Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Birthday Jesus

Not that we think Jesus turned five this year...rather, "5" is short for "Christmas 2005". Actually, that's the only number candle we had. We went with it after we considered sticking regular candles in the cake and realized we didn't have 2005 of them.

This is the chocolate-peppermint layer cake I made twice while at my parents' house. Can't speak for anyone else but I'm sure my consumption of it had a strong connection to the five or so pounds I gained while we were there. I might add it was pretty much worth it. This is a delicious cake, if you don't mind me saying so myself. Recipe follows!

Chocolate-Peppermint Layer Cake adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1/2 cup cocoa , natural
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons peppermint extract or 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
1 cup whole milk plus 2 tablespoons, room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs , at room temperature

1. For the cake -- Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-by-1 1/2-inch round baking pans with lots of cooking spray.

2. Whisk the cocoa, instant coffee, flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl and set aside. Add peppermint to the milk and set aside.

3. Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer set at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in sugar; beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.

4. With mixer on lowest speed, add about 1/3 of dry ingredients to batter, followed immediately by the milk/vanilla mixture; mix until ingredients are almost incorporated into batter. Repeat process twice more. When batter appears blended, stop mixer and scrape bowl sides with rubber spatula. Return mixer to low speed; beat until batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.

5. Divide batter evenly between pans. With rubber spatula, run batter to pan sides and smooth top. Bake cakes until they feel firm in center when lightly presesd anad skewer comes out clean or with just a crumb or two adhering, 23 to 30 minutes. Tranfer pans to wire racks; cool for 20 minutes. Run knife around perimeter of each pan, invert cakes onto racks. Reinvert cakes onto additional racks; cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, I used my favorite buttercream recipe, which is not for the exact and goes something like this: put 1/2 stick of softened butter in a bowl and beat until creamy. Add some milk or half and half and a bit of peppermint extract or oil. Dump in powdered sugar and mix again. Add more powdered sugar or more milk until desired consistency is reached. Frost the first layer of cake out to the edges but not down the sides. Sprinkle with crushed peppermints or candy canes. Set on the next layer and repeat; again, don't frost the sides of the cake, just let a bit of frosting drip here and there if you are feeling artistic.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Off to Or Eh Gone

Though we spent a major portion of this year in downtown Tokyo, our official residence is in Illinois. Just say that out loud, and I'll tell you where you're from. If you said "Ill-ih-noise," you're not from anywhere near here. And I'm not upset at your faulty pronunciation, because hey, I'm not from here either.

I'm from Oregon. Did you say "Or-eh-gone"? Then you're not from there. Furthermore, I'll never be able to invite you to go along for a visit to that beautiful land of mountains, ocean,'ll never lounge lazily in the drivers' seat of your car while someone pumps gas for you and you'll never shop madly and without restraint, cackling as you check out without paying sales tax. To earn access to all these wonderful benefits, the least you can do is learn to say "Or-ih-gun". That's more like it.

So traveling over to the West Coast is not quite the same trek as heading to Tokyo, but the four-hour flight is something to be reckoned with. Particularly when one's travel companion is two and a half, and the stingy airlines don't even dole out snacks without a three dollar penalty fee. But this time, I had a plan. Koji and I were scheduled on the seven p.m. flight, so I figured if I deprived him of his nap, as soon as I settled him on the plane, he'd sleep and I'd read a book.

Too bad he fell asleep in the car on the way to the airport.

And then didn't even think of sleeping again until Portland was clearly in view. Once he heard the landing gear drop, he was out. But not before! Until then it was hour after hour of drinking and eating the provisions I had shlepped on, reading, coloring, playing Narnia with the cool toys that come with Happy Meals right now. (We had Lucy and Mr. Tumnus to keep us busy, but I was busier laughing at Koji's attempts to say "Mr. Tumnus") Oh, and a few trips to the restroom to change diapers; Koji is now officially MUCH taller than the tiny little shelf airlines provide in their restrooms for diaper changing. Perhaps potty-training is a good New Year's resolution?

When I called Mom after our arrival on the PDX tarmac, I had a bit of shock: Oregon weather had gone weirdly Chicago-like; with the roads covered in black ice, Mom and Dad were still nowhere near the airport though they had been approaching slowly for more than two hours. Keep in mind that this is a one hour trip in normal weather... I felt bad asking them to keep coming, but any other transport to Salem would have suffered the same fate so it seemed best to just sit and wait for them.

Once I decided to take a seat at the Stanford's that has opened recently (recently as in since the last time I was at PDX), I felt pretty good about waiting. For one thing, Koji was OUT in his stroller. Transferring him from his car seat on the plane to the stroller was no problem; that's just how unconscious he was. Furthermore, Stanford's is where we had our wedding rehearsal dinner. So though I wasn't at the same location, the ambience was similar and I enjoyed time for nostalgia. Not to mention I was finally able to read my book in peace!

Once Mom and Dad finally arrived, they joined me at Stanford's and grabbed some dinner before we attempted the return trip. We made it to their house without incident around 1 am. Without question, the six and half hour round trip they made to PDX to pick us up was their most arduous ever.

Hopefully they found it worthwhile; I know we did!

Friday, December 16, 2005

What Personal Space?

If, in spite of various glimpses I've tried to give you of life in Tokyo, you really can't imagine it, please look at this!

Fortunate Aogu, in the months we spent living downtown, he was able to walk to work. Those streets can get crowded but they're never in the same league as the commuter trains from downtown to the suburbs.

You'd think looking at this series of photos would make me deliriously happy to be back in the land of abundant personal space. I don't know. The other day I realized with more than a bit of sadness that these days, with the exception of weekly trips to the market, I literally never see anyone that I don't know. No wonder I'm not as inspired to post...not that we don't have any entertainment around here, as you know, Koji has that one sewed up.

