Friday, September 11, 2009

I made this all by myself!

In the interest of eating more healthfully and locally, I decided to try my hand again at making miso soup.  The first time I tried, things didn't go exactly as planned.  I didn't quite know what I was doing - I accidentally bought natto instead of tofu at the supermarket and I didn't know the importance of dashi to the soup.  So, I basically had miso paste dissolved in hot water.  Bleck!  That didn't taste anything like what you get in a restaurant!

After a little research and reflection, now seemed like a good time to give it another go.  There is a great website for kids (and adults...cough, cough) about Japan that has a really simple recipe for miso soup.  This evening, I gave it another go, and the results were much more satisfying!  I was a little worried about finding the dried bonito flakes.  I knew they would be in the store, I just wasn't sure what they looked like!  In case you are wondering, bonito = a kind of fish.  Here are some other kinds of fish you will see in the supermarket.  I don't know what any of them are - except for the Healthy Jellyfish in a bag.  I don't know your thoughts on the subject, but my last encounter with a jellyfish was not healthy at all!

I was quite happy to find my dried fish flakes with little inconvienience!  I also found my tofu, and some lovely little mushrooms that I thought would be a nice addition.  I purchased some green onions too, but they were kind of expensive!  I wanted some instant pudding (not for the miso!), but alas, it was not to be found.  My shopping life is definitely upside down!

It was remarkably easy to make the dashi once I got home - and it didn't make my house reek!  Then, I just tossed in the tofu and mushrooms and let them simmer for a little bit, and then added the miso paste.  You don't want to let the miso get too hot, because it will kill all the good stuff in there.  Then, I garnished my bowl of miso soup with green onions and ate it.  It was quite delicious!  I followed my miso soup with a main course of chips.  Oh, well.  One cannot be healthy all the time!

I was going to write something else, but now I've forgotten what that, I guess I'll end here!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green...

Well, Kermit and I have something in common now.  Let's just say the sea was a little rough today - going and coming!  Sometimes it's fun to learn new things about yourself, and sometimes it's not fun...especially when you learn that it's possible to get green on the ferry.  Nothing happened, THANKFULLY, but boy am I glad to be back on land!

When I first woke up this morning, the sky was still gray from last night's rain.  By the time I got out of bed, the clouds had broken up, and there was a beautiful blue sky highlighted by puffy white clouds.  This should have been my first clue that the weather was moving quickly.  My trip to the ferry terminal was basically uneventful.  I bought my ticket (hurrah for the ticket agent!), had a delicious cream cheese filled bun for breakfast, and sat down to wait for boarding.  I saw some whitecaps out on the open water, but I was mostly excited to see that we were taking the Prince Soya ferry and not the ferry that doesn't smell nice.

As usual, I was traveling with some tour groups.  After checking in, most people walk down a flight of stairs, but there is also an elevator.  I wanted to take a picture so badly when I saw a herd of tiny older ladies in their bucket hats cramming into the elevator (I think they were giggling).  I giggled inwardly, took a mental picture, and headed down the stairs.  Now, I love riding the ferry, so I was really looking forward to the trip.  After you enter the ferry, you climb another flight of stairs and enter the main cabin.  I saw a ferry worker handing out brochures to people entering the cabin.  That was a nice idea, I thought.  As I approached the cabin entrance, I realized that they were not handing out brochures, but seasickness bags.  Here was the second clue.  I wasn't worried as I entered the cabin, I just wished I had worn a heavier jacket, as I like sitting outside, but it was rather chilly.  I decided to try sitting inside, but a few minutes later I was on my way outside with a hot can of coffee from the vending machine.  I tried to find a spot out of the wind, but it didn't work very well.  Pretty soon, we were off.  Things were fine at first, but as we left the safety of the harbor, one phrase kept running through my mind: "HOLY CATS, BATMAN."  I didn't say it was the best phrase!

There were some large swells on the water today!  Sometimes the ferry would hit a wave just right and send a huge spray of water past the side of the ferry.  It was really strange to watch the wind catch the spray.  The water looked like it was floating on the wind.  At one point, I saw an interesting boat that I wanted to photograph.  I left my seat - all the outdoor seats are under a roof - and walked to the back of the boat (no roof).  I took my picture and turned around to walk back to my seat.  Well, I don't know if we hit a really big wave or what, but I got hit full-on with quite a spray of water.  I think there may still be some salt on my face.

I managed to entertain myself for most of the trip by planning out an emergency course of action, just in case the ferry operators hadn't thought of one already.  There was also a lovely rainbow out on the water.  I managed to get a picture, but it's really not the best because I didn't want to lose my camera to the briny deep.  The briny deep just doesn't appreciate a good camera enough.

I have to say that I was so happy when my feet touched land.  I thought about kissing it, but there's all this flu stuff going around, you know.

