Thursday, July 31, 2014

Week of Crafts

With a week between trips, I spent most of the last few days working on projects. As often happens, I now associate the items with whatever TV show I have on in the background while I work.

Project:  Fix blinds in office, cut and install ceiling-mounted curtain rods, sew curtains

Show:  House of Cards (Season 1)

Project:  Replace accordion door for front hall closet after it fell out for the 27th time, but this time made it official by doing this when it landed:

Solution:  Install sliding rod from IKEA, reject all of Ikea's pre-made panels in favor of making my own:

Show:  Orphan Black (Season 1)
(Although this show wound up tripling the amount of time I spent on this project because it turns out that you don't so much watch it while working on other things as you stare unblinking at the show while your fabric sits unmeasured and uncut on the floor and your cat settles in on top of the fabric because you haven't moved for 2.5 episodes.)

Project:  Sew a shirt
(The top of which can kind of be seen here)

Show: Dance Academy (Season 3)

Not pictured (still in progress):  Crochet a sweater
Show: Doctor Who (Season 7B)

Hurrah for crafting outside of production season!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why, Yes, I am a Subscriber

For some time now I've wanted to get season tickets to the ballet, but I've held off for lack of a regular performance companion.

Imagine my delight when my friend Cindy announced that she wanted to go to more dance performances as part of a post-divorce exploration of who she is and what she likes to do.  We were hanging out at my place and eating cupcakes (from Gigi's, since I know Rachel and Miranda are wondering), and within seconds of her telling me this I had my laptop up and we were talking price tiers for the 2014-2015 season.

I wound up calling the box office in person so we could get pickier about our seats and so we could add Dracula to our order because vampires.   I passed on Nutcracker since Rachel's annual viewing of multiple versions have lessened the magic.  (Although... Has there been a vampire version of Nutcracker yet?  I would totally see that.)  I placed the order and in a few moments had the tickets in my inbox.

I'm excited for the shows, for Cindy's company, and for having the whole season already on my calendar.

Mostly, though, I'm excited for stuff like this:

A Memo to the Colorado Ballet -

Please make gifs of your dancers.  The National Ballet of Canada posts one every Friday, and I could watch them all day.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why It Took Me So Dang Long to Finish Blogging About Japan

Saturday: Arrive back in Seattle.  Jet lag.

Sunday and Monday: Food tours, as previously noted.  Plus, Jason's apartment was hot.

Tuesday: Fly back to Denver.  Meet Rachel at the airport, hang out with her and her family for the evening enjoying non-Asian food for dinner (yay, Chipotle!) and handing out gifts.

Rachel also documented me scratching another two countries off on the map!

Wednesday:  Oversleep (jet leg!), meet Lisa for a lengthy lunch and trip-catch-up (she recently returned from a European tour), dash to the grocery store, help set up and enjoy the annual Relief Society barbecue.

Thursday:  I hosted book club this month, so Thursday was spent doing some deep cleaning (boy, there was a lot of dust under my Moroccan rugs!), grocery shopping, and food prep.

I couldn't resist getting these for the group,
after so many fruitless hours spent searching for Mochicream

Ten ladies came, I miraculously had enough seating, and it was all kinds of fun to catch up with everyone and discuss both "The Fault in Our Stars" (June's book) and "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" (July's).

Also "Bonk".  Because I can't help but discuss that book at every chance I get.  I may have scandalized every lady there except my sister who introduced the book to me and who, as she frequently reminded the group before describing things like the horns attached to the clitoris or magazines found in a rectum, is a nurse and therefore can talk about things like this.

Friday:  Miranda is this awesome lady who used to live in Denver.  She's one of Rachel's best friends and they're often nice enough to let me hang out with them.  Miranda came into town for the weekend, our paths crossing just long enough to have breakfast together at The Atomic Cowboy and poke through Fancy Tiger.

Rachel, Sam, Cedar, and Miranda
Jack's out of the frame looking at the giant buffalo head on the wall and
Miranda's oldest, Azalea, is playing with friends.

After that, I shut down my house again and drove to Grand Junction for a quick hello with the parents.

Saturday:  I drove to Salt Lake to hang out with Grandma Cook.  She's decided that she's going to die soon, so I wanted to squeeze in one more trip this summer to see her before school kicks back into gear.

Sunday:  Church with Grandma, then off to Sandy to see Emily and her family, who recently moved back to Utah (much to Emily's disbelief).  We only stayed up until 1:00 AM talking, demonstrating great restraint.

Monday: Breakfast and a few morning chores with Grandma, then off to Salt Lake to see Janelle and her kids.  We crammed as much mutual therapy as we could into the afternoon, then I left to meet Andy and Jenn for dinner at Mazza.  We talked for ages as well, much to my delight.  We also tried the gelato place next door and discovered that Coconut Sticky Rice gelato and Mango gelato make a stellar combination.

