Naoto and I have walked past a tiny cafe dozens of times during our many stays at the Sangenjaya b hotel. It’s called the Chat Noir and they specialize in desserts but offer a few breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, too. We have a standing daily breakfast date with Mister Donut, but on Friday morning we were both craving a real breakfast and we happened to notice the price for a morning set at Chat Noir. ¥150! For a little more than a dollar (the exchange rate is amazing right now, around ¥122/$1) we had a breakfast of two sausages, scrambled eggs, a salad, and toast. I know it may look kind of small, especially compared to American diner standards, but it was definitely enough. The sausages were so tasty. They had a snap that would make a Chicago dog weep with envy and the salad dressing was so good that we went back on Sunday to try it again.
Our bill ended up being ¥1000 because Naoto had a ¥300 coffee and I had a ¥400 iced matcha latte (the drinks are where they “get you”) but that’s still an excellent price for breakfast I’d say.
The decor is kind of “dated diner” chic but it’s a really comfortable spot to start the day. And…I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that we followed up our meal with a stop at Mister Donut. (Not because we needed to, but because it’s tradition!)
Naoto and I spent some time in the garden on Memorial Day. It rained a lot in the morning but by afternoon it was pretty good gardening weather. I love working in the dirt after it rains. Weeds come out like buttah, transplants nestle easily into the moist soil, and best of all, I don’t have to drag the hose out. I gave up on both of my tomatoes that I’d started from seed and attempted to transplant. (I have a couple more seedlings on the balcony…we’ll see if they ever get big enough to move over.) Since I “only” had three tomato plants, I impulsively bought a Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato plant over the weekend. I’m excited to see the vines dripping with tiny tomatoes. (Hopefully.)
I also planted a thyme plant and some basil and dill seeds. And that’s all for now. I still have four squares that are empty! I wanted to buy some golden beets, but I didn’t see and seeds at the garden shop this weekend. Hopefully I’ll have some time to make use of those four feet before the tomatoes take over!
A huge thanks to Laura for watering our plot while we are gone!
Naoto & I are on our way to Tokyo today! I feel comfortable telling you this because we have two excellent cat nannies taking care of Presley during the day and the night while we are gone (and essentially living in our apartment, too!)
I have a couple of posts planned for this week and the rest depends on jet lag. But you can follow our adventures in “real time” over on Instagram & Twitter (@adamihasegawa). We land in Tokyo at 3PM (tomorrow…about eleven hours from the time of this writing) and would it surprise you that I’ve already planned what I’m eating at Mister Donut?
Monday was a stellar day for gardening. It was sunny, in the seventies…really just perfect. I spent over four hours at the garden, planning and planting and chatting with Mr. Brownthumb and Laura and meeting new-to-me gardeners. I have part of our plot planted, but I still have quite a bit of room to play with, so I’m planning to get a few more things in the ground this weekend.
Last week, I met up with my parents for plant shopping. I ended up buying a Pink Brandywine and a Red Brandywine (tomatoes) and a six-pack of Pinot Noir peppers. (I gave two to my dad and kept the other four.) My dad gave me a Juliet tomato and in March I started some Isis Candy Shop Cherry Tomatoes (Thanks, Danielle!) and Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes from seed. My seedlings are so tiny though, that I doubt they will amount to anything. (Seriously…they are so small, it’s hard not to mistake them for a weed!) I don’t think I get enough sun and warmth for growing tomatoes from seed, but I have a few more tiny plants left that I’m going to try to nurture into larger transplants.I also planted some edamame, cucumber, peas, limas, bush beans, butter crunch lettuce, and komatsuna lettuce seeds. And I still technically have twelve squares left to fill! I know that my tomatoes will grow beyond their allotted squares, so I have to plan for that, but I really do have plenty more space to grow more root vegetables, lettuces, and maybe some herbs. The start of the growing season really is the best, isn’t it? (At least until the harvest comes!)
On Saturday, Karen, Naoto and I went to the Gene Siskel Film Center and watched I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. Caroll Spinney is the man who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969. I grew up watching Sesame Street and I’m extremely sentimental when it comes to my childhood, so when I learned about the movie, I was so excited to see it. Naoto was less excited, since he was robbed of a childhood with Sesame Street, but he came along willingly and didn’t regret it.
(Warning: possible spoilers to follow…at least as much as you can spoil a biography.)
