Monthly Archives: March 2014

Hello from Tokyo

I’m currently passing the time at Bunbougu Cafe, drinking hot tea & eating office supply-shaped cookies. (More on those coming soon!)
Our trip is going well, though it’s passing more quickly than we expected. Naoto is spending lots of time with his mom and I’m eating too many Misdo donuts and seeing too many stationery shops. (Actually, there is no such thing as too many stationery shops!) Tomorrow I’m having the calligraphy lesson, which is both thrilling and scary–I hope I’m not the worst student the teacher has ever seen! And, I saw the cherry blossom blooms for the first time today–just one tree but hopefully more will be blooming by the weekend!
I will report back soon…and obviously, get ready for many Japan posts when I get home.

P.S. Pictured above, an izakaya near my mother-in-law’s neighborhood.

Screen-Free Afternoons

cat napsSo far this year, the most difficult “intention” for me has been Screen-Free Afternoons. And truthfully, it’s probably the most important intention. Stepping away from technology and focusing on making things and finishing things and doing things leads to all of my other intentions.

Because of Screen-Free Afternoons, I’m turning off the TV a little bit earlier in the day or not turning it on at all. The TODAY show is a bad addiction. I feel much better when I listen to NPR and work at my desk in the mornings, but somehow the TODAY show seems to win too often. And when it’s on, I’m less productive not just in the mornings, but for the whole day. I found kind of a nice groove by the end of January and into February, but after Ex Postal Facto, I kind of lost steam. In March, I’ve refocused and tried harder. Usually around one o’clock, I turn off the TV (if it’s still on) and step away from the computer, the iPad and the iPhone for two hours. I usually put a podcast or music on and get to work. On the days that feel most successful, I have “scheduled” a project to work on. So far, I’ve finished a few back-burner craft projects, written a few letters, cleaned a couple of closets and read. Reading is a slippery slope though…it often leads to napping, especially after lunch!

I’m already starting my post-vacation list of Screen-Free Afternoons. I need to focus on getting some housework done this spring so I can focus on getting outside on the balcony and in the garden plot when it warms up.

How are your goals for 2014 coming along? I plan to do a complete “first quarter” update of mine in April.

Japan Does It Better 10: Apple Juice


The first time I visited Japan, I was given a box of apple juice on the train. (It was an organized work trip…I did not accept apple juice from a stranger.) I was thirsty, so I accepted the juice even though apple is right down there with grape as my least favorite fruit juices. To my surprise, the apple juice was amazing. I mean, it was so good that I spent the rest of my trip seeking out boxes of it in every vending machine on the streets.
What makes it so good, you might be asking? It actually tastes like an apple, slightly tart and perfectly crisp. It is almost color-less and it is made with red and green apples (who would have thought?!) to give it that perfect balance of taste.
What I don’t understand is this:
I live in America, home to apple pies, apple crisp, apple turnovers, apple fritters, Johnny Appleseed, apple farms, apple picking…how can we be so wrong about apple juice?
I actually emailed Minute Maid to ask where I could find the red/green apple juice blend at home. They told me that their products are developed for the tastes of a particular country…I guess I’m in the minority in the US?
Crisp, refreshing apple juice…another reason Japan Does It Better!

Hasegawa Happy Hour Mail

constellation cardA couple of weeks ago, I got this beautiful letter from Xenia of Saturday Morning Vintage. Even if it had just been a quick note, I would have been over the moon. What a creative envelope!

vintage bar tenderBut when I opened the envelope, a few pieces fell out of the card. You can see them above. They are vintage liquor labels and slips from a bartender’s order pad. Aren’t they amazing? In her note, Xenia mentioned seeing my Hasegawa Happy Hour posts and pictures on Instagram, so she thought I might enjoy these vintage bits. They made me super happy and inspired me to get started on a mini-book of our happy hour adventures for 2014. I’m picturing a tiny something with paper bits, photographs and some recipes (both cocktails and snacks). Hmmm…maybe a complete one for us and a well-edited one can be made into a zine…

Thank you, Xenia, for the mail and the inspiration!

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Stamp King

vintage postage stampsA couple of weeks ago, I met up with Donovan at the Stamp King of Chicago. Even though I read Donovan’s wonderfully crafted blog post about the Stamp King, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been to a stamp and coin dealer before…I’ve never been buzzed into a shop before.

But one look at the Stamp King (pictures on the aforementioned blog post), I knew we were in good hands. He was kind and funny and relaxed. There were two young coin collectors in the store perusing the coins and helping Donovan and I add up our stamp purchases. We ended up being there over the lunch hour and the Stamp King offered to order lunch and to share his bottle of wine. (Next time, I’m taking the bus so I can take him up on this offer.)

Even without wine, I had zero control over myself. There was a lot of vintage stamp goodness and Donovan and I made a huge dent in the Stamp King’s inventory. After the first ten dollars, I stopped counting, because, really, how quickly can tiny one cent and three cent stamps add up? Well, evidently they add up pretty quickly…plus I picked out several larger denominations, too. Anyway…next time I walk into the Stamp King, I’m just going to hand him all of my money. It was well spent as far as I am concerned.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

community garden, community gardeningTaking a break from regularly scheduled programming to wish my dad a very happy birthday!

Happy Birthday, Dad! May your year be filled with ripe garden tomatoes, freshly baked bread, glasses of Old Overholt and perhaps a few Portillo’s beefs.


P.S. The picture is from last summer…I can’t wait to start gardening again!!

