Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank You for Your Support!

By MamaQ

Dear friends and readers, we are so grateful for your readership.  Since we started this little project a few months ago we've gotten some supportive feedback and have been pleasantly surprised by the positive response.  Now that we've started to gain momentum we are really getting excited about having a public space where we share our thoughts and ideas with each other and with you.  We'd love to expand our readership and get even more feedback from you. 

Our humble request is that you frequently leave comments on posts that move you in some way - we truly want to hear your thoughts and ideas as well!  And, if you are so inclined, sign up to be a "follower" (see the sidebar) and link to our blog from your own.  We would be so appreciative of these gestures.

We're already so grateful to you for taking time to visit us here and care about what we have to say.  We hope you've found something here to make you smile.  xoxoxo!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Oishii: Chocolate chip cookies

So far, all of our oishii recipes have featured traditional Japanese dishes. But I can't pass up posting about these delicious chocolate chip cookies.

Hey, Japanese people eat cookies, too.

This recipe actually comes from the back of the Guittard semisweet chocolate chip bag.

It's super simple. Those of you who love chewy, flat chocolate chip cookies will love this.

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup Guittard semisweet chocolate chips*

*The recipe actually calls for 2 cups (12 ounces) of chocolate chips, but I've found that 1 cup makes for a more balanced cookie.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. In large bowl, cream butter, sugar and brown sugar until light. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop by well rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Homemade: Otedama

Otedama are small Japanese beanbags.  They are most commonly used to play a rather complicated jacks-type game.  I've never actually seen any of our cousins play this game, but I have seen these charming little toys around the house.  I found some tutorials here and here, so I decided to try my hand and making these little gems.  Here's how it turned out:

As you can see, I also made a matching draw-string bag to keep the otedama in.  Traditionally, the otedama are quite small, but I made mine a bit bigger (a bit more American-sized, no?).  One great thing about these is that you need very little fabric to make them, so it's a great project for your leftover scraps.  The fabric combination possibilities are endless!  I made several sets to give as Christmas gifts - they are perfect for either gender.  Try them out if you are sewing-inclined and send us pics so we can see!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Step by step

When the mister and I were in New York City for our honeymoon several years ago, we bought this original piece of art from a street vendor.

It features a gold heart with the phrase "step by step" laddering up the right side of the heart. I love this piece because it represents to me that love is a process that requires time and effort.

As I celebrate the one-month birthday of my first child today, I'm keeping this in mind.

I love Olive. She is a gift. She makes this adorable sighing sound after she sneezes. But I don't have a powerful bond with her yet. I didn't feel overwhelming love when I first held her in my arms.

And I don't feel guilty or embarassed to say that.

Like with other relationships, I recognize that my relationship with my daughter may take time to develop. Right now, our interactions consist mostly of the daily mundane tasks, like feeding and changing diapers in between naps. Olive has held my gaze for a few seconds and has even smiled at me several times. I'm looking forward to more of this type of interation as Olive grows more alert and spends more time awake.

I'm looking forward to falling in love with my daughter, step by step.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Meditation: Something's Gotta Give

"All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he has grown up."
~Pablo Picasso

Last week when the midatlantic states got hammered with back-to-back blizzards we found ourselves sequestered in our home.  Fortunately Mr. Q didn't have to go into work and we got a lot of unexpected Daddy time.  Mayumi loved it. 

I've noticed that Dads are usually the "fun" parent.  Except for one foray out into the snow, it was always Mr. Q who took Maya out to play.  She spent most of her time indoors with him as well and I took the opportunity to focus on getting other things done around the house.  She was so happy to have someone around who focused completely on her and was such a willing playmate.

It made me realize that I don't do that enough.  Play with her.  I've been getting up early (5:30!) to go to the gym almost every day, so by the time night falls I'm exhausted I usually end of falling asleep with her around 8:30, which leaves no time to get done those mundane chores that are necessary in day-to-day living.  So I find myself trying to keep her distracted long enough for me to complete some other task: she colors while I do dishes, she dances while I fold laundry, she naps while I check my email, etc. Seeing how much she loved her dad's undistracted attention though, I decided to make more of an effort to really focus on playing and creating with her. 

This week has been a struggle to find the right balance: play with my daughter, maintain a functional household, care for myself. But I've been trying to be more responsive to her needs (especially since we are going through the sensitive process of weaning).  When she begs me to come paint with her, instead of putting her off so I can finish my chore-of-the-moment, I stop and dabble in the tempera.  Surely, it has resulted in a bit of a shabbier house.  And some lackluster dinners. 

