The Glad List- #3

Hi All,

1) In the basement of Coredo Nihonbashi, there’s a bakery named Maison Kayser that sells the softest baguettes, the cheesiest cheese-filled bread, the chocolatiest tarts, the most lemony citron tarts, and a large array of every kind of bread you can imagine.

On Thursday evenings, I teach my private group of three in Kanda. Well, the hour we spend is really just conversation on a range of topics; there’s no textbook, writing or homework. So, I bike over there (about ten minutes away from my place) for an hour of chat with green tea and some kind of treat. Usually, the leader of the group, M brings the sweets, but at our last session, I said I’d bring them.

Tonight, we enjoyed our talk about onsens, sports, bowling, NYC rush hour, the holidays, and Hokkaido, with chocolate tarts, almond tarts and tea. Sweet.



Look at the newest addition to #405– Ferlena (eating a slice of baguette from Maison Kayser):


It’s my house and I live here…

There’s music on the radio.

and good vibrations won’t let me go

I put my name on the ceiling above, ’cause it was built for love… — Diana Ross (It’s My House)

Later :),


2) Thank You (my Thanksgiving list in no particular order)

Hi All,

We all know everyday’s a day to be thankful for something, because only in the practice of gratitude can we be appreciative of our lives. It’s amazing how days grow richer/fuller/better when we take a minute to give thanks for the smallest things. You certainly don’t need me to tell you what you already know, so I’ll move on. Here’s my list this year… all small and not so small things that have created an ocean of good feeling.

1) New Friends and “Almost” Friends. When in a foreign country, if you’re not careful, it can be really easy to isolate oneself. As you guys know, it’s in my nature to periodically withdraw; however, I’ve fought the urge to stay home now that it’s cold (quiet never gets boring for me), and accept all invitations that come my way. Good decision. Some quality time has been spent with good people. Speaking of good people–hold on to your hats– when I told LD that I was running out of money this month, he bought me breakfast. In related crazy news, Bubby’s, in Yaesu, now only serves one pancake for breakfast. Yes, one. If IHOP tried that, there’d be riots all across America.

2) Luck/ Blessings. Sometimes I wonder aloud, usually to my mother, how I’ve managed to be so lucky. She tells me that I’m not lucky that I’m blessed. Having Skype, and being able to talk to my mother regularly is something to be thankful for. (I still don’t understand why she likes me so much. Every time I call her, you’d think we hadn’t recently spoken.)

Last week, I told T that I was coming down with a cold, and today she gave me a box of Vicks Medicated Drops. The thoughtfulness behind that gift is enormous.

When I complained to SL (who took me to Shizuoka months ago) that the one thing that drives me crazy about Japan is the crappy, non-fluoride toothpaste, the next day, he brought me a tube of Crest (that he’d brought back from a visit home to Canada). He placed it in my locker, and you’d have thought that I found gold. Thoughtfulness.

My student S went to Ibaraki prefecture for a few days, and returned with a box of pear-shaped treats. Thoughtfulness.

3) Diana Ross. If you guys are tired of me writing or posting about Diana Ross, I’ll tell you now, it’ll never stop. (The absolute embodiment of glamour, style, and beauty). By chance, I came upon her song catalog and found a tune I’d never heard before. Can you believe it?!  The song, Something on My Mind, penned by Ashford and Simpson, must’ve been an instant classic.

It has already been downloaded from iTunes, played at least 50,000 times while I’m in the shower/walking to work/doing just about anything… and I’m convinced my neighbors must love it too. (Joking.) It’s on repeat right now.

4) Soup. I’m not kidding, when I say that I’ve been cooking soup on a regular. All vegetables have become my best friends, even those with names and origins unknown. My latest pot contained okra, mushrooms, sprouts, chicken (of course– can soup exist without chicken?), carrots, onions, some white stuff, and kale. Ri-dic-u-lous. My new thing is to add tofu when it’s done. Please know that when you come over for dinner, you’ll be getting soup.

5) Old Friends. When I wonder to Tan and Val on Skype about how I feel lucky in all areas (great job, wonderful students, cool people around, lovely, underpriced apt, etc.), all areas except romantic love, and I feel that I must be cursed there, they listen (patiently) and give me all types of pep talks that end with “Chill,” and “Everything happens in the right time.” In all honesty, I’ve realized that I’ve focused too much energy on that aspect of my life, and it’s necessary to move out of that zone, which easily leads to “Woe is me,” and “Why me?”

Back to Ms. Ross— On YouTube, I, recently, watched several of her interviews, from the early eighties, where she openly stated that she was looking for a good man to be a part of her already complete life. Her honesty really impressed me, and I vowed that I’d be just as truthful as to my wishes and hopes. How can we get what we want if we don’t put it out there?

