The End of a Great Decade

It didn't cross my mind that this year's New Year's celebration would take us into the next decade until I heard an NPR All Songs Considered show titled "Best Music of the Decade." Since then, I've been noticing loads of "Best ____ of the Decade" lists. Everyone wants to tell you the best movies, news stories, medical breakthroughs, heroes, and on and on.

I tend to think more about the future than the past, but I wanted to take a moment to share the most important moments of this, the most important decade of my life thus far. I was 14 when 2000 began, and I had just moved to Missouri. I wasn't too excited about being in Missouri. I had just begun to get settled in Vancouver, Washington when my parents informed me that we'd be moving to Missouri, a state I knew nothing about. Moving to Missouri turned out to be a great change in my young life. I met so many amazing people and had great opportunities I might not have had otherwise. Though it happened a few months before this decade, it is a very important part of the 2000's.

In the first three years of the decade, I had so many fun times at Liberty High School, but most importantly, I met two wonderful ladies who have been great friends ever since and accompanied me on so many adventures. I'm glad I know you, Lauren and Sam.

Not to discount my high school years, but attending college at Missouri State University was such a life-changing period for me. I know that just about everyone considers this part of their life important, so it's a bit cliche to go on about how university opened me up to so many different opinions, cultures, and people, but it did.

This decade is the decade when I became a vegetarian, and that has been very important to me. Besides making me feel healthier and happier, it has also opened up a whole world of food to me. Before becoming a vegetarian, my cooking skills consisted of opening up a box of Rice-a-Roni and adding butter and water. Since then, things have gotten considerably better, and I can now successfully conjure up a main dish, a side dish, and a salad relatively painlessly. (Though as Dustin would reveal, I usually skip the salad and the side dish and make a really scrumptious main dish, but I CAN make and HAVE made all three.) I even bake now, though I haven't yet mastered meringue. It is a project for the next decade.

In this decade, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to Europe, twice! Both trips were so amazing and I saw so much, took way too many pictures, saw a slew of musicals, ate a crazy amount of pain au chocolat, and drank a few too many glasses of unbelievable French wine. I had the joy of studying Shakespeare and analyzing the songs of The Beatles in London. And I studied la langue française and French history in France. My professors on both programs encouraged me to begin writing, and it is completely because of them that I did. I caught the travel bug this decade and I don't plan on getting rid of it any time soon.

I've attempted (and not quite succeeded) to learn two new languages in the 2000's, French and Japanese. French was a bit easier to understand and remember than Japanese is proving to be. I've lost much of my French, but at my peak, I was speaking to my French parents about politics and the anatomy of a baguette. Compare that to the most recent conversation I had with some Japanese teenagers during which I got flustered and mistakenly told them I was 14. I've got a long way to go with my Japanese, but I hope that I have not yet reached my peak.

Most importantly, I met my future husband this decade. Nearly 3 years ago, Dustin and I were introduced to each other by my friend and his coworker, Sarah Scharfenberg. After a very fast romance, we moved into a nice little loft in downtown Springfield together, much to the (silent) dismay of our families and friends. Though few people said it, most of the reactions we got when telling people we'd be living together after a few short months of knowing each other was a look that said, "Whoa. That's waaaay too fast." Well, it turns out that our fast paced relationship has lasted the test of time and we're going to tie the knot. It is the first time that I've fallen in love, and that is undoubtedly the best thing about this decade.

And then, of course, we moved to Japan, which has been a grand adventure of its own. Once again, I moved to a strange new land, with a bit of trepidation, and turned out to love it. I doubt that I'll spend the next decade in Japan, but I'm glad I've come to experience this crazy country, and I'm willing to stick around for a while longer.

As with anyone's life, there has been the occasional disappointment and sadness over the past ten years, but this decade has been truly amazing. I've met some of the most important people in my life, and I hope that we will remain important to each other in the next decade. I've discovered some life long loves of my life: vegetarian food, traveling, writing, and Dustin.

Though it's been a great decade, I expect the next decade to be even more important than the last. There are a great many things I wish to do in the next decade:
-have my very own classroom
-continue to see the world
-continue my writing
-go back to France and finish learning French (hopefully with Brigitte)
-become a debt free citizen
-learn to sew and knit and make wearable garments
-have a house with a big garden
-be a mother (but probably in the latter part of the coming decade, so don't get too excited yet)

We'll see how the next decade turns out! Stay tuned.

Happy Holidayssssss

Dustin and I hosted our very first Thanksgiving feast. As it so often happens, Dustin's birthday fell shortly after the holiday. A few weeks before, he'd told me that he wanted a turkey shaped caked that also tasted like turkey. Little did he know, I had already ordered a bird from a website that Tracey shared with me, and it was due to arrive a few days before our Thanksgiving party.

I know that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, but all of us English teachers in Japan typically work on Thursdays, so we planned Dustin's birthday party/ Thanksgiving dinner for the following Sunday. After a few rousing games of bowling, we planned on having around 15 people over to our little Japanese apartment for a fabulous feast.

