Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The No-Good, Very Hard Test... and the People who Take It.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, The Mister and I recently sat for a test which assessed our Japanese Language proficiency.  While there are no direct consequences of passing or failing this exam for either of us, we had decided back in March that it would be a good goal to study toward, it cost a pretty decent bit of money to sit for, and a certified pass is a fairly impressive line on a resume.  Plus/ also/ in addition; I don't fail tests.*  I just don't.

{I felt I needed to give some background on this test. If that is not interesting, feel free to skip down to the context picture}

Though it is the lowest test level of language proficiency, the JLPT N5 is written entirely in Japanese; meaning the directions on how to properly answer the questions are in Japanese, and The Mister and I realized the frustration early on of having not just a "suggested vocabulary to know" list for this exam, but also a supplementary list of words that would allow us to just understand what the test instructions wanted us to do.  
Here's a sample question.  It wants you to select
the correct spelling of the kanji for this sentence about a new car.**
I could go into great detail with examples of how frustrating the set-up for the N5 was for me, but that would be unfun to read, unrelatable for anyone who has not taken the exam, and unfair to those who have successfully taken the test.  So I'll cap my griping.

For the purposes of everyone here, passing the N5 level test signifies that I am able to read Hirigana (Japanese alphabet), Katakana (secondary alphabet that is used to spell words which are not natively Japanese, like "grapefruit" - "グレープフルツ") and around 100 common kanji (Japanese characters which symbolize entire words - aka what most people think of when you think of the language.  There are thousands of them).  I am also supposed to be able to listen to/ understand basic conversations when spoken slowly.

                                                                           
Alrighty, so now that there's context, let's back-peddle to that whole "I don't fail tests" bit.  If I may toot my own horn for a second, I am a phenomenal standardized test taker.  Example: I took my first ACT in 6th grade (because that is something my parents and I deemed a fun-weekend activity -ahem- NERD).  I scored pretty decently, from what I remember.  I have always seemed to understand the proper way to go through a list of questions with efficiency, ruling out the least likely answers even if I wasn't 100% sure on a response.  Also, hi, I'm a middle-class, native english-speaking, white gal.  I AM what every standardized test in this country is normalized to accommodate.  Point being, back in March when our Japanese tutor said something to the effect of:
"I believe you have a mind for languages.  I think you would be successful at the N5 at the end of the year.  You should consider it."  
My ego was all
"of COURSE I would do well with a test for which I have 7 months to study.  Bring it on."
Being all cocky and confident means that I have set myself up to be required to pass this thing.  Have you ever bragged about your sureness of something only to be proven wrong and then you feel like a total doof? I suspect that's what I'm afraid of more than failing the exam.  Like, there's no consequence to me for failing other than having to turn to everyone I know and love, who I've talked to about this test and say "I was wrong, and I bombed."  It's an overwhelming amount of humiliation
to me.  This is particularly true because the JLPT N5 needs only a 40% score for a pass.

All that said, I legitimately *may* have failed this test.  I won't know for sure until February.  So that's fun.

We studied like CRAZY beforehand, and one day, should anyone be interested, perhaps I will compile a list of the fantastic cheap to free resources we utilized to prepare.  Unfortunately, timing worked against us because between holidays, The Mister's Navy drill weekends, and a small visa snafu (now rectified), the only dates we could travel to Japan for our exploratory trip was the week immediately preceding this exam.  As finding a house for the next three years is kind of important, The Mister and I decided the only viable option was to roll the jet-lag dice and hope that we weren't too out of it when we took the exam a mere 24 hours after landing back in the states.
Thus we found ourselves that day downing coffee in a precarious balance of "enough to keep us alert" versus "not enough to make us have to poop during the exam."



How do you prepare for a big test?  Tell me in the comments!

I'm just gonna leave this here.

5 hours later (it was a long test!), The Mister and I were finally done.  As we clamored into the car for our drive home, I found myself spouting a litany of thoughts about all the other people in the exam room.  Apparently the lowest level standardized test for Japanese Language proficiency can attract some interesting folks. Friends, I wish to share some of them with you here.

The Awkward Zack Galifiniakis Clone.From his faux-vintage-hipster sweater to his beard, shoulder bag, and awkward social skills, I don't believe this man could have been anything other than a clone from between two ferns.  Also he asked to borrow a pencil for the proctor.  Who does this.  I ended that without a question mark because it should not exist as a question.  It's a scantron test. You bring a pencil to feed Scangrade so he can take over the world!

