Perspectives

I went to a performance of Perspectives by the Tokyo Artistic Theatre Ensemble. It was a selection of performance pieces reflecting inspiration from this lovely painting by Frankie Cihi.

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The delightful undulations of the leaves and flowers in the painting gave physical form to something new in my life. Every now and then, at unexpected moments, I see tiny twinkles of light. They appear in the corner of my eye, almost out of view, grabbing my attention away from whatever else I might be doing. What are those twinkles? Some sort of energy? The souls of fireflies past? What’s left behind after a baby’s first smile?

I began to wonder if they might be spillover from some sort of parallel energy universe that we can’t see but is all around us. There could be a constant cascade of sparkling light pouring from the spout of my tea kettle. Perhaps when I close my eyes, the lights appear, and when I open them they are gone, like some sort of cosmic game of Peek-a-boo. Perhaps it’s where brownie points come from and where they go when we redeem them. Perhaps we are constantly surrounded by great swirling masses of multicolored light and hope and good intentions but we just can’t open our eyes wide enough to let them in.

I find comfort in believing that could be true. Some people believe in the Tooth Fairy. Which is more likely?

Meditation Cat Says…

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Be still. Be quiet.
And stop licking my face.

The doors to enlightenment do not open
to wiggly chatterboxes
and you have tuna breath.

Twitchy twitched her whiskers as she weighed the price of achieving nirvana, slightly resented the tuna breath comment, then blinked her eyes and curled up on the cushion. “It does not matter,” she thought as she drifted into sleep. “I will dream my dreams and when I wake, I will stretch and purr and play with my toys and if my breath smells of tuna it means my belly is full and I am happy. Who could want or need more than that?”

Bali in the Kitchen

As a kid, the only coconut I was ever exposed to was that horrid dessicated stuff people use to make bunny cakes look fuzzy. Cute, but it tastes horrible, although I might be able to get on board with the bunny butt cake. (Recipe on the Betty Crocker website.) That’s to look at, mind you, not to eat.

bunny butt cakeMy grandmother was a mountain of love who made the best gingerbread men ever but ruined her fruit salad by topping it with desiccated coconut.

Then I moved to Asia. Years ago, on a beach in Thailand, I saw a wizened old lady spend her days using a machete to mince fresh coconut meat that eventually became sweetened squares of heavenly delight. And then I discovered coconut milk curries, which I can’t get enough of. I regularly order green curry at the Thai restaurant in the ‘hood and eat my way around the despised eggplant. Only recently have I discovered the uncountable merits of coconut oil. I decided that coconuts merited more of my attention. I was therefore determined to figure out how to make the Lombok chicken, but the only thing I was sure of was that it had coconut milk in it.

I had my photo of the dish itself as well as my memory of how it tasted.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAI studied the picture of the ingredients we’d used during our day at cooking school in Ubud.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAnd remembered us all laboring together in the midday heat.

all choppingI called on Cutie McHottie’s beautiful smile for inspiration. (He’s the one on the right. I’m not in the group picture because I was off grinding peanuts with Cutie II, the one on the left.)

cutie BBQI studied recipes on the interwebs and then scoured my local supermarkets and veggie stands to find the stuff I’d need. Onions? No problem. Tomatoes? Check. Garlic? Got it. My confidence began to build…too soon. Fresh red chilies…uh…well… Fresh lemon grass…not a chance… Fresh galangal root…ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?????

As an extra kick in the rear, most of the recipes said that these ingredients would be available at my Asian market, which is funny because ALL of my markets are Asian and NONE of them had any of that. Chinese and Korean ingredients are readily available, but except for Nasi Goreng, Japan pretty much ignores Indonesia, at least from a culinary point of view.

I was not going to let that stop me. I am a strong, determined woman. I march into battle with my head held high, my dented armor polished. Like the bravest samurai of yore, I scarf down my rice balls in 30 seconds, retie my topknot, straighten my loincloth and dive back into the fray.

I squared my shoulders and made my way to the import store, where I found some coconut milk and an Indonesian sambal. I even found some jasmine rice to go with the finished masterpiece.

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And it was good. Really good. I have no idea whether I did it right. Maybe there is no right or wrong when one is winging it. At any rate, it tasted wonderful.

Isn’t that all that matters?

