elephants and cooking class

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I left for Thailand and I’m only half way through documenting the trip. Chiang Mai (after the very long train ride from Bangkok) was amazing! I loved it. Minus all of the mosquito bites I got. And here are the photos.


The elephant experience was amazing. I did a bit of research before heading to Thailand because I wanted to have more of an experience than just sitting on an elephant, so I found a place that actually does a lot in terms of elephant conservation. It was still a little crazy and there were moments it definitely felt a bit exploitative, but I would do it again.


And the mahout and guides were so great. One took my iPhone and just snapped tons of photos. So happy to have the photos.



Getting in the water with them was maybe a little questionable. I mean, the river itself was a little questionable…mostly because we’d been “white water” rafting (it was dry season…it was more like low water scraping) up the river earlier and there were so many people just hanging out in the river, eating, doing who knows what else…




After the river rafting and elephants, we went to this tribal village which was a little crazy. Kind of like a reservation back in the U.S., only these are Burmese tribes. And also a bit like a zoo, in that you go there to basically stare at these people. Kind of weird, but interesting, too.



And that night, after such a long crazy day, we got ice cream and it was awesome. I also got to go for a swim in a nice, clean chlorinated pool.


And the next day was our cooking class. One of the guys at work recommended this place and I have to say, it was awesome. This was probably my second favorite thing from the trip after scuba diving. No ambivalence here. Just awesome cooking. And some really interesting people. The inside jokes Maria and I now have from this day. Amazing. But I also have some great new recipes in my repertoire. I’m just sad now, looking at these photos, that I didn’t try and buy (or steal) the dishes. Talk about gorgeous.











So, in my original itinerary, I had planned on us taking the night train back to Bangkok and then hopping on a plane to Cambodia. But, after the one night and the unpredictable timing of arrivals and that we couldn’t get a private car, I asked Maria if she’d mind if we just stayed another night in Chiang Mai and flew to Bangkok and then connected to Cambodia. She was down with that, so we ended up staying another night and getting what was possibly the best foot massage I’ve ever had in my life. Amazing!


And then we were off. And I was covered in mosquito bites.


the time i should have read my email more closely

My trip to Thailand and Cambodia was amazing…and possibly the least planned out trip I’ve ever been on that involved anyone other than myself. When I’m alone, I don’t care a bit about plans. When there’s someone else around and I feel like I’m in charge, then I care a lot. That said, the first part of my trip was pretty well set because I knew I wanted to go diving and I got there the very last weekend the Similan Islands (a national park) would be open for divers. Or at least I thought it was well planned out.


Welcome to Thailand…at the Bangkok airport


My ghetto fabulous room at the dive by the Bangkok airport. Totally worth the $20 it cost which included free airport transfer.

I left Tokyo Thursday evening and spent Thursday night at this crazy/random/cheap h–otel (motel?) near the airport in Bangkok so I could get on my 8am flight to Phuket the following morning. With no ideal flight schedules, this was the best option, and it meant that Friday was spent lying on the beach and getting a massage at the lovely resort where I’d booked myself. This was the most expensive portion of my trip, by far, but it was totally worth it.

flight to phuketQFeEaDZvPMJXdqcgyLdqL4RW7N4xlNvbcXP-UXmdWBA cXYpNEGrbUimX7Kq43YkWMely56O3UlMKjk7PlhP1bs ZeoUHKy9cVf9pYUwWRhXjB2ljFQBDO0DtxlOCLYaHio bZ_t7cmg5Dehc1aXBMLbP5tBO6Qc10oOzp6OIiGBKKA 3XoDOWWM8-YPhEt2xwdqcQ5mwngxABQvfFRYBPJXCiM DSC_0027Saturday, I was set to be picked up between 5:50 and 6:00 am to be transported to Khao Lak (where the movie The Impossible took place, I discovered later) where I would board a speed boat out to a live-aboard in the Similan Islands. I was so excited. I have always wanted to do the live-aboard thing and could not wait to be diving again.