The Lady Giving Legitimacy to Her Ability to Watch Anime Un-Dubbed.She had Sailor Moon hair buns, a Full Metal Alchemist Sweatshirt, and all of her approximately 50 scantron-approved number 2 pencils featured Sanrio characters.  I heard her in the hallway saying that she's self-taught from watching movies and reading comics.  Which is sort of impressive, but she didn't have any discernible reason to be taking the exam... And she was SO excited to be there.

The Child Who Really Shouldn't Have Been There. I was seated next to a kid, maybe 10-11 years old.  Having BEEN a kid in adult-type standardized tests before, originally I was interested and impressed with this dude.  About 10 minutes into his volleying between nervous actions of clicking a clicky pencil, tapping his foot and kicking the foot of the table we were sharing, I was totally over any feelings of admiration.  He was wildly distracting.  But more distracting, was about 5 minutes into the first section of the test when one of the room's proctors made a point to stand in-between myself and him.  The little brat was trying to look off my score sheet!  He did it again during the second section of the exam and the proctor again stationed herself inside my personal space bubble to try and curb his wandering eyes.  Then, before the listening section began, they literally moved him to a different table all by himself.  He started crying during that portion.  I know he's a little kid and I should be sympathetic, but he tried to cheat off me, and darn it, I'm trying to listen to the recording, I need you to stop audibly sniffling, kid!

The Quarter Mullet-Man Who Showed Up So Late I'm STILL Legitimately Mad They Allowed Him To Stay.  If you are unfamiliar with standardized test set-ups, let me give you the context that they usually have a very strict set up of rules.  If you are unfamiliar with Japanese cultural points, let me give you the context that they are, as a people, very strictly adhered to rules***.  Point being, if you are sitting for a Standardized exam in Japanese, the rules are LAW.  You show up EARLY.  You bring at least 2, sharpened, number 2 pencils. You leave your cell phone in the car.  Everything else better be stowed below your desk for the entirety of the exam.  This dude had the audacity to just waltz into the room 3 minutes after the proctors had actually begun to read the instructions to us, then flopped down and asked to borrow a pencil.
...who comes late to an internationally recognized, standardized exam (which btw, sent every participant a 5 page instructional mailing on what to bring when), and roll in with a giant bag that contains not a single pencil?
Were I a proctor, I'd have kicked his ass out of the room, though keep in mind I was at an inferno-irate level of jet-lagged.  But also worth noting was this man's haircut:  The top was a bowl cut.  Then behind both ears there was a 3 inch section of mullet that went about halfway down his back.  I... want to meet the hair-dresser that  heard his instructions at the salon and was like "oh sure, I'll cut your hair that way."

The Woman Who Was Shedding Her Summer Coat.The woman who sat directly in front of me had thick mop of blonde hair on her head, which she had loosely piled into one of those very trendy messy buns of college campuses everywhere (who am I kidding, I have my hair in one right now).  I would estimate around 300 strands of that hair decided to revolt against the bun that morning, and so she shed them to lay in weird patterns across the back of her navy blue sweatshirt.  It was mesmerizing and infuriating to my overtired neat-freak self.  Before each section, while the proctor was reading, I would find myself staring, needing to employ an inner mantra of "don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back...."  If I would have had a lint roller in my bag I probably would have been arrested that day for assaulting her with it.


The Jet-Lagged Woman Who Was Overly Prepared and Hated Everyone.  Like More than Grumpy Cat.  I had ten pre sharpened, new, number 2 pencils.  I had a fresh, large, pink eraser just in case of mistakes (I used it once), and I had a small personal pencil sharpener all laid out carefully in front of me.  I had also upped my resting bitch face to such a level that when the first dude who didn't bring his own pencil turned to see my surplus, he also saw my rage face and decided not to ask me to borrow one.  I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't happy when no one bothered me in the hallway or asked me questions between sections.

What was the last test you took?  
Any great test taking observations?  
Tell me in the comments!

*except my first driver's exam.  I failed that SO hard.  That was soul crushing enough that I just decided to pass every test from there on out.

**The answer is 1, if you were curious.

***example of rule adherence: while we were in Japan, we actually witnessed people walking to cross the street - when the "walk signal changed to "do not walk" they were about 50 feet into the street, and they immediately BACKED UP to the curb to re-wait for the intersection lights to change again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let's talk about Jet Lag.

