Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cooking is chemistry.

Ryouri ha kagaku.

I only cook one or two weeknights a week. Work won't let me. Even when I do cook, I am working with a limited amount of time, so I try to be as efficient as possible.

I read in a book that cooking pasta in a wok is faster than cooking it in a regular pot, so I tried it. A wok is parabolic in shape, so it focuses the heat of the stove efficiently toward the contents of the pan. (Clue #1 that you're a geek: you use the word "parabolic" in a blog entry. About cooking.) Also, the parabolic (there we go again) shape of the pan means 1) you are using less water compared to a regular pot, which means that you can bring it to a boil faster, and 2) the shape of the pan keeps the noodles from sticking to each other (this doesn't mean that you can get away with not doing the "toss the pasta around in the water every so often" of course, but that the pasta doesn't stick nearly as much as you would expect it to compared to the small amount of water you are using). I got the water to a rolling boil much faster than I do compared to the aluminum pot I usually use (I didn't time it, I should one of these days. Clue #2 that you're a geek: you're contemplating doing experiments. In a blog entry. About cooking pasta). I cooked about 200 grams of pasta in a 26 cm (10 inches or thereabouts) wok full of salt water, and it didn't stick.

I also made cream of potato soup using mashed potatoes I'd cooked and frozen a couple weeks ago, chicken stock (again from freezer), milk, and a roux base I keep in the fridge. I keep a ziplock bag of parsley in the freezer that I've washed and spun in the salad spinner. After it's frozen hard, I mash it up, and I have chopped parsley.

Carrot salad (carrots chopped and salted this past weekend and marinated onions) complete the meal.

Total time, about 20 minutes. Not bad, I think.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"It's not nearly as attractive."

Sorehodo miryoku ha nai ne.

The Pumpkin Daddy and I were discussing what to do for dinner. The Pumpkin Daddy asked the Pumpkin Princess what she would like to eat, and she said "I want sushi!" I wasn't about to take a still infectious Pumpkin Princess to a public place, so the Pumpkin Daddy and I decided we would get takeout at our favorite conveyer belt sushi place. I called the Pumpkin Granny to see if Granny and Grandpa would be interested in joining us. The Granny said "why, thank you! You remembered!"

That's right, this Pumpkin Mommy had forgotten her own mother's birthday.

However, this Pumpkin Mommy knows how to fake it. "With the Pumpkin Princess's chicken pox, I can't go shopping to cook for you, or take you out for dinner, so I figured maybe takeout sushi?"

"Thank you so much! You know, Dad and I were talking about going out to eat tonight, but Dad said that you guys might call, so we didn't make any definite plans."

What she doesn't know can't hurt her, right? Or should I confess?

Anyway. We got takeout sushi, and the usual kid's box for the Pumpkin Princess. I opened the kid's box to take out the ikura like I always do, because she'll eat that and then eat nothing else if I don't. Ikura seems to have a jewel like quality to her, and to a certain extent, I can relate. The red color, the saltiness, the texture...

There was no ikura. Just this.

It's corn with mayo.

The Pumpkin Daddy called the sushi place to see if there had been some mistake. He was on the phone for much longer than I expected. "I was hoping for an apology and maybe a few cupons mailed to us later on. They're going to come deliver us the ikura."

So we were thinking they would not bring just a single ikura, maybe two, possibly five. We were wrong. They came with this.

That's 14. When there are this many, ikura doesn't seem nearly as attractive.

I think there is a point where good service ends and sarcasm begins. I think 14 ikura crosses that point.

Isn't that overkill?

Yarisugi janai?

