July 2009 Archives

Hoop Boot Camp coming up

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Deanne at Hooplovers is running an online hoop boot camp in the month of August. I don't think it is going to be a drill sergeant style boot camp, exactly. It's a chance to set some specific and measurable goals in public, then spend 30 days making them happen and reporting in with the other participants. Every day, Deanne will send us e-mail with encouragement and inspirations (and some training exercises, too, I hear!)

Here are my goals:

  • get my weight back to 60 kg (summer makes me fat)
  • hoop daily for at least 30 minutes, even when it is too hot
  • improve my dancing balance with 20 minutes of balance movements daily
  • swim twice a week & do light weight training at least once a week
  • achieve a 90% success rate on foot-to-knee pop-ups
  • add three new (or remastered) step-in/step-out moves to my usual mix
  • develop a 3-4 minute routine and perform it without toppling over
  • in general, focus of footwork, strength and posture - videoing myself at the start and end of the boot camp to compare.

They seem reasonable goals, though deceptively difficult to acheive. Overall my control and precision could use refinement and better balance will be a big step in that direction. By the time Spin Matsuri comes, I will be a stronger hooper than I am now. Practice, practice, practice!

It's not too late to sign up. Go over to the Hooplovers Hangout and join the Hoop Boot Camp group. List your goals and get ready for a month of self-transformation.

Fireworks parties

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It's fireworks season, with dozen of elaborate explosive displays packed into a few hot summer weekends.

On Saturday, we attended Shinji & Chako's annual fireworks viewing party. From their apartment balcony, we enjoyed the Sumida River fireworks popping up above the buildings in the distance. When the balcony got crowded, we turned towards the TV, where yukata-clad TV personalities commentated the fireworks with jests and facts in a manner similar to the Macy's Thanksgiving parade TV coverage.

Chako spent the whole time in the kitchen, preparing and refreshing a feast of sushi, salad, fried chicken, croquettes of every type, desserts and fruit. Shinji flitted amongst the guests, cracking jokes and sometimes confusing us all with his unique blend of Japanese and English. And at the end of the night, one of my favorite parts of the party - rakugo and shamisen from Yoshida-san. Every year, Yoshida-san arrives dressed in a somber blue kimono with a small case in hand, has a chat with everyone, drinks a few beers then sits down in front of his audience and acts out comic skits while he plays music. It is always such a treat to have live entertainment at a home party.

Next Saturday, I'm hosting a party for the Edogawa fireworks. No TV and no balcony, this one will be on the ground under the fire flowers themselves. If you'd like to come along, meet at Iidabashi station on the Sobu line platform at 4:30. We'll travel into the crowds together and find a place for a picnic & play before the show starts at 7:15. Bring some picnic foods to share, toys, and whatever else you think will make the evening fun (bug spray? sun screen? cameras?). A sense of camaraderie and goodwill towards strangers is a essential - these events are crowded.

Should I keep my creative bits & bobs?

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sketchbooks.jpg

The most difficult part of ruthless kipple pitching is deciding what to do with my creative output. I have stacks of drawings and suchlike stretching back over a decade. Part of me says "This is your precious personal history - you can't just throw it out." Another part of me says "Not all of this history is worth recording, so you should edit it down to a handful." The part holding the trash bag says "Argh, who cares? Just let it go. Remember it fondly later, if you can."

I want your advice. If these were your things, what would you do?

Situation
Sketchbooks - there are some drawings in them that are reasonably good, or at least remind me of what I was looking at or doing at the time. Lots of ideas for bigger projects end up in these books, too. But at least half of my average sketchbook is crap - warmup drawings, bored sketches done while waiting, testing out new materials, trying to improve a bad mood through art therapy. These pages have little to offer me now.

Solutions?
a) Keep all the sketchbooks as is - the context of the pages is important even when the drawings are not.
b) Slice out the interesting pages and file them in a new place; toss the remainder.
c) Pitch them all - you are not a real artist and this output isn't valuable to you or anyone else.

Situation
8mm films - I made these in a film class in 1996. I liked them then and the class informs my editing to this day, but haven't seen the films in a long time as I have no projector.

Solutions?
a) Keep them because you made them and the originals show your tape edits and lots of hidden detail.
b) Keep them for raw material - turn them into jewelry or another project.
c) Digitize them somehow, get them online, then toss the original films.
d) Pitch them all - they are uninteresting student films.

