Friday, March 25, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 10

More stuff I want to do in my life:

-Make really good sushi.  Difficulty rating 5 out of 10:
I love cooking.  I love sushi.  I think sushi is my favorite food ever.  It makes me sad that sushi intimidates a lot of people. (not all sushi is raw, in fact MOST American sushi is cooked)  Making sushi is more art than it is science. But like almost anything, if you just practice you can get pretty good at it.  I need to practice making sushi more often.  I guess I should through more sushi parties.  Seems like a win/win to me.

Tonight's Dinner
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Own a sword.  Difficulty rating 2 out of 10:
I hate real violence, but I can never read enough stories about superheroes or animals with ninja powers.  I want to hold a sword and imagine doing impossible feats with it.  More importantly I want to cut watermelons and open mail in the most outlandish ways possible.  And owning a sword also gives you the perfect excuse to have a sword naming ceremony.  Objects of power, like swords, must always have an appropriately awesome name and what better way to celebrate coming up with an awesome name than by having an elaborate naming ceremony and party?  My sword of choice? A Katana.  Someday I'll have an awesome sword, and I'll never use another knife to cut large fruit again.  But until then, I'll have to b content with my plastic sword named Acetaminophen.

-Go bobsledding.  Difficulty rating 6 out of 10:
Doesn't bobsledding sound like great fun?  There's just something about speeding through a long tube of frozen water at dangerous speeds that I can't imagine it would be boring.  I don't think I want to actually compete in any sort of contest with a bobsled, but there are tons of places around the world where you can go bobsledding for fun and I plan to feel that cool bobsledding air flow through my hair sometime in the future.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning About New Cultures: North Dakota

Every time I open my mailbox it feels kinda like a mini Christmas morning.  I never know what exciting presents and adventures await me.  A lot of days I get the equivalent of Christmas socks and underwear*. Yes I'm happy to continue receiving health care, but I can't get overly enthused about letters telling me that.  Sometimes I get more exciting things, like offers for enough free flight miles to get my wife a free ticket to Japan just by signing up for a credit card.  

But today, I found a completely awesome present waiting for me from my friends from North Dakota. If you've never heard of North Dakota it's technically an American state and it is cold.  I don't know much more about North Dakota, but my friends live there and they sent me a present full of items that represent the culture of North Dakota and it's people.  The didn't explain any of the items, so I've had to use a little deductive reasoning to understand the meaning of the gifts.

I did a little research about North Dakota and discovered that North Dakota is 90% farm land and has an average of 9 people and 25 cows per square mile**.  I didn't find any articles about North Dakota's culture or what kind of currency they use, but based on the three gifts my friends sent me I've learned some other very important things about North Dakota.

North Dakota's National Snack

1. One of the most popular snacks in North Dakota seems to be Hello Panda chocolate filled cookies.  I know what you're thinking, I had the same question.  How do they fill the cookies with chocolate creme, but still keep them crispy!?  I have no idea, but apparently these crafty North Dakotans have discovered the secret and are keeping it all to themselves.  No wonder those South Dakotans are so jealous.

A Typical North Dakota Farm Animal

2. Cows there are green.  I'm not sure if all cows in North Dakota are green or just certain breeds.  But if the stuffed animal my friends sent me is any indication, cows in North Dakota are mostly green and don't have tails.  I wonder if they eat a special kind of grass that makes them green or if they just had some kind of strange mutation.  Although apparently the hair on their head is immune to whatever causes the rest of their hair to turn green.

Trendy North Dakota Facial Hair

3.  Apparently most people/farmers in North Dakota have or want green mustaches.  I assume they sent me these mustaches so that when we visit later this summer, we can wear them and look like locals.  Are people's mustaches in North Dakota green for the same reason their cows are green?  Or do the farmers just paint them green in honor of their great cows?  Hopefully I can find some answers to these questions on my journey to the great white north.

North Dakota sounds like an incredibly fascinating culture, full of ancient traditions and delicious foods like Hello Panda cookies and green facial hair.  I hope that I can learn more of their traditions and meet lots of kind people and green cows on my road trip there this summer.  I can't wait to meet you North Dakota.

P.S. If you're reading this and are my language partner from Japan, this blog is a joke.  If you are anyone else, everything I said is absolutely true.