The Pumpkin Princess has the chicken pox. I regret that I didn't get her vaccinated. It's not required here, but it's safe and effective, and I really should have, but I procrastinated, and now it's too late. I took her to the pediatrician's a couple days ago. The clinic has a separate waiting room with a separate entrance for the kids with infections like chicken pox, measles, mumps, influenza, etc. We had the room all to ourselves, and there was a generous supply of toys and picture books. We kept each other entertained until the pediatrician (a woman about 10 years my senior and about my size and shape, when I'm not preggers anyway) came into the room with the nurse, examined her, pronounced my diagnosis of chicken pox correct, prescribed her some drugs, and left. The nurse came back with the drugs, explained them to me (this one is taken four times a day, at least four hours apart, this one you dab on the splotches with a Q tip, this one is in case she gets a fever, you can save them for later if she doesn't need them). I looked at the drug names, and found the oral med was acyclovir, an antiviral drug. I didn't know they give you antiviral drugs for chicken pox. I compared notes with my co-workers later that day, and they said that they got acyclovir for their kids when they got chicken pox, too. Seems to be standard procedure in Japan. It doesn't change the (already low) complication rate, but it shortens the course of the disease. They don't give it in the US, which I can understand. It strikes me as kind of being overkill. Still, I gave it to her, since it's a pretty safe drug and it's standard procedure here. 3 days later, most of the splotches have crusted and she is no longer getting new ones. We've had minimal tears about itching and lesions in the mouth. She's not had any fevers. Plus, the drugs and the exam were free. Who am I to complain?

Health care for children is free in Japan. How long depends on where you pay taxes. In Pumpkin City, you get free health care up until you start 1st grade. (If you want to get technical, the health insurance from my work pays for 70%, and Pumpkin City pays for the remaining 30%). I flash this card and I'm good. For Thursday's exam and the drugs, I paid 50 yen (60 cents or so?) for the container the topical Q-tip drug came in.

The system is not perfect. The premise is that you have regular health insurance. Most people do, but a small minority of low income households do not, and they won't pay the 30% if no one will pay the 70%. Also, the length of the coverage depends on the city. Pumpkin City is about 6 years, but the neighboring city will only pay for kids up to the age of 3. In Pumpkin City, they were kicking around the idea of paying until age 12, but with the economic downturn (and decreased tax revenue) of recent months, that one might go down the drain. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's about average in size.

Futsuu no ookisa desune.

In Japan, OBs do a lot more ultrasounds than their American counterparts. To estimate fetal weight, they measure head circumference, torso circumference, and femur (thigh bone) length on the ultrasound, and the machine will do some complicated math, and come up with a number. The Pumpkin Prince's current number is 1303 grams (slightly less than 3 pounds) which is about average for a Japanese fetus in its 30th week. I've been told throughout this pregnancy that he is average in size.

So this would be good news, except for one thing. When I was pregnant with the Pumpkin Princess, I was told throughout the pregnancy that she was "a little small, but her mommy is a little small, so that's expected." Then I gave birth and they put this fat baby with multiple fat lines in her elbows and knees and fine chubby cheeks that weighed almost 3200 grams (seven pounds) in my arms. I would have asked if it were really my baby, but she looked too much like me for me to doubt this. So if I am told throughout the pregnancy that the baby is normal in size, am I going to give birth to a humongous toddler sized boy?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can you do it?


By the way, here is the actual exam (English, written section). The test is 90 minutes. When you think about how nearly everyone taking the test actually learned English in school, as opposed to learning it by process of osmosis, you wonder how hard they had to work to get to the point where they can answer these questions with a reasonable level of accuracy.

Page 1

1. A. select one in which the underlined portion is pronounced differently from the others.

B. Select one in which the syllable accented is different from the others.

Page 2

C. If the underlined section is emphasized, which best describes what the speaker would like to convey?

D. Select one which appropriately marks the sections which should be emphasized.

Page 3

2. A. Choose the single most appropriate phase.

Page 4

(continued: choose the single most appropriate phase)

Page 5

2. B. Choose the single most appropriate phrase or sentence for each conversation.

Page 6

(continued: choose the most appropriate phrase or sentence for each conversation)

Page 7

2. C. Place the words/ phrases in the correct order, and select which choice fills boxes 21 to 26.

Page 8

3. A. Read the following English passages, and select one best answer for boxes 27 and 28.

Page 9, Page 10, Page 11

3.B. The following English passage is a discussion on friendship held in an American high school. Select one best answer for boxes 29 to 31.

