Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Idiot Lights.

As we gear up for Expat Assignment number 2, The Mister and I seem to find ourselves doing a lot of last-minute running around to see friends "one last time!" (even though these visits always seem to end with a promise of "don't worry, we'll make sure to get out here to see you one more time before we go!")  This is the bitter-sweet fun part of leaving on an assignment - we've got lots of fun things to talk about, and an excuse to make trips to see good friends, but we also don't really have a lot of time to share, and for many, even though we leave claiming we'll see them again before we ship out... I think everyone knows that it's unlikely.

On one recent trip, we were so rushed that morning to get out the door, and so rushed when we left our gathering a little late (we had to get The Mister back in time to get a good night's rest for a drill-weekend with the Navy), we really hadn't realized that we had used up a whole tank of gas until the idiot light dinged on.

How are you folks with the "idiot light?"  
Do you call it an "idiot light?"  
Tell me in the comments! 
Someone once told me they called it that because if you're stupid enough to let your gas get that low, particularly in winter, then you deserve more than to be called an idiot.  I just think it's a quirky fun name for the stupid thing.  Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it was The Mister who taught me that.  Hmm.

It wasn't until the Mister saw
my costume idea sketch
without any context that
I realized this might have
been a weird part of the
story to illustrate.
Back before meeting The Mister, as we all know, I was a school administrator, and so while I wasn't broke by any means, my salary wasn't the type of money flow which would lend me to cosplay Scrooge McDuck anytime soon (though how awesome would that costume be?  A top hat?  Sign me up).  And thus, it was a regular routine of mine to not fill up the gas in my car until that light came on.  I figured I had about 30 miles before it was truly empty after that light, and since most of my driving was in town, I was pretty safe.  What I'm really saying here is that I am lazy and used my pay scale as an excuse to not do a chore that would make me 5 minutes behind schedule for getting to the grocery store (what if someone got there ahead of me and bought all the Deluxe Tombstone Pizzas?!).

The Mister has a much, much different relationship with the idiot light.  I don't know what exactly his back-story is, but I know that he vehemently hates that light, and how dare someone treat their car with such poor respect to have it illuminate.  There were a few heated discussions at the beginning of our relationship on the subject. I conceded my apathetic point;  mostly because he's lovely enough to have put himself in charge of filling up the gas tanks when needed.

I didn't need to, but it's not like it was hard to find.
Everybody wins there, is what I'm saying... except when it's like -20 degrees out and he's filling up the gas at some random Mobil while I'm wandering around the convenience store oogling the lucky rabbit's feet and trucker hats with rude sayings that are part of the "gifts" section.  One day I will do a year's Christmas shopping in a gas station gift section.  It will be amazing.  You know you really always wanted the pink "real tree" camp keychain with "GURLZ RULE" written on it  in sparkly graffiti letters. Do I even need to look up a  picture of something like that?  You can picture it in your mind's eye.  I know you've seen something just like it at your local Shell.

Bah! Tangent!  But the point is we generally stop for gas somewhere around the quarter tank mark, and so on this particular trip when the light came on, we went from jamming out to the Frozen soundtrack to an instant level of silent panic and tension.  (I almost hate that Frozen's been in our car's CD player for almost 6 months on repeat, but then I duet to "Reindeers are Better Than People" with Mac and I forget my previous prejudices.)
We immediately found a gas station.  THE IDIOT LIGHT WAS ON AND WE COULD TAKE NO PRISONERS GETTING OUR CAR THE CARE IT SO DESPERATELY NEEDED.

Once we pulled up at the pump, we entered our usual routine of me getting out to mill around the tiny bottles of disgusting-smelling aftershave and ramen noodle varieties, while The Mister pumps gas.  Except I didn't make it to the store, because The Mister suggested that it was a good time to check the oil.

I don't know much of anything about cars.  I'm pretty sure we've covered that thoroughly before.  So while I realize this is super vapid of me, when he was all "Let's check the oil" I was all "yeah, you do that, I have day-old doughnut specials to check out."  Except then he was like "could you help me with that?"

Out of all other options of recourse to escape this task, I had to utter a phrase which I hate to utter: "I don't know how."

I don't say that in a "I like to pretend I know everything" sort of way, but more an "I don't like to admit that I'm dumber than the people around me" sort of way.

The Mister's lessons are a lot like the inner
workings of Allen's brain in the Casino.
I think it's partly The Mister's engineer brain.
There's a lot of information in there that
he just NEEDS to put out in the world, even if
a lot of it is tangental, and over my head.
Also, when I'm around The Mister, this is a phrase that is almost always followed by "Great!  I'll teach you!This makes me sounds like a super self-absorbed jerk.  And, guys, I get it.  I totally am a jerk in this instance.  Knowing this about myself doesn't always mean that it's something I'm working on fixing.  Sorry.
The Mister, when given the opportunity to share knowledge, gets REALLY EXCITED and is generally well-practiced at overwhelming me with information in the first 30 seconds of a lesson.  (One day I shall share the story of that one time The Mister tried to teach me how to shoot - you may note that I do not do guns as of yet.)  Pair that with my blissful ignorance status in all things car as the stereotypical girl who is more than happy to play a damsel in distress until someone comes along and fixes my car for me (I know, I know) and I wasn't like, jumping at the bit for this.

