Thursday, September 30, 2010

This is exactly why I created nurses. Clean up on aisle three!

Fun student writing:

"My goal is to become a needle nadle nurse. I love children and want to work with babies."

Translation: neonatal nurse.

And this just reminded me of my job and boss during undergrad. We worked with middle schoolers, and had one who wanted to become an architect. She told him he couldn't do it until he learned how to spell it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Truth like-like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.

I feel the need to brag on myself. Look at how pretty this is.

It's for a friend who is having a baby girl in November. And I am now discovering that the problem with crafting things to give away is that I don't think anyone will really like it or actually appreciate it.

I'm going to give it away anyway.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I ain't sayin' she a gold digger.

Best moment of the faculty association meeting today:

One woman is explaining the new additions to the children's library. She finishes by saying that we also have free software to prepare a will. It's a great resource, etc, etc, and can even do other legal documents.

The man next to her says, "Will it do prenups?"

And in my mind:

"Holla we want prenup!" "We want prenup, yeah!"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I just read a 903-page astronomy book in 32.6 seconds.

Book Reviews

Lioness and her Knight by Gerald Morris
The Lioness and Her Knight (The Squire's Tales)
A young adult book set in Arthurian England. This is a young adult book that is really a tween book. It has absolutely no redeeming qualities. The characters are flat, the story is utterly predictable, and it's slow moving.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Mysterious Benedict Society
A young adult fantasy about a group of brilliant youngsters who save the world. This was a good read. It is clever, a completely unique story, and very smart. I highly recommend it. My favorite part was the girl's bucket.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (number 2 in the Percy Jackson series)
The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
The series remained good for the second one. The descriptions of the gods, especially when they become human are very clever.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
House Rules: A Novel
Picoult likes to write novels about hot topic issues. I loved her "My Sister's Keeper" but got burnt out after I tried to read every book that she wrote. It's been a while, and so when Heather recommended this one, I was surprised, but decided to try it. It was a really good read. The issue that Picoult deals with is autism and she does a good job of expressing how everyone in a family deals with it when a member of the family has autism.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the third book in the Hunger Games)
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)
I love the Hunger Game series. It is really engaging. Again with the third book, I couldn't put it down. I was disappointed with the end though.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

She would go all the way to Italy for a stamp in her passport.

You thought I got through my entire trip to Japan in just 4 posts. Ha!

Actually the funnier part of that is I started the Japan posts and put part 1. And then Heather called me and said, "You only got through one day in part one!! How many parts are there going to be?!!" Of course the answer to that is: As many as I want.

Just some random reflections.

When I go on vacation with my sisters, there is always a food tour component. Carla (in particular) is still talking about the place we had breakfast in Chicago -- the Bongo Room. If you've checked out Heather's blog over the summer, you have certainly seen some of the amazing food she had in Japan.

I got kind of worried about that before I went. Heather was bummed she couldn't take me to all of the amazing restaurants, but I told her we would just have to consider this not a food tour. As unfortunate as it is.

Despite all that, I still ate some really amazing food. All of Heather's pictures of food were very Top Chef looking. And that carries over into all of the food. The Japanese are very serious about quality. They want things to be consistent and to look right. The other amazing thing is the fruit. It's incredibly expensive, but it tastes so amazing.

And I just keep thinking, sure, I can buy 2 lbs of strawberries for $2.50 in America, but when they have no flavor, why do I want to?

And oh the grapes! So, so good.

People have asked me if I learned any Japanese while I was there. I say sure, I learned konichiwa and arrigato.

And what I realized is that more than learning a spoken language, I learned the non-verbal language. I learned to bow. I can't even joke and tell people the two words that I learned without bowing.

It was so funny to me to walk through the train station and see the businessmen bow to each other. Even better than that were the people who bowed to the elevators. And best of all, the workers who bowed to the buses.

And I got another stamp in my passport.

Apparently I was way too out of it when I arrived in Tokyo, because I didn't even notice them put the stamp in. But then I flipped through my passport prior to departure and got really excited because there is a nice big stamp.