Guess I miss people watching, even the people who were in my space.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

No Need to Fly into Midway

One of Koji's favorite activities right now is throwing. We're working hard to help him remember that he is allowed to throw balls, and that's about it. Not food. Not other toys. Not friends (just kidding, he's pretty strong, but not enough to bench-press a friend...yet).

Getting him out of the bathtub is usually a chore because I'm shouting, er, quietly insisting that he put his bath toys away in the bucket while he's merrily tossing them in all directions. Fun times.

A minute ago, he got the idea that it would be fun to throw a piece of paper. One of his better ideas, don't you agree? And more so if it was a paper airplane, right? But what do I know about making paper airplanes? Nothing! Folding paper in general is not something I consider one of my prime skills, in spite of years of living in Japan. The origami tradition didn't rub off on me somehow.

So of course I had to look online for directions. First I tried this one. "Multiple folds of paper concentrate the center of gravity well below and forward of the wings for hang-glider stability" sounds great, but unfortunately turned out to be a little too hard for me to duplicate.

Next I tried Joseph Palmer's PL-1. This is a keeper! Not too difficult for a less than dextrous mom to make, yet flies pretty well. Phew. Now we can fly and land our planes in the safety of our living room and continue to avoid dangerous Midway!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Engineer or At Least Construction Worker

Feeling pretty accomplished right now, as this morning I built an airport, a train station, a bus station...

and a train table with an intricate track laid just so around all of the above mentioned landmarks. Christmas is starting a little early in our household this year, mostly because I just couldn't wait for Koji to have this train table. Oh, and because it would be difficult and ridiculous for us to take this table to and from Oregon all so he could open the box under the tree on Christmas Day?! I like "on the day" celebrations and rules, perhaps more than most, but I wasn't about to try and make this one happen. After all, Koji doesn't totally get Christmas yet, though he quite likes to shout, "Kih-mas!" when he spots a decorated tree.

You likely won't be bothered reading the full review posted at the link above, but my experience and opinions are nearly identical to the those of the reviewer. Except for this important difference:

it took me FOUR hours to put it all together. And I cussed twice. Are we having fun yet?

Won't Do It

Saving money on food is a great idea.

But I still don't want to become a freegan.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Surprise Prayer



ケンとあやとメーゲン 寝ますように
ママ パパ 怒られないように寝れるように

Koji's becoming more and more fluent with his bedtime prayers, but he still managed to surprise us tonight.
This is what he prayed:

(I pray that) Ken, Aya and Megan will be able to sleep
(I pray that) I'll be able to sleep so Mama and Papa won't be mad at me
Tomorrow I'll eat some cheese

Best-looking (Hawaiian) Cowboy in Town

All credit to our wonderful friend and photographer, Jennifer Schuman. If you live in the Chicago area, please call her to do your wedding or other portraits, because she is GOOD. We aren't getting paid to say this, we just want to because it's true!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Starbucks is on Every American Corner Because...

A quote from the following interesting story about caffeine:

Americans seem most in need of concentrating their thoughts, since their average daily consumption of 236 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to more than 4.5 cups of coffee, is three times the world average.

Whoa! No wonder everyone seems so jittery!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Better than Leftovers

Aogu and Koji had a craving for ramen today, surprise surprise.
So we headed out to our favorite Japanese restaurant, Renga-tei. Nothing went wrong...oh, except they don't have ramen! Good to know; from now, we have to go with instant ramen or drive to Kitakata. I like ramen too, but I'm too newly home from Tokyo to feel that 40 minutes' drive is worth it...shouldn't there be some kind of ramen stand right down the street...where am I anyway?!
As I was saying, they didn't serve ramen, so Koji had udon, Aogu had a sushi plate and I had curry rice with a fried pork cutlet *just as low-cal as it sounds*. This will continue to be our favorite Japanese restaurant because it's five minutes from us, it's rather inexpensive as Japanese food goes, and the waitstaff actually speak Japanese. But for fresh-off-the-plane me, it was a let down.

It was MUCH MUCH better than shopping on Black Friday though! I don't dare do that, unless I'm with my mom and sister and we're on our way to Meier & Frank.

P.S. If I'm not mistaken (which I might be, I'm too lazy to check right now) Meier & Frank is going to suffer the same name change as Marshall Field's soon. I don't think it'll be the same, as Macy's. The end of a shopping era. Sad for me...happy for my wallet, er, for Aogu.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Big Three

Happy Birthday to Ollie, the best three-year-old nephew ever!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone else...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Transition in Pictures, Part One

Undated file photo in which Koji is "smiling" on cue -- amazing!
posted by jcm

Airport rule: the more bags you have, the longer it takes to check in
posted by jcm

The entertainment options on this flight are too numerous for me to even think of sleeping
posted by jcm

Finally!! If only this state had lasted longer than three hours...
posted by jcm

Aya started in earning her keep with the vaccuum cleaner immediately. The ideal guest...
posted by jcm

Back at Koji's house, but just to change and get ready to go to Costco
posted by jcm

Koji looks happy but I'm not; after I bought a box of these wipes and started in on them I found that Costco has downgraded to a much smaller sized, cheaper feeling wipe. I am very disappointed in my favorite store!
posted by jcm

Just as we suspected, American stuff is enormous!
posted by jcm

Transformation process
posted by jcm

Thanks to Ken's steady hand and a Mary Kay eyeliner in Sable, Koji was transformed into a "professor" in no time! And a very serious one at that.
posted by jcm

If only I could say "trick or treat" in Japanese and be understood, I would feel much more comfortable...
posted by jcm

Professors like chocolate too
posted by jcm

Family resemblance
posted by jcm

Monday, November 21, 2005

When I Get Some Money...