6) Blog Readers. Thank you followers, new and old. I don’t know who you are, but I really appreciate that you’re reading. Please drop me a line sometime (especially you in Zaventem, Belgium).

Have a great day of gratitude!


I Was So Right, But I Wish I Were Wrong

“I was so right, so right, thought I could turn emotion on and off.” – Diana Ross (The Boss)

On my way to Yi‘s going away party, I met a British guy named A. He seemed nice enough, (who really knows in a short meeting), attractive, decent age (not cougar meat or fresh out of university), cool accent. He asked for my number and said he’d like to meet up at a later date; I suggested coffee. No problem.

I hang out with B and LD too much. (I know that by just checking the photos in my phone. They’re in my phone eating cake, eating burgers, on bikes, drinking beer, eating ramen, being exasperated by yet another photo, etc,.) If I go to a restaurant in the neighborhood without B, the wait staff will ask about him. LD was asked if the three of us are dating in some kind of menage way. However, I’m just “one of the guys,” (there’s nothing going on). Hanging out with them has made life in Tokyo very easy.


The day after I met A, I told B and LD, the very next day, that the universe had presented a guy to me, which was great, because I need more than male “friendship” in my life. They weren’t interested. I told them that I didn’t know A at all, but I was ready to give it a go. Dating. As much as I like my space, like my own time, am a bit of a flake, and am still unwilling to fully compromise, I’d be willing to date, because things need to be changed up a bit, and good God I’m a woman. Why not go to dinner and have dessert at home?

So, I suggested to that we meet up, to which he replied, “Sounds good. Let me know when is good for you.” After a few text volleys, he sent me this message today, “Hi Valerie, I’m actually in the process of moving house at the moment and you know that ain’t fun. Can I get a rain check for a week or two?” Um, seriously? This guy asked me for my info, and then says that he needs two weeks to move, and has no time for lunch or dinner. Though he works around the corner from me, moving will have so depleted his energy that there’s no way that he’ll be able to exert himself to have a conversation in the next fourteen days. To his text, I responded, “Sure, no problem,” knowing that we’ll never go out.

There’s a student B and I teach often. His name is Yj. He lives in Ningyocho, a neighborhood close to mine, and the home of B. Two weeks ago he gave me a list of restaurants he recommends in Ningyocho, or as B likes to call it, “The ‘Gyoch.” B and I went to dinner tonight at Komatsuya, one of Yj‘s top picks. I wish I knew enough words to adequately describe the beef we consumed; it was tender, succulent, moist, juicy, a little bloody, applause-worthy. The tables all around us had the same dish in front of them, with either draft beers or Suntory highballs. I copied how the guys beside us ate theirs– a little olive oil on the plate, ground salt added to the meat, and a touch of hot pepper. Our waitress was super friendly, with a high level of energy, and we assured her, we’d be back. Since LD wasn’t with us, I sent him two photos, to which he replied, “I. Hate.You.” (My friends are great.)

At the end of meal, B said, “I’m satisfied.” (Me too.)

*(Tomorrow, Da Babo for brick oven pizza. Reportedly the best in the Gyoch.)

I’d defy
Anyone who claimed that I
Didn’t control
Whatever moved in my soul
I could tempt
Touch, delight  – Diana Ross (The Boss)

Summer’s Over: “Remember Me As A Sunny Day”

Remember me as a sunny day that you once had along the way.  – Diana Ross (Remember Me)

The summer’s unwinding, not ending, and that’s good. The days are hot, and less humid, while the nights drop to comfortable temps and the cicadas screech. (Like evil insect beasts).

I’m sorry I complained so much about the “relentless” heat, it wasn’t all that bad, and aren’t I Jamaican anyway? Isn’t my blood plasma, sunshine and spice?

Didn’t I inspire you to live higher? – Diana Ross (Remember Me)

Today, my first student, H,  was such a lovely woman, in every way. Let me remember and tell you what we spoke about: She got married at 24, went to university at 30, had her first child at 32, started her business at 37, and is now at 61, a successful businesswoman, wife and proud mother of an aspiring singer. In support of their daughter, she and her husband are learning to play instruments– the saxophone and the piano. (Fantastic.) Not only did her life story thrill me (the travel, the short career as a flight attendant, starting university late), but her haircut wowed me. You don’t know how much I wanted to take a picture of this woman for you all; when I asked her how she managed to look at least a decade younger, and so terrific, she replied, “I’m happy.”