Which just makes me think (skip to about minute 8):

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oh yes there's more. But only the first one's free.


Day 9: Tuesday
We got up and took the train out to Odiba. Tokyo is right on the water and one of the interesting things is that they have built man-made islands in Tokyo Bay. One of those islands is Odiba and there are a couple of others. We went to the one that has the Sea Life Aquarium.

The entrance to the aquarium.

This was so cool! We walked up and thought that there was just this nice reflecting pool and some sails for decoration. Then as we started to walk by, all these fountains started spraying water, so that it looked like a wave slowly starting and then coming straight toward us.

Heather and I really like aquariums. So we were pretty excited about this place. In the brochure they gave us, they said that they would have a penguin presentation. So we walked quick and got out to the penguins just in time for the show.

We felt really bad for all these penguins because they were in an outdoor area, and it was so hot. We waited for a few minutes for the penguin show to start.

And then we realized that the presentation was all in Japanese.


So we turned and walked back, because the signs inside were in English and Japanese.

We saw giant tuna, our bet was 75 pounds for the biggest one. We saw tons of other fish, jellyfish, and creepy crawlies.

They also had two petting areas. In the first one I touched a sea-urchin type spiny thing. In the second they had sharks and sting rays. I walked over, and stood with a ton of little Japanese kids to touch the shark. A little shark swam by and I got to touch it. It was surprisingly rough, like sandpaper. Then I kept trying to touch the sting ray. But every time I reached for it, a little kid jumped in the way and scared the sting ray, so it swam out of my reach.

Of course Heather stood to the side with a look on her face like oh no I am not touching that!

This was the first day Heather and I tried out our bentos. She made a good stir fry, so we loaded veggies and shrimp in the top section and rice in the bottom. The aquarium had a nice big lunch room so we sat there and ate our lunch. It was really interesting to see what all the Japanese families packed for their picnics.

Then we went home. I wasn't feeling good I had a really bad headache that just wouldn't go away. So even though I felt bad, we just skipped the rest of our Odiba plans and went home and watched Bones.

Day 10: Wednesday
I was feeling better, but Heather and I decided to just stay home and have a fun "sick" day. We watched Bones all day, and Heather taught me how to knit. She started me on a little hat because Liz says knitting in the round is easiest.

Day 11: Thursday
We took an easy start to the day, just hanging out at the apartment. Then we decided to go to Fabric Town. This was a district just like the Kitchen district that we went to back on the first day. But everything was fabric. It was really cool. There were just streets after streets of stores full of fabric.

Heather was looking for fabric to make a kimono quilt out of, and I was just looking.

We went into one store and Heather found some cool little pieces of fabric. And then we really liked some of the buttons they had. In this store they had huge long tables with boxes of buttons the whole way down. Unfortunately, the buttons Heather really liked were $11 each. So she decided not to get them.

Then we went to another store and found little rolls of fabric that had Japanese style patterns on them. Heather liked those for her kimono quilt, so we spent a while finding coordinating patterns and shades.

We kept walking down the street and came to some shops that sold the fabric already cut. I found a really cool pattern, so I bought a couple yards of it. I think I will make a skirt out of it.

After we finished fabric shopping, we went to the Sumida River and got on the Sumida River Cruise. It was a little bit drizzly that day, but the boat was covered, so we got to sit inside and just watch the river.

There are tons of bridges the whole way down the river. Each is a different style and a different color. They were pretty cool to see, but hard to really get good pictures of.

The boat dropped us at the dock at Odiba. So we looked over and could see the Statue of Liberty. Yup, its a replica of the one in New York. And smaller.

We decided to take the train home. We met up with Tim and went to the neighborhood sushi place again. It was much busier this evening than the first time we went. But the food was still delicious.

We went home and watched the latest episode of Top Chef.

