Japan Does It Better 25: Karaoke

In college, we took over a local bar every Tuesday night and sang bad karaoke songs and had a great time. Of course, I was young, drinking, and among friends, so it didn’t matter that I can’t carry a tune. I didn’t really care what the rest of the bar thought of me because I was a college kid out to have a good time. That’s the last time I enjoyed karaoke until I started going on our visits to Japan. Karaoke in Japan doesn’t happen in a dive bar among strangers; it happens in a tiny booth reserved for just you and your friends. Right upstairs from the train station by our hotel is a Big Echo, a karaoke chain in Japan. A couple years ago, we went karaokeing for the first time, just the two of us, which is kind of hilarious but also totally perfect.  Inside the Big Echo, you check in at the desk and tell them how many people are in your party and how long you’d like to sing. Then, they assign you a room based on your size. We’ve only ever gone with just the two of us, but even the smallest room is big enough for a cozy small crowd. Inside the booth, there’s a big screen, a couch, a table, microphones, menus, a device to run the karaoke, and a device for ordering food and drinks. The picture above it pretty much the room from the doorway…pretty small (as is everything in Japan) but big enough to sit and sing for awhile. Here’s Naoto, demonstrating the extensive sour menu. There’s also beer (obviously…it’s Japan) and non-alcoholic options. The food is mostly fried bar stuff, but there are healthier options too. We usually just go for late-night drinking snacks. Naoto loves singing old Japanese pop songs, so while I’m eating and drinking my sour, he warms up with a few of those. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the screen always has a fun little scene that may or may not go with the lyrics. It’s fun to see him getting all serious and nostalgic about the old music.  Once he warms up with Japanese songs, we perform duets of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Elvis. So, it’s pretty much like singing in our car on a road trip, except with a better sound system. There is a pretty extensive list of American pop music from all eras, so there’s never a shortage of songs. Once the time is almost up, the front desk calls to see if you want to add minutes. We usually add minutes because an hour goes so fast! I think by the time it’s all said and done, we usually end of paying ¥7000 ($65ish) for our food and experience. Not too bad for a late-night date.

As someone who doesn’t have great singing abilities, I love the private room so I can have fun with Naoto (or a bigger group of friends…someday we’d like to go with his sisters or our friends) without feeling self-conscious about picking a weird song or singing badly in front of strangers. So, to me, karaoke rooms are another example where Japan Does It Better! See how fun it is…

P.S. I haven’t done a JDIB post in so long! If you’d like to see more, go here.

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The Lanai, 2019

Hello from freezing Forest Park! It has been so cold! This weekend it got down to the low 50s and, while it’s great sleeping weather, it’s not great weather for sitting outside. It’s also been rainy, so at least my plants are happy and everything is still alive as of this week. Our lanai furniture set-up is the same as last year, but we have lots of different flowers and I decided not to make any rainbows this year. It didn’t translate well from the sidewalk below, anyway. Oh, and last summer, Naoto painted the floor so it’s a steel grey now instead of that weird pale green. We really like it. We’ve barely been able to have dinner outside because of the cold weather, but we’ve enjoyed plenty of mornings out there reading in the sunshine and cool breeze.

I got this fantastic almost-neon begonia at Empowering Gardens and it’s so bright and full, it even pops from the street below.

Last year, I mentioned that I can never find good yellow and orange flowers. This year, I have plenty of orange and orangey-red flowers, but still no yellow. I’d love to add some yellow in with those bright pink petunias. Hopefully I can find something good while I’m out later today.

We also have some climbers and radish sprouts growing from seed and I transplanted some mint from the community garden, so hopefully we’ll have enough mint for cocktails soon since it tends to spread like wildfire…

That’s all from the 2019 lanai…it’s supposed to warm up eventually so I’m looking forward to spending some days and evenings outside. Naoto and I are already planning our Tanabata celebration in a few weeks and I’m sure it will be blazing hot by then!

