Monday, February 20, 2012

Eating in Japan

I'm going to try to catch up on my vacation posts! Today's post is about food we ate while in Japan last March. I LOVED visiting Japan and continue to pray for their recovery from the tsunami and radiation leak.

One the neatest meals we ate was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a traditional Japanese meal where you eat in your own little room which has tatami mats on the floor and rice paper walls. You remove your shoes before entering the room and sit on little cushions. In the middle of the table is a pot of boiling water and your meat is served in very thin slices which you cook yourself. Two funny things happened at this meal: 1) I saw slippers where you take your shoes off and took off my shoes and stepped up into the room with them on! They quickly motioned me "no!"...those shoes were for going to the bathroom....oops! 2) My brother ordered potatoes as part of our traditional meal...they brought out a bowl of french fries and ketchup!!! (Photo of my brother & his girlfriend. I didn't take any photos of me here!)

On another day, we ate at a stand outside of the zoo. The other 3 ate pizza (which was good!) while I had to try this cute panda. It was a pastry with powered sugar dusted on it. We think the brown part is a kind of bean curd paste. This was good!

The Tokyo zoo, Ueno Zoological Gardens, sits in a park called Ueno Park. This little stand was also in Ueno Park. These are bananas which are dipped in different colored frostrings and then decorated. Alex bought a set of 3 adorable mice! They looked CUTE, but we didn't like the taste that much.

Alex also bought some ice cream in Ueno Park. (We wanted to try everything!) They had really unusual ice cream flavors and we just had to order by the pictures. We did recognize "milk" (vanilla), green tea, an orange fruit, and cantaloups (which is what Alex had). Yummy!

This was one of my favorite meals in Japan. I had pot stickers and noodles. Oh, it was SO delicious!!! In fact, we all had a variety of pot stickers and noodles. So yummy!

There are a lot of machines in Japan that sell a variety of things - not just food! But, at the train depot one day, my brother bought some banana hot chocolate. Agian, we had to go from photos (although you can read the English word "hot").

This restaurant was in Akihabara, the Electric City of Tokyo. It was probably my least favorite meal, but it was still neat. The center of the table is a hot plate.

Here's a photo of the food from that place. You used the spatulas (on other photo) to kind of chop off a section and put it on your plate to eat.

To give you an idea of how we ordered, here is a photo of the menu...yes, it is all in Japanese! But, the waiter spoke some English. (This was often the case.) On the lower left hand corner, for example, they would tell us that was the beef section. So, we could see all the different prices of 'beef', but we really didn't know what the words meant. We would pick a middle-priced meat and order it. We often ordered a lot of food both to try more things and because we weren't sure what we'd like. We liked most of the food we tried!

Here's my brother & his girlfriend at a sushi train. To the right you can see the plates of food. They are on a conveyor belt and you pick up what you want from the train. The plates are color-coded so you can see how much they cost. I don't care much for sushi, though they really enjoy it. Alex & I did enjoy some desserts, though!

We only ate "American" food twice while in Japan - once at McDonald's and once at Subways. At the McDonald's, it was just Alex & myself and they didn't speak any English and they didn't have an English menu! They handed me a menu with photos and I pointed to what we wanted. But, they didn't have a water showing and I couldn't explain it, so I got an orange juice instead! Also, we got chicken strips and they still had the skin on it and they were pretty greasy. We didn't care much for it! At Subway, the food offered was also different. I usually have the sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Well, they didn't have that sauce, so I had Caesar dressing instead! Alex had ham & cheese, but we ended up trading. My brother had egg!

Here's the last photo. Alex bought this out of a machine at our hotel the last day. It's called "calpis" and it is DELICIOUS! When we bought things out of the machines, we had to be careful as they also sell alcohol out of them! And, I wasn't sure how to tell the difference! I just tasted it first and it tasted non-alcoholic. And, we looked at the labels to make sure it didn't look like something that contained alcohol.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Out of the Dust

The Dust Bowl. My husband's grandparents were children growing up in Oklahoma during that time. Yesterday, I talked to Grandpa, now 91,  about his experience.

