Sunday, September 25, 2005

Live from Mt. Aso (Almost)

How do you count when you're traveling? Does the day you arrived count as the first day? OK, then this is our fourth day in Kumamoto, Kyushu. Phew. It feels like we've been here for about four hours. Time flies when one is trying to get a small boy to sleep in strange places and eating at restaurant after restaurant after restaurant.
Did I say awhile back that I want to go out to eat more? Or did I think it to myself planning to blog it sometime? Either way, my wish came true. We've been out to eat 18 times since we arrived. Maybe I exaggerate, but every time is worth two or three...for me, it's not quite all it's cracked up to be when Koji is in orbit around the table and I hear myself saying *sit down sit DOWN SIT DOWN SIT DOWN PLEASE NOW* and exactly nothing happens.
In any case, we've been to Kumamoto Castle and to visit Aogu's 83 year old maternal grandmother (who liked my carrot cake) and to Mt. Aso and to Aso Farmland Village and the Animal Kingdom within. This "animal kingdom" was more like a petting zoo in the corner, but Koji had as much fun as if it had been an actual Kingdom. He fed duck snacks to ducks, carrots to goats and picked up little turtles and let them crawl around on his hands like a pro. He also petted everything that moved, unless it was way bigger than him (the llama and the ostriches were out). It was well worth the 600 yen each Aogu and I had to pay to get in there with him.
More soon!
Oh, and Happy Wedding Day to Erika and Thomas! I suppose the moment hasn't quite arrived LA time, but it's the 25th here so I say OMEDETO!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Best News Today...

Eli's better! Eli's better! Let me quote my sister's words:

...praise the Lord, as of 8:00 this morning he is breathing without any assistance! That is a major step for heading out the door of the hospital. His next big step will be taking a bottle. Please pray he will continue to grow stronger and learn to eat and not have any more complications.

Maybe I Will and Maybe I Won't

Tomorrow morning we're off to Aogu's birthplace, Kumamoto, Kyushu, a larger city on the southernmost big island in Japan. That is, Okinawa is further south, but it's not big. Got it? Our reason for this trip is that Aogu needs to re-connect with his roots. Ha! Can you imagine? No, actually we're going to visit Aogu's sister and some of his other relatives, and it has been ten years since he's been back to his home-town. So maybe the thing about him re-connecting with his roots isn't a joke after all. I'll have to get back to you.

So if I were a more informed and organized type, I would have figured out how to make a bunch of posts to post themselves while I'm away from my computer. Alas, I am neither of the above. Therefore, this may be the last you'll hear of me for the next week. Or, if we're less crazy busy that I expect, and if my sister-in-law's internet connection is fast, then you may hear from me, live from Kyushu.

To soften the pain of possible impending temporary separation, here's a best ever photo of Koji (and all the random photos posted below, what a hard worker I am!). Sure, I'm totally biased, but even you have to admit that pictures of the kid smiling are rare, few and far between, nay, nearly nonexistent! Yes, he needs a haircut. If it happens in Kumamoto, which is what I hope, it'll be his third haircut ever!

Koji loves the Stamp Rally, so much so that when I mentioned it the other day, he ran to the genkan and put on my sandals and shouted "hitori de iku!" (go by myself!). We did end up going out for a ride on the Metro a bit later. I was just a tad overzealous...we visited 32 different train stations. Yes, I'm still in recovery.
posted by jcm

On the platform at Shin-Ochanomizu station; by the time I stopped ogling and started taking pictures, I couldn't capture all of the frescoes (are these called frescoes? I don't know but it sounds right to call them that, so I will) before the next train came. Um, so why not just skip that train, take the pictures, and get on the next one that came THREE MINUTES LATER...Nope. No such thought process happens in the mind of the Stamp Hunter. Must. Get. Next. Stamp. NOW. is all that's happening...
posted by jcm

Koji and his BF (best friend), Thomas
posted by jcm

The other night we went to this all you can eat dim sum restaurant. The dim sum was actually on carts, which was impressive for an eat till you pass out place.
posted by jcm

