Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Slow Day at the Office

Which is good, the last thing I want is excitement--like a server crashing or something.
From December 18 to the 22nd, I was in Osaka and Kyoto, visiting with Chris' parents.

You can see our Osaka&Kyoto pictures on flickr.

There's also Christmas Pictures here.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 25 (Christmas Day)

Open Stockings
Breakfast
Open Gifts
Phone calls throughout the day
Lazing around for the rest of the days.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Traditons: 24 (Christmas Eve)

On Christmas Eve, we always stayed home. There was tons of food (nibbles) and drinks (alcoholic and non-), music and just hanging around. My family never went out visiting, but plenty of people came to see us. Growing up in a small town, I never thought it was odd that people came and went, "dropping by" or "stopping in". Moving to Maryland made me realize how much I miss that socialibility, but I soon realized how nice it was not to have to be properly dressed by 7:30am on a Saturday, because you never knew who was downstairs having coffee.

We normally put the gifts under the tree on this day now that we are grown. Since we live overseas, we've changed that slightly. Gifts that arrive in the mail are unboxed (but not unwrapped) and placed under the tree right away. When we were small, they were put under the tree after we went to bed.

We'll probaby watch A Christmas Story (again)...Ooooh, Earthquake! I hope that doesn't become a traditon!

A quiet Christmas Eve at home, with it snowing outside and cozy inside.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 23

At least one decoration gets broken every year, including last year:The end of an ornament which made me really upset was when the last (a fushica one!) ornament of a vintage mercury-glass set broke. It had been my maternal grandmother's very first set of Christmas ornaments, and it pre-dated WWII. I liked its look and its history and now I like its memory, so it's not really lost forever.

I've come to accept that a Christmas ornament always gets broken, damaged, or just falls apart from old age. Really it's suprising how well everything has lasted as many ornaments have survived three generations, being stored for over a year in a tractor trailer, a twice-flooded basement, various pets, a mouse infestation, drunken rages, the tree fallling over, moving to Maryland, the US Postal System, and various other calamities (like my brother taking a bite of the styrofoam gingerbread man--we hung it up anyway, that gingerbread man with a half-moon shape chomped out of his side). Lost ornaments are replaced with new ones, which have their own stories and become part of our traditions.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 22

Pillsbury Orange Rolls for Breakfast Christmas Day!

Chris, as far as he can remember, always had the orange rolls for Christmas Day breakfast. When we got married, and were merging our traditions and making new ones, he asked if we could continue this one.

We were really relieved when we learned we could purchase the tubes of dough here at the comissary.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 21

The call from Santa Claus.

When my cousins Matt and Em were very young, my father would pretend to be Santa (I mis-typed there, and got Satan--my father didn't have to pretend with that, sometimes the man WAS the devil).

He could get away with it because we didn't see Matt or Emily very often and his voice wasn't necessarily familar. This lasted until the kids were old enough to recognize his voice. It was a very sweet thing to do and my family, really not given over to sentimentality, held this little tradition in high enough regard to never mock it.

Once, I mentioned to my dad that he was beginning to look like Father Christmas, but before I could finish, my father grumpily retorted "Yeah, if Santa was a bald old fuck." and I never brought up the resemblance again.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 20

Pets get a gift.

Santa "Claws" always left a small gift under the tree for our pets. One year, said gift was a humongous rawhide bone that gave our Great Dane something euphemestically known as "Gastrointestinal Distress" and she left a really big (and runny) gift in the middle of the living room for the whole family.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 19

Nuts.

My grandmother always had a dish of assorted nuts out, complete with picks and a cracker. I ALWAYS pinched my fingers in the cracker, playing with it and my brother and I had sword fights with the picks. While I remember this,I really don't ever remember anyone ever eating them, but they looked pretty. Walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, all different shapes and sizes. My grandmother put the same dish of nuts out every year. Not just the dish, the same nuts. I shit you not. I learned this one Christmas while helping her put away the holiday decorations. I watched her carefully pack up the wooden dish with ALL the nuts still in it and stow it away.

I figured those nuts had to be about 15 years old by that point.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 18

Never saw your fruitcake.

This must be proclaimed loudly in received pronounciation, and you must look very stern.

TIFKAS and I discovered a long time ago that we liked Giant Brand Fruitcake. On the fancy, shiny silver box were inscribed the legend: NEVER SAW YOUR FRUITCAKE. This struck as as ridiculously funny. "Have yooooooooou seen my fruitcake?" "Never saw your fruitcake!" and so on. In actuality, the instructions were trying to explain that in cutting the fruitcake, one is supposed to use a firm, downward slicing motion, and wipe the blade after each cut, vice sawing it back and forth. Oh, man, the joke is so much less funny when you have to explain it all. Trust me, after ten years, we still find it hysterical.

We also learned that the Holy Cross Abbey in Virgina that makes AMAZING delicous fruitcakes. AND THEY COME IN TINS. They are really good. Honest.

Tradition #18 also works on another level. If your great aunt asks you if you got the fruitcake she mailed you, well, NEVER SAW YOUR FRUITCAKE.

I have not seen Japanese fruitcakes, but given my experience here, they would most likely contain corn and/or squid. And instead of lasting forever, it turns into a miniature giant robot and flies off into the sun, sacrificing itself and thusly saving the world from funky squid and corn fruitcake.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 17

Started by my godmother many years ago was our practice of putting an ornament on one of your gifts. She started doing this when I was about 10 or so. When Matt and Em (our cousins) came along, we started them from the beginning. What you end up with is an ever-growing and very eclectic collections of ornaments. When Matt and Em have their first Christmas in their own home, they'll have a collection of ornaments going back some twenty years.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 16

A real Christmas Tree!

ALWAYS!

Except for the year we lived with my grandma, who refused to have a live tree because of the mess and the years (2 so far) we've spent overseas.
You just can't get the trees in Japan.

It's traditional to spend the next eight months vacuuming up all needles, too.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 15

Staying home. This is the real, big tradition. Numero Uno!

My family really had no "real" traditions except for this one. We stayed home, together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. No travel, no visiting, no errands, nothing but nesting. We even liked each other the whole time. It was the one time we would be guaranteed my dad would be home. There's no place like home for the holidays.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 14

Stockings, and the stuff therein.

We would open the stockings first, while we waited for my grandmother and godmother to get to our house, for opening the gifts and eating breakfast.

Growing up in Buffalo, NY meant your lips were always dry and flaky and splitting to the point of resembling pink sandpaper. Hence, there was a always a Chapstick in your stocking. Trautman Family Holiday Protocol dictated you dug around for that Chapstick (generally it ended up in the toe section), found it, held it aloft in triumph (and no small amount of relief) said "OOOOOOOOoooh, CHAPSTICK!" and proceeded to slather it on your face, be you male or female and grinned a cherry-scented, wax-coated grin. Invariably within a week and in complete accordance with the rest of the tradition--you lost the Chapstick.

There was always a teeny "Whitman's Sampler" box of Candy (four pieces). In the classic yellow "needlepoint" box. When I was very little, the box was still actually a tin. I kept a bunch of those tins, due to some primordial hoarding urge or at the very least a bauxite fetish. To this day, I still adore anything that comes in tins (peppermint bark, Altoids, Dean and Deluca Licorice).

There was always a couple of McDonald's gift certificates, too.

My parents usually did not have stockings, but when my brother and I were in our early teens, we began to insist that the 'rents have stockings, too. Most of the time, we didn't put anything in them. However, one year, my brother and I managed to buy cigarrettes, despite being underage (back when you could still pull that off by saying "It's for my parents" ) and filled my parents stockings with those. I remember being suprised at how expensive a carton of cigarettes actually was. My parents, both smokers back then, were seriously thrilled.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 13

Someone in the family is ALWAYS sick. Always. My grandmother did the best job with this tradition, she had pneumonia two Christmases in a row. I remember a picture of her in the family album, taken on Christmas morning. She's wearing a yellow chenille robe and looking like death warmed over. She HATED that picture.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 12

Aunt Den's shortbread cat.
No pictures.
I ate the whole thing.
I am notorious for doing that.
I am also notorious for not being willing to share it, either.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 11

Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark

is a tradition Chris and I created. We love the stuff, but limit ourselves to purchasing two tins, just after Thanksgiving. If we didn't we would go through four tins. We know this for a fact. And while there is other peppermint bark, WS is the best one, hands down.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 10

The Louie Story has become a tradition our house.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 9

The tree goes up on the second weekend in December.