One Year Smoke Free

key dateMy Korean Air flight from Seoul was about to land at Denpasar in Bali when the clock ticked over to midnight and April 19 began, and thus I achieved my one year of smobriety. (The term “smobriety” is one of many helpful tools hopeful quitters will find on About.com’s smoking cessation forum. I’ve never been a bumper sticker kind of person, but quitting is hard, and sharing it with others helps a lot. If you’re ready to try, that’s good place to start.)

So we had done it. After a lifetime of poisoning ourselves, one year had passed without me inhaling a single puff of expensive, stinky, life destroying tobacco. According to the forum, only 7% of quitters make it through the first year, so I figure that’s something to be pretty proud of. (See what I did there? That’s called an “understatement”.)

I could go into all the stages of pain it cost but instead I will share two pearls of wisdom I learned the hard way that might help people who want to quit.

Pearl 1: I used to get annoyed at people who referred to smoking as a “dirty habit”. As a smoker, it doesn’t seem all that dirty, but for months after quitting, I would sometimes grab a sweater I hadn’t worn in a long time, pull it over my head, gag, and toss it into the wash.

And habit? Nah. It’s an addiction. People who haven’t experienced addiction can’t begin to understand what it is. But then I quit and realized how right they were. The addiction is hard, but the habit is so much worse. Smoking becomes not just something you do; it becomes something you are. You spend all day every day thinking about when and where you can have your next smoke, and it only got worse as the world became more and more anti-smoking. Plus, no matter what the world throws at you, your dear friend Mr Cigarette is always there, happy to provide a screen for you to hide behind. But take away that screen and the world is still what it is. The smoke doesn’t change anything. It all comes down to learning the difference between needing and wanting. Once the need is gone, the want can be dealt with.

Pearl 2: Denial. I used to say, “I like smoking. I know that I’ll never be able to quit because I like it.” That was complete and utter bullshit. I hated it, but to admit that I hated it was to admit that I’d been a smelly dope for longer than I could face. The longer I stayed quit, the more I realized there is absolutely nothing, not one good thing, about smoking. Even this: Smoking is a great excuse to go outside and get away from the people at work for a few minutes. But you know what? You can do that anyway, and people are a lot more sympathetic when you tell them you need a breath of fresh air than a lungful of poison.

So there it is. We did it, and as long as we don’t let ourselves romance the smoke, I think we can stay quit. Cheers and gratitude to all those who have been so supportive and special thanks to Rumiko for this, a happiness tree that symbolizes two burning cigarettes, yet costs only water and produces only oxygen.

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Forager Hike: Wild Mulberry Hunt and Ramen Museum Getaway

A few weeks ago, I joined a Meetup to go foraging for mulberries. I am a great lover of new experiences and when I saw the posting, I jumped at it. The thought of actually seeking out the humble mulberry had never occurred to me. Where I come from, we eat them, of course, but mostly they are a sign of summer that stains the sidewalks and soles of our feet.

So we headed for the Tsurumigawa river in the wilds of Yokohama, a group of about a dozen of us, hard on the heels of our fearless leader, renaissance man Rodger Sono. I had gone on his blueberry hike last fall and ate the luscious little devils until my lips and tongue were burning, so had worked myself into a berry anticipative mood. (See what I did there?)

That's Rodger at the far left, looking leaderful. When asked why he organizes these events, he said, "I like foraging."
That’s Rodger at the far left, looking leaderful. When asked why he organizes these events, he said, “I like foraging.” Good enough.

Unfortunately, the late spring weather had taken a turn for the predictably unpredictable and most of the berries were dried out, but it was fun talking to new people and a friendly old guy on a bicycle gave me some bamboo shoots.

Our final destination was the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, which really doesn’t have any business calling itself a museum. The pamphlet actually calls it “the world’s first food-themed amusement park” but it’s really just an excuse to sell ramen. There’s also, inexplicably, slot car racing. The only “museum” aspect is that the ramen shops are replications of those of 1958 Japan. The atmosphere is pretty cool except for the busloads of tourists eager to slurp their way to ramen nirvana.

ramen museum

Incidentally, they chose 1958 because that was the year instant ramen was invented. There’s also an instant ramen museum in Osaka. It seems that the father of instant ramen, Momofuku Ando, didn’t sleep for a year or take a day off while he dedicated his life to creating Chicken Ramen, at the time known as “magic ramen”.