But some really beautiful collages.
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oopsies: Way behind

By MamaM

They warned me about this.

Other moms. They warned me not to spend too much time on pregnancy books and to make sure I read some parenting books, too.

But I didn't listen.

And now, this is my stack of books that are supposed to help me figure out how to have a joyful child that sleeps through the night.

I want the answers! Problem is, I'm too busy holding the baby to hold any of these books...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oishii: The Basics

Have you ever had this secret desire to have your own cooking show?

A couple years ago we rented a house that had cable and I got hooked on a couple of food network shows, like the Barefoot Contessa and Rachel Ray. I love that intimate feeling like you're in the kitchen with someone learning their secrets and making fabulous, nourishing food. And, as an actress and limelight lover, I couldn't help but wish I could try my hand at hosting my own cooking show.

I got my chance last night when I taught a Japanese cooking class for the ladies at church. I was more nervous that I expected and I learned that it is harder than you might imagine, but it was a grand time! I decided to focus on the basics and prepare a simple, traditional meal: rice, miso soup, broiled salmon and boiled kabocha squash. This was pretty much our breakfast every single morning last September.

The hardest part was not having my own kitchen to work with. I didn't have a suitable knife and there was no stove in the church "kitchen", so I was using an electric cooktop that took about one hour to get a pot of water to boil. But the ten ladies that attended were so supportive and patient and genuinely interested, so ultimately it wasn't a problem.

It's a meal that can be prepared in 30 minutes (with all the right tools!). And it truly is super simple to make.  Here's how it goes:
Gohan (Rice)
The staple of a traditional Japanese meal, rice forms the base for almost every dish. Look for short grain Japanese or sushi rice. Plan on approximately ½ cup uncooked rice per serving, but for best results you should use no less than 2 cups uncooked rice.
2 cups uncooked short grain rice
Rinse rice with cold water until it water runs clear. Place in pot or rice cooker. Add measured water (generally 1 ¼ cup for every cup of rice, but it depends on the brand so check the bag for instructions). Let the rice soak in the water for 30-60 minutes. If using the stove-top method, cover the pan with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to very low and simmer for ~20 minutes. Remove from heat and let it steam for ~10 minutes before opening the lid. Gently stir rice with a cutting motion and serve.
Ideas for leftover rice:
gohan (rice) soup
fried rice
onigiri (rice balls)
mango sticky rice

Miso Soup
Miso soup is a common accompaniment to Japanese rice and it is amazingly versatile and tasty. You can add almost anything to it.
Basic Ingredients
1/4 cup dried wakame (a type of seaweed)
2-3 tablespoons miso (fermented-soybean paste)
4 cups Dashi (see following recipe to make your own from scratch)
½ block silken tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with dashi seasoning. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and stir in miso until dissolved (don’t let miso boil because it can destroy the active enzymes that make it so healthy!). Gently stir in tofu and wakame and any other vegetables you desire (Japanese radish, potatoes, spinach, rice and egg, etc.) Simmer 1 minute and remove from heat. Sprinkle with scallion greens and serve immediately.

Most dashi bouillion you purchase at the store has MSG. If you prefer to make your own, here’s how to do it.
4x4 inch strip of kombu (type of seaweed)
4 ½ cups cold water
4 cups large bonito flakes
Bring water and kombu to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once water is boiling, remove kombu and add the bonito flakes. Turn off heat and allow the bonito to steep for 2 minutes. Strain broth to remove bonito flakes.
Broth can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
You can re-use the kombu and bonito a second time for a somewhat weaker broth.

Broiled Salmon
The Japanese also consume a lot of fish, and not just the raw kind! Salmon is particularly popular and this is how my grandmother always prepared it for us.
2-3 salmon filets or steaks (6-8 ounces each), skin on
After washing and patting dry the salmon, rub a liberal amount of salt into the flesh. Place fish skin-side down on broiling tray or cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Broil on high for ~10 minutes or until the top of fish begins to brown and bubble lightly. Turn off heat and cover salmon with foil, but leave fish in the oven for ~10 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.

