February 2007 Archives

Oldest blogger?



Olive Riley was born on October 20, 1899 at Broken Hill, Australia. This month, she started a blog to share her stories. How wonderful is that? I hope I'm blogging an interesting day's experiences at 107.

Life of Riley




I guess the icons on the buttons aren't clear enough to indicate open & close.

House Dreaming


A rooftop garden solves the "I want more land than we can afford" problem.

Land is still not at hand, but I have a good idea of what we'll build on it. We will end up with a house that is a blend of Japanese tradition and Western conveniences. Reminiscent of the 1930s in use of light and space, but built with 21st century materials. Frank Lloyd Wright is an inspiration to me & Tod, and to our architect, too. Yay!

Over dinner with Misa and Yutaka last night, I showed Misa this photo from a magazine:

A 1930s Japanese elementary school hallway

This is what I'd like my downstairs hall to look like - sliding doors of glass and wood into the office, bedroom and bath, with bookcases on the other side of the hall with windows above. Misa and Yutaka agreed this was not something a Japanese couple would ask for. I guess having a hall reminiscent of an elementary school is a bit weird and most Nihonjin want Western style homes.

But isn't it a beautiful space?

We talked about the rooftop garden, too. I'm very happy to learn that it's definitely possible. Misa even suggested a rotenburo. That would be a wonderful luxury (imagine the parties we'd have sitting around in our outdoor bath!), but beyond our budget. But we can do trees and plants, no problem.

This lush rooftop garden is in downtown Washington, D.C.

Imagine walking upstairs from the terrace into a garden with shade and color. Follow the path through the garden to my studio packed with creative materials and surfaces to work on. What a treat. I'm hanging out for this!

I know this is a dream, but maybe some of it can become a reality. I do not want a nasty boxy house. I need air and light and greenery. And according to Misa, I need property with a frontage of at least 8 meters, so let me stop dreaming get back to searching...

Mutual Admiration Societies


Last night, at Jim's exhibition opening, I realised how lucky I am to have surrounded myself with interesting, creative people who respect and admire one another. It's a remarkable feeling to be in a crowded bar and know that more than half the people there are friends whose work you know, whose pursuits you've been part of, who frequently influence your creativity, who can fascinate you with descriptions of their latest projects, and who are likely to ask you intelligent questions about your art or theirs.

Three cheers for mutual admiration societies!

Cabbage & Bacon Fettuccine

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Homemade fettuccine topped with cabbage & bacon

Cabbage & Bacon Fettuccine
makes 2 enormous servings

10 slices bacon
1/2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 head cabbage
olive oil
black pepper
freshly made fettuccine

Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Slice the onion, roughly chop the cabbage. Thinly slice the garlic.

In a wok or large pan fry the bacon until crisp. Remove meat to towelling and drain bacon grease from pan but leave any crispy bits. Add some olive oil to the pan and sautée the onion and garlic until the onion turns translucent. Add the cabbage. Allow to cook while you boil the pasta. The cabbage will be completely wilted but still slightly crisp in the ribs.

Put the water on to boil for the pasta. Add fresh noodles, boil for about 3 minutes or until they are cooked through but still al dente. Drain, then drizzle with olive oil.

Return bacon to pan and mix with cabbage. Serve over noodles. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Araku Photo Shoot


The studio setup glows with light in the otherwise dim room

Yesterday I went to Araku to take photographs for their new menu and signage. Ashley poured drinks and styled the food while I "pressed the button." It's been a long time since I've done any real studio shooting, so I was nervous about the results, but I think I managed pretty well.

tequila-lemon.jpg campari-soda.jpg
Tequila with lemon; Campari soda

Next time, I want even more light and a proper lightbox, rather than the on-the-fly one I made with Jim's big light table, a portable light table, and some translucent plastic. The light wasn't even enough in my setup. The grey background I acheived is OK, but I'd have preferred pure white.

Desk Plant Surprise


Bird and Ganesha keep my new plant company

Tod surprised me by coming home from the cleaners with a plant for my desk. It's a beautiful, sweet scented grape hyacinth. I love it.

A Showa House


Yesterday, our wonderful realtor, Matsudate-san, called us urgently. There was a house he really wanted us to see. An old house in Mejirodai, one neighborhood over from us, that will be pulled down next week so the land can be sold. The price of the land, 12,000万円, is too high for us but Matsudate-san knew we'd want to see it anyway - we'd appreciate the house as much as the land it sits on.

The land is great - 125 sq m in a quiet neighborhood. The long, east side abuts the wealthy neighbor's tree-lined driveway, so there's beautiful sunlight on that side of the house, and treetops from the 2nd floor window.

The house, previously owned by Yanagisawa-san and Yamamoto-san (they were family, Matsudate-san hurriedly assured us!), was gorgeous in a way only old houses can be. Built about 50 years ago, it featured wood ceilings and used screens to separate rooms and halls, so it was possible to see from one end of the house to the other.

Out Front
The only "western" room in the house looked out onto the garden (More photos on Flickr)

The colors were mainly worn-in natural browns that nothing new ever competes with and the textures were of tatami, rough plaster and smooth wood. It had plenty of closets (beyond plenty into "wow, they must have had a lot of stuff!" wonderment) , natural light in every room, and quirky things like a stainless steel sink in the second floor hallway.

