April 2004 Archives

Floorplans

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creative perspectivesAs a kid, I sketched out the perfect places to live--my personal castles and villas complete with all the necessities: libraries, interior courtyards, gardens, swimming pools, and stables. I also loved dollhouses--the ones that were built for me and the ones I made myself. The three story string-action elevator in my 1974 Barbie Townhouse was just too cool.

I am still fascinated with living spaces. I study the floor plans of all the apartment buildings that drop ads in my mailbox. I stand outside realty offices comparing the places for rent and sale. There is a little drawer in the wooden card-catalog of my brain for the architectural details I want to include in the house(s) I dream of building.

Today I'm going to take a little time and sketch out some of those ideas to see what I come up with. Then maybe I'll try to incorporate some of the plans into my real-life living space. I can probably manage a library, but the secret passage and the turret might be a challenge.

What turns up in your dream house?

Oatmeal thumbprints

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recipe thursdayThese cookies came with us to Jim's birthday picnic last weekend where they were quickly consumed. The original recipe calls for raspberry jam, which I didn't have, so I experimented with pear, (good) lemon curd (too runny) and a mysterious Iranian red fruit jam. My recipe is adapted from one in The Good Cookie by Trish Boyle.

Oatmeal Thumbprints
makes 36

1 cup walnuts
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
7/8 cup butter (that's 1/2 cup + 6 Tblsp)
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-fruit jam

Grind the walnuts into a medium fine powder. Set aside. Combine oatmeal, flour & salt. Set aside. Cream the butter until fluffy; add the sugar. Mix in the egg, then the vanilla. Add the oat mixture and stir until just blended.

Form 1" balls (the dough is soft), and roll in the ground walnuts. Place on greased (or non-stick) cookie trays. Flatten each ball slightly with your palm, then make an indentation with your thumb. Fill the hollow with about a 1/2 tsp of jam.

Bake at 350 for about 11 minutes or until golden brown. Take care not to overbake.

Heights

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coaster-shinjuku.jpgI love heights. Or rather, I should say, I get a kick out of seeing the familiar world from another perspective. I also like the fear in the pit of my stomach that sometimes accompanies the view. So when Tod suggested we ride the ferris wheel at LaQua the other day, I was excited. It's been there a year and we hadn't ridden it yet (though we've been on the roller coaster several times--I also like speed thrills)

From our slowly moving vantage point, we watched the roller coaster scream through the building and gazed out over our neighborhood across to the skyscraper district in west Shinjuku.

coaster-fuji.jpgMt Fuji made an appearance, silhouetted by the setting sun just to the left of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. I'm always a little shocked at how large the sacred mountain looms on the horizon. But at the same time, she's very small. Catching Fuji on film from Tokyo is a little bit like taking photos of the moon--it captures your whole attention, but in reality it doesn't take up too much of your field of view. Can you see her in the inset? It's just a few dark pixels smack dab in the middle. But such pretty pixels.

Downpour

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It's raining today. I like rain.

The outdoor community pool where I reined as Lifeguard Goddess during high school summer holidays would close if the weatherman forecast an all-day soak. That meant that I could go to the mall and spend some of the cash I'd accumulated on whatever caught my 16-year-old fancy. Beribboned barrettes? Slap bracelets? Oxford shirts and leggings? I don't remember exactly what I bought but no doubt if I were handed a box of my old stuff, it would contain a rich assortment of embarrassments.

These days rain does not give me a break in my schedule but I still feel unfettered when it's pouring. Maybe I'll sneak a little shopping onto my To Do list this afternoon, just for old time's sake.

Good citizen

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Today I registered to vote. I don't know exactly who I will be voting for; most definitely not Bush, but whether I vote for the opponent most likely to win or someone I would prefer to see in office, I don't know. But now I have the chance to choose.

My state's instructions for the Federal Post Card Application require you to state the last time you voted...it was 1990, I think. I wanted to vote the local councilwoman out of office--she had made some really bad decisions for the city. Voting was not a hassle at all as the polling place was conveniently located at the middle school across the street from where we lived.

