What a Difference A Year Makes

haircut1Last year at this time I was reeling from the effects of my second chemotherapy.  Now, I’m healthy and happy and grateful for every moment.  I’ve spent the summer relaxing with my kids and various friends and family members, but also doing things that I wasn’t able to do last year.  One example is eating – fresh fruit and veggies were on my no-no list because of the risk of infection from any bacteria.  I have been eating fruit and salad like it’s going out of style. (I had a strawberry and spinach salad with sesame dressing the other day – WOW!)  I have been swimming a few times, which I never did. I also went white water rafting and zip lining in Harper’s Ferry West Virginia with some amazing friends.  The entire time I kept pinching myself – I was just so grateful for the air onhaircut2 my face and being outside and using my body to enjoy myself.  It might sound hokey to you, but I have been focused on appreciating every moment I have.

Today I went to see Nancy Emamian at Images Salon in Chevy Chase, MD.  You might remember that about a year ago, she shaved my head as my hair started to fall out and she made it as lovely and gentle of an experience as possible.  Today I needed a haircut.  We both said a little prayer of thanksgiving as she trimmed my growing mop. She is such a warm and loving person – and a wonderful stylist to boot!  I am thankful to be under her care. Here’s how the hair looks now. Still curly!

What a life!  Enjoy your summer, wherever you are.

Lunch in the Sky

ph6Today my little lunch bunch ate at Kozue, the Japanese restaurant at the top of the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku.  It was a magnificent experience! The entire wall is windows looking out onto the city.  It wasn’t clear enough to see Fuji-san, but from our perch on the 40th floor, we could see straight through to Yokohama to the north.ph1

If the view wasn’t enough, the food was exquisite.  Served by beautiful young women in stunning kimono, the black lacquer bento box practically told a story in its intricate design and contents. The first course was a bit of egg tofu in a soy milk sauce, and a clear miso soup with a dumpling made of flounder, along with a taste of burdock and ginger in it. And then came the big, two-story box.  On the top there was katzuo (bonito) sashimi, and other small delicacies including a tiny squid, a shrimp head, a bit of egg rolled with cheese and a miniscule mound of sauteed spinach.  The bottom layer held some grilled mackerel, simmered vegetables and two small dumplings of shrimp and corn.  We paired it with a decadent glass of

The contents of the bento - both levels.

The contents of the bento – both levels.

Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France.

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I've ever tasted!

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I’ve ever tasted!

After we lingered over lunch itself, we repaired to the lounge on the forty-first floor where we had coffee and

dessert.  I chose a mango tart, but one friend had chiffon cake and the other had strawberry ice cream and

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

raspberry sherbet served in a large martini glass.  In the lounge, which had floor-to-ceiling windows, we were able to see more around the building to various other sites of the city, including all the way toward the Imperial Palace.

It was truly an unbelievable afternoon and I am privileged to have shared it with good friends. This was a celebratory lunch for our last meeting since one member is

Shrimp and corn dumpling

Shrimp and corn dumpling

repatriating shortly.  But if I know us, it’s just for now. As expats know, it’s never goodbye for good – it’s just for now – more of a see you later.  And it’s said with all the love we can muster.

Kidnapped by Terrorists – Are Not All Men Created Equal?

In August of 2011 my husband’s family member, Warren Weinstein, was kidnapped from the supposedly secure compound where he was working in Pakistan. Warren has a Ph.D. in international law and economics from Columbia University and is an international development expert with 25 years of experience. He is a linguist and a Rhodes Scholar who has dedicated his life to the service of those less fortunate than he.

The release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl but not Warren has dismayed family members as noted by the New York Times article, which quotes Elaine Weinstein, Warren’s wife, as wondering why the U.S. government is willing to negotiate with terrorists for some prisoners but not others. Acting as spokesperson, Warren’s daughter spoken with CNN and appeared with Anderson Cooper; various other media outlets have taken up the story.

As my husband, Marc, has noted repeatedly, at a time in his life when most people are thinking about retirement, Warren, who will be 73 years old shortly, was working to make people’s lives better in Asia and Africa.

Please share this story with everyone you know.

Egg-cellent Japanese Device for Egg Eaters

egg1This morning my friends and I had breakfast together at a new restaurant in Roppongi Hills called “Eggcellent“.  They specialize, not surprisingly, in egg dishes.  They had eggs fried, scrambled, over easy, etc.  Their real specialty is different types of eggs benedict, which you could order with rincon (lotus root) or crab or a myriad of other ways.  On weekday mornings they have  two breakfast specials also – one with pancakes and over-easy eggs, and the one I had, with bacon and a poached egg. egg2

The plate with the over-easy eggs and pancakes came with the tiniest little server of syrup that you’ve ever seen! It was adorable and perfect for a doll’s house milk jug.

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The opened egg

My plate with the poached egg came with a side of what looked like a small bell with a long, metal stick in it.  We realized that it was meant to open the egg neatly.  Watch the video to see what happens!

