March 2004 Archives

Mad Libs

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From age 8 to 11, my friend Stacey always had a "mad lib" in hand and challenged us to "give me a noun, a name and a verb ending in 'ing'." We laughed a lot over these fill-in-the-blank paragraphs.

Before reading any further (no peeking, OK?), write down a

noun
color
name
exclamation
verb ending in 'ing'
adjective
noun
adjective
plural noun

Now, take those words in order and fill in the blanks.

A __(noun)___ wearing a ___(color)___ hat, walks up to the bar. "Pour me a drink, bartender. And one for my friend, ____(name)____. "

The bartender pours two drinks and handed them to his customer. "___(exclamation)____, I think that your friend is ___(verb ending in 'ing')___.

"Oh, he always does that. He's a ___(adjective)___ ___(noun)____ with ___(adjective)____ ____(plural noun)____."

Are you giggling?

Fever and Cold Feet

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I didn't know it was possible to have both at once, but I do. Shouldn't they cancel each other out?

I will put on some socks and have a cup of tea.

Sakura history

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Eliza Scidmore was late 19th century American travel writer and photographer (and contemporary of Nellie Bly) who often travelled to Japan. She suggested and organized the donation of over 2,000 cherry trees that line the avenues of Washington, DC.

She died in Geneva in 1928, but the Japanese government asked for her ashes to be interred at the Foreigners Cemetery in Yokohama. I visited her grave today. It's not a particularly interesting monument as far as they go, a polished granite sarcophagus with an inscription, but it forged an interesting connection to my life at the moment: the sakura are blooming and I've been spending lots of time in cemeteries surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Weapons grade thin mints

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ThinMintsBox.jpgOur annual supply of Girl Scout cookies arrived yesterday. We order them from one of Tod's colleague's daughters in Chicago and she mails them to us.

This year, the package arrived sealed with Japan Post tape and with a note saying the box had been inspected at Customs. Both boxes of Thin Mints were open.

I wonder if the densely packed cylinders of Thin Mints--18 cookies per roll, two rolls to a box--trigger some sort of weapons alert? Maybe it looks like a pipe bomb.

Calorie Off High Socks

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calorieoffsocks.jpg

Lose 399 calories/hour just by wearing these knee highs? Not exactly. You have to spend that hour walking, too. I hope this is an additional use of calories, because an hour's brisk walk should burn off about 400 calories no matter what you're wearing on your legs.

These "high socks" are designed to increase your metabolism and relax your legs. They're engineered with some kind of plant-based "slimming essence" as well. But no vitamins.

Buring calories by wearing socks sounds quite amazing, doesn't it? But, shhh, don't tell anyone...these are old-fashioned support hose marketed to the under-20 set. I guess the marketing works, these are flying off the shelves at Shop In.

They're actually pretty comfy and I've been searching for a pair of beige knee highs for months so I'm happy to have them in my sock drawer. But as I discovered yesterday, they don't stay up as well as they should. I walked for only 20 minutes before the left sock was down around my ankle. I guess that means I only got a 333 calorie benefit.

Alphabetical Order

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creative perspectivesFor the next 26 days, I'm going dedicate each day to a letter of the alphabet. I'll incorporate things and actions that begin with the day's letter. Sounds a bit odd, but it will encourage me to do things I might not normally do, or at least to think up some clever ways of naming what I am doing during the course of my day.

Today is P, because P seems to be naturally figuring into today's activities. I made pickles this morning and will eat Pho for lunch. I pulled back my hair this morning. I'm penning an article for Perot this afternoon. Tonight I am going to a party and I will wear purple.

Tomorrow is Q. Hmmmm...quiz, questions, quarrel, quadrille, quit, quinine. Should be an interesting day.

You can play, too. If you don't want to go the distance with all 26 letters, just try one day. What letter will you choose?

Baked Artichoke Dip

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recipe thursdayThis really could not be easier and it receives raves. Must be all the fat--for those who are counting, it's about 640 calories and 50 grams of fat, mainly from the mayonnaise. Artichokes have no fat at all, which surprised me for some reason--I figured they were oily like olives and avocado.

Baked Artichoke Dip
serves 6-8
5 Tblsp freshly grated Romano cheese
3 Tblsp mayonnaise
3 Tblsp sour cream
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

Stir together the first 5 ingredients until creamy, then mix in the chopped 'chokes. Transfer to an oven-safe serving dish. Bake at 175 C until heated through, about 20 minutes.

