Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Catastrophic Customer Service.

9 days until The Mister leaves.  13 until Mac leaves.  15 until Bubba & I leave.

I just want to crawl into a ball and wait it out.  There's so many stupid, asinine, superfluous things left to take care of, and none of them actually feel like their completion is making progress toward the goal of just getting ourselves from A to B.  Admittedly, a lot of this is my anxiety talking.
Just waiting for something to light the fuse.

I remember this feeling from when we were about to go to Mexico.  It's a level of stress that makes me a supremely unpleasant person to be around.  I can't answer anymore questions about "aren't you excited!?"  because right now I'm not.  And I can't really focus on anything going on with anyone else because I have literally a thousand other things I have to focus on - they have to get done in the next 10-15 days.  The Mister's co-workers are throwing us a "going away" party on Friday and I am already amped up about how much I don't want to go and put on a "everything is super spiffy!" mask for the whole time.

Unfortunately, my instinct to just avoid contact with the outside world works really well on making me not a burden to everyone except... The Mister, who is also stressed out of his mind, but only recovers from breaking the monotony of check boxes on to-do lists through contact with other human beings.  Opposites attract.  And then spend the lead-up to international moves trying to not kill each other.  Ah, love.

Side note that is slightly related?  I have woken up every morning this past week with an *NSYNC song stuck in my head.  I have no real way to explain why this is happening except to connect it with the weird stress dreams?  I don't know.

Do you ever wake up with a song already stuck in your head?  
What song?  And Why?  
Tell me in the comments!

Anyway, one of these stupid little check-list things was making sure Bubba can come with me as a carry-on in 15 days.  If you're curious, the steps for cat as carry-on are thus:
  • Make sure the little fuzzball's got his customs import paperwork in order.
  • Make sure YOU have a ticket on the plane.
  • Make sure he hasn't gained too much weight to be too big for the carry-on sized carrier (just barely checked that off).
  • Call the airline a few weeks ahead of time and let them know the cat is coming along.
  • Day of, give the airline extra money as a penance for being "that person" on the plane with the cat.
Now, you may remember that last time I took Bubba on a plane I live-tweeted the experience.  I will do this again (@KpQuePasa) on the 5th of February, so look for that.

He's going to be so pleased we don't have to go through the whale-song tunnel this time.
It should also serve as proof that I have some experience in this department and was well aware of these steps when I called Delta two weeks ago to notify them of Bubba's accompaniment.  Here is the conversation I had with the "Customer Service Representative," which is in air quotes for maximum sarcasm emphasis on how poor her customer service skills were.  We'll call her Linda, because that sounds good, and also because she mumbled her name so poorly upon our initial introduction that I couldn't write it down.  (This sucks because I would have written Delta in a heartbeat about her.)
L: Hello this is Delta, my name is Linda, how can I help you?
Kp: Yes, Hi.  I’ve got a flight to Japan coming up in early February and I plan to bring my cat with me.
L: That’s not our issue, you have to do the customs stuff with Japan’s government.
Kp:  Yeah, I know, the customs work has already been done, I’m just calling about bringing the cat on the flight as my carry on.
L: You can’t do that unless you tell us you’re doing that.
Kp: [I paused here because, is this not obvious?]Yes.  I know.  That is why I have called.  To tell you.
L:  Well I don’t see your flight on my screen.
Kp:  I’m… sorry?   [was I supposed to somehow manipulate her computer from my phone to fix this for her?] I have the flight number and my seat assignment.
L:You’re in business class.*
[significant pause, because she did not add anything to this statement and I really thought she was going to.]
Kp:  Yes, I am in business class.
L: *Exasperated sigh* well you can’t HAVE a cat in business class.  You’re just going to have to find someone to take care of him while you’re gone.
Okay I have to stop here for a second.  I'm guessing she does not have a pet, because anyone who has ever had a pet would not be so cruel and abrasive to immediately jump to "this incovinences me so she must GET RID OF HER PET."  Also full disclosure, my brain immediately switch from "more flies with honey" being nice mode to "oh, it's ON, bitch" mode right at this second.

What would you have done if a stranger just casually demanded that you get rid of a pet?  
Tell me in the comments!
Kp:  Listen up.  That is not an option.  I have already taken care of all of his other living arrangements abroad.  If I can’t have him in business class I will downgrade to whatever class will allow him.
L:  I can’t do that for you, there’s a seat change charge.
Kp: Then I’m hearing that you CAN do that for a fee.  Is that correct?
L:  Well yes, but you have to pay for the cat, too.
Kp:  What do I need to do to change the seat?
L:  UGH. [<- are you kidding me, Linda?!] Hold please.
[After 5 minutes of hold time, she returns]
I can’t change your ticket.  [The Mister's] company booked it for you.  They have to change it.  And then you have to pay for your cat.  And if you don’t give us notice that cat is not flying on the plane.
Kp: Wow.  Really.  I’m pretty sure we established that I understand the notice policy.  I’m sorry to have inconvenienced you so by trying to, in fact, give you notice.
L:  Ma’am, I’m not sure what you’re missing.  You can’t give notice because this cat can’t be in business class.  
There has never been a more perfect place for this gif right here.
Kp: Yes, I do in fact, get that.  I’m going to get off the phone now and actually fix the situation.
L:  Don’t bring your cat with you and just expect him to get on the plane!  You have to PAY.  It won’t happen.
 And then I hung up on her.  Because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the asshole in that scenario.

