2009.11.15.Sunday

Posted March 24th, 2014 by IP

It’s a beautiful sunny day in UB…well, let me add smoggy and 0F/-16C to that lest one thinks we’re standing on a beach somewhere! I’ve been up since 8 (just don’t completely trust Josh to wake to his alarm so he can walk the dog at 8:30). But I’m an early riser and love the early morning hours. The first thing I do is set the hot pot to heating and make three small pots of various types of tea (usually two green and an Earl Grey) and a cup of coffee or chicory blend. While the water’s heating, I put out seed for the sparrows. I just love those sparrows. I think we’ve had them every place we’ve lived except for Jakarta…I don’t remember any sparrows there.
I think sparrows in Mongolia have a really tough time, but somehow, they seem to thrive. Where ever we’ve lived I’ve fed the local birds. Sparrows have always been the common denominator.
Here in UB, our computer/craft/’hot house’ room faces east towards the compound’s central courtyard. There are several evergreen trees and a birch tree on the east side of our unit. In the early morning, the sparrows are tucked in amongst the various branches looking like dried autumn leaves. At least that’s what they look like to me with my not so great far vision! I admire their tenacity at being able to survive winters here. I really don’t know how they do it.
Our first winter here, we put out a mixture of American wild bird seed twice a day. We’re just about out of that and none is available locally. Rather than order more from the US, we are now using a local grain that resembles millet and the birds are very happy with it. A bag costs just over $1 and lasts almost a week.
The bird feeders are located on our two tiny balconies: one on the ground floor and the other on the top floor. The balconies have iron railings and there the birds sit looking like notes on a scale. There must be at least 50 out there at any given time. They take turns flitting from the railings to the bird feeders, twittering noisily as they compete for the seed.
Now that it’s so cold out, the ones on the railing are huddled down in their feathers and shift from foot to foot as they try to keep warm. One can see little puffs of bird breath and (sorry kids, but I do find the following rather amazing) when they poo, and the wind’s blowing, the poo freezes as it falls and looks like a water fall frozen in time. The kids get really grossed out by this last bit, as I happened to observe it last year for the first time while sitting at the dining table eating breakfast. We’ve never experienced cold like this so everything about life here is, to me at least, an amazing occurrence. I’ll never forget our first winter here last year. Before arriving, I wondered how anything could survive temperatures in the -30s. Well, we did, and so do these amazing little birds. But back to the poo! As I was sitting at the table, eating breakfast, I glanced out the door at all the sparrows sitting on the railing. We also have a thermometer with a large red mercury column hanging on the railing. It was -30C/-20F. One of the sparrows chose that moment to poo. There was a slight breeze and the falling poo froze in a perfect fan-shaped stream. It was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in nature.
Please don’t think I’m some weirdo, but I always try to see something positive in difficult situations. That morning when I checked the outside temperature and thanked God that I was not a sparrow sitting on a frozen railing, I felt that I was being shown something wonderful. I am always struck with awe by pictures of myriad snow flakes, none of which are the same. How can something be so perfectly symmetrical, so perfectly beautiful? Things like that make me reflect on the purpose of life. So here was this tiny little bird, sitting on a frozen railing (oh, it was also snowing at the time), and suddenly there was this most amazingly beautiful shape that would have occurred under no other possible circumstances. I had to ponder on that for a while.
The boys still can’t get beyond the fact that I was inspired by frozen poo, but for me, it was like seeing a picture of a frozen snowflake enlarged in real life. I’ll never forget it.

This is a bit late in the posting…not sure why.  We’re no longer in Mongolia and I just realized it’s over two years since my last post!

Monday, 21 March 2011: Tokyo

Posted March 21st, 2011 by IP

Isamu, Jason and I have been in Tokyo on R&R from UB since Friday, 3 March.  What was supposed to have been a three-week break from the long Mongolian winter turned out to be a personal experience of the strongest earthquake to hit Japan since they began categorizing quakes.  The 9.0 quake was followed by a powerful tsunami which swept as far as six miles inland.  These two acts of nature lead to problems with one of the nuclear power plants, and that led to the exodus of thousands from Japan.

