Greer Goods

greer chicagoI was really excited to learn that the Midwest Buddhist Temple was in the same neighborhood as everyone’s favorite stationery shop, Greer. I’ve been trying not to buy stationery, especially since I still have a ton of stuff to use up from my last trip to Japan, but a trip to Greer is always good for the soul. And, after being sick and shut in for a week, my soul needed some stationery. (How’s that for excuses?)City of Industry envelope pinThe City of Industry envelope pin was a must-have. I’ve worn it almost every day since Saturday, sporting my stationery love on my sweater. (I’m on my way to having my own “letter sweater“!)  inside the Secret Garden postcard bookThe Secret Garden postcard book was too good to pass up! The postcard book is a companion to the Secret Garden coloring book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book and the postcard book are filled with detailed drawings of gardens and flowers and birds and butterflies just waiting to be colored in. (That link is from the artist’s blog and includes so many great pictures of the coloring book.) I think I might color in some postcards and send others blank so my friends can decorate a card for themselves. plastique, paper trail ring stamp setAnd finally, a YAY! ring. Made by Plastique and Paper Trail, the ring is a rubber stamp…because you never know when you need to stamp a little YAY on something. Greer has several of these stamps to choose from, including their own exclusive “THX” stamp. I tend to overuse YAY! so it just seemed like the right purchase for me.

Those were my purchases…chosen with restraint. I will be going back for some new paper-y goodness at Greer. But for now, I just need to get back into letter writing so I can use up some of my stationery hoard.

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Plot #6: The Garden is a Forest (Again)

plot 6, garden jungleI’ve been sick and Naoto has been working like a dog (every day since he’s returned home from Japan) so the garden has been a bit neglected. I finally went yesterday afternoon. Boy, was it a perfect day for gardening! Our weather has been unseasonably cool, getting down to the 50s at night and into the 70s during the day. It’s the perfect weather to me.

When I saw our little Plot #6, I couldn’t believe how overgrown it had gotten in just over a week! Even the smallest tomatoes were huge, growing into their neighboring tomatoes. And, as you can maybe see from the top picture, the tomatoes are again spilling out into the walkway. I’m going to have to fix that this weekend to make sure none of my tomatoes get stepped on. plot 6, garden jungleBoth Brandywines have some fruit on them. And all of the Juliets and the Yellow Pear are producing too…no red (or yellow) ones yet though…I can hardly wait! plot 6, garden jungleI harvested almost all of the peas, which is a good thing because that will open some space for this guy. The loofah is growing out of control. (This is not a surprise…yet it was still surprising.) I had to unwind it from a tomato and from some of the peas. I think we *may* have waited too long to lasso that crazy grower!

Now that I’m feeling better and Naoto (hopefully) is going back to working normal hours, I’m hoping we can spend time fixing up the garden together this weekend.

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Obon Festival

midwest buddhist temple obon festivalOn Saturday night, Naoto, Karen and I went to the Midwest Buddhist Temple to experience the Obon Festival. Obon is a Buddhist tradition of honoring and celebrating the dead. According to Naoto, it is the “period of time we believe the spirit of the dead come home.” In Japan, people return home to clean and pray at the graves of their ancestors.

The festival includes folk dances that celebrate and welcome the spirits. Each region in Japan has its own style of dance and music. The dances are repetitive…like line dancing (for lack of a better example) and the dancers circle around a stage where a drummer pounds a giant drum. Some dances include props like fans, towels or wooden clackers and everyone participates to welcome back the dead.

Obon at Midwest Buddhist TempleObon at Midwest buddhist templeUnfortunately for us, the rain forced the Obon inside so we weren’t able to experience the beautiful dances under the light of the lanterns. Instead we met inside the temple…slightly less scenic but the dances and the music were still a great experience.

