Sunday, October 30, 2011

all about food

I have found myself lately lacking the motivation to post. 
There is a huge combination of factors, but one is the feeling that my day to day is just too day to day--too quotidian to be of interest. When I explained that to my little sis, she asked some questions as prompts and one of them was about food. "food..." she asked. "...what do you miss from the states, what can you get there, what are your favorites, what do you usually have for dinner?"  Oh such good questions. Food is love and joy and the weary boredom of the supermarket. Yeah, I can say a bit about food.

So, what do I miss in the way of food from the states?  The very first thing that comes to mind is cereal and twizzlers (black, red, chocolate--all of them). I miss having a cereal aisle that you can get lost in and that it takes like 15 or 20 minutes to choose what kind you'll eat tomorrow because there are just that many to pick from.

The biggest reverse culture shock I get when I go back to the states is in the supermarket. It is pure stimulus overload and I want to buy and eat all the cool things that I cannot get my hands on (easily) here like lime chile tortilla chips and bags of rocket and frozen dinners (which I know are not that good, but how easy life would be...!). I miss the spice aisle with all is possiblities--our choices are pretty limited here with simple garlic, basil, thyme and their other italian cousins and red pepper. There are some cool Japanese spices like Seven spice red pepper (not that hot), and a little guy called "Yuzu Kosho" --yuzu is a citrus and kosho is pepper, and this packs some heat which is usually sorely lacking in the other seasonings that we can get. I use it in noodles and with meat.

So, anyway it is the supermarkets in the US that make me swoon. I know that if/when I leave Japan there will be things that I would/will miss. Things like really fresh tofu and soba noodles. But right here, right now I miss variety and choices.

What do we eat?
lots of white rice.
oooh the shame!
I cook brown rice sometimes because I like its texture and know that it is healthy. Still, I have a husband who is Japanese and of a certain age and brown rice to him is like serving up squirrel; it was what people ate when they were poor and desperate. White rice was for the rich and royal (and gave them beri-beri too, but who cares about that little detail?). He has to have white rice once a day or he doesn't feel like he has eaten.  We eat some kind of main dish like ginger pork or spicy eggplant and miso soup and white rice many, many times each month. We don't eat a lot of fish or seafood because I, being land-locked Utah raised, never learned to deal with scales or bones and Shuji, amazingly enough, does not care for ocean creatures much--except for salmon (which I see as a river fish anyway...) We also top our white rice in traditional "donburi" ricebowl fashion. Teriyaki chicken with leek and savory chicken and egg with onion are two favorites.

We eat a lot of tofu in the summer because it is so good and cold and fresh. We eat it "as is" with grated ginger, soy sauce and chopped green onion. We eat a lot of noodles in the summer too. Somen noodles are good for hot days when we don't want to cook and are dipped in a savory ginger laden sauce.

We eat a lot of veggies--whatever is in season. Mostly there is eggplant, napa cabbage, bok choy, leeks and at least three kinds of mushrooms--maitake are my faves-- for a variety of stir fry or as a topping for chow mein. We also use "kabocha" pumpkin to make soups or stir fry with garlic and soy sauce. We eat quite a bit of okra, but it is expensive by US standards--as is pretty much everything here and amazingly I can get zucchini so we use it a lot in pasta sauce or steamed, baked or brownied--i make a lot of cookies because the snack aisle is seriously lacking too.

There are really only two kinds of potatoes here and neither of them are the great-for-baking Idaho kind. In fall and winter I make a lot of chicken, veggie, bean soups and stews with my slow cooker. I bake bread--well the bread machine does and so we eat a real mix of traditional Japanese recipes and "Western" food. Shuji loves fajitas (I am going to have to break down and make enchiladas pretty soon because I cannot just go to down to Taco Time or the local good Mexican restaurant to get my fix--tamales-oh god, are something that I have put behind me) and barbecued or pulled pork. I can get tortillas, cheese, salsa, pretty much anything from a store called FBC (foreign buyer's club) and there is a service called "the flying pig" that can send us food from the two or three Costco stores in Japan. But ordering is expensive and a pain--because you have to plan in advance and one does not always want to plan dinner that far in advance. We get our oatmeal from the flying pig and that is what we eat every day for breakfast. It is boring, but it keeps our cholesterol levels low. (and makes great cookies as all good Utah girls know.)

