November 2005 Archives

Vivid Sunset

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Looking southwest at 16:41.

With Venus at 16:53.

How to Throw a Matsuri

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When we go to Australia next month, we'll be throwing a little summer matsuri in the seaside village of Elliston (population about 200). We want to share the fun of a Japanese summer festival, but what are the key elements and where can you get them?

  • Games: fishing, lucky draw, prizes
  • Decorations: lanterns, bunting, happi coats
  • Music: the traditional odori songs
  • Food: Takoyaki, yakisoba, cotton candy, shaved ice, beer

Knowing where to get all this stuff--boxes of cheap plastic toys, lottery tickets, bingo cards, party costumes--makes me feel very settled in Japan. I'm not sure why.

Since our budget is very small, we won't be doing all of the above, but we'll fill in as many of the blanks as possible. It will be fun for us and I hope for the Ellistonians, too. If you happen to be in Elliston on December 20th, I don't think you'll have any trouble finding us.

Crazy Artist

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Walking along the neighborhood shopping street near T's new place yesterday, we stopped to pet a huge shaggy grey cat perched on a makeshift plywood table. At the other end of the table was an older woman, long grey hair pulled back from her face, wearing clothes that looked like they'd been worn a long time. She was drawing pictures in colored pencil.

I have a feeling she is the local character who is a touch crazy but harmless. It's hard to tell in broken Japanese. She seemed happy to chat with us foreigners.

Turns out she's writing and illustrating a children's book. She gave us a plot summary and rummaged through her packrat collection of boxes and art supplies to locate a picture she wanted to show us. She sketched us a rose. I showed her my sketchbook from Paris and we traded compliments.

Despite our 15 minute conversation, we never exchanged names. But I know where to find her, as she seemed to be parked outside her own home--wedged between the fish market and the futon shop. I'll have to go back in a few weeks and find out how her meeting with the publisher went.

23% Bigger Spenders

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As reported by Kyodo News (via Japan Today), Japanese men will be buying their partners better gifts this year. They expect to spend, on average, 23,353 yen (about $195) which is 5,596 yen more than last year's present budget.

Women are also planning to spend more. Though that article indicated women were cheaper, becasue they had only added 3,959 yen to their Christmas budget for a total of 17,008 yen ($142), the ratio is just about the same--a 23% increase to the men's 24% increase.

Armed with the information from this report, I'll bet that the department stores have set their pricing accordingly. Sure enough, the first item on Takashimaya's gift list is a 23,000 yen stew pot, followed up by a 263,000 yen crystal chess set, so there may be some wishful thinking over there at the high end of the department store world.


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creative perspectivesThe other night I had a dream about a friend blowing soap bubbles for me as I delightedly chased them around a grassy lawn. The bubbles started out small and numerous but he combined them into bigger and bigger bubbles. I caught a silvery-grey one nearly as tall as me and balanced it on my head. It was viscous and slightly rubbery but delicate and thin and it eventually burst all over me. I woke up then, but I was happy.

Dream bubbles

Today in real life I burst another kind of bubble and I must say I'm feeling happier. I've been keeping a secret from one of my best friends for nearly two years but this afternoon I told her everything. Now my good friend is able to put my odd moods and bizarre behaviours into context. I'm not a total nutter, at least not in the way she imagined.

So it seems that dreams can be not only creative springboards, but springboards for finding real-life actions that express the dreams. Although the dream friend who blew the bubbles that delighted me and the real friend who asked me to keep the secret are not the same person, I can see how bubbles (of delight or deceit) that start small can grow into something huge. But they never last.

I don't know if telling my secret will change my creativity. I feel unburdened, but to be honest, I'm a little worried that my self-restraint was partly fuelling my abstract drawings. Without the stress of keeping silent, will I lose my ablity to create as I have been?

Jean Englehardt's Excellent Meatloaf

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recipe thursdayJean was a co-worker of Tod's at Weld Tooling back in the early 1990s. This juicy, flavorful meatloaf is one of her specialities. I love all the vegetables that go into it. The pan drippeds make excellent gravy.

The original recipe called for 6 1/2 pounds of meat--enough to feed Jean's extended family and the people who worked in the family business. I've cut it down to feed a more reasonable number of people, but it's still a big meatloaf.

