Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New York 2016: the Japan Experience

January 14-17, 2016

I'd been to NYC twice before, visiting my wealthy lawyer friend and my super-cool business friend, both in 2010 and in 2014. Through them, I was able to get a good balanced tour of the real New York City lifestyle and the necessary tourist destinations that I needed to cross off my list. The years roll by, though, and one moved away to Denver and the other fell out of touch. So on this trip -- I was tagging along with my boyfriend while he attended a week-long conference -- I was a little worried I'd be left wandering around by myself for hours on end. (Despite the fact that I made it around Tokyo like a pro for two years, New York still scares me.) 

View from the hotel
But I had nothing to fear. My well-prepared bf, who foresaw my reluctance, made plans with his college friend Jana to come down from Syracuse and hang out with us for the weekend: a win-win for everyone involved. It was easy for the three of us to get along with each other with no trouble at all. And although it was a new adventure to actually look up places to go and find them with a map instead of following someone's footsteps, I liked exploring the unfamiliar with someone new. It's much less intimidating than trying to do it alone. Besides, Jana did most of the planning, so technically all I had to do was follow her!

Over the course of the weekend, we took in as much of Greenwich Village, Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, Hell's Kitchen, and Midtown as we could, leaving our ritzy hotel at the Hilton Times Square every morning in search of nothing in particular but something cool to see. Neither of us wanted to visit anything famous like the Statue of Liberty, we just wanted to go shopping! And shopping we did; both of us spent more than we needed to at some really fun boutiques and vintage clothing stores.

Happily for Kyle, he didn't have to tag along and be bored while we were shopping, but he was able to accompany us for breakfast (diner food! bagels!) and dinner most days. Plus he had nights free to spend with us. 

Bookstore
The biggest difference between this trip and my other two NY trips was the sheer amount of JAPAN we found. Jana and I accidentally stumbled on Sunrise Mart (a Japanese market), Panya (a bakery), various ramen shops, and even an izekaya (a type of casual restaurant/pub) during one of our walks. We also spent a lot of time at Muji (my favorite store from Japan), Uniqlo (like Gap, but better), and the Kinokuniya bookstore, a place so laden with cute things I thought I'd explode. (Later, Jana and I found a Korean bookstore, which definitely rivals Japan with its amazing stationery choices.)

Tonkatsu curry
And the food . . . oh! the food! Tonkatsu curry at Go-Go Curry our first night, ramen the second, and an izekaya feast my last night in town, complete with okonomiyaki, takoyaki, karage, nikujaga . . . all those things that taste so much better in a restaurant than when I try to make them at all. It was such a strange experience to sit in the restaurant surrounded by Japanese speakers, eating authentic Japanese food: it was just like being back in Gunma! I filled up on everything I'd been missing for the past three years, wishing I had a few more bellies to fit all that food into. Next time I will eat even more!

I don't really care for the craziness of Times Square or the claustrophobic feeling that comes over me every time I start down the stairs to get on the subway, but I really enjoy visiting New York City and soaking in its new experiences. I'm grateful that Kyle invited me along! And you know, sometimes he has business trips to Greece and Germany, too . . . 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: A Year in Review

If you'd like a review of important 2015 news, click here. Pop culture, here. And for my own dull life, please read ahead!

January: I also drank beer.
January: A cold month. I lived with B on Chesterbrook Ct and worked 20 hours a week. I'm also not sure if anything blog-worthy happened this month . . .

February: I also bought a chair.
February: Still cold. We had a ton of days without work because of the constant snow and ice storms. I took the Praxis on February 10th, as my first step towards becoming a public school ESL teacher. I also went to the mountains with two other couple-friends February 13th-15th on a snowboarding/ski/cabin trip and to a dress-up Oscar Party on February 22nd. Neither event was particularly pleasant. At the end of the month, I visited my aunt in Littleton and felt nostalgic for home. And I watched a lot of House of Cards and became engrossed in Frank & Claire's lives.

March:I went running a lot. 
March: Getting warmer. After a four-month relationship, B and I broke up and he moved out. I don't know if anything else happened, besides discovering a "secret" inlet at Jordan Lake where I could relax--and think a lot--in.

April: I made a lot of dishrags.
April: Warm with lots of thunderstorms. From the 2nd to the 6th, I visited my older sister in Indiana and was well-taken care of. I also enjoyed the symphony with Sarah and lots of antique shopping with Tine. I took the Praxis for Spanish on the 30th, and continued to think a lot.

