Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Exceeding the limit

I’m packing things up today and what’s sad is I only have about 15lbs available in my suitcase for my own stuff. 15lbs! That’s like three pair of shoes and my toiletries bag. I’m bringing so many things for G-man that I’m going to have to get inventive with my own things. I’m about to breakdown and bring a carry on but the thought of lugging a 50lb bag alongside a carry on suitcase through the busy train stations during rush hour is anything but appealing.

But I might have to do it. I’m going to choose to not think about the pain of it all.

The next couple of days are going to be busier than I planned. What was supposed to be a nice leisurely five hour drive to LA, arriving at any point I wanted in the evening, has turned into me having to get there before 6pm. And what was supposed to be a nice Thursday morning where I could get ready at my own pace and arrive at the airport for the shuttle to the other airport between 10-10:30am, has turned into having to be there before 8:30am.  It throws some really huge kinks into things, but I have to go with the new flow in order for it all to work out, so I’m doing my best not to dwell on it too much.

I’m currently sipping on my second cup of coffee as I battle my power cord for my laptop, planning out the morning’s outline; and I can’t help but think, regardless of how much I have to do, stopping to enjoy my coffee takes top priority; even if it leaves me running around scrambling to get out of the house in time a few hours from now.

Since I’m reading the photography composition tutorial, I’ve been following along with the exercises they have, and subsequently have been enjoying every minute of it. Needing an “action hero” for the exercise yesterday, I improvised and used a toy car from my parents tub o’ toys for the grandkids. He was the perfect little subject.

Doesn’t he look happy? It was all about lines for this exercise.

Last night, my Dad suggested we watch a movie together since he’d be gone before I woke up this morning, so we had a little father/daughter time together, which was nice. That’s kind of our thing; watching movies together, so it was nice to do since we haven’t done it in a long time. We watched Everybody’s Fine, which I’ll tell you is really sad; really really sad, so you might not want to watch that with your Dad (since its about a widowed Dad and his grown kids..).

Happy Hump Day to you all. Next stop, Japan!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Keep away

I remember when I was in my early twenties and was able to list at least two tv shows for each night that I would watch. Every night, except Saturday, but I watched that much tv because I loved it (and all the great series were on then, not like today). Even when nothing was on, I would flip through every channel repeatedly and if all else, just have it on in the background while I did stuff around the house.

I got rid of cable a few years ago and I couldn’t believe how much better things were. I would do things and only found myself watching a movie or Netflix for about an hour at night after work. It was refreshing, but I started relying on my computer to fill the mindless hours and before I knew it I was always on my computer. With school online, you can barely pry it out of my hands, or off my lap, its glued to me.

Yesterday, I backed up my computer and figured it would take ten minutes to do but when it stayed at 3% for 15 minutes, I knew I was in for the long haul. It ended up taking almost three hours, and in that three hours I got up and did stuff. Cleaned, organized, did laundry, wrote letters (I’m looking at you, Amanda), wrote birthday cards, made a delicious breakfast, and just kept busy and I have to admit I loved it. It was so nice not being glued to my computer. Not to be so dependent on it, or mindlessly staring at websites wasting half my day (or all of my day). I went the entire morning and half the afternoon without my computer, and when I came back to it to look up a couple things, I found myself getting sucked in again, unwilling to get up because I had to check one.more.thing. It has such a hold on me, its crazy.

With the next few weeks off from school, I’m hoping to really reduce my computer use and get out more. Go exploring, or actually pick up a book (or my kindle) and read. I haven’t wanted to read for a long time, and I want to enjoy that again. I gave up Facebook because I became addicted to it, I’ve scaled back on Twitter because I found myself checking it all the time, and Instagram will soon be following (though as bad as it is, that will take a little more effort).

I’ve known this for awhile but yesterday really showed how much I let my computer take over my life; even when school is out, I’ve become comfortable with it always on my lap and even feel a little lost without it. Weird, I know!

Here’s to a little more freedom.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

These days

Things have been getting nice and mellow here for me. Kind of the calm before the chaos again, but I’ll take the slower days and mindless stares to the stresses of schoolwork. Though I admit, I don’t know what to do with myself during the day. I’m in my last week of Spring classes, and I’m excited! Only one assignment left to submit, and a final exam to take, and I’ll be done done done.

