Christmas 2014

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Another year, another Christmas.

Tod treated me to a fancy lunch at JIMI in Ginza where we ate 50 different vegetables in 6 courses. Then we enjoyed shopping for art supplies at Itoya. The floor of colored pencils had us enraptured for about half and hour, but we didn't buy any!

We came home and unwrapped gifts, had a lovely pasta dinner from one of Tod's best and simplest recipes, then enjoyed our Christmas cake and toddled off to bed.


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"What would it be like if we had no electricity?" I asked at the dinner table when I was 12 or so. I'd just finished reading some history or science fiction book that had sparked the idea. We had an interesting discussion and Dad agreed that we could try turning off the power to the whole house for a weekend to see how we'd go. In the spring, when the weather was warm.

A few weeks later, a freakishly early blizzard knocked the power out for three days. Be careful what you wish for! We had a chance to learn just how dependent we were on electricity. We built a fire for warmth and cooking (Mom even made French toast over the fire); we collected water from the spring and melted snow; we played games and read books. We checked in on the neighbours. Dad shovelled and plowed snow. We lit candles at night and everyone went to bed early. It was fun. We knew this outage would be over in a few days and so a lot of household tasks were set aside to wait until the lights came back on. 

I wonder what would happen now if the power went out for a day or two? Our place in Tokyo isn't really set up for survival living but I'm sure we'd be fine for a little while. We have a grill and plenty of food in the pantry. We have blankets. We have bicycles. Water is an issue; I'm not sure how sanitary the nearby rivers and ornamental streams are. But for just a couple of days, we'd drink whatever liquids we had, dip into our emergency supplies, and we'd not bother to wash.

If the power went out permanently, that's another story entirely and one I think about with some frequency. I believe I may see this happen in my lifetime. For a permanent outage, a grill on the veranda isn't going to do it. Different rules would apply. Everyone would have to share skills and resources. It makes me consider what I can share. 

My skills that do not require electricity:
  • mcgyvering - figuring out how to make do with supplies on hand
  • entertaining - stories, singing, theatre, etc. not survival useful, but at least distracting
  • documenting - writing and drawing so we can repeat successes
  • teaching
  • organising and planning
  • sewing, mending, weaving, spinning, knitting
  • cooking from scratch
  • fire building and safety
  • basic construction with hand tools
  • nursing, first aid, and natural remedies

And then I think about what sort of people I'd want on my team in a power-apocalypse. I for sure need to cultivate friendships with farmers/ranchers/hunters and strong youth. And I'd probably get out of the city to a place where there's some flowing water and garden space.

Yes, I guess I am a prepper. Even though I am not actually prepping...

Girl in the Pines

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Tod has a nose for scent. He always has. He stops to smell flowers, he lights incense, and he lately collects and wears perfume. He has a lot of bottles now and seeks out the best and more rare items. It is one area in his life where he indulges himself. He makes almost every scent light up when he wears it and there are a few favorites I find irresistible on him. He loves them and they love him right back.

Me and scent, though, have a different relationship. Despite sampling dozens of perfumes and owning a few over the decades, I've never found a scent I enjoy on myself. I get excited about them in the bottle but when I put them on..not that great. Too powdery or too floral or simply wrong. Maybe my skin oils are not conducive to scent. It's been disappointing.

But a week ago I tried one of Tod's recent purchases. Serge Lutens' Fille en aiguilles is exactly perfect for me. It's all pine needles and ginger and pencil shavings. There is a hint of live wintergreen with a sweet spicy clove. It is the only perfume I've ever put on that made me smile when I caught a whiff of it. Sometimes I even refresh it at the end of the day. This one is mine until I use it up. (Sorry, darling.)

Next time you see me in person, make sure you sniff deeply. I won't mind at all. I smell nice.

Hillhacks (in Summary)

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Tod & I just returned from Hillhacks, a tech conference for "hacking and making" in the Himalayas. It was an incredible experience for both of us. Dreams came true, doors opened, and plans formed. But I am getting ahead of the story.

Ironically, the one thing that didn't happen on this trip is what took me there in the first place. Akiba and I had planned to get Maru the LED hoop working in time for a Diwali performance, but thanks to my inability to stabilse the power system and a lack of time to focus on the work needed, it didn't happen.

What was I doing, if not the project I'd planned? Mostly I was teaching and hosting school students who attended our workshops.


At Woodwhistlers: a new circus star; physical math; magnets; making music.

At Woodwhistlers primary school in Naddi, we had two full days of programs. We constructed an improvised orchestra, did Chisanbop finger abacus, made electronic instruments with our bodies, learned to draw maps, played circus games and juggled, and discovered electromagnets. These kids were so enthusiastic and curious. They wanted to stay in at lunch to finish graphing their electromagnet experiment results. The kids in math class were jumping up and down to share their answers. At the end of the second day, the entire school of 30 students decided to stay late so we could finish a circus game. Akiba, Tod, Arun & I taught the classes and along with David Huang, whose photos illustrate this article, and Malik, our event videographer, we all fell in love with Woodwhistlers.


