January 2003 Archives

Drug ads

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Part of the daily routine at my parents' is watching Jeopardy on TV, so I've been hanging out questioning the answers along with them. I'm really bad at it. "The author of this 17th century novel wrote about his scurvy." I'm amazed the the contestants know the answers.

I'm more astonished by the ads that air during Jeopardy. 80% of them are for prescription medications. "Ask your doctor if Premoxolipicidil is right for you." Dorothy Hammill plays crack the whip with a passel of kids while talking about arthritic joint pain; old men walk dogs while voice overs explain that their life is improved by a specific brand of anti-depressant; smiling women show off their soft-focus children and good blood pressure thanks to some drug or another.

These are not over-the-counter medications. They are probably not used by more than a very small percentage of the population. Take high blood pressure as an example. The CDC says that 25% of Americans experience it during their lives, but most can control it through exercise and diet. Why advertise something that the general population doesn't need? It's not like advertising a new toy or a food that's unnecessary but might become a fad. This medication has to be prescribed. Do these ads have a good return for the drug manufacturers?

"Oh, my diagnosis is arthritic joint pain? Can I take the same stuff as Dorothy Hammill, please? I love those ads!"

Death's manicure

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My grandmother is dying. At 88, she lived independently until a fall in early November sent her in and out of hospital and nursing home in a downward spiral. She's getting near the end now and each day bring some new twist in the spiral. Jenn said I wouldn't recognise her when I went to visit.

Of course, I did know her. She still has her own light in her eyes, though it's dimmer than I recall. I'd like to think she recognised me, too. Maybe. Perhaps not. She wasn't talking, just moaning in a frustrated, painful way until she fell asleep.

Her hands are restrained because she plucks at her tubes and wires. Her left hand is swollen and purple; the skin of her right palm is red and cracked. But her nail are, as always, beautifully done.

When I was about 11, she gave me a manicure kit covered in magenta suede that snapped closed with a gold fixture like a change purse. Inside were slots filled with files, tweezers and inscrutable implements with plastic mother-of-pearl handles. "A lady always keeps her nails neat," she told me, looking pointedly at my ragged chewed fingers. I figured out how to use all of those tools, but looking down at my hands now (a tiny hint of green paint under my right index finger, dry cuticles glaring white in every corner, cracked and ugly edges from nibbling) I wish I had inherited her strong, gorgeous nails.

They say the the nails continue to grow after death. But it's not true, just an old wive's tale.

Eating Japanese

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Last night, Jenn, Helen & I went to a Japanese restaurant that opened just a few weeks ago. It is a teppanyaki restaurant--called hibachi in this neck of the woods--the sort of place I've never been to in Japan. I'm sure they exist, but maybe only for an expense account budget.

I felt strangely out of place and homesick. The restaurant was pretending to be Japanese and it was close, but it wasn't quite right. The decor was inspired by Japan, but the wainscotting and dentil molding didn't quite work. There was entirely too much space between tables. The food was delicious, but it wasn't Japanese, though it had a Japanese style. The quantity alone pegged it as not Japanese--my meal was piled high on platter the size of an LP.

On top of that, I was the only person in the restaurant who could speak Japanese. I found this out because our waiter asked me if I'd lived in Japan (maybe he overheard me telling Helen about Japanese things or wondered why I asked him what brand the sake was) and confided that all the staff were Chinese.

One week down, three weeks 'til I can go home. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying my trip. It's great to see everyone and I'm amused by America. But I miss home. Tod, darling, could you please bring me some mochi, senbei, and Lemon Water in your suitcase? Onegai shimasu

FCCJ Launched

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The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan website launched about an hour ago.

Still struggling with one issue--e-mailing all the members to let them know their user IDs is not working as advertised--but I hope to have it resolved soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the site and feel free to give your opinion in the comments here.

Kitchen redeco

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kitchen-before.jpg

Friday, 3 pm. Nice kitchen.

kitchen-after.jpg

Sunday, 6 pm. Wow kitchen!

It's amazing what some paint and energy will do for a room.

On thin ice

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Today we went ice skating.

