My Eight Month Coma 1

Last week I travelled back in time to Tokyo.  You’re probably thinking that makes no sense because everyone knows that Tokyo is actually 13 hours in the future (from NYC).  Nevertheless, that’s what it felt like.  Or maybe I’ve just been in a really long coma.  Yes, some things had changed (many many friends were missing) but I could easily explain that away – they were off traveling.  What I’m trying to say is that even though its been 8 months since I left Japan, it felt like I woke up from a long sleep and I was right back where I started from.  My 100 words of Japanese returned and came flowing out of my mouth upon arrival at the airport limousine bus counter in Narita airport.  Directions to taxi drivers were a cinch, the staff at the American club welcomed me with open arms and a few shopkeepers in Azabu Juban were friendlier than they would have been to a total American stranger.  I had hoped that my time away would have given me perspective and that returning would give me the closure I really wanted and needed; the figurative final stamp in my passport sending me on my way.  I was too emotional when I left to really process the departure.  This, unfortunately didn’t happen.  There was no perspective, no closure.  I found myself pretending that I still actually lived there.  Looking back on those very very brief 5 nights/4 days, I’d say that I didn’t do anything any differently than I would have if I still lived there (with a few exceptions that I’ll get to later).  I went to the fundraiser of my children’s school, ate ramen (2x), had a foot massage (or 2) went to the supermarket, the American club, had sushi in Tsukiji, went to a shrine sale, took trains, spent the night in a ryokan, saw a fire festival and had a girls night out.  So, you’re starting to get the point, right?  What I did in that short period of time was not a vacation itinerary – it was my plain old vanilla life – or the life I used to lead.  Which was anything but vanilla.  Hence the lack of closure.  But i’ve returned home happy to know that even though I’ve been gone for 8 months my friendships lived on.  We picked right back up where we left off – if anything, I appreciate them more.  And, those exceptions I mentioned earlier… well, lets just say I was fortunate to have an opportunity I won’t ever forget.  I spent those five nights and four days happily ensconced in the MacArthur Suite at the US Ambassador’s residence.  Kisses to John and Susie Roos.  Maybe next time, the coma won’t have to be so long…

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I Went To Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (or did I?) 4

mercedesbenzFashion Week in NYC.  Iconic, star-studded, drama-laden and normally something I would read about in the Style section of the NY Times.  But this past Monday, I had a golden ticket!  A few weeks ago, I called my closest friend with fashion connections (JOM) and begged her to rustle up two tickets.  She said probably unlikely and then  a day later, like magic, the email invite appeared in my inbox for Carolina Herrera’s show on Monday at 10am.  My first response was sheer excitement followed closely by the dread of what to wear.  My closet is limited when it comes to anything with a name. I asked JOM what she was wearing and she said “when in doubt, wear black”.  I decided to rock my Buddhist Chant jeans and wore it with a long Japanese free form BLACK tunic.  But in the end, I shouldn’t have given it a moment’s thought.  Monday was a dreadful day weather wise and I was more concerned about the state of my hair (matted and wet) then what was under my coat which I never even removed.  After being whisked away from our small hamlet of Rye to Grand Central via fairy godmother (the Metro-North railroad) we waited in line for a taxi that never came  (NYC + bad weather = subway).   I say subway casually but truth be told I haven’t been underground since my NYU days and those are days LONG GONE BY.  After overshooting 66th street by a stop, we made a u-turn and raced back down to Lincoln center.  The show was scheduled for 10am but from experience JOM assured me the show wouldn’t start until at least 10:30 so even though we were late, we weren’t anywhere near FASHIONABLY late.  We had plenty of time to sit and scope out the crowd before the lights went out.  And it was a beautiful crowd.  My friend KOM was in the second row (husband of JOM) and I took a picture of him: he’s the cute one in the black suit.

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Carrolina Herrera is a style icon.  There were very few pieces that came down the runway that I wouldn’t want to own – and that’s saying a lot for fashion week.  The clothes are usually not designed with someone like me in mind.  I must say that fur is IN IN IN for Fall 2013 which I couldn’t be more thrilled with.  I’m sick of being made to feel bad about wearing my coat out in public. I did find the shirt with the furry chest a little off putting and I’m sure no girl going through the “changes” would EVER buy that – her internal temp would ratchet up to unsafe levels!

This is a picture of my favorite look that came down the runway:  It’s hard to see but it was a dress that looked like it was made out of gold kimono fabric with a very thick and beautiful band of chocolate fur at the top:

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While I was busy snapping away, I did manage to pick out a few of the uber BP in the crowd.