May: Comfortable porch
May: Quite warm. Kelly moved in to my apartment for what ended up being only a few weeks. On the 2nd, Kyle and I went to the Longleaf Film Festival downtown (and stumbled upon a gay pride parade and a 1930s restaurant). Memorial Day weekend we watched an outdoor showing of "Ghostbusters" with some friends, spent a day in Bath, and had a picnic with everyone. On the 27th, Kelly and I picked up the keys to our new townhouse and she moved in, but I waited until the end of my lease in June.

June: Jordan Lake sunset
June: Hot. I spent the month leisurely moving into my and Kelly's new place, finally staying there for the first time on the 27th. My three best friends from college came down for the 5th-7th for a scintillating weekend of watching the IT Crowd and eating Chinese food. Kyle and I took a weekend beach trip to the Outer Banks just to watch the sun go down and come back up (and to see the night sky full of stars), but I learned that sleeping on the beach isn't nearly as romantic as it sounds: No one ever mentions mosquitoes. The following weekend, Tine and I took a day trip to the beach on a beautiful day, I enjoyed the lack of bugs. And I saw Jurassic World and was happy.

July: I also made ramen.
July: Still hot. I had been spending a good amount of the summer stressing out about where to work, but then I got hired to work part-time (30%) at an elementary school, so I quit worrying. Kelly and I spent a few fun nights watching baseball at the Bulls stadium. I went to Portland, OR to visit my brother and his family from the 9th-13th, coming home right in time to start a 10-day orientation that would officially make me a public school ESL teacher.

August: I also pickled peaches. 
August: Still hot. I turned 33 on the 2nd, and Kelly and I threw a housewarming party on the 16th, just shy of 12 weeks after our official move-in date. I got hired 40% at another elementary school so I became a real teacher! I also started taking an online class to start working on getting my license. On the 24th, I got it in my head to make a quilt by hand, and started piecing it that evening. The last weekend in August, my dad and I went to the Watermelon Festival in Winterville.

September: Ararat, VA
September: Still hot, mostly. Kyle and I went to Hillsville, VA for Labor Day and stayed in a bed and breakfast more like the spare bedroom in someone's house than an actual B&B, but good nonetheless!

October: Pumpkin
October: Coolish. It was a busy month: three-day trip to Boone, day at the State Fair, family reunion in Littleton, and a pumpkin carving/scary-movie watching shindig at my house. Oh yeah, and Halloween night with S and friends at the scary haunted trail that I kept my eyes shut for the whole entire time.

November: Florida beach
November: Cool. And it was another fun busy month: C&T, J&M, and Kyle & I spent a weekend at a cabin in Bryson City, coloring, cooking, and playing board games while it poured rain outside. A coworker and I traveled to St. Augustine, FL to present at an international conference, and I ran a 5K on the beach with my friend Lindsey the day after. Thanksgiving was spent in Michigan with Kyle's family.

December: Finished panel 1 of 6
December: Crazy, crazy warm. This is the month everything ended: online class (got an A), night class (finished on the 3rd), and school (the 18th). Dad, Kyle, and I drove to Marion, VA to watch the taping of "Song of the Mountains" on the 12th. And I had a gigantic Christmas party on the 19th--19 people came over for dinner and presents! I couldn't think of anything work-related during the first week of break; instead, I just spent it cooking, eating, and watching Christmas movies. The 25th-29th were visiting days: two days with my mom in Winston-Salem, a day with my dad in Wilson, and another day with my aunt in Littleton, before finally coming back to Raleigh. New Years Eve will probably be spent with a group of friends somewhere in the city celebrating the year!