The Obon announcer shared the regions in Japan where each dance originated and it was interesting to learn a little bit about how the culture of the region influenced each dance. The Midwest Buddhist Temple offers Obon lessons leading up to the festival so members can learn all of the different dances. I didn’t know this, so we were observers…next year I would like to go for at least one lesson so we can participate. It felt a little weird to just watch, as most people–men, women, young and old–were dancing throughout the night. Some people, especially the older ladies, were very skilled at the dances, and other people were a little bit rusty, but it didn’t matter…only that you were dancing a celebrating your loved ones. It all felt really laid back and festive…a nice way to connect with each other and with those who have passed.

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Sakura Decorese Pens

Sakura Decorese PensLast time we were in Japan, I tried one of these Sakura Decorese pens. I didn’t know anything about the pen, just that it looked a little fancy and that the ink was a little bit glittery. It wrote beautifully, leaving a thick layer of ink behind that was vibrant and a bit glittery. Fun! I bought the red one thinking it would be perfect for addressing holiday cards or Valentines. (I tend to enjoy glitter at the holidays.) Sakura Decorese PensNaoto picked up a few more colors for me when he was in Japan last month. I did some research about the pens and learned that they are really made for writing on metal, glass and plastic. Of course they work on paper as well, and I feel like on paper you can appreciate the shimmery ink a little bit more, but it’s always fun to have a writing tool that works on multiple surfaces. Sakura Decorese Pens, writing on ball jarI used one to label my simple syrup jar. The ink is not so permanent that it will stay on the lid forever, but it will survive a light hand washing. Sakura Decorese PensI do find the “make-up design” of the pens a little bit odd…they kind of look like they belong in a cosmetic bag instead of a pencil pouch because of their odd shape and their flowery barrel. In fact, one Ebay store is selling the pens as nail art pens. Meh, I will stick to using them on paper and other non-human surfaces…

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Plot #6: Peas & Tomatoes

tiny pea harvest, plot 6This is our first tiny harvest of sugar snap peas for 2014. It may not look like much, but there are plenty more in the garden almost ready to be picked! I’m thinking stir fry this weekend! peas, plot 6Once these are all harvested, I will plant some more for another harvest later in the season. juliets, plot 6 brandywines, plot 6Only one of our Juliets and one of our Brandywines have tomatoes on them so far. But every plant has blossoms, so I’m still hopeful for a tomato explosion. We’ve been pretty diligent about picking off the yellowed leaves. And we’ve been trying to keep up with staking and tying wayward branches…a difficult task with the wild Juliets!

This week was rough because I was sick and Naoto was busy. These pictures are from Sunday and Naoto made a watering run at dusk on Wednesday night. He said everything is looking good and I’m looking forward to seeing for myself later this afternoon.

Cheers to a good weekend!

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A Break For An Annual Summer Illness

portulaca in the sunshineUgh. I caught a summer cold. It all started Sunday during the Virtual Letter Social. I’ll spare you the details…it was horrible and I’m just starting to function again. I will say that it feels amazing to be able to breathe out of both nostrils again. The drug cocktail of Mucinex and Advil Cold & Sinus is magical. And, Naoto pulled this hot/cold pack thing out of the freezer last night and put it on my neck and it felt so heavenly that I didn’t even question where it came from.

I feel like I’ve lost an entire week, but I guess that’s the way it goes. I’m hoping to jump back on the writing wagon today in between my chores that have been neglected all week. I’m hoping to be back in the groove tomorrow. There’s an eventful weekend ahead and I’m determined not to miss it!

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Japan Does It Better 16: Canned Cocktails

japan Does it BetterDrinking is pretty prevalent in Japan. I’m kind of a lightweight there…especially in Naoto’s family where even his mother could drink me under the table. (And, as you know from my happy hour and cocktail posts, I do enjoy my cocktails!) Most often, the drink of choice is beer, especially for picnics or small parties or in the izakaya. At the izakaya, it was easy because I would order sours while everyone else enjoyed their Japanese beers. But in picnic or small party situations, I was worried that I would be left out because I hate beer. (Don’t give me the whole “acquired taste” schpeal…I’ve tried.)

