Saturday, November 18, 2017

And this just feels like spinning plates

In 2007, whilst I was between roommates, I was also between plates. The only kitchen items I really had was a set of glasses and a set of knives, so it was time to start outfitting my kitchen. Some friends and I went to Target and I got a black and white plate set (dinner plates, bowls, small plates, and mugs for four) and some other kitchen basics. At some point, I acquired another set of four dinner plates/small plates/bowls from my uncle, so now I had service for eight that was at least coordinating with my original set. When I moved to my very own apartment in 2009, I had most of what I really needed to outfit a basic kitchen and dining room. Though, in the case of this hobbit hole I lived in for 3.5 years, these were the same room.

By the time I got married in 2012, I didn’t really need anything. Want? Oh definitely. Registeries and wedding gifts make sense for the couple who are moving out of their parents houses to start their lives together. They are less crucial for the established adult, much less one who has lived alone for awhile and enjoys cooking. For the most part, I had purchased things that would last and that I liked, and still do. We did register for wedding gifts, but mostly just for upgrades to the stuff we already had. We didn't register for plates or other dining item, nor did we receive any, and that was just fine. 

Now in 2017, those plates are starting to show some age. My black and white plates are a little scraped up, but still usable, but my black plates from my uncle have cracked or broken, so I'm only down to service for six. We've invited more than that over for Thanksgiving, so while some people would say "paper plates!", I say it's a perfect excuse to buy some Japanese plates!

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, we headed up to Kappabashi-dori in Tokyo today, which is known as a kitchen district. Need a kitchen gadget or dining implement for your home or restaurant? This is the place to go!

Many restaurants locally have plastic food displays outside to show what they sell. This is where you buy it!

Need signs for your American-style restaurant?

Our new dinner plates

Small plates

Mount Fuji soy sauce plate

On the way up, I had a pleasant surprise as we cut through a mall for a train transfer. Their Christmas decoration theme this year is Pandaful Christmas! I had absolutely zero chill about this serendipitous find! 

Pastry filled with red bean paste. Not my favorite flavor, so we didn't try these, but they are cute!

Chocolate danish - now this was tasty!

Zero chill

On the way home, we stopped by a Tokyu Hands in Yokohama to look for an item that was sold out at different location a few months ago.  We found it, plus a few other fun things. We also got lunch nearby.
Blake likes penguins - not as much as I like pandas, but enough to justify this little dude.

It was a great day - Saturday errands made more exciting by doing them in Tokyo and Yokohama!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Whose broad stripes and bright stars

Late yesterday afternoon, I was walking into base on my way to Sound of Music when I heard a sound familiar to anyone who has spent time on a military base - evening colors. At the moment of sunset every evening, the bugle sounds the “Attention” signal and the national ensign is lowered as the national anthem is played, following which the bugle plays the “Carry On” signal. Everyone who hears it, including those in cars, is expected to stop and stand (or sit in the car) at attention for the duration. In the absence of a live band, which is the case on our base, “Retreat” is played instead of the national anthem. (For morning colors, at 0800, “To the Colors” is traditionally played instead of the anthem when there is no band, but our base does play the national anthem regardless.)

I don't get to hear this every day. I'm usually inside or not even on base at sunset - they don't play it in our housing detachment. But when I do hear it, I definitely stop, turn in the direction where I think they're lowering the flag, and stand at attention. I'm actually quite fond of this tradition, even if it slows me down to wherever I'm heading.

Yesterday, however, was a little different. Instead of entering base through my usual route (Womble Gate), I had entered through main gate, as I had an errand to run on that side. So when colors started and I instinctively turned to face the direction the flag, I found myself looking directly at the flagpole on Command Hill (base headquarters) and watching the flag (actually three flags - admiral's flag, Japanese flag, and American flag - lowered in that order) being lowered. Up until this point, I'd always just kind of guessed there was a flag there, but there were a bunch of buildings in the way. They also lower the flags at the hospital and on any ships in port.
Flagpole at Ikego