Tuesday: I declared Tuesday Grandma's day.  We had lunch at Kneader's, cleaned out part of her basement, and picked up my cousins Jill and Josh to drive out past Tooele to watch their older sister Caitlin and my aunt Martha skydive in honor of Caitlin's 21st birthday:

As I watched them, I decided that it didn't look so bad after all and perhaps my fear of heights would be balanced by the opportunity for a good story.

Then I saw how incredibly motion sick they both were after the fact.  Knowing that we share the same genes (Dang you, Hyer genetics!), I talked myself back out of the idea.

Wednesday: After a bit more time with Grandma, I hit the road back to Grand Junction.  The hot, dusty, boring road. 

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday:  Rachel and the boys joined me in Grand Junction.  Dad's birthday was Friday (Andy and Jenn, alas, came down with diseases that are keeping them home), and we've been doing the usual Waterhouse thing - hanging out, swimming, reading, swapping travel stories, eating good food, and, at least on my part, working hard to catch up on blogging.

Which brings us to the present!  Hurrah!

I'll hang out here one more day, then drive back to Denver for about a week and a half until my next trip.  Hopefully that'll be enough time to fix the closet door that broke right before I left and install some better blinds.

Ah, summer.  Not bad at all.

Last Monday in Seattle - Savor Food Tour #2 and Shopping

Remember how I said I would keep Savor Seattle Food Tours in mind for the future after the fun of the Gourmet Seattle tour?

Turns out "the future" meant less than 24 hours later.  With an extra day in Seattle and no real agenda, I decided to treat myself to the Chocolate Indulgence Tour.

We sampled 16 different items at nine different stores in and around Pike Place Market.  By the end I was definitely chocolated-out (they began offering small plastic bags at each place about halfway through in case we wanted to save our samples for later), but I still had fun on the tour.  It was nice to meet and chat with different people, and while I was worried the content of the walking tour would be a repetition of the one we had gone on the day before, this time instead of telling us about the history of Seattle, we got a lecture on the history of chocolate.

Our guide, using illustrations to talk about the chocolate-making process
Samples of cheesecake (with white chocolate in the batter),
which our guide had to carefully protect from sample-eager shoppers at the market.


Evidence that the popcorn place is next to the market

A salted caramel chocolate from Fran's,
the inventor of the salted caramel

After the tour I walked to the international district.  Having just finished "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" for July's bookclub, I decided to hunt down the Panama Hotel featured in the novel.


There were nearby signs taking about the incarceration of Japanese immigrants and citizens in World War II, giving additional credence to the book's setting and story.

I swung through Uwajimaya and Daiso, mostly because I wanted to see how the products and prices compared to what we saw in Japan and Korea.  I was surprised how pan-Asian the grocery store seemed now - I could tell which foods were definitely not the normal part of Japanese cooking.

I made some phone calls as I walked back through downtown, stopping occasionally to shop for gifts for others before going back to the apartment to meet Jason for dinner.  I also picked up some more treats to share with Rachel and my book club later that week:

Lucky Me From the Past.  I want a fresh macaron!

Last Day in Tokyo

To soften the blow of returning to work for Jason, we opted to fly back to Seattle on Saturday instead of Sunday.  We booked a late afternoon flight, anticipating that we'd have more sights to see.

After some deliberation, we fell back on our Western European ways and opted to go to an art museum.  But first?  Breakfast.  And where better than the place across the street from the hotel:

Really, it was out of curiosity.  Although I could not recall the last time I ate at a Denny's in the States, after seeing them all over Japan (oddly, Outback Steakhouse also seems to be a popular chain) we wanted to see how much the menu varied here:

The answer is not too much.  Aside from a side column offering rice and miso soup (naturally), the dishes looked to be about what you'd expect.  The main difference turned out to be the simplicity of the menu (you see the entire thing up there with the exception of smoothies) and the smaller, much more reasonable portion sizes:

That's an avocado smoothie with chocolate syrup, if you're wondering.  It was very avocado-y.

We hopped on the metro to Ueno, the Smithonian-esque park home to several museums.  The billboards and banners we passed advertising all of the different exhibitions were enticing, but we had already set our sights on the kimono collection at the National Museum.

We paused to take a photo or two of the museum itself:

when suddenly two young boys in black pants and button-up white shirts came running up to us.

"Excuse me!  Excuse me!"  they called, even as they stood right in front of us.  A man, a little older than us, soon jogged up and joined them.  

