Saturday, April 30, 2016

The first day


So this morning I took the Pumpkin Princess shopping, and bought groceries while I was at it. For lunch, I whipped up fried noodles with leftover meat and veggies.

I started pressure cooker chicken broth with two chicken carcasses, the green part of onions, celery leaves, and shiitake stems. I let it cook 40 minutes under low pressure, and left it to cool.

While it was cooking, I made pickled ginger. I chopped fresh ginger into matchsticks, 

salted it (about 5% salt per weight) and put it in a sterile jar full of rice vinegar.

The pinkish color isn't the lighting. It really turns pink when you put it in vinegar (think of the pickled ginger slices they serve you with sushi!).

After I turned the heat off the pressure cooker chicken broth, I headed alone to the craft shop (thank you, Pumpkin Daddy). I wanted to buy thread for my pants alterations, and ribbon for the hat and the shirtdress.

 I’d checked my thread swatches for the color numbers of the thread I needed for the pants alterations, and I headed to the craft shop all proud of myself...

This could be the only place on the Internet you will find this information in English. Tokay, a big craft store chain in Japan, carries Shappe Spun sewing thread by Fujix (most common sewing thread in Japan), but it’s an exclusive line unique to Tokay alone that has different color numbers from the thread in other stores. The usual Shappe Spun color numbers are useless.

I thought about going home and bringing the thread swatches to the store to find the best matching thread, but that would be an extra degree of separation from the correct color. I couldn’t bring the pants themselves because they were in the wash. So, no thread.

I was totally ready to shell out for nice grosgrain ribbon like from Mokuba, but all they had was the moderate grade stuff. At least it was 100% cotton. So I bought the ribbon (wide for the hat and narrow for the belt) and left the store.

I felt unfulfilled because of this thread number and non-high brand ribbon snafu, so I headed to Daiso and got 100 yen (+ tax) acrylic paint in dark brown, ochre, and black. I also got dish sponges to use for seat cushions for the sofa (any left over can be used sponges!)

I came home, and after a cup of coffee, picked the meat off the chicken carcasses and got this much meat for later use. This container is 600 mL.

I also put some of the chicken broth in the same sized container and put it away in the fridge marking it “soup" in two languages. (We don’t want any intra-fridge accidents).

Dinner was boiled potatoes; fried pumpkin slices; not-stuffed cabbage (same ingredients as stuffed cabbage but with chopped cabbage and the ground beef and onions loose in the pot); bean sprout, scallions, and chia soup (with the chicken broth); and plain white rice.

So, I'm prepared to get at least something on the list crossed off tomorrow or the day after. Not bad!

Friday, April 29, 2016

To do list

Yaru koto risuto

Today is the first day of Golden Week 2016. It should be April 29th to May 8th, but of course I have to work (and the Pumpkin Prince and Princess have to go to school) on May 2nd and May 6th. Still, I have eight days off in 10 days, so I made a to do list. 

This is the super ambitious Golden Week to do list. I like blogging my holiday to do lists because I seem to get more stuff done during my holidays when I do, and fool around less on the internet.

Docomo: Go to the Docomo store and revise my mobile phone contract. I’m paying for the Pumpkin Granny’s phone too (technically, that ‘s my phone, not hers) and she wants a smartphone. We’ll see what can be done vs what I am willing to pay.

Run x3: ‘nuff said. This doesn’t have to be done on holidays or weekends. It can happen on the Monday or Friday that breaks up Golden Week.

Tiny Vader room/ sofa: I’m going to make the Tiny Vader room for Tiny Vader as he is now. If they end up needing revamping, so be it.

Alter beige/ green pants: I thought they didn’t need altering, but it looks like they do.

Belt loops on batik dress/ slim pink batik: I went to Indonesia last year, and I was gifted with two batiks. One was a knee-length shirtdress and one was a blue and pink tunic. They were both slightly large. I want to put crocheted thread belt loops on the shirtdress so that I can tie it in back with a black grosgrain ribbon for a slimming effect. I want to add waist darts in back or maybe slim the sides of the tunic.

Grosgrain ribbon (Uniqlo hat): Last year, I bought a straw (o.k., paper that pretends to be straw) hat from Uniqlo. It had a cord of the same color tied around it. But all the fashion mags and blogs show hats with a dark grosgrain ribbon around them. A length of grosgrain ribbon is cheaper than a new hat. It is also environmentally friendlier.

Lavender cuttings: The lavender I planted in the middle of the yard looks very sad but is sprouting new shoots, so I’ll make cuttings and plant them wherever.

