Monday, December 28, 2009
Not that I'm complaining. While the rest of the family has been concentrating on recuperating, training for the Tokyo Marathon, and dashing off college essays on the global impact of on-line gaming, I've been exploring the "next blog" feature in the upper left corner of this page. Blogspot recently enhanced this feature to connect me with people who share my interests.
So far I've checked out a dozen or so blogs. The results have left me as horrified as Scrooge after his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Future. According to Blogspot, my kindred spirits are apparently either crusty, cranky, obnoxious know-it-alls (gulp) obsessed with arcane hobbies like collecting toy soldiers or else they have military ties, primarily in the submarine community. Mike, meanwhile, is associated with sensitive, artsy gardeners who dabble in poetry and nature photography. How fair is that? (That was a rhetorical question, Jimmy/Jimmie.)
I sense the seed of a New Year's resolution lodging in my soul, the sort intended to transform me into a kinder gentler person (or at least one perceived as such by the Blogspot search engine). Before I add water and fertilizer to that seed, I'd like to reach closure on my 2009 resolution by finishing two more nonfiction books before the stroke of midnight on December 31. My sensitive, artsy mate is helping me meet this challenge by snoring softly in the background while I read about how sugar and caffeine contribute to sleep deprivation which, in turn, makes Kathy a crusty, cranky, and obnoxious person.
Fiction is so much more satisfying than the truth.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm going with the picture(s).
If you want to know what I mean by "ramen cuisine", click on the title of today's post. That should take you to the Ramen Museum website. Assuming I set this up correctly, you will be viewing a page in English. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see pictures of nine different varieties of ramen.
The instant noodle was invented in 1958. Or did I tell you that already?
Monday, December 21, 2009
During a brief period of wakefulness on Friday, she met the Shonan Ladies (some of whom are pictured above). "Is this your daughter? She is so BEAUTIFUL!" Did I detect a tone of surprise in those voices?We went to the Yamato Shrine Sale by train Saturday morning. It's probably a good thing I didn't spot this wig until I was checking out Kate's pictures the next day. And it's probably a good thing we took the train or I might be suffering buyer's remorse over a huge wooden dragon's head that looked like it weighed 500 pounds.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Kate had to fork over a mere $100 to purchase those official United Airlines pet carriers at the ticket counter in Dulles Airport. The crates the cats were in when Kate arrived at the ticket counter were pretty much exact replicas of the ones they made her buy.
The cats adjusted to the time change within minutes. The same cannot be said of their handler, pictured here at the Pepper Lunch counter the only time she's been awake during daylight hours.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
A fingernail clipper turns out to be an ideal tool for pushing and tugging a needle through a hard rubber surface. Seconds after I figured this out and about 15 minutes before I perfected my technique, I managed to embed the needle in my fingertip. (Scientists who favor the trial-and-error method would categorize this as the latter.)
I ripped open the box of Anpanman bandaids I had tucked away for my future grandchildren -- sorry about that, Winifred and Wilbur -- and wound one around my fingertip.
"Gosh, this bandaid seems to be adhering to my skin better than other brands I have tried. Am I imagining this? Has anyone researched the relative stickiness of different brands of adhesive bandaids? Are the findings available on the Internet?"
Eureka! A Florida third grader compared five U.S. bandaid brands a couple of years ago. Wouldn't it be interesting to compare the Anpanman brand with the U.S. brands? I would be delighted to provide some Anpanman bandaids to help your child earn extra credit because (a) I am a nice person deep down inside, and (b) I am curious about how the bandaids compare.
If you are part of a military family, each of your children ought to be able to replicate this experiment two or three times during their school years. One of the few good things about having to change schools every couple of years is being able to use the same project for multiple science fairs. Be sure to ask my children about "Friction or Fiction" sometime.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Red Hershey Kisses, my group, started out at Mary Beth's house where the Americans dunked pear slices in an amazing caramel toffee dip while the Japanese ladies toiled away in the kitchen, filling Mason jars with cocoa mix. Then it was on to Mimi's where the Americans gorged on donuts and Viennese coffee while our friends toiled away in the kitchen, this time filling little jars with a Russian tea mix. We eventually met up with the Green Hershey Kisses at Debbie's house for lunch, a matching game, and Christmas carols.