*Even if someone you know has a lot of holes in their underwear/socks, don't get them new ones for Christmas or their Birthday.  There is a time and place for boring, utilitarian presents; it's called April Fool's Day.

**This is actually true.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 9

It's Friday again, so here are some more additions to my bucket list.

-Go scuba diving.  Difficulty Rating 5 out of 10:
It's often difficult for me to find inner calm.  I have a very busy mind and I'm easily distracted.  But sometime during my childhood I discovered that sinking to the bottom of a pool seals off the outside world and forces my mind into a state of calm appreciation.  I didn't have regular access to a pool until high school, so I would often replicate this effect by sinking to the bottom of my bathtub.  I can't be alone in this, perhaps floating in water reminds us of the comfort of the womb.  For whatever reason, I love the peace and calm that being underwater brings me.  One of my fondest vacation memories is snorkeling off the coast of Jamaica years ago.  Surrounded not only by the peaceful embrace of water but also by breathtaking scenes of ocean wildlife and strange underwater landscapes has left me longing for more.

I'd love to be able to stay underwater for longer periods without being forced to return to the surface for air, and scuba diving seems like the perfect way to do this.  I look forward to the day that I can dive into the sea, pretend to be Captain Nemo's son and head into the ocean depths in search of peace and adventure.

Ready for action at an Arizona wave pool
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Take a trip on a motorcycle.  Difficulty Rating 6 out of 10:
Why are motorcycles so appealing and romantic?  Maybe it's the chance to speed through this world unprotected by a cage of steel and glass.  Maybe enough rebels and outlaws have been seen on them that we imagine some of their reputation will rub off if we ride one.  Whatever it is, I too feel the call of the open road and want to travel it with a bike beneath me.  Although I might feel safer on a three wheeled bike like the can-am, and I'll probably start with a weekend trip.

Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Take pictures of my wife in her wedding dress.  Difficulty Rating 5 out of 10:
Two things I love, taking pictures and my wife all dressed up.  She looked amazing in her wedding dress, but I didn't ever get to take any pictures, I was too busy getting married and having fun with loved ones to take any pictures that day.    And I think it's ashame that a piece of clothing that makes my wife look so beautiful is destined to spend the rest of it's life imprisoned in a box somewhere.  So I'd love to get it out and take some pictures of her on the beach in that dress, or riding a horse or a hot air balloon.  There are all kinds of great photo opportunities where her wedding dress could really make the photos pop.  Although I probably need to start small, like getting my wife to do a photo shoot in a normal dress first.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Murder at Mardi Gras (A murder mystery party with friends)

Conversation I recently had with one of my language partners from Japan:

Onnasan:  What changed for you this week?
Jeff: hmm, well I had a party.  For Mardi Gras.  That's an American Holiday.
Onnasan: I see, is it a Christian Holiday?
Jeff: Umm, well it started out that way, but it's not anymore.
Onnasan: Yes, ok.  So what did you do at the party?
Jeff: *pause*  We solved a, uhhh, a murder.
Onnasan:  A murder!?  *pause*  That does not sound fun, it seems very serious.
Jeff:  No, it was fun.  We got to dress up and everybody had clues and secrets, and we all had to guess who the killer was... (to myself: I guess it does sound a bit grim)
Onnasan:  Ah...  Well, Japanese people are very serious.  I do not think we would enjoy a party about Murder.
Jeff:  Haha, yes but it really is better than it sounds.

Trying to explain a murder mystery party in another language is not easy.  And now that I think about it, it does seem like a strange way to spend an evening.  But Americans love solving mysteries, why else do we watch so much 'Scooby-Doo' and 'Law and Order'.  And who doesn't love to dress up?  I pretended to be a Cajun gator wrestler/aspiring lawyer and my wife was a classic French maid.  To get into character my wife scoured youtube for videos on how to fake a French accent.  It was terribly fun.  And I was very proud of my friends, as they all did a great job dressing up and acting like their characters.  The story was full of outrageous plot twists and greatly added to the evenings silliness.  In fact, our murder mystery party was about as far away from serious as one can get.


Magnolia Beauty Queen / young heiress who my character was engaged to

An occult novelist who lives next door

A gold-digging wife from Vegas and Jazz Musician

The family cook who was secretly dating the French maid!

Mardi Gras Tie

My catchphrase for the night: (in a cajun accent) I gaur-ON-TEE, it was not ME

Happy Mardi Gras!