Flower bed: I planted a few annuals and perennials last weekend, and in true loser gardener fashion, I planted the annuals too far apart (but I don’t think the perennials are too close together. Either way, the flower bed needs a little more work.

I don’t expect to do all of these, or even half of these. I’d be pleased with about three and impressed with myself if I did four or more. For starters, none of the shopping is done. I need to get thread (for the pants alterations) and ribbon (for the hat and the shirtdress) and paint (for the Tiny Vader room) and sponge and fabric (for the Tiny Vader sofa). And of course, there is all the meal prep that must happen every day, and I'm going to take the minivan to the mechanic's for its annual checkup and to get the winter tires off and summer tires on (I know, I know). So, like I said, let's see if I can do three. Including the running (hopefully).

Let the holidays begin!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why are you laughing?

Naze waratte iru no?

Year of Requirement Part 7

There were tests pretty much every last Sunday every month. These tests weren’t for school. The (almost) monthly Sunday tests were practice tests for high school entrance exams. More than half the 3rd year junior high school students in Pumpkin Prefecture took the tests, so you could look at how well you did and have a pretty good idea of your chances of getting into your target school.

The first test was supposed to cover material from the first half of the first year of junior high. The Sunday before this exam, I walked to the bookstore (it was around the corner from my house), found the thinnest “Cliffs Notes”-esque books for junior high school history and geography, and crammed the first half of each book into my brain. I did the same for science. I was already pretty good at math (I was a year ahead in an honors class in my high school in Suburbia), and English would be a breeze. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of doing anything effective for Japanese in a week, so I left it alone.

The plan worked, because my score for Social Studies was slightly better than average. According to April’s test, I could go to an average-level high school in a different part of town, which wasn’t bad for someone who should have been functionally illiterate in Japanese. Still, this wasn’t good enough to get into the college prep high school I wanted.

One problem was that I was wasting three hours a week in school studying something I probably, no, definitely understood better than anyone else in the building; English. A bit of wrangling and discussing, and I got out of two of those classes, with permission to study social studies and science in the library. I took a liberal interpretation of this and spent some of the time reading the books in the library about historical figures and events. On Friday, I had to attend English classes.

The first time I got called on to read the textbook out loud, everyone laughed. Almost three decades later, I am still trying to wrap my brain around why.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I can't sit


I had this plan, that I'd make kind of a set where Tiny Vader and Tiny Storm Trooper would interact. The set would be a classic living room, tastefully decorated in a New England or traditional English drawing room style, with couches and side tables and tea trays, and Tiny Vader and Tiny Storm Trooper would be up to their usual antics involving sweets and toys and seasonal props...

Except I noticed a problem.

Tiny Vader cannot sit. Tiny Storm Trooper has fairly flexible hip joints. Tiny Vader, on the other hand, has a skirt that limits the movement of his hip joint. 

I'm trying to decide what to do about this. Should Tiny Storm Trooper proceed with building a nice little room as planned? Should I improvise so that Tiny Vader can sit? How will this mess with the scale of the drawing room?

Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, April 16, 2016



I lost 1 kilo and took 4 cm off my waist. This amazing feat was accomplished by slacking off and running only 12 km in two weeks. I kept the same eating habits and really did nothing but slack off. This is all lost muscle and I will get it back  when I am running more frequently again. Which I hope to do.

In other news, I finally broke down and got a smartphone. I am blogging on the train with my phone, just because I can.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Studying for entrance examinations

Juken benkyou

Year of Requirement, Part 6

I mentioned previously that my teachers were amazed at me academically. Not my English (which was slightly better than average in Suburbia, U.S.A, and therefore off the charts in a public junior high school in Japan), but my math (somewhat above average) and science (inconsistent but average overall), social studies (below average) and language arts (as in Japanese: below average, but obviously literate.) In short, they were impressed with me because I was...average. This was because, at the time, there was a lot of stuff in the Japanese media about how the American education system was failing, and that Americans were looking toward Japan to see how Japan had got it right.

They’d obviously never met my friends from Suburbia.

But, back to the topic of the Year of Requirement. Japan’s school system is different from the US. Required education is nine years. When your education is required, there is a public school you are assigned to attend, and you go there (or, of course, if you are very smart you can go to an uber-selective school in the middle of town), same as the US or pretty much anywhere else in the world. To attend high school, however, you have to apply for and be accepted by a school, because high school is not required (whereas an American kid would be required to go to a high school for two years, and be allowed to stay for an additional two).

