I photograph everything

29 July 2011

When walking with the tour group in Japan, I would sometimes fall behind due to stopping and taking photos of things.  If something catches my eye, I like to take a picture. I have a bunch of photos of  interesting signs, most meals I ate, vending machines, store shelves, lotuses, pigeons, stray cats, lots of roofs, roof gutters, and one of my favorite categories: things on the ground.  Here are some things I saw on the ground in Japan:

A Tokyo manhole cover

The floor of the stairway to a basement Internet/manga cafe

Another Tokyo manhole cover

Salt at the entrance to the ryokan/onsen in Hakone

Yet another manhole cover

Tatami border in the temple lodgings in Koya-san

Flowers on the ground at Koya-san

Maple leaf design in the pavement by the Miyajima ferry

Paper cranes we left at the Children's Monument at Hiroshima Peace Park

Design on street in Gion district, Kyoto

"Street sign" in Gion district, Kyoto

Japan goals

29 July 2011

I had a mental list of things I wanted to experience in Japan.

  • Stay in a ryokan
  • Relax at an onsen
  • See Mt. Fuji
  • Eat takoyaki
  • Eat taiyaki
  • See the Akihabara district in Tokyo
  • Get a Japanese ear-cleaner
  • Ride the shinkansen
  • Get a Daruma doll for Greg’s job search.

and I am glad to report that I did all of these things!

We stayed in ryokans every night, though the temple lodgings at Koya-san were technically a shubuku not a ryokan.  At Hakone, our ryokan was also an onsen, and on the women’s side at least there were 5 pools/tubs.  We saw Mt. Fuji from several vantages at Hakone, as well as from the shinkansen on the way to Nagoya to get to Takayama.  In Takayama I ate taiyaki, and in Osaka I tried takoyaki.  On our free day in Tokyo we visited a bunch of famous districts, including Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara.  And at Nara, home of the largest Buddha statue in Japan, I got an ear-cleaner. I picked up the Daruma doll at a souvenir shop (not a temple) toward the end of our trip, but I can’t remember if it was in Nara or in Kyoto.

What the heck is all this?

The ryokan in Tokyo, with our futons ready for us

A ryokan is a Japanese inn, with tatami floors that you may not wear shoes on, futons that are stored away during the day and set out at night, and complimentary green tea in the room.

An onsen is a hot-springs bath, open to the public.  There is a space for putting your clothes, a place to wash yourself, and one or more pools for soaking.  There are lots of rules, like no clothing allowed and no towels allowed in the bathing pool, and you must rinse off all soapsuds before entering the pool, and at the Hakone onsen they didn’t allow any metals in, by which I think they meant take off all your jewelry.  I guess the minerals in the water might have reacted with it.

Leave your clothing in a basket

Wash yourself all over

Enjoy a hot soak with a pretty garden view

I know you know what Mt. Fuji is.  The most important and revered mountain in Japan.  We did not climb it, we just posed for photos with it.

We were lucky that the clouds retreated for our photo opportunity

Takoyaki is dough balls with a bit of octopus inside, cooked on a griddle with lots of hemispherical depressions in it so the dough balls come out round.  Taiyaki are fish-shaped snacks filled with red bean paste (or other fillings) and cooked on a griddle with fish-shaped depressions in it.  If a Japanese word ends in -yaki, it is probably yummy, like sukiyaki (usually beef and vegetables in a sweet sauce), or okonomiyaki (a pancake-ish dish with egg and meat and vegetables in it).

Keiko took this photo when we shared takoyaki. We got them "wit" (as we say in Philly) everything - brown sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes

Taiyaki-the kind with red bean paste

In Tokyo, there are many neighborhoods with their own distinct characters, like in many large cities around the world.  Akihabara (also known as Akiba) is “electric town” where you can buy almost anything relating to electronics, video games, anime and manga. There are girls in costumes on the street corners (they won’t let you take a photo), giant gaming arcades, the nerdiest-looking guys (also known as “otaku”) who you will never see in the fashionable districts like Harajuku, and shops devoted to single types of item, like fluorescent light bulbs, or wire!