He greeted us and explained that he is an English middle-school teacher here with two of his first-year students (so, they're probably about 12?  13?).  Their task - to find and interview native English speakers.  With prompting from their teacher, the boys asked, "Can we interview you?"

Heck yeah!  I was absolutely delighted by the whole affair - from their self-written questions (Where are you from?  What sports do you like?  What food do you like to eat?) to their beaming teacher who helped them with phrasing and vocabulary but kept the conversation 90% English (impressive, since they're first years!) to their moms who started the event watching from a distance under umbrellas but crept closer and closer as they couldn't resist listening in and occasionally mouthing the questions and our answers along with the boys.  They were clearly so proud of their boys, it was adorable.

At the end of the interview, they let us ask them questions (we opted for the safe, "What sports do you like?") and then told us we were their very first interview.  Aw!  We praised them and their teacher for doing such a good job, and with many bows from all of them we bade them farewell and continued on our way to the museum.

With only an hour, we scanned the museum map and made our top picks.  First up - kimonos.

The kimono display (which produced glares that kept me from getting a decent photo) included both embroidered and dyed kimonos, some from royalty displayed on 2-d standing plastic stands with accompanying woodblock prints from the same period to give you a sense of how they looked in context and some from Noh plays with masks and headdresses and a few paintings of performances:

We had enough time after that to swing through the armor:

I especially enjoyed the use of hair on the helmets:

Is the mustache for protection?  Intimidation?  Warmth?  Hipster points?

With much left to see (and self-assurances of future trips to Tokyo), we went back to the hotel to grab our luggage and catch the train to the airport.

Farewell, Japan!

Last Dinner (sigh) - Ukai-Tei

We made reservations for our last night in Tokyo before we went to Kyoto; and after meeting up at the hotel and swapping stories about our respective mountain adventures, we changed into nicer clothes and walked across the street in search of Ukai-Tei.

If you have followed our previous Michelin adventures, you will not be surprised that we though this was the main entrance to the restaurant:

In fact, we were surprised it even had a sign.  But, no!  This was actually the back door.  We were astounded to discover that this was the actual restaurant front:

The decor inside was a bit wild, with stones, red-painted wood beams, oceanic-styled lighting, and marine mosaics, but the staff was attentive and polite.

Soon we were seated at two seats in front of a large, semi-circular grill:

We both selected a pre-set menu (our favorite!), and soon dish after dish of deliciousness were prepared and set in front of us.

I've forgotten what's in this dish.  Fish?
It's pretty, though!

Something with asparagus?

Cold (served on a bed of ice!) sweet corn soup - delicious!

Lobster.  I'm not a fan.

Second best dish of the meal with definite points for exoticness.
The chef wrung out a giant soaking sheet of kelp, then arranged it on the grill in a next.
He then placed two halved sea urchins on the nest and sprinkled Evian water around them before leaving them to steam under a copper dome.
After just a moment or two, he plated them on seaweed and spooned a lime butter sauce on top.
The sea urchin was like cream - they melted in the mouth!

Best dish of the night - steak cooked medium rare (at the chef's recommendation)
with red wine/soy sauce to dip it in, fresh (and mild) wasabi, and cracked pepper.

Not a fan of this one - cold noodle soup, super fishy.

Japanese-style creme caramel

And a selection of cookies for the final touch

Amusingly, after the beef course they escorted us to a separate part of the restaurant for dessert.  It was actually kind of fun to have a change of scenery and seating, it refreshed our conversation, and allowed us to linger without worrying about taking up table space.

When it was time to leave, the maitre d' checked with us to see how the meal went.  We sang its praises, and turned down her offer for calling a taxi.  She escorted us outside, bowing and biding us farewell over and over again until we walked out of sight.  (I do believe she would have walked us back to the hotel if we had asked.)

Koyasan Sights

As mentioned, I arranged for an English guide to show me around Koyasan while I was there.  At 1:00, the head monk knocked on the door frame of my room and asked me to come downstairs to meet my guide:

Kawatani Satoshi is a retired chemical engineer who works for the Koyasan Cross-cultural Communication Network by giving tours of the town a few times each week.

It was raining when I came out of the temple, and the head monk asked anxiously if I had an umbrella with me.  I showed him the wee one I bought in Tokyo, which packs tidily into my purse.  He raised his eyebrows.  "No, no, no," he said kindly.  "Wait here."

He scurried into the temple and returned a moment later with a huge umbrella.  "Take the temple's umbrella," he said.

I did.  And boy, did I need it!  It rained on us the entire length of the tour.  I was soaked up to my thighs and my shoes didn't dry until I was back in Colorado.  Satoshi led me to each of the sights, and at each place we ducked under whatever awning we could find while he told me about their significance.  We covered three major sites in all:

Kongoubu-ji Temple - the main temple complex in Koyasan.  