Plus, dearest husband, it is dark and cold and we just need to get home, couldn't a lesson wait for another time, like a time when you've had enough chance to completely forget you want to teach me how to check the oil?

"No, no, no, come on over here.  It'll just take a second."
Drat.
And so, I was shown how to pull out the little stick thing, wipe it off, re-dip it (twice, because apparently the first time lies!), and interpret the little stick thing's readings.  Wouldn't you know, the oil was low.

"Okay."  Was my response.
"GREAT! Now I can teach you how to put oil in the car!" Was The Mister's.

NooOoOoOoooooo.  It's still late and still dark and still cold and I'm dressed nicely to see our friends and I still haven't gotten to see what kinds of seasonal tic tacs this convenience store has.  The Mister asked me what I would do if he wasn't around.  I insisted I would utilize my feminine wiles to convince some other wayward stranger to help me fix my car.  It was not deemed an acceptable response.

And so, I was shown how to determine which type of oil the car takes, and how to find those in the store, and how to select which of all the oils that fit said type is the best selection for our car.  They had assorted jerked meats at the counter that I was instantly amused by, and so I grabbed the correct bottle of oil and headed to the counter.
"Wait, how are you gonna put that in the car?"
"...um... you're going to pour it in."
"What if I'm not around?"
"I stand by my previous feminine wiles statement.  Because I'm a survivor."
"Nope, you're going to use one of these handy paper funnels.  Come back and grab one."

And so (after a little help opening the pickle-jar-level-difficulty oil cap), I was instructed how to pour in the oil (double fun fact, 1. you don't have to shake the bottle of oil beforehand, and 2. it doesn't go down the same spout as the place where you pull out the little stick thing).  The cap was screwed back on, not quite as hard as last time, the hood was shut, and we clamored back into the nice, warm, now well-oiled car to continue our journey home.  Though I was cold, and without the amusement provided through perusing the selection of XXXL T-shirts featuring Bald Eagles wielding guns in their talons with the caption "'MURICA!," I was grateful for the experience.
I should have insisted we buy one as a commemorative souvenir
of that one time my husband made me check the oil.

"Husband?  Thank you for this boring, yet useful life lesson."

Are you lacking any conventionally common adult knowledge? 
How do you compensate for this?  
Feminine Wiles?  
Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yes we eat raw fish. Whole.

"What would you recommend?"
"...hmm. Will you eat raw fish?"
"Yes."
"Wait. But... You're American."
"We are indeed."
"Really?  Wow.  Well then, let's get ___."

We ate out every meal for a week, and we had this conversation at least once a day with our hosts or the wait staff of whatever restaurant visited while we were in Japan.  I love the idea that The Mister and I are "cultured" enough to buck cruddy American stereotypes, though I am disappointed that our country's inability to be adventurous precedes us.

"Cultured" I think in this instance is sort of a mash up.  The Mister and I don't spend our spare time trying to find the next new exciting food trend.  For the most part, we'd be perfectly happy to eat the same rotation of menu items each week (and when we're home in the states we always sort of get to that point).  It's rare either of us ever say "hey, you know what? let's try something new." Mostly,  our "cultured" is just an understanding we both have that if you pause too long to bother with what you're eating in a foreign country, then you are going to get really hungry, really quick, and you're going to miss out on the best damn food you've ever put in your face. And truly, our "rotation of go-to's" all came to us in just that way.

Great examples:
-Literally any type of meat you can put in a fresh-made tortilla and call a taco.  A baby goat?  The throat and tongue of a cow you say?  I would legit stab a man for just one more of those tacos.  (but like, a man who's already done something deserving of being stabbed... and not a mortal wound, just a nick.  But you get the point.)  ((haha, point, get it?  like the point on a knife?))   
-Sushi.  Specifically I'm a real big fan of eel and fatty tuna.  Have you ever seen a real eel?  I can't say if I would have stopped to think about it that I would have been super like "Yes, let me take a bite out of this thing."
-Sweetened read beans mashed up and stuffed into a rice-flour dough, aka mochi, aka if I get fat in Japan this is the sole reason.  It's not overly sweet, and it tastes lighter than most American pastries.  It is the first thing I wanted to find when we got off a plane in Nagoya.  And it IS the first thing I found (and summarily devoured) in Nagoya.   I used to have an international RA on my staff who made them, and I've been addicted ever since.
Mochi.  Sweet, beautiful, mochi.

What's the best "out of your bubble" food you've ever tried? 
Tell me in the comments!

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do,"  is probably the best advice a traveler can heed, and that's how we approached our meals.

Breakfasts were pretty straight forward, because our hotel had continental breakfasts.  I had some mixed fruit, a hard boiled egg, and a warmed raisin bun each morning.  The mister had eggs over rice, little sausages and fruit.  We ate with chopsticks (because other utensils are not an option. anywhere. finger dexterity had a great workout that week), but I think both of us would agree that our meals were VERY American-looking compared to the other offerings on the buffet.


