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Saturday, July 26

Some Ikebana Smatherings

It's been a busy week here as I am still preparing for the in-laws visit and also have been constructing I.I. Kamakura Chapter's yearbook. That alone is a huge undertaking as I am doing the entire thing on my own. The president of our chapter sits with me as I work through formatting, helping me to pick out the pictures she wants to see on each month's page. I really like this kind of work as it is so similar to my last job back in DC. To this day, I still really miss that job. At least this is giving me a bit of that old creative license, again allowing something I have created to actually be seen by a large group of people. Plus, I get a little tagline on the back page that gives design credit all to little old me. See? Fun!

Okay, maybe not for most people. Which is actually how I got the job. At our final Board meeting, volunteers were asked for. The Japanese ladies looked scared stiff and kept their arms down at their sides as tightly as possible. One other American lady did volunteer, but she is welcoming her own new baby next month, so she has had her hands full with those preparations and didn't get to help after all. Every person on that board has been so grateful that I took up the challenge. That alone makes all the effort and the trouble totally worthwhile.

I did however make it to Kozan class this week and thought I would share that arrangement. Sensei brought materials to create more modern Kozan arrangements this time. This time I managed to let the Japanese ladies pick first even though it killed me to because I knew they would pick the gorgeous deep purple calla lily flowers. White is still lovely though! Here was the result. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22

The Itsy Bitsy Bug Count To Date

Two impossibly big brown spiders and two unbearably disgusting, overly large cockroaches. Kimono Hubby woke me today at 6:30 to tell me that he had just caught spider #2, a surprise when he went to use the toilet downstairs. Damn… that is my worst nightmare come true! Of course after he told me, I tried to go back to sleep for 30 more winks, but only dreamt of spiders and snakes. By 6:45, sleep had been deemed pointless.

Please know that I keep a very clean house. A different trash is taken out every day, but Sunday when there is no pick-up. I scrub the place once a week. Sure there are dishes in the sink overnight, but never have I found a bug in the kitchen… go figure.

The first spider was found hanging in my curtains, only noticeable because a slight breeze was blowing them in and this big dark shadow kept moving across the floor. Both were found during the day.

Both cockroaches were found scurrying to and fro the computer room upstairs. The first thought it could hide in KH’s overly cluttered and messy closet. He would have left it there, but my 15 minute shrieking about babies was enough to make him reconsider this position. My lesson to him is make sure not one damn piece of clothing remains on the floor at the end of the day. My closet is immaculate in this respect, but I will admit that it is only for the fear of pulling on a shirt with a roach inside of it that it remains in its cleanly state. The second cockroach was found less pleasantly. I sat down at the computer in the darkened room and began to type when something that had been making its quiet clicking tried to attach itself to my arm and upright itself. Don’t think that scream wasn’t heard across the prefecture.

My husband’s family arrives in less than a week. Do I tell them that we have both day and night visitors that might warrant a good thick pair of socks while they move about? Or do I not mention it and hope that they don’t discover our little surprises on their own? With no shoes being allowed past the front entrance of the house, it is more than a little difficult to get rid of these horrors in any good way. If you run for said shoe or a can of Raid, you are guaranteed to never find said bug again. Instead, I think I will just teach them my method… shriek loudly and make sure to prolong that last note until Kimono Hubby makes it to the room to secure your safety. It’s usually pretty effective and safe to the finder’s health, even if it does turn KH six different shades of angry red. As long as he wasn’t sleeping already. If he does happen to be sleeping, God help them… because I certainly ain’t gonna.

Monday, July 21

Japanese Peculiarities #5

There are no trash cans in this country! Try and find one. I dare you.

