OMG, Mould

| No Comments
This September was the rainiest one on record, which was really bad for our house and all the stuff in it. When we returned after visiting family in the US for a month, our home was completely coated in mould.

The kitchen counter was green. The bedframe was sprouting three dimensional orange mould. The futons went to the dump yesterday and floor cushions were trashed. All of our clothes were musty, the shoes mildewed, leather goods dotted with mould.

For the last ten days Tod & I (and friends helping with supply runs) have been combatting the mess. We've washed every wall, floor, and window with vinegar and tea tree oil or bleach. We tore out and replaced the floor of the bedroom closet. Every dish, pot, pan, appliance, and utensil has been scrubbed, along with all the cabinets they live in. We replaced the wooden spoons, cutting boards, oven mitts, laundry baskets, trivets, and chopsticks. We have washed and dried epic quantities of laundry.

We've been sleeping in the upstairs office/studio because it was only lightly affected. I was able to wipe off the white, powdery mildew form the furniture and vacuum the floors and call it "good enough". It's not stinky or damp up there. When we can get the downstairs bedroom back to a reasonable level of must, we will buy a new futon and bedframe. 

Today, the first truly sunny day since we got back, was devoted to airing out the contents of Tod's closet. I broke three laundry poles this morning. Tod has a lot of clothes. There wasn't enough room to air the winter coats; I am hoping for a another sunny day soon. The sun is fading now and I don't think the clothes are fresh yet...

We still have a fair amount of cleaning, repairing and replacing still to do. I am seriously considering another radical decluttering. I never want to have to wash all this stuff ever again. It's depressing and tedious. If you find my mood sour next time you see me, check for mould in my head.

Chocolate Cake, 1933 style

| No Comments

"All About Baking", published in 1933, is an excellent primer on baking with lots of lost wisdom about how to prepare pans, to set baking times, and to perfect mixing techniques in the days before electric mixers. Doing this with a hand mixer makes it so very easy. Creaming butter by hand is a good workout I am happy to avoid.

This recipe produces a light crumb with a nice chocolate flavor. I frosted mine with buttercream and topped it with coconut but the recipe suggests a chocolate fudge frosting, which I'm sure would be delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Loaf
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ounces melted baking chocolate
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F /160C and prepare an 8x8x2 pan (or two round pans) with butter on the bottom and halfway up the sides, plus baking paper cut to fit the bottom. 

Sift the cake flour once, measure, then add baking powder and salt and sift together three times. In a separate bowl, cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat the egg separately until it is light and foamy, then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat well. Add the melted chocolate and blend until the color is even.

Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Spread batter into pan and bake for 1 hour.

Allow the cake to cool a bit, then turn out of pan to finish cooling. Frost with your choice of icing.

8 Streetlights, 12 Spiderwebs

| No Comments

I love walking in the night. Tokyo made me forget the beauty of darkness, but the countryside has awakened my enjoyment of evening calmness. It isn't pitch black, even on a cloudy, new moon night,  but photos don't capture the dull glow of sky, the faint reflections in the rice fields, or the shy blinking of fireflies. On my way from Satoyama Design Factory to home last night, I watched my feet on the grey paths, observed the diffuse glow of distant windows behind heavy mist, and counted the sparse streetlamps. 

Pel, the cat who likes bread

| No Comments
I went downstairs to get breakfast this morning and saw the door was open, Pel-style. She'd nested in the closet again and was still snoozing. When I came into the genkan, she didn't bolt the way she usually does. Instead she calmly tried to avoid me while still leaving. Hard to do in the hall, so I stepped into the engawa and she went out the door.

In the kitchen I discovered that she had attacked the baked goods. She savaged the tea towel that was wrapped around the banana bread I baked yesterday and took four evenly spaced bites out of the side. LOL. Also ripped through the wrapping of the baguette and tore it to pieces. So that was my breakfast and dinner plan shot to hell. I can't be angry at her, though.

