DIY 03: Do you want to make a snow globe?

 
::MATERIALS::

1 jar

Christmas decoration that can be submerged in water

Glitter

Glycerine

Distilled water

Hot glue gun

Miscellaneous outer decorative stickers/fabric/ribbons/etc (optional)

::DIRECTIONS::

1. Center your Christmas decoration on the inner side of the lid and mark the spot with a marker. You want to make sure that the jar will be able to go around it without problems.

2. Take your hot glue gun and coat the bottom of your decorative piece of choice. Set aside.

3. Pour distilled water into the jar, leaving a bit empty at the top.

4. Add a couple drops of glycerine. Keep in mind that more glycerine creates viscosity (resistance to flow); the glitter will swirl and fall slower with more glycerine. Too much glycerine and the glitter will clump.

5. Sprinkle some glitter. Seal the lid to the jar and voila! You now have a snow globe!

Great craft for kids and holiday lessons.

Honshu in 1 Week: If there’s one thing I learned…

…about Japan during this whole trip – or so Kimmy said as we were finally en route to Tokyo – it’s that this country is extremely mountainous.

This was after the hundredth dozen set of tunnels we’d passed through. As beautiful of a scenery as we experienced in the early days of the trip, the second half was marked with progressively longer stretches of inter-mountain tunnels, one after another. This was the last leg. Really, I’ve been blessed with such amazing, adventurous friends. This is our short tale of one last hurrah on the open road, our last 7 days as partners in crime…

DAY 1: On the Road Again

Load the car with a year’s worth of luggage, blast a deafening amount of music through the speakers, and drive for as long as humanly possible, or twelve straight hours to be more exact. Mix in an unhealthy dose of Lawson’s coffee and stir liberally.

Oh, conbinis. How you shall be missed. They practically ensured that we could continue driving well past bed time. Sadly, it was the lack of 24 hour gas stations that finally grounded us at 2am in Niigata City at a Michi no Eki (roadside station). Otherwise we would’ve driven until reaching Fukui.

DAY 2: There Be Dinosaurs in Fukui

Having driven the entire length of the first day, I was relegated the duty of morning rest in the backseat while Kim and Elena sped past prefectures until early afternoon, after which I was much recovered from the caffeine crash.

We managed to make it past Kanazawa in record time, well after the lunch rush and the timing worked out like a charm.

Travel Tip 1: Start early in the morning. We left Imabetsu by 5pm because of work obligations earlier in the day but we would have covered so much more ground if we’d started early morning.

But don’t be fooled, this type of travel is not for the finicky or faint of heart. Michi no Eki are fluorescent lit and bug infested. Cicadas in the toilets, Aragogs in the ceilings of the bathrooms… and then there’s the little matter of what was once known as the Circadian Rhythm. Curtains and modernity have largely made it possible for humanity to ignore the call of nature, or rather the call to awake at the wee hours of 4am by summer standards. If I could do it all over again, I would have invested in a sleeping mask.

Travel Tip 2: However, when it can’t be helped or for the late night to early morning drivers there is a sizeable toll road discount if the car is equipped with an ETC and so long as drivers manage to exit by 4am.

For every stop we made, be it for gas or bathroom breaks (or as became more frequently: for both), we were set back anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Factor in breaks and switches if you’ll be on a particularly tight schedule, otherwise if time is of little to no consequences: carpe diem!

Fukui is known for potatoes, mackerel, and dinosaurs. Home to the adorable Fukuisaurus (a legitimate dinosaur, I assure you), there is a science center and dinosaur museum with enough exhibits to keep adults and children occupied all day.

We had only a couple of hours to kill. BUT IT WAS THE BEST!!!!

Not only were “traditional” dinosaurs (the ones we all knew and studied as children) represented, but the museum had a special exhibit for dinosaurs found and dug up on the Asian continent and Pacific. Fukuisaurus was among them, that adorable if derpy hadrosaur.

From the museum and our well-deserved rest, we hastened ourselves back onto the road. Time was of the essence. We had already set back for an extra night, a unanimous decision in a bid to see more of Shimane by the next day.

And it was well worth our sacrifice for an extra night in Tokyo.

