Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ex-pat Thanksgiving

I was in a discussion recently in which a bunch of people were talking about food they couldn’t get their hands on, due to geographical reasons. There were English teachers in South Korea and Japan complaining about a lack of good sourdough bread and applesauce, but also people in Portland who missed New England clam chowder.

Then someone decided to point out that she thought that the whole point of travel was to experience new cultures and their food. But maybe she’s just weird like that.


1. There’s a huge difference between ‘traveling’ and ‘living’. I am not ‘traveling abroad’, I’m ‘living abroad’. My next glimpse of Smart Food popcorn is months away, not days or weeks.

2. Really, even if you are ‘just’ traveling, your food, from your country or your culture, is still a big part of you. And when you have a set-back, or a bad day, or a lonely moment, it’s only natural to think of comfort in a familiar form. And sometimes that form is Cheetos.

Anyway, what set the original discussion off was, of course, American Thanksgiving, which was this a week ago last Thursday. Thursday was a work day here, but Friday was actually a holiday – Labor Thanksgiving Day, as a matter of fact. Naturally, a friend and I took advantage of the fact to celebrate…on Saturday.

Surprise snow.

All of the windows in my house, save one, are frosted, so it was early afternoon before I poked my head outside and noticed that we’d had our first snowstorm. It stuck all day and made driving fun, but melted under the sun the next morning.

Appetizer plate – bread, apples, Camembert, homemade applesauce, and the last two mincemeat cookies from my Aunt Ann.

A traditional Thanksgiving feast in Japan takes some planning and forethought. For example, you might be able to find a turkey in stores down in Tokyo, but up here, one would have to be ordered from one of the many companies that specializes in separating foreigners from their money and reuniting them with their food. Since there were only two of us, we skipped the turkey entirely and went for some nice, cheap chicken breast.

In the above picture, I forgot to get jam for the bread, so I subbed in applesauce that I made last week in a fit of desperation. Unlike peanut butter, which is catching on here, there is no applesauce to be found. I waited for the apples to get cheap, cut the seeds out, boiled them up, and threw them into the blender. The flavor is divine, the texture is lacking. The blender only has one, overpowering setting. More experimentation is needed.

The spread.

In the end, we had broccoli, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and chicken (all locally sourced), as well as stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, turkey gravy, and lemon meringue pie (all made from ingredients that had to be shipped in).

Only on Thanksgiving.

The mashed potatoes were made with heavy cream, as god intended, and I wish I had another quart.

Now, some of you sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that ‘lemon meringue pie’ had to be shipped in. Pumpkin pie makes sense – a can of pumpkin, a homemade crust, and you’re set. But lemon meringue?

I preface this with saying that I have made lemon meringue in the past, from scratch. Once.

Oooh, ‘no bake’!

::shudder:: You make it from a mix. One mix for the crust, one for the filling, and one for the topping.

Sadly, except for the crust, it’s no better or worse than any supermarket pie I’ve had. And those supermarket pies are at least 6000 miles away.

The crust was crap though.


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Knee-highs and Gnomes

I’ll take Spelling That Drives My Students Crazy for 300, Alex.

Sometimes I feel bad for them, having to remember that ‘n’, ‘kn’, and ‘gn’ all make the same sound. Then I remember that I have another 1000 kanji to learn before I’m considered a literate adult in Japanese.


Pryderi knee socks, Knit Picks Gloss Fingering, Rhiannon by Cookie A

This pattern spent a lot of time in my queue before I got around to it. Rav says I picked it out July 2010, but I didn’t start them until this September. Cookie A writes many, many amazing sock patterns, some lovely and simple, others completely insane. There’s a technique in this pattern that I actually wasn’t able to carry out as written – instead of having you cast on enough stitches at the the start of the cuff for all of the cables, she instead has you increase right before starting the cables and decrease when they’re done. It’s a very clever technique and makes the cuff and toe much less baggy, I suspect. The cuff increases were so horrifying, however, that when I scheduled the knitting of the second sock, I set aside a whole evening just for the increase row.

Horseshoe cable running up the back of the sock.

The yarn is Knit Picks Gloss Fingering, a merino/silk mix. The colorway is Honey, which has been discontinued since I bought it. I’m hoping that the silk content holds up well, but I’m not counting on wearing these very often anyway. Not even I can get away with knee high yellow socks every week. They’ll also need some sort of garter set-up – the ribbing and calf shaping won’t keep the cuffs up for longer than five minutes.

Next, my other WIP from last week:

Ministry Spies, Korknisse by Manne.

Sixty gnomes, made from just leftover worsted scraps and wine corks. Now, before you look at me askance, 1) the corks were donated by multiple people and 2) they took about two years to collect. I am not a lush. The scraps are mostly Knit Picks Wool of the Andes, in Persimmon, Chestnut, Semolina, Forest Heather, and others.

My plan? To leave them in random places over the next month.

Now, except for some bits and pieces, I don’t really have any WIPs going. Starting December 1, however, I’m hoping to do something with these:

Rainbow minis.


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Photo Monday

The first snow to stick this winter, November 21.

Yes, I admit it, I use Instagram. This is with the lo-fi filter.