Anyone who knows us, knows of my deep love for Japan.  Its people and culture have always struck a cord in my heart, so after my posting to our embassy in Mongolia in 2008, we have always chosen to include Japan in the R&R travel that we receive each year.

Isamu’s family is from Nagano and until this trip, we always visited them.  Unfortunately, this trip we were not able to make that trip.  Before the quake Isamu spoke with his cousin and learned that the family there is well;  we haven’t been able to reach them since but assume all is well.

As I mentioned earlier, we arrived Friday afternoon, 3 March.  For the first time we decided to take the train from Narita rather than the limousine bus.  Doing so cost us about 1/3 the cost of the bus ride.  We took the train to Shimbashi and from there a taxi to the Oakwood Akasaka where we had reserved a two-bedroom apartment.

http://www.oakwoodasia.com/en/japan/akasaka/default.aspx

We could not have been happier – unless we’d had a better exchange rate!

The Oakwood Akasaka is central to every place we needed to go and having our own kitchen and washer/dryer saved us lots of money.  We spent the first week recovering from jet-lag and initial dentist appointments.  Friday, 11 March Jeffrey rented a car for 1430 to take us to Jusco.

We were sitting in the car programming the GPS when the car began shaking like a car will do when the motor is idling too fast.  Initially we thought something was wrong with the car as the shaking got stronger and stronger until we were rocking like a kid on one of those quarter rides outside a grocery store.

I glanced up and saw a large motorcycle next to us also bucking madly, then looked across the street to see one of the buildings moving back and forth on its foundation at impossible degrees of inclination.  People began leaving the surrounding buildings and we finally realized this was a very large earthquake.  After what seemed a very long time, the quaking subsided and since nothing had fallen down as far as we could see, we decided to continue to Jusco.  http://www.aeon.jp/aeon/shinagawaseaside/

At every traffic light, we felt aftershocks and watched the overhead signals and signs swaying.  All the way to our destination we debated whether or not we should turn back.  Jusco has an indoor parking garage that is reached by driving up a winding ramp until one finds a level with available spaces.  The entire area gives a feeling of either fortress like strength or claustrophobic enclosure, depending on your mood.  After parking we made a beeline to the electronics floor where we joined scores of shoppers watching the unfolding drama of the tsunami as it swept through the towns.  It was impossible to turn away from those images.  We were watching live coverage of the powerful waves as they pushed boats, cars, and homes as far as six miles inland.  At the same time, the cries and exclamations of those who had made it to higher ground served as a sober background to the dramatic images.

Shopping seemed a trivial past time when so many lives were being changed forever.  Our planned pleasant outing changed to a quick trip to the grocery section and then we began the trip back to return the rental car.  The outward trip took about 20 minutes; the return trip – four hours.  At times we covered 500 metres in an hour.

During the entire long trip back we did not hear one horn honk or anyone who didn’t exhibit the customary courtesy for which the Japanese are so noted.  The lanes closest to the sidewalks on either side of the six-lane roads had been set off with traffic cones to allow the millions of pedestrians space as they began their long trek home.  It took anywhere from an hour to eight or more for people to reach their homes as all trains were shut down.

After we returned the rental car we walked back to our apartment where we watched the live coverage into the wee hours of Saturday morning.  As the scope of the triple tragedy unfolds day by day,  I cannot imagine any nation on earth that could have dealt better in the aftermath of these devastating events.

There is lots of coverage by the international media.  We stopped watching it after two or three days as it seems sensationalist at worst, condescending at best.  Isamu is a native Japanese so he is able to follow the local reporting.  Throughout all this time, coverage has been extensive and I don’t believe the Japanese are holding back.

After the problems with the nuclear power plant were announced, many people choose to leave Tokyo or Japan.  We made an informed decision to stay until our scheduled departure on Saturday 26 March.  While the US embassy did authorize departure of staff family members, none of the staff has been reduced.  It is my firm belief that if the situation in Tokyo warranted evacuation, then both the US embassy and the Japanese government would inform us.  When/if that situation occurs we will make arrangements to leave but until then, we prefer to remain here.