Even though the movie was mostly about Caroll Spinney, it was also very much about his wife, Debra, whom he met in his early Big Bird years after a divorce from his first wife and a very dark period in Spinney’s life. Debra is also his manager and very involved in the daily life if Big Bird. They seem like a match made in heaven…you could feel the love oozing out of the screen.
Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the old Sesame Street footage and interviews with the cast members of my childhood. Luis, Gordon, and Maria were familiar faces who helped to share the Spinney story. And it was awesome to see footage of Jim Henson, who hired Spinney after seeing him sort of fail at an audition. Because Jim Henson is no longer around, Spinney retold some of their conversations through his own sweetly drawn cartoons.
I also loved learning about the behind-the-scenes details of Big Bird in China. Apparently it was a grueling production because they had such a small staff. (The film was a huge undertaking for Public Broadcasting.) At one point, when Big Bird is floating on a raft in the water, Spinney recalls that if he had fallen in, the filming would have ended because Big Bird (the costume) would be ruined. Spinney and his wife had an instant love for Lisa Ouyang, the little girl who played Xiao Fu in the movie. At the end of the filming, they didn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye to her, making their reunion all these years later a sure tear-jerker.
It was chilling to learn that Big Bird had been invited by NASA to ride on the Challenger space shuttle. NASA believed Big Bird could draw in a younger audience and get them interested in science. But the Big Bird suit was too big for the shuttle and NASA asked a teacher (Christa McAuliffe) to go instead. Both Spinney and his wife got very emotional when they told the story of this close call. (I teared up too, in spite of reading about this fact beforehand.)
The movie really portrays Caroll Spinney as a complete person–you see his challenges and flaws as much as you see his success and contributions to his craft. I appreciate that in a biography, since we are all imperfect humans.
I highly recommend I Am Big Bird if you’re a fan of Sesame Street or the Muppets and Jim Henson. It was such a sweet walk down memory lane and has made me want to watch some old Sesame Street clips again. I came home and pulled out my copy of Sesame Street Unpaved and I’m re-reading it again. (And…I’m considering borrowing Big Bird in Japan from the library so I can compare notes with Big Bird’s trip.)
At the end of April, Tomi Fujiyama was invited back to play at the Grand Ole Opry. Naoto and I have been following along with Tomi’s story since we saw the Made In Japan movie last month, so we were really excited to listen to her perform live on the radio. Her performance luckily fell on Hasegawa Happy Hour night, so we invited two special guests and served a sort of southern-style meal. (Thanks for joining us, James and Karen!)
I made Old Fashioneds and pimento cheese for the happy hour portion of the evening. We listened online to the entire show. Karen said it felt like an old-timey evening with a family sitting around the radio. I think we may need to look into having more musically themed HHHs in the future. For dinner, I made turkey meatloaf, baked beans, and green beans. Tomi came on at the very end of the show and she sang her favorite song, Tennessee Waltz. It was lovely and sad (Seriously, don’t listen to the song if you’re feeling melancholy!) and totally worth listening to the entire night for Tomi’s dream moment.
(This video is from 2012, but it will give you an idea of how Tomi sounds.)
On Saturday, we had our official “Garden Kick-Off 2015”. We served coffee and donuts at the garden and new and returning gardeners came to check out their plots and get started on the planting season. It was very cold (and I was sorely underdressed) but the rain held off and we had a productive morning cleaning up around the garden and giving mini orientations to new gardeners. It was the most people I’ve seen at the garden at once in a long time, especially since last year I hardly saw anyone. I planted some flowers in a general community garden planter (two kinds of zinnias and alysum) and Naoto dug out a space on the hill for pumpkin and loofah growing. It was a good working day at the garden, but there is still a lot more to do in the coming weeks. On Thursday, Laura and I prepped our plots for square foot gardening. Although I am not going to do by-the-book square foot gardening, (I am not using the special soil mix and the tomatoes I plant will never only need one square foot!) I wanted to try the grid to help me plan the garden better and get more variety out of our plot. I just hammered nails in every foot along the side of our garden bed and used string to mark the grid. The string won’t last very long, but it should stay through the planting season to assist with organization. So far, we’ve transplanted the chive that we inherited in our plot (I dug it out in 2013 and it’s been languishing on the balcony in a too-small pot ever since. I decided we have room for it in our garden again.), transplanted some winter-sown broccoli (too many for 1 square foot—oops!), and planted beets and daikon. Four squares down, twenty-eight more to go! It’s been rainy the past couple of days, but this week I will be going back to plant some more once I have drawn out a plan for the rest of those squares!