So that was fun.  The Mister's company got my ticket switched around, and I called yesterday to get Bubba on their record, and spoke with a much nicer dude who made sure we had all I's dotted and T's crossed.  We're set now.  Annoying though, that a checklist item which should have taken 5 minutes took two weeks.  Ugh.

today's little language lesson
Watashi no hobākurafuto wa unagi de ippai desu.

*You know what the one true bummer of this whole thing is?  Like, I understand if they've put a no-go on cats in Business class.  I don't like it, but whatever, I don't own the plane.  

However, The Mister's company pays for me to fly business class -aka the section where you get a fully lay-down-able bed and personal space- ONCE.  And I had to forfeit that to sit with Bubs in the section where I have zero leg space and a little TV in the back of the seat in front of me.  Which will inevitably burn out my retinas because they dim the cabin lights for the flight and I will just sit in the dark and play sudoku on a tiny, bright screen for 13 hours.

Friday, January 16, 2015

I fought the lime and the, LIME won.

In a quick break from Japan-prep-talk, today I bring you this stupid story:

If you have any familiarity with legit Mexican cuisine, you may be familiar with limes.
It is not uncommon in Mexico to put a bit of lime juice on EVERYTHING, and it's a habit that The Mister and I whole-heartedly adopted after living in Monterrey.  We always have a small bag of limes on hand for whatever dish we decide needs a little extra zing.  Truly it's delicious.  Give 'er a try!
I know this is supposed to be a joke,
but I would legitimately try lime juice
on everything pictured in this gif that
 is a real food for people.

Want a free, easy brunch recipe?  Here you go:

  • 2 hard boiled eggs, diced.  
  • 1/2 Avacado, also diced.
  • Lime Juice.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

It's amazing, I promise.  Also a bit fatty.  But the good kind of fatty.  Or something.  Whatever, I like it.

About a week or so before Christmas I was making said brunch for myself.  I took out my lime to slice, and about three seconds later I was looking at the knife as it sat; not on the cutting board between two lime-halves, but more like deep in the middle of the pointer finger on my left hand.
It didn't so much hurt (at that point) as it was just really startling to see a knife IN my finger.

Here's what I want to know about YOU, dear reader:  
How do you react to accidental self-harm?
Tell me in the comments!

I've never been a fan of knives.  They give me the heebie-jeebies.  My anxiety almost always sees a knife and immediately takes my imagination to the worst possible scenario of what could happen while said knife is in my line of sight.

  • I anxiously argue with The Mister at least once a week over whether he needs to use the sharp knife when he could use a butter knife for cutting things.  
  • When I was in college, I took a printmaking class (who am I kidding, I took ALL the printmaking classes; Herr-Professor-Taylor-Sir for LYFE!*) and one of our projects included linoleum carving. 

linoleum cutting tool of choice.
We got about a thousand heavy-handed reminders from our prof to always make sure we're cutting AWAY from ourselves with the tool, only to watch the girl sitting next to me accidentally jam that damn thing straight into her lower-thumb-meat.  I'm pretty sure I silent screamed I was so upset.  She just calmly asked to be excused from class, but I was traumatized.
  • Somewhere in The Mister's data files, there's a video of him convincing his new girlfriend to take a video of him while he tries out his new sushi-knife, even though she's pretty adamant about being uncomfortable with such a sharp knife around.  He pretends to cut off his thumb as a "joke," and the video ends with the camera begin thrown onto the counter so I could panic properly by yelling every swear word I knew and running far away from my thumb-less future husband.
You get the point.  Knives creep me out.  People getting cut is a horrible visual.  Knives are the most statistically probable item to cut a person.  And so it's all kind of logical in a crazy sort of way.

It's not just knives, though.  When I get a meager paper cut, The Mister will be the first to tell you that I go to Scarlett O'Hara level fainting drama.

Everything is ending, the world is over.  Might as well start digging my grave, if I didn't believe that cremation (for me) is a far more responsible way to go into the great abyss.  Stoke the coals, I guess.

Similar reactions occur for stubbing my toe or accidentally poking myself in the eye because I forgot my glasses were on top of my head and I tried to habitually push the bridge back up my nose.  A horrific, painful death is clearly imminent, and nothing will ever be good again.

Then a butcher knife** slides off a lime-rind and into my finger deep enough where "stitches?" is not an out of the question reaction.  And my immediate reaction?

I yelled this as I applied enough bandaids that I couldn't see the cut bleeding through the bandaids anymore.  That equaled somewhere around 10 bandaids.  I figured the yelling as loudly as possble made certain the powers that be would hear me and make sure my finger was actually totally fine and it wasn't going to get gangrene and start to smell and fall off during a poker game.  This needed to be true especially because I don't play poker.