The week following the quake/tsunami/reactor problems was traumatic for us.  We’d wake at night in response to an aftershock or nightmare.  We spent most days glued to the TV watching continuous coverage of the many areas in which the Japanese are working in search and rescue, relief efforts for survivors and all the while dealing with the reactor crisis.

I don’t think I have ever seen better or more extensive reporting than what we have witnessed these past ten days.  I applaud the Japanese people for the manner in which they are coping with this crisis.  Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone here.

For anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I hope you can find some comfort.  Also I hope that you can realize that if you only have access to international news you may not be getting the full story.  Please take reports by CNN and BBC with a grain of salt.  I’m sure the reporters have good intentions, but they are as far as I know not native speakers nor experts in the fields they are covering.  Since I was a teenager I have always viewed the media with a skeptical eye.  I hope you will, too.

2010.06.27.Warm and Sunny

Posted June 27th, 2010 by IP

We’re still here! Last winter was long – longer than our first year here. Unseasonable cold and winds played havoc for the herders and over a million animals were lost. The government declared a national disaster and international organizations and individuals contributed money and goods to assist.

We left on our annual R&R on 28 March and returned on 25 April. Last year winter was just a memory at the end of April. This year, temperatures were still dropping below zero well into May. Finally, by the third week in May, all the snow and ice melted. Suddenly, almost overnight, grass began growing and trees budding. It was as if Mother Nature had been waiting for the chance to burst forth. Within two weeks, one could see evidence of spring. Now it’s the end of June and once again we are confronted with unseasonable weather. Temperatures have been above average hovering between 35C – 40C (upper 90sF). Warnings have been issued alerting people to the danger of heatstroke and dehydration. I for one felt the effects of the stifling temperatures after working in our compound greenhouse one afternoon about three weeks ago. After about 30 minutes spent watering and weeding our plot in the plastic covered quonset hut that is the compound ‘greenhouse’, I felt flushed, had a headache, and nauseous. The short walk home had me gasping and sporting a bright red face. I immediately sipped cool water and splashed cool water on my face and arms. It took about four hours before I completely recovered from the effects of the heat. Since then, I go to the ‘greenhouse’ in the early morning before 06:30. I can’t stop thinking how it must be for the herders who are faced with the searing temperatures and unlike me, have no recourse to cold water or air conditioning.

Spring is often accompanied by strong gusts of wind and this year is no exception. At least once a week we have to run and close all our windows to keep out the dirt and dust whipped up by strong winds. Just yesterday, I was in the kitchen when I noticed the sky had turned dark and looking out the window saw a tornado-like dust cloud, dirty brown in color, filling the sky outside and in which plastic bags and other trash were whirling around in a frenzy. We all know the drill and a call to the family of ‘close the windows’ sets everyone running to make sure windows are securely closed.

This usually works fine except yesterday, a particularly strong gust of wind blew one of our living room windows wide open knocking off three planters and causing Hunter to lose one of his nine lives. He often naps on one of our large floor cushions which is propped up under said window. However yesterday he had a very rude awakening when one of the large flower boxes tipped over on him! To add insult to injury, he was locked out on our upstairs balcony all night as one of the ‘Js’ locked the door without checking before going to bed!

2009.11.15.Sunday

Posted November 15th, 2009 by IP

It’s a beautiful sunny day in UB…well, let me add smoggy and 0F/-16C to that lest one thinks we’re standing on a beach somewhere!   I’ve been up since 8 (just don’t completely trust Josh to wake to his alarm so he can walk the neighbor’s dog at 8:30 :)).   But I’m an early riser and love the early morning hours.  The first thing I do is set the hot pot to heating and make three small pots of various types of tea (usually two green and an Earl Grey) and a cup of coffee or chicory blend.

While the water’s heating, I put out seed for the sparrows. I just love those sparrows. I think we’ve had them every place we’ve lived except for Jakarta…I don’t remember any sparrows there.  I think sparrows in Mongolia have a really tough time, but somehow, they seem to thrive. Where ever we’ve lived I’ve fed the local birds, and sparrows have always been the common denominator.