Boiled Kabocha
Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin with an intense, sweet, moist flesh and is lovely in so many different recipes. Try it in tempura, soups, roasted, sautéed, etc. This is a super-simple and tasty way to eat it.
2 cups kabocha chopped into 1-inch chuncks (skin on is okay!)
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
Place kabocha in medium-sized saucepan, completely cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add soy sauce and sugar (to taste). Reduce heat to simmer and cook until kabocha is soft. Drain liquid and serve.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Playtime!: Fukuwarai

Fukuwarai is the Japanese version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey: a blindfolded person places paper parts of a face, such as eyes, eyebrows, a nose and a mouth, on a paper face. Typically a game played during Oshogatsu (New Year), Fukuwarai is a fun little rainy-day (or snowy-day!) activity.  You can make all the pieces yourself, or if your kids are old enough they can help out.  If you're hesitant to do it yourself, here is a template you can print and cut out.  There is also this alternative Fukuwarai activity using a Totoro face-super cute!  And here is an online Fukuwarai game, in case your kids are good on the computer.

For our part, we made our own face (drawing is not one of talents!) from leftover cardboard and cereal boxes.  Mayumi helped color the pieces and we used scotch tape to try to "pin" the pieces onto our silly face.  She was not particularly interested in having her eyes covered up with a blindfold, so we just used the opportunity to review the names of face parts and joke around with funny arrangements. Fun times for everyone!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Homemade: Natural cleaners

With a new baby around, I've become more concerned about chemicals. In an effort to be more natural, I decided to try and make my own cleaner. I got this recipe for Wonder Spray from a professional cleaning lady who uses only homemade, "green" cleaners.

Wonder Spray
8 oz white vinegar
8 oz water
8-12 drops essential oil (optional)

I put it to the test on my very greasy stovetop (don't judge me) and have to admit I wasn't that pleased with the results, including the fact that even with some jasmine essential oil, the spray still left a vinegar-y aroma. Maybe Wonder Spray wasn't meant for destroying grease. The instructions do say that it is good for countertops, wood furniture (in small quantities), bathrooms (toilet bowl, shower doors, hard water stains), stainless steel and mirrors. Do not use on natural stone.

The nasty before:

The improved-but-still-needs-work after:

This one corner has built-up grease that just doesn't want to come off.

I decided to up the cleaning factor with an all-purpose spray that uses baking soda and supposedly works on grease.

All-Purpose Cleaner
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp white vinegar
16 ounces water

The results: The baking soda added a little more kick and got out a few more spots than just the vinegar and water, but was still lacking.

My conclusion: for light cleaning, natural cleaners work well. For heavy-duty messes, I'm still sticking to the hard stuff. Unless anyone else has a recipe for a more effective homemade cleaner?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Buying Seeds

By MamaQ

If you're going to garden this year, this is a gentle reminder that you may want to start thinking about buying your seeds now and starting those seedlings.  Already?  Yes, already!

Which means you have to start planning exactly what you want to grow and where you're going to grow it.

Is this easier to do if you live in the 'burbs and have a ton of land?  I live in DC.  Very small yard.  Very small raised bed in the front yard that gets sketchy light.  But I insist on doing this, even if last year (my first in our new house) was a bit of a disappointment.  It sometimes takes time to establish a healthy, vibrant garden and to learn what is going to work best on your little patch.  I tend to dream big and over-indulge in my seed purchases, which can be a problem when I have such limited space to grow everything!

So many questions this year: do I stick with square-foot gardening?  Should I take over the tree box on the sidewalk in front of our house?  Is lead a problem in my soil?  Will all the bulbs I planted last spring come up again this year? Oh, I have fantasies of a lovely oasis of a yard that yields billion of flowers and all the veggies we can eat - this was my mother's garden and it is my inspiration. 


I've been pouring over my seed catalogs (I like John Scheepers, Botanical Interests and Seeds of Change) and organizing my seeds from last year to see what new stuff I need to order.  This is seriously so exciting - these catalogs are like garden porn.  I could browse through them all day! But this year I vow to plan better. For some fabulous garden plans and layouts, check out Better Homes and Gardens. I'll be posting updates from my garden as the year goes on.  In the meantime, please share your tips and favorite gardening resources - I have so much to learn!  

