Monday, September 01, 2008

Silent Auction of Japanese "Sweetness"

**We have a winner!** Thanks to carliches for a winning bid of $45! Carliches, please e-mail me at carolie (at) wordmagix (dot) com and attach a copy of your paypal donation receipt. We can discuss what kind of bento you'd like, and then I'll send out your Japanese goodies. Thank you all for participating! (And anyone interested in Japanese candy or bento, please feel free to e-mail, and I'd be happy to work something out for you -- no profit to me, of course!) Please check out other auctions, still going on, by visiting Design Mom's blog.

Every day, wonderful things happen on this planet. And every day, tragedies happen. We can't stop either one. But we often have the opportunity to make a difference, even if it's a small one. Here's a chance for me -- and by extension, a chance for you -- to make one small difference.

A small private plane crashed in Utah on August 16, 2008, seriously injuring a young married couple. They're both in the hospital (and will be for quite some time). Their four small children are with relatives for the moment. Their medical bills will be HUGE. You can read more about the Nie family
here. Click on the "about Nie" link on the banner to read what happened.

Here's the helping part. Across the Internet, auctions are being held to benefit the Nie family. For my silent auction contribution, I'm offering a Japanese "Sweetness" (and more!) package, shipped directly to you from Sasebo, Japan (click on each photo for a larger image.) Included in the package will be:

  • A small Hello Kitty plushie for a keychain or for hanging from a schoolbag or handbag -- she's dressed in a panda bear costume and holds a pink heart
  • Two boxes of Pocky (chocolate and strawberry-dipped cookie/pretzel sticks)
  • One box of Toppo (thin cookie sticks filled with green tea cheesecake cream)
  • Panda bear cookies with white and milk chocolate
  • A smll bottle of shoyu, aka soy sauce, especially for sashimi/sushi (this ain't Kikkoman's!)
  • A packe of toasted white sesame seeds, great for baking, or for grinding over noodles
  • A packet of toasted black sesame seeds, ditto
  • Spicy rice crackers with peanuts
  • Lychee hard candies (with a magic "cool" center!)
  • Green tea hard candies
  • Peach hard candies
  • A box of "do it yourself fondant", with four colored soft candies and a little wooden tool so you (or your kids) can make adorable shapes and squeal at all the cuteness before eating it all up (this is not a cake decorating kit, it's an interactive candy)
  • An oshibori (handcloth) to pack with any bento or lunchbox (moisten the cloth, tuck it in the little carrying case, use it to wipe hands before lunchtime -- much better for the environment than paper napkins or wet-wipes!)
  • The most darling little bear heads, used to protect and decorate cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, whatever you want to cute-i-fy in your lunch!
  • SPECIAL BONUS! I will select and include a small, two-tiered bento box, perfect for lunch for you or your child! The winning bidder will be able to choose from plain (green, pink, blue, silver, black, faux wood), decorated (bunnies, flowers, bees, etc.) or character (Dragonball-Z, Hello Kitty, Cinnamaroll, etc.)
  • Retail value of the package: approximately $40-60, depending on the bento box selected -- bidding to begin at $20
To quote DesignMom, who is heading up all this auction wonderfulness:

I'm hoping people are in a public radio mindset. Like when you hear the NPR commentators say: "pledge your membership of only $75.00 and we'll send you this canvas tote bag with our logo on it." You know the tote bag is worth maybe $5. But it's not about that. You're looking for a way to be generous and supportive. And the tote bag is just a bonus.

Please visit DesignMom's site for more auctions!

How this silent auction works:

  1. Please place your bid by leaving a comment with your bid amount in the comments section. Check the comments to see the most recent high bid.
  2. Following the close of the auction,
    • I will contact the winner (make sure your comment bid includes an e-mail address or link to your blog or some way to contact you).
    • The winner will pay the amount of their winning bid to the Stephanie and Christian PayPal account.
    • The winner will then forward the PayPal receipt to me at
    • I will send your package (I'll pay the postage!)
  3. Please bid in increments of whole dollars. The auction will end at midnight EST on Friday, September 5, 2008.
  4. Thank you for participating!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lighting the Way Home

Here is another vignette from our lives here in Japan. There is so much more to tell you, but not enough time to tell it in! More to come, of course. Please forgive the blurry photos, as I was dealing with the dark, and my camera was NOT behaving. (Of course, I felt flash photography would not be appropriate in the least!) As always, click on the photos for larger images.

