Friday, July 31, 2009

Craic and shenanigans!

Ey, what's the craic?
Translation of this Irish expression = Hey, what's going on?

I just love hanging out with my European friends; they crack (not to be confused with "craic") me up!

Being around them has broadened my English vocabulary. I now find myself wanting to describe things as "wee cheeky" and "brilliant." Things like last Saturday's British picnic and game of cricket. :)

Janine from London made "heaps" of scrumptious goodies -- different types of quiches and pasta salads, homemade scones, "biscuits" (a.k.a. cookies) and tarts -- in an effort to share British culture with her junior high school students and us American English teachers.

'Twas a lovely day for a picnic. By the way, the photo credit goes to Janine for all of these pictures.

When Janine told me that she brought the equipment for a game of cricket, I got excited and told her that we had a cricket set at my house growing up!!

But it turns out that cricket is not the same thing as croquet, which is definitely what I'd been picturing in my mind. Whoops. At least they both start with a "cr," and that makes them similar, right? Indeed not.

I didn't realize that cricket is actually kind of like baseball. Kind of. It is in the sense that you have to hit a ball with a wood plank and score runs. (I'm really not the person to explain the rules of cricket, so I won't even attempt that!)
Here are a few pictures...

Oliver looks like he's falling over!

After hitting the ball, (which I did! woohoo!) you run to this wood post thingy ma jig (See? I'm not the person to explain this game!), and then run back to where you hit the ball from, if possible.

As with most sports I attempt to play, it didn't take too long for me to go from participant to cheerleader, haha.

Overall, it was an enjoyable* afternoon, and I'm glad that I played cricket for the first time and now know what it is!! I'm also glad that I'll be hanging out with this same, fun group--the ALT's from Ninohe, primarily--this weekend at Tokyo Disneyland!!

I'm looking forward to some good "banter" and "shenanigans." :)

* It probably seems that all I ever do is have fun, fun, fun! I thought about writing a blog post that has pictures of me doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning my apartment, sitting at my desk editing English speeches and trying not to fall asleep, etc., etc. You know, just to make things a little more rounded.
But what's the fun in that!? ;)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sushi-Making 101 with "Dana Sensei"

Greetings, class! Today's lesson is how to make sushi rolls in just six easy steps.

I'm still in "teacher mode" even though it's summer vacation now, and I'm spending my days in the office instead of the classroom. Just humor me. :)

STEP 1: Use your handy rice cooker to make a lot of rice. This takes about one hour.

STEP 2: Place about two or three big spoon's worth on rice on a square sheet of dried seaweed, called a nori. The nori should be on top of a bamboo mat, called a makisu.

STEP 3: Spread the rice on two-thirds of the seaweed square. Junichi will show you how it's done...

You're doing great!

Step 4: Place a pre-cut cucumber strip in the middle of the rice. Like so...

And now you're ready to (rock 'n) roll!

Step 5: Lift the makisu/mat so that the rice closest to you is on top of the cucumber. Press. Roll it over again and press. Repeat one more time, until you have a sushi roll.


Let's get a closer look at this beauty...

Almost done!

Step 6: Slice the roll into rounds, cutting about 1.5 to 2 cm. apart.

You can stuff the leftover rice into "tofu pockets" to make oinari, which are way more delicious than they look or sound like they'd be...

Arrange your sushi rolls and oinari on a pretty plate for presentation.

Grab a pair of chopsticks ("hashi") and enjoy! Class dismissed. :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Hakuna matata, what a wonderful phrase..."

You've just gotta love the expression, "No worries."
(as well as the song, "Hakuna Matata" from The Lion King, which I'm now singing...)

In Japanese, the word is "daijoubu"( だいじょうぶ). Its literal translation is "Hey, dude, it's okay...don't worry about it!" Something like that, anyway. :)

"Daijoubu" is definitely on my list of top five most-used Japanese words/expressions, and it's quite likely to be part of my vocabulary for life.

There's no place like the beach to put me in the mindset of "no worries." I'm happy to live so close to the ocean, especially now that it's summer!

Without further adieu, here are the beach photos from the sayonara party weekend that I promised to share...

Tina put her foot in the ocean for what she said was the first time in two years! She's the new ALT from Scotland who I've been hanging out with recently. I had pictures of her bowling, but you couldn't see her well, so now I'll properly introduce her:
Everyone, meet Tina. Tina, meet everyone. :)

After taking the above picture, our group decided that we could probably find a better beach, a little farther away from the cabins where we stayed. So we hopped in the car and found...

Beautiful blue ocean + nice sand + mountain view = gorgeous!
I swam in the FRIGID, "this-is-so-cold-it-feels-like-melted ice!" water with a few of my brave/crazy friends to the little island that is pictured.

After lunch, everyone else went shopping, but I joined up with a few other friends and went back to the beach. I love the beach. And then we had a little photo shoot...

Ah, the sparkly ocean, which looks to be warm water of a tropical place. Looks can be deceiving.

Playing with the camera angles... :)

My sweet Japanese friend, Chiharu, is moving to Europe next month!
Even though I only see her about every three months since she lives a bit far away from Kuji, I will miss her dearly.

