Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pictures from Bon Odori

Just some pictures of the Bon Odori party at the clubhouse last night.  Lots of fun!

Taiko drums

Traditional Bon Odori dancing.

The kids watching fireworks

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Day of School, Last Day of School

With Bear's fever gone, I sent him to school yesterday.  His teacher seems great and he enjoyed his first two days.  I think he will have a good year.

Why will he not just smile?

Beaver and I didn't really know what to do with ourselves the first day he was gone.  Today we got it together a little more and did some grocery shopping. seems that Bear's second day of school will also be his last day for a little longer, at least.  He came home from school today with a notice that there was a reported case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.  His fever has been gone for a couple of days, but as I read the symptoms, I thought, "hmmm......"  He didn't have any rash on his hands or feet, though, so surely his sickness was something else.  As we got ready to go upstairs for bed, suddenly he got upset and said that his mouth hurt a lot.  I dropped what I was doing and grabbed a flashlight.  Mike was home by now, so he looked in Bear's mouth and reported red spots.  Dang.  I feel like a jerk for sending him to school.  Not only for his sake, but for the sake of the other kids at school that he likely spread germs too.  Everyone in my neighborhood will know, too, because someone will likely call to see if we are okay when we aren't at the bus stop tomorrow, and I'll have to explain myself.  I'm sorry!  I can only plead ignorance!


It could be a bit problematic that I am a sucker for cute, little things, and that I now live in the land of cute, little things.  I am particularly a sucker for cute, little things that have to do with food.  Do you know about bento?  (Or is it o-bento?  I'm never really sure.)  Bento is the word for Japanese boxed lunch.  You can buy bento packaged at grocery stores or convenience stores, but it's the home-made bento that I am becoming obsessed with.  It reminds me of pioneer quilts.  Pioneer woman made quilts for a practical purpose, but they turned it into an outlet for creativity.  Bento boxes are an art form for Japanese woman packing lunch for their family (or themselves).  The only reason I haven't spent ridiculous amounts of money on cute, little bento accessories and pretty bento boxes is that I just can't decide which of the many adorable options I want to invest in.

How cute is this?

If you haven't noticed, I think about food a lot.  If there was one thing in my life I had pretty well under control back in the states, it was food.  Then we came to Japan, and I found myself lost and bewildered.  Several people have told me that they eat much healthier here, because they just can't get the junk food they used to get at home.  I have had the opposite problem.  I can't get the healthy food that I used to get back home.  I don't have a garden anymore, I can't grind my own wheat until I get a proper transformer, the produce section at the grocery store is full of things I don't even recognize, and the things I do recognize are shockingly expensive.  Have you ever paid $20 for a small watermelon?  I had never fed my kids Ritz crackers for lunch before moving to Japan, but in the first couple of months here, Ritz became one of our staples.  Happily, I'm beginning to feel like I see some light.  I successfully made yakisoba, successfully cooked shrimp, and discovered that both of my kids love edamame.  Hooray!  I also found some good Asian cooking blogs, and once I learn to read hirigana, I should be able to buy ingredients for some of the dishes in my Japanese cookbook.  Funny how being able to cook makes me feel so much more settled.  Also funny that I think I should feel settled when I moved to the other side of the world only four months ago.  I should give myself a break.

Google bento.  You'll love it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

First Day of School......Almost

Today was supposed to be Bear's first day of school, but during the night he awoke with a temperature of 102.5F.  So much for the first day of school.  I don't mind having him home for a few more days - I wasn't ready for school to start anyway - but I hate to have him miss the first days at a school that is still relatively new to him.  Our house has been infested with sickness lately.  Mike had a whole week off work for the Obon holiday, but Beaver caught a nasty cold, so we didn't really go anywhere or do much.  We did go downtown one day to Chinatown and found hoisin sauce at a Chinese shop, so now we can make our favorite pork chops again.  We got our grill set up and have been missing those pork chops!  On another day we went to Harborland and ate at The Old Spaghetti Factory, which it turns out is the same Old Spaghetti Factory as the one in SLC.  I thought it was just a Utah thing, but it turns out they are all over in the US, and now Japan too.  Who knew?  There is a little amusement park in Harborland and Bear really wanted to ride the little roller coaster, since he loved the roller coasters at Disneyland.  So, I went with him, but I'm pretty sure I never want to ride another roller coaster again unless it's a Disney one.  It was jerky and bumpy and not fun at all.  Bear didn't like it either.  He was so mad and disappointed when it was over.  Disneyland really is the magic kingdom - magic roller coasters and all.

On a somewhat funny note: Beaver woke up during the night, while I was awake with Bear, and came out of his room saying that he was hungry.  I was rather surprised, as that has never happened before.  Since he was up, I thought he should use the potty, too, so I took him in the bathroom and told him I would get him a piece of bread.  When he was done, however, he just went back to his bed and laid down.  I asked if he still wanted bread, but he shook his head and closed his eyes.  I suppose he just woke up with an uncomfortable feeling in his midsection and couldn't identify it.  It's tough figuring out what your body is telling you when you're only 3 years old and half asleep!

It feels like fall has arrived, and I never even took pictures of the kids swimming!  We went back to the aquarium on Thursday, but it was so, so hot.  We were pretty miserable and wished we had gone swimming instead.  We went the next day, but it was cooler, and has been rainy and cool ever since.  I haven't been taking pictures at all.  I was planning back to school pictures this morning, but those will have to wait.  So, no pictures.  I'll share my pork chop recipe with you instead!