In American schools, little kids are taught the five senses.  In that same lesson plan, they are taught that there are four kinds of tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, and salty.  The Japanese culture has added one more taste category, and they're BIG fans.  They call this flavor umami, which actually means "delicious taste."  It can be described to the uninitiated as a savory, almost but not quite salty taste, most recognizable in seafood -or- if you've tried dried seaweed, that's pretty on the money.  It's such an ever-prevalent part of Japan's food culture, that it's taken over on breakfast buffets to replace things that Americans would more readily recognize as breakfast foods.  There's no toast or cereal, bacon, or french toast.  The other hotel patrons eating breakfast around us were always nursing a cup of coffee over their seaweed soup, or pickled seaweed and egg mash over rice.  Much as we're up to explore, breakfast was a tough spot for us to branch out.

Lunches were more adventurous.  There were a lot of convenience-type restaurants around where we stayed in Nagoya.  Not convenient in a fast-food type of way, but in a "all the menus are pictures so we can point to what we want" or a "all the food is on a conveyor belt so we can grab what we want" type of way.

Did I say conveyor belt? YES I DID.
That is fresh-made sushi whirling around that dinner.  We ate at this place twice because I found it so novel.  You just wait until a plate goes by that looks good to you, and you nab it.  Once you're done, the waiter counts your plates and charges you accordingly.  Also, holy cheap sushi batman.  Between the two of us we walked out of that place, FULL, for less than 15 bucks both times.  I would guess in the states we would have been batting around $60 or $70.

Other lunches included tonkatsu (fried pork), ramen (way better than the crappy packs you buy for a quarter at the 7-11) curry rice, and udon (a bowl of broth that contains meat, thick noodles, and in my case, a quail egg).  All delicious.  Our only disappointment with lunches was that we discovered we're not super big fans of iced green tea.  Which is everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  By the end of the trip, we finally got smart and asked someone how we could properly ask for "hot tea."  Which is still green tea, but somehow the heat makes it palatable.

Then came dinner.  Obviously.  Dinners were by far the most adventurous meals, because we never really ordered for ourselves.  We asked for recommendations.  And whatever that recommendation was, we went with it (see that conversation which started us off today).  Three such meals are notable in my head.

Click to embiggen.  The place
beneath the fish sign is where we ate.
1.  Yakiniku - a friend of The Mister's from years ago met us out at a type of restaurant that features a small propane grill at each table.  You order your food and it arrives raw.  Then you cook and eat it.  We started with some sashimi (think sushi, but just raw fish, no rice), and once we'd successfully proven that we are more than happy to eat fish, our host ordered sardines.  Which arrived whole.  He cooked them on the tiny grill just enough for their eyes to *pop,* and then he instructed us to eat them with a little bit of mayo.

what, you thought I was lying?
We tried to approach it with optimism, but an entire fish (bones, guts, scales, ect) dipped in mayo was not as favorable a taste as either of us had hoped for.  I couldn't help but feel like we were reenacting the last scene from "A Christmas Story" except with a fish instead of a duck.  The rest of the food at that meal was good, though I have to say we ordered a chicken kabob variety platter and were amused when the variety that came out was arranged thusly: one kabob of chicken meat, one of chicken skin, one of a chicken blood sausage, and one of chicken gizzards.

What's the weirdest/ not good "out of your bubble" food you've tried?  
Tell me in the comments!

2.  The fancy-pants dinner - The Mister's new work associates invited us out to dinner at a place called "D Square."  We assumed with such a name it would be a casual meal, and so we showed up in jeans. Turns out the D in D Square is for the D in The Mister's company's name.  The company in that area of Japan is a big, fat, profitable deal that smells of many leather bound books and rich mahogany.

So much so that D Square is a collection of 4 VERY upscale restaurants and a banquet center, which is only for the use of company associates and their families.  We arrived to this dinner and were lead to the table by a beautiful hostess in full traditional kimono dress.  We were each served the most beautiful (and large!) spread of sushi I've ever seen.  Long story short, I was a bit embarrassed about our attire.

The Mister smoothed it all over by eating a giant ball of wasabi paste to impress our hosts.  Apparently most Japanese don't use much wasabi, if any (thank goodness for me), so they thought this was pretty ballsy.  Our hostess then informed us that for such brave patrons, the chef would prepare a sushi roll that was just wasabi root and rice.  The Mister enthusiastically agreed to this, and aside from one piece, he ate the WHOLE darned roll.  The remaining piece was eaten by the only other guy from our party who had used any wasabi paste with his meal, and he very quickly had a coughing fit then excused himself to presumably hork.  So that was interesting.

That's all just for ME.
the dreaded wasabi roll





3.  The Last Night's Meal - The last full day in Japan we were wandering the train station's restaurants looking for something to just feed us enough to go back to the hotel and sleep.  We were exhausted, and had already eaten our fill of umami flavor for the day.  We wandered past a fire-oven pizza joint.  And then we wandered past it a second time.  And then we stopped and just stared at the outdoor menu (I really loved that most places have a menu with pictures posted outside their door so you can decide if you actually want to eat anything on their menu before walking in.) and we stood there staring until the waiter came out and insisted upon showing us to a table.  We were a little cautious, as we'd been warned that pizza in Japan commonly comes with mayo and corn.  But then we read the characters on the menu and ordered deliciousness in the name of a Margherita pizza.  I think some of this is a "you had to be there" type moment, but I was super amused that this menu, if you read the characters out loud, it really reads as "ma-ru-ge-ri-ta."  So it was a pretty safe bet our pie would be corn-free (the one underneath that says "ma-ri-na-ra.").