(image from Wikiedia)

He said he was probably about 12 years old and he remembers they had a hard time making a living because there was no rain. It was "terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible." He said people were "going to California in droves", but no one he knew personally. They were "going to try to get work. They'd lost everything they had. Maybe they had a few dollars, so they headed to California and maybe on the way they had to find work." They'd stop for a little while and earn a little more money to continue on their way to California. "The dust was really bad," he repeated several times.

Watch Surviving the Dust Bowl on PBS. See more from American Experience.

American Exeperience has a movie called Surviving the Dust Bowl that is available online for free. It's an hour-long movie, but this clip is only about 8 minutes. They also have a Teacher's Guide, interviews, and much more!

(photo by Dorothea Lange - found at Wikiedia)

Of course, you can't forget the documentary photographer of the time, Dorothea Lange! She photographed migrants, many who had come from Oklahoma, and used those photographs to show how badly these people needed help.

I always recommend the books by Mike Venezia, and he has one about Dorothea Lange!

Once again, I recommend Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It's an incredible Newberry Award winner for Young Adults that left me in tears at times. It is a well-written, quick read that really helps you to exerience the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Historical Fiction and Nonfiction for Children

I am currently taking an online class called "Writing for Children". I'm not sure if I'll really do anything with it, but it is something that interests me. If I did ever try to write books for kids, I would probably do either historical fiction or nonfiction.

Since the best way to become a writer is to 'read, read, read!", we are sent to a library or bookstore for basically every lesson. The lesson I just completed was about historical fiction and nonfiction and I wrote a lengthy post about some of what I'd found during my trip to the library. I thought I'd share it in case it might get someone interested in one of the books I review or even gives them insight into the writing process. So, here's my post from class...

I spent a few hours at the library yesterday and had a wonderful time sampling historical fiction books for YA. My surprising favorite was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Why surprising? Well, first of all, I didn't really care for the cover - just an old hoto of a girl in a hat. It looked kind of boring to me. And, secondly, I opened it and discovered it was all written in poetry! Not rhyming poetry, but definitely set up as poems. But, I started reading and was pleasantly surprised!
The topic of the book is the Oklahoma Dust Bowls. I grew up in Oklahoma, so this is a topic I am personally interested in! My husband's grandparents, in fact, lived on farms in Oklahoma during this time. (And, I'm going to have to ask them about it!)

So, the story is told from the point of view of a 13 year old girl named Billie Jo. She gets upset because some of the neighbors are having a contest to see who can kill the most rabbits because the rabbits are damaging their crops. But Billie Jo says that "grown men clubbing bunnies to death" makes her sick. But, she's glad they gave the rabbit meat to families that really needed it.

Later, she's asked to play the piano for an event, and she dreams of going to DC someday and playing for President Roosevelt. And, another section talks about meal they set the table with the plates and glasses upside down and the napkin over the silverware and they don't turn them over until the last minute - to keep the dust away, of course! But, Daddy comments that the "potatoes are peppered plenty tonight" and likes his "chocolate milk" for dinner, when really they are both just the result of dust.
The book tells a lot about the dust bown and what life was like for a young girl at this time. And, it is probably a quick read with the short, poetic type chapters that read easily. I'm going to finish this one!

The YA nonfiction book I chose to read was An American Plague: The True & Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Wow! This is an incredible, true story by Jim Murphy and he did a LOT of research! The back of the book includes 13 pages of "sources", many of them with notes! The sources includ books, newspapers, magazines, personal journals, and letters. I liked that he accomplished his research without any interviews...a process that I'm a little intimidated by!
I think the story reads like fiction...just so smooth and you really get into the lives of the 'characters!' It is not stuffy or factual, though filled with researched facts. He includes quite a few quotes, often short ones like a description by a doctor saying the rash "resembled moscheto bites." It makes the story so much more 'real'! And, of course, it is a realy story!
Since nonfiction or historical fiction is what I'd probably like to write, I really loved this lesson. So, I'd love to talk about two more things....

First, I am listening to a lecture series about cathedrals and requested an ILL book at the library for David Macaulay's Cathedral book. I accidentally got a copy of "Building the Book Cathedral." Well, the book tells about how Macaulay wrote the book! His FIRST! It talks about going to a children's publisher with an idea and two drawings...and how they got excited about a totally different story than the one he'd presented. And, he went with it! The story of building a cathedral. Macaulay actually took half of his advance and headed to Paris to do some research. He shows his sketches, his drafts, his first submitted manuscript (which he said looked like a "war casualty" when he got it back.) I think this is a great book to see the process a first-timer went through in getting published!

