Naoto and I went to the garden for the first time this season on Sunday. We were pleased to find very few weeds in our plot! The soil preparation has gotten so much easier each year. (Here is what it looked like when we inherited the plot.) Because it rained on Saturday, weeding was super-easy. (And no, Naoto did not do it alone. I jumped in after this picture was taken!) After loosening the soil (not turning it!), we laid down another layer of fresh mulch and called it a day. I was planning to plant some daikon, beets, and bok choi but the water at the garden wasn’t turned on yet, so I suppose planting will have to wait a little longer.
I’m a bit late for cherry blossom season, but last week, I sent out some pink blossomed mail to a few pen pals. What can I say? I’m inspired by those postage stamps. When we were in Japan last year, I picked up a bunch a sakura stationery and of course I tucked it away to use this spring. I wrote letters on the kaishi papers, folded them around a Japanese tea bag and tucked them inside these sakura printed cellophane flat bags. The tiny sakura flowers on the papers showed through the bags…flowers everywhere! I sealed up the bags with washi tape and used labels for the addresses. Easy!
I got a bit behind last week on the Write On Challenge and National Letter Writing Month but I’m all caught up and looking forward to finishing strong. I can’t believe April is almost over! How has the challenge gone for you?
Along with Made in Japan, we saw Off the Menu, another movie presented with the Asian American Showcase at the Gene Siskel Film Center a few weekends ago. Off the Menu was only an hour long, but Naoto and I have been talking about it since we left the theater. The film explores Asian Americans’ relationships with food and how their traditional foods have evolved over time in America. There were six stories featured in the movie, and each one brought a different layer to the conversation. After the movie, a panel of Asian American chefs from Chicago discussed their reactions to the movie. It was all so interesting that Naoto and I had a great dinner discussion about Asian American food culture.
The filmmaker, Grace Lee, begins the film telling her own story of growing up in her Korean family in Missouri. She talks about having a basement refrigerator that held the kimchee and other “stinky” traditional Korean foods, hidden away from their “Wonderbread existence” in the Midwest. (I wish I had written down the exact line from the movie because it was brilliant.) This was in the eighties, long before kimchee and other traditional Asian foods became the popular fare they are today. (Have you seen this book on fermented foods? It’s one of many published in recent years.)
With her voice sprinkled throughout, Lee shares the stories of the six people. A few stood out for me:
The first, Glen Gondo, is a Japanese American who is known as the “sushi king of Texas”. His business provides sushi services for the largest grocery chain in Texas. He has a research and development team (headed by two Korean chefs) creating sushi rolls for the American palate (or maybe more specifically the Texan palate?)–sushi with barbecue sauce, sushi with jalepeños, sushi with crumbled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on top. The film asks the question, “Is this really Japanese sushi if you water it down so much for American tastes?” Lee is sort of taken aback when she sees that alongside the Japanese sushi are spring rolls and pot stickers. Lee points out that those aren’t Japanese. Gondo replies no, but they are best sellers. Lee admits that sometimes she questions eating Korean food made by non-Koreans. Naoto and I exchanged glances during this moment in the movie because we are totally guilty of this! Our favorite Japanese restaurants are owned by Japanese (or Japanese-Americans.) I think this is partly due to the fact that Naoto enjoys speaking to the chefs in his native language, but also that it feels more…authentic? (I should also admit here that I am very much a traditionalist. Sleek, trendy sushi restaurants have never been my scene.)
Next, the Kawelos, who are catching octopi, a traditional food in Hawaii where most of the food is imported. Hi’ile, the daughter, is trying to reconstruct an 800 year old fish pond to keep the tradition of catching fish for her community alive. Hi’ile and her father share that food is “mana“, a native Hawaiian term with an abstract meaning…power, an energy in everything, a life force. Naoto, who grew up in Hawaii, even had a hard time explaining it to me. I sort of took it as food connects people and generations in a way that nothing else can and keeping that tradition of catching fish alive in Hawaii was Hi’ile’s way of connecting Hawaii’s past with its future.
And, in the most touching part of the movie, Lee visits langar at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This temple was the site of a horrible hate crime in 2012 when a white supremacist stormed in to the temple and killed seven people. It is so amazing to see all of the women in the kitchen at the temple cooking and the men serving a huge meal to people sitting on the floor. Although langar is centered around the food, it really is about the community preparation and sharing of the event. I got a little teary-eyed when they talked about how a neighboring temple came in and prepared langar for them in the days after the shootings. A simple gesture, but I can just imagine how cared for and supported the Oak Creek families felt in that moment.