After that, we stocked up on green-tea flavored kitkat bars (way more delicious than the actual liquid tea) on our walk back to the hotel, and now here we are, back in the states just counting down the time until that is our everyday life for a few years.

In conclusion, try foods even if you think they might be gross.  They might be, but they might NOT be, you know?  

I think when I talk about Japan type things from now on, it might be fun to do a japanese vocab spotlight.  Wanna join me? Here's today's lesson:


little language lesson
おすすめは何ですか。
O-su-su-me-wa, nan des ka?
What's your recommendation?  
I can't believe how much we used this, and how excited people were to share their favorites with us.  It's not specific to food, either, so we used it when picking out our appliances (which vacuum do you recommend for pet hair?), our car (which car is small enough to traverse these narrow roads?), and our curtains (dark brown or light grey?)

The front of this year's Christmas Card. :)
That's all I've got for this week - have a safe and happy holiday, I'll see you once we get back from our festivities in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The No-Good, Very Hard Test... and the People who Take It.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, The Mister and I recently sat for a test which assessed our Japanese Language proficiency.  While there are no direct consequences of passing or failing this exam for either of us, we had decided back in March that it would be a good goal to study toward, it cost a pretty decent bit of money to sit for, and a certified pass is a fairly impressive line on a resume.  Plus/ also/ in addition; I don't fail tests.*  I just don't.

{I felt I needed to give some background on this test. If that is not interesting, feel free to skip down to the context picture}

Though it is the lowest test level of language proficiency, the JLPT N5 is written entirely in Japanese; meaning the directions on how to properly answer the questions are in Japanese, and The Mister and I realized the frustration early on of having not just a "suggested vocabulary to know" list for this exam, but also a supplementary list of words that would allow us to just understand what the test instructions wanted us to do.  
Here's a sample question.  It wants you to select
the correct spelling of the kanji for this sentence about a new car.**
I could go into great detail with examples of how frustrating the set-up for the N5 was for me, but that would be unfun to read, unrelatable for anyone who has not taken the exam, and unfair to those who have successfully taken the test.  So I'll cap my griping.

For the purposes of everyone here, passing the N5 level test signifies that I am able to read Hirigana (Japanese alphabet), Katakana (secondary alphabet that is used to spell words which are not natively Japanese, like "grapefruit" - "グレープフルツ") and around 100 common kanji (Japanese characters which symbolize entire words - aka what most people think of when you think of the language.  There are thousands of them).  I am also supposed to be able to listen to/ understand basic conversations when spoken slowly.

                                                                           
Alrighty, so now that there's context, let's back-peddle to that whole "I don't fail tests" bit.  If I may toot my own horn for a second, I am a phenomenal standardized test taker.  Example: I took my first ACT in 6th grade (because that is something my parents and I deemed a fun-weekend activity -ahem- NERD).  I scored pretty decently, from what I remember.  I have always seemed to understand the proper way to go through a list of questions with efficiency, ruling out the least likely answers even if I wasn't 100% sure on a response.  Also, hi, I'm a middle-class, native english-speaking, white gal.  I AM what every standardized test in this country is normalized to accommodate.  Point being, back in March when our Japanese tutor said something to the effect of:
"I believe you have a mind for languages.  I think you would be successful at the N5 at the end of the year.  You should consider it."  
My ego was all
"of COURSE I would do well with a test for which I have 7 months to study.  Bring it on."
Being all cocky and confident means that I have set myself up to be required to pass this thing.  Have you ever bragged about your sureness of something only to be proven wrong and then you feel like a total doof? I suspect that's what I'm afraid of more than failing the exam.  Like, there's no consequence to me for failing other than having to turn to everyone I know and love, who I've talked to about this test and say "I was wrong, and I bombed."  It's an overwhelming amount of humiliation
to me.  This is particularly true because the JLPT N5 needs only a 40% score for a pass.

All that said, I legitimately *may* have failed this test.  I won't know for sure until February.  So that's fun.

We studied like CRAZY beforehand, and one day, should anyone be interested, perhaps I will compile a list of the fantastic cheap to free resources we utilized to prepare.  Unfortunately, timing worked against us because between holidays, The Mister's Navy drill weekends, and a small visa snafu (now rectified), the only dates we could travel to Japan for our exploratory trip was the week immediately preceding this exam.  As finding a house for the next three years is kind of important, The Mister and I decided the only viable option was to roll the jet-lag dice and hope that we weren't too out of it when we took the exam a mere 24 hours after landing back in the states.
Thus we found ourselves that day downing coffee in a precarious balance of "enough to keep us alert" versus "not enough to make us have to poop during the exam."



How do you prepare for a big test?  Tell me in the comments!

I'm just gonna leave this here.

5 hours later (it was a long test!), The Mister and I were finally done.  As we clamored into the car for our drive home, I found myself spouting a litany of thoughts about all the other people in the exam room.  Apparently the lowest level standardized test for Japanese Language proficiency can attract some interesting folks. Friends, I wish to share some of them with you here.