Well, I woke up Saturday morning, checked my big bag with the bellhop (I was going to be staying at the same hotel when I returned from my night at sea…this was good planning on my part). So, 5:50 passes, then 6:00, then 6:10. At this point, I’m starting to get a little panicked. I got to my email to find the guys number from the dive operator and, as I read the email, I saw that his confirmation email was, in fact, confirming the wrong date. I had say the 27th and 28th, he had confirmed for pickup on the 28th. This was not good. So, I call the 24 hour number (bless this diver operator and their 24-hour service) and I’m informed, very nicely, that it’s too late for me to get picked up, but if I can get a ride to Khao Lak, he would call to see if there was room on the boat for me that night.

So, I’m waiting for him to make a couple of phone calls and asking the front desk about a taxi to Khoa Lak. I am told it will be $120. I realize that sounds crazy, but considering how much I’ve already invested and that I have to be on a flight Monday evening to meet my friend in Bangkok and you can’t fly within 24-hours of diving, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t do it. The kicker, though, was that I needed to be there in 90 minutes and the drive, if traffic and all of the elements combined cooperated, would be at least 90 minutes.

Here’s where I do well in a crisis (realizing that this is hardly a crisis in the grand scheme of things, but felt that way at the time). I am a pragmatist. I think through the situation, find the best possible solution, and move forward with it. I may have a moment of emotion, but then my rational brain kicks in and reminds me that emotions are pointless in such situations as they cannot do anything to help.

At this point, the desk clerk is calling the dive shop guy to confirm that I can get on the boat (I could) and where I need to be dropped off so he could explain it to the taxi driver. I confirm that I will pay cash for the ride. The taxi driver shows up and we’re off.

Where I don’t do well in a crisis is when there is driving involved and I’m not the one doing it. But, amazingly, in a world where you can never count on a taxi driver, I got one that drove just as I would drive. And I could see the determination in his eyes to get me there in time. Not because he really cared about me getting there, but because he wanted to prove he could do it. And that was just the determination I was looking for. And 90 LONG minutes later, I made it. I was on the speed boat, awaiting the arrival of the others who were to come as well. Seriously, I wish I had caught the name of the desk clerk and taxi driver (I asked for them, but me and foreign names don’t always understand one another so well…) because they were both champs.

And that covers my first 36 hours of a 10 day trip. More to come…


And the ikebana classes continue. I LOVE them! Since my first introductory lesson, though, I’ve been so excited to get to the lesson on the nageire upright style. My sensei demonstrated it in that first lesson and it was just so delicate. And whimsical. And elegant.

In the moribana style, one uses a kenzan (or “frog” as my grandmother called them) to position the flowers. In nageire, the stems are fixed without a kenzan using one of three methods. The first lesson, the vertical type fixture (called tate-no-soegi-dome in Japanese) was demonstrated. For my lesson yesterday, I learned the cross-bar fixture (jumonji-dome in Japanese). And the third type of fixture is just called direct fixing (jika-dome) which is typically use with and kind of transparent container or vase.

**Please excuse the quality of the photos…I was using my old iPhone (my other battery died) and apparently, the camera on it has some issues.

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So, the cross-bar fixture is pretty amazing. Using just two thick stems or thin branches, you can create a fixture strong enough to lift the vase itself. In fact, that’s the way to test whether your cross-bar fixture is secure. You actually grab onto it and lift the vase. And once it’s secure, you get on with the arranging, which requires quite a bit more precision in cuts and attention to the weights of the flowers when compared with the moribana style.

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One of my other favorite things about my classes is finding out what materials my sensei has for me. I never know what’s going to be there. Well, this week I was absolutely delighted both because I learned nageire and because I loved the materials (well, two out of three, anyway): dragon willow and roses. The feverfew I could have lived without and, as it turned out, I ended up hardly using when I recreated the arrangement at home. They don’t travel very well.

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a perfectly ordinary weekend

Without getting too deep into the details (I’ve drafted a super detailed post, but I’m not sure anyone really wants to read that much), to say this past week was hard would be an understatement. There were some really good moments, but honestly, this week was by far the hardest one I’ve had since moving to Japan (and then some). It was long and exhausting and things kept going wrong. Like really basic things; missing my stop on the train, getting on the wrong train, my computer crashing, my email not working, not being able to find things on shared drives, forgetting to respond to an email I really needed to respond to, etc, etc. And that on top of a schedule that would have kicked my butt all on its own.


