April 2005 Archives

Niijima Camp-jo

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Across the site

Niijima has a well-designed campground. The toilets are clean; there is a large communal area with sinks and barbecues; and each site is neatly flattened out for tents and delineated with wood fences.

And as a bonus--there is no cell phone reception. You cannot help but relax here.

Not to mention that the air is clean, you can hear crashing waves, and there are lots of stars in the night sky. It's a heavenly place to chill out and enjoy nature.

Although it took us 20 hours to get there (our boat was canceled and we had to wait all day for the next one), it was worth the wait.

Observation vs action

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creative perspectivesI've observed that there are two ways of figuring things out: observation and action.

I'm an observer. I look at something new, study it, and gain understanding. Sometimes I'll test it out after I have observed.

For example, when Jeremy was teaching me a swimming technique, he showed me by stretching his arms in the air the way they should move through the water. I watched, but didn't mimic his actions in the air. I observed him, thought about how it worked, imagined it in my muscles. After I got it in my head, then I tried it. I do well with swimming videos--watching them over and over until I see all the fine points. Then I try the movements in the pool. Success isn't complete until I've acted, but the understanding is there before I hit the water.

Many of my friends are the opposite--they take action to learn. They see something new, fiddle with it and gain understanding. I assume they think about it as they are manipulating it. Or maybe they save thought for after they've played?

This difference in learning sometimes causes trouble between me and Tod when we're shopping. "Honey, could you please not break the display model/bang that instrument so loudly/mess with that thing we can't afford to buy?"

This week, I'll be camping on Niijima so there should be plenty of new things to encounter. I'll try to break out of observation mode and see what happens when I act on things to discover their secrets.

Wafu Mushroom Sauce

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recipe thursdayI picked up a little book of sauce and tare recipes the other day. It's got all the Japanese sauce standards that I've grown to love. This mushroom sauce appears in restaurants all over the country. Serve it over grilled steak or hamburgers.

Wafu Mushroom Sauce
serves 4

100 gr Japanese mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, shimeji, etc)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1/3 cup dashi broth

Cut the mushrooms into small bite-sized pieces. Bring the other ingredients to a boil, add the mushrooms and remove from heat.

Overmedicated

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A quote from an unknown IRC channel, via bash.org

Egger: Heres the history of our medicine.
"I have a sore throat."
2000 BC : "eat this root"
1200 AD : "That root is heathen, say this prayer."
1500 AD : "That prayer is superstition, drink this elixir."
1800 AD : "That elixir is snake oil, Take this pill."
1900 AD : "That pill is ineffective, Take this antibiotic."
2000 AD : "That antibiotic is artificial, Here why dont you eat this root."

Fits hand in glove with the Health, United States, 2004 CDC report that Americans are overmedicated. Why does it always takes a study to discover the obvious?

When I was back in the States last month, I was shocked at the ubiquitous advertisements for medicines--not only OTC drugs like aspirin and new, improved "24 hour heartburn relief"--but also prescription medications for chronic and acute ailments apparently suffered by many Americans.

The advertising works, JAMA reports that doctors are prescribing advertised medicine--particularly when their patients request them by brand name.

Sad. A healthier lifestyle is so much better than medicine.

But that's not going to happen any time soon. This week, Archives of Internal Medicine reported that only 3% of American adults lead healthy lives based on four factors: not smoking; eating five daily servings of fruit & vegetables; exercising regularly; and maintaining a healthy weight.

How hard is this to understand? Eat better, move around a bit and you'll live longer and healthier without drugs.

Jim with watch

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Jim examines the movement of my 1930s watch.

Thank you, Jim, for disassembling my watch.

I was horrified when he opened the case of this precious family heirloom, but it's keeping steady time now and I am wearing it frequently to keep it warm and alive, as he suggested.

I don't know much about the watch, which was passed down to me recently. It belonged to my great-aunt Lucy who lived in Chicago. The case is an Art Deco design with gems and pink gold. Jim's eagle eyes read the name on the discolored face: Helena, and found letters scratched into the inside of the case.

I don't know if I can get the face cleaned up without losing the enameled numerals. But if it's keeping good time, I might not bother. The dark patina is proof of its age. And don't we all show some of that ourselves?

(P.S. Happy birthday, Jim.)

Sushi stories

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Tod related these two little tidbits today. He learned them from his colleague, Yoshioka-san.

Sushi has a special counter word for individual pieces: -kan. Most people just use -ko, but really you should ask for i-kan, ni-kan, san-kan pieces of sushi. The kanji for -kan is the same as suranuku, a verb meaning "to pass through." So why's that?

Well, 180 years ago, when sushi was new, people carried their money (coins will holes in them) threaded onto a cord. A set of fifty coins was called a "kan" and since sushi was about the same size...

