Charting life's circuitous path


Sometimes being just isn’t enough

Very rarely am I up so early in the morning that the sun is painting the sky a soft peach.  I was a bit edgy after the nightmare that woke me (my dream mother decided to take up drinking with my coworker – yikes!).  I settled on making cinnamon oatmeal, and sitting down at the computer to change the “scenes of blue” Windows background theme.

I picked cute kittens because, apparently, it’s a kittens kind of day.

We never had a cat growing up because my parents were 100% dog people.  Dogs of all shapes and sizes have bounded through our house, and the only cat to ever spend one night was from a neighbor who got the mischievous ball of fur back the next morning after a well-aimed scratch (children who grow up around dogs need definite cat training if all is to go well – trust me).  Fluffy puppies and tough dogs clutter the pages of our albums between photos of family and friends.

There are lots of smiles and candid shots of people having picnics, playing in parks, or sitting around the table.  Kids are laughing at an unknown joke, and mothers are sitting quietly with adorable babies at their side.  Big holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving are heavily featured with birthdays coming in a close third.  Picture after picture display moments where lives are captured by a bright flash.


Many of those people are still in the same places, building lives out of the spaces left when we moved away.  Phone calls and emails play “catch up” and while it pales in comparison to what the pictures show, it’s still a connection we attempt to make a few times a year.

Others we might see at the post office and feel grateful for the “lucky” chance that brought us together, but the pause necessary for a photo has long passed.  We leave them wondering what they’re up to, as our thoughts quickly scatter to the next task in our busy schedule. At best, the encounter is tinged with the warm brown brush of yesteryear.

Then there are those others.  The families that used to share movie nights together when the children were young, but now only send Christmas cards with cold, solitary signatures.  The child that laughed on the father’s shoulders now shifts uncomfortably silent on the phone with nothing to say (but so much to express).  Or the long-ago friend whose smile lit up the shot in our album, but now makes our heart race out of fear as to what we’ll say when we spy them at the deli counter.

I can see all of these types of people in the pictures looking back at me.  I’m not naive to think that people stay the same.  Every day we change just a little bit and every year we shift slightly to the left, to the right, but always just enough that we aren’t the same as the year before.  Gray hairs have started to show up in my dark brown bob, which was once down my back, and my skin needs copious amounts of lotion.  But most of these physical changes can be fixed – mended. It’s the small, physical distancing that leads to the emotional unraveling of years and countless moments together that scares me the most.

It’s the fewer phone calls (oh, didn’t I call you?), shorter meetups (hi! *smile* how are you? *smile* Good, we’ll have to meetup sometime when we can sit and chat! *smile*), and the eventual disconnect.

beach2This year we’re having Thanksgiving at our place.  This means that we won’t be meeting up with the rest of the extended family for our yearly shared holiday.  Will this become routine?  No. We’ll see them at Christmas and order will be restored.  Having Thanksgiving at our place has been something that my hubby and I had wanted to do for a long time, and it’s logistically impossible for everyone to meet up.  But there’s a quiver of fear deep inside me wondering what it’ll take to finally have things fall apart.  As much as I want to believe that family stick through thick and thin, I know better.  Right now, we’re okay, but we’ve been shifting to the edges of the frame for many years.  Slowly but surely the smiles have dimmed and members have drifted out of shot.  At times it feels as if it’s only my Grandmother holding it all together.

Relationships require a lot of effort and even family relationships. It’s so easy to let everyday life take control and lose touch outside of the occasional Facebook post.  I know I’ve let people down and have let friendships dwindle away due to a selfish desire to focus on me and only me. When I flick through the old photos I’ve scanned, my heart sinks amidst all of the family smiles that no longer shine and the unrecognizable faces bent so close to mine.

It’s also hard to rebuild the gap.  Lives have moved on and so much has happened that it seems insurmountable.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be.  Maybe it’s okay to let what was stay captured in the fading snapshot.  Today, we can and should focus on maintaining and being thankful for what we have now.  If we do, then perhaps those faces will stay in the frame for many more brilliant flashes to come.



Introducing Sumo (Review of Tiger Mochi Maker)

mochi 2

Sumo steaming the mochi rice.