In the middle of that, I’ll be driving down to Los Angeles to stay the night with a friend who will then take me to one airport in order for me to get to another airport. I figured taking a bus to LAX, while my car sits at my friend’s house is far better than paying another $600 parking bill at LAX. Wouldn’t you agree?

Surprisingly, since returning from Japan, I’ve only experienced one night of insomnia. This is a huge improvement from my previous returns where I would have 3 or 4 or more nights where I couldn’t sleep a wink. What was great about it (if there is anything great about not sleeping at all), is I was able to write an entire six page paper and create a PSA flyer on my topic. I did it from start to finish in those dark quiet hours, and I was quite proud of myself. Horn tooting over here.

Since I’m having  a little more free time, I got a photography composition tutorial (that you may or may not have seen floating around the blogosphere), and have been enjoying reading about how to achieve better composition within my photos. I’ve been in quite the rut lately with photographing the sights, and am eager to pick up new skills. This rut might be partly the reason I haven’t shared the countless photos I’ve taken from my last trip to Japan. I haven’t felt much love toward them and find myself looking through them, deleting the real bad ones, and tucking them away in a file where they’re ignored.

These days I’ve stepped up my treadmill workouts. I don’t have access to one in Japan, so when I’m back home, I get on that thing as much as I can, and though I hate running, its been going really well! To add to it, I’ve programmed my alarm clock 6 days a week, twice a day to do pushups and planks. I’m finding the afternoon alarm is getting ignored a little more with each passing day, but I’m hoping I fight that urge and get to doing them again. Ever since I read about the bones in my nutrition textbook, it has me want to do more strength training and impact cardio, to help keep them dense and strong. As I was texting my friend just last night, my lower pooch is, well, a pooch, and this isn’t a normal thing for me. Also, what’s not normal is what I used to do to eliminate it isn’t working now, and it has me realize my age might be a contributing factor. The older I get, the more I have to workout to get the results that used to come easy for me. I’ve heard of this, but actually seeing it becoming a reality on myself is less than desirable.

While I was in Japan, I had a rep with ASU send me our mascot for his little world tour, so Sparky arrived, and I took him with us to Mt. Fuji and had a little fun posing him in all the places we visited. They took my quotes and added to the photos they used and I thought they worked out perfect, don’t you agree?

I still think about sharing my flight experience with Singapore airlines, but I’m flying them again on Thursday and figured I’d wait until after to go on and on about them. Just to be sure I have another amazing experience before I rave about them. Hoping you all had a fun weekend.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A day in Napa

I’m all over the place these days. Though I have a bunch to show from Japan, I’m jumping ahead to my Napa and San Francisco trip I took over the weekend. Yep, I’m back in the states, but once again, only for a short time. My car was costing me close to what I would pay in rent, sitting in the airport parking, so it was a must I get it out fast. Needless to say, I won’t be parking my car there for five weeks again.

My sister called out of the blue asking if I wanted to ride with her to Napa, since she was taking her friend to the airport and wanted a buddy on the way back, and after agreeing, she asked if I would drive, and then asked if I would pick them up at her house, in the opposite direction. I couldn’t help but laugh, but I agreed to driving and she agreed to come to me. Good compromise, I say.

We stopped in Yountville, which is right outside Napa, so we could stop at a very popular bakery. There was a constant line out the door the entire two hours we were in that little town. Their fresh baked breads and pastries were delicious, and I’d definitely recommend this place to anyone going to Napa.

We drove into Downtown Napa to walk through the shops. We stopped at coffee shops, décor and home good stores and tasting rooms (of course), but given that I was driving, and my sister’s friend had her daughter, no tasting actually went on. We still had a great time exploring, even if I was walking 10 paces behind them slowly because I wore brand new sandals. The thing I love about little towns is how they’ll have random statues or furniture or the steps to the rumba laid out for you on the sidewalk to learn. Little things that make their town standout. It’s so fun.

photo 2 (7)

On our way to San Francisco, I had to stop at this beautiful French winery so they could see the grounds and their gorgeous views. G-man and I went to Domaine Carneros in December and seeing it in April when the vineyards are beginning to turn green was perfect.

