2007/07/31

I Can't Reveal My Name

But Eggplant Is My Game

My first recipe for eggplant (college days) was eggplant Parmigiana. Like most Americans, perhaps, I always associated eggplant with Italy and so tended to use it in Italian recipes - fried or boiled, added to pasta sauce, etc. There are of course other like ginger or curry eggplant. (Sorry, I don't do curry, which is ironic as I have learned that eggplant originally grew wild in India, then was cultivated in China around 500 AD, and later spread to Africa, and only later Italy.)

Eggplant is a most beautiful vegetable, but may not be the most inspiring taste-wise, I will grant you that. However, its mildness lends it well to complimenting other foods. It is also a very healthful veggie, with lots of fiber and vitamins and minerals, and also phytonutrients that have been shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Lab animals with high cholesterol given eggplant juice showed a reduction in blood cholesterol, while the walls of their blood vessels relaxed, improving blood flow.

Eggplants are also rich in antioxidents and "nasunin", which is not only a potent free-radical scavenger, but is also an iron chelator. Too much iron in your blood is a bad thing. Green tea and soy beans inhibit iron uptake, by the way, which is believed to be one of the reasons that people in Japan have the world's longest health longevity (years without disabilities or need for therapeutic drugs). In animal studies, nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Bottom line, this vegetable helps the body fight/prevent aging, rheumatism, cancer, and cardiovascular disease so is something very good to include in your diet. Of course the word is "helps", not "cures", but compared to the "atomic cheese doodle" kind of crap we in the industrialized world tend to eat, eggplant is pretty amazing stuff.

After coming to Japan, I was happy to learn that this country is one of the five major eggplant producing nations. Japanese eggplant are long and thin, often curved (like Italian eggplant), rather than, well, egg shaped. K cooks them in a miso sauce, which tastes pretty darn good, though I think the miso flavor kind of overwhelms the mild eggplant a bit much, and they loose something when cooked to the point of being limp. Also, Japanese eggplant, when cut into quarters lengthwise, remind me of those giant worm "graboid" monsters in the movie "Tremors", but K doesn't like me to play with my food anymore than Mother did. Sigh. Women have so little tolerance for imagination at the dinner table.

Part of the humbug with most eggplant recipes is the the amount of preparation - slicing them into little pieces, salting them and laying them up to draw out the moisture, frying, etc., but recently I found a recipe that is really simple to prepare yet very delicious. I modified it to my taste of course. I hope you'll give it a try.

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Here's "Steamed Eggplant Pandabonium":

4 Eggplants - any of the purple kinds will do and there are lots of varieties. As Momo showed in an earlier post, I'm growing two varieties in big pots this summer.
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) rice or canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mm) honey

  • (Please ignore the annoying space that follows which is there because I haven't figured out how to write a table for blogger that doesn't have a space after it.)



To prepare, just take the stalk off, cut into quarters (first in the middle, then lengthwise), and steam on the range or in the microwave for 5 minutes.

Wisk up the other ingredients - really get them well blended - and pour over the eggplant. Et Voilà! That simple. You may feel guilty for the compliments you get. Don't. Just enjoy. Don't worry about all that oil by the way. You will not end up eating it all. Put the sauce in a bowl with a serving spoon, and just use what you need at the time. The rest can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days. It's just easier to whip up a larger amount than a tiny one.

*I do not recommend substituting other kinds of vinegar. Chinese and Japanese rice vinegars are much sweeter than what Americans are used to. Whatever else you may change (like using sugar because you're out of honey), please stick with rice vinegar without fail.

You may also enjoy Michael Franks' song "Eggplant" while preparing or eating this dish. I wanted to share it with you within this post as well, but the embed feature is not allowed. So click here to watch/listen:


Bon Appétit!

2007/07/26

Zucchini Quiche

- Curse of the Black Widow?

Years ago I served this dish to a couple who we had over for dinner and it was a real hit. That success had unexpected repercussions, however. Jim was a coworker of mine at an aerospace electronics plant in California, and lived with his significant other in an old farmhouse where, during the second world war, a woman raised black widow spiders in the basement. Really. The spider's silk, being stronger than anything manmade of that size, was used (I am not making this up) to make cross hairs in aircraft bomb sights and other instruments, allowing super thin lines which steel wire could not provide. Happily, they never saw any black widows while they were living there.

Jim was a very laid back fellow from Missouri of about 35 years at the time, who collected Studebaker cars. He had been a naval officer (graduate of Annapolis) during which time he made hours of boring 8mm home movies of the wake of the aircraft carrier on which he served - no people, no planes, just reel after reel of open ocean (he'd never seen the ocean before joining the Navy). He was tall and thin, wore a rumpled seersucker suit at work, and had an unfiltered cigarette dangling from his lips most of the time as he shared laconic observations on the meaning of life. He reminded me a bit of Will Rogers – the kind of person you just couldn’t help but like.