For a country that is all about the recycling (go to the ‘way back’ posts and see my third or fourth blog entry), they sure do not give many opportunities for you to recycle. Outside of your own home, that is. With vending machines at least three deep on each corner and conbinis on every other corner, there is certainly some waste product being produced while the 127,433,494 people on this island (according to a 2007 census) are out and about. Sure, there are the occasional vending machines that have a hole in them… meant for only putting in PET recyclable bottles. But what about the plastic wrapper from the sandwich you bought at the shop down the street? Even the sandwich shop doesn’t offer a trashcan at its store front to get rid of it. No where, will you find a hole for this type of trash. So what are you to do with it? You are supposed to put it in the plastic bag you carry around in your handbag or man purse and throw it out in the proper recycling bin when you get home. Do you know how smelly this will make your purse on hot days like those endured through July and August? On rare occasions, you might get lucky enough to be at the train platform and find a series of trashcans for you to sort your trash into, but seriously… that is rare. And the problem with those is that often the directions of what recyclable goes into what hole are written in Japanese characters unreadable to the untrained eye. So unless you are lucky (or unlucky enough) to come by a smelly and full trashcan, you have no idea which hole to throw which type of trash in.

I simply don't understand what the big deal with trash cans is. Is it an eye sore thing, maybe? A friend once said that the trashcans were removed years ago when there were some scares with bombs being placed in trashcans, but I find that explanation hard to take. When is the last time you heard of a trashcan bomb in Japan? Okay, maybe that is the point… but you know what I mean.

Yet despite my frustration with the inability to toss my trash, you won’t find nary a stray wrapper or bottle anywhere. It wouldn’t be polite to just toss it out into the street or leave it sitting on top of the corner newspaper box. It’s much better to let your sticky, stinky trash leak out of the plastic bag you carry in your handbag and get all over your favorite Shiseido pressed powder compact and MAC lipgloss.

Sometimes, I just don’t get you Japan.

Friday, July 18

Spare Me My Life

There are a lot of oddities that I come across here in Japan. Thanks to a friend who passed this along to KH, I have recently discovered the oddest ever. The concept… putting English lessons and aerobic exercise into the same time span isn’t bad. In fact, it’s totally fine and a smart idea for those with busy schedules. But it is what they are learning that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. Please watch. Please tell me that I am not crazy for thinking that this is… well… just crazy.

If this link doesn’t work for some reason, I beg you to go to this link: and do a search for “Japanese learning English”. When the results come up, click on “AndyP’s Great Clips – Japanese Learning English”.

Wednesday, July 16

Just Where Can A Craving Take You?

One of the things everyone seems to want to know about a pregnant lady is what her cravings are. My standard answer is that I haven’t really had any. Well, in the early months, there was that spell where I craved whole milk. You know the kind that mom used to serve with breakfast every day… thick, creamy whole milk. I can’t honestly remember the last time I drank whole milk before I craved it. It was literally decades though. These days we opt for skim milk on an exclusive basis. Then about that same time, there were several days where I craved citrus fruit. Yet another thing I think it unwholly and gross. And yet there I sat digging into oranges and grapefruits, two of the worst fruits I can imagine. But since those awful beginnings, I haven’t had any fun cravings to talk about. There was a boneless-buffalo-wings-from-Chili’s spell. And I still fiend for fruit, but it is of the less gross variety now. I crave grapes, strawberries, nectarines, watermelon, peaches,. The first and second are easy to get in Japanese varieties without robbing a bank first. The third… impossible to get here so I scarfed a few down while in the states. The last two, I can get them, but I choose not to because I don’t think now is the time to be selling my kidneys… and that’s even if someone honestly wanted the disease-ridden things. Watermelons here are a smaller variety and cost about 1,500 yen (approximately $15.50 American dollars). The Japanese peach, while huge in stature, is also huge in price costing about 400 yen a peach (that’s one peach for just shy of $4 bucks). Unless I foresee a 9-to-5 job in my future, which I don’t, I stick to buying the generic apple instead. It’s pricey, but not enough to knock me over with a feather. I digress.

