Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Does That Imply Furikake is American Food?

On Saturday we hunted down a nice big Asian market so we could stock up on cheap (especially compared to our neighborhood grocery store) Calrose rice. While I was there I thought I'd grab some other Asian foodstuffs that I can't get at my usual grocery store.

Should it worry me that to find what I was looking for I had to go to the "International" aisle of the Asian market???

(NOTE: Okay, so really the problem was that I was at a Chinese/Vietnamese store and wanted to find a few Japanese things too.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Scott, Candyland is Not a Contact Sport

We were playing a family game of Candyland the other night. Scott's a bit young, but we try to include him. He was pretty good at drawing a card. And he was pretty good at naming the color he had drawn. Then we would point to where he should move his piece. He would tap it there, then continue along the Candyland path, walking/tapping his piece along, completely ignoring the rules of the game. When he came upon one of our pieces, he would destroy the atmosphere of confectionery utopia by running into our piece and knocking it over. I think he has the games Candyland and Sorry confused. It was very difficult to memorize where everyone's pieces were all the time so the game could survive Scott's onslaught. Eventually he decided to walk his piece all the way to the end and then he threw his arms up in the air and exclaimed in a grunty raspy voice, "Uh! I win!" At least then he lost interest and we got to finish our game in peace.

(And in case you were wondering, no, I didn't win. I rarely do.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Can't Decide Which I Like Better

The cover:

Or the parody:

Both make me excessively happy!

The Patio Chair: Between a Rock and a Bigger Rock

For those of you blissfully unaware off in Google Reader land, I thought I'd draw your attention to two things.

First of all, our rock pile is growing. I have kindly refrained from posting about every added picture (because I'm nice like that), but I've been adding new photos to the slideshow nonetheless. So feel free to take the extra few seconds to click on over to the actual site and check it out. Heck, since you've already invested ALL THAT TIME coming, go ahead and leave a comment. I don't care if you don't have anything to say. It wouldn't kill you to say hi. Speechlessness at my amazing posts is no excuse.

The other item of rock pile business is that I've decided it was time to add something in the images for scale. It was starting to get hard to tell how big the rocks were. The latest rock photo is of a real doozy so I wanted you to appreciate it. Old patio chair to the rescue. So, yes, the ugly white chair is in the picture on purpose.

The chair will really come in handy when we unveil the next rock in all it's resplendent glory. We were planting another tree and dug one loose a couple days ago. I'll totally get a photo -- if we can ever figure out how to lift the thing out of the hole it's in.

Friday, May 23, 2008


About a month ago we went on a family trip to Sea World San Antonio. The trip was my parents' birthday gift for the kids. It was really fun.

But before we get too far into this, I have a little message for children everywhere. Look, I hate to break it to you, but "Shamu" is a marketing ploy. A naming convention if you will. Let's face it, I went to see "Shamu" when I was little. In San Diego. Shamu is more of a brand name than an actual proper name for any one killer whale. And as long as we're chatting about this, let me remind you that no matter what the little boy they pulled out of the audience in the show said, killer whales cannot collectively be called "Shamus." That's just taking the brand name loyalty a little too far. Killer whales? Yes. Orcas? Yes. Funny Colored Big Dolphins? Kinda. Ruthlessly Intelligent Hunters? Sure, why not. The raptor dinosaurs of the marine mammal world? Too much Jurassic Park for you, but yes. Shamus? NO. Also, killer whale show? Not actually THAT cool. Big splashes. Well whoopity doo! I prefer the "antics" of the sea lions or the acrobatics of the dolphins. Now when "Shamu" can do this, then I'll stand up and take notice:

"I'm a flippin' little dolphin. Let me flip for you!"
(Name that movie.)

I can almost hear Scott's eloquent thoughts in this shot.
They go something like this: "Wow."

I think in this shot Scott branched out into the audible two word combination, "Dad, look!" Although in execution is usually sounds more like this: "Dad! Dad! Dad! Wook! Wook! Dad! Wook! Dad! Wook! Wook!..." Imagine that continuing for about as long as your imagination has patience to conjure.

