Monday, December 27, 2010

My Lucky Cement Ball

It's the end of 2010 and as I see it The Year of the Tiger really didn't do me any favors. I'm ready for some 2011, Year of the Bunny.


I wasn't able to get a single short story published this past year despite being short-listed a few times and waiting almost a year on two other queries. My mid grade book -- that I'm still dearly in love with -- hasn't been picked up yet and my agent says we should move on to the next book and resubmit this one later when the timing is better. And worst of all, I still don't have that "next" book written. Why? Because 2010 kicked. My. Butt.

2011, I'm counting on you.

I do have some ideas, plans, and super secret projects in the works already, so I'm hoping it all pans out in the end. May the mighty rabbit of the animal zodiac bring some good news.

Next year I'm also planning on blogging more here. I sorely miss my bloggy friends. I'm sorry. I apologize. I've been cheating on you with Twitter and Facebook. I haven't blogged and I haven't even checked up on you all. But I've learned and grown and I think I can balance the three evils of Twitter/FB/Blogger without anyone's feelings being hurt. Time management--I'm getting better, but I still have so much more to learn. Which brings me to...

My dog. (Not a segue at all.)

Recently when Cha and I go for walks he brings home little souvenirs. Sometimes I see him pick them up. Sometimes not. His souvenirs of choice are mittens. Single mittens that he finds in ditches or in the middle of the road. If I see him snag one I "convince" him to drop it and I place it on a fence or somewhere easy to see. It's what they do here for the owner to find later.

But the other day he found one way down by the school and would not release it for anything. After he got it home I discovered a name on it. It turned out it belonged to the kid who lives across the street. So now I'm thinking maybe my dog can READ! Well, anyway, we returned the glove to the child and Cha Cha was given a vigorous head scratch as thanks.

Yesterday he brought home a small bag of rice crackers.

Here is Cha posing nobly with a glove that he somehow snuck into the house without me knowing.

Today we went for a walk and he brought home the most surreal souvenir of all. I don't know where he found it, but he brought home this:

It's a ball. A small cement ball. How cool is that? Since I can think of no reason anyone would make a perfectly round small cement ball, I'm calling this lucky. Cha decided after carrying it all the way home that he had no interest in something that wasn't soft or tasty so I claimed it. It's my lucky cement ball. And I'm going to set it by my computer. It will remind me to get my butt off Twitter and back to writing. It's also going to remind me that I have to be tough (like cement), yet I have to keep moving (like a ball). (Oh, stop groaning, you.) It's not a very creative analogy, but remember it's still 2010. That and I can't think of any motivational images for a mitten or a package of rice crackers.

Look at that cement ball. It just oozes good luck.

And if it works I can sell it on Ebay at the end of next year and make a fortune. Hell, I can do that even if it *doesn't* work.

Oh! Before I forget there is a new post (well, kind of old by now) on the HNN site. This one is Frightful Japan: The Devil's Gate. One of the stories in A Robe of Feathers is called "My Devil's Gate". That would be a fictional piece based on this superstition. All these superstitions calling doom and gloom. I think what everyone needs a cement ball. Hey, maybe I can start MAKING them! *idea*

I do hope everyone had a much better 2010s than I did and I do hope that next year is even better than that (with or without a cement ball).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest Blogging Gig

The wonderful people at Horror News Net are allowing me to do a monthly guest blog. It's called Frightful Japan. There I plan on exploring Japan, the scary stuff. Because seriously this country does horror so freaking well. I probably won't go into movies as the Horror News Net people already have some great movie reviewers on their site. I'll be looking into urban myths, strange traditions, and creepy cultural differences at the beginning of every month.

My first post went up last week. It's about Hitori Kakurenbo (Playing Hide and Seek by Yourself). I might have mentioned it here ages ago. This time I even painted a picture for it.

If you're into that kind of thing, give it a peek. If not, I'll be doing a post on a Shinto wedding I attended last weekend. Very pretty, and white, and not scary at all. Well, except when the gods came down and my camera freaked out. Yep. It happened.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

After Typhoon Photos

When nothing is going on talk about the weather.

We had a typhoon blow through last week. It wasn't too bad. Kinda wimpy actually. Lots of rain and a few gusts. I lost the garbage can lid again. But that always happens.