Page 12, Page 13

3. C. Choose the single best phrase/ sentence to fill each box.

Page 14, Page 15
4. Answer the following questions (A, B)

4. A. Read the following passage and look at the following graph. Choose one best answer for boxes 35 to 37.

Page 16, Page 17

4. B. The following page is paperwork filled out by a Japanese traveller who fell ill while in the United States. Select a single best answer for boxes 38 to 40.

Page 18

5. Answer the following (A, B, C)

5.A. Choose the passage which best describes the picture below.

Page 19

Page 20

5.B. Choose the picture described by the passage below.

Page 21

5. C. Choose one most closely describing the cartoon below.

Page 22

Page 23

Read the following passage and select a single best answer for boxes 44 to 50.

Page 24

Page 25

Page 26

Page 27

Page 28

(correction for typo)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why are you so sleepy?

Doushite sonna ni nemui no?

My Facebook friends are posting old pictures of themselves. Some of them are Prom pictures. They are laughing at their frizzy bangs and mullets and puffed sleeves, but that's just fashion. I think they all look beautiful.

I was trying to think of what I was doing when my friends were going to the prom. I found part of the answer yesterday when I worked as an exam monitor for the Center Text, or The National Center Test for University Admissions. It's a 2 day, standardized multiple choice test in as many subjects as your university(ies) of choice say you need to take (anywhere from one to nine depending on your school. I had to take six for mine). Most universities in Japan pick who they will take either based on this exam, or a combination of this exam and a secondary exam. It doesn't seem quite fair for 18 year-olds to have their lives decided by a one-shot deal, but since schools vary in difficulty, you can't really be entirely fair by just looking at school records, so maybe it's kind of fair in its own way. Since it's a one shot deal that will determine your future, you study for these things, in addition to doing your schoolwork. You take several practice tests during your last year in high school (and the year after that if you decide you want to sit the exam again, as opposed to picking your universities based on the scores you get the first time around), and the time between your practice tests, you study for them. Don't get me wrong, I had my fun in high school (though there was no prom), but I did spend a lot of energy in academics, like a lot of people in Japan trying to get into a competitive university.

I was an exam monitor for Day 1 of the test, which was Civics, Geography/ History, Language Arts (Japanese), and Foreign Language (English, French, German, Chinese or Korean. Nearly everyone sits the English test). You could pretty much tell which students were 18 year olds taking the exam for the first time and which were older kids sitting the exam the second or third time around by what they were wearing. Nearly all the 18 year olds showed up in their school uniforms. School uniforms in Pumpkin City and the surrounding areas are very plain. I don't know what you've seen in Japanese anime and manga, but here, in nearly all the schools, they haven't changed much since I went to high school, that is, navy blue pleated skirts and plain jackets over white blouses. No one wears makeup. Eyebrows are left mostly alone. Hair styling involves the use of elastic and pins, not gels and wax.

As an exam monitor for a life-determining test, I passed out question booklets and answer sheets. My partner for the day gave most of the instructions. Once the exam started, I couldn't read or listen to music between the times I glanced around the room every so often to make sure no one was copying another person's answers or anything, and sometimes got kind of drowsy. I noticed some of the examinees looked kind of drowsy too. Maybe it was because the room was a bit warm.

However, there was one girl in the front row who was actually honestly asleep for no less than 10 minutes (out of about 90) during not one but two subjects (Language Arts and English). And what I would really like to know is

1) Why was she THAT sleepy? Did she not sleep OK the night before? Was she bored because the questions were too easy?

2) Just exactly how well did she do in the test, and what university is she shooting for this year?

Thursday, January 15, 2009



Today was the Pumpkin Princess's 3 year-old physical, run by Pumpkin City. They asked that you bring in a urine sample. I went in with my empty ziplock bag and said that I hadn't been able to get a sample. The lady at the desk smiled and said I could bring it in any Thursday afternoon I managed to succeed.

