Dreams of Japan

Flashes of Japan’s backstreets filled my dreams until they were replaced with vivid images of Paris. (Two nights ago, after a Bourne-like sprint through the city’s streets and underground tunnels, I’d somehow ended up on a balcony in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.)

I wonder where my dreams will plant me next.

takayama2

Takayama, Japan

Takayama

Takayama

Takayama

Takayama

Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo

Tokyo

Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo

Tokyo Tower, Tokyo

Tokyo Tower, Tokyo

 

 

 

Chinatown, San Francisco, and Happy 2015!

On our way back home from Napa and Sonoma, we detoured through San Francisco’s Chinatown, which meant we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful day — any nips from the chill were zapped away by the sun — and gazing over the swath of San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean felt freeing.

Because it was Christmas Day, Chinatown was alive. Bakeries drew crowds hungry for moon cakes; the alleyways bustled with tourists; and storefronts displayed a motley of knick-knacks: good luck cats, New Year cards, jade bracelets, hologram 2015 calendars. The air resonated with traditional Chinese string music from the strumming busker.

This unplanned side trip turned out to be a happy one. On that note, I wish you all a prosperous and healthful 2015. May it be full of surprise, unexpected detours, and happy outcomes. XO

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

chinatown2SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCchinatown1chinatown3

Little Tokyo ~ Los Angeles, CA

This was our second time in LA’s Little Tokyo – my first ever to any Little Tokyo, for that matter. On previous trips downtown, this enclave filled with shabu-shabu restaurants, bakeries, and Hello Kitty adorned boutique windows had kept itself a secret. Our initial discovery had been by chance, on a Sunday, when the space was packed with people; finding such a bustling spot in the midst of the usual weekend slow-mo was unexpected and welcomed. Dodging the lines that snaked out of every doorway, we found ourselves in a supermarket, distracted at every turn. Sweet and savoury, the colourful packaged goods decorated in anime and Japanese writing seduced themselves into our carry basket. We left $50 richer in rice crackers, matcha, and mochi, and made a vow to return on a quieter day. So that’s how we found ourselves in the area on a Tuesday, ready to explore.

The Little Tokyo Watchtower

The Little Tokyo Watchtower

From Little Tokyo you can see the tops of the buildings that comprise downtown LA; you have the Arts District to one side of it, and the Japanese American National History Museum at its end. The area is made up of about 5 blocks in total.

Japanese American National History Museum

Japanese American National History Museum

The Japanese American National History Museum opened in 1992 – 50 years after Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. At the end of WWII, many Japanese returned to Little Tokyo; today however, most live in the surrounding cities of LA. We didn’t have time to explore the museum, but visited its store brimmed with Japanese knick knacks, art, and books.

Books in the Japanese American National Museum store

Books in the Japanese American National Museum store

Decorations at the museum's store

Decorations at the museum’s store

Good luck cat at the museum store

A lucky cat (?) at the museum store

Says Wikipedia…because of the global and local growth of overseas Japanese investment, Little Tokyo has resisted eradication and has continued to exist as a tourist attraction, community center, and home to Japanese American senior citizens and others…

On my visits, I haven’t noticed a distinct tourist vibe in Little Tokyo – a good thing, and while many Japanese Americans may have moved out of the area, it is obvious that they congregate here.

Art as seen through the window the of Cultrural Affairs building.

Art as seen through the window of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Quiet a and outlook onto the plaza and watchtower

Quiet a and outlook onto the plaza and watchtower

FOOD: red bean ice cream from Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream, pour over coffees at Dulce Cafe, a green tea Malaysian Roti pastry, and rows of sake bottles – from specialty stores to grocery aisles, the international influence is woven into a strong Japanese fabric.

Red bean, plum, and mango ice cream

DSC_0182PSDSC_0192PSFully prepared to suffer the consequences of another grocery trip of riches, we made our way towards Weller Court, the location of the supermarket we’d found on our first visit to J-town, as the area is nicknamed. What we weren’t prepared for was a greeting of yellow police tape.

A neighbourhood scare...

A neighbourhood scare…

Baffled and feeling as if we’d overstayed our welcome, we turned around and made tracks to the car. We did stop at a smaller Japanese supermarket along the way, though our state of mind was firmly rooted back in the US of A.