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meditation: There is Beauty All Around

I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light but who see nothing in sea or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books. It were far better to sail forever in the night of blindness with sense, and feeling, and mind, than to be content with the mere act of seeing. The only lightless dark is the night of darkness in ignorance and insensibility.
~Helen Keller

I'm a girl who likes to be busy.  I have a seemingly endless number of projects and tasks on my to-do list, and I take great pleasure in having a full shedule.  But I can get lost in the busy-ness of my life and take the small and simple for granted.  Sometimes it's good to stop and be still.  To notice the way the snow outlines the silouette of a tree, or the way the light filters in through the back windows, or the way my daughter breathes when she sleeps.  There is such beauty and goodness in this world when one's eyes are open to it.

May you have some beautiful moments of stillness and calm this week, when you can recognize and appreciate your many, many blessings.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let's be honest about your time...

I'm conflicted.

That should be the theme of my life these days. As a new stay-at-home mother, things have obviously changed in my life from when I was working full-time and it was just me and the hubby. In some ways, I have more time and in other ways, less.

When MamaQ and MamaM talked with me about starting this blog, I was all for it. It sounded fabulous - a forum for my thoughts. But after I while, I realized - does anyone really care what I have to say? Who am I and why should anyone waste their time listening to my "musings" [read: ramblings]? As much as I like to think that I'm brilliant and ingenious, I'm pretty average. And I'm okay with that - this isn't a self-esteem issue.

But I'm conflicted. 'Cause I really struggled (and still continue to struggle) in this new role as mother. One of my greatest struggles is feeling fulfilled and satisfied in my new role. Not that my previous job was all that fulfilling. But it covered some important aspects for me - make money, have social interaction, help society, work out pretty darn consistently at the gym during my lunch hour... Now I clean my house...all day long it seems and it still seems messy. I obviously take care of my baby but that doesn't require 100% of my attention all day. So the other thing I do is spend time on the inordinate amount of time. And at the end of the day, I ask myself, what the heck did you do with your day?

It's funny because when I first started to stay at home, I read an article about how stay-at-home mothers get addicted to the computer and the internet. It is especially easy with our laptops and mobile devices like iPhone and Blackberry to be plugged in all the time to facebook, twitter, chat rooms, forums, and blogs.

Blogs - that is my big weakness. First it was just following personal blogs of family and friends. Then it grew to people from church, some closer than others but I was so curious. Then I started to click on the links of blogs that other friends and family followed like second degree friends and family. Then I started on frugality blogs. Then craft blogs. Then repurposing blogs and environmentally friendly blogs. I even started looking at yoga blogs. And I tell you, there is a lot of good stuff out there. A lot of really brilliant, insightful people who have good stuff to say. Lots of great deals and lots of great crafts. But I realized, I was spending all my time looking at blogs on-line and not actually going out to get the deals or do the crafts or making my own laundry detergent. I wasn't even posting to my own personal blog with as much frequency as I wanted. And more importantly, not interacting as much with my daughter, my husband, my family, and friends in a meaningful way.

So why in the world would I agree to contribute to this blog (although I know, it's been a pretty meager contribution thus far) when I feel so conflicted about how time is wasted on the internet? I figure it doesn't hurt to try cause you never know how something might satisfy some need in your life until you try it. I think I truly hope that we can provide something meaningful to those who read us...something educational or motivating or inspirational. So if our content this far has been completely unappealing, then I think we in no way deserve your time. But it takes our time to post it do hopefully, it will be worth it. When things are really important, you learn to prioritize it and cut out the rest of the crap.

I still follow some frugality blogs (my big weakness) and sometimes I score pretty awesome deals. I am getting better at filtering though. I cut out a lot of the craft blogs because I realized, I don't craft. Someday I will. I try to set limits although I often get sidetracked and sometimes it's with facebook where I waste away hours of my day checking out all 257 pictures of that new "friend" from high school on her profile.

I have a lot to say and sometimes, I'll probably be the pontificating windbag of the trio because I certainly don't take very good (or many) pictures (although I'm working on that!). I hope that I can always be honest and genuine and provide something good to chew on and not waste your precious time.

So anyway, here's the take home message. Step away from the computer if you can admit you're addicted and even if you're not, and go do something. I think about all the things I want to do and I hope I can check a few off my list. Some are more specific than others so will be easier to do. But you know, I just want try 'em out. I'll probably completely fail at some or won't like it after I've tried it but at least I will know!

Bake my own bread (not the quick bread but the yeast bread!)
Take pictures of my daughter
Cook awesome meals
Go rockclimbing
Make my own pasta
Learn to sew (anything!)
Bottle fresh peaches, jam, and salsa
Decorate my house

What do you want to do?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Oishii: Oyako Donburi

Donburi  is a rice dish.  Oyako actually means mother and child and refers to the chicken and egg that are served over the rice.  This is so oishii and easy.