Since I can't remember if I've memorialized a certain quirk of Koji's here, I've decided to assume that you can't remember either.

Lately Koji has become aware of
money. It probably--make that definitely--started last month when we were at Lake Kawaguchi with the Dream Church gang. We went out for a one-hour ride around the lake; on a clearer day we should have been able to see Mt. Fuji just there where Ken's hands are. It was a nice ride, nevertheless.

After the boat ride, we were milling around the small harbor, trying to figure out what to do next (group decisions = fun times). Koji spotted a gaggle of swan boats and became intensely interested in going for a ride. Aogu took him over for a look, but apparently the fee was quite high. Therefore, the explanation for not riding was "no money". Also, "short legs"--but that one apparently didn't hit home in the same way as we've since heard Koji declaring that his legs are long... huh?

In the month plus since that time, Koji has not forgotten his beloved "tori boat" (bird boat). In fact, if anything, his love and longing have intensified, to the point that he was in tears last week begging Aogu to find a picture of tori boat to look at on the computer. Thankfully, this fabulous site provided us with the stunning and soothing shot at left. Phew.

Furthermore, whenever we happen to handle coins in Koji's presence, a light goes on over his head and he says, "お金くさだい”(money, please). When we ask what for, without fail he solemnly replies that he will use to ride the tori boat. This son of ours is a man of purpose and vision, indeed.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bad Timing = Fast Food

See the above equation?
It's the unfortunate answer to the question of "what happens when Jamie takes Koji out in the morning and then overestimates her ability to get them home in time for his nap and then needs to feed him lunch in the car?"
We've been back in the good old U.S.A. for a mere three weeks, and already, the child has re-learned love for pizza and hot dogs. Furthermore, like some kind of mini food blogger, and thanks to the wonder of the Drive Thru, he's sampled kids' meals from McDonald's, KFC and Burger King. *sigh*
When we drive past McDonald's, he shouts, "chicken mac!".
But actually, the "chicken fry" pieces from Burger King are a little easier to eat on the road than McNuggets. However, Burger King gave him fries even though I asked for a side of applesauce. KFC lets you choose a side dish for your laptop meal, and their choices are broader than "fries or applesauce," which is nice. I didn't anticipate that the macaroni and cheese I chose for Koji would become his entire meal, although I guess it clues me in on how to order next time. No need to pay for that fancy box, granola bar, chips or even chicken if he's going to stop after the mushy noodles anyway, right?
As long as I'm coming clean, I'll further admit that I too ordered from all of the above. I wonder why I don't learn that a "Value Meal" is NOT a value when I can't possibly eat it all and I end up pouring two-thirds of some hideously sweet beverage on the ground? Other random observations: KFC's potato wedges are admirable in their intentions: be different from the competition. However, I found them to be so utterly fried that they hurt my mouth and I could only eat a couple of them. And I don't think I have an overly sensitive mouth. The fries from McDonald's in Japan are much better than McDonald's USA...or at least McDonald's Skokie. Burger King fries are tastier than either though none of the places mentioned can hold a candle to In-N-Out Burger. I wonder when my next visit there will be? It's ironic: In-N-Out is one burger joint I wouldn't feel bad driving Koji through to. But, I don't think he would go for it because they don't sell hunks of fried something-like-chicken.
Guess I'll just have to just start packing us a lunch, or at least more snacks. Ha!! Or maybe I should just knock out the first part of my equation...
P.S. Yes, I feel proud that it's now Saturday and the last time we drove though was on Tuesday. And yes, it's sad that it doesn't take much to make me proud.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Opthalmologically Speaking

Could there be any connection between my recent visits to the opthalmologist and the fact that I have perused, read, lost myself in five books since our return?! Nah...

In order read, they were:
Ravenheart by David Gemmell, which I bought at a shop next to our departure gate in Narita Airport. We did have a night flight, so I perhaps should have been preparing myself to sleep. But I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep much and I had a little yen burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought it. Good thing: I went through half of it on the plane and the rest at home when I should have been unpacking the next day. This is spite of the fact that the book itself, as Book Three in a series, was breaking my rule of "read a series in chronological order".

Didn't get much reading done for the rest of the week, but the following Monday I packed Koji off to the library to hunt for the rest of the series. I found, and subsequently stayed up much too late reading Sword in the Storm (which has one of those nasty scary stereotypical fantasy book covers that I don't like). I also picked up a book from that Time list, but I didn't read it because it wasn't about the Rigante. Instead, I wandered over to my own bookshelf and picked up Tales from Earthsea & The Other Wind, which I read with great interest though in order to do so I had to make another exception to the aforementioned rule about series. I haven't read the Earthsea Cycle, though I've seen the SciFi Channel miniseries version...

Maddeningly, my next visit to the library did not yield the second book in David Gemmell's series, so I had no choice but to skip ahead to Stormrider, which was a mostly satisfying conclusion to the series, I think, though I don't actually have all the information yet, do I? Better luck on my next trip to the library?

Finally, I polished off a book from the NEW section of the library, The Crown Rose. It was billed as historical fiction set in medieval France, so I read it with great interest as I don't know much about that time and place. *spoiler alert!* My interest flagged towards the end when the author managed to tie the people and events together around some central figures who were revealed to be the son and daughters of Mary Magdalene by Jesus Christ.

I kept reading anyway, but my enjoyment was spoiled. Why do authors want to ride on the coattails of The DaVinci Code? Rhetorical question, I know it's because that's what's selling big these days. But as for me, I just don't like it when people tell lies about Jesus, even in the guise of fiction.

