Windy Day

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A dust devil spinning itself three stories into the sky above the grocery store.
A hundred seagulls facing into the wind as they bobbed on the choppy water.
Dozens more gulls swishing in the wild winds over the harbour.
A mountain of full-grown trees being brushed by the wind like a Kansas wheat field.
A man holding a slice of tin roof to keep it off the power lines.

It was that kind of windy today. 

Happy 2017

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25 Words

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Half century joys: circus successes; drawing again; driver's license; warm neighbors; loving husband. Sorrows: multiverse branched and Zoupi vanished; my heart broke; mould ruined everything.

And all the 25 Word entries I've written since 2001:


A new era began with Japanese eijuuken and freedom to do anything! We quit Tokyo for rural Chiba. Now we have time, space, and ease.


Our 25th anniversary. Eyes opened in Ireland and India to a new life together. More adventures, independence, inventiveness, alliances. Yes, yes! The ayes have it.


Running away to the circus confused me. Spent ten months wondering "What next?" Tried resting, contests, midwifery - not my things. Travel, teaching, performance? Yes. Circus.


Hooping took me up to Tohoku, down to Niijima, and around the world on tour. Ukulele, yoga, improv, songwriting, skating, visiting, & fundraising filled the gaps.


Mother Earth trembled and futures fell apart. Uncertainty ruled us for months but in the end I'm still in Japan, married, hooping, and feeling happy.


Lived my hoop dreams, wheeee! Connected, created, collaborated, choreographed, costumed, capered, camped, coordinated, but then crashed hard. Ouch. Healed and found my truth. Full circle.


Rose petals in blue sky and the scent of muddy elephants conducted me to presence. An intense upwelling of joy revealed the universe inside me.


I made dresses, meals, 100 necklaces, friends. Grew food. Witnessed a birth! I am greying, wrinkling and fading, but I started hooping, so who cares?


Food ruled 2007: went almost vegan, developed recipes, and lost 10 kilos. Also sewed Morsbags, made political statements with robots, and explored Tokyo real estate.


Forty was a pleasure/pain year - a roiling emotional sea. Heartbreaking anguish half drowned me but also un-dammed a flood of patterns, photography and creativity.


This year, a lesson in

How to bear pain and loss.

Travel doesn't cure heartache;

Friends ease the agony.

Healing and peace flow like water.


Did more, finished less.

Strengthened friendships and traveled.

Constructed 18 videos, knitted scarves,

Shared my pencils and my love.

Still seeking realisation of my principles.


Hello Tokyo finally done

Neon Chopstix now begun.

'Twas mostly work but also fun.

Hosted friends from far away.

Another visa for three years' stay.


Celebrating four years in Japan, I exercised my right brain and my poetic voice. I filmed then procrastinated. I waited for the axe to fall.


Spent seven weeks on holiday in Maui, China, mainland US. Wrote lots, taught many, earned little. Saw the inside of my head. Didn't do enough.

Open 2017

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My guiding theme for 2017 will be Open.

Some years, choosing the theme word for the year involves a lot of thesaurus consulting, debating and mind-changing. But this year it came to me in a flash and I haven't considered anything else. Open is just right: honest, undecided, unobstructed, obvious, objective. I may find myself beginning something new, or exposing something hidden. 

Here are my guiding words and themes for previous years:
2010, connect:

Last year, I noticed a two year lag in the words and it seems to have held true again. Though my theme for 2016 was "realise," I feel that 2014's "develop" was more appropriate. So I suspect 2017 will be all about "explore" and with our new driver's licenses, Tod & I already have plans to do that.

Evolution of Christmas Spirit

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This year end has been hectic and stressful with driving school, health issues, a broken fridge, blah, blah, blah. I was not feeling the usual "I hate Christmas' mood this year as much as I was completely indifferent and almost ignorant of the holiday coming up. 


Boxes arrived from family overseas. I stacked them up. Topped with a bottle of wine, there's our tree for the year. Good enough. I was not interested in being creative.


But inspiration finally struck on Christmas day and I designed a tree out of the cardboard from the boxes. I scissored, taped and slotted to create a three dimensional, self-standing tree. Sort of Suessian, it echoed the shape of the two origami balls we received from the 3rd graders at Nagasa Elementary school.


A string of lights completed the look. I'm rather proud of this tree that came from nowhere. It is whimsical and no-waste. 

We completed our holiday festivities with a lovely dinner and opening the presents that family sent. Tod & I agreed to not exchange gifts this year - the first time in 28 years I didn't buy something for him - but he surprised me with a stollen from one of our local bakers. 


Creole duck breast, mashed potatoes, greens, and wild rice. Yum.