One of the wire shops in Akihabara, Tokyo

We rode the shinkansen (bullet train) numerous times as we traveled between cities.  They are pretty slick.

A shinkansen arrives at a station. Or maybe it departs - they look the same at both ends

A Daruma doll (Dharma) represents the founder of Zen Buddhism.  It is used to represent a wish or goal, and one draws in the right eye when making the wish and one draws in the left eye when the wish is fulfilled.  I wanted one for my husband who is hoping to make a career change this fall, as a fun representation of his goal.  We are not Buddhists.  This morning I drew in the right eye, and when Greg gets his new job I will fill in the left eye.  Traditionally Daruma dolls are burned at temples at the end of the year, but I think we will keep this one.

Japanese ear-cleaners are not q-tips.  They certainly have cotton swabs on sticks in Japan, but the ear cleaners are usually bamboo and you use them to carefully scrape the wax out of your ears.  My mother-in-law says they are very effective!  You can get them shaped like samurai swords or like light sabers, but I chose a more traditional style.

Can you tell which is the ear cleaner and which is the Daruma? Daruma dolls are weighted so if you knock them over they turn upright again

I’ve got a lot more Japan-related topics to write about, so be patient!

Japan Trip Overview

26 July 2011

My husband and I took a two-week trip to Japan with my mother-in-law this month.  This post is the overview, but there will be other posts featuring different aspects of our trip.  It was a great trip!

We (well, Keiko) booked a tour with Samurai Tours, and owner Mike Roberts helped us customize it so that we had some days with the guide and tour group and other days on our own.  Ours was a “Best of Japan” trip, and started in Tokyo.

Shibuya crossing in Tokyo

From there, we went to places west and south of Tokyo, avoiding the north.  This was the tour route anyway, but as a result we were never anywhere near Fukushima and we didn’t see any earthquake or tsunami damage.  There had been a tour option for the town of Nikko, but that was changed due to the loss of tourist traffic there.  Apparently many of the restaurants and shops are closed due to lack of tourism.

Our tour included travel on trains, subways, and public buses.  Samurai tours arranged our Japan Rail Passes which were useful in many places as a free pass for travel.  Only foreign tourists can get these passes, and they are good on shinkansens (bullet trains) and ferries and local train lines.  If you want a reserved seat on a shinkansen, you need an additional ticket for that reserved seat, but you get on the train by just showing your pass as you walk through the turnstile area.

Throughout our tour, we stayed in Japanese inns, or ryokans.  These are very traditional, and you must take off your shoes (either when you enter the ryokan or when you enter your room).  The floors are tatami and the beds are futons on the floor.  And the futons are not American-style fat futons, but thin Japanese futons that are at most 3 inches thick and are easily folded up and put away in a closet.  They provide yukatas (thin cotton bathrobes) for hanging out in, and slippers for entering the toilet room, and toothbrushes.  I will show you my toothbrush collection in a later post.

So, the overview.  Our tour started in Tokyo, as I said, and then we went to Hakone.  Hakone is a resort town in a volcanic caldera.  There are hot spring-fed public baths (including the bath at our ryokan), a caldera lake with regular touristy boats crossing it, and hot-spring-cooked “black eggs” which we ate.  Hakone is where we saw Mt. Fuji from!

The tour group wears yukatas for kaiseki dinner at our Takayama ryokan

Then we went to the pretty town of Takayama, famous for their festival floats and a style of lacquerware that emphasizes the grain of the wood.  We enjoyed the farmer’s markets and the old municipal building, the Takayama-jinya.  There are very few such 17th-century buildings left in Japan, as they were all made of wood and are very susceptible to fire, despite the ornamental fish on the roofs.

Koya-san was next, the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism.  We stayed in a temple, ate only vegetables, and learned that we are all Buddha.  We also had a meditation lesson and attended a morning prayer service.

Halfway through our trip we reached Osaka.  Our stay was brief, and it was very crowded despite the rain. Osaka was our only really rainy day.

