Tokyo Ume (Plum) Blossom Season 2014

DSC01596_edited

Ume at Koganei Park

It is early March, which means that the white and pink Ume (Japanese plum) blossoms are opening up and that spring is on its way.

Here in Japan people wait all year long for this display. Ume blossoms come first, then tulips, then sakura (cherry) blossoms.

DSC01599_edited

Ume at Koganei Park

Some of my Japanese friends told me that Japanese people enjoy the blossom season for a few reasons: the blooms are pretty to look at, fragrant, and the event brings people together…but also that the blooming period is so short, which reminds us of our mortality.

DSC01598_edited

Ume at Koganei Park

One man I know likened the ume and sakura seasons to loving a gorgeous woman, only she passes away quickly and at the prime of her life. You enjoy the blooms while they are here, but you also know they do not last long so you must make the most of the time you have with them.

Recently I learned that, similarly to how many Americans are divided by sports teams, that many Japanese prefer viewing ume blossoms over sakura, and vice versa. Being that I’m a foreigner I’m crazy for both types of blossoms; I want to see them all!

I made a list of popular ume viewing locations that I found online at websites like Time Out Tokyo and created pins on our collaborative Google map to make our adventures easier to plan; David’s schedule is very difficult to adventure with, so we have to plan wisely.

DSC01660_edited

Ume at Hamura Zoo

Last weekend David and I were able to get away from Fussa to visit  Koganei park to view the ume blossoms since they typically appear late February.

However, last month Tokyo got the biggest snow storm its had in over 16 years, so the ume blossoms seem to be delayed due to the bad weather. 

Koganei park did have a few dozen trees that had some blossoms showing, but you could see that many buds were still closed.

We probably should have waited another week, but I was going crazy knowing there were blooms out there that I needed to see. Always the hipster, I had to be among the first to ume blossoms. 

DSC01663_edited

Ume at Hamura Zoo

I think I’m also getting “spring fever,” or what some may call “cabin fever” due to David’s taxing work schedule. I keep feeling the nagging urge to get out and explore!

It isn’t as fun to go experience Japan alone, but today was my breaking point and I was determined to cross off some of my “must-see” blossom viewing points on our Google map, even if I had to go by myself.

I helped at the local English speaking coffee shop and afterwards opted to go to Hamura zoo. I thought that there might be some ume trees, and I was right!

DSC01658_edited

Ume at Hamura Zoo

I felt a little strange going to a zoo by myself at first, but then I saw other people who were there alone, so I didn’t feel too weird after awhile. Though, I did notice that the other solo viewers were older men with giant cameras.

Not only did the zoo have a great array of local and exotic animals, there was also a dozen or so ume trees in bloom that were very nice. Many people, local and foreign, will tell you that the Hamura zoo isn’t that great, but if you are looking for the standard fare of zoo animals with a nice park area you should visit.

I found it to be clean, quiet, and while some animals had small cages the cages were clean and the animals looked to be in healthy condition and in good spirits. Plus it only cost 300 yen for each adult and 300 yen for parking. I was able to spend almost 2 hours there watching the animals and looking at the the mini-bamboo forest and ume trees.

DSC01655_edited

Ume at Hamura Zoo

I saw a few  families having picnics on the grass, a father and son playing catch, and older Japanese people sitting at park benches in this area- all were enjoying the beautiful weather and lovely ume.

I wished I had brought thought to bring a blanket and lunch so I could sit under the trees and relax, too.

I noticed that while other people were enjoying the blooms that I was only person taking pictures. My guess is because the main focus here is the zoo, but I didn’t mind that I looked like the crazy foreigner who has never seen ume because it’s true! I have never seen Japanese ume before now, and I want to enjoy every moment I can.

Tomorrow  morning after I work at the cafe I want to go to a larger park where I can relax on the grass and read or write for a little while. There are just so many ume viewing locations to visit, and so little time!