If you look carefully you can spot Fran Lebowitz and Graydon Carter.graydonfran

And here you can see Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington (look for the red blur):

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And this is a shot of the runway finale when all of the models came out together.  It’s hard to see anything but you get the sense of the experience:

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And then just like that the lights came up and people started moving at a crazy pace to get to the next show.  JOM and I had a lovely invitation to meet KOM at the Hearst Building for lunch.  If you’ve never been, its quite a place.  The architect kept the historic landmark building base and then built this incredibly modern building right on top of it.  The company cafeteria is on the floor that separates the old from the new.   After lunch we got the million dollar tour of the building including the fabulous art collection owned by the Hearst family and hung in the hallways.  It was such a beautiful place it gave JOM and I thoughts of going back to work!  And then it was a quick cab back to Grand Central where the fairy godmother train was waiting to turn us back into suburban housewives, and I was in the carpool line in time for pickup.  As I went about the rest of my day driving the girls here and there, cooking dinner and hauling out the garbage I did have a moment when I thought “did it really happen or was I just dreaming?”

Sandy – Can’t You Make A Dog Leg To The Right? 1

What does this photo look like to you?  The 9th hole on your local golf course?  A middle aged woman’s left arm?  What it looks like to me is a long week ahead.  We’d been forewarned for days and yet I made my first trip to the store(s) Saturday around noon.  Smarter, more experienced folks went days before and basically bought out all the items on my shopping list.  You see, I’ve missed the last four years of “the biggest storms ever seen” on the east coast of the United States.  And I just thought there was a huge CNN effect going on – you know, the doom and gloom over exaggeration of any news item ever.  The updates in the past days reminded me of the hours after the earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011 when we kept hearing terms like “countdown to the the meltdown” whenever we would put on the US television.  But as I’ve been watching the storm move north, and the various news reporters providing live coverage from their various cities I think this time we might be in for a little bit of trouble.  The thought of spending a day let alone 7-10 in my small home with two teenage daughters and no internet or television makes me shiver.  The power is fully on as I write this and they are starting to get edgy already.  No showers, no flushing toilets, no hot coffee – meals of tuna (mayo less because of course that will have gone bad days before), canned chili and soup will not make for a happy family.  And that’s assuming nothing happens to our windows, trees or flying outdoor furniture – despite all the preparations.  I haven’t been in a home thats lost power in so long I can’t remember what its like.  I hope I am not newly acquainted with the situation.

What Will Your New Life Look Like? 2

*this entry is dedicated to all my friends who are on the move…

What will your new life look like?

Will you live in a city? A home with a backyard?  Will you hear the waves crash while you eat dinner?  What will you do after the kids go to school?  Play tennis?  Go to a new job?  Clean your house?  Do laundry?  Play cards?  Will you drive your children to school or will they walk or take a bus or a train or a bike?  Will you go out every Friday and Saturday night or will you stay home and have dinner with your kids?  Or order in?  Or cook for friends?  Will you still dance?  And sing?  Will you travel domestically or use a passport?  Will you join a book club or just read magazines instead?  Will you ever use your bike as a means of transportation or just on a beautiful summer day?  Will you return to Japan next year?  Or will life get too busy?  Will you look through your photos and wonder if life will ever be as fun or will you just get on with your day?  Will you have three course lunches?  With a glass of wine?  Will you travel on trains?  When you hear the Japanese anthem will you be moved?  When you see the white flag with the red sun will you smile?  At 5pm will you wait to hear the bell?  Will you go out of your way for a Japanese meal just to practice your unused words?  Will you still use a rice cooker when you make dinner?  Will you Skype?  Will you go to the doctor more?  Will you still walk to where you are going?  Will you still be curious?