My parents always had a fight about the lights. I managed to have a couple of fights, too, when I had my own house and own tree and own lights.

One year, my dad came home ready to have a fight and an complete turn of events, my mother (who had drank an entire bottle of Bailey's Irish Creme) was passed out on the sofa. No fight that year. At least about the lights, anyway. That bottle of Bailey's had been one of my dad's gifts for my mom, but he didn't hide it well enough and...well, that was a fight.

Chris and I usually have a funny tree topper (one year it was a stuffed toy chameleon. This year, it's a Japanese Space Robot).

I promise I'll put up a picture.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 8

Our cut-out wooden Santa Claus. My mother and her mother and her father (my maternal grandparents, for those not able to follow that logic) made it, based on a poster my grandmother purchased at a Hallmark store. This Santa was pretty important to my mom, since her father died when she was 27 and that Santa represented time spent together.

Santa was life-sized, and carefully made and painted. He stood in front of my grandmother's house for years, until she gave him to my mother. Then he stood outside our house for years, braving the weather and vandals and my father's holiday benders.

It seemed like Santa always had thick, steel-plate feet attached via a pretty impressive weld job to a large, steel-plate stand. This was not always so. Apparently, my dad went out drinking with some buddies, beginning early afternoon. My mother didn't really think anything of it, and put up the household decorations, including standing Santa near our driveway. Well, my dad came home, lit up like a christmas tree and clipped Santa.

We heard the noise and everyone came running out to see my Dad stick his head out of his (newly painted) black pickup. Mom yelled at him for hitting Santa, but my dad was furious about the dings and scrapes on his truck.

"I'll show you about hitting that goddamned Santa!" yelled my father. He put the truck into reverse and RAN OVER SANTA, snapping him off at the legs!

I don't remember this, being that I most likely blocked the sight of my father going medieval on Kris Kringle's ass, but my mother claims I started screaming "DADDY IS KILLING SANTA! DADDY IS KILLING SANTA! KILLING SANTA! at which point she whisked me into the house, and locked my father out. I think he spent the night in the shed.

Anyway, we can laugh at it now. My remorseful father rebuilt Santa, bigger, better and stronger with steel plate feet attached to a steel plate base. That base alone weighed half a ton, and thereafter, my father had to set it up because my mother could no longer manage it.

The painted Santa finally succumbed to old age after moving to Maryland and living on apartment balconies for three years and in front of my first home for one. The paint, being well over 40 years old, just distingrated, despite my careful attempts to preserve it. The base was still going strong, though.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 7

Be filled with the spirits of the Holiday.

In the Trautman household, that would be about 6 parts rum or whiskey (as long it was cheap) to 1 part eggnog.

Unless you're my brother, who up until his teens had a variant of this tradition: enough eggnog to make you sick. He finally got sick of getting sick from the crazily rich eggnog and learned moderation. Until he got old enough to get sick on the booze alone.

We bought Mesmer's Dairy brand eggnog, because MD was owned by my mother's family. It was fantastic. I don't buy eggnog anymore because nothing compares to it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Traditions:6

You have to give/get one stupid gift. And the gift that you think is the stupidest is the one that will be the breakout hit of the holiday.

One year, for my stupid thing, I got a miniature shopping cart. I loved it. I still have it. Everyone who sees it loves it. If we get a suprise visit from someone with younger kids, I give to them to play with. They love it!

My brother got a weasel ball. It was a motorized, weighted ball with a fake-fur tail on the end of it. You put it in an empty chip bag and it looked like a critter was in there, rustling around. It freaked out our dog and made us laugh (even more after we had several drinks).

An ex-boyfriend got nerf guns. They were better than the expensive piece of jewelry and got more use, too.

I got Chris teeny sausages last year (in his stocking) and he loved those, despite my belief that they were not only stupid, they were disgusting.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 5

As in 5am. This is the earliest I am allowed to get up. Up until my mid-20's, I was consistently up at 4am and pestering to get my gifts.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 4

Christmas Music. The funnier, the better, but only if my mother is not around.

We got beat one time for singing "Hark! The harelip angels sing..."
(here, you grab your upper lip and twist it, so when you speak, you have an impediment)
"Gnory due na newborg keeg!" It wasn't our fault, our father taught (and encouraged) that one.

My father would also go around singing "Oh, come get a face full" (O Come All Ye Faithful) although when I was ten, I asked "A face full of what?" At which point, I was told "Don't be crazy" and the question was never answered.

"Silent Fart, Holy Fart" was also a big hit in our household, as was the infamous "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells..."

And as much as we loved silly stuff, we also loved the the classics, with my brother's favorite being "Little Drummer Boy"; my dad liking "O Little Town of Bethlehem", and mine being "We Three Kings". For the life of me, I can't remember what Mom liked, although I do think she changed her mind every year, anyway.

I also dig "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" by the Whirling Dervishes, but I can't find it anywhere.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Traditions: 3

Kelly's Country Store

We would visit Santa there and usually buy a couple of ornaments and some candy. We almost always got sponge candy or orange chocolate (both pretty much unique to Buffalo, something I had never before realized til I moved to Maryland and couldn't get any) and one year, I picked out little paper Victorian-style angels for my ornament. I still have a few, but they are in storage stateside.

They had a great holiday display, it took up the better part of the back of the store. It was great! At least, it was when I was a kid. Revisiting it as an adult, it was okay, but looking a little frayed around the edges. That holds true for all things you visited when you were a kid--the Country Store, the local amusement park, Casa Bonita (Chris). Still, it's all good.

They had the best candy, though and the clerks would always give you a free sample.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas Traditions:2

The Red Teapot

Unfortunately, the red teapot is in storage stateside. Basically, when my parents got married, they were broke. Flat busted broke. But my mom dearly wanted decorations for Christmas, so they scraped together some change and went to the Salvation Army, where they bought a a very British-looking teapot that had seen better days and some fake holly. My dad took the remaining money, bought some red spray paint and painted the teapot red, leaving its chased sterling silver collar unpainted. And that was their first (and at the time, only) Christmas decoration.

I had a ex-boyfriend who hated that teapot.

Notice I said "ex."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas Traditions:1

Putting up the household decorations on the first weekend of the month. My house decorations go up at this time, but not the tree.

I haven't taken pictures yet.

YUKI

Almost like clockwork =) as last year's first snow was December 3

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Like Clockwork

In Misawa, like most Japanese towns, there are daily chimes. Not so much chimes as it is taped music played over a PA rather than a real carillion, but still, it serves the same purpose--to piss off the newly-arrived Americans to no end and then eventually be ignored as part of the noise of daily life. Actually, I joke about the ignored part. We have actually come to appreciate the daily chimes, even if we don't consciously hear them. We've internalized them and in doing so, have adjusted our daily rythyms to that of Misawa. There's a lot that goes like clockwork in our lives here.

At 6:00am, Eidelweiss plays. At 6:03, Shimoda's PA goes off, slightly behind schedule and plays Ode to Joy, but it gets all garbled up with Misawa's Edelweiss, so we just call it the morning cacophony and leave it at that. Most of the time I am up before that aural craziness, but sometimes it wakes me up. Although, having grown used to it after two years, I can and occasionally do, sleep right through it.

At 12 noon, the "lunch music" plays. Not sure what the tune is, but Chris and I made up words to go with it. We sang it once for Sly, who just about cried, she was laughing so hard:

"nooOOOOOoon o'clock, NOOOOooooon, o'clock! Time for runch in Meeee-saaaaw-wAHHH!
Will you eat runch with meeeeeeee? Will we have uuuuudon? Or will maybe sooooooooosheeee? Will you have runch with meeeeeeee? We can have keki* or we can have steak-y, will you eat runch with meeeeee?"