Flashlight on Food: yes, I tried to improve the lighting by having Aogu hold a flashlight over my dinner. The upper left corner of the noodles looks especially mouth-watering, no? This is yakisoba, Japanese pan-fried noodles. All kinds of vegetables and meat work in yakisoba, but this time I went with green beans, leeks and pork. The cucumbers are "snake-belly style," a recipe I learned from my friend's mom the other day. The cool thing is the way you cut them. I'll have to take more pictures of the process and post them another time when I'm feeling more Food Blogger.
posted by jcm

Fig Season: I wanted to make some kind of fancy fig dish, but the ingredients weren't at hand and I couldn't be bothered with all that extra shopping. So this is Fig-Blue Cheese and Ham on Bagel with Rosemary. It was OK. The bagel was too thick and the rosemary didn't make much of an impression. In fact, it got to be annoying, I felt like I was eating pine needles. But blue cheese and figs is a good combo!
posted by jcm

Last day at the pool; note the cool flip-flops that the ANA Hotel had there at the ready in Koji's size!
posted by jcm

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Give Me an E, Give Me an L, Give Me an I

Please continue to pray for my little nephew, Eli. To review, he was born with TGA, which means his two main heart arteries were reversed. Notice that I use the past tense. That's right, praise God, the open-heart surgery he had at six days old was a success and his heart is normal now.
However, the road to recovery from the surgery has been longer and slower than anyone in my family expected, which is painful, of course for sweet Eli but also for my sister, brother-in-law and parents.
My BIL had to go back to work today and my sister is back at home after two weeks of staying at the hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, though Eli is still in the hospital. God willing, it'll be more relaxing for her to be at home, though the flip side is that she'll be driving at least an hour each way every day to spend time with Eli until he is well and strong enough to be released.
Your prayers help, please remember him when you talk to Jesus. Watch this space, I hope to give you good news and cute pictures of Eli very soon!

Book Report

In the warped "order" of my mind is this thought: "Gotta clean up that pile of books in the corner. Can't move that pile until I blog that I read those books..."

See how blogging is actually "cleaning". Um, yeah, just want to give myself credit for cleaning in a pathetic attempt to pretend that I ever actually do it.

On to the book report. Within the last couple of weeks, these are the books that I read, not necessarily in the order that I read them.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is written from the perspective of a English teenaged boy who has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. He's a very intelligent boy as far as mathematics, but not so advanced in all things emotional. Though this is novel and not a scientific study, it was fascinating to look at the world through the eyes of the boy and gain a better understanding of autism. As always with books I really enjoy, I wish I hadn't read it so fast.

I read these two books by Nancy Wilson. They concern motherhood and wife-hood, respectively. Ms. Wilson challenges the reader to be respectful of her husband and home-centered. Good ideas. Much easier said than done. Help me, Lord!

Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck was a disappointment after Expecting Adam. It didn't help that my frame of mind while reading was much different: when I read Expecting Adam, I didn't know a thing about Martha Beck. Before I read Leaving the Saints, I heard that she is divorced and homosexual now? (not trying to spread false rumors...this is what my friend told me and I haven't fact checked it but this is my blog, not a newspaper article, so maybe I'm OK?) which naturally colored my impressions of the book. It's hard to know which parts of the book are true and which parts are her interpretation; having said that, I do believe that Mormonism is NOT Christianity and is NOT the way to eternal life with Jesus. So the vicarious glimpse behind those mysterious temple doors was informative.

A couple years behind the "in" time to read it, I finally got around to this book by John Piper. Great, challenging book. Since I read it too fast, no surprise, I want to read it again and then do it!

Phew. *wipes sweat from brow* Now I can go put this pile away.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yesterday we went to watch sumo at the Kokugikan. It was great!! This is the nakairi entrance ceremony, signaling the beginning of the 15 or so matches between the top-most ranked sumo-sans. After the ring was completely surrounded by these men in skirts, they did several choreographed moves (clapping, raising and lowering their arms etc.) and then filed out. This was Aogu's first time to see sumo live, and maybe my third? I can't remember. But this time, we sprung for the seats that were a little more expensive than the nosebleed 2100 yen seats I had always bought in the past. Not only were these seats a bit closer to the action (though still in the balcony) they were much more comfortable. The nosebleed seats don't have any padding!
posted by jcm