Lastly, I went to the children's area and found four books that looked intersting by Kelly Milner Halls, one of the authors mentioned in this lesson. The books are "Mysteries of the Mummy Kids", "Albino Animals", "Dinosaur Mummies", and "Tales of the Cryptids."

The first one I opened was the book about dinosaur mummies. The first page is an introduction in which Halls talks about growing up in Friendswood, TX as a little amateur naturalist. She loved finding anoles and watching their tales grow back! Years later, when she was at her first natural history museum, she saw the dinosaur skeletons that reminded her of the lizards she loved as a child. When she grew up to become a writer, she said, she "got lots of chances to dig dinosaur bones with paleo-experts."

At the back of the book, she gives mini-bios of some paleontologists and a lengthy list of resources for kids (or adults!) to look at if they are interestd. Then, she also gives a bibliograhy with a list of books, articles & websites, and "personal interviews and correspondence" that she used to create the book! That's a lot of research!

P.S. I also visited David Macaulay's site and watched a talk he did on TED called "All Roads Lead to Rome Antics", which is the story of how he created his Rome Antics book (above). I thought this was a great video for an aspiring author to write as it gives a lot of insight to all of the ideas he considered and trashed.

I am also watching a video based on David Macaulay's Cathedral book (embeded above). This is a wonderful movie about cathedrals which goes back and forth between the storybook world of Macaulay's Cathedral and real cathedrals with narration by David Macaulay himself. In the cartoon world, there is a great visual of how the heavy arched roofs were made and another section showing how the stained glass windows were created. Although the video is a little grainy, it is a wonderful addition to anyone wanting to learn about cathedrals! And, I believe you can borrow the same video from your library and the quality might be a little better.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up

“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.” - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

As I was doing more research for our European trip, I came across some information about James M Barrie, the author of the Peter Pan books among other things. I was amazed by his story!

James M Barrie was born in 1860 and was the 9th of 10 children. When James was 6 years old, his older brother, David, died at the age of 13. David was his mother's favorite child, and as James grew up he found it difficult to compete with his brother, David, who was eternally age 13....a boy who never grew up.

After earning a college degree, Barrie moved to London to pursue a writing career. He had a Saint Bernard and would go walking in Kensington Gardens. One day, he met three young brothers. He spent more and more time with them and eventually became like a member of the family. He would make up stories to tell the boys, including two younger brothers later on. The stories centered around a charcter, Peter Pan, who never grew up. (One of the boys was named Peter.) In the stories, Barrie's St Bernard became the 'nanny', Nana. Barrie ended up adopting the five brothers when their parents both died within a few years of each other.
Barrie's first story about Peter Pan was published in 1902. In 1912, Barrie commisioned a statue of Peter Pan to be placed in Kensington Gardens, where he had first told stories about Peter. He died in 1937.

Medieval Monstrosities

What do "Medieval monstrosities" have to do with cathedrals? The Basillica Church of Saint Mary Magdelene in Vezelay, France, depicts some of these monstrosities the central tympanum lintel above the main door. Why? The theme of this lintel is Jesus telling his disciples to preach the gospel to the ends of the world. And, at this time, people in Europe thought there were monstrous people who needed to hear the gospel!

Here are some of the 'people' who were thought to exist:
  • Sciopods - people with one leg and a foot so big they used it for shade
  • Cyclopes - people with one, central eye
  • Pygmies - short people (though I'm not sure why this one has two heads)
  • Blymmyes - people with faces on their chest
  • Cynocephalus - dog-headed people
I got more information about the history of these people at J. A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings blog. Blymmeys were described as early as the fifth century B.C. by Herodutus. Later, Pliny the Elder in his book "Natural History, Book V" (75 A.D.) also described them. Pliny's book was an attempt to "comprehensively document all the knowledge known in the world available to the Roman Empire at the time." Later on, they were described as man eaters, too.
(Large eared people - I didn't come across a name - image from Wikipedia)

(Sciapod/Skiapod/Monopod - from the Nuremburg Chronicle 1493 - image from Wikipedia)
Pliny describes Skiapods as follows: He [Ctesias] speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodae, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. (Ctesias' book was about India from the 5th century B.C.)
In this age of mass information and Google Earth it is hard to believe that people believed these human 'monstrosities' really existed. But, even today, we talk about leprechauns and big foot! Anyway, I can't wait to visit Europe and examine some of this medieval art in person.

