Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Something got lost in translation...

What a treat we had last night! Itsuka cooked teriyaki chicken for us! I had emailed her mom to tell her Itsuka was cooking for us, and she wanted to make sure her daughter had the recipe so she sent a link to one. Below is what the top of the website looks like. Notice it's in Japanese!

If you want to see the whole thing, it's at:

What I learned is that if you right click the link, a choice to use Google Translator comes up. So, not speaking any Japanese, I clicked it. Here are some of the directions that gave in English...
  • Put all seasonings in a pan, then "low heat" and then burn.
  • Shake occasionally, please burn the sauce on both sides to take the inside out.
  • In the list of ingredients, it calls for "2 photos of chicken peaches"
The whole translation thing can be a tricky adventure! Good thing we had Itsuka there to actually demonstrate how to make the dish.

Assembling the ingredients for dinner

Her mom would have been proud! The dinner was delicious! She taught Amanda how to use chopsticks, which we have been working on since Amanda's first trip to Happy Teriyaki (13 years ago?).  We all tried the miso soup she brought and had green tea. Itsuka obviously enjoyed the taste of home and I have to say that I will never make teriyaki chicken any other way. It was so yummy! Good bye Yoshida's sauce!

Making the teriyaki sauce

Here is the recipe, translated by me:

Itsuka's Teriyaki Chicken

3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Mix the first 3 ingredients in a cup. In a fry pan, heat 2-3T vegetable oil. Brown the chicken on medium heat, turning as needed, until chicken is almost cooked through- about 8 minutes. Pour sauce on the chicken, turn heat to medium low and cover. Turn chicken after a few minutes. Cook until chicken is done and sauce is reduced to a glaze.

If you have a large family, you will want to double the recipe as those thighs cook down pretty tiny. I think you could also use white meat instead if you prefer and it would be just as delicious. Also, it didn't need any other flavor, but ginger or garlic would add a nice taste to the sauce.

Itsuka brought instant miso soup that came in brightly colored foil packets

Monday, March 29, 2010

From the Land of the Rising Sun

Emily and Itsuka, shortly after meeting

This week we have a young student from Japan staying with us. Her name is Itsuka and can I just tell you what a doll she is? She is 14, polite, kind, fun... everything you would want in a guest! She is here through Emily's school, Chinook Middle School. There are about 33 students total coming from her town in Japan and they are all 12 to 16 years old.

We greeted the students Saturday at a potluck lunch, complete with clowns for entertainment. Can you imagine? You travel many hours on a plane, feel the effects of having been up all night yet it is only 2PM, and you sit down with complete strangers to eat an American potluck... with clowns there to entertain? I wasn't sure how that would all go over with the Japanese students. My own children all expressed their distrust of anything "clown" and wondered if the Japanese kids wouldn't leave America terrorized by the experience.
The potluck spread

Despite our wonderings, the potluck lunch was pretty tasty and gave us a good chance to become acquainted with our new little friend.

Us with Itsuka on the left, the "J" family and their student on the right

After the lunch, we were amazed to see the Japanese students were actually interested in the clowns, who, it turns out, weren't so scarey after all! They made balloon sculptures for the kids and pretty soon kids were showing off their newly obtained balloon-flower or animal. Some of the boys were having balloon-sword fights. Everyone was smiling, and that was the goal. I guess the organizers of the event really did know what they were doing!
waiting a turn for the clowns

Thomas and his balloon-sword, Clown, and Itsuka with her balloon-flower
The students all came with brightly colored, hard, suit cases. When all 33 were lined up, it was quite a site. Almost pretty, as far as a bunch of suitcases go.

We drove home, pointed out a "very American farm" along the way. Cows, red barn, farm house. It brought a clear and loud, "Oh! Yes!" from our shy and quiet Itsuka.

Once home, Itsuka got the tour of the house and was introduced to the cats. She quickly presented us with gifts from Japan; me- a beautiful scarf, Jack- a bank in the shape of a Japanese good-luck posed cat, Thomas- a wind sock on a stick with cool Japanese writing on it, Amanda and Emily- each received a little make-up type of bag. Very sweet gifts and she was so cute giving them to us.