Ten years my senior, he was a mentor to me, though I was a young smart ass/know it all. (Now am an older smart ass/know it all.) Perhaps it was my attitude that added some competiveness into the relationship, but after his significant other had raved about my quiche, Jim wanted to prove that he was just as capable of making zucchini quiche as was I. So one weekend they invited us over to their house – the “black widow house” as we called it – for quiche.

Jim was a tad long in the kitchen and the rest of us started to wonder what was going on. It seemed to be taking too long for the quiche to bake. He finally pulled it out of the oven and cut it open. That was when he discovered that he had made a crucial mistake in the recipe. He had used cucumbers instead of zucchini! The poor guy never lived it down.
~~~
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Zucchini squash

So here’s my recipe for zucchini quiche. (Well, to be honest it is an old recipe from my 1972 edition of “The Vegetarian Epicure” by Anna Thomas.)

The zucchini in the garden aren’t ready to pick yet, but best to assemble everything I need ahead of time, right? Dieters and vegans can use their favorite substitutes for the sour cream and cheese. Not me. I don’t eat this kind of dish very often, so when I do, I use the real thing even if cheese isn't usually on my menu.

First off, you’re going to need pie crust dough. I won’t include the recipe for that here. Make your own or buy it pre-made if you like, but just dough, not pre-shaped. If you need a recipe, email me. In addition to the dough, you’ll need:

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Cheddar
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 1/2 to 2 lb. fresh zucchini
2 eggs, separated (not from each other, silly, separate the yolks and whites)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 Tbs chopped chives
2 Tbs flour
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
butter

Prepare the pie crust dough and mix in half of the two cheeses. Chill it, then press into a 10 inch pie dish. Mix the other half of the cheeses with the bread crumbs.

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices. Try to make them all the same width. Boil in salted water for 5 minutes and drain. It is important not to overcook them.

Beat the egg yolks and sour cream together, add chives, flour, salt and pepper. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff and add them to the rest of the mix – gently. You want the entire mixture to be as fluffy as possible.

Take out the chilled pie crust and make a layer of zucchini slices on the bottom. Cover them with some of the sour cream mixture. Keep adding layers in this way until you run out of slices. You should have three or four layers. Top the zucchini off with sour cream mixture and sprinkle on the breadcrumbs with cheese to cover. Something to keep in mind while putting it together is to save enough of the egg and sour cream mixture to cover the whole thing when you're done layering the zucchini.

Place small slivers of butter scattered around the top and put the pie into a 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes, turning it down to 325 F for another 40 minutes or until done.

The result is not only light and tasty, when you serve up a slice with the layered zucchini showing, it's a feast for the eyes as well. Enjoy.

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Cucumbers

Oh, and please don't use cucumbers.

2007/07/25

Yama Yuri

I came across a lily plant that we didn't know we had. Odd how much pops up that is new to us on such a small property. This one was hiding between two other large plants along our back wall, so wasn't obvious until it produced two beautiful blossoms.

Anyway, this is a "Lilium auratum", a type of lily which is called "yama yuri" in Japan. The name yuri is used to describe all lilies and comes from an old word, yuru, which means "swing". The lily was named for the way it swings in the breeze. Lilies were considered to be sacred in ancient times and there are festivals dedicated to the flower. Fifteen of the world's ninety six lily species are indigenous to Japan. Yama yuri means "mountain lily" as that is where it is often found, though it is also the most common lily here on the main island of Honshu.

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Yama Yuri has a large blossom. Ours is about 20 cm across (~ 8 inches)


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A green spider with interesting markings lives on this blossom.


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On close inspection, what at first glance looks like a "face", turns out to be markings on the abdomen.


The blossoms have a nice, light, sweet fragrance. Now that I know we have a yama yuri, I'll wait until it's done blooming and then move it to a more visible location - perhaps outside the kitchen sliding glass door - where we can enjoy it more.

2007/07/24

Totally Tubular

There was a unique fashion show in Beijing on July 11th. It was put on by a sponsor of the 4th China Reproductive Health New Technologies & Products Expo and focused on the sponsor's product. Thankfully, a Reuters photographer dutifully took pictures of all the designs for those of us who did not attend.

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Hats and craft items were displayed at the entrance, and the fashions ran the gamut from swimsuits to wedding gowns. All made from the product of Guilin Latex Factory, which is ..... condoms.

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The purpose of course was to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention. I have a dozen puns to go with this story, but I'll spare you. I'm sure you can "stretch" your imagination and come up with your own.


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Actually, I think it's a clever way to bring attention to a serious global problem. They at least deserve a tip of the cap for having a reservoir of creativity.

Trivia: The word "gamut" comes from Middle English and means the complete scale of musical notes. An estimated 39.5 million people are living with HIV or AIDS, of those, approximately 2 million have access to medication. The disease is out of control in Asia and Africa.

2007/07/19

Momo's Glad and Other Joys of Summer

by Momo the Wonder Dog

Momo's Glad-iola that is. I had this really pretty gladiola in front of my house. Before it bloomed, Pandabonium almost pulled it out while weeding. I'm glad he didn't. I'm also glad he got a picture of it before that typhoon came and broke it in two. Oh, well, like Uncle Robin says, "all things are impermanent" (especially food in my dish).

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I don't know what that bush is with the lavender flowers, but I dug a hole under it and like to hide there sometimes. Don't tell PandaB, he gets grumpy at me if he finds out I've been digging a hole.

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Some weird plants in the yard are the eggplants PandaB is growing in big pots. He says eggplant originally came from India, then were grown by the Chinese, and only later showed up in Italy and other places. I wonder if Reena in India cooks eggplant? I don't eat eggplant, I'd rather have meat in my dish.

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There are also a couple of kinds of tomatoes. These are cherry tomatoes.

