Bittersweet Goodbyes

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The kids' chalk drawings at this house have gone from Anpanman scribbles to train schematics.

Me: We've only got a couple of days left; we should plan to eat at our favorite restaurants and say goodbye to the neighbors we like.
Tod: Yeah, we should but we'll come back.
Me: Did we go back to Nakameguro? Sendagi? Nishikata? Not really.

One of the bittersweet things about leaving this place we've lived so long is saying goodbye to the familiar. Fourteen years is a long time. I've watched the neighbor kids grow up in waves, watched our older neighbors get even older. Witnessed trees mature and bear fruit. Observed the neighborhood change as houses come and go. This place, Kasuga, has been home for a long time.

And while I'm very excited to be going to a new home in a green place, I will miss the daily rhythms that I understand so well right here on this block.

Boxes & Kanji

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boxes and sofa.jpg

Preparations for moving are definitely underway. We have piles of boxes where the sofa used to be. Ultra Bob collected the sofa last weekend and traded me an electric bass for it - a trade I am very happy about. If it all works out, our unwanted furniture will have a happy new home: the old piano is due to go today or tomorrow; we have someone picking up the bed on Sunday. I have my fingers crossed as plans have fallen through a couple of times already. It is hard to give things away. I am becoming a good fan of Craiglist.

The apartment is hysterical in its disarray. There is unpacked stuff everywhere.  It's dithering time - will I need that in the next couple of days? Which box should this go into, anyway? It's totally nuts. The stacked boxes are a visual relief from the clutter.

kanji practice.jpg

And, in the spirit of knitting a horse, I started practicing writing the kanji for our new address. I realised yesterday when we went to the Bunkyo city office to register our move, that I could not write the new address except in English letters. I recognise the kanji to read and I can type them on the computer, but writing the 16 stroke "kamo" by hand seemed impossible. Even "ken" had me a bit stumped and forget "ba." For me, that feels like defeat. So I looked it all up, watched some stroke order animations when I couldn't figure out the order myself (though I have to give thanks to Oyama sensei for drilling me on writing all those years ago), and started practicing. After 40 minutes of meditative writing, I can remember all the kanji, though as usual, my handwriting is looks like a 5 year old's. But it is legible and it will get better.

So we are moving right along. It will all get done. We will be at our new address (all 65 strokes of it) this time next week. Wow.

Genesis Art Teacher Training

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I've been enjoying Liane Wakabayashi's intuitive art classes for several years and when she invited me to join the first Genesis Art Teacher Training, I jumped at the chance to learn how I might be able to use this as a quiet creative activity with my social circus work. 

Genesis Art uses a beautiful deck of cards with paintings and titles created by Liane. During a session, students work on one of many exercises to produce a drawing, painting, or collage. During the creation process,  if the student feels "stuck" or at a comfortable stopping place, it is time to compare the work to a card drawn at random. What are the connections and similarities? Where are there differences? Does the card's colors, composition, figures, symbolism, or title give inspiration to adjust the drawing? At the end of the session, students gather with their drawings and cards to talk about the experience. The cards and artwork are a gateway for discussion of topics that we often slide past without much depth.

It was a great two days. Seeing the tools and techniques from the teachers point of view was eye opening. I think my own use of the cards and the exercises will change as a result. There are many ways I can apply these ideas in my work and I'm excited to explore more with Liane's techniques.

Midlife Lifestyle Style Change

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Our current home and our soon-to-be home.

So many personal plans have been happening behind the scenes and now that dates are set and everything is moving forward at a brisk clip, I can finally tell you about them. 

Long story made short:

  • We are permanent residents of Japan;
  • Tod's quit his job;
  • We are moving from the city to 田舎.
We applied for our 永住権 in January and received it just a few days before leaving for India in early May. Permanent residence allows us freedom to work at any job in Japan and to stay for as long as we like. No more visa renewals.

