Friday Five

Five Things I’m Looking Forward to in March

Happy March! I am so excited for the upcoming break, although I’ll be sad to let go of my students. The last day of the term will be tough, but luckily I have I lot to look forward to!

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1. Trip to Tokyo– the last time we went to Tokyo, we couldn’t go to the Studio Ghibli museum because tickets were sold out, and we didn’t get a chance to go to the famous Tsukiji Fish market because we were with a close friend who has a serious aversion to fish. Ever since I read this post from justhungry.com, I’ve really wanted to visit the Ghibli museum (and then there’s also my love of the sweet film Totoro). Hopefully both plans work out this time around!

2. Trip to Mie– I always love meeting up with our friends from the area we used to live in Japan, and to top it off, there are some amazing ramen shops out that way.

3. Trip to Pocky Factory in Hyogo– Pocky is involved. Need I say more?

4. Cherry Blossom Viewing– Absolutely one of my favorite parts of Japanese culture. Picnics, day or night, under the blossoms with friends…it doesn’t get much better than that!

5. Coursera Classes, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Fitness, RELAXING– I am so excited to be taking some really interesting-looking courses for free via Coursera, including a philosophy class called Know Thyself, and an Intro to Art class that is hands-on. The art class doesn’t start in March, so I’m going to try and get an extra fix by finally trying to do the entire Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

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Of course in between all of my studies I’ll need to get up and get some exercise, and without the stress of work and quite as many to-do’s, hopefully I’ll have more energy to do so! Ultimately all of the things on my list will lead to a very relaxing, fruitful month.

What kind of fun are you planning this month?

*Note: Once again, I worked late and couldn’t actually post this on a Friday! We went out for Chinese, and then pretty much drank tea and went to bed. The end is in sight, the end is in sight!

Friday Five · Seen/Heard/Tried

Ten New Foods I Tried this Year

We were fortunate enough to travel a lot within the last year: We went to France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Michigan, the Philippines, and Thailand. Whew! I know we will probably never be able to travel like that again, and I am so thankful we had that opportunity. Lately I’ve been dreaming about going back to Europe especially. I was making spaghetti the other day and dreaming about our picnic in Villa Borghese, Italy, and remembering going to the same amazing restaurant 3 nights in a row to try different pastas and pizzas… And this morning I was enchanted with this blog post showing a gorgeous apartment in France. I immediately wanted to return to Paris and enjoy croissants, crêpes and macaroons–and of course the amazing architecture and museums and history! (And can I please have that exact style in a house in Michigan!?) We learned so much through our travels, and tried many new things.

As you may have guessed, one of my favorite things about traveling is trying the food (I think I mentioned that before). Don’t get me wrong, the history and architecture are huge for me too, but food is so revealing of a culture. Here are ten (out of many more!) new foods I tried this year:

1. Pistachio Gelato (Rome)

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2. Savory Empanadas (Barcelona)

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3. Tortellini Stir Fry (Amsterdam)

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This was an amazing Italian-Asian fusion, and I have yet to find a recipe like it. Please let me know if you have one!!

4. Dutch Apple Pie

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Of course I had tried apple pie before, but not this apple pie. It was recommended to me by a Holland native, who just so happens to have a recipe on her lovely blog. The crust brings back a feeling of Windmill cookies from Michigan, paired with a thick apple-raisin filling. So. Good.

5. Halohalo (pronounced with a soft “a” sound, Manila)

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Can you see the sweet red beans and the sweet potato ice cream?

6. Crickets (Koh Samui, Thailand)

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Chad was more adventurous than me, and tried one of every kind of insect available.

7. Marshmellow “Tacos” with coconut shavings (Koh Samui)

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We had the pleasure of trying many kinds of amazing street food in Thailand, and this was one of them!

8. Durian, the King of Fruit (Bangkok)

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We didn’t have a chance to try Durian our first time in Thailand, so we had to try it the last time we went! The smell is so strong, and the texture feels like biting into the skin of an orange, but with the taste of old pineapple with a cheesy texture. It’s kind of hard to explain, but what I can say is I’m not missing it!