Then we went to Miyajima Island, where we weathered the edge of a typhoon (mostly a wind event for us, with little rain).  Unfortunately, the high winds closed the ferry and the ropeway to the mountain top.  As a result of the ferry closing, there were few tourists so most of the shops and restaurants didn’t open.  We would have stuffed ourselves on maple-leaf-shaped stuffed cakes if the shops had been open.  That’s the local specialty.  That and rice scoops.

Kinkaju-ji, the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto

We had a sobering visit to Hiroshima on our way to Kyoto, where we spent the last three days of our tour.  There is a ton of stuff to do in Kyoto.  We skipped a lot of it.  There are shrines and temples all over the place, thousands of restaurants, palaces, gardens, and Monkey Mountain!  Of course we went to Monkey Mountain!

So, more posts to follow on specific aspect of the trip, with more photos!

One Piece Away

29 June 2011

The kitchen is one piece away from being finished.  Today I went to Home Depot to send back the piece they’d sent, which was wrong, and had them order the correct piece, which will take who knows how long to come in.  But the kitchen is FUNCTIONAL!

The key thing making the kitchen finally functional is the sink.  I picked out a stainless steel double-bowl sink with a lower-than usual center divider.  When I washed the dishes tonight I was thrilled that our largest skillet fits entirely inside the sink!  The handle of the skillet would have stuck out if the center divider went all the way up.

Check out the spiffy faucet!

Anyway, the end bit of the faucet, where the water comes out, pulls out to be used as a flexible sprayer, and can be used for spraying or streaming water, and you can pause the water with the upper black button.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  If you come to visit us, your first view of the kitchen will be as you enter the dining room from the living room, and as you turn you will see the wide opening into the kitchen like this:

What you see first

Open and inviting, I think!  We will probably get some sort of curtain thing to go on the window in the back door, but we need to think about what we want.

Ok, so in the sink photo, you can just see the edge of my tea kettle.  Here is the full view of the “sink wall” with the tea kettle, since I made my tea IN THE KITCHEN this morning instead of in the dining room!

At the lower right corner you can see where the missing piece will go.

I imagine that Greg’s coffee maker will go on the right like it was before.  I think I will get some shelves to go on the left, under the cabinet, for my tea tins and infusers and stuff.  Hmm, IKEA?  Also, we will probably put a curtain on this window to match the one on the door window.  And Greg suggested some sort of stencil or mural across the soffit, which could continue onto the stove wall.  Well, we will see.

So as you look around to the right, you will see the “stove wall”:

I've closed the basement door for the photo

We plan to put pots and pans in the drawers to the right of the stove.  To the left of the stove, as you may recall, is where the garbage and recycling go.  Somewhere along here we will put the spices, and the utensil bin on the counter, and you may notice that the under-counter lighting has been turned on.  When I cooked dinner tonight, I used the vent and light on the microwave oven!  It was so nice!  But again, I am getting ahead.

Continuing around to the right…

Fridge!

I took this photo kind of high so I could show the mini-fan again (see previous post) and our LED lights.  We’ll eventually put magnets back on our fridge, but for now we have only a timer and a beer-opener.

OK, so the final view is this:

Looking into the dining room and living room

Here you can see the back of the peninsula, and the phone, which we plan to replace.  The dining room table has been temporarily squished into a corner but will be moved back to the center of the room soon.  Where you see blank wall in the dining room, we’ll put the chest of drawers that contains the table linens and the wine opener, and we’ll hang the large Chinese painting.  We definitely have to do some thinking about where things will go, and maybe also about what things we don’t actually need.

The cutlery drawer!

I have already decided that our flatware goes in the top drawer nearest the dining room.  Greg hasn’t disagreed (yet) so maybe it will stay there!  I got one of those “expands-to-fit-the-space” organizer things from Bed Bath & Beyond.   But I didn’t stop there, I made dinner!  I made tofu and vegetable stir-fry, with the first of Greg’s beans from the garden!  Which reminds me I have to do a blog post on this year’s garden.  Greg has done a lot of planning and a lot of work on it.

Cooking!