The freedom of permanent residence also means that you don't have to work any job at all and that is what Tod decided to do. After we returned from India in July, he resigned from his job. He's currently working out his notice and will say goodbye to his officemates on October 2nd.

And then we're moving house. Sayonara, Tokyo, we are going to the rice fields of Kamogawa, Chiba. We're not moving at random. We have (new) friends in Kamogawa - a community ready to catch us if we stumble in the rural lifestyle. Akiba runs the Hackerfarm; Chris and Elli are the pioneers who started the community; there is a large cast of characters who are living around there and doing interesting things. Lots of geeks, tech people, farmers, musicians, and artists. It's a creative, busy, and beautifully green place.

What are Tod & I going to do there? Well, Tod is taking some time off to recover after 20 years of corporate work. I'm going to follow a "same same but different" path as I build a new circus-y business.

My original return ticket from Japan, circa 1998, when we were only planning to be here for three months. Now in the trash. We are definitely not going anywhere.

The last few months have felt risky and exciting. Would these dreamy plans come true? Well, it is all happening as we hoped and I feel like we're being handed a gift with a big bow tied on it. I can hardly wait to unwrap it and see what's inside the next phase of our lives.

Gaddi Songs at Ghoomakad

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On our last night in Rakkar, we hung out on the balcony at Ghoomakad with friends and made music. 

When we'd trekked up the mountain a few weeks previously, Foja hummed and whistled a tune that was an earworm. I was really glad that it was played that night with the lyrics explained, too. It's a Gaddi herder's folksong about the difficultly of long distance relationship in the Himalayas. Essentially, "You're from the next ridge, this love is over." 

I got two videos of the song. Shot in the dark around the big slate table lit by a single bulb you can barely see Foja at all, but Christian is visible playing guitar in one and melodica in the other. I wish I'd filmed some of the other songs from that night, but this one was the one I really wanted to remember. The camera pans around, the audio quality is poor but it captured the tune and the moment. 

There's a page of Gaddi folk music with lots of songs in case you want to hear other local tribal tunes.

Stagaki 2015

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If I'm going to "do it all now" I need to stop faffing around on Facebook & social media. I'm reinstating my Stagaki art project from 2013. The next 50 times I want to share something on Facebook, I'll write it on a postcard instead and mail it to someone.

You send me your mailing address and I'll send you a postcard. Simple as that. 

Do It All Now

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At the moment, I am full of ideas for my life. Business ventures. Partnerships. Renewal of old projects. Some of them are already in motion, others are just getting underway. Some are short term, others are long term. Many of them depend on one thing or another that is out of my control. 

It's a lot all at once, even though it won't all happen at exactly the same time. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about what's happening in the next six months and beyond. I tried to put everything in a diary, but it didn't show me that I'd covered all the topics. I made a list of all the projects and plans but that wasn't quite enough. So then I made a sort-of Gannt chart.


It showed me the projects and something important. Don't wait. Do it all now. I could put some of my ideas on hold until one project is finished, or until life is in a stable configuration, or until the next milestone is reached, or choose the reason...that is stupid

If I don't start on these things now - on a limited scale or jumping right in - when I get an open slot to implement them, it's going to be too late. I won't have built the right connections or discovered setbacks or been able to get any experience. So instead of a month-long event ten months from now, why not do a week trial in six weeks? Why not start gathering information or making connections or whatever the first step is?

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the complete opposite of Tod's view. He likes to finish one things before he begins another. Steady wins his race. And he cringes at plans, so trying to get dates or schedules or a time commitment is futile or leads to arguments. So I move ahead without him and if he wants to play along later, great. I'll be ready for him. 

Because I am going to do all the things. Now.

Jaljeera, Cumin Lemonade

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While teaching a school program on a hot day in India, the kids and I were served a drink I'd never tasted before. It's a sweet, salty, and spicy lemonade called jaljeera. I'm in love; this is the best thing for a hot day, whether it's a Tokyo heatwave or a dusty playground.