Last summer, when we got back to Japan after Annette's funeral, my Japanese friend Miyuki felt it was imperative to take Fearless Husband to the Obon festival. She was very serious about it, and insisted that we join her. For three days every summer, the Japanese believe the spirits of family and friends who have passed on come to visit for a time, especially those who have departed in the past year. In other parts of Japan, Obon is in July, but in a few towns, Sasebo included, Obon is always in August.

Family members put out special sugar cakes molded into beautiful flower shapes, rice cakes, various fruits, and liquor for the visiting spirits. On the third night, there is a HUGE festival downtown. One particular part of the festival is specific to Nagasaki prefecture (of which we are a part) and is a tradition that comes from China. One may pay a token amount to purchase a paper lantern to honor the spirit of the deceased. The lanterns are square, and delicate, in white and yellow and pink with lotus flower blossoms and messages for world peace printed on them.

One buys a lantern, writes messages to the departed on the lantern (in past days, I'm sure elegant calligraphy brushes were used, but in this case, there was a multitude of Sharpies available). The lantern is handed to the first in a line of twelve Buddhist monk apprentices in black pants, white dress shirts and sober ties, lined up on a floating dock that juts out into the river. The apprentices pass the lantern down the line, and the last man in line carefully sets the lantern onto the river to float away to the nearby ocean, using a long pole to ensure they don't clump up, or drift back to shore. The view of hundreds and hundreds of flickering paper lanterns drifting down the winding river to the sea in the gathering darkness is both poignant and beautiful.

Miyuki purchased a lantern for Annette, as her tribute to the mother of her friend, and FH wrote messages to his mother before handing it to the acolytes to set adrift. We stood together, watching the lantern join hundreds of others on its journey to the sea, and I think we both felt a sense of closure within our sorrow. We watched until Annette's lantern was out of sight.

Many of the Japanese around us were dressed in traditional kimono, including the children. Others were in very casual clothes. There is sorrow, and some people and children are quietly crying as they prepare their lanterns...others are purchasing and eating street food like chicken skewers, squid-on-a-stick, roasted ears of corn, and snow-cones from the various vendors lined up along the riverside, and laughter drifts through the crowds. It's a celebration of both life and death, of honoring family, and of letting go. For many, it seems to bring closure -- a final goodbye.

After the lanterns are set afloat, people make their way to the main streets, to watch the "floats" go by. The floats are large platforms carried by teams of men and women in matching happi coats, with a roofed structure on top, and many large lanterns hanging under the roof. From what I understood at the time, most of the floats are specifically dedicated to the owners of various corporations who have passed away in the past year (or years?), and the bearers are workers from the companies. Glittering signs are carried on poles to escort each float, and Miyuki told us the signs specify the name of the company. She explained that years ago, the wealthy and powerful (the elite, the movers and shakers, etc.) were able to pay for such tribute, but now only corporations can afford to have the floats and bearers, signs and fireworks. Each float is carried (sometimes for miles) through the streets of Sasebo, to come together in a large municipal sports field next to the city library.

There, under brilliant floodlights (think night baseball game), each incredibly heavy platform is brought to the center, one at a time, and then jerked and turned and "danced" in circles as the teams shout and yell, firecrackers explode and columns of heavy smoke rise to the skies. This supposedly scares away any evil spirits who might be hanging around the spirit of the executive. The various teams vie to dance the fastest, shake their float the hardest, and make the most noise. A small but steady stream of townspeople come, each delivering a football-shaped straw package containing the various offerings (rice cakes, fruits, etc.) that have been sitting out for three days for the ancestral spirits. The pile of straw bundles grows and grows, to epic proportions as each family brings their offerings. These "footballs" will be burned in a HUGE bonfire after the event itself, to send the offerings up in smoke to heaven, carrying the offerings back to the spirit world.

