Larger than Life


It’s true. Everything is bigger in Texas.. In comparison actually everything seems GIGANTIC. Seriously the cheese aisle in the Super Target has the equivalent length of shelf space to the entire grocery store I went to in Tokyo.  Which brings me to the next large thing, not only physically imposing in size but mentally it’s an overwhelming number of choices to have to whittle down to one.  It’s not only cheese either, there are at least 30 kinds of well.. everything.  Detergent, coffee, noodles, juice… chocolate, don’t even get me started on the bread.  BREAD!! 

Perhaps I never mentioned it but we were a bit short of choice on the bread front in Japan.  Yes, we chose between three types.  White bread in 3 slices, White bread in 6 slices, White bread in 8 slices. I’m not complaining, they made great grilled cheese sandwiches when we were over bentos, but I do have to admit that I look like a tourist at the grand canyon for the first time.  I’m sure the oh wow’s floating to the other shoppers an aisle over must be confusing.  

It’s a strange kind of wonderful I guess to have so many choices and to have so much room to store things, but on the other hand it does take me about 10 times as long to do the grocery shopping, and so far I haven’t been able to walk out without doubling my expected bill.  But like I said.  EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas.  

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The Lone Star State


We’ve arrived! 

We have an apartment.  We have internet.  We have a blow-up bed for a couch…..

We also have Texas license plates on our car and I will have a Texas drivers license in a few days.  We have had bbq brisket and texmex.  We have celebrated July 4th with hot dogs and Coors Light (have to keep the Colorado in there somewhere), and we have bonded with the locals at gas stations and nearly been swallowed by potholes and or squished by megacab Ford and Chevy trucks.  

It’s big, spread out, very empty feeling, casual, loud, friendly, hot and humid.  I like it, it’s growing on me.  

I also have boots and a hat. 

Fair thee well Japan!

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Well, it’s time to go home.  As of Juneish I will no longer be an expat and will be calling the good ol’ US of A my place of residence once again.  Luke of course will still technically be an expat despite spending more time in the US in the last 2 years than me.

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It’s been 10 years since I lived in the US and my time in Canada, Australia and Japan have been some of the very best years of my life and played a major role in shaping who I am today.

Without these experiences I wouldn’t have met my other half, made friends with people who opened my eyes to new ways to look at things, been able to appreciate just how blessed I am in this life or fallen in love with the world as I have.

We live in a pretty incredible universe and the people within this world are beyond amazing. Ingenious, resourceful, compassionate, and full of life; there has not been one person on this journey who hasn’t challenged me, made me laugh, taught me something new, broadened my world view or simply been a fantastic friend. I feel extremely lucky to have done what I’ve done, seen what I’ve seen, lived where I’ve lived and met the people I’ve met.

So the next chapter in our book will take place in Houston.  Another new city to explore, adventures to be had, great people to meet and things to do. Still, I have to admit that this does feel a bit like the end of an era for me and it’s a bit sad to see the years slipping by and our expat days fading away some.

This is not to say I’m not excited about what our future holds, I most certainly am.  I’m beyond delighted that we will be closer to family and friends I have missed, that I can grocery shop and read all the labels, and that I will be able to connect our internet without using the text to speech function on google translate over the phone.  But it’s like when all the Christmas gifts have been opened and the New Year has been rung in; there is anticipation for what’s to come but also a bit of nostalgia and melancholy for the special moments and good times had while it lasted.

Of course the hardest thing to leave is the people and in Tokyo we’ve had the pleasure of making some very dear friends.  Technology does of course make it easier to keep in touch but it’s never the same as grabbing a drink after work or laying under the cherry blossoms on a beautiful spring weekend.

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The country itself is also hard to leave.  We’ve fallen for the food, the culture, the people and the essence which is Japan.  This is an indescribable country that somehow gets you drunk on it’s serenity, chaos, history and novelty while challenging you every single step of the way.  Although sometimes excruciatingly frustrating it’s addictive and somehow endearing.  I think it’s perhaps a place you never really leave but carry with you wherever you go.