Oyako Donburi (Egg & Chicken over Rice)
4 cups cooked gohan (short grain Japanese rice)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken cubed
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup dashi stock
4 shiitake mushrooms chopped
2 carrots,grated
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions
7 eggs, beaten

1. Prepare dashi by bringing water to boil and adding dashi granules (see MamaQ's post on Gohan Soup for other alternatives in making dashi)
2. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Saute chicken and onion until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Stir in one cup of the dashi stock and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrot, and let simmer for a few minutes before stirring in the sugar and soy sauce. Simmer for 3 more minutes.
5. Sprinkle in half of the green onions, stirring gently. Pour beaten eggs over the chicken mixture, and simmer until the eggs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Don't overcook - eggs should be a bit runny and will finish cooking on the hot rice.

6.  Scoop a cup of rice into individual bowls and top with egg & chicken mixture.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Little Heartache

Many of you know that it took Mr. Q and I seven years of "trying" to finally conceive Mayumi.  After a battery of tests and treatments, I finally found out I was pregnant after our third round of In Vitro Fertilization.  Not only was there the euphoria of finally getting our baby, but after years of suffering though violently painful endometriosis I was finally pain-free!  Pregnancy (after the first trimester) was the best I had ever felt in my entire life.  No more physically painful cramping or emotionally painful longing!

Fast forward to Mayumi's second birthday.  Mr. Q and I were feeling strongly that Mayumi needs a sibling, and knowing that we had difficulties the first time around we figured we needed to avoid putting off trying for Number Two.  But that would mean I would need to be "ready" (AKA ovulating), which I hadn't been since before we conceived Mayumi.

A little back story: Mayumi and I LOVE breastfeeding.  She got it right away and it has been a trememdous bonding, calming, loving experience for both of us.  She's an on-demand nurser and it was a daunting idea to begin the weaning process.  In practice it has been a tremendous challenge.  I knew that the night feedings had the most impact on my ovulation, so we tackled that first.  After a few weeks were finally able to adhere to the rule of "No opai (breast) after dark" though during daylight hours it's fair game.  Almost immediately my period returned after a three year hiatus! 

It's been four months and still no luck getting pregnant on our own. I've been having acupuncture monthly and maintaining my healthy lifestyle and doing everything I can to make my body work for me.  Still, no baby. Almost as bad, the pain has returned and I find myself writhing in bed at night, riddled with cramping. 

We have an appointment with our fertility doctor next week.  I both look forward to it and dread it - I suspect he will demand that I wean Mayumi entirely since my body is so sensitive to hormonal fluctuations.  I think it will break her heart, which breaks mine.  But the ol' biological clock is ticking and the blessing of having a sibling is greater than a little opai comfort, no?  And it would be nice to get rid of this pain, too.  My body seems to think its natural state is pregnant or breastfeeding - that is when it is happiest! 

I share this little bit of heartache not because I want your pity (please no!) but because I think too often these things aren't talked about and are relegated to some sort of whispered "Women's Problems" status.  Bah!  This Wabisabi Mama understands that this constitutes a legitimate part of motherhood and life in general - so I'm throwing it out there.  Women with endo, hide no more!  Fertility issues?  No shame in that!  Breastfeeding?  Pop 'em out girls!  Maybe by sharing our stories it will make them a little less painful and burdensome to bear.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Homemade: Valentine's Candy Jars

Ooh, I L-O-V-E this project because it is so ridiculously easy and so ridiculously cute! With a few simple steps and a little creativity, you can turn your old glass baby food jars into cute treat jars. I made mine for Valentine's Day, but was inspired by the uber-talented Ashley at Make It and Love It, who made her jars for autumn. These would also work well as favors for showers or birthday parties, stocking stuffers or any number of holidays.

The best part was that since the jars are so small, I was able to decorate them using only leftover scraps of paper and embellishments, so it's a totally recycled project!

The line-up:

More details:
This jar was made with some leftover pink rice paper. I cut out the flower branch from a piece of old scrapbook paper and glued it all on the jar with Mod Podge. Filled with cinnamon candy hearts.

View from the top:

For the spunky love in your life. Ingredients: leftover paper and ribbon. Oh, and conversation hearts and Nerds.