Since the party and mystery were both Mardi Gras themed, we cooked up some amazing Mardi Gras food.  Cooking in the kitchen surrounded by friends also working on culinary creations is itself great fun.  I've never been in a band, but I imagine this is what it feels like.  Working in the same space with others, everybody doing their own thing but all working towards the same goal, a delicious meal.

Jazz Musician Chad takes time away from music to work in another medium, Flavor.

French Maid Misty helps prepare dinner for the guests

Finished Product: jambalaya, collard greens and bourbon mashed sweet potatoes

We also cooked Cajun food the night before

Crawfish, fried okra and taters

I spent my summers growing up in Baton Rouge, so talking with a cajun accent and eating crawfish and jambalaya was a comforting reminder of home.  I had a fantastic time and I can't wait to solve another murder mystery soon.  Maybe I'll even write my own one day, that sounds fun.  And in case your were interested *Spoiler Alert* it was the victim's best friend/lawyer who did it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lunch with the Birds

The other day, while walking along the beach, I came across a group of birds during lunch time.  The birds at my beach (which I think are seagulls, but all I really know is they're not penguins) don't usually like getting too close to strangers and seem mildly uncomfortable when I try to take their picture. In those two ways, they are like my wife.  But on this particular day, the birds were mostly too busy with the work of catching their lunch and gulping it down to pay too much attention to me.  So I got to play and take their pictures while they feasted and it was one of the best things I did all week.

Hunting for food

Seagulls eat Clams

Seagulls eat Muscles

Seagulls eat Starfish

I had no idea seagulls ate so many different kinds of food!  I think I also saw one eating a crab, but I didn't get a picture of that.  So apparently seagulls eat pretty much anything that moves and is smaller than they are on the beach.  (Clams and muscles technically do move right?)  I had so much fun watching the birds eat and play that I almost felt like one myself.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 8

Wow, I guess this makes two months of bucket list additions.  Dreaming and planning is so important that I think everyone should take some time to dream about their future at least once a week, whether it's adding to your bucket list or thinking about your career aspirations or planning for your family.  And now some more of my dreams for the future:

-Throw a Treasure Map into the Sea.  Difficulty Rating 4 out of 10:
As a child, I once found a bottle in a lake that held a treasure map inside.  I followed the map and ultimately discovered a box with a beautiful gem inside buried right where the map said I would find it.  I'm pretty sure my parents set up the whole thing, but it was a magical adventure and remains a fond memory.  I love sharing adventures with others and spreading joy beyond just my circle of friends.  So before I leave our home here on the beach, I plan to bury some treasure and toss a treasure map into the sea.  I haven't decided what the treasure should be yet, but I think it should reflect my values.

People still search for buried treasure.
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Hike into the Grand Canyon.  Difficulty Rating 7 out of 10:
I spent close to a decade living in Arizona and although I have visited the Grand Canyon, I've never hiked it.  If you've never been, the Grand Canyon is a beautiful, humbling place.  I've stood at the edge and been awed and now I want to explore beyond the edges.  I want to see it from the bottom, the the top and crawl along its cliffs.  I want to walk away with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I have encountered one of nature's great masterpieces and been changed.

-Taste a Philly Cheesesteak from the place that invented them.  Difficulty Rating 3 out of 10:
The origin story of so many iconic foods has been lost to history.  So when I find somewhere that claims to have invented a famous dish, I'm always drawn to taste their creations.  Pat's King of Steaks in Philadelphia is widely credited for creating the Philly Cheesesteak in the 30's and still serves them up hot and fresh today.  There's almost always a line to get one, but I think that's part of the experience.  Lines give us an opportunity and excuse to talk to strangers.  Every step of my visit to taste the 'original' cheesesteak' sounds exciting to me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 7

Last week I had an interview in New York for a job teaching English in Japan.  I won't find out if I got the job until early April, so I'll be doing a lot of wishing and waiting this month.  My future in Japan has been running through my mind a lot lately, so I thought I'd add some things I want to do while living in Japan to my bucket list this week.

