twenty-seventeen

In twenty-seventeen, I:  Taught English for one semester at a university in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Traipsed around Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic with my ever-patient husband. Took a solo road trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Listened to country music in Nashville, Tennessee. Read 26 books out of my goal of 40, the best being Burial Rites, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The House at the Edge of Night, Truth & Beauty & The Ginger Tree. Lost 10 pounds while in Japan, and gained them right back when I returned to the U.S. Attended several online seminars about visioning and business planning and mulled over my idea for a travel/writing-related business.  Worked in earnest on my memoir.

From January to March, I: Visited Harper’s Ferry and learned about John Brown.  Dove into teaching English at Virginia International University for a seven-week session.  Enjoyed a long-overdue dinner with classmates from my Master’s program at George Mason University. Enjoyed La La Land and Hidden Figures. Took a course on Creating Complex Characters at the Writer’s Center. Visited my children in Richmond, stopping at Lewis Ginter for a brief glimpse of spring before taking off to teach English to second-year university students in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Moved into a rabbit-hut apartment near Fuchinobe Station.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

In April, I:  Was carried by a tidal wave of crowds through Ueno Park during hanami, the “watching blossoms” season Encountered a geisha while listening to “Kabuto Music and Manners” at the Toki-no-kane bell.  Was gently nudged not to cross my legs at a Buddhist temple while sitting under pink sakura.  Watched Japanese university students playing a boisterous oversized card game. Wandered through raindrop-covered blossoms at Shinjuku Gyeon.  Broke an umbrella in the wind while walking around Shinjuku’s skyscrapers.  Presented a “shock lecture” about genetics and Mendel’s pea plants to jolt my Japanese students out of complacency in their Applied Skills course. Visited a yakitori grill surrounded by Hello Kitty paraphernalia and unopened packages of vintage stamped postcards and miniature toys.  Learned to take my shoes off and put a hood over my head before trying on clothes in Japanese dressing rooms. Visited the colorful and lively Kantei-byo in Chinatown during a 10-mile walk through Yokohama.  Admired peonies at the Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship and marveled at Yokohama’s skyline with its iconic Ferris wheel, sail-shaped Yokohama Grand Intercontinental, and Landmark Tower. Wandered among peonies shaded by parasols at Genji-ike in Kamakura. Watched faithful Japanese worshipers cleanse themselves, bow, clap their hands, ring bells, make offerings and pray at Kamakura’s temples and shrines. Admired age-old royal buildings at the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens and enjoyed lunch and wine at the Hibiya Beer Garden.  Discovered temizuya, ema, teahouses, Japanese gardens, dragon-painted ceilings, carp flags, Chinese gates, and tales of shoguns while taking endless rambles from my trusty book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City.  (catbird in japan)

In May, I:  Fell in love with artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy on Meiji Shrine’s sake barrels during Japan’s Golden Week. Slid like a fly in slow-moving honey with crowds down Takeshita-dori, a fashion haven for teenage girls. Ate vegetarian and fish tacos at Guzman y Gomez in Harajuku, downtown Tokyo.  Surreptitiously snapped photos of a young Japanese couple in Yokohama’s Sankei-en while they posed for their photographer. Was charmed by iconic umbrellas on a bridge leading to Nakano-shimo Island.  Wandered around sixteen historic buildings from central Japan at Sankei-en, or Three Glens Garden. Enjoyed quilts with kimono, cranes, and cascading blossoms at Funiko Endo’s quilt exhibit at Tomyo-ji Main Hall.  Fondly remembered China as I visited Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden. Climbed Mt. Takao with hordes of people during Golden week, and soaked in an outdoor onsen afterward.  Followed the cues of the Japanese and visited gardens during special bloom times – a wisteria festival at Kameido Tenjin and rabbit-ear irises at the Nezu Museum.  Wandered around the Imperial Palace East Garden on a gloomy day.  Smelled fragrant roses, visited a folk house museum, & pondered over strange sculptures in Kawasaki on a steamy day.  Visited Odawara Castle, followed by a weekend in Hakone, where I traipsed through an outdoor sculpture garden, a moss garden, quirky Rakan statues, a botanical garden, and a torii gate in Ashi Lake.

