Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sayonara 2009

2009 was good to me. Several long-time, big-time dreams came true.

Most notable was flying back to the States this past spring. Not only did I get to go home and see family and friends, but the trip also coincided with my first book, a short story collection called A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories, being published by Counterpoint Press LLC.


I also had my first ever book signing at the Bookworm in Omaha. That event went better than I ever could have imagined. People showed up, lots of people--old friends and teachers, favorite doctors and distant relatives. Even kind strangers. The staff were amazing and the books sold out. I don't recall a word of what I said or how I answered questions. I might have just sat there and drooled the whole time. I don't know. All I remember is the incredible high that lasted until almost the end of September.

Beautiful People.

The third whopper of a dream was flying to New York City and meeting my fabulous agent, Ethan Ellenberg. I can honestly say I was more nervous meeting him than reading and answering questions in front of a hundred or so people. It was a whole we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore moment and I am still carrying with me the inspiration I garnered from him.

Look J, the back of my mom's head and is that Elvis?

After all of that it was a bit of a downer when J and I returned to Japan only to be quarantined for 10-days because they feared we had H1N1. Although the people who called us daily asking how we felt and explaining that if we had to cough we should cover our mouths were nice enough.

From June it was pretty much a lazy slide into Christmas.

Oh, there was a highlight in November when I went to Osaka to do a reading at a Four Stories event. Again, the people were awesome. The vibe was surreal. Three of my best Shizuoka friends went to support me and I just can't tell them how much that meant to me. I also met an online buddy who was so way cool that it felt like hooking up with a long-time friend.

Still as wonderful as 2009 was, I'm looking forward to next year. I've gotten rid of some baggage, rearranged my priorities, and am really hoping to be a creative, productive force of nature. Okay, maybe force of nature is a little ambitious. Fingers crossed for another book published.

I wanted to thank all the Kappa no He readers, subscribers and followers. I hope each and everyone of you have a New Year filled with health and wealth and happiness.

2010 is the Year of the Tiger. Here is a New Year's postcard I painted. I was going to send these out this year, but I couldn't successfully reproduce the tiger. It warped into some horse-rat looking creature.

Tomorrow I'll post the card I did end up sending out.

Good bye, 2009. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Big Cleaning

So in Japan they have something at the end of the year called Big Cleaning. I like the idea--getting all squeaky clean before the New Year. But it is cold. And there are postcards to write and food to prepare. And some serious napping to be done.

I'm making an effort though.

Today I scrubbed the foyer, the front door, and then all the tiles outside. I swept away spiderwebs (and one giant dead spider), crunchy leaves, and loads of dirt.


I even used my bowl of hot soapy water to wash the tanuki who sits by my door. Doesn't he look happy? I even gave him a new little mat to sit on.

The whole time I was doing all this scrubbing and wiping and sweeping and polishing, my little's a picture of my little buddy:

...was working on his work of art, a hole.

The photo doesn't look too bad. I filled it in before I thought about taking a picture. And I really wish I had taken a picture of that dog grinning ear to ear covered in dirt from his paws to his belly. He promptly got a New Year's Big Cleaning Bath.

After that fun, we went shopping to buy all the special N. Y.'s food. And I picked up a hakusai that was so big it didn't fit in my fridge. So here it is, a nice addition to my clean foyer.

And there you have maybe the only good thing about not having central heat. Foyer's freezing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

Just hopped on here to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and some seriously Happy Holidays.

Remember that statue I was carving? I was finally able to bring him home the other day. So much for me sticking him under the maple tree so he can grow moss. I put him in the foyer and dressed him up. I can see this becoming a year long thing.

My teacher told me I need to name him. Still need to do that.

Both Christmas Eve and Christmas day husband had work and J had school. Sort takes the gumption out of the holidays. But we still managed to do a present day, and tomorrow I'll roast a turkey and make some fixings. We'll even have a friend in from Tokyo.

But today I was feeling a bit blue when all of the sudden the doorbell rang. It was the guy here to change some meter outside. Electricity went out for about thirty minutes. I couldn't use the computer because the modem was off. Blue, blue, blue.

And then...

The guy came to the door to tell me they were done. He was holding a copper wire and a pair of needle-nose pliers. What the? He goes, Here this is for you. And proceeded to bend and twist.

And he made me this:

A dragonfly.

And that made everything alright.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let Me Introduce: The Future!

I've been waiting for almost a year and a half for a postcard. Last month that postcard arrived. It announced that today I'd be among a chosen number of people (not unlike Charlie Bucket) who are allowed to buy a bousai radio, a disaster-prevention radio. Or for those who don't like that translation, a disaster-preparedness radio.

Basically, its job is to warn me when an earthquake is about to occur. Yes, only mere seconds before the devastation, but theoretically enough time to dive under the kitchen table and save my life.