So cravings… there was one night that I wanted to see just how committed my darling husband is to me and the unborn critter inside of me. It was a little after midnight and we had just gotten home and gone pretty much straight to bed. Right after KH settled in under the covers, I told him that I was starved. Starved in fact for a new craving… Doritos. He mentioned how the stores on base, which sell traditional American Doritos, had been closed for hours. I said yeah, but the 7-11 a few blocks down wasn’t closed and Japanese flavored Doritos should do in a pinch. I might add here, that I freaking hate Doritos. But apparently my darling husband had forgotten this because after only a moment’s hesitation, he slid out from under the covers and began to get redressed. I should remind you at this time, that this was a test. And he passed. With flying colors. Although he didn’t seem to gain the same enjoyment as I did from the situation. In fact, I think he went to bed without any further chatting with me that night. Humph.

Beyond these incidents, there have been no other cravings. I think I do crave foods, but since I can’t get them here in Japan unless I make them myself, I often just force my brain to skip right past them. Plus, it helps that I proactively killed most of those cravings by gorging on every possibility while stateside… especially the jalepeno poppers. Damn, those things are good.

Friday night, we usually head out for dinner. It gives me a night off from cooking and being the good wife, and it fulfills whatever cuisine wish we might be sharing each week. Lately, these nights are dictated by what my belly dictates is good for dinner. When I chatted to Kimono Hubby on Friday at lunchtime, I told him that the consensus was burgers from the Chili’s on base. (Yet another place I couldn’t stand stateside, but now live for because it is about all the American you get while here in Japan.) He asked if I would drive in to Yokosuka to meet up with him or should he make a trip there and bring them home. I said I would have to get back to him, because I wasn’t sure if my lazy butt was interested in heading out in all the humidity to get dinner. At 4:30, he called back to firm up plans. Almost 4 ½ hours later, and how could he still possibly think I wanted burgers, I said? No. I want Hawaiian. And I told him that he needed to keep up better… perhaps with hourly check in calls about just to cover any possibilities about what the stomach wants.

There is this adorable and delicious Hawaiian place here in Zushi called Vahanas Bar. They make the Hawaiian specialties like locomoco and also Japanese’d tacos and pizzas. We passed an impromptu reggae concert at the park in front of the Zushi library and then arrived at Vahanas. While I really wanted their Moscow Mule, I opted for something that would make me think I was having a real drink, but just without any true alcohol… the banana shake. Made with fresh bananas and ice cream, topped with a cookie and chocolate flakes, this thing was sheer heaven that spilled onto the plate underneath. KH went for the taco salad, I the meat tacos, and a side of our favorite garlic potato fries… solid choices all around. After dinner, we lingered for some time before we took the long way home. Cravings fulfilled and stomach (and critter) happy, those are the best of nights for me here in Japan lately. And if you come to visit, I insist that you eat at this place. But please don’t balk when I order that $8 banana shake again. It’s on KH.

Saturday, July 12

Personal Advancements in Kozan

Friday saw me back in Kozan class for the first time in over a month. With traveling and work, I skipped all Ikebana in June except for the demonstration I had been a part of right before leaving. Of all the things I missed about Japan, this was one of the biggest. Coming back to my sensei and friends in class was cathartic and energizing in my love for Japan and the culture.

As usual, sensei had chosen three different types of materials of which we are told to choose from. I always try to be one of the last to choose, but the Japanese women always insist that I actually be one of the first. I managed the second spot this time and picked a deep burgundy lily, some type of tree, and some type of yellow weedy looking flower. Yes, the translation does not always get through to me in this class and it has never occurred to me to press for it. I typically choose my flowers on what I think might be a relatively easy material to work with as well as what is pleasing to the eye. In this instance, I chose very wrong. Not on the pleasing part, but definitely on the easy to work with.

After two years of studying Ikebana, including a major switch in schools which entirely changes your knowledge of the art form, I have to date only studied Ikebana using a low, flat dish with a kenzan inside for flower placement. The kenzan is this heavy metal, rectangular piece with thousands of spikes sticking up meant to be used to position each stem of the flower exactly in the chosen and correct place. For class, I chose a beautiful dish and kenzan and got to work. Starting with placing the tree, I trimmed about 6” off the longest stem, leaving the branch at about 2 1/2’ long. Studying the way the branch was shaped and how each leave lay, I positioned in the kenzan as would be best. The second branch was trimmed and placed in the same particular fashion. The only problem was that these branches are really heavy and the angle I was going for could not be supported by the low prongs of the kenzan. I her surveillance of the happenings in the room, sensei strolled by and looked over mine. The angles were fine, but she stopped me in my tracks. For the flowers I had chosen, she said they were mountain flowers, and therefore best placed in an upright, vase-like container.