Seoul Sisters 2

 Last year, our plans for a girls trip to Seoul to celebrate an important birthday were quashed due to the 9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan.  This time around we were adamant – we weren’t going to let a little thing like a North Korean missile launch stop us from our 72 hours of fun.  We left Tokyo early Monday morning for a very brief 2 hour flight (how come more people don’t go to Seoul?) where we met up with Mona, our long lost friend who took off to “grayer” pastures (Hong Kong) last June.  Our adventure began with a walk from the hotel (Lotte – totally great spot – especially our “Ladies Floor” rooms) to Namdaemun Market for a quick look around and lunch.  We did our due diligence and looked to see which hole in the wall had the most customers and sat down to a delicious lunch of bibimbap (a hot stone bowl filled with rice, veggies and other assorted yumminess), dumplings and fried rice with a fried egg on top.  And lots of kimchi – deliciously spicy fermented vegetables – something we would see at EVERY meal.  And of course, beer.  It was so good, we ate everything.  We were the only foreigners in the place and the proprietress watched us as we ate everything.   It became obvious very early on that this trip was going to be about two things – food and more food.
Monday Night – 6pm:  We met up with our guide Daniel Gray – from O’Ngo Foods – a cooking school that gives food tours.  We walked from the school through narrow alley ways as he pointed out some interesting buildings and talked about the neighborhood that we were walking in (Insadong) until we came to a small little shack with several oil drum bbqs set up.  Our first stop was for Garmaeggisal – a special cut of pork located near the pig’s diaphragm.  It’s grilled over hot coals with mushrooms and then eaten in a lettuce leaf that’s been smeared with various pastes and toppings – including very spicy green chills and korean garlic cloves. While eating, we learned a new drinking game (Titanic) and learned that in Korea there aren’t as many rules about how you eat your food as there are in Japan – basically anything goes.  After having eaten everything in front of us, it was time for a walk…to the next restaurant.
Our next destination was down another back alleyway in a typical korean home called a Hanok.  The star of this eating show was actually a drink;  Bbongip Makgeolli – Korean rice wine.  It’s served cold in a metal tea pot and poured into metal bowls.  It resembles watered down skim milk.  It was quite tasty and easy to drink and of course it was accompanied by some more food.  Huge triangles of fluffy ricotta like tofu arrived with a delicious soy dipping sauce.  We also ate different types of pickled roots – including ginseng.  This is when we learned the next drinking game; 007.
After polishing off everything there, we walked some more and took a dessert break.   Kkultarae is a dessert made from honey and cornstarch that is pulled and stretched into thousands of gossamer strands and then wrapped around different nut fillings.  The dessert I could take or leave however the guys that make the dessert must be seen to be believed: http://inews6.americanobserver.net/articles/seoul-street-food
We were running short on time, so we hopped a bus to our next destination – Andong Jjimdak – steamed chicken of Andong.  A huge steaming platter of chicken parts, vegetables, potatoes and sweet potato noodles in a thick brown sauce arrived at the table.  We moaned at the size of the platter – not sure how we would possibly get it all down.  But bit by bit, bowl by bowl, we started to make a dent.  I didn’t realize how good a sweet potato noodle could taste.  And to finish it off, the waitress dumped a bowl of crunchy well done rice into the remains and mixed and chopped it all up and we of course had to try that as well.  Our last drinking game of the night – the mighty metal twist off cap from the rice wine – flick it and it stays on, you are safe, flick it and it flies, well then you have to drink.
Our final destination was a night market to eat Bindaetteok – mung bean pancakes.  Walking through the market around 9 at night, outdoor stalls where old women stood in the middle cooking for patrons seated on makeshift stools made me feel like I was in an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations show.  I loved it!  The mung bean pancakes were greasy and hot and salty and tasted a lot like a latke – a Jewish potato pancake.  But they were not easy to get down due to the amount of food we had already consumed. The beer helped.
Saying goodbye to Daniel temporarily – we would meet again on Wednesday, we jumped in taxis and went to The Dragon Hill Spa where Korean ladies in black bras and panties were waiting to scrub our bodies raw.  Yes, raw.  Dark chunks of skin begin to emerge beside you on the plastic bed.  You try hard to ignore just how dead the skin on your body was, when the lady grabs a handful of it and shoves it in your face saying something indecipherable but you’re pretty sure its something like “wow, you are one dirty girl”.
Freshly scrubbed with slicked back pony tails, we stumbled into a taxi and somehow found our way home.  It was late, we were full and we were clean.