 

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Grandpa & Sharon

This was a picture of my Grandpa and Sharon on their wedding day, October 25, 1958. When I got engaged, Sharon told me that she and Grandpa had a simple ceremony in the home of their minister when they got married. No fancy dress, no fancy reception… Their marriage lasted for fifty-six years, so clearly the formula worked.

My grandpa passed away almost four years ago (I wrote about him here,) and his wife Sharon passed away this January. She wrote a longer message than usual in our Christmas card last December, and she signed it ‘Grandma Sharon’ for the first time ever. (We always just called her “Sharon,” not “Grandma” because, I guess, she was our step-grandma.) I wondered at the time if that card would be our final correspondence.

We never had a memorial service for my grandpa, so my mom’s half-brother gathered everyone to celebrate both of their lives last month. We saw family we haven’t seen in forever and had a meal in a church basement after the simple graveside service. It was nice to send them off together, especially since they were together for so long. (Though I will say, it was weird to have a memorial service so long after my grandpa’s passing…)

I took this picture from their things because of the way my grandpa is looking at Sharon. I think I’m going to frame it and finally hang up some of my old family pictures. It’s a nice reminder that we don’t always need things to be over-the-top, or perfectly planned, or fancy. Sometimes, it’s just nice to spend time with the ones we love.

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Compex 2019

Earlier this month, Naoto and I attended COMPEX 2019. We attended last year, and I went alone the year before and it is one of my favorite events of the year. The bourse consists of stamp and postcard sellers from all over the country. Almost everyone is super friendly and helpful, even if you’re not a stamp expert.  Because I’m not a rare stamp collector, it was a little intimidating when I first attended because I didn’t feel like I was really there for the “right” reasons. I was just attending to find vintage postage stamps I could use on my mail. But I quickly got over the intimidation because everyone was so nice and helpful and really, the show is all about getting stamp collectors together, no matter what kind of collector they are. I always visit the Stamp King because he sells full sheets, partial sheets (for when you don’t want to commit to a full sheet,) and even mixed bags of stamps. He’s also a local stamp celebrity. There’s a seller who has boxes and boxes of first day covers and random postcards where I can always find a few gems. This year, I found some pre-stamped postcards and first day covers of some of my favorite stamps. Naoto found the book stamps (top left corner) for me…he’s such an enabler! The first time I went to COMPEX, I made the mistake of buying a ton of low value sheets, so now I have a ton of one, two, and three-cent stamps. Last year, I decided I’d better buy some higher value stamps so that I didn’t have to put twenty-five different stamps on an envelope to make fifty-five cents. I got a nice mix this time, and now I need to use them up, and maybe make some stamp packs to sell in the shop, because my collection is growing out of control. It’s hard to break up a pristine vintage stamp sheet, but once I do, it feels so fun to use them up.

I didn’t take any pictures, but there are also exhibits of stamp-related things, usually by theme. And there are meetings for local philatelic groups and a table for young/new stamp collectors. The audience at COMPEX definitely skews a little bit older (and male, and white…) but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the rest of us!

P.S. I just need to point out that it was Naoto’s idea to wear his Mr. Zip t-shirt to COMPEX…I love a man who appreciates a theme!

 

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13th Anniversary

Naoto and I celebrated our 13th anniversary on Sunday. It was such a perfect weather day–60s and sunny. spent the morning on the balcony opening our gifts and drinking coffee and then we went to the West Loop for brunch. Three cheers for our gift wrapping this year! Naoto’s gift came in a huge box, so I had to use roll wrap for it. I was able to fold some tucks into the wrapping so I had a little pocket for the wooden card I gave him. And Naoto used this lovely gold and yellow handmade paper for my gifts. He’s come a long way in his wrapping skills. The thirteenth anniversary gifts are textile and lace. I gave Naoto a pillow made with Japanese sashiko fabric. I think he really liked it. And he gave me an Irish table runner and some Irish tea, Barry’s Black, (which Presley’s head is conveniently blocking above.) We went to Saint Lou’s Assembly for brunch. We got there just as the kitchen was closing, so we were able to squeeze in our order and then enjoy leisurely cocktails and peanut butter & jelly soft serve after our meal. The cocktails were amazing, and the atmosphere was very casual and fun. We are looking forward to going back for dinner and frosé outside once the weather warms up again. After brunch, we stopped in Open Books right across the street. (Naoto was very into this Edward Hopper book.)Since we ate such a late lunch and didn’t want to venture out again, we made a mini cheese platter for ourselves and had a little happy hour on the newly lit balcony instead of going out to dinner. We drank yuzu & soda cocktails and finished out the day wrapped in blankets. I’m so thankful for such a gorgeous day, and for thirteen years with this guy.