Here is my absurdly simple understanding of how the thing works: before any large earthquake, primary waves shoot from deep within the earth; those waves are picked up by a bunch of scientists sitting and gazing raptly at their computers; one guy makes a phone call or two; another guy presses a large red button and voila' all the bousai radios in the area to be affected take notice and at full volume announce, "THERE'S GOING TO BE AN EARTHQUAKE. TAKE COVER!"

And this is what the puppy looks like.

This morning I took my postcard and my 1,200 yen (exact change, thank you) to the community center arriving fifteen minutes before it opened. That's okay there were already twenty elderly men and women outside, a postcard in one hand, money in the other. They looked just as excited as I'm sure I did. This was an event! (Despite there not being a single Gobstoppers to be seen.)

We were taken in and made to watch a video about things like lengthening the antennae, changing batteries, and making sure we placed it in a room where we're most likely to be.

I learned some interesting things. Not only do I get the pre-earthquake warning, but every day at 7:30 and 16:30 it will play music letting me know that it is indeed 7:30 and 16:30. Note: they do this anyway from speakers around town, but those are relatively far away and I barely hear them. So sometimes I'm not exactly sure when it's 7:30AM.

My device will also click on and promptly inform me of other important notices any time of the day or night. Again this is something that goes out via those speakers which I hardly ever hear. Now these news flashes are 99.9% of the time announcements from a family who has noticed that dear grandma or grandpa has wandered off and they don't have a clue where he/she is. I'll get a description of how tall the missing person is, what he/she is wearing, and any other vital information deemed important in their capture--"Last seen with beloved pooch, Koro."

If, the fireman explained to us, these broadcasts are too loud, we can put a cushion over the speaker. Remember, volume control goes to FULL when these bulletins come on. We cannot, however, turn the machine off. That would defeat the purpose, right?

Look, here it is again.

What I really like is how deceptively analog it is. Just get a load of those dial-y things.

Ha ha, you laugh now. But when the Japan-breaking Tokai Earthquake goes down, I'll be snug under my kitchen table most likely praying very enthusiastically that no fires break out nearby, oh, and also no tsunamis. Please no fires or tsunamis.

And also, that nuclear power plant they built down the road. The one they built ON the fault line, yeah, if that would just remain in tact, I'll be good.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Now here's a good idea for a Christmas gift.

A fundoshi is a Japanese loincloth, sort of traditional underwear for men. However, nowadays they're mostly worn at festivals. You have a festival and you have every red-blooded male in the vicinity come out wearing his fundoshi.

Look, here are some happy fellows enjoying theirs. These are white ones, but you also see a lot of red fundoshis. Nothing fancy.

When J was in karate his teacher kept promising (threatening?) the boys that in the summer they were required to train in only a fundoshi. Boy, you should have seen J's face.
So a fundoshi is kind of a dude thing. Or so I thought. Today I discovered that about a year ago a company called Une Nana Cool decided to do something about that. They made Nanafun, a fundoshi just for women. With tops! For only something like $13 bucks you can get this:

Really cute.

I guess they're selling like crazy. Unfortunately, I can't think of anyone to buy for. Somehow I don't think my mother would be too impressed.

And just in case you aren't convinced...a little video about the new craze.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Still Here

I'm still here. Unfortunately, I'm failing miserably in time management. And now here it is the end of the year and things are really getting busy. I'm going to start posting more regularly, I promise--and visit all my friends' blogs

But for today I wanted to share a glittery new drink with an intriguing name: Love Mode Ginger. Zero.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hell Temple

While in Osaka this past weekend reading for Four Stories, my friend and I visited an odd little temple called Senkouji in an area called Nakano.

Here's the sign that greeted us at the gate. It says, "If you tell a lie, I'll pull out your tongue."


Once inside the temple grounds this little fellow was there to direct us. Wanna go to the Land of the Buddhas or maybe Hell Hall?

The temple had a bunch of ojizo statues. All cute.

Although this one was a little unnerving. Someone had gone and scribbled in his eyes with pen.

Here's one of these.

My favorite place was The Land of Hotoke. Hotoke can mean Buddha, a Buddhist image, or a person after they've passed away. Didn't know what to expect here. The steps twisted and went underground.

The only light came from under this glass floor mandala. It was gorgeous and there was a little sign that said if you took off your shoes you could stand on it.

Land of the Buddhas was a circular room with three pillars that dripped a constant trickling of water -- it echoed fabulously. All around the walls were various Buddhist images. Somewhere I found a sign that said you could sit on the glowing mandala (directly in the center) and meditate. Which I really thought would be cool, except that anyone could sneak up on me from behind.

This place was great, too. Here we have Enma-O. There are ten judges you meet in the afterlife and Enma is the king and main judge--a nasty fellow. He is the one who passes judgement on those who have died, deciding whether he goes to heaven or one of the six hells/purgatories.

