Monday, September 29, 2008

Bird flu, Japan thoughts and changes at home

I have Bird Flu. Actually, when I returned from Japan I got really really sick with a horrible cold, so bad that I could barley talk or think. It is amazing I did my Japan Temple post last week, I remember wanting to die the entire time. Because I had just come home from an Asian country, my family teased me that I must have Bird Flu. At least I'm starting to feel better, other than the persistent sore throat that wants to kill me.

The changes my life is going through at the moment are enormous. I am losing my job due to the bad economy. My company just can't afford to keep me any longer. We were once a 12 person shop, now they are going to be down to four. They are at the bare minimum. It is horrible to lose something I've loved so dearly for the last five years of my life. Five years, that's a long time! I've posted before about my unbelievable office, how much I love looking over the stunning Wasatch Mountains each day from my desk. I hope this will be an opportunity to further my career and not a major road bump.

I've also become quite close friends will each and every one of my co-workers. It is weird to think that I will no longer see these people every day, these people that I've spent more time with than even my family. I will especially miss my boss Steve, who has become a close friend and mentor.

But, alas, I can't stay negative for too long. Japan was so wonderful, and I've only posted little bits about our vacation. Also, my new house is to die for, I just love it. The more time I spend there the more I fall in love. Plus, it is autumn in Utah, the best season of all. The leaves in the canyons have started to change, reds and yellows and oranges. Plus, the sky is clear and blue, not a cloud in the sky.

So, I'll leave you with some really awesome signs we saw in Japan (remember to click the photo for a full sized view):

The first day in Japan I was totally overwhelmed because E needed to work, and I was going to go off on my own. This is what the train map looked like, ack! E taught me how to read it, and luckily I figured it out quickly.
I thought this was the cutest street sign for the firehouse. It was right in front of the fire station. Adorable.
There were these public awareness signs all over Tokyo trying to get people more aware of others, but the English translations and images were so funny! Half of them we didn't even understand. (This one reads "If you're going to read words during rush hour, we wish you'd also read between the lines.)
This was a sign at a temple telling us that the water was safe to drink and wash your hands. Yes, everyone uses the same cup...
Another public awareness sign (they were always printed in green). This one is hilarious!! You must click on it and study it. If anyone can tell me what the old movie projector and "a long time ago" has anything to do with it, you win!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Temples and shrines in Japan

E and I were so excited to go temple hopping in Japan, for some reason neither of us ever got tired of exploring temple after temple. Plus, both Buddhism and Shintoism were fascinating to learn about. Traditionally Shintos have shrines and Buddhists have temples, however both religions have been active in Japan for so long, lots of temples will have a Shinto area, and visa versa.

The first temple we went to is called Senso-ji in Tokyo. E had been to this temple on his previous trip and just loved it. This temple was laid out in the traditional Buddhist sense, the two main gates, the pagoda to the left, the incense burner, the main buildings and multiple sub temples. When seeing Senso-ji for the first time I didn't realize I would come to know this layout quite well. E and I spent a great deal of time at Senso-ji and took a great deal of photos, here are two favorites:
Huge lanterns at Senso-ji.
The next temples we visited were away from Tokyo altogether. Instead, we took a bullet train to the mountains and visited Nikko, an stunning area in the woods where the brightly colored temples have been standing for hundreds of years. To access the mountainous area you have to cross over the Daiya River. One way to cross it is to take the Shinkyo Bridge, which is a site to itself.

Here is the stunning Shinkyo Bridge (isn't the color of the water unreal?)
Once you arrive in the mountains you are surrounded by an entire complex of beautifully painted temples.
Many temples and shrines have areas where you can hang a prayer, and the monks will pray that all the prayers get answered. These prayers are written on little wooden planks and hung one after another.
Toshogu in Nikko had this building that was the library. Inside were the teachings of Buddha. Isn't the setting glorious?
The next temples we visited were in Kyoto Japan. We left Tokyo, caught another bullet train and were in Kyoto by lunch time. Kyoto has hundreds of temples and shrines, you can even stumble on them without realizing.The first day we were there E and I found three just by wandering the streets. These are small temples, but still beautiful.
All the lanterns come on as dusk arrives.
Also Kyoto has lots of large temples and shrines to offer. One of the ones I was most excited about was Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine in the Eastern hills of Kyoto. This shrine is very famous for its hundreds of orange tori gates leading up the mountain. E and I both loved it, wow wow wow.