I would like to introduce you all to Sumo, my Tiger SMJ-A18U 10-Cup (Uncooked) Rice Cake Maker.

I don’t normally name my appliances (that distinction is left to the computers in my life), but the name popped out of my mouth one day and stuck.  Sumo embodies a sumo wrestler – a very strong, rather bulky power machine that makes you happy as it defeats its opponent. (This time unsuspecting rice, next the world!)

My hubby generously bought me Sumo for my birthday.  I had wishfully listed it on my Amazon wishlist, but I didn’t seriously think he’d buy it. For one, it’s a bit expensive (clocking in at around $200) and it’s a bit novelty (I mean, how many people do you know have mochi machines?).

But it’s one of the best presents!  😀

I love mochi.  I love everything about it from its uniquely soft, chewy texture to its sweet filling.  I love how you can eat it fresh without any fillings or plop a round into soup.  I love how it signifies everything I love about being Japanese American – it’s a bit different, wonderfully unique, but oh so subtly sweet.

I took Sumo down from its cozy spot on top of my fridge and loaded it up in my trunk this weekend to test it out with my family.  Everyone was also excited to welcome a mochi machine into the family since we all gleefully gobble it up whenever my mom makes a batch from mochiko flour.  I tend not to buy the store kind since it always seems to lack that certain something compared to my mother’s.  This time, though, we were going to make it straight from rice, do not stop at Go.

According to the directions, you soak your premeasured rice in water for 6 – 12 hours.  I carefully gave the instructions to my mother the night before.  She had bought a special bag of mochi rice for me and she woke early the next morning, anxious to get the rice started.  The mochi rice is slightly rounder and fatter than regular white rice.  Each shiny grain looked swollen and almost translucent when I drained and shook the water out 8 hours later.  The rice still had to sit for 30 minutes before we could place it into the maker along with the measured amount of fresh water and the impeller.

The mochi rice being "pounded" the second time.

The mochi rice being “pounded” the second time.

We set it steaming and waited.  Every now and then we would crowd around the machine and just watch as the plastic lid puffed steam.  After about 20 minutes, we grew bored and moved away, every once in a while sneaking back to “check” on it like a sleeping newborn.

Once it buzzed us into excited action (a very loud and continuous buzzer marks the end of the steaming), we hit the pound button and waited with baited breath.  The machine instantly started to vibrate and shake the stove underneath.  The rice wasn’t moving but we were certain that it was working – just really slowly.  After the instructed ten minutes, we turned it off and furrowed our brows.  It looked different (each grain now a bit squished), but it didn’t look anything like mochi.  I grabbed it and plopped it onto the corn starch prepared dish and immediately knew it wasn’t done.  It looked like rice that had been boiled a bit too long and poked at a bit too much by a petulant 5 year old.

With two university brains and one field experienced brain pondering the problem (my mother remembers pounding mochi with the traditional stick in her childhood), we decided to dump it back in, upside down this time, and add a bit more water.

What a difference!  Now the ball of rice was being whipped back and forth and spun within an inch of its previously granular life.  The grains disappeared and the surface began to smooth, glisten and soften.  After a  bit more water and a bit more pounding, our mochi was done.  Total processing time: 50 minutes.

Sometimes it’s good to take risks.  If I hadn’t been with my family, I might not have plopped the undone rice back in for further pounding.  I might not have added quite so much water.  I definitely wouldn’t have had as much fun.  The mochi was delicious!  Soft and flavorful with a heavy dose of home and family.

My mother showing us how to make daifuku.

My mother showing us how to make daifuku.

There’s something about eating food that connects you to who you are and where you come from.  The smells, the textures and the experience meld together into a round disk that packs a punch of memories each and every time.