Jean Englehardt's Excellent Meatloaf
serves 8-10

2 lbs ground meat [80% beef (or beef/pork), 20% turkey/chicken]
1 carrot, grated
2 celery stalks, grated
1 green peppers grated
1 onion, chopped (not grated)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp parsley flakes
pinch basil flakes
2 pinches MSG
2 pinches oregano
pinch celery salt
pinch ground sage
pinch tarragon flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp oil
1 c Italian style bread crumbs
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 t salt
1 egg

Saute vegetables and spices in oil for 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Combine bread crumbs, parmesan, salt and eggs. Mix in cooled vegetables. Blend thoroughly. Add meats and form meatloaf. Bake at 350 for an hour.

MT Upgraded

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MToverview.pngCheers to Tod and a big thanks to MJ for today's upgrade to the most current version of Movable Type, the weblog software that underlies this site and eight others.

Though I believe that you won't see anything different from this vantage point, under the hood we have lots of new bits to play with--including the ability to automatically junk comment spam. So I hope that from here forward you'll stumble into fewer comments touting the latest trends in alchemical wonders and the world's oldest profession.

If you do have any trouble with the site, or discover an oddity, please mail me.

Let's Drink & Read Ulysses


UlyssesOne of my LibriVox assignments needs some help.

James Joyce's Ulysses is being parcelled out to readers. Unlike most LibriVox readings, which are done in a quiet place and edited to remove any mistakes, this one is going to be better if done at a bar, drinking Guinness, with lots of voices chiming in.

Here's a snippet from Wikipedia about the book:

Ulysses chronicles the passage through Dublin by its main character, Leopold Bloom, during an unremarkable day, June 16, 1904.

Ulysses is [...] celebrated for its groundbreaking stream-of-consciousness technique, highly experimental prose—full of puns, parodies, allusions—as well as for its rich characterizations and broad humor.

It's very funny and I have the best part--breakfast!!!

Who wants to help me read my 20 page chunk? We can either take characters (you be Leopold's voice, I'll read his thoughts, etc. I already have a friend lined up to do the meowing!), or you can have a whole page to yourself.

I'm thinking about a reading in early December on a weekday evening. At a bar (preferably Irish). I'll buy the first round. Everyone is welcome, even if you think you read terribly or are not sure you'd be good.

Sign up in the comments below and let me know what day's best for you.

Vegetable Life?


Edible parts inside.

See also Vegetable Life? on Flickr

3 Bikes, Shinjuku


3 Bikes, Shinjuku. 12:05 - 12:50 pm

I had fun on the sketchcrawl, though it was only me and a patient non-drawing Tod (who slipped into Kinokuniya and bought me books as a surprise when I finished my drawing!)

I hope a few more people turn up next time...

Come sketchcrawl


creative perspectivesGather up your sketchbooks and drawing materials tonight and get ready to come out into tomorrow's sunny, brisk weather to draw!

When: noon - 3
Where: Kinokuniya bookstore, Shinjuku (at Takashimaya Times Square)

My tentative plan is to plop down in the Kinokuniya plaza and draw the grey granite and shoppers, then pack up, grab a coffee, and move towards Kabukicho for some frantic color and bustle, and make one last stop in the greener pastures of Shinjuku Gyoen. If you turn up and have a better idea, then our destinations may change.

See you there?

Mint Patties


recipe thursdayWhen we were little, Mom & Dad would take us to dinner at a nearby motel with a not-too-bad restaurant. The owners befriended our family and my sister and I played outside with their kids while the grown-ups had coffee. I can't remember the names of the kids, their parents, or even the motel but I do remember the mints that Mrs. Motel used to make.

They were tinted pale green, buttery and soft in the middle, and they dried to a slightly crispy texture on the outside. She penned the recipe for us, but it's long gone. This one is simliar, but not quite as good as I remember.

Homemade Mint Patties
makes 3 dozen

1/2 cup butter, softened
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil or extract
2-3 drops green food coloring

Cream the butter and sugar together until perfectly smooth. Blend in the cream, mint oil and coloring. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. Allow to set for an hour or so. Store in airtight container.

UPDATE: Mom sent me the original recipe. The Hide-a-Way Inn mints use a different butter-liquid ratio, but are essentially the same.


Magic Scissors


Satin, burnout velvet, chiffon, and cotton velvet for a party dress

I wish I had magic scissors and a team of elvish tailors. But I don't so I'd better get to drafting the pattern for this dress.

Digging for details


Xanga profiles of the teens in question

In rural Pennsylvania this weekend, a young man shot and killed his younger girlfriend's parents after an argument over her curfew, then left with the girl. They've been found in Indiana and police are investigating.