Didn’t I inspire you to live higher? – Diana Ross (Remember Me)

My last student of the day, MT, was also quite exceptional. Let me remember and relay what we spoke about: He grew up poor; he repeatedly said, “I didn’t have a father.” (I felt it’d be too probing to ask what happened to his father. I wondered if his mother was widowed, or if she were an unwed mother, which for his generation would’ve been scandalous.) He didn’t enter university until 21, on a government scholarship. He got his degree, and started working at his current company. A decade later, he went to a more prestigious university for an MBA. He’s quite successful, and though his son attends private school, and has all the things he didn’t at the same age, he feels sorry for him. He thinks his twelve-year-old son is at a disadvantage, because everything is coming too easy to him. He believes that for one to succeed in life, there has to be some struggle. Some drive to battle. The Japanese have a word for doing one’s best, meeting a challenge, “Ganbatte.” MT met his challenge and came out on top.

You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna make it. – Diana Ross (Remember Me)

As much as the subject of MT‘s conversation interested me, it was the way that he spoke that interested me more. His voice and speech were exactly like my Uncle Aubrey‘s: sure and confident, hesitating and measured. He thought of every word before he said it, so there were no throwaway words. As I listened to MT, in appearance very different from my Uncle Aubrey, I remembered my uncle who always made me know for sure that he loved me and loves me, that he would pick me up, that I could sit on his knee, (as I grew older) that he’d give me advice, that my decisions were the right ones (even when they were the wrong ones). Unwavering support.

Remember me when you drink the wine. – Diana Ross (Remember Me)

Speaking of love and memories, tomorrow’s my dear friend T‘s birthday. I remember her sixth birthday (or was it fifth) where she was wearing the greatest long dress. (I felt my parents had done me a disservice by dressing me in a mini.) It’s strange for me to think of her as a “grown woman” with a family of her own, and that’s not just because she looks like such a girl, but because the years are slipping past us. While my friends in Jamaica and elsewhere live these lives seemingly suitable to our age, I feel I’m in Japan trying to “figure it all out.” And, that’s okay.

Letter from Tokyo: “Forget About the Worries On Your Mind, You Can Leave Them All Behind”

Dear Friends,

The last few days have been filled with the essentials: good food, better company and fun. Let’s take a look at the days in review:

Thursday: It started as a quiet day with me sitting around twiddling my thumbs. Then it hit me, “I have the house to myself!” I took advantage of my solitude and started youtubing like crazy. The singfest started with Diana Ross’s “The Boss,” which of course me led me straight to her 1979 Caesar Palace show. I watched all seventeen clips (some songs on ridiculous repeat– ten or more times). I’ve learned many things from my devotion to Diana Ross and her Caesar Palace tutorial: I can’t turn emotion on and off, love (alone) is the boss, extreme passion for a song can overcome a lack of dancing skills.

Can we watch the most glamorous, amazing, sexy woman to ever grace a stage for a moment please (and for a moment, I mean five minutes and eight seconds)? “Who’s the boss, who’s the boss?” Love and Miss Ross!

Diana at 3:23: “Get up here and dance with me girl!”

Thursday night: I’ve fallen in and out of love many times, with many things and many people, but I’ve never felt love like this. Let me tell you about my newest, most passionate, intense love. It started on Tuesday when I was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to get soup at a corner restaurant in my neighborhood. Right beside the beef and mushroom soup was an interesting looking broth with perfectly golden meat swimming in it. I scooped some of that “soup” too. When I took it home, my housemate RT told me that the dish was a very popular pork dish that takes four hours to prepare. Friends, I wasn’t a big fan of pork. I thought pork (excluding bacon) was overrated. Friends, I’ve been a damn fool. Since putting that divine pork in my mouth, I’ve been back to the corner shop three times! One day, I bought enough pork that I’d have enough for breakfast the next morning. My god the pork is good! So, the other night, I asked RT to wed me to the pork; I wanted the pork dish to know that I was not only helplessly in love, but would forever be faithful. He actually started to do it, but then started to think it was crazy and stopped mid-ceremony. Now, I ask you, what could ever be crazy about being really in love?

* Porkie without the gravy.

For Porkie:

Friday: As you all know, my days off have been little more than food and drink fests (actually, the name of this post should’ve been “Food and Drink Fest”).  So, when my co-worker B suggested that Friday be spent at an architecture exhibit, and checking out Tokyo entire from the observatory deck in the Tokyo Municipal Building, I jumped on the idea with real enthusiasm. Six weeks in and I’ve seen only a few neighborhoods in Tokyo; so, I put my gray walking boots on and got ready to sightsee, to fill my eyes with beauty, to observe different things. All of those things were accomplished, but not at an exhibit that we never made it to, but in a restaurant. The problem (which really wasn’t a problem at all) was that we started with lunch, and stayed with lunch for quite a while. B introduced me to Salvatore Cuomo, a restaurant in Shinjuku, where the buffet, for 1500 yen, is all you can eat until 3p.m. Are you kidding me?! It’s an amazing deal, especially in a city where one sushi lunch is easily 1500 yen and won’t leave you anywhere near full. A pizza, outside of lunch hours, at Salvatore Cuomo is 1800 yen, so we lined up for the buffet of pizza, pasta, seafood, salad, desserts (brownies, profiteroles, and cake), again and again. We washed the sins of our gluttony away with lightly sweetened peach iced tea, and started on the second and third rounds.