Floral vellum-themed jars. These were made with a $1 package of die-cut flowers, leftover stickers and twine. Easy!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Homemade: Origami Valentines

How cute is this - your very own personalized, homemade Valentine hearts. So much better than store bought cards and a great activity to do with your wee ones. You can use origami paper or whatever scrap paper you have around the house, as long as it is a perfect square (in most cases). There are some helpful websites out there to help you, according to your skill level.  Here is a great tutorial for one type. And this site has even more options with easy to follow diagrams and animation.

Want to know an easy way to make square paper from a typical 8 1/2 x 11 sheet?  See here:


Monday, February 8, 2010

Meditation: Small & Simple Things

When my husband and I were teaching English in Japan after we were first married, one of our students presented us with a beautiful calligraphy painting of a Japanese proverb. Roughly translated it means “Little by little the dirt grows into a mountain”. The phrase resonated with me, probably because it bears resemblance to one of my favorite scriptures: “by small and simple things are great things come to pass” (Alma 37:6).

This scripture has become a sort of family motto around our home. I’m a big believer in the power of words. The Japanese proverb is displayed for all to see as a daily reminder of the idea put forth by Mother Theresa that “we cannot do great things. We can only do little things with great love.”

David O. McKay spoke of the power of small and simple acts:
“There is no one great thing that we can do to obtain eternal life and it seems to me that the great lesson to be learned in the world today is... in the little acts and duties of life... Let us not think that because some… things seems small and trivial that they are unimportant. Life, after all, is made up of little things. Our life, our being, physically, is made up here of little heart beats. Let that little heart stop beating and life in this world ceases. The great sun is a mighty force in the universe, but we receive the blessings of his rays because they come to us as little beams, which, taken in the aggregate, fill the whole world with sunlight.”

In our home we try to do those little things every day. Writing thank you notes. Delivering muffins to a new mom. Hanging out around the washing machine to make sure everyone has clean clothes to wear. Cooking nutritious meals every day. Blowing bubbles, reading books, even blogging. But there are so many times when I’ve reached the end of a day or week (or year!) and think to myself that I don’t really have anything to show for it. I receive no paycheck. I don’t have any awards or write-ups in the local paper. Very few people outside of my circle would recognize my name. I don’t have a brand-name line and I haven’t been published. And I still haven’t won that Oscar (sigh).

It can be difficult to remember that great things have come to pass, even if no one else notices or recognizes it.  Babies have been born, friendships strengthened, people nurtured...

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for being a good mama. (Okay, maybe I am a little.) But my point is that these words: “by small and simple things are great things come to pass” have shaped my attitude, my outlook, and my days. I like having a family motto, something to live by.

What about you? What words inspire you?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kids write the darndest things

Growing up, our wabisabi mom would whisk us four children away to Japan for a month or two during many of our summer vacations. There we would stay with our grandparents in my mother's childhood home in the foothills of the Yahiko mountains. Two months was a long time to be away from home, especially away from our father, who was able to join us for only a week or two during our stay.

Since this was before the days of email and Skype, we wrote Dad letters, many of which he has kept and recently begun archiving. We kids have had a good laugh reading over these gems. What makes these letters so funny is that none of my siblings or I are very sentimental or mushy, yet these letters show quite the opposite!

I'm including a few of them below (with their original spelling and grammar) as a reminder to you to hang onto some of the pieces of art your kids create. You and they will enjoy looking at them years later.

July 26, 1986

Dear dad I like japan.  We have a cat.  We had a fish but a diferent cat ate it.  And when me and Elaine go to school a dog walks with us.  Someone has fish in a pond out side.  And she has son that I play with.  The beach is nice.  And I got a paint set from school.  And I finished a book in two day at school.  I got a lot of friends. I will miss you.

Love Chris [age 7]

July 11, 1989

Dear dad,

            How are you?  I’m bad.  School is bad, and Elaine and Chris are worse then they are at home!  Elaine, she was the worst!  She hid my coloring books, and Elaine and Chris hid on me and they hid up-stairs and I couldn’t find them, and when I went up to find them they went down.  And their not even suppose to be up there.  It’s fun at home but Elaine and Chris they drive me crazie.