That was way back in the early days of my marriage, when the neighborhood kids would shout "Fake yuppies!" at me and Tod in the evenings when we came home from our entry-level office jobs to our falling-apart $260/month apartment. We weren't fake yuppies at all; we truly were Young Urban Professionals although on a very modest scale.

Time has passed. I haven't voted in 14 years and have shrugged off all acronyms and labels. I may not be able to regain my youth, but I can still vote. And I will.

Nicknames

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Growing up, I never entirely warmed to my name. My friends had strong and interesting names: Patty, Gwen, Heidi, Gail. Mine was so easily confused with Christine, Kristy or Christian, that I hardly ever used Kristen.

I was called Kris as a kid and my family still call me that. Paired with my maiden name, Hill, I had the briefest of monikers. But as a challenge, Mom & Dad gave me a family surname as a middle name--8 letters with a 4 consonant cluster--that I could not spell reliably until I was nine years old.

My mother once admitted to a friend (she thought I was out of earshot) that she'd hoped her daughters would use their full names, Kristen and Jennifer, wear dresses and quietly read books.

Well, I did read books, but I didn't become Kristen until I was in the workplace. Over the phone, "Kris Hill" sounded too much like Crystal and it confused people. And there were two other K/Chrises in my department, one of whom sat next to me. It wasn't long before I was Kristen Hill, and shortly after that I married and dropped Hill for McQuillin (keeping the consonant clustered middle name).

But between Kris and Kristen, there were a number of nicknames. My favorites were Cricket and Kip.

When I was four, the older kids in the neighborhood, no doubt exasperated by my talkativeness, dubbed me Cricket. At the time, I recognised it for the put-down that it was, but later on, I adopted it as my own and was known to some as Cricket all the way through high school.

Kip I chose for myself in a fit of fashion. It was the preppy early 80s. I liked the plosive ending, and the fact that it incorporated a single letter of my middle name. Plus it was a boy's name at a time when I was struggling to balance my tomboy nature with the torture of puberty and never having a date. I was not too happy being a girl that year.

These days, I'm most often called Kristen, but I answer to Kuri (Japanese for chestnut and an abbreviated form of my name in kana), and "media tinker." If you should call me Cricket, I'll probably respond.

What nicknames have you collected?

Aisan highways

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TOKYO (Kyodo News) -- The government decided Friday to sign a pact to link Asia by highway in a signing ceremony next Monday in Shanghai, government officials said Friday.

Signatories to the U.N. pact will be required to improve their highways to meet the criteria of the 140,000-kilometer Asian Highway network, which is to link 32 nations to one another and to Europe.

But Japan is an island nation, as we are often reminded. Maybe there's an Asian Highway ferry between S. Korea and here...or plans for a terribly long bridge.

I think the Japan highway must be akin to Hawaii's interstate highways.

What's in a name?

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creative perspectivesOn my sister's site, Wild Mushrooms, Jenn sometimes posts poetic writing assignments. Today's creative perspective draws on one she titled Buttered Poetry (now with more salt!).

Write out your name -- First Middle Last--and find words using just those letters. How many can you find in 30 minutes? Do you think you got them all?

You can confirm (or cheat) at Anagram Server--be sure to check "print candidate word list only." I thought I was doing pretty well with over 60 words on my list, but my 24 letter name yielded 3688 words.

Now that you have a list, take a look at it. How many of the words describe your personality or what you do? How many are what you might like to be, but aren't yet? Which words seem completely wrong or unconnected to you?

I was quite surprised at how many words matched me: cute, temper, luckiest, and, of course, tinker. One word I wish I lived up to: precise. And one that just doesn't seem to fit at all: centerline.

Ginger honey tea

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recipe thursdayTod & I caught a springtime cold and have been coughing for weeks. When I'm ill, I tend towards medication cooked up in my kitchen from herbs and foods, rather than OTC or prescription drugs. I find that this tisane really helps to calm my cough and it tastes good, too.

Ginger Honey Tea
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 Tblsp honey
hot water
lemon (optional)

Grate the ginger into your mug while the water boils. Spoon in some honey. Pour in boiling water and stir. Add a squeeze of lemon, if desired. Sip.