*Japanese pronounciation(and spelling) of "cake"

We live near a high school, so we sometimes hear their noon recess bell.

At 4:30pm, due to the proximity of the base, we can sometimes, but not always, hear "retreat" or "colors" (if you are Navy). It starts with the Japanese National Anthem and then goes into an abbreviated version of our National Anthem. They play it on Saturday and Sunday, too, which is weird. Sly said she was never stationed at a base where they did retreat on the weekend. This is not part of the Japanese daily chime tradition, but it fits in with the theme, so I've included it.

At 6pm, they play Eidelweiss again, but I usually don't hear Shimoda's tuneage. Maybe they subscribe to a cheaper plan, which excludes the dinner time announcement and which would also explain why their morning alarm goes off at 6:03 instead of 6:00 aye-em proper.

At 8pm, they play something else, and whatever it is, it sets the neighborhood dogs to piteously howling-- it must really hurt their ears. This is the time we start really winding down, we turn off our porch and yard lights, draw the curtains, run the bath, get things ready for the next day, especially if tomorrow is a work day.

In addition to the chimes, I also regularly hear:

A delivery guy at 4:30 in the morning, on his scooter.

Another delivery person, this time a lady, at 5:00am in her car. Actually, what I hear is the delivery lady doing a high-speed reverse wind out of our dead-end road. Having seen her do this (on my way to the gym for an early workout), I reckon her speed to be about 100 clicks. I'm suprised that the rubber band hat powers her ridiculously teeny white cube of a matchbox truck doesn't break from the strain.

I believe both of them deliver papers. Sometimes they wake me up, sometimes not. Sound carries oddly in our little neighborhood.

Sometimes, I can hear the trains crossing-kachunnga, kachunnga, kachunnga. This depends on the weather. I hear it more often on cold, clear nights or breezy, clear days. Japanese trains maintain their schedules flawlessly so i should hear them every day at the same time, but I don't. Same as the delivery people, sound carries oddly around here.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, at 7:30am the garbage truck comes. He's quiet and fast, and half the time,we don't realize he's come and gone, until we see a forgotten trash bag in the foyer and go to take it out and the bins are already empty. He never varies more than five minutes in his schedule, even with 158 inches of snow.

On a bigger time interval are the "shout trucks" which we hear twice a year when the elections are being held. It's a truck with a PA mounted on it and a nasally woman shrieking her support for whomever is trying to get elected. It is horrid, particularly at 7:00am on a Saturday, when you're trying to sleep off a big bottle of sake, three beers, two glasses of raspberry liquer, and a bit more than half of a cheese pizza.

A few times during the winter, the fella that sells steamed imo (a yammy sort of root veggie thing, quite filling in a marvelously starchy way) will come around, with the steam whistle on his truck going fwoooooooooo. It's a very distinctive and hair-raising sound. The first time I heard that whistle, about 8pm on a pitch-black steel-cold winter night, it scared me half-to-death and sent me running, full tilt and terrified into brightly-lit safety of my little Japanese house, where I peered out the window, watching for the end of the world to come around the corner, going "FWOOOOOOOOO!" All that came round the corner, however, was a diminutive white van swaying to and fro as it made the rounds. A little white van with a glowing red sign atop it, like a oversized nightlight, hardly as frightening as what I had imagined. While the imo are never a let-down, I was disappointed to learn our guy doesn't really have a steam whistle on his truck--it's a recording, meant to evoke the old days, when they really did have whistles powered by the selfsame steam used to cook the imo.

Every year, at midnight on New Year's eve, they purportedly toll the bell at the nearby Buddhist Temple. It is tolled 108 times, to represent the 108 evils a good Buddhist must overcome, but I have yet to stay awake to hear it. I fall asleep before midnight, almost every year, like clockwork.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving

Only ten people this year, which is NOTHING compared to last year, where there were 37!
Pictures on flickr.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some Misawa Engrish for You!

I guess Sandra Bernhard is out of luck.

Hey! You Kids! Get offa my lawn! Go play on some scaffolding!


I needed to iron and starch my linens for Thanksgiving. But all I could find was "strach".
I hope it can make my linens "stfif"!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Anniversary Number Three



There may be lots of fish in the sea,
but there's only one fish for me.
We were meant for each other, obviously!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Snow!

Last night it started snowing. There was a little accumulation this morning. I attended the base winter brief. Winter is officially on the way. Woo!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Friday, November 10, 2006

Turning Japanese

Actually, it's not Japanese (the "fake" Engrish is dead on, though) at all, but rather the work of an American artist, going by the moniker of 14. Her website is "Gallery of the Absurd" and if you love celeb gossip (don't we all?) you'll love her illustrations, which are technically proficient, bitingly satrical and hysterically funny.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Day Tripper

Went up towards Aomori, with a stop at Moya Hills Ski Resort. Moya Hills will usually run a land luge during the off season, but it was closed during our visit, much to Chris' disappointment.

You can view (and control) a web cam at Moya Hills! Try it!

You can view (but not control) our Day Trip Pictures at Flickr! Try it!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bunka no Hi

Japan has about 10 more National Holidays than the United States. Today (November 3) is a National Holiday, Bunka no Hi (Culture Day).

November 3 was originally the celebration of Emperor Meiji's birthday. After World War II, the name of the holiday was changed from "Emperor's Birthday" to "Culture Day" and the holiday was used promote culture and acknowledge the life and works of those who contribute to it, as well as time to celebrate peace and freedom.

Beginning in 1937, decorations for cultural achievements were established; they are awarded to individuals who have made important contributions to culture through science and the arts. Decorations are ranked (in ever the Japanese love for hierarchy) in 28 grades! On average, about four thousand awards are presented on Culture Day. Non-Japanese people can (and have) been presented medals. The ceremony takes place at the Imperial Palace.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Big Bazaar

I worked the Big Bazaar again! I had so much fun last year, I figured why not do it again?
As before, I worked with Ikeda-san , owner of Le Kimono Galerie, down in Yokohama. We had a lot of fun and we did a crazy amount of business-both of us didn't get any lunch, we zoomed right through the eight hours of the first day!

Ikeda-san, in typical Japanese understatement, said "Business was good." (I looked at the tally sheet. Business was REALLY good).

What sells is never consistent. In the spring, we sold a lot of yukata. Last fall, we sold a lot of obis and haori jackets. This fall, lots more kimono and obi sets were sold, along with a lot of wedding robes, which are fairly pricey. The haori didn't sell well at all.

I had a lot of fun wearing my kimono and telling people about kimono and kitsuke and dressing up a few people.

Pix are on flickr.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Morale

As a way to boost office morale, we went bowling.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Navy Day Ball

Got gussied up and went to the Navy Day Ball. Pictures on Flickr.

Snowing

My Aunt Den called to tell me it was snowing at her house. I don't think she realizes it, but ever since we came to Japan, she's called on the day of the first snow. It makes me happy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Worm Farm

If I asked you to think of a farm, chances are you pictured a big, red barn situated on verdant, rolling pastures, with a proud silo silhouetted against a bright blue sky. There might be cows and chickens, or pigs or rows and rows of corn. You might even picture a farmer looking over it all, ensuring that the daily business runs smoothly.

If you were to ask my family to picture a farm, chances are they would envision my father’s infamous Worm Farm. In the course of a short, hot, summer, my father came up with this particular idea, wrestled with some interesting logistics, suffered several terrible setbacks and eventually gave up worm farming altogether.

My father loved to fish. He wasn’t a particularly gifted angler and this was because he was not particularly patient. He wasn’t particularly wealthy, either. Tackle costs money as does bait. But unlike tackle, bait has to be purchased constantly. Nightcrawlers made the best bait for my father’s type of fishing. For those of you who may not know, Nightcrawlers are big worms. BIG—we are talking huge, honkin’ worms, here. Worms the size of Cheez Doodles. Nightcrawlers were expensive, too. My father was not patient. My father was not rich. So he decided he would grow his own.