 

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Plot 6 in 2019

We have had SUCH a weird, cold, and rainy spring! Our poor garden plot was pretty neglected until last week when we took advantage of a warm, sunny day to finally plant some seeds and our baby tomatoes. I wish I had taken a picture of our plot before we cleared it off. Because of our late fall trip to Japan last year, we missed the end of the gardening season and then it started snowing shortly after we got home. Our plot didn’t get cleaned for the winter, so I had to tear out dead tomato plants and dried herbs this spring. And we had a giant hemlock plant growing in the center of the plot. Thankfully, I was able to remove it, roots and all, so hopefully more hemlock doesn’t reappear this summer. What a nightmare!  This is what our plot looked like the other day…we’ve had some rain since, so hopefully some of the seeds are sprouting! We planted seeds for edamame, Welsh onions, thyme, basil, bush basil, chamomile, dill, and nasturtiums. And we transplanted four tomato plants (Brandywine, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, and some Japanese-but-really-Russian? tomato that Naoto picked out) and our rosemary plant from the seed swap. The walking onions, garlic, and parsley all came back from last year. We still need to stake the rest of the tomatoes, and put up some markers so we don’t accidentally pull some of our seedlings. I have a little map of where everything went, though with all of the rain we’ve had, I’m sure a lot of the seeds travelled! I do regret not planting the tomatoes closer to the center of the plot, but hopefully we can keep the jungle tame enough…

How is your gardening going?

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May Book Report

I’m back with another tiny book stack.  I’ve decided if I can read two books and a short story per month this summer, I’ll be doing pretty well!

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath

This one came out earlier this year, but was written by Plath when she was a college student in 1952. It felt very Shirley Jackson-ish, like a Twilight Zone episode. You know Mary is on a train trip to somewhere and it slowly becomes apparent that she is going to an ominous place. I loved it, but you know I love a good, dark short story.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I tried to love this book. I loved The Great Gatsby. I enjoy books about women with mental health issues who are being cared for by their doctor/husband. (Hello, “Yellow Wallpaper!”) I enjoy books about affairs and beach vacations and lots of drinking. This book had it all, but seriously…it was the worst. I really wanted something juicy to happen at the end (perhaps a drunk car crash off a cliff?) but sadly, that didn’t happen. (If you liked this book, I’d love to know why! I feel like my entire book club and I must be missing something! It was the lowest rated book in a long time!)

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

The book starts with married couple, Deborah and Graham in bed, Deborah promising fidelity while Graham is gone to war. Graham isn’t making any promises (because he’s a man, obviously…) I just knew I was going to love this wife and all of the trouble she gets into. Deborah has many, many, many escapades and she works the system and is able to create quite a rich life for herself while her husband is gone to war. Her standards get lower and lower as the book goes on, and her justifications get more wild. I had such a good time reading this book, which was written in 1946 and in some ways explores how different wartime expectations were for women compared to men. I love that Deborah is “bad.” She definitely made this book a different kind of wartime novel. The descriptions of the cocktails and the dinners and the gifts were also amazing and really just made this a great read! It was good to enjoy something after that book club book…

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The Darling

In March, Naoto took me to The Darling for Sunday night birthday cocktails. (I’m very behind on blogging!) It came highly recommended for the drinks and the experience. We had a fabulous time.