I cleaned it up and as I walked back down the hall, she started meowing from outside the front door. Loudly meowing before we could see each other. Whoa, new behaviour. We talked for a minute, then I got her a handful of food. I put it in her bowl and she edged closer, but I was still too near. 

I did an experiment. I put a piece of cat food on my hand and reached out. She batted it off my hand with her paw (claws in). So she touched me! I repeated the experiment successfully then went upstairs, leaving the door open and inviting her in, if she wanted.

Which apparently she did want. First she was in the downstairs hall, rattling things around. Then she came upstairs, twice. Only as far as the door, but she saw me in the room. Didn't like it when I noticed her and she skulked back down the green stairs quick-like.

Later she was in the Pel Hotel, a box I set up for her in the sheltered porch. Then she was gone.

So much progress on this wet, windy day. I am sure it all revolves around food but never mind. I am going to imagine that she likes me a little, too.

Changes of Season

| No Comments
Before we left Tokyo seven months ago, I had a concern about the seasons, of all things. After almost 18 years in the city, I was tuned to the nature there and the procession of plants and weather created a visceral annual timeline for me. If I moved somewhere else, I'd lose my sense of time and it would take years to get it back and, and, and...panic.

And yes, it is true. I have no clue yet about whether I can plan for sunny days this month or what weather is heralded by iris or whether the plums bloomed at the normal time or not. The general brush of the seasons is different here. We're only a couple hours away from Tokyo, but the southern Chiba mountains are a different ecosystem entirely.

I love it. I swear that every day I go out walking, I notice a flower suddenly in bloom everywhere, a caterpillar cruising along, grasses rising up from the verges. There is myriad detail in this parade of nature - so much richer than the city where everything was planted on purpose. Here, layered over what Nature does on her own is what man does with Nature - preparing, planting, maintaining. 

So in this first year of living in the country, I am observing and recording without understanding or anticipating.  Someday, years from now, I'll get it all put together into an internal calendar again. Until then, taking it one day at a time is not as disorienting as I thought it might be.

Accountability April Ends

| No Comments
It was a mixed bag this month, with some goals me, others ignored and some good observations. I was aware of them and that was good. Here are my charts, which I posted on the fridge, filled in daily and backfilled after I returned from my travels in the US:



I'm thinking about my goals for next month - I did pretty well on eating veg and not too many cheese toasts, but I really went all out with the sugar  with mutliple chocolate and other sweets every day - so cutting back is going to be one of the May challenges. 

And practicing my skills every day so that I hit each one at least once a week. That is the main thing I need to work on. I hope that a chart to track that will help me achieve it rather than feeling like a nag...

One Day, Two Renovations

| No Comments
The kitchen floor: after, in progress, and before

Sometimes it pays to pay for help. I had my friend, Masa, come over in his role as handyman to help me out with fixing the kitchen floor today. We did the work in record time and I feel good for ticking this off my list of projects and for helping a neighbor earn a bit of cash.

I did the project planning, which involved not actually repairing anything but covering the sagging floor with fresh plywood and vinyl. It's an inexpensive, temporary fix. I opted not to nail or glue the new boards to the old floor. I know if we stay here more than a year or two, we will properly re-do the rotting floor. Taking up two subfloors would be a real nightmare, so for today I made a jigsaw of boards resting on the old floor and then sort of held it together with glue and vinyl. It's imperfect and a horror to any professional, but it sure does look pretty and the floor feels much more solid that it did this morning. It took us four hours, half of which was driving into town and shopping for the vinyl. Total cost including materials and Masa's time, under 20,000 yen. Win!

Goodbye, ugly compost bin. You were an eyesore. I hope you have a happy new life with Masa.

As a unexpected bonus, Masa dug up the ugly, creepy compost bin from the middle of the yard. When I mentioned that was on my list of projects to do, he lit up. "Can I have it?" Yes, of course! So with my newly purchased shovel, he dug down 20 centimeters and pulled it out of the ground. The compost inside was a mix of nice dirt, eggshells, and cockroaches (ick). It will be really fine after I dig it into the garden. And now I never have to see that dreadful bright teal plastic bin ever again. I'll make a less obtrusive new compost heap somewhere more useful, like outside the kitchen door.