And so are the reporters. The Philadelphia Inquirer has discovered the Xanga weblogs of both the young man and the daughter and extracted from them their interests and grammatical errors. Of course, the paper focused on the things that made him look disreputable and her look sweet.

I looked at their sites. They seem to be typical American teenagers. Entirely human.

They both like candy. He hunts deer with his friends. They both like Christian rock music. She plays soccer. He is precious about his hair. She belongs to her church youth group. She doesn't use capitals. He writes in full sentences. They both invoke God in praise.

There's nothing there to foreshadow what happened this weekend.

If I should ever become a criminal or the vicitim of a crime, what might reporters deduce about me from my weblog? Probably all the wrong things. Bad tendencies and good deed are feely intermingled on mediatinker, as well as terrible typing and an inherited tendency toward too many commas.

On the platform

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I can't think, can't act. I'm waiting for an arrival, but nothing's posted on the board to say when it's due.

All the projects that were going forward have gotten tired of waiting and turned around, impatient to be moving again in any direction, and are heading away.

When the train pulls into the station and my ideas get out, lugging their valises and looking for the redcap, I'll be there with the car at the curb, ready to tumble the suitcases into the boot and drive off to catch the scattered projects and get them back to work.

Shinagawa View


View of Tokyo from a 24th floor Shinagawa apartment. (Click for larger view)

Congratulations to Egon & Naoko on securing one of the best views in the city.

Sketchcrawl - Sat Nov 19

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creative perspectivesBorrowing an idea from Danny Gregory at Everyday Matters, I'm planning a sketchcrawl in Tokyo. Come draw in the field and meet other people who like to do the same.

Let's meet on Saturday, November 19th at noon at Kinokuniya Bookstore (out side the ground floor entrance) in Shinjuku.

We'll wander around Shinjuku, get in the way of holiday shoppers, and spend 45 minutes or so at three or four locations to draw what's around us. If the weather is too cold, we'll move indoors--goodness knows there are lots of places to get a coffee in Shinjuku--and sketch what we see out the windows.

A recent outdoor drawing

The sketchcrawl is open to everyone. No experience required.

As Danny said in his invitation to his sketchcrawl in NYC, "I would urge you to bring something to draw on and with and a little folding money to purchase hot libations along the way." Good advice!

Hope to see you next Saturday. Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions or want more information.

Pantry list


recipe thursdayRecently, I've run out of some of the basic items in my pantry and I feel naked without them. But before I restock, I thought I'd take stock and see how many different meals I can create with my basics.

In the pantry cupboard:

  • Whole tomatoes (canned)
  • Tuna in oil
  • Anchovies
  • Green olives
  • Black olives
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • White and brown rices
  • Pastas of various shapes
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin
  • Salt, pepper, dried garlic chips
  • Olive oil, basalmic vinegar
  • Bullion cubes

And in the fridge:

  • Eggs
  • Onions
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise

From these items, I can make

  1. Pasta Putenesca
  2. Pasta with garlic oil and anchovies
  3. Spaghetti with tuna and olives
  4. Tuna noodle casserole
  5. Risoto
  6. Rice casserole
  7. Tomato soup
  8. Onion soup
  9. Omelettes
  10. Biscuits
  11. Onion rings

And I imagine there are more dishes to be found in that list.

What invaluable items are in your pantry? Do I need to revise my list?

LibriVox redesign

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The new, improved LibriVox page

I just completed a web redesign project for LibriVox and I've never been more pleased with a collaborative effort before. It was nearly effortless, in fact.

I pitched in with the design and CSS coding, Chris in Sydney handled the SQL and server bits, and a bevy of helpful LibriVoxers in Canada and the US tested and critiqued. With everyone's input we made a huge improvement to the site in less than 48 hours. Nary a meeting, not a single phone call and no bruised egos.

The best thing is that the new design makes it easier for visitors to read our free audiobooks. And those with a desire to record chapters with us should have no trouble figuring out how.

And now that we have 10 books completed and another seventeen in the pipe, we should be seeing more traffic.

If you want to join in and read a chapter or two, visit the site, claim a chapter and record!


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One last tickle fight among the Australian Romping Girls

Jo's off to graduate school in Oz after 8 years in Tokyo. We'll miss her tons, but we'll see her at Christmas in Australia and after that, well, she gives us another excuse to visit Adelaide.

Bon voyage!

Beyond surprising

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Skinnless kyouho (giant grapes) stuffed with foie gras. Skewered. Breaded. Deep fried.

Only in Japan. Only at Hantei. Quite good, though decidedly strange. Check for it on Recipe Thursday soon.