DAY 3: The Land of 8 Million Gods and 1 Bunny Rabbit

Izumo Taisha, Matsue Castle… of the list of possibilities, including a possible seaside excursion or trip to a lighthouse, we narrowed down on the two closest. Kyushu had to happen that same night – or never, the hostel was kind enough to let us arrive a day late and we didn’t want to be unreasonably mucha.

Travel Tip 3: For a more luxurious experience, and given enough time, camp your way across Japan. Michi no Eki are a last resort and for the purposes of this trip, given our particular situational parameters, there were our only resort. But a nature resort (no pun intended), is a gorgeous way to get the woodsy back roads experience of Honshu. Make reservations a month in advance.

By the time we crossed the bridge into Kyushu, we were weathered a little worse for wear but still spirited enough to freak out for a hour later as we drove to our little hell-side hostel in Oita Prefecture. Also, the humidity was working wonders for our skin.

DAY 4: The Hells of Beppu

Never been so glad to find myself in hell before, in a manner of speaking. To have made it safely to our primary goal, exhilarating in its own right, received a further energy boost as we appreciated the natural geysers and mineral hot spring waters known as the Hells of Beppu.  Japan’s small scale version of Yellowstone NP, is impressive in its variety of geologic activity if not land masse. The colors were brilliant from milk white to blood red and crystalline stained glass blue.

There was one hell that got away, pressed for time we had to leave for Fukuoka City where Kim was able to partake of some second to last minute Pokemon Center shopping. Once we were all done with omiyage and merchandise, it was yet again time to hit the long road to Miyajima for a night and early morning exploring the geology and scenery of the island.

DAY 5: 1945

Hiroshima is a beautiful city. Lovely riverside walks wind you through a cityscape of modernity and to the vestiges of a fateful day in 1945. The past and the present merge perfectly into each other in Hiroshima and there is no better place to witness it than at the Peace Memorial Park and the attached museum which chronicles a single day of infamy: August 6, 1945.

The museum packs an emotional and psychological punch so be prepared to spend an hour or so sitting on a a quiet bench in the park after your visit. Educational in its history and uplifting in its message of eternal hope, I highly advise all Americans to pay the 50 yen to enter.

Travel Tip 4: The museum has free parking.

DAY 6: Nagoya

 From Hiroshima we made our way to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. Yet again, we were attempting to tick off another Pokemon Center off of Kim’s list, all the while oblivious to the fact that much like the hell that got away there was a Pokemon Center that got away as well: Hiroshima’s. Sigh. But, it gives us reason to go back some day, right?

Travel Tip 5: THROW OUT ALL YOUR TRASH AT EVERY REST STOP! And remember: that which you buy, yes even that deliciously chocolatey Parm bar, you will have to trash later.

Nagoya is the center of technological advances, Japan’s Silicon Valley but specifically in robotics. However, we didn’t have much time to explore at this point. Kim had a plane to catch early the next morning and we still had to find a suitable place to ditch the car in Yokohama (wherein there was yet another Pokemon Center that needed to be crossed off the list).

But after a lovely breakfast as Denny’s, we hit the city mall for clothes shopping and the last Pokemon Center.

Travel Tip 6: Pack for an appropriate number of days. Otherwise you’ll be living out of collectible prefecture T-shirts.

Nagoya reminded me of a less crowded and slightly shinier version of Tokyo. Reminded myself to try living there sometime in the future if possible.

Something must be said about Michi no Eko on the East Side of Honshu though. Where on the Sea of Japan side they’re few and far between, not to mention run down, the Pacific side has some amazing rest stops. Food courts, Starbucks, more gas stations… in short a luxury compared to driving on the west side.

DAY 7: Haneda Airport and Aomori Bound

Dropped Kim off at the airport early in the morning and stayed with her until she went through customs.

Travel Tip 7: Ignore Siri once you’re sure you’re on the highway Tohoku-bound/back to wherever you’re going. She attempted to be helpful by rerouting us through Tokyo. It took us THREE HOURS to find our way though traffic and back on the toll.

In case you missed it from Travel Tip 7, this is where the nightmares began. Not only did Siri seem to think driving on the mean streets of Tokyo would mean a faster exit from the city (I assure you, it was quite the contrary), she also somehow had the bright idea that driving straight through Fukushima’s SEASIDE was somehow okay.

For those of you who do not recall, Fukushima Prefecture’s coast was the site of the failed nuclear reactor. So at this point Elena and I had to create our own custom route, constantly looking ahead to make sure that Siri would not derail us from our path.

