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Spectacles: O, the Strip, Fireworks [Jul. 9th, 2019|07:39 am]
Beemer
Wer'e home! We came home on the 4th.

'O' was AMAZING, nay, astonishing. It's a Cirque du Soleil show, so of course it's all about mind-blowing feats of athleticism, but 'O' is also about water. They built a gigantic pool, and the stage rises up out of and sinks down into the water, so one minute people are diving into it from 60 feet up and the next performers are walking across the stage a quarter inch below the surface. People and things vanish into the water and never reappear. Pretty much the whole show, the entirety of my thought process was "what even just happened?!" A wonderful, wonderful experience. Highly recommended, and definitely worth spending extra on good seats.

(Tickets are ~$100, there are 1800 seats in the theater, they do two shows a night, five nights a week, and it was mostly sold out on a Wednesday. It's been open since 1998, and sales passed a billion dollars sometime in 2012. And it deserves every penny.)

After the show, we wandered outside and watched the fountains at the Bellagio, which dance to music every 15 minutes or so. If you ever wonder how lucrative gambling is, just consider that, in a city in the middle of a freakin' desert, someone was able to spend enough money to build a gigantic building with a lake out front the size of a city block, and every 15 minutes hundreds of motorized air cannons spout giant streams of water into the dry, dry air, and nobody charges admission; it's all completely free for anyone passing by to enjoy, because it's advertising, basically. (Advertising that costs, reportedly, a few hundred thousand dollars a month to operate.) And it works! Because the fountains are pretty darn nifty. There's also a whole ceiling of Chihuly glass in the lobby.

And then there's this weird garden area, which has all this decorative Italian stuff, like fake lemon trees and a giant sun sculpture and great big motorized swans and mosaics made of beans. Except it's all bad; the art is clumsy and the signs are poorly translated and the statues are creepy, and it's just weird because it's badly faked classiness, but it has to be intentional because the place makes so much money that they could very easily do actually classy if they wanted to; just take a look at the lobby not fifty feet away. So that was very perplexing.

We took in the Strip a little, wandering down to where we could cross the street, then back up the other side, and through a little indoor mall along the way. The amount of sensory overload was awful; I think working in a kiosk in that mall would be one of the worst things in the world. Anyway, after that we decided that was enough, and concluded that, yeah, neither of us really likes Vegas.

We flew home the next day, Thursday, with was the 4th. Got back to the house mid-afternoon. Jerry was wiped out and oversocialized after the week, but I was undersocialized, so I went off to Broomfield to hang out with Floyds et al (and see Marty, who's in town for several weeks, yay!) and watch fireworks. We got rained out; the fireworks were due to start shortly but the clouds were looking very threatening and there was a LOT of lightning, so we all decided that maybe it would be better to get indoors. I pulled over and watched fireworks from my car on the drive home.
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Vegas [Jul. 2nd, 2019|09:27 pm]
Beemer
[Current Music |tempresulttempresult <-]

We're in Las Vegas!

Jerry is here for a martial arts expo for work and I'm tagging along -- usually it's the other way around.

We are staying at my brother's house, although we aren't getting to see him and his family because they're away on an Alaskan cruise. But that means we get to stay all by ourselves in their large and swanky house, which is much nicer than a hotel room. Plus it doesn't cost anything!

I have learned something new about geography on this trip. Going westCollapse )

It's very hot here; highs above 100 every day. There are plenty of nice vistas, so long as you don't mind the landscape shouting "HUBRIS!" at you everywhere you look. (Like really, this city should not exist; this is not a hospitable locale.) But the house has a swimming pool and AC, so that's nice.

The trip here on Sunday was unremarkable. We had a nice dinner out at a nearby Thai place last night, and we have tickets to go see Cirque du Soleil's "O" tomorrow night. Otherwise, we aren't doing much touristy stuff. I'm mostly hanging out on the couch, working remotely a bit, and having downtime. Jerry's having a good conference. We head home Thursday morning.
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Bargains, Socialization, YIMBY [Jun. 29th, 2019|11:32 pm]
Beemer
I did a bunch of errands today, and I found a pair of lounging shorts at Old Navy for $1.87 and eleven volumes of Blade of the Immortal at ARC for $2.50 each. Since the cover prices are $15-20, that felt like a pretty significant score. Also a third white shirt to ice-dye sometime.