No cats


All of the neighborhood cats, usually stretched out in sunny alleys or hunkered under parked cars watching one another, have disappeared.

In their place are signs neatly laser printed and tucked into protective plastic folders explaining that recently there have been a number of incidents where cats have been killed. The causes were not stated, but the signmaker implores people to "Please be careful of your pets and children."

It's very sad. I miss the cats.

Doing with Dreams


creative perspectivesWhat do you do with your dreams?

I sometimes have dreams with good storylines. They could be expanded into a short story--sometimes they even feel like a film. But usually I forget them upon waking. And when I do recall them, I don't usually act upon them.

My sister keeps a dream journal. Other friends do as well. But what do they do with their dreams after they write them down? Is the writing an exercise in emptying the brain? Or does it somehow cement the ideas and allow the creative artist to use them?

Here's a dream I had this week. What could I do with this?

A secret band of people were poisoning doctors and teachers (and others) with gas emitted from clock-radios. The gas worked very strangely: if you breathed fresh air, it worked faster; if you stayed in a sealed room with the gas it killed you more slowly. If you only breathed a tiny, tiny bit, then escaped into the fresh air you might survive, but since the gas was odorless, that didn't usually happen. So you had to decide what to do - stay in and die or go out and die.

When I discovered I was in a poisoned room, I held my breath and started collecting things to take outside with me--I remember grabbing the Zous to keep them safe.

There was an antidote, but since the killers were targetting doctors, nobody knew how to administer it.

I suppose I could start that secret band of poisoners. It was highly effective.

Sachi's Birthday Beans

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recipe thursdayWe had an impromptu dinner party the other day and it turned out to be our friend Sachi's birthday. I was testing this recipe on the guests and it was good enough to give a name. So it's Sachi's Birthday Beans.

Sachi's Birthday Beans
serves 4-5

2 cans white beans
1 2" wide slab unsliced bacon or pancetta
1 carrot
1 onion
8 button mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vinegar
1 Tblsp olive oil
pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into 1" cubes. Cut the carrot, onion and mushrooms into similar sized pieces. Mince the garlic.

In an oven-safe casserole dish, heat the olive oil. Fry the bacon until slightly crispy. Add the carrot, onion and garlic, sautee until the onions begin to turn transparent.

Deglaze the pan with some of the broth. Drain the beans and rinse them well before adding to the casserole. Toss in the mushrooms and stir. Season with herbs, sugar, vinegar and pepper.

The casserole can be cooked on the stovetop over a low flame or in a warm oven (100 C) for several hours. The longer the better, as it allows the smoky bacon flavor to permeate the beans. Three hours worked nicely on Sachi's birthday.

Serve with salad, crusty bread and a bottle of wine.


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Our new passports arrived today, less than two weeks after we sent in our applications. We are valid to travel through October 2015.

Although ours do not contain RFID chips, there are some differences in the new passports.

  1. Digital photo: they photo I sent in was scanned. In the process, it lost a lot of its contrast, so I look like a mound of hair over a pair of beady eyes and a smile floating in pinkish space. I have neither eyebrows nor cheeks and my nose is nearly invisible.
  2. Holograms: the ID page is covered with a number of US-themed holograms that make it very difficult to read the printed information and see the photo. I guess as long as machine can read the codes along the bottom, that's all that matters.
  3. Font: the computer generated text on the new ID page is in a smaller sans serif font. It's much harder to read the passport number and other data in the condensed numerals they've used.
  4. New language: the headings in the old passport were in English and French. The new version adds Spanish.
  5. Important Information: expanded by one page to cover pages 2-7. The revised and reorganised text includes less detail about the topics mentioned, but lots of URLs. This is all printed in purple, instead of the old dark blue.

No Luck


My only winning horse.

Today was the Melbourne Cup luncheon. I was sure that with the spread of horses I'd managed to collect in the various sweeps, bets and the calcutta that I'd win something--I had 11 different horses in the field of 24. But not a single one of them came in.

Flemington in felt.

But no matter, there was still the "fashions on the field" contest to come.

Tracey, Ashley and I laboured over the weekend on our hats, constructing a three-part racetrack from felt. I designed and sewed the hats together and the three of us decorated them with little horses, flags, a grandstand, start and finish lines. We even included sponsor logos.

Alas, we were trumped by a wide-brimmed feather-covered hat with marshmallows dangling from it like the corks people used to hang from their hats to keep away flies.

Better luck next year.

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