Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Sea of Emotions

It has been a bit of a whirlwind of crazy emotions around our house for the past four months. Specifically, Joey has been suffering from "senioritis". I'm sure, well and have actually confirmed, that this is the case with most other high school seniors we know.

It all started with the college application process. Deciding which colleges to apply to in the first place was step one. We tried to get Joey to some of the colleges in person because, seriously, how can you decide to attend a school and spend four years in a town without ever having visited first? Last year at this time, Joey and I spent spring break in a frenzy, visiting 2-3 schools a day. Of the nine schools we visited on the east coast, by November, only two remained on Joey's list. Some of the schools we had visited purely because of convenience and so that Joey could confirm that he wanted a small school in a small town. In that respect, our trip was a total success. He was able to eliminate NYU, Columbia and Brown and in all honesty, Columbia and Brown would have been extremely difficult for Joey to get in to, so that took some stress off. He was able to really solidify his desire for the school to be in a college town and preferably have only undergraduates and less than 3000 students, but it had to have a rigorous core curriculum and a visual arts program. He decided a dedicated art school was not for him, so RISD was eliminated. Sad good-bye to Providence, RI, home of Brown and RISD--I adored you :( ! Oh yeah, I should probably throw out here (since this is MY self fulfilling blog anyway) that I really want him to go to some awesome town that I will want to visit often and hang out, just outside the walls of where Joey resides--I wouldn't want to be a bother, or anything...

Of the remaining six schools, another three were eliminated because their visual arts program wasn't strong enough or their core curriculum wasn't intense enough. And that left three viable school options: Bard, Wesleyan and Vassar. Vassar finally got eliminated from Joey's list late in the game, literally right before he started the application process. Although a beautiful school and very attainable for Joey, their visual arts program just wasn't quite strong enough and their male to female ratio was a little skewed (although Joey claims this wasn't a problem ;). Vassar does have THE most beautiful library, but you can't base a decision solely on a library, right? Just as quickly as Joey eliminated seven of the schools from the east coast tour, he added six schools spanning from Minnesota to Maine. Wow, Minnesota, not high on my list of places to visit often, but hey, as long as it fit Joey's criteria--I could make some concessions. He also visited two schools in Ohio, hmm. But he also kept my personal favorite school on his list. A school in Maine. We have been to Maine. I LOVE Maine. It's not about me, it's not about me, it's not about me. This has become my mantra.

The application process was intense... deadlines around every turn. November through December became all about the essay, and all the mini essays, the letters of recommendation, the transcripts, the scores. Not to mention the fact that his school's intense academic expectations weren't letting up just because he is a senior applying to college and his Presidential duties were mounting as well. So, January 15th was THE day... the day all the applications were in, sent, done, paid for. I really thought everything would calm down. Things would start to return to "normal". I was totally unprepared for "senioritis". Joey went from being a totally dedicated high school student spending hours on his homework and pretty much talking about nothing but school--to a somewhat lazy, periodically angry, often disinterested, almost totally preoccupied pseudo adult. Things came out of his mouth like... "if I don't get in to any of the schools, I will just travel for a year". What happened to my totally confident 18 year old? No way was the college application process going to eat him alive. We became very impatient for the first week of April to arrive. This is what we were told... for regular decision applicants, letters would be mailed the last week of March and received the first week of April. But then, other kids started receiving their acceptances--way before the last week of March? Really? Even regular decision? What was happening. Sometimes things you "hear" or "read" aren't actually true--why can I not learn this lesson once and for all!

Joey has now received back 5 of 8 responses. He has received 1 denial, 1 wait list, and 3 acceptances. We expect at least 2 more acceptances. Life is grand. His choice will be a difficult one, but his hard work has paid off. His decision will need to be made by May 1st and this chapter of his life will be closed. Glorious relief!

And I am happily planning a trip to Maine ;).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 5

Climbing the steps ascending the Higashiyama-Amida Hill leading to Hideyoshi's tomb, Kyoto Japan, May 1987

A New Friend

Meiko was studying for her college entrance exams. She was very worried about her English test. She had spent many hours in a classroom learning from a textbook and a native Japanese speaker. Meiko wanted a real life experience and she wanted me to help her. It wasn't often that a Japanese High School student ran into a 20-something American girl on the streets of Kyoto--it just wasn't. Honestly, in America, we have the opportunity to mix and mingle with people from many cultures, speaking many languages, but we regularly take it for granted. I was not taught either at home or at school that I should embrace the opportunity to learn to speak new languages or encourage new customs... instead, most often we just questioned why, if people were in America, they didn't just speak English. And yet, over the years Michael and I have met many friends that speak three, four or five languages--and we are in awe. What a special gift.

Meiko's plan was for the two of us to spend at least one afternoon a week together exploring a new place. Well, a new place to me. She could practice her spoken English and ask me all the questions she wanted and I would get my own personal tour guide (and a little Japanese practice too). Meiko was sweet and polite and verbal and educated on all the places we visited and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. It is sad to lose touch with such a special person. If our connection had happened today, we would have email and facebook and skype and all kinds of wonderful ways to stay in touch. We wrote letters for a while. She did very well on her exams and was attending University the last time we conversed. I wonder where she is today. I hope she made it out of Japan, at least for a visit.