Oh yeah, the other thing that happened today was I got a haircut.  The stylist blow-dried it straight, but once I wash it again it will be wavy again.  I like it, and I hope I like the salon enough I can keep going back there.  It made a good first impression, and was very inexpensive, so that’s a good sign!

As I was saying, however, here I am cooking, with a handful of beans that Greg just brought in from the garden.  And wearing an apron my mom made, and drinking red wine, of course. I am really happy now!

Nearly Finished

19 June 2011

Well, I AM finished with school for the summer, but the kitchen is only nearly finished. Check it out!

First, some details:

New ball valves

The kitchen sink now has new ball valves instead of the kind with the round knob that you have to turn a bunch of times to open or close all the way.  Of course, I had to test these out when they were first put in, so I leaned over to get a good close view and I turned the knob…and immediately sprayed myself, the ceiling, the inside of the cabinet, and the window with water. DUH!  If anyone else had been there they would have gotten a very good laugh, but I was alone so I had to laugh at myself.

Hidden trash receptacle

Next to the stove is where we will keep the trash.  There really isn’t a place to put a trash bin in the kitchen, so this is a good compromise.  It is near enough to the peninsula where we will be doing food prep, and we can put recycling into the second bin.

They open ALL THE WAY!

Apparently, this is how they make drawers these days.  They open all the way so you can see what is in the back instead of having to feel around for items.  What you can’t see here is that you can’t slam the drawers shut.  Old drawers wouldn’t have that problem because they are too high-friction (I’m thinking of the ones in my parents’ kitchen) but modern drawers have bearings and tracks and slide super-easily.  So when the drawer is almost all the way in, a mechanism engages that slows the drawer and closes it gently and quietly.  I have stood in the kitchen and opened and closed the drawers multiple times because I find this fascinating.

"Pantry"

To me, a pantry will always be the pantry in my parents’ house, which has tall glass-fronted cabinets where all the plates, glasses, bowls, stemware, fancy china, etcetera are stored.  There is a giant flour bin that tilts out from under the counter, cabinets and drawers full of linens, paper plates, candles, plastic wrap, cereal, liquor, and sometimes cookies, and it provides passage between the dining room and the kitchen.  However, our new “pantry” is a tall and deep cabinet with these handy pull-out shelves (which also pull out all the way) where we will keep our rice and flour and sugar and other supplies.

Under the sink

Under the sink we have a place to put sponges and dish soap, and shelves for more cleaning supplies. It looks so nice!

Also in the sink photo you get a good glimpse of the new flooring.  It is environmentally-friendly “marmoleum” from Forbo which is basically linoleum (linseed oil and pine sawdust from renewable forests) on MDF HDF and with a cork backing.  It will gradually get less yellow over the next few weeks as it is exposed to light, and will finally settle on a color that Will selected for us (the Footprint Architecture guy) which is called “Carribbean.” It is mostly kindof sand-colored with swirls of darker sand and also blue that matches the trim color.  We like it!

So anyway, the kitchen now has all the appliances back in and we are waiting on a few pieces to be delivered:

  • A replacement filler strip to go over the fridge-and-pantry, since the original strip was the wrong color
  • A wider filler for between the dishwasher and the wall, since that space is too large for a regular filler strip and too small to put anything useful into
  • The butcher block slab for the peninsula
  • The manufactured quartz counters for everywhere else

However, here are several views of the nearly finished kitchen:

The "sink" wall, with dishwasher in place

The "stove" wall

Over the peninsula, into the dining room

One of two cute mini-fans, and two of four LED ceiling lights

We have not made any decisions about window treatments for the window or the door to the deck, but that may happen later this summer.

Some progress

13 June 2011

This is the last week of school so I am feeling a little under pressure here, but I wanted to at least post this photo:

so you can see the paint job and the handles on the drawers.

The flooring was put in today and the microwave oven is in place, and the counter top people came and took all the appropriate measurements, but it will be another two weeks for the counters to be done.  I think the electrician is coming this week to put in the fans and the LED lights and I have no idea when the plumbing will be done and the stove hooked up again.

I’d go into more detail but this is the last week of school, as I said.  I have work to do!