Off to put some drops in my eyes...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dandelion Club

About 20 minutes from here, down on the north side of Chicago, is a building that houses the JASC (Japanese American Service Committee). Though I'm not familiar with most of their activities, I'm thrilled with the one that Koji and I discovered Monday: the Dandelion Club.
This name is my approximate translation for "Tampopokai," the play group that meets at the JASC building Monday mornings. My first impression was very positive; the teacher was super energetic, the songs were all in Japanese, the snacks were well organized (and there was coffee for moms!), and the craft was well thought out to be interesting for kids and parents.
I was a little surprised at how much the teacher spoke in English; it was hard to tell which other families were or weren't fluent in Japanese (and therefore needed English instruction). But, I still think it's a great class. Hopefully Koji thought so too as I'm planning to put "Dandelion Club" on the calendar for many Mondays to come!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Least Favorite Word

Why yes, I am reading the Chicago Tribune online right now. How did you know?

Do you think something like this will ever happen to my blog? Uh, no, I guess I don't either, but I am still enjoying putting my thoughts and our pictures out there for your perusal.

One great reason I don't think this blog will ever become part of a big media conglomerate: I HATE the word "blogosphere" it even a word? May it never make the dictionary!

Good Job, Chicago

Not that we actually live downtown, but I still found this report interesting. A friend and I were talking about the subject of living downtown and thereby driving less, just a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo. I mentioned some of the same reasons for living downtown noted in this article, but I was kind of talking off the top of my head. It's good to know that I wasn't completely fabricating a story!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Two Months and Ten Days Later

Look at Eli! Isn't he cute! I don't care if I'm his auntie, I know you think so too...not only is he smiling now, he even rolled over the other day. In addition to being a tough heart surgery survivor, he's a child prodigy, right? Just because one, two, or even fourteen (Koji's favorite number) times isn't enough, let me thank you again for praying for him. See what your prayers did!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hot Stuff

In the spirit of that Bible passage which says something like, "to whom much has been given, much will be required," now that we're back in our huge house (by American standards it's really not that big but it feels cavernous to us right now, compared to The Room), I want to share it.

So, call me a martyr, but today I had 10 moms and 16 kids--only one over the age of two--over for lunch. Yes, it was utter chaos, but it was mostly fun chaos until the incident.

A kind friend had brought over some cornbread in a Pyrex dish and baked it in my oven. When it came out of the oven, I put in on top of an electric burner next to the rest of the food that I was serving buffet-style. After awhile, I started to smell something. I realized the burner under the cornbread was on high!

Though I quickly removed the pan from the burner and started to try and salvage the cornbread, I was too late. The glass dish exploded in my hands! Thank God that all 16 kids and most of the 10 moms were nowhere nearby when this happened. And furthermore, I didn't even get hurt...except that part of me that wants things to be perfect and feels terrible when I offend someone! Not that my friend--owner of the pan and contributor of the cornbread--was offended, she forgave me very graciously.

Unfortunately, the rest of the day wasn't quite as fun for me. But everyone seemed to like the soup, and no one complained of glass shards in their bowl. Let me not be stymied! Moms and kids, please come visit again. I promise to re-learn how to manage four electric burners all at once *but have mercy, remembering that in Tokyo I had but one burner and it was gas*!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Happy Birthday, Dad!
You've done a great job as dad for 33 years now; and you've done a lot of other things well and to God's glory before and since~
May He give you another special year with some bonus "HOG" time too!
We love you,
Jamie, Aogu & Koji

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Evolving Dictionary

So a list of mis-pronounced words probably doesn't qualify as a dictionary, but I can't think of what else to call it and I'm too lazy to go poking around a thesaurus for a better word. Has anyone else ever thought that "thesaurus" sounds like a cousin of "tyrannosaurus"? No? OK, moving on.

I've wanted to make a little list of things Koji says that we understand perfectly though their delivery is a bit mangled. Unfortunately, these words are all Japanese words, so it doesn't make sense for me to introduce the list in English. Why should I make sense though? I'm the same one who confuses reference books with dinosaurs.

だいぶじゅ = 大丈夫
くさだい = 下さい
たまげに = 玉ねぎ
かっぴ = ヘリコプタ
こーき = 飛行機
エイ先生 = 先生
ヒモリ = ひろみ


     イエス様、 ケン アヤ もらったこと  アメン


High and Low

When I got Koji to bed tonight at the comparatively early hour of 8:15, I was high. I patted myself on the back and went into my bedroom for a blog-reading fest, which I can do now that we have a wireless network inside our house (but how about if we really upgrade to having an actual chair to sit on while peering at the laptop? looking at the computer upstairs can't be that fabulous if it starts to evoke memories of standing up for those high school summer job graveyard shifts at the green bean cannery...).

My high went low faster than you can say, "when are you going to change the title of your blog?" when I came out of the room 45 minutes later to hear a supposedly somnulent boy shouting, "MAMA! 乳乳くさだい!座って飲むから!" (that's "milk please! [I'm going to] sit up and drink!).


I really don't want my feelings about my life as a parent to revolve around the current waking status of my child. But it happens.

Now that it is one hour and thirty minutes after he went to bed, he might be asleep. Or not. But that, my friends, is the beauty and joy of not being in The Room anymore! We have more than one room! So I can come to this cave of a basement and ignore the fact that I hear mutterings from the monitor. Heh heh. And if I should be so foolish as to allow those monitored sounds to affect my emotional state, then I can turn it off. My high is coming back.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

You thought I dropped off the blog, and I almost did!

It's been almost a week since we arrived back in the US, and since then I have been utterly occupied with the following, though not necessarily in the order listed:




Pita Inn

Baja Fresh


Fogo de Chao

Joy Yee's

That's right, folks. All we've done for this past week is eat and shop. Wait, I guess we did also clean and rearrange the house from top to bottom (a work in progress). And we might have prepared, served and eaten a Thanksgiving dinner for nine adults and two kids in honor of Ken and Aya's GREAT visit.