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Empty Bowls

empty bowls 2014A couple of weeks ago, I attended Empty Bowls, a fundraiser hosted by Oak Park-River Forest High School and its Wheel Throwing Club. Empty Bowls raises money to help West Suburban PADS (a shelter program) and the local food pantry. For $15 you get a handmade bowl and some soup and bread.  The bowls are made and donated by OPRF students and the soup is made and donated by local grocery stores and restaurants. The event feels very community-driven. My friend Karen goes every year and this year Jackie and I joined her. I’m only sad I didn’t know about it sooner. Many communities host Empty Bowls, so I highly recommend seeing if there’s one near you.

our bowlsThere were hundreds of bowls to choose from–big ones, little ones, well-made ones, imperfect ones, colorful ones, natural ones–it was seriously hard to choose. I think we each swapped out our choices at least once. Jackie ended up with a blue spotted bowl and Karen’s was a green ombre. My bowl (bottom center) is speckled white. It reminds me of a bird’s egg. Taking your bowl home serves “as a gentle reminder of the many empty bowls that need filling world wide.” (Quote taken from the Empty Bowls website.)

chicken noodle soupDuring the fundraiser, my bowl held a hearty portion of chicken noodle soup. Today it’s sitting on my desk reminding me that I have enough.

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The Four Treasures: Ink Stone

japanese calligraphyThe last of the four treasures is the ink stone. Handmade from slate, ink stones are smooth, very heavy and made to last forever. The ink stone is designed for ink making in batches. There is a raised part that slopes downward into a well. Ink is mixed at the top and pushed down into the well.japanese calligraphy inkstone To make the ink, you start with a bit of water at the top of the stone. japanese calligraphy, inkstone, grinding inkThen, place the ink stick in the water and “grind” the ink. Grinding the ink is a slow, meditative act. Passing the smooth ink stick across the smooth ink stone is soothing and repetitive. The earthy scent of the ink permeates the air. It’s extremely relaxing and calming. This slow preparation allows the mind and the body to become centered and ready to write. calligraphy inkIt takes a lot of time and experience to know when the ink is ready. (Our ink was not the right consistency when we had our practice session. You can tell it wasn’t mixed long enough because it was gray and a bit watery. We need more practice!)

When the first small batch of ink is ready, you push it down (using the end of the ink stick) into the well of the ink stone. Then, add a bit more water to the top of the ink stone and continue mixing more with your ink stick. Repeat this process until you have enough for your project. japanese calligraphy brushIf the ink is prepared correctly, it will be a deep black with a light, almost oily sheen and it will be slightly thicker than water. I’m no expert, but I could feel the difference between our hastily mixed ink last week and this ink, which I ground ten times longer. You really can’t take shortcuts.  calligraphy inkI have a small ink stone that I bought for my class, but the ink stone pictured today is from Naoto’s aunt’s collection. It is six by nine inches large and it is heavy. (We carried it all over Japan on the train after his mom gave it to us. Actually, I should say Naoto carried at all over Japan.) Because it is in such a lovely wooden box, I keep it on the table in the living room. But I have to admit it is much more fun to actually use the ink stone. Hopefully when I get back from Japan I will be a little bit more skilled at using these family treasures.

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The Four Treasures: Ink

japanese calligraphyThe third treasure is ink. Traditionally, ink is ground from an ink stick before each calligraphy session. The stick (shown above on the right) is mixed with water and ground on an ink stone (spoiler alert: that’s the fourth treasure and I’ll be talking about it on Monday). Just like paper, the ink stick is made from natural materials. Pine branches are burned with natural oils and the soot is blended by hand with animal bone glue and made into the ink sticks. The kneading of the soot and glue requires great strength and the process has been handed down through generations. The sticks are dried and aged, then polished and decorated, like the one you see above. It is a slow process and, just like with paper, the seasons play a role in the creation of the ink. The humidity and temperature are critical to the drying and aging processes. japanese calligraphyThe ink sticks have a very earthy scent. They remind me of spring when the earth thaws and you can smell the soil again. I’ll talk more on Monday about grinding the ink stick and making the ink. japanese calligraphyAll of the ink sticks I’m sharing on today’s post are from Naoto’s aunt’s collection. I do not believe any of them have been used. (I’ve been using an ink stick I picked up at Blick’s when I took the art class.) The one above is my absolute favorite. There is a gorgeous scene on both sides. japanese calligraphyjapanese calligraphy, sumi-eI really want to display that one in our home somehow. It seems like a shame to leave it in the closet it its box… I would like to use the ink stick in the middle to see how it compares with my current ink stick.

You can also buy bottled ink for sumi-e painting and calligraphy. The bottled ink is convenient because you don’t have to make your own ink every time you want to write. It is also more consistent since the bottlers are using a “recipe” that you could never perfect by grinding your own ink at home. However, by buying bottled ink, you lose some of the sheen and nuance that come from the ink stick. And, as I’ll talk more about on Monday, there is a mental preparation that comes only from grinding the ink. Sometimes it pays to take the long road.

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The Four Treasures: Paper

Mulberry paperMost calligraphy paper is made from mulberry, though some are made with gampi or mitsumata (both Japanese bushes). Paper makers use the seasons to guide their making because temperature and humidity affect the fibers of the paper, which in turn affects the way the ink absorbs into the paper. I love that the process is so reliant upon nature…

Since paper is natural and doesn’t last forever, it adds a bit of wabi-sabi, beauty in impermanence and imperfection, to the practice of calligraphy.

This paper is from Naoto’s aunt’s collection. It is washi paper, but it is not so precious that it needs to be saved for special occasions. When we did our calligraphy practice last week, we used plain printer paper (just because we have an endless supply of that and no printer). Once I got a little bit better, I tried writing on the washi…the brush moves more beautifully and the ink absorbs much differently than on printer paper.

Update: Naoto found a calligraphy class in Tokyo for me! I am so excited! Hopefully I will have a follow-up to the Four Treasures series soon!  

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