Plus, this shrine was build for the rice gods, represented as a fox.
The next temples and shrines on our agenda were Kiyomizu Temple and Yasaka Shrine. Both have been in their current locations for over a thousand years. The current wooden structure that stands here was built without nails in 1633.
Here is one of the sub-temples that stands near Kiyomizu.
Down the hill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple is Yasaka Shrine. Isn't it awesome? And this is just the front gate. (And, for any of you that have read Memoirs of a Geisha, this is where Chiyo goes to donate the remaining money after the Chairman gives her a coin to buy shaved ice).
Yasaka Shrine detail.
E and I also visited a few Zen Temples. Zen Temples have a different feeling to them altogether. The purpose of a Zen Temple is meditation, so many of the rooms and halls are more simple than other Buddhist Temples. Often in Zen Temples there are courtyard gardens, and dry gardens to help the monks focus and therefore meditate.

E and I went to two Zen Temples, the first was Kennin-ji Temple in Gion Kyoto. This one we loved, it was so stunning and all the meditation rooms were open to sit in and meditate, if you wanted to. The courtyard gardens were really something.

E practices meditation at Kennin-ji.
Here is one of the courtyard gardens.
And another. The dry gardens are raked gravel mean to symbolize different things, this one was raked to symbolize the ocean.
The last temple we saw before leaving Kyoto was Nazen-ji Temple, another Buddhist Zen Temples. This temple complex was one of the largest we'd seen with 6 main buildings and they once had 49 sub-temples!

View over the temple complex in Kyoto.
Roof detail at Nazen-ji.
Another dry garden. We only saw dry gardens at Zen Temples, and really liked them.
Finally it was our last temple day, and E and I went to Kamakura, which is a seaside town not far from Tokyo full of Temples! We only saw four out of the dozens to see, but we loved each of them.
At the Enkaku-ji Temple there were hundreds of little carved Buddhas all lined up. We thought each was so beautiful and unique, no two were the same. In Japan, Buddha is not seen as the fat grinning man we see here in the states, instead, he is quite thin and is usually shown with his eyes closed in meditation.
Another neat thing about Enkaku-ji Temple was the fact that it was built up against a small cliff. This meat that some of the shrines and meditation rooms were actually build into the cliff!
Behind the Tokei-ji Temple in Kamakura there was a cemetery that led up the hill. Never in my life had I seen so much green. It was magical.
I think this photo of the two of us was taken at Enkaku-ji Temple, but is hard to remember, we visited so many!
Here is one of the main buildings of Kencho-ji, our last temple in Kamakura and my last temple of the trip.
It is so peaceful here.
I hope you enjoyed the temple hopping half as much as E and I did. More Japan posts to come!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I'm home. I just walked in. Oh what a long day. I didn't ever sleep on the airplane, instead I watched two movies and did something else... wrote in my journal!!!!! I got to the airport in Tokyo early and asked about lost and found, saying I left it on a flight into Tokyo a week before, and they had it, in all it's perfect glory!! Because I was too excited to recount my trip in my journal I didn't sleep on the very long plane flight.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A few Kyoto photos for you

Here is our room in they ryokan. Notice the tatami mats and the low table. The tea service is set out when we arrive!
That night we had dinner included. They brought up tons of food! We counted more than a dozen dishes on the table. Here is one, the shashimi plate. Notice the shrimp still has his head!
The dinner was fantastic, it was called shabu shabu meaning swish swish. We had had this before in Tokyo, so we knew we were in for a treat. Notice I'm in my yukata, a robe meant for relaxation. Most Japanese will change into the yukata when the arrive.
Here is one of the many temples we visited. I want to do an entire post on the temples and shrines of Japan, so this is just a preview.