After baking you can top the dip with a little more grated Romano cheese and some paprika, then broil. It looks prettier with the extra cheese, but tastes great either way.

You can make the dip a day ahead and refrigerate before baking--it takes a little longer to bake if it's chilled.

Manpoke

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Since learning about the 10,000 steps idea, I've been curious about how many steps I take in a day. So I bought a pedometer. They're called manpokei in Japanese (that's mahn-poe-kay, not man-poke) which literally means "10,000 step measure."

According to what I've read, most Americans take between 900 and 3000 steps per day. That seems so low.

I made an effort today, and managed to walk 14,235 steps. I went to the grocery store (1500 steps) and then walked to work (8,000 steps), to class (1000 steps), and home from the train station (1200 steps). The rest just sort of filled themselves in somehow. 7469 steps (63 minutes) of today's walking was shikkari or steady walking--good aerobic exercise.

Today was an exception, but even on my relaxed days, I'm taking over 3,000 steps. How could anyone possibly walk only 900 steps in a day??

Unseasonal haiku

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Toes curled in wool socks
Ache for balmier weather--
Frosty hanami.

Hands thrust in pockets,
Sake abandoned on lawn;
Fingers dream of Spring.

Rosy chilly cheeks
Compete with sakura pinks;
The finer blush wins.

Fast food fusion

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Four Seeds and Pepsico/Frito Lay team up to bring us Pizza-la Garlic Meat Doritos.

pizzala-doritos.jpg

Also available in Italiana (tomato and cheese) and Get's (garlic, pepperoni and bacon) flavors.

Tokyo worries

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Having been entirely too happy and carefree lately, I've compiled a list of things I could be worrying about in Tokyo:

Food safety, specifically avian flu
TAMBA, Japan (AP) - Men in white protective suits, masks and hoods moved along the hillside above a chicken farm, spraying disinfectant and throwing lime into a huge ditch filled with thousands of dead birds.

This mountain-ringed town in western Japan is the epicenter in the country's mounting struggle with avian flu, which has compounded worries about the food supply and provoked a scare over the possible spread of the disease to humans.

Those fears have expanded in recent days with the discovery of five wild crows infected with the virus - raising the threat that the freely roaming birds could trigger an uncontrollable spread of the disease.

"That's really worrying," Kaoru Iwamoto, a 55-year-old housewife, said just a few blocks away from a farm being disinfected. "You can control where the chickens go, but crows fly all over the place."

The avian flu hit Japan in January for the first time since the mid-1920s. It has infected chickens at three farms and led to the deaths or extermination of more than 300,000 birds.

So far, Japan has been lucky with no cases of human transmission. The disease has spread to people in Thailand and Vietnam, killing 22 and prompting the cull of about 100 million chickens across Asia.

Terror attacks in Tokyo by al Qaeda or Iraqi operatives
TOKYO (AP) -- Japan added police at railway stations in Tokyo and vowed to stand firm on Iraq after an Islamic militant group reportedly said Japan could be targeted by terrorists.

Japan's conservative government, a firm supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has insisted the deadly bombings that killed 202 people in Madrid last week would not change its backing for Washington.

A London-based Arabic newspaper on Thursday published a message attributed to the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri warning that its next targets could be Japan, Italy, Britain or Australia. The group has claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings.

Being anonymously reported as a suspicious foreigner
TOKYO — The Justice Ministry on Thursday decided to review its controversial online service that allows people to anonymously submit information via email about suspected illegal aliens to a web site run by the Immigration Bureau after drawing fire from groups supporting foreign nationals living in Japan.

The service, which began Feb 16, allows people to submit information on the identity, address or workplace of suspected illegal aliens. Critics say the service constitutes racial discrimination but the Justice Ministry says it has reminded users that it will not tolerate any attempts to slander foreigners. (Kyodo News)

That long-overdue, city-flattening earthquake
This threat hangs over all our heads, all the time. The city is 10 years overdue on its "70 year cycle" of major quakes. And as far as I've noticed, we haven't even had a moderate one in months.

I tried to come up with a list of ten things to worry about, but I could only think of four. I think that's cause to celebrate...

Happy Equinox

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It's the first day of spring. It snowed today. But we were warm inside with 24 of our favorite people and a feast of food & wine, and live music. Heaven. Thanks.