Strands of origami cranes decorate Mary Beth's Christmas tree and more strands are suspended from the window ledge near the tree. Last Christmas Mary Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer and the Japanese members of JAW folded 1,000 cranes on her behalf. Mary Beth's American friends folded another 1,000 cranes and both strands arrived at her home within three days of each other.
I've checked Wikipedia on behalf of the two of you who aren't sure why someone might give a thousand cranes to a woman facing chemotherapy. "An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, considered a mystical or holy creature in Japan. One Thousand Origami Cranes has become a symbol of world peace because of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who contracted leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. Her story is told in the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes."
That's Mary Beth on the left. As you can probably imagine, she is quite an inspiration in these parts.
My husband of 18 years -- thanks for remembering our anniversary, Sandy! -- rode his bike home from the ship the other day. I did a double take Woody would have appreciated when Mike came clomping through the door. "What's that thing attached to your helmet? A sideview mirror?" How fetching.
Yesterday I found myself standing in line at the post office three weeks before Christmas tucking a Power of Attorney for Cats into an express envelope addressed to my darling daughter. That's right: a Power of Attorney for Cats. That was strange enough but then the clerk only had 18 two-cent stamps when I needed 50 and, rather than just getting a page of stamps from the postal clerk standing three feet to his left, he suggested I go back to the end of the line three weeks before Christmas and try my luck with another clerk.
Gosh, today's calendar shows another holiday luncheon. There are bound to be crafts involved and no one will want me on their team. Usually this doesn't happen until December 15 but I seem to have outdone myself this year.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
About 12 hours later he waltzed back through the door. "I was North Korea," he declared.
North Korea? A belligerent nation? How did that happen? I had him pegged as a Canada, or Kenya, or maybe Greece. Please tell me the seats were not doled out on the basis of personality.
His father recalls the Asian and Middle Eastern history electives Matt took last year at his school in Northern Virginia. Courses like that aren't offered at Matt's current school. "Matt probably knows more about North Korea than most kids his age so he's a logical choice for that seat."
Dad's right, as usual, but that reference to the Middle Eastern elective gives me something else to think about. "Matt! Did you use my computer this morning to research children's television programming in Muslim countries?" Matt looks sheepish. "Um, yeah, sorry. I needed to brush up on Hamas tactics. I saved your work in a file named 'sorrymom'."
"Whew, I'm just relieved to learn you put those pages on my computer screen. I had a nagging concern at the back of my mind all day long that my computer had been infiltrated by a radical terrorist group."
"Why are you mentioning this in your blog?"
"This is what I call a pre-emptive strategy, Matt. If I should ever get pulled over for some heinous traffic violation, failing to use my turn signal at 3:00 am say, and then compound the error by rolling my eyes at the police officer writing the ticket, a slimy 'senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity' will likely spoonfeed the contents of my computer to what passes for a reporter in the post-Watergate era. My only hope of avoiding life imprisonment or worse rests with the readers of today's post, at least one of whom I hope will have the foresight to print this entry and stick it in a bank vault, preferably in Switzerland. Then they can testify that you were conducting research for a school assignment."
Dad gets the last word. "Well, Jong-il, you come by your paranoia naturally it seems."
Friday, December 4, 2009
The first reader (Mike is excluded) to correctly guess which gingerbread house was created by my team will win a half dozen boxes of mushroom-shaped cookies.
Step 1 - Try to imagine half the films Woody Allen made between 1980 and 1995.
Step 2 - Now try to imagine me cast in the Woody Allen roles.
If you have managed to do that, you now have a fairly accurate mental picture of my weekly sessions with Dr. T.
This week we talked about cemeteries.
We also touched on Tiger Woods, Scrabble (my mother), typical family menus on Burr Street (my mother), the milkman with a hook for a hand, calcium, my brother Dave's dietary habits, One-a-Day multiple vitamins, the Guinness World Record for stretching a can of tomato soup (you-know-who), the Battle of the Bulge, my parents' courtship, malpractice insurance in Japan, the oversupply of lawyers in the United States, Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, cancer, and how Japan's power structure has evolved over the past 700 or so years, but I have an abundance of cemetery pictures from my visit to Kaminoge this week so I'll try to stick to that topic.