I bought these hiragana* stamps two years ago in a tiny scrapbooking store near an izakaya where Naoto and I shared dinner with his family. When I bought them, I didn’t realize how frustrating they would be to use. Every time I wanted to write something, I had to ask Naoto to spell it out for me. So I put them away in the spare room and forgot about them until recently. Every once in awhile I’d see them sitting on the shelf, taunting me and the money I’d wasted. But, now that I’ve had some practice during my Japanese class, I’m using them! I’m still pretty slow, but I can usually pick the right sounds for the words and names I’m trying to write. (Though, I still have Naoto check my work to be sure!) Here’s a peek at the whole set. (Some of the characters may be upside down because I put them away haphazardly last time.) When I use them, I have my textbook open to the hiragana chart so I can refer to it as I sound out the word. (I don’t have my hiragana sounds memorized yet…) It really does remind me of learning to read as a kid. I’m slowly getting better with practice, so I’m trying to stamp a random Japanese word on outgoing mail for the rest of the month. (I’ll let you know how that goes!) I have “arigato” (“thank you”) down thanks to writing a few thank yous lately.
*If you don’t know what hiragana is, this site does a nice job of explaining it. It’s basically the Japanese phonetic script–each “letter” represents a vowel sound or a combination consonant/vowel sound. There are forty-six sounds. In some ways, they are easier than English because each sound only makes that sound. (Unlike in English where we have the long e, the short e, the silent e…) But, the letters are difficult to decipher sometimes and very challenging to write, I think.
I know it sounds cliche, but where did April go? I feel like I blinked and here we are in May and my mail pile is growing!! A lot of people who haven’t written in awhile reappeared in my mailbox in April. (Just to be clear…I am not complaining. I am the most patient of pen friends because there are times I take forever to write, too!) After a bit of a dry March, it’s good to find letters waiting for me again. Now I just need to spend some time this weekend catching up on my pile.
How did your Write On/National Letter Writing Month go? I sent out forty-one pieces of mail: twenty six letters, eleven postcards, three international, and one mini-package. (So far this month, I’ve mailed seven cards, thanks to Mother’s Day!)
In other (awkward) news, I joined Kathy and Donovan (and Katie!) at the Letter Writers Alliance Clubhouse for the Virtual Letter Social last weekend. I had a great time writing part of a letter (pictured at the top) and chatting stationery, pens, postcards, cocktails, 1970s organs… Thanks, Kathy and Donovan, for inviting me!
Our April council meeting seemed like the most productive one yet. I admit I’ve been feeling a little bit down about the council the past couple of months, feeling like we were kind of just treading water and making little progress. This month, I felt the warm breeze of change, like we are finally starting to accomplish some of the things we set out to influence.
We started by hammering out the details for the two post office on wheels appearances (discussed at last month’s meeting). The mobile post office wouldn’t work for the Day in Our Village event because the sale of goods is prohibited there, but the postmaster is looking into hosting a table and handing out flyers, lapel pins, and coloring books. The Oak Park Farmers Market liaison is optimistic that the post office on wheels can be nearby the farmers market this summer and suggested July or August (for the ever popular “corn season”) as the best option. This one sounds like fun since there will (hopefully) be a special postmark. The post office will provide a press release to the local newspapers and distribute flyers to the Oak Park area residents to publicize the event.
We also talked about having a “Post Office Customer Appreciation Day”. At the beginning of our meeting the postmaster mentioned that the Oak Park Main Post Office is a registered landmark and it opened in 1935. I love celebrating milestones and anniversaries, so I suggested the PO hosts a customer appreciation day on the day the Oak Park Main opened. I was delighted when my idea was met with enthusiasm both from the council members and the post office team. We thought it would be fun to have tours of the building so that people could see what a gem we have in our community.
Then, to finish off last month’s passport discussion, the Oak Park Main Post Office will be hosting a passport fair on Saturday, May 16th from 9AM-2PM. There will be more clerks on hand to process passports and the fair will be heavily promoted in the local newspaper and postcards in area mailboxes. The postmaster is also looking into re-opening the window(s) by the door during peak hours for package pick-ups (and possibly passports) to alleviate some of the lines. This will be a fine balance of making sure that manpower is not wasted since that person would be slightly removed from the regular window business. It was also decided that Jackie (the regional manager for our area) and a council member will visit the post office on a Saturday to observe the happenings from the lobby to get an idea of issues and solutions.
Oh, and we decided to table all further discussion about snow until at least the end of the summer.