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Oh, and a zucchini. He's got some lettuce and carrots sprouting now too. And peppermint, and wild strawberries. I like it when he comes out to work with the plants or do weeding and stuff, because he lets me off the tether and I get to run around the yard. He also plays with me a lot then. So even though veggies don't interest me, I'm glad he's growing them.

K has some plants too. Here's K's parsley plant.
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And her rosemary bush is really WILD. Smells good too.
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One more flower to show you. It's over by the mailbox. See? I have my name on the mailbox, so if you send me a postcard I'll get it. :P
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This flower is K's too. It's a hibiscus. Pandabonium says they have lots of these in Hawaii and Fiji. I see some around this neighborhood too, but not as pretty as K's.

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I like all the flowers in summer, and the wild grass by the road, which I like to lick or chew. Grass by the side of the road is called "michikusa" in Japanese. The word has come to mean "dilly-dally", which is just what Pandabonium says I do.

Well, time for a nap. Jaa ne. (Later).

2007/07/17

Not My Fault

A major earthquake hit Niigata Prefecture Monday morning. It destroyed hundreds of homes, caused radioacitve water to slosh out of holding tanks at nuclear power plants, did other damage, and caused several deaths as well.

We didn't feel it at all. In fact, we didn't know anything about it until the afternoon when went into town for some errands and happened to pass a TV display in a store that was showing news pictures of the damage.

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We did feel an aftershock last night which awakened us sometime before midnight and sent Momo out of her house, barking.

Since I grew up in California, earthquakes are not new to me. In fact, during the Kern County earthquake of July 1952, which at 7.3 on the Richter, was the largest in the conterminous United States since the San Francisco shock of 1906, since I was just a baby, my father grabbed me out of the crib and rushed outside with my mother and three older siblings. Only when everyone was safely assembled in the yard did someone point out that he was holding me upside down.

In college I spent a year in a field geology class mapping the Mill Creek Canyon fault - an offshoot of the famous San San Andreas fault - in the San Bernardino Mountains. I had a great teacher - Dr. Dana - who had studied directly under Dr. Charles Richter.

On September 12, 1970, a 5.2 earthquake -the Lytle Creek - struck in nearby San Bernardino and literally threw me out of bed that morning (at 7:31 am if you're wondering). At a nearby community college, the library was unscathed except for the geology section which was thrown to the floor in the quake. The following year, a 6.6 quake on the San Fernando fault in Sylmar did $500 million in damage and killed 65 people. Tectonic plate theory was fairly new stuff back then. I was definitely in the right place at the right time for studying seismology.

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The map above shows the tectonic plates around Japan. The red lines are faults. ISTL is the Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line, MTL is the Median Tectonic Line.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence in Japan - it's on same "ring of fire" as California, just the other side of the Pacific plate. Niigata itself was previously hit just two days after my arrival here in Ocotober of 2004, causing death and destruction that continued to affect the region for some time. Since Japan sits at the juncture of the Pacific, Philippine, and Okhotsk (or North American) tectonic plates, where the Pacific plate subsumes under the Eurasian plate, it offers front row seats for earthquake and volcanic activity. As for volcanoes, I lived on one in Hawaii which is a much more active area for that, so that's not new to me either.

Niigata and Kobe are located at either end of what is called the Niigata-Kobe Tectonic Zone. Kobe of course had a terrible temblor in 1995 which registered 7.2 and took 1,800 lives.

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Surprisingly perhaps, the NKTZ is not the most active area. Most earthquakes here occur under the sea between the coastline and the Pacific plate starting just to our north - that's because it's where the Pacific plate goes under the Eurasia plate.

Luckily for us, Kashima City is located on an alluvial plane with, as you can see from the maps, few faults in the immediate area. We do feel quakes, but they usually just rattle things a bit.

I thought I might explain the Richter scale and other scales (there are lots) used around the world for comparing earthquakes, but this post is long enough already I think and don't want to risk it becoming a "bloggopotamus".

Some people wonder if living with typhoons and earthquakes and volcanoes is stressful. Well, since we're in a spot that doesn't take the brunt of any of those, I'm fine with it.

Now my mother grew up in Kansas which in my mind is spelled T-O-R-N-A-D-O, and I would much rather deal with volcanoes, typhoons and earthquakes, thank you very much! "Aunty Em, Aunty Em..."

2007/07/15

Little Puppy with a Big Heart

by Momo the Wonder Dog

This is "Heart-kun". Isn't he the cutest?

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He's a long-coated chihuahua in Odate, northern Japan.

Heart-kun was born on May 18, 2007 as one of a litter. The shop owner, Emiko Sakurada, has bred over 1,000 of this kind of dog and said that he is the first one to have these markings. (Well, duh!)

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Don't ask how much he would cost. He's NOT for sale.


2007/07/13

Wet Weekend Ahead

UPDATE - Sunday 4:30 PM Local Time (07:30 GMT)

The storm is pretty spent now and turned a bit more to the South which is what I have heard they commonly do here. The rain is pretty much over, but the wind will arrive after the center passes us a couple of hours. Shouldn't be anything serious. I'm glad we missed out on the excitement. In Kyushu, 2 people were killed by this storm and many injured. Over 8000 people evacuated homes, and over 30,000 experienced power outages. It was the strongest typhoon to hit Japan since 1951 when they started keeping records of them. Tomorrow is predicted to be sunny.

UPDATE
- Sunday 7:30 AM Local Time (22:30 GMT SAT)

Man-yi has slowed to Tropical Storm level. It rained steadily in Kashima City all day Saturday increasing in intensity last night. We have a break this morning which will give me time to get the potted plants into the garage, stow any loose objects, and close some storm shutters. Looks like 89 kph (55mph) winds and plenty of rain to come.

Analysis from Metorologist Jim Andrews, who blogs at AccuWeather:

"About 24 hours (if not less) of truly stormy weather owing directly to Man-Yi lies ahead for southern and southeastern Japan. As a tropical storm, Man-Yi will be south of Nagoya Sunday morning, local time, and east of Tokyo Sunday evening. Torrential rains, more than high winds, will be the primary impactful weather flowing from this storm. Local rainfall will be 12-16 inches, or 30-40 cms, with 4 to 8 and locally 10 inches (25 cms) in greater Tokyo."