DIY Fix-Snowboard Jacket Waterproof Lining Flaking Off

snowboardjacketlining

Does your snowboarding jacket look like it has dandruff? If so, the waterproofing/waterproof liner is flaking or falling out because of it was put in the dryer, because of age of the jacket, or both.

You’re sick of having white flakes everywhere when you put it on or take it off, so how do you fix it? The good news is that (in most cases) your jacket is still perfectly usable.

I spent a lot of time researching how to fix this issue on my husband’s snowboarding jacket. He is new to the sport and bought a jacket at a thrift store for a decent price, but once we got it home we saw why it was there. We actually thought that the flaking lining was the pattern on the inside of the jacket.

Upon closer inspection jacket looked like it had dandruff- we had to vacuum the floor just from taking it out of the shopping bag. So it stayed in the closet until I found a solution.

The fix I found online was for a tent, but waterproofing is waterproofing and the jacket is fine. He even used it on the mountain and it worked great.

How to remove the waterproofing from your snowboard jacket:

1. You’ll fill the washer with just enough HOT water to cover the jacket.

2. Start the washer put in 1 cup Parson’s ammonia. This kind has suds.

3. Let the machine agitate a few minutes before putting the jacket in.

4. Let the jacket soak overnight. I checked it a few times to make sure the jacket itself wasn’t getting discolored or falling apart (since I found no specific how-to for snowboard gear)

5. Rinse the next morning

6. Line or air dry.

You may have to do this process a few times depending on how much lining is left in your jacket to begin with.

7. *Optional* Spray the inside with CampDry if you want to, but my husband skipped this step and said the outside lining was intact and that he had no waterproofing problems on his snowboard trip.

I hope this works for you!

A Foreigner’s First Haircut In Japan

As I sit here watching Japanese infomercials I thought that I should write about my first (unaccompanied) haircut in Japan.

We have lived here almost 3 months and I needed my hair cut in January. The on base salon was booked and I didn’t know where else to go. My friend Itsuka took me to DOT, the place where she gets her hair cut in Fussa. She translated for me and got me a temporary membership card.

I had a picture of a past haircut on my phone so I showed the stylist and let her go to work.

Be prepared- razor/thinning is popular here and there was much more hair on the floor than I expected. The rest is kind of fuzzy because I was so nervous.

The stylist seemed excited about my natural curls and wanted to style it that way so I didn’t see it straight until the next day when I straightened it myself.

My nape hair was longer than I liked so I took office scissors to it. You would think I knew better since this summer I played hairstylist when I got frustrated with my sideswept bangs and cut them off, making them blunt. Not my best idea, but I had them shaped up by my stylist in Oklahoma and they eventually grew back out.

It’s mid-February now and it was time to get my hair cut since it was growing out strangely because of my most recent scissor attack.

Itsuka couldn’t go with me because she had prior obligations for the next few weekends, but she was kind enough to make me an appointment online and added a note to blow my hair straight.

I took a printed picture this time of a Japanese cut and went to my appointment.

While I do know some Japanese I don’t know any hair salon vocabulary so I was just as nervous as I was the first time I went. Doki doki!

I handed my paper membership card to the person behind the counter and was given a key for a locker to hang my jacket and purse. I was the first person that morning so I was seen right away.

We discussed the picture in simple Japanese and he began. First he sprayed my hair with water and then started cutting. He then blew my hair dry and I told him I liked it. He said in English that he wasn’t finished, so I felt pretty silly.

Then he got down on his knees and focused intently on making my nape hair even (did I mention that I can’t cut a straight line?)

He cut, and cut, and cut, then he blew it dry (again). I said I liked it (again) and almost put my scarf on. He took my scarf from my hands and gestured to the sinks. Apparently I wasn’t finished.

He put a towel in my lap and a young lady put a gauze-like fabric on my face and began washing my hair with water only. I was guided back to the chair and both she and the male stylist started co-drying my hair with their fingers.

If you have never had 2 different people finger dry your hair at the same time you are missing out. It was relaxing and I tried to enjoy the feeling rather than think about how it compared to the service we get in the states.

japanesehaircut

The picture I took with me to the salon

He blew my hair dry a third time, which surprised me. In America you get it styled once and that’s it.