We will be back for sure but for now we are headed to the Lone Star State and then we’ll have to see where the wind blows us.

Dinner of a lifetime

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This weekend, for my Hubcap’s 30th we had the great luck of dinner at Takazawa in Akasaka.

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I say luck as this tiny restaurant (seating about 10 tops) is typically booked out months in advance though after numerous failures to book elsewhere I thought I’d give it a shot anyway just a week before we planned to attend and they were able to fit us in.  Here’s the room:

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Takazawa actually has quite a reputation.  Listed on one list as the 31st best restaurant in the world, it’s not Michelin rated but is all the better for it (we think).  Run by a lovely husband and wife team, he cooks, and she explains what’s happening and  how to eat what’s in front of you – which we were grateful for on more than 1 occasion throughout the meal.

When you book you have the option of choosing how many courses you would like and they note any allergies or dietary restrictions.  We went with the chef’s choice 9 courses, which is actually more like 14 when you include the amuse bouche and palate cleansers. Here’s us all excited and ready to go:

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The menu was incredible.  The food was unique and playful and fun and of course delicious.  It was also a bit shocking and scary – for example we ate live fish, when they were still living…as in they were alive.

These minnow sized little fighters where in a soup stock and served in a clear glass box the size of a rubix cube or so and are only available about 2 weeks per year.  Any they jumped.  In the box.  Did I mention they were alive?! We both ate them, kicking off our dinner and we did pretty well minus the one that tried to escape my mouth and jump back into the box.

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The rest of the meal was decidedly more cooked.  Photos of everything below:

Oysters – another amuse bouche:

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Soup balls – these little things exploded in your mouth once you took a bite.  Pea, potato and beet soups!

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The Chef’s signature dish of ratatouille with each of the veggies prepared separately and you eat it all in one bite, it’s amazing, indescribable really in that you can taste each different vegetable at a different time.

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Next was the spring role, this gorgeous plate had a rice paper sheet which roles up over the prawn and flowers revealing the peanut dipping sauce beneath it.  Yum!

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Walnut bread and pork riette (sp?) – amazing. And look at the cute little jar!!!!!

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Candle holder – this was awesome.  Crème brulee’d fois gras with an edible candle made of mango marmalade and rosemary with little toasts.

Before:

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After:

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This course was called Breakfast at Takazawa’s.  It was a soft poached egg in some sort of amazing light cream sauce with fresh truffle grated over the top.  The dish to the side is potato flakes which look like corn flakes and you tip them into your egg dish and eat it all together.  Feels and looks like you’re eating cereal but tastes like scrambled eggs and hash browns – quite possibly my favorite.

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Mimosa – spring, sakura trout (named for the color) with a giant clam (that tasted like lobster) saffron mayonnaise and broccoli tips. They also put a tree on the table while we ate this.  A whole beautiful mini yellow tree.

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Souchie Beef.  Cows that eat only Japanese limes, tofu and okra.  No seriously.  It was amazing, didn’t even taste like beef. Sorry no photo, got too excited and ate it.

White – albino strawberries and coconut ice cream which had been blended into a powder thanks to a bit of nitro freezing.

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White chocolate, mascarpone and pistachios which looked like blue cheese plus a port wine granite.

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Petite fours – soy sauce flavored marshmallows, yuzu fairy floss, coffee cake and a cookie I can’t remember plus white chocolate and strawberry chocolates.

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Seriously if you’re in Tokyo and a bit of a foodie you should definitely try this place.

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Time

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Photo via to Startalkradio.net and Bing images

I am confident that there’s some sort of warp in the space-time continuum which makes years, months, weeks, days and hours speed up as you get older.

I know this because when younger I am confident I fit many many more things into my day and still had time to go out several nights a week plus do homework and manage a part-time job.