Here in UB, our computer/craft/’hot house’ room faces east towards the compound’s central courtyard.  There are several evergreen trees and a birch tree on the east side of our unit.   In the early morning, the sparrows are tucked in amongst the various branches looking like dried autumn leaves.   At least that’s what they look like to me with my not so great far vision!   I admire their tenacity at being able to survive winters here.   I really don’t know how they do it.

Throughout our first winter we put out a mixture of American wild bird seed twice a day.  We’re just about out of that and none is available locally.   Rather than order more from the US, we are now using a local grain that resembles millet and the birds are very happy with it. A bag costs just over $1 and lasts almost a week.

Our bird feeders are located on our two tiny balconies: one on the ground floor and the other on the top floor.   The balconies have iron railings and the birds sit there looking like notes on a scale.   Usually about 30 are sitting at any given time.   They take turns flitting from the railings to the bird feeders, twittering noisily as they compete for the seed.

Now that it’s so cold out, the ones on the railing are huddled down in their feathers and shift from foot to foot as they try to keep warm.   One can see little puffs of bird breath and (sorry kids, but I do find the following rather amazing) when they poo, and the wind’s blowing just right, the poo freezes as it falls and looks like a water fall frozen in time.

The kids get really grossed out by this last bit, as I happened to describe my first observation of this amazing sight over dinner one night last year.  I was sitting at the dining table eating breakfast when I was given this little lesson in life.   We’ve never experienced cold like this so everything about life here is, to me at least, an amazing occurrence.   Before arriving I wondered how anything could survive temperatures in the -30s.   Well, we did, and so do these amazing little birds.

But back to the poo! As I was sitting at the table, eating breakfast, I glanced out the door at all the sparrows sitting on the railing.   We have a thermometer with a large red mercury column hanging on the railing.   It was -30C/-20F.  One of the sparrows chose that moment to poo. There was a slight breeze and the falling poo froze in a perfect fan-shaped stream.   It was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in nature.

Please don’t think I’m some weirdo, but I always try to see something positive in difficult situations.   That morning when I checked the outside temperature and thanked God that I was not a sparrow sitting on a frozen railing, I felt that I was being shown something wonderful.  I am always struck with awe by pictures of myriad snow flakes, none of which are the same.   How can something be so perfectly symmetrical, so perfectly beautiful?   Things like that make me reflect on the purpose of life.   So there was this tiny little bird, sitting on a frozen railing (oh, it was also snowing at the time), and suddenly there was this most amazingly beautiful shape that would have occurred under no other possible circumstances.  I had to ponder on that for a while.
The boys still can’t get beyond the fact that I was inspired by frozen poo, but for me, it was like seeing a perfect snowflake enlarged in real life.   I’ll never forget it.

Sunday, 8 November

Posted November 8th, 2009 by IP

Yikes!  It’s been ages since I last posted.  In my opinion, we are well on our way into winter with temps below zero.  Spring, summer and autumn all seemed to run together with no clear delineation of seasons.  The Bubble Garden was taken down the last week of October.  Before then, we were able to dig up the shiso and salad greens, as well as some of the parsley, morning glories, zinneas and alyssum, and bring them indoors where they share space in our five sunny windows.

One night I discovered why our lettuce was not growing very well – Hunter our cat, who longs to go outdoors, was sitting in the lettuce pot essentially squashing it down.  Hunter is very optimistic that one day he will be able to get to the birds on the other side of the window!  After I moved the lettuce pot to the basement window in Josh’s bedroom, it thrived and we harvested the salad for dinner last week.

Since I last wrote, Jeffrey, Jesse and Josh have celebrated birthdays.  How the year is flying!

It has snowed five times since September 19.  We will soon begin the first of the Nine Nines of Winter.  In Mongolia, there are nine stages of winter. Each stage consists of nine days and begin with the first moon of mid-November, 81 days before the Lunar New Year which brings the first day of spring.  November 17th will be the new moon and the beginning of the nine nines.

