Read Harder: Cocaine Blues

8 02 2015

Do you know about the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries? It is a fantastically fun Australian crime series set in the 1920s. Miss Phryne Fisher is a very modern, wealthy woman making inquiries and solving cases in Melbourne. With a wardrobe to die for and some forward-leaning morals, Miss Fisher makes quite the impression on Melbourne society, both high and low. You can find Miss Fisher, the TV show, on Netflix.

For the Read Harder independent press challenge, I was delighted to pick up a digital copy of Kerry Greenwood’s original Miss Fisher book, Cocaine Blues. The book is the basis for the first episode in the TV series, so you might want to hold off on watching the series until you have whipped your way through the book.

In this book, Phryne leaves England to investigate the mysterious illness afflicting the daughter of an acquaintance. Along the way, she stumbles across a cocaine ring and a dangerous illegal abortionist.

Greenwood’s style is brisk but evocative, full of interesting 1920s and/or Australian slang. I found myself looking up such exciting terms as “gasper” and “camiknickers.” The language really sets the scene, including some particularly gorgeous descriptions of Phryne’s fashions.

Fans of the TV series will still find plenty of new tidbits to entertain, such as a bit of interesting backstory on Dot, Phryne’s maid, and the circumstances that led Phryne from destitution to opulence.


Read Harder #2: Olive Kitteridge

19 01 2015

There is always more going on than you can see on the surface. In Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout creates a detailed portrait of a woman, and a whole town, through related vignettes. Each exquisitely crafted short story highlights the moments, mostly small and unremarkable, that fit together to make a life. Olive Kitteridge, a middle-aged woman best described as difficult, nonetheless profoundly impacts those around her. Reading about her is like real life: you may not like her, you may not want to spend a lot of time with her, but she is always around, drifting in and out of your path. When you find yourself tiring of Olive, the next short story will allow you to visit with another neighbor.

This book fulfills the prize winner category of the Read Harder challenge for me. It won a well deserved Pulitzer for its careful, beautiful language and unique construction.

It’s Dino Time

4 09 2013




For those of you more interested in travels than teaching, hang on — photos and thoughts from Hawaii should be coming soon. But first, I wanted to talk a little bit about what we are learning about these days, and by we I do mean ALL of us.

We are officially homeschooling (preschooling) this year, which means I am actively pursuing educational time each day in lieu of preschool. There is no English-language preschool we are eligible here, so we are pursuing other options. To this end, I am taking a course in Project Based Homeschooling, or PBH. With PBH, the parents serve as facilitators and mentors helping children pursue their own deep interests. I am learning a lot, and I’m eager to dig in and help B discover more about the world.

Perhaps not our first official “project,” but a topic we keep coming back to is dinosaurs. B loves them. Loves learning about them, playing with them, digging up their bones. We were so lucky to have found a fossil in Pennsylvania this summer, and even luckier that a paleontology professor actually responded to our emailed questions about what we had found.

The photo above is a collaborative drawing. B knows all the identifying features of her favorite dinos, and she drew those in first, asking me to come back in later and fill in the rest of the bodies. She asked me to label both names and identifiers, which I was happy to do.

Now dinosaurs haven’t ever been one of my big interests, so we are coming at them from about the same level. Through the magic of Coursera I have found a MOOC (massive open online course) from the University of Alberta that provides a lot of great info in short video segments, with quizzes and interactive activities. Class starts today, but you can join in any time in the next few weeks, if this is of interest to you too.

It feels great to be back in learning mode again, learning both about education and paleontology!


Beautiful Hakkoda!

8 11 2012

Fall is here, and it is simply beautiful. To get a full picture of the foliage, we drove to the Hakkoda Mountains for a little leaf viewing. Hakkoda is about 2 hours away, but it is worth the drive in any season. Well, almost.

Our goal was a trip on the Hakkoda Ropeway, an aerial tram that spans several peaks and provides a great view from the top. But here’s the thing, that tram doesn’t run when the wind gets too high. We drove all the way out there last weekend, only to find that the winds were 25 m/s (which is pretty serious). We waited for an hour to see if the winds would die down, but we had no luck.

Once we got home, we discovered that the ropeway website actually lists the wind speed. We started monitoring the winds and biding our time. On Wednesday, the winds and weather were looking good, so R took a half-day off and we hit the road again.

B had a fantastic time on the tram.

The views are spectacular. Here is a picture of the tram operator. Just check out the blazing red leaves behind her!

The tram takes about 10 minutes and goes up to about 4,000 feet. At the top, icicles were shimmering in the trees and there was a dusting of snow here and there. It was spectacular.