Food, how we share food, is mana.
P.S. If you read my Made In Japan post, there is an update to Tomi Fujiyama’s story:
The Grand Ole Opry invited Tomi to play! I have to think the movie influenced this decision, right? She is playing on the Opry Stage TONIGHT. The show begins at 7PM and it looks like Tomi will hit the stage during the 8:45PM (Central Time) segment. (Scroll down on this link to listen to the live stream on WSM 650 AM. Naoto and I will be listening!)
Last Monday, my garden-friend, Laura and I went to a gardening workshop at Lisle Library. They are hosting a summer-long series, Gardening for Victory, that will cover aspects of gardening from soil preparation to planting and pest control. The series is led by Master Gardener Barbara Ottolino. Our session was titled Planning for Victory: Site, Sun, Soil, Bed, and Crop Selection. Ottolino shared a lot of tips for making gardening easier (less work, less time) and a little more interesting.
Ottolino is very enthusiastic about gardening and making gardens work for people, both in terms of saving time and maximizing the amount of produce you can harvest from your space. She shared a ton of tips and answered questions from the audience at the end. I left with a lot of takeaways for our garden plot this spring and some ideas for our balcony garden too.
For new gardeners choosing a site for a garden, she recommends drawing a simple map of your land, including your house, trees, fences, etc. Mark where you’d like to place your garden. Over the course of a day, record the sunlight shining on your land. Draw yellow stripes on the map at 9AM, red stripes at noon, and orange stripes at 3PM. Where you have the most overlapping colors is going to be the best place for your vegetable garden. But don’t count out the other places with fewer stripes! You could plant shade tolerant vegetables and flowers in those places. Ottolino recommends using what you have and not feeling stuck having your garden in one plot…spread things out over your property if that’s what you need to do.
Ottolino recommends alternating your plantings of lettuce and carrots in the same row or area. (Lettuce, carrot, lettuce, carrot…) Because of their roots (carrot roots are longer and deeper than lettuce roots) and their tops (carrots have way less going on above the soil than bushy lettuce), neither plant is competing with the other above or below ground. It’s a good way to maximize your produce haul in a smaller garden. She also recommended staggered sowing. Rather than throwing all of your radish seeds in at once, plant a few at a time over a week or more. This way you can enjoy radishes for a longer period of time and don’t have an overload of radishes at once.
Some of her tips seem to be geared for older gardeners. She recommends a specific type of lettuce for its ease of harvesting. (Salanova, because it grows into tiny heads that just need to be plucked out of the ground. You could harvest it from a wheelchair, if necessary.) She recommends a broad fork because it is easy to use, even without a lot of strength, and it loosens the soil instead of turning the soil. That brings me to her biggest tip…
She does not recommend turning or tilling your soil. Loosening, yes. Turning, no. This was groundbreaking news to me because I grew up in a home where every spring my father would go out and till the garden. Naoto and I turn fresh mulch into our garden plot every spring. Ottolino recommends layering your dried leaves and fresh grass clippings on your garden plot in the fall and then just planting in the spring. She says this way, you’re not dragging your compost out to the compost bin and then out to your garden…this is the perfect one step, no fuss solution for someone who might not have the strength to do a lot of hauling. (Not to say she’s against composting…this is just another way of looking at things.) Ottolino successfully gardened at her old home in Missouri in hard clay soil. She did this by making her garden beds with layers of manure, straw, dried leaves, and grass clippings. This method is covered extensively in the book Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza.
In addition to her experience as a Master Gardener, most of Ottolino’s tips and philosophies derive from two specific books: How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons and The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman. I am looking forward to checking out those books at the library soon. In the meantime, I really need to pop down to our garden plot and get started! The mulch just arrived and it’s time to transplant some of my winter sowing seedlings and to plant some beets and radishes! It’s been so cold here this week that it’s hard to imagine summer is just around the corner!
If you’re in Chicagoland and are interested in attending the next program in the Victory Gardening Series, you can sign up here.
