April 2008 Archives

To Camp

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We're off to catch an overnight ferry south to Niijima where we will be camping for a week. We've got a new tent, a well-equipped camp kitchen, a good group of friends, and a forecast of sunny weather. It's going to be great.

If the keitai reception gods smile on me, I will upload pictures to my Flickr photostream to share the action and adventure.

Have a good week; I know I will.

Security Camera

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Something is happening in my apartment building. The management has become security-conscious. Earlier this month, they installed a boxy security camera in the lobby. There are shiny foil signs on the doors now that warn you that you are under surveillance. And the lights outside the side entrance are working, too, for the first time in at least 5 years.

I like the lights, but the security camera bothers me. I do not like being watched as I come and go and get my mail from the bank of mailboxes. It is creepy. I give the camera the finger occasionally as I go by, or stick out my tongue, or just walk underneath it so it can't see me , but as Tod said, 'Hey, don't do that. They will know to blame us when the wires get cut." As if.

Maybe we need to be watched. The building has been burgled at least three times - a big heist in 2003 and in 2005 there were two incidents in my own apartment. Maybe there was another theft. I want to ask the manager, but I know it is pointless. They will evade the question as they usually do when there is a problem with the building.

So I will just have to keep venting my ire fingerwise at whoever watches the tapes.

Fennel Fruit Salad

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We spied a bulb of fennel at the supermarket the other day - just one, sitting overpriced and alone in the corner of the vegetable display - and snatched it up for salads. Last night I combined fennel with fruit for a surprisingly good dessert course salad. The licorice flavor of the fennel complimented the sweetness of pineapple and tangelo. Fresh basil, ginger and a touch of red onion pulled everything together. It is one of those salads that is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Fennel Fruit Salad
serves 2-4

1/2 bulb fennel
1/2 fresh pineapple
1 tangelo
1 slice red onion
2 leaves fresh basil
1/4" slice fresh ginger

optional dressings
fresh black pepper
balsamic vinegar (cherry flavored)

Chop the fennel, pineapple and tangelo into bite sized pieces. Mince the ginger, onion and basil. Toss everything together. Sit it on the dinner table and ignore it while you eat your main dish and enjoy a lively conversation.

Remember the fruit. Grab the pepper grinder and some balsamic to drizzle on individual portions for variety.

Kristen's Project Runway - the skirt



Last week I bought ten meters of gingham for doing up the prototype of my sister's wedding dress. Yesterday I had a long think about the skirt, reviewed my sketches and notes, made some more sketches, did a bit of measurement math and started cutting. This afternoon, I have a red checked wedding skirt. I also have a tripod-mounted sister torso.

I am enjoying this sewing so far because I don't have to do any finishing or detail work - no zippers, no hems, just pins and magic marker. Phyllis will receive the pieces basted together so that she can undo them and use them as a pattern. For me, this is heaven! Of course that makes it a bit harder for Phyllis, but she has a lot of experience sewing clothing and I am sure she can work it out perfectly.

Earlier in the Project:
Kristen's Project Runway
Duct Tape Jenny

Tokyo population rises again

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As of the last census in October, Tokyo is home to 10% of the nation's population. 91,000 more people came to live in Tokyo during 2007. So if the trains seem more crowded, that's why.

This is the highest percentage it's been since 1979. The highest ever was 11.1% in the late 1960s.

Japan's shifting population is interesting. 37 rural prefectures lost population last year. People over 75 outnumber people under 14 in a half dozen prefectures. Deaths outnumbered births by 2,000 nationwide. What will the next census tell us?

Asakusabashi Bead Town


Some new members of my bead stash

If you want to buy beads in Tokyo, you must go to Asakusabashi. It's one stop east of Akihabara on the Sobu line. Where Akiba is all bright lights and electronics and men, Asakusabashi is low key shops with a decidedly feminine clientèle. There are dozens of shops, each one with a slightly different focus or catering to a different demographic: the older ladies, the kids, the fashionable hobbyists, the skilled bead masters. I encountered them all today.

Here is a shop list and map to guide you and here are highlights at the shops I visited this afternoon:

Choice specialises in stone beads. They have a very good selection at reasonable prices. There were some gemstones there I had never seen as beads before. It's all neatly arranged in row after row of racks by color.

West 5 seems to be the mecca of Toho beads and findings. They had some good sale items outside the shop (lots of shops had cheap beads out front).

Craft Family Hint has a large selection of buttons and ribbon trims as well as beads. I will definitely come back here for the ribbons - everyting from velvet to leather and all sorts of fringes, lace and embroidered ribbons, too.

Beads Shop J4 has a special section of Japanese style beads and parts. They also offer a 12-class lampwork bead course. The store feels a bit like an atelier with workspaces tucked into corners and behind screens. Upstairs they have an enormous amount of acrylic beads on strings.