Tuesday Morning:  The alarm went off way too early but our 7:10 departure from the hotel for the DMZ was calling us.  Down in the van, dressed in the proper outfits (no worn jeans, no sandals, no shorts, no training pants, no sleeveless shirts and no leather pants) we were on our way to North Korea.  After the long list of rules were read aloud, we arrived at the main building for a 20 minute “briefing”.  Basically, what happened in the past 100 years or so to bring us where we are today.  It was quite informative.  Outside, we boarded a military bus which would take us the rest of the way to the border.  We pulled up at a very large concrete building that was very cold and very empty inside. We exited the building on the back side and came face to face with another large building that looked pretty much like the one we were just in, and four bunkers – 2 baby blue and 2 metallic.  The large building on the other side was the North Korean’s equivalent of the building we just came through.  Between the two blue buildings was a cement slab which separated the North from the South.  The guide said that anyone can cross it but once on the other side, there was no coming back.  We entered one of the blue bunkers and inside were several conference tables – with one in the very middle of the room horizontally – with three microphones installed down the line.  This was the actual border between the two countries and you could trace the same line outside with the concrete slab.  On the other side of the conference table was North Korea and the door out.  We were allowed to walk to the other side, stand with the guards and take pictures.  It was creepy!  We were told that when meetings are held between the two countries, representatives approach the table from both sides through their doors.  And interestingly, the North Koreans also give tours just in the opposite direction.
Once outside again we stood and stared at the large North Korean building and the two soldiers who stood and stared at us – through binoculars.  We were pretty sure our tall blond friend Katherine was causing quite a stir.
The tour included a few more hot spots like the propaganda village where North Koreans continually play messages about how they are lucky to live in Paradise, the site where  two marines were beheaded in an axe fight, the area where a defector from North Korea ran away and the Freedom Bridge where prisoners were exchanged.  Lunch was at a nearby bulgogi restaurant which was not good but we weren’t expecting much (the only bad meal of the trip).
Back in town, we made a stop at Insadong for shopping.
Dinner that night was at a place that Daniel our foody recommended.  It was called Jungsik and the chef also has a place on Harrison Street in Tribeca.  We had to choose 5 different plates from a tasting menu.  The food was amazing.  I started with a crunch salad of seaweed and quail egg, followed by a pasta dish with clams, garlic and jalepeno and then pork belly and then duck and for dessert strawberry ice cream.  The amuse bouche included a bite sized burger and the dessert after the dessert had small jellies shaped like Korean masks.  I’ll definitely give it a try when I’m back in NY.
Still to come…massages at the all girl Spa Lei.
We thought we had reservations for a one hour massage at 10:45pm but when we arrived it wasn’t quite as clear as we thought it would be.  Luckily, Efrot was able to communicate with the woman in Japanese and we secured sports massages at 11:20 which gave us about 30 minutes to walk around and check out the place.  Think Roman baths with all woman.  Everywhere you looked there were women of all shapes, sizes and ages, sprawled about – nude with interesting towel placements.  There was a room where you could get a hip bath – which we weren’t sure what that was and it wasn’t made much clearer when the large older woman started smacking herself between the legs to try and explain.  Later on we would find out that the treatment involved sitting on a stool naked with an open hole where wormwood steam would emerge in order to detox the uterus.  We passed on that one.
There was another area that was made of bricks and resembled an American Indian sweat lodge.  We went inside for about a second before having to run out to try and catch our breath.  A large room with tatami had many ladies sprawled about while they watched a Korean soap opera.  Libby decided to join them.  We left her there for awhile until our treatments were ready to begin.  She said it was fine, because her show was over anyway.  Boy do I wish I had a camera to catch a photo of the ginger laying about with all the Koreans.  Its something I’ll laugh about again and again.
The massages were in one room with mattresses on the floor.  Bright lights, another soap on the TV, each of us laying side by side.  Even though there was no oil and there was a sheet on top of us, it was the hardest massage I have ever received.  My feet were flipping and my hands fluttering, the pain was intense.  But I felt really really good afterwards.  Another late night taxi home.
Wednesday morning:  we woke to pouring rain. This put a bit of a damper on our last day in Seoul as we had secured a van and Daniel to show us around and we planned on walking through neighborhoods, stopping and shopping and of course eating.
We started the day with a return to Namdaemon market for a few last minute purchases we hadn’t made on Monday.  From there we drove to Samcheon Dong – the Hanok area with old traditional Korean homes.  Several of the homes were rented to artisans – we visited a knot house – literally a place where women sat all day and made knots out of silk rope.  These decorative pieces were hung from their traditional style dress – Hanbok.  They were gorgeous but outrageously expensive.
It had been about two hours since last we ate so we stopped to eat again.  This time at another  favorite spot of Daniel’s called BooksCooks.  It was housed in a traditional Korean home but it had been modernized and the inner courtyard was covered over.  The place was totally cool and the scones and brownies, delicious.  I chose the Omija tea – which tasted like cranberries.  Amazing.
From tea we went to Gahoedong and attempted to walk around but the rain was forcing inside to…eat!
Lunch was at a galbi jjim restaurant – very spicy braised short ribs.  This dish is seriously hot and they serve you various things along with the beef to eat when your mouth is on fire.  But its so good you just keep eating it.  We also had many different kinds of fried pancakes with vegetables, pork, oysters and zucchini.  And of course Kimchee – it goes without saying that this appeared at EVERY meal in various forms.
After one more shopping pit stop, our time had run out.  We drove to the airport, said goodbye to our friend Mona and boarded the very short 2 hour flight home.
I’m not sure why this city isn’t on everyone’s bucket list – it has so much to offer and if you live in Tokyo its ridiculously close –
It’s always good to leave something behind…it gives you a reason to return.