In the past four or five weeks, I've gone through a family size pack of bandaids.  I learned that you can *kind of* decoupage a finger-nail that you've chopped mid-way through by using clear nail polish and a piece of tissue paper.  But friends, I write this blog post triumphantly today because my finger is healed (mostly, it sort of looks like I have a perma-hang-nail), and the nail has grown out just enough that I can give myself a VERY lop-sided mani-cure.  But it means I don't have to keep a bandaid on it anymore, because now I can't catch the cut on everything.  It's exciting.  Really, stop judging.
Bubba is very excited too.
Have you ever epically broken a nail?  How did you deal? 

*My printmaking prof was a highlight of my college career.  He was a grizzly dude-  if Ron Swanson had Albert Einstein hair and a passion for pottery instead of woodworking, that would be Prof. Taylor.  Studio classes were required to listen to his CD of Toto's Greatest Hits on repeat, and for some reason this never made anyone dislike him, but rather it just gave us all a common bond of being millennial kids who enthusiastically knew every word to "Africa."  At some point, we, as chill art students, started referring to him by only "Taylor," his last name.  
This is a moniker he accepted for approximately half an hour until he paused Toto and informed us stoically that we would refer to him with a title that conveyed proper respect.  We couldn't decide on one title, so we gave him all the titles, and from then on he was Herr Professor Taylor Sir.  He seemed to like it.

**yeah, I know, butcher knife for a tiny lime is maybe a bit on the over-zealous side.  But all our other knifes were dirty.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Year In Review 2014

Howdy folks, it's that time of year again (Or rather it was a few weeks ago.  I had other things to write about. Sue me.)

Year in review!  Let's take a second here to peek at how 2014 worked out with those goals I set for myself.  Here's what I had:

1.  Art:  Make a greater effort to create for myself. Fulfill a desire to make pretty and functional things.  I'd like to look back on this in 2015 and have at least 4 great, fun creations to share. 

2.  Career:  Come to grips with the idea that The Mister makes me one of the luckiest damn people on the planet.  In many ways.  But for this bullet-point's purpose, that I am able to do what makes me happy instead of what makes me money.  To wit, I think it's time to figure out how to make FINvites my main gig, and integrate that into life as the curator of KpQuePasa. 

3.  The Dreaded Number: Aiming for 13 less pounds by the time 2015 rears it's head, for a grand total of 42 dreaded pounds standing between 2012 and me.

4.  Home Front: Grow a great garden that gives off enough awesome produce that I can freeze and can a few things come fall.  Get home to Wisconsin at least once this summer.  Manage to catch enough fish in one sitting for a meal while up north.  Sell this tiny, but well-loved house.  So basically, just be perfect.  Right.

Whew.  Okay... so here's how those all turned out.

1.  Art.  I managed to turn this one out, due mostly to how flexible the term "art" is.  Four top bits this year?
- Costumes

- Ginger-bread cookies & labels
- More baking!  Cakes and Mini-bries!

- I kept sketchbook sketching!

2.  Career.   FINvites is going well, though I'll admit I'm nervous about how it's going to look abroad... or if it's going to look like anything... but I *just* turned in my last US job to the printers yesterday and that's pretty exciting.  I'll check it as a win.

Poster design
Our 2014 Christmas Card
Stamp design
3.  The Dreaded Number.  Bahahaha.  I made it to -35, then visited family.  Then I made it to -34, then visited family.  Then Christmas. Then seeing all our friends for good-byes.  Then good-bye parties. And ...yeah.  So I cumulatively lost 0 weight.  I also gained 0 weight.  Not a true win, but it could be worse.

4.  Home Front.  Sad pandas.  The garden tanked, mostly because we turned the house over to property management in August.  I have managed to keep a single potted mum alive since then, but that doesn't really count.  Plus I'm a horrible person and totally plan on throwing a living plant away on the last day I'm here.  Sorry mum plant, your days are numbered.  Maybe you should have put a little effort into blooming, like, ever.
I tried to make it look less sad by adding
a single crappy Christmas tree ornament.
Also not sucessful.
Not a real successful set of goals last year, though to be fair as of writing that I had no way to look forward and see that we were about to start our next big adventure of Japan prep.  I can't say it doesn't bum me out to not have a few more checks in the win column, but 't where do I don't know that I can blame myself too much for that (except the dreaded 42 fail.  That was all me.  And cookies.  Me and cookies.)  SO... where do I go from here?  Yikes.

2015 Goals!

1.  Move to Japan.  
I'm throwing myself one here.  You might read this and think I've got it in the bag, but I know what's still left on the do-to list.  A successful move is not just getting The Mister and I from point A to point Japan.  It includes moving all our stuff, unpacking all our stuff to set it up, and of course, getting Mac and Bubba safely to Japan, settled in, and happy.