Scenes from TCV programs: explaining some of the Arduino details; greeting the students; Akiba and the soldering stations; manmade webpage; Tod teaching Tails; hula hooping break on the lawn.

One school came a long way to be at Hillhacks. Twenty high school students from the TCV (Tibetan Childrens' Village) science magnet in Dehradun, about 12 hours away by bus, joined us for six days. We lined up workshops ranging from WordPress to solar lantern construction, Tails OS, classic paper ciphering and frequency analysis, hands-on web, Python programming,  Raspberry Pi, a portable science lab, Arduino, 3D was so much I can't even remember it all. And of course, hula hoops were available during breaks.

We also hosted a handful of kids from Rakkar, the village where many of the Hillhacks organisers live. They got to make solar lanterns, try science experiments, do circus games, and create a puppet show with filmmaker C K Low from Singapore.

In between all the student activities, I kept myself busy making signs, organising things, and helping out in general. We started our time in Rakkar at the Ghoomakad guest house, then moved to Country Lodge in Ram Nagar (lower Dharamsala) for the main event. Tod was a member of the networking team that managed to have WiFi available for all the participants in both places.


Diwali performances: fire dance; The Frolicaholics' India debut.

Before we knew it, the student time was drawing to a close and Diwali was happening. Diwali is the festival of lights that combines Christmas, New Year, and Independence Day with presents, sweets and a lot of fireworks. Since Maru wasn't happening, I offered to lead a fire performance if I could find some brave volunteers. A dozen people raised their hands and we did a performance with palm candles. Actually, we did two, one choreographed in two lines and another one freestyle to one of my favorite songs, Fireflies by Owl City. Some new firebugs were born that night judging from the fire in everyone's eyes. The Frolicaholics performed on the musical open stage, too.

Unfortunately, having eaten an unsavoury treat or perhaps some fuel, I was out of commission with food poisoning for the first day of the conference proper. 12 hours of fever, 20 hours of sleep, and 48 hours of fasting later and I was perfectly all right again. Also about 3 kg lighter, though some of that may have been thanks to "sober October" and high amounts of physical activity. :-)


During the conference: Shreyas and the schedule; Tod & Kondi in the NOC; Tod in a flash talk; me and Cherry giggle/stretching.

The remainder of the conference was great. Shreyas kept the schedule and I helped to MC. My voice carries over almost all conversation and I got drafted to announce upcoming sessions, meals and tea breaks. There were many talks that I enjoyed, including a keynote by Tod on the last day and some extremely interesting presentations on technology and art. I gave a "talk" on Stretching for Geeks that was well received.

...and after the conference, Tod & I started dreaming. The people we met were inspiring, creative, and doing fascinating things all over India. Tod is ready to get back into actively hacking and making again. What if we came back for a while and worked on some of our own projects or collaborated on whatever ideas were floating around? Ghoomakad in Rakkar is a perfect retreat from the hustle of Tokyo and Akiba is hoping to start up a Hackerspace in upper Dharamsala next year so we'd have multiple options for participation. I discovered that there's a local interest in circus, so now I am dreaming of a modest community circus school. An on our last day, I met someone wonderful who can guide me in getting this done.

I think India could be a very happy place for us to spend some time.

25 Years of Marriage

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To mark our silver anniversary, we considered having a fancy party with our friends in Japan and renewing our vows or doing something large and public. But then it dawned on us that we didn't do that for the marriage in the first place. Why should we do it now? It's really not our style at all. 

So we ran away to India and celebrated with an impromptu dance in the dirt-floored dining hall with the chef singing us an improvised song. Now that is our style. Memorable anniversary!

We've reached this milestone through the usual trials and errors, ups and downs, storms and rainbows of any long relationship. We're still together, still friends, and planning to be together through the rest of the richer/poorer, sickness/health stuff we promised that Friday the 13th morning in front of Judge Longo.

What I can't understand is how 25 years of marriage have elapsed, but I don't feel 25 years older. A mystery of the ages, for sure. Maybe I'll understand it by the time we reach our 50th in 2039.


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I am reading the book Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. It's a fascinating and sympathetic book about hoarders, who are often intelligent, kind and lovely people who attach a depth of meaning to their possessions that means they can't let go of them. Cleaning the house today, I am noticing some of those same points in my own thinking. 

"I can use this someday." Yes, but I haven't yet so I probably wont.
"I know someone who would love this, so I'll hang on to it until I see them." Except I never remember to take it to them.
"I haven't finished reading that book yet." I started it two years ago. 
"There's still some life in this old thing." A minuscule bit, perhaps.
"I could sell this and get some money for it." If I took the time to do it, yes, but I never do.
"I promised that I'd hang on to this." Emotional blackmail isn't an excuse for keeping things.
"It's wasteful to throw out things that are not broken or used up." Yes, but the cost of keeping them is high, too.
"This reminds me of a certain time/event/person." Sentimental objects are hard but I attach sentiment to many things.
"I don't really like this, but it's almost new." But I don't like it and I won't use it.
"This was a gift from someone I love." Discarding the object does not lessen my feeling for the giver.