Another sushi tale is why sushi always comes in pairs. Again back in the old days, raw fish for sushi was scarce. So the sushi chefs mounded up the rice really high, put a morsel of fish on top and then sliced the whole thing in two. When food became more abundant, they still prepared two pieces.

Standards

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New short-term goal: learn to sing ten standards. I want to be able to break into song more often; I keep forgetting how much I love to sing--the physical interaction with the world, the emotional outlet, and all the great feelings that come from the forced breath of song.

But which tunes to learn?

I'm looking in the realm of jazz classics, show tunes, "easy listening" and blues. I'll skip the pop hits, country western, and opera. I already have a repertoire of folk songs, so I'll give them a pass for now.

I'm enjoying the novelty songs from the 20s, but I don't know if I can do justice to Dangerous Nan McGrew. Maybe I'd better stick to Ain't Misbehavin'.

Tod suggested Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone.

What would you choose?

Burning Mugwort

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Home moxibustion is an entertainment and a medicine.

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We bought the Sennen-kyu Off 80 moxibustion kit at some random drugstore in our neighborhood. This kit contains 80 tiny incense cigars on sticky holders. "Popular among young people" it said on the box; how could we resist?

Moxibustion uses the same theory as acupuncture and shiatsu--the meridians of the body--but works by burning mugwort (moxa) over them. You locate the right moxibustion points, light the moxa, and stick the holders to yourself. The herb burns down and heats your body with pinpoint precision.

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It gets really hot even though the coal doesn't touch your skin and I had to pull one off my back before it was probably done, but after walking all day, I tried the "legs feel weak" points and I felt pretty good afterwards.

Personal Symbols

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creative perspectivesDo you have a shape, sign, or mark that you consider your personal symbol? Something that resonates with you or sums up your connection to the world at the moment.

It might be something you habitually doodle. What shapes and patterns end up in the margins of your notebooks? I map one-period sine waves and complex mazes that look like circuit diagrams. I sketch stars, sometimes in constellations. Tod draws a squiggle that he was surprised to learn is the astrological symbol for Capricorn.

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Or maybe your mark is a monogram you've designed. I created a Scott Kim inspired inversion of my initials when I was unmarried.

You might use something more representational. When I was in junior high grade (about the time I wanted to be called Kip), I decided I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. I signed all my school papers with the "k-copter" instead of my name. A little later on, I signed my name but added a pine tree and a star.

Think about your symbols and they mean to you--do they reflect your creativity? Mine are mostly related to science (sines and circuits) and the sky (stars, helicopters). These are factors that influence my best work and designs, as it turns out. I take a scientific approach to art and creativity. I'm drawn to metals and math. I like finding patterns in randomness and inventing stories to go along with the constellations I create.

So now I wonder whether if I stuck to the sort creative lines my symbols suggest, would I produce even better work?

Shiro-Ae

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recipe thursdayRandomly selected from one of my Japanese cookbooks, here's a classic Japanese side dish that you probably won't often see outside Japan. It's a cooked salad with tofu dressing but one of the ingredients, konyaku, is not commonly available in the States so check at an oriental grocery.

Konyaku is a gelatinous block of starch made from "devil's tongue." It has basically no flavor; it is used for texture and color. Shiro-ae uses white konyaku, but it's normally pale purple with brown speckles.

Shiro-Ae
serves 4

400 grams tofu (silk style)
1/2 block white konyaku
6 green beans
80 gr carrot, shredded
1/2 wood ear mushroom, shredded
100 cc dashi
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
2.5 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sake

Soak the dried wood ear mushroom for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the konyaku into matchstick lengths. Blanch the green beans the slice diagonally into 2 cm shreds. Shred the carrots and mushroom into similar sized pieces.

Bring the dashi, 3 Tbsp soy sauce and 2 Tbsp sugar to a simmer. Add the konyaku and carrot; simmer for 1 minute then add the mushroom slivers. Cook until the konyaku starts to pick up the color of the sauce. Add the beans and turn off the heat. Stir carefully and drain.

Cut the tofu into six pieces. Simmer over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to cheesecloth. Twist the cloth into a sack, and press down with a wooden spoon to squeeze the liquid from the boiled tofu. When no more water runs from tech sack, put the contents into a large mortar (or a bowl). Add the remaining sugar, salt, soy sauce, and sake mixing with the tofu to form a soft paste.

Mix the konyaku and vegetables with the dressing, salt to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Mitsuya Cider present

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Last week's prize goes to filmtunes because everyone needs blog fodder from time to time and for teaching me a new word-lagniappe. (Send me your address and I'll have the magnet in the mail to you right away.)

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This week I am giving away a set of three Mitsuya cider glasses to whomever makes me laugh best before noon JST next Wednesday. This contest is not limited to comments, so you're welcome to e-mail me something original (I really despise forwarded jokes) or even make me laugh in person.