By the time Friday rolled around, I was so happy, I might have cried tears of joy. You know, as opposed the tears of frustration and failure that I’d cried on various other occasions during the week. In fact, I’m pretty sure God knew that I had hit my limit because, while I had made a commitment to myself to attend the temple, I was having a serious existential crisis trying to figure out how to keep that commitment and get everything done at work that I needed to get done, and just like that, five minutes before I needed be walking out the door, my computer kicked me off. I just stared at my screen as program after program shut down and I was logged off. I was done. That put enough of a pause in my work momentum to remind me that, contrary to what my actions of indicate, no one was going to die if I didn’t get this or that email sent or form filled out. So I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my coworkers (all of whom were still there) and walked out the door.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed my weekend whether I had made it to the temple or not, but I’m also sure that it was that much better because I did go. I just needed to be reminded of what is most important. Combine that with some warmer temperatures, and a perfect weekend was in the making.

After the temple and dinner out at this amazing kushiage place, Tatsukichi, that one of my business heads recommended, I was walking home and suddenly I was in this perfect Tokyo moment. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, except to say that I felt completely content and happy. One of those moments you wish you could capture in a photograph to put on your wall or bottle up to be imbibed later. I couldn’t stop smiling. Which was kind of incredible considering the week I’d just had. But that’s life, right?

Besides going to the temple, I made one other very important decision during the week which greatly affected the awesomeness of my weekend. I got a cleaning lady recommendation from one of my friends and scheduled her to come on Saturday morning. What an amazing blessing to be able to afford that right now. I know it won’t be a forever thing, but right now I can afford it and it’s totally worth it to buy myself some time.

Saturday morning, Norie showed up and, at first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. It was kind of like when the movers came to pack me up in New York. I’m not used to sitting by while other people do the things I would normally do and that I’m perfectly capable of doing. Seeing as how I’d just purchased myself three hours of time not cleaning, I didn’t let too much time pass before getting on with what I wanted to do. So, as Norie cleaned for three hours, I sat on my couch preparing my lesson for church today. In addition to teaching the girls on Wednesday about makeup and such, it was my turn to teach them at church as well.

clean apartment

So nice and clean! Now if the rest of my stuff could just arrive…

Can I just say that I am now convinced that there is no better way to start a Saturday than having someone else clean your house while you focus for three hours on the things that matter most? I read scriptures and watched videos (my favorite being one about this one) and listened to talks about the Savior. It was pretty much the best money I’ve spent in a long time. And it was exactly what I needed; a clean apartment and a clear, focused mind.


It was then time to get outside and enjoy an incredibly beautiful (almost) spring day. And what better way to do it than to go for a bike ride…which I needed to do because I had to go pick up my bicycle from my old apartment. (I’d left it there when I’d moved because it wouldn’t fit into my friend’s car with all of my things and it was too cold to ride.) And Saturday was a perfect day for a bike ride. It was warm and sunny and the air just smelled like spring. I was clearly not made for winter.

I had plans to get out to IKEA to pick up a few things I didn’t buy in the states, but as I started out on my way home, those plans just didn’t seem that important anymore. I had been rushing so much during the week (and the weeks before) that taking as much time as I wanted to stop and smell the flowers (literally) on my way was a luxury I did not want to pass up. And that bike ride confirmed to me that I had made the right decision to not miss Tokyo in the spring.


plum blossoms just outside my apartment building


cherry blossoms (or ‘sakura’ in Japanese) down a little alley on my route from Roppongi to Nishishinjuku


And then Saturday night my dear friend Jennifer (one of my favorite people here!) hosted a little dinner party (or in my case, dessert party) at her home in celebration of her new waffle iron recently arrived from the states. Any reason to throw a party is a good one…but fun things from the U.S. might be the best one when living overseas! Such a fun evening. No rush. No stress. Just good food and fantastic friends.

And finally today. I love Sundays, but today was a particularly good one. And while I have no idea how well my lesson went (it’s hard to tell when you’re teaching teenagers), I made it through it and was able to get the girls to share a little. And I was able to share a little bit of myself with them. And after church, I got to do a little singing as I prepped to sing in church next Sunday. Something I’ve been promising myself I would do for a very long time.