The trick to making this work is grating the ginger--it needs to be nearly juiced; minced ginger isn't as effective. I use a flat grater with very fine teeth (not holes) that pulls the ginger fibers apart to release the juices.

Live from Musashi-Sakai

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ms4-16.jpgFor those of you who missed last Friday's Marshmallow Spike gig (that would be everyone except me and J-ster), here's a first glimpse at MJ, Yoshi and their new drummer, Kei-san doing Stolen Umbrella, an original with lyrics by MJ, music by Yoshi.

The camerawork is crap, I know. I had forgotten I promised to film and wasn't prepared for anything other than basically static handheld. Next time, I'm taking a steadicam and doing it right.


play videoStolen Umbrella. Small, mono version. 3'25" (2.6 MB MP4)

play videoStolen Umbrella. Large, stereo version. 3'25" (22 MB MP4)

Forgotten significance

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Do you ever get the feeling that a certain date is important, but you can't figure out why? You are sure you're supposed to remember something about it...

4/20 rings a bell. Is it a colleague's birthday? A friend's wedding anniversary? Maybe it's a personal commemoration--my first kiss (but that was at a cast party at university, so it must have been in the winter...) or the start of a new job. It's not recent; nothing special is noted in the past three years of my weblog.

I just can't put my finger on it and it's making me a little crazy this morning.

The kitchen garden

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herbgarden.jpg
The results of today's planting. I've grouped the herbs based on how much water and sun they like. They look so fresh and green and healthy now. I will take care of them faithfully and hope they survive the summer.

Happy herb girl

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Lamb's Ear is the softest plant ever. I love stroking its leaves and was very happy to do so at the herb shop we visited today.

I didn't buy any, though. Instead I picked up parsely, sage, rosemary, thyme, margoram, basil, shiso, lemon balm, tarragon, wild strawberry, lettuce, yarrow, lavender, and eucalyptus. I would have purchased more, but I'm not sure I have enough pots or space to plant everything.

This little garden shop in tucked away in Harajuku--right next to the Yahoo Cafe and around the corner from Fujimamas but I never remember what it's called--is the city's best source for all sorts of medicinal and cooking herbs, ornamental grasses and quirky garden plants.

As soon as I have time tomorrow, I will be planting these in our little niwa off the living room. This summer's kitchen garden!

Tech writing

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I'm enjoying a new project today. I'm writing an illustrated Movable Type manual for non-native English speakers who will be contributing to a weblog.

Tech writing is always a pleasure. Over the years, I've honed the art of distilling complexity into easily followed directions and explanations.

My first tech writing was back in the early Telerama days--circa 1992--when I was helping our customers use FTP, telnet and Pine. In 1994, I wrote the oft-quoted Gentle Introduction to the Internet. Reading it ten years later is quite amusing, but at the time, these were things everyone was wondering about.

Game plan

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creative perspectivesYesterday afternoon, I was listening to the neighborhood kids playing. They were laughing and running around, but most of their playtime was spent planning what to do. They were making up rules and setting up situations to act out.

So today, it's game plan day. Gather together your playing pieces--cards, dice, crayons, index cards, glasses of wine, anything goes--and a few friends. Then start thinking. The goal's to come up with a complex structure; playing the game itself is not the focus, though it could be a lot of fun...

A sample game called "Chairs"

"You can be the lady. You stand here," says the bossy girl.
"I want to hold an umbrella," says the less bossy one.
"OK, but only if the die says six. Otherwise, you get a cushion, OK? When I say 'Go!' we all run around and when I say 'Stop!', pose like a chair. Then the lady gets to sit on us and decide who is the most comfortable."
"That's silly," the lady complains.
"You have a better idea?"
"What if everyone poses like a chair or a table? I can try to sit a cup on them. And if it falls over and they get wet, they lose."
"Yeah, that's good! Everyone ready...Go!"

Shiso-chorizo lasagne

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recipe thursdayTod & I invented this one together earlier this week and have been eating it ever since. It makes good leftovers.