I haven't been on skates in ten years but after two slow and clumsy laps around the rink, I was doing pretty well. I skated for about an hour without falling down once. Even after the zamboni machine smoothed off the ice.

A blister sidelined me, but I was consoled with hot chocolate. Now that's a good winter afternoon!

Book store

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OK, for all you who say I shouldn't hate the US for its inflexible rules, irresponsible people, fatness, lack of privacy, horrifying overuse of cars, and the 45 other things that are on my "Why America SUCKS" list--there is one thing that I like about the US. It has good bookstores.

I was in an enormous Barnes & Noble today that kept me entertained for nearly three hours. I bought 2 novels, two technical books, and a picture book for under $100. And I had lunch there, too.

Unfortunately, what should have been a bit of relaxation with my sandwich and latte was marred by the very loud (#6), mindless chatter and bickering of the cafe employees.

(And a side note: why is it so hard to find gloves in late January? I could have had flip flops and short sleeved t-shirts at three stores, but only one had any gloves--in two colors and two styles.)

Act 34

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Jenn is doing a poet-in-residence program at Heights Terrace Elementary in the Hazleton Area school district where I when to school. Tomorrow she has two long sessions with 4th graders and I was going to go in and help her do renga, Japanese chained poetry, with them.

Only I don't have an Act 34 clearance so I'm not allowed. Act 34's basically a certificate from the police saying you don't have a criminal record. I had one a long time ago when I was doing my student teaching and when I was certififed to teach here in PA, but it's long expired.

I can understand Act 34 clearances for classroom teachers who have regular contact with the kids, but for guests? I suppose the public schools don't let uncleared parents come in to volunteer. And they must not invite businessmen to speak or have famous people give presentations. That's madness.

Yet another reason to dislike the US. My list is growing...

Not suitable for cars

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Riding in a car makes me [select some: nervous, tense, panicky, morbid, frantic]. Today's 20 minute trip from Jenn's house to a cafe in the next town over had me doing deep breathing to stay calm. Nothing to do with my sister's perfectly safe driving style, this is all me.

The signs along the highway didn't really do much to relax me:

AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS
HIGH CRASH AREA

SLOW DOWN
SAVE A LIFE

I miss Tokyo. Where are the trains here? Funny thing is, I know where they are--in a Scranton museum called Steamtown. :-(

At school

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meandhelen.jpgToday I spent the day at St. Nick & Mary Elementary. I'm exhausted but the kids were so much fun.

They were a bit wigged out by the nori and I was surprised that they didn't really like the green tea (sweetened, even). We learn some soroban basics; took pictures with the digital camera; tried writing our names with katakana. I told them stories and we wrote kanji. It was a day full of Japan and Japanese things. I hope they had a good time; I definitely did.

I had lunch in the cafeteria--hamburger, fries, overcooked beans and canned apricots. School lunches have not changed in the last 20 years.

Will today's activities help me get over jet-lag? Probaly not. I'm feeling that dead tired drag right now. My brin is melting and my body is cold to the core. Must go have some more of the leftover green tea, I think.

Shopping shock

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Made a quick trip to the Price Chopper to get some salad makings for dinner. Boy, are American grocery stores intense.

In this giant warehouse of a shop there are 21 different kinds of Dole pre-packaged lettuce. Pickles have 7 six foot shelves. Mustard and ketchup each have 4 feet of shelf space times 7 shelves!

And ther were so many kinds of salad dressings--at least 15 feet plus an endcap display--that I gave up trying to choose one. I got olive oil and basalmic vineagr instead.

Another mad cow

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Mad cow # 6 was announced today. This one came from Wakamatsu via Hokkaido.

To put this in persepctive, Britain's mad cow epidemic was 155,000 cases over a ten year span--as many as 1,000 new diagnoses per week at its peak. So Japan's six cases in a year isn't as bad, but it's still not good.

I've been eating beef. Have I also been playing prion roulette?

IMAP and Entourage, part III

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It still doesn't quite work--every time I quit Entourage, or if the IMAP server is jostled, I lose all of my filters. So every day or so, I have to reset all of my filtering rules. I've cut them down to a bare minimum so it only take a few minutes, but I really shoudln'thave to reset the filters everytime I launch the program.

