Mom’s Arbor

handmade arborFor Mother’s Day this year, my dad built my mom a fantastic Asian-inspired arbor to frame the steps to their backyard. He finished it in July and Naoto and I got a chance to see it in person over the weekend. handmade arborWhen we were growing up, our yard was pretty plain, mostly grass and a giant vegetable garden. Now that my parents are semi-retired, they spend a lot of time gardening and collecting a variety of perennial flowers and greenery. The arbor adds a little architectural touch to their otherwise free-flowing garden. my parent's backyardThey found the design for the arbor in a thrifted old woodworking book that is full of projects for yards and patios. It’s amazing the gems you can find in seemingly outdated books! my parent's backyard at my parent's housemy parent's backyard my parent's backyardmy parent's backyardmy parent's backyardNot that we would ever want to make Presley jealous, but we kind of fell in love with my parents’ neighborhood cat, Fred. Fred isn’t really his name. My dad just calls him that. He originally belonged to my parents’ neighbor but now just kind of divides his time among the houses on their block. He was super laid back, fell in love with Naoto and charmed us into petting him every time we went outside. If we didn’t think Presley would eat him, we might have brought him home with us! But as my dad said…”Fred wouldn’t stand a chance around Presley.”

In My Neighborhood: Little Free Library

Little Free Library Forest Park, ILI’ve been reading about Little Free Libraries popping up in cities all across the country. It’s an intriguing idea–build a tiny library, fill it with a few books and let people give and take on the honor system. It’s so community-driven and idealist…two things I love.

Imagine my surprise when Little Free Library recently popped up in front of a tiny house in my own neighborhood!

This house is only a block north of me, and one that I walk by almost every day on my way to get a coffee or go to work. It’s in a neighborhood of both houses and apartments a couple of blocks away from the train station. If you ask me, it’s a perfect neighborhood for something like this. People can pick up and drop off books on their way to their morning trains. Hopefully some of the neighborhood kids can find some titles in there eventually. Little Free Library Forest Park, ILThe little library house is surrounded by solar-operated twinkle lights, but I haven’t seen it all lit up at night yet. I don’t see any titles inside that I want to borrow yet (I am a huge user of our public library), but I have a few good classics on my shelf that I’m going to drop off later this week. Little Free Library Forest Park, ILDo you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood? There’s a giant list of them here and a map here.

Speaking of reading…I’m going to go outside now and finish my book for book group this weekend. We’re reading Two Years Before the Mast. What an adventure!

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Plot #6: Brandywines are Back!

brandywines and yellow pear harvest, plot 6And the tomatoes are coming!! Last night in our latest check of our neglected community garden plot #6, we found a bounty of tomatoes! Three nice Brandywines, a couple more Juliets and a couple dozen Yellow Pears all made it safely into the harvesting bucket and ready for Hasegawa Happy Hour tomorrow night. I found a new salad recipe that I’d like to try with the yellow guys and I think panzanella will be the perfect plan for the Brandywines. Most of today will be spent searching for a cocktail recipe that will complement the tomato feast. plot 6, community gardenLook at our loofah! We have several of these little guys running along the mess of vines. Thanks to Mr. Brownthumb for helping us spot them and for hand modeling. Now we just need to hope that they don’t get eaten by mice before they are big enough to eat or dry out for bath time. (I’m still not sure I’m brave enough to eat one!)plot 6, cosmos, buttonsEven though my careless flower plantings took up way more space than I had anticipated, seeing those crazy orange and blue blooms in our plot makes me ridiculously happy. I promise there are plenty of tomatoes behind that mess of flowers!sunflower, forest park community gardenAnd speaking of flowers, I can’t resist sharing this way-taller-than-me sunflower in a neighboring community garden plot. I feel like I should do a community garden tour for you in the coming weeks. So many plots are overgrown and overflowing with amazing produce. It’s fun to be learning and sharing this hobby with so many others.

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A Place For Everything & Everything In Its Place

Home Decorator's Collection, Martha Stewart flat fileIt’s been a little quiet over here on the blog these past couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to focus on cleaning up around here, spending time outside and drinking in this wonderful summer.