~~~

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Looks like stormy weather is headed our way. Typhoon Man-yi is presently scouring Okinawa with heavy rains and winds. Earlier today (Friday in Japan, Thursday in the USA) Naha Airport reported winds of 62 knots gusting to 82 kts (71 to 94 mph) at the surface and 85 to 95 kts (98 to 109 mph) just above the surface. Landing speed in a Cessna 172 is half of that.

It is predicted to be over us on Sunday morning and should be down to a Catagory 1 or less by then - but that still could mean plenty of wind and rain. Hopefully it will pass to the south of us. We'll just have to keep "an eye" on it.

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Wave height map from this morning - 09JST on July 13, 2007
numbers indicate height in meters 13 meters= 42.6 feet
"Kyotsukette kudasai" (Y'all be careful now, hear?)


Guess we won't be taking Momo to the beach. Lots of time yet for us to batten down the hatches around here and reef the sails.

Whatever your weather looks like, be safe out there and have a good weekend.

Blue Moon on the Rise

The Blue Moon butterfly is native to Australia and can be found on islands across the South Pacific. I delight in seeing them on Taveuni, with their black wings and white spots with an iridescent blue border around them. Seen at dusk, the spots appear to glow due to the contrasts. They are fairly large with a wingspan of about 100 mm (4 inches).

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In some areas, a bacteria has been killing off the male population for some time. The Wolbachia bacteria is passed down from the mother and selectively kills males before they have a chance to hatch.