Turns out that seagulls like Pringles. :)

I have a few more fun beach photos, from when Lauren and Jennifer were visiting...

Group shot at Noda Beach.


Searching for seashells along the seashore.

Doesn't this picture looks professional!? Nice work, Jennifer!

Lauren found a starfish!

While I love to soak up the sunshine, I don't typically see Japanese people out enjoying it. I almost always spot a few fishermen out on the beach in Kuji, but I've never seen anyone (else, besides me!) out on a blanket, taking a nap or reading a book.

Oh well...daijoubu!

* * *
For my latest entry in "Keep Shining," click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Saying sayonara

It's no fun to say goodbye. I prefer to say, "See you later." :)

But nevertheless, goodbyes are part of life. I've had to say quite a few in the past couple of weeks, and this is just the beginning.

Two weekends ago, there was a farewell party for nearly 50 ALTs (foreigner invasion!!) and English-speaking Japanese friends in Iwate prefecture who will soon be leaving Japan. We spent the weekend in cabins near the beach, had an awesome cookout, and it was tons o' fun. I have beautiful beach photos to share next time. :)

It was great to make several new friends, but the bummer is that many of my new friends are leaving the country! Shuko, for instance...

Shuko is going to India soon to be an English proofreader! Perhaps I can visit one day?? She lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a while, and we bonded immediately. She told me I'm the only foreigner she's met who knows all about Lancaster! Hello!? Good N' Plenty is one of my very favorite restaurants EVER! "Lancaster is #1, haha."

Here's another shot from the cookout at the sayonara party in Yamada (about 2.5 hours south of Kuji):

All new friends, who I met for the first time at the party. Ellie is holding up a unique kind of potato chip -- umeboshi chips!! Gross. As a reminder, umbeshois are those nasty, dried sour plum things.

On Tuesday, I said farewell to Mayla, who should be back home in Minnesota by now. I attended two sayonara parties for Mayla -- one with the office and one that was just for friends.

City Hall gave Mayla a yukatta (the summer kimono that she's wearing) with accessories as her going away present. Random fact: Sato-san is in the background emceeing, and it's his birthday today!

Two of my office friends--Sachi and Yuka--and me with Mayla, who looks so cute in that yukatta!

Taken at "Sayonara Party for Mayla #2." Mayla, you'll be missed!!

Our eikawa (English conversation class) at a goodbye party for Jemma last Friday. Her friends from New Zealand are the couple who are third from the left.

Jemma and Sean both leave on August 5th, so there's still a couple of weeks left with them. :) The ALT who's coming to replace Jemma arrives next Friday(!), and my friend Nate from Franklin--who will take Mayla's job--is coming on August 8th. I don't know anything about Sean's replacement yet.

With Mayla and Sean leaving, I'm going to be a bit busier since I'll lead a couple of eikawas that they used to lead. Also, I'm going to start taking guitar lessons! Tonight is my first lesson, actually. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and I'm pretty excited about beginning this new hobby, with Kenji as my teacher. Kenji used to give weekly guitar lessons to Mayla, and she became quite good. :)

Then after my guitar lesson tonight, Kenji is going to help Oliver, Julian, Liz and I use a Japanese Web site to book plane tickets to Thailand!!! The four of us are going the first week of November, and I'm pumped!! We have a lot of talking and planning to do for the trip.

So with all of the goodbye shindigs and changes happening around here, there's a lot to look forward to, too!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rollin' and rockin'

I've got good news and not-so-good news.

Not-so-good news first: I didn't see the new Harry Potter movie because it was sold out. :(

But the good news is that I still had a great time in Hachinohe because we had fun bowling instead! Here's the crazy group I rolled with:

From left to right: Oliver, Julian, Greg and Tina. Greg and Tina are new to Japan and live in nearby towns -- Fudai and Kunohe. Greg is from Colorado and Tina's from Scotland!

Go Tina, go!!

Ah, it's ok. Side note: I realize that you can't actually see Tina's face in any of these pictures, so I promise to properly introduce her next time. :)

Ok, so this is definitely embarassing to admit, but the winner of the game was Julian, with a score of...are you ready for this?...a whopping 80 points! That says a lot about the rest of us, doesn't it!?

After bowling, we headed to Ninohe--'til the wee hours of the morning--for a goodbye party. I've gone to so many goodbye parties/shindigs recently, but that's another story/blog post...

Writing of goodbyes, Mayla's last day in Japan is tomorrow! Craziness. So Sunday was her final church service in Kuji. There's a group of us who hang out after church, and as usual, we went out for lunch. And then we took group Purikura pictures:

The guy below me, Lou, is also one of the newer ALTs in the area. He's a ton o' fun. :)

On Sunday night, I went out to the beach in Noda, where I joined Jemma and her friends from New Zealand who are visiting. We made s'mores, did sparklers and looked at the beeeauuuuitful starry sky.