One of the most exciting things about cleaning up around here is that we added another, final piece to our desk set-up in the living room. (You can see the beginnings of the office area here and here.) The two desks kind of looked lonely so we added a third piece from the Martha Stewart Craft Collection at Home Decorators. It’s a flat file and I am thrilled to be able to have more space for some of my mail art and craft supplies.

The most exciting part is that two of the drawers are large enough to hold my huge collection of handmade papers. Some of them have been rolled up for years in my trunk and in a drawer and in a spare trash can in the guest room, so it’s amazing to have them all in one place, lying flat and ready to use. Home Decorator's Collection, Martha Stewart flat fileThe other exciting part is that the other giant drawers have these little dividers, creating ready-made cubbies for all my stationery things. I’m currently picking patterned papers to line each section. Lining drawers is serious business around here.

We are still waiting for the parts to finish the last drawer in the cabinet. There were a couple of pieces that cracked during shipping, but thankfully we were able to get the whole thing together minus one drawer and that last drawer will be a piece of cake to finish once we get those parts. (Edit: we=Naoto…he did 99% of the work building this.) The furniture is all in place and I’m filling it up quickly. I hope to be able to show you another in-progress shot next week. There is still quite a lot of work to do–I will have to move the artwork and patch some holes in the wall and repaint the wall–before I can call the living room “complete.”

I will be back next week with an update, hopefully, and some more regularly scheduled programming. Have a great weekend!

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Japan Does It Better 17: Calendar Decals

calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterIf you visit any stationery store in Tokyo you will find aisles upon aisles devoted to calendar keeping. Not only are there tons of options for calendars and datebooks but there are tons of styles of these tiny stickers to help keep your appointments, duties, birthdays and other special events organized. I am a big fan of using my paper datebook and I couldn’t resist picking up a new set of calendar stickers at each stationery store I visited.calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterI bought some basic green washi dots to mark my work schedule and some basic see through colored squares for random appointments like board meetings and book group. calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterMost of the stickers I purchased are cat-themed. I use the cats and some other stickers I have in my stash to mark parties, coffee dates, birthdays and anniversaries. calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterThese stickers are the most literal calendar stickers. I just started using them to mark doctor’s appointments, car repair appointments and classes. calendar stickers, Japan Does It Better calendar stickers, Japan Does It Better calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterI love looking at my month-at-a-glance page and seeing the cats, washi tapes and other stickers highlighting the fun activities each month.calendar stickers, Japan Does It Better calendar stickers, Japan Does It Better calendar stickers, Japan Does It BetterLeave it to Japan to make something cute and practical! When it comes to kawaii calendar organization, Japan Does It Better!

To see the other JDIB posts, go here.

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Plot #6: The Season’s First Tomatoes

plot 6, juliet tomatoesWe discovered three really ripe Juliet tomatoes in the garden yesterday!! They probably could have been picked a little sooner, but I didn’t get over there much last week.

Now’s the time though…now’s the time for going to the garden every day or so to check for little red gems on the vines.

plot 6, juliet tomatoesOur four Juliet plants are all dripping with green tomatoes. It’s going to be another bumper crop this year. What you see above is just one branch of one part of a plant! It seems so weird that three random tomatoes were red and all the others look so very green…but that’s the way it was last year, too. All of the Brandywines and yellow pear tomatoes are still green, too. We are going to have to wait a little longer for those. plot 6, yellowed leaves plot 6, juliet tomato plantJust like last year, we have some blight happening. We’ve tried to cut off most of the yellowed leaves, but I need to go again this week and do a deeper cleaning of everything. Have you had this problem with  your tomatoes? Peggy suggested adding eggshells to our soil when we plant our tomatoes next year. Thankfully, the fruits are undamaged so far and most of the plants are still looking healthy otherwise. plot 6, flower gardenRemember how I randomly planted a few flowers from the seed bank in our community garden shed? Well, the flowers–cosmos and bachelor buttons–have grown as tall as the tomatoes and have taken over their little corner of the garden. I’ve been cutting a few for our kitchen counter and leaving some of the floppy ones for the butterflies. balcony flowersAnd speaking of flowers, my first Morning Glory appeared yesterday morning! I planted five types of climbers in June and they are all finally starting to vine. The Morning Glories and Moonflowers are the furthest along and the Cardinal Climbers and Cypress Vines are close behind. I’m nursing the single Black-Eyed Susan vine along. It’s struggling. balcony flowersAnd, I’m finally getting more blooms on my Trader Joe’s hibiscus. It’s so cheerful, isn’t it? balcony flowers, hibiscus

