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!

Val

Letter from Tokyo: No Borders

Hi Friends,

Tonight, I went to my former home Borderless House, where I haven’t been in three weeks (too long). I’ve truly missed Borderless, especially since in my new house (Sakura House-Hakozakicho) I’ve only met two people (two boring people), and it’s deathly quiet. I know I wanted my privacy, craved it even, and I appreciate it after all the sniffling I endured from my BH roommate, but it’s just not the same to be in constant silence. I’m not complaining about not meeting my new housemates, since I’ve never once had to wait for anything– the shower, the bathroom, anything– but it’d be nice to know who shares the house with me.

My Borderless friends had the great idea to have a dinner party in Oshiage, so I biked over, on my beloved Lucy, to join them for some food, laughs and good times. Turns out, by the time I got there (an hour later from Suitengumae), R, RT, T, and Y had already gone to an izakaya to eat dinner. No worries they came back soon enough,  and Yi whipped up some ridiculously delicious egg burritos and we got down with those. Surprisingly, they still had a bit of an appetite after already eating (ok, that’s not surprising at all, is it?). * Yi made her egg burritos with care, taking the time to draw smiley faces on them, writing “Love,” and giving “just a touch of love a little bit.”

Do you see T in the button down shirt stirring the bowl? Yes. Well, at 10:40pm, he went to sleep, which we thought was completely outrageous. So, R, woke him up, got him out of bed and forced him to re-join us. T woke up in  quite an amiable mood, and he and Y made some pancakes that were a bit undercooked; but who cares, when they’re in the shape of hearts? * This is the problem with pancakes, and why I’ve told you a million times that I don’t make them, they’re always a bit burnt on the outside and undercooked in the middle…. yet, they’re always delicious.  *Please note: Pancakes with chopsticks Sadly, at midnight it was time to hop on Lucy and head on home, ’cause I just knew in my hearts of my hearts I’d get lost. Before I did, my beloved Yi took the shirt off her back and gave it to me, because I screamed over it. Sadly I have no photo of the tee-shirt, but it’s sequined feet and a caption that says, “I Wanna Rock With You.” (MJ’s the best of the best… just feet had me excited).

When the clock struck 1 am, I slid next to a cab and asked him how to get to Suitengumae. Ok, I speak no Japanese, so I didn’t ask him how to get to Suitengumae… what I said was “Sumimasen, Suitengu?” He understood me, and GET THIS… he gestured that I should follow him,  took me all the way home, and refused payment. I believe in people.

*Thank you kind sir! You saved me!

I believe in people!

Love, Val

Letter from Tokyo: “Wake Up and Live”

Dear Friends,

This morning, I skyped with DB who told me that his greatest disappointment with his move to Washington, D.C is the lack of close friends nearby. We reminisced about when we lived in Jersey City how we’d pop over to each other’s apartments to cook (well, he’d whip up scrumptious Southern dishes and I’d watch), have ridiculous conversations, write papers together at the kitchen table, or make lethal vodka and mango slushies. This man’s humor, ability to apply Brandy lyrics to any situation, and his exaggerated Southern drawl make him special. Special is a gross understatement.

In our conversation, he told me that I’m living in a happy bubble at the moment. Folks, it’s true. I’m living in a happy bubble.

1) I had linner (lunch/dinner) with M in Omote-Sando.

* My entrée. (Wipe the drool from the side of your mouth).

* Do you see M‘s face? Friends, that’s what contentment looks like.

When I’m struggling to fit into my clothes, I certainly won’t be able to say, “How did this happen?” I’ll know how it happened, and I’ll have loved every minute of it. (I’ll draw the line when I pick up my first pair of sweatpants).

3) I have a friend who’s dangerous for my waistline. He’s a “foodie,” who cares about getting a good bite; he’s also 6’2, slim and active, so he doesn’t have to worry about every delicious bite that he puts into his mouth. For some reason, in the past few months, I’ve started worrying a lot less about calories and the foods that I eat, even though I’ve failed to start my exercise routine. My newfound love for food may be dangerous for my waistline and my wardrobe.