In June, I:  Enjoyed numerous happy hours outside the Family Mart near campus with my friends Graham and Paul. Spent a weekend exploring the Mt. Fuji area near Kawaguchiko. Climbed the rock-island of Enoshima and then went to Hasedera in search of elusive hydrangeas.  Missed the Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera twice.  Mingled among Japanese folks wearing yukata at Tokyo’s oldest shrine, Senso-ji. Got hooked on The Good Wife on Netflix.  Joined hordes of people at Meigetsu-in during the peak of hydrangeas.  Hiked the 3km Daibutsu Course from Kita-Kamakura to the Great Buddha.  Finally encountered the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Explored the shopping area, temples and cemetery of Yanaka. Ate eggplant and barracuda as a regular customer at Kiyariya, a Japanese fish restaurant run by Kenji, an excellent chef. Listened to Paul McCartney and John Lennon sing “Imagine” and “Listen to What the Man Said” at Curry Naan while eating vegetable curry & huge pan-shaped naan.

In July, I:  Wandered through the delightful streets of Kagurazaka.  Had my senses assaulted at Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo.  Finally managed to do the famous Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera on the third try. Sweltered as I slogged through Kawagoe, an Edo-era town. Enjoyed vegetable curry and beer in the cool dark atmosphere of Curry Naan while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.” Got eaten alive by mosquitoes at the gardens of Rikugi-en and Koishikawa Korakuen, which are probably beautiful in spring and fall but were mediocre in the heat of summer. Explored the charming Tokyo neighborhoods of Shimo-kitazawa & Harmonica Yokocyo.  Enjoyed Hiroshi Yoshida’s fabulous paintings at the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art and explored Omoide Yokocho and Kabukichō in Shinjuku with my Instagram friend Yukie. Enjoyed my first Okonomiyaki with Yukie and then was nearly flattened by a lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai. Escaped the heat by going to a contemporary Southeast Asian art exhibit at the Mori Art Museum, and then stood atop the building for encompassing views of Tokyo. Enjoyed beer and fish & chips with my friend Graham at the Aldgate British Pub in Shibuya. Fell in love with the Japanese postal system, which makes appointments to deliver or pick up packages.  Felt dwarfed by tall bamboo at Hokokuji (the Bamboo Temple) in Kamakura after visiting the huge Guanyin Bodhisattva at Ofuna. Hiked around Yamate Bluff in Yokohama. Celebrated with my students during end-of-semester parties. Got soaked in continuous rainfall during a long weekend in Nikko.  Enjoyed a monk’s diet of yuba prepared in multiple ways. Took a muddy rainy day walk through Aihara with Graham.  Laughed and made toasts over wine and tapas at Vinul’s, near Ueno, with Graham and Paul after our end-of-year meetings. Encountered abundant lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond. Enjoyed a celebratory dinner with Tobi and Reiko at Dai Trattoria. Packed my suitcases and sent them to the airport to be held for a week while I traveled around Japan.

In August, I:  Handed over my blue bicycle to Graham and my apartment to Westgate and took my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Watched an aerial view simulation of the A-bomb that exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Cried when I saw the before and after pictures of Hiroshima. Marveled at thousands of folded paper cranes, symbols of world peace, at the Children’s Peace Monument.  Saw the A-bomb dome, surprisingly left somewhat intact after the bomb exploded overhead, although everyone inside was killed. Sweltered while walking around Miyajima and wading around the “floating” O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  Ate grilled oysters in Miyajima and Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, washed down with a cold beer.  Stood in awe of the Great Buddha of Nara at Todai-ji Temple. Befriended Nara’s cheeky deer.  Ate kaki-no-ha, individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, in Nara. Stood under lanterns on the verandah at Nigatsu-do and admired the city of Nara from above. Ate a vegetarian meal at a shukubo (temple lodging) in Koyasan. Prayed with monks at a beautiful pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony at Kongo Sanmaiin. Got a big hug from a friendly monk at a pagoda in Koyasan after pulling on a chain of beads where I got the fortune: “Great blessing.”  Walked among 200,000 tombs for people of all classes in the shade of soaring cedars at Okunoin. Admired the design and sheer number of rocks in the rock garden at Kongobuji. Left in a rush from the second temple lodging, Kumagai-ji, in Koyasan, when we were alerted while eating our vegetarian dinner that a typhoon was coming and the cable car might not be running the next day to take us down the mountain.  Stayed in a ryokan across from the delightful Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita.  Returned home to find a despicable Nazi Supremacist gathering in my home state, in Charlottesville, VA, where a girl was killed, and then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Found my son Adam had boomeranged back home after his year in Hawaii.  Took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock after 4+ months in Japan. Enjoyed The Glass Castle, The Big Sick, and Wind River after four months of not watching any movies at the cinema in Japan.