Comcast has a promotion going on for the rest of April offering TV Japan for free right. TV Japan a mix of all sorts of Japanese programming–news, soap operas, game shows, talk shows, sports shows, and children’s programming. It feels like mostly news and kids stuff during the day, but at night, I’ve found a couple of travel shows with subtitles that are really fun. Even though Japanese class is over, I really can only understand about 1% of what’s going on during any given program. But I still keep TV Japan on all day when we have it because immersion is fun and you just never know what kind of crazy thing you will see. One of my favorite little “shorts” is a stop motion with these blue and white blocks of clumsy clay with hilarious little voices. The clay guys walk on screen with indentations of office supplies and (I assume…) proceed to ask each other how they happened upon that shape. (Perhaps, since it’s a program for children, the audience is supposed to guess the shape? “Can you guess children…and thirty somethings in America?”) Then, each clay is shown in a flashback, happening upon an object. The music during the flashbacks is my favorite part of the show. The clay must have really bad eyes because he always trips over the object. When the clay stands up, the object is stuck to him. And then the object falls right off. Back in real time, the blue clay finishes his story and it’s the white clay’s turn. (Cue the flashback music.) The white clay tripped over a pencil and onto… (Can you guess???)…a magnet!
Have you seen the Gifts of Friendship stamps released in the U.S. and Japan? The stamps celebrate the exchange of flowering tree gifts between the US and Japan. In 1912, the US received a gift of over three thousand flowering cherry trees from Japan. In 1915, the U.S. returned the favor by sending fifty dogwood trees to Japan. These stamps celebrate the 100th anniversary of that gift.
Since I am a huge lover of cherry blossoms, I preordered loads of the U.S. version to use on my spring mail. I also asked my sister-in-law if she would buy a sheet of the Japanese version for my stamp collection. Lucky for me, a care package arrived from Japan this weekend (with lots of treats for Naoto and me!) and two sheets of the Japanese stamps were tucked inside. I really love the U.S. version, even though they are reminiscent of the cherry blossom stamps issued a few years ago for the centennial of the 1912 cherry tree gifts. The US sheet contains ten of the US stamps and features two of the Japanese version (but for use in the U.S.). I think the colors on the U.S. version are perfectly springy with the pretty blue skies and pinks and corals and pale purples of the flowering trees. And the Japanese ones are lovely, featuring close-ups of the cherry blossoms and dogwood blooms with Japan’s Diet (Congress) and Constitutional Memorial Clocktower respectively in the backgrounds. The Japanese sheet contains the US and Japanese versions as well as six other stamps that highlight the white dogwood, cherry, and red dogwood branches on a simple cream background. I love that Japan added this variety to their edition. On the US versions, the writing is very spare, just noting USA, 2015, and the “Forever” denomination on the stamps in plain black text. The Japanese versions are accented with gold text of the 82 yen denomination and “Japan-U.S. Flowering Dogwood Centennial” in both English and Japanese. The U.S. version is much more spare than the Japanese version, which seems to celebrate the exchange with both countries’ flags and the flowering trees decorating the sheet.
I do love both versions and it’s not often that two countries can go head-to-head in a sheet of stamps battle. But I do think, in this case, because of the variety and the gold details that this is another case of Japan Does It Better!
To see the rest of the Japan Does It Better posts, go here.
Last month, my parents visited and Naoto bought flowers, so I figured while the living room was all tidy, I would take some pictures to share. I haven’t done a full post about our living room since this one in 2012, and things have changed ever so slightly since then…dare I say the living room is almost done? The living room arrangement could use a couple more chairs and some art above/around the television, but I’m waiting for the perfect solution. (I have some chairs in mind…just waiting for a sale, and I’d love to do something simple and 3D behind the TV since there’s that weird empty corner there. I know a lot of people do the gallery wall thing around their televisions, but how many gallery walls can one room have?)I’ve been plagued with lingering art on the floor so I spent an afternoon readjusting the “gallery wall” above my desk, adding art and re-centering things to make up for the addition of the drawer unit in the middle. It was actually pretty easy, except for the time I slammed my head on the ceiling. I’m apparently pretty tall when I stand on my desks! I am thrilled that the artwork is hung! Maybe now I won’t be so tempted to buy more…I bought this banner in Japan at Tokyo Station last spring. I’m sad to admit that it’s been folded up in a drawer all year while I decided where it should go. I realize the art looks a little wonky, especially from this angle. I need to straighten things out with some Command squares or something. For now, I’m just happy the frames are all off of the floor. And, I will admit that my desk hasn’t looked this clean since about five minutes after this picture was taken.
