Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Macro/Micro Update and Raccoon Dogs

  • John has accepted a new position teaching at elementary schools in the town adjacent to us, starting in April.
  • So, we'll be in Japan through March 2012. There is still time for you to visit us!! We'll be home for a visit in August and hopefully somewhere warm over Christmas (Phillipines? Malaysia?). Otherwise, we're happy to host folks!
  • We're going to South Korea for 10 days at the end of March over our Spring break. We'll be in Seoul and Busan - looking forward to some big city time with cheaper prices than Japan.
  • We've been making and eating tempeh croquettes, Persian borani dip, homemade pita bread, truffles, Swedish pancakes and more!
  • Our last couchsurfers told us about which has free shipping worldwide. As a test, we ordered a book of Yayoi Kusama's work and Remainder by Tom McCarthy.
  • This week we are missing 1) listening to music while driving, 2) the library, 3) rice other than sushi rice, 4) our friends from home.
  • We are loving the song "Marathon" by a band called Tennis. Do yourself a solid and give it a listen.
  • We'll leave you with a few pictures of tanuki, which are Japanese raccoon dogs. They're common in Shinto mythology and known to be "mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded." Also, they are usually depicted with huge testicles.

If they sound familiar, you may recall them from Super Mario Brothers 3.

Here are some real tanuki(s?):

Sunday, February 20, 2011

John's ikebana and Josie's pretzels

John tried his hand at ikebana (Japanese flower arranging).

Josie made homemade soft pretzels using this recipe.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guide to Free Online Yoga

When people find out I do online yoga classes, they often ask me for the details. I actually took an 8 week community ed yoga class here last fall. It was pretty good, but I didn't understand much of what the teacher said and it was pretty basic for me. So, I've been doing yoga at home sometimes with a video and sometimes without. There's no true substitute for a live class, but they can be helpful if you're an expat, can't afford classes, are snowed in, etc.

So, here are my sources for free online yoga. They are in no particular order and the quality varies considerably. If you know of more, please leave a comment - I'd love to add to this list! 20 minute video and audio podcasts you can download or stream for free. A 1/2 dozen or so free full length classes Once you create a login, you can do their new free class every week. You can download or stream 20-30 minutes of class video/audio for free. Free 15 day trial. Disclosure - I haven't done this and it says "limited access". Have to create a login, many classes/pose demonstrations, most pretty short. 10 day free trial of 9 videos.

Most of these sites want you to either pay for individual classes or purchase a subscription, which I plan to do once I figure out which I like the best.

Abandoned ski slope

Last weekend we headed up to a closed ski hill in our town with some friends.

This is the one we sledded down together last year in a child size plastic sled. Josie still has a minor elbow injury from the inevitable brutal spill that ensued.

This year we did some less hazardous sledding and had a snow picnic (cheese fondue!) near these abandoned buildings.

The snow is so powdery and nice here, not as heavy and icy as it is at home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Never thought we'd miss...brussel sprouts

But we do. They have them here, but they're expensive - over $3 for about 8 of them. So, for a Valentine's Day treat John carmelized them with onions, olive oil and butter.

He also made this tapenade we're crazy for these days.

I made a salad and dessert, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.

In Japan they celebrate Valentine's Day but the parameters are narrower. Women give men chocolate. That's it. The women have to wait a month for White Day (March 10) when men give the women chocolate (hopefully not the same box regifted). Since it's an invented, commercial holiday anyways, we do our own thing, as you can see.

Happy belated Valentine's! Sending lots of love to our family and friends who we miss dearly!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snowshoeing at Norikura

We are lucky to have some friends who organized an amazing day of snowshoeing at the Norikura Highlands.

There was a ton of new snow and it snowed all day.

There was a beautiful frozen waterfall.

We remembered how fun it is to play in the snow.

After about 6 hours of tramping along in the snow, we went to the most beautiful onsen we've experienced yet. It was an outdoor pool with milky water and the snow was falling. It felt like a quintessential Japan experience. To top it all off, John sat next to a guy sporting fantastic yakuza tattoos. (This is pretty much the equivalent of a geisha/maiko sighting.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

The ABCs - ANZAC biscuits, B-ball and Couchsurfers

I had been wanting to make these cookies for a while now.

They're ANZAC biscuits and I used this recipe. I knew what ANZAC day was already. I once arrived in Istanbul around 11pm with no hostel booked with my cousin Ben. The backpacker district was teeming with partying Aussies and Kiwis. After Mary and Joseph-ing around to a few hostels we found one with a free room, right under the dance floor. ANZAC day commemorates the landing of New Zealand and Australian troops at the Gallipoli Peninsula. Over 8,000 soldiers died on the ANZAC side and over 18,000 were injured. I've always felt it a bit odd though; American 20 somethings don't go to Normandy to drink and dance in memory of D-Day, but hey - Aussies and Kiwis are known for being fun lovers. Anyways, ANZAC biscuits were supposedly sent along with the troops because they don't spoil easily. I like them because they remind me of Hobnobs, these fabulous cookie/crackers I used to eat when I lived in Spain - until I found out they were made with "grasa animal" (not vegetarian!). I wanted to make these because my friend from New Zealand left me with her golden syrup when she moved back home. Golden syrup is a pale treacle; they use it instead of molasses, but it's more like honey or corn syrup. These are the easiest cookies to make and really yummy.