And oh, what a year it's been! Moved into a new house, got two new jobs, and slid into an amazing relationship. I'm excited about what 2016 will bring!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Things I Should Be Scared Of

You know, there are so many things to be afraid of nowadays, I'm starting to lose count. We hear about scary stuff all the time, and with each report, I've got something new to freak out about. Something new is added to my list every day. (And please, my I-don't-get-sarcasm friends, realize I say these things tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Terrorists: They want to kill me to make a statement. 
  • Black men: They want to rob me or kill me.
  • White men: They want to kill me while they're shooting up a movie theater or a school. 
  • Hispanic men: They're all talking bad about me in Spanish, although they probably don't want to kill me.  
  • Syrian refugees: They all want to kill me. 
  • Travel outside the U.S.: I'm going to get killed. 
  • Travel inside the U.S.: I'm going to get killed. 
  • Rest Areas on the Interstate: I'm going to get robbed or killed. 
  • Bacon/Deli Meat: They're going to give me cancer. 
  • GMOs/Artificial sweeteners/Additives in my food: They're all going to give me cancer, too. 
As you can see, I've got a lot to worry about in the back of my mind. I'm sure there are even more things out there to be concerned about (if you think of any more, let me know), but I'll stop there for now. The good news is, there's one bullet point I can now take off of my list:
  • Having Thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend's family 
Talk about nerve-wracking. Ever since Kyle invited me to come up and have Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Michigan, I'd been a little nervous. It's not like I hadn't met them all before -- I had my 32nd birthday party with his mom, stepdad, and sister while they were visiting him in Raleigh, for goodness' sake -- but that was when we were just friends. I didn't feel any pressure. But now, spending five days at his parents' house over a major U.S. holiday . . . that was something else.

Lucky for me, though, all of my worrying was in vain. Kyle's family lives in a small city between Flint and Detroit: his mom, stepdad, and sister in one normal house with two normal dogs and a normal catt; his dad and stepmom in a different normal house with a different normal dog (and no cat).

We left Raleigh on Tuesday afternoon and were in Athens, OH by midnight. After spending an uneventful night at a cheap hotel with a poorly-working heater and freezing cold bathroom tiles, we were on the road again, finally pulling into Kyle's mom's driveway around 4:00 in the afternoon. I was feeling kind of nervous but hoped no one could tell. That evening, his stepdad took us all -- Kyle,    his brother, sister, mom, and me -- to a restaurant called Mr. B's that I'd never heard of but enjoyed. (I was also bowled over by the fact that every single person in the restaurant was white; it was like being back at Milligan College.) I was also impressed that no one started any controversial political  conversation while at dinner, as is wont to happen at dinner with my family. After eating, we went to visit Kyle's dad's for an hour or two, getting back to his mom's house just in time to eat popcorn and watch "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" in preparation for Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving itself was super relaxing and really comfortable. More family came over: grandpa, stepbrother, and stepsister with their spouses and kids, as well as Kyle's brother's fiancée, so there ended up being 14 of us in total. It felt like Thanksgiving when I was a kid: rowdy, lots of conversation, kids running all over the place, and of course dishes and dishes of delicious deliciousness! My Southern sensibilities told me I should help cook or clean up, but I hardly lifted a finger. (I'm sorry, family.) And although there was no Monopoly marathon afterwards, we did play a good game of Apples to Apples over Rice Krispie Treats and chocolate pie. I also hit it off with Kyle's 7-year old niece; we played kitchen and read some Dr. Seuss.

Friday was a lazy day at Kyle's dad's: we arrived around 11:00 a.m. and stayed until almost 9:30 that night, listening to the cold rain fall outside and watching football and HGTV inside. Kyle's stepmom had decorated for Christmas, and with the fire going, the mantel decorated, and a candle burning, it felt just like it. It also helped that after dinner I wrapped up in a blanket and enjoyed some coffee and Bailey's with a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. There is so much to be grateful for!

Our last full day was Saturday. Kyle's niece and I spent the morning playing in the freezing cold Michigan weather (which I could only stand so much of) before Kyle and I took off to visit his dad one more time. Later, at my request, Kyle took me on a tour of the city he grew up in (Lapeer, MI,
population 8,884), complete with visits to his previous houses, schools, and hangouts. Around 5:00 we drove down to Novi (no-VYE, not no-VEE) to meet his friend G for dinner. Then it was back to Clarkston and time to get ready to go back to Raleigh.

I'm not sure what I expected from Thanksgving with someone else's family 800 miles from home, but it all turned out great. I guess now that I don't have to worry about visiting Michiagn anymore, I can start focusing my worries on something else . . . like what we'll be doing for Christmas!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Year Later

Remember November 10, 2014?

That day I taught a morning class at Wake Tech, came home, did some yoga, and was just settling down at my dining room table to work on lesson plans, when the apartment maintenance man came bounding up the stairs, pounding on everyone's door to evacuate, because the place was on fire?