My heart lies in Kyoto

We are back in Tokyo from our three day two night trip to Kyoto. Both E and I fell in love. The little side streets full of food stalls and craft shops. The temples galore, oh the temples. The sweets, the smells, the electric poles that look like they haven't been updated in 50 years (seriously, they were scary!), the ryokan that we stayed in and loved, we miss it all.

In Kyoto we stated right in the heart of old downtown. We could walk to old Gion, the Nshiki Food Market, and our favorite temple so far, Kenninji Temple. Our ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) was wonderful. We stayed in a big room with tatami mats, so no shoes allowed. When we arrived hot tea and sweets were waiting in our room. We fell in love with the small table and the pillows provided to sit on. We even explored the oforo bath, which is a comunial bath (full post to come!), and ate traditional dinners in our room served to us from the funniest Japanese woman, that would explain how to eat everything in full Japanese. E and I just nodded and looked at each other before trying something mysterious.

Here are a few guesses on what we ate:
Raw squid
Raw egg
Pickled something (we had no idea what it was!)
Chicken liver (again, not sure what it was...)
Octopus (raw and cooked)
and many more.

Everything we ate, however the weird look, was really wonderful. We tried lots of new food and loved 90% of them. Even the Japanese breakfast was tasty, kinda.

More photos to come!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Japan is stunning

We are just getting ready for another day in Japan, today we are headed to Nikko. But before we leave, I'll post a few photos for you to enjoy!

Here is a $105 cantaloupe...
AMAZING tempura dinner.
Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo. In the top level of the pagoda is a bone relic of Buddha.
Prayer drawers at the temple.
Main hall of the temple. The steep roof is at least four stories tall.
Koishikawa Korakuen Garden. A must see, it is glorious.
Tsutenkyo bridge.
E with dinner last night. Shabu shabu, a hot broth where you cook meet, veggies and fish.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I think Japan ate my journal

Sorry to be such a downer on my first post of Japan (by the way, Japan is awesome! Tokyo is beautiful, big and crowded!), but last night after my first full day here I looked for my travel journal. I looked and looked and finally came to the realization that it is not here... not in our room at least.

The journal is very special to me, since my husband got it for my last year for my birthday (remember?). There was only one trip documented in it, Grand Cayman, and I am very sad to loose it.

We've called the airport, the airline and other places we think it might have gotten lost. We just hope it turns up.

Please send up your "finding journal" vibes. Thank you.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ben is in town!

In addition to packing for Japan and everything else going on in my life, Ben came into town for the weekend! I was a little bummed that he chose the weekend E and I were leaving, but oh well. He said no other weekend would work for his schedule. Jo was unable to join him, so that is a bummer. We really miss her.

Ben is awesome to be around, he totally brings a smile to my face. And E laughs around Ben in a different way, somehow more carefree. I love it.

Yesterday I took a half day from work and met Ben, Logan, and E at our new favorite Thai restaurant. After a fantastic meal Ben and I headed to his first of many wedding meetings. The guys stayed back, but Ben asked only me if I could join him, since I had just planned my own wedding not long ago. It was fun listening to options and such, and trying to imagine what Jo will want. Today we might go to Red Butte Gardens and take some photos there, because that is the wedding location they are leaning towards (Ben and Jo's very first date was at Red Butte Gardens).

After getting home from our catering meeting, E and I hosted a party with all the guys. I was overwhelmed at how much I miss this. It has been forever since it was just the guys and myself (Becky was there, but we both feel like one of the guys.) We laughed, BBQed, told way to many dirty jokes, and played a very intense game of Pictonary. When Logan's turn came around to draw Bugs Bunny we all died laughing, this horrid bunny type thing looked scary. Ben guessed "Demented Easter Bunny" and again we rolled laughing until our stomachs hurt.

I miss my best friend too much when he is away.

E, Ben, Logan, Justin and Becky laugh at Logan's horrible dating story. I guess he and his date went to the DMV for some romance...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My sweet little girl is home in time for Japan

Violet has been traveling for about two months, and yesterday she arrived home! I am thrilled, because she is just in time for our trip to Japan.