In September, I: Walked all around the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Washington. Visited the Pentagon Memorial for the first time ever in remembrance of September 11, 2001.  Enjoyed Ethiopian injera and lentils in Herndon. Finally got my two boxes from Japan after 60 days. Flew Lufthansa in miserably uncomfortable economy class aisle seats for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt, then on to Budapest. Got hooked on Big Little Lies while on the flight. Stayed in an Airbnb apartment on Kazinczy utca, the ruin bar street. Climbed 146 steps up the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica for 360-degree views of Budapest. Watched men playing chess in the Szechenyi Baths as we soaked in water not quite warm enough for the cold temperatures outside.  Took a hydrofoil up the Danube to Ezstergom and climbed up a narrow spiral staircase for views of the Danube and the town.  Climbed an endless mountain to Visegrad Citadel. Admired beautiful paintings on the interior and Zsolnay ceramic tiles on the roof of Matthias Church.  Scampered all around Fishermen’s Bastion. Visited the Great Synagogue and the Great Market Hall, and came away with a few goodies. Listened to a mini-opera at the Hungarian State Opera House. Had beers in the crazy ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. Climbed the Firewatch Tower and wandered among Roman ruins in Sopron, Hungary and enjoyed a fabulous meal (chicken paprika with homemade gnocchi!) with five wine tastings at the husband-and-wife run Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem. Took the Ringstrasse Tram tour in Vienna, Austria.  Fell in love with the zig-zag roof tiles and the Gothic south tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Trekked out to see Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building designed to celebrate “forms of decay” in architecture.  Felt overwhelmed by the oppulent Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Palace.  Sampled peppers stuffed with cheese at the Naschmarkt. Wandered all around the elegant Belvedere Palace.  Sampled a huge variety of wines on a bicycle tour of wineries in the Wachau Valley (in search of a thousand cafes).

 

In October, I: Mingled with thousands of Chinese tourists in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Climbed the Český Krumlov Tower for views of the charming town and countryside. Walked all over the quaint town and climbed a small mountain for not much of a view.  Studied colorful graffiti on the Lennon Wall in Prague. Climbed the bell tower of the Church of St. Nicholas and Petrin Tower, where we enjoyed marvelous views of Prague. Admired the beautiful ceilings of the Strahov Monastery Library. Met St. Bearded Woman, the patron saint of unhappy marriages, at the Loreta. Admired a Mucha stained glass window at St. Vitus Cathedral.  Ate an outrageously expensive meal at the Golden Well in Prague (my sea bass was sadly mediocre), with fabulous views over the city and the Vltava River.  Was tempted to tango with the Dancing House, dubbed the “Fred and Ginger Building.” Passed the time with Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock. Found Gothic and Czech Art Nouveau architecture at Powder Tower and the Municipal House. Took a boat ride under the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River. Met my son’s girlfriend, Maddy, who he brought back with him from Australia. Celebrated my 62nd birthday for a week in late October. Enjoyed the play Native Gardens at Arena Stage, about our current antagonistic political environment.   Met my little nephew, Elliott, and my sister in Baltimore.  Encountered moss, ferns and bits of yellow on the Hawksbill Summit Hike in the Shenandoah Mountains.

In November & December, I: Voted for “alterations” in our current government.  Visited my father in Yorktown and my daughter in Richmond. Celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant. Met my friend from California, Leah, for bottomless mimosas at Pearl Dive Oyster Bar. Enjoyed the musical, The Pajama Game, at Arena Stage.  Enjoyed Lucky, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Victoria & Abdul, and Lady Bird in the cinema. Stressed out over my son’s problems, and began the process of learning to let go through Al-Anon Family Groups. Escaped for some alone time on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey, where an icy wind assaulted the windows of The Pink Cottage, howling and groaning all day and night.

After Christmas, from December 27-31, Mike and I took a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It took about 10 hours to drive there, so two days were spent on the road and 3 days in Nashville.

Overall, we survived our first year of the Trump Presidency, and I had a great time on all my adventures.  My biggest hope for 2018 is that my children will finally grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

Happy New Year, and may all your wishes be fulfilled in 2018! 🙂

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the august cocktail hour: return from japan to a parallel universe

Thursday, August 31:  Cheers and welcome to our August happy hour! Come right in to our screened-in porch, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I can offer you wine or beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Luckily the weather since I returned from Japan on August 8 hasn’t been bad.  The first week it was quite hot and humid, not much different from what I experienced in Japan.  But on Wednesday, the 23rd, the weather improved and dropped to temperatures of my liking, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C). This is perfect weather; my mood lifts considerably when I can feel a hint of fall in the air. 🙂

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How have you been since I’ve been gone?  What kind of music are you listening to?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?  Have you gone on a holiday or had a stay-cation?