Rice crackers - made in Japan

Rice crackers – made in Japan

DSC_0174PS

DSC_0167PSDSC_0142PSDSC_0186PS

New Year’s Eve Snaps ~ Hollywood Hills, LA, CA

We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Transitioning from day # 366 of 2012, a new year has suddenly dawned, and with it the connotations of renewal, goal-making, and setting intentions. Nursing a New Year’s Day hangover, or not, I revel in the idea of a ‘fresh start.’ As cliche as that reads, I actually did find the time to stop, think, and write down what I’d like to achieve in the New Year. So far, all boxes have been checked for Day 1…

Here’s to 365 days of blogging: reading, photographing, and scribing our musings. Wishing you, dear readers, a wonderful 2013. Here’s to living our lives in the best ways we know how.

About the images below: Except for the first one, all were taken on NYE 2012 at the Japanese inspired Yamashiro Restaurant. Perched on one of the ‘Hollywood Hills’, it was home to the Four Hundred Club in the ’20s; actor/director Frank Elliott purchased the space so that Hollywood’s film industry could dine and schmooze without being bothered. Today it is a restaurant, wedding destination, and filming location. Truly a good spot for a drink and some sushi – maybe for some photo opps too.

When in California, drink California champagne - "Korbel".

When in California, drink California champagne – “Korbel”

DSC_1040PS

DSC_1031PS

DSC_1049PS

Lychee Sake

Lychee Sake

DSC_1065PSDSC_1072PS

support + love = my husband

support + love = my husband

Me next to the fat buddha.

Me

DSC_1064PSDSC_1086PS

Chinatown at Night ~ Los Angeles, CA

As still as a movie set done with the day’s shooting, so stands LA’s Chinatown at 8pm.

Until you get to Yang Chow’s…

Behind it’s shaded glass facade, the restaurant’s interior exudes enough life to reenergise what has since languished outside.

Menu highlight: crispy fried duck. A tasty spin on the traditional.

Sidewalk Shopping ~ Chinatown, NYC

Shopping for produce in New York’s Chinatown is as authentic as you’re going to get in terms of an old fashioned market experience.

What I love most about it all is the abundance of colour. From the storefronts painted in reds and yellows, to the paint box display of fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of textures and shapes.

Amongst the bustle of the touristy Canal, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets offering knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, you’ll find parts of the sidewalks taken over by fresh produce stalls selling Chinese broccoli, bock choy, bags of mangosteens, lychees, and longans still attached to the stem.

While supermarkets exist here too, their windows are decorated with roast ducks hanging upside down; the refrigerators are jammed with delicacies like chicken feet and bamboo shoots; their shelves are well stocked with noodles, and jars of chili radish.

There’s a great sense of community here too; it’s ‘offline’ shopping in the raw.

Above: Delivery bike on Canal Street

Below: Fresh coconuts cost less than half of what I have paid in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Below: Sidewalk menu

Above: Free Press

Above: Fit for a banquet.

Below: Chopped duck.

Below: Artistry.

Below: If I had a garden, I’d love to plant this Asian Pear tree.

Below: Langons alongside lychees.

Above and below: Playing cards and enjoying the music in nearby Columbus Park.

Above: Framed by kites.

Below: Sidewalk shopping.

Below: If we move to LA, I better invest in some driving lessons again…

A Mother’s Day Dedication

My mum, in 10 words: elegant, beautiful, warm hearted, creative, caring, humanitarian, shopaholic, pet collector.

My mum – mama, in Russian – loves animals and got attached to each pet any of us kids ever owned. At one stage, a dwarf rabbit, a couple of guinea pigs, two cats, a dog, goldfish, and (caged) mice were under our care. You can imagine what a lively and entertaining household this turned out to be: I walked the rabbit on a leash, the dog stood guard by the guinea pig cage, the cats kept an eye on the fish, while mum would play midwife to the crazy-breeding mice.

Despite the oceans and lands that temporarily separate us, I know my mama is someone I can always count on, no matter what.

I never met my paternal grandmother as she passed away a few months before I was born. I did spend some time with my maternal grandmother (she passed away when I was about 7) and can remember when she’d babysit us. Baba, as we called her (grandmother in Russian), would walk us to the supermarket near her apartment, place a few coins into our outstretched palms, and allow us to buy whatever sweets we wanted. To me, this was one of the coolest perks ever and I’d always select the ‘Milo’ bar. Thankfully, it is still available in Australia and I associate its green wrapper, the swoosh of its logo, and the chocolaty crumbly goodness inside, with those times.

My mama, baba, and me. This was photographed around 1979, most likely by my dad.