Just this week, this is what B and I did:

* We went back to Brozer’s. I proposed to the burger, then devoured it. Then, I proposed to the cook. (No, I didn’t, but should’ve).* I have an insane passion for Belgian waffles, always have and always will. Last week, I mentioned to another friend, LD, that the one thing I miss about New York is diners. Breakfast at anytime, eggs at 9p.m., pancakes at midnight. He told me that he didn’t know where I could find waffles, but that pancakes and diners are in Ebisu. Then two nights ago, B introduced me to the café on the top floor of Maruzen in Nihonbashi. Are you kidding me? Waffles were less than five minutes away this whole time. Thanks B.

* This was at Muji… we ate so quickly, I only got a shot of the last bite.

DB has said, and repeated today that I don’t have a palate that can appreciate great food, since I’ll call an apple “delicious,” but trust me, the food here is ridiculously good/scrumptious/heavenly/delightful/more than satisfying/sublime.

2) The community that DB feels is lacking in D.C, I’ve found in my house. I can’t explain to you how un-alone I feel. Though my room situation is less than ideal, when I was looking for another place to live, my recurring thought was “I don’t want to leave the others.”  Let’s take a look at yesterday. It was a holiday, so my housemates were home. R skyped me at 12:30p.m, and asked me what the plan was for the day. Plans had rolled around my head the night before, but I was still in bed after going to bed quite late. He forced me to get up, take a quick-ish shower, and get my act together (as my father would say).

While I was getting ready, he prepared a delicious bowl of granola, yogurt, bananas, and cranberries for me. (Could there be a better guy?). Then we walked to Kinshicho where we had some overpriced lattes at Starbucks, sat for awhile, he caught up with a friend, and I left them to do a little shopping. Really lovely afternoon in Tokyo: “The sun (was) shining, the weather (was) sweet.”

Everyone in Tokyo’s sniffling, hacking up a lung, or about to get sick; so for dinner, R fixed a super spicy cup of soup for me to knock the cold off my chest. Hm, reading this you may get the impression that I never cook for myself, which is completely untrue. I make a wicked plate of spaghetti and olive oil.

Later in the evening,  after watching a movie, I was full of energy and ready to walk…. to Kinshicho for a gin and tonic. I went upstairs to see who was gonna come with me, who was down for a bit of fresh air… and a cocktail. Ah. RT and Y were in the living room watching some celebrity show, and RT told me that there was no need to walk to Kinshicho for a drink, because he had a bottle of vodka that he’d brought back from his trip to Uzbekistan under the counter. I still took a walk. I went to the corner store for lemons, tonic water and a bag of ice and we a good time. Yi came home from work at about 10p.m and joined us in our Saltines and cheese, miso, potato chips and edamame fest. Yi and I stayed up quite late, and even contemplated taking a stroll… today, for sure.

The people in my life are what’s making my Tokyo experience so special. Yes, I love the food, the city itself, the culture, the teaching, and having “foreign” experiences, but it’s the community that DB spoke about that makes all the difference. (Even the friends who pull knives on me).

See you soon,

Val

p.s My brother sent me a live Bob Marley concert on youtube this morning that’s making my whole world! They’re both fantastic– my brother and Bob (every time).

“What’s Wrong With Loving One Another?”

Ye are the sheep of my pasture, so verily, thou shall be very well. – Bob Marley (So Jah Seh)

Dear Friends,

All has been well. Life has been good… has been great… more than well. The days have been filled with good friends, food, drink, merriment and life’s unexpected gifts. Actually, everything just mentioned are the gifts. “Puss and dog can get together, what’s wrong with loving one another?” Love is a gift.

A gift: I signed up to work on all the holidays, because I figured if I were here in Tokyo anyway why not make some extra cash. (We get paid overtime rates for working on the holidays). The other night when I came home from a pretty long day, I was hungry, dragging and not at all in the mood to eat anything I had in the cupboard.

My housemate R gives me the gift of his spirit, his outlook on life and his enthusiasm; but that night, he gave me the gift of a home-cooked meal. He made me dinner… and it was good! (A nice spicy bowl of deliciousness).