A Little Progress

1 June 2011

We love coming home each day to see what has been done to our kitchen.  First, the new wall got its studs, and the ceiling came off.  This was a little surprising, since we thought just the icky part of the ceiling where the leak had been was going to be patched, but the decision was made to take down the whole ceiling.  This makes it easier for the electrical work, which includes 4 recessed lighting fixtures, two mini fans (24″ span) and a pendant light.

Oh look, it's the bathtub drain!

Then some cabinetry was placed, and today the electricians were here all day installing outlets, moving outlets, moving the phone, moving light switches, and making sure there was wiring for the under-cabinet lighting.  They were here longer than expected and didn’t quite finish.  They’ll be back–particularly since they are also upgrading our service to the level of “most modern homes,” or 200-Amp service.  This raises the total cost, of course.

Drawer unit with flooring sample

Cabinets on the "stove" wall, with space for microwave

Cabinets on "sink" wall

New phone location: next to pass-through

Meanwhile, we have acquired the new microwave, the counters have been ordered (though we haven’t go all the cabinets in yet so they are not templated or anything like that), the natural linoleum-on-cork flooring should be in early next week, the new sink has been delivered, we’ve been to Ikea once, Sears twice, and Home Depot over and over again.

Dinner has been a daily adventure as well.  We’ve discovered a Mexican restaurant we really like, we’ve been to the local diner, we’ve been to our local Bertucci’s, we’ve had several nights of sandwiches, and we attended a potluck Memorial Day picnic which we contributed snacks and veggie burgers to.

A note on photos—I will be uploading a more complete set to flickr at some time in the near future.  Also, I will certainly continue keeping you updated here!

New Adventure

26 May 2011

We are having the kitchen redone.

Here is our old, horrible kitchen:

Pieces kept falling off!

The stove (Greg was making dinner)

The refrigerator and the basement door - awkward!

There were other problems as well, like a lack of storage space, the leak from the bathtub upstairs, and the not-very-helpful lighting, to name a few.  The bathtub leak was fixed, but it left an ugly legacy on the ceiling.

So we hired our friend Will of Footprint Architecture to draw us up a new plan.  The plan involves moving the door between the dining room and kitchen, adding a pass-through, moving the refrigerator to a different wall, moving the stove a little to the right and putting countertop on BOTH sides, adding a peninsula, and new, strong cabinetry with a lifetime guarantee!  It will make more sense once you see it.

Today, the contractors arrived after I left for work (Greg stayed home) and started demolition. This is what it looks like now:

No sink, no cabinets, part of the wall gone

No fridge or stove, and dangling wiring

Oh, THERE it is! How odd-looking.

So, we also have the microwave and toaster oven set up in the dining room, and the coffee maker and electric tea kettle.  But we will have to fill the coffee maker and the tea kettle from the bathroom, upstairs.  We have all the new cabinetry waiting in our garage, but we don’t have the new flooring yet.  We still need to get the sink, the countertops, the new lighting and fans, and the new, over-the-range microwave oven.  I am hoping for some Memorial Day sales this weekend!

Tonight, we are going out for dinner.  We do have a grill, but are reluctant to have to wash dishes (since that will also have to be done in the bathroom) so we probably won’t do a lot of cooking.  I have laid in a supply of paper plates and bowls and cups, for the interim.

Watch this space for more photos and updates as things progress!

Happy Mothers’ Day

8 May 2011

I love you, mom.  Happy Mother’s Day!

My mom, Doris, is really beautiful.  I look like my dad.  She used to complain that she has no eyebrows and refused to go out without lipstick, but she never needed it.  Here she is when I was very young, with me and my dad:

My mom taught me to sit up straight, keep my elbows off the table, and to look it up when I didn’t know something.  She taught me to wash dishes properly, set the table properly, and how to iron.  She insisted I learn to sew, and sent me to Mrs. Helen Grabowski to learn.  She refused to teach me to drive, and made my father teach me when I neglected to make an effort to learn on my own.