* Plate 1: pizza, squid, spaghett in wine sauce, salad and french fries.

* Plate 2- Keeping it simple: pizza with olives, white pizza, sweet potatoes, and french fries.

* Pizza with tiny fish… look closely, you can see the eyes. Yum!

 *Thinking more food would get in the way of dessert, we decided it was time to get the sugar in:

When I commented that I hadn’t eaten a meal that wasn’t memorable and superb the entire time that I’ve been in Tokyo, B informed me that Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, and almost more than twice than second place. So believable.

After lunch, we headed to Tokyo Municipal Building’s observatory. Sadly, Friday in Tokyo was gray and hazy, but it was cool to take the ear-popping ride up to the top and see Tokyo spread at my feet. B said it best, when he uttered that we had “the God view.”

* Shinjuku captured by B.

Sadly, the sun has been going down earlier and earlier, but we tried to make it to the Imperial Palace and take some pictures of the Imperial garden. It wasn’t to be; when we exited the train, the sun had already set at 4:50p.m. My camera doesn’t handle night-time pictures very well, and the only photo I got at the palace was a lonely swan.

So, we left the Imperial Palace and took our snap happy selves to Ginza.

* B looking in wonder and a bit of awe at the building in front of us. He’s an architect, so he’d often stop and ask, “What does this building make you feel?” I’m not sure what buildings make me feel, but I sure as heck know how Porkie (my love pork) makes me feel…

*… like dancing!

Friends, I’m going to stop here, because I don’t want to admit to you that we went to Muji and had pepper chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, and chestnut cookies; that would just seem truly gluttonous, and I’d never want to come across that way. This post is long, so Saturday (fantastic Saturday) will be in another post.




* Come join the fun, this ain’t no time to be staying home, ooh there’s too much going on; tonight is gonna be a night like you’ve never known, we’re gonna have a good time the whole night long!

* I love El! Even more than I now love Porkie… He had the perfect blend of masculinity, eyeliner and falsetto (not many men can manage this)… though, more men should try.

A Letter to Carolyn M. Rodgers

A few years ago in the “winter of my discontent,” my friend Darius sent my soul sustenance with an email simply titled “Hey.” In Darius’s message, he included Carolyn M. Rodgers’s poem “In the Shadow of Turning: Throwing Salt.” Since then, the poem has been a go-to poem for me… friends, there are answers there; and thus, it is to Carolyn M. Rodgers (1940-2010) that I address the following letter.

Dear Carolyn,

You encourage looking ahead, keeping your eyes forward for what is to come, but I so often find myself looking back. Often, it seems my mind dwells in the past, and that my body lives in delayed memory. It’s easier to remember twenty years ago than see what is happening now or imagine an uncertain future. Do you know that I can still feel my godmother’s hand on my four plaits, her firm grip on my shoulders, smell her warm neck of spice and citrus? Do memories survive on love; are they as you say “seasons of homeless dreams?”

I’ve moved on. Physically. I’ve put one foot in front of another, boarded one plane after another, countries and people fell away; but, I never move on. Some memories are controlled by the mind, some by the body. Some memories are controlled by the moon, some by the sun. Recently I heard about a friend of a friend who is moving around the U.S, around the world at large seeking enlightenment. I heard she was in Australia, New Zealand before that, India, Thailand and Bali. The life of this woman, whom I’ve never met, thrills and excites me. She’s inspired me; my new plan is to work and save in Tokyo for two years, then take six months off to “seek,” gain new experiences, and make new memories to co-exist with the old ones.

Carolyn, just the other day, I heard India Arie over the loudspeakers in a store singing, “I am not my hair.” I want to tell you, and I think that you’ll appreciate, that each day I’m discovering that I’m just like the new hair growing from my head: unruly, flexible, wiry, strong and ready for what lies ahead.

Thank you friend,


In The Shadow of Turning: Throwing Salt

Salt is what
it all becomes.
Salt always did make me crave
sugar. If I could have turned and
looked back, like Lot’s wife,
I never would have.
Turning is for other memories.

Memories are actually seasons
of homeless dreams.
The main event in life is something
we think we can plan, but can’t.
A nest or fishnet of categories. Of hunger.
A need river, running wild in every
imaginable direction.

It would have all been salt, and me,
craving sugar.

*(I don’t know)…