Many of you haven’t followed my trip to Japan, so maybe you don’t know that I spent the last 4 months (1 semester) teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University – Sagamihara campus with Westgate Corporation.  I taught 2nd year university students majoring in Global Studies and Collaboration who were preparing for a study abroad in Thailand or Malaysia.  I worked 9-hour days five days a week, and every weekend I went out exploring.  I believe I had about two days of rest the whole time I was there!  If you like, you can check out my time in Japan here: catbird in japan.  I still haven’t finished writing about my time there, but more posts will follow, slowly, slowly….

Upon my return, I also found my son Adam has boomeranged back home from Hawaii and has settled into our basement.  One of our agreements since he returned home is that he will hold a job, which he has done so far.  He’s been working hard, so hard in fact that he ended up with some kind of flu over the last week.  He seems to be doing well overall, and I’m happy to have him stay temporarily as long as he’s working.  He has been saving money to take a trip to Australia to see his Australian girlfriend Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He’ll be gone for nearly a month beginning September 20. On my second night back from Japan, he and I enjoyed a nice dinner together at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar.

the seafood bar at Whole Foods

Things have felt strange since I returned. I feel that I’ve returned to a parallel universe, and one not much to my liking.  The very weekend after my return, I watched on TV a despicable white supremacy march in Charlottesville, about two hours from where I live in northern Virginia; in shock, I then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Granted, there should be no violence in protests, but the white supremacists marching openly with weapons in one of the most peaceful college towns in our state was a frightening display and one that almost begs violence from counter-protestors.  I am disheartened by what our country is coming to, and it is hard to be back after being in a culture where people greet each other with respect and bow to each other in nearly every interaction!

I didn’t watch any movies the whole time I was in Japan (I didn’t even know where any movie theaters were, except in downtown Tokyo).  In an effort to catch up, I have gone to several movies since I returned: The Big Sick and The Glass Castle, both of which I enjoyed. While I was in Japan, I watched three full seasons of The Good Wife, which I was totally hooked on.

The first weekend I was home, I took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock.  In Japan, nighttime was daytime here, and daytime was nighttime here, so no wonder my body is confused.  I haven’t gotten much of anything done. As a matter of fact, I feel somewhat paralyzed with indecision.  I never had a spare minute in Japan, and now I seem to have too much time on my hands.  I don’t know how to focus my attention with so much time.  I think it will take me a while to become acclimated to this parallel universe.

On Wednesday morning, August 16, I found out my daughter Sarah had taken a fall the evening before while running on a muddy path in the woods.  She cut her knee wide open. She didn’t have her phone with her and had to walk with an open gaping wound until she found someone.  Using a stranger’s phone, she called for an ambulance and was admitted to the emergency room where she had to have 25 stitches across her knee. She’s been immobilized ever since, as the cut was so deep it still hasn’t healed.  As a waitress/bartender, she’s losing valuable work time; I plan to visit her soon, but she’s been putting me off until she feels a little better. I’ve been constantly worried about her, as a mother’s work as chief worrier is never over.

Adam has been taking a course about podcasts and posted his first podcast on the same day I heard about Sarah, so there was a bit of good news as he’s wanted to do this for some time.

On August 19, after I started to feel more like a human being, Mike and I went out to see the movie Wind River, which I enjoyed, and had dinner at Coyote Grill, where I had my favorite chili rellenos.

me at Coyote Grill
chili rellenos at Coyote Grill

On Monday, August 21, I went at 2:00 to Kalypso’s at Lake Anne to watch the partial solar eclipse at 2:40 pm.  It was a festive atmosphere, with people enjoying the beautiful day outdoors, drinking wine, wearing the funny eclipse glasses.  I had seen a total eclipse in 1970 in southern Virginia, so I didn’t feel the need to travel a long distance to see the total eclipse, but Adam drove 10 hours to Tennessee, where he loved seeing a total eclipse for the first time in his life.

Mike and I are planning a holiday from September 22-October 7 to Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and Prague.  We spent many days this month plotting out our trip and making all our reservations.  I can’t wait to go!  In preparation, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic.

To get in the mindset for Prague I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  I loved it! Here’s my short review from Goodreads: I really enjoyed this book that takes place in Prague before and during the Russian occupation. Besides being a love story, it also ties in the political realities of living under an oppressive occupying regime. Tomas, a successful surgeon at the beginning of the occupation, meets and falls in love with Tereza, who is like a child brought to him by a series of odd circumstances. Despite his love for Tereza, Tomas cannot stop his incorrigible womanizing; neither does he want to stop. In a parallel story, Tomas’s mistress Sabina and her other lover, Franz, a professor with noble ideals, try to work out their own love affair, a mere shadow and weak immitation of her affair with Tomas.