The Calm in the Storm 2

On March 14th, Annie’s 12th birthday and 3 days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I woke the kids at 5:30 a.m. and we left our apartment for Narita Airport.  Our plan was to get on the morning flight to Bali, a week before our planned spring break vacation.  We didn’t have tickets for the 14th but with the aftershocks constantly rolling underneath us, the unknown nuclear reactor situation and the closing of the kid’s schools, Tom and I thought it best I take the kids and leave.  It took a lot of time and yen to get on the flight but with tickets in hand we ran to security to make it on the 11am flight.  Standing in line at immigration, there was a very large aftershock – so big that everyone left the line and ran for cover.  If you’ve ever been in Narita’s immigration room, you’ll know there really is no such thing. So after we got Sophie out from under the huge piece of glass hanging from the ceiling, we waited for it to stop and continued to the gate.  We boarded the flight a few moments before its scheduled departure. Usually I hate to fly and have to take a few pills to relax in my seat.  This trip, I thanked god when the wheels left the ground and for the first time in two decades, the turbulence didn’t bother me.  We landed in Denpasar seven hours later, tired and relieved, yet sad to have left Tom behind.  The taxi drove for over an hour through crowded streets, where motor scooters outnumbered cars ten to one.  The ride was one we had never taken and the stimuli blew by us at 80 kilometers per hour.  We were glued to the windows taking it all in.  After days of worrying and stress, the new surroundings were a huge relief, something to take our minds off what we had just been through.  We arrived at our hotel in Ubud, dirty and hungry, and the warm welcoming people who took our bags and led us to a table outside by the jungle were like a vision.  We ordered huge amounts of food and ate it all – they were even there with a cake and a candle for Annie – a birthday she will never forget.  The relief we felt that we were safe in Bali was palpable and I’m pretty sure none of us had a problem falling asleep that night.  We spent ten days at that hotel, taking full advantage of everything Ubud had to offer – white water rafting, bike rides through rice paddies, yoga, monkey forests, nighttime rides on elephants, laying around by the pool, massages, authentic Balinese food, shopping, playing cards and numerous games of Bananagrams – cocktail hour under the thatched roof bar – smoothies made from fresh tropical fruits. We fed our minds, bodies and souls and we talked a lot about what happened and our lives back in Tokyo.  We worried about Tom and talked to him often.  We went over tons of What If scenarios and facebooked our friends to see what they were feeling and learn of their plans for the future.  This vacation was like no other and will forever be melded with the earthquake.  I am so grateful that we were able to go and I’m truly thankful to all of the wonderful people in Bali who cared for us – hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to one day return under better circumstances.  Namaste.

Momiji-gari: leaf peeping in Japan 2

ROAD TRIP!!! One car, six girls, bags of snacks, cups of coffee, even a homemade carrot cake – we were on our way to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, a 4+ hour drive from Tokyo to a land of thatched roof houses and magnificent fall foliage.  We had 36 hours to see and do as much as possible and even though the car navi said it would take 5 1/2 hours to get to Takayama, we put the proverbial pedal to the medal and made it in

4 – an hour before our lunch reservation at the hundred year old soba shop.  This gave us time to scope out the town of Takayama, a foothold of the Tokugawa Shogunate; a feudal regime of shoguns.  We visited the Takayama Jinya, an historical asset that was built as a villa originally but then taken over as an administrative office.  It was beautifully restored.  The kitchen, with current appliances would have been right at home in a ski lodge in Aspen.  Here is a photo.

 

 

 

Lunch at the hundred year old soba shop did not disappoint. The bowl was almost too beautiful to eat, but it didn’t stop us from diving in.

 