But now the males are making a comeback. An international team of scientists who have been studying the species, say it is due to the rise of a gene the butterflies now have which makes them resistant to the bacteria. Last year, on the Samoan islands of Upolu and Savaii, the males went from just 1 percent of the Blue Moon butterfly population to 39 percent in just ten generations and less than a year due to the gene. They confirmed that the bacteria is still present, but the gene suppresses it. It is the fastest known example of natural selection at work.

A full article is linked to the title above. The scientist's reported their findings in the journal "Science".

2007/07/10

Naming Number Two

"Naming Number Two" is an independent film from New Zealand, based on the award winning play "No. 2" by Toa Fraser, who also directed the movie. Toa Fraser was born in 1975 in Britain to a British mother and Fijian father. He has lived in New Zealand since 1989.

CYAN PICTURES is distributing the film and a couple of weeks ago asked me to write a review prior to the film's release on July 27th. When I agreed to do so, I was totally unfamiliar with the movie, but have watched it three times now. I'm no professional movie critic, but I enjoy that medium and certainly have opinions about the craft, so I am happy to share my observations for whatever they are worth.

The story is about an elderly Fijian woman, Nanna Maria (Ruby Dee), who lives in Mt. Roskill, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, with one of her grandsons, Irasmus (Rene Naufahu), and her grand daughter, and single mom, Charlene (Mia Blake). One morning she awakes from a dream and announces that she wants to convene all of her grandchildren that day for a big party at which she will announce her successor - her "number two" - and tells Irasmus and Charlene to make it so. No small task as there are five grand kids to round up. Plus there are two sons and a daughter who don't get along but are too curious to stay away in spite of their mother's wishes.

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Family tensions and the logistics of putting it all together on such short notice threaten to make the whole plan fly apart (or blow up in her face) at any moment, but Nanna Maria is a strong willed woman. She wants only her grandchildren there, and no "outsiders", but of course her children do come and though her aloof businessman grandson, Tyson (Xavier Horan), reluctantly does show up, he has his English girlfriend (Tuva Novotny)in tow.

I'll let you get to know the rest of the characters as you watch the film. There are a lot of characters (a family full) and it is amazing how well we get to know each of them in the space of 94 minutes. The very talented cast put in great performances. Taungaroa Emile (who played Boogie in Once Were Warriors and Willie in Whale Rider) was outstanding as grandson "Soul". Very skillful writing and directing on Toa Fraser's part, and brilliant cinematography by veteran Leon Narbey made all the disparate elements fit seamlessly together. It is rather amazing how chaos is brought to order in this film.

As much tension as there is, there is also plenty of humor to break it up. A choice scene pokes fun at "Lord of Rings" fans. One of the sons, Percy, is a tour guide and after pointing out and naming the mountain peaks around Auckland, a German tourist asks with a puzzled expression, "But where is it? Where is Mount Doom?" Percy replies "I don't know, it's over in Hamilton I think."

Another source of both tension and humor is Nanna Maria's wish to have a pig killed for the feast. Tradition clashes with the modern cultural views of such things shared by some of the grand kids - they eat meat, but don't want to have anything to do with killing the pig. It makes for some great lines, particularly from granddaughter Hibiscus (Miriama McDowell).

Weaving it all together is Nanna Maria's strength of character and the love that binds families together even in the face of culture clashes, changing traditions, long standing feuds, and sibling rivalries. So who will Nanna Maria name her number two? That also is a surprise.

Naming Number Two is a very well crafted film, full of unexpected turns that entertain, enlighten, and warm your heart. Rated PG, it's great family summer entertainment. Don't miss it.



Naming Nunber Two website

2007/07/09

Dog vs Baby

by Momo, the Wonder Dog

There is a young woman who pushes her baby boy in a stroller past our gate almost every day. The boy is quite bright - as evidenced by his interest in dogs - so they stop to visit me each time.

Last month, one of Pandabonium's dear nephews had a baby (well, his nephew's wife did most of the work), and the baby is of course getting lots of attention. It is probably good that they don't also have a dog, because dogs can become jealous and even neurotic by the irrational amount of attention given babies at the expense of quality time with the dog. This is due to the fact that dogs develop at much faster rate than do babies and therefore feel superior to them in every way.

Here is the new baby in Pandabonium's nephew's family. Her name is Tara.

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Cute? Of course. Very. But let's compare the development of dogs and babies and see just why it is difficult for a dog to understand what all the fuss is about. The following is from the most excellent book "How to Live with a Neurotic Dog" by Stephen Baker:

4 Weeks
Baby - He breathes with regularity. He can cry and open his eyes wide. He can turn his head.

Dog - He breathes with regularity. He can cry and open his eyes wide. He can turn his head.

16 Weeks
Baby - He can turn over to his back and try sitting up. His eyes follow a moving object, and he may even reach out for it. But he cannot grasp it, for all his ten fingers.