Last week I (Josie) was in the teachers' basketball tournament again. In practice earlier in the week I jammed my finger pretty badly and haven't been able to get my wedding ring on since. The games themselves were pretty brutal and I'm riddled with bruises, ie - I'm pretty sure I bruised my ribs. I was the only woman playing at the supposedly co-ed tournament although I did get 3 points when I scored and 3 free throws when I was fouled. This confused me greatly at the time - I was wondering if it was a technical foul because it didn't occur to me that I'd get special treatment. I was taller than most of the guys after all :)

We were back at it last weekend - hosting couchsurfers. This time it was a Texan-Israeli and a Parisian-Israeli. They are on an epic 4 month trip that we got to ask lots of questions about - Thailand, China, Australia, and the exotic New Caledonia!! We're idiots and forgot to take pictures of these two and the awesome food they made us. Luckily, they blogged about it at their site. We'll say it again; couchsurfing is the coolest.

A while back we found ourselves killing time before a train by wandering in a Japanese mall. We found perhaps the creepiest mannequins ever.

I (Josie again) recently discovered style blogs, which tend to bum me out. I'm so sick of the few faded, stretched out, sad clothes I have here. I had to laugh when I discovered this 30 for 30 challenge to take 30 items from your wardrobe and mix them up every day for 30 days. I'm doing this with like 10 items, but I assure you, it's nothing to blog about. It's what's warmest and I wear my coat over everything at school every day anyways. Meanwhile John's fashionista bargain shopping sister brought him basically a whole new wardrobe at Christmas, lucky duck.

We finally got some real snow in Shimosuwa. Usually we just get a dusting that melts in the same day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our adult ESL class and why we love it

Since last fall we've been teaching an adult English class. We have to say, it's the most fun you can have in our town on a weeknight. We are getting paid to speak our own language with really sweet folks from our town who are willing to try to speak English. We could gush about each and every student, but we'll just highlight a few.

1) We'll call him T - he's a salaryman with a cute stutter. He LOVES baseball and has been to nearly every stadium in the US. That includes the old Yankee Stadium. He's also been to most Japanese stadiums. It was a travel English class but the only travel T does is baseball travel. So, he's been to exotic locales like Cleveland and most of his English skills are related to baseball and hot dogs. How cool is that?

2) We'll call her Y - she wears her hair in a little bun and looks like a Japanese grandma, but she doesn't have any children and has amazing stories. She learned English from listening over and over to language tapes. She's 70 years old and 30 years ago she did a homestay in Milwaukee (yes, at age 40!). She's also swam in the Dead Sea, twice! She joined our class because her niece was getting married in Singapore but was really bummed out that they're now having a ceremony in Japan and she doesn't get to go there anymore. Love her.

We also have a mother/daughter combo. The daughter is in high school and dresses like a gothic lolita. The mom runs marathons. They're going to London this spring so mom can run the marathon and daughter can shop - how cool is that? Ok, we could go on and on, but the point is they're all really great. And they asked us to do another 10 classes for them! We're going to have a hanami party this Spring and everything!

This English class has helped us really experience the whole Japanese group "wa" thing firsthand. What's "wa"? Here's one article about it. There's a wa factor at school, but with a small group like this (we only have 7 students), it's really pronounced. There's a trust level and an openness in our little community center room that is really nice. They're willing to try the activities we propose and everyone's laughing, making mistakes and supporting each other. Also, consensus comes almost naturally which makes things easy for us.

We love our junior high kids, but we were missing working with adults. We volunteered at the Minnesota Literacy Council before we left where we each taught an amazing class of immigrant students from all over the world. We highly recommend the MLC if you're in the Twin Cities and looking for a volunteer gig.

And please don't tell our students we'd probably teach them for free!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remembering Bali

Not that we can really complain this morning, (it was 41 degrees F in our house instead of the usual 35), but we're pretty tired of being cold. It's made us want to look back at our Bali pictures and remember what it was like to wear swim suits (instead of 3 sweatshirts, leggings, leg warmers, pants, double socks, etc.) and be near the ocean. Here are some videos and pictures we never posted back in August. (Sorry if there are any inadvertent repeats.) Our friends and family in Minnesota are really freezing these days. So, we hope these help you think warm thoughts!

The place we stayed the first few nights.

We took a loud boat ride early one morning in Lovina and saw tons of dolphins.

Daily offerings to the gods

Balinese dance

The older gentleman in the middle of the front row was our favorite.

Top of Mt. Batur.


Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud

Guesthouse in Ubud

Coral beach, Gili Trawangan

Legian beach