Situation
Print blocks & proof prints - I have several dozen of my old lino print blocks. They could be used again someday. Some of them are cute or clever; some not so great. Others were part of a show I did a long time ago. I also have proof prints (& some final prints) of them that remind me of my slow progress as a print-maker.

Solutions?
a) Box them all up and store them somewhere in case you want to print them again.
b) Test print all the blocks. Keep the decent ones; toss the rest along with the old proofs & prints
c) Pitch them all - they are just collecting dust and taking up space.

Situation
Travel journals & mementos - On our first long visit to Japan then again in Singapore, I kept visual diaries of our experiences. There are other journey-specific sketchbooks, the most recent being from Adelaide last summer. In addition, I have a few purchased or found mementos that I hang on to as travel souvenirs.

Solutions?
a) Keep the journals and the mementos because they bring refresh memories of your trips.
b) Release the mementos but keep the drawings and journals.
c) Pitch them all - keeping them is like showing your friends a vacation slideshow - boring.

I want to hear your suggestions and ideas. Do any of my solutions seem right? What would you do?

From Piles to Plains

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I'm going to blame summer lethargy, but it's probably more likely that a mild case of depression allowed me to let my room overflow with piles of mess. This was my space on July 10th, before I started tidying:

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Piles of fabric & mending, leftovers from projects finished months ago, & odd piles of randomness.

And with a few days of concerted reorganizing with many garbage bags of stuff tossed, things set aside for friends and a suitcase full of flea marketable items, here it is this afternoon:

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Clear expanses of usable surfaces and seating for three. Anyone want to come play?

But please don't look in the pantry or the book closet or the hall where I have things stashed for friends to take away. Those spaces will be mercilessly attacked without delay. I will be making a few trips over to Shimbashi with promised household items for Amanda and Kevin and I've already booked a flea market space on August 30th. So all the kipple will soon be gone for good.

If any local readers want a pair of skis and boots, a Coopers beer brewing kit, a VCR, books, CDs, or any sort of miscellany they've seen in my place, give a shout before August 30th. Or come out to the flea market and get all my exciting things for "one coin" prices.

Hybrid Summer Fashion

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I wanted to dress up for the yukata festival in Nagahama, but even though I like the way summer kimono look, I really don't enjoy wearing them. They constrain my movement to mincing steps (or I face the consequences of flapping the bottom edges of the yukata and showing my legs) and geta - the traditional shoes - are so extraordinarily painful that I have vowed to never wear them again.

So I decided to make my own style. I cut an old yukata to tunic length and wore it with leggings. I tied my own obi and dressed it up with some flowers and cords. On top, traditional and pretty. On the bottom - freedom of movement!

I wasn't quite prepared for the reactions from passersby. In Tokyo, nobody would have looked at me twice - or if they did, it would have been discreet. In Nagahama, people gawked, pointed and laughed. Ouch.

A schoolgirl in sports uniform, leading a large team of similarly clad girls called back to them as we approached, "That's not Japanese! Look, that's not Japanese at all!" to which I replied - shouting across the intersection to her - "No, I'm not Japanese, am I?" in Japanese. She blanched and her friends tittered. Older ladies stopped me to ask if this was my original fashion. Yes, I told them, and it was so easy to walk in. They agreed with a smile. Some oddly coiffed teens looked askance at me, but I laughed because they were definitely more outlandish than I was. Maybe they will follow my trend for short yukata next summer in Nagahama.

After a while (and a few beers from the festival) I stopped noticing if people were looking and just enjoyed myself.

Weekend in Nagahama

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We enjoyed a summer get-away at Lake Biwa this weekend. I randomly selected a destination - Nagahama in Shiga-ken - from one of the travel websites and it turned out to be a great place to visit.

The town was bustling with tourism and activities, but not in the usual Japanese "100 omiyage shops in a row" way. This town was full of historical buildings and artisans' ateliers. There is an active hive of glass artists who have decorated part of the town with stained glass lights and kaleidoscopes. Shops around Kurokabe square sell wares ranging from lampwork beads to mouth-blown bowls and just about everything in between. I especially liked the etched constellation glasses, but didn't buy them. We enjoyed a lesson in burnerwork at the Kurokabe Glass Workshop, and made our own swirled glass drops.