She even has her own kimono!
Our Japan plans have firmed up in the last week. I have never been this so last minute about travel plans in my life, there are just a few other things on my plate (house, job, car, and about everything else major seems to be disrupted right now). Anyway, we finally have a hotel for all the nights that we will be in Japan, and we also were able to get a bullet train pass that is only available to non-Japanese citizens, so we had to get it Fed-Exed to our US address. I bought this at the last possible moment, not good planning on my part.

Our plan now is to spend a few days in Tokyo, we are going to visit a few temples, gardens and shrines. Possibly do some shopping, but E and I aren't much shoppers. Then we'll take the train to the Five Lakes District near Mt. Fuji. Here we'll stay in a traditional Japanese hotel where we'll eat and sleep on the floor. I'm so excited! Then, we'll get on the train again and head to Kyoto. In Kyoto we'll stay in another traditional hotel, this one even neater than the last (here is there website). We'll explore Kyoto as much as we can and try to visit a few of the 500 temples and shrines Kyoto has to offer. Then we'll hop back on the bullet train and return to Tokyo for one last day in the city before I leave.

I am quite excited.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The condo is done, at last!

E and I spent the entire weekend cleaning. We cleaned the condo from top to bottom, and at last it is ready to sell. What a big job, I'm glad it is behind us.

Now we are excited about the equity we'll get from the sale.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Bite me Edward

As of late I've been enjoying the vampire book fad, the Twilight series. These are really not the most intellectual books, but they hold my interest, and are quite addicting. Edward is a vampire, and an extremely sexy one. The strength and the danger and the muscles, god, I feel like such a teenage girl. The nature of him wanting to bite Bella is wonderfully sexy...

For anyone that has not picked up these books yet, and wants some brain candy, these deliver. I'm still undecided on weather I like Edward or Jacob better. Edward is pale, strong and cold (as in temperature, not demeanor, he is hot in demeanor!) while Jacob is dark (he is Native American), strong and hot in temperature. God, I love them both.

Right now I'm in the middle of the third book, of the four book series.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Yea for Allison and Kyle!

My lifelong friend Allison got engaged a few weeks ago to her wonderful boyfriend Kyle. Congrats! Allison has been my friend since our moms met in a mothering class when we were both less than a year old. We grew up together, sharing the love of dolls, dealing with high school stresses, and finding love. Allison joined me as a bridesmaid at my wedding two years ago, with Kyle in tow!

I wish this fantastic couple a long life of happiness, and a fantastic wedding day!

Photo caption: Kyle and Allison are both outdoor lovers, and avid hikers. The day after my wedding day the hiked Half Dome in Yosemite, and that is a serious hike. Anyway, a few weeks ago Kyle and Allison planned a big hike, to the peak of Mt. Belford, one of Colorado's 14k peaks. On the peak he knelt down and proposed to Allison, she of course said yes!

The house is almost complete

On Monday night to end the long holiday weekend, E and I decided to host a "Thank you for helping us move" party. We invited E's family, my Mom's family, and my Dad. We had a great time, and everyone loved the house.

Here are a few more photos of things coming together:
Our front room is full of natural light. Notice the hummingbird feeder out the front window, we have two hummingbirds visit throughout the day. We still need a rug for this room. The pillow in front of the window is a favorite kitty spot. Moose spends a lot of time there.
Our awesome kitchen. Again, lots of natural light!
Bedroom again, with some of our travel photos hanging up. We plan to print more of our travel photos and get them framed, and arrange them around the bedroom.
Our library is complete! There is another bookshelf to the left of me. When you sit on the couch, you look directly at the forth bookshelf. Also, doesn't the Hopper painting on the wall fit perfectly?
This is our TV room, well half of it. This room is HUGE! After moving the stereo case and TV down the stairs E said he was not, under any circumstance, moving a couch down those stairs. So we got LoveSacs instead. They are really cozy.
And our backyard!
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