When the typhoon was mostly over I looked outside and it was yellow. Yellow! Outside! I grabbed my camera and snapped a few pictures.

Here's the after-typhoon rainbow. It *was* a double rainbow and much more vivid, but I was lolly-gagging around (talking to neighbors) and missed the shot.

Quite feint actually.

Here the sky's trying to clear. But you can see the wall of cloud on the left. It wrapped all the way around. Impressive.

The hole in the sky from another angle.

This is what it look like behind the sky-trying-to-clear shot.

Some more yellow and blue sky.

And this happens more than I admit, but this next picture I took when I slipped.

It turned out sorta nice.

Worth the embarrassment.

※And in news: I got a nice gig as a monthly guest blogger on a really cool, high trafficked site. I'll write up a post about Scary Japan and also do a water color to accompany it (be afraid, be very afraid). Still working on my first post but I'll let you know when it's up.

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Autumn Quiz

Okay, I'm trying to get into the swing of weekly blogs again. Still, I've got some other things vying for my time so posts might be short. Like a photo of my cat pulling a face at me or this:

An autumn-flavored quiz.

What is this?

(click for close up)

(Note: Readers in Japan will know right off the bat.)

Actually, this is too easy, isn't it?

Wait for it...

Wait for it....

Okay! Here it is sliced in half.

Ta-dah! It's a pumpkin-shaped fancy bread.

And as you can (kind of) see with a better close up, it had sweet pumpkin mash inside as well.

Note the use of past tense in "it *had* pumpkin mash inside". Yep, devoured before the photos even uploaded.

It was delicious.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cute, Non-Flat Cat

So I'm sitting at the computer when Soda hops up on the table to hang out.
She's busy cleaning herself in various rude ways -- which was kind of funny --
so I grab the camera and go, "Say Cheese!"

This is what I got.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Potentially Disturbing...

...but kind of cute in a morbid way.

Last week the dog and I came across this:

I knelt down to get a better look.

What IS it?

Is it really some small animal? Or maybe a stuffed animal that got smooshed? You can't tell the size from the photo but it could probably fit in the palm of my hand.

Right now my money is on stuffed animal for the simple fact that Cha Cha displayed zero interest in the thing. Had it been a real rodent I think he'd at least he'd have given it a sniff.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Plant, Grow, Cut

Okay, it's not Eat, Pray, Love. But hey.

We have all these rice fields in our neighborhood. They make walking so much more enjoyable, not just for being pretty, but also for the loads of critters that reside (or visit) therein: frogs, egrets, wild ducks, snakes, jumbo snails, loaches, and a whole host of dragonflies. Even bats live in the strange covered earth ditches used for irrigation. I really like the bats. And the egrets. And the frogs and dragonflies (okay, you see where this is going).

Sadly, though, as the elderly folk get older and their children decide not to become farmers, more are being sold and built on. Almost every year we lose another three or four or five fields.

Here are some photos I took of the rice season as it is in our neighborhood. Plant. Grow. Cut.

Here's a field in spring (May?) flooded and newly planted.

With some purple.

And some more purple.

Then I didn't take any photos for months. The rice grew, turned a very lovely green and then tasseled in mid to late August. We had a small typhoon come through. Here's a bit of damage from that.

By the end of summer the fields turn from green to gold.

Here's some pics from this morning's walk.

Someone has starting cutting this field already.

After they cut all the rice they tie it and hang it like so.

It dries for a day or two and then comes the men with their threshing machine.

And finally we have a naked field. This is actually the same field as the first photo, just a different angle.

During the winter the fields remain bare and the kids are allowed to go in and play. We don't have any parks nearby so they become nice places to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball. There. Useful all year long, the rice field. I hope they stop filling them in. Where will all the egrets go?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Original Recipe! (needs a name)

Here's how it all happened:

I planted my first real garden this year. It did okay but things didn't grow as big as I'd hoped. The green peppers only get to a certain size before they start turning an awful color and rotting. So I went out the other day and picked a bowl full.

This is how big they are.

Yep, fairly mini, huh?

Here's what I did. I bought some Camembert cheese. I just love the stuff.

Then after washing and cleaning out the insides of the peppers, I stuffed them full of soft cheese.

