Friday, December 28, 2012

December 28, 2012

Happy Birthday to me!  I'm going to celebrate today by going to visit Mom.  I think I'll bring her a cupcake and we can share it.

Then I'm attending a tea party at the home of one of the tea-sters.  I'm in a meetup group for people who like tea.  She's going to serve lunch, too.  I've only attended one of their meetups before but they were very friendly.

From there I'll go shopping to buy myself a birthday present.

Andy and I are going out to dinner tonight.

It should be a fun day.

I have been on holiday break.  I return to work the day after New Year's.  For the past 2 days I've stayed in my studio cleaning and making stuff.  My kitty, Stella has been so happy that I'm at home.  I've made a couple of necklaces.  I bought a scarf pattern from Saf-t Patterns and made up a couple.  I tried making one without a pattern.  It was okay.  Then I just gave in and paid the $4 for the online pattern.  It was worth it.  The pattern is very well written.

My studio is so full.  Besides my sewing machines, cutting tables and fabric I have yarns and needles, jewelry making supplies, doll and dollhouse making stuff, drawing pads, flower arranging supplies, pictures for decoupage, along with books and magazines on these subjects.  I'm thinning down the jewelry making items.  I was going to give up my doll things but then I thought "what if I have a granddaughter?"

Everything is well organized until I start a project.  Then I go through my supplies looking for things and make a huge mess..

Oh well.  I know that I am very lucky to have hobbies.  Making things is a great stress reliever.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 17, 2012: Green Soup

I read an article about Green Soup in this month's Reader's Digest.  It got my attention because I am trying to eat better and I like soup.

Also, the recipe calls for the soup to be pureed.  I like plain soup - no floaters.  Usually that means high fat chowders or bisques. So, I decided to try it.

Here is the recipe that I used.  It was inspired by the Reader's Digest article which called for chard and just vegetable broth.  I used what I could find at the grocery store today.  Luckily the store had arborio rice.  That's an important ingredient that gives the soup body and some creaminess.

Joanne’s Green Soup

inspired by a recipe by Anna Thomas (“Eating Well”)
This is how made my first batch on 12-17-2012.

To make ahead: Prepare through Step 4 (omitting the lemon), cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Season with lemon just before serving.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 32 oz can of vegetable broth
  • 1 32 oz can of chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup arborio rice
  • 2 large handfuls of other greens - I used mustard greens. But you could use kale, chard or other greens.
  • 1 lb bag of gently packed spinach any tough stems trimmed
  • Big pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are mushy and have a deep caramel color, 25 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the vegetable broth and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a soup pot or Dutch oven; add rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Coarsely chop the greens and spinach.
3. When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, stir in the greens. Return to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes. When the onions are caramelized, stir a little of the simmering liquid into them; add them to the rice along with the spinach, chicken broth and cayenne. Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender but still bright green, about 15 minutes more.
4. Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 16, 2012

Yesterday I went to visit Mom.  Then I went to Fuddruckers to get a hamburger - figured I need to eat something substantial occasionally.

It took so long to get the burger that I stuck it in my purse so I could eat it in the movie theater.  I watched Skyfall - a James Bond movie.  It's the first James Bond movie that I have seen without Jim in 15 years.

It's not too bad going to movies alone but I'm going to have to practice going to restaurants alone or I'll have to start cooking myself decent meals.

Today I met Andy at the Edwards theater on I-10.  We had lunch at Cafe Adobe and then we went to watch The Hobbit.  The Hobbit had some boring bits but mostly it was pretty good.

The area has changed a lot since I was there last.  The covered mall part is gone.  Now there is a satellite police station.  Dave and Buster's (used to be Jillian's) is still there.  After the movie Andy and I played skee-ball and whack-a-mole.  It's been a long time since I've played games like that, too.

So, I did well this weekend.  I went out and enjoyed myself.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

I wish I could have stayed in Japan with Kevin and his family.  I felt loved and appreciated there.  I hope to return for cherry blossom season.  Pink, pink, everywhere!

Monday, November 26, 2012

November 27, 2012: Sayonnara, Japan!

November 26, 2012

Today is my last whole day in Japan.  I slept until 11 AM this morning.  Guess I needed it.  I didn't sleep very well in Fuji.

Traveling anywhere around Tokyo is exhausting.  The train stations are huge and there are SO many people.  I will have to have several days to rest when I get back home to Houston.

I had planned to go back to the Daiso store today but it is raining too heavily.  I wanted to go into the Walmart store, too - just to check it out.

Instead I stayed in the apartment and wrote in my blog.  The blog functions to help me remember my experiences plus share them with my friends and family.

November 24, 2012

Today we left for a small town near Mount Fuji.  Kevin is running in first annual Fujisan Marathon tomorrow.

We had to do the usual bus and train transfers.  It took 2 - 3 hours to get there.  We stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel.  This was a huge cultural experience for me!