On Land
I had a fabulous day at school today!  It was my first elementary school visit.  The kids were so cute and fun, and the teachers were really nice.  I was just amazed at how well-behaved and responsible the kids were.  There are two things about the Japanese school day that I really like.  One is lunchtime.  The students bring pots of food and dishes to their classrooms and are responsible for serving it out, and the class eats together.  Schools here also have cleaning time, so the students are responsible for participating in cleaning the school.  I was also amazed that they didn't break down into pure destruction when left alone for a minute.  As the 5th and 6th grade teacher and I were walking to the classroom, we heard music.  The students were standing behind their desks, singing some sort of anthemish sounding song all together to recorded music.  I spent much of the day in amazement, as I was also amazed at how quickly the day flew by!

As we left school, my hopes began to rise as I saw that the sea looked calmer.  Then, I saw waves crashing on the shoreline, and my hopes joined the waves.  The waves were beautiful, but they are one of those things best appreciated from land.  Along the drive to the terminal, we saw two beautiful rainbows.  This place seems to have a plethora of naturally-occurring beauty!

Well, I was soon dropped off at the terminal.  I wasn't really sure how I felt about the ride home.  One one hand, it was probably going to be a pretty wild ride, but on the other hand, at least I was not the type of person who would be seasick.  I was again pleased to see that we wouldn't be riding the ferry that um, smells.  This was actually a ferry I had never seen before.  We boarded this new ferry, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but seats!  Large seats like in trains!  I checked the sign, and sure enough, it really was economy class!  I was so excited!  I found a row of three seats and situated myself quite comfortably in the middle.  There were tons of seats, and not too many passengers, so I definitely wasn't worried about taking too much space.  Fairly soon, we were off.  As soon as we were out of the gate, the ferry started a nice bucking action - maybe this is why we had a ferry with seats.  If we were sitting on the floor, we probably would have ended up in one big people pile sliding around the cabin.  I decided to try to focus on the TV instead of the up and down motion.  I don't know where this method went wrong, but I found myself feeling like Kermit, which is not a good feeling.  I finally tried curling up on my seats with my head on my teaching bag and jacket.  This seemed to work pretty well, as I dozed off after a little while.  Sadly, there was an incredible sunset outside which I only briefly enjoyed - and you how how I love to soak those in!

Eventually, we landed!  Woohoo!  Even though I am usually thrifty and take the bus home from the terminal, which requires somewhat of a long walk to the stop, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a taxi home.  Boy, was it worth it!  Although I had decided to never eat again, you will be pleased to hear that, since coming home and taking some recovery time,  I have enjoyed half a bowl of taco soup, some Ritz cheese crackers, and a few cookies. :-)

I learned a few lessons from today.  1) Just because you think you are one thing doesn't mean that you are.  I thought I was above turning green on the ferry.  I wasn't even green on the first crossing this morning!  Hopefully, I never will be again, but if nothing else, I now have empathy for people who turn green (and worse!) on the ferry!  I just had sympathy before. 2) You can still have an amazingly awesome day even when  some things aren't perfect.  My good definitely outweighed the bad today. 3) There is beauty in potential yuckiness.  If you are here, just look for the rainbow!  4) Everyone looks pretty funny when trying to walk around the ferry on a rough sea (my apologies to the mystery man whose arm I think I took lout with my bag...but really sir, that was not a bright place to put such a thing!). And, most importantly, 5) Treat yourself to a taxi every once in a while!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


In honor of today being the last day for a long time to have repeating single digits, I thought I would go ahead and post an entry.  Today will be an educational day.  We will discuss one aspect of the Japanese language, and we will discuss tatami floors.  Warning: these educational moments are not necessarily backed by research. ;-)

Katakana - the simplified version
Japanese basically has three ways to write things - hiragana, katakana, and kanji.  Hiragana and katakana represent sounds, and kanji can represent words or sounds.  The hiragana and katakana alphabets each have about 50 symbols (give or take), and there are thousands upon thousands of kanji.  I recently finished learning the katakana symbols and was very excited.  The reason is this: katakana characters are often used to represent foreign words.  So, if you know katakana, you can actually start to read!  Many menus are in katakana.  Yea!  Now, when you sound out the katakana word, it won't sound exactly equivalent to an English counterpart, but it's generally close enough to make a pretty good guess.  And that's why I was excited to learn the katakana symbols!  Since then, I have also finished learning the hiragana symbols!  Now, on to kanji!! ;-)

Tatami Mat Floors
Many traditional Japanese homes have rooms with tatami mat floors.  Tatami mats are several inches deep, so they aren't just like a bath mat or something. They are basically tightly woven straw/rush/grass/I don't know what mats. They are fairly soft floors, and you have to be careful to take good care of them. You don't wear slippers on a tatami floor and if you sleep on a futon, you fold it up and put it away to keep it from molding on the tatami. 

Well this week my old tatamis were taken away and fixed up with new straw/rush/grass/I don't know what. So, they are nice and clean! Aaaaahhhh. They even feel softer now. I was also surprised to find that fresh tatamis are green! Just in case you aren't sure, the old tatami is the picture to the left, and the new is to the right. :-). I'm pretty excited about new tatamis! The only unusual thing is that my apartment now smells a little like a barn. It's a good thing tatamis are common here - I would hate to have visitors wondering why they smelled hay in my house!  