Hairstyling

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creative perspectivesWhen I'm feeling blah and uncreative sometimes I mess with my hair. I create a new look with ponytails all over my head or little braids or curls or gelled sections. The "new me" is more likely to think creatively. I get inspired when I've just turned my head into a topiary of tresses. Try it yourself; you'll see.

You say your hair is too short to restyle? Nah. You should see some of the cute Japanese boys running around Tokyo with their short hair gelled into little mini spikes. You're bald? Well, that is probably too short to style, so why not style your beard? Or be really daring and draw on your head. Or make yourself a hat. This isn't about beauty as much as regaining a sense of fun.

If you need some inspiration, skip the movie stars and fashion magazines. Take your ideas from Dr. Seuss, bonsai, architecture, 1930s streamlines, fireworks, macrame. How would Man Ray, Rene Magritte, or Salvadore Dali style hair?

Chicken ala Antipixel

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recipe thursdayLast night at the Japan Bloggers party, Jeremy was waxing poetic about food. "Imagine taking cilantro and mango and making a sort of Chicken Kiev..." he began. We tossed the idea back and forth a little bit before turning to other topics.

This evening, I filled in the gaps of our recipe and tried it. I added a salty prosciutto ham to the filling and opted for a wine-simmered cordon bleu method, rather than a deep-fried Kiev. The preparation is quite simple, but you need to pound the chicken quite thin so that you can roll it.

I'm so glad to have friends who love food. Such great inspirations!

Chicken ala Antipixel

2 chicken breasts, skinless & boneless
2 Tblsp cottage cheese
1 bunch cilantro
1 slice prosciutto
1 small mango (ripe)
2 Tblsp flour
2 Tblsp olive oil
3/4 c white wine
1/2 t chicken bullion granules
1/2 c water or chicken broth (optional)
1 Tblsp cream
white pepper and salt to taste

Lay the chicken breasts flat. Cut the thick side to form a flap and fold back. Pound the chicken until it is about a 1 cm thick.

Lay on the center of each breast - 1 T cottage cheese, about a quarter of the mango, thinly sliced, 1/2 slice of prosciutto, and 1/2 a bunch of shredded cilantro (I used kitchen shears to shred the cilantro directly onto the chicken.)

Carefully fold the chicken over the filling and secure with toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Dust with flour.

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown chicken on all sides, then reduce heat, add wine and bullion granules. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. You may need to add some additional water during the simmering...keep an eye out.

While the chicken simmers, mince the remaining mango very fine and season with a little bit of white pepper. Set aside. Blend the cornstartch and cream, set aside.

When the chicken is cooked through, remove the chicken from the pan and carefully remove the toothpicks or skewers.

To the simmering liquid, now thickened in the pan, add the minced mango and cook for a minute. If the juices are too thick, add up to 1/2 cup of water or chicken broth. Mix in the cream and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Words, words, words

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Work always goes in waves. Right now, I seem to be cresting a "words and writing" breaker.

In addition to the quarterly newsletter that I do for a client, Todeco gave me a forum to publish a pair of articles on project specifications I wrote in late 2002, and a short essay will appear on 1000 Words soon.

Reprints seem to be a popular request. I've granted reprint rights to a law firm for The Hunt is On and Moleskinerie is republishing an entry from Creative Perspectives next week.

Plus I've got new work in the pipeline for Design-in-Flight, Number 1 Shimbun, and Four Corners.

I'd better sharpen my pencils.

Kwik-gro Moss

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Researchers at Osaka Prefectural University have developed a way to speed up the growth of moss. By adjusting the light, temperate and nourishment, the researchers can grow Racomitrium japonicum in two months, rather than the usual two years.

They say that this can help to alleviate the urban heat-island effect.

Imagine that. I envision green, moss-covered buildings, dripping into silent streets--a post-apocalypse, anti-urban landscape.

But when I snap back to reality, I see a different picture: withered moss covering rooftops, where gardening is mandated to combat the city's heat. Noone can see the moss, which is fine because the enthusiastic experiment has dried up from too little of that careful adjustment of light, temperature and nourishment.

Smoking manners

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jt-manners2.gifJapan Tobacco launched a new campaign to remind smokers to mind their manners. This ad is one of four designs that evoke misleading newspaper diagrams. The messages are good--I cringe every time Tod lights a cigarette on a crowded street--but the delivery is weird.