After the entrance ceremony, Asashoryu, who is the only yokozuna (top rank in sumo), appeared in this costume and did a dance. I want to call it the crane dance though I'm pretty sure I'm just making that up out of nowhere. It was interesting to watch; amazing that a man who weighs something like 143 kilos can put on these kind of moves!
posted by jcm

Thankfully, I had been at a 100 yen shop that morning (love you, 100 yen shop!!) and had the foresight to buy a whole bunch of stickers. Koji found the stickers infinitely more interesting than sumo. Apparently watching the big guys is simply no fun at all compared to wrestling with your papa in the comfort of your own living room?
posted by jcm

Koji had more fun that he appears to be having in this picture, and yet perhaps less fun than we would have expected.
posted by jcm

More research is needed before I can properly explain what's happening here. I thought that these men with the banners were advertising various products, and they are. For example, the red/yellow/black/green banner in the bottom left of the picture is a well known brand of ochazuke, which is a seaweed/various other dried items packet of powdery stuff to sprinkle on rice. Next pour on hot water for some delicious soup. I'm serious! Anyway, the advertising part seems to be right, but Aogu says that these companies get paid to traipse their banners around the dohyo. Which seems opposite of what I would think. End of confusing non-explanation.
posted by jcm

Yes, the man on the left is not Japanese (but how's that for "Japanese" sentence construction?! tee hee). He's Bulgarian, and I've no idea what his real name is. His sumo name is Kotoohshu; an interesting aside is that kanji character for the "oh" in the middle of his name means "Europe". He's just been promoted to sekiwake, and he's won all eight of his matches this tournament. Should he win his ninth in a row tomorrow, that will be a record for a sekiwake. We know where we'll be around 5:30 pm. tomorrow...NO, we're not diehard enough to trek back to the Kokugikan. But we'll certainly watch the match on TV!
posted by jcm

Asashoryu is the only yokozuna right now. Whatever he's contemplating here must have worked, because he won the match that followed.
posted by jcm

Proof that we were there with Fumi!
posted by jcm

Monday, September 12, 2005

Eli Benjamin is 9 Days Old

Laurie and John are staying in the Ronald McDonald House next to Doernbecher so they can be as close to Eli as possible while he is healing. Here Laurs and Ollie are next to the RMH sign. According to Laurie's latest email,

Eli's doing good. Still has some fluid to get rid of in his belly and around his rib cage but he is making good progress. It's slower (the progress) than I thought it would be but I need to remember he is recovering from open heart surgery so we are just waiting and praying. The biggest prayer right now is that he will not develop any infections and that he will continue to pee out the extra fluid.

Please continue to pray for sweet Eli; I'll post another picture of him soon.

Food Blogger for Today

So I really like to cook. But I've never set out to make this a food blog because I don't consider myself a "foodie," because I'm not talented at food photography, because I'm too lazy to make something new every day and then post about it here and because I don't want to be limited to talking about food (so what kind of blog is this, you ask? ha! I refuse to answer!).

Nevertheless, here are some stories about foods that I've made/bought recently. Early clarification on the picture above: as you suspect, this "creation" was an utter failure, at least from the aesthetic viewpoint. That's right, the greasy lumps on the plate at right were meant to look like the appetizing meatball-ish things on the left. Uh,no.

Back story: I was on a rare outing alone a few weeks ago (thanks, okaasan!) so I bought a food magazine to read on the train. I found the pictured recipe for "Sardine and Green Bean Satsuma-age". If you know a good way to say "satsuma-age" in English, please clue me in! The recipe calls for cleaned sardines, which are chopped fine, mixed with chopped green beans and seasonings, form into "rugby ball shapes (recipe's exact words)" and deep-fried. Well, in an attempt to take advantage of being in Tokyo where all these ingredients are easily accessible, I went into a "depachika" in search of some cleaned sardines.

Though we've been here six months and I've been trying my hand at creating various Japanese dishes at home for much longer than that, I'm still wary of buying fish. There are just so many of them! And I don't know what they are! And they are all looking at me! So this time, I thought I'd solve my lack of confidence by asking for help. Big step. I'm not good at asking for help. So I go up to a fish guy in the depachika and I show him my magazine, opened to this recipe. I ask him which fish I should buy.