But other than that, it's doing pretty well.

Tod spent hours today sorting out the firewall rules and Exim details so that I can send and receive mail using Entourage instead of webmail while I'm away. What a sweetheart.

Mongolian blue spot

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Until today, I'd never seen a naked Japanese baby.

But we were invited to dinner at a friends' house this evening and got an entertaining bonus--admission to the daily bath. Our friends' son is such a cutie and so patient as his mama washed his hair and baba held his legs. Junior thinks he's swimming in his tub and kicks like crazy.

And I learned something interesting from this bathing 6-month old. Many Japanese babies are born with a blue birthmark in the "sacral region." It looks like an ink blot or a dark bruise. But it's not a bruise and it fades with a few years. His is just at the end of the tailbone.

Apparently this Mongolian Blue Spot is a genetic marker traced back to the Mongols and it appears not only in most Asian races, but also Turks, Greeks, Africans, Eskimos and Native Americans.

I've uncovered two folk explanations for the spots. The Mongols say they are the mark left by the spirit who slaps the baby to life. Chinese believe that if you are reluctant to be reincarnated, the King of Hell prods and kicks you until you agree to go. The more spots, the more reluctant you were to be reborn.

Burning out brings benefits

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DigitalEve Japan is approaching its second anniversary. The core of women who started the group have expended a lot of energy--sometimes productively planning and executing events, sometimes envisioning a better world and trying to make it happen, sometimes agonising over one particluarly challenging member.

Like most volunteer organizations, DE-J suffers from member apathy and leader burnout. And those of use who've been on board the whole time are getting pretty tired. But at this evening's SC meeting, we renewed our energy with some new ideas that, if we get them off the ground, should make progamming and accomplishing our mission much easier.

We've always wanted our members to take on responsibility for their own learning and increase their participation of their own accord, instead of having the SC manage every aspect of every program. Now we are going to advocate small, special interest groups. We've put forward the idea a few times before with limited success but this time we're hoping it will take off because we are cutting back on our SC-initiated programming.

So burnout might bring benefits to the group by encouraging members to participate more and form a stronger community. Which is the best part of DigitalEve Japan, except for that one annoying member.

Sensei

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Next Tuesday, I'll be spending the day with my niece's 5th grade class. I'll be teaching them about all sorts of Japanese things. Today I drew up really brief lesson plans for each of the classes so her teachers know what to expect.

In Science we'll talk about how digital cameras work (after discussing Japan's famous technology companies); Math is an abacus lesson; Reading is Japanese folktales; Spelling is writing names in katakana. In Social Studies, we'll try rice crackers and green tea and in English we'll decode some Japanese English words (Do you think anyone will get pasocon? I threw it in for a challenge!)

It will be a fun, but very tiring day.

Excuse me, I have to go prepare some katakana handouts

No. 1 Kristen

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The January issue of the FCCJ's newspaper, No. 1 Shimbun, should be subtitled the "Kristen McQuillin Special Issue" or "All the Kristen That's Fit to Print." I wrote or co-wrote three of the 18 articles, my picture appears twice and there's a profile of me as their new webmaster that paints me in a very favorable light (thanks to Jon for the magic paintbrush!).

All in all, my name is mentioned ten times. If anyone at the club doesn't at least recognise my existence, it's because they didn't pick up a copy of the newspaper.

I'm sorry that I can't show you quite yet, but on January 28th all will be unveiled. Stay tuned!

Finding the hidden gems

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Tokyo has more restaurants per capita than most major cities. Home kitchens are small and there are lots of overworked single people who just want an easy, quick bite to eat after a long day of work. With so many restaurants, statistically speaking you know there are going to be some exceptionally good ones. And some really bad ones, too.

Tonight we visited a really good one. A little Indian restaurant tucked around the corner from the main drag in Yotsuya. (Little India Yotsuya 1-1-6 B1F, for those of you in town). This little gem has three Indian chefs running the show and there were dishes on the menu we'd never seen anywhere, including a potato-spinach croquette and a paneer curry in onion gravy. Yum!