It’s an eerie experience driving in the dead of night through a prefecture that’s been the sight of a disaster. There were few lights in the towns and cities. We even cut the air conditioning early to make sure we didn’t breath any of the outside air, a precaution we took because of genetic predispositions to cancer and an unwillingness to tempt fate. Once we were past the line separating Fukushima from Miyagi, we resumed our air conditioning and relaxed.

By the time we rolled up to the hills of Gonohe, it was dawn. We watched the sun break it’s watery red glow across the horizon at the local park and then crashed from the physical and mental exhaustion for a good couple of hours.

Hangman, the Art of Spelling

For all the 90s babies who remember what it was like to live in a decade without internet distractions or cell phones… And who remember having to play a good old round of Hangman to pass away the hours.

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Brought out this golden oldie for the junior high first years (who did not question the hanging man) and had a blast spelling out classics such as “SPAGHETTI” and stumping them with “GRAPES”.

Elementary kids on the other hand immediately called me out on the translation work…

Kids: “American kids actually play this?”

Me: “Uhhhhhhh YES :D”

Kids: “But it’s so mean!”

Me: “I never actually thought of it until now…”

Kids: “Stop hanging him, can’t you see it hurts?”

Me: “Then guess more vowels xD”

Kids: “Is Y a vowel?”

Me: “Sometimes”

Kids: o.O”

The best way to make this lesson plan work: after reviewing the alphabet and breaking them off into teams, allow younger children (elementary school age) to have a visual of the vocabulary open (textbook should be rife with illustrations and words).

The smart ones will start to count out the number of spaces. Once they get the feel for it erase the spaces for a blind version of Hangman. They won’t know how many spaces and the word will be slowly revealed for even greater suspense.

For more advanced classes, don’t reveal the word for them but leave the answered letter scrambled as they guess each letter. For example, if the word is “FISH” but they guess the letter in the following order: “IFHS” then leave it as is and offer double points for the team that unscrambles it first. Beware… POST & STOP are anagrams of each other.

And there you have it: Traditional Hangman and Blind Anagram Hangman all in one lesson.

Cheers!

Mystery, Mayhem… and a taste of Murder ;)

The time has come to say goodbye to several JETs in the community… those who will not be contracting for the 2015-2016 academic year will be returning home to family, friends, and futures no longer to be shared in Aomori. Shameless alliteration aside, they will be missed. Nothing says goodbye to an old crew and welcome to a new council quite like a murder mystery party where the former president and vice president are murdered for our entertainment.

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A whodunnit worthy of a Milan catwalk.

Dressed to kill, we filled Aomori City’s Penthouse  the soiree launched with a host of talents and their entertaining repertoires: Tahitian dance, Liszt, singing, guitars, and spoken word poetry. We were all in the dark, anticipating the murder to occur sometime throughout the night but not quite sure how or when – the who was quite obvious, of course 😀 – and then the announcement for nibbles caught most everyone off guard. In what will be remembered as the swiftest dropping dead in the history of murder mystery parties, Pat and Ryan were murdered by their treasurer with the pen in the Penthouse and brought back as incoherent zombies by a graduate of Ghostbusters Academy via the arcane musical tie worn by the talent show’s guitarist (we’re classy and creative up here in Aomori). Left to mingle and investigate the details, which included the incoherent Pat and Ryan’s accounts of how they thought they were murdered, guests enjoyed the finest of appetizers and company for the next two hours. All in all it was a great night, whether one wanted to participate in the solving of the murder mystery or not. A bit like D&D on a massive, chaotic scale 😉

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Detective Lisa Quinn is murdered…

Otherwise this week saw us at a glorious 11 degrees Celsius! Got invited to a picnic where we made damper (Australian bread cooked over an open fire) and reveled in the beauty of warmth and sunlight, grass and trees… I miss the oppressive heat of the California sun. It’s only April but it’s been hitting 90 degrees Fahrenheit back home… winter go away, please. Bring back the warm weather!

SANNOHE GOONS TAKE AOMORI BY STORM

The Aomori JET welcome party in the cabins of Shichinohe was preceded by the madness of a scavenger hunt the likes of which only pictures can do justice. And so, without further ado I bring to you the Sannohe Goons Squad and their adventures across the prefecture (basically just Nanbu and one step past the Iwate border) to find Christ’s “real” grave in Shingo, rare conbini, a trip to the scenic Towada Lake, blue ice cream, and all round fun.