For a prize this monumental, I'm expecting some good belly laughs. Bonus points if you make me snort loudly in public or spit coffee on my monitor.

These glasses are the classic, tiny Japanese water/beer glasses; they hold about 150 ml. Tod collected them over the winter when they were given away as a promotion for Mitsuya Cider's 120th anniversary.

Tod & me

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from a photo shoot with Jim O'Connell. November 2004

7th grade report card

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Merchantville Public School, 1952. Click for larger version.

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Mom's grades were good, but she was often absent. Click for larger version.

I like the official statements from the supervising principle. He carefully but firmly encourages parental attention. I don't recall this sort of wording on my report cards in the 70s, and wonder if there's anything similar on contemporary school report cards.

Success in school life is, in a large measure, determined by the amount and quality of a student's achievement. Satisfactory achievement, whether measured in quantity or quality, is dependent upon many factors such as ability, ambition, health of the student, home conditions, interest, and most important of all, the amount of time and effort spent in study.

Most of our school failures are traced to excessive outside social activities, indifference, lack of home preparations and poor health.

Regular attendance is absolutely necessary for the satisfactory progress of the pupil. Nothing hinders success in school more than irregular attendance. Pupils should learn to be regular and prompt. The Home can help much in the formation of such habits by discouraging unnecessary absence and tardiness.

It's all about showing up.

Chickens

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Hedwig & I trade hairstyling tips.

While in the States, we visited Mom's friends, Bob & Howard, and played with the chickens they keep in their large rural backyard. They have a huge variety of chooks and they husband guinea pigs, too. We have a gallery of chicken and pig pictures taken that afternoon.

Sun-dried Tomato Pilaf

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recipe thursdayThis is a recreation of the lunch I ate at a Tokyo restaurant on Thursday. It sounded great on the menu--Sun-dried Tomato and Olive Tomato Pilaf--but the dish was flat, too salty, and not as interesting as I had hoped. My version improves the original by reducing the saltiness and adding the zest of a lemon, lightly pickled zucchini and more dried tomatoes.

Sun-dried Tomato Pilaf
serves 3-4

1 small zucchini
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
2 cups rice
3 whole sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
16 black olives, cut in half
1 lemon, zested

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds and mix with balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt; set aside.

Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the rice to the pan stirring well to coat with oil and brown slightly before adding the water and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cook (covered) for about 30 minutes.

When the rice is soft, stir in the zucchini. Serve as is, or with a sprinkling of shaved Parmesan or a drizzle of anchovy sauce.

Work outside

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creative perspectivesIt seemed like winter would never end, but at long last April's sunny days are warm. Today the weather is glorious and I'm feeling the urge to be outside. But I have work to do.

Well, work's not going to stop me from enjoying this glorious day. I'm taking everything outside for the rest of the afternoon. Having a laptop makes that easy, but I think I will do some of my work on paper today to refresh my brain and give my tired eyes a break from the screen. I have some site maps to draw up and I need to think about the effects in a section of the film I'm working on.

If you can sneak an hour outside with your work today (or on the next sunny weekday) see how it affects your mood and your creativity.

Pizza magnet

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Pizza-la is giving away refrigerator magnets featuring Bae Yong Joon, the wildly popular Korean star of "Winter Sonata." He is adored by middle aged women who swoon over the romantic storyline of the show.

I'm willing to part with the magnet I received with last night's pizza.

I'll mail it anywhere in the world to whomever gives me the best reason for wanting it. To play, post your reasons in the comments by noon JST on April 20.

Restrained

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Naughty Kristen circa 1974.

I hated having my picture taken. Our neighbor is holding me as I try to wiggle free and my mother captures the essence of my mood. Though I appear to be laughing, I remember how furious I was at that moment.

Nothing's changed. I'm still angry and struggling like a spitting cat.

Leaving Home

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Mom leaving home with a suitcase she still owns. May 1959

Hug

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Tod & me in the backyard at my parents' house, circa 1994.

Benediction

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Arriving in Chicago from Pittsburgh, the cabin attendant made her prepare-to-deplane spiel, but she ended not with the usual "Thank you for flying United" but:

"May the doors of Heaven open and abundant blessings rain upon you."

I was taken aback. Is that in the airline script? How did she sneak it in? Where did the phrasing come from; it sounds like it could be almost any religion.

House elves

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We walked into the apartment after our long trip home to find food in the kitchen, fresh flowers and chocolates on the living room table, a basket of soap waiting in the bathroom and clean pajamas folded neatly on the bed.

The homecoming elves had visited. What a blessing. (Thanks, girls.)