So my camera has an "aquarium" setting. And I'm thinking, seriously? Is aquarium photography really a general enough use case to warrant it's very own setting? I guess some people must go to a lot more aquariums than me and/or care A LOT more about how their pictures of fish look. You know, they are just fish. No one actually wants to waste their time looking at your photos of them. Let me demonstrate:

(This is actually how I look if I let my hair air dry without product and then brush it out.)

(I swear I did not mess with the color on this photo. Crazy, huh?)

There. Now see how painfully boring those were? So why oh why does my camera have an aquarium setting? I think "smart cameras" need to be invented. They will analyze the photo you have taken and then if it deems the photo too pointless, it will "accidentally" delete it in order to spare the rest of the world. Although I'm not sure how I would feel about losing ALL of my photos. But anyway, what matters is that I got to use my camera's aquarium setting at least once, so that's already more than I would have expected.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

eBay or Craigslist?

At church on Sunday Scott had to be taken out of the meeting again. This, obviously, is not what's newsworthy. The interesting part is why we had to take him out. I mean, sure he pretends any object he gets his hands on is some kind of vehicle and makes loud zooming and crashing noises. That's old news. And sure he screeches at the top of his lungs when you don't give him what he wants or when Claire tries to boss him around. I've already told you about that. But now he likes to climb on my lap, stand up, and exclaim as loud as he can, "I'm on top of the world!!!"

I think that really is how he sees things. No matter how many times you take this kid out to a boring foyer where he has to sit on dad's lap with no toys, you just can't crush that spirit of his. Endearing, yet exhausting. We've been contemplating Plan B:

Monday, May 19, 2008

"What Are We Going to Do Tonight, Brain?"

"We will impersonate fruit pastry themed characters on popular children's television and win over the hearts of children everywhere. Then an entire generation of children will purchase our Strawberry Shortcake Gender Neutral Mind Control Strawberryland Playset(TM). Thank goodness Strawberry herself is a bit of a hussy or else this skirt would be far too long on me..."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Japan V - I'm Out of Cheesy Horror Movie Titles

You're still with me? Thanks! This is the last Japan post, I promise. You can make it through! I even have a prize for you at the end...


We went to Kamakura. My dad's former boss (now retired) drove us all around. He gave us all some pretty handkerchiefs with sakura blossoms on them. YAY!

Big Buddha:

Doesn't that just roll off the tongue? Try saying it a few times just for kicks.
"Big Buddha, big Buddha, big Buddha..."

I don't know if you can really get a feel for the scale of that last picture, but the statue is big enough to go inside. Here is a nice view of the neck from the inside including reinforcements they had to make so the head wouldn't fall off. Brace yourself for statue guts:

[WARNING: The following picture contains graphic content that may be inappropriate for some viewers, but probably only ones that are squeamish statues.]

Just kidding.
I won't make you look at any more flower close-ups, don't worry.

But I didn't say anything about more cool roofs that happen to have cherry blossom branches in the shot! Bwa-ha-ha!!!

Okay, now that I got that out of my system...

So, I know I've already made this point something like 12,372 times, but the cherry blossoms were so pretty! Observe redundant proof:


I don't know how well you can see it in this shot, but between the two torii in the distance is a really long walkway covered in blooming cherry trees.

See? This was the long walkway covered in those bloomin' cherry trees.

This next section is titled "Everything Zen." (Ah, Bush. I hadn't thought of them in awhile... No, I'm not really a fan.)

Anyway, we saw several Zen gardens. They were very... Zen.

Because we didn't have to take the train, we got to stay out a lot later than usual. We got to enjoy the fabulous lighting of sunset at the last shrine.

Then we went on a "bonus" garden visit. There was a garden that they opened up after sunset during the cherry blossom season with everything all lit up.

I didn't take those photos. My camera and unsteady hands were having a hard time with the low light.

We came back kinda late and had "pizza" at in the mall near our hotel. If you can call soda crackers that someone waved near some sauce and cheese "pizza." I'm thinking that greasy pepperoni with extra cheese on a deep-dish crust just isn't very popular among the Japanese. Oh well, their loss. The Caesar salad was very good though.