What happened to last week's blog post you ask?

I was in Japan.

The Mister and I took our exploratory trip this past week - we found our housing, tried our hand at speaking the lingo and navigating the train system, and tried so much of the food.  I think I speak for both of us when I say that we're feeling pretty great about this move at this point.  Ducks seem to be in a row.



Of course, there's a ton to talk about now, but if I smash it all into one real long blog post, 1. you'll get bored reading a wall of text, and 2. I won't have anything fun to talk about next week.  We're gonna break this trip up a bit.  First topic of choice? JET LAG.

I've never had jet lag before.  Maybe you have.  Going to a place with a 13-14 hour time difference (depends on day light savings) means that I didn't just have my first encounter with jet lag, I got sucker punched by it.  I was prepared for the tired, but jeepers, I was not prepared for just how my body would react to that tired.
This is indeed a post dedicated to whining about a very privileged, first-world style problem.  Sorry not sorry.
Have you ever had jet lag?  
How did you cope? Tell me in the comments!

It hits you in waves - you'll wake up at like, 3am, totally unable to fall back asleep, so you toss and turn or just say "eff it" (or something close to that) and get up.  Then somewhere around 3pm you get SO tired you would actually (honestly not exaggerating) rather suffer some mortal wound than keep going.
Tis but a scratch compared with this exhaustion.
If you don't fight through both of those waves, it just drags the adjustment period out longer.  So that's been fun.  Here's some great jet lag highlights for you (I need you to know I think all of these things are sort of hilarious now):

By most accounts, it takes approximately 1 week to reasonably adjust to US-Japan Jet Lag.  The crappy thing about taking 1 week to get all our living arrangements straightened in Japan means that we got ourselves adjusted to Japan-time, then immediately got on a plane and go through jet lag in reverse.  I'm going on day 12 of feeling like I'm hovering between passing out and barfing at any given point.
Our first day in Japan we made a point to stay up until 10-11PM, Japan time, per recommendations of our well traveled friends.  This effectively means that we were awake for over 24 hours straight.  We were tired but felt fine otherwise.  I then woke up, WIDE awake, at 4AM, and couldn't convince my body to go back to sleep (this is weird for me, usually I display borderline narcoleptic traits in my sleeping habits.  I can ALWAYS sleep...).  I debated taking a sleep aid -which The Mister and I have been popping like tic-tacs as of late- but then I would have been groggy 3 hours later when I actually needed to get up and be coherent in not-my-native-language.  
Our third day in Japan I was so legitimately tired at 8PM that I uncontrollably and spontaneously burst into tears when The Mister tried to give me a kiss because it meant he was standing in-between me and the bed I was desperate to crawl into.  
 He was trying to give me a kiss because, as it turns out, The Mister and I are TERRIBLE people to each other when we are over-tired (though I will be the first to admit that I am loads worse than he is), and he was trying to smooth over a meaningless snap from hours earlier that I refused to let go of, like a 5 year old.  Knowing this about ourselves helps, but sucks pretty hard nonetheless.  
Pair that with our powers of deduction being less than sharp and you've got a "party."
I'd say I've been a monster, except calling me a monster almost suggests it could be sort of cute.
It's really more like that scene with the goat in Jurassic Park.  No cute, just unabashed carnage.
We got into a fantastic (in hindsight, at the time it was less fantastic and more wretched) nothing fight at the furniture rental place because -as we later realized- we were both too tired to give any poops about the furniture we were picking out to furnish the home we picked... so we were both trying to make ourselves be hyper-careful about our choices to combat our apathy.
So we fought about literally the most insignificant thing that neither of us actually cares about but neither of us was willing to budge at the time and to that effect I'm very glad that Japanese doesn't have any translation for English swears.
When you are on the return flight coming east, you are recommended to sleep as much as you can.  But the plane we were on had little TVs (with GAMES and MOVIES!) in the seat-back of every chair, and since we had adjusted to it being 10AM Japan-time when we got on the plane... I slept mostly not at all.  But I did get very good at Soduku after playing 12 hours of it.
Of course, that meant when our plane back to the states landed at 11AM EST, I felt like it was midnight, my body was beyond confused, and I immediately went to bed.  For 23 hours.  This is not recommended, because you know what happens then?

