Sunday, January 30, 2011

What mine frostbitten hands hath filmed.

Took a trip to snow-blanketed Shimoda Park near where I live last week during the height of winter here in Aomori, and came back with some great views and fun footage.

The iced over lake at Shimoda Park.
Wandering through the wooded hills rimming the lake.
The characters and events depicted in the following film are real and true, though the actions partaken therein may have only a passing resemblance to anything interesting or illuminating to all those other than the parties involved. Proceed at your own risk! :p

Yukidaruma on duty.
The most fun I've had bird-watching, like … ever!

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to harness the Wright tenor during the holidays.

I had the privilege of joining a local choir at my supervisor's church this Christmas, and flattered that they wanted me to perform with them. It was a very calming, centering experience, and while I'm much more a slap-happy crooner than any kind of well-tuned singer, I'd have no worries about doing it again!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Aussified Christmas—Blimey!

More from my Christmas/New Year's in Roo Land!

Much of our time was spent either at the beach or very nearby. My sun-deprived flesh certainly needed it! (I've never seen my fingernails grow so fast in so short a time!)
The ocean provides many bounties, but I doubt seaweed makes for a great shawl.
Time to get ready for a swim!
It's very important to follow the rules. (What I want to know is: how do you hover 1-inch over the rim like that? Kegels? Scientology?)
Downtown Sydney with the harbor ferries docked in the foreground.
Sydney's Harbor Bridge
A boat!
Look, a boat!
Really, it's a boat!
At the Opera House
SPOILER ALERT: Bet you thought it was all one building!
"What say we take a dip?"
"Okay, fine. Nap time!"
Next, we went to Sydney's Botanical Gardens.
The plant life in Australia, even just Sydney, held great variety. These two trees really struck home in that regard: one, large and round with pale yellow buds on the leaves, and the other, tall and narrow with dark green, spiky foliage; right next to each other!
Who'd a thunk it?! Egyptians in Australia.
A notable landmark: Center Point Tower.
Prince Albert (on a pedestal ;)
An amazing coastline, Stanwell Tops, south of Cronulla.
No. That's not a moth on a wall. It's not a boomerang in flight. That's some high-flying hang-gliding for ya!
And some … parachuters? Parachuteers? Parachutists?
How about one more beach? This one at Shoalhaven Heads near Merilyn's Mum's old summer home.
Wendy and I work the barbie in expert Australian fashion!

Next time, we'll break away from the city sights and see some of Sydney's wild side!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Aussified Christmas - G'day!

Nope. I wasn't turned into bone this holiday season, but I did spend my first Christmas away from home, and in a clime untouched by Winter, in Sydney for one week recently. And boy, would I have liked to have stayed longer!

Family friends of ours, thanks to the long-lasting pen-pal-model-for-the-world relationship that my mother and Merilyn, hostess during my stay, have maintained for the last 18 years, helped to make the trip very memorable. Merilyn and her super-friendly children who are now adults, Wendy and Scott, had briefly lived in the U.S. all those years ago when we first met, but I had never truly known them. Now, I feel like I have three very solid friends in them, and got to tour wonderful Sydney during my vacation to boot!

One of the first things I was struck by upon arrival was how cloudy the sky was. Cloudy and yet still beautiful. The Australian sun is very powerful. You can easily get a sunburn on a cloudy day. And I did. And it was nice (mmm, Vitamin-D)!
My first bite of Australian food. A heart-stopping roll of bacon, eggs, and BBQ-sauce smothered sausage-y goodness! Dee-lish!
Here I am with Merilyn. She and her daughter, Wendy, make a good team, and they had the whole week planned out for me, down to tailor-made meals suited to my tastes (which Merilyn had found out through my mom). Smart lady! ;)
Wendy and I grin it up on the train en route to the city. :)
Here, Merilyn (center) stands with siblings Glenda (in the red), Heather (far right), and Barry (to the right of Merilyn), her mum (Dorothy, in the blue), newlywed husband Paul (to the left of Merilyn), and Glenda's husband, Bill (far left). It was with this great bunch that the kids and I spent Christmas morning, feasting on smoked salmon, crab, prawns, a luscious summer-time salad, and other delicious victuals; after which we exchanged gifts and enjoyed coffee, Christmas pudding, and ice cream!
The next day, we had a bona fide Australian barbecue overlooking the Port Hacking River—very picturesque. It was such a calm, scenic location, and the water there was as warm as the air.
An over-fed flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos observed our picnic from overhead.
It didn't take long for one to come nosing about for a hand-out.
And they certainly weren't shy once they realized what was being offered. Mmm...Doritos!
FACT: Australia has tons of great rock formations to crawl over and gaze from. FACT: I'm wearing a bitchin' Australian flag beach towel and cap I got for Christmas. FACT: The rock moved not at all, despite the fact that I was wearing the perfect shoes for such heroics. :p
Sun setting on a beach in the bay near Cronulla, a suburb of Syndey.
Sunlight on the bay at the end of the day.
We took a cruise through the harbor on Boxing Day, leaving downtown Sydney behind us as we set out for the heights around Manly Cove.
The cape through which British ships first sailed to reach the lands that would some day become Sydney. The north headlands are on the left, the south headlands on the right.
A view from the heights at Manly Cove overlooking the bay and the city beyond.
Me catching a little R&R while enjoying the view.
The view of Sydney from the ferry.