So, I guess we are pretty healthy with what we eat. We only eat out maybe once a month, Indian food or eel or things like tempura that we don't make at home. Sometimes we get pizza (Pizza hut, they will top your pie with tuna or squid, but you can't get ham & pineapple) or take out from the local "bento" place. They make boxed lunches (that include white rice!) and if meetings run late they make a decent dinner. Miyazaki has pretty good ramen too, but eating out is also pricey and even though neither of us have high blood pressure, I worry about what all this salt in our diet (soy sauce in everything!!) is doing to my/our stomach(s).

I could go on, but will stop here. I am sure I have tried your patience this far. So, there you have it: FOOD--what I eat and what I miss. Time to get up and go push the button on the rice cooker--vegetable stir fry and yep, you guessed it--white rice for dinner tonight.

copy cat--been there, done that

22 things 
--that i feel pretty good about having done

1.  climbed mt. fuji (before it got all cool to do)
2. broke up with my 5 year high school/uni boyfriend because I knew i was becoming a stepford wife
3.  rode an elephant in Thailand, slept in a hammock on the River Kwai
4. read whole books in japanese and french
5. went to see "Paris Texas" with my brother in Paris, France
6.  kayaked some scary rivers (class 3 & 4)(west coast, east coast & Japan)
7. hiked in (up) and tented overnight--have not done this enough, but am glad that I have done it.
8. walked up a river/canyon when I knew there were leeches
9.  lived w/in the same zip code for 20 years
10. got my master's in under 2 years while working full time
11. learned to drive on both sides of the road--really scared some poor woman down by my old post office--sorry! before i got the hang of it.
12. got married in Vegas and honeymooned at the rental beach house where my grandparents moved before they bought their retirement house
13.  worked at a Goodyear tire store for 5 years in high school and college
14. dated a rodeo rider
15.  got a job at a very good uni that is hard to get into as an "unknown/darkhorse" just out of her master's program-that's part of what got me this job and my "associate professor" status
16. spent three summers at my aunt's in AK doing odd jobs for her father-in-law, painting, gophering and doing grunt work to earn enough to pay for my way back again each summer
17. called the cops on my mom's third ex when he broke his restraining order
18. seen a sea turtle while stand-up-paddle boarding on the ocean
19. typed 2 academic books for an author when i was in college for some extra money. did it on an early mac using a program called "pagemaker" and it included the recreating the original graphs and charts from scratch
20. got a job offer at 2 UT high schools to teach general English, etc. (starting pay 16,800) opted for better pay (roughly 26,000) and less work (teaching conversation) in an exotic setting (ha! Wakayama!) and thus started my "career" of teaching at 20. celebrated my 21st birthday in japan by climbing the above-mentioned Mt. Fuji and spending the night at a temple on Mt. Koya.
21. watched summer fireworks from the top of a mountain overlooking the sea
22. Showed my Japanese husband how to use the ATM make a wire transfer (they are really complicated here and can do so much more than just let you get at your cash) at our local Japanese bank

so those are 22+ things that are kind of worth mentioning. And I do like the idea of 22 things that one has done rather than 22 things that one has not done for a kind of "yep, this is who I am" sharing post.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Questioning--Is this who I was supposed to be?


It is easy to look up and wonder. It is easy to look around or down and wonder.
It is easy to look with envy at someone else's greener seeming grass.

In the process of some reading for a continuing education course I am planning I ran across the following blurb:


[Ms. A.--definitely not her real name] "works at TESOL and has her Masters in ESL administration. She has managed a school in Vietnam, trained teachers in South Korea, implemented school reform in Qatar, run a circus train classroom for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and taught 8th grade writing in Maryland. Prior to all that, Sarah was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. She is also a certified ashtanga yoga instructor and has managed an eco-lodge in Chugchilan, Ecuador.

I love my husband, like my job most of the time and sometimes feel like I am making some kind of difference for a few people. But wow! All of those near miss coincidences: I was going to go the Peace Corps route before I chose to come and work in Japan. (I chose the security of a steady paycheck over the chances of malaria and dysentery.) I occasionally do yoga and have been to the circus, but "managed" and "run" are not verbs that really go with my life. --except for maybe "managed to stay married" and have "run" out of oatmeal for breakfast because I forgot to order it from the international food store.

