Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Subtropical Christmas Part 2: Food!

(If you are receiving this in email form and don't want to receive it anymore, please let me know. I promise not to be offended. :))

This next installment of the Christmas Party story is about the food. We had SO much food! We were eating leftovers for DAYS! I still have some stuffing left!!

I can't type much because of a small fingertip injury, so I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

Amazing cake by MaryAnne.

Japanese Christmas cake from one of my coworkers. They love to eat cake on Christmas. :)
Cocoa with marshmallows and candy canes! Aren't these jars sweet?
Green salad by An Yang.
Cheese platter by Max.
Cookies by Julie (who also made yams, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and more!

Gingerbread house! (Group effort. Mostly An Yang's creation. :D)

And the turkey!! Now this one I have to talk about a bit more. This was my first attempt at making a turkey (which I bought frozen from Costco), and I was so happy with the turnout! Sarra coached me through the preparation process where we removed all the nasty insides and then coated the thing in butter and fresh thyme and rosemary. Then we baked him (we named him Takumi the Turkey) until he was crispy, juicy, tender, and incredible. We had to borrow a confection oven from Julie, and it worked out perfectly.

I can't believe my turkey turned out so well! I already told my mom that I would make the turkey at home from now on. ;)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Subtropical Christmas Part 1: Decorations

There are so many exciting things happening that I can't keep my blog up-to-date! Hooray for happy business. ;) But, I want to share some of these joyous occasions with you, my dear friends and family, so I will do my best.

First, I must tell you all about my Christmas party! Back in November, a few of us JETs were talking about Christmas and who would be left behind and we decided to pull together a little shindig. Well, this little shindig evolved into quite the extravaganza so I have to tell you about it in parts. So, here is Part 1: Decorations.

One of my favorite things about Japan is the hiyakuen (100 yen) stores. They are roughly equivalent to dollar stores in the states. This is where I bought the vast majority of my Christmas decorations. Such as this little reindeer stocking.

I also like this photo because it nicely displays the awesomeness of my new camera lens. See how the reindeer is (mostly) in focus but the tree and background and lovely and fuzzy? That is thanks to my shiny new 5omm lens. It makes my heart happy.
I bought this Merry Xmas thingy at the 100 yen store, too. It is actually a large gift bag, but I thought the Santa Clauses were too adorable so I used it as wall decor. This greatly confused one of my Japanese guests, but it's how I roll.
This is my kitchen tree. It is decorated according to the red and green color scheme. :) Yes, I color-coordinated my rooms. ;)

Here are more decorations from my red and green room: 3D snowflakes and paper chains. Both were made with help from my students. :) A very fun class.

We used them to decorate the classroom and then I brought what was left over to use for the party. Convenient recycling. :)
This is the tree for my blue and silver room (living room). You can also see my cozy fireplace. It crackled and everything! It only emitted the tiniest bit of heat though. ;P

Here's a tiny snowflake from the blue and silver room. I hung it on the light switch and people thought it was so clever. =P
Sorry for the blur.

In this picture you see the centerpieces for one of the tables. You may be confused because it is a mixture of blue & silver and green & red.

That is because these tables were in my bedroom, which was a fusion of the other two rooms' color schemes. :) Ridiculous, huh?
These tables are really low to the ground (about coffee table height) because that is the preferred dining style here in Japan. Everyone sits on the floor! More about that later. :)

My family sent me a wonderful care package which also contained some decorations:
beautiful silver stars (including the tiny ones you can see in the centerpiece photo)

and a nativity. Apparently the globe part is supposed to hang over the Jerusalem part, but I didn't find the wire for it. Oops. ;P

As I mentioned before, I decided to use candles instead of Christmas lights, and I think they worked really well. They made the apartment so cozy on such a blustery, rainy day, and I think they were kinda classy. :)
Finally, I found some fresh holly at the Max Value grocery store here, and picked it up at the last minute for about 300 yen ($3). It made a gorgeous centerpiece for the food table in the red & green room. :D

Decorating my apartment was a long, drawn-out process, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I am glad I didn't wait until the last minute to decorate, but took my time and did everything gradually. It would have been much more stressful to try and decorate while getting everything else ready!

Well, I hope this blog didn't bore you, but I wanted to share the details because that is where I poured a lot of my energy. Keep your eyes open for Part 2 when I find the time to post again!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

more thoughts than words

I'm too young to be a teacher. When my student's are giggling and drawing in class, I just want to join them. ;)

 I am nervous about hosting Christmas lunch at my apartment and really, really excited. I get to share my favorite holiday with so many people who have never experienced it and a lot of people who will be fighting homesickness like me. I want my home to be a haven of happiness for fellow JETs and Japanese Teachers alike. 

My friend Shoshana will be here in a week and a half and I want to cartwheel with excitement. I never could cartwheel. I was the shame of my junior high cheerleading squad. 

I don't have any Christmas lights so I am going to light candles instead. Innovation. :P

My house is cold, but I am stubborn. This is Okinawa, and I am not ready for it to be cold. Therefore, it isn't.  See, delusions work great!

I drink cocoa every night to take the edge off. Ha ha!

oOOOh update on my car! The garage that is loaning me this current car and scrapping my old one said that they would like me to buy the car I am borrowing. Yay! It will only be about $800 but I also need to pay for new tires. So, I will continue to be dead broke for awhile, but I will be free to drive this car around with a clear conscience! :D It is an ugly little clunker, but it is familiar and comfortable now. :) 

Speaking of being broke, is it pay day yet? I am so glad that Thatcher bought a giant bag of rice when he was here, but I am getting sick of eating rice and eggs every night. :P Now I know better than to take a trip and buy a laptop on the same paycheck. Whoops!

Teaching is so enlivening! I wish I could teach more classes every day. It is the down time in between classes that exhausts me. Well, that and lesson planning. Eek. 