Socialization catch-upCollapse )

YIMBYCollapse ) So I think I've discovered a corollary to Hanlon's Razor: never ascribe to a philosophical/political stance that which is sufficiently explained by somebody wanting you to not bother them.
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Recipe: Mushroom Pork Chops [Jun. 17th, 2019|10:04 pm]
Beemer
Mushroom Pork Chops

A recipe I improvised based on some internet suggestions and was very pleased with. My planned order of operations changed while I was doing it and there are a number of steps that take a while, but it ended up very tasty.

Ingredients

bacon fat
buncha pork chops (pack of 3 medium, 3 large)
2 tubs sliced mushrooms
steamer UFO full of dried mushrooms
white wine
garlic
butter
lemon juice
thyme
heavy cream
salt, pepper, sugar
optional:
1+ lb green beans, topped, tailed, and chopped bite-size
lemon pepper, garlic powder

Instructions

The night before, fill the UFO with dried mushrooms. Rinse them quickly and gently, then flip it upside down in a small bowl. Cover (barely) with warm water and leave overnight. When starting the recipe, remove the UFO and squeeze out as much liquid as you can into the bowl. Save all the liquid (there will be a lot of it). Cut the reconstituted mushrooms into smaller pieces with a pair of scissors during various waiting steps.

Scoop a couple spoonfuls of bacon fat into a large cast-iron skillet and heat on 4 or 5.

Fry pork chops in the usual way: pat dry, sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper, place in skillet for 3 minutes, turn over, and repeat. (3 minutes each side, 6 minutes total). These were sized to fit 2 chops in 3 batches.

As the pork chops finish, set them aside on the plate to collect the juices.

After the last batch of pork chops, pour some mushroom liquid and a hefty splash of white wine into the pan and deglaze it. (Might have to be quick about this if it looks like things want to start burning.) Pour the resulting liquid back into the bowl.

If cooking green beans, add some more bacon fat and fry them in two batches. Pour them into the skillet and spread out into a single layer. Let sit for about 1 minute, then stir for another minute or so, until bright green, then remove. Finish to taste with some salt, garlic powder, and lemon pepper.

Add a knob of butter to the skillet and let it come up to temperature. Add the sliced mushrooms and let sit unmolested for a couple minutes, until they have browned on one side and start to give off liquid.

Stir the mushrooms up a bit, then add the dried mushrooms and a big spoonful of chopped garlic. Mix well and continue cooking until the sliced mushrooms are pretty well cooked. Add more butter if needed.

Meanwhile, add the collected pork chop juices to the mushroom liquid. Taste it and add a few squirts of lemon juice to balance the flavor.

When the mushrooms are mostly done, add the bowl full of liquid to the pan and stir it through. (Pour it slowly so you don't get any grit at the bottom.) Sprinkle some thyme over the pan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced a fair bit.

Add a little cream (not too much) and stir until well-combined. The result will be many pieces of mushroom in a thinnish sauce. Serve over the pork chops with green beans to the side.
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Home [May. 18th, 2019|10:22 pm]
Beemer
Saturday was the end of the trip and time to come home.

We decided not to try to squeeze anything in at the last minute, but just to take it easy packing up and making our way to the airport.

But we did get one last visit in: Momoko and Madoka Yamamoto (and Momoko's new baby Sakura-ko) came to meet us for lunch! We found a place without too long a wait, and had a nice lunch of yakosoba for me, okonomiyaki for the others. (Madoka picked up the check and was an absolute ninja about it.)

After that, we got all checked in and spent a few hours hanging out at the gate. My main thought was, wow, all these people are so noisy. Also, a plug splitter remains the best object to have in your bag in an airport.

The flight back was pretty uneventful. The dinner they served after we took off was really good and not just for airplane food; I actually would have been pleased with it in a restaurant. I managed to get probably a half-night's worth of sleep; poor Jerry didn't get any. I re-watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 after breakfast, and we landed around 1-ish, I think?

Going through Customs & Immigration at LAX was remarkable. It took all of 15 minutes and most of that was walking from point A to point B. They had automated scanners for passport control (with no line), and we didn't even use the declaration form we'd filled out on the plane; customs was just a guy asking if we had any fruit or vegetables in our bags.

We were both pretty wiped out by the time we landed in Denver; we took off at 6:30 pm in Osaka and landed 15 and a half hours later at 7 pm in Denver, so it was a 39-hour day. But soon enough we were pulling into our garage and saying hello to very clingy kitties and sleeping in our own beds, hooray!