            You are asking all these questions and I’m gona ansew them.  You asked how we were doing, I’m O.K.  And how’s school?  You asked, it’s Yuk!  You asked if we remember any friends, I sure don’t.  You asked if we went swimming evry day, well we haven’t we’v been at school all day.  You asked if we were learning any Japaness, well I’v learned a little.  You asked of O-jichan and O-bachan are spoiling us, well a little.  You asked if we are eating to much candy and we only at a little candy.  You asked if we played with the dog, well I sure do.  You asked if eating with o-hashie hard, it’s only a little.  You asked if we have favirate japaness cartoons on T.V. I don’t.  You asked us if we were giving mom a hard time only Elaine and Chris.  You asked if mom was eating to much she only eat’s a lot of clams.

I know this letter is late but happy birthday hope all your wishes come true

Emily [Age 7]

August 7, 1989

Dear Daddy,

I miss you very much.  I’m glad that you came to Japan.  I hope you won’t be to lonely in America.  I bought a fake lipstick and when you take the lipstick off, it’s a pen.  And I got a new, pretty necklace.  I’m having a good time here.  Love, Anne [age 5]
P.S. Elaine wrote this.
P.P.S. My tooth fell out! (Annie’s 1st tooth!)

Dear Daddy,
            I miss you so so so so soooo much!  I had a dream that last night you came and you were sleeping in Mommy’s bed but when I woke up, you weren’t there!  Chris is being a real idiot!  I try to be nice, and I am!  (But he’s still mean to me (and Elaine, Anne, & Ma)).  It’s nice here, how’s it in the U.S. of A.  We all have special jobs, and I clean up the kitchen and the hallway around the toilet.  Chris does the praying room.  At least he’s suppose too.  Mommy usually ends up doing it.  Annie sweeps where the shoes are and lines them up.  Elaine does the T.V. room and the playroom.  I’m making a picture book.  I have to go know.  I love you.  xoxo Love, Your dying to see you daughter, Emily  ♥ [age 7]

Dear Oto-san, Daddy      
I ♥ U     
Missin’ ya             
I love you Daddy!

            How’s life?  I miss you sooo much!  Chris is kinda hyper.  He’s been that way ever since you left.  Mom’s kinda upset because I get mad when Chris is being a jerk.  I’m trying to be good and I mostly ignore him (or try to) and play with the girls.  Then Chris get’s upset because he has nothing to do and teases us, which is soooooo aggravating.  Last night there was a typhoon!  Today, we went to the beach to see the waves.  Pretty big, but I have seen bigger.  Us girls are pretty much getting along, a few arguments here and there but what can I say?  Nobody’s perfect.
            I’m helping out a lot.  I sweep every day and do the dishes.  (Almost everyday)  Oba-chan thinks Yoko’s kids are good and helpful.  We’re trying to show her we’re just as good and helpful, if not better.  Chris wants to show he’s more helpful, but I don’t know about being good.  I miss you.  Gotta go, Dad!  Bye!  Love, Elaine [age 12]

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oishii: Gomoku Gohan

Gomoku Gohan literally translates to Rice with Five Things. As with most of our recipes, this is homecooking an not something you're likely to find on the menu at a Japanese restaurant. Every family and region has their own version of this recipe but I, of course, am a fan of my mom's.  Here's how she made it for us recently:

Gomoku Gohan (Rice with Five Things)
3 3/4 cups Mochi or Sweet Rice soaked overnight
1 cup of sliced shiitake mushrooms (use dried ones that have been soaked until reconstituted and conserve the water!)
1.5 cups gobo or burdock root, shredded (soak in vinegar/water mixture for 5 minutes to prevent oxidation)
1.5 cups carrots, shredded
1 cup Hijiki seaweed, rinsed and soaked for ~20 minutes
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
soy sauce
Mirin (sweet cooking wine)

1. Steam rice(in a steamer, not rice cooker) for 45-60 min. Mix gently during steaming to ensure even cooking.  If rice remains a little hard, use the uchimizu technique, which is pouring ~1/2 cup water over the rice while still cooking.  Rice is done when it is clear and soft.
2. Heat a small skillet with ~1 Tablespoon sugar and ~1 Tablespoon soy sauce  and add chopped nuts.  Saute until coated, then set aside.
3. In a seprate skillet heat 1 Tablespoon oil and saute hijiki, gobo, carrots and shiitake with a dash of Mirin until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup sugar, reserved mushroom water and about 3 Tablespoons soy sauce.
4.  Transfer rice to a large bowl and with a cutting motion, mix in the veggies and juices.  Mix in the nuts.
5.  Season to taste and serve hot!  Serves about 4 people.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Have you ever experienced something wonderful and immediately felt that you wanted to share it with the people you loved?  After Mr. Q and I first started dating I left him to spend my summer in Japan.  As a young teenager in love it was excruciating to be away from him and even though I loved being with my family, it was a bittersweet experience because I was always wishing Mr. Q was there with me.  Every beautiful sunset, every delicious meal, every friendly person, every funny situation found me sighing "I wish Mr. Q could experience this with me." (Five years later I got my wish when, after we got married, we went to live in Japan for a year to teach English.)