Omens, Talismans, and Offerings

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I am solidly superstitious, though usually pretty quiet about it. Omens are things of legend and talismans are for the weak and foolish. Despite that, I've always had a feeling that there are objects and actions that will improve any situation.  Yesterday, when I went to the Driving License Center to take my final exam, I was well armed:

  • I'd dreamed about my hair in big, bun-like knobs, so I styled something as close to that as possible. 
  • I put on a matching bra and panties. I feel more confident if I am nicely dressed on every layer.
  • I wore a necklace that keeps me calm and safe. It is visible in my driver's license picture and that is sweet.
  • I polished my boots to honor my father who taught me not only the value of shiny shoes but also was my driving inspiration. 
  • I was thrilled to see Mt Fuji clearly en route to Makuhari; for me, she is a herald of good things to come.
I am certain it wasn't actually any of these actions or objects that caused me to pass the exam. I prepared with study, practice, and review to pass the test. The scientific side of me says superstitions are rubbish. However, they can't hurt and they do help me through the nervous bits of challenging days. So thank you to my talismans, omens, and offerings for ensuring that I passed the test, completed the paperwork correctly, and received my license.

On the Roads

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Yesterday at driving school, we went out on the real roads with our new learner's permits. I expected this to be a brief circle around the school, but it was a gorgeous drive along the coast. We did it three times in three hours and each time was better than the last. 

Learning to drive on the narrow roads in town, where there are pedestrians, garbage trucks, bicycles, no sidewalks, and just enough clearance for two cars is quite an interesting challenge. Not at all like driving in the US. I successfully avoided everyone yesterday and plan to continue that success.

Tod pointed out that in our first session yesterday, we each had a department head instructor at our side. In the subsequent hours, it was regular instructors. The newest drivers get the most seasoned instructors. It makes sense. This school really does know what they are doing.

Going to Driving School

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Whooo! Watch out on the roads; we have our learner's permits now.

Three weeks ago, after a year in the countryside with only bicycles and busses for transportation, Tod & I enrolled at Kamogawa Driving School. Our neighbor, who runs the Korean restaurant, heard we were considering it and insisted that we set a date and she would drive us there. 

So we did and she did and there we were on October 29th, forking over 300,000 yen each for a full driving course. It seems like a small fortune for re-learning a skill we haven't used in almost 20 years, but it turns out to be a very good education. On the same day you hand over the cash, it starts off with a bang! It was a bewildering and unexpected few hours as we had a lengthy but rapid explanation of the program, a psychological driving aptitude test, and our first classroom lesson. 

We decided to dedicate ourselves to doing this as quickly and efficiently as possible. Three weeks in and we've completed the first half of the course and passed our exams for the learner's permit yesterday. We began Stage 2 classes today and go out on the real roads on Tuesday. If we keep up this pace, we should be ready to take our final licensing exam by the end of the year. We are feeling pretty proud of ourselves.


About the School

If you are considering driving school for yourself, let me tell you a bit about the program and the school because the Kamogawa Driving School website is only in Japanese.

First, Enrolment

It is a little tricky; you can't rock up any old time to register. Be sure to call 04-7092-0894 to book your registration date and time; intake happens three times a week. Plan to spend at least three hours on the day. They will tell you what you need to bring, including an official copy of your juminhyo from the city office so that is an errand you need to make before you go.


The Program & Schedule

The course of study is divided into two parts: Stage 1 pre-permit and Stage 2 post-permit. Pre-permit is two tracks happening concurrently: 15 hours of driving practice on the school's course and 10 hours of classroom time covering topics from traffic signs to road safety. At the end of the first part you take the internal exams and after you pass, you take the official exams for the learner's permit (kari menkyo).

Stage 2 is again a two-track system with 19 hours of driving on the roads and in simulation, plus 16 hours of classroom time that includes first aid training, car maintenance basics, and lots of information about accidents and insurance.

The whole thing is very Japanese. Bells and chimes announce the start and end of each period and you are not allowed to get up from your desk or out of your car until the bell rings. Each student has a planning book to track progress; in it every class, driving hour, or test is stamped by the teacher. There is also an official record that the school keeps and a booklet of driving tickets. All of these are color coded by course: yellow for MT, pink for AT, green for motorcycles. You choose your schedule a visit or two ahead from a complex calendar of classes, exams, and driving days. Fortunately, you can take the classes in almost any order.

The Teachers & Facilities

I like all of the teachers at the school, a crew of middle-aged men, some of whom have been working at the school for thirty years. One is a graduate of the school and his original teacher recently retired.These guys work really hard and share the burdens of car and classroom teaching plus admin stuff like the shuttle bus schedule and pick-ups. I think I've had them all either in the classroom or in the car by now. Each one brings his own personality - strict, chatty, factual, fanciful, curious, jaded - but they all deliver good instruction. They've even been fixing my bad driving habits.

There are three classrooms at the school, a lounge space, and a couple of special testing rooms, as well as the office. They have a fleet of manual and automatic transmission cars, and exotic stuff like motorcycles and big trucks. One afternoon I shared the course with a huge forklift!