He took such care to re-shape and razor out the remaining bulk as he styled my hair. I even felt confident enough to ask for the nape hair to be a little shorter, and he complied.

In the end it was a bit shorter than I orginally wanted, but it ended up being the perfect hair cut experience overall.

The best part? It cost 1890 yen (roughly less than $20 USD) without tip because tipping is not customary here.

Try to be brave and go to a Japanese stylist, even if you don’t know much or any of the language.

Take a picture of the style you want, point to it and say “kore kudasi,” or you can even show with your finger how much you want cut off.

*A kind Japanese reader pointed out something I should have. I was taught that “kore kudasi” is not grammatically correct, but that if you’re foreign the Japanese people usually know what you mean. However, the correct phrase is “kore ni shite kudasi.” Thank you for reminding me to say that my previous phrase wasn’t grammatically correct, and for telling me the correct phrase, Marshall!

Cleaning Pillows With The Miracle Laundry Whitening Solution

With the 3 feet of snow around here I got a little obsessed with trying out cleaning recipes so the next day I tried the mattress cleaning recipe on our even-more-sweat-stained pillows.

I wish I had a before and after to show you, but the before was pretty nasty so at the same time I’m kind of relieved that I forgot to take one. Just know that these pillows were a few years old and my husband sweats at night.

I spread towels on the kitchen floor, mixed up my little potion, and went to work. I mixed it up 3 more times and tried again. Very little impact. I was confused because this had worked just yesterday on the mattress.

Then I felt the pillows. They had this weird non-normal texture. It wasn’t quite sticky, or oily, but it was something that felt organic and that shouldn’t be there.

I assumed it was sweat and body oil so I decided to try out this pillow cleaning method that I had pinned for a while but never had the time to try.

The process is basically:

  • Fill the washer 1/3 of the way, then add solution and agitate to mix it together
  • Add pillows
  • Agitate for 5-10 minutes
  • Flip pillows
  • Agitate the rest of the cycle
  • Let washer finish the cycle
  • Dry

Before that I knew I had to do something about the weird organic layer on the pillows.

I followed a similar process. I filled the washer 1/3 full with hot water and added 1 cup Parson’s ammonia and let it agitate.

Then I added the pillows, one on each side of the washer. I let it fill up all the way and poured another 1/2 cup ammonia on top of the pillows.

I let it agitate about 10 minutes and turned the pillows over and let it agitate the rest of the cycle.

The pillows sat for about an hour and I turned them one more time at the 30 minute mark.

After the cycle finished I started the Miracle Laundry Whitening Solution.

I had no powdered dishwasher detergent on hand so I thought I would bite the bullet and try it without that ingredient (spoiler alert- it works just fine without it.)

I filled the washer 1/3 of the way and added 1 cup detergent, 1 cup bleach, and 1 cup borax instead and let it agitate.

Then I added the pillows and let the washer fill the rest of the way.

I let the washer agitate for 5-10 minutes, turned the pillows over, and let it finish. I did not let it soak because the directions didn’t call for it.

The directions did say to run a second rinse but I skipped it because they didn’t feel soapy and I already felt bad enough for using so much water.

I put the pillows in the dryer and I’ll be darned if they didn’t come out so white that they were blinding, and that is no exaggeration. My husband couldn’t even tell which pillow was his anymore. He told me that he always knew by the sweat stains. Nice, right?

If you get a chance, try this and see if your pillows come out brighter than your eyes can handle!

 

How To Get Sweat Stains Out Of A Mattress

Our sweat-stained Bellagio mattress has plagued me for 2 years now, but I never was brave enough (or had the time) to try anything I had researched online to fix it.

We got snowed in the other day here in Tokyo so I thought it would be a great day to try to clean up the stains.

I first tried a diluted bleach spray. That worked a little to lighten the stains, but it also spread out the stain quite a bit.