About this time, we looked up the time difference between Olympia and her town, Oita. They are 15 hours ahead, so it was 9AM Sunday in her poor, jet-lagged body. It was only Saturday afternoon in Olympia. Poor thing, she had a whole evening to go before she could go to bed! Her eyes were beginning to really droop, so off we went to Tolmie State park to get some fresh air. It was just the ticket!
The forest part of Tolmie

Throwing rocks at Tolmie beach

A pretty cute bunch, don't you think?

We came home and I made hamburgers and fries. She ate like a champ, took a shower and went to bed. I forgot to show her how to open the sheets to get into the bed, so she slept on top of the cover and used an extra blanket to cover herself. I don't think it mattered, because she slept for 12 hours!

Sunday she was spunky and awake. In the morning she at Rice Krispies (they have those in Japan, we were told) and she played Wii Sports with my kids. That afternoon, we drove to Seattle and took her up the Space Needle. It was Thomas's dream come true. He has wanted to go up there for a couple of years now! Itsuka recognized Mt. Rainier as "Mt. Tacoma" from Japanese TV shows. Of course she understood about the Mariners (and Ichiro!) and was interested in seeing Safeco Field.

Introducing Itsuka to some of the fine snacking done in America

Today, she and Emily are at school together. I can't wait to hear how the day went! The two girls get along nicely and I am impressed at Emily's way of speaking simply to Itsuka in a way that is understandable to her. I'm sure they will have a fun day!
the Wii has been a great way to start a friendship!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A new kind of recipe

Recipe for a happy boy:

1 hammer
1 towel
1 standard screwdriver
1 phillips screwdriver
1 wire cutter
1 rachet and socket set

Gather the above ingredients together. To them add:

1 old computer

Lay the towel out flat. Put computer on towel. Point out to the boy how the screws can be turned to the left to open the computer up. Leave the mixture alone for 1 hour.

Return to see a beat computer and a happy boy!

Need your computer worked on? I have just the boy to do it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

From the red headband, going clockwise: Megan, Amanda, Lauren, Emily, Linnea

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig is the Gaelic way of expressing a wish that you have all the blessings of St Patrick's Day and the "luck of the Irish" to go with it. What did St. Patrick want to bless you with? Why, the love and peace of Jesus, of course! He was, afterall, a missionary sent from England to teach the Irish about the Christian (Catholic) faith. It's true, he used the 3-leafed clover as a visual when talking about the trinity of God.

In Ireland, many go to mass today, offering up prayers for missionaries around the world. So, take a moment and pray for any missionary you may know before you get on with whatever other celebrations you have planned for the day.

Happy St Patty's Day!

Monday, March 8, 2010

How to Feis

***post update*** I changed the music on this post so if you are back for a second look, you won't have to listen to the obnoxious accordion. Instead, it's a beautiful slip jig by a violinist. ok... back to your reading...

Feis (pronounced ‘fesh’) is an Irish word and by definition, it means “festival” with activities including dancing, language, singing, story telling, essay writing, arts and crafts and other aspects of Irish culture. The plural form is "feisianna."

In my experience, it has come to mean "A day of Irish dance competition complete with accordian music which will take at least 3 days to clear from your head."
Many of you know that my girls have been Irish dancing for about 7 years and have been dancing at feisianna for about 5 years. Some of you ask about what these competitions are like, so I took the opportunity last Saturday at the Pacific Northwest Championship Feis to take a bunch of pictures to show you. It seemed only fitting being as that St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner.

While nothing can replace the experience of being there first hand, I'll try to duplicate it as best as I can. To begin with, I've loaded up my playlist player with Irish music. The music is key. It goes on and on and on all day long. I swear it changes the structure of a person's brain when you listen to it for an entire day because, seriously, the tunes float around in your head for a good many days after the feis. The Irish could have used endless accordion music as an instrument of war, but I don't think they ever did. They used soda bread instead. Have you tried soda bread? That's for another post. Let me just say, it needs lots of butter.
So, the feis...
The day begins early. Gotta get up, get dressed, put on your big, fat, curly wig and eat some Cheerios. Don't dance on an empty stomach. Dancers faint from that kind of thing. It's bad to faint while dancing at the feis. Usually. Sometimes it can earn you sympathy points from the judges though.
Drive to the feis, park and get checked in. Dancers receive a competitor number to wear. On the back side of the card is printed the dances they are competing in so they don't forget what they signed up for that day. The dances are all traditional Irish dances and are the same across the world. Soft shoe dances are: reel, slip jig, single jig. light jig. Hard shoe  dances are: treble jig, hornpipe, and one of a variety of VERY traditional dances called "set" dances. Dancers compete separately in each of these dances.
Dances are identified by number and are broken out by age and ability level. The goal of the competition is to achieve a high enough score that you are allowed to advance to the next level. Levels are:

  1. First feis

  2. Beginner 1

  3. Beginner 2

  4. Novice

  5. Prizewinner

  6. then a bunch of championship levels I don't understand yet 
The room is usually a big ballroom type of space with a "stage" and musician at one end and chairs on the other. The stage is simply a hard surface layed on the room's carpet. It's not raised up like you would think of a stage. The judge sits at a table at the edge of the stage, sipping tea and looking over the top of their glasses. They have stacks of papers to fill out over the course of the day. Many are actually from Ireland.

Amanda is second from the right, ready to dance competition nmber 371b, novice reel (see the card on the wall)

On the back wall of the stage are cards with numbers printed on them, arranged in some type of order. They show the order of the dances being run that day. Dancers can find their dances on the wall and have some type of idea about when to be ready for the ones that they are competing in.

The feis day usually starts off with singing of the American/Canadian/Irish national anthems and a greeting by the director of the Irish dance school who is hosting the feis. I really should learn all those words to the anthems one day.
The hired musician

Then... the music starts. You find a place to dump your stuff and sit and wait. There's a lot of "hurry up and wait" at a feis because they can run ahead of schedule and if you're not there early, your dancer could miss their dance. Been there... done that. Not fun!

People watching at a feis is usually pretty fantastic! There are moms who dance vicariously through their daughters; they sit at the front of the seats, mouthing all the steps while their child dances, and then run off to see results as soon as they are available. The steps can be said out loud: jump and hop and back 2-3, turn and turn and hop and skip skip double-back and point- or something like that. I don't actually know because I can't remember the steps to the dances. I could never pull off being one of those moms! I don't think I would want to anyhow. They seem pretty intense, ie: stage mom.
There are girls who run around giggling with friends, and girls who who warm-up with an ipod in their ears. They look like they are listening to irish dance music, but it could be Michael Buble for all I know. There are kids who are laughing and kids who are crying. The crying ones usually have one of those intense dancer moms close by. So sad!
Once it is time for a dancer's competition, they approach the stage and line up. There is some strategy in where you place yourself in line. My girls have learned the hard way to avoid being first. Judges often hold back on their points for the first few dancers, in case later dancers should deserve more points. The music for the dance starts (each dance has its own music with different rhythms) and dancers come out 2 at a time.

Here is our accordion friend playing a jig while dancers are in action

They dance 32 bars of music, and it is time for the next 2 to dance immediately after the first 2 are finished. Down the line they go, 2 at a time, until everyone has had a turn.  The music stops for a moment, although you wouldn't know it because it continues in your head.  The judge rings a bell when he/she is done with the papers, dancers point their toe and bow to the judge, then to the musician and leave the stage. That's it. All done. In a few minutes, the results will be posted on a wall in the results room to display who got what place.

Amanda dancing the reel

Still dancing...

Giving a traditional quick bow to the judge when the reel was finished

Off to the results room

Find the paper with the dance number you are looking for. What a bonus to find your name at the top of the list!

Pick up your medal


Emily was next, dancer number 289.

Her competition was STIFF, with 18 other kids dancing against her. Usually there will be 8 to 14 other dancers. Rarely are there more than 15. This picture shows 2 stages, side by side, each with about 17 dancers.

She didn't place, but she danced beautifully, nonetheless. All we ask is that the girls do their best!

The hallmarks of Irish dance; turned out feet, legs crossed at the knees, and high on the toes. Way to to Emily!

At this feis there were TWO accordion players. What good Irish luck!

There are some funny things that you can only ever see at a feis. Things such as:

  • Tubs and racks of curly wigs and costume jewelry

  • Poodle socks with bling

  • Tons of Irish dance shoes
The nice lady from Irish Treasures who helps with shoe fittings

  • Solo dresses that are available to purchase.... a "bargain" (???)

So it was a grand day at the feis! Wigs all stayed on, nobody fell, and we even came home with a long-awaited medal!

Ahhh, sweet victory. Amanda's been working at moving that reel out of novice for 3 years! The last photo is Amanda with her dance teacher, Patti Martig, TCRG.