The train station was really crowded when we arrived and all the taxis had been taken.  Tomoko called the hotel and they came and picked us up.  That was great since it was around 30 degrees outside.
Kevin and I posed at the train station while we waited for our ride.

 We arrived at night so I couldn't see Mt Fuji yet.

The staff were very friendly and helpful at the hotel.  This is the entry way to our room where we left our shoes.  We used the red slippers that they supplied when we left the room. 

The room had a tatami floor.  There was a small table with 4 cushions on the floor beside it.  A lady made us some green tea.  Then we left for dinner.  Dinner and breakfast were included in the price of the room.  The hotel charged around $200 per person per night.

Kenny was just thrilled to wear his slippers.
We went into a dining room and our places were already set up with many of our dishes.  Kevin and Tomoko sat on cushions on the floor.  Kenny got a special little chair.  They made a concession for me being a foreigner (an old one, at that) and brought out a chair for me.  It was maybe 3 inches higher than Kenny's.
We were served a traditional Japanese dinner:  a large raw shrimp, raw tuna, hermit crab, sea urchin, mushroom with tofu soup plus many other dishes that were totally foreign to me.

 Tomoko enjoyed eating the delicacies that I didn't want.
After dinner we went back to the room.  Tomoko persuaded me to go with her to onsen, Japanese bath, in the hotel.  First we changed into the kimonos provided by the hotel.  The bath was on the fourth floor.  None of the other hotel guests were there.  Before entering the hot bath you are supposed to scrub yourself in the shower.  I scrubbed quickly so I could get the tub before Tomoko came in.  You have to be naked to get into the hot bath.
The bath was really hot.  I found an open window and sat next to that.  I saw Mt Fuji for the first time outlined by the moon.
Tomoko came into the tub and we soaked about 20 minutes or so.
Kevin and Kenny used the men's shower and bath.

When we got back to the room our futons were all set up for us.  I found sleeping on a futon on the tatami floor uncomfortable.  It was too hard for me.  But, I was very proud that I could get up from the floor using my new left knee.
We got up at 5:30 AM for breakfast.  We ate early so Kevin could be ready for the marathon.  Breakfast was weak green tea, salmon, miso soup, a soft boiled egg and other ?stuff.
This is the view from our room.

Kevin left for the starting line of the marathon.  Tomoko packed up their belongings and we stored our bags in the hotel lobby.
We missed seeing the start of the race.  There were 16,000 people running the full marathon and a bunch more running the half marathon.

The hotel drove us to the race headquarters.  We walked around the little town. We went to a little restaurant and had coffee and pancakes.  Then we shopped in the little souvenir shops.

The trees were beautiful around Mt Fuji in their bright fall colors. 

Kenny liked playing in the fallen leaves.

We found a place to watch the runners as they neared the finish line and got to see Kevin.  He finished the whole marathon in 3 hours and 47 minutes!

We met up with Kevin and went back to the hotel for our things.

  There were so many people who went to the marathon that the trains were very full so we took a bus back to Tokyo.  Traffic was horrible on the highway.  The trip took us over 4 hours but at least we had very comfortable seats on the bus.

November 23, 2012: Thanksgiving

Friday, the 25th is Japan's Thanksgiving day.  I helped Tomoko with the turkey.  She didn't know that the neck, liver, etc. were stuck in the turkey's cavity.  It grossed her out.

Kevin and Tomoko made the dinner themselves.  My role was only advisory.

 They just have a small oven so the turkey took a long time to cook.

 In the meanwhile we went on an excursion to a part of Tokyo that is old style Japan.  The streets were narrow and had traditional type decorations on the buildings.  Some of the stores opened right onto the street.  It was a great place for a shop-a-holic tourist.
 Kevin led us to a kimono shop where he had bought fabric gifts for me in the past.  There were loads of beautiful fabrics and trim.  I found a used haori jacket.  Haori are traditionally worn over kimonos.  This jacket actually fit me!  It's made from light coral wool fabric and only cost about $20.00.
Then we returned home to have our Thanksgiving dinner.  Kenny liked eating the turkey leg.

November 22, 2012: resting

Tomoko's Mom and I were supposed to go out shopping today.  We were both tired after our big day at Disneyland so we stayed at home.

Keiko made me a traditional dish from Osaka for lunch.  Kevin calls it a "cabbage pancake."  It reminded me of egg fu yung.  It was very good.
Keiko left at about 2 PM to take the bullet train back to Osaka.  The bullet train is very expensive but the trip would only take about 3 hours.

I walked down to the grocery store.  I was looking for some ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner.  I found some chicken soup mix, onions, oranges, bread.
Tomoko had already received the turkey through mail order.

November 21, 2012: Disneyland!

We left early for Disneyland this morning, around 8:30.  With all the bus and train transfers we arrived a bit after 10 AM.  The last train ride was nice and uncrowded.
I could see Skytree out the window.  It's in the center of this photo

Now that Kenny is walking, it's more difficult to take him on the train. 