It's hurty, but not *as* bad as it looks.
YOU MAKE IT SO MUCH WORSE.  Blargh.  But it felt good at the time.  Until I dropped one of our suitcases on my foot because I was feeling both rushed and incoherently tired.  That is not recommended, either.
At the end of that 23 hours, we took our Japanese language proficiency exam.  You know, the one we've been exclusively studying for throughout the past 7 months.  What I'm saying here is that there was a lot of coffee involved just to make sure I stayed awake.  I also discovered that I became super judgmental of everyone around me at that point of the lag.  This will be another post, because as it was a standardized test, I was in a room with 21 other people to judge mercilessly for 4 hours... and that left me with a lot of random writing ammo. 
That level of tired makes you ridiculously forgetful (let's hope that was not reflected in my test score)  Great example?  I went grocery shopping yesterday and was so fixed on making sure I remembered to pay for the groceries that I forgot to then take the groceries I bought with me when I left.  They chased me out of the store with my cartful.   
So that's jet lag in a nutshell.  Now if you'll excuse me.  I need to take a nap.  :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

七面鳥 の日 (turkey's day)

Happy -early- Thanksgiving!

We've got big plans over our Turkey-day break.  Namely, we're headed to the land of the rising sun for an investigational trip.  AHHH.  I'm not freaking out about it (I'm totally freaking out about it).  And I don't really have any specific topics to talk about, but I do have some random quick quips:

1.  My phone is dying.  I'm hoping I can stretch it's life to my actual expat date early next year, but we're regularly having moments of the stupid thing just randomly shutting itself off.   While I'm using it as a GPS to get somewhere.  While I'm trying to call the veterinarian to confirm Bubba's boarding dates.  While I'm attempting to take a pict
ure of the dumbest American memorabilia possible to share with The Mister.  It may not make it, is what I'm saying.  Blargh.

2.  The American memorabilia.  So.  Japanese culture is one of gift-giving.  If you are invited somewhere, you are expected to present a gift of thanks to the people who included you in their plans.  We were advised by a previous expat to prepare a few little gifts for this occasion - something that is uniquely American, he said, would go over like hotcakes.  I was assigned the task of putting together these offerings.
And I thought it would be super easy, but I forgot that this is Christmas season, so apparently all the  "American Memorabilia" was swapped out for "Santa Memorabilia" on the sales floor.  I settled for small bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, because peanut butter is not a common thing in countries outside the US, so I figured they would be unique (and also because they were the only candy I could find that wasn't shaped like Christmas Trees.)  I paired them with tiny tiny american flags on toothpicks.  They're dumb.  But I think they'll suffice without embarrassing us.

Meanwhile, there was a good 30 seconds where I genuinely debated just buying the entire rack of these calendars and scrapping the candy idea.  I know no one over there will get the joke, but I laughed.

3.  This is not a quick trip, so Bub and Mac were brought to their respective boarding facilities this morning (Mac is staying at a place that takes him on go-cart rides and lets him have play time with other dogs his size and age.  He seems to love it?  Bub is staying at the Vet, because they take cats and if something goes wrong he's already at the vet.)  Bubba is not a fan of going in his box, and this morning we were a good 30 minutes behind schedule as he tried to make a case for his living under the couch for the duration of our trip.  Part of me recognizes this was sort of funny, and part of me is upset that the last thing my cat will remember of me while I'm away is me stuffing a broom in his face so I can get him out and we can get in the damn car already.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?  Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Drive in Michigan, in 5ish Simple Steps.

Welp, Winter is upon us.  I had foolishly packed up my thickest winter coat in hopes that I wouldn’t have to use it until after we came back from Japan.

Photo courtesy of MLive.com

Hey foot of snow in one day... Ugh, so ...I had to unpack a box this just to make sure I could continue to survive Michigan.

Oh, sorry, did I disturb you?
Has not moved since I made
 him go outside to pee earlier.
The storm hit us Sunday night/ Monday morning and is still delivering a pretty steady stream of snow and impaired outdoor vision.  Most places (including the area colleges!) had a snow day yesterday.  Unfortunately for both The Mister* and I, yesterday required some travel, we were not so lucky as to snuggle under a nice warm blanket all day, like SOME dogs I might know.


I found there were some perks to venturing out-
  • No line for a haircut, even on $9.99 haircut day!
  • The library’s DVD copy of “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar**” was available! (have watched it 3 times so far.)
  • The guy at the burrito place was SO bored that he gave me extra chicken without charging me just because I was someone to talk to for thirty seconds!
  • Almost no wait at the Dr.’s Office!