As one enters the field, whether carrying a float, bearing a straw bundle, or just coming to see the spectacle, one may stop at a white tent canopy with roof and three walls, to pray. Under the canopy are many bouquets of flowers and various offerings, and a lovely statue of Buddha. Three priests kneel and bow, chanting and swaying without cease, and the public may pause outside the encircling fence to pray and to light incense and candles and place them in the sand-filled troughs on the fence top.

Though the entire thing was very foreign to our eyes, it was also very beautiful. There was a sense of kinship, of universal humanity as people recognized the inevitability of death, the pain of loss, the joy of living, and the hope of the world to come.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Teasing, But This Time From Taiwan

I am a terrible blogger, so busy having adventures that I'm not writing about them! I'm dreadfully behind, I know. But this time, I'm so full to the brim with the most amazing experiences, I will explode if I don't share them!

So...with a solemn promise of many, many words to come, here are a few photos from my current visit to Tainan, Taiwan. As usual, click on the image for a large version.

Fresh tropical fruit juices are made and sold at the open air fish market, just off the beach. The fruit that contains the seeds you see in the jugs has a Chinese name which means "fruit with the good-tasting aroma" -- and honestly, celestial ambrosia couldn't be better than this exquisitely perfumed drink!

When you walk down the alley of this little village outside of Tainan, you see racing pigeon coops, mango trees, shanties and sheds and motor scooters. Then, you come around the corner, and voila, there's the neighborhood Taoist temple. I've never seen anything quite so ornate.

My hosts insisted I try the little spiral-shelled crustaceans piled into plates at the same fish market, cooked with various degrees of spiciness. You pick up the shell, put it to your lips and suck twice, hard, with noise, to slurp out the little creature inside (yes, I ate it, and yes it was good -- but I chose the spiciest plate, so the hot chiles would help if I didn't like the creature's taste!)

More soon, I promise...

(And for those of you following news of Cyclone Nargis and the Myanmar victims, Fearless Husband's ship is finally leaving the area, after almost a month of waiting just offshore with water, food and other supplies. It's a shame that they have not been able to help, and the Sailors and Marines are disappointed not to have been of service. But the silver lining is that they are headed home!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Remembering, Honoring and Thanking Them

Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember all our fallen service men and women, those who have served, and those who serve today. I think it's even more than just thinking of them -- I think this is a day to be grateful, and to express that gratitude.

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, pacifist, peacenik. I abhor the violence of war. But I am quite conscious of the fact that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution that allow me to express these feelings are only possible through the sacrifice of those in the US Military. I am deeply grateful to those who have served our country, and to those in service right now.

If you'd asked me before I met Fearless Husband if I could see myself married to someone in the military, I would have fallen over laughing. But that was then, and this is now. This is for Fearless Husband.

Thank you for your service. For being an American Sailor, with all that entails.

Thank you for having the courage and the determination and the endurance to float around inside a big, hot, iron box in the middle of the ocean. For knowing that at any moment, you could be sent somewhere dangerous, or be in danger where you are, but doing it anyway. For putting up with the crap and the bureaucracy and the uniforms and the goobers who shouldn’t have been promoted, but were.

Thank you for following the rules, for standing tall, for barking out “yes, Chief!” and “yes, sir!” even those times when you must have felt like saying “up yours!” instead. For dealing with mountains of paperwork, even when you knew it would just mean more mountains of contradictory paperwork when someone changed the rules.

Thank you for being a leader, even when it just feels like thankless middle management. For taking care of your Junior Sailors regardless of their ingratitude and poor attitudes. For doing your best for them, even when you know that some of them will blow any opportunities you give them, and some of them will take all the credit for any advancements, but blame you for any setbacks. For caring enough to speak out and work against injustice and bigotry, even when it might harm your own career plans.

Thank you for giving your time, your thoughts, your energy, your courage, your dedication and your body in service to the United States of America.

You are appreciated.

And you are loved.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I'd Like to Thank the Academy...

Lookit what I got! I actually received the award for a post I wrote over two years ago about Japanese garbage collection and disposal, oddly enough. It wasn't even a post with photos.