Mother’s Day is a good reminder to pause, think, and thank all the mothers, grandmothers, “aunties,” godmothers, sisters, friends, and mothers-in-law for being such inspiring souls.

I asked a few friends and readers around the globe to share something special about their mums; I so appreciate them taking part in this tribute. Their reflections and words are full of heart, emotion, and positive energy.

Here’s a toast to mums ~ raise a glass of something bubbly as you read through these sentiments. Please leave a comment about a favourite memory or lesson learned from your mum, if you are able to. Enjoy!

NB: the pictures look alot better when clicked on and enlarged.

Miri Fridman, 34, Sydney, Australia

How has being a mother changed you? Well, apart from the fact that these days 6am is considered a mega ‘sleep in’ – and my body wobbles in more places than it did before – being a mum has made me more emotional and sensitive to issues affecting kids around the world. I now cry at any news of neglect or abuse; I never used to feel so deeply about it prior to having kids. With my children, knowing in my heart that I would actually die for them is such a powerful feeling – it is something I never thought possible.

Miri with Jamie (5) and Mikey (2) in Sydney this year.

What is the best lesson your mum taught you about motherhood?
I know its cliche, but you can never, ever, ever understand the unconditional love and devotion your parents have for you until you become a parent yourself.

I think about my kids every second that they are not with me. I wonder if they are happy, if they feel sad about something, if I packed enough changes of clothes in case of little ‘accidents’, if they are safe, if they miss me…. And we’re only talking about a couple of hours at the grandparents or kindergarten school here! Imagine when they grow up!

I actually sometimes find myself lost in thought, with tears welling up in my eyes, imagining what I would do if something happened to them. It’s crazy how powerful the love is.

Author’s note: This is a pic I love. It is of me, Marina, and my mum, Natasha, with Jamie. We were visiting Miri and her family on my trip home to Sydney in 2010.

Laura Cook, 30, Essex, UK

Favourite childhood memory about your mum: I have many of them with my wonderful mum but I would say the winner has to be a really simple one. I remember ‘helping’ my mum make cakes (I really did not help that much!) when I was about six or seven years old. She would be so patient with me and let me use the exciting electric whisk to churn up the ingredients. If I was lucky she would also let me lick the left over icing off the spoon! She didn’t mind that I made a mess and it was just a great time to spend together.

What’s the best lesson your mum taught you? Mum taught me to always go for the things you want to achieve because life is short! She sighs a bit when I tell her I am off to Sierra Leone on holiday or I have started a project that will require me to be somewhere hot, sticky, and crawling with spiders, but she has always encouraged me to try everything and for that I am really grateful.

Laura with her mum, Evelyn, and niece, Florence, walking up the Southend-on-Sea Pier. This is the longest pleasure pier in the world and you can walk over a mile out to sea along the Victorian board walk.  Photograph: lauracookphotography.net

Scott Karavlan, 33, Pittsburgh, USA

Favourite childhood memory about your mum: Growing up, mum would take me to the Carnegie Library and then the History Museum on Saturday afternoons. This created a lifelong love of reading and history.

My mum, in 10 words: an inspiration, a talented, beautiful, intelligent, articulate, and beyond patient woman.

Best lesson my mum taught me: By example, she has shown me how to treat those I love with compassion and patience.

Scott (far left) and his mum, Judy, along with the extended Karavlan family at Walt Disney World in 2011. Scott has 3 children with his wife, Amy.

Barbara Iliopoulos, 34, Sydney, Australia

How do you remember your mum on Mother’s Day? Mother’s Day is bittersweet for a motherless mother. My kids are so excited to show me the love on Mother’s Day, and I don’t have my mum to share it with her. I try not to get too emotional in front of the boys because it is a happy day, but we will always take the time to remember yiayia Maria (yiayia is grandmother in Greek). We will go to my mum’s grave – which the boys call yiayia’s little house, lay flowers, say a special prayer and light her candle. We will then go and visit my maternal grandmother (88), and we will always share stories about mum.

Funny story about my mum was showing my granny how to do a nice smile without her dentures. They were in for repairs during my wedding so mum was teaching her how to pose for the photos.

Barbara’s mum, Maria

What is the best lesson your mum taught you? Losing my mum before I had kids initially brought on an anxiety that I would not have her there to guide me with my parenting, especially through my first pregnancy. However, as I go through the process I realise that she has taught me so much – others might call it instinct. The best lesson she taught me was to give my kids a hug and a big kiss first thing every morning and the last thing at night, and to continue doing this every single day not matter how old the boys get.