My English is degenerating more every day. I am shocked that I remembered the word degenerating, but I am not certain I used it right... er,  correctly.  

Every time somebody goes out of their way to speak English, I feel so blessed and thankful. I will forever be in awe of people from other countries who can function in America where people can be so unobliging.

Mrs. Over-committer needs more outlets for her energy. I need at least one choir, some sort of leadership position, and more dancing. Minimum. ;)

Okay that's enough scattered thoughts for today. :) Thanks for tuning in!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Restless Boredom of Indecision: Cured

When the clock stuck the appropriate hour, I began to gather my books and laptop and to take my leave of the other teachers. But then, as I slung my bag over my shoulder and reached for my cardigan, I hesitated. A terrible feeling began to take shape, a feeling which I can only describe as the restless boredom of indecision. 

This feeling strikes rarely--usually when I'm faced with a night with no real plans and too many possibilities. A night like tonight. 

So, as I stood, suspended over my cluttered desk like a demented hot air balloon, I weighed my options:
-Stay: Sit at the desk, type around the internet, rearrange my desk for the millionth time.
-Join a club: It's fun to hang around with the students after school and join the dance club or volleyball club, but I just wasn't feeling it. I've been spending a lot of evenings at work lately. 
-Home: Lonely, dark, and quiet home. With dirty dishes.

-Other? Here loomed endless possibilities of entertainment, friends I could visit, adventures I could take, but none of them concrete enough to act upon in my state of preemptive boredom. 

However, one glance outside made my mind up for me.  

Seconds later I was in the car, windows down, and winding my way along the coast. Warm, sunny, sparkling, ocean. Oh yeah. 

When I got to my favorite beach I suited up in my running gear and took off down the beach. After a few steps, however, I stopped. Not because I was out of breath, but because this sight took my breath away:

I slowed my pace numerous times as I strode down the beach to take in the deepening shades of color.Of course I left my camera at home, and my cellphone camera really doesn't do justice, but this was one of the loveliest sunsets I've seen. The clouds added dimension, the ocean water reflected the colors brilliantly, and there were even some jets leaving their golden streams through the sun. Gorgeous. 

I even found some leaves to crunch! Quite the rarity here in the subtropics.

This was technically before I changed into running clothes, but look! You can see my new shoes! :)

All of these factors--the run, the sun, the leaves--made me giddy and I decided to reward myself with a seaweed salad at the best little cafe in Okinawa. 

They decorated for Christmas. 
A sweet little kitty greeted me at the door 

And bid me goodnight. 
After that little adventure I was happy to go back to my cozy, quiet apartment. It's funny how perspective can change so easily. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fukuoka Day 1: Dazaifu Temple and Ramon

Ruth and Julie at Dazaifu Temple

As many of you know, I recently traveled to 
Fukuoka, a prefecture of Japan located in the region of  Kyushu.

After a short, sleepy flight, I and two friends--Julie and Ruth--arrived in Fukuoka City on Saturday morning and took the metro to our hotel. 
We attempted to check in but found out we couldn't until later. So, after dropping our bags in the lobby, we popped into Starbucks ...

...and hopped right back on the metro toward our first destination: Dazaifu Temple. We transfered from the local metro to the express train and then to another local train, and we were there before we knew it! 

One thing you should know about Fukuoka is that, though it is on the southernmost of Japan's main island, it is significantly north of Okinawa and consequentially freezing! It didn't take long for our Subtropically-spoiled bodies to smart at the brisk wind, and we were soon rushing off to buy scarves, gloves, and even earmuffs! 

Okay, I admit that the earmuffs were a little overkill, but I had a cold. Besides, they're cute. ;)

The street between the train station and the temple is lined with the cutest tourist shops and restaurants. 
This is where I bought my gloves/ear muffs and where Ruth bought her scarf. :) 

As we approached the temple, we saw this cow which is apparently lucky. 
When she saw this picture, my mom pointed out the similarities to the golden calf... I assured her that we only posed with it, we didn't worship it. :P

After crossing over a beautiful bridge, we bought some fish food to feed the carp. 
It is strange how much fun it can be to watch fish eat. Quite strange. 
nom, nom, nom
Before we passed through the final gates into the temple courtyard, we washed our hands in a lovely basin. 
The water was freezing. 

Finally we came to the temple. Dazaifu  temple is the most famous in Fukuoka prefecture. It wasn't as large or impressive as some of the temples I've seen, but it was surrounded by picturesque ponds and trees, and many people who had come to worship. 

I really enjoyed seeing the young girls and boys dressed in kimono.
I don't fully understand the tradition, but Julie said that they come on certain birthdays
to be blessed by the temple's priest. I just thought they were adorable. :)

Finally, we each bought a small fortune paper for the year. 
I've been meaning to ask one of my coworkers what it means, but I keep forgetting. :P It was just fun to tie it up and take a picture. 
Mine is in the middle surrounded by Ruth's and Julie's. 

Apparently, the temple staff burn the fortunes at some point so that all of the good things in the fortune come true and all the bad things burn away. Or something like that. ;)

On the way out, we stopped to watch the trained monkey. 
But he looked so sad, and he was wearing a diaper. So we left. 

On the way back to the train we stopped to sample the famous cakes and some hot green tea and to warm our toes for a bit. 
Warm and delicious. Yum. 

After another train ride we were back in the city and enjoying some delicious Fukuoka ramon. 
I enjoyed the spicy Karaka-men. mmmmmmmmmm

We finished the day with a shopping marathon and I managed to make only one purchase: a baby blue sweater from the Gap. By the end of the day I was exhausted and chilled to the bone. I didn't think I would ever leave that hotel bed again... but then came The Second Day. 

To Be Continued.