All in all, it was the best honeymoon ever.
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Osaka [May. 17th, 2019|10:22 pm]
Beemer
The last full day of our honeymoon we spent in and around Osaka. We had originally planned to do some sightseeing kinds of things, but we changed them in favor of seeing people.

A couple months ago, a fellow named Azasa showed up at Jerry's school looking for a place to practice martial arts while he was visiting from Japan for the Conference on World Affairs at CU. He only speaks a little English, but between that and Jerry's Japanese, they were able to communicate enough for him to successfully sit in on a few classes. Since he lives in the Osaka region, we made plans to meet up while we were there.

Well, it turns out that the place we were meeting for lunch is only a couple train stops away from Hirakata, which is where Jerry attended Kansai Gaidai for two semesters. And if we were that close, he really wanted to see if he could reconnect with Hiroshi Yamamoto and his family, who kind of took Jerry in when he was feeling very lonesome.

So after breakfast (it turns out that every place we stayed at on the trip had breakfast as an option, and it was 100% worth it; not needing to go through our entire morning routine before we'd had breakfast made us both happy) we hopped on the train and took it a couple stops past Hirakata-shi to Negayamachi, then set out on bus and on foot to find the Yamamotos' liquor store.

And lo and behold, success! Hiroshi wasn't there, but his son was working that day, and he let us know that he would be there in about an hour. So we got ourselves some drinks and snacks at the grocery store a couple blocks down, and wandered around the neighborhood a little bit, and then we went back and we had a happy reunion. Hooray! Jerry also got contact info for Madoka (Hiroshi's wife) and Momoko (his daughter), and we got a picture, and it was lovely.

Rather than try to catch the bus back to the train station, we just took a taxi to Hirakata-shi station, which took us past the school and a bunch of other familiar places from his semesters abroad. At the station, we looked for the photo booth in the arcade that used to be there, but alas, it appears they are a thing of the past now that everyone carries around smartphones. But we got some good nostalgia time in.

A couple stops back towards Osaka got us to Kuzuha, where we were meeting Azasa for lunch. We realized when we got to the restaurant that it was the first time the entire trip we'd had sushi! Had a nice visit and a tasty meal and got some more pictures and it was great.

And then we went to a baseball game!

It's not something that I would have put on the itinerary, but he was enthused and one of my wedding vows was to let him drag me into new things, so sure! And boy howdy, was he right. Japanese baseball is great!

We saw the Hanshin Tigers (the home team) play the Hiroshima Carp at Hanshin stadium. The first thing is, Japanese baseball is a much brisker game than American baseball. We arrived 45 minutes after the start and they were already in the bottom of the 3rd inning. There's no waiting around for relief pitchers to take the mound; they get driven out in a little car so as not to waste time, and of course the lady who drives the car has her own fan club.

There are cheerleaders. And a band. There's a different cheer for each player, and everybody knows them, and when it's the other team's turn to cheer, everyone politely lets them take their turn. And in the 7th inning, you blow up balloons and then let them fly up into the air.

The crowd was very mixed in age and gender, and I think it's more of a family thing and less of a guy thing than it is in the U.S. Everyone was enthusiastic, and there was this really great atmosphere of... camaraderie, I guess.

And as a result, I found myself getting pretty into the game. Like, oh man, there are two outs and two men on base, and suddenly there's tension about whether or not the next batter gets a hit! It was a pretty close game for most of it; the score was 3 to 2 going into the 9th inning... and then the visitors got 7 runs and won by 8 points. Ouch!

But the other thing that was really fun is that the two of us colored our beards. I brought some watercolor pastels, so we both did yellow and black stripes - the team colors. And all the Japanese fans thought this was AMAZING. We had no less than SIX groups of people ask for pictures with us at the end of the game! So that was neat.

We went through the team store and picked up some t-shirts, then took the train home, getting late dinner from 7-11. It was a long and successful day.
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Kobe [May. 16th, 2019|10:22 pm]
Beemer
After breakfast and packing up for another travel day, we left our luggage in the ryokan for a bit to go see Itsukushima Shrine. It's a big sprawling structure that hovers over the water (when the tide is in) at the top of the cove where O-Torii lives. Despite the sprawl, it doesn't take too long to see; there are a lot of walkways. But we enjoyed it. We got to see a shinto wedding happening (which we took as propitious), took pictures of the cthuloid guardian lion statues and o-torii from the pier at the front, saw LOTS of schoolkids getting class pictures taken, and paid our respects to Okuni-nushino-mikoto (kami of matchmaking, among other things).