Then I did something you should never EVER do. I looked under the sink and found Clorox clean up+ bleach. I tried a test spot and it brightened right up so I quickly went to town spraying it all over.

About 10 minutes later the pin-tucking points along the mattress had turned brown and the stains were still there. It smelled strongly of bleach, even though I had windows open and an air purifier going in there.

I used ShamWows on the mattress top to try to get up the remaining dampness. When that didn’t help I decided to sprinkle baking soda and corn starch all over the mattress, close the door, and get back to researching.

This meant we had to sleep on the couch for 2 nights while the smell dissipated, but luckily our Ikea pull-out sofa bed is comfortable.

The next day the smell was gone so I vacuumed up the mess and started over. I found a recipe on the Rudy Family Ruckus blog  that saved my (snow)day.

Check her post out for comments and tips from other readers, but the basic recipe is:

  • 3 Tablespoons Baking Soda
  • 8 ounces Hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 drop dish soap

mattressbeforeandafter

Get a big spray bottle, pour the mixture in, shake it up, and use it right away. Shake it up occasionally as you’re spraying.

If your bottle gets clogged like mine did take the sprayer off and put it in water, then keep spraying until it is clear. Reattach it to the bottle with the mixture then go back to work.

I had to make 3 batches because my mattress stains were all over (because we rotate the mattress ever so often) but it worked as described.

I would have trouble believing that this simple mixture worked had it not brightened up our mattress right before my eyes.

It didn’t make our mattress look right-out-of-the-plastic new, but it looks like-new.

I would have kept going for a 4th or 5th application, but I ran out of hydrogen peroxide.

I bought 3 32 oz. bottles and we’re supposed to get more snow this weekend, so maybe I’ll give it another go.

Dyson Ball DC24 Review

I have toyed with the idea of buying a Dyson ball vacuum for a few years now but I could never justify spending over $300 for a vacuum cleaner…until I used one.

I looked after a neighbor’s cat a few weeks ago and she had a Dyson that I used to clean up one of the cat’s messes. It was like the first time I ever used an iPhone. I knew what my next big purchase would be.

Then I got busy with work and school and forgot about it, but my thoughtful husband continued to price Dysons on Amazon for me. We are living in Japan now with a military APO address so not only does it take forever for things to get here sometimes sellers won’t ship to APO so that adds another variable into the price-checking mix.

He found a refurbished unit for $279 shipped and that makes this thifty lady very happy.

It arrived yesterday after about 2 weeks and I’ve been playing with it today.

IMG_5299[1]

The difference between the Dyson DC24 and my Hoover Elite Rewind are obvious just from seeing them side by side.

The Dyson is smaller, lighter, and more agile. The Dyson’s handle telescopes to make it even  more compact when you store it away.

I can hold the Dyson off the ground with 1 finger; I can barely hold the Hoover off the ground  with one hand.

The suction is strong, though I wish I had remembered to vacuum with the Hoover then go  over it with the Dyson to see what the Dyson picked up.

The color was a coincidence since David just went for the least expensive ball model on Amazon with Prime shipping, but the red is nice. The Hoover’s finish is more shiny, though (get it together, Dyson! People like shiny things!)

Pros of the Dyson:

  • Light
  • Nimble
  • Quiet (my cats don’t even wake up when I use it)
  • Compact
  • Easy to empty

Cons:

  • No retracting cord
  • Shorter cord than I’m used to
  • Smaller canister

From Amazon:

Dyson DC24

  • Ultra-lightweight and compact – weighs only 11.65 lbs. and wand compresses for easy storage
  • Patented Root Cyclone technology ensures constant suction as you vacuum
  • Expelled air has up to 150 times less mold and bacteria than the air you breathe
  • No extra costs – lifetime washable HEPA filter and no bags to buy
  • Tough, see-through polycarbonate Clear Bin empties with the push of a button Motor mounted in ball for a lower center of gravity and increased ease of steering

Hoove Elite Auto-Rewind

  • Bagless upright vacuum cleaner with powerful 12 amp motor
  • 14-1/2-inch-wide cleaning path; 7 height settings; air-flow indicator; HEPA filter
  • Headlight; 24-foot auto-rewind cord; stretch hose for extended reach
  • Crevice wand, dusting brush/upholstery tool, and pet-hair tool included

The verdict? If you want something light and nimble and can cough up the cash for a Dyson ball then go for it because I’m very happy with this purchase.