The Awkward Zack Galifiniakis Clone.From his faux-vintage-hipster sweater to his beard, shoulder bag, and awkward social skills, I don't believe this man could have been anything other than a clone from between two ferns.  Also he asked to borrow a pencil for the proctor.  Who does this.  I ended that without a question mark because it should not exist as a question.  It's a scantron test. You bring a pencil to feed Scangrade so he can take over the world!

The Lady Giving Legitimacy to Her Ability to Watch Anime Un-Dubbed.She had Sailor Moon hair buns, a Full Metal Alchemist Sweatshirt, and all of her approximately 50 scantron-approved number 2 pencils featured Sanrio characters.  I heard her in the hallway saying that she's self-taught from watching movies and reading comics.  Which is sort of impressive, but she didn't have any discernible reason to be taking the exam... And she was SO excited to be there.

The Child Who Really Shouldn't Have Been There. I was seated next to a kid, maybe 10-11 years old.  Having BEEN a kid in adult-type standardized tests before, originally I was interested and impressed with this dude.  About 10 minutes into his volleying between nervous actions of clicking a clicky pencil, tapping his foot and kicking the foot of the table we were sharing, I was totally over any feelings of admiration.  He was wildly distracting.  But more distracting, was about 5 minutes into the first section of the test when one of the room's proctors made a point to stand in-between myself and him.  The little brat was trying to look off my score sheet!  He did it again during the second section of the exam and the proctor again stationed herself inside my personal space bubble to try and curb his wandering eyes.  Then, before the listening section began, they literally moved him to a different table all by himself.  He started crying during that portion.  I know he's a little kid and I should be sympathetic, but he tried to cheat off me, and darn it, I'm trying to listen to the recording, I need you to stop audibly sniffling, kid!

The Quarter Mullet-Man Who Showed Up So Late I'm STILL Legitimately Mad They Allowed Him To Stay.  If you are unfamiliar with standardized test set-ups, let me give you the context that they usually have a very strict set up of rules.  If you are unfamiliar with Japanese cultural points, let me give you the context that they are, as a people, very strictly adhered to rules***.  Point being, if you are sitting for a Standardized exam in Japanese, the rules are LAW.  You show up EARLY.  You bring at least 2, sharpened, number 2 pencils. You leave your cell phone in the car.  Everything else better be stowed below your desk for the entirety of the exam.  This dude had the audacity to just waltz into the room 3 minutes after the proctors had actually begun to read the instructions to us, then flopped down and asked to borrow a pencil.
...who comes late to an internationally recognized, standardized exam (which btw, sent every participant a 5 page instructional mailing on what to bring when), and roll in with a giant bag that contains not a single pencil?
Were I a proctor, I'd have kicked his ass out of the room, though keep in mind I was at an inferno-irate level of jet-lagged.  But also worth noting was this man's haircut:  The top was a bowl cut.  Then behind both ears there was a 3 inch section of mullet that went about halfway down his back.  I... want to meet the hair-dresser that  heard his instructions at the salon and was like "oh sure, I'll cut your hair that way."

The Woman Who Was Shedding Her Summer Coat.The woman who sat directly in front of me had thick mop of blonde hair on her head, which she had loosely piled into one of those very trendy messy buns of college campuses everywhere (who am I kidding, I have my hair in one right now).  I would estimate around 300 strands of that hair decided to revolt against the bun that morning, and so she shed them to lay in weird patterns across the back of her navy blue sweatshirt.  It was mesmerizing and infuriating to my overtired neat-freak self.  Before each section, while the proctor was reading, I would find myself staring, needing to employ an inner mantra of "don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back...."  If I would have had a lint roller in my bag I probably would have been arrested that day for assaulting her with it.


The Jet-Lagged Woman Who Was Overly Prepared and Hated Everyone.  Like More than Grumpy Cat.  I had ten pre sharpened, new, number 2 pencils.  I had a fresh, large, pink eraser just in case of mistakes (I used it once), and I had a small personal pencil sharpener all laid out carefully in front of me.  I had also upped my resting bitch face to such a level that when the first dude who didn't bring his own pencil turned to see my surplus, he also saw my rage face and decided not to ask me to borrow one.  I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't happy when no one bothered me in the hallway or asked me questions between sections.

What was the last test you took?  
Any great test taking observations?  
Tell me in the comments!

*except my first driver's exam.  I failed that SO hard.  That was soul crushing enough that I just decided to pass every test from there on out.

**The answer is 1, if you were curious.

***example of rule adherence: while we were in Japan, we actually witnessed people walking to cross the street - when the "walk signal changed to "do not walk" they were about 50 feet into the street, and they immediately BACKED UP to the curb to re-wait for the intersection lights to change again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let's talk about Jet Lag.

What happened to last week's blog post you ask?

I was in Japan.

The Mister and I took our exploratory trip this past week - we found our housing, tried our hand at speaking the lingo and navigating the train system, and tried so much of the food.  I think I speak for both of us when I say that we're feeling pretty great about this move at this point.  Ducks seem to be in a row.



Of course, there's a ton to talk about now, but if I smash it all into one real long blog post, 1. you'll get bored reading a wall of text, and 2. I won't have anything fun to talk about next week.  We're gonna break this trip up a bit.  First topic of choice? JET LAG.