I love how the author wanes philosophical at times without abandoning the story of these characters and their backgrounds, histories that they can never excise and that influence them every day of their lives.

Upon my return from Japan, I found out when I weighed myself for the first time in four months, that I lost 8 pounds while in Japan.  I guess it was a combination of the healthy diet there and all the walking I did. 🙂

My walks while home have been sporadic, and I’m rarely hitting 10,000 steps a day.  In Japan, I met my goal of 10,000 steps every day just by walking 30 minutes each way to work and being on my feet teaching.  On weekends, I often walked 10-20,000 steps.  Needless to say, the pounds have started creeping back on since I’m not exercising as much here.  It’s frustrating because I get bored walking around in circles in the same old places without any destination.  My heart just isn’t into walking, but I will have to get back to my regular exercise routine soon.  Below is a picture of part of a walk around Lake Anne in Reston on August 28.

walk around Lake Anne

Last Monday, after Adam had been working non-stop for days, he came down with a stomach flu and has been sleeping in the basement trying to recover.  He’s been working so hard trying to save money for his trip to Australia, that he’s overdone it and is now paying the price.

Alex came up from Richmond to visit and spent two days here. It was so nice to see him after my time in Japan.  He, his dog Freya, and I took a walk on the Fairfax Cross County Trail on Wednesday, August 30.  As we were walking, I felt a sting on my right wrist and looked down to see something small and black on my wrist. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell what it was, but I don’t think it looked like a bee.  I thought it might be a spider.  Anyway, the second I felt the sting, I knocked the creature away with my left hand, and immediately felt a sting on my left middle finger.  Whatever it was, it got me in two places, on both hands, and they hurt like hell!   I watched as the sting areas reddened and spread into a hard and hot raised area up over my hand and around my wrist.  The next day, I went to see the doctor, who advised me to take Benadryl and gave me an antibiotic.

a walk with Alex on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Fairfax Cross County Trail
Alex, master of calisthenics
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail

It’s been a rough time coming back into this parallel universe, but overall I’m glad to be home with my family, even though we seem to all be falling apart due to nasty falls, stomach bugs, and spider bites.

Please let me know how you’re doing, and what exciting, or even quiet, things you’ve been up to.  I need to get back into a routine where I start following people again on their blogs more regularly; I hope to keep in touch more now that I have plenty of time on my hands. 🙂

“she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take”

Saturday, March 4:  The last eight weeks have been a whirlwind.  Between teaching two intensive ESL courses at Virginia International University (VIU) and at the same time going through a rigorous application process for an EFL job in Japan, I’ve hardly had a moment to breathe.  I also had a Skype interview with the English Language Fellow Program, after which I was accepted into the applicant pool.  On top of that, I faithfully attended a writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks (although I didn’t get much writing done).

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any job prospects and had a year of great possibility stretching out before me. I had ambitious plans to: write my memoir; take writing workshops; get my novel published; look into starting a business organizing creative travel retreats; travel to Croatia, Budapest and Prague; and walk the Camino de Santiago.

Then, my plans were waylaid.  Out of the blue, VIU called me in for an interview, despite the fact I had applied in August of 2016, only to be rejected by them at that time. I accepted the job and committed to their short 7-week session.  Every time I teach as an adjunct in the USA, I become determined not to do it again because of the amount of work vs. the low pay, coupled with no travel opportunities. Teaching at VIU was great, as far as the students and my colleagues, but the amount of work I spent outside of class was ridiculous.  A couple of weeks into the job, I applied for a job in Japan.

Now it seems I’m embarking on a major detour.

This morning, my husband made me laugh so hard I was almost in tears.  He said, speaking in third person as if I weren’t right there with him, “my wife – she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take!”

He knows me all too well.

The simple truth is this: I don’t know when to stop.

This aspect of my personality cannot be denied, and it permeates every part of my life.  For example, during the recruitment process with Japan, the recruiter interviewed me on Skype on a Wednesday in mid-February for 1 1/2 hours.  I thought that would be the end of it, but at the end of the interview, he said he thought I might be a good fit for a particular program.  In order to be considered for it, I needed to prepare two 45-minute lesson plans as soon as possible.  Those were dreaded words, because, perfectionist that I am, I knew that I would spend hours and hours on those two lesson plans.  By gosh, I already had tons of work to do in my classes at VIU.