Unlike some of our lucky stumbles (out of the rain, usually) Little India was not a chance find. Their business card was tacked up on the restroom wall at Ampresso. Tod took note. And I'm awfully glad he did. Dinner was delicious.

Video soundscape

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Yesterday, I spent hours auditioning royalty-free music for the video. Choosing the right music is critical to the tone and feel of the project and it's one of the hardest things about the artistic process for me.

You may not ever have listened to royalty-free music on purpose, but I'll bet you've heard it. The background music of training videos, corporate ads, commercials, and TV news programs is the sort of music that can be found in royalty-free collections. Lots of this music is really terrible!

So why use royalty-free? Because getting the rights to songs people would recognise is expensive, time-consuming and complicated. I'm cheap, impatient and lazy. For the cost of a meal, I can download a royalty-free track; for a couple hundred dollars I can buy an entire collection of royalty-free music. Once I've bought it, I can use it as often as I want without paying another yen.

Although inexpensive sometimes means bad, there are some talented musicians working in the field: FreePlay has a good selection and so does Unique Tracks (formerly Loud Neighbors). I love the music at Future Web Sonics but it's not right for the Hello Tokyo project.

I'm not 100% happy with the music I've selected for Hello Tokyo, but I think it's 90% right, so I'm going with it.

Philly cheesesteak continuum

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Years ago we devised a scale to evaluate a foodstuff compared to its original. We called it the Philly Cheesesteak Continuum because there is only one place to get a true Philly Cheesesteak (a long sandwich of Amoroso's crusty bread filled with fried beef, optional onions, and topped with cheese)--Philadelphia where this sandwich was invented in 1930.

The farther you get from Philadelphia, the less true to the original. Somewhere North of Camden, NJ, they stop using fresh steak and use Steak-Um frozen beef slices. In Chicago they call it the Italian Beef and though you can see a resemblance to the Philly Cheesesteak, they use seasoned beef, hot and sweet peppers and no cheese. Maybe in California they use whole grain bread, organic beef and soy cheese. On the moon, it's probably rocks and dust topped with green cheese.

All of this backstory is to explain the weird breakfast I had today. I stopped into a Vie de France cafe for a quick bite before running errands this morning. Vie de France has all kinds of lovely pastries pretending to be French, but we all know there are no bean jam doughnuts in France. They also carry savory baked goods like Vienna sausage rolls and curry doughnuts. This alone puts them pretty far along the continuum from French cafes.

But today's piece de weirdness was the Fish Dog I found among the savory baked goods. The Fish Dog is a split bun filled with fingers of crispy, breaded, fried fish topped with creamed mushrooms and cheese, then broiled to brown the cheese. It was quite tasty, but if I were to notch it down a level in quality, I'd end up with a white-trash American delight: a hot dog bun with fish sticks, cream of mushroom soup and pizza cheese.

If the Fish Dog was meant to be kin to a hot dog, it is far, far down the continuum. Then again, Fish Dog might be a Vie de France original--at the start of the continuum-- and all others are simply imitations.

Rice porridge

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With a stomach bug going around my friends in the US right now, I thought I'd post a recipe for the Japanese equivalent of chicken soup--okayu (o-kah-you). It's a very simple rice porridge. It makes a great breakfast even if you're not sick.

::With raw rice
270 ml/1.25 cups short grained rice
3 l/ 3 quarts water
1/3 t salt
- Bring water to boil, add rice and salt. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. The rice should be very soft and the water mostly but not entirely absorbed. Think "watery oatmeal."

::With cooked rice
190 ml/.75 cup short grained rice (cooked)
1.3 l/5.5 cups water
1/3 t salt
- Bring the water to a boil, add salt and rice, cook for about 15 minutes. The rice should be very soft and the water mostly but not entirely absorbed. Think "watery oatmeal."

If you want a flavored broth, you can add some miso to the water as it cooks, or use chicken stock. You can add spinach or other vegetables and okayu's always nice garnished with an umeboshi, scallions, bean sprouts, grated ginger, bits of cooked meat or fish, or strips of fried tofu. For some bland protein, pour in a beaten egg to form egg threads.