It was a touching sight, and one I can now think of any other time I'm caught outside during colors, wherever I am. It's really interesting to be living on a military base, especially this one. The Yokosuka base was a Japanese base for close to a hundred years before the United States took it over, so there is history all over and a long tradition of service to Japan and, now, the United States. Commodore Matthew Perry first arrived in Yokosuka in 1853 when it was just a small fishing village, which initiated the opening of Japan to the West. The command to invade Pearl Harbor was broadcast from what we now call Weather Hill. Yokosuka was vital to the United States during the Korean and Vietnam wars. And that's just the start of it. I love living here and learning about it, and colors is the perfect time to reflect on that.
US Naval Hospital Yokosuka

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My heart wants to sing every song it hears

The local high school drama club has traditionally done its annual musical in the spring, but this year they are doing it in the fall and I am honored to have been a part of it again as choreographer. The choice this year was the beloved classic The Sound of Music and tonight is opening night! It's not the most dance-heavy show, so my hardest part was over some weeks ago, but I still attended rehearsals to lend my voice where I could and just to enjoy being present in the creative process.
Lonely Goatherd - In the stage musical, this happens during the thunderstorm instead of "My Favorite Things" - This has become my favorite number of the whole show.

Our family has been thrown a number of challenges recently, typical of life really, but having this creative outlet has been unbelievably helpful in getting me through all of it. I've been so blessed with all my shows of the last year, in that they have come into my life at just the right time for a variety of reasons. It's been so good to have theatre become a more regular part of my life again, and now I just need to find more outlets for performing as well as creating.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

So Long, Farewell

Many thanks to Summer for inviting me to be part of the drama club and many thanks to these amazing students for all their hard work!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All I do is win win win no matter what

When the Japanese travel, it's generally expected to return with omiyage (gifts of regional specialties) for their friends and family. You'll see a lot of options of pre-wrapped omiyage at train stations and gift shops. In addition, regional, limited edition, and seasonal treats are incredibly popular just to try, and not necessarily as gifts. Blake and I have enthusiastically embraced these two traditions, especially the latter.

Additionally, in our experience, flavors in Japan are generally true to whatever they say are. For example, fruit flavored candy tastes remarkably like that fruit, and it's delicious. Give me Hi-chews over Starbust any day, though I still like both.

Finally, the Japanese are fond of clever word play, relying on both the sound of the language and the written language. They aren't so much about rhyming, as it's a lower and simpler form of poetry, which is haiku does not rhyme. But finding some way of saying something with a double meaning in a humorous way is definitely a good thing.

So, putting all that together, it makes sense that Kit Kat (with a little help from Nestle's marketing team) has really taken off in Japan. The name "Kitto Katto" sounds like "kitto katsu" which means "You will surely win!", a popular saying from parents to their children about to take an exam, or other similar situations. Giving students Kit Kats during exam season has become popular, and Nestle has taken that even farther by developing regional, seasonal, and other limited flavors. Word is they've created more than 300 flavors since 2000 to capitalize on this.

We have absolutely succumbed to this marketing. It's become a hobby to keep our eyes open for new Kit Kats while we are out and about and we have been well-rewarded.  Here's what we've found so far. (I apologize in advance for any photo that's rotated in a weird direction - the file is rotated in my editor, but loads here wrong. Thank you for your patience.)

Ginger - Very yum. Winter flavor.

Chocolate flavor, but only available for sale at the Japanese post office!

2017 is the year of the rooster - so cute!

Sakura (cherry blossom) & Roasted Soy Bean - This was okay. Spring flavor.

Wasabi - Surprisingly tasty, just a bit of a kick. 

Chocolate mint - Always a good combination.

Japanese pudding with Easter shapes in the Kit Kat - I liked this flavor, but the cute factor was the best part.

Strawberry cheesecake in a Mt. Fuji shaped box, because why not? Definitely good.

Iwazumi Yogurt - Found in Kyoto. Thumbs up.

Strawberry Cheesecake

Cookies and cream - again, always a winner

Hokkaido Melon - actually tasted like melon, quite good.

Sakura (cherry blossom) matcha (green tea) - I'm pretty meh about this.