That’s right, yesterday I had to traipse out to the Dr.  For the record, I’m fine, I just needed to get some ducks in a row before exporting myself abroad.  

Actually, since the Dr. I use is currently in an office 30 miles from home, I called yesterday morning to see if I could reschedule:
Sure, I totally understand, ma’am.  Looks like our next available appointment is… February 16th at 3:15.  (I leave for Japan February 5)
…Back roads and crossed fingers it is!  I made it there and back, but I noticed a sincere lack of common sense from my fellow idiot drivers.  I thought it best to take a moment to remind everybody of a my top 5(ish) snow-driving pointers as we buckle-down for winter.

  1.  TURN ON YOUR D*!^@#N HEADLIGHTS.
There is so little visibility out there that you can’t see anything but whiteness more than 10 feet in front of your car.  No, your head lights might not improve that for you.  But you know what it DOES do?  It lets everyone else know that there is a car coming from the opposite direction sooner than .5 seconds after you pass them.  No one wants to play street peekaboo with you.
without headlights

with headlights - hey look a car!
  1. Stop tailgating.
Do I have to explain this? You can’t stop reliably. You can’t slow down reliably. I’m not going to go any faster - because I can’t without losing control of my car and I enjoy not being in a giant death missile - and if a single thing goes wrong in this snow-pocalypse, you are 100% for sure going to go straight through my back window.

  1.  TURN ON. YOUR. HEADLIGHTS.
No one wants to play street peekaboo.  No one.
Me, when you suddenly WHIZ by going the opposite way without your headlights on in a damn Bilzzard.

4.  Think about others.
Pedestrians - is that car going too fast to stop, or going downhill?  Or Uphill?  Maybe don’t walk right in front of it.  IF it can stop in time to not hit you, it might become impossible to get the momentum for that car going again.  On the flip side of that, Drivers - YOU are in a nice warm car, pedestrians are outside in snow that is coming in SIDEWAYS.  It’s flipping cold.  Stop if you can and let them get somewhere inhabitable. Because karma.

  1.  HEADLIGHTS.  USE THEM.  LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY BECAUSE PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU.  I seriously do NOT understand how many drivers did not have any lights on yesterday.  What the hell people?!
    James Bond would use his headlights.

Winter is so pretty, but between watching how ugly is can make people be to each other, and how it plays so strong into feeding my anxieties***, I’m ready to be anywhere minus snow for a few years.  Just 2 more months!

Did I miss any snow driving tips?  
Tell me in the comments!

*The Mister had to fly to Indiana yesterday for work.  That plane delayed more times than I have toes (for the record I have a normal amount of toes).  He didn’t make it to where he was supposed to until around 1am.  He was at the airport to fly out by 1pm.  Long day for him.

**To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), is a campy, hilarious, and fantastic film starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, and Stockard Channing.  It features cameos from Ru Paul, Robin Williams, and Julie Newmar.  It is about drag queens, and it is one of my all-time favorite movies.  My first job as a kid was as a video clerk (yes, just like Jeff), and To Wong Foo  was almost always playing over the store CC if I was working (that or Anastasia).  I can quote it forwards and backwards, and I loved how it annoyed my homophobic macho-man coworker.  What I’m saying is, if you haven’t seen it, put it on your list.  And if you have, it’s time for a re-watch.

***You know what sucks about winter and anxiety?  I get anxious when I think about something by immediately focusing on the worst possible scenario.  Sometimes these are totally ludicrous (e.g.: if I don’t do the dishes the house will implode and everyone will hate me).  But dangerous snow driving completely legitimizes my fears - the things I’m afraid will happen are totally possible and sometimes likely!  
The sticking point here is that my worst fear in snow driving is that I get in a car crash and Mac dies.  Which means Mac does not ride with me while driving in the snow.  Which means I am anxiously driving around without the service dog who tips me off to a panic attack before I panic and veer off the road to my own imminent death.  So… that’s probably great.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The First (of many, let’s be real) OMIGAWD I’m Moving to Japan Freakout.

The Mister works at a company that is based out of Japan.  It is the reason we will be moving there at the beginning of the year.  It also means that at any given branch of the company (like the one here in Michigan, USA), there are many native Japanese folks fulfilling their own expatriate assignments. 