This was our "open" day. My dad and his co-worker didn't have to work so we all got to hang out together. At this point we had managed to do everything we'd planned so we decided to focus on our remaining souvenir shopping and go to an island called Enoshima. The ocean was beautiful and the island quaint and relaxing.

Here are some views of the ocean from the island:

We came back to the hotel after lunch and then we shopped. My sister and I wanted to find an article of clothing as a souvenir. HAH! We might have had more luck had any of the department stores we went into had a "Plus" section. Or maybe more like a "Downright Fatso" section. My sister and I aren't overweight, but we are taller than a breadbox and our shoulders are more than 3 inches (7.62 cm) wide. They had the cutest shoes but they didn't make them in our size. Well, maybe in the men's section but adorable heels were a little sparse over there. I finally found a shirt that was a Medium/Large that I could wear. It's got this fabulously elaborate smocking on the front and it was probably supposed to be tunic length, so it's actually long enough to keep from exposing my muffin top. Just don't look too close because the shoulder seams totally ride up and give me that "fat guy in a little coat" look. (I seriously do have freakishly wide shoulders, even for a tall white girl.) My sister was not so lucky in the clothing department, so she got an adorable polka dot umbrella. (Getting that "weapon" home on the plane was a whole different story...) I also found Scott some Thomas the Tank Engine chopsticks and Claire some Disney Princess ones. Claire broke her last pair of kid-size chopsticks, so we really needed some more anyway. Gotta start 'em young. My children will NOT be the stupid Americans at the Chinese restaurant trying to communicate to the non-English speaking waiter with mystifying gesticulations that they need a fork.

That night we went out to dinner with the same gentleman that works with my dad who took us around Hakone the first day. He gave us all nice chopsticks in cases and he gave me some paper balls for my kids (I totally loved those as a kid). We went to a very nice little tempura restaurant. We got to watch them prepare the food. Now normally I am not that much of a tempura fan, but WOW. It was SO good. Not at all greasy and so light. However, they did serve us an appetizer that was some kind of slightly fermented kelp. Crunchy, yet with long strings of sliminess. I think it was the only food item the whole trip that I really had to "work" at eating without getting completely grossed out. On the other hand, I've decided I'm still cool because I genuinely enjoyed the deep fried legs that were left on the shrimp. They got so fried they were just like a powder when you ate them. Hard to explain but totally cool. We also got to experience a little earthquake while we were at the restaurant. Rockin' good time.

My dad had expressed to his colleague my sister's and my desire to buy some inexpensive dishes as souvenirs. We had been looking, but it didn't seem to be a popular tourist trap item. (Very fragile and useful? Who would want that?) So my dad's colleague said he knew a good place and took us there after dinner. He took us to the Japanese equivalent of the "dollar store"! We got to go to the 100 yen store. IT. WAS. AWESOME! It was hard not to take the whole place home with us, especially at that price. I still don't know if their "dollar store" was as much better than the ones we have in America as it seemed or if it was just because everything there was novel to us. Whatever. I'm totally going to remember the dollar store idea if I'm ever hosting someone who wants to buy American souvenirs - I bet it'd be great! I got more dishes than expected to because they were basically cheap as free. Check out my haul:

My original plan was just to get some little rice bowls like this. All my bowls are bigger than this or else down at the ramekin size. These are the perfect "polite" ice cream serving size. (As opposed to the Jethro size I really want.)

I've always wanted some square plates for the rare occasion when I serve sushi at home. Plus they're just so cool! M always scorns the square plates, but he wasn't there to stop me this time!!!

These were just "bonus." They're just so cute!

I also found this bowl for Claire (unfortunately not at the 100 yen store):

Let's just say that "O'Claire's" birthday may or may not fall on a certain day in March and this bowl made me think of her.


All we did the last day was get up early to ride the bus then wait in the airport forever because the bus did not in fact hit any traffic even though we had to plan for that eventuality. And don't forget not sleep on the airplane, of course, because my body is stupid.