My mom threw the best birthday parties, hiring a magician or a psychic to entertain me and my friends, insisting on a lip-syncing contest, baking cakes and taking us to the skating rink.  As an only child, she made sure I had friends to do things with, and even on our annual vacation in Letchworth State Park, she welcomed my best friend Julie and had fun with us all week. Here we are overlooking the Genesee river: me, mom, and Julie.

Thank you, mom, for proofreading my papers in high school (I wish my students had moms like you), and passing along your love of books.  You can often find me in the same pose as my mom:

Yep, on the sofa, covered by an afghan (big difference: she can make her own afghans, something I still have never done), reading!

When I was a teenager, mom and I had lots of arguments.  I guess that is kind of typical.  She was aggravated by my choice of hairstyle, clothing, earrings, music to listen to, and attitude.  I didn’t study hard enough, I neglected to call and say where I was or that I would be late, I ought to do the vacuuming and the dusting and clean the bathroom.  Thank you mom, for teaching me to clean the bathroom.

Yet, when I was a teenager, we shared season tickets to the theater, read some of the same novels, we both liked watching Pierce Brosnan in that detective show and Bruce Willis in that other detective show.

By getting in my mom’s way in the kitchen, I learned to cook (to her surprise!).  However, I never learned tact from my mom.  She is very frank.

In this photo, my mom smiles despite the fact I am wearing the earring she hated most of all: a long rubbery plastic fish.

Ever since I moved away to go to college (22 and a half years ago), my mom has been complaining that I don’t call enough.  I’m sorry, mom!  She worries that I am depressed, overworked, sick, or otherwise miserable.  Thanks, mom, I am usually OK, just a negligent, terrible daughter.  But I call you way more often than you called Grammy Wilma, in my memory of growing up. I LOVE YOU! And I’m like you in many ways.

For example, I am always right, just like you are.  This works better when we are not in the same place.  I’m a good cook, I enjoy art and dance and plays.  I’m not as excited about Paul Simon as you are, but I like his music.  I have a great vocabulary like you do, and I forget some of it, like you do.  We’ve both been on our own church’s board of trustees, and we’ve both enjoyed Scottish Country Dancing.  I still can’t get into T’ai Chi, though Greg and I took a class a few years ago.

Here we are at my wedding to Greg.  You made your outfit, and you loaned me your pearls to wear.

Thank you for bringing me up in the Unitarian Universalist church, for promising me a college education and fulfilling that promise, even though I chose a very expensive school, and for helping me get on my feet after graduation.  Thank you for raising me not to use bad words, to enjoy tea, and to enjoy houseplants.  Thank you for recommending Tony Hillerman, and suggesting I would enjoy reading Game of Thrones (now an HBO series).  Thank you for the recipes for stuffed peppers, popovers, roasted root vegetables, and explaining over the phone how to cook pumpkins and turkeys (back when I still cooked turkeys).  Thank you for the wardrobe advice, the suggestion that a glass of wine is OK to have after a hard day at work, and for sending cookies to Greg before he decided to move to the east coast, years before he proposed.  I love you, mom!

Love,
Fran

November

7 November 2010

Normally, I love November.

I like the change in the weather, to chilly.  I like wearing sweaters, scarves, and hats.  I like watching the bright leaves escape the trees to form brown drifts in the sidewalk for shuffling crunchily through.

This year, I am not so happy.  Since the 3-day, I have been in a funk.  I feel behind on schoolwork, I feel behind on housework, I don’t think I ought to be turning 40 this month, and I feel really down.  I haven’t felt this blue in a really long time.

I am really glad I have been through this before.  I recognize this feeling.  I have a loving husband who has also noticed my mood.  So tomorrow I have a doctor appointment and I hope I will get some meds to help with this.  I actually spent several weeks this year getting OFF meds, and I thought I was doing pretty well.  I don’t know if it is the lessening of the sunlight, the sudden lack of exercise since I stopped walking so much, or just a stronger than usual school-year anxiety that is getting to me.  But I know I have to do something about it.

Meanwhile, I can get a hug from my husband, eat some chocolate, and pet the cat.  Tycho is on my lap purring right now, in fact!