A Tokyo tour guide back in 2006 had provided a general explanation of those tall prayer boards you can see in some of these pictures. I knew descendants of the deceased pay priests to inscribe prayers on those boards but I did not realize they are expected to do so every year for 50 years, although very few people outlast their parents by 50 years. (I think I just heard Martin Luther turning over in his grave.)
Dr. T and his wife do not have any children so who will put prayer sticks on their graves when the time comes? They have several options, including two traditional options promoted by priests:
- formally adopt a relative's child who will assume the obligation in exchange for inheriting the estate, or
- transfer the obligation to a priest who will be happy to write prayers every year for about $100,000 in advance (American lawyers call this a 'retainer').
These days many Japanese, including Dr. T, raise an eyebrow or two at the choices spelled out by the priests. Dr. T is thinking about asking a cousin who lives near the cemetery to take care of his prayer sticks. Some people are avoiding the prayer stick quandary entirely by directing their ashes be scattered.
It seems I've managed to spend my knowledge of Japanese cemeteries much faster than my supply of pictures so I guess I'm going to have to see what I can find out about the brother who died.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
This being the Advent Season and all, I would like to just roll my eyes and launch that solicitation into Cyberspace Purgatory but this is the second time this year NMFA has made my blood boil and I have run out of cheeks to turn.
Last spring NMFA incensed me by gleefully announcing that TriWest Healthcare Alliance would sponsor their gala annual party. In their own words, TriWest Healthcare Alliance is a privately held, Phoenix-based corporation that contracts with the Department of Defense to administer the military health care entitlement in the 21-state West Region. TriWest is monitored by the TRICARE Management Authority, a department within the DoD.
"We take pride in the fact that managing the TRICARE program for over 2.7 million beneficiaries is our only line of business."
If TriWest's only line of business is managing the TRICARE program, shouldn't one assume their only source of income is that juicy DoD contract? If that is the case, perhaps the National Military Family Association, an organization purporting to advocate for military families, could advocate for me and my loved ones by questioning how TriWest can legally and morally channel taxpayer dollars earmarked for medical care to underwrite a social function on the other side of the country.
I am baffled that I never hear anyone else complaining about stuff like this. Am I the only Navy spouse who isn't hoping her husband lands a job with TriWest when he retires from military service? Ladies, I have news for you: former Congressional staffers and retired Army doctors have a tight grip on the keys to that executive suite.
If you feel inclined to support military families this holiday season, I'd recommend you expend a little time rather than money. In 30 seconds or less you can say a prayer for someone's son, daughter, brother, or sister who will be waking up in Afghanistan or Iraq on Christmas morning. In 5-10 minutes you can write a note to a family whose soldier or sailor won't be able to make it home this holiday season or a family that will never see their loved one again. In two or three hours you can babysit the children of a deployed sailor or soldier while the frazzled young parent finishes her/his holiday shopping (or reads a book or takes a nap uninterrupted).
I favor people power over government programs. Thanks for listening even when you totally disagree with me.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Hearing of my plight, Dr. T gifted me with a surgical needle but don't look for any progress on this project until mid-month. Bear in mind I am living on a military base where the holiday social whirl is compressed into the first 13 days of December. This is so all the Sailors who are taking leave during the holidays can have their fudge and eat it too.
Seasoned runners load up on carbohydrates before a marathon, so it makes sense mothers need to store up energy before the holidays by waffle loading. To test my newest theory, Jen O and the extremely pregnant (and remarkably loquacious) Monika have now been officially introduced to the waffle restaurant in Kamakura. Jen's command of Japanese never fails to heighten a restaurant experience - "We would like to try everything on your menu, please, and with ice cream when that's an option" - and Monika's talkativeness gave me a chance to eat way more than my fair share of the waffles. When it dawns on her that I nabbed most of her portion perhaps she'll remember that I also introduced her to that nifty parking lot with the helpful attendants.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
Jane had completed her first wreath by the time Hiroko-san finished explaining how to crease the first of the eight sheets of paper. Why do the over-achievers always gravitate to my table at crafting events? And how do they manage to attach the yarn loop with just one perfectly aligned staple when my yarn demands at least three bangs?