When you go into the small hall, Enma is facing you. Under him is a gong which you have to hit to announce your presence. This activates a small video screen to the right and a huge booming voice explaining where you are and asking if you've led a sinless life. For those who have not led perfect lives, it goes on to explain what awaits.

To the left are nine of the Kings (no picture, sorry). They are smallish brightly colored and dressed in Chinese style clothes. They pose no real threat.

To the right is Datsueba, a skinny old hag who waits at the river Styx and strips all new comers of their clothes (sometimes translated "skin"). Her partner, Ken-eo, then hangs the clothes on the leafless trees of the bank of the river and determines the weight of the person's sins by how low the branch bends under the clothing.

This is what Datsueba looks like:

Next to her stands a red oni/devil. He's got that pliers-looking thing (you see in the first picture), so that he can yank out the tongues of any liars, naysayers, the like.

There was also this, a rock with a hole in it. If you stick your head in you're supposed to be able to hear the sounds of hell. My buddy said she heard nothing. I refrained from inserting my noggin. I just had this bad feeling I'd hear a chorus of, "We're waiting for you~." Or something.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dog and Hand--Happy Halloween

So there is this terrible rustling sound. The dog knocks something off the shelf and then runs away with it.

He stole something! I grab the camera. Here he is making a run for it.

Figures he's safe on the couch.

What is this thing? What's inside?

Mmmm, bone marrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Messin' with imovie

Re-embedded link. Let's try this again. Fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Writing Space

One of my favorite books is Writer's Houses by Francesca Premoli-Droulers. It's a big coffee table book with beautiful pictures of 20 different authors' houses, desks, gardens, you name it. In it you have Faulkner's southern mansion, Sackville-West's abandoned castle, and Virginia Woolf's sprawling cottage. To see where the greats wrote their books and poetry is awe-inspiring.

As for me, on the very other end of the "great" spectrum, I usually write at the kitchen table. Right there. That's my spot.

It's actually quite nice. Great breeze when the windows are open; fridge nearby; and the good sound system in is this room. I also have all my books and notebooks right on hand. The only drawback is that when anyone else is home, distractions abound. TV being the big one.

So I bought a folding screen and some good headphones.

This worked for awhile. But then the people who live with me discovered even though I was hiding behind a screen and I couldn't hear them, they could still wave their hands frantically or bang on the table to get my attention. "Have you seen my socks?" "Do we have any good ice cream in the house?" "The cat just puked on my knee."

Drastic measures were called for.

I moved into our computer/junk room. I regret not taking a picture. This is a pic I took actually AFTER two weeks of cleaning. Note how you can see the floor and how the desk is not piled all the way to the ceiling with crap. I had made a lot of progress.

Almost three weeks of cleaning, sorting, throwing away, and I created what I call The Sanctuary--my little place to flee.


Here it is at night.

I've got a minus ion, spooky cloud maker, a lava lamp, and an eel-shaped paper weight. I've got candles, incense burners, and a picture of my agent's front door (because I was too shy to ask for a picture with him). All extremely important when your pretending to be a famous writer.

No, it's not a villa or a castle, but I'd bet money Virginia Woolfe didn't have a pink lava lamp.

There is, however, one little problem. Remember I live in earthquake territory. And this is what I have immediately behind me.

Yeah, ouch.

I believe I shall write with a helmet on.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Temple Visit

These days visiting local temples to me is like going to Disney World. I get all giddy and can't sleep the night before. I guess that's pretty lame when you think about it. Shows my age.

So here are some pictures from our last visit. Interesting temple things.

My husband freaked out when I took this picture. It's called a munenbotoke. I'd never seen one before. Basically, they are graves that have no one to look after them for one reason or another. Restless spirits, all that stuff.

Here are J and M sticking incense into some sand, lighting it and directing the smoke all over their bodies.

And here's a giant shoe. I've never seen a giant shoe at Disney before. I'm guessing this belonged to one of the monster-sized mountain goblins from the post below. There was only one shoe, so I'm also guessing he'll be wanting this back sometime soon. Wish I could be there to see that.

This little guy is a jizo. He's what I'm carving on Saturdays. Except MY ojizo has a ginormous head. HUGE! Everyone in my class made comments about how big my jizo's head was. I said I liked his big head, so there. Then they moved away and talked about his head amongst themselves.

I found a picture of the jizo I'm carving. Mind you, he's not done yet. Teacher says I have to take some of his head off.

Speaking of big heads, this statue had the biggest head on a statue I'd ever seen in my life. Bigger than my jizo even. Impressive.

Oh, and I loved this one because whoever sewed this cap also embroidered a little bee on it. What a sweet thing to do.

And finally, this was quite freaky. You know how people fold 1,000 cranes and string them up to wish for good health? Well, in the middle of this one ancient temple someone threaded a thousand cicada skins.


I'm not saying Walt is turning over in his grave but...