I recall my father sitting in the coffee-scented kitchen, gleefully scribbling away on a pad of graph paper.

“Whatchya doon, Daddy?”

“I’m building a worm farm!”

“A wo—a what farm?”

“A worm farm! See?” He held up a schematic of what looked like a large box without a top or bottom. “I’ll build it, then I’ll catch worms, and fill up the farm. Then I won’t have to pay for ‘em at the tackle shop!”

“Um, okay, Daddy.” I beat a hasty retreat, lest I get roped into helping (I would anyway, but hope springs eternal).

A few days later, my father appeared with the physical manifestation of his schematic.

He held a topless and bottomless wooden box. It was meticulously made; my father had even dovetailed the corners. I have to admit, the pine box was beautiful, almost a piece of artisan furniture, but I really didn’t understand the extent of his madness. Not at this early point, anyway.

Dad carried the box outside, placed it in my mother’s garden, filled it with dirt, and spent the next two hours rooting around the garden, looking for worms. He inadvertently uprooted most of Mom’s cucumbers, but eventually he got about a dozen worms, which were carefully placed in his “farm.”

Next, weekend, he decided to go fishing. He went to the worm farm, anticipating a bountiful harvest. No worms. He dumped the box out and flung clods of dirt everywhere. There were no worms. No worms. No worms!

As my father sat in the garden, shell-shocked, my mother appeared.

“Where are the worms?” she asked.

“They escaped!” said my incredulous father.

Mom noticed the worm farm. “What happened to the bottom?”

“What bottom? There wasn’t any bot—“

We went fishing that day, anyway, because Dad paid two bucks for a dozen night crawlers

My father was resilient. Worm Farm Phase II was put into action almost immediately. This time, my father put a fine mesh screen across the bottom. Mom refused to let him go tromping through her garden again, so The Bruce L. Trautman Development Company built Worm Farm Phase II on the compost heap in the back yard.

Dad didn’t feel like digging for worms again, so he “seeded” the farm with two dozen purchased crawlers, and hoped that they would reproduce at some ridiculous logarithmic rate. He even began to daydream about a Nightcrawler Empire, wherein he could corner the market and become the primary supplier to local marinas, tackle shops, roadside bait stands, you name it. His delusions of grandeur did not last long. Less than four days, as a matter of fact.

The mesh bottom of Worm Farm Phase II made the worms stay put. However, the top was exposed—to the rain, the sun, the wind…the crows. Having the mesh in place was a good thing for my dad, but a bad thing for the worms.

Restricted by the walls of the Worm Farm, and unable to escape by deeply burrowing, the worms were easy pickings for the crows. For two days, black-feathered, yellow-beaked death rained down on those poor worms. My father just happened to look outside in the middle of one Corvid sortie and rushed out the door, hollering and flailing his arms and acting crazy, even by our family’s generous standards. He eventually waved the voracious birds off, but it was too late. All two dozen worms, totaling a cost of four dollars, had been slurped up, spaghetti-style, by the local feathered gentry. But however put out he was, my father was not down and out.

In addition to being resilent, my father was stubborn. The crows had been just another minor setback. He picked up his worm farm, tucked it under his arm, and marched back to his shop. A few hours later, he emerged, looking triumphant. The worm farm still had its mesh bottom but it also now had a lovely hinged top made of lattice, which came complete with a little latch and a tiny suitcase lock. This was Worm Farm, Phase III.

Dad found a warm and damp but sheltered spot in the yard and placed the worm farm there. He even pulled some dirt up to the sides of the farm, securely anchoring it in a miniature berm. He stole my mother’s very expensive potting soil and lovingly poured it into Worm Farm Phase III, patting it down and making it all very nice. He then ran down to the tackle shop and in an expensive burst of optimism, purchased six Styrofoam containers (at two bucks a piece) of worms. He unloaded his new stock, latched and locked the lid and promptly forgot about the Worm Farm for a third of the summer.

One Saturday, my family was awakened by shouting. Stentorian arpeggios of profanity raked across the mild morning air. There was only one person we knew of who could cuss like that…we ran out to the back porch and there in the backyard, stood my father, holding up the Worm Farm and shaking it, as if he were trying to make a worm-and-mud martini.

As he shook the wooden box, we could see that the fine mesh bottom – the fine METAL mesh bottom had a large rusty hole in it, courtesy of the damp ground. The worms, being opportunists, hadn’t hesitated. They just beat feet or whatever it is that worms beat. At any rate, they were gone, leaving my father a wooden box without a bottom, plenty of wasted effort, and ultimately, some thirty-odd dollars in the hole. It was onto Worm Farm Phase IV. Or was it?

During this apoplectic outburst, my father had an epiphany: mainly that crows couldn’t get into the fridge at the local baitshop; stryofoam couldn’t be penetrated by worms nor would buying bait at the tackle shop cause him to feel like the butt of some cosmic joke…

…And a man had to retain some shred of dignity. Somehow.

My father never complained about buying worms after that.

I miss you, Dad.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Miyakin

Miyakin is a bakery/sweet shop here in Misawa. The shop is adorable and has traditional Japanese sweets or Wagashi. They also have European-style baked goods. I love Japanese sweets and Miyakin is one of the prettiest shops I've been in. It's my favorite place to get goodies here in Misawa.

I haven't been very well the last two weeks, and it's been wearing on me, physically and emotionally. After yet another trip to the doctor's, I was so upset I needed something to cheer me up, so I went to Miyakin. You can see what I bought at Flickr.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tombo

Lonesomely clings the Dragonfly
to the
underside of the leaf
Ah! The Autumn rain.

September in Japan brings the rice harvest, tsukimi (moon viewing), typhoons and dragonflies (not necessarily in that order).

The rice harvest is self-explanatory, I blogged about tsukimi last year, and have already bitched about the typhoons, so let me write about dragonflies.

There are dragonflies in Japan. (No way! Way!) They start appearing here and there in summer but there's just clouds of them in the early fall. Around this time of year, lots come to hang out in my yard. The like the sunny spots on my garden wall and like perching on the points of my gate. They're not afraid of anything, so I can get up close to take (out-of-focus) pictures.

Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, derived from a Greek word, odon, meaning " tooth," possibly referring to the teeth on the mandibles or tusk-like shape of the insect's abdomen. There are In Japan, there are 214 species and subspecies of dragonflies.

Dragonflies can't sting, but bigger ones can bite. The bite doesn't hurt, but it's disconcerting to have a large dragonfly stuck to you. Don't expect your husband to come to your aid, either. He'll just run into the house, leaving you to pry off the bug yourself.

Here in Japan, Dragonflies are called Tombo as well as Katsumushi (victory insect).The word katsumushi is written with two kanji characters. The first character has the meaning of "victory" and the second character has the meaning of "insect." Tombo is what I hear all the time, I think Katsumushi is archaic. In looking up the definition of Tombo in Japanese dictionary, I discovered one of the meanings of the word is "to suddenly change direction". If you've ever tried to chase a dragonfly as it zooms along, you can appreciate how fitting that definition is!

Dragonflies are fast! The fasted fliers have been clocked at 36 miles per hour. Aeronautic companies have studied the insect, in order to improve airplane designs. They're cool bugs.

In Japan, tombo are revered and respected, being symbolic of happiness, strength, courage and success. They are a common decorative motif. During the 11th century noble Japanese families used the dragonfly as ornamentation on everything from furnishings to textiles. The dragonfly was chosen as a part of a Samurai family crest as well.

The Tombo was believed to be the spirit of the rice plant and a harbinger of rich harvests. Makes sense, since they appear around the time the rice is ready.