Eventually we made it into San Francisco but the fog was waiting there for us, and killed our plans to see the parks and walk the bridge. (picture by my sister)
photo 4 (6)

There’s no way I would have walked that bridge in the cold fog. So we had dinner, dropped off her friend and daughter, and made the long late night drive back home. It was a long day of driving but it was nice getting out with the girls. That’s not something I get to do, ever.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When you know you’re not in America

G-man and I went on a little overnight trip to a town called Gotemba a few days ago and within that trip we had a little experience that had me realize I’m absolutely positively not in America anymore. Gotemba is a little, incredibly adorable, town that has a magnificent view of Mt. Fuji.
Within that little town is a very beautiful and wonderfully ran hotel called Mars Garden Wood. Here’s just a little snapshot of their lobby.
photo (8)
When we checked in, we were starving since we traveled over two hours by many trains and cab to get there and as the front desk clerk gave us a tour of our room, we asked her where we could eat. She secured reservations for us at their Teppenyaki restaurant that is basically what Benihana is in America…only so so much better…and so so different.

When we arrived, we saw we were the only people in the restaurant and had one of the grills completely to ourselves. We love it when this happens. G-man ordered the seafood and meat dinner and I just got the meat dinner (this is all relevant, promise). When the chef came to the grill, he had a few platters with him, with one being the vegetables and seafood for G-man. He set everything aside as he prepped the grill, and I saw on the seafood platter was a huge fully intact prawn on its back, dead. When the chef picked up the platter to move it close to him, I saw the moment he set it back down, the prawn moved. Did you get that? THE PRAWN MOVED! It wasn’t dead at all! It was very much alive, and it had a skewer through its middle that I hadn’t noticed until after it started moving its legs. I audibly gasped and looked at G who had a look of shock on his face and I burst out into uncomfortable laughter.

How was this chef going to kill this prawn?! Chop its head off? I didn’t know! I couldn’t figure it out, until he grabbed it and stuck it face down on the hot grill. I grabbed G-man’s leg in horror as I imagined the prawn screaming inside in terror and pain. Yes, I was feeling completely horrible as I watched this prawn die a horribly painful death. But it got worse as the chef flipped it over and I saw its eye resting on the grill and I cringed at the thought of its little eye burning. Then he would press his spatula into its body and tail to fry it faster and all I could do was hope the thing was dead at this point. But I still saw, whether from aftershock or it still hanging on, it twitch on occasion.

It only continued to decline for the prawn as the chef grabbed his incredibly sharp knife and sliced into its shell to dismember it. At that point, there was no way the prawn was still alive, and I began breathing a little easier as I saw it in several pieces getting fried and sautéed. The moment the chef cleared away the head and left the meat and fried legs and tail (for G to eat), I was able to sit back in my chair a little easier.

Once we were done eating the last of our meal, and sat sipping on our tea, G-man said we could go back to the room so we could cry over the prawn, because it was that traumatic to witness. We didn’t cry, however, though I definitely found myself unable to stop talking about the shock of it all. We determined it was a witness that we, in fact, were no longer in America and here in Japan they view food as food and nothing more. I will be sure to remember that for the next time! And for anyone who ever goes to Japan (or any Asian country for that matter) and has their food cooked in front of them, let this serve as your warning, because trust me, you’re going to wish you had been warned. Pin It Now!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding the one American in a sea of Japanese

I’ve had a frustrating past couple of days academically, so to take my mind off of it, and keep myself from crying frustration tears, I thought I’d tell you the funny that occurred while at the train station.

After spending hours on a project for a class, G-man texted me saying to meet him at the Yokohama train station for sushi. We found a great little sushi restaurant there and enjoy going as often as we can. In case you think train station and have your mind go in the gross department, Yokohama’s train station is huge. It basically has two huge malls attached on each side of it, with a ridiculous amount of restaurants and sweets stands.