The fusion of Spanish and Japanese flavours surprised me. "Chorizo" in Japan is more like a slightly spicy frankfurter than the proper Spanish chorizo, so we added a little cayenne to the mix to pep it up. Shiso, aka perilla, is a piquant relative of basil but accept no substitutes. The mushrooms add an earthy flavor that tie the whole thing together--if you can't find fresh shitake or maitake, portabello would substitute. To make this simple, I use an Italian brand of jarred pasta sauce that's heavy on the garlic and contains no sugar.

Shiso-chorizo Lasange
1 pkg lasagne noodles, cooked al dente
300 g cottage cheese
1 egg
5 shiso leaves, shredded
2 cups mozzarella, grated
1 ball fresh mozzarella
8 fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
12 button mushrooms, sliced
300 g maitake mushrooms, chopped
8 links "chorizo"
pinch cayenne
1 jar garlicly tomato pasta sauce
Olive oil for sautéing
salt and black pepper to taste

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. Evaporate off the liquid, remove from pan and set aside. Before adding to the lasagne, drain any additional liquid that has accumulated.

Slice the chorizo into thin rounds, sprinkle with cayenne and fry briefly.

Mix the cottage cheese, egg and shiso. Season with black pepper and salt.

In the bottom of a rectangular baking pan, spread a tablespoon of sauce. This will help prevent the lasagne from sticking to the pan. Place a layer of noodles over the sauce, then start layering the fillings, sauce and noodles to your liking. Top with a final layer of noodles, sauce and slices of fresh mozzarella.

Bake at 175/350 for 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and brown. Allow to "set up" for about ten minutes before cutting.

Never-ending study

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Once a week for the last five years and some, Tod & I've had a Japanese lesson together. Anyone who has heard us speak Japanese will marvel at our different abilities. Tod's approaching fluency. I flail with any conjugation more complex than negative past tense.

So this evening, when we rounded the corner on the current grammar review, I indicated that I would be quite happy to be done when we reach the end of these handouts.

Oyama-sensei looked less than surprised, though she encouraged me to continue. "The next thing is a new book and it's not so much grammar, mostly conversations. You're really good at those," she said in Japanese. Ha, right!

Tod was horrified. He loves learning Japanese so much that he can't fathom that I might not share his enthusiasm. Or maybe he enjoys watching me struggle. Either way, he looked disappointed.

I told them I'd think about it. But really, I don't want to take lessons anymore. I see light at the end of the tunnel and I'm hurrying towards it as fast as I can.

Fujimamas exhibit

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etching.jpgThis drypoint etching and two others of mine will be part of an RBR group exhibit at Fujimamas between May 17 and June 16.

If you find yourself in tony Omotesando, and let's face it, what Tokyoite isn't there at least once in a while?, make a date for a delicious lunch or dinner and mediocre art (I only mean my work, of course; I'm sure the other exhibitors will be brilliant).

There is an opening party scheduled for Sunday, May 23rd from 3 - 6 pm. Please come say hello--I'll be the redhead in the corner, smiling fiercely and avoiding eye contact.

Hiking alone

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Today's weather forecast--sunny and 25 degrees--inspired me to go for a hike. I left home shortly after 7 and by 9 am I was starting the easy climb up Mt. Takao at the western edge of Tokyo. The weather lived up to its promise--warm, sunny and perfect for a short jaunt into the mountains.

I went alone and I think it's the first time I've hiked by myself in the forest since I was a kid.

From 1975 until I left home for college, I lived in an undeveloped vacation resort in the low, rolling mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. There were no neighbors, but there were hectares of land to explore. And I did. I had favorite trails that only the deer and I knew about. I understood the ridge-line of the nearby mountain like nobody else, except maybe our dog, Turkey, who liked to come along with me. I could make a beeline to interesting rocks and trees and to the head of the streams that fed the lake in the valley below.

Today's trip wasn't quite so intimate with the land. I stuck to the trails and I wasn't exactly alone. There were scores of senior citizens hiking, too. They were so beautifully prepared--thin white cotton towels around their necks, collapsable aluminum walking sticks, pants tucked into their socks. And every one of them had a backpack stuffed full with provisions. Really put me to shame. I had no fancy hiking gear--not even a backpack.