Interestingly enough, in Japan, the dragonfly also functions as a pyschopomp, as the mythical creature Shoryo Tombo (Dragonfly of the Dead), which is associated with the Japanese festival Bon. During this Buddhist festival, people honor their ancestors. The spirits of the dead, carried by Shoryo Tombo, return home to be reunited with their families.

A Japanese folktale has it that an Emperor was bitten by a horsefly which, in turn, was eaten by a dragonfly. The Emperor honored the dragonfly by naming what is now Japan Akitsushima which, during that time, translated to “Isle of the Dragonfly”.

My Japanese friend, Kei Mahoney, told me about her father's secret technique to catch dragonflies. You hypnotize them! Get up close to the dragonfly (not too hard, they're not generally afraid of you), then using your index finger, point at the dragonfly. Make an uzumaki (spiral) in the air with your finger, sort of going around the dragonfly's head. The dragonfly will be fascinated by this and you can cup it up in your hand if you are fast enough. Works really well, too! My Japanese neighbors find it hysterical to watch me do this, because I get all excited if I catch one. If I miss, the dragonfly will get royally pissed off and dive-bomb me, sending me running for cover. Either result provides much autumnal entertainment for the neighbors.


There's also another capture method, called Buri, which utilizes the tendency of the dragonfly to attack its prey in mid-air.

In buri, a thin silk thread is weighted at both ends and tossed up. The dragonfly attacks it, and is pulled down by the weight, where it can be captured. The earliest known record of buri was documented in 1831 by this illustration, from Kodera.

I've never seen buri done.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Typhoon

September is here, bringing along Typhoons and the sideways rain I've come to know and love. Good day to stay indoors and watch movies and eat toast and drink tea.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ryusendo Caves

On September 9, Chris dragged my sorry, been-sick-for-a-month ass off the sofa and out of the house to Ryusendo Caves. My oldest brother in law, Timmie (sounds like Teme, which can be loosely translated from the Japanese as "asshole"--which Timmie is certainly not) is a geology major, and Chris and I were sure he would have enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

We think Ryusendo means Dragon Water(s), since the characters in the name are Ryu (Dragon) and the same "sen" seen in Onsen. There was also a dragon-motif theme going, so it's a safe guess.

Ryusendo Cave is one of the three largest stalactite caves in Japan and has been chosen as a national monument. The length of the cave is currently noted as 2,500 meters, but exploration is ongoing and it has been estimated that the size may be 5000 meters - or more. The outside temp where we entered was about 23 degrees Celsius. The cave itself was a constant (and chilly) 15. (that's about 79 and 39 degrees Farenheit, respectively)

There's a huge spring that has created several deep pools inside the cave. The pools really don't have imaginative names, just numbers. Although the Japanese do refer to one large pool as the Emerald lake. Hate to tell you Asians this, but Emeralds are GREEN not BLUE, so as such, you folks should have named the it "SAPPHIRE LAKE"**.

Anyway, the waters are unpolluted and startingly clear--in the deepest parts, you can see nearly 121 feet down due to the extreme clarity of the water. They had lights suspended in the water, giving off a distant, eerie, and tiny blue glow.

I was quite suprised that the Japanese visitors seemed to just fly through the cave, not really taking time to look ckosely at much of anything. Chris and I took twice as long as they did, due in part to wanting to get our 10 dollar admission-fee worth.

Speaking of flying through the cave, there were also bats. One bat, the Japanese Big-Eared Bat, is a National Treasure. Despite being such an invaluable cultural assest, Chris was not impressed and ducked when one did a fly-by. Bats don't bother me, but I mistook a droplet of cave condensation for Bat Guano, which does bother me, particulary when deposited on my head.

There was also another smaller cave we went through. This secondary cave was discovered in 1967 and has a lot more formations than the big Ryusendo cave. Pictures were not allowed. Interestingly enough, this cave has educational (if cheezy) displays scattered throughout, making it the first museum in the world to be housed in a natural cave.

Pictures on flickr.

**The Japanese word ao (青 n., 青い aoi adj.) can refer to either blue or green depending on the situation. Modern Japanese also has a word for green (緑 midori), although this was not always so. Ancient Japanese did not have this distinction: the word midori only came into use in the Heian period, and at that time (and for a long time thereafter) midori was still considered a shade of ao. Educational materials distinguishing green and blue only came into use after World War II, during the Occupation: thus, even though most Japanese consider them to be green, the word ao is still used to describe certain vegetables, apples and vegetation. Ao is also the name for the color of a traffic light, "green" in English. However, most other objects—a green car, a green sweater, and so forth—will generally be called midori. Japanese people also sometimes use the English word "green" for colors. The language also has several other words meaning specific shades of green and blue.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Kenny

Preoccupied with the world, who thinks of death, until it arrives like thunder? - Buddha

I found out a few days ago that a Gilbert Dorsey (aka Kenny)a former co-worker passed away, quite unexpectedly. He had just celebrated his 46th birthday.

My favorite memory of Kenny is the time we showed up to work dressed the same. We laughed our asses off everytime we saw each other that day and so did the rest of our office.
Once she stopped laughing, Amy Bayes took this picture of us in our office corridor (note the whiteboard, both Rasheed and Tammam got their US Citizenships that month, too). Happy days.

Kenny was a really decent person who struggled a lot, yet remained sweet and cheerful and possesed of a great sense of humor, which is why I don't feel bad admitting that after reading the email regarding his demise, my first thought was "Oh my God, they killed Kenny! The bastards!". I'm sure Kenny would have found it hysterical. Kenny, you were a good guy, a regular mensch. I'll miss you.

Friday, September 01, 2006

prastic brustells

I have been not been in Japan long enough to be fluent (this is also due to a concerted lack of effort on my part) in the language, but I've been here long enough to screw up my English.

I told Chris today that I needed a new hairbrush because "the prastic brustells (plastic bristles) are coming off the one I have."

Neither of us could believe it when that came out of my mouth.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

RO

Ro is a transparent silk worn during summer, distinguished by it's ladderlike weave. It looks cool but it's silk (a phenomenal insulator)for crying out loud! It's still warm, especially combined with an underrobe. I hadn't even put the obi on and I was sweating gallons.

The Japanese are big on season clothes. Ro is only worn during the month of August (the hottest month). So you wear this particular silk as well as wearing light, bright colors, so you will project "coolness." Even if you are ready to drop dead of heat exhaustion (like me here) you look cool and carefree to everyone else and that's what matters. Crazy Japanese.

Here I am on my way to my part-time job selling kimono. My obi is also made of ro. The koi (carp) on the obi is very similar to the koi tattooed on my right ankle. Eiko-san thought that it was hysterical I bought an obi to match my tattoo. The pattern on the kimono is sakura (cherry) blossoms, so I always think of Sly (who is smart enough NOT to wear hot clothing in the summer) when I wear it. I was hot and crabby and totally ready to give someone the beat-down with my bangasa (oiled paper parasol) but Chris wisely kept out of range while snapping the pictures.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Odate Trip

On August 16 and 17, Chris and I went to Odate. Odate is a town in Akita prefecture, located about 3 hours north of Misawa. Mr. and Mrs. Aizawa live there, and they invited us to spend a some time with them and their family, enjoying the festival there.

Photos on flickr.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bling Bling Buddha

I've been late in posting this.