Yokohama regional flavors - Citrus and throat drop. Yes, throat drop. Menthol throat drops are considered a candy in Japan. The citrus was quite good. The throat drop was so gross to me that even just the memory of the flavor gave me the gags.

Looks like a variety of flavors here - We did not buy this, but it was a sizable Kit Kat shaped box.

Halloween Japanese pudding - the wrappers had some sort of sign language lessons on them.
Our favorite and the most interesting find so far has been the pudding flavor Kit Kats you bake, yes, bake, which have something a creme-brulee like taste when they are done. It took us two tries to figure out how to do them in our large oven (instead of a toaster oven as suggested on the packaging and what most Japanese homes have), and it's quite a lot of work for a couple of Kit Kats, but oh my gosh is it worth it. It's suggested to serve with ice cream, and we will definitely try it that way soon! These are available now, and I'm planning on buying some more bags later today!
Ready to go in the oven

Slightly melty in the first stage of baking

And done! Let it cool a bit before eating - SOOO GOOD.

Not pictured (that I can remember) - dark chocolate, strawberry, green tea, raspberry, cranberry almond, and sake. Sake has alcohol, so we haven't tried it, and green tea just isn't our, ahem, cup of tea as a flavor, but the others were quite good. Even the gross ones have at least been an adventure to try. Can't wait to see what else we find!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I got so much paper I just spend it like it's nothin'

Last night was our weekly Family Home Evening (I wrote about how it works for us and why we do it back in 2013). Well, sort of weekly. We try, but things come up. If we don't have a formal activity that opens with a song and a prayer, we're usually still doing something together and the family togetherness is the most important part.

This week, we kept it pretty simple. We talked about an Ensign article I'd read earlier in the day and then tried our hands at the traditional Japanese handicraft of origami whilst drinking arctic white chocolate hot cocoa. Now, I can make origami rabbits with my eyes closed. But dinosaurs? That's going to take a little more practice.
It's supposed to be a triceratops (the background came with the kit!). After we took this photo, I figured out how to make the body a little longer, but then it wouldn't stand up anymore. So, if dinosaur means terrible lizard, I think we accomplished it!

Fortunately, this kit comes with ten more dinosaurs we can try. Fittingly, we just watched Jurassic World, so it's been a bit of dinosaur themed week already. (Speaking of situationally appropriate clothing, can we talk about how ridiculous it is that Bryce Dallas Howard wears heels running from all of those dinosaurs throughout the entire movie!? I knew about this going in, and I was still flabbergasted.)

Even if origami does not become a shared artistic love for the rest of our lives and I am only ever good at rabbits, at least we did it together! And if anyone wants origami kits for their own FHEs, I can help you out with that. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Look what you made me do

I found this post from September 2008 when I was searching my posts for something recently. Let's see what has changed in 9 years! The bold is the original list. Anything I've done for the first time since then is in red. Anything I should have put in bold the first time but didn't is in blue. One thing I have plans to do very soon (as in the trip is booked!) is in green.

All you have to do is copy the list (after the jump) and bold the things that you have done.

1. Touched an iceberg
2. Slept under the stars
3. Been a part of a hockey fight
4. Changed a baby’s diaper
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Swam with wild dolphins
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a tarantula
10. Said “I love you” and meant it
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Stayed up all night long and watched the sun rise
15. Seen the Northern Lights
16. Gone to a huge sports game
17. Walked the stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
19. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
20. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Bet on a winning horse
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Taken an ice cold bath
28. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Ridden a roller coaster
31. Hit a home run
32. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
33. Adopted an accent for fun
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Felt very happy about your life, even for just a moment
36. Loved your job 90% of the time
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Watched wild whales
39. Gone rock climbing