I've never had jet lag before.  Maybe you have.  Going to a place with a 13-14 hour time difference (depends on day light savings) means that I didn't just have my first encounter with jet lag, I got sucker punched by it.  I was prepared for the tired, but jeepers, I was not prepared for just how my body would react to that tired.
This is indeed a post dedicated to whining about a very privileged, first-world style problem.  Sorry not sorry.
Have you ever had jet lag?  
How did you cope? Tell me in the comments!

It hits you in waves - you'll wake up at like, 3am, totally unable to fall back asleep, so you toss and turn or just say "eff it" (or something close to that) and get up.  Then somewhere around 3pm you get SO tired you would actually (honestly not exaggerating) rather suffer some mortal wound than keep going.
Tis but a scratch compared with this exhaustion.
If you don't fight through both of those waves, it just drags the adjustment period out longer.  So that's been fun.  Here's some great jet lag highlights for you (I need you to know I think all of these things are sort of hilarious now):

By most accounts, it takes approximately 1 week to reasonably adjust to US-Japan Jet Lag.  The crappy thing about taking 1 week to get all our living arrangements straightened in Japan means that we got ourselves adjusted to Japan-time, then immediately got on a plane and go through jet lag in reverse.  I'm going on day 12 of feeling like I'm hovering between passing out and barfing at any given point.
Our first day in Japan we made a point to stay up until 10-11PM, Japan time, per recommendations of our well traveled friends.  This effectively means that we were awake for over 24 hours straight.  We were tired but felt fine otherwise.  I then woke up, WIDE awake, at 4AM, and couldn't convince my body to go back to sleep (this is weird for me, usually I display borderline narcoleptic traits in my sleeping habits.  I can ALWAYS sleep...).  I debated taking a sleep aid -which The Mister and I have been popping like tic-tacs as of late- but then I would have been groggy 3 hours later when I actually needed to get up and be coherent in not-my-native-language.  
Our third day in Japan I was so legitimately tired at 8PM that I uncontrollably and spontaneously burst into tears when The Mister tried to give me a kiss because it meant he was standing in-between me and the bed I was desperate to crawl into.  
 He was trying to give me a kiss because, as it turns out, The Mister and I are TERRIBLE people to each other when we are over-tired (though I will be the first to admit that I am loads worse than he is), and he was trying to smooth over a meaningless snap from hours earlier that I refused to let go of, like a 5 year old.  Knowing this about ourselves helps, but sucks pretty hard nonetheless.  
Pair that with our powers of deduction being less than sharp and you've got a "party."
I'd say I've been a monster, except calling me a monster almost suggests it could be sort of cute.
It's really more like that scene with the goat in Jurassic Park.  No cute, just unabashed carnage.
We got into a fantastic (in hindsight, at the time it was less fantastic and more wretched) nothing fight at the furniture rental place because -as we later realized- we were both too tired to give any poops about the furniture we were picking out to furnish the home we picked... so we were both trying to make ourselves be hyper-careful about our choices to combat our apathy.
So we fought about literally the most insignificant thing that neither of us actually cares about but neither of us was willing to budge at the time and to that effect I'm very glad that Japanese doesn't have any translation for English swears.
When you are on the return flight coming east, you are recommended to sleep as much as you can.  But the plane we were on had little TVs (with GAMES and MOVIES!) in the seat-back of every chair, and since we had adjusted to it being 10AM Japan-time when we got on the plane... I slept mostly not at all.  But I did get very good at Soduku after playing 12 hours of it.
Of course, that meant when our plane back to the states landed at 11AM EST, I felt like it was midnight, my body was beyond confused, and I immediately went to bed.  For 23 hours.  This is not recommended, because you know what happens then?

It's hurty, but not *as* bad as it looks.
YOU MAKE IT SO MUCH WORSE.  Blargh.  But it felt good at the time.  Until I dropped one of our suitcases on my foot because I was feeling both rushed and incoherently tired.  That is not recommended, either.
At the end of that 23 hours, we took our Japanese language proficiency exam.  You know, the one we've been exclusively studying for throughout the past 7 months.  What I'm saying here is that there was a lot of coffee involved just to make sure I stayed awake.  I also discovered that I became super judgmental of everyone around me at that point of the lag.  This will be another post, because as it was a standardized test, I was in a room with 21 other people to judge mercilessly for 4 hours... and that left me with a lot of random writing ammo. 
That level of tired makes you ridiculously forgetful (let's hope that was not reflected in my test score)  Great example?  I went grocery shopping yesterday and was so fixed on making sure I remembered to pay for the groceries that I forgot to then take the groceries I bought with me when I left.  They chased me out of the store with my cartful.   
So that's jet lag in a nutshell.  Now if you'll excuse me.  I need to take a nap.  :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

七面鳥 の日 (turkey's day)

Happy -early- Thanksgiving!

We've got big plans over our Turkey-day break.  Namely, we're headed to the land of the rising sun for an investigational trip.  AHHH.  I'm not freaking out about it (I'm totally freaking out about it).  And I don't really have any specific topics to talk about, but I do have some random quick quips:

1.  My phone is dying.  I'm hoping I can stretch it's life to my actual expat date early next year, but we're regularly having moments of the stupid thing just randomly shutting itself off.   While I'm using it as a GPS to get somewhere.  While I'm trying to call the veterinarian to confirm Bubba's boarding dates.  While I'm attempting to take a pict
ure of the dumbest American memorabilia possible to share with The Mister.  It may not make it, is what I'm saying.  Blargh.