Sly had a gift waiting for me upon my post-triathlon triumphant return to Japan. A very heavy Buddha, who was presented wearing Mardi Gras beads! Sly and a buddy wanted to deck him out more (maybe with some bling-bling for his grill?) but they got tired out so he had to be happy with just beads. Sly and Co. probably got tired just moving him around, since I think he's made out of cast iron. Kore wa sugoku omoi desu yo! (It is amazingly heavy!) While Bling Bling Buddha is not quite Ghetto Fabulous, he sure is stylin' in his own right.
I put him in my genkan (foyer) so whenever someone comes in, the first thing they see in my house is a happy face. He's usually the last thing to be seen as a person exits, so that's nice too.
To my grow my Buddha's bling collection, I added my "victory" talisman from Naritasanji Temple (it was tied to my bike during my triathlon), a seashell necklace from Hawaii and a Daimonji good luck charm from the Daimonji festival in Odate, which I attended last week (I need to get the pictures up for that, too). The stuff from Hawaii represents my happiness during vacation and at meeting my triathlon goals and the Daimonji charm represents happiness from having a loving Japanese family for friends.
If you have something that represents happiness to you and you would like to present it to my Bling Bling Buddha to wear, send it to me! I will deck him out and post a picture. You can email me for the address here (handled thru the US Post Office, so it's just like sending something in the continental US).
Actually, closer examination of the happy guy leads me to think that he's one of the Shichifukujin or Seven Lucky Gods. The Shichifukujin--Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, and Hotei--are traditionally believed to bring good fortune and happiness to people. The Shichifukujin are kind of an amalgamation of Buddhist and Shinto deities. I think, given his big belly, big smile and big bag, that my guy is Hotei.

By the way:
Hotei (Tomoyasu Hotei) is also the name of amazing Japanese rock guitarist, sort of like an Asian Van Halen. Check him out in
Samurai Fiction, he's also got acting chops!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sorry

I have been told I owe everybody an apology.

Dear World:

I am so very sorry.

15 Aug 06 Entry for Explanation

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Shodo Calligraphy

Having "conquered" kitsuke, I finally found a Shodo instructor who will take me on as a student! That only took two years. I've had all the stuff (brushes, paper, pad, etc) for quite some time (I bought it all in a burst of enthusiasm after taking a free introductory course last year) and as of last weekend, I had been sorely tempted to donate it all to the local thrift shop. I'm glad I didn't--I have my first lesson tomorrow.

Wikipedia has a really nice article about Shodo. I can give you my account of my first lesson tomorrow.

Friday, July 28, 2006

We're Back!

It's good to travel, but it's even better to come home, even though (still?) it's raining here, just like when we left.

You can read about my triathlon here.

You can see vacation pictures here.

We really missed the cat and he really missed us.

Monday, July 17, 2006

We're Off!

Yay! Vacation! We leave in 20 minutes. I am not sure if I will be able to make updates. We're not bringing the laptops and I'm not overly inclined to spend my vacations in an Internet Cafe.

Thanks to everyone for making my birthday nice!

From Mom and Bud -- money and a pair of sandals with a dragonfly motif and two bathroom books (went into Chris' bathroom, since he spends WAY more time in there than I do)

From Aunt Den -- two bottles of nice wine, loads of DiCamillo bakery goods and some cash, too!

From Sly -- fancy toes and fingers (mani and pedi to make me vacation-ready)

From Eiko -- silver zori and bag (for kitsuke), fresh peaches and a gift of money
("from your Japanese Mommy--go have a good dinner, so you are healthy for your race!")

From Masako-san--an adorable windchime and a beautiful picture frame

From Chris -- TWO cards (one cute, one really sweet) and the chance to pick out some jewelry in Tokyo or Hawaii, also a trip to Shiroi Mori Bakery and no comment made when I ate cake for dinner three days in a row. He makes everyday like my birthday, anyway.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Birthday

I am thirty five. Another year, another layer.

The Layers
Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Toranomon (Tiger's Gate)

We spent the past weekend in Tokyo, poking around and meeting up with Seto Sensei and his lovely spouse, B. Except for Fran Sensei, we haven't seen any other of our friends in two years. People have been terrible about staying in touch. Sometimes, it's suprisingly painful but most of the time, we just get on with it. It was so good to see SS and B, well worth the trip (a zillion times over).

Saturday afternoon, we were in Tokyo, in Minato-ku. Toranomon is a subway stop in the suburb. The word translates literally "Gate of the Tiger". Our main objective was to visit Japan Sword (where we got a personal, extraordinarily comprehensive and educational tour of the shop and the museum (full of world-class antique swords) above it. We walked away with a few brochures, a lot more knowledge about swords and fittings, and a genuine collector's item: a 300 year-old tsuba (hand guard) featuring a dried fish (fish jerky!) motif. I need to write the shop a thank you note, it was an incredible experience. The museum part of the shop is open--that is, items are not not encased in glass and you are encouraged to take your time and look (but not touch) closely.

On the way to JS, I found this interesting arrangement of a recently refurbished Shitno shrine, with an office building built around it. At one point, shinto shrines numbered about 190,000 throughout Japan. In recent years, there's been consolidation, dropping that number to nearly half (100,000). Most shinto shrines are located in woods or forests. Toranomon's was smack in the middle of an office block, yet still managed to retain a sense of sacredness and serentity. But if you illegally park your bike, serene or no, you'll get a BICYCLE PARKING TICKET! You can look at the flickr album here. Please note that the garden shots were taken at the New Otani Hotel, located in Asakasa, NOT near Toranomon. "Gee Music" got pictures, because I call my youngest brother-in-law "Gee."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Seasons

The Japanese have this big fascination with the four seasons. They take such pride in the cycles of nature that it is almost as if they've cornered the market on it. Nobody appreciates the seasons as much as the Japanese! No one has such a wunnlafool spling or wintah or summah or fallu! It borders on retardaculous. It occasionally gets on my nerves.

Anywhere you go, people always ask "Where are you from?" In NORMAL countries, this is then followed by "What brings you here?" However, in Japan, land of used-panty/porn vending machines, fifty ways of sorting trash, and squid-and-corn pizza, the next question almost always is: "Do you have four seasons?"

WTF! Okay, so some places don't have four seasons. I'll give them that, but really, the implication is "Do you have four seasons of Japanese Quality? I bet not." In case you were wondering, Japanese Quality Seasons mean: Fucking Cold Winter, Fucking Rainy Spring, How the Fuck could Someplace so Cold in Winter has such a Fucking Hot Humid Summer(!), Fall with Fucking Oban and every Fucking thing in Japan Fucking Shutting Down for a Fucking Week, so Fucking Forget about Getting Any Fucking Thing Fucking Done, m'kay?