There were interesting shops all along the fully occupied shotengai - a juice bar with handwritten illustrated signs touting the benefits of each ingredient, two independent clothing designers, two shops with minerals and stones, a bookstore where a writers group was meeting, a showcase of Senen-Q where a quick burn made me feel much better, a store selling nothing but tasty bean and nut snacks, a tiny old shop full of incense, a place with beautiful umbrellas, and of course a few omiyage shops for the unimaginative visitors.

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Nagahama has good food specialties, too: red konyaku, biwa masu (trout) fresh form the lake, saba somen, and chocolate-filled mochi all of which were quite delicious. They also have a local brewery that makes some very respectable beers including a golden ale that tasted faintly of teaberry.

Saturday night was a confluence of festivals (yukata, eco, & beer) and people were out having fun. We learned how to tie some new furoshiki wraps, watched awesomely costumed dance teams going through their paces in the street, met three young American men doing a summer program at the bunraku puppet school just outside town, and ran into a bunch of long-time Kyoto gaijin who were biking around Biwako. Drank with them at the beer festival before tottering our way back to the hotel.

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Sunday morning we took the ferry over to Chikubushima to climb the stairs to the top of the temple complex. I had my hoop with me, but there wasn't any room at the temple to use it. When we got back down to the pier, I hooped for half an hour while we waited for the ferry. I got a lot of strange looks and eventually convinced some people to share the fun - members of the band I'd danced to at the festival the night before.

It really was a refreshing weekend away. When we left Nagahama on Monday morning, it felt like we'd been gone a lot longer than two days. What a treat.

Fruit & Vegetable Smoothies

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Smoothies are my solution to not liking fruit as much as I should. Blending together a couple of kinds of fruits evens out any unripe or bitter fruit flavors. Adding vegetables, herbs and other seasonings makes them even more delicious, and a good dose of ice turns it from a thick juice into a slushy. Mmmm.

I whiz mine in a heavy-duty blender. If your blender can crush ice, it'll be fine. Start with the fruit ingredients and any liquids, blend until smooth, then add the vegetables and extras. Blend until it's not chunky anymore. Then add about 2 cups of ice, if desired, and blend until the ice is crushed fine. The method is the same for all of these, so I'll just list the ingredients below. They all make enough for 2 large drinks.

Green

Pine-Spin-Gin
2 cups of pineapple chunks
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and stems trimmed
5 cm fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups ice (optional)

Peach and Pepper
1 ruby grapefruit, peeled and halved
1 peach, stone removed
1 green bell pepper, halved and deseeded
2 cups ice (optional)

Sp-each
2 peaches, stone removed
1 bunch spinach
2 cups ice (optional)

Fruit

Tropical
1 mango, peeled and sliced
1 passionfruit, just the pulp and seeds
1 banana, peeled
2 cups ice (optional)

Berry Bliss
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries (frozen ones work well)
1 apple, stem and seeds removed
2 cups ice (optional)

Tomatoes R Fruit
1 large tomato
1 mango, peeled and sliced
1 apple, stemmed and cored
2 cups ice (optional)

Soy Milk

Monkey Breakfast
2 bananas, peeled
1 cup soy milk
1 T cocoa powder
2 dashes cinnamon
2 cups ice (optional)

Elephant Breakfast
2 bananas, peeled
1 cup soy milk
2 T peanut powder
2 cups ice (optional)

Choco-Raspberry
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 mango, peeled and sliced
1 cup soy milk
3 T cocoa powder
2 cups ice (not optional this time)


Notes and Tips
Wash the blender before you drink your smoothie. The blender will be very easy to rinse clean immediately after you use it and becomes increasing difficult as bits of fruit pulp and soy milk dry to it.

Smoothies freeze well. If you make too much freeze it for later and thaw it when you want to drink it. Or put your smoothie in the freezer to freeze it semi-solid like ice cream or sorbet.

It is best to use fresh, fully ripe, organic ingredients when you can. They have the best flavor.

My Issue with Fruit

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I recently noted elsewhere that I prefer vegetables to fruit. This is strange because I generally prefer sweet over savory. But given the choice between a tomato and an apple, I'll take the tomato. So why is that? I think I figured it out.

Fruit doesn't meet my expectations. It should give me instant gratification. I want to grab a whole fruit cold and crisp from the fridge and eat its sweet, juicy goodness, as if it were nature's candy bar. But it rarely works that way. Fruit usually needs as much preparation as vegetables - peeling, coring, slicing. I don't expect it to be so even though my experience proves it is.