Although Tokyo's nowhere near as anti-smoking as the US, the past few years have seen more public spaces become "no smoking zones." Japan Tobacco makes an effort to teach their customers better manners while promoting smoking. Will better manners prevent anti-smoking laws? Maybe. If smoking ceases to be a daily nuisance for non-smokers, then why bother with laws? But I don't think than an ad campaign is enough to make a difference.

jt-manners.gifAnd neither does Japan Tobacco. "Smokers' style" is their ongoing smoking campaign title. It has a cute stylised leaf logo--so natural, just like smoking.

Smokers' style is more than just ads. They maintain a large indoor smoking space in Akihabara and two mobile trailers (SmoCars) in no-smoking zones to give people a place to feed their addiction. JT also sponsors clean-up teams that sweep the streets free of cigarette butts and hand out portable ashtrays.

You can find out more about the Smokers' style manners plan, including photos of the SmoCars and all of the new ads at JT Delight World.

Town Idiot

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A DIY (do it yourself) store, Town DOit, opened near Kourakuen station a week or two ago.

Tools, art supplies, and stationery are the things that I love shopping for. These are places where I can buy creative toys! I will browse for hours as my mind races to think of new projects. What can I do with a half-dozen pink screws and a piece of yellow plastic? What about this flooring? Can I use this plumbing fitting somehow?

So it was a treat to spend 90 minutes perusing the aisles of the Town DOit this evening. From imported power drills to shoji screen repair kits (for the holes kids inevitably make in the paper door screens), the shop carries a little bit of everything. And if they don't have it in stock, there's a shelf or two of catalogs that you can order from.

I'm already awash in plans to renovate my garden and maybe to build a 35mm adapter and a jib arm for my video camera...

Long walk

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On Thursday, I did as announced and took a long walk. I strode for 4 hours and took a 60 minute break for lunch. I ended up at Niiza, Saitama, 20.7 km from home.

niiza-2.jpg
My route was straight up national road 254. It's called Kasuga Dori where I live, but past Ikebukuro it turns into Kawagoe Kaido. This route from Tokyo to Kawagoe has been travelled for hundreds of years. These days, it's a four-lane highway all the way. Well designated, too. Even at the most complex intersections, I was never disoriented for more than the moment it took to find the right signpost.

I plodded through the familiar territory of my neighborhood, then into a section of the city I hadn't seen before, though it was the same in tone and tenor as my neighborhood. After 45 minutes, I reached Ikebukuro, where I crossed over the Yamanote Line.

Outside the loop, the neighborhoods seemed more parochial than the skyscraping commercial zone I'd just left. Buildings were lower and businesses focussed on daily living. But soon enough the quaint shops in run down buildings gave way to suburban sprawl. Bicyclists outnumbered pedestrians. Ramen shops gave way to family restaurants. I watched bicycle shops turn into motorcycle shops and eventually car dealerships.

niiza-map.jpg

My goal was to reach Kawagoe, 34 km from home. But as I walked, my sense of time and distance got looser. By lunchtime, I'd reached Narimasu, 10 km from my starting point. I'd walked for about 2.5 hours according to my notes. I tried to do the math but it seemed wrong. After that much time, shouldn't I be farther? I remeasured the map and came up with a different distance. I noted both then focussed my attention on eating.

niiza-4.jpg
Reaching the prefectural border just after lunch cheered me up. How many people in central Tokyo have walked to Saitama? Probably not too many. And there's a reason for that. Over the border, Kawagoe Kaido turned industrial and extremely car-centric.

niiza-5.jpg

But this was intended as an endurance test, not a sightseeing trip. How far can I walk? What is the experience of going that far? I spent time thinking about how I should be thinking about the trip. I wondered back in time--50 years, 100 years, 400 years.

The reality was that four lanes of traffic accompanied me. A strong wind blew dust into my face. I walked for minutes with my head down and my eyes half shut. It was boring most of the time. There wasn't much nature around. I stopped walking and came home because the blisters on my feet broke open. It hurt and I'm a wuss.

But I'm encouraged. I've made a target map of the places I can reach within a 10, 20 and 30 km radius of home. I'll be going walking again as soon as my feet heal. I'll buy a pedometer and maybe next time, I'll try a more scenic route...