Yeah, that day!

November 10, 2014 ranks up there with those other pivotal, life-changing dates in my existence, right up there with the day I got married (8/6/05) or the day I moved to Japan (8/1/10). It's one of those days deserving of an anniversary of its own, a day that changed the direction of my life in ways both unexpected and seemingly out of my control. Without any kind of forewarning, I suddenly found myself uprooted and relocated, feeling lost, fragile, and directionless.

After the fire, it was a roller coaster of constant displacement: one month with a family in Knightdale (God bless you all for allowing a stranger to live with you!); three months with B; three months waiting for the lease to expire; and finally to my current dwelling with K: all in under seven months! It was too much change in too little time. (Just to keep things interesting, I'll be taking out the suitcases and scrounging around for moving boxes again in May, but where I will lay my head on June 1st is of yet still a mystery. But it'll work out. Things always work out.)

I have neverending thanks for the people and organizations who helped me through that hard time after the fire last year. The donations of furniture, household goods, and money helped me get back on my feet, and the encouragement and donations of physical labor and time were blessings upon blessings. Thank you.

I still don't know if there's a cosmic life lesson to be learned here, but if there is, please let me know. Maybe it's to remind you that you don't need anything more than what you've already got. Maybe it's something else.

In any case, here we are, a year later. A year since I left (was expelled from?) 725-202 Royal Anne Lane. A year since my life felt like it was coming completely unhinged. And now look! Everything has turned out superbly. After a few disorienting months came happiness again.

Part of me wants to know where I'll be on November 10, 2016. Where will I be living? And with whom? Where will I be working? What memories will I be looking back on?

But I stop myself, take a breath. November 10, 2015 -- now, the present -- is a wonderful place to be. Let me just savor it in my hand.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sunday Afternoons

I lie on my back, the hardness of the concrete slab under me padded by my well-used yoga mat, and stare at the late afternoon sky that spreads above the line of thick evergreen trees separating my backyard from the street. For the first time in weeks, there isn't a cloud up there. My body feels pleasantly floaty with that tired-but-content after-yoga feeling. I've been in shavasana for just a few minutes, eyes open, alternating vistas between the blue sky and the green trees, but already it's almost time to get up. It's Wednesday afternoon, 5:25 p.m.

Right on cue, the timer on my phone goes off. It's a pleasant sound, tinkling like bells, but is still unwelcome. I stretch, reach over, and press the button to make it go silent. As I pull myself back into the world of the living, I wish for just a few more minutes of nothing. . .

But not now. Life now is definitely different than it was this past year, when I was only working 21 hours a week and had vast, immense stretches of free time in front of me every day. Now I'm balancing five different jobs in both hands (two elementary schools, a community college class, professional blog, and state training, though that last one is only once every few months so it's not too bad) as well as taking an online course for my teaching license. Without timers and the constant help of Siri's friendly reminders -- "Remind me to get gas for my car. Remind me to cut my fingernails. Remind me to get my food out of the refrigerator." -- things might topple over.

I know I've got it good in some ways. As a 70% employee of the public school system, I only work from 9:20-3:30 (albeit at two different schools 20 minutes apart, which leaves my only lunch option Maison du Mazda) and only until 12:20 on Fridays. My night classes are only two nights a week, teaching the same class I've taught for the past three years and feel very comfortable in.

It's just the rush that I don't like, coming home at 4:15 just to leave at 5:45 and not return until almost 10:00. Finishing every day with a list of things I wasn't able to get done. I feel sometimes that life is an endless stream of things to do, that as soon as I finish one thing it's time to start something else. Even most of the weekend is filled with preparation for the next week.

Then, enter Sunday afternoon.

Over, Saturday's frenetic household chores and errands. Done, Sunday morning's blog and classwork responsibilities. Here now, a stretch of glorious hours just for me, and me alone. It's a time for nothing, a time to rest. I have to hold these times in my pocket, so precious they are to me.

I know I'm not the only one rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off. I know I'm not the only person who stresses out about things. And I certainly hope that I'm not the only one who finds time to wind down, regroup, and rejuvenate every week. Because without these moments of calm, silence, and solitude, I wouldn't last very long at all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Better

In September 2014, I was tutoring a woman from Mexico City who was trying to improve her English. She'd been living in the U.S. for years and years, and already spoke almost perfectly, so our sessions were relatively easy. One morning she was telling me about a job she used to have at an HR firm in Mexico: to analyze potential employees' numerological signs and use that information either to bring them on or refuse employment based on the personality traits their numbers revealed. I think stuff like that is interesting (if not entirely credible), so I asked her to read my numbers, too.