Coffee situation

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Shortly before the end of the year, we replaced our coffee maker. The old one was starting to act up--probably due to four maintenance-free years of service--and we decided that it was probably easier and cheaper to replavce it than to try to fix it.

So we bought a new Phillips 12-cup coffee maker. Compared to our old 6-cup model, it's gigantic. Tod says I don't have to brew a full pot, but how can I not? Coffee is great stuff. I've gone from a modest one and a half mugs of coffee every day to 3 whole mugs. I'm just a little hyper now. O so productive!

We also picked up a thermal carafe. Directly after the coffee's brewed I pour it into the carafe and it's still hot (and more importantly not burned) when Tod wakes up several hours later.

So our home coffee life is improved and I'm getting more done than usual.

Follow-ups

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I've been busy working on the FCCJ project, so I haven't had much time to do anything else. However, here's a batch of updates on previous posts.

- Jenn found the mixer and we met this morning at the Maru Biru for a brownie drop. Mmmmm. They are really good!

- Nobody else has seen the anaguma. After a big rainstorm, I took down the soggy poster.

- My IMAP & Entourage problems continue and seem to be getting worse as I make futile attempts to fix things. If I don't reply to your mail, it's probably because some broken process ate it.

- I won 200 yen in the Hatsu Yume (First Dream of the Year) lottery. That's enough to buy another lottery ticket, but I promised half to the Zous for their travels.

- The "Nipponjin with scissors" entry has been spammed twice more by companies.

- I've been going to the gym regularly and amd getting (slowly but perceptibly) more fit. Today I swam laps for the first time in five years.

Smelly street

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The sewage department has been busy on our street this week--the entire neighborhood smells like benzene. Or maybe it's some other aromatic hydrocarbon but whatever it is, I'm glad that I'm inside where I can't smell it.

The workers are out there, unprotected. Nobody I've seen is wearing a filter or mask. Won't long exposure to something so strongly scented cause them harm? Just walking along the street past the construction area, I was really happy to go a little faster than usual.

I'm not even sure what they are doing. Two days ago, they were airing out the manholes with fans and aluminum ductwork; yesterday they had a camera on an optic fiber--sewage endoscopy?

Watching my language

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My language is a champon [mixture] of English and Japanese. When I'm speaking English, I throw in maybe 10% Japanese words or use Japanese constructions. If I speak Japanese, there are always English words in the mix.

It must be very confusing to anyone who doesn't speak both languages. I'll have to be careful when I leave Japan. Fortunately, everyone around me here does the same thing--mixes up languages at will.

Our vague utterances are always Japanese:

un - Yep
daijoubu? - OK? Are you OK? It that OK?
tadaima - Honey, I'm home.
iyada - No way, I won't!
ie ie - No, no, no, no
hai - Yes

Sometimes what comes out of my mouth sounds like English, but it really isn't. Most of the time, I'm not even aware that I'm not really speaking shizen na Eigo [natural English]. Here are some samples:

Must toilet! - I urgently need to use the restroom.
Let's do sports - Let's go to the gym.
She really levelled up - She improved dramatically.
I'm losing my English - I am losing my ability to speak and write fluently in English.

I would really like to keep my English, so I'd better level up on my use of shizen na Eigo.

Blind date

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Today I met a "longtime reader" of this weblog named Jenn--not my sister but another 2-nn Jenn. She's in town briefly and thought it would be nifty to meet up.

The act of meeting an acquaintance from the virtual world reminded me a little bit of the "old days" back in the early 90s when Chat Thing (the ddial system that got me hooked on computer-mediated communication) and Telerama (the ISP that grew out of Chat Thing) would hold get-togethers for our users. They were sort of like group blind dates. You never knew who you'd be meeting. That erudite writer you enjoyed debating with could be a 14 year old schoolgirl or a 50 year old geek.