A week or so ago, one of The Mister’s Japanese cohorts asked if I knew how to make pumpkin pie. He had heard about the American custom of pumpkin pies, and he wanted to try it. The Mister gleefully offered to ask me to bake a pie, and about three minutes later, suddenly there was a whole dinner party planned around the fact that I would be baking two pies for some of our Japanese guests.  They were excited, I was all like “heh, yeah, no pressure or anything, just representing my American heritage with this PIE.

But I do really like to bake, and so pies were made and everyone got to try it, and everyone either really enjoyed them or they’re super good at feigning delight (I’m okay with either so long as the illusion remains unshattered).

And then another exec got wind of this pie party and was bummed that he didn’t get to have any pie.  So this same exec asked if I would bake pies again, for him.  And so I did.  Again, it seemed to go over well, but my recipe makes two pies and with only The Mister, myself, and the exec eating one slice a piece, there was a lot of pie left over after that one. (halving a recipe is for sissies.)

As much as I would love to just tuck into an entire pie myself, I brought the remaining pie and a half to my Japanese lesson at the company the next day.  My willpower is crap y’all, if it would have stayed in the house any longer… well it wouldn’t have existed by the time The Mister came home from work 5 hours later.  

As we chatted over pie before the lesson began, our tutor calmly informed me: 

“get your baking in now - they don’t have ovens in Japanese homes.  you’ll be using a toaster oven and a rice cooker exclusively for the next few years.”

...
I got home and 'kind of' lost my mind.  It’s not like I bake every day, but I really LIKE how creative and silly you can get in baking.  


My beautiful birthday cake. (it turned our poop blue!)
These are mini baked bries with apple slices baked in.  They were AWESOME.

Thus, I’d like to think, if my blog ever became adapted for the silver screen (because, of course it would be), this would be the point where we, the audience, see a montage of me frantically pinning recipes of How to Make Cake in a Rice Cooker” and “Fantastic Toaster Oven Cookies!” all afternoon, to a track of the "Cooking By The Book" remix with Lil Jon.  

The Mister came home from work/ not knowing I had fixated on this statement about Japanese Oven Deficiency, to see a crazed me, hunched over my laptop, hair everywhere, makeup smeared, all “It’s all gonna be okay. I think I can still make a Christmas Cake*” 

Instead of backing out of the room (like any reasonable person would be wont to do), The Mister had some sort of inspired lightbulb turn on upstairs, and he responded with “hey, there’s a bake sale at work on Friday.  I told them you would make cookies.**”  

So today is cookie day.  I will bake all the cookies.  ALL OF THEM.  I shall not only feed my love of baking, but also I get to use my absurd collection of weird cookie cutters.  Which always makes me a little happier.  

Hopefully this can clear the way for me to move on to the next insignificant thing I can freak out about.  
This is only some of my strange cookie cutter collection.  
The weirder the better.  The mustaches are totes my faves.

Yay cultural differences. A necessary  awesomeness.  But they do take time for me.


Ninjas!

Dinosaurs!

204 cookies later.
you know me, folks.  of course I made silly labels for the cookie bags.

Have you ever let a little thing get to you like that?  
Tell me in the comments!

*Christmas Cake - Here’s what I’ve taken away from some discussions with our tutor:  In Japan, Christmas is more of a couple’s holiday, and many folks celebrate it by eating cake.  The day AFTER Christmas (the 26th), these cakes become wildly discounted at the bakeries that make them in their beautiful industrial ovens that are apparently the only ovens in the whole country and - *breathe* I’m getting off track.
Anyway, this discounted cake has become a slang term in Japan; women who are still unmarried at 26 are often referred to as “Christmas Cake.”

…therefore - for the record, I am a Christmas Cake.  so there’s that.  

**I am 100% positive The Mister did not tell anyone I would be making cookies, and said this to placate me.  But again, let’s keep the illusion alive for my feeble benefit!  Horray!  There is still a bake sale, and there is still a good cause behind it.  So cookies it is.  SO MANY COOKIES.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

ACME Patented Costume Tomfoolery.

So y’all, we didn’t win the costume contest.  But when you loose to this guy, it’s hard to be too hurt over it.


Groot had easily already spent a couple thousand of his $5000.00 grand prize on just building that costume, but holy cow was it impressive.  He was on stilts of course, but what you can’t see from the picture are all the little details he included.  There was a to-scale Rocket Racoon on his back in a fierce battle pose wielding a light up gun.  His arms had blink-y lights built in so he could create the bio-luminescence look from the movie.  And my persona favorite was the tube built into the “bark” of one arm that allowed him to “bloom" a small flower for ladies.