Then, on our first trip to Japan, his sister took me over to the grocery store shelf that held the canned cocktails. Canned cocktails are just pre-packaged cocktails, often made with shochu and fruit juice. They aren’t as tasty as an Old Fashioned or a Tom Collins but they are good enough for a picnic. They are light and fruity and carbonated, easy to drink (and sometimes they sneak up on you…) Canned cocktails come in all sorts of flavors. Naoto’s sisters sent these home with him to give to me. The STRONG brand one is lemon and it is a potent 9% alcohol (hence the name). The Slat brand one is made with the açai berry and blueberry and it contains orange pulp (according to the red label with the orange icon). Slat is a much weaker 3% alcohol…there’s a little something for everyone’s tolerance!

Maybe the American equivalent of a canned cocktail is a Mike’s Hard Lemonade (gross) or a wine cooler (double gross), but trust me…the Japanese versions are tastier and I love that they include real fruit.

Portable options for non-beer drinkers…Japan Does It Better!!

To see more JDIB posts, go here.

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LWA Virtual Letter Social

#LWAsocialI’m super-behind on my letter responses again. I pretty much haven’t written a letter (just a few birthday cards and thank you notes) since my last catch-up post. So apparently, I’m a binge-letter writer.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to think about mail until Sunday when the Letter Writers Alliance is hosting a Virtual Letter Social. Basically on Sunday (anytime, all time zones) if you are writing a letter, know that there will be a whole community of letter writers writing along with you. If you’re social media inclined, you can share your progress (and “socialize” with other letter writers) on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #lwasocial. I’m looking forward to enjoying a cup of coffee and writing a bunch of letters on my balcony…in my pajamas.

I hope to see you there!

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Scenes from Hasegawa Happy Hours-June Edition

fresh radishes, Hasegawa Happy HourJune is in the books and another month of Hasegawa Happy Hours is behind us. We only had three happy hours but each one was good fun…quality over quantity, right?

To start, we invited our friends Laura and Scott over for mojitos. We know Laura through the community garden, so we met them at the garden and showed off our plots and talked about vegetables. Then we all came back and enjoyed Laura’s first radish harvest and other snacks. We made mojitos with Laura’s mint (my balcony mint wasn’t big enough at the time) and sat outside on the balcony.
Hasegawa Happy HourThe next week the temperatures dropped and the cooler weather called for a cozy cocktail. I found a recipe for Pendergast cocktails (bourbon, Benedictine, vermouth and bitters) and they fit the bill. They are a new favorite, more fitting for the fall and winter though under normal circumstances. Hasegawa Happy HourFinally, last week when Naoto got home, I made us Mai Tais…real Mai Tais, not the sickly sweet ones tiki bars try to pass off as cocktails. The real version isn’t sweet at all, it’s more tart and rummy with a hint of almond. I used this Mai Tai recipe from the New York Times. There are a few different versions of “original Mai Tai recipes” but this one used both dark and light rums and it was well-balanced, so tropical and so delicious.

For the Mai Tais (and some other cocktails I’ve been researching), I made my own orgeat syrup. There are slightly more complicated recipes for making your own orgeat syrup, but most of them made too much for my use. It only lasts a couple of weeks in the refrigerator and I didn’t want to waste anything, so I found this easy orgeat recipe from Craft Cocktails at Home and tried it instead. It worked like a dream and tasted delicious. I’d like to try making my own the “hard way” with whole almonds eventually, but to start, the Craft Cocktails at Home recipe is easy experimentation.

Easy Orgeat Syrup (barely modified from Craft Cocktails at Home)

6.5 ounces plain almond milk (Pacific brand is recommended, and brand matters. See Craft Cocktails at Home for more details.)

~6 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) almond extract

1/16 teaspoon (or 4 drops) orange blossom water

Add ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid. It works best if the almond milk is at room temperature (as in, a new carton fresh from the grocery store) so the sugar dissolves easily. Shake vigorously to combine and dissolve the sugar. Mine kept in the refrigerator for a little over two weeks without any problems.

You can use orgeat syrup in many different cocktails. So far I’ve made Mai Tais and Japanese cocktails and I have a few more up my sleeve in July.

For now, I’m trying to dream up something festive for Independence Day on Friday.

For more Hasegawa Happy Hours, go here.

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