Congratulations! You did it! You made it to the end of my Japan travelog!!! Thanks for perservering. In honor of your dedication, I have a souvenir for you:

Please, contain your excitement. I know you can just hardly wait to put this on your own blog. Well, right click, save, and display it with pride!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Double Phew

I did it. I finished my last turn for the school year teaching Claire's preschool today. I didn't even scream at any of the children! Thank goodness this was the last time for a good long while, and possibly ever with this same group of kids. I can't help but wonder. Did I feel at my wits' end today because the kids were that much harder than usual? (Claire did throw a full blown tantrum...) Or is it because I knew it was the last time? Does the very near possibility of it being over make it that much harder to bear? It frequently seems like things are the worst just before they're over. Does that happen to you too?

The latest update on Scott and his crib? Still climbing in every time he goes to sleep. Still hasn't climbed OUT yet. (Knock on wood...)

Japan IV - Attack of the Gardens


My sister and my aunt A are both horticulturists, so it was inevitable that a minimum of one day would be devoted to seeing Japanese gardens. This was that day. We took the train around Tokyo and saw three different gardens.

They were all very cool. Of course, since every garden we saw had tons of trees in bloom, how could they not be cool? Seriously, if there was such a thing as death by flowers, I'd have been doomed to it.

I'd like to point out that there are four different kinds of flowering trees in this last shot. That's right, count 'em, FOUR (4) layers of flowering trees in one shot. White, pink, red, and yellow. Talk about flower overload.

Okay, I release you from my clutches. I'll stop being your flower displaying overlord, trying to numb your sense of wonder and beauty with the flowers -- OH! The flowers!!! We shall move on to non-flowered photos (at least until my next installment -- bwahahaha!).

In case you were worried, you DEFINITELY haven't seen the last of the cool roof photos out of me:

There. That should give you enough of a cool roof dose to get you through until my write up about DAY 6

Now let's see. There were cool boats.

How about cool koi ponds? (Try to remain calm Shauna!)

Cool bridges.

Is there anyway I can work a bridge with grass actually growing on it into my backyard plan? I'll have to run that one by my designer.

And my personal fave: cool imposing doors on the gate into the Imperial Palace gardens

Seriously, how do I get those things installed on the front of my house? I bet they're a great deterrent of solicitors. Kristi, this may be the answer to your front door woes.

And then to wrap everything up, I leave you with the one thing that no Japanese garden is complete without. Some bamboo:

That was some serious bamboo.

Oh yah, and we mustn't forget the food report.
We found a random sushi restaurant for lunch. It was okay.
We got to go out to Shabu-shabu for dinner. It was to die for. *sigh* (My eyes are glazing over as I relive the scrumptiousness...)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Japan III - Nikko's Revenge

Remember my posts about Japan? Well, I know I kind of fell off the wagon there for awhile, but I'm back to boring you with the details of my trip:


With the cumulative effect of jet lag and rush hour crowds from the day before, my aunts decided they were not up to the long day trip to Nikko. My sister J and I persevered. I am so glad we did. It might have been my favorite thing I saw in Japan. It was certainly the most adventurous day.

We woke up early (Too early for the free breakfast at the hotel, darn! Protein bars for breakfast!) and took local trains into and across Tokyo to Asakusa station. From there we bought special passes for the trip to Nikko. The train ride was about two hours long but at least it was the kind of train that has all seats and we didn't have to stand up. Let me just say that the standing hand holds on the Japanese trains are a little low for my taste. We even got a tiny bit of sleep on the way. As we got near Nikko we saw snow on the ground. SNOW?!?!? Good thing I wore a turtleneck sweater and brought my snowboarding parka. Yah, we really didn't see the snow coming, but it was okay. The snow/rain was patchy and the sun even came out sometimes. It was cold, but not unbearable.

First we saw the shrines and temples of Nikko, which are World Heritage Sites.

Observe the rain and/or melting snow.

Cuz I love me some torii!
This one in particular is cool because it's made mostly of granite.

Five-storied pagoda (with a tiny bit of snow in the foreground).

I bet you know these guys. The famous monkeys that started it all.
Funny that something so famous is carved on a horse stable.

Did I mention there was rain and snow?
But the rain chains were pretty cool!

Cool roofs and a torii.