Next I made up some meat. Salt, pepper, (my all time favorite food) garlic. I even used a package of dried tomato soup. Mix, mix, mix. You can see where this is going, right?

My goal was to completely cover the tiny green peppers in meat and call the new recipe Double Double Surprise, or something else equally clever (ahem). But after wrapping a couple I realized I was running short on meat. So I cut my losses.

I capped the cheese.

Making in effect a pan full of meat and green pepper ice cream cones.

Then I browned them.

And because everything is better with tomato sauce, I added a couple cans of that. Salt, pepper.

Boil, boil, boil.

I had a little Camembert cheese left that the cat didn't eat (...while I was watering the grass. Cat!), so I broke it off and dropped the pieces on top. It kind of melted.

And here is the finished creation. Both child and husband commended me (I'm still on probation after a failed sugar cookie experiment) and said I was allowed to make it again.

Now if I an just get my garden to pump out another harvest of mini green peppers.

ETA: My husband just told me the last photo should be retaken because it looks like I'd taken a bite and then shot the pic. I told him I used a spoon to break a piece away. He insisted it would look better cut in half, straight across, and both halves showing. Humph.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

He's Not an Octopus, but...

He's not an octopus named Paul, but he's ready to try his hand at this predicting thing.

"Hey, if a cephalopod mollusc with eight sucker-bearing arms can do it..."

"Guten tag. Mein nahme isst Paul!"

*waving tentacle*

First we prepared two of Cha the Beagle's favorite snacks along with two placards labeled Spain and Netherlands.

I carefully placed one doggy snack under each card. And knowing this could all go horribly wrong, I also added a firm and constant stream of, "Stay! Stay! Stay! Don't think about it. Stay!"

Cha the Beagle stayed admirably (but just barely).

And then I said, "Go!"

It was like lightening from a bottle. I snapped the shutter but not before he snapped the snack and disappeared. Closer inspection shows that he snagged the treat under the Netherlands. Therefore, sealing his prediction for tonight's game.

Cha let's pose with your yummy and the card.

"Trying to eat here. Go get yer own damned snack."

And there you have it, Cha the Beagle's prediction is the Netherlands by a nose. We've got about nine hours to see if it comes true. If it does there will be much celebration and I'll be carrying him down to the lottery to sniff some tickets.

If not...he's paella, baby.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Smelly Things

I love nice smelly things.

I'm down with fragrant candles, burn incense several times a day. I have all sorts of essential oils for my diffuser and have recently acquired a fragrant wax melting device which was the bomb until I knocked it over onto my new carpet and couch. *stupid fragrant wax melting device*

But I have a new love. It started here in Japan. At least I think so. I'm not even sure if the have these anywhere else in the world yet.

You see, my friend just gave me this.

With a little candle holder in the back like so.

Oh, you're thinking it's just another oil heating thing. But it's not! What makes this different is that it heats....

... green tea!

Note the tea I'm using is "new" tea (shincha), very expensive. I got some as a present and drank most of it. There was a tiny bit left and since I didn't have normal cheapo green tea I used this. It smells divine. Roasting tea. MMMMmmm.

However, I hadn't lit the thing 30-minutes before my mother-in-law showed up and commented on how lovely it smelled. She then looked and was aghast to find I was roasting the "good stuff". I apologized as much as humanely possible and promised to buy cheap tea next time.

This is so *not* messy. When you're done you just brush the dried tea into the garbage can or your compost heap. No ruining a 600-dollar carpet for me anymore!

I think I'm going to experiment with herbs and coffee next. Boy, I hope my mother-in-law doesn't show up on those days.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dog Run

Dog Run.

And boy that dog could run.

The lack of fenced in yards in Japan has led to a clever thing called a dog run. It's like an enclosed park but only for dogs. They've got water troughs, baskets full of balls and Frisbees, hurdles and tunnels, and what really made me giggle--dozens of curious spray bottles filled with charcoal water sitting around everywhere. These are to be used after your doggy does his business. Dog pee=master run for spray bottle. I'm easily entertained.

So today we took Cha. J warned me but I didn't listen. I had faith in my pup. I believed he wouldn't embarrass me. I believed.

Meet, Hana.

She's the vixen that has stolen Cha's heart. Stolen it and stomped all over it. But let's back up.