2.  Be less of a hermit than I was in Mexico.
I will be the first to admit that I'm not the most social person in the world.  (The Mister would very enthusiastically second that statement)  But Mexico was rough for me because I didn't feel comfortable/ safe leaving the house alone.  This is not an option in Japan because I don't have a yard for Mac, mass transportation is a necessity, and most notably, The Mister's naval obligations and civilian job will end up taking him on trips that leave me by myself in Japan on a regular basis (also it's leaps and bounds safer for a lady to wander around solo).  I have to get a friend group and leave the house of my own volition, by myself.  To be successful in this goal I will need to have found a group of my OWN friends (not just friends who are friends through proxy of The Mister), and I will have to pass the next level up of the Japanese Proficiency exam.  (This also means I"ll have to keep taking language lessons while we're abroad.)

Staying sane for me is largely controlled by my ability to create things.  Some of this has been stalled lately because the to-do list is overwhelming.  I'll need to figure out what ARTING will look like, what medium it will take on once we're over there, but I want to create another 4 fabulous projects just for me which I can be proud of.

4.  The Dreaded 45.
The Dreaded 29 has been conquered since 2012.  That's pretty awesome.  But I haven't made much progress since then.  I'm crossing my fingers that a few key changes to our lifestyle will make another 16 pounds possible this year.

What are your goals for the year of the Sheep*?  
How will you measure if you're successful?  
Tell me in the comments!

And now, since I know that this is my annual post which is mostly self-serving instead of entertaining to readers, I'ma start working on a Friday post which is fun.  Check back in then!

*today's little language lesson
Amikake datta mafuraa ga kansei shimashita.
The scarf, which was in the middle of being made twelve years ago, is now finished.  

2015 is the year of the sheep according to the Japanese zodiac.  Each year the Japanese postal service releases commemorative cards that people can send to their loved ones in celebration.  The stamps on these cards are also commemorative, and this year's stamp is a sheep wearing a scarf.  It's a throw-back to 2003's stamp, which showed a sheep knitting a scarf.  Yay continuity!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Itty Bitty Living Space.

SO, Japan:  Small country, big population.  This translates to a country that is great at mass transportation and organization, but not so great at 'spacious' living.  In short:

While we don't have a HUGE home here in the states, we do have a yard, and a semblance of private space.  We did our research - we knew there were some things we'd have to give up to make Japan a reality, and we were prepared.  That didn't mean that our home finding trip was any less amusing with some of the homes we were shown.

The Mister's company did a splendid job of pairing us up with a relocation firm, who specializes in helping Americans settle into Japanese life.  They were our guides during our home-finding trip, and they were very patient with us.  We didn't make their job easy... specifically, we are bringing not one, but two critters... and there aren't a whole lot of places that are like "sure, we'll rent to foreigners who have no credit history in our currency - and also we will allow their pets who could potentially destroy our property"  Still, we were shown... I think 7 different places (give or take, remember we're working with jet-lag memory here), and we decided on one that I hope will be a happy home to us for the next few years.

Because there isn't a whole lot of horizontal space, Japan does high-rises well.  And by well, I mean that the first apartment we looked at was on the 24th floor of a building, and I got vertigo so instantly upon walking onto the balcony that I immediately nixed it.  It was also only 450 square feet total, so that was a bit of a check in the minus column.  In any case, balconies are important, because the Japanese don't waste electricity on laundry drying machines - you're expected to wash your clothing then hang it on the balcony to dry.  If I can't walk into that space without feeling dizzy... well there's only so long you can hold out on clean underwear availability.

We looked at a few more places that were in the 500-600 square foot range.  To put that in perspective, we strongly feel that we fit "okay-ish" in our 1200 sq ft home between the Mister, Mac, Bub and I... plus all our stuff.  We knew our home would be smaller, but somehow it's much different to have that understanding than it is to actually see that reality.  I was pretty sure we weren't capable of narrowing our belongings down enough for a 500 sq ft home to not look like an international episode of HOARDERS: BURRIED ALIVE.  Our very patient relocation agent would spend the drive between each apartment reminding us that these were considered spacious places we were seeing.  And it almost sank in as our new reality... until she showed us the 950 sq ft place we eventually settled upon.
A dramatic reenactment of The Mister and I from the last few months as we decide what to bring.

Now, I feel pretty confident that our agent knew exactly what she was doing here.  Show us the first few tiny spaces to break our spirit, then bring us to this place: A place that in this culture, is A FLIPPING MANSION.  It is priced exactly at the right budget point, it has rented to other families, with pets, from The Mister's company.  It's in a area of the city that is well-positioned near a park for Mac, shopping/ groceries for me, mass transit for all of us, and has a reasonably large community of other expatriates nearby.  So she showed us that, then took us to two more rentals, which were okay in size, but both were WAY out in the boonies from any kind of convenience (and one was next to an actual rice paddy... hello mosquitoes... and malaria).

So anyway, this is the place we picked!  (click on any of these pictures to make 'em bigger)
Our front door.  This little gate is important because it means we're allowed to put
flowers or the Mister's bike outside our apartment.