I was shocked, and surprised, and all-out-of-proportion excited to receive this award...and grateful. Very grateful.

Do visit The Rising Blogger by clicking on the image, and check out some of the other recipents. I'm in awfully good company!

You like me! You really like me! (Hee hee hee, I couldn't resist!)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Just a Tease...

I know, I'm so far behind it seems that I'll never catch up. But -- I've taken notes and photos, and I have so much to share! I'll try to find some time to get my photos, notes and thoughts in order and put some content up here.

In the meantime, here's a little taste for you...a closeup of one of the many, many dishes served at the beautiful spring-themed kaiseki meal I attended with Fearless Husband, Dad, and The World's Best Stepmother.

Behold, a salmon, grapefruit, avocado and daikon salad topped with salmon roe and yes -- edible gold leaf. Almost too pretty to eat.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Suddenly the Internet Feels Like Summer Camp

Time for a break in our less-than-regularly-scheduled programming. I have a list of blogs I really enjoy reading -- a very long list. I couldn't possibly read them every day, although there are a few, like Mary's blog, that I check almost daily. However, I do eventually visit them all. Imagine my surprise to visit DaMomma's blog today and see my name! Seems my cousin Susie posted a meme on her blog, and tagged me...and tagged DaMomma, too.

The Internet is beginning to feel a little like summer camp. Here I am in Japan, and I discover from my friend in Massachusetts (who I've never met in person, but for whom I designed and typeset
DaBook) that my cousin in Wisconsin tagged me for a meme. Suddenly, we're not thousands of miles away from each's as if we're all in the same cabin, whispering and giggling after lights out.

So, without further ado (or any more parenthetical remarks), here's the meme, via Susie and DaMomma.

The Rules:
  • Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
  • Share five random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog.
    Share the five top places on your “want to see or want to see again” list.
  • Tag a minimum of five random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment in their blog.
The Meme:

  • I was tagged by SusieQ.
  • Five Random/Weird Facts About Me:
    • I was the wardrobe mistress for the Big Apple Circus and shared one of six "bunk rooms" in a semi-truck's trailer with a roommate. When one of us was standing, the other had to stay on her own bunk, as there wasn't room for two of us to stand at the same time.
    • I have really surprisingly straight teeth naturally, no braces. For most of my life, dentists and hygenists have assumed I had braces and have been very surprised when I've told them I haven't. Of course, now, at almost 42 years old, it seems that one of my front teeth has decided to turn sideways just in the past year or so, and I may have to get braces after all!
    • I don't particularly care for cake, just the frosting. If I could get away with it, I'd lick all the icing from cupcakes and leave the cake part.
    • The best New Year's Eve I've ever spent was the year I was part of the overnight team for Room in the Inn. Area churches take turns providing meals and shelter for the homeless during the colder months, and teams of volunteers work the various shifts (set-up, cooking, clean-up, laundry, spending the night with the guests, etc.) That evening, I was one of the two "spend-the-night" crew for our downtown church. I escorted three of our guests to the front lawn of the church for a cigarette break and to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. We watched the fireworks and the passing revelers, and talked for over an hour. I learned more that night about humanity, compassion, loss and grief than I'd ever known, just from talking to those three men. It was life changing.
    • When I was in first grade, our school was still being constructed. A group of us went to the newest girls' lavatory. Before we left, we knew we were supposed to wash our hands, but there was no soap dispenser. I saw a large tin of soft, gooey, brown stuff. "It's soft soap!" I told the other little girls. "Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder used in the little house on the prairie!" They all nodded, impressed with my knowledge, and we all lathered up. It wasn't soft soap -- it was that disgusting waterproof stuff used to make a water-tight seal when installing a toilet. Getting the gunk off was a nightmare, and to this day, if my family thinks I am making something up or guessing with no real knowledge, they'll roll their eyes and say "yeah, soft soap!"
  • Top five places I want to visit or visit again:
    • Greece
    • Prague
    • Peru
    • India
    • Space
  • Tag at least five friends:

Now I have an inexplicable desire to make a lanyard, or sing a song with hand gestures while sitting on a log by a campfire...