You're a legend

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creative perspectivesDo you remember all the myths and legends that we learned in school? Three of my favorites are from Americana: Paul Bunyan, a giant logger who traveled with his blue ox, Babe, Johnny Appleseed, who planted apple orchards across America, and John Henry, a railroad worker who won a race against a steam powered shovel. They were people (two of them are definitely real people but nobody's sure about Paul Bunyan) who did remarkable things. As people retold the tales, their feats and abilities grew.

If you were legendary, how would the story go? What remarkable feat would you perform? What does your legendary self look like? Which traits would be magnified? Do you have a companion? A mortal foe? And which aspects of your life are left out of the legend? (Those are nearly as important as what's kept in, you know...)

I'm going to write the legend of Kristen based on something that actually happened this month. I'll put it in the comments later today. I hope you'll write one, too, and share it here.

Old cook's tales

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recipe thursdayWhen I'm in the kitchen, all sorts of phrases come to mind. They are the procedural recipes that I've learned over the years.

"Hot pan, cold oil, foods won't stick" from Jeff Smith's Frugal Gourmet runs through my head every single time I put oil in my fry pan.

"Frequent turning makes crisp bacon," comes from my mother's best friend's mother, Mrs. Allen. I never met her, but I think of her every time I cook a big breakfast.

"Cold start soup." I made this one up myself. Vegetables started in cold water release their flavor to the water, like soup stock. Potatoes should be cooked from cold water, so they lose their starchiness, but grean beans and carrots should be dropped into boiling water to retain flavor.

"A pint's a pound the world around," doesn't come up too often anymore, but I used that to estimate weight. These days I'm more likely to recall "100 grams = candy bar and 1 gram = a paperclip."

"Measure twice, cut once" belongs in the wood shop, but sometimes I apply it to recipes. Have you ever put in a tablespoon of a seasoning instead of a teaspoon? Yeah, me, too.

What phrases, rhymes and kitchen wisdom do you love?

A girl's tides

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OK, boys, stop reading now before you get squeamish. This is more than you really want to know about me. Keep on at your own risk. You have been warned.

WTF is up with my body? I do not enjoy being a girl.

My periods, never regular because of ovarian cysts, are completely off the scale. Every 7 to 14 days, I bleed for a day or two. Sometimes it's just a little, sometimes it's quite a bit. Every six-to-eight weeks I bleed heavily for four or five days before it stops.

In between the bleeding, I'm either suffering migraines or experiencing surges of euphoria. I overflow with love and feel superhuman. I'm not sure it's reasonable to complain about being so happy, but it isn't "right" and I don't like it.

My thought is that I'm not ovulating at all, which could lead to twice-monthly bleeding. But weekly? I don't get it. No doubt hormone pills would sort me out, but I have no desire for them. I don't need the birth control (see cystic ovaries, above) and prefer not to take daily medications of any sort.

I saw a gynecologist last year when I was bleeding every two weeks. Since I don't intend to have children, she wasn't concerned and offered me some Chinese herbal medicine. I declined. Maybe I should rethink that...

All that said, I'm not worried. But I do like to understand what's going on with my body and so I'm curious. I'm not quite 38 yet. That's too young to be experiencing pre-menopausal weirdness. Right? I just don't know.

Walking

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For the last little while I've been considering long walks. Having walked from home to Yotsuya a few weeks ago, only a 40 minute trip on foot, I imagined some of the long journeys by foot throughout history. To be honest, hobbits kept coming to mind...

Walking is the most natural mode of transportation. After all, we only recently invented motorised transportation, and even hooved transport wasn't always available. But we've always had feet. Well, for a long, long time, anyway.

MJ mentioned a TV show she saw quoted 10,000 steps a day as the optimum amount of walking. Figuring about 80 cm per stride, that's 8 km, or just short of 5 miles every day. Apparently the average Japanese dweller walks about half that.

The average walking pace is about 4 km/hour. So 8 km is a two hour walk and that seems not so difficult, really.

What if I started out in the morning and walked for 8 hours? Where would I be? I have no idea...but I plan to find out.

If the weather is fair on Thursday, (tenki yoho says it will be) I will take a long hike, starting from Korakuen station at 9 am and walking until about 6, allowing time for lunch and short breaks along the way. Return via train to a long, cold beer.

If anyone would like to join me, send me a mail. Company is most welcome.