There are many variations on jaljeera, but all include sugar, salt, lemon, and cumin. I have two recipes for it; one quick and basic; the other more flavorful. Vary proportions to suit your own taste;  prefer mine not too sweet and the recipes reflect that. Other flavours you can add to jaljeera include tamarind, amchar (dried mango powder), cardamom, and even a sprinkle of chat masala to garnish. 

Quick Jaljeera
serves 1

1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
250 ml water

Squeeze the lemon into a glass, stir in cumin powder, salt and sugar. Add water. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Spicy Green Jaljeera
serves 4-6

1 lemon, juiced
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp whole black pepper 
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

Lightly toast the cumin and fennel seeds. Grind together all the seasonings until a paste forms. Add in the lemon juice. This mixture can be saved in the fridge. To make the drink, stir together 1 Tbsp of the seasoning in 1 cup of water and adjust as desired.

Learnings: 10 Weeks in India

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"Learnings" is something Rob & Tod & I do every year after camp. We make notes about what worked and what didn't. So here are some learnings that I can refer to for next time I go on a long journey.

  • t-shirts are universally acceptable but they take forever to dry
  • four pairs of underwear is plenty; three bras better than two
  • clothes and personal stuff will all fit into a 34L backpack with room to spare
  • pack as little clothing as possible; more will find its way to you
  • juggling balls are easy to make on the go with rice and balloons
  • give away your toys as generously as possible
  • bring the ukulele, somehow
  • teach everywhere - hoop classes are popular
  • a show costume or accessories will get used
  • an ear spoon is more practical to carry than a bunch of q-tips
  • ditto for bringing a comb instead of a brush
  • separate the wet and the dry toiletries
  • menstrual cup works pretty well in India but bring tampons, too
  • we consumed ~4 bars of soap and three small tubes of toothpaste in 10 weeks
  • salt in India is not iodised, so no need to bring salt for neti
  • coconut oil is good for everything and 50 ml lasted the whole trip this time
  • bring something to ease itchy mossie bites, neither tea tree nor turmeric work
  • Macbook Pro is big and heavy; invest in a travel friendly computer next time
  • a Kindle is probably a wise addition
  • consider a smart phone - everyone relies on them and it puts us at a disadvantage
  • yes to A4 notebook and a couple of Sharpies
  • don't forget scissors
  • repeat-ties tame backpack straps for airline transport
  • stretchy cover for the backpack helped to contain the hoops and instruments for transport
  • headlamps are useful for power cuts as well as camping
  • chappals (flipflops) are indispensable footwear
  • a reusable water bottle is smart
  • u-shaped neck pillows are daggy but practical
  • ziplock bags are treasures

Curried Mushroom Toast

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Back from India, Tod is perfecting his fusion Indian recipes. Here is this morning's brunch - a creamy curried mushroom sauce over toast. We've made this before, but this time Tod's included some of the more esoteric Indian spices. The result is a rich, full-bodied flavour. If you don't have these spices and seasonings at home, you can pare the recipe to turmeric, garlic & ginger which is simple and tasty on its own.

Tod's Curried Mushroom Toast
serves 2

1 Tbsp dried kasoori methi (fenugreek leaf)*
3 curry leaves, dried or fresh
1-2 Tbsp butter or ghee
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
pinch hing
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
20-30 button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste

Soak kasoori methi and dried curry leaves in hot water. Melt butter or ghee in skillet over high heat. Drop in cumin seeds, black mustard seed, and hing. When the seeds pop, put in the garlic and ginger.Reduce heat. Add the mushrooms and after they start to brown a little, sprinkle in some of the soaking water to help steam them. As they cook down, add turmeric, methi and curry leaf. When the mushrooms are cooked, pour in cream until you like the consistency of the sauce. Finish with salt and cracked black pepper. Serve over toast or use as a filling in a sandwich toaster.

* If you don't have fenugreek leaf, use a pinch or two of fenugreek seeds along with the cumin and mustard seed.

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