Next time we'll delve deeper into the city itself as the clouds pull back and yield a sunlit end to 2010!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Very Japanese New Year (and then some)!

Saturday, December 18th saw several local ALT friends and I along with about ten other Japanese guests of the host and their children gather at Tamakawa-sensei's house (a school counselor and "mother hen") for a pleasant afternoon celebrating the New Year early. Here's what happened!

Taka (a fellow ALT in Shichinohe) and I mug for the camera as we do a number on a bowl full of crushed walnuts—one of the perfect toppings we would eventually dunk our mochi into.
Meanwhile, Tom (a new ALT in Noheji) tries his hand at "pinning the facial features on the head" game. Nice, Tom! On the nose! Hey, if the whole physics thing doesn't work out for you, you might have a future in plastic surgery! (Yeesh~)
Here I reenter the mallet-wielding world of mochi-making as I continue in my never-ending quest to scrunch as much mochi as humanly possible! (Or, at least, enough to fill a dozen hungry stomachs~;) Our lovely host, Tamakawa-san, gazes down at my handiwork.
After you have "successfully" scrunched the rice clump into a suitable rice mound, you begin the pounding process. Tamakawa-san begins to reconsider her choice in allowing me first honors as the rice leaps from the bowl with each stroke, as if fearing for its safety.
Tamakawa-san and I develop a perfect tandem as she rolls the rice into position between each hammer stroke, and I begin to shout, "Kiai!" to punctuate the rhythm. The (fake) dog in the background is thunderstruck at our nirvana-inducing teamwork.
Tom gives it a go while I take a breather. Rianna and Hayashi-san lean out of the way behind him.
No Tom! Bad! Bad, Tom. ;)

Check out the action via a short clip. I give you, Tom the Lumberjack:

Mary (an ALT in Towada) is one bad mama jama! You go, girl!
Tanosaki-sensei, a JTE and fast becoming a good friend, steps in to scrunch out any lingering clumps.
The mochi-pounding at last finished, we sit down in the foyer to pinch off doughy bits of the stuff, rolling it in flour and setting each aside for eating later.
O-shogatsu ryouri (New Year's meal—an assortment of lightly seasoned vegetables, fruit, sauces, and ozouni centered around the use of mochi, taken to promote good health in the coming year).
Later, we all gathered at the nearby Kinoshita Shrine to attend a special New Year's service put on by the Zen-Buddhist priest there. Pictures weren't allowed inside, but I got to lead the group in the ritual placement of a branch of leaves on a table before the shrine's sacred vestments, then in a sequence of ritual claps. (I'm a good clapper.) I was a little nervous, but it was really no sweat.
Next, we wrote our names on the back of a wooden talisman that contained a list of our aspirations for the New Year.  I hung the talisman outside on a double-sided board with similar ones like it.
Here's the front.
The newlywed Ooyanagis, Japanese friends of mine, joined us that day, too. Aww, what a cute couple!
"All Ice is Blueland." (This is a shot I snapped in Towada a couple days after the New Year's get-together.)  Weirdly cool!

And here's a little video sumpin'-sumpin' I took neighboring the same scene above:

Lastly, these are some of the ~140 Christmas cards I put together for my year 6 students at Kinoshita Elementary. Each is adorned with pudgy, flexible stickers of various country flags, food and/or candy, and Christmas ornaments arranged in the shape of Japanese kana and letters of the alphabet. I signed each and wrote "Merry Christmas" on them to help celebrate the season.
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!