At the top of the mountain, there were two short trails (one 30 minutes, the other 60), and we opted for the 30 minute trail, since B was walking by herself. It took a little longer than 30 minutes, but she was such a brave hiker!

After our hike, it was time for lunch at the restaurant at the top tram station. It was another of the ticket vending machine type restaurant. As I usually do, I attempted to read the options and had a look at the few that were illustrated. I chose what I thought was katsu pork but turned out to be panko-crusted fried hamburger. Not at all what we were expecting, but R was happy enough to eat it, and I went with some sort of noodles. Warming and tasty!

The Good Old Hockey Game

28 10 2012

Yes, it’s the best game you can name!

We are casual hockey fans. I don’t have any interest in most sports, but hockey I understand. So when we found out our local hockey team, the Tohoku Free Blades, was playing a few games in Misawa, we jumped at the chance.

Tohoku is the name for the whole northern region of Japan’s main island, Honshu. The team doesn’t appear to have a permanent home stadium, but travels to ice arenas in several cities throughout the area. The Free Blades are part of the Asia League, which includes China and Korea. Teams fly back and forth between the countries, but the level isn’t quite what you might expect from international competition. More like minor league NHL action.

We had never been to the Misawa Ice Arena, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we walked in. It is fairly tiny — couldn’t seat more than 1000. And there were a lot of open seats. Maybe Misawa isn’t a big hockey town.

B had a great time watching the Zamboni (technically, not a Zamboni but some other brand). The game started slow but was very exciting. We won in double overtime!

Foodwise, we were a bit disappointed. I was hoping there would be interesting Japanese festival foods, but the only concessions were from a bake sale sponsored by Americans. Since I wasn’t particularly interested in buying Cheez Whiz nachos or whole cakes, there wasn’t much to offer.

We had a great time and can’t wait for the next time the team is in town. I think we may have to wait a year, but we will be there!



26 10 2012

I haven’t forgotten about you all, and I have lots of things to share. Unfortunately, somewhere in the unpacking of all our stuff, I have completely lost the battery charger for my camera. So I have a dead camera full of great pictures to share, and no way to take new ones until I get another. More picture posts will follow once I am back in business. Now I need to find the charger, or figure out enough Japanese to try to get one locally. Amazon won’t ship them to an APO. Frustrating.
This week, we carved our pumpkins for Halloween and went to our first ever Trunk or Treat. For those not in the know, this is where families meet up in a parking lot and trick or treat from car to car. Many (cooler than us) people decorated their cars elaborately. We had good candy to hand out and that was about all. Great pictures of B and her friends to come. She is a pilot this year. Very fitting for someone who has spent as much time on planes as she has this year!

We did a bit of cabin camping this month by a nearby lake. We had a pretty good time, but trying to cook outside in strong wind and rain just reminded me that camping isn’t really my thing. Perhaps is it going to be a Daddy and Daughter thing? Again, beautiful pictures of that once I can access my camera again.

B and I took a great nature walk this week. We are so lucky to be in a place with such diverse ecosystems. We were able to walk through conifer and deciduous forests (the leaves are changing, so it was particularly dramatic), all while being 10 minutes from the beach and less than an hour from some serious mountains! Japan is a really cool place to explore if you like nature. Come on over and see!

P is for Pumpkins

27 09 2012

For the last 6 weeks or so, we have had the absolute privilege to have weekly preschool playdates with our good friends Ashley and Hazel. Each week we plan activities around a specific letter. This week we had an awesome time exploring the letter P. We have been working in alphabetical order, and P has hit at the perfect time. Fall has arrived here in Misawa, with the temperature dropping about 20 degrees in the last week. P is for pumpkin, and we themed almost all our activities around them.

Ashley started off our day by showing the girls how to draw P on the chalkboard. They did a lot of drawing, not so much that looked like a P.


Ashley had the brilliant idea of putting the items for each activities in numbered bags, then sending the girls on a number treasure hunt. First stop, shape Jack-o-lanterns!

The bags had circles, diamonds, triangles, squares, and rectangles. B chose her favorites to make this cute Jack-o-lantern.

We painted pumpkin ornaments and glittered up some pinecones (no pictures, as I was on glitter duty), and then it was time for snack. And boy, what a snack. We made mini pumpkin yogurt  pies! The girls did all the work themselves, and snack was delicious!

B stirred together vanilla yogurt, canned pumpkin, and cinnamon. She did it very neatly. Next it was time to spoon the yogurt into some graham cracker pie crusts. Spooning was slightly less tidy, but again, all independent. Finally, she dusted the top with fresh cinnamon. Delicious!