Ramen is very much a part of Japanese culture. People of all ages consume it, breakfast, lunch or dinner. No proper evening of drinking and carousing would be complete without a visit to a ramen shop, which isn’t difficult. Most neighborhoods have several; mine has dozens. And instant ramen has achieved a status of nearly mythical proportions.Go to any supermarket or convenience store and there will be an entire aisle devoted to these dried nibbles, a mind boggling array of brightly colored, cheerful packages, which is odd because while the traditional Japanese diet is one of the healthiest on the planet, instant ramen is almost exclusively fat, salt and refined white flour.

I love ramen but can’t eat the instant stuff. A Japanese guy who spoke a little English once asked me, “What’s the difference between stupid and crazy?” I said that stupid is eating a McDonald’s hamburger and crazy is eating the paper it was wrapped in. I feel pretty much the same way about instant noodles and the styrofoam cups they come in. But I’m not judging. I love Kraft mac and cheese, and that stuff has about as much to do with real cheese as fish have to do with bicycles.

To each his own. We all have our comfort foods. For me, mulberries is one of them.

Meditation Cat Says…

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...if you can push your ego aside,
you can open your heart and mind
to what others are saying or feeling
without filtering or judgement,
appreciate them for what they are…

and then decide to ignore them.

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Hi! I’m Booty Cat.
Meditation Cat isĀ in a pissy mood thinking lofty thoughts
so I get to do a guest appearance.

I don’t meditate.
I don’t think lofty thoughts.
I just hang onto the edge of this boot being adorable.
I’m pretty good at it, don’t you think?

Meditation Cat Says…

…there have been a few rumors about the sudden and unexplained absence of the Mouse.

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One has the Mouse with her tail stuck in a revolving door at the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza where she has been going round and round for several weeks.

This is untrue. Mice never use revolving doors, and Mitsukoshi doesn’t have them anyway. Plus the Mouse does not go to Ginza and the Mouse does not shop at Mitsukoshi. If the Mouse wants gold plated toothpicks, she’ll make them herself.

Mickey

Nor is it true that the Mouse has taken up residence in Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. She would never take a chance on being spotted with the Other Mouse, who is a rather silly fellow and something of a merchandising slut. Plus that voice? It works for Frankie Valli; inappropriate for a self-respecting mouse.

The Mouse will admit, however, that a visit to Disneyland on a rainy Thursday afternoon in February, although damp and chilly, is a wonderful experience. It really is a magical kingdom when there’s nobody there and she does have a weakness for It’s A Small World.

mouse 3

Yet another patently untrue rumor is that she has found a secret entrance to the Tokyu Food Show and sneaks in at night to nibble on the imported French cheeses, leaving behind toothmarks and toe prints.

We officially disavow any knowledge of those responsible for such uncouth behavior. The Mouse uses a china plate and a silver knife. Her cheese is accompanied by crisp baguette, although depending on the exchange rate, those elegant trappings are often replaced with Velveeta and saltines.

The truth is that the Mouse found herself a little overwhelmed. The sights, sounds and smells of Bali were everything that she had hoped for, but she was unprepared for how those experiences would change her perspective on life in Tokyo, and still hasn’t figured how or how much any of that matters.

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So please allow me to introduce myself. I am Meditation Cat. I am a conduit between the missing Mouse and anyone who is seeking her. I am wise. I am handsome. I am available for consultation on matters grave or trivial but reserve the right to give cryptic advice or none at all. All compliments will be gracefully accepted; all criticism will be wholly ignored.

Namaste.

Meditation cat says…

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…sometimes it’s best to let Twitchy steal a bite of your sandwich.

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She will pay you back with cuddles and purrs or she will bite your nose and blow fish breath in your face.

Not knowing which is one of the joys of life and one of the things that guarantees the sun will rise in the morning, it will rain if you forget your umbrella, the unusual thing you wanted will be available at the import store and you will misplace your favorite pen.

It is the good and the bad, the yin and the yang, that make life a mystical journey. If every day was rainbows and unicorns we would quickly learn to pass them by like strangers on the street, sneering and snarling our grouchy way through our days.

So smile at your knotted shoelace, your cracked tea cup, your broken fingernail, the cat hair in your coffee. These things can be retied, repaired, regrown, removed…or not. But they are also not the end of the world and the rainbows and unicorns will return when they’re good and ready.

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