Ah, well...Envy is what I felt when I read all that this woman had accomplished. And knowing that at the heart of my jealous feelings was a seed of truth that I just lack the drive and desire to go that far.

Sigh. Off to "manage" a team taught Intro to Sociology class for 26 lovely freshmen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

being the grown up


The other night I could not sleep. That in and of itself is worthy of a post--I can always sleep. I was never a night-owl; was one of those (rare?) kids that begged to go to bed and never pestered for a drink of water. But I wander from my purpose.

I could not sleep so, of course, I turned to the Internet to relieve my boredom. Twitter led me to a sight called Cracked.com and an article entitled "5 ways to Tell You're Getting Too Old for Video Games".  I freely admit to visiting Twitter, but the other, never before my 3:00 a.m. foray--blame it on a Roger Ebert tweet. I don't even play video games except for an occasional bout of Wii and of course Plants VS Zombies... But, getting back to the article--it was what it was, nevertheless, part of it stuck with me and I decided to post what I thought.

The author wrote about how he was feeling old because of how video gaming had changed since he was a young gamer. He talked about missing "storylines that were actually compelling" and gave an instance of his children playing a particular game and said "I watch my kids play games now that barely have a story at all, yet they're transfixed.  It's almost like they're seeing something I'm not." He goes on to tell about how his kids got into playing Grand Theft Auto in a very imaginative way and then he wrote "Wait a second. Is it possible that those old games did not do anything magical with their programming to create "immersion", and that, like my kids with GTA, I "immersed" myself in those games because I was playing them at a time before I was dead inside?" He goes on to say "I can play a zombie game now and I just see a bunch of boring, repetitive enemies. My kids can't even be in the same room with me--they find those games terrifying because they're imagining themselves in the game, fighting the zombies."

I think he got the part where his kids find the zombies terrifying right, but the "dead inside" bit was where he went wrong. Grown ups get bored with the zombies because we are desensitized. We have to be. We have to be the ones to kill the cockroaches, shoo the spiders and lizards outside and keep the creatures that dwell under the beds----not to mention the real world bogeymen at bay. If we were still afraid of the zombies--if we still saw them as real, then we couldn't give our kids (or our friends kids or our nieces and nephews) the reassurance of a place to go when they have bad dreams. We are not dead inside. We are just grown ups. We want to protect our darling little ones from the imaginary evils and the real evils for as long as possible. Childhood *is* full of magic because there is so much that kids have not yet learned. They are still trying to make sense of the larger, mysterious adult world that they are growing into. For a while, they still believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, so, yeah, the zombies are real.

So that's what I ran across one night a while back when I couldn't sleep. Not particularly profound (pretty random actually) but I want to get back in the habit of posting...

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Sense of Home

Last night I saw a recap on Japan's equivalent of PBS of a film festival that took place last week. I love film and have been to a couple of local film festivals over the years and I was really sad that I had missed this one.



the screen was handmade by the local elem. students
I felt sad not only because I had missed seeing some really cool shorts (all of the films were 3.11 minutes long to commemorate the earthquake/tsunami disaster on 3/11 and the showing took place on 9.11 to offer recognition to the tragedy on that date ten years ago.) but also because it would have been absolutely amazing to have gone to the venue. It was shown at one of the holiest places (to me) in the region where I used to live. These photos give a sense of what it would have been like, even if you don't understand Japanese.

Actually, it broke my heart not to be able to go. It has been 2 years and 6 months since we moved and I do like it here. It is so better in so many ways than where we were in terms of location and also in terms of where we are in our life and our marriage. But I lived in Kansai for 21 years and all of my old haunts are there. We are making good, new memories and traditions down here in Kyushu, but it hurts to see the fond and familiar so far out of reach. And it broke my heart to know that there is no one who would understand how much I miss this particular place--except for Shuji and even he doesn't get it because it is just another very Japanese place that I used to drag him to to walk and hike and bike all the time.

So, I stole the title for this post from the name of the film fest. But it fits. I am still trying to find a sense of home. There will always be longing for my birth country, or my adopted Kansai and then when we eventually leave here we will mourn for Miyazaki too I suppose. I hope we don't stay here long enough to get that attached...