I also know that because somehow while doing all the above I also managed a ridiculous amount of sleep per night.  Like maybe 10 hours or something.  On top of this my house was miraculously clean and there was food in the fridge

And now, now I get up and go to work and come home by the end of the week to what looks like a hurricane has blown through and the fridge contains a bottle of wild Africa and some Dijon mustard.. oh and usually a jar of capers from that time where I forgot I don’t have any time anymore.

It doesn’t feel like my list of responsibilities has really gotten any longer.  If anything it seems to have gotten shorter, I get less sleep, see my friends slightly less, and as stated above never have food in the fridge or clothes in the closet.

So it must be true!  As you age, moment by moment, the seconds, minutes, hours and days speed up until one day you realize…. In 6 weeks I’ll be 30 and I still haven’t really figured out how to manage all this stuff that has to get done.  Feels like I’ll be 40 next year 50 a month after and 60 will follow only moments later.

So much to do… so little time.

Magic


I love books about Magic.  I think these days they are categorized as ‘Magic Realism’ to be specific. 
 
This is not to say they’re all about witches and warlock or other mythical magic folk, but in particular I like the ones with a bit of unique everyday magic and stories of normal people with slightly mysterious ways.  One of my favorite books like this is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  One of my new favorite books is called Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. 
 
I think what I like about these books is how natural the magic part is to the characters and that the shock and awe of it aren’t the focus.  Indeed in the later book, the magic is more an inherent part of someone and not exclusive to one group of ‘special’ people or a learned talent.  Instead it’s a gift that comes naturally and flows out of each person differently.  I’d like to think this is somewhat true in real life outside the story.
 
Individuals do carry magic I think, though many times it’s perhaps most hard to recognize in ourselves its still there in the uniqueness that makes us who we are and in the parts of us which inspire, incite to action or keep the peace as the case may be. 
 
If I think of my closest friends and family members I can see that part of what I love about these people is their own magic and how it flows into others and influences them for the better.  For example, my hubcap is grounding.  He is sure, stayed and loyal.  He is calm and settled and just speaking to him levels me and pretty much anyone I know who has regular contact with him.  I can practically hear all our shoulders relax and release the breath we were holding when he’s around.  On the other hand one of my best friends inspires mischief, and curiosity.  My mother the ability to warm, mediate and make anyone feel able to take the right path.  My father inspires generosity and open mindedness in those who meet him.  My grandfather consideration, thoughtfulness and patience.  I could go on and on and on, but the moral here is too keep on the look out for magic in those around you.  Life is better with a bit of the mysterious, what’s your magic?

Burping Bathtubs


There is something wrong with our bathtub.  It has gastric episodes about every two or three weeks and sounds like it’s burping.

I should note that we have a fancy Japanese bathtub which fills itself at the press of a button, can reheat the water and has its own little digital terminal that controls it.  It also talks to you. In Japanese.  And, it’s a she, thus making this burping scenario all very shocking. 

I honestly don’t know what the problem is, it will do this no matter if we have used it recently or not for a few weeks. It will be silent and then suddenly GIRRGLLLLLEEEEEPOPOPOPOPBLEGh.  Very unladylike indeed. 

It does seem to do this mostly at night and in addition to this behavior she does occasionally decide to just turn herself on and run for awhile.  Yes she is a woman with a mind of her own.  Perhaps a bit like me, no amount of button pressing will sway her course, she will only stop when she is good and ready. In fact she did so at about 3am one morning last week when hubcap was away and it scared the crap out of me.  Water was filling up my house in my dreams and I was desperately throwing it over the balcony into the fountain while my evil bathtub just burped and gurgled to its heart’s content. I woke up and it was running into the drain but running of its own accord. That or I sleep walk and turned it on…… hmmm.

Or maybe this is what happens when your bathtub computer gets a virus.  Another reason some things should just stay manual.

Christmas Wishing

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Each year it seems that there is something which strikes me about the holiday season.  This year perhaps it took a bit longer as it’s already Christmas Eve here in Japan.