No wonder I didn't post for a week! In addition to all of the above, we even went for a walk in the park.

More soon, but for now, a good evening from one still jet-lagged traveler...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Soon You'll Find Me At...

Time recently put out a Top 100 Books list, that is, all the best books since 1923. Huh? Why 1923? If I was bothered to read the commentary in the side bar about why they chose what they did, perhaps I would know.

In any case, I've read 12 of them. And none recently. I like the challenge of working my way through a list, which is why it pains to me to depart this country tomorrow without triumphantly completing the Metro stamp rally (that's right! I'm linking to my own post! *victory dance* thanks, erika!).

Back in AP English, our teacher gave us a five-page double-sided list of "books to read before you die"; that wasn't the exact title but the solemnity with which we were urged to read these books was correspondent to such a title. Well. For several years after, whenever I would come across the list, my waning interest in tackling the list would be re-kindled, and I would read frantically. That is, until I hit a "classic" or what should more accurately be termed a "snoozer". Then the list would go back to the "book" file and I would return to the Life of Willy-Nilly Reading.

I'm not sure that I should fling myself into Time's list, or dig out my tattered AP English list even. But I do feel sure that when jet lag subsides, you'll find me here.

And now, please excuse me. My last night in the Room will end like most others, with me tucking myself into bed with this, the Best Book of All. Sweet dreams to you and me!

24 Hours to Room Departure

We've been inspected and found lacking three glasses and one bowl. I broke them all, but none deliberately. The company will cover for my clumsiness, and thankfully so, because though this was not the china pattern I would have chosen, it was certainly just as expensive.

So the packing is done! You're suspicious, so I'll admit that it's not a completely finished job. There's some LC (little crap, you know, that stuff that you don't want to throw away but doesn't quite make it into the suitcase either...about half of it will probably be in the trash by tomorrow morning) around, but other than that, our pajamas, our clothes for tomorrow and Koji's bed, everything is in a box or bag or suitcase. Much of it is already on the way to the airport, bless you, efficient Japanese delivery company.

Though we haven't left the room yet, our aura has already gone out ahead of us with the pictures and toys that I packed away, so I feel a bit out of body, like I'm still here but I should already be there. And I'm not making sense, but that's to be expected at times like this.

Some have expressed a desire to continue reading of the adventures of these Room Occupants, though they return to their House. Glad to oblige! I may have to alter my title accordingly...or not? In any case, thank you for praying, loving and encouraging us during these eight months in the Room.

It must have been fun, because the time flew! 行ってきます~

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All I've Got When I'm Packing Up:Randomness

Those of you who know me well will refuse to believe this, because it's not yet the night before we're leaving Tokyo, but it's true: I've started packing. Don't worry too much though; I'm not nearly finished and if I don't pick up the pace, I'll be on schedule for the usual all-nighter that I have to pull just before departing on a journey/move. Note that I NEVER successfully pulled an all-nighter back when I was in university and actually needed to...

So, in the spirit of the state of this room I present you with a few connected-to-nothing-but-me photos from the last couple of weeks.
On the left you see a sandwich, but perhaps if you peer closely, you will note that the bread is an alarming hue of grayish-black. No, I didn't burn the toast, though that talent does run hot in my veins. Rather, this was a special bread that I ordered from the
co-op grocery delivery service I've praised here before (and as I've also mentioned before, if I wasn't such a doofus I would know how to link back to my own words about it...some day I'll figure out how to use this site, and then it'll be time for me to switch to another platform I don't understand...). The package said something that looked to me like 炭 which means coal. Hm. Well, it didn't taste like coal. My ham and cheese with Maille Tarragon & White Wine Mustard was delicious. Alas, the piece of toast at the bottom of the page that I slicked with blueberry jam for Koji was not as happily eaten. Sure, he claimed, 黒いパン食べたい! [want to eat black bread!] before-hand, but when it was right in front of him he was more content to pick the blueberries off and then lick the out of two ain't bad.

To the right, we note Koji's propensity for arranging objects--in this case, his car collection--into rows. This night he was feeling especially particular, so he went on to top each car with a triangle, heart or circle. Thanks to Grandma Jane for supplying the shapes!

Left: we see Mr. Arranger hard at work on an onigiri, which is the Japanese version of a sandwich. That is, it's a ball of rice with something hidden inside, or sometimes mixed through out the rice and then, often but not always, covered with a sheet of seaweed. Does anyone care to speculate about how it could be that a small boy won't touch anything called "vegetable" but peels the nori (seaweed) off his onigiri, ingests the entire sheet with an enthusiam usually reserved for cookies, and then begs for another? Me either.

Here's the aftermath of Koji's first experience with face painting, and I suppose it was riotously sucessfully. That is, this red car caused two riots: first one after Aogu washed the car away for bed-time. Second, the following morning when I wasn't able to respond affirmatively to requests for the red car to be put back on.

Last and certainly least, here is a photo of the inside of our closet before I started packing. It's not noteworthy for the stellar organization found within; rather, I'm impressed that this is the space in which I've managed to cram all of our in-season wardrobe items for all three of us for the last eight months *pat self on back*.

Finally, a quick follow-up on my last post: I'm famous! I didn't think that Kate would notice my reference to her Kit Kat info, but she did, and she went on to mention me and link here. Thanks, Kate! And, just when I thought I didn't have time for such frivolity as KitKat tasting, when I was at the conbini (convenience store) this morning grabbing some milk and juice, what should grab my eye but the latest limited edition KitKat in grape! I'll get back to you on the taste...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Who Knew?