'nuff said.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

where did i go...

where i always go--to work. it eats me up and spits me out and all i have energy left for is to spend time talking with Shuji and doing the usual routine.

Lots of stuff has been going on at work. Too many meetings, too much extra-curricular crap that makes me feel pulled in too many different directions. Summer is coming. I will get some rest, regroup and refocus.

I want to end on a happy note. These are the things that have made me smile lately:
a student's mum telling me that her daughter *loves* my class.
a student telling me she was really glad that she had been able to talk with me about a serious problem in her life and that it had made a difference.
a new song my cousin shared with me.
an old song I ran across that kick-started my heart.
a boy coming to show me a chrysalis.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

taking a moment

last night i stopped for a moment. i watched a pair of bats swirling and swinging, snatching their dinners out of the dusky sky.

yesterday afternoon i stopped for a moment and stood on the stairs by the faculty car park. i breathed in the smell of the cows (no eewwws please--as odd as it may sound they are a childhood comfort smell for me) and closed my eyes, closed my mind where it tries to tendril off toward work and responsibilities and just listened to the warbles and trills and the wind in the leaves.

right now i am taking a moment. listening to "running up that hill" and writing this. thinking about the inspiring words i just read.

too much of my day is spent behind a desk, in meetings, classrooms--talking, preparing, doing chores when i would rather be elsewhere. i am not whining. i need to work. i like my students. i love teaching. i just forget the big picture--i lose it among all the little nasty jobs that need to get done. i need to remember to take a moment and breathe, pull back and remember other things that are just as important as "making a living".  I want to make a life, live well--not just go through my day as I "make a living".

Sunday, June 5, 2011

fireflies--hotaru

we drove an hour and a half south and waited in the quiet shadows of evening.
there were no cars or machines or people (or mosquitoes, that was a bonus.)  there was only the sound of the water, crickets and frogs.

one by one the lights began to come on--small glowing pinpoints floating out of the darkness where trees line the riverbank. soon there were hundreds blinking on and off--a mad cheshire heartbeat; a string of Christmas decorations in the air.

it was astonishing. we were mesmerized. we didn't speak, only nudged and pointed. we stayed until they began to hide away slowly disappearing under leaves and stems. "OMG!" "Wow!" "We'll have to come back next year."

it was not my first time, but i have never such a gathering. if i close my eyes i can still see them. short, beautiful rainy season gift.

Monday, May 2, 2011

presents--all for me--all in the name of love

I love my husband. That is not always a "given" in a relationship and so I am grateful.

The reason why I am spouting on about my feelings for him is that today he brought me home a present. It didn't cost him anything and it was all the better that it didn't.*

He knows me well and knows that spending time outdoors is one of the things that makes my fur lie flat. He has been going out in the hills and walking while I am at work. I am not jealous of this--I am in fact very glad that he is getting out of the house and getting exercise. It would not do to waste all the fitness that we found for ourselves during the winter months. (During the week I have to make do with the stationary bike and my yoga ball...That's OK too because I can catch up on Gray's Anatomy and House while I sweat.)


video


Anyway, Shuji brought this video back from his latest solo excursion. It was a taste of Spring with all its creatures great and small that is waiting for me until I can get out into it again.

*He also brought me home this bit of monkey poo a few weeks ago. I am not especially fond of monkey poo. Certainly it does not warm my heart like the voices of the "kajika" frogs in the video. But he could not catch the monkeys on film, so he did the next best thing. It makes me feel good that he knows me well enough and that our relationship is stable enough for him to (without hesitation) bring me a photo of poo.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

knowing how to have a good time--Happy Golden Week 2011



We are all products of our environment--that is to the extent that we cannot say "NO" to those voices from our past that creep into the back (or front) of our minds as we live our daily lives. Even though I am in my forties, even though I live half a world away from the people who raised me, even though I have learned to ignore most of the little things--some tidbits of advice, parental mantras or family obsessions remain and surface from time to time.

Tonight I was drying my hair and as I looked in the mirror I thought "My gran would not like this hairstyle (cut, length, style)."