Our very spacious living room and main balcony.
I really like that aside from the bedrooms it's a pretty open layout.
This picture has been taken from the dining room that opens to the kitchen
on one side and the living space you see on the other.

Here's the view from the main balcony.
You can see the park down there which is Mac-friendly.

Admittedly, there are still a few things I'm nervous about with this space:

  • this is my entire oven.  blargh. 

I am pretty sure I'm going to try making cookies the first week we're there
 just so I stop freaking out about this baking thing.

  • the balcony, while not on floor 24, is on floor 11, and the Mister is harboring a serious phobia that Bubba is going to escape the inside and take a flying leap.  I'd like to think he's smarter than this but... yeah.  So that's a thing.
    view of the actual balcony, and of one of the little retractable pole-holder
     that will eventually allow me to hang our landry out to dry.
  • because it's all (white) wallpaper, I can't hang anything up.  No photos, no paintings, no calendars, no clocks.  boring walls.  hmm.  
  • we're limited on items by the size of the one main doorway, which is smaller than a standard American door, obviously.  That means no bed larger than a double, a narrow fridge (really that's more about Japanese standards than the door size), and a smaller washing machine (see: fridge).  Also it means we won't be getting an elliptical as previously planned, but I think we'll be walking enough to make that okay.

All in all, though, this has some potential.  Which has lead to inspiration boards.  You know what inspiration boards are?  They're what silly bored people do to mimic the things they see on pinterest, outlining unrealistic decorating ideas they have for their home.  And because it calms me, I've made boards for our living/ dining room and both bedrooms.
We picked grey curtains, that exact couch and dining set pictured, and a lighter version of that TV stand. I'm going to add a pouf once I get there and teach myself how to make one, and hopefully at least a rug to separate out the living from the dining area.  I also found some "removable vinyl patterns" that I can't help but feel like play with fire a bit on the "no hanging crap on the walls" rule.  

The "Master Bedroom" will boast this actual wide-double bed (the biggest we can get!), those sheets, brown curtains (closest color to light-blocking we could get), and a colorful quilt that is *almost* the same as what's pictured.
I also bought this runner-rug in the bottom corner so we don't have to hear Mac's nails on the hardwood of the hallway every night while we try to sleep and he's all "I'ma walk around because you don't want me to."  I dream of a giant "removable" vinyl wall map and throw pillows.  We shall see.
This is for the side bedroom - aka where KpMcD will sleep on nights when the tiny "Master" bed feels too tiny for both of us.  We already have the desk, the bed, and the grey quilt, plus an awesome Starry Night blanket that my aunt made for me years ago.  As you may note from the dreamy throw pillows, I shall theme this room.  I will also probably paint in this room once I get my easel set back up.

Hopefully that helps with the white walls!  These have been a fun way to calmly feel productive when I'm not in a productive mood, but I can't wait to see now how it all actually comes together!
Less than a month until I actually know, I guess. (eek!)

Other interesting perks to this place?  Well, there's one that I can think of off the top of my head:
My butt is going to be so happy.

How do you start to make a home?  
Tell me in the comments!

today's little language lesson
私の 猫わ うるさいです。 わかります。 ごめんあさい!

watashi-no neko-wa u-ru-sai desu.  wa-ka-ri-masu.  go-men-na-sai!

My cat is very loud/ annoying.  I understand.  SORRY!  

I'm fairly certain we're going to end up using this a lot for our neighbors.  
Which is *kind of* amusing, because no one cared that we're bringing a cat, 
they're all worried about Mac.  Who as we all know, will be no big deal.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Idiot Lights.

As we gear up for Expat Assignment number 2, The Mister and I seem to find ourselves doing a lot of last-minute running around to see friends "one last time!" (even though these visits always seem to end with a promise of "don't worry, we'll make sure to get out here to see you one more time before we go!")  This is the bitter-sweet fun part of leaving on an assignment - we've got lots of fun things to talk about, and an excuse to make trips to see good friends, but we also don't really have a lot of time to share, and for many, even though we leave claiming we'll see them again before we ship out... I think everyone knows that it's unlikely.

On one recent trip, we were so rushed that morning to get out the door, and so rushed when we left our gathering a little late (we had to get The Mister back in time to get a good night's rest for a drill-weekend with the Navy), we really hadn't realized that we had used up a whole tank of gas until the idiot light dinged on.

How are you folks with the "idiot light?"  
Do you call it an "idiot light?"  
Tell me in the comments! 
Someone once told me they called it that because if you're stupid enough to let your gas get that low, particularly in winter, then you deserve more than to be called an idiot.  I just think it's a quirky fun name for the stupid thing.  Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it was The Mister who taught me that.  Hmm.

