in-law had to pick up my nephew and carry him, kicking and screaming, to the other end of the gym, whereupon he was then enticed by yummy donut-ness into trying to obtain a donut (hands and all).

We didn't stay for all of the events and festivities, but I did get to see the 3-year-olds singing a little song and holding hands in a circle. And then the 4-years-olds busted out all over the place with bells on their wrists and a piece of choreography that was so lengthy I couldn't believe they could all remember it. They were like a precision dance team AND they even included spirit fingers!!

As I watched the day's events, and recalled my husband's fond descriptions of all his own childhood undoukai experiences, I started to believe we need something like this in the U.S. In a country fighting obesity and a lack of physical activity, wouldn't this be a great solution? OK, sans the donuts. But still. I was never the most *ahem* athletic kid. I was more of the klutzy and bookish kid. I didn't care for organized sports like soccer or basketball or floor hockey. But I loved gymnastics days and dancing (not the square dancing we had to do in elementary school - who thought that was a good idea when kids that age are worried about cooties?) and I loved games. We often played some version of tag in elementary school. Our gym teacher had all kids of variations on the theme but it generally involved all of us running around and screaming like banshees and although I never much cared for physical activity per se, I always loved the games we played in gym class. Fifth grade was the last time I remember really enjoying a lot of "sports" and activity. But if you had given me music, choreography, bells, games, different kinds of activities? I'm sure I would have loved it.

I don't know why gym class in the U.S. has often been so focused on organized sports. I don't think gym class ever taught me much. I'm much more active now than I ever was in middle or high school. But I choose to do the things I enjoy. I dance (I've taken hip hop classes and line dancing too), I walk (sometimes in the woods and often in the city), I do yoga, Pilate's, and all kinds of aerobics - whatever inspires me. I'm never going to be mistaken for a jock, but I do manage to get pretty close to the recommended amount of physical activity each week. And I bet I'd kick a*$ at an undoukai now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day - U.S.

When I was young, Election Day was a special day in our house. My parents never discussed politics much around me and my sister, but they always let us know it was voting day. They'd usually vote in the evening after work. I remember watching them leave the house to walk the 3 blocks to my elementary school where they would vote. They would hold hands as they headed out the door to vote together. As a result, I always saw voting as a civic duty, but more importantly, as something pleasurable to do. Their attitude as they headed off to vote was never one that said, "What a chore," or "Now we have to pick the least offensive of two terrible candidates." My parents weren't political activists either. They were average Americans exercising their right to vote. I grew up believing that it is worth your time to vote; I grew up believing in the power of the people to make change by casting ballots.

I have very strong opinions about who should be the next President, but this post isn't about my political beliefs. This is about what you believe and whether or not you'll take the time to let others know that you have a voice and an opinion. Will you stand up and have your vote counted? If you haven't already cast your ballot, please do. And if you need any further convincing about what a privilege it is to be able to vote or just how easy Americans have it when it comes to voting, watch Secret Ballot.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An ideal world

For me, this embodies the way in which I wish all parents and caregivers could feel about their children and the future. It's inspirational. And if you're like me, it will bring a tear to your eye...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A little on reading digitally

Before we made the big move to Japan, I bought myself a Kindle from Amazon. Frankly, I was starting to panic over my potential loss of reading material. You see, by training, I'm a youth services librarian. Specifically my interest has been teens/young adults, although with an infant of my own now I'm increasingly interested in books for the wee ones as well! The point is, I tried to envision myself living in Japan and finding a reliable source of good young adult novels and just couldn't see it happening. I figured if I did manage to find a good source of paperback novels then that would be a bonus, but I wasn't coming over here with no access to the latest and hottest YA books.

I spent hours researching the Kindle. If you've never seen one in person, they are very light, and easy to read. I even looked for a bunch of sample titles that I thought I might be interested in reading and found that maybe 50% of them were available in a Kindle format. I thought this would be the perfect solution for me the traveler and avid reader that I am. Besides, I saw the purchase as an investment in my own professional development while I'm currently not actively working in my profession.

The hitch is that since I've been using the thing, the results of my title searches show that on average about 20% of what I'm looking for is available on Kindle. I have no idea what my old list looked like. Twit that I am, I forgot to write down the names of the titles I had originally discovered. This means that I am now religiously visiting Amazon's website and clicking those buttons to "tell the publisher I'd like to read this on Kindle." Keep your fingers crossed for me that this technology will take off and we'll see more digital books especially for young adults.

By the way, if you haven't read any YA fiction lately and are remotely interested in science fiction or medical thrillers, I highly recommend The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. I'd bet large sums of money (if I had such money to bet) that this book will be an award winner and may in fact win numerous awards.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pumpkin muffins (!) and other food

Baking is relaxing for me, and comforting as well. I decided early on in my stay here that I wanted to bake. Because so many aspects of the baking process would be unfamiliar to me, I thought I should start with a small manageable project. After locating muffin tins (actually I think they are ぷりん tins) along with baking soda and baking powder, I felt ready to tackle some pumpkin muffins. Kabocha is plentiful here at the house as my father-in-law is growing so much of it that we eat it in some fashion with nearly every meal. Luckily I also brought my pumpkin pie spice with me and I was able to replicate GirlJapan's recommended recipe. They were absolutely delicious! While a little on the sweet side for my taste, my mother-in-law swears she loved it. I had to laugh as I was making them because the oven is so small by American standards that it reminds me of an Easy Bake Oven on steroids. However, I am sure it cooks by convection as those muffins were done in no time. Hooray!

Now I just need to replace some of the spices here in the house. My attempt at a chicken tikka masala the other night was slightly less successful. I didn't realize we have no coriander in the house and after some investigating we found out that my mother-in-law's stash of garam masala is easily over five years old. The spices clearly lacked their *zing* when we tasted the final product. The long and short of it is that I'm learning to use the kitchen and tools in it, and we're slowly finding the supplies we like in the grocery stores. Back in the US, Gboy and I both shared the cooking responsibilities. He likes to cook lots of Japanese food and a little Italian now and then. He is also a master of steaks and homemade sausages. I, on the other hand, like to toy with other flavors - Mexican (or at least Southwestern), Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, etc. As a result, those are the things I know best how to cook and I really enjoy having a wide palette of foods and flavors. I'm willing to adapt to living in Japan, but I don't really want to learn to cook exclusively Japanese foods. I enjoy lots of other foods as well. Luckily, as I said, we're slowly finding the foods we like and are toying with new recipes. It's a delicious adventure!