P.S. I really enjoyed a related post called "How Columbus Discovered Cannibals in the New World" which talks about the dog-headed people and how Columbus used this idea to justify enslaving people.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saint Denis, a Cephalophore

Today's Cathedral lecture was about the Saint-Denis Cathedral which is considered the first Gothic Cathedral. It was designed by the abbot, Abbot Suger. The story of Saint Denis was really interesting.

Saint Denis lived in the 3rd century and, along with two companions, was converting a lot of people to Christianity. Somewhere around 250 AD, he and his two friends were beheaded on Mons Martis. Because of the martyrdom of these saints, the hill is now known as Montmartre, "the mountain of the martyr."

After being beheaded, it is said that Saint Denis picked up his head and carried it approximately 6 miles, preaching as he walked. He stopped at the location where the Saint-Denis Cathedral now stands.

There are actually quite a few saints who are said to have been able to walk and carry their own heads after being beheaded. The term for this is "cephalophore", or head-carrier. Often, in art, the saint is shown holding his or her head and the halo, the sign of saints, is shown where their head used to be. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Photo of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this post about cephalophores on Elizabeth Lunday's blog: My New Favorite Word: Cephalophore.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

What is a Cathedral?

As I prepare for our trip to Europe, I have now finished my first Great Courses lecture series by William Kloss, World's Greatest Paintings. This morning, I started a new series, this one by Professor William R Cook, entitled The Cathedral. The first lecture was titled What is a cathedral? This is what I learned...
After the 1st century, when Jesus' apostles had all died, each community started having a local bishop who had authority in his region. These were small groups who often met either in secret or quietly because of persecution. In the fourth century, however, Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and he legalized Christianity. Because of this, Christianity grew rapidly and the Christians were not being persecuted. And, the church starts to accumulate wealth.

(Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland - the only cathedral I've visited...yet!)

Each bishop, who was in charge of a region, sat in a seat called a cathedra. With larger numbers of Christians/Catholics, they erected buildings to house the cathedras, thus creating the first cathedrals. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the bishops role became larger. The people lived under "canon law" - the law of the church which was administered by the bishop sitting on his cathedra. Besides law, the bishops also had a political role since there were no Roman administrators left.
The bishops became very wealthy as the people gave gifts of land, jewels, gold, etc. Perhaps the gifts were of a pious nature, or perhaps they were trying to gain religious favor. The bishops used the wealth to create enormous cathedrals.
Relics were kept inside of the cathedrals. The relics were bones or other parts of the bodies of saints or other religious martyrs. These relics were believed to be powerful, so many people made pilgrimages to the cathedrals that housed these relics. One example is Canterbury Cathedral which housed the bones of the Holy Blissful Martyr, Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury. This pilgrimage is the basis for Chaucer's book, The Canterbury Tales.
Why did the cathedrals need to be so big? One of the main reason was to house all of its members during feast days, which could be for the 'big' religious holidays (like Easter) or for local Saint's days. Also, baptisms were often held here. The baptisms could be collective for many babies, perhaps on a Saint's day, or could be for the child of an important family.
The cathedrals you can visit today are usually still in use and have goen through a lot of repair and remodeling. They are NOT museums. They do not look exactly like they did when they were first built. Some reasons include:
  • damage from revolutions (like the French Revolution)
  • damage from the Protestant Reformation
  • damage and abandonment by Communist governments
  • damage from wars (like WWI and WWII)
  • damage by natural disasters like fire and earthquakes
  • damage of erosion and discoloration by industrial pollution
Most of the lectures will cover Gothic Cathedrals which started in France so that will be the focus of the lectures. The term "Gothic" wasn't used until the 18th century. This style of building was considered "primitive" and representative of the superstitious medieval Catholic church. Gothic referred to the Germanic tribe of Goths so it meant they were "barbarian."
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