He goes to a nearby case and comes out with a package of six or seven whole sardines. Very clearly, whole. As in, not cleaned. So I tremblingly start asking him how to clean them. He sees my lack of confidence and shouts to his manager. The manager comes over and hears the fish guy's explanation of how I want to make this dish but I need cleaned sardines and that won't be so easy for me to do by myself. Fish manager is amused, and agrees to fish guy's request on my behalf. He grabs the sardines and shouts to the guy behind the window, "This foreigner lady wants to eat some Japanese food. Hahaha! So clean this fish for her!". Well.

Some time later I was safely at home with my cleaned sardines and the rest of my ingredients. But one thing I lacked: a food processor. Ah, food processor waiting for me back in the I will treasure you and not take you for granted when I next use you to pulvervize food. Sorry, end of soliloquy to food processor. Well, lacking said tool I did my best to chop those cleaned sardines up fine. Yeah.

This story is getting too long so I'll just cut to the painful end: when I put my vaguely rugby ball shaped (how am I supposed to know a rugby ball's shape? I'm American!) sardine and bean nuggets in boiling oil, they promptly lost all rugby ball like character and became the less-than-golden-random-fried-chunks you see here.

Consolation: believe it or not, they still tasted pretty good!


Several months ago, a friend persuaded me to join a grocery co-op called Pal System (Japanese only). Whatever, we just call it "co-op". The way it works is, every Tuesday morning around 10 a.m., the delivery guy swings by with the groceries, diapers, etc. that I ordered the week before. He takes off with my order sheets for the next week, and we repeat. What a beautiful system! Where is the U.S. equivalent of Mr. Co-op Delivery Guy? I need to know, because I have been helped, saved and spoiled by this fine service. Now, I won't go so far as to claim that I NEVER have to go to the market. The co-op meat, though supposedly wonderful in quality and taste, is a bit pricey for me, so I need to make a run to Niku no Hanamasa (Japanese only) for some Costco size packs of meat to freeze every couple of weeks.

Other than that, thanks to co-op, I am seriously free of market runs! And now, I am about to link all this rambling to the mysterious fruit pictured above. It is a Dragonfruit, sometimes called Pitaya or Cerise Fruit. When I saw it pictured in the pages of my co-op catalog a few weeks ago, I had to try it. I was not deterred by the 952 yen ($8.68) price tag, as I rationalized to myself that I had never seen this fruit before and didn't know when I would again have the chance to try it. I felt somewhat better about this line of reasoning when I readthis (in which woman in Munich pays 13 euros ($16!) for a similar fruit).

As for the fruit itself, hmm. It was interesting, I guess. Not nearly as sweet as the brilliant pink skin would have led me to believe. Texture wise, it was something like kiwi, but with a mouthful of poppyseeds. We ate the whole thing in one sitting, so it couldn't have been terrible. And in a fit of economical-ness, I even saved the skin and cut it into small strips, which I added to our soup the next day. You're absolutely right, the soup did turn pink. But Koji didn't care.

Scrumptious Burdock Root

Who names these vegetables? I postulate that "burdock root" would be ever so much more popular in English speaking countries, if only it were blessed with a more melodious name.
It doesn't sound bad in Japanese. In fact, "gobo" sounds downright delicious to me. But I've always shied away from making any gobo dishes at home, because the actual raw item is a bit intimidating. It's typically sold as a meter (or more!) long hunk of root, complete with dirt still attached. Of course, these are modern times, and those inclined to do so can buy gobo all prettily washed and cut up, ready for your recipe. No more intimidation! I'm lazy about lots and lots and lots of other things, but bring on unusual vegetables with dirt chunks clinging, and I'm ready for some WORK!
Work I did, and the result is pictured above. This dish is called "kinpira gobo" and it's a very typical Japanese side dish. Still, I'm proud of it for two reasons. One mentioned above, which is that I started with a dirty hunk of root and went from there. The other, I made it from start to finish without looking at any recipe and it turned out splendidly! Perhaps this can be the first of many steps towards my secret goal: cook without looking at books.
Not that I mind looking at books, cookbooks and food magazines are definitely a weakness that I don't mind giving into. But cooking with my nose in a book takes WAY longer than just getting out ingredients and turning them into something palatable for dinner. And I don't have time to do that for every meal. So sometimes, once in awhile and then hopefully more and more often after that, I'll make something like this kinpira gobo.
Just because I can.