Chicken Pie Delivery

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"Kuri, can I ask a favor?" MJ asked this morning. "Bring me a chicken pie..."

So I took the last of our stash of Vili's pies from the freezer and hopped a train for Kanagawa. 90 minutes later, I handed MJ her chicken pie. And here I am , enjoying an evening away from home in cosmopolitan Hiratsuka.

No more pies left. Deliveries are currently suspended until the supply is replenished.

Fountain Pens

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fountainpens.jpg

Disposable fountain pens make me feel connected to great writers of the past but without the inconvenience of spilling bottles of ink everywhere or feeling guilty for not cleaning my nibs. Sekaido in Shinjuku has a good selection if you're in the market for a new pen.

Mitsubishi Boxy has an unusual name, but it's nothing special as far as writing goes. It's shaped like a slightly thick Bic ballpoint--a long straight line with a cap. It writes well, but without the balanced grace of a fountain pen.

Platinum E-pen is similar in shape to the Boxy, but it has an ever-so-slightly thinner nib and its ink seems a touch more translucent. The ink doesn't wick very much at all and it lays down a consistent line.

Pilot V-pen is slightly stubby, similar to a proper fountain pen. It feels good in the hand and its classic shaped, slightly rounded nib that deposits the ink in a pleasantly uneven line--or maybe that's just my handwriting. I like this one the best of the three.

The V-pen is available in six ink colors: black, blue, red, green, cyan, and pink. I have a black one and nearly bought a pink one tonight. But then I'd have four disposable fountain pens and doesn't that seem excessive?

Play to Screenplay

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In 1998, just after arriving in Singapore, I wrote a play. I never tried to produce it so it's been sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to get back to it. Finally, it's seeing the glare of the CRT again. I've decided to take a shot at turning it into a screenplay.

Stage plays and screenplays are entirely different. Characters do a lot of talking in a play. Actors have to describe events that take place offstage. The audience at a distance can't read their subtle expressions so they even talk to themselves from time to time. But in film, you can get close. The actors show their emotions instead of telling them.

Another difference is locations. My play takes place on one set. In the film version Annie and Fran eat lunch in a restaurant, instead of Annie's apartment. Annie and Rob will argue have their argument in a car. Sean flashes back to an embarrassing moment in his childhood. Fran delivers flowers for a living, now you'll get to see her do it.

It's quite an interesting exercise to adapt from one form to another. One downside is that the budget increases with every change I make!

New logos

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creative perspectivesWow, what a great response. Thank you! I was impressed by the variety of ideas you sent. Every one of them was had its own personality. I hope you had fun with them and that thinking about the logo inspired one of your own projects. They certainly inspired me.

One logo particularly resonated. This is what I wanted to do in the first place. Thank you for reading my mind, Robert. As you can see, I altered the colors for the final version. I'm a fan of duller tones; bright primaries hurt my old eyes.

creative-perspectives.jpgRobert sent a set of elements from the I Ching: earth, water, fire and air. The logo incorporates an Asian motif and uses clean straight lines like the rest of my site. Plus if you look at it from a distance, it's laughing.

prpcie.jpgSajjad offered his idea in a comment. "I'm not a designer so can't really give something visual or very solid, but how about putting "Creative" in various colors and "Perspectives" in a 3D style text with different perspectives on different parts of the word?" I had a hard time getting the perspective idea to work at such a small size, so I alternated the letters top to bottom--pErSpEcTiVeS--and that's a different perspective entirely.

cp-a.jpgcp-b.jpgMike's submission had a clever twist. " I was thinking of something that you could change as the ideas change. For example, you'll see in there that there are two layers of little icons that go along with a possible theme. If the exercise or idea is writing related, turn on the pen layer. If you're talking about, say, music, then turn on the music icon. It wouldn't be too terribly hard to change, and would add a neat litle touch to the graphic." Indeed it is.

80s-style.jpgGreg sent his idea along with a sample in e-mail. "I think I’d use pen and paper, scissors, a computer maybe. Artist’s palette. Drawing pencils crayons, tools, whatever. The style is a little 90's ish, but good for clear bold graphics." I read his description and took a good look at the architect's logo he attached then came up with this.

creative.jpgAnd just to compare, here's the old one, now relegated to the rubbish heap.