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Slurping Turtle

Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILOur ramen tour continued last weekend with a trip to Slurping Turtle in Chicago. I read about Slurping Turtle in this Thrillist article of the best ramen shops in the country. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Naoto to join me for another ramen adventure on Saturday (even though yet again, it was super hot and humid outside.) Slurping Turtle Chicago, IL Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILThe nice thing about Slurping Turtle for us is that it is a quick train ride away. It’s in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, which is a quick walk from the Clark & Lake station. We made it downtown in time for an early lunch (which may explain why the restaurant is pretty empty in my pictures.)

The restaurant is very different from Misoya. It is sleek and modern, offering booth seating and a giant communal table in the middle. There is a full bar and the Slurping Turtle menu offers more than ramen–there are appetizers, bao, bento boxes, sushi and rice dishes. We went for the noodles though. IMG_7768Because it was Saturday and because we rode the train, we decided to get a drink. Naoto had a Sapporo and I had the Groundhog Day cocktail–gin, Luxardo Bitter Liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, Grenadine and lime. It was really refreshing and reminded me of a Negroni.

The Trillist article recommended the Roasted Chicken Shoyu Ramen, but unfortunately that was not on the menu. (It seems that Slurping Turtle changes their menu with the seasons, so maybe it will come back?) tonkotusu ramen, Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILNaoto got the Tonkotsu ramen, which is similar to what he had at Misoya. It had homemade ramen noodles, braised pork, bok choy, pickled mustard greens, braised mushrooms and scallions swimming in the salty pork broth. It was really good, and I liked the braised pork. Though it was definitely different than the grilled pork of Misoya, it was seasoned well and was really moist and tasty. Slurping TurtleAs you can tell, Naoto really enjoyed his bowl of ramen. He liked the addition of the chili oil and he loved the homemade noodles.Hiyashi Chu-Ka, Slurping TurtleI went rogue and ordered a cold noodle dish, the Hiyashi Chu-Ka. It had homemade ramen noodles, carrots asparagus, kabocha squash, broccolini, seaweed alongside crab sticks, shrimp, pork and ham gently tossed with a citrus-soy dressing. I am a sucker for anything with a citrus-soy dressing and this dish was the perfect cure for a hot summer day. I loved everything about my dish. It was fresh and hearty. The homemade noodles were firm and held the dressing perfectly. The citrus-soy complemented every bite of noodle, meat and vegetable without overpowering. Between this dish and my cocktail, I was a cool cucumber for the walk back to the train. bathroom sign, slurping turtle bathroom sign, slurping turtleBefore we walked to the train, we stopped downstairs to use the restrooms. I had to take a picture of the cutie turtles on the restroom signs. I’m not sure what the fruit basket turtle was all about but the guy in the smoking jacket pretty much stole my heart.

I can’t wait to go back to the Turtle!

Slurping Turtle is located at 116 W. Hubbard Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. 

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Cat Postcard

show and mail, snail mail, fun postcardsI’m still catching up on my pile of mail. I’ve caught up to June…it’s a slow process. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few interesting pieces of mail I’ve received lately. New Zealand postage, cat postcard

I got this cat postcard from April in New Zealand. She wrote it during the LWA Virtual Letter Social earlier this month. I think the card is packaging for maybe a Christmas cat costume? (I’ve bought Presley a couple of hats from Target and they’ve come in similar packaging.) I love that she reused something the would normally end up in the trash to make a great piece of mail! April wrote a note on labels (seen at the top) and affixed plenty of postage to the back. The day I received it, the postcard was the only thing in my mailbox, making it the perfect surprise–seeing that sweet face smiling at me when I opened the mailbox door made my day!!