It is not like it matters. She will certainly not see me and even if she did I would be able to say politely that I am sorry she does not like it or something akin to that and would not need to get testy back. I have, at least, grown up that much. But it is amusing how much we want approval from our elders and how we (or at least I used to) glow when we get a pat on the head.

I remember this same gran saying once how Shuji and I sure know how to have a good time. This was in comparison to an aunt and uncle who in her eyes did not have this desirable trait. In my eyes, the aunt and the uncle are happy. They get along well and are very supporting of and loving with one another. But I guess that isn't enough.

Well, she is right. Shuji and I certainly know how to enjoy ourselves...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

coming up for air

Ever since I was a small child I have needed a lot of sleep. I was never one of those hard to deal with, night-owl kids who drove their parents insane begging for glasses of water or cookies at midnight. I was the child who sat rubbing fists into her bleary eyes and asked permission to go to bed. I am still that way. I have not been able to get all the sleep I wanted this week and have been cranky because of it. (Anyone with a child who reads this will surely thing of me as soft, I know. I realize that I have nothing to whine about in my sheltered, childless state.)

But our crisis here is exhausting too.

On top of it came the beginning of Spring Semester and all its madness. I went to bed last night at 9:30 and slept till 8:00. All that shut eye (and getting so much done during the week) did a lot to make me feel better.  I cannot really do anything about what is going on in the north. I am weary of all the news and frightened by the lack of useful information as well as the lack of progress with the stupid reactors.
 But in spite of all this and all the suffering that I know is being felt, the rest of Japan cannot stop living and working and trying to feel normal.

video
Yesterday on the way to a school event (yes I had to work on Saturday. That's yet another reason why I needed so much catch up sleep) we saw our local family of swans out on the irrigation canal where they have built their nest. On the way back we stopped and took some photos. The photos are not great, but the mom and the birds were so sweet--with the wee little ones climbing on her back to stay warm and safe (this is a better view of how that works). That and the new green leaves and the gorgeous cherry blossoms that we have had have lifted my spirits a bit. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

still here

It has been a while. 
I was not up to writing in February and then there was March.

I admit to having been damaged--not directly by the quake or the horrible black tide, but by the images of such great loss and having those horrors go hand in hand with such worry for the future.

The French Embassy evacuated people from Tokyo, the US State Department (ridiculously) recommends that Americans not travel to Japan:  
"The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing". 

This warning was found on the Dept. of State website and  is NOT helpful. I think that their statement just adds to the confusion. I live in Kyushu. Why should I consider leaving my job, my extended family and abandon people here who depend on me?  My friends and family back home--who are unaware of the geography of Japan will read these "official" warnings and begin to beg me to "come home" or send me table salt. (The British Embassy is passing out iodine in Niigata--also far away and unaffected by the earthquake damage and tsunami.)  


I know that there has been bungling and deception--TEPCO, the power company that runs the reactors in Fukushima have been trying to cover up their greed and idiocy for years. Still, this is NOT Chernobyl. Radiation damage is and will be limited. Rumors fly, but based on what is currently known, it is still very, very safe.
"I quote from the "this is not Chernobyl" site above: 
 "The only thing I’m worried about getting “exposed” to is the sensationalism in the foreign press that is causing widespread panic."

It has not yet been two weeks and there are already some signs of light. This is JAPAN folks--stoic, resilient, Japan. It will rise again from the ashes.

There has been profound dignity in the face of apocalyptic disaster. I am proud of the people here and will do what I can to help things move forward.

Monday, January 31, 2011

signs of spring

 One last stone for the January road...


this wind wraps around me
a dark and icy coat
the lining filled with
memories--failures past
worries present

I shake it off.
I will not suffer it
it is not who i am now
Spring is coming
I will dance bare-shouldered
in her hopeful petal showers

Sunday, January 30, 2011

solar power

sun reaches in
through bars of
winter-bare trees
spilling into
yellow puddles on
ground

i stand still
face up
eyes closed
arms raised
grateful,
charging

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fire in the sky

or at least smoke...

sound we could not hear
battering the window panes
fitful toss and turn
knowing that in the dark
to the west and above us
was a monster


We are safe from the bulk of the ash and the drama, but nevertheless it is a bit disturbing to see a massive, black cloud that reaches from the ground and keeps growing and growing across the sky.  It was dark well before it should have been and the bits of ash dropping on the windshield made me think of Pompeii. The "sound we could not hear" is the sound waves that are sent out from an eruption. They rattle the windows and shutter like no wind could ever do. It feels like some creature from a horror film trying (successfully) to unsettle us so we will go outside an take a peek.


video

Monday, January 24, 2011

from my office window

 
glide and flap
the branch sways
in his beak a strip of foil
clever crow boy brings home bling
for his newly made girlfriend

Sunday, January 23, 2011

poor worms...

egrets stalk a bright blue tractor
their snow-white feathers stark
against the rich brown soil

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What we have been up to

Breaking in new shoes...