At the end of the Skype interview, I said to the recruiter, “Could you please let me know if I will no longer be considered for the job before the weekend?  Because I already know I will spend hours on these lesson plans and I’d rather not prepare them if you’ve already decided against me.”

He said, “No, sorry, it’s impossible to let you know that before this weekend.”

This meant that I had to complete the plans on the upcoming weekend.  In the end, I spent literally 6 hours preparing two 45-minute lesson plans!

Call me crazy?  Sure, if you like. It’s probably true.

The same thing happened when it came time to prepare the final exams for my two classes.  Several teachers gave me old exams to use, but as I studied them, I realized I hadn’t taught certain things that were on their exams, and their exams didn’t cover certain things I had emphasized.  Thus I spent the entire last weekend in February recreating the final exams for both classes.

On Monday morning, I went into my Reading & Writing class and said to my students, “I’m exhausted!  I just spent all weekend making up your final exam.”

One of my Nigerian students who has quite a sense of humor got a panicked look on his face.  He dramatically put his face into this hands and said, “Oh no, teacher!  If it took you all weekend to prepare the exam, it will take us four hours to take it!”  Everyone in the class burst out laughing.

The exam went almost as he predicted.  It was way too ambitious.  Though the class is only 2 hours and 20 minutes long, meaning the exam should have taken no longer than that, some students were taking the exam for a full 3 hours.

Ouch!  I felt so bad for my poor students.  Stoic as always, they soldiered through and did pretty well anyway.  I had to be a little lenient in grading some of the more time-consuming aspects of the exam, but we managed to survive unscathed.

How do you stop a person who doesn’t know when to stop?

When I got the job offer to teach in Japan, at a university somewhere in Kanagawa Prefecture (the exact location has yet to be revealed), I had to acknowledge that I read the 29-page handbook that tells about the 9-hour workdays, possible 30-90 minute commutes on crowded trains, the high expectations, the dress code (including the requirement of wearing pantyhose – ugh!), and numerous stringent rules and regulations about working in Japan.  After signing the contract and reading the handbook, I said to Mike, “What am I getting myself into?”

Mike says, and I’m sure his prediction will be right, that when I get to Japan, I’ll be saying “Oh my gosh!  What have I gotten myself into?”

I had to send a professional photo to their specifications.  Here’s the best I could do!

me in
me in “professional attire”

My husband continued with his “roast” of me this morning.  “My wife is the only person I know who puts 20 things on a to-do list each day and doesn’t even consider the possibility that it will take 40 hours to do the things on the list.  And then when the day is over, rather than congratulating herself on the 5 things she did accomplish, she berates herself for the 15 things she didn’t do.”

Oh dear.  He’s a funny guy. He’s going to miss making fun of me during the four months (one semester) I’ll be in Japan.

He might also miss me during 10 month period beginning in September, IF I get the English Language Fellowship, which is still looming out there until early summer.  They can offer me a fellowship anytime from now until June for a 10-month position anywhere in the world for the 2017-2018 academic year.  Of course, there is no guarantee I’ll be offered the fellowship.

In which case, I can still either go to Croatia, Budapest and Prague, OR I can do the Camino de Santiago. 🙂

My husband thinks I’m the busiest person he’s ever known, bursting with energy at 5:30 a.m. on the weekend mornings, antsy to get up and get going with my day. Much to his dismay.

I finished up my classes at VIU on Thursday, March 2, and submitted my grades on Friday, so my time at VIU is over.  I now have to complete a 7-10 hour eLearning course in preparation for Japan.  I also need to get my Japanese visa, read as many books as I can about Japan, buy a new Kindle to load a bunch of books onto, get a new work wardrobe and a bunch of pantyhose (ugh again), buy a new computer, go to a couple of doctor appointments, and, on top of that, show up for jury duty this coming Wednesday.  I’ve already bought my plane tickets for Japan, leaving Monday, March 27 and returning on August 8, one week after my contract ends on August 1.  I can’t stay longer than that, sadly, just in case I get that fellowship.

I don’t know why I’m made up the way I am.  But Mike is right when he says I never knew a detour I wouldn’t take.  I would add a caveat: I’ll take the detour as long as it offers me some of the things I love.  When an opportunity to travel, or to live and work abroad, falls into my lap, how can I possibly resist?

visiting museums: prolonging a journey | south asian galleries – philadelphia museum of art |

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

When an invitation to relive or extend a journey offers itself, I will always take it, no matter in what form.  Often, after visiting a foreign country, I will bask in a book set in that locale, extending my experience of that place.  When I come across buildings or gardens with particular architectural styles, those commonly found in exotic locales — European Gothic cathedrals, Chinese dragons or gates, Japanese gardens, Islamic mosques — my heart skips a beat; I ease back in time to my wanderings through those magical places.  Whenever I take urban hikes through cities or natural landscapes, I feel that same sense of adventure I had when immersing myself in an exotic place; I remember the anticipation as I set off to explore China’s Longji Rice Terraces or Nepal’s village to village trails.