Taking a page from Henry Ford's book, Mimi quickly opted to execute fold #1 and fold #2 and then hand each square to me. I stumbled through the next six folds (eight times per wreath). Then Mimi handed the folded papers back to me for final assembly. The stapling job ought to have fallen to Mimi but I didn't dare break my concentration to suggest this lest I forget the excruciating intricacies of fold #5. I am pretty sure Mimi knew this.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Reiko also told me about a new shop in Mikasa Arcade on Blue Street that sells all types of Japanese treats. Mike, Matt, and I poked our heads in the door on our way home from Coco Curry the other night and immediately spotted a display of mushroom-shaped cookies in yet another flavor: caramel. Very tasty.
These cookies might be our only holiday treats this year since the Commissary ran out of Hershey's unsweetened cocoa a couple of weeks ago. According to my favorite cashier, the next shipment might not arrive until after the holidays. Unsweetened cocoa is an essential ingredient in my fudge so I am even crankier than usual although I must confess it's a bit of a relief to decline all those requests to contribute baked goods for various holiday parties. If I was nicer, I guess I could donate a few boxes of caramel-flavored mushroom-shaped cookies. But then what would I send you for Christmas?
The curio cabinet is no longer listing in a corner of the living room, half on and half off the rug. The metal glider that's been sprawled on its back between the gingko trees since the last typhoon is now safely ensconced on the patio. The printer is back to fulfilling its purpose in life, the aroma of fresh coffee wafts up the staircase to tickle me awake at the crack of dawn, and -- here's the best part -- both parents attended the quarterly conferences with Matt's teachers and the one with the better hearing assured the other on the way out the door that a teacher really did say, "Matt is one of those rare students who uses his time wisely and completes his homework during study hall."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Distracted as I was by the tanuki in the fall of 2006, I failed to realize Mashiko translates to "crucify her." That's what half my busmates were muttering when I reached our rendezvous place ten minutes after the appointed time. When I made my final purchase of the day 15 minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart Mashiko, how was I supposed to know the clerks would insist on creating a custom packing crate for each pot?
"That is true, Tanuki-girl."
"Psst! Mimi! Are they going to give me some sort of prize for bringing the most guests?"
"Well, Tanuki-girl, that was the original plan but they revoked your prize at five minutes past the hour."
"But I showed them those kilns that have belonged to the same family for seven generations!"
"And they were all ecstatic when I pushed them into the indigo dyeing workshop and they got to watch that craftsman tending a dozen bubbling vats."
"Yes, Tanuki-girl, that was truly memorable. The grass growing on the thatched roof was an especially nice touch."
"At least YOU are still speaking to me. Do you want to take pictures of ourselves in the bathroom mirror at the next truck stop?"
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
That impulse purchase became a family tradition a week later when I picked up 18 of those succulent dumplings and two sushi rolls on my way home from (chuckle) "work". I upped my order because Matt's friend John has been hanging out at our house to help break in the video game Matt talked me into buying. He called it a tool for "re-bonding" with the Ancient Mariner when the USS Blue Ridge eventually returns to Yokosuka. "Eventually" is OPSEC code for "a couple more days."
My Taiwanese friend, the Moon Cake whipper-upper and general glutton for punishment in culinary matters, calls gyoza by their original Chinese name, jiaozi, and insists they must be boiled thrice. I prefer mine fried to a crisp on one side then steamed before smothering them in soy sauce. (Dr. T is encouraging me to transition to low sodium soy sauce. My taste buds shrivel at the prospect.)
Thinking to save myself roughly $10 a week by making gyoza in my own kitchen, I stumbled upon a Chinese recipe calling for "strong flour." Say what? There was really no need to read any further but my eyes drifted down a line and spotted "knead until dough is the softness of an earlobe."