Tuna Jelly

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recipe thursdayThis is from the Three Rivers Cookbook, vol 1, a wildly popular cookbook series of recipes contributed by Pittsburgh's finest citizens. I do not recommend that you make this, it is merely an illustration of the horrors that await you at picnics in western Pennsylvania.

Cranberry Tuna Mold
serves 8

1 envelope Knox unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
2 cans tuna
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped

Topping
1 box lemon gelatin
3/4 cup boiling water
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1/4 cup orange juice

Soften unflavored gelatin in cold water, then dissolve in boiling water. Mix tuna, mayo, celery and onion. Spoon into 8" square pan. Chill until firm. For topping, mix lemon gelatin with boiling water, cranberry sauce and juice. Spoon over chilled tuna mixture. Chill overnight.

Toss salad, toss cookies

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One morning recently, we amused ourselves for more than an hour reading recipes from the Three Rivers Cookbook series. Here are some of the best titles and taglines:

Sesame Cheese Ball
"Opens the door to good taste"
If you rub the cheese ball, you get three wishes.

Tomato & Sausage Soup
"Tastes like Pittsburgh"
No way; Pittsburgh is not made of tomatoes and sausage.

Wine Soup
"Will make you tipsy"

Friandisis
"If you can pronounce it, you can make it"
We joked at university that if you could spell Existential Phenomenological Psychology, you'd get an A in the class.

Mango Chutney
"Before you do anything, find the mangos"
Then go chutney huntin'

Chicken
"An original masterpiece"
Huh?

Chicken Curry
"Comments range from 'Delicious!' to 'Terrific!"
This curry includes crushed pineapple, coffee cream, and curry powder. I can hear the sarcasm in those Delicious! comments.

Sweet Potato Balls and Walnuts
"Especially nice around a ham"
I can just see them schmoozing with the meat now.

Nanny's luncheon salad
"Is easily expanded to serve an indefinite number"
Not good enough, I need a recipe that serves an irrational number.

Kemptgen Girls

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The Kemptgen girls: Lucy, Margot, mystery girl, & Helen

Helen was my grandmother. Lucy and Margot were her older sisters. I have no idea who the other girl is, but since she appears in many of the photos from this era (around 1918) and bears a family resemblance, perhaps she is a cousin.

Based on the other photos in the album, they were dressed up for a tea party and a visit from the Watels, my great-great grandparents, who emigrated to America from Poland where they were called Watelevich (or some alternate spelling lost to history).

Laughable Ads

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Having plonked myself in front of the TV for too many hours over the last few days (to research modern American video editing techniques), I found myself laughing along with some of the advertising. Here are three that stood out; sorry I haven't been able to find video links of these. I'll keep looking.

McDonalds. A man leans back in his office chair, asleep. A woman comes in, and explains that he's fallen into a food coma after a heavy lunch. She sets down her bag, says that she's having a McDonalds salad at her desk, and writes something on the man's head. "We're up for the same promotion." In the next scene, the man walks into a meeting with his boss, excuses his tardiness with a phone call to China. His forehead tells a different story; it says WEASEL in thick black marker.

MasterCard. They are mocking their own "priceless" campaign. A geeky gas station attendent is ringing up the purchases of a young couple. Slushy, $3. Potato chips $2. Gas $31. Then he looks at them keenly. "Starting a life together...?" The woman shakes her head ever so slightly. "Rekindling a flame that has never gone out...?" Another shake of the head. "Satisfying a slushy fix?" She nods yes. "Priceless."

Kohler. An old woman in bed at home speaks Italian to her family. As the camera pans across family photos and pictures of her in daring activites as a young woman, subtitles translate her telling the family not to be sad, she has lived a long life and done everything she ever wanted to do. The camera reaches the window by the bed and we see the neighbor throwing open tall windows to reveal a gorgeous bathtub. The old lady exclaims "Damn!" then falls back, eyes closed and still.

Toothbush vitality

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Meet my new toothbrush, the Oral-B CrossAction Vitalizer.

I laughed at it in the drugstore; I've never seen such an over-the-top bit of dental maintenance equipment. It's tricked out with bristles in three colors, set in at four angles and at five heights. It has a fat, rubbery handle like the side of an overpriced gym shoe. There are rows of flexible fingers along the sides to massage your gums.

It even has a demo video.

In a fit of caustic humor (and a need for a new brush) I bought this $3 example of technology and engineering put to frivolous purpose. The joke's on me, though. It's an effective toothbrush and I enjoy the gum massaging action of those rubbery fingers.

80s fashion

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Jenn, Dad & me circa 1982.

A trio of grey tweed blazers on the way to a holiday party. That's one of Dad's ties that I'm wearing. Jenn & I were also fond of his socks and sweaters--the origins of my love for well-made men's clothing.

Birthday treat

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Dad opens my new Playdoh; it matches my groovy pantsuit. April 1, 1968.

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