I have been posting a lot about our recent hikes and thought I would try my hand at making a video montage of where we have been to give a better picture of what it is like here. My abilities with iMovie are really pathetic. And I do realize that the Ken Burns effect is overused, but I couldn't stop myself. Beware.

At least it is short. We certainly had a good time doing the content of the photos.

This is best viewed small. I am trying to make a better, clearer one that could be viewed large. 
video

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

on the bridge



today I am
loving
the stomp and thrum
of my new
boots
striking the
rough worn planks
crossing
the river



I have new boots. I am Wonder Woman. I can fly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

eventide


sunlight slants
shadows lengthen
time to breathe
out
and
in

time to go home
to head for
hearth and the
heart
that
waits
there

Evening is my favorite time of day. It is not as luscious in the winter as in the summer, but it is still my favorite. The world seems to slow down. Every care, every hassle seems to disappear for a while.

Maybe I love it because of all the good times I had as a kid playing outside until being called in for dinner. Maybe I love it because for such a long time I worked from 3 to 9 and never got to see the sunsets--so I don't take them for granted. Whatever--love the evening.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

snowbirds


swallows winter here
lithe and swift
they skim
the surface of the river
fierce and joyful

bane to insect
balm to my heart

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

jumper cables


feathers glistening crows watch us from their premium seats
cawing and rocking their amusement
heckling the fumbles of our human performance




The dead battery in a friend's car (the nongmobile!) prompted this stone. But I must admit the crows in Miyazaki are a bit scary. We caught one at the beach going through a girl's bag while she and her boyfriend were distracted just a few feet away on the sand. It had removed pretty much everything including her wallet. The kites at that beach are equally dangerous and famous for stealing the sandwich out of your hand as you attempt to put it in your mouth. No eating and walking at Aoshima if you value your hands and face.

already longing...


Still January

the plants on the window sill
are dull
their pale leaves
despair
the wan winter light

seashells
lie there too
hard, round circles of
hope
and sweet memory
of a far away season

Can it just stop being winter already?
I have chilblains on two of my toes. It is my fault that I do, I know. Someone stole my good, winter hiking shoes off my front porch--sheesh! Seriously! And I have been hiking for the past two weeks wearing winter socks with summer shoes. Bad Julia. So, the toes are angry. Never fear though, relief is coming. I got a new pair of Keen boots--oh beauty in brown and tan. They are wide and warm and will protect my poor little piggies. And from years of chilblains in this blasted country (which has such issues with denial about how cold it actually is in Winter and what measures should be taken to insure that houses are not the same temp as the out of doors). It is highly unlikely that anyone who reads this will ever need to know this, but OTC sore muscle rub (like Ben Gay) works wonders. Thought I'd share.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rip Van Winkle Afternoon


yellow light dapples the trees
its warmth
full of falsehoods
lulls us
so we linger
on the meadow's moss carpet
a little too long

shadows spring up from the ground
catching us
chasing us
off the mountain

forcing us
back to the cold truth
of January's calendar


We have been hiking again. I don't care if people think "that's all you do".
It is a cheap, healthy way to spend a winter day. I miss the ocean and being able to snorkel or ride our SUP. But I am all for "make hay while the sun shines" and as this place is full of mountains and we are fit enough to walk in them, so we hike. We tried out a new peak today. It was a (another) ridge climb through a swath of natural forest. It was pretty, but also depressing. Depressing because most of it was a silent, almost dead forest. It was full of trees, yes, and there were a few birds here and there, but there are no animals--no squirrels, no mice or foxes or other little creatures to look forward to. There are wild boars. The startle and scare us occasionally, but we usually don't see them, only know they exist because of all the tilling they do along the trails. There are also wild monkeys. They live in pockets around the gorge south of our city and it is always fun to hear them and see them when we walk. I am so used to seeing rabbits and chipmunks or squirrels when I walked in the States that it is a bit disappointing to not be able to see them here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

the new david and goliath

Political Machinations

25 years it took for low dose control to be allowed
--less than a year for the blue pill to pass government muster