Dog - The puppy can walk steadily across the room, sit, lie down, and stand up. He can follow a moving object with his eyes and, if it is food, grasp it.

28 Weeks
Baby - The baby can sit up, but he still topples over. He can reach for desired object and bring it to his mouth. He can even grab his feet and put them in his mouth as he lies on his back.

Dog - At this age, a puppy can do many things. He can get under blankets. He can chew up books, shoes, and carpets. He is smart enough not to waste time sucking his feet.

1 Year
Baby - The baby creeps about freely on hands and knees. He is beginning to discover the world at his own pace: slowly.

Dog - The dog can now run so fast that his master can no longer catch him. He knows all he needs to know.

2 Years
Baby - The baby finally understands part of what is being said. He is even able to utter a few words, even if they do not make sense. Lost for words, he giggles.

Dog - The dog understands everything that is said. He even understands that at times it is wiser to pretend he doesn't understand and keep his nozzle shut.
~~~

Is it any wonder a dog could become frustrated, even neurotic? Happily, I don't face that situation and Pandabonium and K recognize my abilities and take care of all my needs. I post this as advice for any of you humans out there who may consider having babies and dogs at the same time. Please do not neglect your dog, but reassure him/her that they too are a valued member of the family.

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And welcome to the world Tara! Don't take any nonsense from your big brother Anthony (I don't think he'll give you any). But if you need advice, call up your cousin Grace who also has an older brother and has learned how to manage the situation quite well.

2007/07/06

Take the 5th, Pops

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It was a good thing that we arrived early for six o'clock concert of the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra, as we were in the first eighty or so people into the hall and able to get good seats in what turned out to be a full house. The centerpiece of the evening was to be Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", so there were lots of kids in the audience. Many were a bit restless, as might be expected, but pretty well behaved.

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Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Keiji Ogawa

The orchestra's fifth Pops concert opened with John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", which got everyone's blood pumping, and the enthusiastic audience clapped along during the trio.

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The piccolo solo by Yukari Endo in Stars & Stripes Forever was a hit with the audience.


The emcee for the evening, Koneko Edoya, then came on stage. I've always been impressed with the guest musicians and celebrities that this orchestra gets and this evening was no exception. (Mr. Ogawa has played clarinet professionally in the NHK Orchestra and as a soloist, and evidently has lots of connections.) Mr. Edoya is an expert at animal calls (and has also been a television game show host).

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Emcee, Koneko Edoya

To introduce the children in the audience to the instruments in the orchestra, several musicians in turn stood up and displayed their instrument, then played a bird or animal imitation. The audience would try to guess what animal was, and Mr. Edoya would offer his vocalization of it. Birds, cats, cows, horses, elephants and frogs were heard to come from the orchestra - and Mr. Edoya. Good fun. The winds had an advantage over the strings, I think.


Moody Minstrel convincingly imitated a seagull on his clarinet.

Then it was time for "Peter and the Wolf". Though written for children, it is an interesting enough piece of music for adults too, and holds its share of challenges for an orchestra. (I also like a jazz version that was recorded in the late 60's by jazz organist Jimmy Smith with the Oliver Nelson Orchestra).

The narrator was Hiromi Namaizawa, an actress who performs in Kashima and Chiba and is director of a theatrical company. She was great. She had very animated facial expressions and postures for each character and would walk in place imitating each of them as she read - Peter, cat, duck, bird, wolf, and Grandfather.


Hiromi Namaizawa narrating.

The part of the cat is played by the clarinet and was performed by the conductor's wife, Junko Ogawa. The Moody Minstrel was not left out entirely, however. In a surprise ending, the final march where they lead the wolf to the zoo was repeated a 2nd time in dixieland jazz style and a sousaphone, trombone, clarinet (Moody), and trumpet, (dressed as a tree, cat, grandfather, and Peter respectively) marched through the audience to the stage along with the hunters carrying the wolf on a pole. The wolf was great - a large plush one specially hand sewn by one of the orchestra members for the performance. You'll see it (sort of) in a pic below and better in the final video clip of this post.

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In another twist, rather than ending with the duck being heard inside the wolf (having been swallowed whole), the hunters performed a "duck-ectomy" on stage and freed it!

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Hunters free the duck from the belly of the wolf. Moody as the gray bearded Grandfather to the left.

~Intermission~

The first piece in the second half was a waltz, "The Voice of Spring" by Johann Strauss.

Next, the guest vocalist was introduced with Puccini's "My Father". Kazuko Matsumoto is a soprano from Chiba, our neighbor prefecture. She attended the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo (that's where Seiji Ozawa went) and completed post graduate studies there. She now is studying in Paris and has won awards in competitions in both Japan and France. I really enjoyed her performance.