Our First Impression Of Japan

*This is a draft that I never finished-we’ve been living in Japan for almost 3 months now.

Here is our first impression of our new adventure, originally written December 1, 2013

We’ve moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan and it is amazing, even though we arrived the day before Thanksgiving and all the offices were closed.

The 12 hour flight was manageable. The cats were in cabin with us and didn’t cry at all except for takeoff and landing when the pressure changed. Otherwise they were quiet and slept un-medicated. I was quite sure we would have to give them bendryl or something but they wouldn’t take it and still slept. I put them in the empty seat in our row and opened their kennel lids to pet them. Erik crawled into my lap under the blanket and since it was an overnight flight it went unnoticed. That made for a nice cuddly flight except for he is so heavy that he put my legs to sleep a few times.

We knew Japan was going to be awesome when we got off the plane and the luggage was waiting on us at the carousel. We had to go through immigration so we seemed to be the last to get our bags. In America you wait for 30 minutes for your luggage to get out to you, but here they were ready before we were.

We hired a chauffeur so we could come from the airport to the base with the cats. The regular shuttle doesn’t allow cats and we didn’t want to put them through additional stress. It took about 3 hours to get from Narita to Yokota with traffic and we fell asleep a few times but stayed awake long enough to see the Rainbow bridge and Tokyo Tower.

The next morning we had got a tour and had a traditional Thanksgiving lunch with some friends we knew from Little Rock Air Force Base. We went home to sleep off the jet lag shortly after.

It’s Monday now and while I’m still waking up at 3 am or so I no longer get tired at  4pm.

Friday we drove around Fussa and had our first taste of conveyor belt sushi. We had a stack of plates, a beer, and soup and it only cost $20 between us. It was just as delicious as the expensive places we would frequent in the states and was a fraction of the cost.

Saturday we went took the train into Akihabara (Electric City) and Harajuku (a trendy/cute shopping district) and had a wonderful time. Once we got out of the Akihabara station I felt like spinning around in the street like Mary Tyler Moore.

The Akihabara I saw was made up of a lot of duty free shops, anime, electronics, and adult gifts/movies. The stores there are 5-6 levels so we got quite the work out. I did not go up to the “adult” stores even though I wanted to simply because there were no other women anywhere and I didn’t want to upset any of the Japanese men.

I was waiting outside for David and Austin in front of what I now believe to be a porn store only because some of the nerdy Japanese guys stopped and stared, giggled and looked up the staircase (which had an anime girl image on the steps) so I’m going to have to be more careful. It was hot pink so I just thought it was a cutesy store that hadn’t opened up yet (the front was still closed up)

I LOVE the train. Everyone is quiet and it is very peaceful. We ate in the train station and it only cost $6- which still will continue to amaze me.

Harajuku was very cool, but I only saw one Harajuku/Lolita girl. They had adorable clothes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $50 on a coat.

I used a floor toilet in the train station and I must say it was a lot easier than I expected. There were bars to hold on to and toilet paper so that was a definite plus.

We headed back to Fussa because all the restaurants were closing to prepare for dinner so we visited CoCo’s (curry) for the first time. They have English menus. It was delicious, and I don’t like curry or spicy things. I got the mild base, but it was had just enough spice to be tasty without burning my mouth.

IMG_3258

Mario Cart IRL

IMG_4866

Hello Kitty in Akihabara

IMG_3256

Akihabara

IMG_3252

Akihabara

 

IMG_3251

Kappa Sushi

IMG_4788

Underwear capsule machine (new, not used. I’ve been told those are rare)