But it was such a freeing experience to walk mostly by myself in nature. I should make sure to do that more often. Only next time, I'm taking a towel.

2b yogourt spécialité

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These tiny 45g (3 tablespoons) cups of yogurt contain collagen, vitamin C, and lycopene--all good for skin and beauty. The only information the package gives is a little marketing blurb: Making beautiful skin. The 2b website has a lot more detail, including the benefits of lycopene (an antioxidant) and collagen (a protein).

The name, 2b yogourt spécialité, is strange. The French makes is sound luxurious and elegant, of course. But 2b isn't said "deux beh" it's spelled out in katakana as "two bee." There are no B vitamins in this, so what's it mean? The website explains: "to be what I want to be, two benefits, and to be beautiful. Ha!

Makeover before & after

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beforeB.jpg afterB.jpg

Today I went to a makeup workshop at MAC in Aoyama. I don't usually wear makeup, but I thought it would be fun to try. The senior artist used me has his model, so my makeup turned out really nicely. I wiped off what he did and did it myself, though, for practice. The best part was using a brush to paint the foundation on my face--I'm a human canvas.

Don't think I'll be doing this on a daily basis, but I have confidence that when I need to wear cosmetics for the camera, I'll be able to put them on naturally.

Foolish Consistency

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creative perspectivesA foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is a foolish consistency? Emerson never said, but I think a foolish consistency is something we do unfailingly without thinking about it. We are brand-loyal to our toothpaste; we travel a consistent route to work; we take lunch at exactly noon on weekdays.

Foolish consistencies are little habits that make up our unconscious daily routine. We could change them without harming anything and perhaps those alterations would be helpful in giving us new perspective.

How many things in your life are foolish consistencies? Do you think you can change one of them this week?

Do you have any wise consistencies?

Lemon-oregano marinade

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recipe thursdayHere's a refreshing marinade that goes beautifully with chicken done on the grill. It was recently enjoyed by Drew, who requested the recipe.

Lemon-oregano Marinade

3-4 lemons, freshly squeezed (1/4 c juice)
1/4 c fresh oregano, finely chopped
3 Tblsp garlic, minced
2 Tblsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1/3 c olive oil

Chicken pieces for 4-6 people.

Whisk together and pour over chicken. Allow to marinate for at least an hour, up to 8 hours. Grill. Mmmmm.

Death by Overwork

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1969: a 29 year old man in the shipping department of a major Japanese nrewspaper dies of a stroke. This is the first case of karoshi or death by overwork, though it won't be called that until a 1982 book by the same name.

2002: 819 people apply for compensation after family members died from karoshi. Estimates range from 1,000 to 10,000 deaths per year are related to working too hard--stroke, heart attack, cerebral hemorrhaging, even suicides are attributed to too much slogging.

If you are working more than 80 hours in overtime every month, you're at a high risk for karoshi. So watch out for those 60 hour work weeks, friends, they are a killer.

Noodle Delivery

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This noodle delivery man pedaled into Edogawa park last night at sunset, hopped off his bike, and looked around perplexed. Which of the dozens of parties in the sprawling park beyond were these noodles for, anyway?

Curmudgeons

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Every Wednesday I spend a couple of hours at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. I'm the club webmaster and the go-to girl for Mac troubles. Mainly I just sit in a little room off the library and manage web content. From time to time someone will pop in with a question or just to say hello.

Way more than half of the Club's members are over 50--maybe half are over 60. They've been kicking around the bar since the early days and it's definitely an old boys club (with a few girls and a growing handful of youthful go-getters in the mix). When they fuss and squabble among themselves, I think of them as the Old Curmudgeons and reflect on my future temperament.

But I really don't know much about them at all. So I each month I read with great delight Write Up Your Alley, a column of reminisces in the No 1 Shimbun. This month, Max Desfor described a memorable trip to an onsen:

They apparently didn't speak English and, of course, I couldn't speak Japanese. One day, as I was luxuriating in my kimono after soaking in the hot tub, there was a loud knock on the door and the innkeeper was jabbering away at me. I understood only one word: denwa. I jabbered back that no one knew where I was and no one could be calling me. But he kept insisting, and I finally went downstairs with him to the phone.