She asked for the date, time, and location of my birth, and then started adding them up on paper in a triangle format I didn't understand. After a few minutes of calculations, she looked up apologetically and said, "Honey, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you are in for a bad year. See all these numbers? Everyone goes through cycles, some good and some bad, and you are in for a terrible time. Anything you start will fail, anything new will only last at most a year or two and then be gone. Of course, sometimes you can defy the universe and things work out in spite of bad numbers, but this coming year is going to be very bad for you." (See what I mean about not having to correct her English much?)

I laughed it off and told her I wasn't too worried--she'd previously told me that I was a very lucky person and that things had a tendency to work out no matter what with me--and we kept on with the lesson. I also couldn't believe that every day from January 1 through December 31 would really be all bad. And they weren't (or at least, haven't been so far). In retrospect, I actually think the universe messed up the dates a little: things started going bad for me the next month: job, fire, relationship, etc. (you've heard it all before). If numerology believes you have to go through hell and back in order to pay back some kind of karmic debt and learn life lessons, then I must be an enlightened guru by now.

But the point of this post isn't to prove or disprove what she told me. My brother says numerology is a crock because it's based on the assumption that the universe runs on a Western calendar; the bad times I had late last year and into this year are mostly just a run of bad luck, nothing more. Maybe he's right. But either way, I don't care if everything bad that happened was written in the stars or just an unhappy coincidence, because right now, things are definitely on the up and up.

I've got steady employment teaching ESL at two elementary schools and a community college (still no benefits, but that will change one day soon), am making straight A's in my Classroom Management class, and live in a fantastic townhouse with a great roommate. The summer has been full of music and art festivals, downtown escapades, weekend vacations, camping trips, baseball games, beach getaways, and time with family and friends. Sometimes things are so good I'm almost afraid to breathe for fear it will go away, but I believe without a doubt that my Bad Year is coming to a close. I'm sailing high in the knowledge that I am loved, adored, appreciated, and taken care of like never before. And I am thrilled to write that right now, everything is coming up roses . . . like these, from my garden!



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Marvelous Things

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. 
Arise, and come away!

(Song of Solomon 2:11-13a)


Friends! It’s spring! The sun is shining! The birds are singing! It's almost too hot some days, isn't it? And isn't it fantastic? After a cold, cold winter, to see the sun again. I bask. 

Things have been looking up since last time I wrote. And I've been thinking of all the marvelous things that exist. For some reason, it's easier to be chipper when it's 80 degrees and sunny than when you're locked inside your house on a chill, cloudy day in the middle of February. More than anything, I feel grateful for steady employment and for supportive friends who never let me down. Without them, life would be poor and cheerless. 

Here is a list of some other things that make me happy. 

#1: Afternoon rain. I work in the morning and at night, so I usually have a few hours between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. to enjoy the world. There are fewer things more peaceful than watching a steady afternoon rain.

#2: Morning sun. My current apartment faces north, so I only get a few hours of sunlight in the morning, which completely disappears by noon, leaving the place in darkness. But the light is lovely filtering in through the window as I’m getting ready in the morning.

#3: Green leaves (not the Japanese band, but the literal leaves on the trees): I didn’t know how much I had missed them until I saw them popping out again. There’s a tree right outside of the living room with so much foliage on it that it blocks the street. It’s a shame it can’t block the noise from the traffic as well.

#4: Books. I think I’m reading four books at once right now, and have two more waiting in the wings. I love having options for which universe to visit.

#5: Coffee. Specifically afternoon coffee and pie on a lazy weekend, but settling down to morning coffee, breakfast, and the newspaper before work is definitely a close second.

#6: The smell of honeysuckle. Can’t. Be. Beat. 

#7:  Blackberry blossoms. I am going to gather so many blackberries this summer, and make so many pies and cobblers and jams. I feel like I'm seeing so many more blossoms this year than last and am excited about picking them! 

#8: A new place to live. When my lease is up in June, I will be moving to a light and airy 3-bedroom townhouse on the other side of the city, and the next era in my life will begin!