The grounds here include a smaller pagoda that houses (or used to - I wasn't sure about my guide's verb tense) scripture scrolls.

A torii gate:

And the giant pagoda Konpon Daito (which, according to Wikipedia, is "the central point of a mandala covering not only Mt. Kōya but all of Japan")

In front of the Kongon Daito is a set of fir trees ringed by a fence painted tell-tale vermillion. 

Satoshi told me that when Kobo Daishi was in China, planning to establish a monastic center in Japan, he took a vajra (a pronged ritual tool, seen here in front of a bell:)

from Wikipedia

and threw it high and far.  He then traveled to Japan and with the help of two hunting dogs and a mysterious and mystical maiden of the forest, Kobo Daishi eventually found his vajra suspended in those trees.  He built his monastic center there, making all of Koyasan a sacred site.

They also have a really big bell:

We walked through the town:

arriving at...

Huh.  I can't for the life of me recall what this place is called.  I do remember that it was a massive wooden gate (but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Daimon) covered with stickers and pasted-on papers.  Satoshi explained that they are names of people and businesses - essentially a less-permanent form of "____ was here" graffiti.

Impressively, some pilgrims have pasted their stickers to the roof of the gate, at least 20 feet above our heads:

Satoshi pointed out the two barrels on top of the roof of the building beyond the gate:

I'd been around enough Japanese historical sites that week to guess what they were for - fire protection.  They collect rain water (and were overflowing today!), and if a fire is spotted, a young monk climbs on to the roof and uses the barrels to soak the roof and put out and flames.

We took the public bus across town to the entrance of the graveyard that surrounds Okunoin - the mausoleum for Kobo Daishi.

With over 200,000 graves and memorials, this is the largest graveyard in Japan.  Between the towering cedar trees, the constant rain, and the moss-covered stone carvings, this was the most magical place I saw on the trip - a place I could easily imagine Totoro or Kodama peeking out through the shadows and the foliage:

The entrance and the first of three sacred bridges with a war memorial shaped like flames with hand prints

Satoshi explained that these towers represent the five elements -
Earth (square), Water (ball), Fire (multi-pointy), Wind (cylinder disk), and Sky/Heaven (single-pointy)

An anti-abortion memorial with three lovely bodhisattvas carrying fetuses

Satoshi explained that anyone can be buried here.  As an example, he pointed out the strange memorial to the right of the tall one in this photo:

Here's a closer look:

Yup.  That's a blowfish.  It marks the grave of a fishmonger.  I'm not sure which is more poetic - that sculpture, or the memorial below:

which is sponsored by an extermination company and is dedicated to the termites they've killed.

In fact, there were many corporate memorials in the newer part of the cemetery, typically started by the family (such as Honda) but open for employees to be buried there as well.

Here are some of the newer graves.  Can you spot the rocket?

Satoshi and I walked the two kilometers through the rain, the forest, and the graves until we came upon Okunoin - the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.  Photos were not allowed in that area because of it's sacredness - when Kobo Daishi was 62, he had this building constructed, settled in a sitting pose inside, and began meditating.  Supposedly, he's still alive in there - miraculously preserved in a state of eternal meditation waiting for the Buddha to come again.

Two other interesting facts accompanied this information from my guide:

1) Each morning the monks at the temple there take breakfast to Kobo Daishi and leave it outside the chamber for him.  Apparently it's quite a ritual with a formal procession and a fancy litter to carry the food.  As far as I know, he has yet to eat it.

2) In anticipation of the town's upcoming anniversary celebration next year, workers have been reconstructing the mausoleum.  Apparently there was a conundrum - how can workers fix the roof above Kobo Daishi without showing disrespect?  They cannot just climb up there because that would put them higher than him, which is not okay.  Satoshi showed me their solution - the workers all tie small tails to their uniforms.  This transforms them into animals, "like squirrels," he said; and so they can do the work.  Animals are always above us in nature, he explained.

I like imagining American construction workers each selecting which tail he/she wants to wear to the work site today.

After we paid our respects to Kobo Daishi, Satoshi led me to a large open room where the monks hold educational lectures.  He fetched a tray of tea from the nearby kitchen and pulled a package of sweet ginger cookies out of his bag.  He told me they're made each morning by a man in his village.  They are tasty, and when I told him so, Satoshi insisted I take the rest of them with me - "A small gift," he said.

After a rest, we exited the site and took a bus back to Yochiin, stopping briefly at the visitor's center for some more pamphlets about Koyasan.  I think I was up to 5 or 6 at this point - everyone kept pressing more on me.  My personal favorite of the stack is this one:

which offers a scratch 'n' sniff ritual tool on the cover.

You know - to smell the history.