2.  The American memorabilia.  So.  Japanese culture is one of gift-giving.  If you are invited somewhere, you are expected to present a gift of thanks to the people who included you in their plans.  We were advised by a previous expat to prepare a few little gifts for this occasion - something that is uniquely American, he said, would go over like hotcakes.  I was assigned the task of putting together these offerings.
And I thought it would be super easy, but I forgot that this is Christmas season, so apparently all the  "American Memorabilia" was swapped out for "Santa Memorabilia" on the sales floor.  I settled for small bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, because peanut butter is not a common thing in countries outside the US, so I figured they would be unique (and also because they were the only candy I could find that wasn't shaped like Christmas Trees.)  I paired them with tiny tiny american flags on toothpicks.  They're dumb.  But I think they'll suffice without embarrassing us.

Meanwhile, there was a good 30 seconds where I genuinely debated just buying the entire rack of these calendars and scrapping the candy idea.  I know no one over there will get the joke, but I laughed.

3.  This is not a quick trip, so Bub and Mac were brought to their respective boarding facilities this morning (Mac is staying at a place that takes him on go-cart rides and lets him have play time with other dogs his size and age.  He seems to love it?  Bub is staying at the Vet, because they take cats and if something goes wrong he's already at the vet.)  Bubba is not a fan of going in his box, and this morning we were a good 30 minutes behind schedule as he tried to make a case for his living under the couch for the duration of our trip.  Part of me recognizes this was sort of funny, and part of me is upset that the last thing my cat will remember of me while I'm away is me stuffing a broom in his face so I can get him out and we can get in the damn car already.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?  Tell me in the comments!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The First (of many, let’s be real) OMIGAWD I’m Moving to Japan Freakout.

The Mister works at a company that is based out of Japan.  It is the reason we will be moving there at the beginning of the year.  It also means that at any given branch of the company (like the one here in Michigan, USA), there are many native Japanese folks fulfilling their own expatriate assignments. 

A week or so ago, one of The Mister’s Japanese cohorts asked if I knew how to make pumpkin pie. He had heard about the American custom of pumpkin pies, and he wanted to try it. The Mister gleefully offered to ask me to bake a pie, and about three minutes later, suddenly there was a whole dinner party planned around the fact that I would be baking two pies for some of our Japanese guests.  They were excited, I was all like “heh, yeah, no pressure or anything, just representing my American heritage with this PIE.

But I do really like to bake, and so pies were made and everyone got to try it, and everyone either really enjoyed them or they’re super good at feigning delight (I’m okay with either so long as the illusion remains unshattered).

And then another exec got wind of this pie party and was bummed that he didn’t get to have any pie.  So this same exec asked if I would bake pies again, for him.  And so I did.  Again, it seemed to go over well, but my recipe makes two pies and with only The Mister, myself, and the exec eating one slice a piece, there was a lot of pie left over after that one. (halving a recipe is for sissies.)

As much as I would love to just tuck into an entire pie myself, I brought the remaining pie and a half to my Japanese lesson at the company the next day.  My willpower is crap y’all, if it would have stayed in the house any longer… well it wouldn’t have existed by the time The Mister came home from work 5 hours later.  

As we chatted over pie before the lesson began, our tutor calmly informed me: 

“get your baking in now - they don’t have ovens in Japanese homes.  you’ll be using a toaster oven and a rice cooker exclusively for the next few years.”

...
I got home and 'kind of' lost my mind.  It’s not like I bake every day, but I really LIKE how creative and silly you can get in baking.  


My beautiful birthday cake. (it turned our poop blue!)
These are mini baked bries with apple slices baked in.  They were AWESOME.

Thus, I’d like to think, if my blog ever became adapted for the silver screen (because, of course it would be), this would be the point where we, the audience, see a montage of me frantically pinning recipes of How to Make Cake in a Rice Cooker” and “Fantastic Toaster Oven Cookies!” all afternoon, to a track of the "Cooking By The Book" remix with Lil Jon.  

The Mister came home from work/ not knowing I had fixated on this statement about Japanese Oven Deficiency, to see a crazed me, hunched over my laptop, hair everywhere, makeup smeared, all “It’s all gonna be okay. I think I can still make a Christmas Cake*” 

Instead of backing out of the room (like any reasonable person would be wont to do), The Mister had some sort of inspired lightbulb turn on upstairs, and he responded with “hey, there’s a bake sale at work on Friday.  I told them you would make cookies.**”  

So today is cookie day.  I will bake all the cookies.  ALL OF THEM.  I shall not only feed my love of baking, but also I get to use my absurd collection of weird cookie cutters.  Which always makes me a little happier.  

Hopefully this can clear the way for me to move on to the next insignificant thing I can freak out about.  
This is only some of my strange cookie cutter collection.  
The weirder the better.  The mustaches are totes my faves.

Yay cultural differences. A necessary  awesomeness.  But they do take time for me.