I’m trying to set up a pattern here – photo on Monday, knitting on Wednesday, and a blog post on Friday. We’ll see how long it lasts.

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14 on the 14th

(Note: This post was written November 19th and scheduled to publish November 23rd)

I used to do something where I would take 12 pictures to share on the 12th of the month, but 1) my memory is actually not as good as advertised and 2) usually I only find it buried in my to-do list sometime around lunch, after half the day has passed. So this month, I happened to do it on the 14th instead, which also happened to be my 25th birthday.

Looking out my front door, around 8:10 in the morning.

As of my birthday, no snow had fallen in Otobe. Here you can see my neighbor’s empty house. He was a teacher at the local elementary school, but quit and left town unexpectedly last spring. I’m hoping for a new tenant this coming March.

Blue nonburnable trash bag.

I have burnable trash pick-up twice a week, but nonburnable trash only gets picked up every other Wednesday. You can only put it out in these special color-coded bags, which can be purchased at the grocery store and other places around town. They’re expensive – about $1.30 for a biggish bag like this one. Thankfully, I only throw out one every two weeks. The burnable garbage bags are pinkish-red and I can get away with just throwing out a tiny one of those twice a week.

The contents of the passenger seat.

Since I rarely have passengers, I tend to use the front seat as storage for stuff I don’t want to be schlepping inside constantly. The bag with Snowy on it is my school bag – lesson  planner, prize stickers, tissue, hair ties, sight reading cards, etc. You can just make out my school shoes on the floor. I keep a pair at the junior high school permanently, but this pair travels with me for the elementary schools.

The sign in front of the town community center.

As I said, it hasn’t snowed yet, but preparation has been pretty much continuous since October. All of the potted plants flower boxes have been moved inside, and these bushes have had trusses built over them for a tarp. The whole thing will just be a mountain of snow between December and March.

Crummy weather in the morning.

The weather was strange all day, alternately sunny and pouring rain.

T-sensei at the start of class.

I only had one class that day – the third years at the junior high school. They’re the equivalent of American ninth graders, around 14-15 years old. They have entrance examinations coming up at the beginning of January, so they’ve been buckling down. They “retire” with much ceremony from school sports teams at the end of summer* and many of them stay after school for self-study. The sign to the right of the clock says “35 people, 35 colors”.

Don’t forget!

Japanese students are just as fond of writing on their hands as Americans. He’s written a note to keep from forgetting to bring in money for a school fundraiser.

2012 Chorus Champions

Each fall, the school holds a cultural festival. There are dance numbers and plays in the morning and a singing competition in the afternoon. Each class has to sing one song chosen specifically for the competition and a second song chosen by the class. They practice for weeks beforehand and two students practice playing the piano for the same pieces. The third years get to keep the award plaque in their classroom because they won in September for the second year in a row.

Driving north in Otobe.

Pouring rain when I left for the school, clearing up when I drove back to the office an hour later.


I get an hour for lunch, so I swung by 7-11 for my favorite convenience store meal – beef stew in a pouch. The bakery in town is quite good, but their french bread is popular and I have to be quick if I want any.

I have a desk, but in reality it’s just a large shelf and I do most of my work at the table.

Getting dark out early.

The clouds were back by the time I left work, so it was quite dark. By the solstice, it will be full night when I leave at 4:30.

Mailbox gleanings.

Yes, my mailbox is a USPS priority box. I originally tossed it out on the porch to get it out of the way, planning on eventually breaking it down and throwing it out. Instead, the mailman started tossing my mail in there, so I recycled it and it’s had the job ever since. That afternoon, I had a timely birthday card (a rarity!), two postcards, and my exam ticket for the JLPT.

Dessert from a coworker.

As I was heading out the door, a coworker gave me a bag from the local bakery – strawberry shortcake and what I thought was a creme brulee. The cake was quite good, the whatever-it-was was surprisingly nasty. Not sure what went wrong there.

Birthday picture.

My dad and I usually take a picture together each year on my birthday. He’s made it to Japan twice before, but circumstances conspired against us this time. Instead, we used Skype.

*They don’t stop participating altogether – they can’t compete in tournaments or games between schools, but they still go to practice and play with the younger students when they have time.


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Knitting update

I know I get a lot of referrals from my Ravelry profile, so maybe it’s time to bring back some fiber content.

My most recently finished project was a very simple hat, back in October. I currently have two large scale projects on the table that need to be completed by the end of this month, so my finish rate has slowed to a crawl.

Super Hat, Malabrigo Rasta, no pattern.

I made this hat to go with my Super Mittens, which I started wearing fairly regularly last winter. I couldn’t find an exact pattern that fit with what I wanted, so I just cast on 50 stitches, knit a little 1×1 rib, knit plain, and then started decreasing when it looked big enough. The yarn is super-bulky Malabrigo Rasta, in Archangel, which I think of as “snack yarn” – it’s expensive, only comes 90 yards to a skein, scoffs at dyelots, and I adore it. It’s better suited to hats; I have to shave the mittens each winter or they’d be a felted mess.

Now, for the WIPs. The first of my current headaches:

Pryderi knee socks, Knit Picks Gloss Fingering, Rhiannon by Cookie A.

