All I’ve Been Doing is Reading

The title is true. Other than work, a few custom card orders, writing letters, and watching my way through Schitt’s Creek and The Office, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Our apartment is a mess, Naoto has been doing 95% of the cooking, and I’ve been neglecting my emails, but man, I’m really enjoying books lately.

What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

We read this for book club in January. I picked it because we all loved “The Yellow Wallpaper” and it’s always fun revisiting authors we’ve enjoyed in the past. Diantha’s marriage to the man she loves keeps getting pushed back because he can not afford to provide for her and his mother and his unmarried sisters. So Diantha takes control and starts her own cleaning business which takes off like crazy until she rules over a cleaning empire. The book really makes you think about the value of women’s work and the roles of women at home during the 20s. Diantha’s fiancé has a very difficult time understanding why she works and can’t come to terms with her role as a provider. The ending felt a little rushed but in general, I liked it a lot.

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Have I mentioned here how much I love a good spinster novel? (I need to write a blog post about the book that started my infatuation with these books!) This one really fit the bill. The title comes from the fact that there were about one million more women than men in England at the end of the 19th century. The “odd women” were the unmarried women. The book explores five women: two “early feminists,” unmarried by choice, two by happenstance (their parents died and they had little family money,) and one woman who marries for financial security, which ends up being a terrible mistake. It shows the limited options for women back at the turn of the century, especially women without family money. I’ve never read Gissing before but now I’m curious about some of his other titles.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

I can’t believe I haven’t read this before. Lucy Honeychurch falls in love on vacation in Italy but ends up engaged to another man back in England. She has to decide between following her social class and the old rules of Victorian society or following her own heart. I loved the main story, but all of the supporting characters made this book such a fun read. (There were spinsters!) We read Forster’s A Passage to India in book club, and now I want to read Howard’s End and Maurice.

“Afterward” by Edith Wharton

This was recommended a few years ago during our book club Halloween reads and I never finished it. At Christmastime, I picked it up again and finally set out to read it last month. I’m annoyed that I waited because it’s so good, such a well-crafted short story. Pick it up at Halloween, or at Christmas, because apparently reading creepy books at Christmas is a thing?

The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell 

This was our book for February’s book club. We read Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows a few summers ago and everyone loved it. Maxwell’s writing it so beautiful and there are a lot of autobiographical details in his books. The Folded Leaf is a coming of age story about two boys in Chicago: Spud, strong and confident, and Lymie, weak and thoughtful. The book follows the two friends from grade school to college and gives a wonderful glimpse into life in Chicago and Illinois in the 1920s. In book club, we had a good debate at book club about whether it’s a friendship novel, or a love story.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

I read Yoshimoto’s Kitchen last fall after reading The Convenience Store Woman. I loved Kitchen, and its companion short story, “Moonlight Shadow” so much. Both just were so emotional and magical. I had high hopes for Asleep and it fell short for me. It was actually three separate stories, all having to do with sleep and death and mourning and ghosts…similar themes to Kitchen, but just not executed as well (to me.)

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell 

Ugh…this one was killer. The narrator is looking back on a small town murder that happened fifty years earlier. The murder happened after an affair was discovered between two neighboring families. The story of the murder is slowly woven into the coming-of-age story of the narrator, who ends up moving away and seeing his old friend years later in Chicago. (Oh yes, it’s another Illinois story by Maxwell.) This book is only 135 pages, but again, like The Folded Leaf, Maxwell does such a masterful job getting you to feel his regret and sadness, all those years later.

Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

Again, nothing beats Kitchen…”Hardboiled” was interesting, about a women who is celebrating the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. Again, there is a lot of sadness and a little bit of a mystical aspect happening… And “Hard Luck” is about a woman whose sister is dying and she’s falling in love with someone new. So, a little bit of loss and a little bit of promise…I’m taking a break from Banana Yoshimoto.