We then collected our luggage and took a different ferry back to Hiroshima, then a train to Hiroshima station, where we got new JR train passes. And lunch. And then we hopped on a shinkansen back to Osaka. I looked it up, and the Sakura from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka goes 337.8 km in 88 minutes, which is an average speed of 145 mph. That's with four stops along the way, so I think it must spend a good chunk of the trip at its top speed of 167 mph (270 km/hr). And it's such a nice way to travel; I miss it already. You just walk through the turnstile at the station, go to the right track, wait a few minutes until the next one arrives (they run every 15-20 minutes, depending),
board, find a seat, and a couple minutes later you're on your way. That's it! No security lines, no checking luggage and collecting it afterwards, just get on and go. And the seats are comfortable, and there's legroom, and the ride is smooth, and there are vending machines... *le sigh*

Anyway, once we arrived in Osaka we made our way to our hotel for the last couple nights, the APA. Which took a bit of doing; we had some trouble figuring out where to cross the highways around Shin-Osaka station. But we got there, eventually.

Then we went back to the train station and caught another shinkansen back to Kobe. Kobe's only 20 miles away, but we took the shinkansen anyway because, hey, we have rail passes, so it's free. And it got us there in only 12 minutes. From there, we took the subway and another train to Shin-Nagata station, where we visited our old friend Tetsujin-28! There's a life-sized statue of the 60-foot tall robot that we saw and took a picture with 10 years ago, so we decided to go back and get an update picture, hooray!

And then we got dinner.

We went to Misono, a fancy teppanyaki restaurant. (Teppanyaki is the thing where the table is a big grill and they cook the food right there in front of you.) And we were in Kobe, we were on our honeymoon, and we had the budget, so we did the thing.

We spent ¥55,000 on the anniversary dinner for two: appetizer, lobster tail, salad, five kinds of fried vegetables, kobe beef, garlic rice and sunomono, miso soup with lobster, dessert, and a small bottle of sparking wine.

It. was. AMAZING.

Literally the best meal I've ever had. The other courses were all wonderful, but the big star was the kobe beef, and it was mind-boggling. I can't really describe it other than to say it was like steak, but perfect. It was completely tender, but with no softness and just the right amount of chew. And I even liked the wine!

So yeah, a huge and extravagant indulgence, but totally worth it.

And then we took another shinkansen back to Osaka, because that's the kind of day it was.
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Miyajima [May. 15th, 2019|10:22 pm]
Beemer
We discovered that there was a high-speed ferry to Miyajima that departed from the pier right next to the hotel, so we took it easy in the morning, enjoying the fancy breakfast buffet and the view from the top floor of the hotel, then taking our time packing up.

We took the 10:30 ferry and arrived at Miyajima a little before 11. The island is home to many tame deer that we said hello to as we trundled over to our ryokan. It took us a little while to find it, but eventually we got our luggage dropped off and went off sight-seeing.

The big thing on Miyajima is O-Torii, a great big gate out on the water. (You have probably seen a picture of it.) At low tide, you can walk right out to it, and at high tide it looks like it's floating. Low tide was getting pretty close, so we ventured out onto the sand and said hello up close and personal.

Afterward we wandered along the shopping arcade, which Jerry wanted to see since he came to Miyajima in the off-season ten years ago and it was mostly closed. It was definitely busy this time of year! Lots of tourist-y shops and lots of oysters.

Then we took ourselves off to Daishoin temple on the east end of town. I found it pleasingly eclectic; it appealed to my hoarding genes. Some neat statues, beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the main temple building, a garden of little statues of saints all wearing knitted hats, and a whole bunch of prayer wheels on the handrail of the stairs. There was also an unlit underground passage with a whole bunch of icons on glass lit from behind with colored auras. It was weird and disorienting and really cool.

We had a late lunch, then went back to the ryokan and checked in. Then we made our way to the "ropeway": a two-part gondola / tramway that takes you up to the top of the island. When Jerry was here before, he took a wrong turn ended up accidentally hiking 3 hours all the way up to the top looking for it. We avoided that and just rode up. It's a very picturesque ride (though a little vertiginous if you spend too much time looking down), and the view at the top is amazing. It doesn't take you to the very top, but to a secondary peak; to get to the actual peak and the shrine near it is an additional hike, which we didn't have the time (or legs, on my part) for. But it was still worth going up.