This is one of a pair of knee socks that needs to be completed by November 30th, Pacific time, last in a series of projects I’ve been working on since May 2009. (Yikes!) It’s not as dire as it looks, the other sock is just missing a foot and a few inches of leg. If things go according to schedule, I should have the finished pair to show you next Wednesday.

My other headache:

Ministry Spies, Korknisse by Manne.

I need to finish 60 gnomes by November 25th. Not sure what’ll I do with them after that; the last time I did this, I scattered them all over the Macalester College library. Harder to do the same here – less anonymity. Again, hopefully they’ll be complete by next Wednesday. Actually, the knitting of them is complete…I just have to hide four ends per finished gnome. 45 gnomes down, 15 to go.

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I joined Otobe’s kendo club in August, which has been fun. Even though I have a black belt, it’s been 4 years since I swung a sword, so the teacher had me on remedial individual lessons for over a month. Some of it was to remind my body of what to do and some was to adjust to his particular style (that grated, I had to remind myself that even he said that it wasn’t ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, just how they do things here). I gave myself a honking big blister on the bottom of my right heel from smacking it against the wooden floor.

Kendo helmets waiting for the beginning of class.

Otobe’s kendo club is technically for elementary and junior high school students, plus grown-ups who can contribute a bit to training. High school students stick with their own school clubs, but Otobe’s schools are too small for that, so the club includes kids from first through eighth grade (no ninth graders this year). There are five junior high school club members – four seventh grade boys and one eighth grade girl. It’s weird to think that the boys are right where I was when I started eleven years ago.*

After a few months, I graduated from individual practice to working with the younger elementary school students. They all barely come up past my hip, so it’s kind of hilarious to see them wandering around in full armor and yelling at each other. A week or two after that, I was allowed to put my own armor on and move up to working with the junior high school students.

It’s been an odd experience. I’m practically deaf with my helmet on and the teacher only speaks Terse Japanese. Thankfully, the seventh grade boys have lost their shyness over dragging me hither and yon when I miss an instruction.

An unanticipated side benefit has been the parents’ association. Each child in the club has at least one heavily involved parent, usually their mother. They come to end of each class to watch and coordinate trips to tournaments in other towns. They were quick to involve me and I’ve become a sort of traveling cheerleader for the club (these tournaments are only for elementary and junior high students, not adults). This has really helped with the growing contingent that treats me as actual teacher of their children, rather than just a visiting oddball.

Also, they all feel compelled to feed me.

The first match of the junior high school boys’ division (team). Flags from the clubs present hang in the background; Otobe’s is the maroon one in the middle.

The tournaments are pretty fun. The club travels all over the peninsula to participate in these all day affairs. There are team events in the morning and individual events in the afternoon. Depending on the size of the tournament, events may be divided by sex. For example, one tournament had mixed teams for both elementary and junior high school, with an age limit of 4th grade, so our club was able to field two mixed teams in the elementary division, and one in the junior high division. For the individual event, the under 3rd grade set wasn’t divided by sex, but the 3rd/4th, 5th/6th, and junior high divisions were (even though there were only four junior high school girls).

A third grader watches her teammate in the semifinals of the elementary girls’ division.

However, for a much larger tournament earlier this month (from whence most of these pictures are from), the team events were all divided by sex, so we only had two teams in the elementary girls’ division (Otobe’s club is predominantly girls, especially in the middle level). However, the division isn’t strict – teams with only a few girls were allowed to field mixed teams in the boys’ division. Likewise, we had a team in the junior high boys’ division, even though one of our five is a girl.

The team division was for 3rd-6th graders…which lead to some disparity in the competition.

We do pretty well in some areas – we have five 5th/6th girls who tower over their competition, so we’ve won the elementary team division at all of the tournaments I’ve attended. The junior high schoolers have a rougher go of it – the seventh grade boys are growing, but they’re still kind of skinny, and going up against ninth graders six inches taller than them and thirty pounds heavier.** They persevere though – we had an exciting tie-breaker match that went into overtime (regulation match time is 2.5 min) for over ten minutes before our kid got in a good hit, sending the team onto the semi-finals.

Ten minutes into what should have been a two minutes match, an Otobe seventh grader paces his opponent.

Of course, with all of the small towns and accompanying small schools, it’s hard to avoid running into the same people over and over. I gave one girl from Okushiri a start when I recognized her at the speech contest – she had been in the kendo tournament a few weeks back. One of the club’s seventh grade boys has a sister who won that same speech contest. Another two of the boys are embarrassed because I know their parents quite well – one’s mother works for the Board of Education and another’s father is the English teacher at the big elementary school. Oh well.

Otobe Kendo Club’s only junior high school girl takes on a boy from Mori town.

*The teacher cracked up when I pointed out that I had been doing kendo since before they could walk. Of course, he’s probably been doing kendo since before Regan took office.

**Funny story – all of these boys are in the home economics club at school. Since joining a school sports club might result in conflicting tournaments, they decided to learn to sew and bake instead. The teacher in charge of the club said that all she had to do was say ‘bake cookies’ to lure them away from joining the computer club.

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