Fruit is unpredictable. It may look gorgeous, but it isn't always ripe or juicy and it's hard to tell before you taste it. The surprise of a mealy apple or a sour plum isn't a good surprise. And fruit doesn't stay in its optimal state very long before going bad. While a wilty carrot makes good soup, a withered peach is trash.

But I have found a solution that solves my issues. I turn my fruit into juice. Blending a couple of fruits together evens out any unripe bitterness, and I expect juice to need preparation so I'm not disappointed that it isn't instant food. Plus I can toss in vegetables, ice and other flavors to make smoothies. Tomorrow I'll share some of my smoothie recipes with you.

Rainy Season's over

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Rainy season officially ended yesterday, as the summer high pressure systems moved in 6 days earlier than average. This year tsuyu lasted from 6/10 - 7/13 and we received 233.5mm of rain in Tokyo, about 16 mm more than average. Many places had less rain than average which is bad news for rice farmers who rely on the rain for their crops.

So now we begin true summer and the thermometer is already ridiculous. It was 33 yesterday...

Beer Battered Eggplant Parmesan

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Traditional recipes for Eggplant Parmesan include a lot of cheese, but this uses beer to add depth of flavor to an "almost vegan" interpretation of a classic. It isn't completely cheese-less or it wouldn't be Parmesan, but the cheese is confined to the batter and topping.

This is not a quick meal; it requires a bit more than an hour from start to finish for prepping the sauce, then battering, frying, and baking. The results are worth the effort, though! As as decadent as it seems, each portion is about 500 calories for a large serving so it isn't a complete diet blowout.

Beer Battered Eggplant Parmesan
serves 4

2 eggplants (medium-sized American ones)
1 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup + 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup beer
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp dried basil, oregano or herbes de provence
4 T safflower oil
3 T olive oil
1 bunch spinach

Slice the eggplants into 2 cm rounds. Rub with salt and allow to sit while you prepare the batter & sauce.

Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Saute in 1T of olive oil until the onions are translucent. Pour in the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened. Season with salt, pepper and basil.

Mix together the flour, cheese and black pepper. Stir in the beer. Check the consistency and adjust with more flour or beer as necessary.

Rinse and trim the spinach. Set aside.

Heat the remaining oils in a skillet. Pat the eggplant rounds dry with a towel and dip them in the batter. Fry them on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels while you cook each batch.

In a baking dish, spoon a bit of sauce on the bottom, then arrange a layer of eggplant. Cover with sauce. Lay in all the spinach leaves. Continue adding layers of eggplant and sauce, ending with a thick layer of sauce. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 170c for 25 minutes or until the cheese is browned and crispy.

Ultra Healthy

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A little while ago, a friend asked me to help him out. He wanted to lose some weight and more importantly, feel healthier. He asked me to help him set up a 6 week vegetarian food plan for himself and his wife who are not vegetarians.

Although I do a pretty good job of managing my own vegetarian-sometimes-vegan diet, setting up a whole system for someone else was really a challenge. Not only did I have to ensure they were getting decent nutrition, but I also had to take into consideration the availability of offbeat ingredients, the ease of preparation, and how to use leftovers as lunches.

And because I wanted this to be a good education for them as well as a healthy and tasty series of meals, I started off with a long manifesto of food and diet theory. These days I lean towards whole grains, minimal dairy, and portion control as my main ways to stay healthy. so I wanted to help them understand why.

The project was harder than I thought and I only managed five weeks of the plan. The general idea is to eat three 450 calorie meals and up to three 150 calorie snacks per day (depending on your caloric needs). That goes for 6 days a week, with one "free day" to eat whatever you like.

The Ultra Healthy PDF (1.5Mb) contains four pages of diet theory, 30 days of menus, a list of interchangeable breakfast items, thirty 150 calorie snack suggestions, and 34 recipes adapted from my favorite cookbooks. Plus a sprinkling of typos for your proofreading pleasure.

Heat = Dead Electronics

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I believe that my gear dislikes the summer. The washing machine overheats every time I use the dry cycle (and has been almost unusable since it was recently serviced); my cell phone's battery mysteriously drains even when it is sitting on its charger; and now my G5 has developed a case of heat death notable for its red LED and screaming fans.