First nine – shimijn arkhi (mild alcoholic beverage made of milk) congeals
Second nine – arkhi (vodka) congeals
Third nine – tail of three-year-old ox freezes
Fourth – horns of four-year-old ox freeze
Fifth nine – boiled rice does not congeal any more
Sixth nine – roads blacken
Seventh nine – hilltops blacken
Eighth nine - ground becomes damp
Ninth nine – warm days set in

I would have to say from our limited experience that last winter seemed to last much longer than nine nines!  One of my goals this winter is to be more active.  I really don’t like cold weather, but don’t want to become a hermit.  Once one gets outside of UB, the country side is gorgeous.  Hopefully the walking group a new staffer wants to organize will get us out and about.  I’ll close for today.  Til next time, keep well and happy!

Wednesday, 05 August 2009

Posted August 5th, 2009 by IP

With health being such a hot item in the media for some time now, I would like to share some tried and true things we’ve done over the years to keep healthy and stay well.

Two of my childhood wishes were to live to see world peace and to live to 100! I’ve passed the halfway mark on the second wish and hope that if I should be blessed with good health to live to 100, than I’ll also see the first wish become a reality.

Both Isamu and I have been blessed with good genes as so far, we’ve had no serious illnesses and from what others tell us, do not look our age…whatever that means these days! Insofar as diet, we eat rice almost every day. With one native born Asian in the family, that’s a given! Recently we switched from white rice to brown because we got a bargain on two 50# sacks of brown rice.  I have to say, I prefer the brown rice.  We use a Zojirushi rice cooker and it turns out wonderfully.

Currently, due to living in Mongolia, we only have access to chicken and beef.  We tried local mutton once – never again!  Fish is a rarity.  Mongolia is a land-locked country and fish is imported frozen from different countries. We’ve tried some New Zealand fillets, but as you can imagine, anything that’s traveled that distance, is rather tasteless, so we don’t buy it often.

We buy our meat in the Mercury Market from one of the many market women.  Mostly we purchase chicken drumsticks and strips of beef steak in bulk.  Once home, we divide the chicken into meal portions, bag and freeze.  We grind, slice, or cube the beef and freeze in meal sized portions. We eat as many vegetables as are available, with an emphasis on carrots, potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, and onions.  We regularly eat salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes.  We buy fruits in season: pears, bananas, grapes, mandarines, and sometimes mangos.  Good avocados are very rare.

This year we planted salad, shiso, corn, squash, chives, tomatoes, and watermelon.  So far we harvested lots of lovely lettuce, chives, shiso, and three ears of corn. The tomatoes and squash have not yet produced any harvest, but we hope to get something before the first snow falls in October.

This is pretty much how we eat…not much in the way of junk food or sodas. Mostly we drink water with lemon juice and barley or green tea.

We regularly take supplements that are ordered through Vitamin Shoppe.com : Solaray multi vitamins for the guys, and a mix for me.  We don’t like taking medication, but will if necessary: antibiotics or Motrin being the only ones taken in recent memory.

When we feel like we are coming down with something, I pull out our herbal arsenal.  This now consists of: Bee Propolis, Garlic capsules, Oregamax, and Oreganol P73.  The latter two by North American Herb and Spice have been used for just over a year, and the others for many years.  So far, we have managed to ward off colds and flu.

One of my favorite natural remedies is banana peels for treating planters warts.  I discovered this while in Africa back in the 80s. I developed a painful planters wart on my foot. There was no topical treatment available and the doctor said he could cut it out, but could not guarantee it would not grow back. I poured over my natural healing books and discovered that Israeli doctors successfully treated planters warts using banana peels.  After discussing with my doctor, we agreed it was worth a try.  After all, bananas are bountiful in Africa!

Here’s what I did, and also had Jesse do two years ago.  He used imported bananas with the same success. This can be a messy process, but trust me, it’s worth it.  Cut a portion of banana peel large enough to cover the affected area.  Place the inside of the peel over the area of the planters wart. Hold in place with surgical tape (this is better than adhesive tape as you will change it frequently and pulling off the tape can (will) become a bit painful).

