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August 26, 2006

Moving Again...

We're moving...again. Since this is our fourth move in about 6 months, we're getting very good at packing things up. We spent a few days getting things organized and then called in the professionals to finish the job. They were in and out in three hours, which was about 3 times faster than when I employed my entire family to pack things up back during move number 1. Expensive, but well worth it. Most of our stuff is now safely in a storage crate. Let's hope it braves the upcoming Boston winter. The rest of our stuff is already on its way to Japan. According to FEDEX, it's taking a scenic route through Alaska. We'll catch up with it soon, though with a slightly more direct path!

August 21, 2006

Family Sailing Adventure

To celebrate my dad's birthday, my mom arranged a surprise sailing adventure for him. Destination: Catalina Island off the coast of LA. She sprung the news a few days beforehand so he could have the fun of doing some of the navigational planning. However, she didn't tell him that Brad, Rebecca, and I would be along for the trip. I met up with them in baggage claim after they arrived in LA and it was a fun surprise.

We sailed across the channel from Long Beach to Catalina in fantastic wind. At one point, we were lucky enough to see a whale (probably a small grey whale?), which was quite unexpected because we had just been discussing the best time to go whale watching in southern California. We had "definitively" determined that this was not whale season, but we were happy we were wrong!

The island is dry and sparsely vegetated, but very beautiful. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and sunny. We slept on the sailboat each night, except for the one night we had anchor problems and didn't sleep much at all. We had the chance to go ashore and explore several times and the island definitely did not feel like California. The less populated parts felt like they might have been someplace in central America, while the main city of Avalon had a very Italian feel. It's no wonder that they've used the island for movie sets in a variety of genres. It was a nice contrast from the isolation sailing around the western (Pacific) side and then sailing into the bustle and excitement of Avalon harbor facing the mainland (but too far away to see it with through the smog).

L was busy getting ready for her satellite launch and upcoming departure to Japan. M called her frequently on the cell phone, which had coverage around the entire island (including the desolate parts). It was also great to spend time with Mom, Dad, Brad, and Rebecca. Things worked out well, though there is always a bit of friction when we're together for 5 days without being able to get more than 44.7 feet away from one another without a snorkel :-)

Speaking of snorkeling, we had a great time in the water, which was crystal clear. Kelp beds and sea grass were the main attraction and were unlike any place I'd ever seen before. A wet suit was definitely necessary, but I always love the opportunity to enter into the undersea world with mask and snorkel.

All in all, a great trip. Check out more photos.

August 14, 2006

Japanese Class

In preparation for our trip to Japan, we took an 8 week summer class. It was fairly intense, with two hours of homework a night and a quiz to start every class period. We learned hundreds of vocabulary words, as well as some simple grammatical constructions ("how much does this cost?", "May I take a photograph of the temple?", "What did you do last weekend?", etc...). In some senses, the Japanese language is pretty easy -- syllables are easy to pronounce for English speakers and pitch is not nearly as important as Chinese. There are only two major tenses (past and "non-past"), and conjugation does not change for singular v. plural. However, conjugation IS different based on the social level of the person to whom you are talking. There is a casual form for speaking among friends, a polite form, and a form to be used to speak with the extremely high-up in society. While these differences exist in English to some degree, I think that the distinction is more formal and it is a lot easier to offend someone (above or below you) by choosing the incorrect form. We only learned the polite form...

At the end of the class, we took this photo and our teacher had us over to her house for a big party. She cooked a fantastic Japanese banquet including curry, rice balls, sushi, seaweed salad, green tea, and other tasty treats. She also showed us how to play several Japanese games for youngsters.

August 6, 2006

Happy Tanjoubi To You!

If you haven't guessed it already, tanjoubi is Japanese for birthday, and we had a great tanjoubi celebration for M this year.

We began by heading to Chinatown for a dim sum brunch (See photo). They bring carts around with a broad selection of food items and you select what you want. A few friends from L's work helped guide us through the process, though it appears that the basic strategy is just point at things even if you have no idea what they are. We had a complete feast.

We had to race away from brunch to make it to our second food related celebration. M wanted to celebrate his birthday by doing something good. A few weeks ago, we passed by the local park and saw people serving a meal to a very large group of eager-looking homeless people. A quick web search revealed that the organization was called "Bread and Jams." Since we enjoyed our time at Miriam's Kitchen in Washington DC while we were there, this looked like the perfect opportunity. Like DC, we would do something fun and worthwhile without a long-term commitment (while we'd love to have one, we're fleeing the country in a few weeks...). Our friend Elaine joined us as we whipped up a huge veggie stir fry, veggie scramble, and baked zucchini as part of a much larger meal effort. The program is a little chaotic -- basically like the TV show Iron Chef where everyone shows up to a pile of donated food, decides what to make, how to distribute the labor, and whips together a meal for 100+ people in two hours flat.

Not wanting to have a lazy day at home, we continued the adventure by heading out again to an evening of Shakespeare in the Park (based on a suggestion by Luis and Alpana). We met L's friend Kenny and his girlfriend at the Boston Common for a picnic dinner. The show started at twilight and was a fun rendition of Taming of the Shrew. It was a great setting in the middle of the park with the neat buildings framing the stage in the background and the rising moon providing footlights (in addition to the fancy outdoor theater lighting :-). In a rare Boston treat, it got rather chilly during the night's performance. We discussed the deeper meaning of the play (if there were any :-) as we made our way slowly down Charles street back to the T station so that we could crawl into bed after our day of adventures.