If I had a million dollars, I'd buy it and rebuilt something just as special on the lot. Alas, we do not have that kind of money, so it will all be bulldozed next week to make way for what will probably be some dull modern building made of petrochemicals.

I'm especially sad that the rock garden and the trees out front will be destroyed. I hope someone rescues the beautiful pine bonsai. Do you think anyone would anyone notice if I went over with a shovel and a burlap bag?

Tod's 2級 results


In December, Tod took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, 2nd level. The test results arrived today - we sat together on the sofa while he carefully peeled back the sheet covering the scores. He passed.

This means that he "has mastered grammar to a relatively high degree, knows around 1,000 kanji and 6,000 words, and has the ability to converse, read, and write about matters of a general nature."

おめでとうございます!Congratulations, Tod! I'm proud of you.

Another Letter

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The official reply (click for a larger version)

In the previous post, I forgot one other letter I sent last week - a note to the post office headquarters. I got a reply this morning - a speedy three day turnaround. Hooray for Japan Post!

I had asked them why some post offices required me to fill out customs forms when sending books overseas, and others just stamped them with Printed Matter. I wanted to know which was the correct way.

It seems both are correct. Printed Matter can weigh up to 5kg, except for Canada and Ireland; Small Packet (which requires a customs form) is up to 2kg and valid everywhere except Afghanistan. The letter suggests I use whichever post office interprets this the way I want. So flexibly Japanese!

Alternate Economies


creative perspectivesThis past week I've visited the post office three times. I mailed out four books, two letters and six envelopes of small miscellany. Every one of these shipments was prompted by the Internet.

Tod said to me, "Wouldn't it be funny if the Internet was what saved the post office?" From the blight caused by e-mail, he meant. People's creativity, and desire for slower, physical interaction (another nod to the slow life) seems to be doing just that.

It reminds me of a short story I read in 1999. Bruce Sterling's Maneki Neko describes an alternate, underground economy of gift giving that's run by a network of computers. Characters get phone calls and e-mails from the system telling them what to do, when and where. In return for their random acts (usually of kindness) they reap benefits of others' anonymous acts.

The networks I belong to are moderated by computers, but with a clearer cause and effect to the exchanges.

Last week's four books went out from Bookmooch requests. Bookmooch is a book trading service with about 8,000 active members and 200,000 books. You list your unwanted books and other people can request them. And of course, you can mooch other people's books. There's a point system to keep things fair. We've mailed out 23 books since September. Nine books have made their way to our house. Our Bookmooch inventory is here, in case you want to mooch from our list and send me to the post office again.

The rest of the mail out went because of Swap-bot. I got turned on to swaps last year when we did the Creative Perspectives CD swap. Swap-bot members are mainly crafters, so a lot of the swaps are for yarn or buttons or collage bits and some are "artist trading cards" or pen-pal style letters. Searching through the swap listings is great fun and there are always a few that tickle my creative fancy: handmade envelopes, matchbox and film canister fills, music mixes, recipes, handmade stuff...

In Sterling's story the government is much concerned with tax evasion from the gift economy. I wonder if the government will twig to these alternate physical economies and start taxing us for books we mooch, or boxes of tiny beads and buttons we exchange? There's talk about how to manage online game economies - the sale of avatars in Second Life, or gear auctioned off in World of Warcraft.

Bake Off


The morning after - leftover breads cosy up on the cutting board. JIm's white, my wheat.

Jim and I got together yesterday to trade bread-making secrets. His bread is always chewy and crusty. Mine is small crumbed and even. I like his better; he prefers mine. So we baked a loaf each and I took notes. His secrets: no oil, bake at a high heat for a short time. My secrets: I don't have any, but it seems to be the oil that gives the bread its fine crumb.

After we baked, we watched a great video on bread making, produced by a community college in Pennsylvania near where we grew up. It has some great tips in it, and a lot of silly local jokes: You're The Chef, #712: Bread Baking .

Here are recipes for both loaves. Jim's White Bread and Kristen's Wheat Bread.

Jim's White Bread
makes a very large loaf

2 cups water at about 40 degrees
2 tsp instant yeast
sprinkling of flour
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt

Mix the yeast and water, sprinkle with flour. Allow yeast to bloom for about 10 minutes. Add flour. Stir until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (add more flour as necessary). Knead for about 4 minutes, or until you stretch a small ball into a translucent pizza without breaking it. Let rise at room temperature for about an hour (or until doubled) in an oiled bowl covered with a cloth. Punch down and form loaf. Allow to rise until doubled again. Slash bread and dust with flour. Starting from a cold oven, bake at 250C/480F for about 20 minutes.

Kristen's Wheat Bread
makes one huge loaf

2 cups warm water
2 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Combine water and yeast, sprinkle with flour and let yeast bloom for ten minutes. Add flours, oil and salt. Stir until dough forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (add more flour as necessary). Knead for about 4 minutes, or until you stretch a small ball into a translucent pizza without breaking it. Let rise at room temperature for about an hour (or until doubled) in an oiled bowl covered with a cloth. Punch down and form loaf. Allow to rise until doubled again. Slash bread. Bake for 20 minutes at 250C/480F.

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