We were out late, (again) but it's okay because today was a holiday! Marine Day to be exact. No one seems to know exactly what Marine Day is, but several of us took advantage of the day off work to rock out on a Japanese-style houseboat! It actually was a very smooth ride and not rocky at all, but anyway... Seems like an appropriate thing to do on Marine Day, eh? Even though we were on the river, not the sea, but that's beside the point! :)

This was our boat. And here's our group in front of it:

Inside the boat was a long table with grills where we could cook scallops and squid! Like this...

Japanese friends Yoko and Kyoko grilling. I'm not so big on grilled squid (I actually prefer it raw, seriously), but the scallops were amazing!

As I'm reflecting on all I did this past weekend, I'm realizing how social it was! So many different group activities, including rollin' (a.k.a bowling) and rockin' (a.k.a boating). Good times.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This is how we celebrate America in Japan

Let's rewind back to July 4th, shall we?

I never wrote about it, so I'm taking the opportunity now...

'Twas a lovely day. I hung out with my ALT (assistant language teacher) friends in Ninohe and introduced them to grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Very American. Elvis ate and loved them, you know.
Uh huh huh.

We made a CD of "American songs," which we listened to on the way to Lauren's Independence Day party, where I met up with the Kuji gang and other friends.

Lauren is quite the party thrower. Her place was soooo festive. (Thanks to her mom, who mailed her a bunch of decorations. Believe it or not, you can't find Independence Day decorations in Japan, haha.)

Can you even believe this picture was taken in Japan?? So American!

I've never in my life seen a carved watermelon like this. Genius! Love the carved fireworks.

Cute! Janine is on the left and Lauren the hostess is on the right.

I had such a great time at the party--munching and chatting away--but what I really enjoyed about the evening was celebrating an American holiday with people of all different nationalities! There were Japanese friends and students and ALTs from England, Ireland and New Zealand.

Three of Lauren's students displaying the American flags that Janine (who is from England!) painted on their hands. Love it!

Janine and I wearing Statue of Liberty hats (um, I guess you'd call them hats?), which kind of block P.J.'s face in this picture. Sorry, P.J.! The guy kneeling is Peter, the other British ALT at the party besides Janine.

The July 4th party ended in a predictable way -- with fireworks and sparklers, of course!

Ok. So I'll let you in on a little secret. Shhh, don't tell: This picture and the ones below are not actually from July 4th. They're from a BBQ I went to back in April, where we also had sparklers and fireworks. I've just never shared these photos, and I think they're pretty cool (err...I mean hot?) if I do say so myself. :) But if I'd taken pictures of the sparklers we had on Independence Day, they would have looked like these...

I believe that's Lauren, but I'm not positive.

I have no idea who this is. But the sparkler sure looks neat in this photo! Makes me think of a spell being cast from a magic wand or something. By the way, I'm going to go see the new Harry Potter movie tonight!! Yay! I'll have to write about that next time...

And now I leave you with a picture of two super cute kids I met at that BBQ back in April. They were ALL smiles the whole evening, and I couldn't get enough of them!

Peace out for now! :)

* * *
To read my lastest entry in "Keep Shining," click here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Six courses of Japanese cuisine

I'm doing my best right now to wait patiently for dinner time.

At 7 p.m., I'm meeting about 30 of Mayla's friends(!) for her farewell dinner. (She's going to be one missed gal!)

It's now 5:32 p.m., and I'm hungry. But I know I really shouldn't snack right now because tonight is one of those all-you-can-eat deals. One hour, twenty-eight minutes and counting...

So. I'm passing the time by writing in my blog...about food! Of course. Doesn't that make a whole lot of sense?

Anyway, I just want to share about a really special meal that the gals and I had while they were visiting. It was my friend Kenji's idea to take them to a traditional restaurant in Kuji, where they could have an elegant Japanese dinner. It ended up being quite a cultural experience!

As soon as I walked in, I knew this was special. Our own private room!

The first course (of six!) was already on our table....

First course consisted of rice, miso soup, fish and crab (cooked), raw squid, a cold egg wrap, and sea urchin. The presentation of all courses was very lovely. (and leafy, haha)

The fanstastic-looking (*sarcastic voice*) sea urchin.

This picture is priceless! Obviously Jennifer wasn't a fan of the sea creature. "Water!!" None of us really cared for the sea urchin, to be honest. Except for Kenji, who gladly ate ours.

Course #2:

Whole shrimp with eyes, two pieces of egg with avacado and fermented soy beans (called natto). I don't care for natto, but it was edible within the egg.

Course #3:

This was the "tempura" (fried) round -- a fried crab claw, fried soy beans, fried avacado roll. All were yummy!

Course #4:

Tofu and fried fish in a milky soup. "Oishii!" (delicious!)

Course #5:

Veggies -- peppers, onions, asparagus -- and grilled squid ear (!) all in squid guts. I know that last part makes it sound super gross, but really it was quite good. :) Even Jennifer thought this was okay.

Final course (#6):

A traditional Japanese meal concludes with cold soba noodles and dipping sauce.

To end the evening, we took a couple of group shots...

First with Kenji..

...and then with the chef and kimono-wearing servers.

Overall, it was a fun meal -- wondering what we would be served next and watching the gals' reactions to everything. What a nice experience!

My stomach is officially eating itself now. *popping third piece of hard candy into my mouth!*