After lunch, we spent an hour walking up and down the edo style streets, walking in and out of the small shops, buying more snacks and fun Japanese crafts.  The streets were fairly crowded for a Monday and many Japanese were dressed in Kimono.  Around 4pm, we made our way to the ryokan, the Japanese inn where we would spend the night.  Although it was located on a main street, next to a gas station, as soon as you entered through the torii gate, past the iron gas lamps, you left the modern street behind.  Actually, as soon as we pulled in to the parking lot across the street, a man ran towards us as though he was waiting in the window, watching for our arrival.  He grabbed every bag he could possibly manage (even though many of us were taller than him) and led us inside.  We were immediately welcomed and invited to sit by the fire for a welcome cup of tea and Japanese sweets.   Our room had two floors, a living area downstairs with a private deck with our own onsen outside and a sleeping room upstairs.  We cocktailed in our living area, snacking on wasabi rice crackers and vacuum packed chestnuts and played “would you rather” which got pretty survivor-like quickly.  Before dinner, we went in the onsen and soaked in the hot water outside in the pitch dark.  Warm and a bit fuzzy, we dressed in our custom chosen yukata and went to dinner in the inn.  I’ve included a photo down below of our table waiting for us in our private dining room.  Like most ryokan, dinner was completely Japanese and we had fun seeing who would eat what.  The two most adventurous in our group, Katherine and Efrot seemed to have no problem eating almost anything on their plate but the rest of us needed input before taking a stab at some of it.  The main course was Hida beef which we cooked ourselves on hot stones over a grill in the middle of the table.  The five small bits we were all served were delicious and left us wanting more.  And so, when the final course of the main meal was served: beef to be eaten raw, we waited until our server left the room and Libby threw her raw beef on the stone and cooked it too.  We all followed her lead.  After dinner we were invited to the main room of the lodge to do tin art with the sensei.  He had cut beer cans into squares and framed them and showed us how to turn them into something beautiful.  I made a replica of one of the thatched roof houses we would see the next day.  Here is a photo:

After we finished our works of art, we returned to our sleeping room to find 6 futons laid side by side.  We tucked in and fell fast asleep; well the rest of the girls did and after an ambien, I joined them.

Our plan was to wake up early and go to the morning market by the river but when the alarm went off at 7, it was raining and so we went back to bed and decided to skip the market.  We did manage to get back on the road by 10 and we expected a 50 minute drive to Shirakawa-go using the new road and tunnel but 30 minutes later, after driving through one of the longest tunnel i’ve ever been in, we were there.  And the magic began.  Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site and as soon as you drive down the road and spot the first of many of these very special houses you immediately know why.  Shirakawa-go has some of the densest snowfall on Earth and it is believed to be the reason why these homes were built with these roofs.  Here are a few of the houses but they are literally scattered everywhere.  We pretty much ran through fields, amazed by each one we would find – there were at least fifty of them spread out in the small village.  Each one unique and yet the same.  Many of them have been turned into small shops and minshuku (inns that are more basic then ryokan).  It started to rain while we were there but we soldiered on, not stopping until we had seen the last house and shopped in the last shop.  We were hungry but there was no room anywhere as the bus loads of Japanese tourists had arrived and so back in the car we went to Takayama for a tasty lunch of more Hida beef cooked on our own individual grills.  After lunch, we quickly got back on the road, knowing it would be a long drive back to Tokyo.  What we hadn’t figured on was SNOW!  An actual blizzard.  We came through the end of a very long tunnel and found ourselves at the top of a snow covered mountain road where the traffic had come to a complete stop.  Two cars had already crashed into the side of the mountain and every other car bus and truck stopped in their tracks while their drivers put chains on their tires.  After years of driving to Windham in the snow on dark Friday nights, I felt confident to serpentine through the parked cars and buses and continue slowly down the mountain.  We drove for about 1/2 hour in the snow and then popped out of another long tunnel into Fall weather.  With a huge sigh of relief, we continued on towards home.  It was only 36 hours but it was plenty.  We came, we saw, we ate a lot of food.

 

You’re Still The One 3

In my high school yearbook (Lawrence High School, Class of 1983) under goals it says “To be the president of something” and “To be married successfully”.  So far, i’m one for two.  Tom and I left the kids in Tokyo and spent an exquisite week in Amanpulo, an Aman resort on the small island of Palawan in the Philippines to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  20 years is big time.  When you strip away the drama of living, the babies, the homework, the finances, the jobs, the jealousy, the homes – all the noise of your everyday life you are lucky if you still find your best friend that you agreed to spend the rest of your life with all those years ago.  I haven’t had many opportunities to spend time with Tom in a vacuum.  We’ve had a lot going on since we met.  But this past week, in one of the most magnificent places in the world, we had just that.  Just the two of us, a white sand beach, a turquoise ocean and not much else.  We talked, we told stories, we laughed, we held hands.  We found out that the core is still intact.  We’re still having fun, and he’s still the one.