40. Gone on a midnight walk on the beach
41. Gone sky diving
42. Visited Ireland
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited India
45. Bench-pressed your own weight
46. Milked a cow
47. Alphabetized your personal files
48. Worn a superhero costume
49. Sung karaoke
50. Lounged around in bed all day
51. Gone scuba diving
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Done something you should regret, but don’t
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business (lemonade stands count, right?)
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Been in a movie
60. Gone without food for 3 days
61. Made cookies from scratch
62. Won first prize in a costume contest
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Been in a combat zone
65. Spoken more than one language fluently
66. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone - verbal or physical
67. Bounced a check
68. Read - and understood - your credit report
69. Recently bought and played with a favorite childhood toy
70. Found out something significant that your ancestors did
71. Called or written your Congress person
72. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
73. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
74. Helped an animal give birth
75. Been fired or laid off from a job
76. Won money
77. Broken a bone
78. Ridden a motorcycle
79. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100 mph
80. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
81. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
82. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read The Bible cover to cover
86. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
87. Gotten someone fired for their actions (the joys of being in quality control)
88. Gone back to school
89. Changed your name
90. Caught a fly in the air with your bare hands
91. Eaten fried green tomatoes
92. Read The Iliad
93. Taught yourself an art from scratch
94. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
95. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
96. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
97. Been elected to public office
98. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream (didn’t know it was my dream, but I’m living it anyway)
99. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
100. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
101. Had a booth at a street fair
102. Dyed your hair
103. Been a DJ
104. Rocked a baby to sleep
105. Dropped a cat from a high place to see if it really lands on all fours
106. Raked your carpet
107. Brought out the best in people
108. Brought out the worst in people

109. Worn a mood ring
110. Ridden a horse
111. Carved an animal from a piece of wood or bar of soap
112. Cooked a dish where at least four people asked for the recipe.
113. Buried a child
114. Been inside the pyramids
115. Shot a basketball into a basket
116. Danced at a disco
117. Played in a band
118. Shot a bird
119. Gone to an arboretum
120. Tutored someone
121. Ridden a train
122. Brought an old fad back into style
123. Eaten caviar
124. Let a salesman talk you into something you didn’t need
125. Ridden a giraffe or elephant
126. Published a book
127. Pieced a quilt
128. Lived in a historic place
129. Acted in a play or performed on a stage
130. Asked for a raise
131. Made a hole-in-one (mini-golf counts, says I)
132. Gone deep sea fishing
133. Gone roller skating
134. Run a marathon
135. Learned to surf
136. Invented something
137. Flown first class
138. Spent the night in a 5-star luxury suite
. Flown in a helicopter
140. Visited Africa
141. Sang a solo
142. Gone spelunking
143. Learned how to take a compliment
144. Written a love-story
145. Seen Michelangelo’s David
146. Had your portrait painted (sketched, yes)
147. Written a fan letter
148. Spent the night in something haunted
149. Owned a St. Bernard or Great Dane
150. Ran away from home (only temporarily)
151. Learned to juggle
152. Been a boss
153. Sat on a jury
154. Lied about your weight
155. Gone on a diet
156. Found an arrowhead or a gold nugget
157. Written a poem
158. Carried your lunch in a lunch box
. Gotten food poisoning

160. Gone on a service, humanitarian or religious mission
161. Hiked the Grand Canyon

162. Sat on a park bench and fed the ducks
163. Gone to the opera
164. Gotten a letter from someone famous
165. Worn knickers
166. Ridden in a limousine
167. Attended the Olympics
168. Can hula or waltz
169. Read a half dozen Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books
170. Been stuck in an elevator
171. Had a revelatory dream
172. Thought you might crash in an airplane
173. Had a song dedicated to you on the radio or at a concert
174. Saved someone’s life
175. Eaten raw whale
176. Know how to tat, smock or do needlepoint
177. Laughed till your side hurt
178. Straddled the equator (Prime Meridian!)
179. Taken a photograph of something other than people that is worth framing
180. Gone to a Shakespeare Festival
181. Sent a message in a bottle
182. Spent the night in a hostel
183. Been a cashier
184. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
185. Joined a union
186. Donated blood or plasma
187. Built a camp fire
188. Kept a blog
189. Had hives
190. Worn custom made shoes or boots
191. Made a PowerPoint presentation
192. Taken a Hunter’s Safety Course
193. Served at a soup kitchen
194. Conquered the Rubik’s cube
195. Know CPR
196. Ridden in a convertible
197. Found a long lost friend
198. Helped solve a crime
199. Shaken hands with a famous person
200. Commented on The Book Guardian’s blog