A gift: A few days ago my co-worker B introduced my tastebuds to an orgasmic experience. You’re going to scoff and say that there’s no way a burger can be so divine, but the hamburgers at Brozers are heaven. B tells me that there are even better burgers in Tokyo (one that costs $20 somewhere in Omote-Sando), but I don’t believe it. He took me to Brozers in Ningyocho twice after work, and they were closed. For some insane reason, they close at 9pm. So, we decided to head there for lunch on a free day, and folks it was well worth the wait. We ordered two burgers and split them (a bacon cheese burger and an avocado burger), and I’m thinking we should’ve ordered three. The beef was medium, juicy, packed between freshly-baked brioche bread, and served with slightly seasoned fries and pickles. One word- yum.

* The burger was bigger than my head, and y’all know I have a big head.

* I dug into the fries before the picture was taken… did I mention that it was also lightly coated in bbq sauce and mayonnaise? My god, the memory.

A gift: On Christmas Eve, four of my housemates and I bumrushed R‘s room and watched Love Actually. My friend Viajera dislikes Love Actually and actually wrote that in one of her blog posts, but it’s my favorite Christmas movie. If you haven’t seen it, why the hell not? It pertains to different kinds of love (some situations realized, and others unrealized), friendship and lasting relationships (all to a fantastic soundtrack). Love is the message, the carrier’s are gorgeous and funny and sweet. Friends, let’s make the remainder of this year and next year and all of them after that about love. “We don’t need no more trouble, what we need is love” – Bob Marley (No More Trouble).

A gift: On Christmas Day, I came home at 7p.m., and the house was already packed with guests.  There were about thirty-five people here, all festive, happy and full of high spirits. Literally and figuratively. My housemates and I had asked our friends to bring an inexpensive gift (maximum 1000 yen) for a gift exchange.

There were gifts galore, some people had bought two. We played musical gifts (just like musical chairs), drank a fair amount of alcohol (considering most of us were working the next day), and thoroughly enjoyed our Borderless House vibe.

* Our Santas

 * This guy is amazing… he knew every lyric to MJ’s Thriller… even “Baby Be Mine” (my favorite).

* It’s not easy being Santa…

Gifts: Family/old friends/new friends/shelter/employment/food/health/moderate temperatures in winter/the internet/music/youtube/flowers/chocolate/the moon/countless blessings/my friend Armin’s surprise package/ my winter clothes arriving just in time/daily confrontations with beauty/love/love/love.

Love,

Val

Sunday Night: Friends and Takoyaki

Hi Friends,

Two days ago, my father sent me an email which began, “I hope this email finds you sober.” To hear him tell it, I’m a hardcore partier, something which couldn’t be further from the truth. His email cracked me up, and I had to share it, because I don’t drink much… well, not all that much….well, not everyday.

However, last night my housemates and I had a get together at our house, where we invited some great people to come to our Borderless House.  For  four hours we imbibed grand sake, wine and beer, and ate takoyaki and chicken nabe. I must tell you all that I have vowed not to drink on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights anymore, because waking up for work the next morning is just too difficult and it’s really hard to teach with waves of tiredness washing over me. Not to mention, I also don’t understand why I woke up in someone else’s sweater, as well as my sweater, my dress and my tights.  I must say that partying in one’s own house is great; at the end of the night one simply crawls into bed.

Some pics:

*Takoyaki being gently nudged by chopsticks.



 

* Playing Wii… at least I think that’s what they were playing.

Flashing the peace sign is the most popular way to pose for photos in Tokyo.

 * See what I mean…

* Chicken nabe in the pot, a huge dried squid on the plate.

* Holding Yebisu, Asahi Dry and Asahi Clear… Japanese beers represent!

* These guys are way too cute… can’t wait to see them at 40.

And here they are again; the direction: “Look intelligent!”

* Clearly, the ladies look more intelligent… not that it’s a competition or anything (but isn’t everything?).


* The direction: “Look hip hop!”

Round 2

Round 3



*Yi, a godsend.

When our guests left, Yi made a large plate of fries, which was the best possible thing she could’ve done. The best advice my brother ever gave me.

Ciao,

e was “To avoid a hangover, eat greasy foods.” Amen.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

Val