Day 12: Friday
Heather had gotten a little worried about getting everything packed and ready to go. We spent so much time running all over Tokyo that she was feeling like she ran out of time to really get ready to go. So we decided to keep it easy on Friday. She worked on packing in the morning.

Then we went out to the Meiji Shrine. This is a really big area, it has a park with a path and then you walk up to the actual temple. They had signs and explanations along the way. While reading one of the signs, I learned that Meiji was actually an emperor. And that made me finally realize that the emperors became deities. Maybe people would trash talk less if we went with something like that here.

There were these huge gates throughout the park.

The washing area before you walk into the temple.

Heather at the entrance.

The main temple. Heather explained that this is not a Buddhist temple, and that's why it's not red and gold.

After we finished wandering around the Meiji shrine, we walked across the street to some of the shopping. There are a lot of the popular stores in this part of town, so we walked into Gap, Forever 21, etc. And then there is a street like the one beside Ueno Park with all the vendors. This one didn't have the displays of fish though. But they did have tons of crepe stands.

This is the entrance to the shopping street. It was crazy busy and crowded.

After shopping for a while, we went home. When Tim got back from work, we watched the finale of So You Think You Can Dance. Heather had already caught me up on some of the best dances. But with the finale, we got to see some repeated. They wanted to redo one of the best dances, but one of the dancers had gotten injured. So they did it with Ellen. It was awesome and so cool.

Then we went out to Roppongi Hills and had dinner at a restaurant called Xen.

Day 13: Saturday
This was the bummer day. Time to fly home.

The amazing part of this day was how long it took to get to the Narita airport. It took for-ev-er! When you travel that long with large suitcases, it is easy to hurt yourself. So I rolled over my toe, and bashed my knee, and Heather told me she hurt herself pretty bad getting off the train.

The other amazing thing was the airport itself. I wandered around and they have stores like Coach and Luis Vuitton in the airport, along with other super fancy stores.

I didn't get a row to myself on the return flight, but I didn't have a little kid kicking my chair the whole way, so it was fine.

It was a great vacation and an amazing experience. A huge thanks again to Heather and Tim for inviting me and taking care of me for two weeks.

Please sir, can I have some more?


Shibuya Crossing
So I've mentioned already that Heather and Tim live by one of the busiest train stations ever. One of the side-effects of this is that they also live by one of the busiest intersections ever. The arrangement for this intersection is pretty impressive. They have lights, of course, for all the cars and the cars follow a normal pattern. But then the cars all get a red light and the automotive traffic comes to a complete stop. Then all the people get to walk. This winds up being hundreds of people walking from all directions and the center of the intersection just becomes a sea of people.

It's even more impressive at night because of the lights that are reminiscent of Times Square.

The cars.

The people waiting.

Day 6: Saturday
Heather and I took an hour long train ride out to Kamakura.

We packed lunch. This was actually quite the adventure all week. I am on a super restrictive diet and Heather was incredibly kind and considerate. She planned and prepared all kinds of things and worked hard to make sure I could eat everything without getting sick. It was really great.

We started the week by trying to make sushi-style rolls. We took sheets of seaweed, loaded it with rice and then veggies. This is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. It takes a lot of practice to roll it right so that everything fits and stays loaded. Our combinations were also not the most flavorful. (The secret I think is rice vinegar. I bought some when I got home. Makes a world of difference).

On this Saturday, we switched it up and got spring roll wrappers. These were quick and pretty easy. We filled them with lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and shrimp. Even Heather thought they were pretty good.

When we got to Kamakura we walked up to the temple grounds and ate our picnic at the nice picnic tables. There are not a lot of places in Tokyo that have real picnic tables, so it was kind of a fun treat.

This is the main temple.

Heather actually has the rest of the pictures I took on this little jaunt. My camera batteries ran out of juice. It felt like a perpetual problem -- probably because I was trying so hard to be a good Japanese tourist and take pictures of absolutely everything. Anyway, I hadn't charged my spare pair, so Heather let me use her camera.