There’s very much a speakeasy vibe here. When you go in, it looks like you’re in a weird flower shop, until the host breaks open the wall so you can enter the bar area. There are cozy leather couches and lounge-seating, and that night, there was a fire crackling in the fireplace.

We started with a Buds of May (me) and a Paddington’s Marmalade Negroni (Naoto.) Both were really delicious, and mine was served at the table from a teapot and the presentation was everything. The next round, I got the Mary Poppins, which had strawberry-flavored boba bubbles in it that popped when you bit into them. It was a fun drink, a little on the sweeter side. Naoto got the Curious George because I was curious (for lack of a better word) about it with the chocolate and banana and whiskey, and we both really liked it.

Naoto was in an especially goofy mood and made me laugh the whole night. The video is a little hard to hear, but he’s channeling Bob Harris in Lost in Translation.
Our last round was something I can’t remember and a Secret Garden (the one with the pretty flower on top.) All of the cocktails were well-crafted and interesting. We did get a few small bites but nothing was super memorable or mind-blowing. The drinks and special touches around the place make The Darling and must-return for us, probably for before or after dinner drinks.The check is presented in an old book with two tiny glasses of Last Words. We’re planning on visiting the West Loop this weekend for our anniversary, so maybe we’ll pop in again before dinner…

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April Book Report

My April book stack looks so puny! My reading has definitely slowed down now that spring is (supposedly) here.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden 

I feel like I need to own this book and read it slowly throughout the year. This book is just what it says, the 1906 diary of a woman from the country. It’s been on my list for awhile, and I’m glad I read it in the spring, but I would love to revisit it as she illustrates each season and has thoughts, poems, and sayings to complement each season. Holden’s illustrations are just beautiful. Everything is done by hand, including the words and it really encourages you to slow down and appreciate nature. I am going to be on the lookout for a copy of my own.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf 

Can you believe I haven’t read this? I loved it, though it felt like it took me forever to make it through. Woolf refutes the assumption that women aren’t good writers, explaining that unless they have the privilege of money, education, and a place to write, they will never be writers. Most women were too busy raising their children and taking care of the household and they didn’t have time to make observations about the world, let alone write them down. Women at that time were considered property, so even if they had the money, they were left at the mercy of the men to use the money for education or to advance their writing.

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset 

This was our book club read for the month. It’s very similar to Passing by Nella Larson, which our group read back in 2002, so no one really remembered enough to do a good comparison. In general, it was a really good story about a woman who is able to pass and the choices she makes to get by as white in the world. But as a group, we were disappointed in the ending and sort of the lack of strength in the main character. Some of her choices were appalling, but they made for a good “what would you do?” discussion in book club.

My books for May have been really interesting so I’m looking forward to writing that post soon…I am having trouble making time for the blog lately and feeling like my writing is choppy and substandard…but I think the only way through it is to keep writing and keep posting and hopefully I’ll start feeling better about things soon…

 

 

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More from Hamilton, MO

I thought I’d share a few more pictures from Hamilton earlier this month. There are a few great murals in Hamilton that celebrate the history and the current state of the town. The top one is new since we were there last time. I love how it is a patchwork quilt of famous people and events that bring people to Hamilton, including the Steam & Gas Engine Show, which we used to attend with my grandparents over the summer. It was a really beautiful day for walking around town. Since it’s been a very wintry spring in Chicagoland, I really appreciated shedding my coat and walking around in the sunshine for the afternoon. This mural of the Hamilton Train Depot is located on the wall of the Missouri Quilt Company‘s flagship store. The actual depot is gone now, but it was built in 1859 for the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroads. And this quilt one, obviously an ode to the Missouri Quilt Company that basically put Hamilton back on the map. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the quilting stores since I sadly have no need for more fabric in my closet. We did pop into the Levi Garrison & Sons Brewery for a beer (cider in my case.) It was a great little spot and Naoto was really happy with all of the offerings in his beer flight. It feels weird that this may have been my last visit to Hamilton…unless my mom and I take up quilting and have another excuse for a visit…you never know!

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