By now the tide had come in, so we took another look at O-Torii and walked along the beach for a bit. Repaired to the ryokan to rest for a little, then went to get dinner. By 5:30, all the tourists have left on the last ferry and the town just shuts down. There was only one restaurant open after 6:30, but it had good food, so that was fine.

We didn't see any monkeys or peril-snakes (the warning signs about snakes all had the kanji for "peril!" all over them) while we were up on the mountain, but we did see a lot of other wildlife. In addition to the deer, we saw (living) barnacles on O-Torii, a little tiny crab, some isopods (aka sea slaters / wharf roaches / beach louses, which we'd also seen walking around the hotel island the day before), great big koi, a big fat hover-fly pretending to be a bumblebee, a couple doggies, lots of little tiny fishies, some cranes, and a great big spider in the ryokan. Like, the size of the palm of your hand. (We chased him outside after we realized it was an actual spider and not some kind of plastic model.)
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Hiroshima: downtime [May. 14th, 2019|08:08 am]
Beemer
Today was mostly a rest and downtime day, so we slept in and didn't go sightseeing.

The Hiroshima Grand Prince Hotel is actually on an island separate from the rest of the city. It's kind of resort-ish, although there are apartment buildings and various industrial marine businesses on the island, also.

The breakfast buffet was served in the restaurant at the top of the hotel, which has a fairly spectacular view. We had planned not to go anywhere today, but we kinda failed when we went for a walk along the water and ended up circumnavigating the island. I got a chance to take my shoes off and go wading along a little bit of beach, which made me happy. (There was no surf and the water was cold, so I didn't regret not having packed a swimsuit.) We saw more cats! I think yesterday was the first day we didn't see any.

For dinner, we ate at the VERY fancy Japanese restaurant on the 20th floor of the hotel. It was a kaiseki 7-course meal: appetizer, sashimi, soup, simmered dish, sashimi, tempura, rice with vegetables and miso soup, and dessert. I frankly have no idea what most of the things I ate actually were, but they were all tasty, and the view and the sunset were gorgeous.

We also sorted out some logistics for the last few days of our trip that we hadn't dealt with yet, so we didn't manage to do nothing today, but it was still relaxing, which we needed.
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Kyoto to Hiroshima [May. 13th, 2019|06:00 am]
Beemer
Sunday was our last full day in Kyoto, so after (a lot of) repacking, we said farewell to our delightful ryokan and readied to relocate to Hiroshima.

We had no particular timetable to adhere to, so we left our luggage there and hopped on a bus across town to go see Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, before we left. There were a LOT of other sightseers there, but we still were able to have a good viewing. The pavilion itself is pretty darn beautiful and impressive, plus there were a bunch of purple iris in bloom, which felt like a special gift.

(Lots of this stuff would be better conveyed by images than words, and I've been very bad at remembering to take pictures of anything, plus the battery on my phone is dying, but happily Jerry has been taking lots of pictures and video for the both of us.)

On the way back, I accidentally got us off the bus several blocks too early, but we did get to walk by Higashihonganji temple because of it. I was still whiny because my feet were tired, but then we got lunch and everything was no longer terrible. (Third strike for that one place, though.)

We collected our luggage and took the express train from Kyoto back to Shin-Osaka Station. We weathered some confusion on both ends trying to catch the shinkansen because there are multiple train companies that run shinkansen and because the JR rail pass is only good for some of them (not the super-limited-express). Plus all the shinkansen were suspended for a couple hours because they needed to inspect some overhead wires. So we just cooled our heels in the train station for an hour or so until they were done and the delayed crowds had cleared out, and then we were able to get on the correct train with very minimal fuss.

In Hiroshima, we are staying at the Grand Prince Hotel, which is very swanky. We just barely missed the free shuttle bus from the train station, so instead of waiting or taking the regular city bus, we got a taxi, because this is the part of the trip where we get to be fancy. (A bellhop carried our bags to our room for us! And there's no tipping in Japan; it's just part of the hotel service!)

We got dinner at an okonomiyaki joint in the mini-mall attached to the hotel, one of the few options available, so I suppose it's good that the place in Kyoto never panned out.

Before bed, I decided I was sore and took a hot bath! It was mostly good; the bathtubs in Japanese hotels are typically quite deep, enough to easily submerge yourself, but too narrow for gaijin shoulders to really fit properly. But it was still nice.
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