Cool roofs with snow and a stone wall.

Anyone else seeing a running theme here?
Better get a close-up of that cool roof with snow.

Oh and guess what? There was snow.

And don't forget the cool roofs.

Lunch break! Handmade hot soba noodles.

Okay, now back to the cool roofs.

Okay, now pretend you're watching a movie and I rack focus. (M would be so pleased!):

The roofs don't get all the glory. See, there were cool fences too. (I did loves the roofs, but they were also the only way to get a photo without a gazillion tourists in the shot.)

After we finished with the cool temples and shrines, we decided to catch a bus to go see the National Park. I was excited to see some cool waterfalls. After getting on the wrong bus at first (and feeling stupid), we got straightened out and headed up the most winding mountain road ever. On a bus. IN THE SNOW. We should have realized a little snow below translates to A LOT of snow up on the mountain:

Do you see that turn? Do you???
Okay, now repeat that 48 times. Literally.

It's called the Irohazaka road because there's one turn for each letter of the ancient Japanese alphabet.

In this shot you can see four levels of the road.

Anyway, we made it to the top alive and found ourselves in the middle of a snowstorm. Nutso as we are, we trudged over to the first waterfall through more than ankle deep snow. Apparently they didn't expect any tourists to be crazy enough to be out that day or something, so no one had shoveled the sidewalks. Hmph! Just because it was still snowing is no excuse. I know most people schedule days for Nikko, but we only had one. It was now or never! When we got to the viewing platform, we held on to the railing for dear life so we wouldn't be blown away. (I'm only kidding a little bit.) Here is the waterfall we worked so hard to see:

Fabulous as the waterfall was, the driving snow felt like little needles. As much as we wanted to see some of the other waterfalls, we were chilled to the bone and suspicious that we might possibly be insane for being out in that weather. The visibility wasn't so hot either. We admitted defeat and immediately turned around and caught the first bus back down the mountain. Miraculously enough, we survived the mountain road trip again. We briefly considered doing a little souvenir shopping back in town, but there was a train back leaving in like two minutes and there wouldn't be one for another hour. We chose going back to the hotel post-haste and made a mad dash for the station.

After all my droning on and on, you probably bear a striking resemblance to my sister on the train ride back to Tokyo:

You thought this post was over, but no! You must know that we had to travel through Tokyo and back to our hotel during the peak of rush hour during the busiest time of year in Tokyo. Everything you've ever heard about the crowds on Tokyo trains is true. We were packed in so tight that I only would have gotten a photo of the guy next to me's nostrils, so watch this YouTube video instead:

At the busiest times of the year, they really do employ "pushers." They're employees who wear white gloves and whose job it is to literally push everyone into the train to make sure they can shut the doors. Just picture me and my sister somewhere deep in the bowels of the train in that video and it's a fairly accurate representation of our last 30 minute train ride back to the hotel. I don't know exactly how accurate since I couldn't even dream of twisting around to see the train doors, but it felt about like that by the third stop, what with all the pushing and how long it took to get the doors closed and get going again and everything. My one arm was pinned down at my side and the other one was pinned across my chest (protecting "my girls"). There were three points that helped me look on the bright side about this (besides the "cultural experience). For one thing, I didn't have to hold on to a handle or worry about falling over as a train riding rookie. There was no room to fall over into. Second, I benefitted from being taller than most of the people around me, so I got a little breathing space all to myself. I can't imagine what it was like for some of those short little women, having to ride with their face in someone's armpit. And lastly, I was relieved pick-pockets aren't a big issue in Japan because on that train I wouldn't have been able to tell a thief unzipping my backpack from someone grabbing at anything to try to come up to the surface for life-sustaining air.

It was definitely good that my aunts didn't come. I mean, no offense intended, but J and I were beat and we're a lot younger. (For my aunts' sake I won't explicitly say how much younger.) Dinner that night was leftover sushi that my dad and aunts got at the grocery store and a trip to Baskin Robbins. I discovered that I can eat just about anything all day (or nothing, however you want to look at it) as long as I know I can end the day with a double scoop serving of "Satee Wan" (or 31 Flavors to you and me).