(I’m completely ignoring homeschooling here because it wasn’t a big thing when I lived in Suburbia, and it doesn’t really exist in Japan. I knew one person who was homeschooled. She was my piano duet partner, and was homeschooled until 8th grade and then we were in the high school in Suburbia together.)

This is why things were so, um, interesting for me during my final year of requirement. The year I was in the first year I got back was chu-san, or third year of middle school, as in, the final year of requirement. High schools in Japan chose students based on their transcripts and their entrance exam scores. Since I’d gone to school in Suburbia, U.S.A., my academic transcript from my single semester of 9th grade (or for that matter my transcripts from 7th and 8th grade) was essentially useless. My grades for the next year would be the only ones in my transcript. Also, I had obviously not gone to a Japanese school for the past two years, so I hadn’t learned the course material at all. Math was, of course, math all over the world, but, well, do you know how to say “arthropod” or “absolute monarchy” in a language other than English?

So, if I just sat around, I would end up in an average area public high school. Which wasn’t likely to let me get into the university I wanted to go to so that I could have one of the careers I wanted. We needed a plan.

Plan A would be to apply to one of the schools with special slots for kids like me. They’d make you sit a different examination from the standard slots, look at your transcript from your American/ British/ Australian/ French/ German/ wherever school AND your school in Japan, interview you, and admit you (or not) based on that. One of these was a school in Tokyo that had boarding facilities. It was an expensive school, but it would be worth the money.

Plan B was the old fashioned way; to do as well as possible in my new school and learn as much as possible of the three years worth of material in one year, and sit the same exam as everyone else to get into a top school in the area. This would obviously be cheaper but also be risky. The target school was the one that sent the most girls to big name universities, and was , of course, considered the most difficult.

I talked about plan A with my parents and teachers, and they seemed to think it was a good plan (the school in question was a very famous high school affiliated with a very famous university). I could have sworn we were going with plan A until at least the third month of the school year. But somehow, we ended up going with plan B. I think the main reason was finances. I don’t think I’d have ended up where I am today if I’d gone with Plan A, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Home Economics and Music

Kateika to ongaku

Year of Requirement Part 5 

Another strange thing was that only girls took Home Ec, and it was required. Boys took shop, and it was required. (In Suburbia, we all took Home Ec together, and it was an elective.) We sewed pajamas from a commercial pattern. I’d taken sewing in Suburbia Junior High, plus I always liked it (my sewing didn’t really take off until my Girls’ HS education and my college years when I was strapped for money because I was paying crew club dues and couldn’t buy cute clothes like my friends, so my mom and I sewed our own designer label knockoffs for me to wear). It was common knowledge that many of the girls had their moms do the actual sewing. I managed to do most of the work myself. I messed up and stitched my right sleeve to the left side and vice versa. I noticed it before I turned it in for grading, so I ripped everything out and stitched it back together correctly, but that set me back. The teacher was grading mostly on how fast we completed the work, so I got a “3” that trimester, which brought down my GPA. More on the problem with GPAs later.

We also learned how to cook. We split up into groups, and everyone bought something and brought it to school. My cooking group always had the right amount of the right ingredients and everything was reasonably fair and no one forgot anything and everything was paid for to the last yen, but you can easily see how this might have turned into a vehicle for bullying--you could pressure a weak, timid victim into doing all of the shopping and “forget” to pay for everything afterward, then pretend that you got sick and accuse the poor victim of being the cause. I don’t think they do things that way anymore. I’ll let you know when the Pumpkin Princess starts Home Ec (It’s co-ed up to HS now, btw).

When I went to high school in Suburbia, I didn’t take any music classes. In retrospect, perhaps I should have. In my new school, music was required. The whole class sang stuff in four-part harmony, and were pretty good. I don’t think I would have been able to keep up if I hadn’t been in choir during junior high in Suburbia. We had an intramural choir competition in fall where we performed our songs in a concert hall with the teachers as judges. I kept thinking how awful it would be if the student accompanist messed up, but she didn’t, and our class won.

We also played recorders. Everyone could (supposedly) play both alto and soprano recorders. I took piano lessons in Suburbia so I could read music and it didn’t take me too long to figure out both kinds of recorders. We partnered up and played a recorder duet arrangement of Vivaldi’s Winter, and were tested on it. It didn’t hit me until after we’d been tested and passed with flying colors that my partner, who’d been in the Japanese school system for 8+ years, should have been the one playing the more difficult alto recorder.