But tonight, as I was walking back from the shopping center, buying a few things to make a nice Christmas Eve dinner for hubcap and myself, I was reading my email which closed with another ‘Very Merry Christmas’ wish, and I was struck by how nice it is to receive such wishes.

This year in emails, in person, and just a few cards, in this country which for the most part doesn’t technically celebrate Christmas, I have received a multitude of well wishes for a Happy and/or Merry Christmas and every time it has made me smile.

It’s just a theory, but I think that the warm hearted, sincere, with no ulterior motive, good vibes from friends, family and strangers alike have a lot to do with what the actual ‘Holiday Spirit’ is all about.  Further, I would wager that the holiday season, no matter what you celebrate is kicked off, not by lights on the shelf at the local superstore, or sales a day after Thanksgiving but by 2 little words, “Happy Holidays.”

Perhaps if we treated each other so warmly the rest of the months in the year there really would be peace on earth and goodwill toward men.  I say, let’s make it a resolution.

Mini Tree

Mini Tree

Homelessness, Amazing People and Lost Things

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Over a month since I’ve posted anything!! Ridiculous!  No excuses, lets just get on with it.

I have two stories I’ve been wanting to add, both have been mild heart-attack inspiring events for me in the last few month or so.

But first, take a moment and think about how addicted you are to your phone.  Do you check it compulsively?  Do you hear phantom vibrations and reach for your pocket or purse only to discover there’s no change?  Do you no longer own a camera or bother taking one on holiday with you because you know you’ll have your phone?  I am one of these people… mostly.  My phone completely connects me to everything I need.  My personal files, work files, emails for all accounts, bank accounts, social networking, my library etc etc etc..

So you can imagine my distress on discovering I had lost it somewhere in a country I don’t speak the language in, where I hadn’t registered it as lost on my android account so I couldn’t remotely wipe it, where about an hour after noticing it was missing I rang it and no-one answered so I rang again and it was turned off.  Stolen for sure.  I mean it is a smart phone, a nice one at that.  Relatively new and unscratched I was about 95% sure it was gone for good.  Out of desperation, On a whim we travelled to the police station on the corner where I asked in very stilted Japanese, “Keitai desu ka?” followed by a sad face and..”lost.”  The officer brought me in and asked me a few questions and i filled out some paperwork and when I was done, he opened a drawer and calmly pulled out my phone that some amazing person had turned in.  Hooray for awesome people who do the right thing. 🙂

The other Amazing people story happened the other night when I turned homeless. Having lost my house key and only realizing it at about 9pm after the stores were closed and my concierge had gone home for the night my lovely friends saved the day, giving me a place to stay.  And 711 came through with all the things I’d need too, pj’s a toothbrush, face soap et al.   Luke helped out too getting a new key made for me while he was still state-side with my spare.  I picked it up the next day and was back with a roof over my head nearly 24 hours later – hizzah.

People are amazing, and great and I know some particularly awesome ones.  <– lucky me.

In other news, happy holidays and hopefully I’ll have a few more posts for you soon.  And some photos!

Things on the side of the road

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More reasons to love Japan.

So apologies for the delay in writing.  Life got in the way as happens occasionally.  Anyway, here is a quick one based on fun things that have appeared on sides of the road this week around Tokyo. 

1.  Taken about 10pm in front of our grocery store a pop up fresh squeezed juice truck.  Who doesn’t want a fresh squeezed juice at 10pm.  This has been a seriously neglected market. 

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Also love that only one person could fit in the truck.  Also think it’s awesome he’s done this and clearly put good effort in.  Love it.

2.  Wall of orchids.  Totally gorgeous.  Enough said.

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I would like this in my house all the time.  Without the bugs… Or the dying of flowers… And someone to take care of it who doesn’t kill plants would be good too. 

3. Surprise its a festival.  This shouldn’t be a surprise by now as there are festivals here but nonetheless the are fun to come upon.  This group had both ladies and men dancing in traditional dress plus a whole group if drummers and strummers. 

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Et voila.  That was my week, what was yours?