Over the weekend, Naoto and I attended two movies as a part of the Asian American Showcase at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Going to see a movie is very rare for us. I don’t think we’ve been to a movie together since 2006, so seeing two movies in two days was a pretty incredible feat for us.
On Sunday we saw Made in Japan, a documentary about Tomi Fujiyama, a Japanese country music entertainer who was the first Japanese person to sing on the Grand Ole Opry stage. She performed at the Opry’s 39th anniversary party in 1964 along with Johnny Cash and many other legends of country music. She received the only standing ovation from the crowd that night.
The documentary covers Tomi’s lifetime from her childhood in post-war Japan all the way to her current performances and continued dreams to perform once more on the Grand Ole Opry stage. The filmmakers have an obvious love for Tomi and her passion for country music. Towards the end (and this is somewhat of a spoiler, so read at your own risk or skip to the next paragraph) the film is a little bit political, for lack of a better term. It is clear that the filmmakers are disappointed in the direction of the Grand Ole Opry, which was bought out by a large company with investors and is now commercialized. The Opry stage is no longer a place where the music is the focus and up-and-coming musicians get invited to play. It is no longer a place where timeless country music is performed. It has become, according to the film, a tourist attraction, a place where ticket sales trump the music. The Opry has no interest in hosting Tomi because she doesn’t fit into the “new direction” of the Opry. But I feel like the movie ends on a somewhat high note, pointing out that Tomi played on the Opry stage during the best years, when the music was first and foremost.
I’m so glad we decided to go to this showcase. (I’ll talk about the other movie we saw soon. It was about food and brought about a lot of feelings.) This was our third time attending events at the Siskel Film Center and we are always so impressed with the movie offerings, the theater, and the people there. Next month they have special screenings of Hayao Miyazaki films and the documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. I have a feeling there will be more movie dates in our future!
UPDATE: The Opry invited Tomi to play! I have to think the movie influenced this decision, right? She is playing on the Opry Stage on April 28, 2015. The show begins at 7PM and it looks like Tomi will hit the stage during the 8:45PM (Central Time) segment. (Scroll down on this link to listen to the live stream on WSM 650 AM! Naoto and I will be listening!)
Based on my limited testing (six attempts to get some sort of consensus), there really is no rhyme or reason to explain delivery differences between postcards and letters or first class stamps and postcard stamps. I mailed everything from blue boxes in my neighborhood.
Pictured above is how I documented the races. I used my Letter Ledger and wrote which mail was sent and when. My recipients tweeted to me (or, in my parents’s case, called me) when they got their mail so I could document the results (in the “items to note” section).
I should have known there wouldn’t be any clear results based on my first race. I sent Melissa in DC two postcards, one with a first-class stamp and one with a postcard stamp. The first class stamped card arrived two days after the postcard stamped card. This hurt the theory that first-class stamps move postcards more quickly.
But then, I sent Danielle in Tacoma, WA two postcards (one stamped with a first-class stamp, one with a postcard stamp) and a letter (stamped with a first class stamp + 21 cent stamp because it was a rigid envelope) on the same day. The letter arrived two days before the postcards did. I thought maybe we were onto something based on the theory that letters travel faster than postcards, but further testing proved it all wrong.
I was less surprised by the results of the races sent within Illinois. Both Katie (in Wheaton) and my parents (in Washburn) received their mailings on the same day, which I kind of figured since they didn’t have far to travel. (Weirdly enough though, it took the mail just as long to travel 130 miles as it did to travel 20 miles.)
In a last-ditch effort to see if I could get any sort of real result, I sent a letter and a postcard to Ryan in Stanford, CA and a letter and a postcard to Carolee in San Francisco. They both received their mailings on the same day, too.
I wonder if the results were skewed by location…is mail delivery affected by sorting facility locations or the amount of mail a post office receives? After our next Post Office Advisory Council meeting, I’m going to ask the experts if there is any truth to the rumors that letters travel faster than postcards, or first class stamps move mail faster than postcard stamps. I will report back again!
Are you doing any fun postal experiments? I’m still plugging away at the Write On challenge this month. I won’t be sharing my mail here, but I’m sharing it almost daily on Instagram!
*If you are new here, follow the link to the original post, otherwise this post might not make any sense!