Change the peel once or twice a day.  I did it twice a day;  Jesse did it once a day.  Relief from pain will be felt almost immediately. Continue this process for up to six weeks. The area will look pitted after two or three days…no worries, cover any part that looks pitted with more banana peel held in place with the tape and persist. In both Jess’ and my cases it totally cured the warts…no chemicals or surgery needed.  And you can eat the bananas or make lots of lovely banana bread!

Another natural remedy we all love is Burt’s Bees Res-Q Ointment. This magical tin of green cream will heal bruises, cuts, and sooth bug bites.

‘Made in Thailand or Taiwan’ Tiger Balm is another tried and true remedy that works well for aches and pains as well as sore throats and sinus problems.

Exercise should not be ignored, either!

Hope you all live long, happy, healthy lives!

Sunday, 2 August: Where we go most Sundays

Posted August 2nd, 2009 by IP

There’s a great place in UB to eat if you want generous portions at very reasonable prices: Joel’s Slice of Heaven! Tucked away in the Bubbling Springs building behind the American Food Store is an unassuming place that serves up a repast that satisfies even the bottomless pits of three hungry young men.

Joel, a native of England and his wife, Augie, perform their miracles in this modest restaurant. Our favorites are the chicken and mushroom nuggets, both served with a yummy garlic mayo. Our usual order consists of the nuggets followed by chicken or beef quesadillas, Philly cheese steak, and a burger.

Today, Joel told us that he is also planning to sell vacuumed packed portions of ready to cook, chicken, beef, and pork. We took home a freshly packed order of chicken fajita to enjoy another day. Our entire meal for five persons, plus the take home pack was under $50!

Here are some pics from today’s meal and Sunday’s past.

Sunday, 2 August more on the garden

Posted August 2nd, 2009 by IP

Headed over to the garden this morning around 1130 since I didn’t go yesterday. Josh took Max to the dog run to toss tennis balls while I watered the plots. As I approached the garden, a sparrow flew through the open door. He must have flown out the hole in the back window, because I didn’t see him after going inside. It was probably too hot for him anyway! Due to the strong sun and high altitude, it was very hot and humid inside.

After I watered all the plots and pulled some weeds, I decided to use the watering can spout to push up the plastic ceiling where water had collected from the rain on Friday night. This is rather fun as the water cascades down the sides – most of the time. Unbeknownst do me, there was a hole in one area and when I pushed up the water rushed in and down on me! Ugh, nothing like a shower of dirty water!

Before leaving, I took the pics below. The garden has a different perspective in the morning than it does in the evening when I usually go by.

Sunday, 2 August

Posted August 2nd, 2009 by IP

Gosh, it’s been over a month since my last post. During that time, it’s been very busy at work, our browser at home continues to be incredibly slow, and I compete with Jess who is doing an on-line course.

Today is a lovely sunny day and a good time for a synopsis of what’s happened since that last posting.  Our garden continues to grow.  The corn is indeed as high as an elephant’s eye and is touching the roof of the bubble garden (BG).  Corn tops are bending over and ears are  developing.  At the other end of the BG, someone’s sunflowers are doing the same as our corn!  Squash is growing prolifically in several plots including ours.  We continue to harvest lettuce.  I picked a sunflower that was growing between two rows of corn.  We have a few radishes and some shiso leaves.  There are golf ball sized squash developing, but they are not growing as quickly as I expected. May be it’s due to the continued change in temperatures…we had hail twice the beginning of July!

Thursday, 18 June – our pets

Posted June 18th, 2009 by IP

What’s a family without pets.  We’ve always had a furry or feathery friend sharing our lives..sometimes two-footed (chickens, ducks), mostly four (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, lizards).  Here’s Hunter, our part Persian/part Maine Coon.  He’s four years old, a house cat, although he would prefer to be allowed to roam outside.  Very chatty and loves to nibble my house plants which is why they are mostly all in the computer room rather than on window ledges throughout the house!

2009.06.18 Hunter 2009.06.18 Hunter aloof and aloft!