9. Fugu, or Blowfish (Ise, Japan)

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We tried many different styles and were pleased to survive each bite! I thought it was pretty good, but Chad said it was his new favorite fish!

10. Blueberry Daifuku (Kobe, Japan)

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I love the traditional ichigo daifuku, so I was excited to try this blueberry version. It is sweet blueberry-flavored mochi, or rice cake, with sweet bean paste flavored with blueberry and a strawberry in the middle. The juicy strawberry provides a bright contrast from the thicker mochi.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my taste buds next! The biggest challenge will be recreating some of the foods I loved. Here is a recipe for some other street food we tried in Thailand called Pakora:

Crispy Vegetable Pakora

And here’s another recipe we tried and liked for Falafels (reminding us of Amsterdam):

Spicy Falafels

Also, here’s a link to a really interesting podcast episode of “The Splendid Table” in which British gastronaut Stephen Gates is interviewed about trying insects in Cambodia and Thailand, and about letting go of food preconceptions/the notion of disgust.

Will eating bugs solve the world’s food problems?

What have you tried recently, or what would you like to try?

This post was supposed to be a bonus edition of Friday Five, but I am posting it today because we went out for amazing ramen and then watched Elementary last night. These things happen.

Friday Five

Five things that help me have a better day, every day

Sometimes, especially in the winter or when I’m sick (check, check), it’s easy to feel pretty grouchy. These are some things I’ve incorporated into my daily routine that have really changed my general mood most days, including winter sick days:

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Each night…
1. Tell myself to have sweet dreams and that the next day will be a good day.

2. Tidy up for 10-15 minutes before bed. It feels much better to wake up to dishes done, the table cleared, and lunches packed. It also feels good to go to bed knowing these things have been done.

3. Keep a gratitude journal. In January, Chad gave me a really nice diary with a block of space for each day. I split each page in two: on one side I write down my To Do’s (breaking a giant list into everyday, doable tasks has also been a huge stress-reliever that’s made me more productive), and on the other side I write down at least three things I am grateful for or that made me happy that day. Sometimes it’s even just that I got to wear some cute earrings because it was the weekend (I can’t wear them at work), or that the weather was nice that day. At first I felt like I was really reaching to get three things on my list each day, but once I got myself into the habit, it became hard to stop at three most days! Now, throughout the entire day I find myself seeking out things that make me feel good that I can write down later, instead of focusing on the negative things that happen. And, after nearly two months of keeping it faithfully, I had this extremely joyful moment flipping through the journal and thinking, “Wow, I am so lucky I have so much to be thankful for!” I was actually overwhelmed by the abundance of thankful, happy things that had happened each day.

Every morning…
4. When I wake up, I never leave the room without kissing my husband if I’m up first. The same goes before bed–he always gets a goodnight kiss. I think even the littlest moments count, and I feel so loved and loving because of things like that. I don’t even remember when we started giving good morning/night kisses (maybe we always have?), but now I can’t imagine not doing it!

5. Take time for breakfast, coffee and a shower, even on weekdays. You might say, “Well, of course!” to all of that–especially the shower!–but I mean that I try my best to ensure I have a proper amount of time in the morning to have a shower, and then coffee and breakfast with Chad, talking with him and occasionally listening to the news, before racing out the door to see how much I can get done for the day. Believe me, it’s not always easy. I hate the mornings, but that slow, easy-going wake-up time with my husband makes a huge impact on the rest of my day.

I’m still not feeling better today, but I can say that the 5 things listed above helped my day nevertheless.

Here are some things I’m grateful for today:

  • I could watch girly movies to distract myself from being sick (Blue Valentine and Pitch Perfect).

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Ryan didn’t play the nicest character in Blue Valentine, but somehow I got over it.

  • I made cornbread successfully for the first time! And it looked like the result was smiling at me.

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  • It’s the weekend! And I get to spend (most of) it with my best friend.

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Here he is in Thailand, being all cool and handsome, as usual.