Thanks, April, for the Good Mail Day!

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Japanese Class

learning Japanese wordsOn a complete whim, I signed up for a beginner Japanese class this fall. I’m taking it at the Oak Park River Forest High School through Triton College’s adult continuing education program.

As an adult, I feel like a total language dummy. I confidently took four years of French in high school…I was pretty good. There were only two of us in French 4 (Stacey D & me!) and I could converse and write well. I had a French pen pal, too. We lost touch in college, unfortunately, and by then I was writing her in English anyway because I stupidly did not take French in college. (Regrets…I have a few.)

But when it comes to Japanese, I’m convinced I will never learn. Someone said I’d probably know the most in our class, but I seriously doubt it. Naoto has tried to teach me phrases and either I cannot pronounce them correctly to save my life OR I forget them within moments of learning. Maybe I’m too old…or maybe (hopefully!) I just need a structured class to help make things stick.

So I dug out my old (children’s) Japanese vocabulary book for the occasion. I’ve had it for years, long before I even traveled to Japan. I think the next logical step is to make some flashcards.

Whether I catch on or not, I’m really excited to take the class. It was only $140 and it goes from the end of August through the middle of November, and it will be a good opportunity for me to meet some new people and to hopefully learn some basics for our trip next spring.

I’m really hoping we can devote a whole session to donut flavors and ordering at Mister Donut, but maybe that’s wishful thinking?

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Ramen Misoya

Ramen Misoya ChicagoTuesday definitely wasn’t ramen weather–it was humid and in the nineties, but that didn’t stop us from visiting our favorite lunch spot out by Mitsuwa, Ramen Misoya. Misoya is a Japanese chain that is fairly new–only a year old–to Chicagoland. We’ve eaten there a few times and although I’m not always the biggest ramen eater, I absolutely love this place. Ramen Misoya ChicagoRamen Misoya ChicagoThe funny thing is, Misoya took over the space of one of our old favorites, Tori Shin, a Japanese izakaya that was run by the husband of a woman I used to work with. The place looks almost the same as it did in the old days, but instead of a sushi counter, there is a tiny kitchen with boiling pots of noodles and delicious broth. The restaurant is pretty small and rumor has it that there is sometimes a line to get inside, especially for weekend dinners.

If you are looking for sushi, teriyaki chicken or green tea ice cream, this is not the place. There are very little offerings outside of ramen, but that’s a good thing because the chefs are working on making bowl after bowl of tasty ramen. They have it perfected.

The ramen noodles, handmade at the California location, are firm and thick and they hold up well in the broth. Misoya offers three options of broth for their ramen and then loads of options of meats and vegetables to have with the noodles. The three broth options are pork based broths with different types of miso mixed in. They are described by the regions of their origins:

The Kyoto-style is made with shiro miso and is light and fruity.

The Nagoya-style is made with mame miso, which is aged and is dark and slightly bitter.

And, my favorite, the Hokkaido-style is made with kome miso and it is full bodied and oh so delicious. Ramen Misoya ChicagoI order the Hokkaido-style Kome Miso Cha-shu (pictured above). In the bowl, swimming with the noodles are  marinated bamboo chutes, fried potatoes, scallions, corn, bean sprouts, sweet ground pork and to top it all off, three slabs of marinated grilled pork. I am not a big pork eater, but I have to say, this stuff is amazing. The charred flavor really adds a fantastic smoky taste to the ramen. Next time I’m going to get the same thing, but add a soft boiled egg just to be adventurous. Ramen Misoya ChicagoNaoto always tries something new. This time he got a special tonkotsu (pork bone marrow) ramen with clams. It included a lot of the same toppings as my bowl, but his had a soft boiled egg, fish cake and nori (seaweed) as well. He loved it.

Ramen is super salty, so thankfully the staff is attentive to the water glasses. Oh, and just like izakaya in Japan, the entire Misoya staff stops to greet you when you arrive and to thank you when you leave…I love this place!

Misoya is located in a tiny strip mall at 1584 S Busse Road (Busse and Dempster) in Mt. Prospect. It’s only a little over a mile from Mitsuwa, making it the perfect dinner spot after you shop! 

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