Ninjas!

Dinosaurs!

204 cookies later.
you know me, folks.  of course I made silly labels for the cookie bags.

Have you ever let a little thing get to you like that?  
Tell me in the comments!

*Christmas Cake - Here’s what I’ve taken away from some discussions with our tutor:  In Japan, Christmas is more of a couple’s holiday, and many folks celebrate it by eating cake.  The day AFTER Christmas (the 26th), these cakes become wildly discounted at the bakeries that make them in their beautiful industrial ovens that are apparently the only ovens in the whole country and - *breathe* I’m getting off track.
Anyway, this discounted cake has become a slang term in Japan; women who are still unmarried at 26 are often referred to as “Christmas Cake.”

…therefore - for the record, I am a Christmas Cake.  so there’s that.  

**I am 100% positive The Mister did not tell anyone I would be making cookies, and said this to placate me.  But again, let’s keep the illusion alive for my feeble benefit!  Horray!  There is still a bake sale, and there is still a good cause behind it.  So cookies it is.  SO MANY COOKIES.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

ACME Patented Costume Tomfoolery.

So y’all, we didn’t win the costume contest.  But when you loose to this guy, it’s hard to be too hurt over it.


Groot had easily already spent a couple thousand of his $5000.00 grand prize on just building that costume, but holy cow was it impressive.  He was on stilts of course, but what you can’t see from the picture are all the little details he included.  There was a to-scale Rocket Racoon on his back in a fierce battle pose wielding a light up gun.  His arms had blink-y lights built in so he could create the bio-luminescence look from the movie.  And my persona favorite was the tube built into the “bark” of one arm that allowed him to “bloom" a small flower for ladies.


Good show, Groot man.  Good. Show.
We of course, had our picture taken with him.


Oh yeah, and THOSE are our costumes.

Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote, at your service.

The Mister and I wanted something that would be easily recognizable but not something that everyone else was doing - we’d batted a few ideas around but nothing was really feeling AWESOME to me (and since I create those costumes, that’s important!)  Then one day The Mister’s friend “threw him under the bus,” The Mister asked me for a cartoon to illustrate the concept of “bus-throwing” to said friend, and I used a Wyle E. Coyote cartoon for pose reference.  Suddenly, Looney Toons provided the inspiration, and off to the races we went!




My dress is sewn from an old blue turtle neck and light blue fabric I found at a thrift. Both our tails, the "crest/ head feathers", his ears, his nose, and both sets of feet are upholstery foam that I shaped to give us cartoony expression before covering with fabric. Each of those pieces is attached to the main costume pieces by SNAPS, so I could remove them and throw the big costume pieces in the wash for multiple wearings.

Both masks (mine out of foam, his out of fleece) were created from scratch and painted to match our ensembles.

For accessories I made a sign for me ("Meep Meep!" on one side, "ROAD RUNNER (accerlarati incredibilius)" on the other) and an ACME rocket backpack out of an old protein powder container and rope for him (which doubled as our storage for the night since we didn't have pockets!) The Mister also had a t-shirt that I painted "COYOTE (carnivorous vulgaris)” onto underneath his coyote suit, so when he inevitably overheated and needed to unzip the top half, people would still know what he was supposed to be.

My favorite part of these costumes is my feet - I wore striped tights, then found a pair of wedge heels and sewed on fabric from another thrifted turtle-neck and upholstery foam to make me look taller, my legs look longer, and give me the bird toes the road runner uses to zoom into the sunset. I even painted stripes on them so you can't quite tell where the tights end and the feet pieces begin (hint, the joint is half-way up my knees)

I had a blast competing in the costume contest - judging took place by inviting all participants to walk around the perimeter of the casino floor.  I caught on pretty quick that the people judging the costumes didn’t want to just see the costumes, they wanted to see you BE the costume.  

I learned this from watching a man in the line ahead of us wearing only a crude diaper, sucking on a pacifier and dragging a blanket. (you may have noticed I did not mention he was wearing a shirt.  He placed in the top 20 just by acting like… well acting like a baby.  So I followed suit!

No, not by acting like a baby, but by insisting that the Mister follow behind me slowly, while I quickly zig-zagged back and forth on my spot in the line, stopping with sharp movements to consider the people around (and for so many of them to take pictures!).  I MEEP’d at people who Meep’d at me.   And I tried (mostly failed) to keep a straight face when people realized Wylie was behind me and either warned me to "look out!” or asked him what’d he’d do when he caught me.  It was great.

So all in all, we didn’t place in the contest, but that’s okay, because the people that did, totally brought their A-game, and I feel like the effort we put in was still super appreciated.  

Other worthy competitors.


Oh yeah, and THEN we got to watch THE VILLAGE PEOPLE.  Who were fantastic!  I was amazed at how many songs I knew from their set list, and also at the fact that all the members look so... good yet.  That said, I don't know that the Native American member necessarily needed to wear the ass-less chaps and do all those spins up on stage.  Woah.


How was your halloween?  
Did you dress up?  
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS!

I would be remiss here if I didn't take a second to shout out to a brilliantly wonderful Mister - I'm fairly certain that having his wife stuff him in a onesie and parade him around all night wasn't as much fun for him as it was for me. But he played along beautifully.