So, what kind of things do you do to improve your mood each day?

Friday Five

Five Things I’m Looking Forward to In America

After spending nearly our entire marriage in Japan –even having our first apartment here together!– you could guess that we have grown pretty comfortable here. It’s easy enough to say: we love Japan. We’ve come to a point in which we’ll always be homesick, whether for Japan, or for Michigan.

That being said, we are super excited to go home this summer and see our family and friends. We’ll be buying our first house and starting an entirely new chapter of our lives. Aside from the general excitement of being back in the Mitten, I’m also super excited about some of life’s conveniences I’ll get to enjoy there. Below are a few:

1. Central Heating

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That there is the little heater that we get by on, along with one of Chad’s creepy little Kobito Dzukan (Dwarf Encyclopedia character) perching below. Everywhere that is not almost directly under this thing is freezing. The Kobito is probably more comfortable than I generally am.

2. A washing machine inside, and a dryer! Oh god, to have a dryer!

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You might ask yourself, “Why is it so dark? And…is that a house in the background?” To which I must say: because the washing machine is outside, and yes, that is a house in the background. The washing machine at that house is outside, too. And, like us, the people living there hang up their laundry outside in the freezing cold, hoping it’ll get dry eventually.

3. A bigger kitchen

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Yes. That’s it. That’s the space in which we prepare our meals. Sometimes it gets a bit wild. I have been known to wedge my cookbook in between dishes in the drying rack there, to stack ingredients randomly around the area, and to force myself to take deep breaths when things tumble down after not having sufficient space on which to rest (as opposed to screaming and throwing things).

4. A bigger fridge and freezer.

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Here you can see Chad modeling his sexy pajamas in order to give perspective regarding the size of our refrigerator (as well as perspective into his amazing fashion at night). Sometimes when we go home to Michigan we open the fridges at our moms’ houses and just stare in disbelief at the size.

5. A proper coffee maker

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So, in case you don’t follow me on instagram or twitter, here’s the deal with this guy: Our coffee pot broke and we kept telling ourselves we could make it through without buying a new one since it would be one more thing to get rid of when we left. I think that was…about two years ago now? We read that pouring the hot water through a drip filter produced better coffee, so that became another rationalization (I can’t say I ever saw a difference in our case, though). Once we had to start making coffee with our ice container instead of a pot, things got dangerous. Earlier this week, as I lifted the container to move it and pour the coffee into cups and thermoses, the filter part dropped down into the ice box, splashing burning hot coffee all over my arm.

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    The burn on my wrist about a week after the coffee incident

Granted, the last item on my list about the coffee pot is a bit more in our control, should we choose to do something about it. You’d think we would’ve on the day I got the burn, but the following day I found myself making coffee again with that same damned contraption, telling myself it would keep me from developing an irrational fear of…burning hot coffee. At least our freezer has more space.

Anyway, there you have it. I know the grass is always greener where you water it, and all of that kind of stuff, and that I’m sure to find things that I miss about the apartments we’ve had in Japan (such as the amazing view we have in Kobe!), but anticipating the five things on this list makes the idea of leaving a little easier to handle.

Friday Five

Friday Five

On my way home from a lovely dinner and trying to stay awake so I don’t miss my train stop. I will be working a lot at home this weekend, so I thought it would be appropriate to post this list I made earlier in the week about how to make working at home more enjoyable.

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Tips for Working at Home in a More Enjoyable Way
1. Use cute stationary, if available.
2. Work out first, then shower, light a candle, and put on a face mask.
3. Listen to good music (I enjoy classical when working at home).
4. Take a break to remove face mask, and continue to take breaks every 30-45 minutes to stretch, drink tea, coffee, water, etc. and/or go to the bathroom.
5. Consume chocolate as needed.

On the day I wrote this list, I ended up using an aloe face mask (pictured below), and in lieu of chocolate I had some fresh strawberries–a real treat considering a little over a pint is nearly the equivalent of 7 USD here!

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We’ll see if these tips help me through the weekend! What kinds of things do you do to make working at home easier?