The driving course is a pretty standard layout with a railway crossing, a traffic signal, a hill, tight curve practice, an obstacle with cones around it, and lots of intersections with stop signs, blind spots, and different right-of-way scenarios. I've been around and around it and it hasn't gotten boring yet. 


The Textbooks, Training, & Exams

There are two main books - theory and driving. The theory book is translated into English so I study the theory in English before class, which makes the Japanese lectures & video materials a lot easier to follow. The teachers always point out the details that are likely to be on the test, so understanding the lectures is key to passing the written exams. 

The driving book is only in Japanese, as is the verbal instruction from the instructors when we're in the car. This is a good challenge for me, sometimes, when the teacher gets deep into some intricacy of practical driving. Thanks to having driven in my distant past, the basics are already in my grasp and I am understanding most of the instruction clearly. A lot of the nuance is directed to passing the practical exams. There is a specific way to get into the car, adjust the seat, and turn your head to look in the mirrors, for example, otherwise you get points off. 

The written exams can be taken in Japanese, of course, or in English (and maybe Chinese and Korean as well). Tod is passing the Japanese ones with no problem; I am sticking to my mother tongue for tests. They are not nearly as awkward as I expected. I had heard horror stories about the rotten translations, but with a few exceptions they're perfectly understandable normal English. In fact, I think the Japanese is just as convoluted - these are meant to be trick questions sometimes.

Kamogawa Driving School is registered with the prefectural police and licensing center, so they can administer all of the official exams excepting the final paper test. For that, you go to the Licensing Center in Makuhari, 90 minutes away.

The Other Students

There are three main groups of students: 18 year olds getting their first driving lessons; elderly drivers taking their mandatory over-70 driving classes; and foreigners. Lots of foreigners! Many foreign ladies, as it turns out, and we gravitate into a loose community. We talk to one another, offering encouragement and even hugs. Women support one another across national boundaries and language barriers. It's good.

My Recommendation

I would recommend the school to anyone with the time and money to do the course. The staff want you to pass the exam and want to keep Kamogawa's roads safe. They work hard for you, and if you put in a good effort you will succeed! 

And if you need a ride to registration, I want to pay forward the boon my neighbor did in kicking us out of complacency and into action, so call me!

OMG, Mould

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This September was the rainiest one on record, which was really bad for our house and all the stuff in it. When we returned after visiting family in the US for a month, our home was completely coated in mould.

The kitchen counter was green. The bedframe was sprouting three dimensional orange mould. The futons went to the dump yesterday and floor cushions were trashed. All of our clothes were musty, the shoes mildewed, leather goods dotted with mould.

For the last ten days Tod & I (and friends helping with supply runs) have been combatting the mess. We've washed every wall, floor, and window with vinegar and tea tree oil or bleach. We tore out and replaced the floor of the bedroom closet. Every dish, pot, pan, appliance, and utensil has been scrubbed, along with all the cabinets they live in. We replaced the wooden spoons, cutting boards, oven mitts, laundry baskets, trivets, and chopsticks. We have washed and dried epic quantities of laundry.

We've been sleeping in the upstairs office/studio because it was only lightly affected. I was able to wipe off the white, powdery mildew form the furniture and vacuum the floors and call it "good enough". It's not stinky or damp up there. When we can get the downstairs bedroom back to a reasonable level of must, we will buy a new futon and bedframe. 

Today, the first truly sunny day since we got back, was devoted to airing out the contents of Tod's closet. I broke three laundry poles this morning. Tod has a lot of clothes. There wasn't enough room to air the winter coats; I am hoping for a another sunny day soon. The sun is fading now and I don't think the clothes are fresh yet...

We still have a fair amount of cleaning, repairing and replacing still to do. I am seriously considering another radical decluttering. I never want to have to wash all this stuff ever again. It's depressing and tedious. If you find my mood sour next time you see me, check for mould in my head.

Chocolate Cake, 1933 style

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"All About Baking", published in 1933, is an excellent primer on baking with lots of lost wisdom about how to prepare pans, to set baking times, and to perfect mixing techniques in the days before electric mixers. Doing this with a hand mixer makes it so very easy. Creaming butter by hand is a good workout I am happy to avoid.

This recipe produces a light crumb with a nice chocolate flavor. I frosted mine with buttercream and topped it with coconut but the recipe suggests a chocolate fudge frosting, which I'm sure would be delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Loaf
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ounces melted baking chocolate
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F /160C and prepare an 8x8x2 pan (or two round pans) with butter on the bottom and halfway up the sides, plus baking paper cut to fit the bottom. 

Sift the cake flour once, measure, then add baking powder and salt and sift together three times. In a separate bowl, cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat the egg separately until it is light and foamy, then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat well. Add the melted chocolate and blend until the color is even.

Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Spread batter into pan and bake for 1 hour.

Allow the cake to cool a bit, then turn out of pan to finish cooling. Frost with your choice of icing.

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