Is Thanksgiving Really Two Weeks Away? 2

CIMG1550It’s been way too long since I wrote an entry and I have plenty excuses that I will not bore you with.  I seriously can’t believe Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday.  When we last left off, the girls and I had arrived home from Hawaii and the boys had won their first championship in 26 years.  We didn’t waste any time getting back into the groove after vacation and a few days after getting back I went on an all day hike up and down Mt. Mitake.  It took us a few hours, three trains and a funicular to get to the point on the mountain where we would begin our climb (actually descent).  We spent almost 45 minutes going down at least a thousand root-like steps but were rewarded with a magnificent rock garden path that wound around the mountain for at least another hour.  At the top, there is a beautiful shrine and small ryokans (japanese inns with onsen hot spring baths) that were initially built to house the Japanese who came to the shrine on a religious pilgrimage.  It seemed like a wonderful place to stay but we hiked back down and returned to Tokyo by 7:30 at night.  It was a perfect day.  The girls and I had an opportunity to make our own personal chopsticks out of old baseball bats used by professional players in the Japanese league.  First we were tested on our use of chopsticks (which we were all using incorrectly) and then we cut and sanded our wood and painted our designs.  The ohashi as they are called were taken back to the factory where they will be dipped in lacquer and then returned to us.  I am very excited to carry them around and impress the Japanese when I whip them out when we go for ramen and soba.  Halloween came to Tokyo in a big way in Minato-Ku (the gaigin ghetto and basically the only place to trick or treat) and the girls dressed up and went trick or treating with friends in the neighborhood.  Annie wanted to be an M&M and the costume didn’t exist in Tokyo so I made it from felt with velcro and I sewed the thing myself!  After four kids, it was the first costume I actually made myself.  Pathetic?  Maybe just a little.   Our friends Mona and Gordon threw an over the top Halloween party that caused the police to come twice.  The house was decorated like a movie set and the food was beyond good.  I dressed up as Amy Winehouse and won best costume.  I got a really cute blow up doll as my prize.  For Tom’s birthday I made reservations at the Hyatt Resort in Hakone for a quick overnight.  We left the kids in Tokyo (by themselves!) and took off.  Hakone is a hot springs area where you can see smoke rising around every curve of the mountainous region.  The hotel was what you would envision a Japanese hotel to look like; very zen, very beautiful and very simple (but it was luxurious too).  There was a large fire pit in the lobby with comfy chairs and we got to wear our yukata (robes) with an over yukata (not sure what these are called) in the lobby, at dinner, basically everywhere we went.  It was fabulous.  When we checked in, it was dark and we couldn’t see the view but in the morning we pulled the shades back and the mountains were in our bedroom.  The day was amazing.  We started at the open air museum (the picture above was taken there) and then went to the ropeway which took us to the top of the rim of a volcano where the views of Mt. Fuji and lake Ashi were stunning.  We made the mandatory shrine stop at Hakone Shrine  – there is a beautiful red torii gate in the lake and then had an excellent Italian lunch by the lake.  We made it back in time to have dinner with the kids.  They survived without us and we are going to make sure to do more overnight trips.  They are so invigorating.  The Friday night before the last home football game, my friend Libby and I cooked a ton of food and invited the entire Varsity Football Team over for pasta night.  We went through three huge lasagnas, 6 pounds of ziti, 55 meatballs, 6 garlic breads, 2 huge caesar salads, 60 cupcakes and at least as many oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  We were able to sit everyone around one big long table and it was a really fun night.  It was nice to finally meet the boys without their helmets on!  After the dinner, Tom referred many many boxing matches (of course Hayden has two sets of gloves he bought in Thailand) and the place got pretty rowdy as you can imagine but no one called the police so that was good.  I’ve been busy leading tours for the American club too.  The first tour I led was to the Mashiko Pottery festival about a 2.5 hour bus trip outside of Tokyo.  There were over 100 potters – totally cool, hip, Japanese women and men who would have been at home in a surf shop if they weren’t potting.  I bought a few treasures and thoroughly enjoyed the day.  The next trip was an overnight to Mikimoto Pearl Island, the wedded rocks and Ise Shrine.  This area is several hours away from Tokyo and is reached via bullet train and local train.  We went to the pearl island where Mikimoto started his cultured pearl business with the amah divers.  These are old women dressed in white linen dresses and hats who dive for pearls and collect them in wooden buckets that float on the water.  Its a pretty crazy thing to watch (check it out on youtube).  We then went to see the Wedded Rocks which are a pair of rocks located by the shore (one is large, the other small) that the Japanese believe represent husband and wife and were the birth of all the islands of Japan.  They are tied together with a thick rope and there is a shrine on land called the Frog Shrine.  We stayed at a Thalasso Therapy resort right on the ocean and had a fabulous french meal.  The next day we had a menu of treatments to choose from, all involving water in some way.  It was so relaxing.  A train ride away in Ise we visited Ise Shrine – the most sacred of all Shinto Shrines in Japan.  Every 20 years, they take down the old shrine and build an identical one right next to it.  People say it is to keep the skill set of the craftsman alive.  We came at a great time as the new one was almost finished and the old one was yet to be destroyed.  It was a lot of see and do in 36 hours but it was fantastic.  Last night I led a yakatabune tour (the japanese junk boat I rented last spring with my friends).  It was a great night – 65 and no wind in Tokyo on November 14th.  You can’t ask for better weather than that.  And then today, to finish off the blog, Tom and I spent the day at Meiji Shrine to watch the 3-5-7 festival.  Each year on this day, the Japanese dress up their children in formal kimono who have turned three, five and seven during the year and bring them to their local shrine to pray for a good life.  Meiji is a very famous shrine and it just happens to be very close to where we live.  We got some great photos and enjoyed another balmy 65 degree fall day.  We’ll be 24 in total for Thanksgiving on the 26th.  I am so happy to have my family all together this year.