When I found the following information at Accidental Hedonist, I immediately interpreted it as an urgent challenge.

Only a few more weeks before I return to the land of the Hershey's Kit Kat, and the Nestle Kit Kat seems infinitely more interesting. Conclusion: must buy and try many kinds of Kit Kat, to the peril of my waistline.

First, I tried the Maple Syrup Kit Kat. Eeww. I really like maple syrup and most maple flavored items, but not this time. The outside was white-chocolate looking, but efforts to render this coating maple-ish just left it sweet. Duh. It's a Kit Kat, it should be sweet, but this was really too much. I wanted to drink black coffee with it, and normally black coffee and I don't keep company.

Not to be put off, I went out and snatched up Yogurt, Wine and Noir Kit Kats, as pictured at right. Yogurt is so-so; it almost has the same problem as Maple Syrup, ever so slightly tempered by the essence of yogurt. Still need black coffee.

Perhaps I should have pictured the Wine Kit-Kat naked; it's pink! Though I've heard of Strawberry Kit Kat, I've never seen one, so this was my first encounter with a pink Kit Kat. Now, I'm no sommelier, but I thought this attempt to marry Kit Kat and wine was respectable. There was actually a wine taste to it, which was thankfully not overpowered by the sweet that screamed through Maple Syrup and Yogurt. And as with Noir, perhaps the best thing about this Kit Kat is the size: tiny! Yogurt is two fingers, though shorter fingers than a standard Kit Kat. Wine and Noir, if to be compared to fingers, would maybe only match up to my pinky?

So it's OK to eat two.

Or three, in the case of Noir: I saved the best for last. Turns out "noir" is French for black. Accordingly, the chocolate was squarely in the dark and bitter camp, and each tiny Noir is even covered with a fancy sprinkling of dark cocoa powder. Bring on my usual latte, and wish me luck as I enter the last week of the Kit Kat Hunt!

P.S. Reluctlantly, I confess that I also tried a "Giant Kit Kat". Something like that. It was like one finger of a standard Kit Kat that had passed through some kind of Willy Wonka contraption to become a behemoth candy bar! Balance between crispy inside and chocolate-y outside is important, and this one was way off. Great for milk chocolate fans who like a little crunch, I suppose. In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I did eat the whole thing, because I was hungry, except for that bite that I had to give Koji when he figured out I was eating chocolate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Photo Shoot in Karajan Plaza

Recently, after church and after an impromptu al fresco dinner on the plaza next to our building, we decided to take some photos with our beloved friends pictured here. We caused a bit of a commotion; people were standing around gaping at us like we were celebrities or something! Maybe they just thought we were ridiculous, trying to make a pair of two year olds stay in one position next to one another with a nice facial expression for more than a nanosecond?
Kid group
posted by jcm

Yuko, Ray, Meg (2.5 years) and Kai (0.2 years)
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Mother group
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Father group
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First prom picture
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Saturday, October 15, 2005

If I Was a Book of the Bible...

You are Ephesians
You are Ephesians.

Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hmm. I really like, even love Ephesians. Every former member of FamEx can testify to that, as we spent a WHOLE YEAR discussing it...but I'm not sure about this explanation of why I'm Ephesians. In any case, I saw this here and somewhere else but now I can't remember. Oops.

Forgive me for not checking in sooner to say that finally, after a whole week of staying in (with the exception of one trip to a friend's house for lunch...oh, and last night I guess Aogu and I did go to his colleague's place to watch FOUR episodes in a row of 24 after which we rushed home on the last train heh heh heh...not to worry, Aogu's dad was here watching Koji) we are mostly healthy again! Thank you for your good wishes and prayers.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Star Bar

Starbucks, coffee company that some people love to hate, came to Japan in 1996. In the short nine years since, it's taken the country by storm. At last count, there were more than 500 "Suta-bakusu" here, there and on every street corner.** "Sutabakusu" is too long though, so most people just call it "Sutaba," which sounds really weird to say in English until you realize that it sounds a little bit like Star Bar.

Shortening foreign names when pronounced in Japanese is actually not a bad idea: take the prime example of "Makudonarudo" which makes way more sense as "Makku". By the way, if you click on that last link, you'll see the featured burgers of the month. Along with the keema curry I referred to yesterday (if I was really cool I would link back to my own post but I'm not so I don't know how to do that...), the "cheese egg double mac" is something I'm all about lately. Aren't you proud that I mostly just think about it and then go home and make dinner like I should? Since they came out, I've only had far.

The original point I was getting to is, though Star Bar may seem to be on every corner, and almost is here in Tokyo (from the Room here, I can walk to two of them in five minutes or less), that's not quite good enough for them. So now they've entered the convenience store coffee market with Discoveries. I haven't actually discovered--ha ha!--these drinks yet, but I plan to give them a go before we go (can you tell it's close to or even past my bedtime, though it's only 10?!). Some people think this is horrible. I can understand why; this person lives in NY, knows WAY more about coffee and what it "should" taste like than your average convenience store patron, and she's down on Starbucks in general, probably for good reason?!

However, I have to respectfully disagree with her on this point, in spite of the fact that I haven't actually imbibed Discoveries yet. Here's the reason: she hasn't been drinking the competition. Eeww. I shouldn't be too hasty with my eewws, because I'm known to wander into the nearest convenience store and grab a Mt. Rainier Latte, in which coffee is found as the third or fourth ingredient! These people are selling cups of faintly coffee colored milk!

Therefore I suspect Discoveries might not be so bad. But I'll have to get back to you after I actually drink one. Which won't be any time between now and when I go to bed.