Unpunished by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

This one wasn’t printed until well after Gilman’s death but it’s fantastic! It’s a detective story that had me thinking about The Thin Man movies. Of course, since it’s Gilman, there are a lot of feminist themes throughout the book. The detectives are a husband and wife team and the murder victim has been killed five times, five different ways (but you’re not sorry for him because he was a controlling, abusive jerk.) There are some great twists and some great symbolism but it’s still a light, fun read.

Since I started this post, I finished another book, but I’ll save that for my next book report. I’m starting a book by another Japanese author tonight (I think!) My reading is going to have to start slowing down though so I can get some projects done and get ready for my first craft show of the year next month. It’s been so nice though…I guess I just need to give up some other things so I have more time to read…

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

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In My Mailbox: Traveling Mail Kit

My penpal Nic sent me this fabulous traveling mail kit just in time for our trip to Japan last year. Her mom made it and is hoping to sell them, so Nic asked me to “test” it out and see what needed to be changed or fixed. It’s made from this gorgeous orange gradient Japanese fabric with metallic gold accents. My pictures aren’t doing it justice! Inside, she used an accent fabric of orange, black, and gold. There are pen loops and pockets to keep stationery and stamps and little extras organized. She thought of everything! Nic tucked in some postcards and stamps to get me started……and some stickers and a playing card holding some washi tape. (Isn’t that genius? The washi tape comes right off the coated playing card! It’s such a perfect way to carry a little bit of washi without the bulk of a whole roll!)I carried my little kit with me everywhere on our trip. It is so light and compact, perfect for long days of being a tourist and walking all over Tokyo. I tucked postcards inside, along with Japanese stamps, my travel address book, a pen, and some ephemera that I picked up along the way.

Now that I’m home, I still tuck the mail kit in my bag when I’m out and about in case I have time for a postcard or a quick note. It’s held up beautifully through all my travels, so I’m confident Nic’s mom can start production when she’s ready!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I got this hilarious card in the mail this week from my pen pal, Cindy. Two of my favorite things–cats and Golden Girls! I can’t believe how funny Sophia looks and she even has her purse!

Naoto and I both have the day off today, so after my meeting this morning, we’re getting pie from our favorite local pie shop, cooking dinner, and doing laundry. It’s basically a Thursday, with pie.

What are your plans for today?

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen Takeya

The day we went to the taping of the Very Serious Crafts Podcast was cold and snowy, so we decided to stop in the West Loop for some ramen. We went to Ramen Takeya, a sister restaurant of one of the best rated ramen shops in the city, Wasabi. We haven’t been able to get up to Wasabi yet, but Ramen Takeya specializes in chicken broth ramen, which seemed interesting. Plus we have quite a few friends who don’t eat pork, so we figured we’d do some ramen research for them!

We got to the restaurant a little before they opened, so we had a chance to scope out the menu outside in the snow. When we got inside, we were barely greeted and I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing. (Basically, the host–who also was our server–tossed our menus on a table and walked away while we were still at the front of the restaurant.) The shop was decorated with old metal Japanese signs and advertisements, including an old Japan Post sign. I just loved the “old Japan” feeling of the place! We ordered drinks, a beer for Naoto and a lychee cocktail for me. The drinks were good, and so were the buns (pictured above.) But the service continued to be…cold. I got the Osaka Shio ramen, which has both pork and chicken broth. It was good. I enjoyed most of the toppings and the noodles, but I felt like the pork was extra fatty (which I know some people love, I’m just not one of them.) I also got buttered corn as an add-on, which would have been delicious if it didn’t come freezing cold. Naoto ordered the Chicken Paitan Ramen with fried garlic as an add-on topping. He really enjoyed his bowl (and half of mine!)

At the end of our meal, we weren’t offered another cocktail, or water, or dessert, or any sort of friendliness, so we just paid our check and left…which seems like all they wanted anyway. I feel bad writing a negative post, but man, customer service is important…especially when there are so many ramen restaurants in Chicago. And I think our experience was just so shocking for us because the West Loop has so many great places to eat and we’ve always had stellar service in that neighborhood.  On the way home, I checked Yelp and all of the negative reviews mentioned the service and most of those people had our server, so…apparently no one at Ramen Takeya cares enough to give this dude some feedback. So, all-in-all, we’re glad we tried it, but a second visit isn’t in our plans. (Sorry to be a Debbie Downer today!)