When I first got here, I would say I was from Buffalo, New York and (after explaining no, it's not NYC and yes, NYC is like TOKYO, except with less good manners and even less squid) and tell them "We only have two seasons-winter and road repair. Alas, this joke was lost of the oft-literal minded Japanese, mostly because they do road work year-round. Yes, even in winter, under seventeen feet of snow. Seriously. They would feel sorry for the poor gaijiin, hailing from a hometown that only had two seasons. I got tired of following up with "Jordan desu, jordan desu!" (it's a joke, a joke). So I just would say, yes, yes, we have four seasons and no, we don't put corn and/or squid on our pizza during any of them.
After being here for two years/eight seasons, something ocurred to me yesterday,while looking out the window at the rain that had been coming down nonstop for almost seventy-two hours-- the Japanese may not realize it, but they really have six seasons. They even a special word for those two "mini-seasons." Start with Haru (Spring), then you get Tsuyu (Rainy Season aka The WHOLE FUCKING MONTH OF JUNE and a GOOD PART OF JULY) then Natsu (Summer), then Aki (Autumn) then Tsuyu again, then Fuyu (Winter). Ah, but you say, what's the difference between Haru Tsuyu and Aki Tsuyu? I'd rather get caught in a Haru Tsuyu rain, which is drizzly, falling-straight-down affair and sometimes is even warm, than the Aki one, since it is like being machine-gunned with very cold liquid bullets and as anyone, even a bakagaijin, knows, umbrellas don't stop bullets.
My kimono sensei describes Spring Tsuyu rain as "Tsu tsu" and Fall Tsuyu as "ZaaaZaaa!" Zaa Zaa is a stronger onomatopoeia, indicative of more of a drenching, penetrating type of rain. Oh shut up. I'm in a land where they think pigs go "buu" instead of "oink", so it makes perfect sense that a autumnal monsoon goes "ZaaZaa". Actually I love the plethora of onomatopoeia in the Japanese language, aside from sounding cool, their usage in conversation makes me seem more pera pera (fluent) than I really am, but that's something to write about at another time.
So about Spring: Early Spring is Cherry Blossom and Cherry Blossom Viewing Party season, which has degenerated from the pastime of royalty to an excuse to sitting on a blue tarp in a park with seventy jillion like-minded Japanese and getting drunk off your ass. Late spring, as you've deduced, is rainy. Late spring is also Bug Season. Gazillions of spiders, crickets and the ocassional mukade (a big-ass, poisonious centipede the size of those ropes you used to have to climb in gym class) invade my home. Chris and I take turns working Insect Escort, armed with a broom and a dust pan. We try to be humane, but we end up with more war dead than we do freed POW's, but not for lack of trying. Genji the Cat gains ten pounds from the 24-hour mushi viking (bug buffet) and spews at least that much gero (vomit) from eating those bugs which are poisonous. After Bug Season and the ensuing Clean Up Cat Gero Season, comes Fungal Season--the mold appears. It shows up everywhere, books, shoes, walls, the cat, everything can (and does) get moldy. It's a war in here and I follow a bleached-earth policy-- I basically hose everything down with a mixture of Clorox and water, applied with one of those two gallon garden sprayers. It's my own personal Oriental Apocalypse Now and I love the smell of Sodium Hypochlorite in the morning (and afternoon and evening). The smell drives Chris right out of the house, but this can sometimes be considered a benefit.
Then somebody flips the hot/humid switch and without warning summer really begins. Last year, on July 7th, I was wearing a sweatshirt. By July 10, I was trying to wear as little as possible without getting arrested. That's just how it works, via a switch. Honest. Summers in Misawa are hot and short (like me!). It tends to be humid and if you are a gaijin, you spend an inordinate amount of time sweating, like Kelly (28 june 06 entry). In addtion to failing to understand why a place so cold in the winter gets so hot in the summer, I also fail to comprehend the reason why the Japanese don't seem to get the schvitz as badly as we do.
I'll write about Fall and Winter some other time. This is getting long and boring.
Despite all the meteorolgical vargaries, trials, and tribulations, the Japanese NEVER complain about the weather (it's okay, the 'Mericans make up for it). My first summer in Misawa (04), there were two weeks in August that were record-breakers. Temps from about 100 to 110 Farenheit for two weeks running. Unheard of. By way of practicing my Japanese I would say "Otenki ga atsui, desu neh?" (It's hot, isn't it?) Most of the answers were "Chotto." (a little bit). The closest I ever heard to a complaint was "This is very unusual." No, 110 in the shade is not unusual, IT'S FUCKING HOT!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tezz

Tonight, we took our friend Tezz over to Kaneya, to get measured for a custom-made yukata. The Kaneya Kimono Ladies were excited, I was excited, and Tezz was excited.

We picked out a beautiful blue fabric with a geometric design and a really cool obi for him (although it's a cheater obi). It will be ready in about two weeks.

The Kaneya Kimono Ladies know me by name. How funny is that?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Summer?

Looks like summer is here at last. I can't describe how wonderful the last two days have been. Sunny, mild, no humidity and no Japanese Death Clan Ninja Mosquitoes (they can fly through walls and bite through lead and leave welts the size of golf balls). Soon, it will be crazy humid, so I'm enjoying it while I can.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

WTF? 8

Q: WTF are you gonna catch a lure that look like this?A: Red Snapper!


WTF PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

If you own an electric doberman, please be kind enough to stick this warning label on the door of your house. You can buy these convenient-to-apply-and-use lables at your local 100 yen shop.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

WTF? 7: More WTF Foodstuff

Okay. Seltzer is good. Coffee is good. Coffee and Seltzer is NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD AT ALL.
When we first moved to Japan, I noticed that quail eggs were popular. They're speckly and cute and tiny. I've wanted to make a teeny omelette forever! So I got some quail eggs on sale. Then in the process of making my omelette, I learned that quail eggshells are leathery , not crisp like chicken eggs. For some reason, this totally grossed me out. Anyway, I smushed two of them into inedibleness trying to crack the shells. Then I got smart and cut the small end. A cook needs appropriately-sized pans, based on what's being prepared. It took me a while but I found a teeny fry pan! Hooray for the hundred-yen store! The little pan is about the size of my palm, the big pan is a standard fry pan. It came from Ikea, in case you care.
Here's my teeny fried egg. The yolk is a little bit smaller than a quarter. I know I promised an omelette, but I got lazy and decided an omelette was too much work, what with having to cut the tops off all those eggs. And I couldn't find a teeny carton of milk, either. So nyah.
d00d! WTF? Water is H2O..IT ALREADY HAS OXYGEN IN IT! I actually had a ten-minute rant about this, proving I really do need a life. H2O ALREADY HAS OXYGEN IN IT, DAMMIT!
Would you drink a beverage from a can? Of course! What if that can was designed to resemble a rusty fire extinguisher? A what? A rusty fire extinguisher. What's tasty about rust? Nothing. Not only that, the top kanji (one of the few I can read) is the character for charcoal. I didn't even want to venture a guess about what charcoal had to do with anything. So the can was unappetizing and the drink wasn't very good, either, but it was much better than the Coffee Soda.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Okonomiyaki (As You Like)

Last night, we took Masako-san out to dinner at Dohton Buri, an Okonomiyaki restaurant.
The restaurant is fairly new, only about four months old. We wanted to go but were sort of chicken because we didn't know what to expect. So we dragged Masako-san out with us.
Turns out she was wasn't really sure what to do, either.

Despite our collective ig'nance,
we had fun!

Here's Masako-san and her new boyfriend!
He's a Tanuki (like a badger). He's the store mascot.
Every time you masturbate, God gives a Tanuki a herpes sore!
Actually, it's a warning about the hot grill.
Teppan ga atsui yo! Sawa ranai de neh.
(The grill is very hot! Don't touch!)
Chris and I are functionally illiterate and have to get by pointing at pictures,
Ma-chan can actually read the menu.
Showoff.Here's Ma-chan having a hard time with her spatulas.
Maybe she should read the instructions.
(Actually, she ended up doing that).
The waitstaff took pity on us and showed us how it is done.
Also, I think he wanted to check out Ma-chan who is just as hot (or hotter) as the grill. Here's my Okonomiyaki, as well as Chris'.
Ma-chan thought it funny I put uzumaki (spirals) on mine!
(usually you do a grid)Oishikata deshita! (it was delicious)
After dinner, we went to Misdo for dessert.

PS. Ma-chan's last name is Fukuoka, which is also a style of Okonomiyaki!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kansha (Appreciation)

Chawan is the Japanese word for bowl. Chawans are a traditional pottery item, created in a range of styles and colors, from earthy to elegant. Japanese pottery is one of the oldest earthenware traditions anywhere in the world, going back 10,000 years (early Jomon period).

A chawan can used to hold rice, regular tea or Matcha (the bitter green tea of Japanese Tea Ceremony). Bowls for tea are specifically referred to as yunomi chawan. I came across an appealing yunomi chawan in the jumbly antique shop located in my soba (neighborhood).

I've gotten into the habit of spending a couple hours on every Friday afternoon in the shop, usually poking around in the piles of kimono. This past Friday, the kimono getting wasn't good, so I wandered through the other sections of the shop. I passed by the chawan a couple of times, picked it up, put it down, and picked it up again, only to place it back on the shelf once more, slightly put off by its price.

If I wanted tea bowls, they could be had cheaply at the 100 yen store right across the street. Yet, in this day and age handmade things, things with soul, have been become rare, even here, despite Japan's longstanding handicraft traditions. And in this day and age, few people take the time to really look.

My husband will attest to my maddening habit of looking at things for a long time, for going away and coming back and looking at those same things again. And again. But let me say that there is value in taking time to really see and appreciate things.

I am lucky in the fact that the antique-ya san instictively understands my need to putter about. He is quite willing to let me wander around his store, picking things up and putting things down, turning them over in my hands, looking for a minute or maybe an hour. He never interrupts, except to offer me a cup of tea or hot cocoa.