The temple was really cool and there were statues of Buddhas all over. Then we walked up a path that took us up the side of the mountain. It was really gorgeous, and we could look out over to the ocean. It was a sultry, steamy, super hot day, so everyone was out in the water and there were a lot of windsurfers, which was pretty cool. And then a huge hawk glided by us.

When we walked back down, we took a little side path that took us into a cave. There were people working on some statues in the main cave. We couldn't figure out if they were carving the statues or just restoring them.

The path continued and we walked farther and farther. We had to crouch down, and ended up doubled over, squeezing through these tiny spaces. Honestly it creeped me out a little. Being squished that tight in the dark isn't really my idea of fun, so I kind of skipped the room we were headed toward so that we could just get out of there.

After we finished at the temple, we walked down the street to a giant Buddha statue. Ok, I'm sure that there are more technical names for all of these places, but I don't remember all of them. At any rate, in Kamakura there is a giant Buddha. We read how tall it is, and Heather said it is actually taller than the Statue of Liberty (not counting the base on the Statue of Liberty which is how it gets all of its height). The Buddha was cool and you can actually go inside. We did. It was amazingly hot! All that bronze and we just cooked inside. So we left pretty quickly.

Then we went down to the beach. Heather's determination was that it was a typical pacific coast beach. I just know it wasn't a beautiful North Carolina beach. But it was fun to stand there with our feet in the water for a little while.

Then we caught the train back home just in time to cool off a little and go to have dinner with a little family that Heather and Tim are friends with.

Day 7: Sunday
We got up and went to church. It was in English, so that was cool.

Then Heather made the tuna that turned out to be salmon for dinner. But it was really good anyway. One of Tim's friends from church came and that was fun. We also played a couple rounds of Uno.

Day 8: Monday
Heather and I picked Monday as our shopping day. We went to Loft -- or as the Japanese say Rofto -- we looked for a Bento because Heather thought it would be perfect for me with the type of food I eat. Then we went to Mono and a little furniture shop. The shop wasn't that little, but the furniture was. It was pretty hilarious, because for us Americans, it looked like little kid furniture.

For lunch we went to a standing sushi bar.

It's a popular lunch spot. You just walk in and stand at the counter and tell the guys -- the sushi chefs -- what you want. They work quick and keep slapping different things in front of you. It was all good and we tried a few different things.

After finishing our shopping excursion, we went home. We probably watched some episodes of Bones. Heather was working on Season 4, so we were having fun watching it together.

Then we decided to go out to the Tokyo Tower for sunset.

We took the train down to that part of town, then walked through the temple that is close to the Tower.

We went up to the first observation level and picked out a spot facing west to watch the sunset. It was kind of cloudy, so the sunset wasn't quite as spectacular as we had hoped it would be. But what was amazing about the view was watching the lights come on throughout the whole city.

I kept comparing the view to the Hancock Tower in Chicago. Heather and Carla and I went up that at night and when you look out at Chicago you can see the city and where the city ends. But when all the lights come on in Tokyo there is no visible end to the city. It goes as far as you can see. It's pretty amazing.

After we walked around the lower observation, we went up another level to the highest observation level. You can see even farther, clear out to the island of Odiba. But there still isn't an end to the city.

Monday, September 6, 2010

All I ever wanted was to travel to far off exotic places


Day 3
Heather and I went to Ueno Park. This is a huge park in the middle of the city surrounded by museums. It's a lot like Central Park in New York.

We saw a puppet story teller. Too bad we couldn't understand the story.

We went to the Science Museum. When we were paying fr our tickets, I went first. I was really confused when the clerk handed money back to me. I can read numbers after all. Seeing my confused look the clerk said, "Ladies Day." (Imagine it with a Japanese accent). Heather and I were pretty stoked.

The museum was doing a special exhibit on sea life. They had giant skeletons of huge whales. The disappointing part was that all of the displays were in Japanese. Fortunately Heather and I are well-educated and brilliant, so we could figure out what each display was talking about.

There was also this giant statue of a whale outside. Isn't Heather's hat cute?