Next up: amadoi (not amido or amado, which also need attention) - the gutters.

Practice makes perfect, if you do it...

| No Comments

Today, thanks to a friend's share on Facebook, I read a great article on practice and how simply practicing isn't enough to achieve mastery. I recommend that you read it here: Not All Practice Makes Perfect by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

I found the article to be simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. Their main take away is that practicing with focus and purpose improves your skills sometimes to the point of doing what might seem impossible or has never been done before. That's pretty cool and we see it frequently enough with people who break records in sports or invent new things. Practice and improvement is what brings them to greatness in their field. 

Encouragingly, what they call "purposeful practice" is perfectly possible for anyone who wants to do it. There are three main points explained in the article:

  • Make long term goals and reach them by taking baby steps towards them
  • Get feedback on your practice so you can adjust and correct for improvement
  • Move beyond your comfort zone to challenge yourself
I have done this recently with bicycling. 

When we moved to Chiba, I was petrified to ride a bicycle. Six months later, I find myself cruising along with more power and less fear. My long term goal is to be able to ride all the way to the beach at Kamogawa and back (about 16 km one-way). I'm not there yet, but I have hit a key intermediate goal of riding alone to the market about halfway to the beach. My baby steps included short rides to and from local spots like Satoyama Design Factory and the post office. Tod gave me feedback about how to ride more effectively - focus on cadence, make good use of gearing, and encouraged me to get out and ride to build muscle memory. His feedback helped me to ride to the market with Tod many times. I set and met another small goal when I climbed the biggest hill without having to get off my bike. We took a few rides off the usual route that I considered extra challenges to push me out of my comfort zone. And finally I got myself to the market alone. So now I need to break down the remainder of the ride to the beach into small steps. And after that, I will set a new long term goal - maybe a ride into the mountains. Eventually I expect to become a proficient and even skilled cyclist.

My biking example was done from necessity but it came naturally to create small goals along the way to a bigger one. I find it encouraging to see that this process works. Hurrah!

And here is where the discouraging part comes into play for me.

I do too many things. Thanks to years of experience, I'm adequate or even "pretty good" at many of them. Real mastery and skill, though, requires time. I can't see how I can possibly practice all my activities to a level of being properly skillful in them. There is always SO MUCH to practice, and I have trouble focussing when I do. If I am juggling, shouldn't I be hooping? I love to draw but certainly yoga is better for my health in the long run. Singing brings me pleasure, but wouldn't I be wiser to focus on a skill that could earn me an income? Anyway, because I don't practice anything with commitment and purpose, I have stalled on all of my things at a level that is becoming dissatisfying.

Should I make a decision to drop some of them? To specialise? Frankly, that seems boring. And that is my disappointment and difficulty.  If I stick to a wide range of abilities, I rarely get really good at anything. I have come to terms with that over and over and over through the years. Being a generalist has many benefits. Now that I find myself in close contact with people who have specialised in a craft (all of my incredible neighbors and collaborators), I am feeling inadequate. 

Can I just practice everything more, somehow? Maybe in rotation: Mondays for music, Tuesdays for yoga, Wednesdays for circus, Thursdays for art, Fridays for writing, Saturdays for... Is it possible to be that disciplined? What if I've forgotten something? I used to make jewelry, to cook, to edit video. How do backstage performance arts get practiced? Curriculum development? How do I fit in all the other things that require my attention like gardening or laundry?

Perhaps I need a time machine, extra lives and a clone. Or I could try to lower my standards and develop more patience.

Honestly, I am not sure what solution is going to be easiest to achieve: rigorous practice, impossible technology, or personal growth. Maybe I'll just go have a nap now.

Cat from nowhere

| No Comments
A few weeks ago, we were hearing a mouse or rat up in the rafters, scurrying and clambering around with great verve around sunset and at dawn. It ate the tops off come cookies I'd baked and left on the counter.