Accessory Hyotanya focuses on "deco" parts. They have lots of shaped pins and brooches that you can glue rhinestones to. Of course they have rhinestones and glue, too. They also sell some beads.

Parts Club has lots of parts, or as we call them in English, findings. All the shops have them, but Parts Club is nicely organised. And very large. They also have scads of beads and tools.

Kiwa got most of my business today. They had the nickel silver wire I was looking for, the nippers I needed, and a good selection of cords, too. And do I need to say they have a lot of beads? They do. And nice ones but oddly enough, I didn't buy beads there.

In four hours, I hardly scratched the surface of Asakusabashi's bead shops. I didn't even make it to Beads Factory, which is Miyuki Glass Beads's showcase. Fortunately, Asakusabashi is within walking distance of home, or a few stops on the train, so I can go any time.

Must stop posting and start beading now.

Death & taxes


Honestly, taxes are going to be the death of me. After having prepared by getting all the paperwork together and downloading 18 PDFs from the IRS yesterday, I sat down this morning to make a good push and get it done.

Ha. I was cruising along, feeling OK about it all. Nearly there, almost done. Had filled in Schedule B, D, E, Forms 2555, 1116, 4562, 8582 and I was in the home stretch on the main 1040. Just needed to calculate the tax owed, list out the taxes I have paid already and then do the final arithmetic to see what we owe.

But, wait. What is this tax calculating worksheet, tucked away on the next page of the instructions? It applies to me. I looked it over. It's dependent on this other one, here that I didn't think applied. OK. Well, I complete them both. Suddenly, I don't seem to owe any taxes. Line 44 was a big zero. Wow, cool!

My pleasure lasted only a moment. The next line instructs me to see if I have to pay Alternative Minimum Tax. That's for really rich folks and people with too many tax credits and loopholes. Like me apparently. I filled in the questionnaire and sure enough...I was now in a new mire of AMT tax rules and paperwork. Effectively I had to redo all the forms and schedules at a higher rate, with lots of special new bonus points of income.

For example, depreciation on the house we own and are trying to sell had to be reduced, so there is another $700 in "income". The foreign earned income had to be remathed into something else, only the instructions aren't clear and the "higher rate" wasn't given in the instructions. Or in any of the half dozen publications I grabbed from irs.gov.

So I spent a good two hours digging around trying to figure out how to do the AMT. By 6:30, though, I gave up. I will try again tomorrow morning. Maybe it will make sense then.

I made a death and taxes necklace the other day. I guess I knew this was coming.

Oh my god (bwahahahaha)


During a serious conversation:

"It's like Gouda...I mean, Buddha..." said Tod.

Personality Over Time


Yesterday in an e-mail conversation with Jean, my mother-in-law, she asked "What do you think is the best age to be?" I am happy to be whatever age I am, as each age offers different positives and negatives aspects.

Now this made me think. I know I have changed over time. I am more easy-going than I was when I was 20, for example. Wouldn't a radar or spiderweb graph plotting personality traits over time be interesting?


It is interesting. For the foundation of my chart, I used the Big Five personality traits:

  • Openness - appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness - a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion - energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
  • Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism - a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability.

This definitely has faults: the Big Five is not comprehensive; the rating scale is not entirely clear - should 0 be neutral or an extreme opposite? No doubt I am overlooking a lot of other problems but is is interesting.

In addition to plotting the chart, I summed totals by age and category. I think the category totals sort of tell what your overall strengths are.

I want the totals by age to indicate the size of your personality - how much you have bloomed or withered over time - but I think that the Big Five are not the best traits to show this. I need to dig deeper to find better ones.

If you'd like to play with this, here is the Excel spreadsheet to download. If you try it, may I see your results? I won't publish them here, but they would help me validate my ideas. I would be happy to have your comments on how this might be reworked to make it more accurate or revealing, too.

Duct Tape Jenny


My sister's torso

"Duct Tape Jenny" arrived today, so now I can get down to business designing the pattern for my sister's wedding dress. It will be very interesting to drape on this dress form. My plan is to make the dress in black and white gingham so that the seamstress, Phyllis, can unbaste the muslin and sew the fashion fabric from my original. I hope I don't make it too difficult do.

Having a half a body shaped just like my sister (who is apparently slightly lopsided), sitting on the counter behind me is slightly disconcerting. I'm glad Jenn didn't send along a life mask with the dummy.

The Maid Dilemma


Yet again, the opportunity arises for me to hire a maid. An acquaintance is leaving town and is trying to help his maid find a replacement customer. Will it be me?

I am on the fence when it comes to having someone clean for me. I actually enjoy cleaning and I like a sparkling house. However, looking around, I can see that doing the cleaning and achieving a sparkling house is not high on my To Do list. Vacuuming, dusting...there is always tomorrow, right?