I felt a sense of exhilaration, as well as nostalgia and longing, on visiting the new South Asian Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I was taken back to a not-so-long-ago time when I lived and traveled extensively in South Asia. I loved meandering through the happy reminders found in this place.

We had already visited the “Paint the Revolution” special exhibition and, rather than exhausting ourselves trying to see the rest of this great and sprawling museum, we picked one part of the permanent collection to visit.  We walked up to the second floor via the Great Stair Hall Balcony and headed for the reopened South Asian Galleries.

an archer at the top of the stairs
an archer at the top of the stairs

We passed through the European Art Gallery from 1100-1500 on our way to the South Asian Galleries.

First we came upon some mosaic tiles from Iran.  As these are Islamic, they reminded me of so many beautiful tiles I found in Oman, UAE, Egypt, and even in southern Spain, originating from the Moorish conquest.  These Tile Mosaic Panels from Iran (Isfahan) are from the Safavid dynasty, 1501-1736.

I visited what seemed like infinite numbers of Buddhist temples in Korea, Japan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, and, to this day, I always feel a sense of peace when I see Buddhist figures anywhere in the world.  Here, we found a gilded bronze White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion (1700s-1800s) from Inner Mongolia, Autonomous Region (Dolon Nor, Chahar province, China).  The compassionate Buddhist goddess Tara is a bodhisattva (Buddhist savior).  The eyes on her palms and forehead show that she sees and helps all living beings.

White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion
White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion

This Chinese cabinet is covered with symbols from ancient China: cranes as symbols of longevity and immortality; two deer, a stag and a doe, symbolic of domestic harmony between husband and wife; pot-shaped vase designs, painted in blue and green, suggestive of endless wealth; and lotuses representing purity.

Chinese cabinet
Chinese cabinet

The man in the detail of one panel is a successful merchant and the bolt of cloth next to him likely refers to his source of wealth.

Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet
Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet

In Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, a mandala helps seekers of enlightenment along their spiritual path.  It represents both god’s palace and the entire cosmos in a geometric-circular format.  It may be two-dimensional (a drawing or painting) or three-dimensional (a sculpture or architectural space).

By meditating on a mandala, a person undertakes a mental journey, beginning in the outermost circle – which can hold human patrons, teachers and lesser deities – and progresses inward to become one with the god or divine couple at the mandala’s center (according to a sign at the museum).

This Satchakravarti Samvara Mandala from Tibet is made up of six smaller mandalas.  Each holds a different Buddha in sexual union with his female counterpart.

Mandalas are also found throughout Nepal; I bought a couple in Kathmandu to bring home.  I still need to find a place in my house to hang them.

Tibetan mandala
Tibetan mandala

A thangka is the Tibetan term for a painting made on cloth that can be rolled up for travel or storage and unrolled and hung for use.  Thangkas most often depict Buddhist deities, renowned religious teachers, or a mandala (a god’s cosmic palace).  In Nepal, these types of paintings are often called paubhas.  I bought one of these in Nepal, as a memento of my journey.

I cherish the mementos I have of my Asian travels, and of all my travels.  They preserve and extend my travel experience.  Collecting these items turns my travel into a collective experience of my repeated immersions into different cultures.  Displaying them in my house surrounds me with happy recollections of travel moments and what I gleaned from them – a sense of independence, resilience, adventurousness and camaraderie with fellow travelers. These mementos spark a yearning to return to places I’ve been, to explore them again with fresh eyes and a new depth of appreciation.

Tibetan thangka
Tibetan thangka

In a traditional residence of a Chinese nobleman, a reception hall was the most formal building, where official activities were conducted.  This Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou, displayed in its entirety here, was originally part of a Beijing palace built in the early 1640s.  The hall has a thirty-foot ceiling and brilliantly painted floral and animal motifs on its beams and brackets that convey auspicious wishes.  This hall is presently furnished with works of art dating between the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the period during which the hall was in use.

It was dark in the room where this reception hall was exhibited, so it was difficult to get a photo of anything but one of the painted roof beams.  Beams such as these in China delighted me every time I encountered them and remembered to turn my eyes to the ceiling.