Any way, I make my way to the station, and go to use my PASMO card to exit, when it makes the bad “ding dong” sound and blocks me with the arms. I didn’t have enough money on my card to exit! It would be fine if I had cash on me but I didn’t have a cent, and I was literally stuck in between the stairs to the platform and the machines that let everyone out. It was the rush hour crowd and all I could do was fight the crowd like a fish going upstream, just to get out of their way to stand to the side.

I desperately searched any free wi-fi connections so I could text G-man, but couldn’t get any, and frantically searched every face that walked by for that distinct American one so I could ask for their help. Only, I couldn’t find any. I would say close to 200 people walked by me in the long seven minutes of searching before I finally spotted that one lone American. I ran up to him and begged him to help me. I’m sure he thought I was a little crazy, but once I explained I didn’t have money and no phone, he said he’d help. I asked if I could use his phone, but he offered to pay my fair adjustment instead. Surprisingly, he wanted to put $10 on my card but I quickly refused and asked he only pay what I needed to exit. We walked over to the station workers and I was .90 (Japanese cents) off. Just a measly .90 cents. The American laughed at the small amount, and gladly paid it, while I embarrassingly thanked him over and over. I offered him to walk with me to G-man to repay him, but he turned it down, and after thanking him over and over again, we parted ways.

I can’t imagine what would have happened had he or any other American not passed by. The throngs of Japanese that whizzed past were all on missions and couldn’t be bothered, so I was so thankful he appeared for me to snatch him. G and I had a good laugh once I finally made it to the restaurant, and we now have put money on my PASMO card so this won’t happen again but that seven minutes was the longest loneliest seven minutes ever.

                                                                   appropriate yet random train conductor photophoto (7)
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

A little sprinkle

Cherry blossom season is in full swing in Japan and everyone is out enjoying them. Last week, when I got to really explore for a day, I did the one thing you should never do: leave without eating, while telling yourself you’ll eat along the way, and naturally be starving before walking out the door. I wanted to make it to Ueno Park in Tokyo, which promises to be one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms. This was over an hour away, and having left late in the day, I felt pressed for time and just wanted to get there.

Once I finally got to the final station, I was desperate but there weren’t any good restaurants around, and I gave up and headed to the park. The blooms weren’t full yet; I was a week too early but the weather was beautiful, so I continued to walk among the throngs of people and hanami parties, finding those few trees that were ahead of all the others, and crammed alongside everyone to snap a few shots.

After close to an hour, I followed everyone over a bridge where I saw rows of food vendors. Perfect! I was about to die, but next thing my brain is making me do is pass them all up, and just keep walking thinking I’d find something better. Next thing my nutritionally deprived body knows, I start taking pictures of the pond, and trees, and people. Clearly I must be crazy, and find I can barely stand up from a crouched position without having things go completely black for a few seconds. Eating became my main priority, but the brain still wouldn’t register that as I kept taking more pictures.

It wasn’t until a Buddhist monk walked up offering “peace” in the form of a card, which I politely rejected and watched his face go from peace to disgust at my refusal (sorry buddy), that it was time to find food and get away from people. I stopped in front of a random vendor who didn’t care she had customers waiting on her while she talked on the phone. I debated to find somewhere else but I couldn’t move and waited for over two minutes before she finally helped us. I can’t tell you what I ate, but it was food that did the job and I was back up and moving again 15 minutes later.

One thing Japan doesn’t care about: Hydration. I swear, they don’t care that you haven’t had water in hours, they don’t offer it. You can’t find it. And sure as all get out, you don’t see anyone carrying water bottles around. You’re forced to accept the fact that you will remain severely dehydrated while sightseeing.

I’m dramatic. We know this. But I will say I did end up getting very dehydrated that left me very sick for two days straight. So, I guess I’m not that dramatic.

Any way, if there was a takeaway from all this, its this: Drink a lot of water before leaving. Eat as well (always helps). And see if you can’t stash a couple bottles of water in your bag before leaving because when you find a vending machine and think you’re buying water, it’ll turn out to be Squirt. And guzzling Squirt when you think its going to be water isn’t very pleasant. (This may have happened on a separate occasion)
A few from that fateful yet beautiful day
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