If you like mochi, I highly recommend the Tiger mochi maker.  It does a wonderful job and while it is a bit bulky and a bit expensive, I can see myself definitely making a batch of daifuku every couple of months – not to mention the extra batches already requested from my brother and mother for new years!  🙂

Daifuku mochi with adzuki filling

Daifuku mochi with adzuki filling

Tips on using your Tiger Mochi Machine

  1. We soaked our rice for 8 hours and drained for 30 minutes and followed the steaming water directions, but the mochi was still too stiff for making daifuku.  Don’t be afraid to add more water as the mochi is being pound.  Try a tablespoon at a time until it reaches a consistency where you can grab a chunk and pinch it off easily.
  2. Don’t be afraid to flip your mochi if it isn’t being tossed within an inch of its life.  Just be sure to hit stop, flip, and definitely reinsert the impeller before hitting the pound button (but be careful – it’s hot!).
  3. Soak and wash your impeller and mochi machine bowl immediately!  I can’t stress this enough.  The mochi gets really sticky and will stick to your bowl and impeller like glue, so don’t wait until you’re done making daifuku or rolling out squares.  Definitely soak in hot water if you can’t wash everything right away.


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For the Time Being

I am Japanese American.

There’s no disputing that.  My Japanese mother and white American father places me smack dab into that category even if my second grade teacher couldn’t answer my race question when I asked her as a small student filling out her standardized test form.

But I don’t always feel so identifiable.  Sometimes I feel more American than Japanese, like when I buy my groceries at my local Japanese store and the most I can understand is the welcome and leaving greetings. Other times I don’t even think about it and just feel like, well, me.

For most of my life, though, it hasn’t been something I could ignore.  The relentless taunting in elementary school, and later the odd comments about blood purity percentages and the selective deafness from strangers never left me doubting just where I stood.

ozekiI read a lot of books, but rarely do I read books that strike so close to who I am.  Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, however, struck hard and quick.

It’s a very complicated story, in that I would be doing it a great disservice to try to condense it here.  Trust me when I say that this is truly a tale that crosses boundaries – with time, ethics and age.  It weaves a tale that forces you to question existence, self-identity, and perception.  It questions what it means to be “noticed” and to “not notice” or be forgotten.  It taps into how we view our own agency and what gives our lives value.

I was moved many times during this book and it was the first time when a novel touched something so deep within me that I rarely want to face.

Race has always been up front and center for me.  When your father is American and you’re living in Japan, you get noticed.  When you’re back in America but you’re still the only Asian kid in the school, you don’t forget it. Every time you go to visit someone’s house and realize just how different their home is compared to yours, you don’t invite them over.  It wasn’t shame, exactly.  It was more playacting – trying to separate who I was at home from what I was beyond my front porch.

It was, for the longest time, my way of dealing with being different.

It wasn’t fulfilling.

In fact, it made life even more difficult.  Nao, the teenage girl in the book, lives a double life.  She keeps what’s happening to her at school separate from her home.  The one time it does cross, it brings the reality of her situation into the light and she’s forced to face it.

While I was verbally bullied at school growing up, I was never bullied to the extent that Nao experiences.  However, I can relate to her wanting something that made her special and strong – she developed her “super power” while I did my best to be a “super American”.  I focused heavily on studying and being smarter than everyone else, I never brought up my background in a social setting and pretended that my home life was identical to theirs.  I did whatever I could to make myself be “normal”.

And while it did give me the strength to get through it all, it didn’t help my self-esteem.  I found myself hating what I looked like even more because it wasn’t something I could change.  A new pair of the hottest pants and the latest top might make me fit in, but I couldn’t change my eyes or the shape of my face.

After a few unsuccessful life “resets,” I slowly came to realize that the only way to truly love myself wasn’t to deny who I was or to create a new me, but to be me.  happiness

The girl with the curly blond haired, hazel eyed hubby.

The girl with the house where you automatically take off your shoes at the door and eat mochi at New Year’s.

The girl with the slanted eyes, quirky skirts, and dark brown hair with natural red tints that’s a bit dad and a bit mom.

The girl that’s part Japanese and part American.

I still haven’t fully come to terms with my dichotomy.  Even as I type this, I remember everything and it’s difficult to contain it all.  I want to talk about everything all at once.  There are days when those evil words come and haunt me right back in the mirror.  There are even days when I still encounter people who feel as if they need to remind me of what I am.  I still struggle.

But I have discovered that it’s also okay to be me.  In fact, without the other, I’m not me.

It’s that realization that helps me get through the tough moments.

(Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is a bit graphic and a whole lot of sad, but it’s a wonderful book about learning to build your life on your own set of rules.  I highly recommend it and would love to hear from those that have read it.)