**the ubiquity of Star Bar now seems very ironic when I think back to the day that M and I walked around Ochanomizu in the rain for almost an hour trying to track down the ONE that was rumored to be there. can't say with authority that it actually the first one in Japan, but when we finally figured out where it was, that latte was delicious and worth the one hour train ride AND the hunt in the rain! right after that latte is when I should have bought stock in Starbucks Japan...?!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I Look Dandy Today and Other Myths

To say that I can't see the screen very well as I type because my eyelids are that swollen from crying all day is not much of an exaggeration.
But it's not what you think.
Yes, I'm a bit sad about leaving Tokyo in two and a half weeks. But there's plenty about being back in Chicago to look forward to. Here is a totally random list of examples:

After eight p.m., or whenever Koji goes to bed, I won't have to function via flashlight. I'll be able to let this weird muscle that I've developed on my left shoulder (from clenching the flashlight between my jaw and collarbone) go back where it came from.

When I need cilantro, I'll drive to Marketplace and buy it for cheap. I won't wonder what it's called in Japanese, search fruitlessly (vegetable-lessly?) at many markets and then resign myself to a cilatro-deprived life.

We won't be limited to two at a time when we feel like inviting friends over. And we won't have to hint that they should go home when it gets past 9, because we'll be able to put Koji to bed in his very own room...this is back to reason number one up there. Maybe I should just come out and say that I'm deliriously happy about putting Koji back in his own room.

Did I mention driving? This list is not in order, but reason number one may well be, my car, my car, my car...and yes, I read the news and I know that gas prices are up and President Bush wants me to cut down on driving. Fine. Even a little more driving than NONE, which is the amount I do now, will be great. Did you know that I like to drive? It's true! Let me know when you need someone for a road trip, I'm in!

I'll know how my phones work, both cell and home phone. The phone we were provided with here in the Room is nice looking but has never been easy to operate. So, I went from being a rather reluctant phone user to a complete non phone user. I'm ready to reach out and touch someone again.

Speaking of someone, the thought of living so close to friends that I can walk to some of them if I want to (better yet for me, drive in 10-15 minutes!!) is fabulous, glorious, wonderful! I have exactly one friend here that I can walk to, and she has been a great blessing. But the Lord knows I need more than one friend! The rest of my friends here live at least an hour away on the train.

Maybe Aogu will be able to come home before Koji goes to bed and we'll all be able to eat dinner together. It doesn't even have to be every night, but more often than never would be a dream.

Back to my swollen eyelids, I have been crying all day but that is because I have a beast of a cold! Likely I've had this kind of cold some other time in my life, but I can't recall it at moment. The main three sources of my misery are all in my face: my eyes have been weeping all day, my nose won't stop running (and yet I'm oddly congested) and I can't stop sneezing. Ugh.

So today is the second day that Koji and I stayed in the room. He was awake for about 12 hours today and we watched TV for about 11 1/2 of them. Maybe a little less than that but not much. Actually, this morning I had a little more energy, so we turned the TV off after our standard Thomas fix (yes, I said "our," I like Thomas too these days!) and played golf and football and read some books. We play golf with a long handled wooden rice spoon and a long handled shoe horn and golf balls. Good times.

Oh, I guess we were also artistic! We got out some paper and spongy shapes that Grandma sent over awhile back and made some creations. As Koji was creating and then coloring in a coloring book, I was sorting through some cooking magazines and cutting/ripping out recipes. Suddenly, Koji picked up his coloring book and ripped out a six page section and then said, "Mama, kitte kudasai" (please cut this). Initially I was astonished at his sudden destructiveness! But then it dawned on me that he just wanted to do exactly what I had been; ripping out pages and then cutting them. Silly boy!

After he woke up from his nap, I succumbed to the lure of the TV pretty quickly. I flipped through the channels and waited for him to say "kore mitai!" (want to watch this!). Aogu's influence was apparent when Koji stopped me on a Japanese Pro Bowling Association Senior Tournament--and he was serious! So serious that he got out his little plastic bowling set, lined up the pins and went at it himself!

Meanwhile, I had gone to another channel and gotten sucked into the story of a Korean man who came to Japan 30+ years ago to help his uncle with a restaurant. He couldn't speak Japanese and he worked very very long hours, so it wasn't a great life. The lone bright spot was his only friend, a girl who also worked at the restaurant. Eventually they wanted to get married, and did, but sadly without her parents' blessing. They continued to work in the restaurant business with the dream of owning their own restaurant. They managed to have three children while working and working. One day, just as they were very close to making it with their restaurant, the wife (by that time maybe in her 50s?) collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her but in any case, she almost died. There was nothing the husband could do but keep working to show her that the dream was coming true. By the time she got out of the hospital, he had remodeled the restaurant and his menu, and the place was full of ravenous patrons. Cut to the beaming family, surrounded by their lovely children and grandchildren...and toasting one another with big glasses of vile-looking green juice?!

That's right, the whole thing was an advertisement for aojiru, a juice that's made of kale and/or a variety of other green, leafy vegetables. They tricked me! But they won't catch me drinking their potion, no matter how healthy Mr. Restaurant's Wife was at the end of the show!

Maybe another sign that it's OK for us to head back to the U.S. of A. for now is that I actually feel a little tired of Japanese food. I never ever thought I'd say that, and it'll probably be a matter of weeks before I'm cursing myself for ever taking all these lovely Japanese meal ingredients at the tips of my fingers for granted. For whatever reason, what I want now is Indian food. Huh?

So yesterday I made some keema curry (clarification: I didn't actually use the exact recipe I'm linking to here; this is the recipe I would have used if I had access to all the ingredients! The recipe I used was a bit simpler). I let it "age" until today, then I added some more curry powder, chili powder, coriander and a bit of water. I served it to myself--but not to Koji, his dinner was 9 potstickers--over rice with cucumber raita on the side. This is how I made it:

Peel and grate at least three seedless cucumbers. Squeeze out the juice. If time permits, sprinkle with salt and let sit at least 10 minutes, then squeeze again and rinse. Mix with one cup of plain yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, coarse pepper and coriander. Add a random amount of dried basil. Stir and refrigerate for at least an hour, but longer is better.