It was such an easy way to open and eat the poached egg – no mess whatsoever!  Leave it to the Japanese to figure out that one.  The whole breakfast was yummy though.  The coffee was rich and the egg itself was cooked to perfection.  Being an American, I prefer crispy bacon, but that’s a rare find in Tokyo.  And I’m not exactly a fan of salad at breakfast, but it was still good.  The English muffin and

homemade blueberry jam were just amazing, sweet with just the right amount of tart.  Not only was the coffee perfectly brewed, but the cup was bottomless, another rare find in Tokyo.  My friend tells me that there is often a line out the door for this restaurant on weekends, so if you can, try for a weekday – it opens pretty early.  I’d highly recommend it.  And be sure to order a poached egg for the fun of opening it!

akihabara2

Art and Artisans in Akihabara

akihabara1In an area of Tokyo mostly known for its electronics, it was a real treat to find 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan, a large warehouse-type structure located under the tracks near Akihabara and full of shop after shop of beautiful works of art.  My friend Jill and I set out to find it on a rainy Tuesday and the whole day turned out to be a treat for the senses.

The concept itself is from the JR East Company and according to CNN, the name comes from the 2.54km it takes to get to Tokyo Station and it’s location between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations.  Jill and I took the Yamanote line to get there, but we realized that the walk to get there from the Akihabara station on the Hibiya Line can be much simpler depending on where you start, so that’s how we got home.

As we walked toward the art center from the station, we ran into a fantastic shop calakihabara5led Chabara that seems to have every Japanese food curiosity in the country.  It even has a sake tasting table and all different types of sauces and tsukemono, pickles.  Of course what fascinated us was the tasting bar for the flavored nut snacks – they came in 20 different flavors, from honey to wasabi to cherry and we tried many of them.

Unfortunately you can’t take pictures along most of the lane of 2k540, but the entire lane is lined akihabara3with storefronts of every type of Japanese are imaginable.  There are several shops of ceramics, many of hand-dyed cloth, and quite a number of shops showing jewelry all hand made.  My favorite place was the umbrella shop.  The entire shop was full of handmade umbrellas in every color of the rainbow.  I have a few special occasions coming up and I found one shop that specializes in wedding gifts – personalized, of course.

There were only two small cafes in the entire place, which is almost as long as an American football field, and we did not eat in them.  But rest assured, they looked funky and interesting.  On our random Tuesday, the place was mostly empty, but I imagine it would be quite busy on the weekend.

2k540 Aki Oka Artisan is an oasis of calm and beauty in the midst of the craziness that is Akihabara. If you need any type of gift, I’d highly recommend a trip.

How Did Cinderella Get Into Her Stepmother’s House in the First Place?

princess bookHow did Cinderella get into her stepmother’s house in the first place? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then this book is for you. The Witch and the Baby Princess by David Rich is a fun, action packed explanation of Cinderella’s background along with the events that led up to the whole stepmother scenario.

More than just a prequel, however, this book is meant as a story for kids and parents to share. The author, an avid reader, active storyteller and involved father, didn’t want to just hand his daughters a book – he wanted to create something he could share with them and that they could read together, which is exactly what he has done.

This book does not have a big, glossy cover or thousands of pictures with a few words on each page. This is a full-on, meaty story. Oh, it has a bunch of really adorable illustrations, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the story itself. It is meant for a parent and a child to sit down and read together. There are words in it that a child under twelve is not going to understand. There are concepts such as the shades of grey between good and evil, which parents should be excited to discuss with their children. The book is rife with big, tough topics such as friendship, love, beauty, goodness, envy, and expectations that are designed to spark good talks between children and the adults who love them.

What Rich has done is created a springboard for parents so that topics that can be hard to broach for adults and harder for kids to understand, become gentle and accessible for both parties.

The story itself is quaint, sweet, and lovingly told. In a land far away, a baby is born to a great witch, but the queen of the fairies does not want the baby to be evil and instills in the young girl a conscience and a particle of free will. What the child grows up to do and become, and how she uses her gifts in the context of her parents’ expectations of her becoming an evil witch, is the crux of the story. It’s easy to see how the idea of parental expectation is juxtaposed against the personality of the child – good lessons for parents and children alike. The characters are drawn with great care and attention to detail. At any moment I could “see” each person and the location as well due to the strong and exhaustive descriptions that only add, not detract, from the plot itself. Emotion is tended to with care and the plot moves along with a mix of action and feelings.

In a world where the bonds between children and their parents have become increasingly fractured, kudos to David Rich for creating a lovely story, as well as something to serve as a binder of families.