The Story Continues...

i wish for all the women who are out there and struggling and for those who are no longer with us.
i wish that we could help this woman find her stone and cast down the goliaths in her way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

comfort

Welcome Home

chicken soup and just made bread
greet us from the kitchen
as we brush off our coats and the cold
at the door


(in praise of my slow cooker and the bread machine
who do the work while we play)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

my ritual too



















we are pilgrims for one day

doing the yearly ritual.

we follow the path down, down to
where the sea beats these cliffs

we walk with ghosts on stones
1,200 years trod for this same purpose

we pass the stalls--
their bright colors and
tempting smells will wait

we wash our hands and mouths,
enter the cave.
standing before the bright red box
we throw coins with holes in their centers.
we shake the bell, clap the gods awake
and pray for a good new year.

My grandmother's family were Jewish.
On the other side--waspy Protestants.

I am who I am, but
will take all the blessings I can get
from whichever gods may be
watching over me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Are we there yet?




One for the river--

only the eerie creak of trees joins us on the last leg of our windy winter hike


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


today was a good day.
my calf muscles are not in agreement with that statement, but they will get over their aches soon enough. It was sunny and in the lower 50s (about 12 degrees C) and so we braved the wind and went over the mountain and through the woods.

It feels so good to get out and to move. I feel so trapped and get cabin fever so easily in the winter.

We have been hiking a lot lately, finding the connections between the local trails. it is so very, very nice to have solid 4 to 5 hour hikes within 20 to 30 minutes of the house. Today we followed the trail in Kaeda gorge to the turn off at the cold water sulphur stream then hiked switchbacks for a bit till they led us straight up to an amazing ridge covered with tree roots and moss. The walk was blissfully endless. Sounds insane, I know, (and I admit to thinking "whose idea was this anyway?" at several points during the climb), but now, drunk on homemade Chinese for dinner and endorphins, I am feeling like it was a wonderful idea and Shuji just said "why don't we go back tomorrow and try that other trail--the one where we are not sure where it leads to?"

We'll see. it may rain tomorrow, or be too gray and windy--not a day that calls for us to come and play. Anyway, tonight I will rest well and bask in the memory of the sunshine that filtered through tree tops blessing us with its warm rays and even waking up a few frogs while it was at it. I may make it through winter yet.

One for the road--

I heard you, was taken by surprise--mistook you for
some larger, more dangerous beast

in the still, the wait for the rustle or charge
your croaky voices gave away those
dark hidey places

did the tease of today's
sunlight
call you out to play too?

Monday, January 3, 2011

white eye


tiny pale green birds
white-eyed acrobats
dazzle us with daring feats
among the camellia blossoms

the first stone--not what you think...

trailing scents of spice and yeast--
off to the shops for butter.
does the checkout girl's smile mean she knows
it's for cinnamon rolls?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

de Grinching


Christmas and New Year's are over YEA!

Does that make me a Grinch? Probably. I am guessing though that there are a lot of other people out there that feel the same but are unwilling to admit it.

It's not that I don't like Christmas, still it is complicated...

I like the "idea" of the holiday--the love and the sharing and of course I like to see the lights and the trees that decorated my childhood, but have not really decorated my adulthood since coming to Japan. But I really, really don't like all the madness that can lead up to the 25th. My aversion comes from when I was younger and the whole season ended up feeling like a chore that had to be dealt with rather than a magical, festive event. I know that it's not like I met some evil, bad Santa or got coal in my stockings so I should just shake it off and move on...

Maybe if I had moved to a country that had a strong sense of Christmas tradition or had married a man for whom the holiday meant something, things would be different. As they are, here in Japan the 25th is a total non-event. The 24th is when unmarried COUPLES spend megabucks on a fancy dinner and a posh hotel room. The 24th is when families with little kids eat Kentucky Fried chicken (seriously!) cake (short cake or something similar--not even a Yule log) and parents give a present or two to their kiddos. There are tiny trees (some larger ones in Malls or in major department stores and train stations across the country) and there is a craze over "illumination" aka lots of Christmas lights strung over anything that does not move (but not usually on individual, private homes).