Soprano singer Kazuko Matsumoto. That's fellow American expat Charles on the right in the red shirt. His custom made violin has a beautiful yellowish hue and he gets a nice sound out of it.


And here's a 50 second clip of the Puccini which I took with the digital camera. The sound is surprisingly good I think, but the host degraded the picture quality some.


Following that was "Inu no Omawarisan" (Doggy Police Officer), a Japanese children's song about a puppy trying to help a lost kitten. Arranged by the Moody Minstrel himself.

The next song - A Thousand Winds (or Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep) - was a moving one which has been popular in Japan, but the notes in the program about its origins were incorrect. They attributed it to a poem written by an Irish man who dies in their civil war, but in fact it was written by a woman in Boston for a Jewish friend who was unable to visit her mother in Nazi Germany. The confusion is understandable as the song has been recorded in many different countries and the poem on which it was based was never copyrighted and so has become the stuff of urban legends. Anyway, it's a pretty song.

Miss Matsumoto exited stage left and the orchestra played a medley from the Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". While we had been waiting for the concert to start, I had challenged K to name the seven dwarfs. We tried together. The first four were easy, then a couple more, but the seventh took us several minutes. Can you name them? The answer is at the bottom of the post under "trivia".

Miss Matsumoto returned to sing a medley from Sound of Music. A few days after the concert we watched the movie on DVD. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, though I like them all right, but the cinematography in that one is really spectacular.

Here's "Edelweiss" - in Japanese, of course...


For an encore, the orchestra played "Exodus". I thought it might be a hint to the audience to leave (just kidding). Then Miss Matsumoto sang "Itsumo Nandodemo" - the ending song from the wonderful anime movie "Spirited Away".

For reasons that remain beyond my limited capacity of understanding, this orchestra ends every concert with Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance". I guess it doesn't get played for graduations in Japan like it does in the US, so I forgive Mr. Ogawa for not knowing how many times (yawn) I have (yawn) heard it before (zzzzz), but still, I would hope he'd surprise the audience with something - I don't know - "else". I admit listening is different than playing - the trombone part is a challenge, as sections of it are fast, high, and written that awful tenor clef.

But those thoughts don't really creep in until later. At the time there is too much going on to think about that. The hunters bring the wolf back on stage and the guest narrator, emcee, and singer come out too. Balloons and streamers fly down from the balconies and school kids in uniform skip through the isles with noise makers as the wolf is opened up yet again to reveal candy which is thrown into the audience. And just in case you think I'm making all that up, here's a clip:



I guess Moody was a bit disappointed that they did not get the standing ovation that they usually do. It was not for lack of appreciation. I really think it was more a practical matter of lots of parents (moms mostly) with little kids on their hands. Stand up for an ovation and there go the kids. I was ready and willing to stand, but being the only gaijin in the house, I wasn't about to go first.

In any case, from where we sat, the orchestra played well, the program was a lot of fun, and a splendid time was had by all. Bravo!

Update -

PACIFIC ISLANDER ENCORE:

Moody Minstrel pointed out that he also arranged the song "A Thousand Winds", and was very pleased with the result (rightly so). I have added this clip of it which I omitted before only because it is kind of short (29 seconds). Pretty song, nice arrangement. I like the bassoon part (I'm always listening for the lower instruments).

"Sen no Kaze ni Natte"


Trivia - I found out later that photography was not allowed. Aren't you glad I didn't know that? (No flash, no foul?)
John Philip Sousa's father played trombone in the US Marine Band - Sousabonium?
The seven dwarfs are: Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Happy. We had trouble remembering Bashful.

New & Improved! Now with Retsin!

We hope you like the new look of the blog. Perhaps too small a change to be noticeable, but we have cleaner images of the Robert Lee Eskridge prints of the lei makers at the top of the blog and of the spear fisherman on the right. More importantly, we've widened the main column by 200 pixels which allows for larger images, makes the written lines longer (and hopefully easier to read) and shortens the vertical length of the posts. If loading time is a problem, let us know and we'll reduce the number of posts shown per page. Suggestions welcome (even criticisms - I promise Pandabonium won't bite).

2007/07/05

Independence Day - Time To Reload?

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Warning: If you're looking for a fun "fluff piece" on the 4th of July - this ain't it.
This might be more what you want: 4th of July

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

"We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident..."


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...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it. ..

I hope people in the USA will have a nice holiday. I also hope they reflect on what it means beyond the barbecue, beer, and fireworks.

There are a number of websites where you can read the entire Declaration of Independence. I also recommend keeping a pocket sized copy of it and the Constitution. As you read it, try to keep straight which potentate named George they were referring to when it was written.