We arrived at the dog run curiously named JOIN at about 10 am and already there were 6 dogs: Hana (the little French bulldog/sex pot, above), a white German shepherd, an Italian greyhound and three shi tzus. Read things, signed things, decided against joining JOIN (50 bucks plus 30 dollar's worth of tickets for visiting, not to mention the pushy name) and I figured we do the daily trial (15 bucks). And good thing too.

This is how it started. Happy dogs all running around and sniffing each others' behinds. Happy, happy, happy dogs. Sniff, sniff, sniff. We're all friends here, right? And then Cha gets a whiff of Hana. His eyes glazed over and he goes all wonky.

Chase, chase, chase. Run, run, run. Sniff, sniff, sniff.

At first it was all cool. But cupid is a cruel, cruel, master.

Run, run, run, sniff, sniff, sniff.

And, Oh My Gawd, is trying to mount her?!

A mere five minutes into our visit and we had to separate Cha from Hana. We put him into the next fenced in lot. Then Ol Horndog starts running up and down the fence and howling. He's never howled in his life. Love sick. Hana just prances around all Come Hither and stuff. Man, we gotta get out of here.

Yeah, she might have been in heat (which in Japanese they call in "season", I learned). But still. So uncool. So, so uncool. I apologized and bowed and gave Hana generous ear scratches and we bolted after about fifteen minutes.

Home life wasn't much better because for two days he cried and whined and kept trying to open the car door telling us he's got a hot date and needs a ride. The keys are now kept on top of the refrigerator.

Lesson learned.

Here's a photo of Cha all hepped up on French bulldog-butt pheromones.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

More Sticky Goodness

Today I'll be offering more sticky goodness, the non-reeking kind.

Here is a video of a famous shop in Nara where they pound glutinous rice into sticky rice.

Why is this place famous you ask? Keep watching until 48 seconds mark and then it all makes sense.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My New Favorite Food

My new favorite food. I won't even make you guess. I'll come right out and say it. It's fermented soybeans. Or natto in Japanese.

The thing about natto is that a whole lot of Japanese can't even stand it. It's stringy and slimy and smells quite ... distinct. J began eating natto a few months ago because he heard it was good for your skin and while I bought it for him I admit that the first few times he opened a package and began preparing it I thought maybe he'd taken a week's worth of gym socks out of his bag and arranged them on the table.

Strangest damned thing, over the weeks I began to really like the odor (um, fragrance) and started to associate it with strong cheese and roasted coffee.

Now the first time I was confronted with this delicacy was when I was doing kendo at Shizuoka University. We had a weekend lock in and natto was served for breakfast. Five in the morning and all at once fifty students peeled the styrofoam lids from the fermented/still fermenting beans. I very nearly hurled and quickly passed mine to the guy next to me. I attempted to eat it once more when I was pregnant because it's kind of a wonder food and everyone recommends it for pregnant women. But again, failure.

An aside: Natto is believed to help avoid heart attacks, pulmonary embolism and strokes. It's also said to prevent and possibly treat Alzheimer's. Natto contains loads of vitamin K which assists in the formation of bone and thus helps prevent osteoporosis. As well, it's supposed to be good for the skin (J's skin has really cleared up since he began his natto treatment). Oh, and that's not all. Some studies say it can lower cholesterol and prevent cancer. Got most of that from Wikipedia but there's also this and this. And so much more.

There's hundreds of ways to fix natto. Thousands even. I've done some experiments and here's my way.

Get the package...

Remove the lid to find a little pack of sauce and some mustard. I never use the mustard.

Tadah! Sticky, slimy, smelly beans.

Add the sauce and stir like crazy. The more you stir the crazier the beans get.

Like so...

Here are my ingredients: green onions, salted seaweed, and salted shiitake mushrooms.

Here's the salted seaweed (shio konbu). I love this stuff on just about anything. Mixed into white rice or even stirred into eggs before you fry them up.

And this is kind of the same thing, salted and dried shiitake mushrooms. Tasty.

So you throw that all on some rice, mix well, and voila!

Next recipe is going to be natto spring rolls. I'll let you know how they turn out.

The only real problem I have with the stuff is that the beans individually are super light. They're attached to all those strings and you can very easily go half a day with a single bean stuck to your chin or cheek and not even notice it. Yeah, that's embarrassing.