It wasn't until the Mister saw
my costume idea sketch
without any context that
I realized this might have
been a weird part of the
story to illustrate.
Back before meeting The Mister, as we all know, I was a school administrator, and so while I wasn't broke by any means, my salary wasn't the type of money flow which would lend me to cosplay Scrooge McDuck anytime soon (though how awesome would that costume be?  A top hat?  Sign me up).  And thus, it was a regular routine of mine to not fill up the gas in my car until that light came on.  I figured I had about 30 miles before it was truly empty after that light, and since most of my driving was in town, I was pretty safe.  What I'm really saying here is that I am lazy and used my pay scale as an excuse to not do a chore that would make me 5 minutes behind schedule for getting to the grocery store (what if someone got there ahead of me and bought all the Deluxe Tombstone Pizzas?!).

The Mister has a much, much different relationship with the idiot light.  I don't know what exactly his back-story is, but I know that he vehemently hates that light, and how dare someone treat their car with such poor respect to have it illuminate.  There were a few heated discussions at the beginning of our relationship on the subject. I conceded my apathetic point;  mostly because he's lovely enough to have put himself in charge of filling up the gas tanks when needed.

I didn't need to, but it's not like it was hard to find.
Everybody wins there, is what I'm saying... except when it's like -20 degrees out and he's filling up the gas at some random Mobil while I'm wandering around the convenience store oogling the lucky rabbit's feet and trucker hats with rude sayings that are part of the "gifts" section.  One day I will do a year's Christmas shopping in a gas station gift section.  It will be amazing.  You know you really always wanted the pink "real tree" camp keychain with "GURLZ RULE" written on it  in sparkly graffiti letters. Do I even need to look up a  picture of something like that?  You can picture it in your mind's eye.  I know you've seen something just like it at your local Shell.

Bah! Tangent!  But the point is we generally stop for gas somewhere around the quarter tank mark, and so on this particular trip when the light came on, we went from jamming out to the Frozen soundtrack to an instant level of silent panic and tension.  (I almost hate that Frozen's been in our car's CD player for almost 6 months on repeat, but then I duet to "Reindeers are Better Than People" with Mac and I forget my previous prejudices.)

Once we pulled up at the pump, we entered our usual routine of me getting out to mill around the tiny bottles of disgusting-smelling aftershave and ramen noodle varieties, while The Mister pumps gas.  Except I didn't make it to the store, because The Mister suggested that it was a good time to check the oil.

I don't know much of anything about cars.  I'm pretty sure we've covered that thoroughly before.  So while I realize this is super vapid of me, when he was all "Let's check the oil" I was all "yeah, you do that, I have day-old doughnut specials to check out."  Except then he was like "could you help me with that?"

Out of all other options of recourse to escape this task, I had to utter a phrase which I hate to utter: "I don't know how."

I don't say that in a "I like to pretend I know everything" sort of way, but more an "I don't like to admit that I'm dumber than the people around me" sort of way.

The Mister's lessons are a lot like the inner
workings of Allen's brain in the Casino.
I think it's partly The Mister's engineer brain.
There's a lot of information in there that
he just NEEDS to put out in the world, even if
a lot of it is tangental, and over my head.
Also, when I'm around The Mister, this is a phrase that is almost always followed by "Great!  I'll teach you!This makes me sounds like a super self-absorbed jerk.  And, guys, I get it.  I totally am a jerk in this instance.  Knowing this about myself doesn't always mean that it's something I'm working on fixing.  Sorry.
The Mister, when given the opportunity to share knowledge, gets REALLY EXCITED and is generally well-practiced at overwhelming me with information in the first 30 seconds of a lesson.  (One day I shall share the story of that one time The Mister tried to teach me how to shoot - you may note that I do not do guns as of yet.)  Pair that with my blissful ignorance status in all things car as the stereotypical girl who is more than happy to play a damsel in distress until someone comes along and fixes my car for me (I know, I know) and I wasn't like, jumping at the bit for this.

Plus, dearest husband, it is dark and cold and we just need to get home, couldn't a lesson wait for another time, like a time when you've had enough chance to completely forget you want to teach me how to check the oil?

"No, no, no, come on over here.  It'll just take a second."
And so, I was shown how to pull out the little stick thing, wipe it off, re-dip it (twice, because apparently the first time lies!), and interpret the little stick thing's readings.  Wouldn't you know, the oil was low.

"Okay."  Was my response.
"GREAT! Now I can teach you how to put oil in the car!" Was The Mister's.

NooOoOoOoooooo.  It's still late and still dark and still cold and I'm dressed nicely to see our friends and I still haven't gotten to see what kinds of seasonal tic tacs this convenience store has.  The Mister asked me what I would do if he wasn't around.  I insisted I would utilize my feminine wiles to convince some other wayward stranger to help me fix my car.  It was not deemed an acceptable response.

And so, I was shown how to determine which type of oil the car takes, and how to find those in the store, and how to select which of all the oils that fit said type is the best selection for our car.  They had assorted jerked meats at the counter that I was instantly amused by, and so I grabbed the correct bottle of oil and headed to the counter.
"Wait, how are you gonna put that in the car?"
" you're going to pour it in."
"What if I'm not around?"
"I stand by my previous feminine wiles statement.  Because I'm a survivor."
"Nope, you're going to use one of these handy paper funnels.  Come back and grab one."