There now, don't you feel educated!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


My apologies if you already saw this on Facebook.  I'll add a few extra details here to try to make it a little interesting.

I was sitting at work this evening and the bright late afternoon sun caught me in the face.  Slightly blinded, I looked out the window and saw a glorious sky over the mountains.  The cloud formations were just incredible, and the afternoon sun was doing its best to compete.  I decided that I wanted to try to get out and enjoy the spectacular evening, and perhaps capture some of it on film (eh, memory card...?).  I left work shortly thereafter (I was there late - it wasn't like 2pm or anything ;-), hurried home to drop off my bag and grab a jacket, and hustled to the bus stop.  Now, when you are chasing the sun, it is important to remember that the sun has the advantage.  This is probably due to the fact that the sun doesn't take public transportation.  I think my bus this evening stopped at every possible stop and got caught at every red light...or we went to Wakkanai Park via Chicago.

Eventually, we arrived at my destination.  I hopped off the bus and realized that I had chosen the wrong destination and now had some extra walking to do.  Oh, well.  I made it to my mountain and started the ascent to the park.  I tried to keep up a good clip, which wasn't easy due to the fact that I was still in my work clothes - a top and sweater and an ankle-length skirt.  I finally arrived at the top, completely slightly winded.

I missed most of the gorgeous light, but the view was really beautiful anyhow.  The deepening twilight heightened the view of the city below, which was just starting to twinkle with lights.  I hung out up there for a little while, taking some random pictures and video.  I wanted to get back down before it was completely dark, so I headed down the path...literally.

As I approached a forested area where the path met a road for cars, I heard a rustling in the brushes.  It kind of sounded like a bird, so I didn't think much of it.  It's amazing how loud birds are when they are in the brush!  You hear something that sounds like Godzilla, and then a tiny sparrow hops out.  Well, this time it really wasn't a bird.  A fox popped out of the woods instead and trotted by.  Then another fox came out.  Then I heard the rustling everywhere!  Well, I did what any brave person would do in that situation...I froze.  A woman came by then.  She was walking her dog, so I tried to act cool while foxes randomly popped out of the bushes.  It was probably the same two foxes just trying to scare us.  I didn't get any pictures of the foxes, because it was such a surprise to see them (plus, all I could think about was the interesting fact we learned at orientation about foxes carrying some horrible parasite).

I finally decided it was probably safe to venture further down the path - I had been hanging out in the wide open road.  I pulled my camera out of my purse in case I saw another one (this is also usually a good guarantee that all wildlife will head for the next prefecture).  Well, see another one I did, and this one was standing right in the middle of my path.  Fox Wayne.  I think a tumbleweed blew by.  This fox was one cool customer - the flash from my camera completely did not faze him.  He knew he was standing just out of range.  He even sat down in the path at one point.  I tried to get more pictures of him, but he was too sneaky.  Well, he finally decided he'd had enough pictures (he was probably seeing lots of flashes every time he blinked), and pretended to go away.  I saw that he was just at the edge of the bushes, but I didn't think he'd try anything, so I cautiously passed him on the trail.  Well, that rascally critter started at me as soon as I'd passed him.  One healthy "Mwark!" from me sent him on his way, though.

I was very happy to reach the end of that path (and civilization) very soon afterwards.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day!!

Happy Labor Day, America!  I hope you enjoy your day off from work today!  I'm all finished with Monday and it's on to Tuesday now!

I really have nothing to say...I'm just kind of goofing off because I have internet.  Oh, I went to a Russian restaurant for dinner this evening with the other ALTs in town.  The food was great and I had a wonderful time hanging out with new friends.  I actually meant to be a good girl and eat healthfully today...but...oh, well.  This probably explains how I walk miles and miles (kilometers and kilometers???) and don't lose any weight.

Here are some answers for curious minds:
1) The blue box you see in my bathroom is the tub, and here you don't shower in the tub.  You actually shower on the land outside the tub, so the room is kind of like one giant shower.
2) Communication generally works pretty well - many people here actually speak at least a few words of English.  Also, it turns out that my time in the mime group at Belhaven was not wasted.
3) If you want to add a slideshow to your blog, just go to Picasa web albums (if you are on blogger you automatically have an account.  Once there, upload the pictures you want into an album, then look to the right side of the page.  There will be something about a slideshow.  Click until you see embed slideshow.  Click until you get HTML stuff in the middle of the page.  Choose the size slideshow you want (the preview does not reflect the actual size). Copy and paste the code to your blog.  And that's all!  Well, unless you keep choosing the wrong size for the slideshow and have to keep copying and pasting code 1800 times, but I can't imagine that happening...

Oh, I do have one big announcement...I can now basically read katakana, one of the three Japanese alphabets.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Have fun today!!!