So I looked at the chawan; I looked at the chawan for a long time. It was approachable and seemed to be asking to be held. So I held it. Human beings are visual but they are also tactile creatures and so much of our world and our relationships with it are communicated via touch. Things which are handmade have been touched over and over, by the hands and heart of their maker. This is true for many things: pottery, woodworking, kimono. To touch something lets its story be told. The piece of pottery I held in my hands was more than fired clay, it was a kind of bridge-the combination of skill and heart the craftsman used in creating the chawan made it into a link between the spiritual and the everyday.

The chawan was humble yet dignified. I liked its cool surface with its curves and lumps. I liked the fact it wasn't perfectly round and that its handmade origins were plainly evident. It had an appealling protean nature--it reminded me of many things: birds' nests, charcoal lumps, rocks in the Niagara Gorge, my father's fingers, knobby and stained with hard work and motor oil, a patch of snow on the roadside. The chawan felt substatial in my hands; in my heart it felt like seeing a long-lost friend come around a corner.

Everyone needs to be appreciated, especially recently-found long-lost friends.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Two Years Later

June 04, 2004, we arrived in Misawa.
Wow.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Drugs

Ben Lee, a co-worker had his mom send some Chinese medicinal tea for me -- mostly to help with my kidneys and to improve my circulation. Seems to be working, which doesn't suprise me. Eastern Medicine has a lot of good points, but the thing I like is that it is proactive, rather than reactive, like a lot of Western Medicine. In fact, in China, if you get sick, it's considered the doctor's fault, for not doing his job of keeping you healthy. The teas I have taste really good, too. That's lucky, because some of them taste awful.

I just remembered something. For years, my family has considered my a hypochondriac. Time has proved that my stomachaches were NOT neurotic, they were kidney stones. As a form of karmic revenge, I now also seem to be the healthiest person in my family. Anyhoo, one very old running joke in my family is that for a long time I also asked my mom, "Are you giving me the right amount?" whenever she dosed me.

My family has probably forgotten the incident that led to this, but let me remind them:

I was very little and prone to high fevers. So I was down for the count with a high fever, and this particular time, I also had the screaming squits. It was common practice to give paregoric to alleviate the runs. So there I was, on the sofa, sick and groggy, and my mom doses me. Multitasking as always, she also is doing laundry, getting my father's lunch ready, keeping an eye on my brother, listening to the stereo and probably doing nine other things, too.

Ten minutes later, Mom's back, with another dose of paregoric. I tried telling her"But I just had some medicine!" but she wouldn't hear it, so I got mine (again).

About fifteen minutes later, I try to get up to go to the bathroom. Woowowowowowowowowooo! goes the room, and I discover that my legs don't work.
I drag myself back onto the couch and start yelling "Mommy! Mommy!"

Of course, Mom comes running. "What's wrong!" she says.
"My legs don't work anymore!" I say, strangely unperturbed by such a development.
In fact, other than not being able to feel (or stand on) my legs, I feel pretty damn good.
"Jodi, don't be crazy!" says Mom.
My family was always telling me not to be crazy, like that would work.
"Noooooooo! It's true! They don't work! And I have to go potty!"
"Get up!" says Mom and hauls me to my feet.
I totter there for a minute, and collapse in a small heap.
"Holy SHIT!" my mother shrieks, scoops me up, puts me in the car, where I slooooooowly slump
over, in a small heap.
My mother, with me in her arms, comes roaring into Dr. Miller's office. "She can't walk! She can't walk!" my mom wails.

Dr. Miller, ever so calmly, takes a look at me. Apparenly, I no longer have irises, my pupils are so wide.

"Doctor Miller," I say, "My legs don't work!"

"And why do you think that is?" at this point, he's trying not to laugh

"Mommy gave me a LOT of medicine. I tried to tell her I already had some!"

At this point my mom is in tears.

"Connie, do you know what the problem is?" asks Dr. Miller.

"No, what?"

"You're daughter is stoned out of her mind."

"WHAT?!"

"Paregoric is an opiate. You just gave her a little too much of it and now she's stoned out of her mind. One dose is enough, Connie."

For years after that, I would ask "Is that the right dose?"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bonus Round

...And I am blaming YOU, beckaboo. You know why.

Chris and I went up to Hakodate today, to ride the ropeway. Hakodate is a ski resort about an hour and a half from us. During the summer, people hike the mountain trails. During Memorial Day, people still snowboard. I am not kidding! It was a nice way to spend the morning. After, we ate at the Oriase microbrewery. I really like their dark beer. Is good!

Also: Japan is not The Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is The Land of Park Where The Fuck Ever.
Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Trust me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Onsen

It's been so long since I've gone to the Onsen. Beccaboo and Sly and I went to Komaki's tonight.
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh...it's amazing what a good soak can do for you.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

WTF? 6: Assorted Foodstuffs

Kami Pan (Turtle Bread)
Made for Children's day. Turtles are believed
to live for 10,000 years. They represent longevity.
I saw these guys at the bakery and couldn't resist.
I think it's probably a Chichi Kami (Daddy) and Otokonoko Kami (little boy).
The bread had been baked about 15 minutes before I bought it.
It was very tasty.
Mochi
Regular readers of my blog know
how much I love mochi, especially fancy ones.
I picked this package up when I bought the Kami Pan.The bumpy one in the corner is pretty scary.In fact, it looked like a tumor.
It's not a tumor.
But I couldn't get past it, thusly
it was not consumed.
The other mochi were, though.
note: too much mochi causes constipation.
trust me.Yasai (Vegetables)
Because we are in the midst
of farm country, the produce is amazing.
Here's a pre-packaged veggie set containing:
kinoko (mushrooms)
asparaga (asparagus)
nasu (eggprant)
imo (potato)
peppa (peppers)
negi (green onions)
negitama (western-style onion)
kyabetsu (cabbage)
kabocha (squash)
add some sauce and. . .
rock the wok!
this is my favorite easy dinner.
and it costs less than two bucks.
Kodomo no Nomimono (Kid's Drink)
A nomimono (drink) packaged to look just like beer.
I read about it a long time ago, on this site.
I'd never seen any until two weeks ago.
I liked the retro label. However, I couldn't figure out
if it was for children or made from children.
It looks like pee, so until I ascertain if it's for
children or from children, I'm not drinking it.
Also, the kiddie on the front reminds me of
my good friend, Kaidi. He's Chinese, though.
Karaage (fried things)
Look! Japanese Pork Rinds!
Who said they didn't have Rednecks
in the Land of the Rising Sun!
I think they're actually fried tofu skins.

SLUGS!
Chris tried it before I did.
I don't like stepping on slugs,
let alone ingesting them.Ha, ha. Not really. It's GIANT CORN PUFFS!
Quite tasty, light and slightly sweet.

Ice Cream!
If you come up to the register with
a shopping basket full
of nothing but ice cream,
despite her best efforts, the cashier will laugh at you.I love Japanese ice cream and frozen treats.
They are often packaged as single servings so
it is easy to do portion control. Every thing I buy is
under 200 calories, most things are well under 100.
Lots of things are impossibly cute, too.Here's what the watermelon popsicle looks like
the seeds are tiny chocolate chips.
The honeydew one uses teeny white candies for seeds.
No artificial flavors or colors, fat-free and only 75 calories each.Here's an ice-cream cone.
It's only about four inches tall.
Each one comes protected in it's
own plastic ice-cream armor.
Sometimes they're hard to crack open.
The calories I expend freeing the cone
entitles me to another one. Bonus!
QUIZ TIME!
One glass contains dish soap.
One glass contains a Japanese drink.
Can you tell which is which?I almost couldn't drink this stuff.
It not only resembles dish soap but something else, too.
wink, wink.
I figured, what the hell?
I've swallowed drinks, dishsoap and that,
so I might as well try this.

The Koiwai Farm Yogurt Drink was very gooddespite it's suspicious appearance.
Unfortunately, the only vending machine
around here that has it is on the other side of town.
I will admit to having made a special trip over there to get it, but just once.