And so (after a little help opening the pickle-jar-level-difficulty oil cap), I was instructed how to pour in the oil (double fun fact, 1. you don't have to shake the bottle of oil beforehand, and 2. it doesn't go down the same spout as the place where you pull out the little stick thing).  The cap was screwed back on, not quite as hard as last time, the hood was shut, and we clamored back into the nice, warm, now well-oiled car to continue our journey home.  Though I was cold, and without the amusement provided through perusing the selection of XXXL T-shirts featuring Bald Eagles wielding guns in their talons with the caption "'MURICA!," I was grateful for the experience.
I should have insisted we buy one as a commemorative souvenir
of that one time my husband made me check the oil.

"Husband?  Thank you for this boring, yet useful life lesson."

Are you lacking any conventionally common adult knowledge? 
How do you compensate for this?  
Feminine Wiles?  
Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yes we eat raw fish. Whole.

"What would you recommend?"
"...hmm. Will you eat raw fish?"
"Wait. But... You're American."
"We are indeed."
"Really?  Wow.  Well then, let's get ___."

We ate out every meal for a week, and we had this conversation at least once a day with our hosts or the wait staff of whatever restaurant visited while we were in Japan.  I love the idea that The Mister and I are "cultured" enough to buck cruddy American stereotypes, though I am disappointed that our country's inability to be adventurous precedes us.

"Cultured" I think in this instance is sort of a mash up.  The Mister and I don't spend our spare time trying to find the next new exciting food trend.  For the most part, we'd be perfectly happy to eat the same rotation of menu items each week (and when we're home in the states we always sort of get to that point).  It's rare either of us ever say "hey, you know what? let's try something new." Mostly,  our "cultured" is just an understanding we both have that if you pause too long to bother with what you're eating in a foreign country, then you are going to get really hungry, really quick, and you're going to miss out on the best damn food you've ever put in your face. And truly, our "rotation of go-to's" all came to us in just that way.

Great examples:
-Literally any type of meat you can put in a fresh-made tortilla and call a taco.  A baby goat?  The throat and tongue of a cow you say?  I would legit stab a man for just one more of those tacos.  (but like, a man who's already done something deserving of being stabbed... and not a mortal wound, just a nick.  But you get the point.)  ((haha, point, get it?  like the point on a knife?))   
-Sushi.  Specifically I'm a real big fan of eel and fatty tuna.  Have you ever seen a real eel?  I can't say if I would have stopped to think about it that I would have been super like "Yes, let me take a bite out of this thing."
-Sweetened read beans mashed up and stuffed into a rice-flour dough, aka mochi, aka if I get fat in Japan this is the sole reason.  It's not overly sweet, and it tastes lighter than most American pastries.  It is the first thing I wanted to find when we got off a plane in Nagoya.  And it IS the first thing I found (and summarily devoured) in Nagoya.   I used to have an international RA on my staff who made them, and I've been addicted ever since.
Mochi.  Sweet, beautiful, mochi.

What's the best "out of your bubble" food you've ever tried? 
Tell me in the comments!

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do,"  is probably the best advice a traveler can heed, and that's how we approached our meals.

Breakfasts were pretty straight forward, because our hotel had continental breakfasts.  I had some mixed fruit, a hard boiled egg, and a warmed raisin bun each morning.  The mister had eggs over rice, little sausages and fruit.  We ate with chopsticks (because other utensils are not an option. anywhere. finger dexterity had a great workout that week), but I think both of us would agree that our meals were VERY American-looking compared to the other offerings on the buffet.

In American schools, little kids are taught the five senses.  In that same lesson plan, they are taught that there are four kinds of tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, and salty.  The Japanese culture has added one more taste category, and they're BIG fans.  They call this flavor umami, which actually means "delicious taste."  It can be described to the uninitiated as a savory, almost but not quite salty taste, most recognizable in seafood -or- if you've tried dried seaweed, that's pretty on the money.  It's such an ever-prevalent part of Japan's food culture, that it's taken over on breakfast buffets to replace things that Americans would more readily recognize as breakfast foods.  There's no toast or cereal, bacon, or french toast.  The other hotel patrons eating breakfast around us were always nursing a cup of coffee over their seaweed soup, or pickled seaweed and egg mash over rice.  Much as we're up to explore, breakfast was a tough spot for us to branch out.

Lunches were more adventurous.  There were a lot of convenience-type restaurants around where we stayed in Nagoya.  Not convenient in a fast-food type of way, but in a "all the menus are pictures so we can point to what we want" or a "all the food is on a conveyor belt so we can grab what we want" type of way.

Did I say conveyor belt? YES I DID.
That is fresh-made sushi whirling around that dinner.  We ate at this place twice because I found it so novel.  You just wait until a plate goes by that looks good to you, and you nab it.  Once you're done, the waiter counts your plates and charges you accordingly.  Also, holy cheap sushi batman.  Between the two of us we walked out of that place, FULL, for less than 15 bucks both times.  I would guess in the states we would have been batting around $60 or $70.