Good show, Groot man.  Good. Show.
We of course, had our picture taken with him.


Oh yeah, and THOSE are our costumes.

Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote, at your service.

The Mister and I wanted something that would be easily recognizable but not something that everyone else was doing - we’d batted a few ideas around but nothing was really feeling AWESOME to me (and since I create those costumes, that’s important!)  Then one day The Mister’s friend “threw him under the bus,” The Mister asked me for a cartoon to illustrate the concept of “bus-throwing” to said friend, and I used a Wyle E. Coyote cartoon for pose reference.  Suddenly, Looney Toons provided the inspiration, and off to the races we went!




My dress is sewn from an old blue turtle neck and light blue fabric I found at a thrift. Both our tails, the "crest/ head feathers", his ears, his nose, and both sets of feet are upholstery foam that I shaped to give us cartoony expression before covering with fabric. Each of those pieces is attached to the main costume pieces by SNAPS, so I could remove them and throw the big costume pieces in the wash for multiple wearings.

Both masks (mine out of foam, his out of fleece) were created from scratch and painted to match our ensembles.

For accessories I made a sign for me ("Meep Meep!" on one side, "ROAD RUNNER (accerlarati incredibilius)" on the other) and an ACME rocket backpack out of an old protein powder container and rope for him (which doubled as our storage for the night since we didn't have pockets!) The Mister also had a t-shirt that I painted "COYOTE (carnivorous vulgaris)” onto underneath his coyote suit, so when he inevitably overheated and needed to unzip the top half, people would still know what he was supposed to be.

My favorite part of these costumes is my feet - I wore striped tights, then found a pair of wedge heels and sewed on fabric from another thrifted turtle-neck and upholstery foam to make me look taller, my legs look longer, and give me the bird toes the road runner uses to zoom into the sunset. I even painted stripes on them so you can't quite tell where the tights end and the feet pieces begin (hint, the joint is half-way up my knees)

I had a blast competing in the costume contest - judging took place by inviting all participants to walk around the perimeter of the casino floor.  I caught on pretty quick that the people judging the costumes didn’t want to just see the costumes, they wanted to see you BE the costume.  

I learned this from watching a man in the line ahead of us wearing only a crude diaper, sucking on a pacifier and dragging a blanket. (you may have noticed I did not mention he was wearing a shirt.  He placed in the top 20 just by acting like… well acting like a baby.  So I followed suit!

No, not by acting like a baby, but by insisting that the Mister follow behind me slowly, while I quickly zig-zagged back and forth on my spot in the line, stopping with sharp movements to consider the people around (and for so many of them to take pictures!).  I MEEP’d at people who Meep’d at me.   And I tried (mostly failed) to keep a straight face when people realized Wylie was behind me and either warned me to "look out!” or asked him what’d he’d do when he caught me.  It was great.

So all in all, we didn’t place in the contest, but that’s okay, because the people that did, totally brought their A-game, and I feel like the effort we put in was still super appreciated.  

Other worthy competitors.


Oh yeah, and THEN we got to watch THE VILLAGE PEOPLE.  Who were fantastic!  I was amazed at how many songs I knew from their set list, and also at the fact that all the members look so... good yet.  That said, I don't know that the Native American member necessarily needed to wear the ass-less chaps and do all those spins up on stage.  Woah.


How was your halloween?  
Did you dress up?  
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS!

I would be remiss here if I didn't take a second to shout out to a brilliantly wonderful Mister - I'm fairly certain that having his wife stuff him in a onesie and parade him around all night wasn't as much fun for him as it was for me. But he played along beautifully.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Miss Congeniality (alternate title: I am a poor loser)

Halloween is just around the corner- it’s time to get puuuuuumped. 


Today's post apparently has a soundtrack.  I ended up listening to the whole Nightmare Before Christmas album while rage-writing.

a costume teaser. guesses?
It’s our last Halloween in the states for a while, so I wanted to put a little extra love and awesome into this year’s costumes.  Which eventually lead to me thinking “hot dang, we could probably win a costume contest with these!

That was back in August, and since then that idea has had plenty of time to fester (yes that is the best descriptive word for how it happened) and spread throughout my soul to the very essence of my being.  I informed the Mister that a contest would need to be found and attended.  To my glee, he agreed, even as I hunched over the sewing machine working on the incredibly ridiculous costume he would be wrangled into for sa(it’s a glorified onesie.  actually, not glorified.  it’s straight up a onesie.  and it’s AWESOME.)
id contest.  