Take a Pilgrimage.  Difficulty Rating 8 out of 10:
There are many pilgrimages in Japan.  It is a country full of mountaintop temples and ancient journeys through nature.  But the most famous of all Japanese Pilgrimages is the '88 sacred temples of Shikoku'.  Along the edge of Shikoku, Japan's fourth largest island, 88 temples are scattered, each reputed to have been built or connected to a famous Buddhist monk, Kukai.  Kukai was a monk who believed, unlike others of his day, that we could achieve enlightenment during our time here on earth.  For thousands of years people have taken the pilgrimage searching for a piece of that enlightenment.  The temples form a great circle and it is truly a journey with no destination.

One of my short journeys along our beach.
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

I've taken many journeys for many reasons in my life: for fun, for education, for love and for jobs.  But I have never taken a journey for the soul.  These days, most people take the journey by bus, stopping at each temple for only a few minutes and completing the journey  in a matter of days.  My wife and I would love to walk the entire path, like the original pilgrims from ancient times. But it takes about 40 days to take the pilgrimage by foot, and it will be very difficult to find a month and a half to dedicate to this journey.  It may take us years before we can do this pilgrimage, but I can't wait to see what I'll discover on the way.

Become Fluent in Japanese.  Difficulty Rating 7 out of 10:
I don't know why Japanese calls to me, but it has for a long while now.  In college I minored in Japanese.  I've continued to study it since then and I speak once a week with a language partner via Skype.  Learning any language is difficult, but having a chance to practice it daily makes it easier.  I can't wait to live in a place surrounded by people who speak a language that sounds like poetry to me, and I can't wait to be able to speak it back.

Swim with Monkeys.  Difficulty Rating 4 out of 10:
One of my earliest memories of Japan is watching the winter Olympics in Nagano.  They did a special on the snow monkey who swam in the hot springs during winter, and that has always stayed with me.  I've always wanted to visit those springs, soak up their warmth and play with the monkeys.

I'll probably do a lot more photographing than swimming around the monkeys when I get there, but it will be just as much fun.  I don't know why certain things inspire us to dream, but visiting these snow monkeys will be a fulfillment of a dream I have long held in my heart.

Japan is full of adventures and journeys I have long dreamed of and planned for, and I could never hope to put them all down in just one blog.  I'm sure I'll have plenty more additions to my bucket list that include Japan or Japanese culture.  In some ways, waiting to go to Japan is an almost painful ordeal.  But at the same time, this period of anticipation and excitement is intoxicating and wonderful.  Isn't that half the point of making a bucket list, to taste the excitement and anticipation that you get as you begin a great journey and dream of the future?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bucket List Accomplishment: M&M Pretzels

Awhile back, I added 'trying the new pretzel M&Ms' to my bucket list, because I just love trying out new candy flavors.  In some small way, it's a return to my childhood.  There is something special about the simple, pure joy of discovery, excitement and sugar all mixed together in one fun experience.  My love of trying new candy is yet another reason why I'm so excited to move to Japan in a few months.  Japan has completely embraced the excitement of new and silly foods like green, mint Pepsi or sushi pizza.  And there are literally dozens of Kit Kat flavors in Japan, including grilled corn, cantaloupe and soy sauce!  If you want to know more, NPR did a taste test of several crazy Kit Kat flavors last year and there's a great blog dedicated to reviewing Japanese snacks.

But until I move to Japan and become overwhelmed by new foods and flavors, I am content to try new American candies like cotton candy pop-rocks and pretzel M&Ms.

new M&Ms and very old water
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011 

The first thing that I noticed about the new M&Ms is how huge they are, almost the size of marbles.  If I had to, I think I could probably fit 60 or 70 standard M&Ms into my mouth at once, but I doubt that I could fit more than two dozen of these bad boys.  I know I got the same amount of candy as if I'd bought dark chocolate M&MS (because they measure by weight), but I still felt slightly cheated because I got so many fewer M&MS.  When it comes to M&Ms, bigger is not better in my book.  I guess that's why I like chocolate chip cookies better than chocolate chunk.

Copyright Jeff Howick 2011 

On the taste front, there were no big surprises.  I've had plenty of experience eating chocolate covered pretzels before, and they tasted like smaller, candy coated versions of those.  The pretzel quality was much closer to pretzels from the delicious snack Combos than classic bag pretzels, which I enjoyed.  Overall I'd say the new pretzel M&Ms are good, but not great.  They don't bring anything new to my snacking needs and there are already many other M&M flavors I'd rather purchase.  If you've had the new M&Ms, let me know what you thought in the comments.

Popular Posts