Jenn was neither 14 nor 50, though she is a girl and a geek who started programming in 1979. I enjoyed discussing shared interests with her and her friend Denise at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Afterwards, they went off in search of a moderately powerful hand mixer. If they find one, I'm in line for some of Jenn's family-recipe brownies. Mmmmmm!

Pilgrimage

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darts-kaiten.jpgWhile on a pilgrimage tour to see the 7 Lucky Gods yesterday (read all about it below), we were distracted by a festival in a nearby temple.

Among the food stalls serving up everything from mashed potatoes with butter to whole grilled fish on a stick, there were games. I was drawn in by the Kaiten Darts game and had to play. For 500 yen, I got three darts. The target was given a good spin and I threw my darts hoping to hit the thin red line that indicated Big Prize. My first dart hit a yellow prize section; the second dart hit home in the zannen "too bad" section and the last dart bounced off the surface of the spinning board.

Even though I didn't hit the Big Prize section, I did win a prize that I will have fun playing with.

Sweet showmanship

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to shop in a bustling, old-fashioned Tokyo shopping district?

The Shimaura Discount Chocolate Shop webpage will give you a taste (including a very loud WAV file) of what it's like to stand in front of their stall in the alleys of Ameyoko near Ueno station.

Frenetic showmen, they work as a team--one man on a platform, surrounded by candy, takes handsful of chocolate bars, boxed candies and seasonal treats and holds them aloft then thrusts them into a plastic bag held up overhead by his assistant on teh ground. 4000 yen's worth of candy for only 1000 yen! Not a bad deal. It's chocolate that's almost reach it's sell-by date or overruns of special promotions.

They've been featured on TV and in print and for good reason. They not only give you candy, they give you a performance, too.

We stumbled across Shimaura a few years ago at the New Year and visited it again this week. You might like to see it for yourself if you're in town, or virtually if you're not.

Bolshoi Circus

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bolshoicircus.jpgAt noon today, seeing the cold, snowy weather outside, I figured we might want to put off our plan to hike around Koto-ku to see the seven lucky gods. I shouted down the hall to Tod "Let's go to the circus! If we hurry, we can make the 13:00 show..."

And so we did. It's really convenient living so close to Tokyo Dome. We arrived just as they were finishing up taking souvenir pictures with the elephant.

The Bolshoi Circus, is the Japan-travelling branch of the Russian National Circusand will be in town through the middle of February. They have all the classic acts--a trained bear riding a motorcycle, dancers, magic, acrobats, trapeze artists, tightrope walking, clowns, elephants spinning hoops, a woman juggling birds, bicycle acrobatics, and horse stunt riding.

Tod had never been to a circus; I haven't been since I was a kid. It was really, really fun. And much warmer than walking around Koto-ku. :-)

Entourage + IMAP

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I thought I'd take advantage of a lull during the holiday break to reconfigure the way my mail works. Tod's been wanting to do this for months and since I'll be travelling for almost a month starting in the next few weeks, it makes sense to use IMAP--where all the mail is stored on the server, giving me access to the exact same set up from my desktop or laptop or any other computer I care to use.

Except that I use Entourage as my mail client. It's a Microsoft product that I've really been satisfied with--up until now. Entourage and IMPA do not play nicely. It took hours to figure out simple things like moving my folders over to the server. I currently have 1327 messages in my "work" folder. I should have about 800. And to add insult to injury, it's really, really lsow. The I in IMAP stands for Instant but not if you're using Entourage.

Argh!!!

#108

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sheeptoshi.jpg

We're just back from our local shrine (Daikokuten) where we rattled the bell and had some tasty tonjiru, and Denzuin temple, where we stood in line and rang out Sin #108--the last one of the pantheon of human sins and sorrows.

Tod declared #108 as "being mad at you" but I interpreted in a broader sense of "peevish." Because, really, I know what "being mad at you" is all about. ;-)

Afterwards we enjoyed sake and notariety as "local foreigners" before heading home to unleash a light stick on the lawn. (Tie a lightstick to a string, activate it, cut a hole in it, swing it around, enjoy the new constellations.)

Now, there seems to be a coffee in my hand and a movie waiting in the other room. Wow!

Happy New Year.

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