Definitely still needs a little work, but I’ve got a week…and I’m making someone else sing with me (she just wasn’t able to stay after today to practice). I’m not quite ready to solo but oh how I do love to sing. This makes me miss my college (and high school, for that matter) singing days a lot. Maybe I’ll have to add voice lessons onto the list of “things to do while in Japan”. You know, squeeze it in between work, church, travel, socializing, ikebana classes (which I’m starting again next Saturday), learning to play the guitar, and just normal life stuff. Why not, right? I mean, clearly last week is an indication that I can take more on…


A couple of years ago, I wrote a birthday post about the 33 things I wanted to accomplish before I turned 33. This year for my birthday (a little belated, albeit), I’d like to do the opposite. Rather than talk about 35 things I hope to have happen (they weren’t really goals as much as wishes), I want to share 35 things that are real and exist right now that have made my life pretty incredible, despite the fact that it doesn’t look exactly like I thought it would at this stage in the game. Plus, with all the gratitude that’s been going around FB, I must have caught some of the bug.

So on this, the last day of my birthday month, I’d like to share my list. And by “my list”, I don’t mean to imply that I carry this list around or started it a while ago or think about it constantly (at least not on the aggregate)…this is going to be the list of things I can think of while I’m sitting at my desk in my apartment in Tokyo on a Friday night after sending my dear friend off to the airport and could maybe use a little cheering up. So, here goes…
I am thankful for:
  1. My faith in God and Jesus Christ. This one thing probably gets me through most of the hard stuff I’ve had to get through in my life (and will continue to have to get through…because that’s life). My life is better because I have faith. Period. 
  2. My family. I’d like to believe that most people are thankful for their families, but I’m finding, in my old age, that I am pretty dang lucky. I adore my family. Seriously. Sure, we have our issues. And not everyone gets along all of the time. But I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade my family for any other family out there. I have awesome siblings and they’ve married pretty amazing people and those marriages have produce some incredible children. I think I could probably end my list right here and I’d feel like one of the luckiest girls in the world. 
  3. My mom. I’m not going to write about every one of my family members individually (although I could), because that would make this way too easy, and I know I’ve written A LOT about my mom over the years I’ve been blogging, but the fact is that I am who I am because of her influence, which has lasted years beyond how long she was here on this earth with me. And yes, my mom had some pretty serious issues, but besides just being a super-involved and incredibly inspiring person, she taught me hope and love. And if those had been the only things I had ever learned from her, that would be enough. They aren’t, but they would be. 
  4. My friends. For those of you that know me well, you know I’m not really a big group socializer. I max out at about eight people, unless I know all of the people really well, then more is fine. And while sometimes it makes me sad that I’m not that super-socializer who’s invited to everything and knows everyone and so on and so forth, the truth is, my lack of “superficial socializing” has led to more incredible friendships than one person probably deserves. Especially a person who has a family full of best friends. That said, I’ll take them all and keep them all. Recent events (the new friends I’ve made in Tokyo, my trip home, Kelly’s visit here) have brought to my attention, yet again, just how lucky I am. I have really good friends all over the world. Friends who get me and love me exactly the way I am, good, bad, and otherwise. Friends who inspire me to be better. Friends who are doing amazing things with their lives. Friends who can pick up right where we left off whether it’s been a week or a year or five. 
  5. My church. Different than my faith, I think of my church as the community of people and seriously, while I recognize that there are some crazies and zealots out there, overall, my church is pretty great and has made all the difference in this move to Japan.
  6. My “jack-of-all-trades” nature. It’s taken me a bit to come to terms with this one, but something about hitting my mid-thirties has made me just a little more aware of the best parts of my traits. Maybe because I’m looking for them. Once upon a time (okay, many upon a times), I wished that I had been more dedicated to (pick anything) soccer, swimming, baking, singing, dancing, psychoanalyzing, picture taking, cheerleading, cooking, sewing, scuba diving, running, cake decorating, reading, piano playing, language studying, traveling, writing, ice skating, flower arranging, and so on and so forth. But what I’ve come to realize (and be okay with now that I get it) is that, while I’ve never gotten really good at any of those things, I’m pretty good at a lot of them and I wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice the time I spent doing any of them just to get really good at one or two. And while this may not have made me a superstar in anything, it has made me a really interesting person who has a lot to share and can find something in common with just about anyone and all of my time spent enjoying all of these hobbies has brought me some incredible friendships.