Sometimes you come across a recipe for some ingredient that is so good, there is no reason to ever cook that ingredient another way.  So it is with these pork chops.  I have tried cooking pork chops in different ways a few times, but it is never worth it.  I always end up wishing I had stuck with my old standby.  I got this recipe from a Japanese chef on Martha Stewart years ago.  He called them Asian pork chops.  I call them The Only Way I Ever Cook Pork Chops.

First you need:  Pork chops.  This recipe is best with center cut, bone-in pork chops.  I don't know why, but they give the best results.  It is also good with boneless ones, but I would recommend the bone-in, center cut chops.

Mix in a glass casserole dish: 5 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 cloves pressed garlic (I usually use bottled, minced garlic.  Shhhh....don't tell!).

Put the pork chops in and coat them with the marinade.  Marinate for at least a half hour.  Overnight or all day if needed.

Grill the chops.  They can also be cooked under a broiler, if you can do that without setting off the smoke alarm.  I can't.  Length of time will depend on the thickness of your chops.

That is all!  If you have a fabulous pork chop recipe, let me know and I'll see if these can be topped!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Climb Every Mountain

Mike and some friends hiked Mt. Fuji last week.

The traditional way to hike Mt. Fuji is to hike all night so that you are at the top at sunrise.  They started in the evening and got to the summit about 3 hours before sunrise.  Mike thought he had taken enough warm outerwear, but he said it was a cold three hour wait for the sun to come up.

Sunrise on the summit

The crowds ascending....or descending.  I'm not sure which.

I think this amazing.  So many people!  Shibuya's got nothing on Fuji-san.

From everything I have read and heard from others, hiking Fuji is something people are glad to do once, but after it's done, there isn't much interest in doing it again.  Mike concurs.  I told him he will have to do it at least one more time, though - with me!  Someday.

Monday, August 8, 2011


We've been in a bit of relaxation mode since our Tokyo trip.  Mike has a whole week off work beginning Wednesday, and our original plan was to head to the mountains Nagano way.  Somehow we just haven't gotten around to making a plan, though, plus we have heard horror stories about traffic during the Japanese holiday of Bon Odori.  So, we decided that we are going to just stay home and maybe take some day trips around here.  It should be fun.  I'm looking forward to being able to spend a relaxing week at home with my husband around.  Maybe we will finally get our grill put together, and I can take him grocery shopping to help me figure out what to buy so that I can cook some Japanese food.

We had a fun weekend.  Friday night was a party at Mike's work for families.  They open up the grounds and have food booths and games for kids, kind of like a county fair of sorts.  There were hot dogs and french fries, which our kids ate, and gyozas, yaki-niku, and yakisoba, which Mike and I ate.  Good food and good fun.  Tons of people.

Saturday was the Kobe hanabi celebration - a big fireworks show to celebrate summer.  Some friends of Mike's from work invited us to their apartment in a high rise downtown, so we had a fabulous view of the fireworks over the bay.  I'm glad we live where we do, but I must say I envy the spectacular views from that high rise in Sannomiya.

Bear and I are still busy with our Japanese lessons and keeping cool in the pool.  Beaver seems to actually be kind of tired of the pool.  He rarely wants to go anymore, but we make him come anyway.  Otherwise we will just be stuck inside all day because it is way to hot to go out.  What he does want to do it watch TV.  The little stinker.  We have been unplugged again this summer.  I love being unplugged, but my kids don't.  I am pretty confident that when they are grown up they will appreciate it, though, so I keep at it.  Last week, however, Bear went to a friend's house during my Japanese lesson, so I let Beaver watch TV so that I could concentrate on my lesson.  Now he thinks he should be able to watch whenever he wants to.  We have a Skippyjon Jones book wherein Mama and the girls "squeeze together on the couch for a little TV."  Now Beaver likes to suggest, "Kwease can we squeeze together on the couch for a little TV?"  Yesterday in particular, he became quite insistent.  He started with me: "Kwease can I watch just one TV?  Just ONE TV?  Mama, I said........Kwease can I watch JUST ONE TV?!!!"  After hearing no from me for awhile, he started on Mike.  "Kwease can I watch just one TV?"  Then, while trying to pry Mike's mouth open with his hands, "Open your mouth and say I can watch just one TV!"  He even went so far as to tell Mike that I said he could watch TV.  Little pill.  He is quite full of opinions.  Even opinions that really don't concern him at all.  Like my hair.  He does not like my hair. He always wants it to be "tied up" as he words it.  He will wait outside of my bathroom while I'm taking a shower, and when I walk out with my hair down, he cringes away from me and whimpers, "Your hair all tied down!  I want your hair tied up!"  I always leave my hair down until it is dry, and then I usually pull it back.  Beaver gets so happy when he sees me with my hair up.  Bear is the opposite.  When he was a baby, as soon as he could reach and grab, he was grabbing at my hair.  When he was Beaver's age, he would twirl and play with my hair when I held him.  Even now, if I have my hair in a ponytail and he comes to sit by me, he will pull it out of the ponytail and play around with it.  If Beaver sees him taking my hair down, he wails, "Oh no!  Bear tying your hair down!  I don't want your hair tied down!"  The first few times were innocent enough, but of course now Bear takes my hair down whenever the opportunity presents itself, just to make Beaver wail.  Yesterday I was dozing on the couch (with my hair tied down), and Mike and the boys were in the kitchen.  I heard Beaver say, with no provocation, "I want Mama to wake up so she can tie her hair up."  What?  I wasn't even in the same room!  Why does he care?

Something I like about Japan in the summer: Seeing Japanese women all dressed up in their colorful yukatas.

Something I don't like about Japan in the summer:  The humidity.

Something different about Japan in the summer:  The cicadas are really, really, loud.  Really loud.  And much bigger and more active than any cicada I have seen in the U.S.  They squawk like birds when they are disturbed.