Friends suggested that a cat would keep away the rodents. But we're not ready for cats at the moment. However, whoever hands out cats from the great heavens had another plan. We now have a cat. Actually it has us.

A few days after the rat/cat discussion, I was taking a nap. I opened my eyes and saw...a cat in the hall.  Tod, in the room opposite, confirmed it wasn't a late afternoon dream. A cat was sitting in the hall grooming itself. Tortoiseshell markings, so female. I sat up to say hello and she bolted out the front door. Feral, but wise to houses.

A few nights later, there she was again. She opened the front door herself, walked quietly toward the kitchen. But I heard her, called out, and she stared at me for a bit before bolting. She snuck in another evening while we were out and ate a piece of bread. Poor kitty must be very hungry. Should we feed her? Despite a divided opinion, Tod brought home cat food a few days later. And then she snuck in again and ate half the butter we'd failed to put away.

So now, we close the kitchen door and make sure all the food is away. Good policy in any case.

She continues to visit so I've given her a name, Pel. Two days ago she peeked her head around the corner into the living room where I was working. I'm not sure who was more surprised. She gave me that, "It's it dinnertime?" look so I filled her bowl. She meowed when she finished.

Last night, she turned up at about 1 am in my bedroom. Pel has never been in the same room as me. She did seem a bit unnerved when I rolled over and saw her, but she didn't flee. Maybe she is gentling herself. We looked at each other for a while, then she walked out into the hall to pace a bit. She let herself into the living room, then climbed into the closet and deliberately knocked a small box off the shelf. Such a cat. I stuck my head out the bedroom door and she retreated to the end of the hall. We just sat together for a while, until I was too tired and crawled back into bed.

Pel has a friend, too. I call him Pep. Similar colorings, but Pep is fat and doesn't come inside. He eats the other half of the cat food every night and does the same sitting and staring thing as she does. After eating the other day, he sat at the open front door for a while, then moved himself to a place at the end of the walkway where he could watch me in the living room.

These are strange cats, but I'm kinda happy to have them around. Maybe some day I will get to cuddle them - and take them to the vet.

Accountability April

| No Comments
Tod left for adventures in India yesterday. He will return in June. 

After I returned from farewelling him towards the airport, I cried hot tears of abandonment and self-pity then fell into a funk. It would be so easy to stay there, depressed and lonely, bingeing on social media and movies, and eating nothing but cheese toast and pickles. But I do not want to spend the next ten weeks like that - it's really not me. So I am making the rest of this month into "Accountability April" for the following goals:

  • Daily workout plus an hour of activity (walking, biking, training, etc)
  • Decluttering via #minsgame and my Minimalism and Decluttering group on Facebook
  • Eating healthily, which means cheese toast <  once a day and salad/veg > once a day.
  • Drink fewer than 7 drinks a week
  • Decreasing my metabolic age to 35 (it's currently 42 according to my magic scale)
  • Pass my 原付 test and buy a scooter
  • Blog weekly or more (wow, right)
  • Complete one painting
  • Stay on top of work tasks and household repairs.
That is a lot of stuff for 26 days! But I can definitely do it. I will make some charts with stickers, because as childish as it may seem, they really work for me. I will report back here weekly on my progress and that also helps me stay accountable. Watch this space.

Recent Comments

  • Rolex Watches: This group of pictures is so beautiful, thank you for read more
  • Robert Parent: I have learned to not let pass the subtle hints read more
  • Jenn(y): This is a good, goal-oriented way to approach the new read more
  • Tracey Northcott (@keitaigoddess): I am such a loser - sent off my cards read more
  • Tracey Northcott (@keitaigoddess): Hi Babe, Haven't seen you in ages it seems. Ash read more
  • Hi Kristen, Tell me about it. Our last (3 month) read more
  • Tracey Northcott (@keitaigoddess): "We deeply apologize to our customers for the heavy burden," read more
  • Carolyn Farwell: Oh the gif you've created is so funny! You have read more
  • Tracey Northcott (@keitaigoddess): I am going to miss you!! read more
  • Eric Smith: Hey Kristen: Met you on a train a couple of read more