Urban Hill Fukakusa

Michael and I continued loving our little Fushimi-ku apartment, however, it did not go unnoticed by neighbors that Gaijin were living in the neighborhood. Our apartment building was very close to the neighboring building... a much older building. The man directly across from us was not pleased that foreigners were living so close. He had a pretty serious drinking problem. On warmer evenings after returning from work, the neighbor would drink to the point of drunk and then stand out on the balcony and curse the Gaijin. We could understand enough of what was being said to know we weren't wanted. Sometimes I actually was out on the balcony during the outbursts as our laundry machines were out on the balcony. I always thought it was funny that for a country that was so technologically advanced during this time period, that their household machines were so archaic. There really weren't conventional dryers. There were these little tiny space saving underwear dryers that were kind of a fad back then, but we did not have one. We had a washer and it was manual cycle. Meaning between each cycle, everything was done manually. You would put your clothes in and run the water. Then add the detergent once the machine was full of water. Then set the wash cycle. Etc... so you had to keep a pretty close eye on it... meaning I would be on and off the balcony for the duration of the wash. I just pretended like I could not understand a word the guy was saying--and that would have been what he would have assumed anyway. Eventually the wife would drag her husband back into their apartment. It was unpleasant, but not scary. Apparently getting drunk and belligerently yelling obscenities about things you don't like is a worldwide phenomenon.

Our apartment building also had a reputation as a place for harboring "kept" women. The neighbor that we shared a wall with on the living room/bedroom side was one of these women. We believe her boyfriend was a member of the Japanese mafia. I cannot remember exactly how we knew this, probably rumors from Michael's Japanese friends. Anyway, there was regularly a lot of yelling and noise and sometimes the walls shook. I often saw this woman coming and going from her apartment at all times of the day. Like she did not have a regular job. She was attractive and always well dressed and never, ever looked at me. This probably helped me rationalize that the stories were true. One night when we were fast asleep the plastic panels in the fake shoji style sliding doors between our bedroom and living room started to shake. Michael slept through it but I bolted straight up and could not believe that whatever was going on in the apartment next door was causing THAT much shaking. I woke up Michael and said what do you think is going on? Once Michael shook the sleep off, he said EARTHQUAKE! and sure enough it was an earthquake, not the mafia guy next door enjoying a raucous night with his "kept" girlfriend.


I lived in Japan from the end of December through July. I did miss out on possibly the most beautiful time of the year, Fall. However, my favorite season, by far, during my time in Japan was Spring. Specifically Hanami Season, literally translated to flower viewing, but really it is all about the Cherry Blossom!

I took this picture in April 1987 at a park in Kyoto during cherry blossom season. In the photo is a Grandpa with his Granddaughter exploring the treasures of the creek. They probably brought a picnic and enjoyed it underneath the big full blossoms of the trees. This is custom in Japan. Such a wonderful and beautiful tradition. We so enjoyed sharing Hanami with our new Japanese friends. Something very special about this season is that it only lasts as long as the blossoms so people are totally dependent on nature. Depending on weather, the blossoms last a few days to a couple weeks. You never know how long they will last, so you must get out during the day and enjoy. You can even leave work and enjoy alcohol with your picnic. Not sure why alcohol is so important, but it is. We were lucky because the year we lived in Kyoto, cherry blossom season was nearly a full two weeks.

Stay tuned for more Japanese adventures.... including my altercation with a panda bear and a security guard!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Comfort Food

We all felt like we needed a little love from one of our favorite comfort food dishes...
Homemade Chicken Pot Pie (homemade crust too)
I need to change out my macro lens... too lazy tonight

Yes, it was delicious!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Signs of Spring

Michael and I have been spending some quality time in the garden on these wonderfully sunny 60 degree days we have been having in Portland. We even got Sammy out to help, a little. Where is Joey, you might ask? Let's not go there...

When the winter pansies are planted in the pots in the Fall, it just amazes me that they stay so beautiful throughout the winter and then in spring the blossoms just start multiplying like crazy. Pansies come in the most gorgeous colors and for looking so delicate, they are amazingly durable.
We have a few of these shrubs (below) in our yard. I hacked this one back as it was getting too big for my liking. Here is some of the new growth. It looks like he doesn't mind at all getting pruned way back.

I cannot say enough about my love for Magnolias. The trees are beautiful, the branches are beautiful, the buds are beautiful. I am particularly fond of the fact that they bud first and then get their leaves later... like Dogwood. It's nice to be a little different.

The lady that had our house built way back in 1939, just loved Camellias. We have some lovely exotic varieties that have been here for more than half a century.We have red varieties, hot pink, pink, white and perhaps my favorite...the variegated pink and white variety that reminds me of peppermint salt water taffy. I have learned to love Camellias although as I have said before, they don't actually seem all that practical for the Pacific Northwest. They have lovely delicate petals and inevitably just as their fragile blooms burst forth, the spring rains come and just destroy them. Turn them awful shades of brown and toss them to the ground. Oh well, we will enjoy the beauty for now... I hear the rain is coming tomorrow.

Just as much as I love trees that bloom before they leaf, I also love the wonderful fruit trees that get their leaves and flowers all at the same time. I am especially fond of crab apple and quince blossoms mainly because their buds are packed so tightly. The quince blossoms are so round and pink:
And our little quince bush is covered in bunches of blossoms just about to bloom.
Our plum trees, in their second year, are looking lovely.
I can't wait to see if the red variety produces fruit this year.
And of course there are the beautiful spring bulb flowers bursting out all over the yard.

When the squat little Hyacinths start blooming, you know spring is just around the corner.