It was Don Huth, our news editor and a very close friend, who told me that I had won the Pulitzer Prize for news photography. My reply was, "Look, if you want me back to work, say so. But don't give me that bullshit." With which I immediately slammed the phone down and went back up to my room.

A few minutes later, the innkeeper was knocking on my door and again jabbered about denwa. So back I went to the phone. This time it was Bob Eunson, our chief of bureau, who first ordered me not to hang up on him. Then he read several congratulatory messages from the big bosses in NY, also from my wife and brother.

I was somewhat shellshocked at that point and didn't slam the phone down. Shortly after that, the ryokan was filled with a mob of local newsmen who came to interview me. The innkeeper apparently knew he had something of a celebrity in his house, so he came up with a beautifully decorated, enormous platter of sushi as an honorific offering.

So I guess some of my Old Curmudgeons are eminent old curmudgeons. I should probably pay more attention to them.

10 degree drop

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Spring, she is fickle. After a warm and sunny yesterday, we've got a leaden grey sky and it's only 9 degrees. Brrrrr. There go the cherry blossoms. Ah, well, they will be back next year.

I contributed a short piece to Four Corners to commemorate this year's hanami and to celebrate the launch of this new online magazine.

Sakura activities

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This morning I'm sitting out on the veranda working on an article for a design magazine. It's a gorgeous morning--the sun is burning off some early morning clouds and the day promises to be warm.

The sakura beyond the fence and across the tracks is just starting to give up its petals to the wind. Occasional gusts blow confetti upward or shower pink snow on the passing trains. The residents on the third and fourth floors of the building next to this lone tree have an eye-level view and have been capturing the spring glory in photos.

Around 8:30 a woman in a yellow t-shirt and unbrushed hair came out onto the 4th floor balcony to wave her keitai at the tree--an incantation for a friend.

Shortly after ten, a young man in a blue-tipped white t-shirt hauled out a professional-looking digital camera and snapped shots of the tree before catching me watching him. He carefully loaded the camera into a huge bag and ran down the stairs--on his way to party and take more pictures, I'm sure. A half dozen people have left the building with backpacks and duffles overflowing with picnic supplies.

Later today, when the article is done and Tod's awake, I think we'll take a walk under the sakura at the 33rd Annual Bunkyo-ku Sakura Matsuri near Myogadani.

Only one

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creative perspectivesSixteen years ago when I was teaching kids to read and deciding if education was my life's calling, an essay contest announcement crossed my desk. I don't recall who was sponsoring the contest but the theme has become embedded in who I am and how I think of myself.

It was a deceptively simple idea. Imagine all of your senses get "stuck" on one input each--you can only hear one sound, see one thing, touch one surface, taste one flavor, smell one scent. What would each of these be and why?

Most of the fourth graders in my classroom wanted to taste pizza "because it is good" and to see TV "because it is fun." They were sweetly naive. Not a lot of effort went into their essays, but they wrote and submitted them anyway.

Why not have a think about it yourself and leave a comment? I'll share mine (the same five that I wrote out so many years ago) in the comments on Monday.

Blood Orange Birthday Cake

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recipe thursdaySpring is the time for birthdays in my family. My niece, sister and I have birthdays within a week of each other. Tod's birthday is at the beginning of May and before then we'll have several other birthdays to celebrate with friends. So I do a lot of baking around this time of year. Here's what I made today to celebrate my 38th.

Blood Orange Birthday Cake
2.5 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 2 Tblsp butter, softened
1.5 cups sugar
juice of 1 blood orange
grated peel from 2 blood oranges
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
1 cup milk

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter until fluffy, then blend in sugar. Stir in the juice, grated peel and vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add in the flour and milk in alternate steps. Pour into buttered, floured pans and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center comes clean.

I spread lemon curd between the layers and smoothed some more on top, then whipped up cream with sugar and piped it on the top and sides, and decorated with fresh strawberries and chocolate swirls I made by melting down a dark chocolate bar. It was a little bit too chewy--3 eggs might be enough...

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