 Kevin and Tomoko take turns entertaining him.
The train lets you off close to the park.
Disneyland was all decorated for Christmas.

Here is Kevin walking up to Cinderella's castle.

Kenny is posing with Tomoko and her Mom.  He loved Dumbo. 

I bought the Cheshire Cat hat and mittens (paws).  Kevin is wearing the Big Bad Wolf.
 We went on the Pirates of the Carribean ride.  It was a lot different than the last time I rode this in Florida (over 20 odd years ago).  The characters were made to look like the actors in the movie.  Jack Sparrow looked really cute.

We went to the Bears' Jamboree show.  It was just like I remembered it - except the bears were singing in Japanese.

The parades were spectacular.  The costumes reminded me of Cirque d'Soleil.

Kenny slept on the train ride home.  He was the only one with any energy left when we got back home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 20, 2012 evening

Tomoko's Mom came into Tokyo from Osaka this evening.  Tomoko and I met her at the bus and the three of us went to the daycare center to pick up Kenny.

The daycare center is in another apartment complex.  The workers are all young girls wearing these cute aprons.  When you enter the first thing you do is remove your shoes.  Kenny was in the group of one-year olds.  Kenny is the biggest baby there.  There are little tables and chairs, little sinks and little cubbyholes for their stuff.  Down the hall is a large bathroom with itty bitty toilets and urinals.  The babies start toilet training after they turn 2.

Kenny really enjoys his daycare.  They play games, eat snacks, take naps and learn skills such as removing their socks by themselves.

The next day the five of us are going to Tokyo Disneyland!!

November 20, 2012

I took the bus to Akebane station all by myself.  I caught the bus down the block from the condo - bus #25.  It was nice today - no crowds - I got a seat.  I took the bus to the final stop.  I'd been there before with Kevin and Tomoko.  But, it looked a lot different to me today.

I remembered passing by a Walmart before so I walked until I reached it.  I peeked inside the door and it didn't look at all like our Walmarts.  I decided I would go in later.  I went down a little street that was totally covered by an awning.  I stopped at a hat store.  The owner could not have been over 4 feet tall. She didn't seem to understand any English.  But, somehow I found and purchased a cute little hat.

I passed a stationary store.  In the window was one card for $12.00 so I didn't go in.  Then I came upon Daiso store.  It had a Christmas display with lots of pink trees - my kind of store.
I found all kinds of cute items and then saw an escalator going up.  So, on to the next floor - more cute stuff.  There were loads of pink items - kitchen utensils, plates, mugs, bags, flowers, etc. etc.
Then I went up another escalator.  Here there was craft type items, Japanese souvenirs, bento boxes.  All I had was a little hand basket so I picked up a pink backpack and started loading that up, too.

I couldn't carry anymore so I did not go up to the next floor.  I had to walk down the stairs (no down escalators) with all my stuff.  When I got back to the first floor I saw there was a basement level also.

I will have to go back again.  This time I will start on the highest floor and work down.  I guess I should bring my rolling carry on bag.  Everything in Japan is just so darned cute!

The bus to return home was in a different location.  I found it easily and returned to the condo.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 2012: the apartment

Kevin lives in a "mansion."  That's what they called condos here that have a locked entry way.  You have to insert a key into the box by the front door.
The name of the building "Ober Grandiouse Heart Island"
The name cracks me up.

There is a Christmas tree in the atrium.  On December 15th they are having a building Christmas party. Kevin is supposed to play Santa again this year.

You walk through the atrium to an outside covered walkway to the elevator.  The entrance to the apartment is on the outside walkway on the eighth floor.

The apartment is considered large for Tokyo.  There are 3 bedrooms, kitchen, toilet room, bathroom and tatami room.

The first room you enter is a step lower than the rest of the apartment.  This is where you leave your shoes.

The bathroom is great.  You first walk into the sink and vanity area.  Then there is a door for the shower room.  The whole room is your shower.  There's a drain in the floor.  This would be a good design for my house.  There would be no need to remodel the bathroom for wheelchair access.  There is also a Japanese style bathtub in the room with bars going across for laundry.  The tub is deeper than American bathtubs.

The toilet room has a small sink and the toilet.  
The toilet has the fancy Japanese toilet seat that is heated and has bidet functions.

 Kenny has his own bedroom.  There is a master bedroom with a good sized closet.

I'm using the master bedroom during my visit.

Kevin is using the third bedroom as a study.
The kitchen is a typical apartment size but has a lot more storage space.
The large family room includes the dining area.  The tatami room is visible in the background.  Futons are stored in the cabinets and brought out at bedtime.  Kevin and Tomoko prefer sleeping in the tatami room with Kenny.  Stowing the futons during the day frees up the space for other uses.

There is a covered balcony that is accessible through sliding glass doors in Kevin's study and the living room.  Lines for laundry extend the length of the balcony.

The Japanese conserve energy by drying laundry outside.
The river is visible from the balcony.  There is a fire station that also does training by the river.