What will we do next? Stick around to find out!

Home-made Strawberry Jam + Time Machine Archives

strawberryjam

Hiking in the morning, making jam in the afternoon, and reading heavy fiction in the evening are some nice alternatives for the people who aren’t too beach crazy. The only way to enjoy summer properly is to partake of all its joys, my dear Californians, and yes there is a world outside of our warm, sandy beaches. Fortunately this is also the time of the year that locally grown fruit makes a comeback: lower in price and oh so ripe. The best way to preserve their full flavor and freshness? In jams! 😀

So this recipe is pretty adaptable for the most part, which is great for people who want to cut back on the sugar. My friend Diana is the greatest at coming up with cooking challenges for us to try but this one topped the cake. Not only was it fairly simple and less stressful than some of our other concoctions (pasta sauce… ahaha o.o) but it’s so much fun! Just the idea of making jam instead of having to buy it – makes one feel self suffient! It’s a family friendly recipe that’s a win-win for everyone. I look forward to seeing what else she’ll come up with next 😉

.:INGREDIENTS:.

  • 2 lbs organic strawberries
  • ~1 c water
  • 1.5 c sugar (white, brown, raw)
  • 1 lemon, squeezed

::DIRECTIONS::

  1. Wash, de-stem, and cut all of the strawberries in half. And, of course, eat a couple of them along the way >.> But not all!
  2. Blend strawberries and water until completely liquefied.
  3. Pour the liquefied strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice into a saucepan and stir sugar until completely dissolved.
  4. Boil this mixture for 30-45 minutes and stir occasionally to keep jam from burning. Make sure to skim the thick, white foam that accumulates, which although tasty is not good for the jam. You’ll know it’s ready once it turns a bright and deep red.
  5. Ladle into properly sterilized mason jars (do not touch inside of the jar) but do not fill to the brim. Carefully seal mason jar and place lid down onto a towel on a flat surface, which will help the jam to seal properly. Once cooled place the mason jars into the refrigerator so that jam can properly congeal 😉

breakfast

Even so this jam will be a little runnier than the kind you buy at the supermarket because there are no artificial additives. But it holds up well and tastes amazing. The amount of sugar listed in this recipe is just right for those who like a tart sweetness. Two cups of sugar (but no more) recommended for people with a really sweet tooth. All in all it’s a pretty adaptable recipe. Enjoy!

And now for some time machine archives from the old blog – those of you who would like access just drop me a line using the contact page: strawberry picking, otherwise known as いちごかり (ichigokari) in Japanese, is a great day trip to take if you live in the city and want to get out for a couple of hours.

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For about 1,000 yen (approximately $10.00) you can pick and eat as many strawberries as you want in the hothouses for a set amount of time. Most places do anywhere upwards of an hour and a half to two and a half hours of wonderful berry picking and eating.

Claremont Loop Trail

With the heat amping up exponentially to herald the start of the summer season, it can be pretty difficult to be out and about anywhere in Southern California between the hours of 11:30am and 6:00pm. But if you don’t mind leaving the house with the dawn to enjoy some mother nature, if you’re fond of exercising and hiking, then there are some beautiful locations all across our half of the state that you can take up for some tame adventure and complete well before the midday nightmare sets in all its glory 😉

They are easily found on this neat little website and information for this particular trail can be found by clicking here.

Nature is the best and cheapest therapist: plentiful in its beauty and ability to consume a soul bent on destroying all pent up emotions, it listens to your heart through the struggle you carry and in every last drop of strength it takes you to climb its craggy surfaces and dusty paths. And it forces you to face that which you would otherwise drown in distractions like books, tv, and internet.

Much as the name describes, the Claremont Loop is a single trail that loops round back to where it starts and contains overgrown side and hill paths. Easily accessible by car and on foot, it’s great training ground for uphill hiking and bicycling. Lots of friendly hikers with their dogs but keep an ear out for the bicyclists. All the ones I encountered weren’t considerate enough to attach bells or to ring them in order to warn hikers when they were rounding corners. So if you plan on bicycling just remember: do us all a solid and just ring the bell 😉

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Chris may be on the intelligence side of the military but he’s definitely got it in him to take on a citadel if need be.