Since I am usually the lone vegetarian at Thanksgiving dinner, I have made the occasional dish to bring to the table, but I have never been responsible for the majority of the meal. Neither Dustin nor I have ever had anything to do with cooking a turkey. Having observed my mother over the years, I understood that you must start the cooking the day before if everything is to be finished in time. I spent most of Saturday night cooking up a storm. I continued in the morning, and somehow finished everything in the nick of time. I made glazed carrots, gravy, stuffing, cheesecake, brownies, and about 3 pounds of garlic mashed potatoes! The gravy was lumpy and the brownies exploded all over the oven, but they were gobbled up nonetheless.

Dustin did the turkey. It was quite a task, with a few problems. First problem, this tiny 3.4 kg turkey was too big to fit in our even tinier Japanese oven. Second problem, our oven is a bit finicky. It never seems to think the suggested amount of time is appropriate; sometimes it thinks 25 minutes should be 40, at other times 5 minutes into a 20 minute cooking time leaves something burnt to a crisp... So we weren't really sure how long it should stay in there.

Dustin solved the first problem by chopping off the wings and legs, and cooking the torso on its own. The second problem was solved by lots of observation. The instructions that came with our roasting bag said to cook it until most of the cooks agreed that it was done, probably between 2.5-3 hours. Well... neither of us knew how to tell if it was done, but it looked brown, so we took it out. And thankfully, it was done. And then the rest of the poor disassembled bird was stuck in the oven, and an hour later, it too was enjoyed by the carnivores in the room. Everyone happily ate the turkey without complaint, but once the guests left, Dustin admitted that it was much drier than the turkey he's used to. It was his first attempt and it was edible, so I declare it a success.

The evening turned out to be another lovely potluck in Japan. We had more dessert than we knew what to do with, but there were very few complaints about that. And our Japanese guests brought sushi, which was a welcome addition to the dinner. Someone even made Sangria! And luckily, our American friends rounded out the dinner with a few other Thanksgiving staples like macaroni and cheese and sweet potato casserole. In a single word, the night was delicious.

And of course, after Thanksgiving the next holiday is... CHRISTMAS! Which I am so very excited about spending in the U.S. that I talk about it far too much these days, so I will refrain from blabbing on and on about all the great fun I will be having in a short week and a half (like eating burritos and seeing the Nutcracker and attending more Christmas "events" than I have ever attended in one year and seeing all of the people I miss the most)!!!

I don't know if any of my faithful readers are familiar with David Sedaris's short story "Me Talk Pretty One Day" from a book of the same name, but I found myself in the midst of a remarkably similar situation the other day. Only we were talking about Christmas traditions around the world in broken Japanese, instead of Easter traditions around the world in broken French.

I have been taking a Japanese class at my local Civic Center since April. Currently, my class consists of me, my American boss, a middle-aged South Korean man who works at a restaurant, a 19 year-old Chinese girl, a middle-aged Chinese woman who I think is a doctor, and a mysterious middle-aged Spanish man from Madrid, who recently joined our class. At the end of each chapter, we take a little quiz that involves filling in the blanks of a story. The one we completed last time was a sort of guess who passage. It was about a man who has a wonderful job where he only has to work one day a year. He wears a red suit, and has white hair. I don't recall what else was in the passage, but I was giggling about half way through having realized that we were talking about Santa Claus here.

After we finished our quiz, my adorable little old Japanese teacher asked, "Who is this?" I said immediately, and a little too enthusiastically, "Santa Claus!" To which one of my Chinese classmates replied, "Who?" Who?!?!? Always prepared, my teacher pulled out a plush Santa and showed it to the Chinese girls who seemed to have recognized the face, but didn't know a thing about him. My teacher starting giving the run down on Santa, and she began by telling us why Santa Claus brings toys to all of the children in the world. She said that Santa Claus is single, but he loves children. I interrupted her to say, "That's wrong. Santa Claus has a wife." My teacher asked her name, and I replied, "Claus San," which could translate to Mrs. Claus or Mr. Claus, so that did nothing to quell her confusion. I broke the normal "Japanese only" rule, and said, "Mrs. Claus" in English.

Being the only American in the room (my boss was absent that day), my teacher felt that I was the authority on Santa Claus, and thus began asking me a multitude of questions about him. "Where does he live?"
"Umm... very north with lots of snow and countryside."
"What does his wife wear?"
"Mr. Santa the same, but dress and glasses."
"Does he have any children?"
"No, but he has many small people friends."
(There was a very confused expression on the face of everyone present at this point.)
Luckily, my teacher understood and said, "Erufu," the katakana version of elf.
Suddenly, the man from South Korea piped up, "Santa Claus very tall. He has blue clothes."
Next the Spanish guy chimed in, "His name is Papa Noel in Spain. We get two days presents. In January, three men put presents in children's shoes."
The Chinese girls continued to insist that they had never heard of this Santa character.

It was a very interesting cultural discussion, but I have a feeling there was an awful lot lost in translation and none of us came away with a complete understanding of the Christmas traditions observed in each others' home countries. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to visit you all in person and talk about all of the things that have been happening that haven't made it to the blog, and hear about your own live in the past year and a half. See you all so very very soon!