Now, this is exactly the style I have been hoping to learn, but I don’t think I was ready for it quite yet. If you think it would be easy, just putting each flower branch and stem in just like you do any old vase, you are so wrong. Remember, Ikebana is done with precision, even when it looks like it isn’t precise. With my new upright vase, I started over. The angles were to be the same as in the flat dish, but this was where things fell apart for me. I know what it is supposed to look like when I am done, I had my mind’s visual, but I couldn’t figure out how for the life of me to make the branches stay where they are supposed to be without them rolling into whatever old position they felt like going to. After a ten minute struggle, a classmate next to me heard my large sigh, and came over to offer assistance. Her English is as bad as my Japanese, so please imagine this conversation… she tells me what to do in Japanese and I answer in English. Can you see how we weren’t getting far? In the end, she takes the branch, and shows me what she is saying. Helpful! So I’m off and running, but things are still not so smooth. On sensei’s second pass, she again stops me and shows me another trick. She takes the branch I am so diligently working on (yes, the very first still) and takes a piece of the same branch, slits it halway up the middle, carves the end off the branch that is to be positioned and sticks it like a “T” into the branch piece. With this “T”, I am able to secure the first branch into position. Likewise for the second, who also is refusing to cooperate.

You see, in Kozan, we are not supposed to use things like this at if, but at the least, not more than once. Kozan is natural, as if you found the arrangement just like that in nature. Since the nature gods didn’t create “T”s, neither am I to.

Usually, I am one of the first to be done with my arrangement and can go around the room to watch everyone else. For the first time ever, I was last. Which meant that every one of my five classmates came to stand behind me and watch me in my struggles. I know they do not judge and are just happy with my efforts, but I did feel the need to repeatedly apologize for my inadequacies arranging in this way, particularly since they are all quite prolific in this style. They all gave their standard “oohs and aahs,” and commended me for my noticeable effort. And then they all said sensei would be around to help… a sure sign that it wasn’t quite right in their eyes. I completely agreed actually! That last flower stem, the yellow weedy one, just never suited me no matter how I trimmed and rested it against the rough inner sides of the container. Kozan is supposed to be simple, where you can feel the wind in nature, and I had created a very full piece with my very full materials. I had even trimmed, I dare say hacked, at pieces of each branch to remove leaves and excess stemmage, but to no avail. I conceded and waited for sensei to approach.

It seems after all my struggles, I essentially had the form correct, but she too agreed that it was too full. She trimmed here and there and moved the placement of the lily flowers in the slightest ways, but ways that made gigantic improvements. The eye of the master.

With all evaluations done and class winding down, we snapped pictures of all the arrangements as we usually do, mine snapshots being study material for next class. Sensei had brought tea and a classmate had brought cookies as we all sat down for rest and refreshment. I always get the extra cookie, as they indicate each time that it is for the baby… and I never refuse. It would be impolite… plus what person in their right mind turns down sweets??

Back at home, I struggled to recreate my classwork in an inferior American vase. Not quite. But not bad. I think next class I am going to go for the upright style again. I like a good challenge and the class will surely like a little giggle at my sighs and struggles.

Please check out sensei's page if you get a chance for the entire class's work:

Wednesday, July 9


I am back in Japan. I have been for over a week now. On the first day after my return, I wrote out one of my usual, long “to-do” lists. Of course, blog the trip was on the list and yet here is has been a week and a half and I haven’t done so. It wasn’t that it was less important that other to-dos. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time. As the first day of skipping that number on the list, it quickly came to be a week later. Of course, with a week comes a lot of guilt. Guilt that I haven’t been more active with my writing. Guilt that I haven’t done every item on the to-do list yet. Guilt that I know there are many that are wondering why I haven’t written. And with the guilt that continued to mount, I wanted less and less to return to blog writing. And then I chatted with a friend in London the other day. It was her words that reminded me that this blog was started not only to keep up with others, but also as my own personal journal. As this is my personal outlet, I absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty that I haven’t written yet. She said I should write when I want to. With her absolve, it took only finding the time then to return to writing.