That evening we went to a baseball game. We met up with a bunch of people from Tim and Heather's English-speaking ward. Our team was the Swallows, and it was pretty funny to hear everyone imitate the Japanese pronunciation of "swallows."

Heather and I took the train, so we went to the grocery store in the train station and bought sushi and edamame to take to the game. Tim rode his scooter, because he had to leave for work meetings.

Aren't they so cute and coordinated?

This is the best part of the game. Every time the Swallows got a homerun, everyone in the stadium would stand up, open up their little umbrellas and sing. It was so awesome!

And fireworks.

Day 4
Thursday morning we got up and went to the temple. It is a small building tucked on a busy street. They have an English session on Thursdays, so it was nice to have people speak English.

Inside there is beautiful Japanese art, mountains and cherry blossoms.

This is the Shibuya crossing, right outside of the train station.

This is the statue of the faithful dog who waited for his master every day.

Then in the afternoon we went to Roppongi Hills and went up the Mori Tower. Roppongi Hills is a shopping center. They have a very tall tower so there is a 360 degree observatory at the top. This is the tower.

You can see the Tokyo Tower.

Out to the Rainbow Bridge.

After we walked all the way around, we went upstairs to a really cool art museum. The museum featured 3 Japanese artists and how they interpret nature.

We walked into the first room and I stood there blinking because it was so bright and white. And then the snow storm started.

It was so cool!

There are fans inside and they turn on and blow the feathers all over. I actually really wanted to be able to climb inside and move the piles of feathers around so they weren't all piled up in the same place.

In this display, you crawl underneath a paper mache "ground" and stick your head up through the holes so you can see the forest.

When we finished with the museum we walked outside of Roppongi Hills, there are a lot of unusual statues outside of it.

After we finished sightseeing, we went home and met up with Tim to go eat sushi. Tim's friend Jonathan came and joined us. They had a really good time entertaining the sushi chefs.

My tuna nigri. Yum-o.

After our delicious sushi, we went to a restaurant called Jonathan's and got blueberries and ice cream. I just got blueberries. Tim and Jonathan told us hilarious stories about their missions and we all laughed and laughed.

Day 5 -- Friday
In the morning, Heather and I went to the grocery store. We got up and out early, so we were there before the store opened. We sat outside and waited for a while. We were picking up some food for our Saturday trip and also for Sunday dinner. Heather found a recipe for Tuna with Mango Salsa. It was my job to help pick out the right fruit. We were successful with the mangoes and all the other vegetables we needed. But then we got over to the fish counter. We walked up and down looking for tuna. Finally Heather picked up a packet of fish and took it over to ask someone.

She said, "Tuna?" He said, "Yes."

Turns out it was salmon.

Then we spent the morning watching So You Think You Can Dance. I haven't watched it at all this summer, so I had to get caught up a little bit.

Then Heather and I went out to Ueno park again. We decided to go to the Tokyo National Museum.

First though, we walked through a shopping street right next to Ueno Park.

The best part of this street was the amazing amount of fish. Just hanging out there.

Also I got some boxes of candy. One for each of the friends who drove me to or picked me up from the airport and one for my friends at work. Everyone at work totally loved the candy. They said they were like soft jolly ranchers.

These are the manhole covers in Ueno Park.

We saw some more performers. This one was blowing balloon animals.

This is the Tokyo National Museum. It was all about art and all its different forms in Japan and how it has changed through the years. Heather and I were expected a little more about history. But there were some very interesting things there.

There were tons of Buddhas too. Big Buddhas, little Buddhas.

To finish out the day, we went to dinner at a shabu shabu place. They bring you a big pot of broth and put it on an induction heat top that is in the middle of your table. Then they bring you a big bowl of vegetables. The waitress picks out the firmer veggies and drops them in the pot. Then you pick out things like lettuce and swish them through the pot, add them to your bowl, and eat the whole thing. It was a very interesting experience. But once we got down to the end, the broth had reduced a lot and was delicious. That was the best part.