I love the grand vision of the museum’s Director Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), who envisioned architectural elements providing historical context to objects on display.  This whole reopened South Asian Gallery has architecture displayed in a grand way; I felt as if I were walking through ancient Asian cultures.

Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou
Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou

The hall in one large room is constructed as part of the Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna. Apparently a woman, Adeline Pepper Gibson, purchased sixty granite carvings she found piled in the temple compound from local authorities in 1912.  Most of the complex still stands in the famous temple-city of Madurai in southern India.

Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India
Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India

A visit to South Asian galleries wouldn’t be complete without something from Japan. Some Japanese tea houses were set up here, but it was hard to get decent pictures in the strong light.

Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house

Surihaku theatrical robes are used exclusively in Noh drama to symbolize the uncontrolled passions of certain female roles.  This Noh Costume from 1700s Japan is a silk satin weave decorated with patinated metallic leaf applied to a stenciled paste base (surihaku), representing the reptilian skin of the character, who has been transformed into a serpent or demon by the corrosive power of jealousy and hatred.

Noh Costume
Noh Costume

A modern piece from 2008, Kotodama (the soul of language), is embellished with word-filled fragments from antique books and accounting ledgers and layered scraps of red silk from kimono undergarments.  For the artist, Maio Motoko, words had spiritual power.  Here, the assembled fragments create a visual world of words.

Kotodama
Kotodama
Detail - Kotodama
Detail – Kotodama

Finally as we exited the South Asian galleries and made our way back out through the European galleries, we stopped to admire the French Gothic Chapel.  I am always enamored by decorative doors, and these doors I find particularly beautiful.  This one reminds me of doors I found during the two years I lived in Oman.

doors from French Gothic Chapel
doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail - doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail – doors from French Gothic Chapel

The chapel was composed of elements from two buildings that were part of a large religious community at Aumonieres near Dijon in central France that was administered by the Knights of Saint Anthony.  This nursing order, founded in the 11th century, established many hospices.

Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel
Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel

We finally walked out of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by 3:20, only an hour and a half after we entered.  It was a good visit and not too tiresome, and we were able to enjoy the special exhibition and one part of the permanent collection.  We used a number of suggestions from the compact but interesting book, How to Visit a Museum.  I hope to take to heart more of David Finn’s ideas for exploring museums during these winter months, when it’s too cold and generally miserable to explore outdoors.

View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 ~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

weekly photo challenge: curve

Saturday, June 18:  This week’s Photo Challenge asks us to get inspired by the curves around us, from curves in architecture to bends in nature to man-made undulations.  I had a fun time looking through my happy memories to find photos for this challenge.

Curvy arches at ruins in Oman
Curvy arches at ruins in Oman
arches in Cordoba's Mezquita
arches in Cordoba’s Mezquita
Lotus
Lotus
sunflower
sunflower
the Li River near Yangshuo, China
the Li River near Yangshuo, China
The Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi, China
The Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi, China
a curvaceous flag at the cowboy museum in Oklahoma City
a curvaceous flag at the cowboy museum in Oklahoma City
curving staircase at a Virginia winery
curving staircase at Creek’s Edge winery in Virginia
Grassy curves at Chanticleer Garden in Philadelphia
Curving grasses at Chanticleer Garden in Philadelphia

weekly photo challenge: numbers

Sunday, June 5:  I love anything that promises a journey, like the distances to exotic locales shown on the directional signs below — found in Fenghuang, China.

Numbers telling distances to exotic locales - Fenghuang, China
Numbers telling distances to exotic locales – Fenghuang, China

Too see more from the Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers, click on the link. 🙂

weekly photo challenge: spare

Friday, May 27: Today’s Weekly Photo Challenge asks us to share photos representing spare:

(adjective) Additional to what is required for ordinary use.
(adjective) Elegantly simple.
(verb) To refrain from harming.

I’ve chosen some photos representing minimalist landscapes.  First, on a drive to the beaches on the south of Crete, I found this spare rolling landscape.

Southern Crete
Southern Crete

Anacapa Island, one of California’s Channel Islands is one of the most spare and desolate landscapes I’ve seen, except for the multitudes of seagulls dotting the horizon.

Anacapa Island off the coast of California
Anacapa Island off the coast of California

Weizhou Island in the south of China has some lava beaches that look pretty spare, yet elegantly curvaceous.

Weizhou Beach in the south of China
Weizhou Beach in the south of China

And finally, the marshland of Chincoteague Island in Virginia is spare, but beautiful.

Sea grasses on Chincoteague Island
Sea grasses on Chincoteague Island