Barbara, William (2), and Steven (5) on vacation in London, 2011.

Stephanie Laoaraya, 34, Nan, Thailand

The best thing about motherhood is… watching your baby grow up in front of your eyes and being with them as they share their funny thoughts on the world with you!

My mum taught me to… enjoy the moments as the kids grow up very fast.

Stephanie with Achira (3) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This photo was taken earlier this year at the Royal Gardens; the whole background is made up from flowers.

Lauren Paris, 29, Gold Coast, Australia

What is the best thing about motherhood? For me, it is the overwhelming and unconditional love I have for my son and daughter. No matter how sleep deprived, I consider it to be an absolute reward each and every day to get up to my babies and see their smiling faces. Life is one huge smile. Being a mum is the most rewarding role ever!

My son is always giggling; my daughter melts my heart every time she wraps her arms around me. She gives me slobbery smooches and says, “I love you mummy” just like she did tonight – it was the best (early) mother’s day present anyone could ask for. It’s true that the best things in life are free!

Lauren along with her grandmother (nanna), mum, and daughter Jacinta (2). They are at Q1 skyscraper on the Gold Coast for her nanna’s 75th birthday. At the time, Lauren was pregnant with her second baby; Jordan is now 4 months.

My mum, in 10 words: kind, generous, thoughtful, strong, and inspirational! She always gives great advice.

Now that I’m a mum, I value my mum and nanna even more. I am so thankful for all the opportunities they’ve given me and am so fortunate to have two such wonderful women in my life as role models. It’s beautiful to see the relationships they have with my two children.
I love them very much and can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.

Jacinta and her baby brother, Jordan, with their nan nan and great nanna

Brendan Comey, 33, Dublin, Ireland

“The photo below was taken in Dublin last October.

I am not certain what my Mothers full name is; we always just called her “Ma”. I have reason to believe that she will answer to the name Patricia or Pat, or in more recent years, Nana or Granny.

I have so many fond memories from my childhood that to pick one would be an injustice. I do have some very vivid memories from my recent past: a few years ago, my Mother had a fairly routine operation that went badly wrong. For weeks she lay in a coma in an intensive care ward surrounded by her family. Her doctors were very non committal about her chances and we were told that she will either recover and survive, or she would die.  I have decided that this is a childhood memory because I am still her child even at the ripe age of 33.

Thankfully she survived with her lust for life and wicked sense of humor intact. She is currently gallivanting on the Sicilian coast.”

Brendan’s “Ma” ~ Photograph: Brendan Comey

Andrew Galea, 33, Toronto, Canada

What do you love most about your mum? As a child, my mum was so entertaining. I cherish her everyday and she is the second most important person in my life besides my wife.

My favorite childhood memory… is when mum, dad, my sister, and I went to Disneyland Florida – one of our first family vacations. We were standing alongside some Disney characters and seeing the smile on my parents’ face at that moment was priceless! My father and mother are always more concerned about our happiness than their own.

Andrew dancing with his mum, Monica, on his wedding day in 2011.

Author’s Note: The end of this post is in honour of my mum, Natasha, from the rest of her kids. They are all based in Sydney, Australia. ( I didn’t give my older brother, Michael, enough time to respond to this post. With two little ones, he and his wife, Karen, have their hands full. Luckily, he’s seeing mum personally on Mother’s Day.)

Alana, 29

My mum, in 10 words: Mama is giving and kind, and devoted to helping others.

My favourite childhood memory about mum… I have two: shopping with her on Friday nights in our local shopping mall in Chatswood, and accompanying her to the hairdresser on Saturday mornings. Random I know!

Alex, 22

My mum, in 10 words: Caring, emotional, humanitarian, strong, traditional, beautiful, sincere, devoted, disciplined, Russian.

The things I love most about my mum… her strength of character, physically and mentally; her willingness to help people; her love for her culture; and lastly, the fact that she will always love her children even during the most difficult times.

Katherine, 19

My mum, in 10 words: beautiful, loving, caring, adventurous, smart, and the world’s best mum.

What I love most about my mum..  she will always be there for me no matter what; she always puts others before herself; and, she has a big heart.

The last time we were all together was at my wedding in Australia last year. From left: My brother Michael and his wife, Karen; my sister, Alana; my dad and mum; me and Ali; my sister, Katherine and my brother, Alex.