Pierogies

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recipe thursdayA post on the Being A Broad forum prompted me to hunt for my pierogi recipe but I couldn't find it. The recipe below is a combination of online recipes and my own adjustments. They are good; we enjoyed them for dinner tonight. Tod says they are the best he's had in years, which is probably true, pierogies are impossible to find in Tokyo. Jim suggested we call them "Scranton-fu Gyoza" in honor of our childhood stomping ground.

Pierogies
Makes about 2 dozen large or 3 dozen small

1 cup "hard" all-purpose flour (plus some for rolling)
3/4 cup "soft" cake flour
2 eggs
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
2 Tblsp butter
1 cup onion, minced very fine
4 potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
1/2 cup cottage cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, sliced
4 Tblsp butter

Stir together flours in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, water and salt. Make a well in the flour and add egg mixture, gradually incorporating flour until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding only as much additional flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (Dough will be soft.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft; drain. Cook the minced onion in butter over medium heat until soft and translucent. Mash together potatoes, onion and cottage cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Flour your work surface. Divide the dough in half and roll it out out thin. Using a cookie cutter or a glass, cut rounds about 4" across for large pierogies or 2.5" for smaller pierogies. You can re-roll the scrap dough, but the gluten really gets going and your pierogies will get tough and chewy if you work the dough too much. Any extra dough can be cut into strips and boiled as noodles.

Drop about a tablespoon of filling into the center. Fold the dough together to form a half-moon. (Bringing both edges up, rather than folding one side over, lets the dough stretch evenly and pulls it off the rolling surface at the same time.) Be sure that the filling is all inside and not on the edges, then wet your fingers or a fork and pinch the edges closed. Set aside on a floured paper towels until you're ready to boil them.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Boil the pierogies in salted water for approximately 10 minutes...they will increase in size and float to the surface of the pot as they cook. As they boil, saute onion slices in butter until translucent. Remove the pierogies from the water, drain and add to the onions. Pan fry until light brown. Serve with buttered, boiled cabbage and the scrap noodles (this is called haluski).

The uncooked pierogies can be frozen. Just boil them straight from the freezer.
pierogies.jpg

Mansions in the Big(ger) City

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Tokyo's population has reached a new peak. By the current accounting it is 12,378,974 people strong, with nearly 90,000 more inhabitants than 2002. (That's just the 23 wards; a census of the "greater Tokyo area" adds another 20 - 25 million people.)

The increased population is a good thing, because there are more and more places for people to live. As I've written before, there are a lot of new apartment buildings going up around the city. Here are some floor plans from the latest brochure to appear in my mailbox:

honkomagome-c.jpg

This is an 87.85 square meter (945 sq ft) 3 bedroom apartment (aka mansion) for 72,000,000 yen (about $720,000) And in the same building, there's a 130 sq meter, two-storey mansionette (no price given) and this 102 sq meter (1,097 sq ft) apartment for 80,800,000 yen ($808,000):

honkomagome-b.jpg

Luxury buildings like this one are springing up all over the inner city as lower cost housing is torn down to make way. I sure hope the 90,000 Tokyo newcomers are rich.

Black Box Taxes

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Japanese taxes are due on March 15th, so this afternoon I got friendly with my pile of receipts and bank details. My head is now full of numbers and doubts, but my Heisei 15 tax forms are completed. Every filing I've submitted has been returned for corrections. I'm sure this year will be no different.

The Japanese tax system is a black box but I assume it follows the same basic pattern as the US. If you add up your earnings, subtract out any deductions, then multiply by your tax percentage, you'll know how much tax you owe. But the details are a little hazy, so I don't really try to understand. I simply follow along with the translated English instructions and do the math.

But even my indifferent attitude was pierced when I reached this calculation:

Total earnings from employment / 4 * 2.8 - 180,000 = employment income (please fill in line 6)

Huh?? Why? I guess it doesn't matter. I have to say, I'm glad I have a calculator.

Polished Shoes

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polishingshoes.jpg
When I was a girl, my father taught me to polish shoes. I don't know who taught him--maybe his father, maybe someone in the navy--but I am a link in a chain that stretches back quite a way.

You live in the moment when you shine your shoes. Brush away the dirt, smooth on the polish, wait for the polish to dry (always the hardest part), brush the polish off with quick light strokes, buff the leather with a soft cloth.

When I'm finished, I walk away with spiffy shoes and a calm mind.

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