Hugh and the Two (brothers that is) 4

the brothers on the sideline

the brothers on the sideline

A few weeks ago, Sophie had come across an ad for the premiere of X-Men Zero, Wolverine in the Stars and Stripes newspaper I picked up at the US Embassy.  “Can we go, Mom?” she asked.  We’ll see I told her.  A few days later, “Can we go Mom?  I really want to go, please,” she asked again.  We’ll see I said.  The day before the event, I started to google to find out when it would take place.  I knew all the movie premieres were at Roppongi Hills but I wasn’t sure when it started and where exactly they were held.  I couldn’t find a single mention on google.  Strange.  I decided my last ditch effort would be to post something on Facebook.  “Anyone know when the X-Men premiere starts tonight at Roppongi Hills?”  Within a half hour, my best friend from High School, Jenny sent me a message telling me that her friend was Hugh’s hair stylist and that she just spoke to him this morning in Tokyo and that he was with Hugh going to the premiere.  Would I like her to call him back and get us on the guest list?  YES PLEASE!  Within a few hours, our names were on the guest list and I couldn’t wait for the girls to come home from school so I could tell them that not only were we going to the premiere, we were actually going to get to see Hugh and watch the movie.  You can imagine the jumping that ensued.  They scrambled to finish their homework so they could figure out what they were going to wear.  At 5pm, we left the apartment and went up to Roppongi Hills to check it out.  After a few Japanese moments (enough said) they found the person who knew we were supposed to be there and we were in possession of 4 20th Century Fox Staff Stickers and were personally escorted to a fabulous spot on the red carpet.  We watched Hugh ride in on the Harley from the movie and then laughed as he tried to speak Japanese and then Annie got to talk to him!  We had brought our DVD copy of Australia and a big fat red sharpie and as he came down the red carpet Tom yelled Hugh really loudly.  He turned around and saw Annie waiting with the DVD and he asked her where she was from and if she was on vacation or if she lived in Japan.  She was pretty cool and answered all his questions.  After the red carpet, we went into the theater and got to see the movie which we all really liked.  It was a magical night.  On the subject of magical nights, we had another one last night.  It was the season opener for ASIJ Varsity Football.  Hayden was starting as QB and Thomas was playing both ways, tight end and defensive end.  Even though they have both played football since 4th grade, they’ve NEVER been on the same team.  But now that Thomas repeated junior year and Hayden is playing up, they are together for the first time.  And to add to the excitement, Tom Sr was announcing.  On Thursday afternoon, the coach said that no one had volunteered to announce and they were in desperate need for someone to do it.  Tom usually films the games but stepped up to announce.  Picture it; Saturday night, 5pm, both of the boys playing together, Tom announcing, full moon.  Had to have been one of the best nights of Tom Sr’s life.  And Hayden’s.  And maybe even Tom Jr’s.  When the game was over, the brothers connected for two TD passes and Hayden ran in one of his own.  We won 42-16.  Tom had a blast working the mike.  One of the touchdowns Thomas made, was one handed and ended up breaking a finger. It was our first experience in the Emergency Room in Tokyo and we had heard horror stories about finding an ER that would take you and would have the right doctor and one that spoke English.  I called the American Club and they pointed us in the right direction:  Go to the Red Cross Hospital and look for the red ramp right.  Huh???  The red ramp right.  Its the only area of the hospital that is open.  Hmmm… we drove around the hospital in search of this mysterious clue.  And then we found it.  A small flashing red lamp light.  Father and son spent the remainder of the night in the hospital while Hayden went out to celebrate.  Magic.