I wouldn't be bothered posting the recipe here except that I was pleasantly shocked by how well this little side dish turned out! It was extremely tasty, and even more so as a combination with the curry. Can't wait to try it with mint or cilantro or those other leaves that are for sale at Marketplace!

In other news (why am I so chatty today?!), I read two books recently. I read them between last Wednesday night and this Monday, to be precise. One was good and one not so. The good one was Seabiscuit. Though I fell asleep during the movie and remember exactly nothing about it, the book was quite interesting. The author made many asides into the history of the day, which could have been annoying, but I didn't know anything about it and I was willing to learn, so it worked out for me. Bonus: I bought this book for 105 yen (about $1) at Book Off. I could kick myself for not thinking of shopping there a lot sooner. I've been buying brand new books on sale for 700-1000 yen and they don't last any longer than Seabiscuit did! I won't be such a fool again...for the next two and a half weeks...

This is the other book I read: Cross Bones. It cost me 250 yen but I'm not sure it had that much value, for me at least. The premise of the story is that someone has found bones that may belong to Jesus in Masada, which is scandalous and will surely debunk all major world religions!! Um, except I don't believe that. So, it was mildly interesting as a not so well written mystery. Don't run out and get it.

Good night.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Time to Move On: the Last of Kumamoto Round-up

This is Ashikita Church, where we spent a large part of Sunday the 25th. Aogu's dad started this church right around the time Aogu was born, and Aogu grew up here until he was nine, when their family moved to Hawaii. Now Hannah and her family are a pillar family in the church.
posted by jcm

Koji's position for much of church...on the cushions next to my feet. Some people think having kids in chuch is wonderful, but after seven months of trying it, I say, VCCE Toddler Room, I miss you!!
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The look of rice when it's nearly ready for harvest. This particular field was just behind the church, but we saw similar fields all around Kumamoto. They were beautiful!
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Aogu and his oldest, er, longest? friend, Yat-chan, in the field (parking lot) behind the dining room of the church.
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Every week after church, everyone troops down to the dining room, where they all have lunch together. At least once a month, the menu is Japanese style curry rice, and jackpot!, that's what it was the day we were there. So delicious! Rare moment, Koji thought so too and cleaned his plate~
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Serious Sunday School participants
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After church we went to a roller luge park. The roller luge was AWESOME and I wanted to speed down those hills many more times than the three I did (but it turned out to be just as well I stopped at three, the next day my arms and shoulders were sore from all that clinging to the clattering handles). When we had exhausted our luge tickets, we moved the party to this park on a hill next door. Koji was so enamored of this roller slide that though he slid down at least 20--30--40?! times, he still screamed protest when we decided to leave.
posted by jcm

Aogu's oldest friends from Ashikita Church: to the left, the Yamamotos, in the back right corner, the Fujiwaras, next to them, Hannah's family, and the bottom right, Shu-chan's younger sister Masami-san and her family. All wonderful, hospitable people; I'm so thankful we were able to spend the day with them!
posted by jcm

After all the excitement of the day and no nap in there anywhere, the minute we got into the car to drive to the Yamamotos' house, Koji was OUT. Hannah suggested this neck pillow to keep his head stable, not because he was suddenly a neck trauma patient....
posted by jcm

The Yamamotos' two year old house with their youngest son, eight-year-old Minato in front. It was beautiful inside too! I particularly liked the loft above the boys' bedroom, which would correspond with the windows seen at the very top of the house.
posted by jcm

Here's the meal I ordered at the local greasy ramen shop we went to with the Yamamoto family: pork broth with green onions, gyoza (potstickers) and fried rice. My plan was to share with Koji, but he wasn't up for any of it and ended up making dinner out of what you see in the next photo.
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This shave ice is the only "food" in the ramen place that Koji would get excited about, and was he ever excited! I've never seen him feed himself so cleanly, quickly or efficiently. If only he was always that motivated!
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The honest truth (is there any other kind?) is that Koji and Sakie didn't play all that well together. Who knows why, and I won't bother theorizing here. However, they did manage to agree that these Anpanman finger dolls were fun times.
posted by jcm

It was Monday morning: Aogu had flown back to Tokyo for work, and Koji was fired up to ride the Kumamoto streetcars: they reminded him of Thomas' friend Toby. They reminded me of the MAX in Portland, but with older cars, with many more random ads painted on the sides, and with more frequent service.
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Free umbrella service inside the streetcars: the top line says "Free," inside the box is "Umbrella-loan service" and in parentheses "please return next time you ride"
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From the minute we stepped into Rumi-obachan's house, and for the two days we stayed, Koji made himself at home on this Anpanman "bike" (complete with super annoying engine sound) and the indoor gym to his back.
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On Monday night, we "moved" to Rumi-obachan's house. She had a giant yakiniku feast waiting for us! From left to right you see Sayuri-san (Hiromitsu's wife), Hannah, Rumi-obachan, Hiromitsu, Tomonori (younger and eldest sons of Rumi-obachan, respectively) and Shu-chan.
posted by jcm

Tuesday morning, we walked Yumi to kindergarten with Sayuri-san. Her class starts at 10, but the grounds open at nine and the children are free to arrive anytime during the hour to play. Koji ran right up the ladder to drive this airplane as if he'd been attending this school his whole life! When Yumi's class started and all the kids went inside, I literally had to drag him away kicking and screaming, though he had played for almost an hour.
posted by jcm