Cool Phone

Naoko came from Nagano the other day for a visit. OK, she came to visit other people too, but we still loved having her come by. She passed our new friend test--she's not new, the test is--with flying colors (people who play well with Koji are the best friends for Aogu and me too)! This picture is one she took with her phone. I like it. If only she was in it too...but hey, they are some limitations to these cool camera phones. Like you can only fit so many people in when you are taking a self-portrait!

Don't Claim to Know Much About Fashion...

but please, adult women, please. I know you love your clothes. You want to show them to us. Still, I'm confident as to just how much lovelier that Burberry skirt would be, how much more those expensive jeans would stun

if you didn't wear them together!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Eli Has a Normal Heart Now

That's what the doctor said to my sister on Wednesday after Eli's heart surgery. I would post a picture, but poor little Eli; though his heart is "normal" now and he's definitely on the mend, he looks a little worse for the wear. Give him a couple more days under the healing hand of Jesus...

Thank you for praying. See what you can do! The Lord of the Universe is happy to listen and respond to your requests. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Petition to You and to God, for Eli

Say hello to our nephew and cousin, Eli. He was born on Saturday the 3rd. Isn't he sweet? Don't you want to squeeze him (gently, of course)? I do! However, no one is able to squeeze him at the moment as he has a heart condition called T.G.A. Here's what you can do: PRAY! His surgery will be held at Doernbecher Hospital in Portland, probably on Wednesday the 7th (I'll update here as I know more). Please go to Jesus with us in prayer for his complete healing at the hands of the surgeons. We are asking our Lord that very soon his mommy, daddy, big brother Ollie, grandpa and grandma will be able to hug him and kiss him and not let go!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Studying May Not Help

Here I go again: I'm a sucker for these Blogthings. This one is about IQ, and I'm a little embarrassed to post it since my supposed score here is lower than the one on the blog that inspired me to do the test (I'm not going to tell you which one it was!). I've never ever taken any kind of IQ test before, and I actually don't even know what a "good" score is...but I'm not at all surprised to find that my Logical Intelligence is Average. Um, yeah, Aogu could have told you that before I took the test; let's just say that being logical is NOT my strong suite.

Your IQ Is 110

Your Logical Intelligence is Average
Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius
Your Mathematical Intelligence is Exceptional
Your General Knowledge is Above Average

Saturday, September 03, 2005

27 August

Ladies "Night" Luncheon at Monsoon Cafe...Aya, Ken, Ray, Aogu, Yuko, strange horn-headed woman clutching uncooperative small boy, Kaori-san, Dale, Hiromi...taking the picture, Ohuchi-san.
posted by jcm<

Celebrating August birthdays with candles in doughnuts (extreme lower right corner) at the Doughnut courtesy of Ray & Yuko!
posted by jcm

29 August

Koji, boy genius, can read his own bed-time stories now...
posted by jcm

30 August

This past week was a frantic one of using up "summer only" tickets. Ken & Aya had bought some for Toshimaen, so we scrambled there one day before the August 31st deadline. For the most part, we had a great time trying out every single "kiddie" disappointment marred the day though. Koji was attracted to a kids-only car ride for those 90-130 cm (35-50 inches) tall. He seemed to be exactly 90 cm according to the pole at the beginning of the line, so we queued up. Every time we asked if he was fine riding by himself, he said, "Koji, hitori, ikeru! (I can go alone!). Alas, all that psyching up was for naught when we got to the front of the line and he was declared just a hair too short by the young lady in charge of the ride. The boy who was so grown up a moment before, ready to ride alone, didn't seem so when wailing with disappointment...poor guy! We promised that he would be able to ride next year, but I'm pretty sure that was no consolation. So we went off to the merry-go-round instead.