Someone needs to explain to me how I am supposed to get a urine sample from a 3 year-old who refuses to use the toilet.

(Actually, I can think of at least two ways how it could be done, and I think I would be willing to try at least one of them if I were given the appropriate tools. I'm wondering how the average parent is expected to go about doing this, because a non-potty trained 3 year-old is not the least bit unusual.)

It's cold!


My first winter in Pumpkin City, I was amazed at how cold it was, and I was amazed that I felt cold. I'd grown up in the American Midwest, where when people said it was below zero, they meant -18C, and it got that cold on a fairly regular basis.

Of course, most homes in that area were and are centrally heated. You leave your centrally heated home in your car that sits in your heated garage to an enclosed parking space and walk to your centrally heated workplace/ school. I still get incredulous looks when I say that swimming in PE class happened in the winter months. Of course it happened in the winter months, the school swimming pool was heated and going outside in the snow for field sports didn't really happen (though, I think, if they had decided to do so, they could have offered something like Nordic skiing).

Here, the centrally heated Pumpkin Palace is the exception and not the rule. My parents' house uses an arsenal of electric, gas and kerosene space heaters. Bedtime protocol calls for a long, hot bath, and a mad dash to brush teeth and dry hair so that you can get under the layers and layers of blankets and comforters before your body has time to get cold. My parents have a thermometer sitting in the toilet room (I'm not sure what to call that room, it's not the bathroom because the bathtub is in the room next to it). Yesterday it read 9C, which is about 48F.

When I lived there, saying it was hard to get up in the morning would be an understatement, but after we did, we trekked to school (either on foot or bicycle, no school busses, can't make it easy on the kids, can you) where the kerosene space heater for the classroom may or may not be operational. My first year back in Japan, my homeroom teacher announced that our class would not be using the kerosene heater until January because the cold would help our concentration, and I kept thinking, um, I want to go to university and study natural sciences, NOT BECOME A JEDI KNIGHT. I'd always come home with blue lips from entry level hypothermia (to a non-centrally heated house!). High school and university weren't much different. Fortunately, my workplace has fairly good climate control, and now I live in the Pumpkin Palace, so I don't really worry about the cold anymore.

Unless I go outside. It was 2C (36F) this morning. Gosh, it was cold! :P

Monday, January 12, 2009



Today was kind of surreal. I chatted online with someone I hadn't spoken to for over two decades. We were friends in junior high. Not best friends (my best friends at the time were the Pea Mommy and another girl who, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't really do computers), but we were most certainly friends, and I have only fond memories of her.

What was really neat was that she'd sent me part of a Facebook message in simple but grammatically correct Japanese, and I sent a message back to her in what I hope is comprehensible Mandarin, even though I don't know how to do the little accent marks for proper pinyin (alphabet notation for Mandarin, my friend is of Chinese descent). Apparently she'd started studying Japanese by listening to Podcasts in her car. I started doing something similar with Mandarin to put the time I spent driving around the prefecture for work stuff to good use. I thought it was interesting that we did the same thing with each other's mother tongues before we got back in touch with each other.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Let's play!


Japanese kids get Christmas presents, but they also get money on New Year's (otoshidama) from relatives. The Pumpkin Princess got about 5000 yen (60 USD or thereabouts?), and the Pumpkin Mommy and Daddy decided she'd like Legos and took her to ToysRUs.

After buying her a box, the Pumpkin Daddy decided he liked Legos, too. He wanted to buy more and suggested making another trip to ToysRUs the next day. But I remembered my parents had mentioned my younger brother's Legos and how he hadn't really seemed very interested in reclaiming them. My mother had thrown them all in a random old box (I think it was the box my old tape player/ radio came in, I'm not really sure). Based upon my hazy memory, there were no fewer than five good sized sets. I clearly remember a Castle set, a Space Station set, and at least three sets that made cars or helicopters that ran on electric motors or some kind of keywinding mechanism (I think they might have been part of a series called "Technic" but I am not sure. They had a zillion little gears and shafts and pistons each which I could never figure out but my brother put together effortlessly. This is might be part of why my brother is currently an engineer and I am not.)