Guest Post: Life Advice for my Kids

booksI’ve known my friend David Sample for more years than I’d care to count, (think: attended my wedding; suffered through my first attempts at cooking and is still friends with me…) and since the beginning, I was sure be would be a fantastic father. Time has proven me right.  Not only does he do the standard stuff with his three kids, like build Pinewood Derby cars and act as timer for a swim meet, he is also very thoughtful about his parenting. Here is his list of 60 items he’d like to tell his kids, and perhaps you’d like to share with yours:

Life advice for my kids, by David Sample

1. Live close to work if you can, even if you need to have a much smaller house/apartment.
2. If you spend your life comparing yourself to other people you will always be unhappy. There is always someone that is smarter, better looking, richer, etc…
3. Don’t wear loafers with a suit.
4. Learn how to dance.
5. If you meet someone with a funny name, don’t make a joke about it. The person has already heard them all.
6. Try not to get mad at asshole drivers. It isn’t worth the energy.
7. Openly acknowledge awkward moments. It makes them a little less awkward. (Dan Savage)
8. Don’t gossip. At some point, it will come back to bite you.
9. When you go on a date, turn off your phone and put it away.
10. The human tendency is for expenditures to rise to meet income (and often exceed it). Plan with this in mind. (corollary of Murphy’s Law)
11. A properly knotted tie has a dimple where the tie comes out of the knot.
12. Take a driving class.
13. If you are physically attractive, remember to be a solid chocolate bunny: attractive on the outside and the inside. Hollow chocolate bunnies are lame. (Felicia Day)
14. Unless you enjoy the arguing, don’t talk politics. You aren’t going to change their mind, and they aren’t going to change yours.
15. “If it sounds good, it IS good.” – Duke Ellington. Listen to the music that you like and don’t worry about what other people think is cool or lame.
16. Just because someone asks you a question, does not mean that you have to answer it.
17. When driving, leave the other guy a way out, and try to use the two-second rule.
18. A tattoo does not make you unique.
19. Just because something is currently “in style” does not mean that it looks good on you.
20. Learn how to tell a funny story if you can.
21. Pride commeth before the fall. Stay humble. (Bible)
22. Take the time to carefully proofread before you turn in your work.
23. When you are planning your wedding, if you can, allow parents to bring their kids, allow single people to bring a guest, and have an open bar. People are more important than decorations (but not more important than the dress).
24. If you need to precede what you are saying with “no offense,” you probably shouldn’t say it.
25. Create new family traditions and continue the old ones that you like.
26. Don’t let yourself be “friend-zoned.” Express your desires early. If the response isn’t the one you want, move on.
27. Weddings are about the bride. The groom is a prop.
28. Choose a career in which you can find ethical expression.
29. Remember to honestly compliment people when you can. We hear about our faults too often.
30. Call your parents.
31. There is no such thing as “f” buddies. One of the people always wants more.
32. If you don’t know where to start, talk to someone who knows about it. If you don’t know anyone, there is probably a good book about it.
33. Don’t ask someone out via text message. Do it over the phone or in person. Always break up in person.
34. Hard work is almost always rewarded.
35. A vehicle is a tool, not a fashion statement. Spend accordingly.
36. If you are a “spender,” marry a “saver,” and let the “saver” handle the money.
37. If you are a “saver” and your spouse is a “spender,” put your spouse on an allowance.
38. A task will expand to fit the time allotted for it. Plan accordingly. (A corollary of Murphy’s Law)
39. Couples fight most often about money or sex. Keep this in mind when you are selecting a spouse.
40. Keep secrets.
41. Before you judge someone, remember that each of us thinks that anyone that drives faster than us is crazy and anyone that drives slower than us is an idiot. We can’t all be right. (George Carlin)
42. For men: when buying dress socks, buy the ones that come up to your knees. We don’t need to see your hairy shins when you sit down.
43. Start reading to your kids early, and don’t stop.
44. Floss daily.
45. Most women I know don’t mind receiving flowers, having the door opened for them, and having the man pay for dinner (notwithstanding our advances in feminism).
46. If you find yourself saying “those people,” “them” or “they” in reference to a particular group, the next thing out of your mouth will probably be bigoted.
47. Before you go out on a date, spend some time thinking about things to talk about.
48. In my opinion, a man needs no more jewelry for day to day living than a nice watch, and a wedding ring (if appropriate). For dress-up, add cuff-links – that’s it.
49. Don’t have sex until you can maturely and honestly talk to your partner about STD’s and birth control and you can buy condoms without blushing. (Salt-n-Peppa)
50. Wrap it up every time.
51. Puns get a bad rap. A good one will make most people laugh or at least smile and groan.
52. Bust your ass your freshman year of college learning how to be a good student. There will be plenty of time later to goof off.
53. When you ask someone out on a date, ask them out for a specific day and time and to do a specific thing. If the response is “I am busy,” ask again. If you get three I-am-busies, stop asking.
54. You will regret failing to try more than you will regret trying and failing.
55. Comb-overs are lame. Embrace your baldness.
56. In a marriage, apologize early and often.
57. Remember that the news is selling something, and that death and blood sell. The state of the world is not as bad as they say it is.
58. Date someone at least two years before marrying them – it’s a dopamine thing.
59. Remember that correlation does not equal causation.
60. Opinions (like everything in this list) are like assholes – everyone has one, and most of them stink. So, don’t get too worked up when someone expresses an opinion that you disagree with.