Not that I have been incredibly busy or anything. Since my return, my time has truly been my own. I have lounged. I have worked. I have done. But all when I wanted to… never once stopping myself if I felt like wasting an entire afternoon re-watching whole seasons of the Gilmore Girls. Let me not bore you with details on my favorite Loralie dialog and instead flashback to a few weeks ago.

Our flight home wasn’t bad. Not great, but not bad. I’m trying hard to forget the extra 45 minutes on top of the 14 hour flight after we arrived at Dulles where we circled the airport in the air waiting for a storm to pass, or the 40 minutes after touching the ground where we sat on the runway with the engines and the air turned off in the plane while waiting for them to reopen the airport, or the 25 minutes I spent waiting on the passenger van to take me to the airport exits. Oh, Dulles. How you madden me. My mom and cousin picked me up at the airport after having their own harrowing experiences as neither are very good on a highway, especially one a mere 20 miles from a major city. Even thought exhausted and not ready for being back on the right side of the road, I took over the driving to get us the two hours north to my parent’s place in Pennsylvania.

My parent’s place in the summer. Honestly, it is one of my favorite places in the world. Perhaps it is the memories, but it doesn’t hurt that tucked so deeply into the woods that few living in the immediate area even know there is a house back in there. Our own private nature preserve. The driveway is literally all about the lyrics - “over a river and through the woods.” Down the long gravel and dirt road, crossing clanging bridges and a daily used train track along the way, a last big turn and steep hill will bring you to their house surrounded by century’s old towering trees that express the ancestry of the area. It isn’t odd to pass bunnies, chipmunks, deer and even a fox or coyote while on the driveway to the house. Once there… you reach quiet. Maybe the moan of the lawn mower as my dad works his way around the yard, but usually quiet. My first days there always mean that my time schedule is going to be way off. No matter how late I stay up, I will wake up before dawn. I don’t fight it anymore. Instead, I go outside and sit in the murky darkness, listening to the near silence with only the whir of a few bats in the air to break it. As the sun comes up, I get to experience the exact moment when the earth comes awake. The bats go to sleep and the first bird will chirp out a single tune, followed only moments after by his thousands of friends with happy answers. There is a swing that my dad placed to look out over the hill, which is the best spot in the house for the show. It never fails to disappoint.

My parent’s are night owls, so I don’t normally see them before 10 in the morning. Sometimes mom would get up earlier, as she tries to do when I am in town. She wouldn’t want to lose out on even a single moment of my time while there. It’s such a loving gesture. Once we get moving, we say a quick goodbye to my dad and head out for our favorite activity… shopping. And this time we had a little boy to buy for, making it even more fun! We went to the two stores where I am keeping a registry and added a few items, buying many others. We went to places of normalcy, which I miss so much, like Target and Kohls where I could buy a few could buy a few clothing items for my growing self. We ate at all my favorites… Olive Garden, the local pizza joint Genova’s (twice actually)… places where I was able to satisfy a craving or two. We spent a second day shopping for my mom who is in the process of redoing her living room. We picked out carpet and wall fixtures and curtains. Anther day we spent getting ready for a shower that my sister-in-law and mom had planned for the upcoming weekend. We cleaned and grocery shopped and got the menu and prizes together. My mother-in-law and her aunt arrived on Friday morning for the shower so we got some time with my other family. Kimono Hubby flew in late that night to join us from the training that he was attending stateside, but not in the vicinity. It was a wonderfully full house. On Saturday, things only got better.