Other lunches included tonkatsu (fried pork), ramen (way better than the crappy packs you buy for a quarter at the 7-11) curry rice, and udon (a bowl of broth that contains meat, thick noodles, and in my case, a quail egg).  All delicious.  Our only disappointment with lunches was that we discovered we're not super big fans of iced green tea.  Which is everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  By the end of the trip, we finally got smart and asked someone how we could properly ask for "hot tea."  Which is still green tea, but somehow the heat makes it palatable.

Then came dinner.  Obviously.  Dinners were by far the most adventurous meals, because we never really ordered for ourselves.  We asked for recommendations.  And whatever that recommendation was, we went with it (see that conversation which started us off today).  Three such meals are notable in my head.

Click to embiggen.  The place
beneath the fish sign is where we ate.
1.  Yakiniku - a friend of The Mister's from years ago met us out at a type of restaurant that features a small propane grill at each table.  You order your food and it arrives raw.  Then you cook and eat it.  We started with some sashimi (think sushi, but just raw fish, no rice), and once we'd successfully proven that we are more than happy to eat fish, our host ordered sardines.  Which arrived whole.  He cooked them on the tiny grill just enough for their eyes to *pop,* and then he instructed us to eat them with a little bit of mayo.

what, you thought I was lying?
We tried to approach it with optimism, but an entire fish (bones, guts, scales, ect) dipped in mayo was not as favorable a taste as either of us had hoped for.  I couldn't help but feel like we were reenacting the last scene from "A Christmas Story" except with a fish instead of a duck.  The rest of the food at that meal was good, though I have to say we ordered a chicken kabob variety platter and were amused when the variety that came out was arranged thusly: one kabob of chicken meat, one of chicken skin, one of a chicken blood sausage, and one of chicken gizzards.

What's the weirdest/ not good "out of your bubble" food you've tried?  
Tell me in the comments!

2.  The fancy-pants dinner - The Mister's new work associates invited us out to dinner at a place called "D Square."  We assumed with such a name it would be a casual meal, and so we showed up in jeans. Turns out the D in D Square is for the D in The Mister's company's name.  The company in that area of Japan is a big, fat, profitable deal that smells of many leather bound books and rich mahogany.

So much so that D Square is a collection of 4 VERY upscale restaurants and a banquet center, which is only for the use of company associates and their families.  We arrived to this dinner and were lead to the table by a beautiful hostess in full traditional kimono dress.  We were each served the most beautiful (and large!) spread of sushi I've ever seen.  Long story short, I was a bit embarrassed about our attire.

The Mister smoothed it all over by eating a giant ball of wasabi paste to impress our hosts.  Apparently most Japanese don't use much wasabi, if any (thank goodness for me), so they thought this was pretty ballsy.  Our hostess then informed us that for such brave patrons, the chef would prepare a sushi roll that was just wasabi root and rice.  The Mister enthusiastically agreed to this, and aside from one piece, he ate the WHOLE darned roll.  The remaining piece was eaten by the only other guy from our party who had used any wasabi paste with his meal, and he very quickly had a coughing fit then excused himself to presumably hork.  So that was interesting.

That's all just for ME.
the dreaded wasabi roll

3.  The Last Night's Meal - The last full day in Japan we were wandering the train station's restaurants looking for something to just feed us enough to go back to the hotel and sleep.  We were exhausted, and had already eaten our fill of umami flavor for the day.  We wandered past a fire-oven pizza joint.  And then we wandered past it a second time.  And then we stopped and just stared at the outdoor menu (I really loved that most places have a menu with pictures posted outside their door so you can decide if you actually want to eat anything on their menu before walking in.) and we stood there staring until the waiter came out and insisted upon showing us to a table.  We were a little cautious, as we'd been warned that pizza in Japan commonly comes with mayo and corn.  But then we read the characters on the menu and ordered deliciousness in the name of a Margherita pizza.  I think some of this is a "you had to be there" type moment, but I was super amused that this menu, if you read the characters out loud, it really reads as "ma-ru-ge-ri-ta."  So it was a pretty safe bet our pie would be corn-free (the one underneath that says "ma-ri-na-ra.").

After that, we stocked up on green-tea flavored kitkat bars (way more delicious than the actual liquid tea) on our walk back to the hotel, and now here we are, back in the states just counting down the time until that is our everyday life for a few years.

In conclusion, try foods even if you think they might be gross.  They might be, but they might NOT be, you know?  

I think when I talk about Japan type things from now on, it might be fun to do a japanese vocab spotlight.  Wanna join me? Here's today's lesson:

little language lesson
O-su-su-me-wa, nan des ka?
What's your recommendation?  
I can't believe how much we used this, and how excited people were to share their favorites with us.  It's not specific to food, either, so we used it when picking out our appliances (which vacuum do you recommend for pet hair?), our car (which car is small enough to traverse these narrow roads?), and our curtains (dark brown or light grey?)

The front of this year's Christmas Card. :)
That's all I've got for this week - have a safe and happy holiday, I'll see you once we get back from our festivities in the New Year!