So in that regard, having a maid would be good for me and the house. But paying for something I can do myself and have time to do...difficult to justify. Worrying about legalities of visa and tax issues (possibly in two countries)...a bit scary.

The house would be clean at least once a week
I would be motivated to tidy the untidy parts before the maid came in
I would be directly helping someone earn a living
I could stop feeling guilty about not cleaning frequently enough
The apartment would be more pleasant to live in

It is expensive to hire someone to perform a service I could do myself
I don't understand the possible visa and tax issues in Japan
I don't know if hiring help here has any impact on my US taxes
Lots of "I think my cleaner steals from me" stories told among my acquaintances
I'm uncertain about how to interact with domestic help...

Neither list seems obviously stronger to me. What would/do you do?

Secret Message Crafting Swap

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Having spent a many hours making necklaces in binary over the past couple of week, I am becoming interested in encoding messages in everyday objects.

Can I knit a binary message? How can I sneak a message into a drawing? What words can I cipher into my meals? I want to add more layers of meaning to my daily life. And I want to see what other people can do, too, so I started a swap just for that over on Swap-Bot.

Secret Message Crafting

Do you like codes and ciphers? Puzzles? Secrets?

For this swap you will encipher a message and send it to your partner, along with the plaintext message sealed in a separate envelope. If your partner needs a tool, key, or hint to decode the message, please include that, too.

The Message

A friendly greeting, sage advice, favorite quote, a personal secret, or whatever you like. It should be long enough to decipher but not so long it will be tedious. A sentence or two? Maybe more, maybe less depending upon the medium.

The Code

Your choice! ROT-13, alphabetic substitution, QR code, Morse code, ASCII binary...there are many to choose from.

The Medium

Here is where the crafting comes in. No scribbling your coded message onto a sheet of paper and calling it done. Be creative in presenting your message. You might create coded embroidery, weaving, beading, or knitting. Maybe a painting or collage. Perhaps a jigsaw, acrostic or crossword puzzle.

Signups are until April 14th, so if you'd like to craft a message, send it off to a stranger and get a coded gift in exchange, then please come play at Swap-Bot

The UK's new coins

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The Royal Mint had a contest to redesign the reverse of the UK coins. The winning designs are gobsmackingly clever. They are fresh and energetic, while still being completely connected to tradition. Well done, Matthew Dent. I love how six of the coins puzzle together to form the full image, with the one pound coin being the key. I can hardly wait to get a full set of these in change.


Read all about the coins and the young designer on the Royal Mint's site: http://www.royalmint.com/newdesigns/designsRevealed.aspx

Beet and Tomato Soup


Fresh beets are a favorite special treat as they aren't often available. When we can find them, they are expensive (400 yen each) so we usually only have one at a time and roast them for salads. Last night, I changed gears and made soup. It was simple and delicious and a stunningly bright red.

Beet and Tomato Soup
serves 2

1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 clove garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 beetroot, cut into large bites
1/2 can whole tomatoes
500 ml water
salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil until lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Add the beetroot, tomato and water. Simmer, covered, for about 90 minutes, or until the beetroot is no longer crunchy. You may need to add liquid as the soup cooks. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Birthday pleasures


Now that my age is the same as "the answer to life, the universe and everything", I should be at the peak of my know-it-all years, right? Why do I feel like I don't know anything at all?

I had a very good birthday today.

It actually began yesterday, when Seth & Tara treated me to Cirque du Soleil. It was an amazing show. I love acrobats and jugglers and I was in heaven. Between staring agape at the daring of the performers, and weeping for the beauty of their skill, I laughed like a little girl at the clowns. Really, it was great. Thanks, Seth & Tara!

Today, I began the day with a donut breakfast and gifts from my mother and Tod's mother. Then I had a good long walk across town, seeing some white dandelions en route, to Nishi Azabu where I picked up expense reimbursements and enjoyed lunch under the cherry trees and a sunny sky with Rob, who gave me tofu yogurt with a candle in it! After that, I spent my expense money on reflexology and hand massage. Then I came home, read a book and ate the last few pieces of my Valentine's chocolate. Well-wishes from friends poured in all day, including a blog entry from MJ, chats and and many e-mails.

The one down spot in the day was that the washing machine lies. It said my clothes would be ready in 90 minutes, but when I checked it after 80 minutes, it told me 56 more minutes. That ruined my dinner outfit plan. But Morsbags to the rescue! In the piles of donated fabrics was an old Marks & Spenser suit. I'm not sure who it once belonged to, but it was just my size. I don't think it would have made a great bag, so I appropriated it. When I am tired of it, I will put it back into the bagging mix.

I met Tod at his office and he took me out to dinner. He wouldn't tell me where we were going, but I guessed. It was a gorgeous yu-dofu place in Hakusan called Goemon. We've talked about going there for years and finally we have. It was very good and private room and garden setting was stunning.

Thank you to everyone who remembered my birthday and made it special for me.

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