Friday, September 30, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Japanese Mom

Ok, first, I should say that there is no replacement for my mother.  To know my mom is to love her, and she truly is the most loving and kind person in the world.

So to say that I have a Japanese mom is not to say that I'm replacing my mom, but just adding to the family.  Junko owned a little gyoza shop not far from our apartment, and it was one of the first places I ate when I moved here.  She knew a little English, and her whole family worked in the restaurant: her daughter was waitstaff, her son cooked the gyoza, and her husband, well, I'm not sure what he did, but he was there too.  When Nate and Ethan arrived in Japan, Junko's shop was one of the first places I took them.  We ate there frequently, and eventually a friendship grew between us and Junko's family, and we always looked forward to seeing them.  When Nate's family came to visit in February, Junko came over with cakes and cookies to welcome them.

She loved it when I began to call her my Japanese mom.  About two months ago, she began to have health problems, and I was shocked to see that just a few weeks ago, her shop was shut down.  I immediately called her, to make sure she was ok.  She said she was fine, it was just too much for her to run the gyoza shop and her other job making bentos to sell the hospitals.  I told her I missed her, and she invited us to come to her house last Saturday to have tea.

Not only did we have tea, but cakes, cookies, all sorts of snacks.  She pulled out all the stops.  We talked with her and her daughter in a Japanese/English hybrid language that seemed to work for us.  Here's some interesting things I learned about Junko;

  • She used to be on a cooking show in Sapporo called Vitamin TV.  She's like the Julia Child of Sapporo!
  • Her son and husband don't drink, but she and her daughter love to drink!
  • Because of above, she offered us some of her homemade umeshu.  It was three years old, and STRONG!  Made my face turn red!
  • She once owned an izekaya in Sumikawa, as well as her gyoza shop and her bento business.  Girlfriend is busy!!
It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and she wants us to come by again to make temakisushi.  As she was walking us to the door, she gestured to a bedroom, and told me that when we move back to America and come to visit Sapporo, she has a room ready for us.  

I think I'll take her up on that offer!

Monday, September 19, 2011

100% perfect

Haruki Murakami: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning

One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo's fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she's not that good-looking. She doesn't stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn't young, either - must be near thirty, not even close to a "girl," properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She's the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there's a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl - one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you're drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I'll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird.
"Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl," I tell someone.
"Yeah?" he says. "Good-looking?"
"Not really."
"Your favorite type, then?"
"I don't know. I can't seem to remember anything about her - the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts."
"Yeah. Strange."
"So anyhow," he says, already bored, "what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?"
"Nah. Just passed her on the street."
She's walking east to west, and I west to east. It's a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and - what I'd really like to do - explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we'd have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
"Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?"
Ridiculous. I'd sound like an insurance salesman.
"Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?"
No, this is just as ridiculous. I'm not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who's going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do. "Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me."
No, she wouldn't believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you're not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I'd probably go to pieces. I'd never recover from the shock. I'm thirty-two, and that's what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can't bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She's written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she's ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She's lost in the crowd.

Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started "Once upon a time" and ended "A sad story, don't you think?"

Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
"This is amazing," he said. "I've been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you're the 100% perfect girl for me."
"And you," she said to him, "are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I'd pictured you in every detail. It's like a dream."
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It's a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one's dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, "Let's test ourselves - just once. If we really are each other's 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we'll marry then and there. What do you think?"
"Yes," she said, "that is exactly what we should do."
And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other's 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season's terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence's piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fouteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don't you think?

Yes, that's it, that is what I should have said to her.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Things I miss

Although it's not quite fall here in Sapporo, it's sure starting to feel like it.  Fall is my absolute favorite time of year: that chill in the air, jackets and sweaters, the smell of leaves.  For some reason, that fall feeling is making me especially nostalgic for home this year.  I could blame it on the rainy, cloudy weather we've been having for days on end, but I've been thinking a lot about the things I'm missing right now back in the good ol' US of A.

  • Tex-Mex food.  God, I miss this one.  Sapporo's got some good Mexican food places, but Tex-Mex is so distinct, it's hard to duplicate.  What I wouldn't give for an evening at Abuelo's restaurant, eating my weight in tortilla chips and salsa, and have a huge helping of their enchiladas and "papas".  We tried to bring a little bit of Texas to Japan last week, when we invited the other Sumikawans over for a Tex-Mex feast.  It wasn't quite Abuelo's, but the company made up for that!

  • Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks.  For me, this was the quintessential fall drink.  I just love those pumpkin spices - cinnamon, clove, a little nutmeg.  I was so disappointed to see that the Starbucks in Sapporo don't have it as one of their fall drinks.  Maybe that's for the better, because I'd be buying one every day!
  • Anything pumpkin.  Ok, so I pretty much miss anything that has to do with pumpkins.  Pumpkin pies, going to the pumpkin patch, roasting pumpkin seeds.  The Japanese pumpkin is much different that the large American ones I'm used to.  They're smaller and green, and great for cooking.  I like them, but it's not like you can carve one for halloween.  

  • Halloween Decorations. Back in America, I used to get so annoyed with Halloween decorations, which would come out immediately after school started, almost two months before the holiday.  When we lived in New Jersey, I would laugh at the way people would go all out decorating the front of their homes with the cheesiest stuff imaginable - spiderwebs, plastic ghosts, and those terrible inflatable monstrosities.  Now, I kinda miss them.  Makes me wanna put up some fake spider webs come October...
Some of our Halloween decorations from years ago.

  • Traditions.  It's no secret that I'm a creature of habit.  I love routine, I find comfort in it.  In the 12 years we've been a family, we've created a lot of traditions that I'd look forward to every year; decorating for Halloween, the Thanksgiving dinner, snow sledding in the park.  I think I was still so overwhelmed with living in a new country last year that keeping traditions just didn't become a priority, and now I really miss them.  Now that we are living in Japan, I think it's more important than ever to have those traditions that kept us close as a family.  Does that mean we'll be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner come November?  Well, we'll see.
German Apple Pancakes.  I made these every year for Christmas morning.
  • My sister.  This really has nothing to do with this season, because I've been missing her for a long time.  She's my best friend, and although being able to skype with her has helped with the separation, I miss having her around, shopping together, or checking out a band.  I'm looking forward to the day when she'll finally come to Japan and we can bash around Sapporo together!  I'm waiting for you, Rachel!!!!
One of my most favorite pictures of me and my sister, about 4 years ago.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alexa Chung for Madewell

If I were to have a girl crush, I think it would have to be on Alexa Chung.  I love her mix of vintage and designer, and was really excited to find out that she designed a fall line for Madewell that's coming out this month.

Man, I'd love to rock that white lace dress.  These pieces will probably be out of my price range, but maybe I can find some things like them.  It's free to dream...

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Me and Ethan, circa 2007. 

It's amazing, how time flies as you get older.

When I was young, a day seemed like forever and summer vacations were an eternity.  Now, I look back at a year or two and wonder where in the world did the time go, especially when I look at Ethan.  My God, how he's grown, especially in the last year.  I mean, he's got underarm hair, for crying out loud!

I'm sorry, is that too much information?

Ethan has always been such an amazing kid.  When he was little, he loved dressing up, and quoting scenes from Lord of the Rings.  We'd spend hours playing with his "castle guys" - a mix of Playmobil and other little medieval characters.  When he was really small, he'd beg me to tell him a story every night, always about a hero and his horse.  I told this same story every night for so many months, I had it memorized.  This later moved to story books that I'd read, then slowly he began to read to me.  Then he'd ask me to sing this song from the movie "The Prince of Egypt". 

When we lived in New Jersey, we'd walk through the forests around our apartment, pretending to be heroes on a quest.  I'd hide from him and he'd try to find me.  I remember Ethan always using a British accent when we'd play these pretend games.  Why is it that everything seems cooler in a British accent?  He used to write me songs on this tiny piano Mom and Dad bought for him.  Songs about dinosaurs and Mommy and Daddy...

And now, he's 12, and a junior high school student.  His castle toys have been replaced with model airplanes, and his tiny piano with an electric guitar.  He prefers more time alone now, even putting a "Do Not Disturb" sign on his door.  I feel him pulling away from me, becoming more independent.  Kisses at night are becoming less frequent, and hugs are reserved for the times when no one is looking. 

Where did my little boy go?

I'm so proud of the young man Ethan is turning out to be, and watching him grow has been a joy.  But I didn't ever dream how difficult this transition was going to be.  I've been so used to him depending on me for everything, and I devoted so much of myself to his care.  Now that he's older, and our relationship is changing, it's been hard for me to no longer see him as that little boy who loved dinosaurs and cowboys.  I have to let him grow, to let him discover things on his own, to stand up for himself.

But whenever he needs me, I'll be here, waiting.

Friday, September 2, 2011

If money were no object....

I'd buy every piece in the Steven Alan Fall 2011 collection.

The florals, the stripes. that sweater dress!!  I just can't get over it - these are the clothes of my dreams.  So timeless!

I get this way every fall. It's my favorite season to buy clothes.  Must.....control.....myself......