I can't blame them. I don't like the heat, either. Maybe my toys and tools need a treat. What's the electronic equivalent of ice cream?

No Shopping Report #7

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Short report: FAIL.

Long report: I have a lot of interesting new clothes, many of them from a second-hand shop.

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Of the above, two pants, two skirts, one jacket, and three tops are brand new; one skirt and five tops are second-hand. In other words, 14 of my 44 wardrobe pieces are newly purchased.

It was my intention to go window shopping with Jeanette last Sunday, not to actually buy things. It was meant to be a lesson in cut and color but the clothes fit so well and they were on sale...I got stuff at 3 different stores. Here is my shameful accounting: 8000 yen at H&M for 2 skirts, 2 pants and a jacket; 7000 yen at Zara for 3 tops; and about 9000 yen at Kinji for a skirt and 5 tops.

I should feel guilty but I have a completely coordinating wardrobe that gets me compliments when I wear it. With so many matching pieces I will be able to don a different outfit every day for the rest of the summer (and the next couple of summers, too), so I have no reason to want any more clothes.

Shopping is a slippery slope. Now I want shoes and accessories. Sigh. Brakes on. Can not have.

Clothes weren't my only fail this month. Feeling the sadness of not having any glowing toys for our weekly evening spin gatherings, I bought 4 Cyalume LED glow sticks to make glowing poi. They are quite spectacular in motion. 890 yen each. I knitted the leashes myself, at least.

Household Detections

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I enjoy discovering clues to events I missed and then piecing together a scenario of what happened.

It drives Tod crazy because usually the clues involve his late-night actions and I inquire about them when he isn't expecting it. For example, a broken teacup in the trash and a tube of antibiotic cream in the bathroom means I'd better ask if he's ok.

Every now and again, I stumble across a scene that is more mysterious than others. This morning it was this:

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These are the pants Tod wore yesterday. They are draped over the counter in the entryway. His underwear and socks are bundled up inside. His shirt is not present. Normally he drops his cast off clothing in the bedroom or sometimes in the bathroom.

So this scene made me scratch my head a bit. Why did he put his pants in the genkan? Was he strip-teasing for someone at the door? Did he go out, get wet in the rain and take off his soaking things when he returned?

I am going to wager a guess that he was undressing late last night after I was asleep and decided to light some incense (in the basket behind the pants). Still wearing his shirt, he carried his pants with him, lit the incense and came to bed, leaving his pants behind. This theory is backed by the stub of an incense stick in the holder.

Does anyone else do this when they see items in their world moved, rearranged or otherwise requiring a story to make sense? Maybe I read too many Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid.

Secret Super Powers

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I think everyone has a quirky talent that nobody else in their group shares - a secret super power. It may be useful but is more likely to be odd like always getting the biggest slice of cake or finding coins on the street or flagging taxis in ten seconds.

This isn't a new idea, of course. Justine Larbalestier calls secret super powers "fairies" in her book, How to Ditch Your Fairy, and her heroine has a parking fairy - she unfailingly finds parking spots even though she doesn't drive.

Newly Hatched Cicada

My secret super power seems to be Seeing Bugs. Not in a tripped out, itchy, Philip K Dick way, but in a "Hey, here's a ladybug! Oooh, look at the green beetle. Ack, a mosquito!" way. I can scan across a room and find the bugs. I see them on sidewalks, in bushes, & on trees. I have no idea what use this is but there you go.

Four Leaf

Tod has Four Leaf Clover Detection powers. He can glance at a bed of clover, bend down and pluck a lucky one. It's quite amazing. He says he can smell them. Tod is lucky in lots of situations, so maybe the clovers are a side effect or a manifestation of his general luckiness.

What is your Secret Super Power? A randomly selected commenter will win a (slightly used) copy of How to Ditch Your Fairy. I'll make the random selection on Wednesday, July 8th.

Spin Matsuri Moving Forward

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Today we announced the Spin Matsuri instructors and sessions. I'm really excited about our lineup - we have hooping, poi, and dance on the schedule, with instructors from Japan, the US, and Australia coming to teach. It is going to be a great weekend with lots of surprises and fun for everyone.

Now I'm off to Circle, a weekly hoop gathering in Yoyogi park. The sky is cloudy but I have fingers crossed that it won't rain. I have a packed neon pink tulle skirt and umbrella, so I am prepared for anything.

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