You know, I still believe my wedding day to be the best day of my life. Of course, it is because I married my best friend and love of my life, but it is also because it was the one day in my life where I had everyone I loved and cared about in one room. There is no time in a person’s life that that will ever happen again. Both sides of the family and all friends are there. The days that run the closest to that perfect day are shower days – wedding and baby. The only downside is that the male counterparts aren’t there as they run from fear on this day. Even my dad hid outside of the house all day, spending time only with KH and one other brave husband as they watched over the kids. Still, I had all these women I love and who love me in one place. The shower was beautiful, with the most considerate and thoughtful touches created by my sister-in-law. The favor was a piggy bank wrapped inside of a diaper shaped into a bowl, topped with shoestring candy to look like noodles and Swedish fish… a nod to the baby’s Japanese origins… next to a basket of diapers rolled up like towels in Japanese fashion. There were hanging signs made of stamped diapers to announce the shower. There was a diaper cake and games that made everyone think and everyone laugh. But it was the fact all of these women whom I love and love me were back in the same room that made it so truly perfect. Their gifts brought tears to my eyes. In place of cards (overpriced as they are today), books were given with the kindest sayings written in them. If there is one thing about me that most know, it is my love for reading. I can’t believe I already have this magical library built for my little boy. I’ve already started reading them to him. At the end of the day, friends and family slowly trickled out, leaving me in sadness and yet pure happiness. I can’t believe my luck to be blessed with these people in my life.

The next day was the hardest of the trip, because it was then that I had to say goodbye to my family. My mom and I drove my mom-in-law, aunt and husband to the airport where the first goodbyes occurred. From there, mom and I drove on south to Washington, DC where I was to meet up with the friend I would be staying with for the remaining week stateside. We chose Tysons Mall to meet at because it gave mom and I more time on our own doing one of our favorite things, but also because it is the safest place for her to drive home from… using all the back roads north. After a long afternoon and lunch, it was time for her to get on the road. The hardest part of the trip was watching my mom say goodbye through her fast-flowing tears. It hurts me to know that she hurts so much from my time away. While she has never held me back from these faraway ambitions that I have always had, it is impossible for her to pretend that they don’t matter either. I still had a week to go stateside and she wouldn’t be able to see me. Even calls every night were not enough to curb some of those tears. It’s truly hard to hurt your mom unintentionally while fulfilling the life of your dreams… and something I will never be able to brush aside lightly.

My next week was a lovely one too. My girlfriend and her husband took me in and made sure I had a beautiful and comfortable room to sink into every night. My swollen feet that worsened with each day because of flying, cars and being up on them too long were nursed back to health by both these loving souls, who made me feel like I was more than a guest in their home… that I was family and welcome anytime and for any length of time. Of course, there was more shopping, more eating and more hanging out. There even was more showering! My closest friends in Virginia pulled together a lovely and intimate shower for me on one of the nights. The food was delicious. The punch was to die for. But the company, overwhelming in its love and support. I have always worried that when I finally decided to take this next step into adulthood and be a mom, that I would lose friends because I would no longer be the fun party girl. The girl who is always ready for a night out, even if the call comes in after 10 pm. The girl who is always there for them. I still want to be that girl, but I know that it will definitely change after the baby gets here. But these friends… I think they will be there for me… through these life changes and much, much longer.

Then after two weeks of hanging out and catching up, it was time to meet KH back at Dulles and return to Japan. Usually, I am so ready for this return. Our trips stateside are all too often fast and furious, where we run around to so many places that our heads spin so hard, we are deliriously ready to return to the paces of our regular lives. This trip wasn’t like that. Both at my parent’s and at my girlfriend’s, I had a comfortable and quiet place to retreat to every night. It was like home. The only thing I missed was not having my husband by my side. On that count alone, I was ready return to his side. If that meant Japan, so be it.

And now we are back. He’s back to work. I’m back to my life with my first Ikebana class in over a month coming up at the end of this week. Life is good.

I’ll be back into the swing of writing soon. Well, maybe. Japan has increasing humidity every day, which does keep me somewhat hibernated in the house with the air conditioning. Pregnancy and humidity equals the death of me. The death of me equals less traveling around and experiencing Japanese culture. But I shall do my best… on the cooler days.