August 2013 Archives

In A Band

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After 20 months of study, practice, and carrying my ukulele with me on trips around the world, I've joined a band. 

Maybe it's no surprise that the band is me and Tod. Ukulele and melodica with me doing some singing.

I am so happy to make "a joyful noise" with Tod. A shared creative pursuit is a treasure. We have really different approaches to music but somehow we make it work. Admittedly, we sometimes disagree and things get discordant, but with luck, love, and patience, this band will not break up.

Our bandleader isn't in the band. He's our teacher, Huw, and gives great advice on arrangements, song choices, and even costumes. When in doubt, we ask Huw and he always has a good suggestion based on his years of performance experience. Our official band photographer is Rob, who took the photo above with his cool fisheye lens one Sunday afternoon at Yoyogi Park.

Currently, our joint repertoire is about 10 songs. It's rather eclectic, so we don't take requests unless you want to hear Blue Skies, All of Me, or Summertime. In which case, please ask! Tips can be left in the ukulele case. ;-)

Hoopiversary #5

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It was five years ago today that I started hooping. What a life changing experience. Except, really, it isn't. I am still me but I dance more. I have always been drawn to creating projects, organising events, choreographing performances. Now I have a great excuse to do all of that - the hoop. Hooping still bring me challenges, opens doors, and gets me out into the world to meet people and have adventures.

Sometimes I feel that I haven't improved much after my first year of hooping. I learned a ton then with the influence of weekly classes and hooping friends who encouraged me to try hard. Since then, my skills have increased slowly and I never feel that I've mastered anything. Watching the emergent hoopers, who are so dedicated to artistry and technicality, makes me feel sloppy and lazy. But I am what I am and I love hooping no matter how I may compare to others.

To remind myself of the changes and advances I've made, I am sharing a retrospective of my hooping.

2008: This is a video I took one week after my first hoop class with Deanne.

2009: Here is one I made for a HoopCity contest in June.

2010: Enjoying some evening hooping in August.

2011: On a summer visit to the US, I got to perform with my sister.

2012: I captured this silent video in a practice session in September.

2013: And today I went to the beach to celebrate and commemorate.

Summer Survival by Liquids

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The summer weather in Tokyo is always brutal. Every year seems worse than the last, but it's usually about the same - there are a couple of weeks when it is entirely too hot to eat, think or do much of anything. We push through the days without aircon here at home. It's not a pleasant time of year for me. But I have some strategies.


We are currently in smack dab in the middle of one of the hot periods, so I stocked my fridge with juice boxes. When I can't bear the idea of a meal, I can manage one of these. Maybe even a couple of them in a row. This selection is 100% juice and mostly vegetable-fruit mixes because I like them best.  The one on the left is especially interesting. It features haskap, a honeysuckle berry. I'd never heard of them before and they are tasty.

This year I am also making myself homemade electrolyte solution. I used electrolyte powders while at the circus in Thailand and they were helpful but tasted nasty. Now I make my own with a squeeze of citrus and a pinch each of salt and sugar in my water bottle. Is it a perfect recipe? Not at all, but it breaks up the monotony of plain water and should make it easier for my body to absorb the moisture I am giving it.

Another liquid survival technique we use here is the cold bath, which is what is sounds like, a tub full of cold water sometimes made even colder with some ice packs. I plunge in and soak for a few minutes to bring down my core temperature. It's even more refreshing than air conditioning and has the added benefit of washing off the sweat.


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Geology in action at home. My pyrite is precipitating iron sulfate. If I add water, I can make sulfuric acid:

2FeS2 + 7O2 + 2H2O -> 2FeSO4 + 2H2SO4

Hang on, the weather has been is ridiculously humid. Could the acid have formed formed without direct water? Gosh, my house may be polluted with acid humidity.

High Fat, High Yum Shepherd's Pie

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This weekend, Tod made an incredible shepherd's pie. It's an adaptation of one from Alton Brown and it makes the best I've ever eaten. The reason it was so good is the large quantity of lamb fat and cream in it.  If you are afraid of fat, this is not the dish for you. Otherwise, it is truly delicious and like most casserole things it is even better the second day.

It seems mostly adaptable to a variety of foodways. If you are gluten-free, use something other than wheat flour in the roux. If you are paleo, use sweet potatoes instead of white.  If you are vegetarian, pick a different recipe.

High Fat Shepherd's Pie
serves 4

1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
500 g lamb mince
2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, savoury, thyme, etc)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
water or stock

5 potatoes
1/4 cup cream or a bit more
1 egg yolk

While you are preparing the filling, also boil the potatoes, mash them and stir in cream and egg yolk until they are smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Finely mince the onion, carrot and garlic (a mandoline is perfect for this) and sauté in oil until the onions are translucent. Add the lamb and fry until the meat is cooked through and crumbled but not browned. At this point you are going to want to drain the fat, but don't! Sprinkle flour over the meat and onion mixture and stir until you have a glossy roux. How much flour will depend on how much fat is in teh pan. Ours was about 5 tablespoons. Let it cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to make sure the flour doesn't stick. Pour in a cup or two of liquid (how much will depend on the amount of roux you have). Season with Worcestershire and herbs. Allow the filling to simmer for a few minutes to thicken the gravy.

Pour the filing into a casserole dish. Spoon the potatoes on top and smooth across the filling. Bake at 190 for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are browned.


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You are expecting a rant about summer, aren't you? You know it's not my favorite season.  But I am talking about Summertime by George Gershwin from Porgy and Bess.

Tod & I are learning to play it in our music lessons. Our lessons with Huw that started out as ukulele instruction for me and piano for Tod but recently turned into joint lessons where we are learning to play together. 

Playing together is really a challenge. Tod has been improvising jazz since he was a kid so he gets into his groove and gets lost in the flow of notes. I am a beginner at music and have a limited set of skills. Trying to do things in concert is interesting for both of us. Tod has to listen to what I am doing, and I have to learn about a million better ways to play. All while looking at each other, staying on tempo, and creating a pleasing performance without making mistakes.

So back to Summertime. I imagine you know at least the opening lyrics: summertime...and the living is easy. It's been a popular song for decades. According to a group of Summertime fans, Summertime Connection, there are over 40,000 public performances of this song.

But until I learned to sing the whole thing I didn't realise it was a lullaby. I hadn't seen Porgy and Bess, not even the movie version. I've seen the clip of this song now, thanks to YouTube.

It's a lovely song to sing and delightful to play. Tod finds endless variations on it. We practice it a lot. By the time the summer is over, I think we will have a properly good piece to play together.

My house rule is no practice after 9pm or before 9 am so the neighbors won't complain. But it's 9 am and I am ready to limber up my fingers and run through this a few times before breakfast. 

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