Remember the four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty? They are to be used in this order:

Soap
Ballot
Jury
Ammo

However,

With 90% of the major news media in the US owned by 6 corporations, and public protests put in "free speech zones" behind barbed wire fences, and protesters infiltrated and spied upon by federal, state, and local governments, it is not easy to use the Soap Box. The internet is, so far, still available and being put to some good use.

With easily hacked electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail, voter black list scams, and intimidation of voters, the ballot box has already been shown to be of questionable value any more, but still holds out some hope.

Juries still exist, but the judicial branch at the higher levels which hear appeals is increasingly being loaded with partial judges who show no inclination to uphold the Constitution. The spineless, corporate owned Congress refuses to do their duty an impeach and remove officers at any level who have blatantly and repeatedly violated their oaths of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and committed numerous treasons, high crimes, and misdemeanors.

The ammo box may have been an option in 1776, but is certainly NOT today.

There are many things which still could be done, but won't. People are too comfortable to make the necessary sacrifices (I'm speaking of time and energy, not bloodshed).

In 1776, Thomas Paine's pro-independence pamphlet "Common Sense" sold as many as 600,000 copies to a population of 3,000,000 (one for every five people), which would be equivalent to 60,000,000 copies sold in present day America.

Sorry, I'm not that optimistic.


2007/07/03

Dog Tagged

I got tagged by the Moody Minstrel. (Well, I got tagged by the vet before that).
I think because I barked a lot at Moody a couple of weeks ago. Or maybe he knows Pandabonium won't play tag, but anyway....

Here are the rules:
- Each player starts with eight random facts about themselves.
- Those who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight facts and post these rules.
- At the end of the post, choose some people to get tagged and list their names.

1) Being a dog on guard duty is something like what Pandabonium says about flying a plane: long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. To relax, I like playing with my toys. I like to pull the pants off my stuffed parrot toy.

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I look like I am sleeping, but I am really on "hair trigger" alert.

2) Food: I eat twice as much breakfast in Winter as I do in Summer. In Winter, even though the floor of my house is heated, I burn up calories in the cold air, so I wake up hungry. In Summer, I'm not as hungry and don't eat until mid-morning. I "sing" for my dinner while it is been dished up, until it is in the bowl and whoever is feeding me says "OK".

3) I like to scare the sparrows that come into my yard. I lie in wait - sometimes in a hole I dig under a bush - until they land and then jump up and bark at them. Ha!

4) After my walk, I like to run around the house once or twice going as fast as I can! Then I jump up on the bench to get a treat.

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Walking by a shed where they make bamboo charcoal. Someone in the big house on the left plays saxophone.

5) I do tricks to get my treat after each walk. Sit, lie down, shake paws, high five, and dance.

6) I like getting a shower and shampoo, but don't care for getting my head wet or having a towel put over my head.

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Can you see the light beige area on my left side?

7) I bark at kids who walk past our house on the way to and from school as well as anyone else - unless they stop to talk to me like the lady with the baby in a stroller who walks by every day.

8) My fur looks white in pictures, but there are subtle tones of light beige in places, and of course my ears are black. My skin color is patches of pink, brown, and black.

I tag Agus, Reena, and NZM.

2007/07/01

Roadside Wisdom

A month or so ago, Don Snabulus was reading the book 'Roadshow, Landscape with Drums' by Neil Peart, and was struck by something that Peart wrote which he had seen on a church sign. In a post on the Snabulus Blog, Don shared the sound advice that was on the sign: "You Won't Be Persuasive, By Being Abrasive". A good reminder, especially when blogging and exchanging ideas in a public forum.

A church marquee is a common enough sight on Maui. Here in Japan, Buddhist temples sometimes do the same thing in their own way.

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Our local Shingon sect Buddhist Temple has a chalkboard out by the street and the minister writes notices and words of wisdom on it from time to time. There is usually a poster as well.

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The poster shows a priest ascending a long stairway and says "Find yourself." K translates the meaning of the minister's message as: "Whether you spend the day in gratitude or complaining, it's the same day."


There is also a note about Aoba-matsuri - the celebration of the birthday of Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect (born June 15, 774), and of Kogyo Daishi who founded the Buzan Division of Shingon Sect (June 17, 1095). Daishi is not a surname, but rather a posthumous honorific title meaning "great master".

This "minister's message" is an important theme in Buddhism. We cannot control the myriad external things which affect our lives for good or ill, but we can choose the way in which we respond to them. Thus, our happiness or unhappiness is a choice we ourselves make. That is certainly something I need to be reminded of from time to time.