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Washi Weekend: TV Tray

A long time ago, I asked my parents to keep an eye out for a single TV tray so I could eat my lonely dinners on the couch. (When Naoto works, that’s where I eat…I know it’s uncivilized, but it’s very cozy!) I’ve also been using my TV tray as a letter writing desk. I don’t have any “before” pictures, but it’s basically just a boring oak TV tray, probably from the 90s. This week I decided to jazz it up with all of my mail and writing themed washi tape. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out! It’s satisfying to see the whole “story” of some of my washi tapes that only get seen on envelopes. And, as always, it’s always good to spend out some of my stash! If I get tired of the mail theme (NEVER!) or the tape gets ruined by a soup spill (likely,) I can always switch it out for something else.

In other news, this pretty much sums up my accomplishments for the week. I’ve been keeping up with writing letters and I’ve been doing a lot of reading…I don’t think I have the winter blues right now, but I’m definitely feeling like I’m in hibernation mode. Thankfully, my work schedule is getting busier and we have a few events on our social calendar this month that should get me out of the house more often!

 

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Tokyo Tower

Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanNaoto was all about the touristy things on this trip. It’s good because I can’t come home from Japan having gone to only stationery stores on each trip! I’ve never been to Tokyo Tower and Naoto went when he was a kid, so we added it to our agenda when we returned to Tokyo. We had such beautiful weather during our whole trip…seriously it felt like summer most of the time. We tried to use the warm, clear days to our advantage just in case it rained later in our trip. But it turns out, that wasn’t a problem since it only rained a little bit on our very last day in Japan.Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanBuilt in 1958 and painted a striking “International Orange,” Tokyo Tower is the second tallest tower in Japan (and twenty-third worldwide.) At 333 meters tall, it’s only a little over half as tall as Skytree. (But it was the tallest structure in Japan until the Skytree was built in 2012.) Still, about three million people visit Tokyo Tower each year…it’s a classic! Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, viewThere are two viewing levels for the tower. We totally cheaped out and only paid for the basic level. We figured, we’ve seen the view from Skytree so we didn’t need to pay ¥2800 to go all the way to the top. Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailbox Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanThe views were still quite good and we had fun roaming around trying to spot other familiar things in the landscape. It was so hot though–we had to keep stepping away from the sunny windows to cool off a bit! Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailbox Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailboxI bought a few postcards to send with the special Tokyo Tower postmark. Naoto and I send ourselves postcards from our travels so he was in charge of sending this one since it was his idea.

I still have a lot more Tokyo to share, but next week, I think I’m going to take a little break to talk about current life, reading, mail, food, Valentine’s Day…in the meantime, have a great weekend!

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Yuzu No Komachi

On our first night back in Tokyo, we stopped in to see the new Wrapple store (more on that later) and Naoto surprised me with the best dinner of our trip. He found an izakaya right in Shibuya that specializes in yuzu dishes. It’s called Yuzu no Komachi, which means “beautiful girl with yuzu.” Since yuzu is my absolute favorite thing, I was over the moon excited for dinner. And, they had private dining rooms (koshitsu) which are so cozy. I love being able to eat alone with Naoto and avoid the smokiness of most izakaya in Japan. When you walk in the door, you take off your shoes and walk along tatami mats to your “room” where you dine in peace with the door closed. You push a button as you are ready to order each course. It’s so perfect for an intimate dinner for two, or even a big party of people because you set your own pace and can enjoy the conversation with out constant interruptions.  They had tons of yuzu liqueurs from all over Japan. So each time we got a round of drinks, we tried a new liqueur with soda. Everything was perfectly tart and refreshing. Some of the liqueurs were more cloudy than others, as you can see from above, and some were sweeter than others. They were all from different regions in Japan and it was such a great way to taste a variety of them. We’ve brought several yuzu liqueurs home over the years and none are ever as good as ones we’ve tried in restaurants.