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I am what I wear (my strongest suit)

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

Based solely on my observation, it seems that the Japanese people tend to dress very situationally appropriate. They consider the activity, the weather, and their commute (among other things) into putting together their daily ensemble, more so than I really see in the States. The Japanese are very practical in a lot of ways, and this is one of them. For example, there aren’t a lot of women wearing stilettos whilst waiting for a train, and, if it’s sunny, they protect their skin with hats and long, lightweight sleeves. If they are into a particular hobby, like biking or hiking, they definitely dress the part as if it’s a uniform. I’m sure there are exceptions to all of this, but in daily life in the suburbs I see a lot of practical, situationally appropriate dress.

I have tried to adopt that more than I already did into my own clothing and lifestyle. I wear good footwear, whether or not it really matches, and I’m building a weather appropriate wardrobe so that I can comfortably commute on foot in the summer as well as the winter. Not being able to quickly go from air conditioned/heated car to air conditioned/heated building and back means I have to be prepared to spend a lot more time in the elements. I also am very mindful of what I’ll be doing that day, and wear clothing appropriate to that activity. This particular habit is not new, but if I’m not wearing the right clothes, I have to haul them on my back, and I choose to minimize how much I’m carrying around if possible. So, I choose outfits that will work for all my activities as best I can and potentially only carry small changes (shoes, top, etc.) if necessary. 

Today’s situation was that I would be attending the first two hours (out of three) of church, and then we would duck out and walk a few blocks to a local community center where I would be performing with my taiko club. So, contrary to our church’s culture (not doctrine), I wore pants to church. 

I wasn’t trying to make a statement, I was just trying to be comfortable, practical, and situationally appropriate. The pants are black, wide-legged dress pants that, paired with a nice cardigan and shirt, still made me feel like I was wearing my “Sunday best”. Then, at the community center, I switched my cardigan for my taiko club shirt and the pants were perfect for the freedom of movement I needed to play in this performance and match my taiko mates. 

I’m not trying to justify my choice to those who saw me today and might be reading this blog. Like I said, I wasn’t trying to make a statement and I certainly wasn’t trying to draw attention to myself. Due to the wide-legged nature of these pants, unless you’re really paying attention, you might not even realize it wasn’t a skirt. Instead, I’m taking this an opportunity to continue to ponder how I worship and what my Sunday activities mean to me. When I was in Mormon Choir of Washington DC, I left a lot of church meetings early to attend a concert, and today’s activity was really not so different. The content of the music today was less obviously about Jesus, but in the larger sense of playing beautiful folk music and building a community, I think it still counts.

I actually don’t really care what anyone who saw me in pants thought about my choice, nor did I feel particularly self-conscious. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus want me to attend my church meetings, but they care less about what I wear and more that I come to worship, learn, and serve. I do think that “Sunday best” is a good goal, as it shows respect for Heavenly Father as well as the people around me and myself. For me, that usually means a skirt or dress, but sometimes that means pants. For Blake, that usually means a full suit with jacket and a tie, but sometimes that means his Navy uniform. In the ward he attended in Rhode Island during training, I went with him once and saw some sailors in PT gear (the Navy exercise uniform of shorts and a t-shirt), but they were there, and that’s really what mattered. 

I’ve heard stories, as recently as this week, of someone wearing the “wrong thing” to church and someone else trying to say something to them about it and having it go horribly wrong immediately. I think Heavenly Father would much prefer we just love people we see at our church meetings and everywhere else, and be glad that they have come, and not worry as much about what they are wearing. Presenting ourselves in the best and most appropriate way in our dress also suggests we should present ourselves in the best and most appropriate in our behavior and judging others for their different choices does not do that. I didn’t feel judged today, but I wouldn’t want anyone who attended with me to feel judged either, and choosing to wear pants today gave me an opportunity to reflect on a lot of the whys and hows of attending my Sunday meetings, particularly for myself. Even after attending the same church regularly for more than three decades, it’s good to occasionally reflect on my personal applications of the gospel, even just because I did something as simple as wearing pants.