  7. Books.
  8. Inexpensive and accessible communications technology. For so very many reasons, but probably most of all for keeping me in touch and up-to-date with the people I love, wherever they (or I) may be. When I was 14 and living overseas for the first time, sans family, I spent a lot of time on the phone and it cost a lot of money (as my dad will tell you any time one brings up my exchange student days. Such is not the case today. I am able to keep in touch with family and friends any time and any place for the price of my smart phone service, a few apps, and a monthly-unlimited-calls-to-the-U.S. Skype subscription. It’s pretty amazing. 
  9. My brain combined with the opportunity I was given to receive great education throughout my life. Once upon a time I think I would have traded my smarts for a skinny body and a great metabolism. (Sure, some people have both, but we’re not talking about them right now…) Not anymore. My brain has afforded me some pretty great experiences. I was able to get into a good college, finish my bachelor’s degree, excel in my esthetics career, return to grad school with a scholarship, and now have this amazing job that landed me first in NYC and now Tokyo. Pretty amazing. 
  10. My health. 
  11. Modern conveniences. Indoor plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, heating, planes, trains, automobiles, digital cameras, computers, external hard-drives, cell phones, wireless internet, MS Excel (yes, totally gets its own shout-out these days), washers and dryers, and so on and so forth. Life in the developed world is ridiculously easy these days. If only we could all be a little more thankful for that.
  12. Music. 
  13. My birth in the U.S. of A. Seriously, I know there are a lot of people who aren’t super happy with the outcome of the recent election (myself included), but I’m still grateful to have been born and raised in a country that operates as a republic and where we have a say in who is elected and where abiding by the law is not just for those who don’t have enough money to buy their way around the it (well, assuming I’m ignoring Chicago…I jest kind of).
  14. Deodorant. (And all of the other modern toiletries that keep people clean and fresh.)
  15. Bras. Yeah, I totally just said that.
  16. My five senses, including perfect eyesight. I know it will go eventually, but it’s still here today.
  17. Bleach. Specifically of the hair highlighting variety. I am better as a blonde. 
  18. Modern medicine including, but not limited to, ibuprofen, bupropion, Tums, levothyroxine, Retin-A, and Botox. 
  19. Sleep.
  20. A cheerful disposition, even when I don’t get enough of #19. 
  21. An adventurous palate. Living in Japan would be pretty rough without it. 
  22. Salt. Sure, it’s on my mind right now because I just had one of the most amazing meals and sea salt was the main seasoning, but really…can you imagine a world without salt? 
  23. The accessibility I have always had to fresh food and water and that I’ve never wondered how I was going to get either of them. 
  24. My ability to provide for myself in a way which affords me a pretty amazing lifestyle. 
  25. Clean sheets.
  26. Sunshine…especially when it’s accompanied by a nice stretch of sand and a large body of water.
  27. My birth into a country and generation where, as a woman, I am able to do just about everything a man can do. (I still haven’t mastered peeing while standing up, although I filled a few years of childhood with attempts, but there’s still time.)
  28. My overactive tear ducts. I know that some people would be irritated if they cried as easily as I do, but I like it. Whether I’m really happy, really sad, or just really touched…the tear ducts start working. Thankfully, at work, they manage to control themselves relatively well.
  29. Shoes.
  30. Mascara. Well, makeup in general, but if I could only choose one item, it would be mascara. As a fair haired, fair skinned, fair eyed girl, mascara is the most important cosmetic tool I have. And not just any mascara, but specifically the waterproof kind. (see #28)
  31. Ice cream.
  32. Kisses. Whether it be a kiss on the cheek from one of my nieces or nephews, or the kind that happens at the end of a really good date (or a mediocre one when you just need to get a piece), kisses are pretty awesome in all their varieties. 
  33. Entertainment. For me this includes plays, musicals, movies, T.V., concerts, and 49er football.
  34. Laughter.
  35. Diet Coke.
  36. And an extra one for good measure. Lastly, I am grateful for a life that I have never put on hold  despite the fact that I haven’t gotten everything I wanted exactly when I wanted it (or at all, in some cases).