We ordered a ton of small plates, each dish just as tasty as the next, starting with fresh cucumber with yuzu pepper……and tuna tartare with ponzu and yuzu pepper…and yuzu fried rice…and yuzu marinated steak…and prosciutto, tomato, and arugula salad with yuzu jam…and yuzu miso with cabbage leaves…and french fries with yuzu mayonnaise……and we ended with yuzu sorbet. This was one of my favorite meals of all time in Japan. I’m always up for a good theme, especially when my favorite citrus is the star. 

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Very Serious Crafts Podcast

serious crafts podcast live taping, harold washington libraryMollie is the first “internet friend” I ever met. I went to a little stitching meet-up for her Wild Olive blog readers back in 2011 and we’ve seen each other a few other times over the years and obviously have kept up over social media. She and two other professional crafters (Haley Pierson-Cox and Heidi Gustad) host the Very Serious Crafts Podcast. I’m an occasional listener, so when they announced a live taping at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, I signed up to go.During the podcast, the hosts talked about vintage crafts and what books got them started in crafting. They each passed around vintage crafts and supplies, including this kooky hairy couple and weirdly sweet kitty. There was also a terrifying clown made out of fabric yo-yos (sorry Mollie!) and some vintage needle books.

At the end, we each made a coffee cup sleeve using various techniques. I embroidered for the first time in a long time and it was pretty fun, even though my stitches were uneven and imperfect. I think I need to find my embroidery supplies and start making again!

They tape the podcasts in advance so I’ll let you know when it is live in case you want to listen in! Do you have any podcasts you listen to regularly?

 

P.S. Speaking of podcasts…Naoto still hasn’t posted his…

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Snow Mail, No Mail

The weather has been insane in Chicago lately. After a very snowy weekend, we had sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday with wind chills of 45 below. It was colder here than it was in Alaska. It was so cold, the entire area was pretty much shut down. No school, no work for many people, no Metra trains, even no Trader Joe’s and no mail service since Tuesday! (Update: mail arrived Saturday night!) It was almost as cold on Thursday and it snowed some more Thursday night, but now this weekend it’s warm and rainy. Now every thing is a mess of slush and dirty snow. (Dirty snow is my least favorite part of winter.)

I took some inspiration from the weather and used some of my wintry Japanese stationery to kick off the Month of Letters. The snowflakes are an old Midori set I bought a few years ago and the polar bears are from Maruzen. And the washi tape is old mt and I was kicking myself because I have other snow washi, but I packed it away with the Christmas stuff…

I sat under a blanket right next to my space heater while I wrote the letters…a cup of hot tea and a warm kitty nearby. It was a cozy to kick off the month.

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Kitte Letter Room

Kitte is located next to Tokyo Station. I’ve talked about it before, the Tokyo Central Post Office is one of the best, carrying a huge variety of postal treats and the best selection of stamps. And many of the shops inside the shopping center carry postal themed products. This time on our visit, there was a new set-up in the Station Master’s room. It was set up as a “Letter Room.” Signs encouraged visitors to write a postcard and mail it from the post office downstairs. We stopped at Kitte on our way to catch the shinkansen to Osaka. I wrote a couple of postcards from the letter room and shopped a bit before we went on our way. The Letter Room was a nice, quiet respite from the shopping center. Naoto enjoyed the view while I wrote. This display shows ten different letters sent from Tokyo Station by ten different people from all over the world visiting the heart of Tokyo. It’s hard to see here, but the words and illustrations were so wonderful.

Speaking of letter writing…is anyone doing Letter Month this year? I’m going to attempt it again. I have a stack of love cards I pulled from my stationery drawer ready to go and I my Valentine bin is ready to go. I’m aiming for these three things this year:

  • write a letter, card, or postcard every day, and hopefully send something every day, too
  • spend out some of my Japanese stationery…my drawer is full
  • spend out some of my vintage postage stash, which means, taking the time to make 55 cent matches

Here on the blog, I have some more postal related things from Japan to share, and I’ll be posting my mail over on the Instagram.

Happy writing!

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