So, the whole Christmas scene in Japan (not surprisingly) is a bust and rather depressing really. Well then, you ask, what kind of winter festival is celebrated here? That would be New Years. And guess what? It is kind of depressing too.

This in Japanese New Year's in a nutshell:
  • starting around the 28th or 29th everybody cleans their houses from top to bottom inside and out--screens, windows, wash the siding if you've got it--everything.
  • if you live in a rural area or with older people who have rural roots they (the women) will start to shop and cook. It used to be that ALL the shops would close from the afternoon of the 31st to the 4th. And there was supposed to be NO cooking on the first so women had to really get ready. (Yes, they look gorgeous and appealing when the box is first opened, but they start out cold and then oooh--COLD leftovers when you can already see your breath in the house how yummy!). I was unaware that ALL the shops would be closed on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd during my first New Year's in Japan and nearly starved, but that is another story.
  • wash the car--it is FREEZING outside, perhaps even snowing, but the car WILL be clean in and out before the sun goes down on the 31st.
  • watch strange, bizarre and boring TV (even stranger than normal) on New Year's Eve and eat soba noodles before you go to bed so you'll be able to make it through the night.
  • go to a shrine or temple (battling hideous traffic and crowds if you live in a big city or if you choose a "name brand" location) and pray for a year's worth of health and good fortune--this can be done at midnight on the 31st or sometime between the 1st and the 15th. Most people visit during the day sometime between the 1st and the 3rd, but a night visit to a shrine does have a lot of ambiance--there will inevitably be a nice bonfire, sweet non-alcoholic sake and maybe even drumming if you are in a really rural or traditional area.
  • give tons of money to your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews--this is what happens rather that the major gift giving at Christmas and if you are an adult with a big family it will really cost you--typically at least 10 to 20 bucks a kid under twelve (for kids who don't live with you) and anywhere from 100 to 300 bucks a pop for kids between 13 & 20 who live with you (and need more money). Most kids don't get an allowance and this is a major source of cash.
  • visit and be visited by relatives--just like in the States, people flock to their family homes at New Year's. The roads, trains, ferries and airports are packed. Not pretty at all. But if that is the only time off that your company will give you...
  • go to Hawaii--everybody who does not have to work (in the service industry), or go visit relatives and who has enough to afford the price-gouging goes on a package tour to Honolulu (or Guam or Thailand--somewhere warm--I think this is very smart.)
So, that is what New Year's is all about in this here part of the world. As you can see it can be fraught with "chore peril". The thought of all that cleaning and cooking and visiting by relatives whom you may or may not want to have visit you gives me the chills. Yes, again I am laying bare for the world my scars. I admit them and embrace them and so do all that I can to avoid having to do things that stress me out (or threaten my CONTROL) during December and January.

Why do the spring cleaning in the middle of winter? Isn't it easier to chase the dust bunnies away little by little throughout the whole year? (Even the ones behind the washer are not so daunting when you are not taking the WHOLE house apart.) How about the following? Take down the screens and wash them when it is warm if they are obstructing your view of the garden. Hose off the car when you feel like it--if you feel like it. Wash the curtains in October when they have a chance of NOT freezing on the line. Make soup in the slow cooker and go hiking on the 31st if it is sunny (you can enjoy the HOT leftovers for lunch or dinner on the 1st through the 3rd, still won't have to cook and won't have any shrimp eyes ogling you). If you have kids, or two jobs and don't want to do it at all--DON'T. Is this blasphemy? Am I alone, or does this make more sense to anyone else in the world?

We went hiking three times this week. I spent today (New Year's Day) making cinnamon rolls and watching old DVDs. I am pretty sure that if I had a big family here, we would not be able to get away with this sort of "selfishness". I am also pretty sure that if either of us had a big, functional family (or friends who didn't fly off to the far ends of the earth during the holidays) we would spend our time differently. Who knows?

But as they are and as it is, December and January make me feel like a Grinch.
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