The contest we have selected is at a casino this Friday, and our respective outfits are ready to go.  Then, after the contest, THE VILLAGE PEOPLE will play a show.  Like, the real Village People.  YMCA, In the Navy, Macho Manthose people-of-the-village. In real life.  I shall report on that next week.

I should be excited about this event 100%, but I’m sort of struggling.  Why?  Because of Mac.

Let me ‘splain.  Last weekend, I started up the holiday festivities by taking Mac out to THREE separate pet-costume contests, and... he lost all three of them.



Some would say it’s supposed to be about the fun of participating, but

  1.  I am a sore loser,* and 
  2.  Mac’s costume was CLEARLY the best of all participants.   

We lost to dogs in chintzy store-bought costumes, dogs who were so poorly behaved that they should not have been allowed to leave the house, saying nothing of their owners stuffing them into costumes they clearly hated and then putting that grumpy stressed dog in a small space containing other grumpy stressed dogs with poor visibility because there’s a hat on their head.
This is awesome and you know it.
My dog is the sh*t.  I think that’s a pretty widely known fact here at KpQP.  And for as long as I can remember, he’s genuinely enjoyed playing dress-up because of the extra attention he gets from a costume.  So he was all wags and puppy smiles to walk around in his home-made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, and pose for pictures holding his plush nunchucks. Now, when I say home-made, I don’t mean I glued some crap together and prayed it would stay in one piece for judging: I lovingly sewed Mac a custom garment complete with a zippered pouch on the back which was tailored to fit him.  It is a great looking costume on a great dog.  At the second event we even paused to give all the little kids doggie-high-fives before we went in front of the judges.

The "pumpkin king." UGH.


At that same event, we lost to a dog wearing an oversized orange t-shirt who spent the entire event time being dragged forward by its leash, or pawing at the t-shirt to get it off.  It was “a pumpkin.”  Seriously, what the hell?

Now, I will concede that the third event was justifiably lost.  The winner was a tiny majestic steed.  It was adorable.  Congrats to that tiny tiny dog.  Except we didn’t even place top three after her...
Banana for scale. 
That dog was probably a rat in a dog costume in a horse costume.
I suppose it's a righteous win for the double costume.
But aside from the lil' sebastian impersonator, I’m really bitter about it all.  Like, can’t even crack jokes about losing because I’m that bitter.  What were the judging considerations?  One would assume that a costume contest for pets should be judged on the creativity and crafting of the costume, and to some extent, the pet’s ability to cope with that costume.

I know that along with my serving of bitter pie I’m clearly biased toward Mac, but I’m still totally within reason to believe that if those were really the considerations, I should have beat a damn t-shirt, hands down. (the first time I typed that sentence I typed "t-sh*t" and I debated leaving it because HELLO APPROPRIATE DESCRIPTION.)

our "winnings."
AND THEN - in a move that feels more like “insult-to-injury” than a real offering of peace, after loosing at each event, Mac was quietly given a small bag of treats on our way out for being “such a good dog!”  That he didn’t lunge at any other dogs or try to get his costume off wins him an award which gets no formal recognition.  Miss Congeniality cookies, if you will.  Really?  At ALL THREE contests this happened.  DAMMIT, GIVE MY DOG A GIFT CARD TO YOUR STORE SO WE CAN AFFORD HIS AIRLINE-APPROVED GIANT CRATE!  HE EARNED IT!

It was a big hit to my self-assurance as an artist and crafter. I feel like I really needed a win, and I really had some confidence going in.  That was summarily smashed into atomic-sized bits. 
An accurate before and after.

Now I find that I don’t feel too great about the costumes I made for The Mister and myself, even though I know they’re really cool.  Because I don’t know how the contest will be judged or who I need to suck up to beforehand to make sure I beat the dude wearing a dirty white-shirt who claims to be “a ghost."

But I will put on my game face on Friday and give it another go.  Keep your fingers crossed for this sore loser and her husband.  I refuse to come away with a mere participant trophy.

Have you ever REALLY wanted to win something, or really BELIEVED you were going to win something?  
Did you ever fail at something unexpectedly?  
How did you cope with it?  
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS. Truly.  I need some help there.



*I am an only child, don’t pretend my inability to cope with failure on any level is a surprising fact to you.