I tell this story because this is part of the reason why I blog.  I have these experiences, I read these articles, I make these recipes, I accomplish something creative and I feel like I want to share it with the people I care about (and the people who care about me!).  So thank you for being part of that circle, for letting me share with you. 

This is what I wanted to share with you today: I read this post on Shivaya Naturals today entitled "How to Really Love a Child" and for some reason it touched me.  I thought I'd share it with you, because maybe you need a little tweak of the heartstrings today, too.

And if I were going to add to it I would say:
Take baths together.
Dance in the rain.
Make snowmen.
Plant a garden together.
Let them eat butter.  Plain.  If that's what they really want.
Make sure they see you hug and kiss your spouse - make sure they know he is the love of your life.
Sleep with them sometimes.  Or all the time!
And let them teach you how to love them best.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Reactionist

I'm one of those people that the media, marketers and conspiracy theorists love.  I buy it all.  BPA is bad?  I don't use plastic at all.  Bye-bye Tupperware, hello GlasslockTeflon is bad?  I only use stainless steel and cast iron pots and pans.  Pesticides and preservatives are bad?  Well, we consume only all-natural or organically-grown products.  Indoor air quality is bad and can be caused by chemical off-gassing of carpets, furniture and mattresses?  We opted for old hardwood floors and switched to an organic latex mattress.

The newest one?  In this month's issue of GQ (why I was reading this is another story) there was this article about the dangers of cell phone radiation (read it and let me know your thoughts!).  I understand that GQ isn't exactly an academic source and I know that I will be accused of being an alarmist, but the cell phone issue has been a concern of mine for quite some time.  We always try to use an earpiece or speakerphone to keep the phone away from our bodies (specifically our brains).  Some European governments have acknowledged the danger of cell phone radiation exposure and are issuing legislation to deal with that.  For our part, this week we ordered Verizon to install a landline(a fiasco in and of itself) in our home which we hope to be our primary method of phone communication.  Since we're going retro, I'm actually on the lookout for a vintage rotary dial phone.  Let me know if you have any leads!

But, oh! We have come to rely on our cell phones so much - how can I live without it? I realize it will be a weaning process as we complete the terms of our contract (I hate how those companies force you into those).  We are also considering throwing out the microwave oven and reverting back to ethernet cables instead of a wireless connection.  We might as well move to the outback and live off the land.

I don't believe in living in fear.  Really, I don't.  But as a mother I feel particularly responsible to make the best decisions for my family's health.  Like eating lots of vegetables, getting exercise, and avoiding cancer-causing radiation.  Am I crazy?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Homemade: Oni Pillows

I know for Setsubun you are supposed to drive away the demons, but maybe you can keep one or two friendly ones around. Perhaps as night time protectors?  I thought up these little oni pillows when I had the brilliant, somewhat insane, idea to handmake all of my Christmas gifts last year.  I was stuck on what to make for the little boys in my life when somehow this occured to me.  Here's what you need to start:

fabric, scissors, thread, sewing machine, doll stuffing or beans, pencil, scrap paper.

I traced out an outline of how I wanted my little demon to look:

I cut out two fabric pieces to match (I cut 1/4 inch outside of the pattern to allow for seam allowances).  One is felted wool that I made from a repurposed sweater for the front of the oni.  The other is some cotton (any fabric remnants will do) for the back of the oni.

I cut out two red wool eyes and a creamy-colored felt "face."

Sew on the eyes to the face.  I tried machine sewing them once and I didn't like it as much as the hand-sewn effect.

Then sew the face onto the right side of the felted wool.

With right sides facing, sew around the perimeter of the felted wool and the back fabric using 1/4 inch seam allowance.  Leave a small opening in the bottom corner.

Turn it inside out and stuff with doll-stuffing (or for an appropriate alternative, beans!).

Blind stitch the opening closed.