Who knew that merry-go-rounds could be so relaxing? Supposedly this is the oldest one in the world?!
posted by jcm

All those "free" rides at Toshimaen, but the Thomas train that I had to put 200 yen in was probably Koji's favorite. Note stylish "My Grandpa is a biker" T-shirt!
posted by jcm

Ken's secret aspiration: drive a Lamborghini tow truck (did you know there was such a thing? um, I didn't either). Just one thing, he needs a much bigger truck, or a Koji-sized body!
posted by jcm

Don't you hate it when you can't decide between "non-combustible" and "non-burnable"? Starbucks does too, so they just use both.
posted by jcm

31 August

Birthday dinner for Aogu (I want to call it a feast as that sounds fancier, but I didn't try hard enough for it to qualify): green salad with Koji size mini mini tomatoes and yellow tomatoes, spaghetti--finished product not shown but this is the sauce, and white chocolate cookies. Not pictured: garlic bread

posted by jcm

Aogu's birthday request: white chocolate macadamia nut cookies (rather than cake! he's crazy!). I was only able to come up with white chocolate; thankfully I was forgiven for not complying with the second part of the request*. Bonus 50 bucks from the Oregon parents, and a cute son in Thomas PJs...what more could a guy want for his birthday?

*as of today, I've procured some macadamia nuts at the "bargain" price of 480 yen (five bucks) for what looks like half a cup? The revised white chocolate AND mac nut cookies are baked for sharing with our guests tonight, so we'll see how they stack up against the white-chocolate only version!

posted by jcm

Friday, September 02, 2005

11 August

Perhaps not the best "musical" I've ever been to, but still more entertaining than I expected.
posted by jcm

Koji was interested in the show, but mesmerized by this whirly-gig light-up Elmo toy that I bought for him during intermission.
posted by jcm

This is what the toy looked like when it wasn't spinning, and you can see Koji isn't very happy to have it stationary!
posted by jcm

13 August

Saturday in the room...let this picture speak for itself.
posted by jcm

On my last day of being 32, I got to spend time with Fumi and Naoko in Omote-sando. Just before we took this picture, our hysterical laughter was heard echoing through the cafe in the background, where we had a super early dinner. Wish I could be with these ladies more often!
posted by jcm

That evening I met Aogu and Koji in Shinjuku so we could buy ourselves a birthday present at this electronics store. Sorry, Best Buy, but you pale in comparison.
posted by jcm

14 August

A-san (next to Aogu) and co. took us to a cafe in the Four Seasons Hotel on my birthday. I had apple pie and cinnamon ice cream; the ice cream was particularly delicious and I'm anxious to try replicating it when I'm reunited with my ice cream maker. If I say that I still feel a little strange about not eating cake on my birthday, to the point that two weeks later I'm still thinking about making one for myself, will you understand?
posted by jcm

Someone please sign me up for a photography class! Or at least fire up your are the honestly much-more-beautiful-than-they-look-in- this-sad-photo fleurs that Aogu brought home to me for my birthday.
posted by jcm

15 August

Koji and I went out riding around on the Toyoko Line for a Thomas "stamp rally". There was a different stamp at each station on the line. We were given a map of the stations and stamps they featured at Shibuya, which is where we started. Then we rode and stamped (makes it sound easy, what I really mean is, we rode, got off, climbed down stairs with stroller, found the stamp, stamped, climbed back up the stairs, got back on the train, etc.) until we collected the requisite five stamps, at which point we were qualified to receive the Thomas badge Koji is displaying here. The stamp rally was surprisingly fun, in spite of, or perhaps because of the effort involved, so now Koji and I are in the middle of another one, but expounding it on is another entire post I'll have to put up later!
posted by jcm

17 August

Cue up "It's a Small World"...imagine my suprise when I took Koji to a story hour at a publishing company's office near Shinjuku and ran into Hitomi-san, who is my friend from Glenview E Free Japanese ladies' Bible study! Again, not a good picture, but I have to show the evidence that we met in this unlikely place.
posted by jcm

21 August

Do-it-yourself shave ice at the Azabu Juban Festival.
posted by jcm

Those pasty bread coated chunks of faintly sea-flavored white stuff you ate as a kid were fake but these are real FISH STICKS!
posted by jcm

tasty meatballs on a stick
posted by jcm

Mama, just let me get one fish...just one!
posted by jcm

with the booty...but it's not live booty, the plastic fishies work just fine for us!
posted by jcm

After wading through this crowd for awhile, we retreated to the third floor balcony of Starbucks and saw this view. This was Friday, the least crowded night?
posted by jcm

This Dory look-alike and I look alike!
posted by jcm