The Pumpkin Daddy sorted through them and we found some things in there that weren't Legos, including but not limited to a Connect Four piece, two Barbie shoes (unmatched. Probably belonged to me), a couple pencils, a wax cast Donkey Kong figure, address labels printed with our old address in the US, two Matchbox cars (one made in Japan, the other made in, get this, England!) and a molar (eeew? It was filled, and I think I might have had a molar with a filling in that shape, but I'm not sure).

He tossed the non-Lego objects (including the tooth but not the instruction booklets) in the trash and the Legos in a large plastic tub and hauled them to the bath area, and washed them with hot water and dishwashing detergent to remove the 20+ years worth of dust on them. The Pumpkin Daddy asked if it was American dust that was coating them, but I assured him that it was Pumpkin City dust, as my brother had played with the Legos well after our move to my parents' current house.

Then they were laid out in the sun to dry. It'll be interesting to see how much the Pumpkin Daddy gets into the gears and shafts and pistons, being an engineer type himself.

What would you like to see?

Nani ga mitai?

I started Facebook a few months ago so that I could keep in touch with the Pea Mommy (ex Peapod, who gave birth to the Pea Prince a couple months ago). Until quite recently, all of my Facebook friends (other than the Pea Mommy) have been my imaginary internet friends. Now that I have a few Facebook friends who knew me around when I left the US (circa 1986) and haven't really heard from me since, I am trying to post pictures that show the life that I'm leading now. Easier said than done. When you become a parent, you take lots of pictures of your child and almost no pictures of yourself. The few pictures you do have of yourself are usually of you and your child and perhaps your spouse. You will have very few pictures of yourself enjoying your hobby (probably because you have limited time to enjoy your hobby to begin with and probably won't spend said time taking pictures of yourself), and almost no pictures of yourself at work. I'm wondering how many pictures of the Pumpkin Princess my long lost friends need to see before they decide I have turned into a boring suburban mother. 

Actually, maybe I am a boring suburban mother, but please keep it a secret and help me let my friends think I am a successful professional, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I don't mind

Watashi ha kamaimasen.

Today, I came home from work and heard the humming noise of the vacuum cleaner. The Pumpkin Daddy had come home from work early (as usual, due to the economic downturn), and was vacuuming the living room.

The economic downturn has, I think, improved life in the Pumpkin Palace.

Monday, January 5, 2009



What the Pumpkin Daddy had with his sake on New Year's Day. From left to right, an omelet containing scallops, fish cake with ikura, anchovies cooked in a sweet sauce (the Pumpkin Granny made this one) and pickled octopus. The only thing I actually cooked was the omelet. Reasonable.

Saturday, January 3, 2009



A Brief List of Things the Pumpkin Princess May Not Do During the New Year Holidays

Eat ikura with her fingers.

Play her toy piano after eating ikura with her fingers before washing her hands.

Stomp on the toy piano with her feet because she has been forbidden to play her toy piano after eating ikura with her fingers before washing her hands.

Cry because she has been reprimanded for the above.

Say she is thirsty and refuse to drink water and milk and demand juice.

Say she is hungry and refuse to eat things like bread and rice and vegetables and demand cookies or chocolate.

Cry because she has been reprimanded for the above.

Unlock the toilet door with the Pumpkin Mommy's house key while the Pumpkin Mommy is using the toilet, come in, then leave, lock the door with the same key, toss the keys into the toy box where it ends up at the very bottom, and not be able to tell the Pumpkin Mommy where the key has gone when it is time to leave for her Granny's. (Non-italicized portion is not encouraged but acceptable.)

Cry because she has been reprimanded for the above.