These observations are written about things within my eyeline as I type so I am sure there are other issues behind me and in other rooms. 

Today I am trying to imagine what I'd take with me if I moved into a tiny house. What do I need if I live on the road? I know it isn't much. I'll keep that stuff. Everything else is under consideration for removal from my life. Garage sale time...I wish we did those here.

Weekend in Manazuru

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Tod, Rob & I took an impromptu trip to Manazuru, a rocky little cape in Kanagawa, this weekend. We hiked, relaxed, ate a lot of fish, took a lot of pictures, dipped in the ocean, hooped on the pier, played music in the forest, chased butterflies, climbed thousands of stairs, and wandered along mysterious paths to power spots. An excellent weekend.

A Social Weirdo

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The other day, I was talking to Tod about how seeing people's summer festival photos on Facebook makes me sad. There are a lot of interesting little festivals in Japan - creative events combining music, camping, and flow arts. I rarely go to them, even though they seem interesting and many people I know go.

Because when I do attend them, I see a very bleak side of myself. The one that can't communicate in language or, maybe more critically, in culture. I just don't fit in. As a result of numerous stilted conversations that the other half quickly abandons with a smile and a wave, I spend the weekend feeling alone in a crowd. I retreat to the edges, busy myself teaching, and insert my weird foreign ways as clownishly as I can. A bit Puddles Pity Party, really.

"You're the (insert name of socially awkward friend) of these things, aren't you?" Tod said. Insightful. Ouch, I am. 

Gyoza Variations

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I don't know why this didn't occur to us sooner, but gyoza wrappers work well with non-traditional fillings. We've been experimenting and two of our favorites are spinach and feta (gyozakopita), and potato with sauerkraut (pieroza). You can use your favorite spanikopita or pierogie recipe, or try ours.

Gyozakopita Filling

1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches spinach
1 Tbsp dried dill
handful of fresh aromatic herbs, like oregano and thyme
pinch nutmeg
50 gr feta cheese, crumbled

Chop the onion & garlic into small pieces. Saute until golden. Rinse and shred the spinach; add to the pan with the onion and allow to cook down. Remove from the heat and drain the excess water from the pan. Stir in the herbs, nutmeg and cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool.

Pieroza Filling

2 large potatoes
1/2 cup sauerkraut
1/4 cheddar or cottage cheese (optional)
salt & pepper

Steam or boil the potatoes and mash them. Add the sauerkraut and optional cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool. 

Assemble & Fry

15-20 wrappers per filling

Spoon a bit of filling onto the gyoza wrapper. Wet your finger and run it around the edge before folding the wrapper in half and fluting the curved edge. Make all the gyoza before you start frying.

In a fry pan, heat some oil and place a layer of gyoza close together. When the bottom of the gyoza are crispy and brown, add some water and cover with a lid to steam them. Tod likes to turn them to get two crispy brown sides before steaming them, but turning is optional. When the water evaporates, remove the lid and let the gyoza fry a bit longer in any remaining oil. 

Plate and serve. We like fried onions to top the pieroza and regular gyoza sauce (soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil) for the gyozakopita. Serve with a culturally appropriate salad.

Women's Genesis Art Retreat in Gifu

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Genesis Art Retreat at the Irori
The Genesis Women's Art Retreat participants, aged 13 - 80, with art gifts.

I spent a pleasant week at a farmhouse in the Japan Alps with Liane Wakabayashi and a group of artistic women that spanned three generations. We gathered to create intuitive art using Liane's own Genesis cards.

1 question, 3 answers
One question with three answers: If I spoke Japanese fluently, how would my life change?

Intuitive art is not about creating Art, but about relaxing into the moment, finding answers to questions, and allowing your subconscious to have expression. The first day was very challenging as I put aside my own drawing style and picked up Liane's softer mediums and techniques. Once I let go of my need to draw my own way, I loosened up and had fun. 

Art and shirt
Sometimes I felt a bit sideways...

The Genesis cards are a bit like a tarot deck.  Each card has a beautiful painting full of colorful details as well as a title. There is a guide book to help you with meanings and ideas in each card. The cards can give insight into questions or help you to add elements to your own art to complete it. It is fun to compare your art to the card you selected, or to ask a question, choose cards and then combine their elements to create a visual answer to your question. Sometimes there are connections you don't even realise, like the design on my shirt reflected in the drawing I did above.

The Princess' Wedding
My favorite of the week, The Princess' Wedding (she is dressing in the tower)

If you are in Tokyo, I recommend booking into one of Liane's workshops. You may discover something about yourself that you didn't even suspect (I did!). Check the schedule or buy your own set of cards:

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